Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Guess Where Huge Funds for Fighting Climate Change Are Being Wasted

January 11, 2016

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In the United States it’s not actually difficult to find significant funding with which to research new and innovative — not to say bizarre and absurd — pursuits, as long as they form part of an overall project of mass murder.

The United States has hundreds of programs at universities, think tanks, and research institutes that claim to devote their attention to “security” and “defense” studies. Yet in almost all of these programs that receive many millions of dollars in Federal funding, the vast majority of research, advocacy and instruction have nothing to do with climate change, the most serious threat to security of our age.

Hence the need for this petition to the U.S. Congress: End federal funding for security and defense programs at universities and think tanks that do not take climate change as their primary subject for research and for instruction. All universities, think tanks and research institutes that claim to be concerned with “security” or “defense” research must devote at least 70% of their resources to work on the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change, or lose their eligibility for Federal funding.

This excellent proposal originated with Emanuel Yi Pastreich, Director of The Asia Institute. Other signers, including myself: David Swanson, Director, World Beyond War; John Kiriakou, Associate fellow, Institute for Policy Studies; John Feffer, Director, Foreign Policy in Focus; Norman Solomon, Cofounder,; Coleen Rowley, Retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel.

Why do we think this is important? Why do we plan to deliver the petition to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Armed Services Committee? Here’s why:

In an act of profound intellectual irresponsibility, so-called scholars of “security studies” spend their hours imagining fantastic military scenarios, rather than responding to the incontrovertible threat of climate change which scientists have unanimously identified as a reality.


We cannot waste any more of our tax dollars on security and defense studies that fail to address the primary threat to the well-being of the United States, and of the world.

The time has come to put an end to this insanity. We demand that all programs of defense and security studies in the United States identify in their statement of purpose climate change as the primary security threat to the United States and that they dedicate at least 70% of their budgets to research, teaching and advocacy to the critical topics of mitigation of (primarily) and adaptation to (secondarily) climate change.

Any program that fails to focus on climate change in this manner should lose its status for Federal funding.

Mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change should be the primary concerns for all in security and defense field studies. Obviously other security issues deserve study, but granted the fact that the cost of climate change will run in the trillions of dollars over the next decade, and even more beyond then, we do not have the funds to support programs that are not dedicated to addressing this immediate threat.

From In the United States it's not hard to find funding with which to research new and innovative pursuits.

From In the United States it’s not hard to find funding with which to research new and innovative pursuits.
In the United States it’s not hard to find funding with which to research new and innovative pursuits.
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David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at and and works for the online (more…)

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Hope and Despair: Can the Planet Be Saved?

December 30, 2015

(photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Zak Bickel/The Atlantic)
(photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Zak Bickel/The Atlantic)

By Rebecca J. Rosen, Adrienne Green, Li Zhou, Alana Semuels, and Bouree Lam, The Atlantic

30 December 15


Experts on ecology, conservation, and climate change offer their reasons for optimism and pessimism going into 2016.

he two words “climate” and “change” are so routinely strung together that just saying them as a pair—“climate change”—seems to somehow obscure the full weight of the phenomenon they describe, to say nothing of its consequences. But in those moments when one pauses to consider the ramifications of human activity on the planet for generations and generations ahead, things can feel beyond bleak. And yet: This past year saw the nations of the world reached their first-ever agreement on an ambitious plan to rein in emissions, perhaps the most significant progress yet made on this issue.

We reached out to some of the leading scholars of climate change, conservation, and ecology, and asked them what, as the Earth begins yet another trip around the sun, is giving them cause for hope and despair. Below are their answers, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Robert Glennon, professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona

Reason for despair: I despair that we don’t consider water to be scarce or valuable. A century of lax water laws and regulations has spoiled most Americans. We turn on the tap and out comes as much water as we want for less than we pay for cable television or cellphone service. When most Americans think of water, they think of it as similar to air—as infinite and inexhaustible. In reality, it’s both finite and exhaustible.

Because we don’t respect water as remarkable, we use needless quantities for frivolous purposes, such as growing grass in the desert. And because we don’t pay the real cost of water (only the cost of the infrastructure to provide it), we remove the incentive to conserve. Perhaps most important, our innovation economy has encouraged engineers and inventors to create water-saving technologies that extend our supply; but the price of water is so low that few of them have viable business plans.

Reason for hope: We have a suite of options to confront the crisis and prevent it from becoming a catastrophe. These options include conservation, which remains the low-hanging fruit; reuse of treated municipal effluent; and desalination of ocean or brackish water. We can also price water sensibly to encourage conservation, while protecting access to water for persons of modest means. Finally, we can use the power of market forces to encourage a modest reallocation of water from low to higher-value uses. A low single-digit percent reduction in agricultural water consumption would solve the municipal and industrial water-supply problem. Modernization of farm irrigation systems, paid for by cities and industry, would protect the viability of rural communities and secure needed supplies for the urban sector.

None of these options requires a radical change in our behavior, but they will require the moral courage and the political will to act.

Margo Oge, former director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality of the Environmental Protection Agency

Reason for despair: Climate change is the biggest challenge our planet faces. The science is clear, the risks are real, and the phenomenon’s impact on every part of our planet is increasingly visible. In mid-December, nearly 200 countries met in Paris to secure a historic agreement to reduce the impacts of the global threat. The negotiators for every single country involved have accepted that we need to take immediate and substantive action on this threat. Back at home, however, Congressional Republicans continued their decades of denial. In a symbolic rebuff of global urgency on the issue, both the House and Senate voted to repeal President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. By the time our legislators—a few hundred people—finally accept the overwhelming scientific evidence about the threat, I despair that time will have run out for future generations. I fear that killing, or endlessly delaying, the nation’s serious efforts to mitigate this threat will be catastrophic: rising seas swallowing island nations, floods wiping out towns and villages, unprecedented heat waves and drought destroying crops and lives, and even global instability that provokes wars.

Reason for hope: What gives me optimism is watching our country take a positive role in the Paris international-climate agreements after decades of foot dragging on the issue. When the United States leads, other countries follow. This means that the U.S. efforts to secure strong climate actions in Paris and at home will make a hugely positive impact globally on carbon emissions. The United States has, in fact, long been a leader on environmental technology innovation. In the 1970s, it was American car-emission standards that led to the development of catalytic convertors. These devices were the first to ever clean up the toxic soup coming out of cars’ tailpipes.

The rest of the world followed America. Today you can’t find a car without one.

After we banned leaded gas, Europe and the rest of the world came along. In 2009 we initiated another world-leading effort, regulations that will cut automotive carbon pollution in half as well as double the fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles by 2025. For decades, American environmental efforts have led to innovation, saved lives, and created jobs. As a result of these regulations, our car industry is today undergoing a technological and economic revolution. Our automakers are building the most fuel-efficient vehicle fleet in history and are already ahead on a trajectory to doubling fuel economy by 2025. The world needs the United States to continue and expand its technological leadership in mitigating climate change.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University

Reason for despair: One thing that brings me close to despair is the fact that, just in the West, we seemed to have turned a corner in regard to meat eating and factory farming—both are now on the decline—the resulting reduction in animal suffering and greenhouse gas emissions is being swamped by the growth in meat eating in China and other parts of Asia. Nevertheless, I don’t despair because the situation is not hopeless. As long as there is hope of change for the better, I’m too busy trying to bring about that change to lose myself in despair.

Reason for hope: More and more people are seeking fulfillment in their lives by turning away from the consumer lifestyle and instead living in accord with their values. The emerging movement known as effective altruism is one outcome of that, and it is having an impact. I’m encouraged by the tremendous progress made over the past 25 years in reducing extreme poverty and improving life expectancy worldwide. Infant mortality, for example, has been cut by more than half since 1990, despite rising population. If we continue to put more resources—our intelligence and our skills, as well as our money—into using reason and evidence to make the world a better place, then I am confident that we can make even more progress over the next 25 years.

Elizabeth Marino, assistant professor of anthropology​ at Oregon State University

Reason for despair: As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate, all share vulnerabilities to those changes produced by unjust economic and political systems, and all are limited in social and cultural expression by the narrow-mindedness of what is deemed culturally acceptable by the “West.” These burdens are all part of climate injustice.

But even aside from this new form of colonial violence, I despair because, more than any other crisis, climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.  Unfortunately, many accept as “natural” merely one set of ideas borne from very particular “Western” worldviews: the necessity of growth; monetary value as determinant of inherent value; the nature/culture dichotomy; competition as the driver of production; technological “fixes” as paramount. I despair when the solutions and rhetoric around climate-change mitigation and climate justice are embedded in these presuppositions; when the world stays narrow.

Reason for hope: The rest of the world is talking back. We see organizers using hashtags such as #pachamama, #indigenouscop21, #AOSIS, and #indigenousenvironmentalnetwork. We have growing innovative collaborations among scientists and Native American leaders and we see strongnon-state-based international alliances, political organization, and advocacy by non-Western leaders. It’s going to be an interesting century.

Juliet B. Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College​

Reason for despair: Despair? Yes, it is there. Not because I don’t think that eventually we will have a low- or zero-carbon world. We will. But how can one not despair at the certain destruction we’ve already ensured with the warming and chaos that is now built in to the climate system? This month flooding in my husband’s home city of Chennai reached second floors, with more than 1.8 million people displaced. In one 24-hour period there was nearly 11 inches of rainfall. California remains in the grip of a powerful drought. It is 60 degrees in Boston, in  December, in what’s likely the world’s warmest recorded year, a distinction which may be eclipsed 12 months from now. All the while, the politics of hatred are rising, like the sea levels.

Reason for hope: COP21, the UN talks in Paris, ended with a degree of hope that is unprecedented in the world of climate. Despite the absence of a binding agreement or emissions promises that have any hope of avoiding catastrophe, there has been almost delirious optimism, even from many environmental activists. (Not from all, of course. James Hansen and Bill McKibben have been outspoken in their criticisms of the weaknesses of the treaty, and they’re right.)

But I find four major reasons to be hopeful. The first is that China is acting decisively to reduce emissions from coal. The second is that renewable energy is now an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels, and will be even more so if we can eliminate the $450 billion a year in subsidies for the dirty fuels. The third is that the fossil-fuel companies are without doubt on the defensive. From the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline to government investigations into Exxon’s cover up of its own climate research, the behavior of this industry is finally on view. True, it is still quite powerful in Congress, but the combination of science, economics, and exposure is sounding the industry’s death knell. As we’ve already seen with coal, I predict that oil and gas won’t survive the mounting pressure to “keep it in the ground.” And that brings me to my fourth reason for hope: the growth of a global grassroots movement for climate justice and ecological sanity. It has taken a long time for us to get here, but it’s now unstoppable.

Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice and a senior research scientist at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks​

Reason for despair: Living in Alaska, the only Arctic state in the United States, I am witnessing the fast-forward of geologic time. My despair increases as I watch Arctic ecosystems collapse. The recently negotiated Paris Climate Agreement includes aspirational language to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But in Alaska, winter temperatures have already increased 3.5 degrees Celsius since 1975. Ice and snow, iconic elements of the land and sea in the Arctic, are disappearing. The winter of 2014-2015 was the lowest snow season on record in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest urban center. Glaciers are losing 75 billion tons of ice annually. Arctic Ocean sea ice has decreased by 36 percent in the last three decades.

For indigenous communities in Alaska, these changes are life-threatening. Kivalina, Shishmaref, and Newtok, are three of the most imperiled communities. Each has chosen to relocate as a long-term adaptation strategy because sea ice no longer protects their communities from hurricane-force storms that eat the land on which they live. In presentations to U.S. government agencies and Congress,Shishmaref residents plead:

The no action option for Shishmaref is the annihilation of our community …

We are unique, and need to be valued as a national treasure by the people of the United States. We deserve the attention and help of the American people and the federal government … Shishmaref, we are worth saving.

Due to intense and prolonged advocacy efforts, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and President Obama traveled to Alaska this past summer. Despite these visits, no community knows when or if it will be able to relocate to higher ground to protect their unique way of life and connection to the land of their ancestors. The gross injustice of their experience adds to my despair because those who have done the least to cause our climate crisis are bearing enormous losses. Their experience also shows that we are completely unprepared to respond to the humanitarian crisis which will be caused by rising seas forcing millions of people from their homes, their heritage, and the places they love.

Reason for hope: Solidarity—the recognition that all of humanity is connected to each other and to the Earth—gives me hope. This understanding that we are one people living on a shared homeland is embedded in the climate-justice movement.

The Arctic, the harbinger of dramatic environmental changes, reminds us of this connection. Decreased Arctic sea ice affects the polar jet stream and contributes to the drought in California and the epic flooding and snowfall events in lower latitudes. The melting of Greenland threatens coastal communities all over the world. More than 50 percent of Greenland was melting in July 2015. In protests across the planet, people are standing together, across countries, Indigenous nations, ethnicities, age, gender, and class to demand that our human rights be protected, that the Earth’s ecosystems be protected and that those least responsible for our climate crisis be provided the resources to adapt and protect their lives.

Gernot Wagner, senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund

Reason for despair: Climate change. It’s the perfect problem: more global, more long-term, more irreversible, and more uncertain that virtually any other public-policy problem facing us. Climate change is a lot worse than most of us realize. Almost regardless of what we do on the mitigation front, we are in for a whole lot of hurt.

On the policy front, we have now talked for more than 20 years about how we need to turn this ship around “within a decade.” Not unlike the ever-elusive fusion technology, that hasn’t happened yet. Global carbon emissions declined slightly this year—for the first time ever without a global recession—but the trends are still pointing in the wrong direction. Worse, turning around emissions is only the very first step. It’s not enough to stabilize the flow of water going into the bathtub when the goal is to prevent the tub from overflowing. We need to turn around atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. That means turning off the flow of water into the tub—getting net emissions to zero and below. It doesn’t help our efforts that many people seem to confuse the two. A study involving over 200 MIT graduate students faced with this same question revealed that even they confuse emissions and concentrations—water flowing into the tub and water levels there. If MIT graduate students can’t get this one right, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Reason for hope: Climate change. Many signs point to some real momentum to finally tackle this momentous challenge.

The Paris Climate Accord builds an important foundation. It enables transparency, accountability, and markets to help solve the problem. Many governments are moving forward with pricing carbon: from California to China, from Sweden to South Africa, we see ambitious action to reign in emissions in some 50 jurisdictions. Meanwhile, lots is happening on the clean-energy front. That’s particularly true for solar photovoltaic power, which has climbed up the learning curve—and down the cost curve—faster than most would have expected only five years ago. That has also provided an important jolt for sensible climate policy. Then there’s R&D for entirely new technologies. Bill Gates leading an investment coalition with $1 billion of his own money is only one important sign of movement in that direction. The excitement for self-driving, electric vehicles is palpable up and down Silicon Valley, to name just one potentially significant example. In the end, it’s precisely this mix of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and, of course, Washington that will lead—and, in part, is already leading—to the necessary revolution in a number of important sectors, energy and transportation chief among them.


Global Warming Redux: Another Ticking Bomb Out of Paris

December 30, 2015

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OpEdNews Op Eds 12/29/2015 at 15:10:48
Global Warming Redux: Another Ticking Bomb Out of Paris
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Reprinted from To The Point Analyses


From Global Warming

From Global Warming
Global Warming
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Part I — COP21

Paris was certainly 2015’s center for ticking bombs. The year was bracketed, first in January then again in November, by major terrorist attacks and ended with a December environmental conference which, given its non-binding results, opens the door to even more terror, albeit of a different kind, into the next century and beyond.

The 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, ended in Paris on 12 December 2015. If you are not familiar with the name or acronym, it refers to the latest gathering of nations (195 of them) looking toward a collective decision to limit global warming by slowing the release of greenhouse gases. Following the conference closure there was a short spate of positive reactions that has now been followed by a rather ominous silence.

Until very recently there was a large number of people, mostly business people, lobbyists, and politicians, who denied that human practices, such as the use of fossil fuels, had any significant impact on planetary warming, and some dismissed the idea of warming altogether. These numbers seem to have shrunk, and most of those still adhering to such notions are not often heard in public. This muted opposition helped pave the way for the at once limited and over-hyped result achieved at the Paris conference.

The overall goal of COP 21 was an international agreement that would hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and then reduce the amount of warming even more in the years following. This goal was certainly agreed to in theory, but the conference also left us with no convincing reason to believe that the goal will be met in practice.

According to Science (18 December 2015), the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, commitments were indeed made to pursue relevant “technological development,” mobilize “climate finance,” enhance transparency in the reporting of overall greenhouse emissions and have developed nations acknowledge their “legal responsibility” (but “without liability or compensation”) for the damage global warming is doing to poorer nations. All of this is well and good in a half-hearted sort of way, but it should be noted that the entire deal will only go into effect in April 2016 if “55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions have formally signed it.” And even if this happens, subsequent follow-through in terms of the reduction of greenhouse emissions is still hypothetical. Thus, as the Guardian newspaper reported(12 December 2015) in a confusing, contradictory way: “The overall agreement is legally binding but some elements — including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements — are not.”


That should be quite sufficient to instill serious doubt about the ultimate outcome of COP21. Nonetheless, reactions were still upbeat. Everyone wanted to find the glass half full. Many climate experts, when asked if there was something about 2015 that made them hopeful, pointed to the Paris conference. Michael T. Klare, writing in Tom Dispatch (13 December 2015), proclaimed that as for those advocating the continued use of fossil fuels, “the war they are fighting is a losing one.” The transition to renewable forms of energy is inevitable. However, looking at the next hundred years, no one would say with certainty that the conference’s decisions would actually make a crucial difference. Thus, Andrea Germanos writing in Common Dream s (12 December 2015) quotes commentator George Monbiot in reference to COP21, “by comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

Part II — Why a Disaster?

The Science article cited above puts the situation in historical context. “The individual national climate plans in the run-up to the meeting could still result in as much as 3.5 degrees centigrade of warming by 2100.” At 3.5 degrees we can expect sea levels to rise anywhere from 3 to 7 feet. Science goes on to explain that “much of the agreement’s promise hinges on the fine print to be hammered out in the coming years. And the provisions for individual nations to curb emissions further — crucial if the world is to limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade or less — has limited legal bite.”

In truth, even the 2 degree goal is insufficient. Those at most risk, such as the Pacific island nations, wanted to hold the line at 1.5 degrees. However, their fate, which in some cases is already terminal, was not deemed important enough to warrant the sacrifices the rest of the world would have to make to meet this demand. This in itself is a very bad sign.

There will, of course, be increasing efforts by environmental organizations, seeking to mobilize mass sentiment, to bring pressure on governments and industries. As one such mass movement leader declared at the end of the COP21 conference, “Now it is time to hold them [national leaders] to their promises. 1.5? Game on” (Common Dream s, 12 December 2015). No doubt such mobilization, like the hope for investment in renewable energy technology, will be very important in the long run. That it can achieve its ambitious goal in the short run is doubtful because there are other, even larger, organizable masses out there who will resist rapid, necessary change.


For instance, there are the inward-looking elements of the populations and leaders of the United States, China and India — the world’s biggest contributors to global warming. In the United States at least a third of the voting population is supportive of the conservative, anti-regulatory Republican Party that currently controls the congressional side of government. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has dismissed the COP21 agreement as “no more binding than any other agreement” on global warming made in past.

China has recently admitted that it has been under-reporting its coal burning in recent years. This calls into doubt that nation’s collective will to meet its COP21 pledges. To do so will unavoidably impact economic growth and increase unemployment with all the accompanying political consequences. A major part of India’s pledge to lower and/or compensate for growing greenhouse emissions is the preservation and expansion of the country’s forests. However, approximately “275 million Indians subsist on resources extracted from forests,” including forest wood itself, and past efforts at conservation in this area have led to political unrest and significant cheating through official corruption.

It is not that these three countries won’t make efforts to, say, move to renewable energy whenever and wherever feasible. They will. However, it is both politically and culturally unlikely they will be able to do enough to hold down warming to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees

Part III — Conclusion
At this point one should ask what the Marshall Islands in the Pacific have in common with lower tip of Manhattan on the Atlantic coast of the United States. The answer is that both are threatened with inundation by 2100. In the case of lower Manhattan, it might be possible to build a sea wall to temporarily hold back the rising sea level. No such effort is possible for the Marshall Islands. It looks as if that island nation, with its roughly 53,000 people, is doomed.

The prospect that 195 nations can successfully coordinate their efforts to put in place policies that, over the next hundred years, will negatively impact their economies and the standard of living of significant numbers of citizens is far-fetched. Not impossible, mind you, but from a historical point of view, highly improbable.

What is probable is that local interests will promote denial long enough to make the necessary sacrifices politically unachievable. They certainly have done so so far. That means our grandchildren will almost certainly live in a very different atmospheric and geographic world than we do. And, of course, going forward, no one should invest in seashore real estate.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.
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15 Big Climate News Stories of 2015

December 27, 2015

An Indonesian soldier tries to extinguish a forest fire on a peat land at Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, Indonesia. (photo: Muhammad Fajri/Xinhua Press/Corbis)
An Indonesian soldier tries to extinguish a forest fire on a peat land at Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, Indonesia. (photo: Muhammad Fajri/Xinhua Press/Corbis)

By Sophie Yeo and Simon Evans, Carbon Brief

27 December 15


s the year draws to a close, Carbon Brief takes a look at 2015’s top climate stories through the medium of numbers. Here are our top 15.

1. 1.5 Degrees Celsius Limit

Over the last 12 months, after years of taking the back seat, the idea of a 1.5C limit to global temperatures made steps into the limelight. The UN concluded its review of the 2C vs. 1.5C debate, suggesting that the lower limit would be “preferable.” A study found that the 1.5C target was still technically possible, though difficult. A guest post by Professor Myles Allen looks at the chances and the challenge ahead, while Carbon Brief also captured the views of a broad range of scientists.

The mounting pressure paid off, with the goal recognised in the final UN climate deal. So unexpected was its inclusion that climate scientists were “caught napping,” says Professor Piers Forster, in another guest post which surveys the task ahead of finding pathways towards the lower limit and the specific benefits of this long sought-after goal.

2. 188 Pledges

Over the course of the year, 188 countries submitted their “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs, to the UN. These pledges, which outline how nations plan to reduce emissions, form the backbone of the new UN climate deal. Carbon Brief has been tracking these promises of action and the money that they will cost to implement—a grand total of $3.5tn. We have also looked in-depth at the ambiguities and ambition of the major economies, including the EU, the U.S., RussiaCanada, China, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Australia and India.

Probably the most oft-repeated trope of 2015 was that these INDCs would not alone be enough to limit global temperature rise to below 2C. But according to a report from the UN Environment Program, the INDCs had political significance that can’t be expressed by mere numbers.

 3. 331 Seats

After May’s shock UK general election victory for the Conservatives, winning a narrow majority with 331 seats, we asked experts what it would mean for climate and energy. Their cautious welcome now looks optimistic. Apart from a commitment to phase out coal, there has been little positive policy news and plenty of surprise negatives.

The Tories’ efforts to cut support for renewables, ostensibly so as to deal with a projected overspend in green subsidies, arguably go far beyond their manifesto commitments. After good progress on renewables, the outlook looks gloomy and there are doubts over meeting future UK carbon budgets. Departmental budgets have also been cut.

4. 184 Pages

The release of Pope Francis’ 184-page encyclical in June brought with it a heightened interest in the subject of climate change and not just among the world’s 1.2bn Catholics. The document, called “Laudato Si’” contained strong words from the Pontiff on issues including urbanization, the destruction of nature and carbon markets.

The encyclical was covered by media outlets around the world, although an Italian paper faced censure for leaking it early. Carbon Brief investigated the years of scientific consultations that went into the making of the document, including a scientific report from two Pontifical Academies that called for a zero-carbon world. The Vatican wasn’t the only religious institution to get involved in climate change this year. The Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, released soon after, called for a phase-out of fossil fuels.

5. <$50 a barrel

Oil prices have continued to surprise in 2015. After starting around $50 a barrel, prices rose slowly before plumbing new depths as the year end approaches. The International Energy Agency said fuel efficient vehicles and reduced oil subsidies were helping create a “new normal” of sluggish demand despite low prices.

Carbon Brief took an early look at what $50 oil might mean for the global energy mix, as well as climate and energy policy back in the UK, where cheaper gas has also played a part in coal usereaching historic lows.

6. 1,600,000,000 Tons

In Indonesia, 2015 will be remembered as the year that their forests went up in flame with even more ferocity than usual. Peat fires, resulting largely from illegal “slash and burn” clearance techniques, spread rapidly in dry conditions related to 2015’s strong El Niño and released 1.6bn tons of greenhouse gases. In just six weeks, this bumped Indonesia up from sixth to fourth place in terms of largest emitting countries, putting it ahead of Russia. Carbon Brief looked at the scale of the disaster.

7. ? of Adults

More than a third of the world’s adults have never heard of climate change, according to new analysis of a global survey from 2007-08. In some developed countries, including Japan, U.S. and the UK, almost all adults have heard of climate change—although it turned out to be a different story when the pollsters asked them if it was a threat. Liberia, which came bottom of the list, had an awareness rate of just one fifth.

8. 1 in 6 Species

Climate change will accelerate the speed at which species become extinct, according to a reviewof scientific papers released in April. Scientists found that as many as 16 percent or one in six, of plants and animals would be under threat of dying out if global temperatures should rise by 4C. The risks increase exponentially as the planet warms. The study found that South American species have the highest extinction risk at 23 percent, followed by Australia and New Zealand’s at 14 percent.

9. 2 Times

Consumption of meat in Europe is twice as high as healthy levels and this is bad for the climate, according to a Chatham House study released in November. Global demand for meat is predicted to rise by 76 percent by the middle of the century, which could put upward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions. But it wasn’t all bad news, with the study’s authors suggesting that government action to nudge people towards sustainable diets would not be as politically toxic as is often assumed.

10. Zero Emissions

This year, the nations of the world collectively agreed to aim for zero or more precisely net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is firmly based in climate science, but its adoption was still unexpected.

Over the course of the year, the aim has been expressed in different ways. The G7 called forcomplete decarbonisation. The Vatican wanted zero carbon. COP21 briefly flirted with emissions neutrality. In the end though, the long-term goal of the final Paris climate deal is a “balance” between greenhouse gas emissions and sinks. That’s zero to you and me.

11. 1C of Warming

Scientists have said they expect 2015 to be the first year where the global annual average temperature surpasses 1C above pre-industrial levels. As the halfway point of the 2C limit embedded in international climate policy, this is a significant milestone for the planet. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says we’ve just had the hottest five-year period on record.

While this year’s El Niño was responsible for boosting 2015 temperatures higher than usual, scientists told Carbon Brief that it’s only a matter of time until temperatures rise beyond 1C more permanently. Indeed, the Met Office has already forecast that 2016 will surpass previous records to become the hottest ever year.

12. 0.6 Percent Fall in Emissions

During the second week of COP21 in Paris, scientists announced that global emissions look set to fall by 0.6 percent this year on the back of reductions in Chinese coal use.

After a decade of rapid increases, there’s now growing evidence that emissions have stalledworldwide, while UK emissions are falling through the floor. However, this is unlikely to signal a peak in global emissions just yet, the researchers caution.

The shift could mark a turning point for climate efforts, though even if the stalling of emissions is maintained, the world would remain a long way from its zero-emissions goal.

13. 9 Lowest Ice Extents

The nine lowest September ice extents in the Arctic have all occurred in the last nine years—a sign of the impact that climate change is having on the northernmost part of the planet. This summer, the Arctic saw its fourth lowest summer minimum on record, with ice shrinking to 4.41m square kilometers on the Sept. 11, according to the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center.

14. 341.4mm of Rain

Storm Desmond swept across the UK in early December, bringing a 24-hour record 341.4mm of rain in Cumbria, flooded homes and a renewed debate over the role of climate change in UK flooding. Carbon Brief wrapped up the media response and scientists’ views.

The year also brought record-breaking winds in the form of October’s 200mph Hurricane Patricia, though this caused less damage than March’s 190mph Hurricane Pam. Are these powerful storms linked to global warming? August’s 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina offered a chance for Carbon Brief to reflect on the latest science.

15. 94 Points

To celebrate its fifth birthday and the launch of its new website, Carbon Brief held its inaugural quiz night in the basement of a central London pub. The winning team was DECC (Department for Energy and Climate Change) Science, which scored a grand total of 94 out of 125. We published the full quiz online, including questions set by the likes of Christiana Figueres and Amber Rudd, for those who feel like testing their brains.


‘Corporate Environmentalism’ Threatens COP21 Climate Talks

December 2, 2015

COP21 family photograph of state and government leaders at the opening day of the conference at Le Bourget in Paris. (photo: Jacky Naegelen/Getty Images)
COP21 family photograph of state and government leaders at the opening day of the conference at Le Bourget in Paris. (photo: Jacky Naegelen/Getty Images)

By Nate Singham, teleSUR

02 December 15


n the long lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), most countries did not act in the way that many had wished as they failed to adopt the necessary measures required to effectively mitigate the impact of climate change.

Despite grandiose pledges to reduce carbon emissions, industrialized nations and the world’s largest carbon emitters have continued to pollute the planet at an alarming and unprecedented rate.

The world’s largest economies, known as the G-20 countries, currently represent around 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and spend 15 times more on fossil fuels than they do helping poor countries adapt to climate change, according to a recent report carried out by Oxfam.

For many climate change activists, this is in part due to an unwillingness and inability by lawmakers to take on influential corporate lobbyists to the extent required to adequately tackle global warming.

This claim is supported by a recent investigation carried out by, a U.K.-based NGO which revealed that nearly half of the world’s top 100 global companies are trying to subvert climate policies by lobbying, advertising, and influence peddling.

Similarly, civil society organizations argue that this year’s COP21 negotiations have become ethically compromised due to intense pressure exerted by corporate sponsors, thereby undermining efforts to reverse the trend of climate change.

During climate change negotiations, policymakers are often encouraged by extractivist industry groups to endorse watered-down and market-based climate legislation such as cap-and-trade programs, ratcheting mechanisms and carbon trading schemes.

To ensure the continuation of “business as usual climate change policies,” corporations pursue a wide range of activities, which includes direct “financial donations” to lawmakers as well as lobbying negotiators on technical matters.

As pointed out by InfluenceMap, corporations from the fossil fuel industry are also allowed to participate in UN climate change negotiations with representation from “trade associations” or from “nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” on the basis that they are nonprofit, despite their strong ties to for-profit corporations.

The painful irony of corporate influence at climate change negotiations was recently articulated by Twitter user Lee Brown who stated:

Latin America’s Climate Leadership

Despite strong corporate lobbying efforts, in the last decade, grassroots movements across the globe have emerged in response to the devastating actions yielded by global extractivist industries and the governments that support them.

The growing frustration among climate change activists took a historic turn in 2010 when individuals from around the world met in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in search of leverage to influence climate policy at both the national and international level.

One of the innovate policy proposals discussed during the event was the concept of “climate debt,” the idea that rich countries owe reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis.

“It was always clear that the power of the argument was less in its likely applicability and more in turning the idea of debt on its head, showing that rather than the poor being in debt to the rich as we traditionally understand third world debt, the rich were in debt to the poor for their carbon emissions,” Nick Buxton from the Transnational Institute told teleSUR English.

Skipping ahead to this year’s negotiations, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced that he would propose “climate debt” to the international community, in efforts to rectify the unfair reality of climate change.

“We are going to promote the idea of environmental justice, which makes the biggest polluters pay for the contamination they created and forces rich countries to compensate poorer nations for climate change,” President Correa said Wednesday.

However, this is not the first time Correa has purported the notion of an “climate debt” from rich to poorer countries. Back in 2007, the Ecuadorean president asked U.N. member states to contribute to an innovative carbon sequestration program, known as the Yasuni ITT initiative. The project promised to leave untouched an estimated 846 million barrels of oil underground in exchange for $3.6 billion, around 50 percent of the estimated value of the recoverable reserves. Ultimately, though, just over US$100 million was pledged. Of that only US$13.3 million was actually donated, forcing the government to abandon its plan not to extract oil from the Amazon.

Hence, before arriving in Paris for this year’s climate talks, President Correa expressed skepticism describing the global environmental crisis as not just a technical problem but also a political one. “I don’t have very high expectations because at the end of the day this [climate change] is an issue of power rather than justice,” Correa stated.

President Correa’s skepticism is also shared by many people involved in the larger climate justice movement, who perceive a lack of commitment by the international community to fulfill their demands and implement solutions such as climate debt.

“In terms of why climate debt never gained more traction, it obviously comes down to power politics, i.e. the US and European Union refused to even countenance it because it would require radical redistribution of wealth and a major acceptance of responsibility for radical cuts,” Buxton told teleSUR.

Nevertheless, as planetary temperatures continue to rise, the world’s glaciers melt. And as forests disappear it is imperative that global leaders reach a legally binding agreement requiring nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the credibility of the COP21 discussions largely depends on the willingness of lawmakers, representatives and non-state actors, to reject the positions put forth by powerful corporate interest groups.

Instead, “Governments need to have the voices of the most vulnerable people ringing in their ears as they negotiate, and they must ensure that the agreement reached addresses their needs,” anti-poverty charity Oxfam recently noted.

Similarly, the success of the Paris talks should also be determined by the degree to which leaders choose to adopt policies that pose a fierce challenge to status quo climate change legislation and market-based solutions.


I think we should be angry

October 31, 2015


Bill McKibben – <> Unsubscribe
10:41 AM (11 hours ago)
Dear Friends,

Earlier this morning, leaders from a wide variety of environmental and civil rights groups sent a short letter Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking for a federal investigation of the allegations that Exxon knew that climate change was real decades ago and lied about it.

This is rare and powerful unity—I don’t remember a moment like it since the first days of the Keystone fight, when the same wide spectrum of leaders wrote a very similar letter.

But encouraging as it is to see this solidarity, the reason for it makes me bitter. Ever since I read the first exposés of Exxon’s mendacity in Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, they’ve haunted me.

A corporation may never have done anything bigger and badder; just think how much would be different if Exxon had told the truth. We wouldn’t fully have solved global warming but we’d be well on the way—there would have been no 25 year phony pretend debate. There’d be a lot more solar panels, and a lot less carbon in the air. There’d be a lot more green jobs, and a lot fewer communities, most of them low income and communities of color, dealing with the terrible health impacts of pollution. None of you would have had to fight simply to get climate change taken seriously; instead we’d all be hard at work on solutions.1

I think we should be angry. I don’t think we should be cynical and say ‘of course they knew.’ This behavior should shock us—it’s shocking. So can you please join us in asking the federal government to investigate Exxon?

Click here to sign a petition to call on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil.

Maybe this will be enough to make sure this industry gets the treatment the tobacco industry got a generation ago. Or maybe Big Oil is so big (Exxon, after all, spent many years as the most profitable company on earth) that it will take more. I’ve already spent an afternoon in jail, charged with “unlawful trespass” at an ExxonMobil station; perhaps, like Keystone, more of us will need to go to jail. (Certainly no responsible person can any longer justify investing in Exxon—this is a potent reminder of why divestment is so key.)

At the very least, please don’t let this story die. If global warming is the biggest thing humans have ever done, then Exxon’s conduct is the single most shameful part of the whole sad story.

So please: sign onto our call to the Department of Justice. If only for the sake of history, let’s stand the hell up.

Bill McKibben for

1. “Imagine if Exxon had told the truth on climate change.” The Guardian.

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California Governor Signs Ambitious Climate Change Bill Forcing Public Pensions to Divest From Coal

October 11, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown of California. (photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Governor Jerry Brown of California. (photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

11 October 15


s Governor of California Jerry Brown signed a much-applauded bill into law on Thursday, fossil fuel divestment activists celebrated as the two largest public pension funds in the U.S. will now be forced to divest from any company whose primary profits are related to the mining or use of thermal coal.

The new law, introduced by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) as S.B. 185, requires that both the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) sell such holdings by July of 2017. Any future investments in coal mining or highly-related businesses are also prohibited by the law.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The new law will affect $58 million held by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and $6.7 million in the California State Teachers Retirement System, a tiny fraction of their overall investments. The funds are responsible for providing benefits to more than 2.5 million current and retired employees.

De León pitched the measure as a way to emphasize more secure, environmentally friendly investments.

“Coal is a losing bet for California retirees and it’s also incredibly harmful to our health and the health of our environment,” he said in a statement.

In response to the news, executive director of May Boeve, whose group has led the charge for institutional divestment, championed the effort in California.

“This is a big win for our movement, and demonstrates the growing strength of divestment campaigners around the world,” said Boeve. “California’s step today gives us major momentum, and ramps up pressure on state and local leaders in New York, Massachusetts, and across the U.S. to follow suit—and begin pulling their money out of climate destruction too.”

Though the development was welcome, Boeve said there was still plenty more that Gov. Brown and lawmakers across the country must do in order to be considered “part of the solution” when it comes to the climate crisis. For Brown, she said, it’s time “to keep building on today’s news, and take every possible step to prevent climate catastrophe—including divesting California from oil and gas, and banning extreme energy extraction techniques like fracking.”


Welcome to a New Planet: Climate ‘Tipping Points’ and the Fate of the Earth

October 9, 2015
Published on

Key systems are under immediate and profound threat, says Klare, and it is time to be thinking about ‘civilizational survival.’ (Photo: Ian Carrol/flickr/cc)

Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.

Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years.  Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature.  This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.  In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters.  At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.

Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable.  In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.

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Take the disruption of the North Atlantic Current, the pivotal event in The Day After Tomorrow.  Essentially an extension of the Gulf Stream, that deep-sea current carriesrelatively warm salty water from the South Atlantic and the Caribbean to the northern reaches of the Atlantic.  In the process, it helps keep Europe warmer than it would otherwise be.  Once its salty water flows into sub-Arctic areas carried by this prolific stream, it gets colder and heavier, sinks to lower depths, and starts a return trip to warmer climes in the south where the whole process begins again.

So long as this “global conveyor belt” — known to scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — keeps functioning, the Gulf Stream will also continue to bring warmer waters to the eastern United States and Europe.  Should it be disrupted, however, the whole system might break down, in which case the Euro-Atlantic climate could turn colder and more storm-prone.  Such a disruption might occur if the vast Greenland ice sheet melts in a significant way, as indeed is already beginning to happentoday, pouring large quantities of salt-free fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean.  Because of its lighter weight, this newly introduced water will remain close to the surface, preventing the submergence of salty water from the south and so effectively shutting down the conveyor belt.  Indeed, exactly this process now seems to be underway.

By all accounts, 2015 is likely to wind up as the hottest year on record, with large parts of the world suffering from severe heat waves and wildfires.  Despite all this, however, astretch of the North Atlantic below Iceland and Greenland is experiencing all-time cold temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  What explains this anomaly?  According to scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Pennsylvania State University, among other institutions, the most likely explanation is the arrival in the area of cold water from the Greenland ice sheet that is melting ever more rapidly thanks to climate change.  Because this meltwater starts out salt-free, it has remained near the surface and so, as predicted, is slowing the northern advance of warmer water from the North Atlantic Current.

So far, the AMOC has not suffered a dramatic shutdown, but it is slowing, and scientistsworry that a rapid increase in Greenland ice melt as the Arctic continues to warm will pour ever more meltwater into the North Atlantic, severely disrupting the conveyor system.  That would, indeed, constitute a major tipping point, with severe consequences for Europe and eastern North America.  Not only would Europe experience colder temperatures on an otherwise warmer planet, but coastal North America could witness higher sea levels than those predicted from climate change alone because the Gulf Stream tends to pull sea water away from the eastern U.S. and push it toward Europe.  If it were to fail, rising sea levels could endanger cities like New York and Boston.  Indeed, scientists discovered that just such a slowing of the AMOC helped produce a sea-level rise of four inches from New York to Newfoundland in 2009 and 2010.

In its 2014 report on the status of global warming, the IPCC indicated that the likelihood of the AMOC collapsing before the end of this century remains relatively low.  But some studies suggest that the conveyor system is already 15%-20% below normal with Greenland’s melting still in an early stage.  Once that process switches into high gear, the potential for the sort of breakdown that was once science fiction starts to look all too real.

Tipping Points on the Horizon

In a 2014 report, “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” Working Group II of the IPCC identified three other natural systems already showing early-warning signs of catastrophic tipping points: the Arctic, coral reefs, and the Amazonian forest.  All three, the report suggested, could experience massive and irreversible changes with profound implications for human societies.

The Arctic comes in for particular scrutiny because it has experienced more warming than any other region on the planet and because the impact of climate change there is already so obvious.  As the report put it, “For the Arctic region, new evidence indicates a biophysical regime shift is taking place, with cascading impacts on physical systems, ecosystems, and human livelihoods.”

This has begun with a massive melt of sea ice in the region and a resulting threat to native marine species.  “For Arctic marine biota,” the report notes, “the rapid reduction of summer ice covers causes a tipping element that is now severely affecting pelagic [sub-surface] ecosystems as well as ice-dependent mammals such as seals and polar bears.”  Other flora and fauna of the Arctic biome are also demonstrating stress related to climate change.  For example, vast areas of tundra are being invaded by shrubs and small trees, decimating the habitats of some animal species and increasing the risk of fires.

This Arctic “regime shift” affects many other aspects of the ecosystem as well.  Higher temperatures, for instance, have meant widespread thawing and melting of permafrost, the frozen soil and water that undergirds much of the Arctic landmass.  In this lies another possible tipping-point danger, since frozen soils contain more than twice the carbon now present in the atmosphere.  As the permafrost melts, some of this carbon is released in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and other such gases.  In other words, as the IPCC noted, any significant melting of Arctic permafrost will “create a potentially strong positive feedback to accelerate Arctic (and global) warming.”  This, in fact, could prove to be more than a tipping point.  It could be a planetary catastrophe.

Along with these biophysical effects, the warming of the Arctic is threatening the livelihoods and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of the region.  The loss of summer sea ice, for example, has endangered the marine species on which many such communities depend for food and the preservation of their cultural traditions.  Meanwhile, melting permafrost and coastal erosion due to sea-level rise have threatened the very existence of their coastal villages.  In September, President Obama visited Kotzebue, a village in Alaska some 30 miles above the Arctic Circle that could disappear as a result of melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and ever bigger storm surges.

Coral Reefs at Risk

Another crucial ecosystem that’s showing signs of heading toward an irreversible tipping point is the world’s constellation of coral reefs.  Remarkably enough, although such reefs make up less than 1% of the Earth’s surface area, they house up to 25% of all marine life.  They are, that is, essential for both the health of the oceans and of fishing communities, as well as of those who depend on fish for a significant part of their diet.  According to one estimate, some 850 million people rely on coral reefs for their food security.

Corals, which are colonies of tiny animals related to sea anemones, have proven highly sensitive to changes in the acidity and temperature of their surrounding waters, both of which are rising due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  As a result, in a visually dramatic process called “bleaching,” coral populations have been dying out globally.  According to a recent study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, coral reef extent has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and all reefs could disappear as early as 2050 if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue.

“This irreversible loss of biodiversity,” reports the IPCC, will have “significant consequences for regional marine ecosystems as well as the human livelihoods that depend on them.”  Indeed, the growing evidence of such losses “strengthens the conclusion that increased mass bleaching of corals constitutes a strong warning signal for the singular event that would constitute the irreversible loss of an entire biome.”

Amazonian Dry-Out

The Amazon has long been viewed as the epitome of a tropical rainforest, with extraordinary plant and animal diversity.  The Amazonian tree cover also plays a vital role in reducing the pace of global warming by absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis.  For years, however, the Amazon has been increasingly devastated by a process of deforestation, as settlers from Brazil’s coastal regions clear land for farming and ranching, and loggers (many operating illegally) harvest timber for wood products.  Now, as if to add insult to injury, the region faces a new threat from climate change: tree mortality due to a rise in severe drought and the increased forest fire risk that accompanies it.

Although it can rain year-round in the Amazon region, there is a distinct wet season with heavy rainfall and a dry season with much less of it.  An extended dry season with little rain can endanger the survival of many trees and increase the risk of wildfires.  Research conducted by scientists at the University of Texas has found that the dry season in the southern Amazonian region has grown by a week every decade since 1980 while the annual fire season has lengthened.  “The dry season over the southern Amazon is already marginal for maintaining rainforest,” says Rong Fu, the leader of the research team. “At some point, if it becomes too long, the rainforest will reach a tipping point” and disappear.

Because the Amazon harbors perhaps the largest array of distinctive flora and fauna on the planet, its loss would represent an irreversible blow to global biodiversity.  In addition, the region hosts some of the largest assemblages of indigenous peoples still practicing their traditional ways of life.  Even if their lives were saved (through relocation to urban slums or government encampments), the loss of their cultures, representing thousands of years of adaptation to a demanding environment, would be a blow for all humankind.

As in the case of the Arctic and coral reefs, the collapse of the Amazon will have what the IPCC terms “cascading impacts,” devastating ecosystems, diminishing biodiversity, and destroying the ways of life of indigenous peoples.  Worse yet, as with the melting of the Arctic, so the drying-out of Amazonia is likely to feed into climate change, heightening its intensity and so sparking yet more tipping points on a planet increasingly close to the brink.

In its report, the IPCC, whose analysis tends, if anything, to be on the conservative side of climate science, indicated that the Amazon faced a relatively low risk of dying out by 2100.  However, a 2009 study conducted by Britain’s famed Meteorological (Met) Office suggests that the risk is far greater than previously assumed.  Even if global temperatures were to be held to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the study notes, as much as 40% of the Amazon would perish within a century; with 3 degrees of warming, up to 75% would vanish; and with 4 degrees, 85% would die.  “The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” saidMet researcher Vicky Pope.

Of Tipping Points and Singularities

These four natural systems are by no means the only ones that could face devastating tipping points in the years to come.  The IPCC report and other scientific studies hint at further biomes that show early signs of potential catastrophe.  But these four are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.

The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls.  Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.

Were the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to fail, for example, there would be nothing we could do to turn it back on, nor would we be able to recreate coral reefs or resurrect the Amazon.  Add in one other factor: when natural systems of this magnitude fail, should we not expect human systems to fail as well?  No one can answer this question with certainty, but we do know that earlier human societies collapsed when faced with other kinds of profound changes in climate.

All of this should be on the minds of delegates to the upcoming climate summit in Paris, a meeting focused on adopting an international set of restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Each participating nation is obliged to submit a set of measures it is ready to take, known as “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs, aimed at achieving the overall goal of preventing planetary warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius.  However, the INDCs submitted to date, including those from the United States and China, suggest a distinctly incremental approach to the problem.  Unfortunately, if planetary tipping points are in our future, this mindset will not measure up.  It’s time to start thinking instead in terms of civilizational survival.

Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published.  His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.

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Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis: Climate Change Could Be Catalyst to Build a Fairer Economic System

October 8, 2015

Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. (photo: CBC)
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. (photo: CBC)

By Democracy Now!

08 October 15 Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is calling this weekend’s torrential rainfall that has triggered flooding and led to eight deaths in the Carolinas a once-in-a-millennium downpour. According to the National Weather Service, the storm had dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of central South Carolina since Friday. This month also marks the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. Researchers say such extreme weather events are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change, with 2015 on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. In Part Two of our conversation with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on their new film, “This Changes Everything,” we talk about what we can learn from such extreme weather events. TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move on to the dramatic news of what has taken place in this country over the last week, a once-in-a-millennium downpour. That’s what South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is calling the torrential rainfall that’s triggered massive flooding over the weekend. At least eight people have died in the Carolinas. This is South Carolina Governor Haley.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY: When you think about what we’re sitting in right now, we are at a thousand-year level of rain in parts of the Lowcountry. What does that mean? We haven’t seen this level of rain in the Lowcountry in a thousand years. That’s how big this is. That’s how South Carolina is—what South Carolina is dealing with right now. The Congaree River is at its highest level since 1936.

AMY GOODMAN: According to the National Weather Service, the storm had dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of central South Carolina since Friday. Researchers say extreme weather events are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change. The year 2015 is on track to be the hottest in recorded history. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing July was the single warmest month in history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005.

Well, we’re going to spend the remainder of the hour bringing you Part Two of our conversation with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on their remarkable new film that re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The film is called This Changes Everything. It’s based on Naomi Klein’s global best-seller, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. And, yes, we dare to say what the meteorologists over the weekend, all the news reports, 24 hours a day, that are certainly dealing with this once-in-a-thousand-year flood in South Carolina, don’t mention: the words “climate change.” I began by asking Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis about extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, which hit three years ago this month. This is a clip from their film, followed by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein.

NAOMI KLEIN: But a strange thing happened as the fossil fuel economy spread over the world: The sacrifice zone got bigger and bigger. It started with the places considered the middle of nowhere. And then, one day, I watched it come to the place that sees itself as the center of everywhere.

REPORTER: This was the moment when Sandy struck, 90-mile-an-hour winds slicing through New York’s streets. Three-quarters of a million people have been forced to evacuate.

NAOMI KLEIN: All those years, we imagined that we had freed ourselves from nature’s bonds, that we were the boss. There was a part of the story we couldn’t yet see: Our machines were filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Could it be that we’re not the masters, after all, that we are just guests here and that we can get evicted for bad behavior?

AMY GOODMAN: What we just came out of, this clip on Superstorm Sandy, what it teaches us now?

AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, it’s—we were here in New York a week after the film—after the storm. Obviously, you guys lived right through it. I watched your broadcasts in those days, and it was staggering. And I think now that—everyone gets triggered with post-traumatic stress about these terrible, terrible climate-driven disasters. And I think there are fewer and fewer parts of the world where people don’t hear the warnings and relive the last disaster, because this is a crisis of the now. And I think New Yorkers really are in a state of returning, you know, having flashbacks to that. We need to harness that fear and that trauma, and actually turn it into healing and positive change.

AMY GOODMAN: Blockadia, the grassroots movements around the world that are standing up to the fossil fuel companies, talk about this global phenomenon that the corporate media rarely covers, let alone links.

AVI LEWIS: Well, it’s been an extraordinary few years for the climate justice movement. I mean, to be here in New York in the fall is very emotional for us, because we were on the streets with almost half a million people in the People’s Climate March. And what made that moment so extraordinary was the diversity and the connecting-the-dots feeling of the movement these days. You have front-line communities, whether on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction or on the front lines of pollution, and, you know, marginalized communities. We know that the impacts of climate change and industrialization are racialized. The people of economic—without economic means are much more vulnerable. And you see these communities coming together and connecting causes and naming the system at the heart of it. It’s happening around the world.

And what’s really exciting nowadays, I think, is that we’re starting to see not just the no to these damaging projects and to this logic of extraction—extraction of wealth as well as extraction of resources—but we’re seeing more and more of the yes. So look at the divestment movement, which has exploded in three years, $1.2 trillion in capital now—

NAOMI KLEIN: Four-point-six.

AVI LEWIS: How much?

NAOMI KLEIN: Four-point-six trillion.

AVI LEWIS: Four-point-six trillion dollars in capital which is committed to divesting from fossil fuel investments. But it’s not just the no to the fossil fuel stocks and bonds. It’s the yes in terms of redirecting and reinvesting that money in community cooperatives, in renewable energy. And we’re seeing this, and we see it throughout the film, the communities on the front lines of the no—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain those communities that you cover.

AVI LEWIS: Well, so, we went—so, for instance, we went to northern Greece in the middle of this horrific economic assault, you know, of the austerity being imposed on Greece, which is being used as an excuse to open up all these new dirty projects. They’re talking about drilling for oil in the Aegean and Ionian seas, some of the most storied oceans in history. And there’s this massive gold mine proposed and starting to be developed by a Canadian company in a very beautiful area of northern Greece. And there’s this extraordinary community resistance to it, people in a fairly conservative part of the world, who are not activists, who are not lefties, who start to see what’s being done in the name of this economic model and the excuse this brings—

AMY GOODMAN: It fits very much in with your previous book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I mean, the truth is, I see this book and this project as a sequel to The Shock Doctrine, because that book begins and ends with Hurricane Katrina. And what we are seeing is what climate change looks like when you have an economic system that systematically fuels inequality, ever wider inequality, often along racial lines. And we know what it looks like. It looks like Katrina. Right? I mean, if you had money and resources, you were able to get out of the city, call your insurance company. But if you needed a functional state, you were out of luck, first of all because the levees were neglected, second of all because there was no evacuation, there was—you know, FEMA couldn’t find the Superdome for five days. I mean, you know the story. But then, what happened next, right? The disaster-capitalism complex, as I called it in that book, descends on the city to privatize the school system, to get rid of public housing and replace it with condominiums, you know, to decide not to open Charity Hospital that serves the city’s poor.

So, this book is an attempt to think about how do we respond to crisis collectively in a way that reduces inequality, that builds a fairer society, that is democratic instead of this incredibly antidemocratic process that I described in The Shock Doctrine. And look, you know, climate change is the biggest shock of all. It hits us with shock after shock after shock, whether it’s a hurricane, whether it’s the endless drought in California. And, you know, Amy, I was really—you know, it takes a lot to shock me, because I’ve been immersed in this stuff for a long time. But I didn’t realize that a third of California’s firefighters are prison inmates, being paid $2 an hour to fight California’s—yeah, and for CAL FIRE, it’s apparently half of the firefighters. So this is incredibly dangerous work. They’re being paid $2 an hour, or—and if they’re not actively fighting fires, some of them are being paid less than $2 a day. And it turns out that there are forces in California that are resisting prison reform measures that would lower California’s prison population, because they’re worried about the impact of their firefighter supply.

This is what it looks like to try to deal with climate change within an economic context of what around the world is called neoliberalism, relentless austerity, which—you know, one of the impacts of relentless austerity is increased incarceration, locking up and locking out the people who are losing within this economic system. So, that’s why we’re calling for looking at the root causes of what is driving climate change, and also using climate change as a catalyst to build a fairer economic system. And what we show in the film is that people are doing this very organically. As they’re fighting the fossil fuel projects, they’re fighting for energy democracy, community-controlled renewable energy, that keeps resources in the community so they can pay for services.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi, you mentioned that part of the crisis in Syria is caused by climate change. Explain.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, what we know is that Syria, right before the civil war broke out, had the worst drought in its history, a record-breaking drought. And obviously there are multiple drivers for any conflict, just as there are multiple drivers for any storm. It’s not like you can say this is just because of climate change. But what we do know is that climate change loads the dice, right? It’s an accelerant. So the storm would happen anyway, but because water is warmer, the storm is stronger. Well, climate change is an accelerant on many different levels. So you have conflicts and tensions already, fueled by military intervention, fueled by support for dictatorship. But then, when you layer on top a drought and the fact that people move, and more and more people crowd into cities, and that causes more conflict. So it’s not, you know, a direct causal this—you know, X causes Y. It’s another layer fueling it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the pope coming to town? He’s left the building now. The pope is no longer in the United States. But he gave the first address a pope has ever given to a joint session of Congress. Before the pope came here, he was in Cuba. Before that, you were at the Vatican. You were invited to address his unprecedented encyclical on climate change and the environment.


AMY GOODMAN: What about his message here?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think, first of all, this reflects the fact that the climate movement, and specifically the climate justice movement, is growing. And it’s growing in different constituencies. And the faith community is really, really a major part of this movement.

You know, as I’ve said before, I think, in earlier discussions we’ve had, one of the things that’s most remarkable about the encyclical is the way that it challenges dominant—this idea that humans have a right to dominate nature, that everything in nature is just here to serve us. I think what’s really most bold about the document is the way it celebrates interconnection, that we are all a part of this complex system, and that nature has inherent rights. I mean, this is something that the pope said when he addressed the U.N., which is—I don’t know if people understand quite how remarkable that is, because just a few years ago, before Pope Francis, under Benedict, the Holy See, which is—you know, actually has negotiating status at the United Nations as a country, would try to get references to the rights of nature and Mother Earth taken out of negotiating texts when countries like Bolivia and Ecuador would put them in, because they didn’t like this idea of natural rights, of nature having inherent value, because they were still subscribing, to some degree, to this idea of dominion. So there’s a major shift.

And look, I certainly don’t agree with the Vatican on everything. In fact, we could go through a very, very long list, which I won’t go—won’t bore you with right now. But what I find most remarkable about this pope is he is a man in a hurry. You know, you think about this trip in the U.S. and all of the speeches he made. He’s addressing Congress. He’s on the balcony. He’s talking to the homeless. He’s zipping to New York. I mean, how—and it’s dizzying, and it really—this is what leadership looks like as if the world depended on it. You don’t have to agree with him on everything, but the urgency of this political moment, the fact that we are on such a tight science-based deadline, the fact that it matters so much what we do in the next five years. I think from Obama we’ve seen what it looks like as if your legacy depends on it. But we need to see leadership as if the world depended on it.


AVI LEWIS: And just what about the resonance that this message is having? I mean, I, as a Canadian, you know, to be in the States right now and see the unbelievable support for Bernie Sanders and the enthusiasm for someone who’s talking about inequality, relentlessly talking about inequality, and connecting it to climate change, which, of course, is central to the pope’s message, too. These two intertwining crises are the defining crises of our time. And these two old guys, who are talking about it in very blunt ways, are summoning massive crowds and real resonance. And yet, you know, obviously, the mainstream media has no interest in connecting these topics or even really addressing them. But the popular support and resonance is just astonishing.

AMY GOODMAN: Filmmaker Avi Lewis and author Naomi Klein on their new film, This Changes Everything. When we come back, we talk to them about The Leap Manifesto, Canada’s upcoming elections, and Shell saying they won’t be drilling in the Arctic. Stay with us.


Burning All Fossil Fuels Could Thaw Antarctica, Raise Seas by 150 Feet

September 13, 2015

Antarctica, Scotia Sea, near South Georgia. (photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Antarctica, Scotia Sea, near South Georgia. (photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images)

By Alister Doyle, Reuters

12 September 15


Antarctica could disappear over thousands of years

urning all the world’s fossil fuel reserves could thaw the entire Antarctic ice sheet and push up world sea levels by more than 50 metres (160 feet), over thousands of years, an international study said on Friday.

Such a melt, also eliminating the far smaller ice sheet on Greenland, is a worst case of climate change that would inundate cities from New York to Shanghai and change maps of the world with much of the Netherlands, Bangladesh or Florida under water.

“Burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the (Antarctic) ice sheet,” the scientists wrote in the journal Science Advances. Antarctica contains ice equivalent to 58 metres of sea level rise.

Even current emissions from oil, coal and natural gas could make the West Antarctic ice sheet unstable, they said, if continued for 60-80 years. That would account for just 6-8 percent of fossil fuel reserves.

“What we are doing right now might change the face of the Earth for millennia to come,” lead author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany told Reuters.

France will host a Nov. 30-Dec. 11 summit of almost 200 nations to seek ways to combat climate change, partly by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies.

Last week, Christiana Figueres, the U.N.’s climate chief, told Reuters that two-thirds or more of fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to limit warming to a U.N. ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times to avert floods, droughts and heatwaves.

Friday’s study estimated that curbs on emissions to limit warming to 2C could restrict long-term sea level rise to a few metres. Seas have risen by about 20 cm (8 inches) since 1900.

“If we don’t stop dumping our waste carbon dioxide into the sky, land that is now home to more than a billion people will one day be under water,” Ken Caldeira, a co-author at the U.S. Carnegie Institution, said in a statement.

A thaw of much of Antarctica is remote even with high rates of warming – temperatures at the South Pole were a bone-chilling minus 71C (minus 95F) on Friday, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

But Winkelmann said a flow of ice towards the ocean could eventually thin the 2,700-metre (8,860-feet) thick ice at the Pole, exposing the surface to warmer temperatures.