Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Picturing the End of Fossil Fuels

August 27, 2015
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“It’s all of us, the little guys, against the immense, concentrated wealth and power of the biggest companies on earth.”

Early in the morning of 15 August, approximately 1,500 people set off from the climate camp in Germany’s Rhineland to try and enter one of the vast open-cast lignite mines in the area and block the massive excavators. The Rhineland coalfields are the biggest source of CO2 emissions in Europe. (Photographer: Ruben Neugebauer)

When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, writers rebel (or they write 1,500 words). I mean, pictures are great, but they can’t get across complicated concepts. Except when they can.

Which would be the summer of 2015, on two separate occasions. Early in the summer, on the West Coast of the United States, “kayaktivists” in Seattle Harbor surrounded Shell Oil’s giant Polar Pioneer drilling rig, trying to keep it from getting out of the harbor. They didn’t succeed in that, of course—the Coast Guard cleared them out of the way—but they did succeed in reminding everyone of the scale of the destruction Shell has planned. The sight of those small, many kayaks against that one brute drilling platform brought home the existential nature of the struggle: it’s all of us, the little guys, against the immense, concentrated wealth and power of the biggest companies on earth.

17332349103_2a786ecb57_k.jpgActivists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for the “Paddle in Seattle” protest on Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Seattle. The protesters gathered at a West Seattle park and then joined hundreds of others in Elliott Bay, next to the Port of Seattle Terminal 5, where Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig is docked. (Photo: Daniella Beccaria/ via AP)

And then again last weekend in Germany, at the amazing #EndeGelande protests, when more than a thousand activists managed to elude authorities and congregate inside Europe’s largest coal mine, in front of what are the world’s single largest terrestrial machines. (One, the Bagger 288 is so big it even has its own song). They sat there for most of the day, and the great machines could do no work—and that means, since they move 240,000 tons of coal a day, that a lot of coal was not mined.

But activists can’t stay there forever, and in the end it’s the picture that will do the company and the German government more damage. The Star Wars-like image of people standing in front of the Jurassic digger makes the same point of inhuman, absurd scale.

20416754789_051229af03_k.jpgThe Bagger 228 diggers are 220 metres long and the world’s biggest land vehicles. (Photographer: Tim Wagner)

Pictures don’t always turn the future, of course. The German images reminded me of the most famous picture of the Tiananmen saga…


… but sadly, the forces behind those tanks are still in control. His courage faced them down for a moment, but their implacable might won the day.

In the energy world, though, I’m willing to bet that these images are poison to the fossil fuel industry. It’s not just because of their sheer inhuman oversized ugliness, but because they manage to look somehow so antique. Or rather, so modern in a postmodern world. We’re moving quickly to a planet where the small and distributed makes more sense than the centralized and gigantic—that’s why you’re likely getting your news from the net, not a TV channel. Even without understanding the science of climate change—the horror that the carbon from that digger and that drill rig is driving—you have a visceral sense that they’re in the wrong moment, the wrong mood.

The fight against Arctic oil and German coal will be long and hard. But we already know, once we’ve won, what the pictures in the textbooks will be.

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Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

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History’s Lesson for Climate Action: No Other Choice ‘But Mass Mobilization’

August 27, 2015
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Joint statement ahead of UN climate talks in Paris declares humanity is “at crossroads” and that only hope is to stop digging up and burning world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves

Pictured: Activists under the banner of ‘Ende Gelände’ in Germany shut down RWE’s lignite mining operation on August 16. “For more than 20 years,” a new joint statement by world civil society leaders declares, “governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire.” (Image: Wagner/with overlay)

With less than 100 days until high-level UN climate talks take place in Paris, key leaders from the global climate justice movement have come together with a joint statement that affirms their belief that only mass popular mobilizations across the planet demanding a drastic reckoning with the world’s fossil fuel paradigm will suffice when it comes to confronting the increasingly dire and intertwined threats of neoliberal capitalism and planetary climate change.

“[The world has] a unique opportunity to reinvigorate democracy, to dismantle the dominance of corporate political power, to transform radically our modes of production and consumption. Ending the era of fossil fuels is one important step towards the fair and sustainable society we need.”

In a pair of “concretely” expressed demands aimed at world leaders, the signatories to the statement say governments must “end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry” and move swiftly to “freeze fossil fuel extraction by leaving untouched 80% of all existing fossil fuel reserves.”

With the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) scheduled to hold its 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) meeting in France at the end of November, the list of notable activists, academics, and policy experts—including South African Archbisop Desmond Tutu, Canadian author and journalist Naomi Klein, Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo, Indian biophysicist Vandana Shiva, American linguist Noam Chomsky, Nigerian environmental campaigner Nnimmo Bassey, former climate negotiator for the Philippines Yeb Saño, and many others—acknowledges that twenty previous meetings over recent years have accomplished far too little while the planetary crisis of global warming has only worsened.

“For more than 20 years,” the statement declares, “governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire.”

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Acknowledging their set of demands “implies a great historical shift,” the signers of the statement say the globalized justice movement for will no longer “wait for states” to make the needed changes on schedules dictated by the powerful fossil fuel corporations, large agro-businesses, financial elites, or governments in the thrall of such interests.

“Slavery and apartheid did not end because states decided to abolish them,” the statement reads. “Mass mobilisations left political leaders no other choice.”

The statement will be officially published on Thursday as part of a book and media project, called Stop Climate Crimes, orchestrated by the climate action group and French campaigners at Attac, which focuses on creating a more sustainable and equitable global economy. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350, told the Guardian the project is a solid first step ahead of COP21 and an indication of the messaging that groups like his will be articulating ahead of, during, and after the talks.

“It’s important for everyone to know that the players at Paris aren’t just government officials and their industry sidekicks,” McKibben said. “Civil society is going to have its say, and noisily if need be.”

The Guardian‘s Emma Howard, who had an advanced look at the Stop Climate Crimesproject, reports:

The book is a collection of essays, many published for the first time. In the foreword, Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town who rose to fame for his stance against apartheid, writes: “Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time … history proves that when human beings walk together in pursuit of a righteous cause, nothing can resist.”

In an essay on how climate change is impacting Africa, the Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey writes: “Temperature rises pose universal problems to the whole world, but more so for Africa. This is so because Africa has 50% higher temperatures than the global average … burning Africa is what is at stake.”

Last week, executive director May Boeve, released details of her group’s action plan surrounding the Paris talks by informing supporters that the time for “feeling powerless” in the face of climate crisis and government inertia was over. With a set of actions scheduled prior to the talks across the world and a vocal presence during COP21 itself, Boeve indicated that the most exciting activism would likely come in the new year when activists will mobilize “in a global wave of action unlike any” the world has seen before.

“Not one big march in one city, not a scattering of local actions,” she continued, “but rather a wave of historic national and continent-wide mobilizations targeting the fossil fuel projects that must be kept in the ground, and backing the energy solutions that will take their place.”

Meanwhile, international civil society groups in recent weeks have released documents articulating what, in their minds, a successful climate agreement in Paris would like and briefing statements about what the inherent limitations of the UNFCCC process continue to be. Scientists from around the world have also made it clear that immediate and meaningful climate action is essential in order to stave off the worst impacts of a rapidly warming world.

The joint statement, entitled “Freeze Fossil Fuel Extraction to Stop Climate Crimes” and published online here, follows in its entirety:

We are at a crossroads. We do not want to be compelled to survive in a world that has been made barely livable for us. From South Pacific Islands to the shores of Louisiana, from the Maldives to the Sahel, from Greenland to the Alps, the daily lives of millions of us are already being disrupted by the consequences of climate change. Through ocean acidification, the submersion of South Pacific Islands, forced migration in the Indian Subcontinent and Africa, frequent storms and hurricanes, the current ecocide affects all species and ecosystems, threatening the rights of future generations. And we are not equally impacted by climate change: Indigenous and peasant communities, poor communities in the global South and in the global North are at the frontlines and most affected by these and other impacts of climate disruption.

We are not under any illusions. For more than 20 years, governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire.

This comes as no surprise. Decades of liberalization of trade and investments have undermined the capacity of states to confront the climate crisis. At every stage powerful forces – fossil fuel corporations, agro-business companies, financial institutions, dogmatic economists, skeptics and deniers, and governments in the thrall of these interests – stand in the way or promote false solutions. Ninety companies are responsible for two-thirds of recorded greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Genuine responses to climate change threatens their power and wealth, threatens free market ideology, and threatens the structures and subsidies that support and underwrite them.

We know that global corporations and governments will not give up the profits they reap through the extraction of coal, gas and oil reserves; and through global fossil fuel-based industrial agriculture. Our continuing ability to act, think, love, care, work, create, produce, contemplate, struggle, however, demands that we force them to. To be able to continue to thrive as communities, individuals and citizens, we all must strive for change. Our common humanity and the Earth demand it.

We are confident in our capacity to stop climate crimes. In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid. They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising.

We are working to change everything. We can open the way to a more livable future, and our actions are much more powerful than we think. Around the world, our communities are fighting against the real drivers of the climate crisis, protecting territories, working to reduce their emissions, building their resilience, achieving food autonomy through small scale ecological farming, etc.

On the eve of the UN Climate Conference to be held in Paris-Le Bourget, we declare our determination to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This is the only way forward.

Concretely, governments have to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and to freeze fossil fuel extraction by leaving untouched 80% of all existing fossil fuel reserves.

We know that this implies a great historical shift. We will not wait for states to make it happen. Slavery and apartheid did not end because states decided to abolish them. Mass mobilisations left political leaders no other choice.

The situation today is precarious. We have, however, a unique opportunity to reinvigorate democracy, to dismantle the dominance of corporate political power, to transform radically our modes of production and consumption. Ending the era of fossil fuels is one important step towards the fair and sustainable society we need.

We will not waste this opportunity, in Paris or elsewhere, today or tomorrow.

The statement and its call for action was officially supported by the following individuals:

Agnès Sinaï (Institut Momentum), Alberto Acosta (économiste), Alex Randall (Climate Outreach), Amy Dahan (Historienne des Sciences), Bernard Guri (Centre for Indigenous Knowledge & Organisational Development), Bill McKibben (fondateur de, Boaventura de Sousa Santos (sociologue), Catherine Larrère (philosophe), Christophe Bonneuil (historien), Cindy Wiesner (Coordinator of Grassroots, Global Justice Alliance, USA), Claire Nouvian (Bloom), Claude Lorius (glaciologue), Clive Hamilton (philosophe), David Graeber (anthropologue), Desmond Tutu (archevêque émérite), Dominique Bourg (philosophe), Dominique Méda (sociologue), Edgardo Lander (sociologue), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (anthropologue), Emilie Hache (philosophe), Erri de Luca (écrivain), Esperanza Martinez (ancienne ministre de la Santé publique du Paraguay), Esther Vivas (chercheure et militante altermondialiste), François Gemenne (politiste), Frank Murazumi (Amis de la Terre Ouganda), Gaël Giraud (économiste), Geneviève Azam (économiste), George Monbiot (journaliste), Gerry Arrances (militant anti-charbon), Gilles Boeuf (président du MNHN), Gilles Clément (paysagiste), Gilles-Éric Séralini Godwin Ojo (Amis de la Terre, Nigeria), Gus Massiah (Cedetim), Guy Aurenche (président du CCFD), Isabelle Frémeaux (Laboratoire des Imaginaires Insurrectionnels), Isabelle Stengers (philosophe), Jacques Testart (biologiste), Jean-Baptiste Fressoz (historien), Jean-Pierre Dupuy (philosophe), Jean Gadrey (économiste), Jeanne Planche (Attac France), John Holloway (sociologue et philosophe), Joan Martinez Alier (économiste), John Jordan (Laboratoire des Imaginaires Insurrectionnels), Jon Palais (Bizi !), Kaddour Hadadi (musicien et chanteur, HK et les Saltimbanks), Kevin Smith (Liberate Tate), Kumi Naidoo (Greenpeace International), Larry Lohmann (The Corner House), Lech Kowalski (réalisateur), Leonardo Boff (théologien), Lidy Nacpil (Jubilee South), Mamadou Goïta (Institut de recherche et de promotion des alternatives au développement, Mali), Louise Hazan (, Marc Dufumier (agronome), Marc Luyckx Ghisi (écrivain), Marc Robert (chimiste), Marie-Monique Robin (journaliste), Maude Barlow (Food & Water Watch), Maxime Combes (économiste, membre d’Attac), Naomi Klein (essayiste), Michael Hardt (philosophe), Michael Löwy (sociologue), Mike Davis (historien et sociologue), Noam Chomsky (linguiste et philosophe), Nick Hildyard (The Corner House), Nicolas Haeringer (, Nnimmo Bassey (Oil Watch International), Noble Wadzah (Oil Watch Afrique), Olivier Bétourné (éditeur), Olivier de Schutter (juriste), Pablo Servigne (collapsologue), Pablo Solon (ancien ambassadeur de la Bolivie), Pat Mooney (ETC Group), Patrick Chamoiseau (écrivain), Patrick Viveret (philosophe), Paul Lannoye (ancien député européen), Philippe Bihouix (ingénieur), Philippe Desbrosses (Intelligence Verte), Philippe Descola (anthropologue), Pierre Rabhi (agronome et penseur de l’écologie), Pierre-Henri Gouyon (écologue), Priscilla Achakpa (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Nigéria), Razmig Keucheyan (sociologue), Rebecca Foon (musicienne), Roger Cox (avocat), Saskia Sassen (sociologue), Serge Latouche (économiste), Soumya Dutta (Alliance nationale des mouvements anti-nucléaires, Inde), Stefan C. Aykut (politiste), Susan George (économiste), Swoon (artiste), Thomas Coutrot (économiste, porte-parole d’Attac), Tom Kucharz (Ecologistas en Accion, Espagne), Tony Clarke (International Forum on Globalization), Txetx Etcheverry (Alternatiba), Valérie Cabannes (End Ecocide), Valérie Masson-Delmotte (climatologue), Vandana Shiva (physcienne et écologiste), Vincent Devictor (écologue), Vivienne Westwood (styliste), Yeb Saño (ancien ambassadeur des Philippines pour le climat), Yvonne Yanez (Oil Watch).

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Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Desmond Tutu and Others Call for Mass Climate Action

August 26, 2015

Climate change activists' graffiti on a billboard near the Didcot coal-fired power station in Oxfordshire, UK. (photo: Tim Myers)
Climate change activists’ graffiti on a billboard near the Didcot coal-fired power station in Oxfordshire, UK. (photo: Tim Myers)

By Emma Howard, Guardian UK

26 August 15


Noam Chomsky, Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein and Vivienne Westwood among group calling for mass mobilisation on the scale of slavery abolition and anti-apartheid movements

esmond Tutu, Vivienne Westwood, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky are among a group of prolific figures who will issue a mass call to action on Thursday ahead of the UN’s crunch climate change conference in Paris in December.

They call for mass mobilisation on the scale of the slavery abolition and anti-apartheid movements to trigger “a great historical shift”.

Their statement, published in the book Stop Climate Crimes, reads: “We are at a crossroads. We do not want to be compelled to survive in a world that has been made barely liveable for us … slavery and apartheid did not end because states decided to abolish them. Mass mobilisations left political leaders no other choice.”

Bill McKibben, founder of environmental movement, which has launched the project with the anti-globalisation organisation Attac France, described the move as a “good first step” towards Paris.

“It’s important for everyone to know that the players at Paris aren’t just government officials and their industry sidekicks. Civil society is going to have its say, and noisily if need be. This is a good first step,” he said.

There are now less than 100 days until the UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, where leaders from more than 190 countries will gather to discuss a potential new agreement on climate change. Last week the EU’s climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañetewarned that negotiations ahead of the conference must accelerate if any agreement is to be meaningful.

Artists, journalists, scientists and academics are among the 100 signatories to the statement alongside activists Vandana Shiva, Nnimmo Bassey and Yeb Sano, the Filipino diplomat who lead a fast of hundreds at the 2013 UN climate change summit in Poland after typhoon Haiyan devastated his country.

They target corporations and international trade, calling for an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels and a freeze on extraction.

“Decades of liberalisation of trade and investments have undermined the capacity of states to confront the climate crisis. At every stage powerful forces – fossil fuel corporations, agro-business companies, financial institutions, dogmatic economists, sceptics and deniers, and governments in the thrall of these interests – stand in the way or promote false solutions. Ninety companies are responsible for two-thirds of recorded greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Genuine responses to climate change threatens their power and wealth, threatens free market ideology, and threatens the structures and subsidies that support and underwrite them,” they state.

The book is a collection of essays, many published for the first time. In the foreword,Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town who rose to fame for his stance against apartheid, writes: “Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time … history proves that when human beings walk together in pursuit of a righteous cause, nothing can resist.”

In an essay on how climate change is impacting Africa, the Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey writes: “Temperature rises pose universal problems to the whole world, but more so for Africa. This is so because Africa has 50% higher temperatures than the global average … burning Africa is what is at stake.”

Elsewhere, climatologist Valérie Masson-Delmotte and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Jean Jouzel write on the current state of the science, while Pablo Solòn, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN presents a paper diagnosing the failure of the conferences.

Meat-Eaters Are the Number One Cause of Worldwide Species Extinction, New Study Warns

August 18, 2015


Meat production is proven to have a negative impact on species biodiversity and climate change. But will this problem only get worse as population growth increases the global demand for meat?

A meat-inclusive diet often comes with a side of environmental caveats, including livestock’s contribution to global warming, its contribution to deforestation, and the stress it places on a bevy of increasingly precious resources, from water to land. Now, a group of researchers want to add another concern to the meat-eater’s plate: worldwide species extinction.

According to a recent study published in Science of the Total Environmentby researchers at Florida International University in Miami, livestock production’s impact on land use is “likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions” — a problem the researchers think will only get worse as population growth increases the global demand for meat.

The study is particularly interesting to scientists because research linking livestock’s relationship to biodiversity loss has been lacking, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College who was not involved in the study, told Science.

“Now we can say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot,” Eshel said.

To understand livestock production’s impact on biodiversity, researchers at Florida International University mapped areas that have exceptionally high percentages of native plants and animal species — known as biodiversity hotspots.

The researchers then mapped areas where livestock production is expected to increase in the future, and determined how much land would be lost as a result of expanding meat operations, using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization and other studies about historic livestock production and land use conversion in those areas. Then, they compared the biodiversity hotspots with the expected expansion of meat production.

They found that of the areas expected to have the greatest conversion of land use for agriculture — from forest to land dedicated to livestock production — 15 were in “megadiverse” countries that have the greatest diversity of species. The study concludes that in the 15 “megadiverse countries,” land used for livestock production will likely increase by 30 to 50 percent — some 3,000,000 square kilometers (about 741 million acres).

“These changes will have major, negative impacts on biodiversity,” Brian Machovina, the study’s lead author, told Science. “Many, many species will be lost.”

Several studies have suggested that the Earth is currently in the midst of thesixth mass extinction, caused largely by human activities. Animals are hunted and sold for trade, climate change is disrupting migration and mating patterns, extreme weather is threatening animal populations, and deforestation is fragmenting crucial habitat. But all of those causes, Machovina and his colleagues claim, pale in comparison to the threat of habitat loss driven by demand for meat, which the study claims “will cause more extinctions than any other factor.”

And though meat consumption in the United States has fallen steadily since peaking in the 1970s, meat consumption worldwide continues to rise, driven by technological advancements, liberalized trade, and growing economies. Livestock production is also an incredibly important source of economic security for millions of the world’s poor, providing stable income for 987 million around the world.

Machovina and his colleagues do suggest some mitigation efforts that could curb the loss of biodiversity from meat production — namely, eat less meat. The study says that in order to limit the worst biodiversity losses, the average diet should get no more than 10 percent of its calories from meat, and that pork, chicken, and fish are less resource-intensive options for meat eaters.

But while meat production can have a negative impact on species biodiversity and climate change, it’d be unwise to quit meat production altogether, Clayton Marlow, a grassland ecologist at Montana State University, Bozeman, told Science. He argues that the real issue facing biodiversity loss isn’t the expansion of meat production, but the expansion of urban sprawl, which takes away land that could potentially be used for agricultural production.

Soil Not Meat: Overgrazing, War and Climate Change

August 14, 2015

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From Railroad Valley NV: overgrazed sagebrush steppe and salt desert
Railroad Valley NV: overgrazed sagebrush steppe and salt desert
(image by Matt Lavin) License DMCA

With the industrialization of supply chains, millions of Westerners now eat meat two, or three times, a day. Food production is responsible for releasing vast amounts of global greenhouse gases, and climate change is already having a significant impact on food production. Moreover, livestock overgrazing is leading to massive loss of top soil, wars and climate change.

Governments, donors, and development agencies have all been active agents in the expansion of animal-based agriculture by pushing for aid and policy reforms that promote livestock production as one of the main means of solving global poverty and hunger. In practice, the funding of livestock and feed crops in the less developed world is a form of neocolonialism since the supply chain is controlled by multinational corporations, and the animal-based protein and crops are largely exported to Western, developed countries. Further, top soil preservation in the global South is a climate justice issue since overgrazing results in the displacement of thousands of indigenous and local groups.

This “solution” is also unsustainable since overgrazing of pasture land and savanna leads to reduction in long-term grazing productivity. For example, in Botswana, farmers’ common practice of overstocking cattle to cope with drought losses made ecosystems more vulnerable and risked long term damage to cattle herds by depleting scarce biomass.

Demand for animal products is projected to increase by 50% from 2013 to 2025, and is already causing overstocking of fragile lands and massive desertification. Overgrazing, from the uplands of Ethiopia to the mountains of Nepal, creates loss of soil as well as flooding. The chief ecological impacts of overgrazing are loss of biodiversity, irreversible loss of topsoil, increase of turbidity in surface waters, and increased flooding frequency and intensity.

Further, livestock overgrazing practices are substantially reducing many grasslands’ performance as carbon sinks, worldwide. Overgrazing occurs on 33% of all rangeland, and often, marginal rangelands are used intensively when historically productive adjacent range has become overgrazed and unproductive. The cycle of overgrazing, soil degradation, top soil erosion and loss of vegetation is rapidly expanding on all continents.

Overgrazing causes severe land degradation, and has been a major factor in wars in Darfur and Syria. Livestock is destroying valuable top soil and food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries. Increasing livestock production will lead global conflict and impoverishment of millions to benefit the appetite of a global middle-class.


According to the FAO, globally, 70% of all grazing land in dry areas is considered degraded, mostly because of overgrazing, compaction and erosion attributable to livestock activity. Overgrazing can be considered the major cause of desertification in arid drylands, tropical grasslands and savannas, worldwide. Moreover, in arid and semi-arid drylands around the globe, overgrazing is the major cause of desertification.

Placement of high densities of livestock on a grassland removes biomass at a rapid rate, which produces a series of accompanying effects. The residual plants decline in mass density, and surface water infiltration is reduced. There is also a decrease in fungal biomass that rely on grasses.

Ground surface temperatures rise, which exaggerates the amount of evaporation and transpiration, and leads to increase aridity. In addition, overgrazing has a characteristic effect of reducing root depths. With impeded water uptake from the soil, a positive feedback loop of growth retardation is established.

At least 25% of the world’s biodiversity lives underground, where, for example, the earthworm is a giant alongside tiny organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Such organisms, including plant roots, act as the primary agents driving nutrient cycling, and they help plants by improving nutrient intake, which in turn supports above-ground biodiversity.

Removing livestock, and better soil and land management that supports healthy soil organisms, can boost the soil’s ability to absorb carbon and mitigate desertification. This could result in providing more food for the world and in more carbon being sequestered, thus helping to offset agriculture’s own emissions of GHGs.

[Excerpt from the book, “Meat Climate Change”.]

Dr. Moses Seenarine is a plant-based father and activist, founder of Climate Change 911, and the author of Voices from the Subaltern(2004) and Meat Climate Change (Forthcoming).
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Disastrous Sea Level Rise Is an Issue for Today’s Public — Not Next Millennium’s

July 28, 2015

Posted: 07/26/2015 10:20 pm EDT Updated: 07/27/2015 2:59 pm EDT
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In 2005, I argued that ice sheets may be more vulnerable than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated, mainly because of effects of a warming ocean in speeding ice melt. In 2007, I wrote“Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise,” describing and documenting a phenomenon that pressures scientists to minimize the danger of imminent sea level rise.

About then I became acquainted with remarkable studies of geologist Paul Hearty. Hearty found strong evidence for sea level rise late in the Eemian to +6-9 m (20-30 feet) relative to today. The Eemian is the prior interglacial period (~120,000 years ago), which was slightly warmer than the present interglacial period (the Holocene) in which civilization developed. Hearty also found evidence for powerful storms in the North Atlantic near the end of the Eemian period.

It seemed that an understanding of the late Eemian climate events might be helpful in assessing the climate effects of human-made global warming, as Earth is now approaching the warmth that existed then. Thus several colleagues and I initiated global climate simulations aimed at trying to understand what happened at the end of the Eemian and its relevance to climate change today.

More than eight years later, we are publishing a paper describing these studies. We are publishing the paper in an open-access “Discussion” journal, which allows the paper to become public while undergoing peer-review (a pdf of the paper with figures imbedded in the text for easier reading is available here). I will get to the reasons for that in a moment, but first let me mention some curious numerology to get you thinking about scientific reticence.

Did you read any of the recent papers that concluded ice sheets may be disintegrating and might cause large sea level rise in 200-900 years? The time needed for ice sheets to respond to climate change is uncertain, and there are proponents for time scales covering a huge range. However, 200-900 years should cause a scientist to scratch his head. If it is uncertain by an order of magnitude or more, why not 100-1000? Where does the 200-900 precision come from?

Why the peculiar 900 years instead of the logical 1000? Probably because nobody cares about matters 1000 years in the future (they may not care about 900, but 200-900 does not seem like infinity). A scientist knowing that sea level is a problem does not want the reader to dismiss it.

Why 200 years? For one thing, 100 years would require taking on the formidable IPCC, which estimates that even the huge climate forcing for a hypothetical 936 ppm CO2 in 2100 would yield less than one meter sea level rise. For another thing, incentives for scientists strongly favor conservative statements and militate against any “alarmist” conclusion; this is the “reticence” phenomenon that infects the sea level rise issue2. “Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise” will be the subject of a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting this year.


Fig. 1. Stratification and precipitation amplifying feedbacks. Stratification: increased freshwater/iceberg flux increases ocean vertical stratification, reduces AABW formation, and traps ocean heat that increases ice shelf melting. Precipitation: increased freshwater/iceberg flux cools ocean mixed layer, increases sea ice area, causing increase of precipitation that falls before it reaches Antarctica, adding to ocean surface freshening and reducing ice sheet growth. Retrograde beds in West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin, East Antarctica make their large ice amounts vulnerable to such melting.

IPCC conclusions about sea level rise rely substantially on models. Ice sheet models are very sluggish in response to forcings. It is important to recognize a great difference in the status of (atmosphere-ocean) climate models and ice sheet models. Climate models are based on general circulation models that have a long pedigree. The fundamental equations they solve do a good job of simulating atmosphere and ocean circulations. Uncertainties remain in climate models, such as how well they handle the effect of clouds on climate sensitivity. However, the climate models are extensively tested, and paleoclimate changes confirm their approximate sensitivities.

In contrast, we show in a prior paper and our new paper that ice sheet models are far too sluggish compared with the magnitude and speed of sea level changes in the paleoclimate record. This is not surprising, given the primitive state of ice sheet modeling. For example, a recent ice sheet model sensitivity study finds that incorporating the physical processes of hydrofracturing of ice and ice cliff failure increases their calculated sea level rise from 2 meters to 17 meters and reduces the potential time for West Antarctic collapse to decadal time scales. Other researchers7,8 show that part of the East Antarctic ice sheet sits on bedrock well below sea level. Thus, West Antarctica is not the only potential source of rapid change; part of the East Antarctic ice sheet is also susceptible to rapid retreat because of its direct contact with the ocean and because the bed beneath the ice slopes landward (Fig. 1), which makes it less stable.

Our simulations were aimed to test my suspicion that ice sheet disintegration is a very nonlinear phenomena and that the IPCC studies were largely omitting what may be the most important forcing of the ocean: the effect of cold freshwater from melting ice. Rather than use an ice sheet model to estimate rates of freshwater release, we use observations for the present ice melt rate and specify several alternative rates of increase of ice melt. Our atmosphere-ocean model shows that the freshwater spurs amplifying feedbacks that would accelerate ice shelf and ice sheet mass loss, thus providing support for our assumption of a nonlinear ice sheet response.

Our analysis, however, is based on much more than the climate simulations, as it relies on a huge body of research by the relevant scientific communities, as indicated by the 300 references. Our analysis is based on about equal parts of information gleaned from paleoclimate studies, climate modeling, and modern observations of ongoing climate changes.

We submitted our paper to an open-access “Discussion” journal (ACPD) in hopes of engaging the scientific and policy-making communities in an important conversation about the urgency of reducing fossil fuel emissions and the adequacy of current and proposed policies. We conclude, for example, that 2°C global warming, rather than being a safe “guardrail,” is highly dangerous.

Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion is an open-access peer-reviewed journal in which the reviews and our response are published and freely available to the public. We hope this publication procedure will reduce the chance of the paper turning out to be unhelpful, which might be the case if criticisms were misinterpreted by the public. I think there is an analogy of this paper to my congressional testimony in 1988-89. Then as now, conclusions are drawn from a combination of information from paleoclimate, modeling, ongoing observations, and theory.

Stakes in climate change are high, so conclusions about climate change are sure to draw fire. That’s as it should be; skepticism is the lifeblood of science, essential to success of an analysis. So criticisms of my testimony, asdescribed well by Richard Kerr, were inevitable and useful.

Kerr’s article is instructive about scientific reticence, which can deprive policymakers of the gut feeling of experts. This is all important for sea level rise because of lags in the system (policies → emissions → climate change → sea level rise). Information is needed as soon as possible.

The most perceptive comments in Kerr’s interviews may have been, as was often the case, from our good old friend Steve Schneider: “All that objective stuff rests on assumptions. The future is not based on statistics, it’s based on physics.” By “objective stuff” Steve referred to the arbitrary choices made to define probabilities of an outcome. The media accepts resulting probabilities as meaningful, yet entirely different results would be obtained from alternative initial choices.

Steve’s “objective stuff” defines IPCC’s sea level analysis precisely. They choose certain ‘process-based models’ as first choice to define future sea level. This gives sea level rise in 2100 (relative to 1986-2005 mean sea level) of 0.74 m with likely range 0.52-0.98 m for business-as-usual greenhouse gases (RCP8.5 scenario), where ‘likely’ is defined as >66 percent probability. Ugh.


Fig. 2. Surface air temperature change relative to 1880-1920 in 2055-2060 based on climate simulations assuming ice melt increases with a 10-year doubling time.

A policymaker will take this as meaning that sea level rise is probably going to be less than a meter even if CO2 increases to 936 ppm, in other words, policymakers will take this “objective stuff” as serious, reliable estimates of what to expect. Yikes! What if someone decided to include processes such as hydrofracturing and ice cliff failure in these objective models?

Steve Schneider modestly described his preferred approach as one based on “physical intuition”. In other words, his best judgment based on all of the information at his disposal. “All of the information” surely includes knowledge gained from paleoclimate, modeling, observations of ongoing climate change, understanding of physical processes, etc. Of course, with this approach there is no way to specify an exact number for the sea level rise corresponding to >66 percent chance. Nevertheless, alternatives to the “objective stuff”, at least in this case, are superior, in my opinion, but the result does depend on the scientific ability of the practitioner.

Dick Kerr is one of the best science writers. His article contains information relevant to the scientific method in general and how we reach conclusions, not just scientific reticence. He allows readers to think and read between the lines, and draw their own conclusions.

We can always say that more research is needed. Yet as the evidence accumulates at some point a scientist must say it is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong. In my opinion, we have reached that point on the sea level issue.

My conclusion, based on the total information available, is that continued high emissions would result in multi-meter sea level rise this century and lock in continued ice sheet disintegration such that building cities or rebuilding cities on coast lines would become foolish.

That brings me to the other reason for publishing in an open-access “discussion” journal, in addition to wanting to give the sea level rise issue more prominence prior to Paris meetings. There is a danger that the public — not too familiar with the scientific method — may misinterpret criticisms, which are natural and healthy for science. I’m hoping that this publication process will make that process clearer and thus also make the reality of the climate situation clearer.

A startling conclusion of our paper is that effects of freshwater release onto the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic are already underway and 1-2 decades sooner in the real world than in the model (Fig. 2). Observed effects include sea surface cooling and sea ice increase in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and cooling in the North Atlantic. We suggest that the sluggishness (delayed response) of the climate models may be a result of a common excessive small scale mixing in many ocean models, including ours, as discussed previously. One of our objectives is to draw attention to this — I also hope to get support for our group to do climate modeling to investigate the issue, because we recognize several ways that we could improve the model.

Here, I expand on our conclusion that the science indicates 2°C is not a safe target. Indeed, 2°C is not only a wrong target, temperature is a flawed metric due to meltwater effect on temperature. Sea level, a critical metric for humanity, is at least on the same plane. Earth’s energy imbalance is a critical metric, because energy balance must be restored to stabilize climate, which thus informs us about the required limit on greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed upon at Rio in 1992, defines GHGs as the critical metric, saying that GHGs must be stabilized at a level that avoids “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with climate. Why have policymakers turned away from GHG amount to temperature as the metric with a value (2°C) seemingly pulled from a hat? Could it be because 2°C allows politicians to set emission targets to be achieved in the future when they will be out of office? If we stick to the Framework Convention’s GHG metric, we find that the CO2 stabilization level is not 450 ppm or 400 ppm, it is 350 ppm and possibly lower with immediate implications for policy.

The bottom line message scientists should deliver to policymakers is that we have a global crisis, an emergency that calls for global cooperation to reduce emissions as rapidly as practical. We conclude elsewhere and reaffirm in our present paper that the crisis calls for an across-the-board rising carbon fee and international technical cooperation in carbon-free technologies.

Despite the increased threat of sea level rise, I believe that it is still possible to keep impacts of human-made climate change moderate. However, that optimism is based on the assumption that we are close to the point when it is widely recognized that a policy with an across-the-board rising carbon fee that rapidly phases down carbon emissions also makes good economic sense.

Scientists Identify ‘Triple Threat’ Endangering US Coastal Cities

July 28, 2015
Published on

The ‘meteorological double whammy’ of heavy rainfall and storm surges is only further exacerbated by rising sea levels, scientists say

Flooding in Hoboken during Superstorm Sandy. (Photo: WhatsAllThisThen/flickr/cc)

A trio of phenomena attributed at least in part to climate change—sea-level rise, storm surges, and heavy rainfall—poses an increasing risk to residents of major U.S. cities including Boston, New York, Houston, San Diego, and San Francisco, according to new research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Call it a triple threat,” Steven Meyers, a scientist at the University of South Florida and one of the paper’s authors, told the Guardian.

Using historical data on rainfall, tide gauge readings, and extreme weather occurrences, the scientists explored the combined risks that endanger broad stretches of the U.S. coasts. Specifically, they looked at scenarios in which heavy rainfall combines with so-called “storm surges”—the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm—to create “compound flooding.”

Writing for Climate Central, Andrea Thompson further explains: “The wall of ocean water that the winds of a storm system, such as a hurricane, can push in front of it can combine with heavy rains to exacerbate flooding in two ways: Either the rainfall inland can ramp up the severity of the surge-driven flooding, or the surge can elevate water levels to the point that gravity-driven flow of rainwater is impeded, causing that water to collect in streets and seep into homes.”

That “meteorological double whammy,” as Thompson calls it, is only further exacerbated by rising sea levels. Experts have linked climate change to both extreme weather and rising oceans.

Nor surprisingly, the risks of compound flooding are getting worse over time, the study shows.

As lead author Thomas Wahl, also of the University of South Florida, and University of Maine professor Shaleen Jain wrote in a piece published at The Conversation on Monday, they found that “along large coastline stretches around the U.S. a systematic linkage exists between the two important drivers for coastal flooding, making it more likely that the two occur in tandem. Our analysis showed that over the past century, the number of compound flood events for many U.S. coastal cities has increased.”

In New York City, for example, the weather conditions that typically cause the combined conditions are twice as likely to occur today than in the mid-20th century, the researchers found.

With nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population residing in coastal counties, the paper warns, “[i]mpacts of flooding in these usually low-lying, densely populated, and highly developed regions, can be devastating with wide-ranging social, economic, and environmental consequences.”

As Arielle Duhaime-Ross wrote at The Verge, “[b]etween 2010 and 2014, the average flood claim was almost $42,000. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of people that are displaced following a severe flooding event. That’s why researchers are trying to figure out which factors contribute to flooding; it’s the kind of information that can really come in handy when rebuilding a city, for instance.”

Indeed, that is precisely the researchers’ goal. “Gaining more insight into the frequency and likelihood of compound floods can help planners better assess risk from flooding to critical infrastructure,” Wahl and Jain wrote.

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World Scientists: Climate Change as Serious a Risk as Nuclear War

July 27, 2015


Alex Kirby, Climate News Network | July 19, 2015 12:41 pm | Comments
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The UK government says that climate change poses risks that demand to be treated as seriously as the threat of nuclear war.

Climate change poses risks that demand to be treated as seriously as the threat of nuclear war, says a report commissioned by the UK government.
Scientists from the UK, U.S., India and China say in a report commissioned by the UK that deciding what to do about climate change depends on the value we put on human life, both now and in years to come.

One of the lead authors of the report is Sir David King, formerly the UK government’s chief scientist, who last month co-authored a report on the scale of investment that should be made to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2025.
In a foreword to the latest report, Baroness Anelay, a minister at the British foreign office, writes that assessing the risks surrounding nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation means understanding inter-dependent elements—including what science says is possible, what other countries may intend, and systemic factors such as regional power dynamics.

“The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment,” she says.

Value Human Life

She concludes: “How much do we care about the effects of climate change? How important is it that we act to avoid them? What probability of their occurrence can we tolerate? … The answers to these questions depend in part on how we value human life—both now, and in the future.”

The report is not the first to put climate chaos and nuclear devastation in the same category of risk, but its sponsorship by one of the world’s nuclear powers is eloquent.

It says the most important political decision is how much effort to exert on countering climate change, taking into account what we are doing to the climate, how it may respond, what that could do to us, and what we might then do to each other.

The authors’ best guess, based on current policies and trends, is that greenhouse gas emissions will keep going up for another few decades, and then either level off or slowly decline.

This, they say, is for two reasons: governments are not making maximum use of the technologies already available; and technology is not yet progressing fast enough to give governments the policy options they will need. In the worst case, emissions could keep on rising throughout the century.

They warn that how the climate may change, and what that could do to us, are both highly uncertain. “The important thing to understand is that uncertainty is not our friend,” the report says. “There is much more scope to be unlucky than there is to be lucky.”

High Emissions Pathway

The report foresees wide ranges of possible global temperature and sea level increase. On a high emissions pathway, it says, where the most likely temperature rise is estimated at 5°C by 2100, anything from 3°C to 7°C may be possible.

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Climate Scientist Warns Sea Levels Are Rising Faster than We Thought

July 22, 2015


A new report reveals a devastating sea level rise from the acceleration of the melting of ice shelves. The implications are significant and the urgency of the issue is now climate scientist James Hansen urges.

Limiting climate change to 2°C is not going to protect us from devastating sea-level rise, a new report has found.

According to the research, freshwater from land-based ice sheets melting into the oceans is inducing feedback that is accelerating the melting of ice shelves — a loop that indicates sea level rise will continue and could be devastating at much lower temperature changes than previously thought.

The study, authored by well-known climate scientist James Hansen and 16 other researchers, will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physicsthis week. The research explains that there is an “amplifying feedback” as polar ice melts, because as more fresh water enters the ocean, it traps warmer sea water, which melts more ice. The effect is not included in the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modeling but “extensive data indicate [it] is already occurring,” according to the report.

“We are underestimating the speed at which these things are beginning to happen,” Hansen, head of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Monday on a call with reporters.

This feedback loop is separate from other accepted science, such as the ice-albedo feedback loop, in which dark-colored water and exposed ground absorb more heat than the white, reflective ice and snow they have replaced.

The implications of this feedback loop are significant, Hansen said.

“This is substantially more persuasive than anything previously published about just how dangerous 2°C will be,” Hansen said on the call Monday.

The study has not been peer-reviewed. Instead, it is being published in a discussion journal, which means will be published in full and made available to the public. Peer review and revisions will be made publicly. The scientific community is sure to weigh in.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ThinkProgress that he was “skeptical about some of the specifics” of the paper — for instance, the ocean current modeling and meltwater assumptions. But, overall, Mann supported the discussion the article will prompt.

“Hansen and colleagues make a plausible case that even 2°C planetary warming (something we commit to in just a few years given business as usual fossil fuel burning) could indeed be very bad,” Mann wrote in an email. He pointed to the predicted collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet and the substantial rise in sea level that would result.

“On that basis alone, the article serves as a sobering wake-up call to those who still dispute the threat posed by our ongoing burning of fossil fuels,” Mann wrote.

In fact, Hansen said it’s the urgency of the issue that prompted him to submit the study to a discussion journal, rather than undergoing peer review, which might have taken too long.

Instead, the study is appearing months in advance of the United Nations’ climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Governments have already begun outlining their potential commitments to carbon emissions reductions, but Hansen suggested that current goals may not be sufficient to adequately address sea level rise. Other scientists have also criticized the 2°C limit, saying that it will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic drought, flooding, and other climate impacts.

And the stakes could not be higher, according to the authors. “High emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century,” they write. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Three-quarters of large cities worldwide are located on the coast, making sea level rise a significant climate change risk. In order to prevent this process, we need to curb carbon emissions by 3 percent a year and increase carbon capture through agricultural and forestry practices, Hansen said. Putting a price on carbon is the most effective — and likely only effective — way to address climate change and sea level rise, Hansen told reporters.

“The situation is more urgent than many politicians seem to realize,” he said. “What is really needed to happen requires that the major power decide we want to do this and we want to solve the problem and not just fiddle around the edges.”

At a meeting last month, leaders of the Group of Seven — a coalition of the world’s largest economies — agreed to limit warming to 2°C, but they did not announce a plan or mechanism for reducing emissions. China recentlypledged to cut its carbon intensity — its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP — by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The negotiations of the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris later this year are broadly structured around an attempt to limit global warming to 2°C through voluntary, agreed-upon carbon emission reductions. Hansen and his colleagues believe that goal is a chimera.

“We conclude that 2°C global warming above the preindustrial level, instead of being a safe ‘guardrail’, is highly dangerous,” the authors write.

James Hansen Warns of ‘Apocalyptic’ Climate Scenario

July 21, 2015

Polar bear. (photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Polar bear. (photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

James Hansen’s new study explodes conventional goals of climate diplomacy and warns of 10 feet of sea level rise before 2100. The good news is, we can fix it.

By Mark Hertsgaard, The Daily Beast

20 July 15


ames Hansen, the former NASA scientist whose congressional testimony put global warming on the world’s agenda a quarter century ago, is now warning that humanity could confront “sea level rise of several meters” before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed much faster than currently contemplated.

This roughly ten feet of sea level rise—well beyond previous estimates—would render coastal cities such as New York, London and Shanghai uninhabitable. “Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water,” Hansen says, “but you couldn’t live there.”

This apocalyptic scenario illustrates why the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is not the safe “guardrail” most politicians and media coverage imply it is, argue Hansen and 16 colleagues in a blockbuster study they are publishing this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. On the contrary, a 2 C future would be “highly dangerous.”

If Hansen is right—and he has been right, sooner, about the big issues in climate science longer than anyone—the implications are vast and profound.

Physically, Hansen’s findings mean that the earth’s ice is melting and its seas are rising much faster than expected. Other scientists have offered less extreme findings; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected closer to three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, an amount experts say will be difficult enough to cope with. (Three feet of sea level rise would put runways of all three New York City area airports underwater unless protective barriers were erected. The same holds for airports in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Worldwide, approximately $3 trillion worth infrastructure vital to civilization such as water treatment plants, power stations, and highways are located at or below three feet of sea level, according to the Stern Review, a comprehensive analysis published by the British government.

Hansen’s track record commands respect. From the time the soft-spoken Iowan told the U.S. Senate in 1988 that man-made global warming was no longer a theory but had in fact begun and threatened unparalleled disaster, he has consistently been ahead of the scientific curve.

Hansen has long suspected that computer models underestimated how sensitive earth’s ice sheets were to rising temperatures. Indeed, the IPCC excluded ice sheet melt altogether from its calculations of sea level rise. For their study, Hansen and his colleagues combined ancient paleo-climate data with new satellite readings and an improved model of the climate system to demonstrate that ice sheets can melt at a “non-linear” rate: rather than an incremental melting as the earth’s poles inexorably warm, ice sheets might melt at exponential rates, shedding dangerous amounts of mass in a matter of decades, not millennia. In fact, current observations indicate that some ice sheets already are melting this rapidly.

“Prior to this paper I suspected that to be the case,” Hansen told The Daily Beast. “Now we have evidence to make that statement based on much more than suspicion.”

Politically, Hansen’s new projections amount to a huge headache for diplomats, activists, and anyone else hoping that a much-anticipated global climate summit the United Nations is convening in Paris in December will put the world on a safe path. President Barack Obama and other world leaders must now reckon with the possibility that the 2 degrees goal they affirmed at the Copenhagen summit in 2009 is actually a recipe for catastrophe. In effect, Hansen’s study explodes what has long been the goal of conventional climate diplomacy.

More troubling, honoring even the conventional 2 degrees C target has so far proven extremely challenging on political and economic grounds. Current emission trajectories put the world on track towards a staggering 4 degrees of warming before the end of the century, an amount almost certainly beyond civilization’s coping capacity. In preparation for the Paris summit, governments have begun announcing commitments to reduce emissions, but to date these commitments are falling well short of satisfying the 2 degrees goal. Now, factor in the possibility that even 2 degrees is too much and many negotiators may be tempted to throw up their hands in despair.

They shouldn’t. New climate science brings good news as well as bad. Humanity can limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C if it so chooses, according to a little-noticed study by experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts (now perhaps the world’s foremost climate research center) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published in Nature Climate Change in May.

“Actions for returning global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 are in many ways similar to those limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the study. “However … emission reductions need to scale up swiftly in the next decades.” And there’s a significant catch: even this relatively optimistic study concludes that it’s too late to prevent global temperature rising by 2 degrees C. But this overshoot of the 2 C target can be made temporary, the study argues; the total increase can be brought back down to 1.5 C later in the century.

Besides the faster emissions reductions Rogelj referenced, two additional tools are essential, the study outlines. Energy efficiency—shifting to less wasteful lighting, appliances, vehicles, building materials and the like—is already the cheapest, fastest way to reduce emissions. Improved efficiency has made great progress in recent years but will have to accelerate, especially in emerging economies such as China and India.

Also necessary will be breakthroughs in so-called “carbon negative” technologies. Call it the photosynthesis option: because plants inhale carbon dioxide and store it in their roots, stems, and leaves, one can remove carbon from the atmosphere by growing trees, planting cover crops, burying charred plant materials underground, and other kindred methods. In effect, carbon negative technologies can turn back the clock on global warming, making the aforementioned descent from the 2 C overshoot to the 1.5 C goal later in this century theoretically possible. Carbon-negative technologies thus far remain unproven at the scale needed, however; more research and deployment is required, according to the study.

Together, the Nature Climate Change study and Hansen’s new paper give credence to the many developing nations and climate justice advocates who have called for more ambitious action. The authors of the Nature Climate Change study point out that the 1.5 degrees goal “is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change.” In May, the governments of 20 of those countries, including the Philippines, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Bangladesh, declared the 2 degrees target “inadequate” and called for governments to “reconsider” it in Paris.

Hansen too is confident that the world “could actually come in well under 2 degrees, if we make the price of fossil fuels honest.”

That means making the market price of gasoline and other products derived from fossil fuels reflect the enormous costs that burning those fuels currently externalizes onto society as a whole. Economists from left to right have advocated achieving this by putting a rising fee or tax on fossil fuels. This would give businesses, governments, and other consumers an incentive to shift to non-carbon fuels such as solar, wind, nuclear and, best of all, increased energy efficiency. (The cheapest and cleanest fuel is the fuel you don’t burn in the first place.)

But putting a fee on fossil fuels will raise their price to consumers, threatening individual budgets and broader economic prospects, as opponents will surely point out. Nevertheless, higher prices for carbon-based fuels need not have injurious economic effects if the fees driving those higher prices are returned to the public to spend as it wishes. It’s been done that way for years with great success in Alaska, where all residents receive an annual check in compensation for the impact the Alaskan oil pipeline has on the state.

“Tax Pollution, Pay People” is the bumper sticker summary coined by activists at the Citizens Climate Lobby. Legislation to this effect has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile, there are also a host of other reasons to believe it’s not too late to preserve a livable climate for young people and future generations.

The transition away from fossil fuels has begun and is gaining speed and legitimacy. In 2014, global greenhouse gas emissions remained flat even as the world economy grew—a first. There has been a spectacular boom in wind and solar energy, including in developing countries, as their prices plummet. These technologies now qualify as a “disruptive” economic force that promises further breakthroughs, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

Coal, the most carbon-intensive conventional fossil fuel, is in a death spiral, partly thanks to another piece of encouraging news: the historic climate agreement the U.S. and China reached last November, which envisions both nations slashing coal consumption (as China is already doing). Hammering another nail into coal’s coffin, the leaders of Great Britain’s three main political parties pledged to phase out coal, no matter who won the general elections last May.

“If you look at the long-term [for coal], it’s not getting any better,” said Standard & Poor’s Aneesh Prabhu when S&P downgraded coal company bonds to junk status. “It’s a secular decline,” not a mere cyclical downturn.

Last but not least, a vibrant mass movement has arisen to fight climate change. Its most visible manifestation were the hundreds of thousands of people who thronged the streets of New York City last September, demanding action from global leaders gathered at the UN. The rally was impressive enough that it led oil and gas giant ExxonMobil to increase its internal estimate of how likely the U.S. government is to take strong action. “That many people marching is clearly going to put pressure on government to do something,” an ExxonMobil spokesman told Bloomberg Businessweek.

The climate challenge has long amounted to a race between the imperatives of science and the contingencies of politics. With Hansen’s paper, the science has gotten harsher, even as the Nature Climate Change study affirms that humanity can still choose life, if it will. The question now is how the politics will respond—now, at Paris in December, and beyond.



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