Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

Climate Change: Don’t read this if you don’t want to know how bad it is

August 24, 2015

General News 8/23/2015 at 08:31:09

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Abrupt Climate Change forced by 30 some odd self reinforcing feedback loops is making it possible to observe what was projected by the IPCC to occur by the end of the century now.

You may have missed this news as there is a lot going on with the Donald.


(image by NOAA) DMCA

These Methane releases are what Hansen warned of as the Clathrate Gun, or in other words the tipping points have tipped.


(image by NOAA) DMCA

 

Methane Hydrate releases in the arctic as warned of by Sam Carana are now reported by NOAA to be 150 miles across. You will remember that even slight releases of methane in the arctic were enough to cause polar researchers like Jason Box to freak out a little over a year ago.

Jason Box
“@climate_ice
If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.

8:43 AM – 29 Jul 2014

Methane is orders of magnitude worse than CO2 and its being released in 50 Gigaton bursts farts that by themselves can cause an instant 1.3 degrees C global temperature rise.

(image by Sam Carana) DMCA

 
A year ago we began to observe warmer arctic water temperatures high enough to melt sea ice because of the Methane releases.

Sea surface temperatures as high as 18.8 degreesC are now recorded at locations where warm water from the Pacific Ocean is threatening to invade the Arctic Ocean.

(image by NOAA) DMCA
That was all a year ago but like many people I was still looking at the IPCC projections which would be reasonably accurate if you cut the time scale in half.

Its good that while Trump continues to be all the media is interested in, we now have the ability here to teach each other to recognize that Black Lives Matter and Black and Brown people in the United States are being shot dead by cops every day or maybe worse incarcerated in private prisons where men women and children are being forced to perform slave labor as if the plantations of the Civil War had just been moved to some private penitentiary but meanwhile our Life Expectancy as a species may now be compared to that of someone in their seventies who has stage four cancer.

Now we have El Nino acting like a blowtorch raising the temperature of the whole Pacific Ocean 4-8 degrees C and directing its focus towards the west coast.

Fish can’t adapt to temperatures rising that much that fast, neither can the plant life that recycles our oxygen. We ourselves are running out of drinking water even as the people making decisions for us have decided to irrigate our crops with fracking waste water. Maybe its a good thing peak oil is here because fossil fuel use has been part of the problem and changing over to solar and wind might have been good if we had done it in time, but Methane releases are now on the order of 1000 times more damaging even than all that CO2 from cars.

 

The result is the California drought extending up into Canada and the Canadian fires which may themselves be both releasing and fueled by a self reinforcing methane release loop.


(image by NDMC) DMCA

In the Persian Gulf we get heat indexes in the 170 plus range with a combination of desert heat , ocean humidity and direct sunlight


(image by NOAA) DMCA

 
I wish I had a big enough voice that I could stand on a soapbox someplace and make the point that as temperature rises so do sea levels, maybe 5-9 meters in our now much shorter than expected lifetimes. Then there are the 400 some odd nuclear reactors that require maintenance they won’t be getting when our cities sink beneath the waves. On top of that there may be many more storms with huge rogue waves of up to 30 meters making life on the oceans interesting. There are a lot of things that can kill us as individuals, but this is the first time its become really obvious the decision making about our imminent extinction as a species that is one component of all the life on this planet has been taken out of our hands.

 

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Speed of Glacier Retreat Worldwide ‘Historically Unprecedented’

August 5, 2015

The Rhone glacier, Switzerland. Sea levels are rising as a consequence of the rapid loss of glacial ice worldwide. (photo: REX Shutterstock)
The Rhone glacier, Switzerland. Sea levels are rising as a consequence of the rapid loss of glacial ice worldwide. (photo: REX Shutterstock)

By Tim Radford, Guardian UK

05 August 15

 

Researchers have recorded rapid rises in meltwater and alarming rates of glacial retreat, which are accelerating at a pace double that of a decade ago

he world’s glaciers are in retreat. The great tongues of ice high in the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps and the Rockies are going back uphill at ever greater speeds, according to new research.

And this loss of ice is both accelerating and “historically unprecedented”, say scientists who report in the Journal of Glaciology.

In the past year or so, researchers have identified rapid rises in meltwater and alarming cases of glacial retreat in Greenland, West Antarctica, the Canadian and Alaskan coastal mountains, in Europe and in the Himalayan massif. They have also watched glaciers pick up speed downhill. One satellite-based study, confirmed by on-the-ground measurements, of the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, confirms that the river of ice is now moving at the rate of 46 metres a day, 17 kilometres a year, which is twice the speed recorded in 2003, which in turn was twice as fast as measured in 1997.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and with partners in 30 countries, has been compiling data on changes in glaciers over the last 120 years. And it has just compared all known 21st century observations with data from site measurements, aerial photography and satellite observations and evidence from pictorial and written sources. Altogether, the service has collected 5,000 measurements of glacier volume and changes in mass since 1850, and 42,000 records of variations in glacier fronts from records dating back to the 16th century.

And the evidence is clear: the glaciers are in retreat, worldwide, and the retreat is accelerating.

“The observed glaciers currently lose between half a metre and one metre of ice thickness every year – this is two to three times more than the corresponding average of the 20th century,” says the study’s lead author, Michael Zemp, who directs the monitoring service. “Exact measurements of this ice loss are reported from a few hundred glaciers only. However, these results are qualitatively confirmed from field and satellite observations for tens of thousands of glaciers around the world.”

The great ice sheets help maintain the climate zone differences that drive weather patterns. They provide distinct ecosystems that support precisely adapted lifeforms, from mountain wildflowers to snow leopards. They offer a source of tourist income for mountain communities and deliver spring and summer meltwater to irrigate crops in the fertile valleys downstream. And as long as ice is safely stored in mountain ranges, it isn’t contributing to sea level rise.

But sea levels are creeping up inexorably every year, as a consequence of galloping glacial retreat in the polar, temperate and tropical zones.

This loss of ice is not uniform: researchers recorded cases of glacier advance, sometimes of a few hundred metres, in the 1990s. But these intermittent glacial gains are nothing like the return of the ice recorded during the so-called “little Ice Age” that began in the 16th century, when the Thames froze hard enough to support annual winter fairs. The big picture is one of retreat, everywhere.

Some glaciers may now be doomed. In the last century, because of fossil fuel emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, global average temperatures have crept up by almost 1C to trigger wide-scale melting. Even were the world to abandon fossil fuel use right now, some melting would continue. “Glaciers in many regions will very likely suffer further ice loss, even if climate remains stable,” the researchers conclude.

 

Investors Could Lose $4.2 Trillion Due to Climate Change

July 29, 2015

The future is grim for private holdings in fossil fuel companies over action - or inaction - around climate change. (photo: Daniel Reinhardt/EPA)
The future is grim for private holdings in fossil fuel companies over action – or inaction – around climate change. (photo: Daniel Reinhardt/EPA)

By Terry Macalister, Guardian UK

28 July 15

 

Investments in fossil fuel companies face serious risk from global warming, research by the Economist Intelligence Unit shows

rivate investors stand to lose $4.2tn (£2.7tn) on the value of their holdings from the impact of climate change by 2100 even if global warming is held at plus 2C, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has warned.

If firm action is not taken at the forthcoming climate change talks in Paris and the Earth’s temperature warms by a further 5C then investors are facing losses of almost $7tn at today’s prices, new research shows.

This is more than the total current market capitalisation of the London Stock Exchange with impacts on company holdings that will come not just through extreme weather damage but also through lower economic growth.

The report argued that financial regulators should properly recognise “systematic environmental risk”. It also called for a proper carbon price to be established as well as a tough new climate change treaty to be agreed in Paris.

The latest assessments of the rising risks posed to the global financial system lends enormous new weight to those who are already arguing that companies must be made to disclose their carbon emissions.

“Investors currently face a stark choice. Either they will experience impairments to their holdings in fossil fuel companies should robust regulatory action on climate change take place, or they will face substantial losses across the entire portfolio of manageable assets should little mitigation be forthcoming,” said Brian Gardner, the editor of an EIU report, entitled The cost of inaction: recognising the value at risk from climate change.

The $4.2tn figure is roughly the equivalent to the value of the world’s publicly listed oil and gas companies or the annual gross domestic product of Japan, the world’s third largest economy.

Nick Robins, co-director of the Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System at the UN Environment Programme said that financial markets are not treating the threat posed by climate change seriously enough. “We wouldn’t get on a plane if there was a 5% chance of the plane crashing,” he said. “But we’re treating the climate with that same level of risk in a very offhand, complacent way.”

The EIU concludes that there are widespread opportunities for investors to reduce their exposure to environmental risk – one way is to invest in projects that finance a transition to a lower carbon economy.

But it also believes that climate change is likely to represent “an obstacle” for many asset owners and managers to fulfil their fiduciary duties to act in the best interests of those who lend their cash to invest.

According to estimates by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, only 7% of asset owners calculate the carbon footprint of their investment portfolios and only 1.4% have an explicit target to reduce it.

The EIU follows warnings from the Bank of England about the financial risks posed to fossil fuel companies if global climate action renders their reserves of oil, coal and gas worthless. On Thursday, a report from the London assembly warned that the city was particularly vulnerable to financial risks posed by climate change because its economy is particularly well-connected globally.

 

WHAT OUR PLANET EARTH WILL LOOK LIKE IN 2100, ACCORDING TO NASA’S NEW BIG DATASET

July 27, 2015

map

[DIGEST: NASA, Gizmodo]

With all the talk of climate change, most people do not have a clear picture of what the earth might look like at the end of the century. But experts at NASA Earth Exchange (NEX) believe they do. Earlier this summer, they released aclimate dataset, along with an disconcerting map showing some predicted temperatures. The visual result is perhaps the most alarming yet presented.

This shows predictions for Earth’s daily maximum temperatures estimated for July 2099. As reported in Gizmodo, by that time, the Earth’s CO2 concentrations will have topped 900 parts per million, comprising nearly 0.1 percent of our atmosphere. As a disquieting benchmark, in the early part of this year, we hit 400. The thermometer scale that accompanies the map shows just how much hotter we are talking.

July2099Temp

The NASA climate projections offer a detailed view of future temperature and precipitation patterns around the world at a 15.5 mile (25 kilometer) resolution, covering the time period from 1950 to 2100. The 11-terabyte dataset provided daily records and estimates of maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation over the entire globe. It integrates actual measurements from around the world with data from climate simulations created by the international Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, or CMIP, which is a standard experimental protocol for studying the output of coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models.

The data can be filtered to the level of individual cities and towns on a daily timescale. This can help developing nations predict and prepare for the local effects of changing patterns in weather, floods and droughts. On a global scale, it will help both scientists as well as the general population see that we are in for an extremely warm century ahead.

NASA intended the information not only to be a warning, but a tool.  “NASA is in the business of taking what we’ve learned about our planet from space and creating new products that help us all safeguard our future; with this new global dataset, people around the world have a valuable new tool to use in planning how to cope with a warming planet.”

The question for the rest of us, and for the generations ahead of us, remains whether we have the collective will to stop this map from happening.

If you’re interested in how future events can affect the present, read Physicists Demonstrate How Time Can Seem To Run Backward, and the Future Can Affect the Past.

Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning

July 25, 2015

A new study shows greatly increased chances for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
A new study shows greatly increased chances for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

By Eric Holthaus, Slate

24 July 15

 

n what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.

The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

To come to their findings, the authors used a mixture of paleoclimate records, computer models, and observations of current rates of sea level rise, but “the real world is moving somewhat faster than the model,” Hansen says.

Hansen’s study does not attempt to predict the precise timing of the feedback loop, only that it is “likely” to occur this century. The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left. That dire prediction, in Hansen’s view, requires “emergency cooperation among nations.”

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. 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.

The science of ice melt rates is advancing so fast, scientists have generally been reluctant to put a number to what is essentially an unpredictable, nonlinear response of ice sheets to a steadily warming ocean. With Hansen’s new study, that changes in a dramatic way. One of the study’s co-authors is Eric Rignot, whose own study last year found that glacial melt from West Antarctica now appears to be “unstoppable.” Chris Mooney, writing for Mother Jones, called that study a “holy shit” moment for the climate.

One necessary note of caution: Hansen’s study comes via a nontraditional publishing decision by its authors. The study will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open-access “discussion” journal, and will not have formal peer review prior to its appearance online later this week. [Update, July 23: The paper is now available.] The complete discussion draft circulated to journalists was 66 pages long, and included more than 300 references. The peer review will take place in real time, with responses to the work by other scientists also published online. Hansen said this publishing timeline was necessary to make the work public as soon as possible before global negotiators meet in Paris later this year. Still, the lack of traditional peer review and the fact that this study’s results go far beyond what’s been previously published will likely bring increased scrutiny. On Twitter, Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist whose work focuses on Greenland and the Arctic, was skeptical of such enormous rates of near-term sea level rise, though she defended Hansen’s decision to publish in a nontraditional way.

In 2013, Hansen left his post at NASA to become a climate activist because, in his words, “as a government employee, you can’t testify against the government.” In a wide-ranging December 2013 study, conducted to support Our Children’s Trust, a group advancing legal challenges to lax greenhouse gas emissions policies on behalf of minors, Hansen called for a “human tipping point”—essentially, a social revolution—as one of the most effective ways of combating climate change, though he still favors a bilateral carbon tax agreed upon by the United States and China as the best near-term climate policy. In the new study, Hansen writes, “there is no morally defensible excuse to delay phase-out of fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible.”

Asked whether Hansen has plans to personally present the new research to world leaders, he said: “Yes, but I can’t talk about that today.” What’s still uncertain is whether, like with so many previous dire warnings, world leaders will be willing to listen.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

 

Pope Francis Blasts Global Warming Deniers in Leaked Draft of Encyclical

June 16, 2015

Pope Francis. (photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Pope Francis. (photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

ALSO SEE: NASA Scientist: Pope Francis’s Encyclical Could Have
Bigger Impact Than the Paris Climate Talks

By Michelle Boorstein, Anthony Faiola and Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

16 June 15

 

draft of a major environmental document by Pope Francis says “the bulk of global warming” is caused by human activity and calls on people — especially the world’s rich — to take steps to mitigate the damage by reducing consumption and reliance on fossil fuels.

In words likely to anger some of his conservative critics, the pope backs the science of climate change, saying “plenty of scientific studies point out that the last decades of global warming have been mostly caused by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) especially generated by human action.”

“The poor and the Earth are shouting,” reads the draft of the encyclical, the first of its kind dedicated to the environment. The Washington Post translated portions of the draft.

The encyclical release had been planned for Thursday and was highly anticipated, given Francis’s enormous popularity and what many see as his potential to significantly affect policy in such areas as energy use and economic globalization.

It was timed to influence global meetings later this year about climate, unusual for such a high-level document. It was also seen as an opening salvo on the topic before the pope’s planned trip to the United States in late September.

Then the Italian magazine L’Espresso leaked the draft on its Web site, linking to it in a piece by conservative analyst Sandro Magister. The leak set off a global scurry by environmentalists, theologians, reporters and others attempting to translate it.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told journalists Monday that the document was an “intermediate version” and warned that some provisions contained in the leaked draft may be different from those in the final version.

Many religious and environmental experts — particularly those more aligned with the pope’s views on climate — declined to comment until the official document is released, in some cases voicing concern about offending the Vatican.

The draft reveals Francis as part policy wonk, part lyricist, calling explicitly in places for more investment in

renewable energy

and in others for evening the “ecological debt” between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, wealthy and poor countries.

“Enlighten the masters of power and money so that they should not fall prey to the sin of indifference, so that they should love the common good, support the weak, and care about this world that we inhabit,” the draft reads.

Part of the reason for managing the document’s release so tightly — even close allies of the pope said they hadn’t seen it — was because of its potentially explosive content. And translated portions of the document seemed to confirm economic conservatives’ fears that Pope Francis would frame the issue as one defined by sinful overconsumption, unrestrained free markets and unending reliance on fossil fuels.

Rumors of sabotage

The leak by Magister immediately fueled rumors about schemes to take down a pope many see as left-leaning on some issues.

The Rev. Bernd Hagenkord, head of the German-speaking section of Vatican Radio, blogged that the leak was “sabotage — somebody wants to actively undermine the pope’s message.” Citing Vatican sources, the Italian news outlet La Stampa described the leak as an attempt by elements within the Holy See to harm the pope and dull the impact of the encyclical.

In the draft encyclical, the pope states that there may be some natural reasons for global warming but strongly chastises climate skeptics.

“The attitudes hindering the paths toward a solution, even amongst the believers, go from negating the problem to indifference, to an easy resignation, or to a blind faith in technical solutions,” he writes in the draft.

The document associates polluted environments with global inequality. “I’d like to point out that the problems that hit harder at those who are excluded are often not very clear. They are the majority of those who live on the planet, they’re billions of people. They get mentioned during international political and economic debates, but their problems are mostly introduced as an addendum, something you add almost out of duty or as something peripheral. But today we can’t avoid stating that a true ecological approach must always become a social approach, integrating justice in the debate around environment, so that we listen to the cry of Earth as much as we listen to the one of the poor.”

Reliance on papal teaching

The encyclical follows centuries of papal teachings that care for creation is a core Catholic value. Francis drew on previous papal remarks on the environment almost as a Supreme Court ruling would cite legal precedent.

“Pope Benedict proposed we should recognize that the natural environment is full of wounds produced by our irresponsible behavior,” the document reads.

In the draft, Francis openly lobbies for renewable energy and blames global warming in part on “a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.” The draft calls for “urgent action” to develop policies to reduce greenhouse gases, including “substituting fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.”

The pope’s encyclical has been widely anticipated by environmentalists and climate scientists as a possible victory in the climate debate that could finally help to break a political logjam and shift public opinion more strongly in favor of climate-change action.

There has been much speculation about how the document could especially move Catholic voters in the United States.

George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that about 70 percent of U.S. Catholics think global warming is happening, a slightly higher percentage than for Americans as a whole (63 percent). Francis was the most trusted individual leader on climate change, according to the George Mason poll.

The encyclical also comes in a year with high potential for international climate action. At the end of 2015, nations will assemble in Paris for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, where they will try to hammer out a global agreement to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions. During his U.S. visit, the pope is expected to speak at the United Nations and before Congress.

A just-released report from the International Energy Agency has amped up the pressure by showing that nations’ current pledges to reduce their emissions — without further action — would fall short of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a widely accepted international target. Beyond 2 degrees Celsius, it is feared, the impacts of climate change could become increasingly severe.

Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute, a faith-based group that works to promote free markets, said the leak will focus attention on potential differences between the draft text and the actual encyclical.

“If this is indeed not the final text, as the Holy See’s press office is stating, then much of the attention will be on differences between the draft text and the actual encyclical. That will fuel ultimately unprovable speculation on why the things that were changed were altered, thereby potentially distracting from the messages of the final text,” he said.

Although Francis is often assailed by Catholics who see his talk about income and climate coming at the expense of talk about issues such as abortion, some conservative theologians Monday praised the draft.

“It’s a metaphysical, poetic document,” said Chad Pecknold, a Catholic University theologian. “Being in dominion can never mean like a slave owner owns a slave. It has to be a protector, a steward, a servant, one who cares [for] and cultivates the Earth so that we have something to pass on to the next generation.”

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh called the document “a lament for a lost connectedness.”

“It’s a very powerful argument that much that has gone wrong in our world is the consequence of forgetting that we are creatures rather than masters,” Ivereigh said Monday. “The pope is almost saying: ‘You may not believe in God, but if you believe in ecology, you can’t ignore this.’ ”

 

Study: Melting Greenland ice sheet is rapidly slowing the Gulf Stream

May 18, 2015

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Gulfstream

Map of the Gulf Stream current and sea surface temperature anomalies on March 24, 2015.
The Northern Hemisphere winter of 2014-15 was the warmest on record globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But if you look closely at global temperature maps, it becomes clear that one area of the North Atlantic conspicuously bucked the trend, as it has during many years since 1970.

That region was, in fact, the coldest it has been since the dawn of instrument records, at up to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit colder than average. According to a new study, this cold pool may be an indicator of a dramatic slowdown in the Gulf Stream, which transports vast amounts of heat north from the equator to the pole, passing off the East Coast of the U.S. and into the North Atlantic.

If true, this is vindication for those who think global warming is likely to trigger so-called “tipping points” in the climate system, which, once set into motion, cannot be stopped. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had judged that there is up to a 10% likelihood of a Gulf Stream shutdown before year 2100, though many climate scientists estimate this likelihood is even higher.

“Evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway,”

“Evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway,”says co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, in a blog post forRealClimate.The slowdown in this current, the study finds, is unprecedented in hundreds to perhaps as long as 1,000 years, and is most likely related to another tipping point, which is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The influx of freshwater from the ice sheet is one of the main sources of freshwater inflow into the North Atlantic Ocean.

Land and Ocean Temperatures

Land and ocean temperature departures from average during December through February 2015. This shows the cold spot south of Greenland.

IMAGE: NOAA/NCDC

As it pours into the Atlantic, the freshwater is lighter and colder than heavier, salty water that typically occupies that area. It therefore tends to sit on top of the water column, accumulating over the years and interfering with the formation and sinking of dense, cold and salt-enriched waters. This chokes off the northward flowing Gulf Stream, slowing it down, and affecting ocean circulation downstream as well.

No new ice age, at least not yet…

While it’s not anywhere close to the apocalypse that a rapid Gulf Stream shutdown was shown to be in the 2004 blockbuster disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, a rapid slowdown in this current would boost sea level rise rates along the highly populated Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coasts of the U.S. It could also bring much cooler conditions than is currently the norm to parts of northern Europe.

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The study also calls into question many of the assumptions made by climate modelers in designing state of the art computer models, since the study shows that these models may be underestimating the speed and magnitude of ocean current trends in the North Atlantic. Most models show a progressive weakening of the Gulf Stream as global warming continues, but few have suggested it would be so significant, so soon.

Michael Mann, a coauthor of the study and director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University, told Mashable in an email:

Once again, we are learning that the climate model projections may be too conservative. In this case, the fact that the Greenland Ice Sheet is loosing mass and contributing to freshwater runoff into the North Atlantic decades ahead of schedule may be the reason that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is weakening decades ahead of schedule as well.

“[This is] Another reminder that uncertainty is not our friend when it comes to human-caused climate change. It appears to be cutting against us, rather than in our favor, once again,” Mann said.

The Gulf Stream is one part of a vast global undersea infrastructure known as the thermohaline circulation, also referred to as the “Global Conveyor Belt.” This circulation, which extends from pole to pole and throughout every ocean, is powered by density differences in ocean waters in different areas of the world.

If you disturb any part of this circulation, the entire thing is liable to have a major hiccup

If you disturb any part of this circulation, the entire thing is liable to have a major hiccup, like an escalator with something stuck in its gears.The study makes a strong case that we have already stuck that wrench in the ocean circulation’s gears by melting more polar land ice, although it provides for the possibility that natural variability or other factors are also to blame for the post-1970 slowdown in the AMOC of which the Gulf Stream is a crucial part.

Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Balance

Changing mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet, showing a sharp increase in runoff into the ocean (blue line).

IMAGE: BOX AND COLGAN VIA MELTFACTOR.ORG

It is the sinking motion of North Atlantic bottom water that powers the Gulf Stream current by pulling warmer, less dense water northward from the tropics, like a group of weight lifters involved in a tug-of-war against a weaker team. Freshwater from the melting ice sheet may be leading to less bottom water formation, the study finds.

“Greenland ice takes on a new role in the climate change story, not just indicating change and contributing to sea level rise, but possibly playing an important role in destabilizing regional if not global ocean circulation that naturally exchanges heat north-south,” said Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, and a study co-author, in an email toMashable.

A new index and proxy data

There is no reliable observational evidence of the strength of the Gulf Stream over time, since even modern measurements are relatively scarce. To get around this problem, the study’s authors created an index based on sea surface temperatures to infer the strength of the current over time. Specifically, they took into account the temperature difference between the area most influenced by changes in the strength of the circulation, which is that telltale cold patch in the North Atlantic, and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

The study also uses so-called “proxy” measurements, including data gleaned from coral reefs and tree rings, to extend large-scale surface climate conditions back to 900 AD.

The study found that it’s likely that the weakening trend observed since the mid-1970s is unique in that entire period.

The study found that it’s likely that the weakening trend observed since the mid-1970s is unique in that entire period.Furthermore, the study found that the index they devised to track the current’s strength over time closely matched modeled trends, which lends some confidence to the findings.

“Of course there is uncertainty as to how well our temperature-based index captures real AMOC variations,” study co-author Rahmstorf toldMashable in an email. “The problem here is that nobody knows what the true AMOC variations were. In the paper we present quite a bit of corroborating evidence that we are indeed looking at AMOC variations with that index. Other temperature-based methods… have come to similar results.”

Many uncertainties remain about what is going on with the Gulf Stream, and any changes in the broader Global Conveyer Belt as a whole. Direct measurements will help reduce these mysteries, and efforts are underway to fill some data gaps in the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. These are the two most important regions where salty, dense bottom water forms, powering ocean currents thousands of miles up and downstream.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Mother Earth Day 2015: Regenerating the Soil and Reversing Global Warming

May 9, 2015

“The elimination of fossil fuels for all but the most limited and essential purposes is necessary but not sufficient to allow our descendants a fair chance for a healthy and prosperous future. Enhancing carbon biosequestration in terrestrial ecosystems is also essential.”  Wayne A. White,Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p.118 (CRC Press 2013)

The standard gloom and doom discourse surrounding global warming and climate change has infected the body politic with a severe case of depression and disempowerment. So starting today April 22, embracing what the United Nations has designated as the “Year of the Soil,” let’s look at our planetary crisis from an entirely different, and more hopeful perspective.

The good news is that the global grassroots, farmers and consumers united, can reverse our suicidal “business as usual” food, farming, energy, and land use practices. Harnessing the awesome power of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and reforestation, we can literally suck down enough excess (50-100 ppm of CO2) heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and naturally sequester it in our plants, trees and soils.  Regenerative Agriculture and Earth Repair practices can not only mitigate, but also, in combination with drastic reductions (80-90 percent) of fossil fuel emissions in our food and farming, transportation, housing, utilities, and industrial sectors, actually reverseglobal warming.

Regenerative Agriculture and Forestry

If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks. Changing our food and farming systems, along with changing our “business as usual” political system and energy policies, is the key to our survival and well-being.

Transforming and regenerating our planet’s 28 billion acres of cropland, grassland and forests, as well as urban areas of the planet, is the challenge—not only for Mother Earth Day 2015, but for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Global Organic Regeneration and Earth Repair is the key to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our current unsustainable food, farming and deforestation practices (which now produce the majority of greenhouse gas emissions).

Regenerative Earth Repair is the absolute prerequisite for ramping up plant and forest photosynthesis and sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric CO2 over the next two decades.

A global campaign of Earth Repair and Regeneration can buy us the precious time we need to move away from fossil fuels to a global economy based upon renewable energy. Global Regeneration will dramatically improve soil fertility, crop yields, soil water retention, crop resilience, and food quality, thereby helping to mitigate and reverse global poverty, malnutrition and deteriorating public health.

Before we look how we can sequester up to 200 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions through regenerating the planet’s croplands (four billion acres), pastures and rangelands (14 billion acres), and forests (10 billion acres), let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to sayabout plant photosynthesis, regenerative grazing, and carbon sequestration:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil,in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

A recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

With these basic concepts of photosynthesis and Regenerative Agriculture in mind, what do we need to do?

(1) Regenerate croplands, eliminate GMOs, pesticides, monocultures, chemical fertilizers, and tillage. If we can mobilize the global grassroots to promote and adopt regenerative organic agricultural practices (“organic and beyond”) on the Earth’s four billion acres of cultivated farmland, we can drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel inputs and slash greenhouse gas emissions; produce healthier, climate-resistant crops and nutrient-dense food; and meanwhile sequester large amounts of carbon in our degraded, de-carbonized soils. Our agricultural soils have lost25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once had before the onslaught of unsustainable agricultural practices.

As the must-read 2014 Rodale Institute White Paper explains:

In practical terms, regenerative organic agriculture is foremost an organic system refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and inputs, which disrupt soil life, and fossil-fuel dependent nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic N2O emissions. It is a system designed to build soil health.

Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration.

As the Rodale research indicates, and is echoed by numerous other field trials across the globe, Regenerative Organic practices on cultivated farmlands across the world can, over the next few decades sequester 40 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions.

(2) Regenerate grasslands and pasture lands, eliminate factory farms. Even more encouraging, as Rodale and others, including Quivira Coalition and the Savory Institute, point out, by adopting regenerative grazing practices on the earth’s seriously degraded 14 billion acres of pastureland and grassland (there is 3.5 times as much pasture land and rangeland on the Earth as there is cultivated farmland), we can eventually sequester an additional 71 percent of all current greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words by eliminating inhumane, unhealthy and heavily polluting factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which now produce 2/3 of all global meat and animal products, and by putting billions of the Earth’s 70 billion farm animals back on the land, we can regenerate, through planned rotational “mob” grazing, and the production of grass fed beef and dairy, and pasture-based pork and poultry, the 14 billion acres of rangeland and pastureland that are our most strategic “sink” or depository for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Last year Dr. Richard Teague of Texas A&M explained the principles of planned rotational (“mob”) grazing to a House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources (June 25, 2014):

The key to sustaining and regenerating ecosystem function in rangelands is actively managing for reduction of bare ground, promoting the most beneficial and productive plants by grazing moderately over the whole landscape, and providing adequate recovery to grazed plants…

Regenerative grazing and pasturing on a global scale will require the dismantling of the entire factory farm system, freeing billions of farm animals from their animal prisons or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and putting them back out onto the land to graze and forage where they belong. Once CAFO and GMO crop subsidies are reduced and removed, and once the pent-up market demand for healthier, more humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs can be harnessed, the factory farm/GMO industrial food and farming system will begin to collapse.

With billions of animals released from intensive confinement (including freeing herbivores from unnatural, unhealthy GMO grain diets), marketplace pressure will encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt herd management strategies that replicate natural or wild herd habits. This involves herbivores rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, for short periods of time, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil. After the grasses recover, then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again. With omnivores (pigs and chickens), free range or pasturing practices will similarly restore animal and soil health as well.

The current factory farm system takes the naturally grazing cattle off pasture to enormous feedlots to fatten them up with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows, sheep, and other herbivores are not grain, GMO, or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.

Regenerative grazing is not something new, but rather a rediscovery of the beneficial animal welfare and environmental practices that were “normal” (buffalo and elk on the grasslands of the US, wildebeest herds in Africa, communal grazing practices worldwide) before the advent of industrial farming and CAFOs.

One very important benefit of grass-fed beef, sheep, goats and dairy, and pastured poultry and pigs—a benefit which is already starting to drive consumers away from factory farmed foods—is that grass-fed or pastured animal products are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.

(3) Regenerate forests and wetlands, end deforestation. By halting unsustainable land use and deforestation of the planet’s remaining 10 billion acres of forest (deforestation is now responsible for a full 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions), by re-planting species-appropriate trees on five billion deforested rural and urban acres, by incorporating sustainable forest management practices on existing forests, and by integrating agro-forestry practices on existing farms and ranches (and restoring wetlands), we can drastically reduce carbon emissions while sequestering billions of tons of excess carbon in our forest lands and in reforested rural and urban environments.

As permaculture author Michal Pilarski explains in his “Carbon Sequestration Proposal for the World,” we can reverse global warming by:

I.    Reforestation/Afforestation of 5 billion acres worldwide = 150 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

II.    Earth repair and improved ecosystem management of existing forests and all other terrestrial ecosystems = 100 billion tons of carbon sequestration.

Earth repair and reforestation of our cities, forests, marshes, savannas, grasslands, steppes, and deserts could eventually add up to a total of 250 billion tons of carbon sequestered. This translates into removing over 100 ppm of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil and forests. This level of carbon sequestration would bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to where they were in the early 1800s, if carried out in combination with slashing human-caused carbon emissions.

According to biosequestration expert, Wayne White, if we could just stop all tropical deforestation, and maintain the health of our forests, the increased photosynthesis of this massive forest growth would sequester a full 69 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. (Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p. 93)

Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over-grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions to our forest crisis are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the mycorrhizal and other forest fungi, and replant clear-cut areas with high-density, species-appropriate plantings. We need to manage this reforestation, including thinning and pest control. We need to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests will be able to sequester billions of tons of carbon.

Critics of the Earth Repair strategy

A number of critics of our Earth Repair strategy have told me and other regeneration activists that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous Regenerative potential of organic food, farming,and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil.

Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and overconsumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate hawks and radical conservationists. But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Forest/Land Use.

Unite the Food, Forest, and Climate Movements

The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food, and natural health movement in the U.S., for example, of which I am a part, must begin to think of ourselves as climate and food activists, not just advocates for natural health, small farmers/ranchers, animals and food justice. Given that the GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system seen as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of ourselves as food activists as well.

There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.

We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.

Breaking through the silos of single-issue campaigning and limited constituency organizing (“my issue is more important than your issue”), we will be able to expand our global grassroots Movement to include everyone who cares about climate, health, justice, jobs, sustainability, peace and democracy.

Some pessimists argue that the Global South (China, India, Africa, Asia, Latin America), where most of the world’s population lives, is too preoccupied with moving beyond poverty and creating jobs, to put a priority on reversing global warming, reducing emissions, and natural sequestration.

But the extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this Organic Regeneration will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.

Earth Repair holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger. Regenerative agriculture and land use—which will require both enormous political struggle and unprecedented marketplace pressure—will lead to healthy soils, healthy forests, healthy climate, healthy food, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy societies.

As 350.org and other climate campaigners point out, we’ve got to force the fossil fuel corporados and Wall Street banksters to leave 2/3 or more of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We can basically burn 825 billion tons more of fossil fuels out of the 2.785 trillion remaining, but no more, according to scientific consensus, before we reach the point of no return, whereby climate change morphs into climate catastrophe.

To stay within our carbon budget, we’ve got to stop the fracking, the tar sands, the pipelines, the bomb trains, King Coal, and nuclear madness.

But we’ve got to do more than just protest, resist and divest. We must shut down King Coal and Big Oil’s greenhouse gas pollution, yes; but we must also suck down and naturally sequester over the next 20 years, several hundred billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through the qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, ranching and land use.

We must make peace with the living Earth and restore our biotic community.

According to scientific consensus, soon to be formally ratified by the nations of the world at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, fossil fuel emissions—now spewing out 8.5 billion tons of carbon annually (i.e. 32.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 and again in 2014) into the atmosphere and the oceans—must peak and go to zero by 2050. Unfortunately, even if every country moves to zero emissions by 2050, we will still find ourselves way past the danger zone at 480 ppm or higher of CO2.  Only a mass global campaign of Regenerative Agriculture and land use, combined with dismantling the Fossil Fuel Empire, will suffice.

So who will actually carry out this global campaign of Earth Repair and Organic Regeneration? Of course we must continue, and, in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business as usual” we’re going to have to inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food climate and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

We don’t have the time or space here for a full Earth Repair strategy, but here are five things we can start to do immediately on this Mother Earth Day 2015:

(1)    Educate yourself, your friends, and your family on the basic principles of Earth Repair      and Regenerative Organic Agriculture. Here’s an annotated bibliography to help you get started.

(2)    Join an activist organization dealing with food and farming, forest preservation or climate. If you’re already an activist, get your group to connect the dots between fossil fuel emissions reduction and natural carbon sequestration.

(3)    Boycott all GMO, chemical-intensive and CAFO foods. Purchase organic and 100-percent grass-fed or pastured products. Push the organic community top go beyond the minimum standards of “USDA Organic” to food and farming practices that are climate-friendly, re-localized and regenerative, as well as organic.

(4)    Support the organizations that are educating and agitating for regenerative agriculture and land use. These groups include:

Organic Consumers Organization, The Carbon Underground, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), NavdanyaInstitute  for Agriculture and Trade Policy, The Rodale Institute, Quivira Coalition, The Savory Institute, and others.

(5)    Change the climate conversation from gloom and doom to one of positive solutions. We’ve got 20 years left to turn things around, but we need to start our Regeneration International campaign now, Mother Earth Day 2015.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico sister organization,Via Organica.

 

Climate Economists: Global warming will create “an environment so hostile…

April 22, 2015

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Climate Economists: Good and Bad

Excerpt from David Ray Griffin, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity Press, 2015)
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Since the 1970s, when he essentially founded the economics of climate change, William Nordhaus had been considered its preeminent authority. According to a fellow economist, the optimal economic policy had for decades been simply “what Bill Nordhaus said.” This view had been unquestioned, said a 2013 article, “until 2006, when the British government published a new review of climate change, led by Sir Nicholas H. Stern.”

Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics, had served as the Chief Economist of the World Bank. The review that he led was published as The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, usually called simply the Stern Review. This publication , which gave the world a radically different view of the economics of climate change, led to a new era in the field — a transition from the Nordhaus era to the Stern era.

“In the era before the Stern Review,” say Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton, “economic models of climate change were typically framed as cost-benefit analyses.” This framing has been preeminently exemplified by Nordhaus. Although he called global warming “the major environmental challenge of the modern age,” he did not express a sense of urgency about it. In his 2008 book, he said: “Neither extreme – either do nothing or stop global warming in its tracks – is a sensible course of action.” The central question, Nordhaus said, was: “How to balance costs and benefits.”

One especially startling statement came in a discussion about the sea-level rise that would be caused by the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets: “Although it is difficult to envision the ecological and societal consequences of the melting of these ice sheets,” Nordhaus said , “this situation is clearly highly undesirable and should be avoided unless prevention is ruinously expensive.” It is startling to suggest that, if we find avoiding the melting of these ice sheets “ruinously expensive,” we should just let them melt.

 

Nordhaus’s 2013 book expressed a somewhat greater sense of urgency. Nevertheless, he continued to focus on cost-benefit balance, saying that “good policies must lie somewhere between wrecking the economy and wrecking the world.”

According to the Stern Review, by contrast, climate change “demands an urgent global response,” because “what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.” The Review, however, did not reject the cost-effective approach. It simply said, in one of its most quoted statements: “The [economic] benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs.”

The analyses of climate change by economists, say Ackerman and Stanton, have “rarely portray[ed] the most recent advances in climate science.” Instead, they tend to be “out of date by several years, if not decades.” With Nordhaus primarily in mind, they said in an article with Ramón Bueno, “there is no reason to cling to outdated, unduly rosy estimates, rather than following the best, most recent findings of climate scientists.”

Fortunately, say Ackerman and Stanton, “the Stern Review broke new ground by synthesizing the current knowledge in climate science and setting a new standard for good climate-economics analysis, using up-to-date inputs from climate science.”

Although Nordhaus has not been guilty of science denial – indeed, he has publically debated with deniers – his analysis, Stanton, Ackerman, and Ramón Bueno, have written, “could be called risk denial — accepting a (very optimistic) picture of the most likely climate outcomes, but paying little or no attention to worst-case risks.” This risk denial is dangerous, they said, because “[w]hen climate economists — and the policy makers they advise — fail to understand the well-established findings of climate science, the result is likely to be too little emission reduction, too late.”

 

In spite of the growing scientific consensus over the decade that sea-level rise will be catastrophic for people and agriculture, Nordhaus continued to exude optimism, saying that “human societies can adapt to [sea-level rise] without catastrophic losses.” Because most poor countries will in the future be much richer, he advised, they “will be able to protect themselves against climatic extremes just as Miami and Rotterdam do today.” When that is impractical, people can simply migrate.

Stern’s 2013 writings expressed a very different picture of what climate economists should be doing. Although the Review had already said that the “economics of risk” should be made central, his new writings put even more focus on it, saying that economists must present climate change as “a problem of risk management on an immense scale,” which most economists had not done.

Stern’s approach to climate economics is a return to that pioneered by William R. Cline, who in 1992 published the first American book on the subject – The Economics of Global Warming — which favored “an aggressive course of abatement.” Aggressive abatement, he said, was “justifiable on economic grounds alone.” He differed with Nordhaus on this point, he said, mainly because of the latter’s “excessive total discount rate.”

Employing a 6% discount rate as an example of one that is much too high, Stern pointed out that in 100 years, a unit of benefit would be valued 339 times lower, meaning we would care 339 times less about people alive 100 years now than we care for the present generation. This comes close to saying, Stern said, “forget about issues concerning 100 years or more from now.”

The primary basis for advocating high discount rates, said Stern, is “the unwarranted assumption that future incomes will almost certainly be much higher than now.” This assumption “is simply not credible.” Economic modelers such as Nordhaus, he said, need to factor in the possibility that global warming will create “an environment so hostile that physical, social, and organizational capital are destroyed.”

David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written 30 books. His most recent book is Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity (more…)

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Murders of Earth’s Defenders: The Deadly Trend Continues

April 21, 2015
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‘The world is standing idle whilst people on the frontline of the struggle to protect the environment are getting killed’

The “overarching theme” of the killings last year, which averaged more than two a week, involved disputes over control and use of land, but they also included incidents involving pollution, wildlife conservation, and illegal fishing. (Photo: Global Witness)

“How many more people will die before the world takes notice?”

That’s a question posed by the organization Global Witness, whose new report, How Many More?, exposes what it calls a “hidden crisis” of murders of those who defend the earth from environmental destruction.

The “overarching theme” of the killings last year, which averaged more than two a week, involved disputes over control and use of land, but they also included incidents involving pollution, wildlife conservation, and illegal fishing. This year’s report also found a spike in the deaths of those protesting hydroelectric dams.

The organization, which campaigns for transparency of global resource extraction, states that in 2014, 116 environmental and land defenders were killed—40 percent of whom were Indigenous. The report states that lack of accessible information makes that a likely conservative figure.

As one member of the Panamá community from the Bajo Aguán valley in Honduras states, according to the report: “Here the police, the military, prosecutors, judges, all of them are ready to defend the owners of the big farms, while we are the ones who are dying.”

“Environmental defenders are fighting to protect our climate against ever-increasing odds.”
—Billy Kyte, Global Witness
The report reflects the continuation of a deadly trend, as last year’s figures reflect a 20 percent increase from those documented in 2013.

The report documents killings in 17 countries, though roughly three-quarters of them took place in Central and South America. The country with highest number of killings was Brazil with 29, followed by Colombia with 25, and the Philippines with 15.

Honduras has the dubious distinction of being the country with the most such killings per capita. The Central American county is home to one of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winners, Berta Cáceres, who’s been involved in a years-long campaign to stop a dam that threatens to displace her Indigenous community off their ancestral land. “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. That is what we face,” Cáceres is quoted as saying in the report.

Among the deadly incidents noted in report:

On 24 October 2014, Henry Alameda, an indigenous Lumad leader from the Southern Philippines, was dragged from his house, taken to a forested area and shot dead by a paramilitary group. Alameda was an active council member of MAPASU, an organization strongly protesting against mining operations and plantations in Caraga region.”

Global Witness emphasizes the challenges of finding the perpetrators of these crimes, though in some cases it has been able to point to paramilitary groups or private security guards. Yet, the report states, “The true authors of these crimes—a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests—are escaping unpunished.”

Unless real action is taken to protect these often invisible eco-defenders, agreements at the UN climate talks (COP21) taking place in Paris later this year “will ultimately ring hollow,” Global Witness declares.

It’s time, the report states, for governments to take action—and for civil society to exert pressure on governments to protect these land defenders.

“Environmental defenders are fighting to protect our climate against ever-increasing odds,” Billy Kyte, a campaigner at Global Witness, said in a media statement.

“Now more than ever we need to start holding governments and companies to account for the rising death toll on our environmental frontiers,” Kyte continued. “The secrecy around how natural resource deals are made fuels violence and must end. It’s time for the international community to stand up and take notice.”

The report adds: “The world is standing idle whilst people on the frontline of the struggle to protect the environment are getting killed. The time for action on these killings is now.”

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