Saturday, 1 November 2014

Climate change violece

Let's Call Climate Change What It Really Is—Violence
No species, place or beings will be spared in the coming catastrophes wrought by carbon barrons.

7 April, 2014

If you're poor, the only way you're likely to injure someone is the old traditional way: artisanal violence, we could call it – by hands, by knife, by club, or maybe modern hands-on violence, by gun or by car.But if you're tremendously wealthy, 
you can practice industrial-scale violence without any manual labor on your own part. You can, say, build a sweatshop factory that will collapse in Bangladesh and kill more people than any hands-on mass murderer ever did, or you can calculate risk and benefit about putting poisons or unsafe machines into the world, as manufacturers do every day. If you're the leader of a country, you can declare war and kill by the hundreds of thousands or millions. And the nuclear superpowers – the US and Russia – still hold the option of destroying quite a lot of life on Earth.
So do the carbon barons. But when we talk about violence, we almost always talk about violence from below, not above.
Or so I thought when I received a press release last week from a climate group announcing that "scientists say there is a direct link between changing climate and an increase in violence". What the scientists actually said, in a not-so-newsworthy article in Nature two and a half years ago, is that there is higher conflict in the tropics in El Nino years, and that perhaps this will scale up to make our age of climate change also an era of civil and international conflict.
The message is that ordinary people will behave badly in an era of intensified climate change.
All this makes sense, unless you go back to the premise and note that climate change is itself violence. Extreme, horrific, longterm, widespread violence.
Climate change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others. We know the consequences of that change: the acidification of oceans and decline of many species in them, the slowdisappearance of island nations such as the Maldives, increased flooding, drought, crop failure leading to food-price increases and famine, increasingly turbulent weather. (Think Hurricane Sandy and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and heat waves that kill elderly people by the tens of thousands.)
Climate change is violence.
So if we want to talk about violence and climate change – and we are talking about it, after last week's horrifying report from the world's top climate scientists – then let's talk about climate change as violence. Rather than worrying about whether ordinary human beings will react turbulently to the destruction of the very means of their survival, let's worry about that destruction – and their survival. Of course water failure, crop failure, flooding and more will lead to mass migration and climate refugees – they already have – and this will lead to conflict. Those conflicts are being set in motion now.
You can regard the Arab Spring, in part, as a climate conflict: the increase in wheat prices was one of the triggers for that series of revolts that changed the face of northernmost Africa and the Middle East. On the one hand, you can say, how nice if those people had not been hungry in the first place. On the other, how can you not say, how great is it that those people stood up against being deprived of sustenance and hope? And then you have to look at the systems that created that hunger - the enormous economic inequalities in places such as Egypt and the brutality used to keep down the people at the lower levels of the social system, as well as the weather.
People revolt when their lives are unbearable. Sometimes material reality creates that unbearableness: droughts, plagues, storms, floods. But food and medical care, health and well-being, access to housing and education – these things are also governed by economic means and government policy. That's what the revolt called Occupy Wall Street was against.
Climate change will increase hunger as food prices rise and food production falters, but we already have widespread hunger on Earth, and much of it is due not to the failures of nature and farmers, but to systems of distribution. Almost 16m children in the United States now live with hunger, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and that is not because the vast, agriculturally rich United States cannot produce enough to feed all of us. We are a country whose distribution system is itself a kind of violence.
Climate change is not suddenly bringing about an era of equitable distribution. I suspect people will be revolting in the coming future against what they revolted against in the past: the injustices of the system. They should revolt, and we should be glad they do, if not that they need to (though hope they will recognize that violence is not necessarily where their power lies). One of the events prompting the French Revolution was the failure of the 1788 wheat crop, which made bread prices skyrocket and the poor go hungry. The insurance against such events is often thought to be more authoritarianism and more threats against the poor, but that's only an attempt to keep a lid on what's boiling over; the other way to go is to turn down the heat.
The same week during which I received that ill-thought-out press release about climate and violence, Exxon Mobil Corporation issued a policy report. It makes for boring reading, unless you can make the dry language of business into pictures of the consequences of those acts undertaken for profit. Exxon says:
We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded'. We believe producing these assets is essential to meeting growing energy demand worldwide.
If you're poor, the only way you're likely to injure someone is the old traditional way: artisanal violence, we could call it – by hands, by knife, by club, or maybe modern hands-on violence, by gun or by car.

Stranded assets that mean carbon assets – coal, oil, gas still underground – would become worthless if we decided they could not be extracted and burned in the near future. Because scientists say that we need to leave most of the world's known carbon reserves in the ground if we are to go for the milder rather than the more extreme versions of climate change. Under the milder version, countless more people – species, places – will survive. In the best-case scenario, we damage the Earth less. We are currently wrangling about how much to devastate the Earth.
In every arena, we need to look at industrial-scale and systemic violence, not just the hands-on violence of the less powerful. When it comes to climate change, this is particularly true. Exxon has decided to bet that we can't make the corporation keep its reserves in the ground, and the company is reassuring its investors that it will continue to profit off the rapid, violent and intentional destruction of the Earth.

That's a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth, but translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times. Or just picture the tiny bivalves: scallops, oysters, Arctic sea snails that can't form shells in acidifying oceans right now. Or another superstorm tearing apart another city. Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.

Climate change news - 10/31/2014

This is just TWO days worth of stores on climate change 

Apart from the certifiably insane and the genuinely evil there is little real climate change denial. What we have now is denial of abrupt climate change.

Share this with your skeptical friend.

The world’s climate change watchdog may be underestimating global warming

The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Recent research suggests that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)

30 October, 2014

On Nov. 2, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its "Synthesis Report," the final stage in a yearlong document dump that, collectively, presents the current expert consensus about climate change and its consequences. This synthesis report (which has already been leaked and reported on -- like it always is) pulls together the conclusions of three prior reports of the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report, and will "provide the roadmap by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change," according to the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

There's just one problem. According to a number of scientific critics, the scientific consensus represented by the IPCC is a very conservative consensus. IPCC's reports, they say, often underestimate the severity of global warming, in a way that may actually confuse policymakers (or worse). The IPCC, one scientific group charged last year, has a tendency to "err on the side of least drama." And now, in a new study just out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, another group of researchers echoes that point. In scientific parlance, they charge that the IPCC is focused on avoiding what are called "type 1" errors -- claiming something is happening when it really is not (a "false positive") -- rather than on avoiding "type 2" errors -- not claiming something is happening when it really is (a "false negative").
The consequence is that we do not always hear directly from the IPCC about how bad things could be.
"Our motivation was really experiencing the IPCC process, and seeing the various ways in which the process, and sort of this seeking consensus, can lead to downplaying the full ranges of future scenarios," comments Bill Anderegg, a Princeton researcher and lead author of the new paper. Anderegg contributed his expertise on ecosystems and climate change in North America in Working Group II of the latest IPCC report.
To show why these researchers think the IPCC is conservative -- and emphatically not alarmist -- you need only consider what the leaked Synthesis Report (which, of course, is still subject to revision) says about the subject of sea level rise. Next to rising temperatures, rising seas are perhaps the most obvious outcome of global warming (because hot air melts ice and expands ocean water). They are also one of the most severe -- and an incredibly big deal if you live in Florida, or North Carolina, or Bangladesh, or the Maldives, or anywhere else with a beach or coast. Knowing just how much sea level could rise, and how fast, is thus vital to help cities and countries plan for how to adapt to a changing world.
By the year 2100, the leaked draft report claims, sea level rise "will likely be in the ranges of 0.26 to 0.55 m for RCP2.6 and of 0.45 to 0.82 m for RCP8.5 (medium confidence)," which is quite similar to what earlier documents from this round of the IPCC's work have said. To translate: For two different scenarios for future greenhouse gas emissions -- one a low end scenario, one a high end one -- there is a 66 percent probability that sea level rise will fall into these two corresponding ranges. And the high end of the range, in the high end emissions scenario, is .82 meters of sea level rise, or 2.69 feet.
Alas, it turns out that these numbers are misleading in several ways -- and may very well be too low. First, .82 meters is not actually the amount of sea level rise that is expected at the year 2100. If you sift carefully enough through the IPCC’s various reports, you will learn that it is rather themean increase expected between the years 2081-2100, or during the last two decades of this century, when compared with the mean sea level between 1986 and 2005. The actual high end number for 2100 is .98 meters, or 3.22 feet – an amount that “would threaten the survival of coastal cities and entire island nations,” writes climate expert Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam University.
But it gets more complicated still -- that's not really the high end number either! Note above that IPCC only gives the range for sea level rise that it considers "likely." What that means, according to Princeton's Anderegg, is that "these ranges are only the middle 2/3 of the probability distribution." In other words, he says, "there is a 17 percent chance it could be lower than that, and a 17 percent chance it could be higher than that." You'd have to be pretty attuned to figure that out, though.
And just when you think you're finally figuring out how bad sea level rise could be by 2100, yet another problem pops up. There are many ways of determining an acceptable range for expected sea level rise, and the IPCC relies on one of them -- so-called "process-based models," which draw on physical equations that govern our understanding of the thermal expansion of the ocean, the melting of ice sheets, and other related factors. But that's not the only way of estimating future sea level rise.
Another way involves getting a group of the top experts together and trying to determine what they think. One such "expert elicitation" came out in late 2013, surveying 90 experts who all publish a lot of research on the topic of sea level rise. And when you do it this way, these experts give a "median likely range" of .7 to 1.2 meters of sea level rise by 2100 in a "high warming" scenario. So here, the high end would be 3.93 feet. (But of course, by the very definition of the process just described, many experts would say even higher than that.)
So by now, you should be getting a sense of how conservative the IPCC is. Indeed, here's a figure from the new paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, showing the different ranges for sea level rise in 2100 that have been issued by the IPCC since its inception -- including its extremely controversial lowballing of sea level rise in the Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 -- and comparing those with the aforementioned expert elicitation, to the far right:

Figure comparing the IPCC's five estimates for the range of sea level rise, and one recent expert assessment (EE). IPCC assessments are the First Assessment Report in 1991 (FAR), the Second Assessment in 1996 (SAR), the Third Assessment in 2001 (TAR), the Fourth Assessment in 2007 (AR4), and the Fifth Assessment in 2013-2014 (AR5). Credit: William R.L. Anderegg et al, "Awareness of both Type 1 and 2 errors in climate science and assessment," Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 2014. ©American Meteorological Society. Used with permission.
And unfortunately, we still probably haven't discussed what the true worstcase scenario is for sea level rise.
There's yet another problem with the IPCC process -- it only considers scientific papers that were published before a particular cutoff date, which in this case, was March 15, 2013. But in May 2014, long after that cutoff date, ablockbuster study came out suggesting that global warming has already irrevocably destabilized the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains some 10 feet worth of sea level rise. That is not to say that all of that ice will fall into the ocean immediately and raise sea level, but rather to say that its disintegration, over time, is inevitable. How fast will it happen? That's the big unknown -- but obviously, it is unwise to underestimate an ice sheet, when the consequences around the world would be so devastating.
The lead author of that research, the University of California-Irvine's Eric Rignot, stressed in an interview that there is no scientific consensus yet about the validity of his alarming results. But adds that in his own opinion, the IPCC's estimate for sea level rise is "very conservative."
"We’ve been looking at these glaciers for 20 years, and what I see is defying all these models," adds Rignot.
So in summary, by 2100, sea level rise could be plenty worse than the IPCC suggests -- and realizing this might lead policymakers around the world to view global warming very differently. So then why are its scientific assessments like this? There are surely many reasons, but the authors of the new Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society paper suggest one of them is how much the IPCC has been blasted -- especially over past errors, such as an incorrect prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035. Because of such flubs, the IPCC has been repeatedly attacked by outside critics -- one of whose favorite epithets is calling the panel "alarmist."
Ironically, perhaps precisely because of all that criticism, it isn't.
Study Says Curbing Population Growth Won’t Help Address Climate Change


31 October, 2014

If you’re looking to reduce the pressure humanity is putting on the climate and global ecosystem, curbing population growth can’t help you much.

That’s the conclusion of new research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which modeled various approaches to slowing population growth — from the reasonable to the monstrous to the completely catastrophic — to see how they’d play out. These included benign attempts to empower women around the world with greater access to contraception, economic development, family planning, and so forth; draconian legal measures to limit people around the world to one child per family; hundreds of millions of people dying due to food shortages; and several billion dying thanks to some form of global catastrophe.

The result? Only the truly ugly and unrealistic scenarios — a rapidly-enforced global one-child policy or the mass die-off of several billion people — altered population trajectories by 2100 enough to have a real impact on carbon emissions and resource use. In short, the morally defensible option for slowing down fertility (plus some of the indefensible ones) just didn’t do much good, still leaving the human population around 10 billion by 2100.

No matter what levers you pull, we have such a huge demographic momentum, there’s no way we can rein in the human population fast enough to address sustainability issues in the next century,” Corey Bradshaw, the director of ecological modeling at the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and one of the paper’s co-authors, told the Washington Post. “The population has this natural resistance to catastrophe.”

That will likely come as a surprise to some corners of the environmental movement,where there’s an undeniable fixation on the destructive consequences of population growth. And Bradshaw told the Washington Post’s Chris Mooney that whenever he gives talks about endangered wildlife around the world, “someone will stand up and say, ‘You’ve neglected the elephant in the room — human population size is the principal problem.’”

The total ecological footprint of the world's four economic regions, as measured in global hectares (Gha).
The total ecological footprint of the world’s four economic regions, as measured in global hectares (Gha).

But to give that view its due, most of the data we havesuggests population growth from 1961 to 2008 was a major driver of the pressurehumanity is putting on the Earth’s biocapacity. And as Mooney notes, between 6.5 and 14 percent of all the human beings who have ever lived are alive right now according to some estimates.

But interestingly enough, Mooney also points out that the editor of Bradshaw’s paper was Stanford University’s Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book “The Population Bomb” largely introduced concerns over humanity’s numbers into the burgeoning environmental movement.

At any rate, what happened before and what we can do going forward are two different things. Population growth trends for the rest of the 21st Century are “virtually locked-in” as Bradshaw put it. And the ways we can make at least some dent in global population growth — economic development of poor countries, more education and gender egalitarianism for women, greater voluntary access to contraception — are all things we should be doing regardless.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Common estimates generally say humanity will peak at around 10 billion by 2100, then naturally plateau or even begin falling after that — or perhaps even peak sooner, around 2050 at 8 billion. Other estimates, however,suggest we could go considerably higher; to 12 billion by 2100.

And the human beings most threatened by the consequences of this are the global poor. “The greatest threats to ecosystems — as measured by regional projections within the 35 global Biodiversity Hotspots — indicate that Africa and South Asia will experience the greatest human pressures on future ecosystems,” according to the study. Those are the same areas of the world where the global poor are the most vulnerable to the extreme weather, resource disruptions, and other challenges that will come with climate change.

That leaves systemic changes to societies’ resource use, its forms of energy, its economic structures and its social organization as the crucial moves that can lead to a sustainable civilization. As Ryan Cooper argued at The Week, carbon emissions per person vary wildlyeven within advanced countries — 5.6 metric tons in France, 11 metric tons in Norway, 5 metric tons in Switzerland, and a whopping 17.6 metric tons in the United States — and the energy use per person even for someone who’s homeless in America is twice the global average. (For well-off Americans, it’s ten times the size.) When it comes to land use, the density of our communities and living arrangements make a far greater differencethan our sheer numbers. All of which suggests there are enormous structural changes we could undertake to reduce our emissions even as our populations keep growing.

Stormy or sweltering, Australia’s spring arrives with a vengeance

Season of contrasts: while Melburnians were deluged this week, Sydneysiders spent last weekend sunbathing. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

1 November, 2014

Spring in southern and eastern Australia is a bit like an annual game of weather tug-of-war, with summer and winter pulling at each end of the rope. While Melbourne has been lashed by stormy weather this week, other parts of the country have had their first taste of summer heat.

Last week, much of New South Wales, and this week, large areas of southern Queensland, have been experiencing record or near-record hot conditions, and preliminary data suggests that October 25 was Australia’s warmest October day on record.
Spring can be unpredictable, in Australia as in many other parts of the world. From Perth, down to Hobart and up to Sydney, the warm weather teases, but typically, it doesn’t last for long – maybe a week or two if we’re lucky, before we realise it’s still too cold for evening backyard cricket.
Then the winds pick up, a change blasts through, and winter seemingly returns – sometimes in spectacular fashion, as Melburnians will this week attest.

Atmospheric tumult

For the atmosphere, spring is a time of tumultuous change. As we move from winter to spring, the Sun travels from being directly overhead in the Northern Hemisphere, across the Equator and south towards the Tropic of Capricorn (which passes close to Rockhampton, Queensland). As it does, it provides an increasing amount of energy as the sunlight strikes the Earth’s surface with more intensity.
This extra energy causes the atmosphere and the land to heat up and weather patterns to migrate. The cold fronts and low-pressure systems that dominate southern Australia during winter are pushed south and are slowly replaced by semi-permanent areas of high pressure. This high pressure is part of a climatic feature known the sub-tropical ridge, which helps to generate the fine, sunny weather that is predominant during a southern Australian summer.
But these changes do not necessarily happen as a smooth transition, and on many occasions during spring, the weather systems most common in winter like to remind the southern states that cold, wet conditions haven’t yet been banished for the year. This can make spring weather in southern and eastern Australia typically variable, and sometimes extreme.
Under some circumstances, the re-emergence of winter weather systems can combine with extra atmospheric ingredients, like additional heat or moisture, that are ultimately the result of the extra energy provided by the Sun’s southward journey.
If these ingredients are just right, the combination will go off with a bang, resulting in storms like those experienced across southeastern Australia over the past few weeks. Lightning storms, wild winds, heavy rain, large hail and the occasional tornado can be the result. Through eastern and southern Australia, thunderstorms are most typical from mid-spring to mid-summer.
During spring, extreme weather is not just limited to the occurrence of more thunderstorms in southern and eastern Australia. Very windy cool changes and wet cyclonic stormscan also pass through the southern states. Meanwhile, further north, places like Sydney and Brisbane start to feel summer-like heat, including the occasional heatwave (which you can track using this website).

Unseasonable weather?

Although the recent stormy weather has seemed, at times, wild and unseasonal, it is largely to be expected in southern and eastern Australia at this time of year.
Even a few isolated days of heat during a single spring is quite typical. However, although the occasional bout of heat is not unusual, there have been noticeable and consistent changes in the behaviour of hot temperatures, and heatwaves, during spring in more recent years.
Year-round, including during spring, Australian heatwaves have become more frequent, more intense and are lasting for longer. In the first decade of the 21st century, record high temperatures across the country were being broken more than twice as often as low-temperature records, mirroring the increasing trend in Australian average temperatures.
The spring of 2013 was Australia’s hottest on record. Records for high temperatures tumbled, and the hot and dry conditions encouraged an early start to the bushfire season in parts of eastern Australia. These hot spring temperatures also contributed to 2013 being Australia’s warmest year on record.
Five separate studies published last month in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that the record heat of recent years should not be considered normal. In fact, far from being typical, all studies found evidence of the “handprint” of human-induced climate change on the unusual conditions of 2013.
Notably, this research found that the likelihood of experiencing the record hot spring of 2013 in Australia was 30 times greater with the influence of human-induced climate change than without. The record hot year of 2013 was 2,000 times more likely as a result of climate change.
Spring is normally a season of variable weather. So when considered in isolation, the recent heatwaves are not necessarily atypical for this time of year. Yet they add to the ever-increasing number of heatwaves that the evidence tells us are now occurring more often, often producing record-breaking temperatures. And that is certainly not normal.

"NATO and the United States should change their policy because the time when they dictate their conditions to the world has passed," Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Dushanbe, capital of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan

Hey, U.N.: Climate change and population are related

30 October, 2014

On Sept. 22 and 23, the United Nations will host separate daylong conferences on two issues of incalculable importance to the future of humanity: population andclimate change. Though the two meetings will take place just one day apart, neither is likely to refer to the other. And that will be a missed opportunity, because scientific research increasingly affirms that the two issues are linked in many ways.
The population gathering in the General Assembly on Sept. 22 will mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. The next day’s summit has been convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for government and business leaders to brainstorm ideas for addressing climate change.
The coincidence of these meetings occurring a day apart offers a teachable moment for the global decision-makers gathering in New York. Actions to promote the well-being of women might produce mutually reinforcing benefits in both areas.
Population, the lives and status of women, and climate change are rarely linked at the United Nations — or in any other intergovernmental conversations, for that matter. Intuitively, it’s easy to understand that the growth of world population from 1 billion people at the start of the Industrial Revolution to 7.3 billion today has something to do with the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
But most of the climate change the world is currently experiencing stems from decades of carbon-intense development by the world’s wealthier countries. These countries’ populations are growing much more slowly (and in a few cases not at all), compared to those of poorer countries with low greenhouse-gas emissions. So what’s population got to do with climate change today?
That’s a question researchers are beginning to answer. Published science presents growing evidence for climate-population linkage that is complex, far more nuanced than the conventional “rich-versus-poor” debate, and worth working to understand.
The Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment, a project of the Worldwatch Institute, is assembling an international group of researchers to help evaluate recent scientific evidence on how family planning might contribute to environmental sustainability — and long-term human well-being. Our objective is to widen and diversify the scientific discussion, while helping to clarify population-environment linkages for better public and policy-maker understanding.
We are in the early days of this work, but already some conclusions are emerging that are germane to this week’s two U.N. meetings. One is that the body of international research on climate and population is reasonably extensive, and it is growing. Much of this literature is published in peer-reviewed journals, not only in the United States and Europe but in developing countries. Researchers take the linkage seriously and explore multiple aspects of it. The output goes well beyond how population growth might affect emissions. Some papers explore how human density, distribution, and numbers influence adaptation to climate change and contribute to interactions between climate and such critical issues as future food security and freshwater availability.
In just the last five years, scientific reports (such as this peer-reviewed paper andthis think-tank report) have suggested that feasible differences in future population growth could make for significant differences in future emission rates. Economic development is anticipated to increase per-capita emissions even in currently low-emitting countries — as demonstrated by the experience of India and China. That makes near-term population growth rates significant for long-term emission trends.
On a more positive note, one recent think-tank study suggests that recent reductions in fertility in Brazil, China, and some other countries help explain why global deforestation has slowed — and thus contributes a lower share of global greenhouse gas emissions today than in the past.
And recognition of such links is not restricted to researchers. Many governments of least-developed countries themselves recognize population size or density as impediments to climate-change adaptation, as noted by these two peer-reviewedstudies.
case study in Ghana concluded that gender also matters to adaptation. (Samuel Codjoe, coauthor of this post, is also a coauthor of the Ghana study.) As women gain power in their societies — for example, through education and the capacity to decide for themselves whether and when to have children — they may be able to enhance the resilience of those societies in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
Though our project has much work ahead to assess the scientific evidence on this linkage, what we have seen so far at least suggests that the United Nations and other world bodies would do well to open both minds and conference venues to the question of how population and climate might influence each other.
Population growth and global warming are both likely to continue for many decades. Yet both trends can be slowed through programs that improve reproductive and sexual health while helping women make their own choices about childbearing. It makes sense to see how the trends relate, and to what extent improved reproductive health and family planning access might carry mutual and synergistic benefits in both the population and climate arenas.
Robert Engelman, former president of the Worldwatch Institute, now directs the Institute’s Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment. Samuel Codjoe is director of the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana, and a collaborating researcher in the assessment.

Study faults insurance industry’s response to climate change

30 October, 2014

Extreme weather across the country the past several years has taken a toll on homeowners and communities, and on insurers.

After superstorm Sandy roared across the northeastern United States two years ago, many homeowners on Long Island — even those who escaped the worst damage — lost their property insurance. The same thing happened in coastal Virginia after Hurricane Katrina, which hit hundreds of miles away along the Gulf Coast.

Today, from Florida to Delaware, property insurance near the water is becoming harder and harder to find.

In the long run, these coverage retreats transfer growing risks to public institutions and local populations, and reduce the resiliency of communities, which are less able to finance post-disaster recoveries,” according to a new report from Boston-based Ceres, a nonprofit group dedicated to sustainable business practices.

Last year, less than a third of the $116 billion in worldwide losses from weather-related disasters was covered by insurance, according to data from the reinsurer Swiss Re. In 2005, the year Katrina struck New Orleans, insurance picked up 45 percent of the bill.

Libertarians Sue White House Over Climate Change Video

Jim Houston struggles to cross snow covered streets is in below zero temperatures Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows.
Jim Houston struggles to cross snow covered streets is in below zero temperatures Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows.

30 October, 2014

A libertarian think tank has sued the White House over a video that claimed global warming might be tied to last year’s extreme cold spell, commonly referred to as the “polar vortex. ”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s lawsuit filed Wednesday says White House Office of Science and Technology director John Holdren was wrong when, in the January video, he cited a “growing body of evidence” linking the so-called “polar vortex” to climate change. Specifically, Holdren said he believes that the United States will see “more of this pattern of extreme cold” as global warming gets worse. The group also says OSTP Senior Communications Advisor Becky Fried was wrong to make the same claim in a White House blog post published at around the same time.

CO2 emissions set to reach new 40 billion tonne record high in 2014

30 October, 2014

Carbon dioxide emissions, the main contributor to global warming, are set to rise again in 2014 - reaching a record high of 40 billion tonnes.
Remaining CO2 emission ‘quota’ may be used up in one generation and more than half of all fossil fuel reserves may need to be left untapped.

The 2.5 per cent projected rise in burning fossil fuels is revealed by the Global Carbon Project, which is co-led in the UK by researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the University of Exeter.

It comes ahead of the New York Climate Summit, where world leaders will seek to catalyse action on climate change. This latest annual update of the Global Carbon Budget shows that total future CO2 emissions cannot exceed 1,200 billion tonnes – for a likely 66 per cent chance of keeping average global warming under 2°C (since pre-industrial times).

At the current rate of CO2 emissions, this 1,200 billion tonne CO2 ‘quota’ would be used up in around 30 years. This means that there is just one generation before the safeguards to a 2oC limit may be breached. The international team of climate scientists say that to avoid this, more than half of all fossil fuel reserves may need to be left unexploited.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, said: “The human influence on climate change is clear. We need substantial and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit global climate change. We are nowhere near the commitments necessary to stay below 2°C of climate change, a level that will be already challenging to manage for most countries around the world, even for rich nations. “Politicians meeting in New York need to think very carefully about their diminishing choices exposed by climate science.”

The annual Global Carbon Budget, published today, includes a projection for 2014, as well as figures for 2013 by country and per capita. It is accompanied by a series of papers in 
Nature Climate Change, Nature Geoscience and Earth System Science Data Discussions. 

Lead author of the 
Nature Geoscience paper, Prof Pierre Friedlingstein, from the University of Exeter said: “The time for a quiet evolution in our attitudes towards climate change is now over. Delaying action is not an option - we need to act together, and act quickly, if we are to stand a chance of avoiding climate change not long into the future, but within many of our own lifetimes.

“We have already used two-thirds of the total amount of carbon we can burn, in order to keep warming below the crucial 2˚C level. If we carry on at the current rate we will reach our limit in as little as 30 years’ time - and that is without any continued growth in emission levels. The implication of no immediate action is worryingly clear – either we take a collective responsibility to make a difference, and soon, or it will be too late.”
Key facts and figures:
  • CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel are projected to rise by 2.5 per cent in 2014 - 65 per cent above 1990 levels, the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol - China, the USA, the EU and India are the largest emitters – together accounting for 58 per cent of emissions.
  • China’s CO2 emissions grew by 4.2 per cent in 2013, the USA’s grew by 2.9 per cent, and India’s emissions grew by 5.1 per cent.
  • The EU has decreased its emissions by 1.8 per cent, though it continues to export a third of its emissions to China and other producers through imported goods and services.
  • China’s CO2 emissions per person overtook emissions in the EU for the first time in 2013. China’s emissions are now larger than the US and EU combined. 16 per cent of China’s emissions are for goods and services which are exported elsewhere.
  • Emissions in the UK decreased by 2.6 per cent in 2013 caused by a decline in the use of coal and gas. However the UK exports a third of its emissions by consuming goods and services which are produced elsewhere.
  • CO2 emissions are caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, as well as by cement production and deforestation. Deforestation accounts for 8 per cent of CO2 emissions.
  • Historical and future CO2 emissions must remain below a total 3,200 billion tonnes to be in with a 66 per cent chance of keeping climate change below 2°C. But two thirds (2,000 billion tonnes) of this quota have already been used.
  • If global emissions continue at their current rate, the remaining 1,200 billion tonnes will be used up in around 30 years – one generation.
  • Global emissions must reduce by more than 5 per cent each year over several decades to keep climate change below 2°C.
  • This emission quota implies that over half of proven fossil reserves might have to remain unused in the ground, unless new technologies to store carbon in the ground are developed and deployed in large quantities.
The ‘Global Carbon Budget 2014’, led by UEA Tyndall Centre director Prof Le Quéré is made available in the journal 
Earth System Science Data Discussions on September 21, 2014.

It is accompanied by a 
Nature Geoscience paper ‘Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets’, led by Prof Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter. Meanwhile ‘Sharing a quota on cumulative carbon emissions’ led by Dr Michael Raupach director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, and a comment article ‘Betting on negative emissions’, led by Dr Sabine Fuss, at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Germany, are published inNature Climate Change.

For more information see the Global Carbon Atlas, which allows users to explore, visualise and interpret data of global, regional and national emissions, visit

This media release is part of the Global Carbon Budget 2014 of the Global Carbon Project, based on four analyses published on 21 September 2014, 6:00 pm UK time.
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 Warmest UK Halloween on record
This year's Halloween has been the warmest on record in the UK, BBC weather has said

Sunrise in NormantonThe sun rises above a graveyard in Normanton, West Yorkshire on the UK's warmest recorded Halloween

31 October, 2014

A temperature of 23.6C (74.3F) was recorded in Gravesend, Kent and Kew Gardens, Greater London, surpassing the previous record of 20.0C.

Other parts of the south of England and the north coasts of Wales and Norfolk also broke the 20C mark.

The previous record was set in Dartford, Kent, in 1968 and matched in parts of Greater London in 1989.

At 12:20 GMT, the Met Office tweeted: "Charlwood has beaten Filton, recording 22.5 °C. This makes it the warmest #Halloween on record!"

Less than an hour later, it tweeted: "The warmest #Halloween on record has been broken again with Gravesend recording 23.5 °C."

Nine out of the 10 months so far this year have been warmer than average, BBC weather's Emma Boorman said.

"Temperatures are not set to stay like this. They will fall away over the weekend dropping to the seasonal norm," she said.

The UK mean temperature for October so far is 11C, which is 1.5C above the long-term average between 1981 and 2010, but short of the 12.2C record set in 2001.

Amazon rainforest is getting drier, confirms another study
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest. Photo by Rhett Butler. 

30 November, 2014

Parts of the Amazon rainforest are getting considerably less rain, leading trees to absorb less carbon, finds a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
The research is based on new satellite technology that measures rainfall more accurately than previous approaches by cutting through cloud cover. It finds that since 2000, rainfall has declined across 69 percent of the Amazon rainforest, an area amounting to 5.4 million square kilometers. The fall in precipitation is even more substantial in the region's tropical savannas: 80 percent of those areas have experience declining rainfall. 
The drop is precipitation accounts for more than half the region's decline in "greenness" as measured by the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). That translates to a drop in photosynthetic activity, meaning that carbon uptake by Amazon trees is slowing. 
The findings, which are consistent with a spate of other studies using different methodologies, suggest that the Amazon rainforest may be becoming less resilient to the effects of climate change. That is a worrying prospect given the importance of the Amazon as a carbon sink as well as the ecosystem's role in generating regional rainfall: as much as 70 percent of South America's GDP is produced in areas fed by precipitation from the Amazon. 
The authors warn that should the warming trend continue, it could trigger a positive feedback loop, shifting the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) — a band that circles the planet and drives current rainfall patterns — toward the poles, increasing drying in the region. That in turn would exacerbate die-off, spurring increased emissions and further accelerating climate change. 
"Our results provide evidence that persistent drying could degrade Amazonian forest canopies, which would have cascading effects on global carbon and climate dynamics," write the authors. 
CITATION: Thomas Hilker et al (2014). Vegetation dynamics and rainfall sensitivity of the Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A characteristically rosy view of the future

There’s A 'Public Health Emergency’ That Is Way More Threatening Than Ebola, And No One's Addressing It

Muslim students wear pollution masks IndonesiaREUTERS/BeawihartaStudents wearing masks in the haze-hit Dumai in Sumatra, Indonesia. Smoke from land-clearing fires pushes air pollution above the level considered hazardous.
31 October, 2014

By midcentury, an emerging public health problem will alter the way we eat, the way we travel, and the places we live. It will also make us more susceptible to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression while exacerbating allergies and increasing the reaches of the world’s most infectious diseases.

It’s climate change, and it’s happening so fast it’s prompted the BMJ to write a letter to the World Health Organization urging them to declare the phenomenon a public health emergency.
"Deaths from Ebola infection, tragic and frightening though they are, will pale into insignificance when compared with the mayhem we we can expect for our children and grandchildren if the world does nothing to check its carbon emissions," wrote BMJ editor Fiona Godlee in the editorial.
Here's a look at some of the conditions that will plague the next generation in a warmer world.

1. Anxiety and PTSD

AP560245317289Young Sino and his daughter Demarri Warren participate in a remembrance event along the Industrial Canal flood wall, seen in background, in the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans, on the ninth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 29, 2014.

In 2006, a team of psychologists visited thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina — six months after the original event. They diagnosed nearly half of the residents they visited with a serious anxiety disorder. One in six, the doctors said, had PTSD, and many suffered from both illnesses. Over time, these disorders can lead to suicidal thoughts and, in some cases, suicidal behaviors.
In 2008, mental health workers returned to New Orleans. To their surprise, the number of people regularly contemplating suicide hadn't fallen (as is usually the case after a natural disaster). On the contrary, the number of suicidal residents had risen significantly, along with the number of people with serious mental illness. Even in 2009, the number of suicides in New Orleans Parish remained double its pre-Katrina levels.
Because cases of mental illness and suicidal behavior increased in general in the years after the recession, which happened to coincide with the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, it's impossible to pinpoint Katrina as the sole driving force behind the huge uptick in mental illness here.
However, the pattern of increases in depression and anxiety after any severe natural disaster is well documented: The mental health infrastructure in Haiti nearly collapsed in the wake of the 2012 earthquake there; Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded to hit land, led to a spike in incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder among victims in the Philippines; and the 2011 East African drought in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia caused existing psychosocial support networks in the region to crumble.

2. Heat Stroke — but not for the reason you'd think

AP418888794114APA woman in Las Vegas wipes her face with a cold wet towel to cool off while working outside holding an advertising sign. The heat kills at least 2,000 Americans each year.

Having a psychiatric illness like depression can more than triple your risk of dying during a heat wave.
First, depression can make it harder to take the necessary steps to protect oneself from changes in the environment. People with depression already experience difficulties with self-care, such as staying hydrated, maintaining personal hygiene, and taking their medications consistently. High temperatures can make these activities especially taxing.
Worse still, people who take medications to treat mental illness are especially susceptible to heat stroke, a serious condition that results when the body overheats, because many mental health medications interfere with our body’s natural ability to regulate its temperature. Antipsychotics like Abilify and Risperdone, for example, block brain cells from communicating with the body's thermostat, the hypothalamus. Anticholinergics, such as Cogentin and Enablex, inhibit sweating and make it easier to overheat.

3. Respiratory Disorders

New Delhi smogAP Photo/ Manish SwarupTraffic moves in front of the landmark India Gate monument enveloped by a blanket of smog, caused by a mixture of pollution and fog, in New Delhi, India

Ever wonder why smog always seems so much worse on a hot, sunny day? Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The chemical reactions that form ozone — one of smog’s main components — happen faster at higher temperatures.
The warmer it is outside, the more ozone gums up the air. Ozone doesn’t just dirty the horizon, though. The toxin also exacerbates a host of respiratory conditions (from asthma to bronchitis and emphysema) by irritating the delicate tissue lining the lungs.
In recent years in some parts of the US, ground-level ozone has reached dangerous levels. Overall, though, the US is a partial success story for the pollutant: Ozone levels started to decline for the first time here in the 1980s.
Ozone levels are still on the rise in other parts of the world, however, leading to more complications and even deaths from respiratory conditions that could have previously been treated. In India, levels of the pollutant were so high in 2014 that scientists estimated it killed enough crops to feed close to 100 million people in poverty.

4. Infectious Diseases

Anopheles_albimanus_mosquitoWikimedia CommonsFemale Anopheles albimanus mosquito feeding on a human host

Increased heat will expand the range of pests carrying deadly disease. In the past few years, mosquitoes carrying malaria (which killed 630,000 people last year) have already begun creeping up mountains to recently-warmed, higher-altitude elevations, where they spread malaria to areas never previously exposed to the disease.
Since they've never been exposed before, people living in these areas will have zero protective immunity from the disease. The result? Malaria will be deadlier than ever.
Mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer climates, also carry diseases like dengue and yellow fever, which collectively kill more than 50,000 people each year. As temperatures rise, more and more areas around the globe will become increasingly hospitable to the pests.
Bacteria, too, will take advantage of their newly-welcoming habitats.
Vibrio cholerae, the comma-shaped bacteria responsible for cholera, prefers to nest in warm, coastal seawaters. As recently as last year, however, the bacteria were discovered floating in usually cooler Baltic Sea that separates Central and Northern Europe. Cholera now kills between 100,000 and 130,000 people worldwide each year, almost entirely in areas where there is a lack of clean water. Warming waters means that the bacteria can live longer and spread to more locations. At one site in Bangladesh, cholera risk rose two to four fold in the six weeks after a 9-degree Fahrenheit spike in water temperature⁠.

5. Starvation

Climate change will make it harder for everyone to grow and access food.
Climate change is projected to drive down global food production by 2% every ten years, even as the demand for food increases by 14%. Across Africa and South Asia — regions where much of the world's food is produced — yields of wheat, corn, and millet will fall nearly 10% by mid-century. As a result of this rocky imbalance, the price of rice and corn will skyrocket, likelydoubling by 2050.
With the exception of a few, the majority of the world's crops will be ravaged by the new pests and diseases that take advantage of warmer temperatures.

6. Dehydration

Water scarcity is another emerging threat. Severe droughts have already begun plaguing the west coast of the US. In Tulare County, south of Sacramento, Calif., the board of supervisors has declared a state of emergency. People can't flush toilets, wash clothes, fill cups, or bathe without buckets of bottled water that are driven in from elsewhere.
In other parts of the world, where crops that feed the rest of the globe depend on a steady stream of slowly-melting glacier water, water scarcity is an even more serious problem. The Himalayan glacier, for example, presently supplies 25% of the world's cereal crop. If it melts too quickly, however — as some estimates suggest it has already begun doing — it will become nearlyimpossible to meet the needs of a growing, hungrier planet