Tag: climate change

That article

I said that I would publish the article before the end of the week.

So here it is:

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Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

Thijs Stoop/Unsplash, FAL

James Dyke, University of Exeter; Robert Watson, University of East Anglia, and Wolfgang Knorr, Lund University

Sometimes realisation comes in a blinding flash. Blurred outlines snap into shape and suddenly it all makes sense. Underneath such revelations is typically a much slower-dawning process. Doubts at the back of the mind grow. The sense of confusion that things cannot be made to fit together increases until something clicks. Or perhaps snaps.

Collectively we three authors of this article must have spent more than 80 years thinking about climate change. Why has it taken us so long to speak out about the obvious dangers of the concept of net zero? In our defence, the premise of net zero is deceptively simple – and we admit that it deceived us.

The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So it follows that we must stop emitting more and even remove some of it. This idea is central to the world’s current plan to avoid catastrophe. In fact, there are many suggestions as to how to actually do this, from mass tree planting, to high tech direct air capture devices that suck out carbon dioxide from the air.


Read more: There aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be


The current consensus is that if we deploy these and other so-called “carbon dioxide removal” techniques at the same time as reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we can more rapidly halt global warming. Hopefully around the middle of this century we will achieve “net zero”. This is the point at which any residual emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced by technologies removing them from the atmosphere.

This is a great idea, in principle. Unfortunately, in practice it helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now.

We have arrived at the painful realisation that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. It has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future.

To understand how this has happened, how humanity has gambled its civilisation on no more than promises of future solutions, we must return to the late 1980s, when climate change broke out onto the international stage.

Steps towards net zero

On June 22 1988, James Hansen was the administrator of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a prestigious appointment but someone largely unknown outside of academia.

By the afternoon of the 23rd he was well on the way to becoming the world’s most famous climate scientist. This was as a direct result of his testimony to the US congress, when he forensically presented the evidence that the Earth’s climate was warming and that humans were the primary cause: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.”

If we had acted on Hansen’s testimony at the time, we would have been able to decarbonise our societies at a rate of around 2% a year in order to give us about a two-in-three chance of limiting warming to no more than 1.5°C. It would have been a huge challenge, but the main task at that time would have been to simply stop the accelerating use of fossil fuels while fairly sharing out future emissions.

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Graph demonstrating how fast mitigation has to happen to keep to 1.5℃. © Robbie Andrew, CC BY

Four years later, there were glimmers of hope that this would be possible. During the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, all nations agreed to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases to ensure that they did not produce dangerous interference with the climate. The 1997 Kyoto Summit attempted to start to put that goal into practice. But as the years passed, the initial task of keeping us safe became increasingly harder given the continual increase in fossil fuel use.

It was around that time that the first computer models linking greenhouse gas emissions to impacts on different sectors of the economy were developed. These hybrid climate-economic models are known as Integrated Assessment Models. They allowed modellers to link economic activity to the climate by, for example, exploring how changes in investments and technology could lead to changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

They seemed like a miracle: you could try out policies on a computer screen before implementing them, saving humanity costly experimentation. They rapidly emerged to become key guidance for climate policy. A primacy they maintain to this day.

Unfortunately, they also removed the need for deep critical thinking. Such models represent society as a web of idealised, emotionless buyers and sellers and thus ignore complex social and political realities, or even the impacts of climate change itself. Their implicit promise is that market-based approaches will always work. This meant that discussions about policies were limited to those most convenient to politicians: incremental changes to legislation and taxes.

Around the time they were first developed, efforts were being made to secure US action on the climate by allowing it to count carbon sinks of the country’s forests. The US argued that if it managed its forests well, it would be able to store a large amount of carbon in trees and soil which should be subtracted from its obligations to limit the burning of coal, oil and gas. In the end, the US largely got its way. Ironically, the concessions were all in vain, since the US senate never ratified the agreement.

Aerial view of autumn foliage.
Forests such as this one in Maine, US, were suddenly counted in the carbon budget as an incentive for the US to join the Kyoto Agreement. Inbound Horizons/Shutterstock

Postulating a future with more trees could in effect offset the burning of coal, oil and gas now. As models could easily churn out numbers that saw atmospheric carbon dioxide go as low as one wanted, ever more sophisticated scenarios could be explored which reduced the perceived urgency to reduce fossil fuel use. By including carbon sinks in climate-economic models, a Pandora’s box had been opened.

It’s here we find the genesis of today’s net zero policies.

That said, most attention in the mid-1990s was focused on increasing energy efficiency and energy switching (such as the UK’s move from coal to gas) and the potential of nuclear energy to deliver large amounts of carbon-free electricity. The hope was that such innovations would quickly reverse increases in fossil fuel emissions.

But by around the turn of the new millennium it was clear that such hopes were unfounded. Given their core assumption of incremental change, it was becoming more and more difficult for economic-climate models to find viable pathways to avoid dangerous climate change. In response, the models began to include more and more examples of carbon capture and storage, a technology that could remove the carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations and then store the captured carbon deep underground indefinitely.

Metal pipes and stacks at a factory site under grey sky.
The Tomakomai carbon, capture and storage test site, Hokkaido, Japan, March 2018. Over its three-year lifetime, it’s hoped that this demonstrator project will capture an amount of carbon approximately 1/100,000 of current global annual emissions. The captured carbon will be piped into geological deposits deep under the sea bed where it will need to remain for centuries. REUTERS/Aaron Sheldrick

This had been shown to be possible in principle: compressed carbon dioxide had been separated from fossil gas and then injected underground in a number of projects since the 1970s. These Enhanced Oil Recovery schemes were designed to force gases into oil wells in order to push oil towards drilling rigs and so allow more to be recovered – oil that would later be burnt, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Carbon capture and storage offered the twist that instead of using the carbon dioxide to extract more oil, the gas would instead be left underground and removed from the atmosphere. This promised breakthrough technology would allow climate friendly coal and so the continued use of this fossil fuel. But long before the world would witness any such schemes, the hypothetical process had been included in climate-economic models. In the end, the mere prospect of carbon capture and storage gave policy makers a way out of making the much needed cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The rise of net zero

When the international climate change community convened in Copenhagen in 2009 it was clear that carbon capture and storage was not going to be sufficient for two reasons.

First, it still did not exist. There were no carbon capture and storage facilities in operation on any coal fired power station and no prospect the technology was going to have any impact on rising emissions from increased coal use in the foreseeable future.

The biggest barrier to implementation was essentially cost. The motivation to burn vast amounts of coal is to generate relatively cheap electricity. Retrofitting carbon scrubbers on existing power stations, building the infrastructure to pipe captured carbon, and developing suitable geological storage sites required huge sums of money. Consequently the only application of carbon capture in actual operation then – and now – is to use the trapped gas in enhanced oil recovery schemes. Beyond a single demonstrator, there has never been any capture of carbon dioxide from a coal fired power station chimney with that captured carbon then being stored underground.

Just as important, by 2009 it was becoming increasingly clear that it would not be possible to make even the gradual reductions that policy makers demanded. That was the case even if carbon capture and storage was up and running. The amount of carbon dioxide that was being pumped into the air each year meant humanity was rapidly running out of time.

With hopes for a solution to the climate crisis fading again, another magic bullet was required. A technology was needed not only to slow down the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but actually reverse it. In response, the climate-economic modelling community – already able to include plant-based carbon sinks and geological carbon storage in their models – increasingly adopted the “solution” of combining the two.

So it was that Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage, or BECCS, rapidly emerged as the new saviour technology. By burning “replaceable” biomass such as wood, crops, and agricultural waste instead of coal in power stations, and then capturing the carbon dioxide from the power station chimney and storing it underground, BECCS could produce electricity at the same time as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s because as biomass such as trees grow, they suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By planting trees and other bioenergy crops and storing carbon dioxide released when they are burnt, more carbon could be removed from the atmosphere.

With this new solution in hand the international community regrouped from repeated failures to mount another attempt at reining in our dangerous interference with the climate. The scene was set for the crucial 2015 climate conference in Paris.

A Parisian false dawn

As its general secretary brought the 21st United Nations conference on climate change to an end, a great roar issued from the crowd. People leaped to their feet, strangers embraced, tears welled up in eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep.

The emotions on display on December 13, 2015 were not just for the cameras. After weeks of gruelling high-level negotiations in Paris a breakthrough had finally been achieved. Against all expectations, after decades of false starts and failures, the international community had finally agreed to do what it took to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

But dig a little deeper and you could find another emotion lurking within delegates on December 13. Doubt. We struggle to name any climate scientist who at that time thought the Paris Agreement was feasible. We have since been told by some scientists that the Paris Agreement was “of course important for climate justice but unworkable” and “a complete shock, no one thought limiting to 1.5°C was possible”. Rather than being able to limit warming to 1.5°C, a senior academic involved in the IPCC concluded we were heading beyond 3°C by the end of this century.

Instead of confront our doubts, we scientists decided to construct ever more elaborate fantasy worlds in which we would be safe. The price to pay for our cowardice: having to keep our mouths shut about the ever growing absurdity of the required planetary-scale carbon dioxide removal.

Taking centre stage was BECCS because at the time this was the only way climate-economic models could find scenarios that would be consistent with the Paris Agreement. Rather than stabilise, global emissions of carbon dioxide had increased some 60% since 1992.

Alas, BECCS, just like all the previous solutions, was too good to be true.

Across the scenarios produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with a 66% or better chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C, BECCS would need to remove 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. BECCS at this scale would require massive planting schemes for trees and bioenergy crops.

The Earth certainly needs more trees. Humanity has cut down some three trillion since we first started farming some 13,000 years ago. But rather than allow ecosystems to recover from human impacts and forests to regrow, BECCS generally refers to dedicated industrial-scale plantations regularly harvested for bioenergy rather than carbon stored away in forest trunks, roots and soils.

Currently, the two most efficient biofuels are sugarcane for bioethanol and palm oil for biodiesel – both grown in the tropics. Endless rows of such fast growing monoculture trees or other bioenergy crops harvested at frequent intervals devastate biodiversity.

It has been estimated that BECCS would demand between 0.4 and 1.2 billion hectares of land. That’s 25% to 80% of all the land currently under cultivation. How will that be achieved at the same time as feeding 8-10 billion people around the middle of the century or without destroying native vegetation and biodiversity?


Read more: Carbon capture on power stations burning woodchips is not the green gamechanger many think it is


Growing billions of trees would consume vast amounts of water – in some places where people are already thirsty. Increasing forest cover in higher latitudes can have an overall warming effect because replacing grassland or fields with forests means the land surface becomes darker. This darker land absorbs more energy from the Sun and so temperatures rise. Focusing on developing vast plantations in poorer tropical nations comes with real risks of people being driven off their lands.

And it is often forgotten that trees and the land in general already soak up and store away vast amounts of carbon through what is called the natural terrestrial carbon sink. Interfering with it could both disrupt the sink and lead to double accounting.

As these impacts are becoming better understood, the sense of optimism around BECCS has diminished.

Pipe dreams

Given the dawning realisation of how difficult Paris would be in the light of ever rising emissions and limited potential of BECCS, a new buzzword emerged in policy circles: the “overshoot scenario”. Temperatures would be allowed to go beyond 1.5°C in the near term, but then be brought down with a range of carbon dioxide removal by the end of the century. This means that net zero actually means carbon negative. Within a few decades, we will need to transform our civilisation from one that currently pumps out 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, to one that produces a net removal of tens of billions.

Mass tree planting, for bioenergy or as an attempt at offsetting, had been the latest attempt to stall cuts in fossil fuel use. But the ever-increasing need for carbon removal was calling for more. This is why the idea of direct air capture, now being touted by some as the most promising technology out there, has taken hold. It is generally more benign to ecosystems because it requires significantly less land to operate than BECCS, including the land needed to power them using wind or solar panels.

Unfortunately, it is widely believed that direct air capture, because of its exorbitant costs and energy demand, if it ever becomes feasible to be deployed at scale, will not be able to compete with BECCS with its voracious appetite for prime agricultural land.

It should now be getting clear where the journey is heading. As the mirage of each magical technical solution disappears, another equally unworkable alternative pops up to take its place. The next is already on the horizon – and it’s even more ghastly. Once we realise net zero will not happen in time or even at all, geoengineering – the deliberate and large scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system – will probably be invoked as the solution to limit temperature increases.

One of the most researched geoengineering ideas is solar radiation management – the injection of millions of tons of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere that will reflect some of the Sun’s energy away from the Earth. It is a wild idea, but some academics and politicians are deadly serious, despite significant risks. The US National Academies of Sciences, for example, has recommended allocating up to US$200 million over the next five years to explore how geoengineering could be deployed and regulated. Funding and research in this area is sure to significantly increase.

Difficult truths

In principle there is nothing wrong or dangerous about carbon dioxide removal proposals. In fact developing ways of reducing concentrations of carbon dioxide can feel tremendously exciting. You are using science and engineering to save humanity from disaster. What you are doing is important. There is also the realisation that carbon removal will be needed to mop up some of the emissions from sectors such as aviation and cement production. So there will be some small role for a number of different carbon dioxide removal approaches.

The problems come when it is assumed that these can be deployed at vast scale. This effectively serves as a blank cheque for the continued burning of fossil fuels and the acceleration of habitat destruction.

Carbon reduction technologies and geoengineering should be seen as a sort of ejector seat that could propel humanity away from rapid and catastrophic environmental change. Just like an ejector seat in a jet aircraft, it should only be used as the very last resort. However, policymakers and businesses appear to be entirely serious about deploying highly speculative technologies as a way to land our civilisation at a sustainable destination. In fact, these are no more than fairy tales.

Crowds of young people hold placards.
‘There is no Planet B’: children in Birmingham, UK, protest against the climate crisis. Callum Shaw/Unsplash, FAL

The only way to keep humanity safe is the immediate and sustained radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way.

Academics typically see themselves as servants to society. Indeed, many are employed as civil servants. Those working at the climate science and policy interface desperately wrestle with an increasingly difficult problem. Similarly, those that champion net zero as a way of breaking through barriers holding back effective action on the climate also work with the very best of intentions.

The tragedy is that their collective efforts were never able to mount an effective challenge to a climate policy process that would only allow a narrow range of scenarios to be explored.

Most academics feel distinctly uncomfortable stepping over the invisible line that separates their day job from wider social and political concerns. There are genuine fears that being seen as advocates for or against particular issues could threaten their perceived independence. Scientists are one of the most trusted professions. Trust is very hard to build and easy to destroy.

But there is another invisible line, the one that separates maintaining academic integrity and self-censorship. As scientists, we are taught to be sceptical, to subject hypotheses to rigorous tests and interrogation. But when it comes to perhaps the greatest challenge humanity faces, we often show a dangerous lack of critical analysis.

In private, scientists express significant scepticism about the Paris Agreement, BECCS, offsetting, geoengineering and net zero. Apart from some notable exceptions, in public we quietly go about our work, apply for funding, publish papers and teach. The path to disastrous climate change is paved with feasibility studies and impact assessments.

Rather than acknowledge the seriousness of our situation, we instead continue to participate in the fantasy of net zero. What will we do when reality bites? What will we say to our friends and loved ones about our failure to speak out now?

The time has come to voice our fears and be honest with wider society. Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5°C because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual, not the climate. If we want to keep people safe then large and sustained cuts to carbon emissions need to happen now. That is the very simple acid test that must be applied to all climate policies. The time for wishful thinking is over.


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James Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Global Systems, University of Exeter; Robert Watson, Emeritus Professor in Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, and Wolfgang Knorr, Senior Research Scientist, Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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I can’t add anything to this article because it is written by scientists and that is one thing that I know I am not!

But I can comment as a very concerned adult and really can do more that repeat what I said in yesterday’s post:

Thank goodness for our younger generation. Because these young people are coming together to fight for change. May they have universal encouragement from those of us who will never see our younger days again!

These are very strange times!

A Grist article raises a core question.

On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.

I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!

So here it is!

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Grist / Windy Kelly / EyeEm

Why is everything falling apart in 2020?

By on Jun 4, 2020

Dear Umbra,

Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?

— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?

A. Dear WORRIED,

2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.

This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.

Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?

It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.

So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.

The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!

And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.

The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.

The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.

COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.

It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.

But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.

If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.

Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.

So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.

Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.

Furiously,

Umbra

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Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.

Thank you for reading this!

It breaks my heart.

Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?

Let’s have a bit of a discussion.

Smoke and Mirrors

Let me start with a quotation:

I’m not a pessimist, even though I do think awful things are going to happen.

James Lovelock

The author of that quote is fellow Englishman, albeit a tad older than yours truly, Mr. James Lovelock. WikiPedia describes him, thus (in part):

James Ephraim Lovelock CHCBEFRS[2] (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system.[5]

Moving on.

These times in this fine country, The United States of America, are troubling as Rebecca Gordon set out so compellingly in yesterday’s post.

But what is so terrible about these times is the failure to put integrity at the heart of every pronouncement that comes from a Government. And it would be grossly unfair to pick on the present US Government as the only example of this failure.

Because just a few mouse clicks can inform millions of us as to the real issues. Such as the effect that Climate Change is having on our health, as this recent Grist article so aptly put it in the opening paragraphs:

Here are 4 ways climate change is messing with our brains — for the worse.

We might think of climate change as purely physical: wildfires blazing through forests, rising seas lapping at the doors of coastal homes.

But those brutal conditions also affect our mental health, changing how we think and act. Mental health professionals are paying attention to the link between climate change and emotional health — and health insurance companies are, too.

Or take the issue of the state of America’s water. Recently the subject of an important essay just presented by Naked Capitalism:

America’s Hidden Water Affordability Crisis

Yves here. Grist has been doing an admirable job of keeping on top of this important yet oddly still-under-the-radar story. In the US, the big driver of rising water costs is the need to invest in aging, neglected water works. But water is going to become an issue in many places for differing reasons. As we have been saying for years, the natural resource that is projected to come under pressure first is potable water. And please don’t push desalination as a magic bullet. That costs money (both the plants and new transportation infrastructure, uses energy, plus has the not-trivial problem of how to dispose of the salt residues.

By Ciara O’Rourke, a freelance writer and 2015-16 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Originally published by Fusion and reproduced at Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

When Elizabeth Mack wondered about a future in which Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for water, a couple of colleagues waved her off. “Don’t be ridiculous,” they said. But the idea niggled at Mack, an assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. And in January, in an article published in the science journal PLOS ONE, she asked a new question: Is there a burgeoning water affordability crisis in the United States?

Mack, along with research assistant Sarah Wrase, determined that if water rates increase at projected amounts over the next five years, the percentage of households that can’t pay their water bills could triple from 11.9 percent to more than a third. Nearly 14 million households nationwide already struggle to afford water services. An additional 27.18 million — or 8.5 percent of the country’s population — could soon face the same challenges.

Yes, integrity in politics is more, so much more, than a nice idea from this silly old Brit now living in Oregon. Here’s a post I published some four years ago that says it as clearly as it needs to be said.

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Reflections on Integrity.

Going back to basics.

Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).

Way back in 2009, I wrote this:

“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.

When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,

Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …

Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….

But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.

Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.

Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.

Time left to change our ways is running out.

So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)

I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.

Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.

State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.
State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.

Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.

Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.

We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.

A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!

The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.

But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?

Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!

That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.

If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!

Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!

Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late” (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Here’s the relevant section:

I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:

I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

5,500 cubic feet per second” Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:

Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.

Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.

Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!

cubic mile
Image taken from http://www.flashevap.com/bigthings.htm

So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!

As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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Going to close with two more quotations from Mr. Lovelock.

The first:

You never know with politicians what they are really saying. And I don’t say that in a negative way-they have an appalling job.

And the second one to close today’s post:

If you start any large theory, such as quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolution, it takes about 40 years for mainstream science to come around. Gaia has been going for only 30 years or so.

Our changing climate – what is the truth?

A video on YouTube raises some fundamental questions about our changing climate.

Let me say straight away that my belief in Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is based on instinct, and not on me understanding the science, simply because I am not a scientist; far from it! As I share on this blog:

Paul Handover is a child of the post-war era in Great Britain having been born in London a few months before the end of WWII. After a rather shaky attempt at being educated, including 2 years studying for a Diploma in Electrical Engineering, Paul’s first job was as a commercial apprentice at the British Aircraft Corporation. He then joined the sales desk of British Visqueen, a polythene film and products manufacturer located in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and part of ICI Plastics Division. In 1968, he travelled out to Sydney, Australia and became part of the sales team at ICIANZ’s Inorganic Chemicals Division.

I am a fundamentally a retired salesman/entrepreneur with a very out-of-date knowledge of electrical engineering and radio communications (G3PUK), and now struggling to be an author. 😉

Plus, my generally sceptical view of how countries are governed, my awareness of a terrible lack of integrity in politicians, plays to those instincts of mine that humanity is, indeed, responsible primarily for our changing climate. And there is no shortage of supporting evidence!

A very quick web search found this NASA site that included the following graph and text (in part):

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)
This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Scientific Consensus
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

Click here for a partial list of these public statements and related resources.

However, a dear and close friend of nearly 40 years, Dan Gomez, is sceptical and simply says to me: “Paul, follow the money!” Dan is a very widely-read person and a great thinker.

Plus, among our wonderful neighbours there is a couple, Dordie and Bill, that we get on with extremely well. Bill is a sceptic of AGW and recently sent me the link to the following video.

Please watch it. If you have evidence that all or many of the facts on this video are incorrect then I would love to hear from you.

For this is way too important for the truth not to be widely promoted.

What a funny lot we all are!

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are the servants of Nature, not the other way around!

There is only one species of creature on this planet that has the power to destroy its own species, and much else: Homo sapiens!

It’s such an obvious reflection, yet it is also such an incredibly difficult commitment to make. I am speaking of the commitment to do more than “tut, tut” but to make a real difference in how each of us live, ensuring that we are making real changes year by year.

I am being little more than a “smart arse” in saying we should learn from dogs to live in harmony with our planet because, in truth, this is the one key area where we can’t learn from our dogs: we each have to learn for ourselves and influence others to do the same.

All of which is my way of introducing a very recent essay from Tom Dispatch. It now follows, but be aware that there were simply too many links to recreate in my republished version. It is republished with the very kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.

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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Tipping Points and the Question of Civilizational Survival

Posted by Michael Klare at 8:00am, October 8, 2015.

In mid-August, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare wrote presciently of the oncoming global oil glut, the way it was driving the price of petroleum into the “energy subbasement,” and how such a financial “rout,” if extended over the next couple of years, might lead toward a new (and better) world of energy. As it happens, the first good news of the sort Klare was imagining has since come in. In a country where the price of gas at the pump now averages $2.29 a gallon (and in some places has dropped under $1.90), Big Oil has begun cutting back on its devastating plans to extract every imaginable drop of fossil fuel from the planet and burn it. Oil companies have also been laying off employees by the tens of thousands and deep-sixing, at least for now, plans to search for and exploit tar sands and other “tough oil” deposits worldwide.

In that context, as September ended, after a disappointing six weeks of drilling, Royal Dutch Shell cancelled “for the foreseeable future” its search for oil and natural gas in the tempestuous but melting waters of the Alaskan Arctic. This was no small thing and a great victory for an environmental movement that had long fought to put obstacles in the way of Shell’s exploration plans. Green-lighted by the Obama administration to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, Shell has over the last nine years sunk more than $7 billion into its Arctic drilling project, so the decision to close up shop was no small thing and offers a tiny ray of hope for what activism can do when reality offers a modest helping hand.

As Klare makes clear today, when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, reality — if only we bother to notice it — is threatening to offer something more like the back of its hand to us on this embattled planet of ours. He offers a look at a future in which humanity, like various increasingly endangered ecosystems including the Arctic, may be approaching a “tipping point.” Tom

Welcome to a New Planet

Climate Change “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth

By Michael T. Klare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

klarepbk2012

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

Tipping Points on the Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

Coral Reefs at Risk

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

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

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

Amazonian Dry-Out

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

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

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

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

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

Of Tipping Points and Singularities

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

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

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

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

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare

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Just to repeat myself in that if you find this essay from Michael Klare one that you want to refer to again, then go across to the version published on TomDispatch so you can follow up the many links in that essay.

Life without water.

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

That sub-heading is a quotation from W. H. Auden and while directed at man it applies to all animal life including our beloved dogs.

The drought that California is experiencing is world-wide news but, possibly, the fact that this drought extends to much of the Pacific West Coast on the United States is not as widely known.

Here in Merlin, Southern Oregon, our own ‘all-year’ creek, Bummer Creek, that flows through our property has been dry for about two weeks. Our grass fields are parched brown and many of the trees are signalling a shortage of water.  And let’s not even think about the underground aquifer that supplies our drinking water.

BummerCk
Bummer Creek as of yesterday afternoon.

From drought comes the risk of fire. The Oregonian newspaper runs an interactive real-time fires map that shows just how much of Oregon, California and Washington is burning, something over a million acres according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

All of which makes a sombre introduction to a recent essay over on TomDispatch, republished here with the very kind permission of Tom Engelhardt. (But see my note at the end of the essay.)

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Tomgram: William deBuys, Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America

Posted by William deBuys at 4:17pm, August 16, 2015.

The other day here in New England it was chilly, rainy, and stormy and I complained. Where was the sun? The warmth? The summer? I happened to be with someone I know from California and he shook his head and said, “It’s fine with me. I like it rainy. I haven’t seen much rain in a while.” It was a little reminder of how insular we can be. California, after all, is in the fourth year of a fearsome drought that has turned much of the North American West, from Alaska and Canada to the Mexican border, into a tinderbox. Reservoirs are low, rivers quite literally drying up, and the West is burning. In rural northern California, where the fires seem to be least under control, the Rocky Fire has already burned 109 square miles and destroyed 43 homes, while the Jerusalem Fire, which recently broke out nearby, quickly ate up almost 19 square miles while doubling in size and sent local residents fleeing, some for the second time in recent weeks.

Fires have doubled in these drought years in California. The fire season, once mainly an autumnal affair, now seems to be just about any day of the year. (This isn’t, by the way, just a California phenomenon. The latest study indicates that fire season is extending globally, with a growth spurt of 18.7% in the last few decades.) In fact, fire stats for the U.S. generally and the West in particular are worsening in the twenty-first century, and this year looks to be quite a blazing affair, with six million acres already burned across the region and part of the summer still to go. And here’s the thing: though “I’m not a scientist,” it’s pretty hard at this point not to notice — though most Republican candidates for president seem unfazed — that this planet is heating up, that today’s droughts, bad as they are, will be put in the shade by the predicted mega-droughts of tomorrow, and that the problem of water in the American West is only going to deepen — or do I mean grow shallower? TomDispatch regular William deBuys, an expert on water in that region and author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, has already written dramatically of a future “exodus from Phoenix.” For clues to what we will all experience sooner or later, he now turns to California, that bellwether state in which, as he writes, the future always seems to play itself out first. Tom

California First

As Both Climate Victim and Responder, the National Style-Setter Leads the Way
By William deBuys

Long ago, I lived in a cheap flat in San Francisco and worked as the lone straight man in a gay construction company. Strangely enough, the drought now strangling California brings back memories of those days. It was the 1970s. Our company specialized in restoring the Victorian “gingerbread” to the facades of the city’s townhouses, and I got pretty good at installing cornices, gable brackets, and window hoods, working high above the street.

What I remember most, though, is the way my co-workers delighted in scandalizing me on Monday mornings with accounts of their weekend exploits.

We were all so innocent back then. We had no idea of the suffering that lay ahead or of the grievous epidemic already latent in the bodies of legions of gay men like my friends, an epidemic that would afflict so many outside the gay community but was especially terrible within it.

It’s unlikely that many of those guys are alive today. HIV was already in the population, although AIDS had yet to be detected or named, and no one had heard of “safe sex,” let alone practiced it. When the epidemic broke out, it was nowhere worse than in trendsetting San Francisco.

By then I had returned to New Mexico, having traded my hammer for a typewriter. When I announced my intention to leave California, the guys all said the same thing. “Don’t go back there,” they protested. “You’ll just have to go through all of this again!”

All of this required no translation. It meant the particular newness of life in that state, which was always sure to spread eastward, as Californian styles, attitudes, problems, tastes, and fads had been spreading to the rest of the country almost since the days of the Gold Rush.

Hippies, flower power, bikers, and cults. The movies we see and the music we listen to. The slang we pick up (I mean like, what a bummer, dude). Wine bars and fern bars, hot tubs and tanning booths, liposuction and boob jobs. The theft of rivers (Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown) and the theft of baseball teams (Brooklyn still mourns). Gay rights, car culture, and the Reagan Revolution. Scientology, mega-churches, Buddhist chic, and exercise videos. If they didn’t actually start in California, they got big and came to national attention there. Without the innovations of Silicon Valley, would you recognize your mobile phone or computer? Would you recognize yourself?

It’s the same with climate change. California in the Great Drought is once again Exhibit A, a living diorama of how the future is going to look for a lot of us.

And the present moment — right now in 2015 — reminds me of San Francisco as the AIDS epidemic broke out. Back then we had no idea how bad things were going to get, and that is likely to be true now, as well. As usual, California is giving us a preview of our world to come.

The Arrival of the Bone-Dry New Normal

On the U.S. Drought Monitor’s current map, a large purple bruise spreads across the core of California, covering almost half the state. Purple indicates “exceptional drought,” the direst category, the one that tops both “severe” and “extreme.” If you combine all three, 95% of the state is covered. In other words, California is hurting.

Admittedly, conditions are better than at this time last year when 100% of the state was at least “severe.” Recent summer rains have somewhat dulled the edge of the drought, now in its fourth year. Full recovery, however, would require about a foot of rain statewide between now and January, a veritable deluge for places like Fresno, which in good times only get that much rain in a full year.

lastunicorn

To be clear, the current drought may not have been caused by climate change. After all, California has a long history of periodic fierce droughts that arise from entirely natural causes, some of them lasting a decade or more. Even so, at a minimum climate change remains a potent factor in the present disaster. The fundamental difference between California’s current desiccation and its historical antecedents is that present conditions are hotter thanks to climate change, and hotter means drier since evaporation increases with temperature. Moreover, the relationship between the two is non-linear: as temperature creeps up, evaporation gallops. Bottom line: the droughts of the future will be much more brutal — and destructive — than those of the past.

California is already on average about 1.7° Fahrenheit hotter than a century ago, and its rate of warming is expected to triple in the century ahead. The evaporative response to this increase will powerfully amplify future droughts in unprecedented ways, no matter their causes.

Throughout the state, draconian cutbacks in water use remain in force. Some agricultural districts are receiving 0% of the federally controlled irrigation water they received in past years, while state water deliveries are running at about 15% of normal.

Meanwhile, a staggering 5,200 wildfires have burned in the state’s forests and chaparral country this year, although timely rains everywhere but in the northern parts of California and the rapid responses of a beefed-up army of firefighters limited the burning to less acreage than last year — at least until recently. The blow-up of the Rocky Fire, north of San Francisco, in the early days of August — it burned through 20,000 acres in just a few hours — may change that mildly promising statistic. And the fire season still has months to go.

So how is this a trendsetter, a harbinger for lands to the east? California’s drought is deep and long — we don’t yet know how long — and the very long-term forecast for an immense portion of western North America, stretching from California to Texas and north to South Dakota, is for a future of the same, only worse. Here is the unvarnished version of that future (on which an impressive number of climate models appear to agree) as expressed in a paper that appeared in Science Advances last February: “The mean state of drought in the late 21st century over the Central Plains and Southwest will likely exceed even the most severe mega-drought periods of the Medieval era in both high and moderate emissions scenarios, representing an unprecedented fundamental shift with respect to the last millennium.”

Let’s unpack that a little bit: principal author Benjamin Cook of NASA and his colleagues from Columbia and Cornell universities are saying that climate change will bring to the continent a “new normal” more brutally dry than even the multiple-decades-long droughts that caused the Native American societies of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde to collapse. This, they add, is now expected to happen even if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lowered in the decades to come. The impact of such droughts, they conclude, will exceed the bounds of anything known in the history of the continent or in its scientifically reconstructed pre-history.

In other words, the California drought of recent years offers only a foretaste of what is to come. Incidentally, Cook, et al. are by no means outliers in the literature of climate prediction. Other important studies with similar forecasts support a steadily broadening consensus on the subject.

And North American droughts will have to compete for attention with countless other climate change impacts, especially the hundreds of millions of refugees worldwide who will be put into motion by rising sea levels and other forces that will render their present homes unlivable.

A User’s Guide to Climate Change

If California points the way to dry times ahead, it also gives us an early glimpse of how a responsible society will try to live with and adjust to a warmer future. The state has imposed stringent new limits on water use and is actively enforcing them, and in general, individual consumers have responded positively to the new requirements, in some cases even exceeding mandated conservation goals.

In a similar spirit, the state has augmented its wildland fire-fighting capacity to good effect, even as the fire danger has approached levels never before seen.

Perhaps most impressively the state has adopted its own pioneering cap-and-trade program aimed at rolling back total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Under cap-and-trade, carbon polluters have to obtain permits to continue their emissions, and only a finite number of such permits are made available. A coal-burning power plant or a refinery has to buy its permit from the state or from another company that already has one. This way, a ceiling is established for total greenhouse gases emitted by the most energy-intensive sectors of the economy.

Although the jury may still be out on how well the program meets its goals, there is no debating its positive impact on the state treasury. In the fiscal year just begun, the auction of permits under California’s cap-and-trade program will net approximately $2.2 billion, a windfall that will be spent on mass transit, affordable housing, and a range of climate-adaptation programs. And by the way, the warnings of nay-sayers and climate deniers that cap-and-trade would prove a drag on the economy have proved groundless.

In a manner similar to the U.N.’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, California now publishes an assessment every three years of both its vulnerability to climate change and the steps it plans to take to mitigate or adapt to its effects. The report is a model of its kind and draws on copious California-specific scientific research, some of which is funded by the state.

You might think California’s neighbors would follow suit, and eventually, as with most things Californian, they undoubtedly will. If President Obama’s just-announced “Clean Power Plan” withstands the expected court challenges, it will prove a powerful spur in that direction as it mandates state-by-state reductions in power plant carbon emissions that will, in the end, drive them 32% below 2005 levels. Many states will undoubtedly have to adopt cap-and-trade systems in order to comply. As they set about devising their own programs, where do you think they will look for a workable example? You guessed it: California.

An “Island” Again, or Nearly So

In the seventeenth century, Spanish cartographers thought California was an island separated from the rest of North America by the legendary Straits of Anian. In some ways, nothing has changed. In late July, while California Governor Jerry Brown was at the Vatican joining Pope Francis in calling for urgent global action to combat climate change, his opposite numbers across the putative straits continued to assume the posture of startled ostriches.

Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of Arizona, admits that the climate may indeed be changing but doubts that humans play a causal role in it. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, also a Republican, continues to insist that climate science is inconclusive, while former governor of Texas and current presidential candidate Rick Perry adamantly remains “not a scientist,” although he knew enough to inform us in his 2012 campaign screed Fed Up that climate change science is “a contrived phony mess.”

In general, when it comes to climate change, the leadership of statehouses across the country remains as troglodytic as the House of Representatives. Only in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington on the West Coast, Minnesota in the Midwest, and a handful of Northeastern states will governors even acknowledge the importance of acting to curb climate change as well as adapt to it.

This year, the deniers may get a boost from an unlikely source. Warm surface waters seem to be brewing something special in the Pacific Ocean. Says one researcher, “The El Niño event currently ongoing in the eastern and central Pacific is strengthening. The only question is whether it will be just a significant event, or a huge one.”

El Niño draws the winter Pacific storm track southward, bringing precipitation to southern California, Arizona, and points eastward. If the southern tier of states has a wet winter, the Republican rain-dancers will feel confirmed in their official doubt and denialism, much as a broken clock is right at least twice a day.

Occasional El Niños, however, will not avert the long-term new normal for California and much of the West. As that state is showing, adaptation will soften some of the blows, and possibly, if we act soon enough and strongly enough, we may manage to cap the overall changes at some still livable level. The jury will be out on that for quite some time.

Meanwhile, as in pre-AIDS San Francisco, we are all still in a state of at least semi-innocence. Maybe we can imagine in an intellectual way what it might be like to lose the forests across half of the continent, but can any of us conjure the feeling of how that would be?

After many missteps and halting starts, the medical and public health establishments finally came to the assistance of the victims of AIDS. As difficult as that was, it was easy compared to the remedies climate change will demand. And for much of the damage there will be no remedy. Get ready.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of eight books, the most recent of which is The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He has written extensively on water, drought, and climate in the West, including A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 William deBuys

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Again, there are far too many links for me to bring across to this republication but I do recommend that if you have an extra special interest in William deBuys essay that you check through all the links in the original version to be read here.

Climate Change and Humanity: Postscript.

A personal viewpoint after reading Tom’s essay Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

Last Thursday, July 3rd, I republished a post, what Tom calls a Tomgram, from TomDispatch comparing the USA’s attitude to the very small risk of a country exploding a weapon of mass destruction, WMD, over American soil to the 95% risk of the USA being harmed from the effects of climate change.  Here’s an extract from the central part of Tom’s essay:

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95% -100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95% -100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

Tom’s essays had many great links to background research papers and other supporting material.  The penultimate link was embedded (my italics) in this sentence: “In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.”  That linked to the Amazon page describing the book, released earlier this year, of the same name written by Elizabeth Kolbert, as follows:

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Here’s an interview of Elizabeth Kolbert taken from the Democracy Now programme. It’s a tad under 20 minutes so easy to put aside a little of your time to watch it.

PLEASE DO!

Published on Feb 11, 2014
February 2014 on Democracy Now!

In the history of the planet, there have been five known mass extinction events. The last came 65 million years ago, when an asteroid about half the size of Manhattan collided with the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and bringing the Cretaceous period to an end. Scientists say we are now experiencing the sixth extinction, with up to 50 percent of all living species in danger of disappearing by the end of the century. But unlike previous extinctions, the direct cause this time is us — human-driven climate change. In “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert visits four continents to document the massive “die-offs” that came millions of years ago and those now unfolding before our eyes. Kolbert explores how human activity — fossil fuel consumption, ocean acidification, pollution, deforestation, forced migration — threatens life forms of all kinds. “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion,” Kolbert writes. “The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, is well known for her reporting on global warming as a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, which led her to investigate climate species extinction. Her new book is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In 2006, she wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

Make no mistake, that short video interview doesn’t pull any punches.  Just as Kolbert’s book.  It is very tempting to want to hide, to close one’s ears and eyes and pretend it’s all a bad dream and, soon, we will awaken to a bright, new dawn.

(Now for something really lovely! It’s 1:40pm on Sunday, 6th)

I took a quick break to think about my next sentence.  I was looking for some words that would encourage us all to do something!  Because as John Hurlburt recently wrote: “Failure to act condemns us to death as a species of fools.

In that short break I saw that someone else had signed up to follow Learning from Dogs.  That person describes herself as Elsie Bowen-Dodoo.  Her blog is called BowenDiaries. On her About page, Elsie writes:

Elsie Bowen-Dodoo. Living life with a purpose. Persevering to inspire all races.

I write to inspire people hoping that they reading my articles and stuff will be touched to do something positive in their lives.

We really can all make this world a better place to live in.

Talent should not be wasted.

This is the picture on Elsie’s home page.

Positive inspiration!
Positive inspiration!

So here’s my take on where we, as in all mankind, are at.

  • We have to turn our backs on growth, greed and materialism.
  • Each of us must place caring for our planet our highest priority in life.
  • Each of us must be alive to making a positive difference.
  • Being true to what we know is right will set us free.
  • This will also create ripples of positive energy that will set others free.
  • That is the only sustainable way to go.

Let me close by returning to dogs.  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs! By recognising, of course, that these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward; albeit far from being simple. As anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and others, and of loving joy. The way to live that we humans crave for. A life full of hope and positive energy that keeps the power of negativity at bay.

That is the only way forward!

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel playing together.
Oliver, Cleo and Hazel joyfully playing together.

Market forces.

A powerful essay from Paul Gilding.

Having our good friends, Andy and Trish, with us for a few days means, quite rightly, that time with them is top of our list; so to speak.

Thus I want to republish a recent post from Paul Gilding that seems to me to be right on the mark.

But first an apology.  About 10 minutes ago (07:40 US PDT yesterday) I pressed the ‘reblog’ key over on Paul Gilding’s posting in error.  Subscribers to Learning from Dogs will have been sent an email to that reblog and then discovered that I had deleted it, in favour of this approach!

Mr Paul Gilding.
Mr Paul Gilding.

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THE GLOBAL ENERGY MARKET’S MOMENT OF TRUTH

If you want to know what addressing climate change will really be like for business and investors, then take a look at today’s electricity and energy markets. Driven by climate policy, technology development, business innovation, NGO campaigns and investment risk analysis, creative destruction is inflicting itself upon the sector with a vengeance – and the process has just begun.

Value is being destroyed at an incredible scale with just one example being European utilities losing $750 billion in market cap in recent years. Another is the huge losses in value for coal companies and the cancellation of a large number of new coal mining projects around the world as the forecast growth in China and India evaporates. As I argued in my last Chronicle, Carbon Crash Solar Dawn, this is not a temporary market blip but a fundamental shift. Company strategies and business models that have been working for generations are collapsing. In parallel we see the creative side of the process, with new industries being built, entrepreneurs flourishing and massive wealth being created. Now the market is working, as it should, allocating capital to the places where risk and return are best aligned. It is at once a beautiful and brutal process to observe.

This is an important inflection point to acknowledge, with significant implications that should reframe our thinking about these issues.

For a start it means, climate policy and its economic consequences have now shifted from future forecasts to present reality. This reality, with all its brutality for existing businesses, give us important insights into what to expect as the world wakes up to climate change. Business is already waking up to what that means in a market economy – creative destruction unleashed to destroy slow responders.

This suggests that traditional corporate responsibility, which argued sustainability was good for all businesses, is outmoded and not helpful. We have moved into an era of win/lose rather than win/win, and with that, sustainability is shifting from ‘environmentalists vs business’ to ‘business vs business’ as I covered in this earlier Chronicle.

Taken together this means we need to change the way we talk and think about climate change and business. Sustainability is not good for many businesses – in fact it means they’ll have to go out of business. This is what sustainability at its core is all about – things that are unsustainable will stop.

While on the one hand this is blindingly obvious, it is a conversation many in business and politics don’t want to acknowledge. So when the previous Australian government brought in its carbon pricing scheme, it went to great lengths to argue that Australia would still have a healthy coal industry. And President Obama’s new regulations on CO2 emissions in the US power industry are likewise being positioned as being as much about health and air pollution as climate policy.

But as Michael Grunwald argues in this Time Magazine piece on “Obama’s War on Coal” – a phrase used by the coal industry to suggest this is unfair and unreasonable – it’s time to face up to the reality of climate action. It is a war on coal, pure and simple. Grunwald calls it the “just but undeclared war ”. But rather than “just” with its moral overtones, we could simply argue it is “necessary” based on any objective analysis of what’s good for the economy and for society. What is necessary is to move a range of companies out of the economy and replace them.

Coal is first in the firing line. As a major cause of CO2 emissions and with the lack of market support for Carbon Capture and Storage suggesting “clean coal” is either a delusion or at best an expensive PR campaign, coal simply has to go. That means coal companies will go out of business, and then oil companies and gas companies will follow them.

This is not a problem at all for the economy, as they will be replaced with new companies and new industries, which will create new jobs, new wealth and new innovations. But it is a major problem for the incumbents who will cease to exist and for their owners who will lose their money. Unless we have that conversation honestly and openly, we are setting ourselves up for pain and suffering we can easily avoid or at least minimise by thinking through the consequences and being better prepared for their departure.

Of course the best way to minimise the pain would be for fossil fuel companies to transition to new areas of business, to use the great wealth they have created to diversify into sustainable sources of profit. But most of them won’t. It’s not that they couldn’t – it’s just that they won’t. And it’s not just coal but also oil and gas who are, for the most part, in strong denial about what’s coming and so won’t be prepared, as well explained in this article by Giles Parkinson at RenewEconomy.

We shouldn’t be surprised. History shows how rare it is for companies to transform and survive major market and technology shifts. That’s why the average life expectancy of a successful multinational is only 40-50 years. And that’s why the financial markets – who act without ideology based on looking at the data – are rapidly responding. They are stripping value from fossil fuel exposed utilities and the resource companies that provide their fuel. They are also downgrading credit risk, with Barclays recently issuing a warning the investors should no longer see utilities as a “sturdy and defensive subset of the investment grade universe”. The report concluded: “We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar plus storage adoption curve.” No doubt Deutche Bank considered these risks when they recently announced they wouldn’t consider funding a major new coal port next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

So while the idea of “war on coal” is in some ways an accurate summary of the momentous threats the industry faces from a range of forces that are consciously and deliberately coming after them, we could also just see this as how markets work.

Fossil fuels provide us with energy, but they also destroy value across the economy – by driving climate change, damaging health and increasing costs for taxpayers while imposing unmanageable risks on other companies who rely on a stable climate for their business success. So the market is simply doing its job, pricing in some of these costs using the proxies of regulatory, credit and technology risk.

The market is working …. and fossil fuels are losing.

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Hope you agree with me that it’s a great essay and, also, I hope you followed the links – they are all very interesting.

Those of you who are not familiar with Paul Gilding can find out more about him here.  Plus the following TED Talk by Paul is highly recommended viewing.

Not seeing the wood for the trees!

A postscript to the last two days.

This week is taking on a life of it’s own, so far as Learning from Dogs is concerned!

For when I penned Monday’s post, Running on Empty, I had not yet read George Monbiot’s essay Are We Bothered?. When I did so, it struck me as the perfect sequel to Monday’s post and formed the crux of yesterday’s post The nature of delusions.  That second post also included a personal account of my delusion with regard to ocean sailing and seemed sufficiently wordy not to be extended by my further reflections.

Thus the decision to run over to a third day!

Let me offer, first of all, my own reflections to George Monbiot’s concerns. That I distill, using his words, to: “The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.” Expanded in his concluding paragraph:

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

When I first read Mr. Monbiot’s essay, I found myself nodding in agreement. Yet, upon further reflection, I became less sure that “a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.” was the core of the issue.  I think it is a symptom.

Stay with me awhile I take a small deviation. To dogs, and other animals.

Many creatures have a powerful and instinctive means of assessing danger.  One only needs to observe the wild black-tailed deer that frequent our property to know that the slightest hint of danger or the unknown has them dashing away to safety.

A young black-tailed deer seen at home last September.
A young black-tailed deer seen at home last September.

Dogs are the same in that they will run early on from a danger.

Humans also have the propensity to be cautious about a clear and present danger.  However, it’s my proposition that when the danger is unclear and when that danger threatens the very essence of who we are and the world that we have constructed around us, we can be blind to the point of madness. I can think of many examples in support of that thesis and I’m sure you can too.

Yes, we have “a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.” But I contend only because of the power of capitalism, of the power of modern marketing and advertising and the allure of being ‘one of the crowd’.

So back to my proposition.  It is this.

That when our lives are threatened by something unclear, complex and, ultimately, of devastating impact, we are very reluctant to embrace it and even more reluctant to both embrace it and escape to safety; whatever the latter implies.

Mankind’s effect on the environment, the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the increasing acidification of the oceans, the growing concerns about global weather, and on and on, are the most unclear, the most complex and the most devastating of futures to embrace.

(Thanks to Patrice for using this recently.)
(Thanks to Patrice for referring to this recently.)

So it really is no surprise to see mankind in general behaving as though this is a bit of a hangover, and an aspirin and a good night’s sleep will sort it! Especially when there is so much money and control invested in selling the same message; the message that there really is nothing to worry about.

There will be a so-called ‘tipping point’. A point in our awareness where the urgency to prevent the destruction of the biosphere will be paramount. And it will be a miracle if when that point arrives it isn’t far too late to save us.

I truly hope that I am wrong.

oooo

Remember what I wrote in yesterday’s post? About experiencing an Atlantic gale?

Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale. I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).

Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.

It revealed my delusion!

That was my ‘tipping point’ when it came to ocean sailing.

The gale subsided and I motor-sailed the 150-odd miles to Horta without any break for sleep or rest. Came into the harbour early in the morning after the second night since the gale. As soon as I was securely berthed, I closed the boat up and found a local hotel where a hot shower and a clean bed could restore a part of me.

Within a week, I had engaged a crew to sail the boat to Plymouth in South-West England and I flew back to England on a commercial airline.

Once Songbird of Kent arrived at Plymouth, she was put up for sale at a price that wouldn’t delay matters and that was that!

Oh, and I have never read any more books about single-handed ocean sailing. (But see my P.S.!)

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P.S.

In yesterday’s post, I referred to Les Powells. Remember when I was in Larnaca, Cyprus? This is what I wrote:

Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles. Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):

In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Three times around the world – solo!

Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this! (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)

Anyway, I have discovered that Les is living happily on his boat in Lymington, England and has written a book about his sailing life.

Les Powells book

It has been ordered and arrives today. This one will be read – from the comfort and safety of our rural home in Oregon!

The nature of delusions.

Sometimes the truth isn’t so obvious!

Yesterday, I wrote a post under the title of Running on empty!  I listed just a few recent items that had left me feeling very dispirited.  Trust me, not a familiar place!

I also raised the question ……

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.

…… then didn’t expand on what was puzzling me!

Let me come at this again; in full!

But do you know what really puzzles me?  It is the terrible lethargy across so many societies. The lack of any substantial social and political force for change. Especially, when so many scientists involved in climate research are warning we are leaving it dangerously late.

I’m no psychologist; far from it. But I want to recount a true story that gave me an insight into one of my own delusions.  Please stay with me because it does have a message at the end of it! 😉

oooo

Many years ago, I spent 5 years living on a boat in Larnaca in Cyprus.  My boat was a wonderful heavy-displacement ocean-going yacht.  A type known as a Tradewind 33.  Here is a picture of my boat.

Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent.
Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent.

For years I had devoured all the books written by the great yacht sailors who had sailed the oceans, many of them completing solo circumnavigations of the world.  Part of me wanted to sail the oceans.

Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles.  Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):

In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Three times around the world – solo!

Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this!  (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)

Thus it came about that I departed Larnaca and worked my way Westwards along the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in Gibraltar.  After a few days getting ‘Songbird’ ready for my first ocean leg, Gibraltar to the Azores, I took a deep breath and headed West out into the Atlantic Ocean. Frankly, I was a tad too late to be starting out but the thought of spending a Winter in and around Gibraltar was too much to contemplate and, anyway, it was only 8 or 9 days sailing to the Azores; a distance of 1,125 land miles or 980 nautical miles.

Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale.  I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).

Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.

It revealed my delusion!

It proved that I had been in love with the courageousness of those many ocean sailors that I had read about. In love with the idea of a solo Atlantic crossing and being seen as a courageous hero. But, in truth, utterly in denial about what ocean sailing was really about!

So with the theme of delusion in your head, have a read of a recent post by George Monbiot. The post is called Are We Bothered? It is republished with the kind permission of George.

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Are We Bothered?

May 16, 2014

The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 9th May 2014

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did. A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

GM1

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (copied from the website of the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

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This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of Western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the Chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

“I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

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As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

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The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Tomorrow I will offer my own reflection on all of this – and finish off the story of me and ocean sailing!