December, 2018

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs. They stopped collecting news at the election of U.S. Unindicted Co-conspirator Forty-Five, which was a frickin' party pooper of a day, I'll tell ya.

Here's the 10-day weather forecast for Mattawa, Ontario, where we have a farm, away from the noise of that blowhard. I try to spend as much time as I can on the farm.

December, 2018


  • A quest for beauty and clear thinking: an Interview with John Baez (by Maria Mannone)
    • MM: Thus, there seems to be an intimate dialogue between nature, both visible and hidden, and mathematical thinking. About nature and environment: in your Twitter image, there is a sketch of you as a superhero saving the planet, with the mathematical symbol ‘There is one and only one’ applied to our planet Earth. Can you tell the readers something about the way you combine your research in mathematics with your engagement for the environment? Also, it is often said that beauty will save the world. Do you think that mathematical beauty can save the world?
    • JB: I mainly think of beauty - in all its forms - as a reason why the world is worth saving. But we are very primitive when it comes to the economics of beauty. Paintings can sell for hundreds of millions of dollars, and we have a market for them. But nobody attaches any value to this critically endangered frog, Atelopus varius. To my mind it's more beautiful and precious than any painting. Not the individual, of course, but the species, which has taken millions of years to evolve. We are busy destroying species like this as if they were worthless trash. Our descendants, if we have any, will probably think we were barbaric idiots.
    • But I digress! I switched from pure mathematics and highly theoretical physics to more practical concerns around 2010, when I spent two years at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, in Singapore. I was very lucky that the director encouraged me to think about whatever I wanted. I was wanting a change in direction, and I soon realized that mathematicians, like everyone else, need to think about global warming and what we can do about it: it's the crisis of our time. I spent some time learning the basics of climate science and working on some projects connected to that. It became clear that to do anything about global warming we need new ideas in politics and economics. Unfortunately, I'm not especially good at those things. So I decided to do something I can actually do, namely to get mathematicians to turn their attention from math inspired by the physics of the microworld - for example string theory - toward math inspired by the visible world around us: biology, ecology, engineering, economics and the like. I'm hoping that mathematicians can solve some problems by thinking more abstractly than anyone else can.
  • 'Throwing things out gives you time to look after yourself' – how to get better at decluttering: You might feel that shedding possessions is difficult, but once you start, you will realise how great it makes you feel
  • The Tinkerer of Dickinson’s Reach: How Bill Coperthwaite influenced the world from remote Down East Maine.
  • The Next Climate Frontier: Predicting a Complex Domino Effect: Motivated by events like Hurricane Harvey, researchers are trying to determine how climate change interacts with agriculture, energy, transportation and other human systems
    • Researchers typically study systems in relative isolation, deliberately overlooking convoluted interactions for the sake of scientific clarity. For instance, they might study what roads a heavy rain will flood—but not how a storm’s damage to communications or emergency services might interact with those road blockages, creating more knock-on effects. “You might ask what’s going on with, say, this one forest or this one agricultural crop. You draw boundaries around your system, and you’re just looking inside the box of your study,” Mach says. That turns out to be a major weakness when scientists are trying to understand the potential risks and myriad impacts of climate change.
    • Some new studies are looking at issues such as how climate-induced shocks to agriculture affect global markets, food prices and land use; the relationship between flood risk and what flood protection measures societies decide to take; how expanding reservoirs can actually worsen water shortages during drought; and the link between rising temperatures and violence.
    • But experts note this type of research is incredibly challenging. It is hard enough to model one system on its own, let alone connect it with a series of others. Models needed to simulate various aspects of a problem (such as rainfall or how roads flood) may work at completely different time and spatial scales. Also, disparate data may need to be stitched together from different sources. And in general, the more complex a problem is, the more computer power and time it takes to run simulations. To complicate things further, a single research team may include social scientists, natural scientists, engineers and experts from other fields, all of whom use their own technical languages and methods for their work.
  • Rise of carbon dioxide–absorbing mountains in tropics may set thermostat for global climate
    • Many mountains in Indonesia and neighboring Papua New Guinea consist of ancient volcanic rocks from the ocean floor that were caught in a colossal tectonic collision between a chain of island volcanoes and a continent, and thrust high. Lashed by tropical rains, these rocks hungrily react with CO2 and sequester it in minerals. That is why, with only 2% of the world’s land area, Indonesia accounts for 10% of its long-term CO2 absorption. Its mountains could explain why ice sheets have persisted, waxing and waning, for several million years (although they are now threatened by global warming).
    • Now, researchers have extended that theory, finding that such tropical mountain-building collisions coincide with nearly all of the half-dozen or so significant glacial periods in the past 500 million years. “These types of environments, through time, are what sets the global climate,” said Francis Macdonald, a geologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, when he presented the work this month at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. If Earth’s climate has a master switch, he suggests, the rise of mountains like Indonesia’s could be it.
    • Having the right rocks to drive the CO2-chewing reaction is not sufficient. Climate matters, too. For example, the Siberian Traps, a region that saw devastating volcanic eruptions 252 million years ago, are rich in such rocks but absorb little, says Dennis Kent, a geologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “It’s too damn cold,” he says. Saudi Arabia has the heat and the rocks but lacks another ingredient. “It’s hotter than Hades but it doesn’t rain.” Indonesia’s location in the rainy tropics is just right. “That is probably what’s keeping us centered in an ice age,” Kent adds.
  • Discovery of recent Antarctic ice sheet collapse raises fears of a new global flood: Some 125,000 years ago, during the last brief warm period between ice ages, Earth was awash. Temperatures during this time, called the Eemian, were barely higher than in today’s greenhouse-warmed world. Yet proxy records show sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than they are today, drowning huge swaths of what is now dry land.
    • Scientists have now identified the source of all that water: a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Glaciologists worry about the present-day stability of this formidable ice mass. Its base lies below sea level, at risk of being undermined by warming ocean waters, and glaciers fringing it are retreating fast. The discovery, teased out of a sediment core and reported last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C., validates those concerns, providing evidence that the ice sheet disappeared in the recent geological past under climate conditions similar to today’s. “We had an absence of evidence,” says Anders Carlson, a glacial geologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who led the work. “I think we have evidence of absence now.”
  • Meet the Press Devotes Entire Show to Threat of Climate Change: It was a remarkable departure from the usual partisan talking points on the Sunday talk shows
    • “We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it,” he said. “The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”
  • The Cement Industry, One of the World’s Largest CO2 Emitters, Pledges to Cut Greenhouse Gases
    • Cement is the second most-consumed resource in the world, with more than 4 billion tons of the material produced globally every year. As a result, the industry generates approximately 8 percent of global CO2 emissions, not far behind the agriculture industry, which accounts for 12 percent. Ranked with CO2 emissions from individual countries, the cement industry would be the third-highest emitter after China and the United States.
    • Now, the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), which represents about 30 percent of total cement production capacity worldwide, is trying to change that. The London-based organization, founded in January 2018 to “drive advances in sustainable construction while demonstrating industrial sustainable leadership in cement and concrete manufacturing,” announced the industry’s first “Sustainability Guidelines” following the conclusion of the COP24 climate conference in Poland this December.


  • 2018: The Year of Day Zero and the Mega-Drought: In 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, one of the wealthiest cities in Africa, faced the prospect of running out of water. This city of four million people was counting down the days to “Day Zero,” when they would turn on the taps and find them dry. Ultimately, Cape Town's water conservation measures helped the city narrowly miss reaching Day Zero (for now).
    • While — as expected — climate change has resulted in heavier rainfall (because warmer air can hold more moisture), this study found that these heavier rains are not leading to more available freshwater in large rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Instead, warmer temperatures are leading to drier soils that absorb more water from rainfall and allow less of it to travel through groundwater systems to recharge the rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water to cities like Cape Town.
  • Plastic Is Big Food’s Next Headache: Growing public anger over pollutive packaging will push up costs for companies like Coca-Cola and Nestlé
  • More Republicans Than You Think Support Action on Climate Change: New polls suggest Republicans’ views on global warming may be at a tipping point.
    • The poll asked whether the United States should “set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public heath,” even if “the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.” Eighty-seven percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said yes.


  • Trump Imperils the Planet: Endangered species, climate change — the administration is taking the country, and the world, backward.
  • Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound -- Maryanne Wolf: When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age
    • Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing - a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.
    • As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.
    • We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.
    • Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.
    • Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.
    • Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”
    • US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade - with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.
    • The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.
    • There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before they become entrenched. If we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.
  • Why Coal Symbolizes Naughtiness: And how it should be used instead. An Object Lesson.
  • 80% of mountain glaciers in Alberta, B.C. and Yukon will disappear within 50 years: report: Combination of less snow and rapid melt causing glaciers to recede at dramatic rate, researchers say


  • Is There an Optimal Diet for Humans: A study of modern hunter-gatherer groups found that they exhibit generally excellent metabolic health while consuming a wide range of diets.
  • The Planet Has Seen Sudden Warming Before. It Wiped Out Almost Everything. In some ways, the planet's worst mass extinction — 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period — may parallel climate change today.
    • In the oceans, 96 percent of all species became extinct. It’s harder to determine how many terrestrial species vanished, but the loss was comparable. This mass extinction, at the end of the Permian Period, was the worst in the planet’s history, and it happened over a few thousand years at most — the blink of a geological eye. On Thursday, a team of scientists offered a detailed accounting of how marine life was wiped out during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Global warming robbed the oceans of oxygen, they say, putting many species under so much stress that they died off. And we may be repeating the process, the scientists warn. If so, then climate change is “solidly in the category of a catastrophic extinction event,” said Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the new study, published in the journal Science.



  • Extinction toll may be far worse than thought: Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.
    • Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse. That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.
    • Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”
  • The Oil Industry’s Covert Campaign to Rewrite American Car Emissions Rules: Marathon, the country’s largest oil refiner, has backed the Trump administration proposal to roll back car efficiency standards.
    • In Congress, on Facebook and in statehouses nationwide, Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and a conservative policy network financed by the billionaire industrialist Charles G. Koch to run a stealth campaign to roll back car emissions standards, a New York Times investigation has found.
    • In recent months, Marathon Petroleum also teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive policy group financed by corporations as well as the Koch network, to draft legislation for states supporting the industry’s position. Its proposed resolution, dated Sept. 18, describes current fuel-efficiency rules as “a relic of a disproven narrative of resource scarcity” and says “unelected bureaucrats” shouldn’t dictate the cars Americans drive.
    • A separate industry campaign on Facebook, covertly run by an oil-industry lobby representing Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Phillips 66 and other oil giants, urged people to write to regulators to support the rollback. The Facebook ads linked to a website with a picture of a grinning Mr. Obama. It asked, “Would YOU buy a used car from this man?” The site appears to have been so effective that a quarter of the 12,000 public comments received by the Department of Transportation can be traced to the petition, according to a Times analysis.
    • The Trump plan, if finalized, would increase greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by more than the amount many midsize countries put out in a year and reverse a major effort by the Obama administration to fight climate change.
    • Even while doubling down on gasoline, Marathon has projected an environmentally friendly public image. “We have invested billions of dollars to make our operations more energy efficient,” Marathon said in a recent report. The company’s Twitter account recently highlighted a gardening project and the creation of a duck pond at one of its refineries.


  • Greenland's Ice Melt Is in 'Overdrive,' With No Sign of Slowing: The ice sheet is adding more to sea level rise than any time in the last three and a half centuries, new research suggests. Could it be nearing a tipping point?
    • The findings support previous estimates that melting ice from all sources will raise sea level between 8 and 12 inches more by 2050, but what happens after that will still partly depend on future greenhouse gas emissions and other factors, said co-author Sarah Das, who studies ice and ancient climates at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
  • ‘We are in trouble.’ Global carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018.: As nations assemble in Poland for climate talks, the figures suggest there is no clear end in sight to the growth of humanity’s contribution to climate change.
    • “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference, where countries will wrestle with the ambitious goals they need to meet to sharply reduce carbon emissions in the coming years. “It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation,” he said. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”
    • The biggest emissions story in 2018, though, appears to be China, the world’s largest emitting country, which grew its output of planet-warming gases by nearly a half-billion tons, researchers estimate. (The United States is the globe’s second-largest emitter.) The country’s sudden, significant increase in carbon emissions could be linked to a wider slowdown in the economy, environmental analysts said.
    • But officials and analysts alike point out that the United States is not doing its part to combat global warming. “We would also love to see the United States embrace its responsibilities by returning to the Paris climate deal,” said Yang of the NRDC.
  • 'It's a sad reality': a troubling trend sees a 97% decline in monarch butterflies: In the 1980s, roughly 4.5 million monarchs wintered in California, but at last count, there may be as few as 30,000


  • A New Study About the World’s Worst Mass Extinction Should Make You Very Nervous for Our Future.: Climate change is a path the Earth has been on before. Just ask scientists studying “The Great Dying.”
    • Some 250 million years ago, back when the world was still comprised of the single, supercontinent Pangea, a geologic catastrophe wiped out nearly every single ocean-dwelling creature on the planet: fish, crustaceans, mollusks, even microbes. As few as 4 percent of ocean species survived, including, most famously, the Nautilus. On land, about 30 percent survived. It was the worst extinction event in Earth’s history.
    • Appropriately, scientists nicknamed the event the “Great Dying” (also known in science speak as the “Permian-Triassic extinction”). But despite the magnitude of the disaster, only in the past two decades did paleontologists find clues of it in the fossil record—and discover it coincided with a massive volcanic event in modern-day Siberia.
    • Now, a new study published Thursday in the journal Science suggests the culprit of the Great Dying—and the connection between the two events—was likely something the planet is all too familiar with today: global warming, and, as a result, high ocean temperatures and a loss of oxygen in the water.
    • At the time of the Great Dying, the Earth’s temperatures had risen by 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit). While that seems far off from the three or four degrees of warming scientists expect in the next century or so, it’s “not on a totally different plane,” says Deutsch. So, if nothing else, the study calls attention to a crucial point where we may expect dramatic environmental disaster to set in, according to Justin Penn, a graduate student at UW and lead author on the study. “If you warm up the ocean by 10 degrees, you’ll get extinction that rivals the worst in the history of the earth,” he says. (On Wednesday, a report from Stanford University published in the journal Environmental Research Letters showed carbon dioxide will hit another record-high in 2018.)
  • Overlooked No More: Noor Inayat Khan, Indian Princess and British Spy: Khan, who was recently suggested as the new face of the £50 note, was an unlikely candidate to engage in espionage in World War II, but she did so with a “steely strength of will.”
  • The 100% renewable energy movement is unstoppable: Cincinnati has become the 100th U.S. city to set a goal to move to 100% renewable energy. This sets the stage for the debate to shift to what resources we will use to decarbonize, and how quickly we will move.
    • Cincinnati has only 300,000 residents, and as such this announcement on its own will not sway the future of the U.S. electric supply. However, Cincinnati is also the 100th municipality to either achieve 100% renewables in its electricity supply or to set a goal for 100%.
  • Billionaire GOP donor gave Scott Pruitt $50,000 for legal expenses: EPA ethics officials said they were not aware of the contribution, which they said was “believed to be in cash.”
    • Scott Pruitt, who resigned this summer as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency amid a flurry of ethics inquiries, received $50,000 for his legal defense fund from a Wisconsin billionaire, according to a financial disclosure released Thursday.
    • The contribution came this year from Diane Hendricks, a businesswoman and major Republican donor, though it was not clear precisely when she donated to the “Scott Pruitt Legal Expenses Trust.” It also did not specify whether he had spent the money, or how.
    • In the financial disclosure form, which Pruitt was required to file upon leaving the agency, EPA officials made clear that he had not sought ethics advice before accepting the donation to offset his legal expenses. The disclosure covers this calendar year, through Pruitt’s resignation in early July.


  • ‘A kind of dark realism’: Why the climate change problem is starting to look too big to solve:
    • The world has waited so long that preventing disruptive climate change requires action “unprecedented in scale,” the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in an October report.
  • Why Al Gore Thinks There’s Still Hope for the Planet:
  • Can We Grow More Food on Less Land? We’ll Have To, a New Study Finds: That’s the basic conclusion of a sweeping new study issued Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. The report warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.
  • Greenland's Ice Melt Is in 'Overdrive,' With No Sign of Slowing: The ice sheet is adding more to sea level rise than any time in the last three and a half centuries, new research suggests. Could it be nearing a tipping point?
    • Melting on Greenland's ice sheet has gone into "overdrive," with meltwater runoff increasing 50 percent since the start of the industrial era and continuing to accelerate, new research shows. As more water runs off the ice sheet, it drives sea level rise, putting new pressure on coastal communities around the world.
    • The findings support previous estimates that melting ice from all sources will raise sea level between 8 and 12 inches more by 2050, but what happens after that will still partly depend on future greenhouse gas emissions and other factors, said co-author Sarah Das, who studies ice and ancient climates at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


  • David Attenborough: collapse of civilisation is on the horizon: Naturalist tells leaders at UN climate summit that fate of world is in their hands
    • As part of the UN’s people’s seat initiative, messages were gathered from all over the world to inform Attenborough’s address on Monday. “Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” he said. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
    • Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, spoke at the opening ceremony, saying the use of “efficient” coal technology was not contradictory to taking climate action. Poland generates 80% of its electricity from coal but has cut its carbon emissions by 30% since 1988 through better energy efficiency. Friends of the Earth International said the sponsorship of the summit by a Polish coal company “raises the middle finger to the climate”.
    • Ricardo Navarro, of Friends of the Earth in El Salvador, said: “We must build an alternative future based on a just energy transformation. We face the threat of rightwing populist and climate-denying leaders further undermining climate protection and racing to exploit fossil fuels. We must resist.”
    • Another goal of the summit is for nations to increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions; currently they are on target for a disastrous 3C of warming. The prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, who led the 2017 UN climate summit, said his country had raised its ambitions. He told the summit: “If we can do it, you can do it.”
  • Paul Ehrlich: 'Collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades': Fifty years after the publication of his controversial book The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich warns overpopulation and overconsumption are driving us over the edge
    • The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.
    • ael: population today: 7.7 billion.
    • “It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems,” he says. “As I’ve said many times, ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’.”
    • It is the combination of high population and high consumption by the rich that is destroying the natural world, he says. Research published by Ehrlich and colleagues in 2017 concluded that this is driving a sixth mass extinction of biodiversity, upon which civilisation depends for clean air, water and food.
    • He estimates an optimum global population size at roughly 1.5 to two billion, “But the longer humanity pursues business as usual, the smaller the sustainable society is likely to prove to be. We’re continuously harvesting the low-hanging fruit, for example by driving fisheries stocks to extinction.” [ael: very interesting: the optimum population may soon be zero….]


  • Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe: As the UN sits down for its annual climate conference this week, many experts believe we have passed the point of no return
    • But this year’s will be a grimmer affair – by far. As recent reports have made clear, the world may no longer be hovering at the edge of destruction but has probably staggered beyond a crucial point of no return. Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers.
    • It will be bad for humans, but catastrophic for Earth’s other inhabitants. Arctic ice loss threatens polar bears, droughts imperil monarch butterflies, and koala habitats are being destroyed by bush fires. In all, about a sixth of all species now face extinction, say scientists, although in the end no creature or plant will be safe. “Even the most resilient species will inevitably fall victim as extreme stresses drive ecosystems to collapse,” said Giovanni Strona of Europe’s Joint Research Centre in a report last week on climate change.
    • But the most telling example is provided by the US, which has emitted about a third of the carbon responsible for global warming. Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation. “The coalition used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up,” said the environmentalist Bill McKibben in the New Yorker. “As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.”
    • No region of the US has more to lose from climate change than southern Florida. If scientists’ worst predictions are realised, an entire metropolitan area, currently inhabited by more than six million people, is likely to be swamped by a 1.5-metre sea-level rise before the end of this century, a rise that could see the tourist mecca of Miami simply disappear.

What went on: 2018

What went on: 2017

What went on: 2016

What went on: 2015

What went on: 2014

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