January, 2019

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.

January, 2019



  • Investors Join Calls for a Food Revolution to Fight Climate Change: A series of new reports shows how climate change is intertwined with the world’s worsening health, and suggests changes in the global food production system.
    • The Lancet Commision on Obesity, made up of more than 40 experts from 14 countries, says that, while its original mandate was to address obesity, it reframed its mission to address the pandemics of obesity, malnutrition and climate change—or what it called "the triple-burden challenges of The Global Syndemic." "We decided we have to look at this with a systems approach. It's not people's fault," said Vivica Kraak, a professor of food and nutrition policy at Virginia Tech who contributed to the report. "The environments they live in foster overconsumption and unsustainable choices."
    • The report says that obesity is increasing in every region of the world largely because "the systemic and institutional drivers of obesity remain largely unabated" and are being driven by "powerful commercial interests."
    • "For example, when the USA and Australia tried to include sustainability in their national dietary guidelines, vested interests from food industries leaned heavily on their governments to eliminate sustainability from the terms of reference," the report says. "Reducing the consumption of red meat is a cornerstone for healthy, sustainable diets," the report adds, "but achieving this will be formidable given the current supply and demand dynamics. Western-style fast foods might also be part of aspirational diets for some populations in low-income countries."
  • Gone in a Generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives
  • Study links high levels of screen time to slower child development: Researchers say children who used screens more did worse in tests, but findings are disputed
  • How Putin's oligarchs funneled millions into GOP campaigns:
    • Editor's note May 8, 2018: This column originally published December 15, 2017. New allegations about $500k in payments from a Russian oligarch made to Trump attorney Michael Cohen have placed it back in the news.
    • [ael: new lifting of sanctions on Russian oligarch's again put it back in the news….]
    • Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.
    • An example is Len Blavatnik, a dual U.S.-U.K. citizen and one of the largest donors to GOP political action committees in the 2015-16 election cycle. Blavatnik's family emigrated to the U.S. in the late '70s from the U.S.S.R. and he returned to Russia when the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late '80s.
      • Data from the Federal Election Commission show that Blavatnik's campaign contributions dating back to 2009-10 were fairly balanced across party lines and relatively modest for a billionaire. During that season he contributed $53,400. His contributions increased to $135,552 in 2011-12 and to $273,600 in 2013-14, still bipartisan.
      • In 2015-16, everything changed. Blavatnik's political contributions soared and made a hard right turn as he pumped $6.35 million into GOP political action committees, with millions of dollars going to top Republican leaders including Sens. Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.
  • Global Warming Concerns Rise Among Americans in New Poll: “I’ve never seen jumps in some of the key indicators like this,” the lead researcher said.
    • Some 73 percent of Americans polled late last year said that global warming was happening, the report found, a jump of 10 percentage points from 2015 and three points since last March. The rise in the number of Americans who say global warming is personally important to them was even sharper, jumping nine percentage points since March to 72 percent, another record over the past decade.


  • The Next Financial Crisis Could Be Caused by Climate Change: After wildfires bankrupted a major utility, there's concerns that more severe natural disasters will lead to economic devastation.
    • The Wall Street Journal, whose opinion section has for years been accused of downplaying the planetary risks posed by climate change, reported that PG&E’s “bankruptcy could mark a business milestone: the first major corporate casualty of climate change.”
    • You can also see the makings of a foreclosure crisis. As floods become more severe and frequent thanks to climate change, owners of damaged homes may no longer be able to afford insurance. One Houston homeowner’s premiums, for instance, went from $600 a year to $9,000 after Hurricane Harvey. And 80 percent of the 100,000 Houston-area homes that flooded during the 2017 disaster had no flood insurance at all, because they were in areas that don’t usually flood. Financial services firm CoreLogic has calculated that serious mortgage delinquencies for damaged homes shot up over 200 percent in the wake of the hurricane.
    • Those warning signs could not be clearer for the 40 million people who rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. Despite near-constant drought conditions since 2000 and water levels at all-time lows, Arizona, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada have failed to negotiate a drought contingency plan, potentially leading the federal government to impose water restrictions by the end of January. If the river basin were to ever fully go dry, it could destroy 16 million jobs and $1.4 trillion worth of economic activity over the course of a year, a 2014 study from Arizona State University estimated. “Up until that point everything’s going to seem fine,” Wara predicted. “Then all of sudden it’s going to be an issue with enormous societal impacts.”
    • A recent survey of the world’s 80 largest insurers done by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project found only one-third “can say their approach to investing is climate-aware.” And 43 percent of the “laggards” named by the survey—that is, insurers with limited or no consideration of financial risks created by climate change—are based in the US, including such companies as Allstate, Prudential, and New York Life. https://aodproject.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AODP-Got-It-Covered-Insurance-Report-2018.pdf
    • “They’re probably not taking these risks seriously enough because they see them as long-term,” said O’Sullivan from ShareAction, which manages the AODP. “They think they have more time, but they don’t.” Observers warn that this confidence may be based on faulty assumptions similar to those that caused the financial world to be blindsided by PG&E’s collapse. “The potential for physical climate risks may change in non-linear ways, such as a coincidence of previous un-correlated events, resulting in unexpectedly high claims burdens,” observes a 2018 report from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors. “Uninsured losses arising from physical risks may have cascading impacts across the financial system, including on investment companies and banks.”



  • Like Trump's favorite steaks, Roger Stone is well and truly done: Several counts of obstructing congressional investigations, lying to Congress, and witness tampering tell a straightforward story of collusion
    • “This doesn’t have anything to do with the president,” said the press secretary, Sarah Sanders. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the White House.” This is a bit like saying that the pool of vomit outside your front door has nothing to do with you, the 12 beers you drank last night, or that fateful choice of burrito. [ael: I think that this is one of the funniest things I've ever read! Well done, Richard Wolffe]
    • As their godfather considers his splendid future behind bars, he might want to revisit his best-known work. Because it won’t be long before he needs to contemplate the Art of the Plea Deal.




  • Greenland’s Ice Is Melting Four Times Faster than Thought: New research shows Greenland's ice loss has been accelerating and suggests we may be approaching a dangerous tipping point, with implications for global sea-level rise, scientists say. Much of the increase came from a part of the ice sheet where there are few large glaciers.
  • Brace for the Polar Vortex; It May Be Visiting More Often: The cold snap may feel especially shocking after an unusually warm few weeks. Colder temperatures have been arriving later in winter over the past few years, according to Judah Cohen, a climatologist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a weather risk assessment firm. But because of changes to the polar vortex, when wintry weather does arrive, it’s often more intense — witness the four back-to-back nor’easters last year.


  • Warning: A ‘Shrinking Window’ of Usable Groundwater: New analysis reveals that we have much less water in our aquifers than we previously thought — and the oil and gas industry could put that at even greater risk.
    • “We found that the average depth of water resources across the country was about half of what people had previously estimated,” says Jennifer McIntosh, a distinguished scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.
    • …when shallow groundwater reserves become depleted or polluted, the strategy so far has been to drill deeper and deeper wells to keep the water flowing. But we may not always be able to drill our way out of water shortages. “Tapping into these deep waters works for now, but the long-term prospects for using these waters are quite concerning,” says the report’s lead author, Grant Ferguson, an associate professor in the department of Civil and Geological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
    • The depth between oil and gas activities and drinking water reserves varied greatly across the country. Wyoming and the Michigan basin were two places where oil and gas activities are relatively shallow and in close proximity to fresh and brackish water, which could increase the chances of contamination of water resources. Water contamination from oil and gas activity has already been documented in Pavillion, Wyoming.


  • 408-year-old tree discovered in Algonquin Park’s unprotected logging zone: Researchers have discovered a 408-year-old tree amid a stretch of old-growth forest in Algonquin Park, located in an unprotected zone open to logging, the Star has learned.
    • The Ancient Forest Exploration and Research group — a non-profit, charitable educational organization — recently made the find west of Cayuga Lake. It also identified three trees that are more than 300 years old, and five that are more than 200 years old, out of the 10 trees examined. “Based on mapping we’re pretty sure significant tracts of very old forest have also been logged in the past 10 years, or are currently being logged,” senior ecologist Mike Henry told the Star. The group is now calling on the provincial government to safeguard the area.


  • Ocean Warming Is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds: Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters. A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.
    • “2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”
  • Rescue: footprints in the snow
  • Ontario is under one-man rule. Who will stop Doug Ford? The rightwing premier has trampled on democratic norms. The province urgently needs electoral reform to prevent a repeat


  • What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon: The Dunning-Kruger effect explains why unskilled people think they know it all and tend to be overconfident.
    • Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.
    • Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.
    • Even though President Trump’s statements are rife with errors, falsehoods or inaccuracies, he expresses great confidence in his aptitude. He says he does not read extensively because he solves problems “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had.” He has said in interviews he doesn’t read lengthy reports because “I already know exactly what it is.”
    • He has “the best words” and cites his “high levels of intelligence” in rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. Decades ago, he said he could end the Cold War: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” Trump told The Washington Post’s Lois Romano over dinner in 1984. “I think I know most of it anyway.”
    • Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris,” said Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University. “The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”
    • Many people “cannot wrap their minds around the rise of Trump,” Sloman said. “He’s exactly the opposite of everything we value in a politician, and he’s the exact opposite of what we thought Americans valued.” Some of these people are eager to find something scientific to explain him.


  • This old coal plant is now a solar farm, thanks to pressure from local activists: In Massachusetts, one town fought to stop pollution–and ensured a just transition for workers at the coal plant.
    • It’s a transition that was driven by the economic collapse of coal and accelerated by local activists who were concerned about the area’s high asthma rates, twice as high as the rest of the state. “We know the things that come out of a smokestack are major triggers and contributors to respiratory issues,” says Claire Müller, lead community organizer for the Toxics Action Center, which partnered with Neighbor to Neighbor, a local Latinx-led organization, to pressure the company that owned the coal plant to shut it down–and to help workers at the coal plant make the shift fairly.


  • Depression in girls linked to higher use of social media: Research suggests link between social media use and depressive symptoms was stronger for girls compared with boys
    • Social media is also closely associated with poor sleeping habits, especially among 14-year-olds showing clinical signs of depression. While just 5.4% of girls and 2.7% of boys overall said they slept for seven hours or less, 48.4% of girls with low mood and 19.8% of such boys said the same. Half of depressed girls and a quarter of depressed boys said that they suffer from disrupted sleep “most of the time”. The authors say the sleep disruption is due to young people staying up late to use social media and being woken up by alerts coming in to their phones beside their beds. Their findings are published on Friday in EClinicalMedicine, a journal published by the Lancet.
  • A Trump County Confronts the Administration Amid a Rash of Child Cancers: Their questions led them to an old industrial site in Franklin, the Johnson County seat, that the federal government had ordered cleaned up decades ago. Recent tests have identified a carcinogenic plume spreading underground, releasing vapors into homes.
    • Families across the political spectrum have also spoken out against the Trump administration’s drive to weaken restrictions on TCE, a colorless fluid with a subtle, sweet odor used by as many as four-fifths of the nation’s 65,000 dry cleaners, as well as about 2,200 factories and other facilities. Decades ago, it was used at the Franklin site.
    • Declaring TCE “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure,” the Obama administration had sought to restrict two of its riskiest uses, as a stain remover and as a degreaser, and had marked it for further review, potentially to ban the chemical altogether. It had also moved to strengthen cleanup rules for hundreds of sites nationwide believed to be contaminated. But at the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has stalled some of those moves. In 2017 it indefinitely postponed the proposed bans on risky uses, leaving as many as 178,000 workers potentially exposed. It also scaled back a broad review of TCE and other chemicals so that it would exclude from its calculations possible exposure from groundwater and other forms of contamination — the problems present in Franklin.


  • Robert Frost wrote this masterpiece in about 20 minutes. It belongs to all of us now. ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' is part of a huge cache of copyrighted works entering the public domain on New Year’s Day.
    • [ael: nowadays he might have written "Stopping by Woods on a Rainy Evening"….:)]
  • One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine: The stunning success of AlphaZero, a deep-learning algorithm, heralds a new age of insight — one that, for humans, may not last long.
    • Most unnerving was that AlphaZero seemed to express insight. It played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks. In some games it paralyzed Stockfish and toyed with it. While conducting its attack in Game 10, AlphaZero retreated its queen back into the corner of the board on its own side, far from Stockfish’s king, not normally where an attacking queen should be placed.
    • Tellingly, AlphaZero won by thinking smarter, not faster; it examined only 60 thousand positions a second, compared to 60 million for Stockfish. It was wiser, knowing what to think about and what to ignore. By discovering the principles of chess on its own, AlphaZero developed a style of play that “reflects the truth” about the game rather than “the priorities and prejudices of programmers,” Mr. Kasparov wrote in a commentary accompanying the Science article.
    • Suppose that deeper patterns exist to be discovered — in the ways genes are regulated or cancer progresses; in the orchestration of the immune system; in the dance of subatomic particles. And suppose that these patterns can be predicted, but only by an intelligence far superior to ours. If AlphaInfinity could identify and understand them, it would seem to us like an oracle. We would sit at its feet and listen intently. We would not understand why the oracle was always right, but we could check its calculations and predictions against experiments and observations, and confirm its revelations. Science, that signal human endeavor, would reduce our role to that of spectators, gaping in wonder and confusion.
    • Maybe eventually our lack of insight would no longer bother us. After all, AlphaInfinity could cure all our diseases, solve all our scientific problems and make all our other intellectual trains run on time. We did pretty well without much insight for the first 300,000 years or so of our existence as Homo sapiens. And we’ll have no shortage of memory: we will recall with pride the golden era of human insight, this glorious interlude, a few thousand years long, between our uncomprehending past and our incomprehensible future.
  • Hearing Loss Threatens Mind, Life and Limb: Poor hearing is not just an annoying inconvenience.
  • Extreme weather in 2018 was a raging, howling signal of climate change: “Climate change is adding to what’s going on naturally, and it’s that extra stress that causes things to break,” said Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “It takes the experience well outside anything that’s been experienced before. It crosses thresholds. As a result, things break, people die, and things burn.”
    • There is no single metric for measuring extreme weather globally and comparing 2018 with previous years. The American Meteorological Society puts out an annual report on extreme weather, but it just published the 2017 results and won’t issue its report on 2018 until late next year.
    • Africa may have endured the hottest temperature ever reliably measured since record-keeping began: 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the Sahara Desert city of Ouargla, Algeria, on July 5. That same day, temperatures may have reached 90 degrees F. on the coast of the Arctic Ocean in northern Siberia. And in the Middle East, the low temperature of the day in Quriyat, Oman, on June 28 was 109 degrees F.

What went on: 2018

What went on: 2017

What went on: 2016

What went on: 2015

What went on: 2014

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