October, 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.

2018

October, 2018

10/31/2018

  • What billionaires want: the secret influence of America’s 100 richest: A new study reveals how the wealthy engage in ‘stealth politics’: quietly advancing unpopular, inequality-exacerbating, highly conservative policies
    • Our new, systematic study of the 100 wealthiest Americans indicates that Buffett, Gates, Bloomberg et al are not at all typical. Most of the wealthiest US billionaires – who are much less visible and less reported on – more closely resemble Charles Koch. They are extremely conservative on economic issues. Obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes (which apply only to the wealthiest Americans). Opposed to government regulation of the environment or big banks. Unenthusiastic about government programs to help with jobs, incomes, healthcare, or retirement pensions – programs supported by large majorities of Americans. Tempted to cut deficits and shrink government by cutting or privatizing guaranteed social security benefits.
    • The answer is simple: billionaires who favor unpopular, ultraconservative economic policies, and work actively to advance them (that is, most politically active billionaires) stay almost entirely silent about those issues in public. This is a deliberate choice. Billionaires have plenty of media access, but most of them choose not to say anything at all about the policy issues of the day. They deliberately pursue a strategy of what we call “stealth politics”. We have come to this conclusion based on an exhaustive, web-based study of everything that the 100 wealthiest US billionaires have said or done, over a 10-year period, concerning several major issues of public policy. For each billionaire we used several dozen carefully selected keywords to find all publicly available information about their specific talk or actions related to any aspect of social security, any type of taxation, or anything related to abortion, same-sex marriage, or immigration policy.
    • Most of the wealthiest US billionaires have made substantial financial contributions – amounting to hundreds of thousands of reported dollars annually, in addition to any undisclosed “dark money” contributions – to conservative Republican candidates and officials who favor the very unpopular step of cutting rather than expanding social security benefits. Yet, over the 10-year period we have studied, 97% of the wealthiest billionaires have said nothing at all about social security policy. Nothing about benefit levels, cost-of-living adjustments, or privatization. (Also nothing about the popular idea of shoring up social security finances by removing the low “cap” on income subject to payroll taxes and making the wealthy pay more.) How can voters know that most billionaires are working to cut their social security benefits?
    • Or consider the estate tax. Our study ferretted out quiet activity by 12 of the wealthiest billionaires – including the Kochs and (perhaps unsurprisingly) several wealthy inheritors of the Walton and Mars fortunes – aimed specifically at cutting or abolishing the estate tax. They gave money to policy-oriented organizations seeking to abolish the tax, or founded such organizations, and served on their boards. Not a single billionaire took such activity to support the estate tax. Yet here, too, citizens could be badly misled by what a handful of famous billionaires said in public. Among those who spoke out, more than half actually supported the estate tax. These include our usual suspects – Gates, Buffett, and Bloomberg – who are very atypical of US billionaires as a whole.
  • The big lie we’re told about climate change is that it’s our own fault: How to deal with despair over climate change. [ael: the title is a little misleading: it's humans' fault, just not YOUR fault — unless you're a Koch brother, Rex Tillerson, etc.]
    • Whether we admit it or not, we’re all in the middle of one big, giant mourning process. We’re mourning our futures. We’re mourning the children we’re afraid to have. Our bucket lists. Our travel plans. Some of us are mourning homes already lost to fires or flood, or savings accounts wiped out helping relatives recover from hurricanes. Some of us are mourning our todays, even our yesterdays.
    • One day at work, I came across the book that saved me: What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other, a book by environmental journalist Wen Stephenson that chronicles his transformation from reporter to climate activist. The prose was beautiful, and each page oozed with compassion without layering the issue with coats of sugar. It looked climate change squarely in the face. One of the many, many things that book taught me was that I was not crazy. That my broken heart was normal. I was not the only one feeling it, and the best thing I could do was get out and talk to people who had already stood in front of this same emotional abyss and found the nerve to carry forward.
      • From the Penguin House ad for the book: 'In 2010, journalist Wen Stephenson woke up to the true scale and urgency of the catastrophe bearing down on humanity, starting with the poorest and most vulnerable everywhere, and confronted what he calls “the spiritual crisis at the heart of the climate crisis.” Inspired by others who refused to retreat into various forms of denial and fatalism, he walked away from his career in mainstream media and became an activist, joining those working to build a transformative movement for climate justice in America.'
    • Given the sheer enormity of climate change, it’s okay to be depressed, to grieve. But please, don’t stay there too long. Join me in pure, unadulterated, righteous anger.
      • The dominant narrative around climate change tells us that it’s our fault. We left the lights on too long, didn’t close the refrigerator door, and didn’t recycle our paper. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. If the light switch was connected to clean energy, who the hell cares if you left it on? The problem is not consumption — it’s the supply. And your scrap paper did not hasten the end of the world.
      • Don’t give in to that shame. It’s not yours. The oil and gas industry is gaslighting you. That same IPCC report revealed that a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global climate emissions. These people are locking you and everything you love into a tomb. You have every right to be pissed all the way off. And we have to make them hear about it.
    • We can’t pretend this isn’t happening anymore. Especially for us Americans, our general privilege and relative comfort compared to so many in the world can make it easy to turn a blind eye. But we can’t pretend that some unnamed cavalry is coming to save us. We are the adults in this room. We have to save ourselves. It’s not our fault, but it is very much our problem. It’s dire, but we have to dig in our heels and fight — for each other.

10/30/2018

  • Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds: The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilisation, say the world’s leading scientists
    • Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.
    • “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
    • “We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”
    • The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause – 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction – while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.
    • The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.
    • The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83%, due to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams. “Again there is this direct link between the food system and the depletion of wildlife,” said Barrett. Eating less meat is an essential part of reversing losses, he said.
    • The world’s nations are working towards a crunch meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, when new commitments for the protection of nature will be made. “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it,” said Barrett. “This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.” Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”
  • 'We've never seen this': massive Canadian glaciers shrinking rapidly: Glaciers in the Yukon territory are retreating even faster than expected in a warming climate, scientists warn
  • Tree Teachings: How Fossil Fuels and Climate Change Are Altering the Global Forest: Second in a series about the work of famed botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
    • She also worries about the fate of the “totally unique” boreal forest, which covers northern Canada and much of northern Europe and Asia. It is what Beresford-Kroeger calls a “frugal” forest, yet it captures and holds nearly one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide.
    • Yet the most recent forecast for the boreal forest is grim. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees in warming, more wildfires, pests and heat-related die-offs would overcome southern portions of this forest system. Forty years ago Beresford-Kroeger says that she first started to see the effects of climate change disturbing and affecting plants and soils in her own 160-acre research garden and arboretum. This explains why she is still writing and talking about climate change, and the risks it poses to the forests that built and sustained the world’s civilizations.
    • Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked: First in a series about the work of famed botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
      • Fires foretold: The first point Beresford-Kroeger wants to make is that the fires consuming places like California and B.C.’s Interior were foretold by Indigenous people thousands of years ago. The Anishinaabe predicted an age of fire back in the 13th century, as did seers among the Celts, a woodland people whose alphabet was based on trees. These prophets “could see the patterns of things in nature and could see how people were behaving,” she says, and they predicted that greed or the relentless consumption of things would lead to conflagrations of enormous proportions. White people banished fire, a natural player on the landscape, she says. But Indigenous people used fire. “They had a brainchild and architecturally changed the continent by fire.” The Woodland Cree set fires in meadows and along shorelines to produce more berries and provide more grass for game, just as the Cahokia people set fires to help nourish the nut trees that grew on the great North American savannah, which extended into present-day Toronto. Flash fires in April and November produced ash that helped to fertilize the grasses and the forest. The ash even protected trees from fungal spores. “And it doubled the production of fruits and nuts in the forest,” says Beresford-Kroeger. The fertilizing effect of controlled burns increased certain kinds of vegetation a hundred-fold and enlarged the population of deer, elk and moose.
      • Human communities are now paying a price for 100 years of fire suppression as they built more homes in landscapes designed to renew themselves with pests or fire. Other changes account for the rise and intensity of wildfires, which Beresford-Kroeger describes as nature’s very own “chemical factories.”
      • Another curious thing is happening in the boreal forest. Because of changes in precipitation patterns brought about by climate change there have been more ice and wet snowstorms in the great forest. “The greenhouse effect combined with a loss of forests is adding extra moisture to the atmosphere,” says Beresford-Kroeger…. “The trees have socket joints and the heavy snow knocks off the branches just at the socket,” says the scientist. “The branches just add more fuel to the fire. That will be a problem in the north in the boreal.”
      • Years ago a brilliant Japanese marine chemist Katsuhiko Matsunaga decided to see if there was any scientific truth behind an old Japanese adage: “If you want to catch a fish, plant a tree.” Decomposing leaves in forested watersheds help to flush iron into the ocean, where it acts as a catalyst for the building of phytoplankton. Without a supply of oxygenated iron, phytoplankton can’t perform photosynthesis and make the rich food that all marine life depends on. Great wildfires and logging reduce the leaf litter and therefore the amount of iron that flushes into the ocean, which, in turn, reduces the plankton. With no food the fish disappear. “That’s what the great fires are doing. The fisherman can’t expect to catch more fish. It is a terrifying story.”
      • The good news, she adds, is that more and more young people want governments to address the issues of climate change and overconsumption. They also want to see damaged forests restored to their original biodiversity, and native and ancient forests better protected from industrial intrusions. “But we need leadership and people with brains.”
  • Climate change is 'escalator to extinction' for mountain birds: Scientists have produced new evidence that climate change is driving tropical bird species who live near a mountain top to extinction.
    • Researchers have long predicted many creatures will seek to escape a warmer world by moving towards higher ground. However, those living at the highest levels cannot go any higher, and have been forecast to decline. This study found that eight bird species that once lived near a Peruvian mountain peak have now disappeared.
    • Researchers are particularly concerned about tropical mountain ranges and the impacts of climate change. "The tropical mountain areas are the hottest of biodiversity hotspots; they harbour more species than any other place on Earth," lead author Dr Benjamin Freeman from the University of British Columbia told BBC News. "It's only got a little bit warmer in the tropics and tropical plants and animals seem to be living quite a bit higher now than they used to."
    • In contrast, the scientists found that bird species living in lowland areas were benefitting from climate change, expanding their ranges, and shifting their upper limits further up the mountains. However, even the species that are now on the move may find that they run out of options over time. The authors say that if global temperatures rise this century between 2.6C and 4.8C, this could push tropical species a further 500m to 900m up the the slopes. This might prove too far for some.
    • Another problem is that many mountains have been cleared of their forests which limits the capacity of species to move up at all. [ael: mountaintop removal….]
  • Climate change: Low cost, low energy cooling system shows promise: Researchers in the US have scaled up a new low-cost system that could provide efficient cooling for homes while using very little electricity.
  • Scientists: Producing Bitcoin Currency Could Void Climate Change Efforts: Demand for bitcoin could single-handedly derail efforts to limit global warming because the increasingly popular digital currency takes huge amounts of energy to produce, scientists said on Monday.
    • Producing bitcoin at a pace with growing demand could by 2033 defeat the aim of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to U.S. research published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

10/29/2018

  • Decline of Greyhound service mirrors rural Canada's plight: Longstanding bus routes will see their last journeys this month, mirroring the region’s struggles: ‘Those who remain are unable to leave’
    • Today, over one-third of Canadians live in Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal, a dramatic shift from when Greyhound Canada launched in British Columbia in 1929.
    • Too isolated for the private sector to bother with, many of their services – insurance coverage and even liquor stores – were furnished by the government. These “crown corporations” also provided transportation, including taxpayer-funded bus lines. Some of these lines still operate today. Ontario Northland, for instance, is a bus line financed by the province that links Toronto with tiny outposts 10 hours north-west. A product of Canada’s 20th-century democratic-socialist heyday, the state-run bus lines were founded on the presumption that integrating rural and urban regions benefits both. That presumption is now being challenged. The starkest example is the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC), a 72-year-old state-run bus line that was shuttered last year by the province’s ruling Conservatives.
  • Thousands of ships could dump pollutants at sea to avoid dirty fuel ban: Owners planning to install ‘emissions cheat’ systems to avoid having to buy cleaner, more expensive fuel
    • the move to cleaner fuel could see harmful pollutants increasingly dumped at sea. According to industry analysis seen by the Guardian, between 2,300 and 4,500 ships are likely to install an exhaust gas cleaning system known as a scrubber to meet the regulations on low-sulphur fuel instead of buying the more expensive clean fuel. The scrubbers allow ship owners to continue buying cheaper high-sulphur fuel, which is washed onboard in the scrubber. In the case of the most used system, known as open loop, the waste water is discharged into the ocean.
  • Drunken trees and browning forests: Why a Canadian government scientist is sounding the alarm: 'We see these compelling images of trees dying over large areas and it's fairly frightening'
    • Dr. Barry Cooke has had something to get off his chest for several years now. The research scientist says he and his colleagues at the Canadian Forest Service have been growing increasingly worried about what climate change is doing to trees in the North. So this week, against the backdrop of a political debate around the Liberals' carbon tax and rebate scheme, Cooke took "a big breath" and fired off 75 tweets about "drunken trees" and browning forests in Canada's North.
    • Cooke worries the decline he is seeing in the North may spread to the other parts of the country. While he and his colleagues have discussed their concerns about trees internally, sometimes he says it feels like "we're talking in a closet of like-minded people." "We're not really talking to Canadians," he said. "We haven't really taken the case to Canadians at large saying, you know, 'Your North is changing, folks.'"
  • The Moral Rot of Fossil Fuels: Petroleum’s corrupting influence is on wretched display more than ever before.
    • Here in Canada oil continues to impair our collective ability to respond in a principled way to the largest threat facing the planet. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assured anyone brave enough to read it that we have about 12 years to drastically decarbonize our economy before most of the horsemen of the apocalypse saddle up for a little ride.
    • Apparently three election cycles away from Armageddon is still far too far into the future to engage our political machinery. In fact Conservative parties throughout the nation have seized on the strategy of actively fighting climate action as the best way to achieve power. Even formerly principled leaders such as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley now genuflect before the oil industry, fighting a pitched battle on its behalf to export unprocessed Canadian resources, often no further offshore than price-gouging refineries in Puget Sound.
    • One of the reasons it is so difficult to trigger political change on carbon reduction is the vast amount of dark money spent by the fossil fuel industry to undermine the credibility of climate science. This has been both an odious and effective investment with only 45 per cent of Americans in 2015 believing climate change is a very serious problem.
    • Having the dominant source of energy in the form of a finite resource largely held in private hands is a recipe for ongoing corruption, war and inaction on climate. While a rapid move towards renewables is already underway, this is largely propelled by the profit motive and disruptive technologies. Where is the bold action from democratic institutions?
    • The tide is beginning to turn. A recent report shows that renewable energy has now pulled even with the economic might of fossil fuels, accounting for $4 trillion in global trade. In addition to not undermining life itself, a future based on distributed renewable energy enjoys many other positives, such as not producing murderous regimes or contributing to famines. Powerful vested interests will fight this transition tooth and nail. Elected leaders will look to public opinion on whether or not to act. Our future and our morality hang in the balance.
  • The Brazilian election could be a disaster for the Amazon rainforest: Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro wants the support of the farming industry. What does that mean for the Amazon?

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10/28/2018

  • Big Oil is using brute financial force to kill 2 state sustainability initiatives: There is seemingly no limit to the fossil fuel money that will fight decarbonization.
    • According to their public records, in just those two states, just this year, oil and gas — both directly and through PACs — has dumped $47 million into efforts to crush the initiatives. That number could easily top $50 million by the time of the election. On two underdog state initiatives! Climate hawks often debate whether it works to frame Big Oil as the villain in the climate fight. But it’s not really a “messaging” question here. In these state fights over fossil fuels, Big Oil is playing the villain in a very non-metaphorical, non-symbolic way, in the form of spending outrageous amounts of money to fight off climate action.
    • This is no great revelation: Despite its recent happy talk to the contrary, the oil and gas industry is going to fight the transition to a cleaner, less polluted economy every step of the way, on the ground, in local communities, where the rubber hits the road. Big Oil — the wealthiest companies in the world, ideologically committed billionaires, and the Republican Party that does their bidding — has a lot of money to spend, with fewer and fewer restraints imposed by campaign finance law. (And a newly robust conservative majority on the Supreme Court, sure to further loosen what restraints remain.)
  • Bolsonaro has made grim threats to the Amazon and its people: Presidential favourite would abolish Brazil’s environment ministry, exposing world’s largest rainforest and its indigenous owners to criminal gangs of loggers and miners

10/25/2018

  • Scientists Push for a Crash Program to Scrub Carbon From the Air: With time running out to avoid dangerous global warming, the nation’s leading scientific body on Wednesday urged the federal government to begin a research program focused on developing technologies that can remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in order to help slow climate change.
    • The 369-page report, written by a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, underscores an important shift. For decades, experts said that nations could prevent large temperature increases mainly by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and moving to cleaner sources like solar, wind and nuclear power. But at this point, nations have delayed so long in cutting their carbon dioxide emissions that even a breakneck shift toward clean energy would most likely not be enough. According to a landmark scientific report issued by the United Nations this month, taking out a big chunk of the carbon dioxide already loaded into the atmosphere may be necessary to avoid significant further warming, even though researchers haven’t yet figured out how to do so economically, or at sufficient scale.
    • And we’ll have to do it fast. To meet the climate goals laid out under the Paris Agreement, humanity may have to start removing around 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year by midcentury, in addition to reducing industrial emissions, said Stephen W. Pacala, a Princeton climate scientist who led the panel. That’s nearly as much carbon as all the world’s forests and soils currently absorb each year. “Midcentury is not very far away,” Dr. Pacala said. “To develop the technologies and scale up to 10 billion tons a year is a frightful endeavor, something that would really require a lot of activity. So the time would have to be now.”
    • [ael: I was on the webinar for the release — the claim was that the most important research direction was mineralization of CO2 in underground rock. This was underplayed in the article, I think.]: For instance, scientists have long known that certain minerals, like peridotite, can bind with carbon dioxide in the air and essentially convert the gas into solid rock. Researchers in Oman have been exploring the potential to use the country’s vast mineral deposits for carbon removal, but there are still major questions about whether this can be done feasibly on a large scale. [ael: nonetheless, the committee evidently felt like this was the avenue to pursue most urgently.]
  • 'Liquid gold': students make world's first brick out of human urine: The bio-brick created by students in Cape Town mixes urine with sand and bacteria, which they say is a world first
    • The bio-brick was produced by students from Cape Town, who collected urine from specially designed male urinals at the university’s engineering building and mixed it with sand and bacteria. Bio-bricks are made in moulds at room temperature, removing the need for high temperature kilns. Nitrogen and potassium, which are crucial for commercial fertilisers, are created as by-products during the process. [ael: my emphasis, throughout]
    • “In this example you take something that is considered a waste and make multiple products from it [ael: turning problems into solutions]. You can use the same process for any waste stream. It’s about rethinking things,” said Dr Dyllon Randall, a senior lecturer in water quality engineering at the University of Cape Town, who supervised the project. The idea of using urea to grow bio-bricks has previously been tested in the US using synthetic products, but UCT master’s student Suzanne Lambert is the first to use real human urine to make a brick, according to the university.brick-toilet.jpg
    • From: Flanagan, C. P., and D. G. Randall. Development of a novel nutrient recovery urinal for on-site fertilizer production
      • We have developed the world’s first fertilizer-producing urinal.
      • We recovered 11.23 ± 1.3 g of solid fertilizer per kg of urine.
      • We calculated that 1000 nutrient recovery urinals could produce a profit of $85/day.
      • The stabilized urine could be stored for extended periods with no nitrogen loss.
      • Abstract: Waterless urinals can save significant amounts of water but they can also be used to separate concentrated urine at source. Urine collection in established buildings is often costly because the plumbing system must be retrofitted for separate urine pipes. In addition, waterless urinals often have issues with blockages because of solids building up in the piping system.
        • To solve these challenges, we have developed a fertilizer-producing urinal that uses no water and does not have to be connected to a conventional sewage line to operate. We designed and constructed the urinal using a plastic funnel and collection tank. The urinal recovered 11.23 ± 1.3 g of solid fertilizer per kg of urine and we found that 1000 nutrient recovery urinals could produce an income of $85/day. This novel approach offers a new and easy method for collecting urine within office blocks or other commercial buildings. In addition, the recycling of nutrients at source offers a more sustainable and environmentally method for fertilizer production since minimal energy is required and “waste” streams are converted into useful products.
    • See also:
    • [ael: I have a special male urine diverting toilet — it's called a jug!:)]

10/24/2018

  • New York Sues Exxon Mobil, Saying It Deceived Shareholders on Climate Change: The lawsuit says Exxon engaged in a “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to deceive investors and analysts: “Exxon provided false and misleading assurances that it is effectively managing the economic risks posed to its business by the increasingly stringent policies and regulations that it expects governments to adopt to address climate change.”
    • The litigation, which follows more than three years of investigation, represents the most significant legal effort yet to establish that a fossil fuel company misled the public on climate change and to hold it responsible. Not only does it pose a financial threat to Exxon that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars or more, but it could also strike a blow to the reputation of a company that has worked to rehabilitate its image, framing itself as a leader on global warming.
    • It says the company engaged in a “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to deceive investors, analysts and underwriters “concerning the company’s management of the risks posed to its business by climate change regulation.”
    • Barbara D. Underwood, the New York attorney general, brought the lawsuit under the Martin Act, a state law that gives her sweeping powers to investigate and prosecute securities fraud. The suit demands that Exxon turn over all the money it made through the alleged fraud and make restitution to investors. “Investors put their money and their trust in Exxon, which assured them of the long-term value of their shares, as the company claimed to be factoring the risk of increasing climate change regulation into its business decisions,” Ms. Underwood said. “Yet as our investigation found, Exxon often did no such thing.”
    • The lawsuit says that Exxon told investors that when it was planning for its oil and gas reserves, its investments and its estimates of demand for its products, it applied an added cost, or “proxy cost,” that represented the likely effects of future climate regulations. But in many cases, the suit says, the company “applied much lower proxy costs than it represented or no proxy costs at all,” which exposed Exxon to greater regulatory risk.
    • Prosecutors added that “Exxon’s fraud was sanctioned at the highest levels of the company,” including by its former chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson, who went on to serve as President Trump’s first secretary of state, “knew for years that the company’s representations concerning proxy costs were misleading,” according to the complaint.
  • Infographic: Why Farmers Are Ideally Positioned to Fight Climate Change: Growing crops, raising livestock and clearing land all produce greenhouse gases, so agriculture gives off lots of the pollution that is warming the planet. Scientists say that without significant changes, farming's global warming footprint will grow rapidly in the next few decades. Farmers, along with the rest of us, would pay the price. But climate-friendly farming could help solve the problem by trapping carbon in the soil, improving its quality while offsetting dangerous emissions.
    ag-nitrogen-fertilizer-climate-infographic-1058px.png
  • Climate Change Is No Joking Matter. Except, This Week, It Was.:
    • Stephen Colbert jumped on Mr. Trump’s statements about climate change, saying: “After a year of massive storms causing untold damage, and our glaciers just shrinking in every direction, Trump was still ambivalent on the concept of climate change. He told the reporter, ‘You have scientists on both sides of the issue.’ That is true, there are scientists on both sides. On one side, all the scientists. On the other, one guy who runs a blog called RealTrueAmericanScienceEagle.jesus.”
    • Does joking about climate change blunt the message that it is a threat, even a crisis? Hardly, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. He noted that broadcast media rarely talks about the topic, and it barely came up during the 2016 presidential debates. So for many television viewers, he said, seeing a segment on “Weekend Update” or “The Late Show” means “millions of people just had a conversation or watched on television discussions about climate change that they otherwise never get exposed to.” What’s more, his center’s own research, he said, shows that “comedy is a really effective means to engage people,” and especially young people, in what he called “a sideways way.” He said that “through humor, people can deal with very difficult and scary topics that people will tend to ignore or avoid.”
    • It helps, he added, that “this administration produces more risible material than any one in history.”

10/23/2018

  • Pando, the Most Massive Organism on Earth, Is Shrinking: On 106 acres in Fishlake National Forest in Richfield, Utah, a 13-million-pound giant has been looming for thousands of years. But few people have ever heard of him. This is “the Trembling Giant,” or Pando, from the Latin word for “I spread.” A single clone, and genetically male, he is the most massive organism on Earth. He is a forest of one: a grove of some 47,000 quivering aspen trees — Populus tremuloides — connected by a single root system, and all with the same DNA. But this majestic behemoth may be more of a Goliath, suggests a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE. Threatened by herds of hungry animals and human encroachment, Pando is fighting a losing battle.
  • A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history: An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.
    • Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.

10/21/2018

  • PR company accused of using 'tobacco lobbyist tactics' to promote weedkiller linked to cancer: Roundup maker Monsanto reportedly funded campaign to defend chemical
    • The Freedom to Farm campaign - active across Europe’s ‘eight most important countries’ - has marketed itself as a grassroots-led effort by farmers in defence of the herbicide, which has been deemed a “probable cause of cancer” in humans by the World Health Organisation.
    • But investigations by The Independent and Greenpeace have revealed the campaign is administered by Red Flag, a Dublin-based PR and lobbying firm, with the assistance of Lincoln Strategy, a US outfit with close links to Donald Trump’s election campaign.
    • Karl Brophy, the founder of Red Flag, defended the firm’s work with the campaign, saying: “Red Flag is an agency with a number of clients in the food and agriculture sectors and a wide network of contacts in the agricultural community. We worked to bring a number of our clients and contacts together in order to help those people who would be most affected by a potential glyphosate ban – the farmers who produce Europe’s food." He added: “We are grateful to several clients for supporting the project. But it was the farmers who stood to lose most if an activist-led campaign to ban glyphosate – flying in the face of science, the position of all relevant EU regulatory agencies and the position of the European Commission – was successful. And it was the farmers who responded to the threat.
  • Here's a hero for you: Raye Montague, the Navy’s ‘Hidden Figure’ Ship Designer, Dies at 83

10/17/2018

  • Bill Gates launches effort to help the world adapt to climate change: Many people are already facing the impacts of a changing climate and need help adjusting now, world leaders assert.
    • To spur action, a coalition led by billionaire Bill Gates, former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday launched the Global Commission on Adaptation to lessen the damage. “Without urgent adaptation and action, we risk undermining food, energy, and water security for decades to come,” Ki-moon said in a briefing. “Adaptation action is not only the right action to do, it is the smart thing. The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual.”
  • Ryan Zinke Has Fired the DOI Inspector General: And replaced her with a loyalist political operative who may not need Senate confirmation
    • At last count, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was the subject of 14 separate government investigations. (A new record!) But that number could soon be zero. That’s because Zinke just fired the Department of the Interior’s acting inspector general. The news doesn’t stop there. Not only did Mary Kendall, the acting inspector general, not learn she was being replaced until The Hill broke the news this morning, but her replacement will likely be able to fill the role without needing to go through Senate confirmation.
    • most troubling, though, is Zinke’s pattern of putting business before the environment when it comes to decision making on public land. He ignored public comment when he recommended that the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments be shrunk (a move that benefited extractive industries), has scrubbed mention of climate change from scientific reports commissioned by DOI, halted studies into the environmental impacts of drilling and mining, sabotaged the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and is doing away with compensatory mitigation polices for companies that damage the environment.
  • Stephen Hawking’s final warning for humanity: AI is coming for us: His posthumously published book about our future offers fear and surprising optimism.
    • Artificial intelligence holds great opportunity for humanity, encompassing everything from Google’s algorithms to self-driving cars to facial recognition software. The AI we have today, however, is still in its primitive stages. Experts worry about what will happen when that intelligence outpaces us. Or, as Hawking puts it, “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.” This might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but Hawking says dismissing it as such “would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake ever.”
    • Runaway climate change is the biggest threat to our planet, he says, and we are acting with “reckless indifference to our future on planet Earth.” In fact, we might not have a future at all, he says, warning us not to put all our eggs “in one basket.” And yes, that basket is planet Earth. Even if humans figure out a way escape, “the millions of species that inhabit the Earth” will be doomed, he says. “And that will be on our conscience as a race.”
    • If that all sounds pretty depressing, it is. But even as Hawking serves up an apocalyptic prognosis for the planet and everyone on it, his brand of optimism comes through. He has faith that “our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster.” He even believes that, instead of being terrifying, these possibilities are thrilling and that it “greatly increases the chances of inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be.”
  • How A Technology From Iceland Is Fighting Climate Change:
    • But some companies are using carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere. That is the case with the company I met with in Iceland. Carbon Recycling International (CRI) utilizes electricity and carbon dioxide emissions from the country's geothermal plants to produce methanol, which they produce and sell into the European fuel market. Their product is trademarked as Vulcanol.
    • Carbon dioxide can be converted into a wide variety of products, but that requires two things. One is energy. Carbon dioxide is a stable, low-energy molecule, and the carbon-oxygen bonds require energy to break. But hydrogen is also needed. Most of the world's hydrogen is produced from natural gas, but it can be produced by passing electricity through water. This process is called electrolysis, and it breaks water down into its constituent elements — hydrogen and oxygen.
    • The key to the process is cheap power. I was told that about 70% of the cost of production in a commercial plant would be determined by the cost of power. We can do a quick bit of math to determine what the price of power would need to be to make this process work.
      • One megawatt-hour (MWh) is equivalent to 3.4 million British thermal units (Btu). The efficiency of the process of electricity to fuel is about 50%. One gallon of methanol contains 56,800 Btu, so 1 MWh is equal to about 30 gallons of methanol.
      • According to Methanex — the world's largest producer of methanol and an investor in CRI — the current price of methanol is about $1.50/gallon. Thus, 1 MWh could produce about $45 worth of methanol. If energy is 70% of the overall cost, then the break-even cost for power would need to be less than around 70% of $45, or $31.50/MWh (in the absence of incentives).
      • The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for geothermal is about $50/MWh, according to the Energy Information Administration. Solar photovoltaic (PV) power is projected to approach that level in a few years, and wind power costs are projected to fall to $23/MWh in some locations by 2025.
    • However, even today there are times that countries like Germany and states like California produce so much excess power that the price drops below zero. In such cases, that excess power could be dumped into hydrogen production and storage — the primary energy consumer in such a plant.
    • An important note here about this process is that it isn't just theoretical, and it doesn't merely exist at the laboratory scale. CRI has an operating demonstration plant with a capacity of about 4,000 metric tons of methanol per year. It is located next to the Svartsengi Power Station, which produces 150 MW of thermal energy for the district heating and up to 75 MW for electricity power. I visited both the CRI methanol plant and the Svartsengi Power Station during my trip. The power plant provides both electricity and a carbon dioxide source for CRI's methanol plant.
    • The CRI process could work in any location with cheap power and a source of carbon dioxide. If there are available incentives for producing renewable fuel (as is the case in many countries), the process would be viable in even more locations.
    • Heard about it on Permies....

10/16/2018

  • ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss: Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.
    • A recent analysis of climate change and insects, published in August in the journal Science, predicts a decrease in tropical insect populations, according to an author of that study, Scott Merrill, who studies crop pests at the University of Vermont. In temperate regions farther from the equator, where insects can survive a wider range of temperatures, agricultural pests will devour more food as their metabolism increases, Merrill and his co-authors warned. But after a certain thermal threshold, insects will no longer lay eggs, he said, and their internal chemistry breaks down.
    • No matter the cause, all of the scientists agreed that more people should pay attention to the bugpocalypse. “It’s a very scary thing,” Merrill said, that comes on the heels of a “gloomy, gloomy” U.N. report that estimated the world has little more than a decade left to wrangle climate change under control. But “we can all step up,” he said, by using more fuel-efficient cars and turning off unused electronics. The Portland, Ore.-based Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes insect conservation, recommends planting a garden with native plants that flower throughout the year. “Unfortunately, we have deaf ears in Washington,” Schowalter said. But those ears will listen at some point, he said, because our food supply will be in jeopardy.
    • Thirty-five percent of the world’s plant crops require pollination by bees, wasps and other animals. And arthropods are more than just pollinators. They’re the planet’s wee custodians, toiling away in unnoticed or avoided corners. They chew up rotting wood and eat carrion. “And none of us want to have more carcasses around,” Schowalter said. Wild insects provide $57 billion worth of six-legged labor in the United States each year, according to a 2006 estimate. The loss of insects and arthropods could further rend the rain forest’s food web, Lister warned, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators. “If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system,” he said, “that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way.”
  • A Forest’s Story: Climate change is bringing earlier springs to the forests. Can they still trap carbon and nitrogen?
    • Green Ridge State Forest boasts nearly 50,000 acres of majestic white and red oaks as well as towering poplars. Looking at them collectively, Elmore and his colleagues noticed they seemed to be leafing out earlier. Because of warmer temperatures, spring appeared to be coming early in many parts of the country. It wasn’t just anecdotal. Four decades of observations of these forests from space, through satellites, suggested earlier springs and later autumns.
  • Land rights, forests, food systems central to limiting global warming: report: A group of climate advocates released detailed findings today, saying that significant climate change mitigation can be achieved via a heavy emphasis on the land sector, and without reliance on costly or largely untested technologies such as bioenergy, carbon capture-and-storage and geoengineering.

10/15/2018

  • Trees Could Change the Climate More Than Scientists Thought: A growing body of research suggests that models of the warming world have left out a crucial ingredient: vegetation.
    • Fung suggested that Swann try foresting the Arctic in a climate model. Trees are colonizing higher latitudes as the globe warms, so it seemed reasonable to ask what impact they would have on the region’s climate. Other researchers had previously looked into the potential effects of an expansion of northern spruce forests; unsurprisingly, they found that the Arctic would likely get warmer because those trees’ leaves are dark and would absorb more sunlight than virtually any of the tundra, ice, and shrubs they might replace. Swann decided to look into what would happen if the encroaching forests were deciduous trees with lighter-colored leaves, such as birch or aspen. In her model, the Arctic did still warm—by about 1 degree Celsius, which was more than she expected. Swann determined that her simulated forests emitted a lot of water vapor, which, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation from Earth and redirects some of it downward. The vapor then caused ice to melt on land and at sea, exposing darker surfaces that absorbed yet more sunlight and grew even warmer. The new forests had set off a feedback loop, amplifying the impact of climate change. The finding hinted at the power that plants could exert over a region’s climate.
    • In a separate study, Swann turned all vegetated areas of temperate North America, Europe, and Asia into forest. Again, this exercise exaggerated something already happening in the real world: Satellite data have shown that these continents are greening as former farmland returns to forest, perhaps aided by enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide and longer growing seasons. As in the Arctic study, the new trees absorbed sunlight and warmed, adding energy to the climate system. Atmospheric currents then redistributed this energy around the planet. Droughts descended on the southern Amazon and rain fell in the Sahara. These effects were caused by a repositioning of the Hadley cell—the massive conveyor belt of air that rises from the equator, dumps its rain over the tropics, and descends again as dry air at around 30 degrees north and south latitudes, where most of the world’s deserts are. Through the influence of plants alone, the Hadley cell had shifted to the north.
  • The federal budget deficit jumped nearly 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year, the Treasury Department said: The increase appears to come in large part from a sharp decline in corporate tax revenues as a result of the tax overhaul.

10/12/2018

  • GOP shrugs off dire study warning of global warming: Few GOP lawmakers on Wednesday said they had read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, which warned that the planet would be unlivable if leaders failed to cut carbon emissions.
    • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D) said he had also not read the report or the 34-page summary for policymakers, but said that it was important to do whatever necessary to maintain a strong economy first. Conservative lawmakers have often clashed with scientists over the grave financial implications of having to scale back carbon emissions.
  • Capturing CO2 From Air: To Keep Global Warming Under 1.5°C, Emissions Must Go Negative, IPCC Says: Soil leads the solutions for negative emissions in a new climate change report. Soil carbon sequestration was among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential.
    • The way soil carbon sequestration works is well understood, explained Deborah Bossio, the lead soil scientist with the Nature Conservancy. When plants grow, photosynthesis absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and converts the carbon to a more stable form under the ground. If farmers use certain practices, such as farming without tilling the soil and leaving the ground covered for longer, more carbon gets stored in the ground.
    • The IPCC found that by 2050, soil carbon sequestration could remove between 2 and 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year, at a cost ranging from less than $0 to $100 per ton. (For comparison, technology that can capture CO2 released by the burning of biomass—known as BECCS—was estimated to be able to capture between 0.5 and 5 gigatons of carbon a year at costs ranging from $100 to $200 per ton).
    • The IPCC said it had "robust evidence" that climate-friendly farming would work. It doesn't impact water resources, or require vast amounts of land to be taken out of food production. And it is low-hanging fruit, starting at zero cost or even better because it offers side benefits, like improved soil quality and food security, even without a boost from climate policies.

10//2018

  • Peering into the Plasticene, our future of plastic and plastic waste: The challenge is undeniably enormous. Huge economic pressures continue the exponential growth curve of plastic production, with no solutions capable of dealing with the problem at scale.
    • Myers_ExponentialGrowth.png
    • There are huge economic pressures at play to continue the exponential growth curve of plastic production. There are no solutions in hand today prepared to deal with the problem at scale. Lots of small stuff, often feel-good stuff, but nothing capable individually or collectively of solving it. Recycling is simply incapable of managing this onslaught. As Jane Muncke, director of Zurich’s Food Packaging Forum (Full disclosure: I am on FPF’s board) and an expert on plastics pithily observed “recycling is the fig leaf of consumerism.” It allows us to imagine our efforts are adding up to a solution. In reality they don’t even come close.
    • In the essay “American Beauties,” writer and sociologist Rebecca Altman traces the problem of plastic to a pivotal moment: “The future of plastics is in the trash can,” the editor of Modern Packaging magazine, Lloyd Stouffer, argued in the mid-1950s to a group of industry insiders. Stouffer had advocated for the industry “to stop thinking about ‘reuse’ packages and concentrate on single use. If the plastics industry wants to drive sales, he argued, “it must teach customers how to waste” (emphasis added). Mr. Stouffer, you have created a global monster. May your descendants live in peace with its consequences. Or not. We’ve clearly learned Stouffer’s assigned lesson, abetted by the abiding cheapness of plastic. Now we have to unlearn it.
  • We Could All Use a Little Snail Mail Right Now: What the world needs now? Handwritten cards and letters.
  • Wireless Charging Is Here. So What Is It Good For?: The technology, also known as magnetic induction, is a relatively new feature for powering iPhones and popular Android phones. Most people don’t use it, but here are a few benefits.
    • There’s a trade-off, too: Wireless charging is less efficient at transferring energy than a wire, and is thus slower at refilling a battery. (Mophie said that generally, when both types of chargers were on the same wattage, wireless was about 15 percent slower.)
    • So what’s the point? Charlie Quong, vice president of product development for Mophie, said placing wireless chargers in areas where people spent a lot of time — like their bedroom, car and office — could enable them to top off their phones more frequently by removing the hassle of plugging in. The products help people “get charged throughout their day without having to deliberately park their phone down,” Mr. Quong said. “It’s really, really convenient.” [ael: my emphasis — this is what's killing us….]
  • At this rate, Earth risks sea level rise of 20 to 30 feet, historical analysis shows: New research finds that a vast area of Antarctica retreated when Earth’s temperatures weren’t much warmer than they are now.
  • Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy

10/10/2018

  • Our planet is in crisis. We don’t have time for Trump’s foolishness: Climate change is political when you deny it's happening.
    • climate change has been a slow-motion calamity whose impacts, month to month and year to year, have been hard to perceive. Unfortunately, according to the report, that is about to change. The burning of fossil fuels on an industrial scale has raised global temperatures by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like much, but look at the consequences we’re already seeing: Stronger, slower, wetter tropical storms. Unprecedented heat waves. Devastating floods. Dying coral reefs. A never-before-seen summer shipping lane across the Arctic Ocean. Meanwhile, humankind continues to pump heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a tragically self-destructive rate. The IPCC calculates that a further temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius — almost inevitable, given our dependence on coal, oil and gas — would be challenging but manageable. An increase of about 2 degrees, however, would be disastrous.
    • Please don’t dismiss all of this as just another boring compendium of carefully hedged facts and figures. I have followed the IPCC’s research since covering the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The new report strikes a different tone that combines weary fatalism with hair-on-fire alarm. In dry, just-the-facts language, it predicts declining fisheries, failing crops, more widespread risk from tropical diseases such as malaria, economic dislocation in the most-affected countries — and, by logical extension, greater political instability.
    • When you read the IPCC report, you see that what the world really needs is visionary leadership. As the world’s greatest economic power and its second-largest carbon emitter, the United States is uniquely capable of shepherding a global transition to renewable energy. Instead, the Trump administration rejects the science of climate change and actively favors dirty energy sources over clean ones. Humanity has no time for such foolishness. “I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the president of the globe,” Trump thundered at a recent rally. On what planet does he think this nation resides?
  • Barbara Kingsolver: ‘It feels as though we’re living through the end of the world'
    • It’s “hard to understand now how threatening it was”, she says of Darwin’s ideas, for human beings to be told that in fact they weren’t “put here to be in charge of the rest of the world”. Her hope in Unsheltered was to explore “paradigm shift”. “What do people do when it feels like they’re living through the end of the world as we know it? Because that’s what it seems like we’re doing right now, and almost nobody disagrees. And maybe people said that 10 years ago, but now they’re really saying ‘WTF?’”
    • Whether now or at the fall of the Roman empire, Kingsolver says: “At the end of an era, people keep grabbing harder on to the world that they know.” See what happens, as she puts it, “when you put a bunch of rats in a box.” And of course when their material shelter is under threat, people tend to seek the safety of familiar ideas. She is not surprised that “we either choose or allow men to lead us who formed their notion of what is good and how to solve problems half a century ago, in the 1950s and 60s. Look at any picture of who’s running this country. They’re all old men in suits.”
    • Clear throughout Unsheltered is a tension between self-reliance and interdependence. “That’s the dialectic,” she says, “the fundamental conflict that I think is at the heart of every single thing I write. That push-pull, that tug between the desire for individual expression, being a person who can take care of herself, and the necessity of relying on a community, all of the bonds that we don’t notice or don’t acknowledge.” It’s a theme that has preoccupied her ever since her ecology and evolutionary biology PhD on the genetics of altruism, which she abandoned after a “crisis of faith”, when, “lying in bed, counting in my mind the people on Earth who would read it, I came up with 11.”
    • She notes that things have now begun to change, both in fiction and outside it. For instance, in the US, “a surprising number of people under 30 identify as socialists, or at least don’t identify as capitalists. They see that infinite growth is science fiction. They don’t really think we can just jump over to Mars and keep building cities.” That said, she speaks of “how discouraging it has been to raise daughters who ran up against the exact same crap that I did in terms of sexual harassment, and every kind of sexism.” Even the number of young women who still take their husbands’ names disturbs her – she can’t understand why it’s still so popular to “erase yourself”.
    • To the extent that Kingsolver is an optimist, it’s because she sees that as the only practical and conscionable option. When she tells me of her visit to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef earlier this year, a treat after turning in the Unsheltered manuscript, she’s quick to correct me about the direness of the reef’s fate. “Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated,” she says, and gives me a very swift, clear account of why these particular corals with their particular microclimates can still survive, heal and adapt. “You’re hearing about everything that dies, you’re not hearing about everything that’s still alive,” she says. “If you think it’s dead already then you’re not going to be bothered. I almost think people gravitate towards ‘It’s too late,’ because then they don’t have to put themselves out.” And then, as if casually reminding me just why her fiction, that patient, painstaking evocation of worlds, makes sense as a response to an emergency, she says: “Only if you love something will you inconvenience yourself to work on its behalf.”

10/8/2018

  • Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040: A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
    • The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
    • www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
    • Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.
    • For instance, the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union and California, have enacted carbon pricing programs.
    • Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows. “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.
    • To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It also found that, by 2050, use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent. “This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report.
  • Overwhelmed by climate change? Here's what you can do: From campaigning to installing insulation and solar panels, some practical steps you can take to help avoid climate breakdown
  • Earth without People: Alan Geisman

10/5/2018

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Plastics Are Predicted to Rise: A sharp increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the petrochemical industry — which includes plastic, fertilizer and pharmaceutical companies — threatens to erode climate benefits from reductions in other sectors, according to a report being issued Friday.
    • The main driver of the petrochemical industry’s growing climate footprint, according to the report, will be plastics. Worldwide, roughly 300 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year. Plastic has become an inextricable part of modern life over the past fifty to sixty years, and some environmental groups — particularly those concerned with pollution in the oceans — have started campaigns to reduce the use of products like plastic straws, shopping bags and water bottles.
  • Why Grass-fed Livestock Does Not Offer a Significant Solution to Climate Change: Beef gets a bad press, environmentally speaking. We’re bombarded with reports highlighting its high carbon footprint accompanied by images of belching cows and devastated rainforests.
    • But is all beef bad? Some argue that beef from grass-fed cows has higher welfare, nutrition and other credentials than meat from animals – ruminants or other types – that eat intensively farmed, high-protein feeds. Many also argue that purely grass-fed cows not only produce fewer emissions than those fed soy or grain, but that they can even help absorb carbon from the atmosphere (grass uses up carbon from the air via photosynthesis). Back in October 2017 my colleagues and I undertook a study for the Food Climate Research Network to consider these claims.
    • The debate is this. Most studies conclude that if you look at the amount of land used and greenhouse gas emissions produced per kilogram of meat, pasture-based cattle have a greater climate impact than animals fed grains and soy. This is because commercial feeds tend to be less fibrous than grass, and so cows that eat them produce less methane (through belching and flatulence), which is a potent greenhouse gas. Animals in more intensive, grain-fed systems also reach slaughter weight faster than grass-fed animals do, so emissions over the animal’s entire lifetime are lower.
    • However, some academics and many within the alternative farming movement challenge these conclusions on the grounds that such studies only factor in one side of the greenhouse gas emissions equation: the animals’ emissions. Inspired by ideas such as ecologist and farmer Allan Savory’s principles of “holistic grazing management”, they argue that if you graze cattle in the right way, their nibbling and trampling actions can actually stimulate the grass to put down deep roots and actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is plausible under certain circumstances.
    • We found that well-managed grazing in some contexts – the climate, soils and management regime all have to be right – can cause some carbon to be sequestered in soils. But, the maximum global potential (using generous assumptions) would offset only 20%-60% of emissions from grazing cattle, 4%-11% of total livestock emissions, and 0.6%-1.6% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.
    • What’s more, soils being farmed using a new system of management, such as grazing, reach carbon equilibrium, where the carbon that flows into soils equal carbon flows out, within a few decades. This means that any climatic benefits from good grazing management are time-limited, while the problems of methane and other gases continue for as long as the livestock remain on the land. Moreover, a change in management or climate – or even a drought – can overturn any gains.
    • In summary, whatever the system and animal type, rising animal production and consumption is driving damaging changes in land use and associated release of greenhouse gases. The priority for now and coming years is to figure out the least bad environmental way of using land and other resources to feed ourselves and meet our other developmental goals. We need to question the common assumption that high levels of meat consumption in affluent countries, and rapidly rising demand in developing countries, are inevitable. The more that demand for meat increases, the harder it will be to tackle our climatic and other environmental challenges.
  • Climate change apathy, not denial, is the biggest threat to our planet: The easy way to cut emissions – closing coal power stations – is exhausted. Now the public has to be convinced to make sacrifices
    • The UK’s recent emissions cuts have mostly come from shutting coal power stations, which had few friends, and there aren’t many left to close. And that only happened after years of campaigning, but it was still much easier than what is to come. Cutting emissions further to stop dangerous warming will depend on people changing how they live: flying less and eating less meat and dairy, for example. There’s no way this can be done as quietly as what’s been achieved so far. Persuading people to cut down on things they enjoy for the sake of the climate might seem impossible. In most European countries, about three-quarters of the public say they’re worried about climate change, yet less than a third would accept higher taxes on fossil fuels to cut emissions.
    • But this climate apathy can be overcome if it’s tackled in the right way. The first step is to understand the psychology behind apathy. Climate change is exactly the kind of threat our minds aren’t equipped to worry about. It seems distant, happening mostly in the future and to other people. The widespread tendency to think “I’ll be OK”, known as optimism bias, makes it easier for people to assume such distant problems won’t affect them.
    • And there are more psychological barriers. Cutting emissions requires people to trust authorities to be competent, honest and fair – a tall order at a time when only a third of people say they trust government. Those authorities have to persuade the public to change how they live. But most people don’t like change, favour the status quo and are averse to losing what they have. This is compounded by the fear that others might be freeloading on our efforts. Studies confirm what we might guess: people lose motivation when they think others aren’t pulling their weight – it’s known as the sucker effect.
    • The BBC TV programme Blue Planet II transformed how we think about the impact consuming plastic has on the planet. Since its broadcast last year, we have had a tougher plastic bag tax, a ban on microbeads, calls for a latte levy on disposable cups, and supermarkets racing to scrap plastic packaging. This happened because it made us face up to the way our lives contradict our values. The show first made us fall in love with the oceans, before confronting us with what we’re doing to them: albatrosses, turtles and whales choking on the rubbish we – each of us, personally – throw away.

10/1/2018

  • Wendell Berry’s Right Kind of Farming: Agricultural choices must be made by these inescapable standards: the ecological health of the farm and the economic health of the farmer.
    • Our embrace of industrialization and “factory farming” has not resulted in greater economic security for most American farmers. The nation has suffered a historic slump in prices for corn, soybeans, milk, wheat and other commodities. It has lost half its dairy farmers in the past 18 years. And The Wall Street Journal warned in early 2017 that “the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.”
    • Mr. Berry argues that healthy forms of agriculture require intentional cultivation on the part of both consumers and farmers. Americans presume there will always be enough — money, clean soil, healthy water — to fulfill our desires. But our ravenous economic disposition goes against the very nature of our world and its finite resources. Advocates for sustainable agriculture argue that we ought to recognize the limits of our world and, as Mr. Berry writes, “live in it on its terms, not ours.”
    • Mr. Berry, as an ally of Wes Jackson of the Land Institute and others, has long argued for a 50-year Farm Bill that would rejuvenate our nation’s ecosystems while fostering long-term food security in the United States.
    • Alan Guebert was right when he said in one of his columns that this farm bill will be much like the last one insofar as it will not address the real problems of agriculture. Those problems, as you know, are soil erosion, soil degradation, the pollution of waterways by sediment and toxic chemicals, various ecological damages, the elimination of small farms, the destruction of the cultures of husbandry and the ruin of country towns and communities. And maybe we should add specifically the curse of overproduction, which at present, as often before, is the major and the cruelest problem.
    • Those problems could be summed up as the triumph of industrialism and industrial values over the lives of living creatures, and over the life of the living world. The preferences and choices of industrialism do not imply a limit of any kind. They rest instead upon the premises of limitless economic growth and limitless consumption, which of course implies limitless waste, and finally exhaustion.
    • A bill intending to help rural communities, furthermore, might forbid the large chain stores to underprice their goods in order to destroy locally owned small stores. I don’t see why the government should not enforce honest prices for the same reason that it enforces honest weights and measures. I am sure that a lot of conservatives would object loudly to such “regulation.” But for small farms and small businesses, the “free market” is not a “level playing field.”
    • Recently, for example, 100 family dairy farms have been put out of business in this region, two of them in my county, because Walmart is building its own milk-bottling plant in Indiana. And so 100 self-employed, self-supporting, self-respecting farm families are being severely damaged or destroyed in order to increase the wealth of a family already far too rich. I am unsure what the farmers themselves have concluded, but I can conclude only what I already knew: They have no friends among the conservatives and libertarians. And if the Democrats and the liberals were to capture the government, those small farmers would find no friends among them, as they now are.
    • Both of the political sides, so far as I am concerned, have to accept responsibility for the emergence of Donald Trump, the autonomous man, the self-made man, economically “free” and sexually liberated, responsible only to himself, starting from scratch and inventing his own way of doing things. To get outside the trajectory that produced Trump, we will have to go back to tradition. I am unsure when we began to think of, for instance, the 15th Psalm and Jesus’s law of neighborly love as optional. They are not optional, as I think the Amish example proves, and as proved by present failure.
    • Berry: That smart people are “too smart” to farm is one of the set of clichés by which industrial agriculture has maintained itself. Another is that farming is “drudgery” or “mind-numbing work.” Another is that ex-farmers have been “liberated” from their hard, narrow, and depressing lives. These clichés are sustained by the “larger cultural prejudice against manual labor,” which you mention. But there also are active prejudices against farmers, country people, the country, small-town people and small towns. This at least begins the description of a large cultural problem. Because of such prejudices, and also because of economic adversity, farmers encourage their children to leave farming. Their departing children, so few of them as they now are, amount to an invaluable cultural and economic resource, to which our present economy attaches no value at all.
    • What can we do about this? First, those of us who care must keep trying to bring about improvements, which we can do, and are doing, locally — where, in any event, the improvements will have to be made. Second, we have got to be patient. That this is a cultural problem means that it can’t be simply or quickly solved. What you speak of as a “passion for farming” can grow only from an understanding of the intelligence and the learning involved in the right kind of farming, and we should add an understanding of the better cultures of husbandry and of the traditional agrarian values. These things we must try to keep alive, not because of their “potential value” but because they are now and forever right.
  • A warming Earth might eventually copy the greenhouse effect of Venus: Modelling finds the precious equilibrium between temperature and radiation breaks down beyond a certain point, spelling big trouble. Alan Duffy reports.
    • Anyone familiar with a cooker knows that the hotter it gets the more heat it radiates. So too with the Earth. Remarkably for such a complex system, however, the heat radiating from the planet is in linear relation with the temperature increase of its surface – a mysteriously simple arrangement known to scientists since the 1950s. Now, climate models published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, calculated by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), have revealed why this linear relation holds – and when it may break down to the detriment of all life.
    • Koll calculated that for Earth the runaway temperature threshold was at 340 °K (67 °C) – thankfully far beyond the current average surface temperature of about 285 °K (12 °C). Such dramatic temperature rises could only be possible through cataclysmic events, such as increasing solar outputs over billions of years of the sun’s evolution. The EAPS work suggests that the more modest, yet still dangerous, climate change-inducing temperature rises the existing model predicts for Earth will see the linear relation hold true. So, while Earth won’t go the way of Venus any time soon, a warming planet still means a hotter world despite the increasing heat escaping into space.
  • Climate change panel vets landmark global warming report: Scientists fear potential Trump administration obstruction as top climate change body finalizes a major report of future global warming scenarios and ways to mitigate impacts.

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