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Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

Trust in science has become increasingly partisan

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It is difficult for people to trust what they do not understand, and Republicans, with their rejection of education and embrace of ignorance, do not understand science much at all, plus their leaders fervently advocate a distrust of science. And to exacerbate the problem, those who do understand the science fail to understand how to communicate effectively. The result is shown in the graph above, taken from an interesting article by Monica Potts in FiveThirtyEight, which begins:

By September 2021, the scientists and staffers at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had gathered enough data to know that the trees in its green-tree reservoirs — a type of hardwood wetland ecosystem — were dying. At Hurricane Lake, a wildlife management area of 17,000 acres, the level of severe illness and death in the timber population was up to 42 percent, especially for certain species of oak, according to a 2014 forest-health assessment. The future of another green-tree reservoir, Bayou Meto, more than 33,000 acres, would look the same if they didn’t act quickly.

There were a lot of reasons the trees were dying, but it was also partly the commission’s fault. Long ago, the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers and their tributaries would have flooded the bayous naturally, filling bottomland forests during the winter months when the trees were dormant and allowing new saplings to grow after the waters receded in the spring. Widespread European settlement and agriculture largely halted the natural flooding, but in the 1950s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began buying bottomland forests for preservation, which it then flooded with a system of levees and other tools.

This made the forests an ideal winter stop for ducks to eat and rest on their annual migration south. Arkansas is a magnet for duck hunters, and the state has issued more than 100,000 permits for duck hunters from Arkansas and out of state for every year since 2014. But it turned out the commission was flooding the reservoirs too early and at levels too high, which was damaging the trees. The ducks that arrive in Arkansas especially love eating the acorns from a certain species of oak — and those oaks are now dying.

Austin Booth, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, knew that convincing the state’s duck hunters and businesses that there was a serious problem would be tricky. Part of the solution the commission planned to propose to save the trees involved delaying the annual fall flooding, which could mean less habitat for the ducks, fewer ducks stopping in the area and more duck hunters crowded into smaller spaces fighting over targets.

And all the duck hunters would have their own ideas about who to blame for the problem and what the solution should be.

Last September, Booth gave a brief speech that was streamed live on YouTube, outlining the problem. He announced a series of public meetings to begin in the following months. Booth told me that when he began to plan those meetings, he thought of all the government meetings and town halls he’d attended after years working in politics. “I wanted to ratchet down some of the intensity that happens when a government official stands up on a stage and talks down to people,” he said.

Instead, he decided the meetings would be dinners where the Game and Fish staff would eat alongside the people they sought to convince. “I just believe there’s a human component to sitting down and having a meal with someone,” he said. At those dinners, he’d give a brief introduction, then invite people to ask questions of the staff as they ate and mingled. 

At the end of the dinners, Booth said he’d stand up again and ask, “Is there anyone that’s going to walk through that door tonight without their questions answered or comments taken for the record, or with their concerns ignored?” No one, he said, came forward. The four dinners were attended by between 50 and 100 people, according to Booth, but those attendees then spread the word, dampening criticism of the new management system.

What’s interesting about this dinner program is that it began during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also required effective science communication to convince the public to accept changes, major and minor, to their lives. Even before this pandemic, there’s been a long history of resistance to public health measures and new vaccines, and many researchers suspected that could likely be the case with COVID-19 as well. The social scientists who study these issues might have counseled an approach like that employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, using local messengers who had relationships with the communities in question and who could communicate in less intimidating ways.

But the U.S. did not do that with COVID-19. Instead, rapidly changing information came from only a few sources, usually at the national level and seemingly without much strategy. And as such, many places have seen widespread resistance to public health interventions, like wearing masks and getting the vaccine. 

The intensely local, personal way that Arkansas Game and Fish approached this challenge is difficult, time-consuming and perhaps not always the most practical. But it shows the kind of intensity it takes to communicate an urgent problem, and may provide lessons for how to approach the next big problems — whether that’s another pandemic, an ecological disaster or something bigger and more existential, like climate change.

Before the pandemic, Matthew Motta, a political science professor at Oklahoma State University, and his colleagues Timothy Callaghan, Steven Sylvester, Kristin Lunz Trujillo and Christine Crudo Blackburn studied parents’ hesitancy about giving their kids routine vaccinations, like those for measles, mumps and rubella. Reasons varied, and the most prominent was conspiratorial thinking.1 Some parents who delayed their children’s vaccines also held strong ideas about . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2022 at 9:42 am

If everyone observed Meatless Monday, deforestation would be cut by 50%

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That’s according to an article in Nature by Giorgia Guglielmi:

Replacing just 20% of global beef consumption with a meat substitute within the next 30 years could halve deforestation and the carbon emissions associated with it, finds a modelling study.

The findings, published in Nature on 4 May1, come one month after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity is nowhere near on track to limit global warming to 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Beef farming is a top driver of deforestation worldwide, and cattle raised for beef are a major source of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Replacing beef with meat alternatives could reduce some of the food production’s environmental footprint, but it won’t solve the climate crisis, says study lead author Florian Humpenöder, a sustainability scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “It should not be seen as a silver bullet,” he says.

Previous research has shown that replacing beef with a meatless alternative called mycoprotein can have beneficial effects on the environment. Produced in steel tanks by fermenting a soil-dwelling fungus with glucose and other nutrients as a food source, mycoprotein is a meat substitute that made its debut in the United Kingdom in the 1980s under the brand name Quorn and is now readily available in many countries.

Humpenöder and his colleagues are the first to estimate the environmental effects of partially replacing beef with mycoprotein over time, says Franziska Gaupp, who studies food systems at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Previous analyses didn’t take into account changes in population growth, food demand and other socio-economic factors.

The team used a mathematical model that considered . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2022 at 6:49 pm

Wind and solar vs. Coal and gas

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2022 at 6:30 am

Target’s First Net Zero Energy Store

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Actually, the report says the store is net negative energy: it generates more energy than it uses. The report (on Target’s corporate website) begins:

When you stand at the entrance of our Vista, California, store, it looks like any other Target store.

But underneath that iconic Target exterior is a complex system of electrical, plumbing, solar and more that makes it one of a kind — and our most sustainable store yet. On its own, the store will generate more renewable energy than needed each year to power its operations. It’s Target’s first net zero energy store, and a powerful example of our Target Forward strategy in action as we work toward our commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. It serves as a testing site for sustainability-minded innovations, providing learnings that will help inform future store designs.

How’d we get here? Let’s go behind the scenes with the team that brought it all to life.

A dream come true

In Tim Haag’s 24 years at Target as an electrical designer, he’s spent the last five of them dreaming about one thing: carports.

“For years, I’ve been thinking: I can’t wait to build a canopy with solar on top,” says Tim. “My work has focused on Target’s solar installations, and I could see the potential of carports as another energy source for us. And as an electrical engineer, building a solar carport canopy seemed like a fun challenge — I wanted to dig in and understand how they could work.”

Known as the “Solar King” by a few fellow team members, Tim has put his stamp of approval on nearly every solar installation at Target (now numbering in the 500s). So, when his colleague Rachel Swanson was first tasked with coming up with a site and concept for Target’s first net zero energy store — and with a vision for a solar carport at the top of her list — Tim was already on speed dial.

“When it comes to solar, Tim is truly the technical expert behind the scenes to make sure we can pull it off,” says Rachel, lead solar program manager, Target. “And at first, this started as a pure solar project — we knew we needed all of that energy to get to net zero energy. Over time, as the idea got some traction, other teams and experts started jumping in, saying, ‘What if we could do this?’”

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Alongside its new carports, the store includes features like . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2022 at 2:05 pm

Koch brothers launch new misinformation campaign against electric cars

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Rebecca Solnit has an interesting post on Facebook, and she also links to a good article. Here’s her post:

So yesterday I had a post about climate change and fossil fuel (I have a lot of them, as you might have noticed) and someone got all over me about minerals for batteries, and I’ve heard a lot about that side of things so I looked it up. Just as I expected, the Koch Brothers have pushed that viewpoint. Earlier campaigns by the fossil fuel industry tried to turn people against wind turbines. In every case, the harm done by fossil fuels to the environment and human rights is far vaster than that done by renewables.

There are indeed problematic sources of materials and problematic siting of wind turbines and solar plants, but there are ways to do these things right and we must do them to escape the calamity of climate change that so outweighs them. And in many cases, there are less problematic sources of materials, design evolution to use less problematic materials, etc. But people spout their stuff like bosses (and inspired my “yes but” micro-essay earlier today). And yeah, every new energy technology is dynamic–being improved or evolving thanks to brlliant engineers, and they are working hard on all this stuff. From the article (and there’s more in the article):

. . . As you would expect, their “education” is full of misinformation.

Their latest propaganda effort against EVs focuses on sourcing metals for batteries and spreading misinformation about EVs in general. 

The first claim they make [in their video] is that “electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars.” They based that assertion on a study by Arthur D. Little,. which has been thoroughly debunked for inflating their emission estimates by 40% by accounting for battery replacement without recycling and adding the need for a replacement gasoline car with the EV.

They followed with a claim that batteries for electric cars are made of rare earth metals, which is not exactly true. First off, they include lithium and cobalt in rare earth element, which they are not.
Furthermore, there are tons of different battery chemistries using different minerals and they are not all the same nor have the same impact. Most battery makers try to avoid all rare earth metals, some do avoid them entirely.

In this case, they are focusing on cobalt, which is not a rare earth metal, but nonetheless, it can be a problematic mineral. A report by Amnesty International and Afrewatch published last year pointed directly to battery makers and their clients as fueling the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they produced most of the world’s cobalt.

In order to mitigate the impact of their products, companies have been following guidelines suggested in the report to supervise their supply chains in order to avoid any minerals in the DRC that could have been sourced in inhumane conditions and using child labor.

Furthermore, several new projects to mine cobalt, and other minerals found in batteries, have been launched in other parts of the world, including in North America, in order to offer alternatives to the DRC if the conditions don’t improve there.

Lastly, without sourcing their claim, the “Fueling U.S. Forward” campaign claims that batteries end up in landfills without being recycled. That’s something that is obviously false and actually one of the biggest advantages EVs have over gas-powered cars on the environment.

Once the oil is extracted, refined, transported, and consumed, there’s nothing to be done. It is released into the atmosphere and they have to start again. On the other hand, the minerals don’t simply evaporate from the batteries. Once their energy capacity has degraded, they can be recycled and you can be sure that they are since they still hold great value. It is much easier to mine a used battery pack than minerals in remote regions of the world.

Actually, battery recycling is expected to become big business. Whether it is to make less energy dense products, like BMW and Renault using their old EV batteries for stationary energy storage, or to recycle the actual minerals to make brand new batteries. Tesla is even believed to be behind a new startup for material recycling in order to take advantage of opportunities.

In conclusion, watch out for the misinformation in those Koch brothers-backed campaigns. While there are problems with sourcing some minerals for batteries, it is false to reach the conclusion that “electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars” because of it.

See also this explainer on battery technology options.

Update 3/16/2022: FWIW, the Koch brothers are still doing business in and with Russia

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2022 at 5:01 pm

How Fossil-Fuel Companies Are Stonewalling Sarah Bloom Raskin’s Nomination to the Fed

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At a certain point, greed combined with power and a lack of conscience or moral compass becomes evil. Certain corporations (examples: Boeing, Purdue Pharma, cigarette companies, companies that treat migrant workers as slave labor, and fossil-fuel companies) have long since passed that point. Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:

As the American economy faces market turmoil fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the highest inflation rate in forty years, and continuing damage from the covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve System’s board of governors has become a ghost ship. There are multiple vacancies on the panel, and its chairman, Jerome Powell, is awaiting Senate confirmation to a second four-year term. Last month, instead of voting on the confirmation of President Biden’s slate of five nominees to run the world’s most powerful central bank, the Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee staged a boycott.

The G.O.P.’s parliamentary maneuver was an almost unheard of act of obstruction. Its aim was to deprive the Senate committee, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, of the quorum necessary for a vote on Biden’s nominees to take place. The Republicans’ goal was to block a single nominee: Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s pick for vice-chair for supervision. Had they met to vote as scheduled, her nomination would likely have survived a party-line tie, which under the Senate’s current rules would have advanced it to the Senate floor for the full body’s consideration. Instead, after the twelve Republicans on the committee failed to show up, the meeting adjourned, and the Senate soon after went into recess. This left not just Bloom Raskin but all five of Biden’s top nominees for the Fed in limbo, including Powell.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Biden demanded that the panel confirm his nominees to the Federal Reserve, which, he said, “plays a critical role in fighting inflation.” The Senate Banking Committee’s chairman, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, told me that he plans to bring Bloom Raskin’s nomination back up for a committee vote as soon as possible, but so far one hasn’t been scheduled. “We just want them to show up for work,” he said of his Republican colleagues. “In the midst of an attack, the Russians attacking Ukraine… they’re saying we’re not going to confirm the chair of the Federal Reserve, the vice-chair of supervision, the vice-chair of the Fed, and the other two governors.” He added, “We can’t run the Senate this way.”

A boycott to stop a vote is extraordinary under any circumstances, but experts said they were stunned, given the magnitude of the country’s current economic challenges. “It’s an enormous dereliction of duty,” Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, told me. Stiglitz, a progressive professor at Columbia University who has advised Democratic presidents, stressed that “the Federal Reserve is the most important economic institution in the U.S., and the U.S. is the most important economy in the world. To leave this many vacancies is just mind boggling to the rest of the world. It is just amazingly irresponsible.”

Democrats say the situation is all the more confounding because Bloom Raskin is far from an unvetted or untested nominee. A graduate of Harvard Law School and a professor of law at Duke University, she served a term on the Fed’s board of governors from 2010 to 2014, to which she was confirmed with unanimous bipartisan support. She also served as Deputy Treasury Secretary during the Obama Administration, from 2014 to 2017, which made her the highest-ranking woman in the department’s history at the time. In addition, she is a financial regulator who has become an expert in cyber security, which would be useful at a moment when potential Russian cyber attacks pose a threat.

Perhaps because she is married to Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, a progressive firebrand who represents an area that conservatives have derisively referred to as “The Peoples’ Republic of Takoma Park, Maryland,” opponents have caricatured her as a wild-eyed radical. Yet her credentials and her record in office are consistent with other financial regulators in the U.S., including Powell himself. And she has received scant opposition from the banking community, over which she would become the highest-ranking federal overseer if confirmed.

So what, exactly, is the problem? In Stiglitz’s view, “It’s very simple: special interests.” In speeches and op-ed pieces, Bloom Raskin has described climate change as a potential threat to global economic security. Moreover, she’s personally expressed the view that the Fed should have resisted pressure from climate-polluting fossil-fuel companies who wanted pandemic-related bailouts, and instead encouraged a shift to renewable energy sources. Earlier this week, a report
from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that intensifying heat waves, droughts, and floods will affect billions of people, as well as animals and plants, across huge swaths of the planet. Yet Democrats say America’s fossil-fuel industry sees Bloom Raskin as a threat and is distorting her record in order to block her confirmation.

The fossil-fuel industry would have seemingly little say over who runs the Federal Reserve, but it has donated generously to the campaigns of all twelve Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee. According to OpenSecrets, the nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, the industry has contributed more than eight million dollars to the collective campaigns of the dozen senators. The industry appears to be using this leverage to send a message that it will not tolerate the Fed, or any other financial regulators, treating climate change as a potential systemic economic risk.

In the Senate, one of the leaders of the opposition to Bloom Raskin has been the banking committee’s ranking Republican, Patrick Toomey, of Pennsylvania. He is the former president of the ultra-conservative Club For Growth, which in 2017 applauded Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and promised to punish any Republican in 2020 who supported a modest House Republican climate plan. Toomey has expressed doubt in the past about whether human activity is to blame for climate change and has deep financial ties to the fossil-fuel industry. In campaigns for the House and Senate stretching back over the last two decades, he has received $1,071,547 from the industry, which has a major presence in his state. Between 2011 and 2016, Toomey took in $587,147. Toomey’s spokesperson, Amanda Gonzalez Thompson, denied that fossil-fuel companies had bought the senator’s support. “It’s the laziest insult in politics to claim someone who disagrees with your policy preferences is only motivated by campaign donations,” Gonzalez Thompson said in an e-mail. “In this instance, it’s lazy and pathetic since Senator Toomey isn’t even running for re-election.” Toomey, who is sixty, has not said what future employment plans he may have.

Gonzalez Thompson said that Bloom Raskin’s views on climate change accounted for his opposition to her nomination, but she claimed that this had nothing to do with Toomey’s boycott of the confirmation vote. She said it was, instead, because Bloom Raskin has failed to answer questions from him and other G.O.P. members to their satisfaction. Republicans have insinuated that, as a member of the board of directors of a state-chartered trust company called Reserve Trust, Bloom Raskin improperly intervened sometime in 2017 to get preferential treatment from the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. Bloom Raskin has disclosed to the Office of Government Ethics that she sold her stock in the company in 2020 for $1.5 million. The Kansas Fed and a former chairman of Reserve Trust have denied any improper behavior, and Bloom Raskin has answered over a hundred questions posed by Toomey. Bloom Raskin declined to comment.

Chris Meagher, a White House spokesman, dismissed the charges as having been “conclusively debunked” and called the accusations “an unprecedented, baseless campaign that seeks to tarnish her distinguished career.” He said of Toomey, “Instead of simply voting no, as he has already made clear he intends to do, Toomey instead is holding up the confirmation of Chair Powell and the entire slate for the Federal Reserve at a moment when it’s never been more important to have leadership in place to ensure stable prices and maintain our strong economic recovery.”

The real cause of the boycott, Democrats say, is the G.O.P.’s fealty to oil, gas, and coal interests. “The Republicans are always at the beck and call of their fossil-fuel contributors,” Brown told me in a phone interview. “They’re on lifetime lease to the fossil-fuel industry. But this,” he said, referring to the Bloom Raskin nomination, “has been one of the most obvious examples of it.”

In reality, the Fed has little if any authority over environmental policy. Its mandate is to try to insure economic stability and full employment. But Bloom Raskin would become the central bank’s vice-chair for supervision, a powerful new position that was created after regulators disregarded the reckless lending that led to the 2008 economic crash. Its explicit role is to assess long-range, systemic economic risks. What the oil, gas, and coal producers oppose is the possibility that Bloom Raskin might push for the Fed to identify climate change as one such risk. If the Fed did so, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Watchdog groups said that the potential derailing of Bloom Raskin’s nomination sets a dangerous precedent. “What you have are extreme elements of the industry, ones that are in financial trouble and have sought federal bailouts in the past that are trying to kill this nomination,” said David Arkush, a managing director of Public Citizen. “It’s a risky sector to lend to, and they want regulators that actively push banks to loan to them.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2022 at 4:24 pm

‘Word salad of nonsense’: scientists denounce Jordan Peterson’s comments on climate models

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Graham Readfearn writes in the Guardian:

Leading climate scientists have ridiculed and criticised comments made by controversial Canadian psychologist and author Jordan Peterson during an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

During a new four-hour interview on Spotify’s most popular podcast, Peterson – who is not an expert on climate change – claimed that models used to forecast the future state of the climate couldn’t be relied on.

Peterson told Rogan that because the climate was so complex, it couldn’t be accurately modelled.

He said: “Another problem that bedevils climate modelling, too, which is that as you stretch out the models across time, the errors increase radically. And so maybe you can predict out a week or three weeks or a month or a year, but the farther out you predict, the more your model is in error.

“And that’s a huge problem when you’re trying to model over 100 years because the errors compound just like interest.”

Peterson said that if the climate was “about everything” then “your models aren’t right” because they couldn’t include everything.

But climate scientists have described Peterson’s comments as “stunningly ignorant” and said he had fundamentally misunderstood the concept of climate modelling.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales Canberra, said Peterson’s description of how climate models work was fundamentally wrong. While weather forecasts do become less accurate the further out they go, this was a different process to climate modelling.

“He seems to think we model the future climate the same way we do the weather. He sounds intelligent, but he’s completely wrong.

“He has no frickin’ idea,” she said.

The backlash from scientists comes as Spotify removes the music of veteran songwriter Neil Young after the singer issued an ultimatum to the company.

Young was furious at what he described as “misinformation” spread on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast about the Covid-19 pandemic. Rogan’s show has previously aired claims by a different guest that hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely diagnose deaths as having been caused by Covid-19 and that world leaders had hypnotised the public into supporting vaccines.

“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young wrote in a letter to his management.

According to Spotify, which paid US$100m for exclusive rights to Rogan’s podcast in 2020, the platform has 381 million users and 172 million subscribers. Rogan tops the platform’s podcast charts in the UK, USA and Australia.

Dr Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller and senior adviser at Nasa, said on Twitter: “Guys, for the love of everything holy, please, please, have somebody on who knows what the heck a climate model is!!!”

Schmidt told the Guardian he was reminded of a quote from the famous British statistician George Box.

“Peterson has managed to absorb the first part of George Box’s famous dictum that ‘all models are wrong’ but appears to have not worked out the second part ‘but some are useful’,” Schmidt said. . . .

Continue reading. Jordan Peterson is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, supremely confident in subjects of which he is totally ignorant because he is too ignorant to understand how little he knows. He should learn when to speak and when to keep his mouth shut. The same applies to Joe Rogan. They both exemplify a toxic (and noxious) combination of ignorance, arrogance, and narcissism.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 2:10 pm

This may make you feel better about the state of the planet

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A satellite view of the Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois.

About 100 miles west of Chicago, Illinois, a tallgrass prairie teems with life. Here in this 3,800-acre piece of land, you can walk among brightly colored fields of wildflowers, hear the song of cerulean warblers and the hoot of short-eared owls, and, if you’re lucky, glimpse rare box turtles.

It wasn’t always this way. Over the past two centuries, the Prairie State lost all but about 0.01 percent of its original prairie. This particular region, now known as the Nachusa Grasslands, was covered in part by neat rows of corn and soy, and that left little habitat for monarch butterflies, bison, or any of the thousands of plants and animals that depend on prairie ecosystems.

That started to change in the 1980s, when a crew of volunteers and scientists began reviving the land — planting seeds, carrying out controlled burns, and reintroducing native species. The ecosystem bounced back, and today, the Nachusa Grasslands are home to 180 species of native birds, more than 700 species of plants, and a small herd of bison.

In an age of extinction and climate change, you don’t often hear this kind of success story. Yet the Nachusa Grasslands of the world can help people find hope that the Earth isn’t doomed.

Last summer, Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich, launched Restor, a mapping tool that shows where in the world people are doing this sort of restoring or conserving of ecosystems. Think of it as the “nature is healing” meme from the early pandemic, but serious.

We should be angry about climate change and the destruction of ecosystems, Crowther told Vox. “But without optimism, that outrage goes nowhere,” he said. Examples of people restoring land give us all something to root for, and now there’s a spot to find a whole bunch of them — tens of thousands, actually.

Restor joins a trove of new environmental initiatives that focus on ecological “wins.” Last summer, for example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which oversees the official “red list” of threatened species — came up with a new set of standards to measure the recovery of species, like the California condor. Perhaps it’s a sign that people want to look beyond what we have to lose, especially when there’s so much to gain.

Where nature is really healing

There are more than 76,000 examples of restoration on Restor. In a former cattle ranch in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, for example, a nonprofit planted trees to revive an ecosystem that’s now home to more than 170 species of birds. In the Tanzanian savanna, members of local villages have helped restore acacia woodlands, which provide fuelwood and timber, as well as habitat for hyenas, jackals, and other animals. (You can find several other inspiring examples here.) Restor is an open platform, so anyone can upload their own project if it involves conserving land, Crowther said.

“We’ve never known where all the conservation and restoration is happening on our planet,” Crowther said. “It’s the first time we can begin to visualize a global restoration movement.”

Restor’s aim to map restoration sites worldwide is “excellent,” but it comes with some limitations, said Karen Holl, a restoration expert at the University of California Santa Cruz who sits on Restor’s science advisory council. For one,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:50 pm

Don’t choose extinction

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Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:09 pm

The Great Siberian Thaw

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I do wish the New Yorker offered a gift-link option, but they don’t. Still, this report is worth pointing out because it is clearly “mene mene tekel upsharsin” message for our current civilization and society. Joshua Yaffa reports:

Flying over Yakutia, in northeastern Russia, I watched the dark shades of the boreal forest blend with patches of soft, lightly colored grass. I was strapped to a hard metal seat inside the cabin of an Antonov-2, a single-­engine biplane, known in the Soviet era as a kukuruznik, or corn-crop duster. The plane rumbled upward, climbing above a horizon of larch and pine, and lakes the color of mud. It was impossible to tell through the Antonov’s dusty porthole, but below me the ground was breathing, or, rather, exhaling.

Three million years ago, as continent-­size glaciers pulsed down from the poles, temperatures in Siberia plunged to minus eighty degrees Fahrenheit and vast stretches of soil froze underground. As the planet cycled between glacial and interglacial periods, much of that frozen ground thawed, only to freeze again, dozens of times. Around eleven and a half millennia ago, the last ice age gave way to the current interglacial period, and temperatures began to rise. The soil that remained frozen year-round came to be known as permafrost. It now lies beneath nine million square miles of Earth’s surface, a quarter of the landmass of the Northern Hemisphere. Russia has the world’s largest share: two-thirds of the country’s territory sits on permafrost.

In Yakutia, where the permafrost can be nearly a mile deep, annual temperatures have risen by more than two degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, twice the global average. As the air gets hotter, so does the soil. Deforestation and wildfire—both acute problems in Yakutia—remove the protective top layer of vegetation and raise temperatures underground even more.

Over thousands of years, the frozen earth swallowed up all manner of organic material, from tree stumps to woolly mammoths. As the permafrost thaws, microbes in the soil awaken and begin to feast on the defrosting biomass. It’s a funky, organic process, akin to unplugging your freezer and leaving the door open, only to return a day later to see that the chicken breasts in the back have begun to rot. In the case of permafrost, this microbial digestion releases a constant belch of carbon dioxide and methane. Scientific models suggest that the permafrost contains one and a half trillion tons of carbon, twice as much as is currently held in Earth’s atmosphere.

Trofim Maximov, a scientist who studies permafrost’s contribution to climate change, was seated next to me in the Antonov, shouting directions to the pilot in the cockpit. Once a month, Maximov charters the plane in order to measure the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above Yakutia. He described the thawing permafrost as a kind of feedback loop: the release of greenhouse gases causes warmer temperatures, which, in turn, melt the permafrost further. “It’s a natural process,” he told me. “Which means that, unlike purely anthropogenic processes”—say, emissions from factories or automobiles—“once it starts, you can’t really stop it.”

A hose attached to the plane’s wing sucked air into a dozen glass cylinders arrayed on the floor of the cabin. By comparing the greenhouse-gas numbers over time, and at various altitudes, Maximov can estimate how permafrost is both affected by a warmer climate and contributing to it. When he started taking airborne measurements, half a decade ago, he found that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air above Yakutia was increasing at double the rate of historical averages. Methane has a shorter life in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it is more than twenty-­five times as effective at trapping heat. According to Maximov’s data, methane is also being released at an accelerated rate: it is now accumulating fifty per cent faster than it was a generation ago.

At the moment, though, I was mainly concerned with the stomach-turning lurches the plane was making as it descended in a tight spiral. We had dropped to a few hundred feet above the ground so that Maximov’s colleague, a thirty-three-year-old researcher named Roman Petrov, could take the final sample, a low-altitude carbon snapshot. The plane shook like a souped-up go-kart. Petrov held his stomach and buried his face in a plastic bag. Then I did the same. When we finally landed, on a grass-covered airstrip, I staggered out of the cabin, still queasy. Maximov poured some Cognac into a plastic cup. A long sip later, I found that the spinning in my head had slowed, and the ground under me again took on the feeling of reassuring firmness—even though, as I knew, what seemed like terra firma was closer to a big squishy piece of rotting chicken.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as the Russian Empire expanded eastward, reports filtered back to the capital of a “firm body of ice” in the ground, in the words of one explorer, that “was never heard of before.” In Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, early settlers struggled to grow crops and find sources of fresh groundwater. In the summer of 1827, a merchant named Fedor Shergin, whom the tsar had dispatched to Yakutia as a representative of the Russian-­American Company, tried to dig a well. Shergin’s team of laborers spent the next decade chiselling a shaft, reaching three hundred feet down, only to find yet more frozen earth. Finally, in 1844, Alexander von Middendorff, a prominent scientist and explorer, made his way from St. Petersburg to Yakutsk and estimated, correctly, that the soil under the shaft was frozen to a depth of at least six hundred feet. His findings jolted the Russian scientific academy, and eventually reached the salons of Europe.

Today, the entrance to Shergin’s shaft, as it is known, is housed in a log cabin in the center of Yakutsk, wedged between a concrete apartment block and the burned-out shell of a former military academy. One afternoon last summer, I visited the site with Yuri Murzin, a scientist from the Melnikov Permafrost Institute, based in Yakutsk. “The study of permafrost began here,” he said. “Before Shergin’s shaft, practically no one outside of Yakutia had any idea such a thing existed.” Murzin and I wanted to have a look inside the shaft, which required lifting a series of heavy wooden lids. A column of cold air rushed upward. I looked down but saw only a wall of black. A musty aroma of dirt and ice wafted into the cabin. “It smells of antiquity, of time gone by,” Murzin said. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

But it was Zimov’s ideas on permafrost that had brought him scientific renown. In the early nineties, he was among the first to come to several related realizations: permafrost holds immense quantities of carbon; much of that carbon is released as methane from thermokarst lakes (the presence of water and the absence of oxygen produce methane, as opposed to carbon dioxide, which is released from upper layers of soil); and a sizable portion of those emissions comes in the fall and the winter, cold periods that Arctic scientists had previously considered unimportant from a climate perspective.

. . . Walter Anthony found methane emissions five times higher than Zimov’s initial estimate. Radiocarbon dating showed that the gas was emitted from organic matter that formed between twenty and forty thousand years ago, during the Pleistocene era, indicating that permafrost thaw had reached layers that were deep and ancient. The research was published in a paper in Nature, in 2006, which immediately became a foundational text in establishing the impact of permafrost thaw on climate change.

When I was in Chersky, Zimov took me out to the lake. We walked through shrubs and felt the crunch of bright-red cloudberries under our feet. At the water’s edge, Zimov asked, “You see the bubbles?” Once I knew to look for them, they were impossible to miss. It was as if the lake were a giant cauldron on the brink of a very slow, barely perceptible boil, with a pop of air here and there. Methane.

Zimov explained that, even during Chersky’s frigid winters, temperatures under the lake’s surface remain above freezing. Unfrozen water allows microbes to keep digesting organic matter long after the surrounding landscape is covered in snow. Water also has a powerful erosion effect. “The bank is slowly thawing and collapsing, taking with it fresh pieces of permafrost into the lake,” Zimov said—more fuel for the release of methane. As Walter Anthony, who is now a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, put it to me, “Once permafrost thaws to the point where it creates depressions filled with water, the thaw starts to go deep and fast and expands laterally—you can’t really stop it.”

The mean annual temperature in Chersky has risen by three degrees Celsius in the past fifty years. An equally pressing problem is snow cover. “Snow is like a warm blanket—it doesn’t allow the wintertime cold to penetrate all the way into soil,” Zimov said. One of the effects of climate change is more precipitation in the Arctic ecosystem around Chersky. Yearly snowfall has increased by as much as twenty centimetres since the early eighties, adding two more degrees of warming effect. As a result, Zimov explained, permafrost that used to be minus seven degrees Celsius is now on the verge of thawing, if it hasn’t already.

Adecade ago, a paper about emissions from undersea permafrost led to a moment of hysteria over a so-called methane bomb in the Arctic, poised to release a devastating amount of warming gas all at once. In the years since, much of the scientific community has come to see permafrost thaw more as a slow-motion disaster. “The permafrost isn’t going to release a catastrophic explosion of carbon that would, say, double overnight the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Ted Schuur, who leads a project on permafrost thaw and climate change at the University of Northern Arizona, told me. “Instead, this carbon is going to leak out from all over the Arctic and, over time, add a substantial amount to the carbon humans have already added by burning fossil fuels.” . . .

Methane as a greenhouse gas is more than 25 times more effective than CO2 in trapping heat.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2022 at 4:05 pm

How coal holds on in America

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Cultural forces, conventions, pressures, and loyalty can result in what appears, to someone who is not a part of the culture, something that seems senseless if not outright stupid. The practice, thankfully abandoned, of footbinding in order to deform the feet, or (still practiced) female genital mutilation come to mind. Coal in North Dakota seems to be an example. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link, so no paywall):

David Saggau, the chief executive of an energy cooperative, tried to explain the losing economics of running a coal-fired power plant to a North Dakota industry group more than a year ago.

Coal Creek Station had lost $170 million in 2019 as abundant natural gas and proliferating wind projects had cut revenue far below what it cost to run the plant. After four decades sending electricity over the border to Minnesota, Coal Creek would be closing in 2022, Saggau said, and nobody was clamoring to buy it.

“We made folks aware that the plant was for sale for a dollar,” Saggau, of Great River Energy, told the Lignite Energy Council during an October 2020 virtual meeting. “We’re basically giving it away.”

A renewable future was at hand. Winds come howling over the Missouri River in the heart of North Dakota — at the site where Lewis and Clark spent their first frigid winter — and Great River Energy planned to supply wind power over Coal Creek’s valuable transmission line. NextEra Energy, EDF Renewables and other powerhouse firms were racing to lock landowners into leases to harvest some of the most powerful and sustained winds in the country.

But that new clean-energy future never materialized in this part of coal country, with a landscape that has been mined for more than a century and has the scars and sinkholes to prove it. And the sale of Coal Creek Station, which received its last major permit approval earlier this month, illuminates the United States’ halting transition to renewables. Even in places such as North Dakota, where supply and demand align with clean energy, culture and politics pose major obstacles.

In these rural North Dakota counties, local officials passed ordinances that blocked wind and solar projects. State officials rallied to save Coal Creek, and a politically connected North Dakota energy firm stepped in to prolong its life, promising someday to capture its carbon emissions and store them underground.

“I’m not just looking to prop up coal,” Stacy Tschider, the president of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp., said in July when his company announced it was buying the plant. “I’m looking to take coal to the next level.”

During the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in the fall, conference head Alok Sharma declared that “the end of coal is in sight.” More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the single-biggest source of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide emissions. The United States did not join them. Despite its rapid decline, coal still generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and has strong political backing in pockets of the country.

Charles Stroup, a local banker and land agent who supports wind power in North Dakota’s Mercer County, compared the coal industry here to a dying relative that the community is desperate to save, no matter how grim the prognosis.

“Mother doesn’t die in 10 minutes,” Stroup said. “She takes a while.”

For many here, the loss of coal remains unthinkable, and new sources of energy — no matter how promising for local residents and governments — represent a serious threat.

“If we get the word that [Coal Creek Station] is gone for sure, the best business and economic play for the lignite counties and the State is to ban any more renewables,” McLean County state’s attorney Ladd Erickson wrote in an email in 2020 to aides to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), part of a batch of documents obtained through a state public records request.

Otherwise, Erickson, an elected official who serves as prosecutor and legal adviser to the county commissioners, warned that “there will be no more coal mining because new mine areas will be all wind turbines, solar panels, and power lines.”

Homages to coal

The prospect of Coal Creek’s closing landed hard in Underwood, a city of about 800 people. The antiques shop on its . . .

Continue reading.(Gift link: no paywall)

The fate of human civilization is small potatoes compared to local politics and cultural allegiance. You can see now why the residents of Easter Island were able to chop down every palm on the island and thus destroy the forests that were the basis of the environment on which they depended. North Dakota proudly continues that tradition.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 2:54 pm

Could Small Still Be Beautiful?

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Bryce T. Bauer writes in Craftsmanship:

1. “Economics as a Form of Brain Damage”
2. The Schumacher Center for a New Economics
3. The New Economics of Land Ownership
4. The New Economics of Business Financing
5. The New Economics of Currency
6. The New Economics of Entrepreneurship
7. Challenges to the New Economy

Four decades ago, just as some of the forces that have caused today’s problems with globalization and inequality began to take hold, a British economist by the name of E.F. Schumacher took America by storm with a set of contrary ideas about how an economy should work.

Schumacher aimed squarely at supporting everyday people and the communities where they lived. For a brief period in the mid-1970s, his name enjoyed headline status — and his book, “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” joined a pantheon of powerful, call-to-action works of the time. Schumacher’s book was taken so seriously that, a few years after its publication, it was listed alongside such enduring critiques as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Paul R. Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”

While “Small Is Beautiful” hasn’t endured with quite the same power those works have enjoyed, its ideas have still seeped into the thinking of some of the nation’s latter-day acolytes of social and environmental sustainability, including Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs, and Bill McKibben. Schumacher’s work also inspired a small think-tank focused on turning the small towns and bucolic countryside of the Massachusetts Berkshires into a laboratory for further exploration of his theories.

Given how rarely Schumacher’s once-popular ideas are discussed today, one can’t help but wonder—were his perceptions all wrong? Or, as the director of the institute focused on sustaining his ideas, and as Schumacher himself also said, was their time yet to come? If the latter, might that time be now? Every day, it seems, more and more experts join the argument that the accelerating dominance of global companies — in a world struggling with income inequality, resource depletion, and the growing ravages of climate change — has put us on an unsustainable path. If that bleak outlook is correct, maybe it’s time to give Schumacher’s ideas a second look.


When “Small Is Beautiful” came out, in 1973, Schumacher had already worked for several decades as an economist. In the years after its publication, he toured the United States speaking to crowds across the country and meeting with political leaders, including an address before 50 members of Congress and a meeting with President Jimmy Carter. At the time, America was being wrenched by many of the ills he said modern economics would cause. The 1970s was a decade marked by oil and gas shocks, labor unrest and stagflation, a growing concern over the environment, and the discord of the Vietnam War. Schumacher was attuned to what it all portended. (In fact, the first use of the term “global warming” occurred just two years after Schumacher’s book was published.) Schumacher wrote “we do well to ask why it is that all these terms — pollution, environment, ecology, etc. — have so suddenly come into prominence…is this a sudden fad, a silly fashion, or perhaps a sudden failure of nerve?”

Born in Bonn, Germany, Schumacher had fled Nazi Germany to England in 1937. During the Second World War, when Great Britain began interning Germans, including Jewish refugees, Schumacher and his family moved to the countryside, where he worked on a farm until his writing caught the notice of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who launched the 20th century’s activist alternative to unfettered, free-market economics.

The core of Schumacher’s argument lay in his book’s subtitle: “Economics as if People Mattered.” For far too long, economists had approached the problem of development in a way that focused too much on goods over people, emphasizing the elimination of labor instead of job creation. He accused these experts of treating consumption as the end itself, always to be maximized.

In Schumacher’s view, the economy would not benefit from the standard methods of stimulation; if anything, it should be de-intensified. If this could be managed, Schumacher believed, it would allow time “for any piece of work — enough to make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real equality, even to make things beautiful.”

The opportunity to work this way — which is central to any artisan or tradesman, and to his or her ability to produce top-notch, innovative work — clearly has only declined further in the years since Schumacher made this observation. And if anything, his critique might be even more timely today. In a new book, “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” veteran New York Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that the growing scarcity of jobs that offer such visceral satisfactions is part of what’s plunged America’s working class into unprecedented levels of despair, drug addiction, and suicide.

To be truly helpful, Schumacher argued, development funds in poor areas should be spent on “intermediate technology” — that is, technology that’s cheap, resilient, and simple enough to be used by workers in areas that lack access to education, ready capital, and sophisticated infrastructure. Technology that’s too expensive, and too complex to be readily used in developing economies, he said, destroys “the possibilities of self-reliance.”

Whenever he traveled to speak about these ideas in the U.S., crowds met his stops — 2,000 in Chicago, 500 in Minneapolis, 200 at the Colorado School of the Mines in Golden, 600 in an overflow crowd at the Helena, Montana Civic Center — and his book was, at one point, reportedly selling 30,000 copies a month. His ideas also inspired a government “Office of Appropriate Technology” in California, where then-governor Jerry Brown introduced Schumacher during a 1977 tour of America. (That organization is still in existence, in slightly altered form in Montana, as the National Center for Appropriate Technology.) During Gov. Brown’s more idealistic days, he once said, “if you want to understand my philosophy, read this,” as he brandished a copy of “Small Is Beautiful.”

“The 60s was a generation that wanted to do things different…and there was Schumacher saying I was a conventional economist and I was mistaken,” says Susan Witt, who became the executive director and co-founder of what’s now called the E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics. “I didn’t take into account human beings. I didn’t take into account their spiritual lives. I didn’t take into account concern for the earth and I’ve had to re-think my economics. Those essays in ‘Small Is Beautiful’ touched a generation.”

One of those touched by Schumacher’s ideas was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2022 at 12:07 pm

One brief video from the Colorado urban firestorm

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Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2022 at 11:51 am

Butterfly eggs on a leaf

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The real world, separate from humans and their works, is so amazing, rich, and varied. It’s a shame that humans seem bent on destroying it.

The effect of decades of government promises and programs

In an article in Mother Jones from two years ago, in January 2020, Kevin Drum looked at the absence of any effective response to the situation. He wrote:

I’ll take a wild guess that you don’t need any convincing about the need for action on climate change. You know that since the start of the Industrial Revolution we’ve dumped more than 500 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and we’re adding about 10 billion more each year. You know that global temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius over the past century and we’re on track for 2 degrees within another few decades.

And you know what this means. It means more extreme weather. More hurricanes. More droughts. More flooding. More wildfires. More heat-related deaths. There will be more infectious disease as insects move ever farther north. The Northwest Passage will be open for much of the year. Sea levels will rise by several feet as the ice shelves of Greenland and the Antarctic melt, producing bigger storm swells and more intense flooding in low-lying areas around the world.

Some of this is already baked into our future, but to avoid the worst of it, climate experts widely agree that we need to get to net-zero carbon emissions entirely by 2050 at the latest. This is the goal of the Paris Agreement, and it’s one that every Democratic candidate for president has committed to. But how to get there?

Let’s start with the good news. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 5:44 am

“I’m a climate scientist. ‘Don’t Look Up’ captures the madness I see every day”

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Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist and author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, writes in the Guardian:

The movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.

The film, from director Adam McKay and writer David Sirota, tells the story of astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her PhD adviser, Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who discover a comet – a “planet killer” – that will impact the Earth in just over six months. The certainty of impact is 99.7%, as certain as just about anything in science.

The scientists are essentially alone with this knowledge, ignored and gaslighted by society. The panic and desperation they feel mirror the panic and desperation that many climate scientists feel. In one scene, Mindy hyperventilates in a bathroom; in another, Dibiasky, on national TV, screams “Are we not being clear? We’re all 100% for sure gonna fucking die!” I can relate. This is what it feels like to be a climate scientist today.

The two astronomers are given a 20-minute audience with the president (Meryl Streep), who is glad to hear that impact isn’t technically 100% certain. Weighing election strategy above the fate of the planet, she decides to “sit tight and assess”. Desperate, the scientists then go on a national morning show, but the TV hosts make light of their warning (which is also overshadowed by a celebrity breakup story).

By now, the imminent collision with comet Dibiasky is confirmed by scientists around the world. After political winds shift, the president initiates a mission to divert the comet, but changes her mind at the last moment when urged to do so by a billionaire donor (Mark Rylance) with his own plan to guide it to a safe landing, using unproven technology, in order to claim its precious metals. A sports magazine’s cover asks, “The end is near. Will there be a Super Bowl?”

But this isn’t a film about how humanity would respond to a planet-killing comet; it’s a film about how humanity is responding to planet-killing climate breakdown. We live in a society in which, despite extraordinarily clear, present, and worsening climate danger, more than half of Republican members of Congress still say climate change is a hoax and many more wish to block action, and in which the official Democratic party platform still enshrines massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; in which the current president ran on a promise that “nothing will fundamentally change”, and the speaker of the House dismissed even a modest climate plan as “the green dream or whatever”; in which the largest delegation to Cop26 was the fossil fuel industry, and the White House sold drilling rights to a huge tract of the Gulf of Mexico after the summit; in which world leaders say that climate is an “existential threat to humanity” while simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production; in which major newspapers still run fossil fuel ads, and climate news is routinely overshadowed by sports; in which entrepreneurs push incredibly risky tech solutions and billionaires sell the absurdist fantasy that humanity can just move to Mars.

After 15 years of working to raise climate urgency, I’ve concluded that the public in general, and world leaders in particular, underestimate how rapid, serious and permanent climate and ecological breakdown will be if humanity fails to mobilize. There may only be five years left before humanity expends the remaining “carbon budget” to stay under 1.5C of global heating at today’s emissions rates – a level of heating I am not confident will be compatible with civilization as we know it. And there may only be five years before the Amazon rainforest and a large Antarctic ice sheet pass irreversible tipping points.

The Earth system is breaking down now with breathtaking speed. And climate scientists have faced an even more insurmountable public communication task than the astronomers in Don’t Look Up, since climate destruction unfolds over decades – lightning fast as far as the planet is concerned, but glacially slow as far as the news cycle is concerned – and isn’t as immediate and visible as a comet in the sky.

Given all this, dismissing Don’t Look Up as too obvious might say more about the critic than the film. It’s funny and terrifying because . . .

Continue reading. Emphasis added.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2021 at 4:18 pm

Why “Net Zero by 2050” Is a Deadly Myth

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Once you’ve watched Don’t Look Up, you see it re-enacted everywhere in real life. Consider climate change, which is in fact already here.  J.R. Flaherty writes in Medium:

In the past few months, climate scientist Peter Kalmus wrote “Net Zero by 2050” is not a policy but “a deadly procrastination.

Net zero by 2050 was a strategy agreed by governments worldwide to decarbonize their economies. (Let’s not even mention Saudi Arabia (2060) and India’s (2070) Net Zero carbon emission targets.)

But is it only a sprinkle of sugar to make the bitter medicine palatable?

“As a climate scientist, I am terrified by what I see coming. I want world leaders to stop hiding behind magical thinking and feel the same terror. Then they would finally end fossil fuels.” — Peter Kalmus

When we talk about 2050, it’s far enough away to not worry.

Think about how many things can happen in 28 years. Think back to life in 1993. Ironically, the United Nations held the first ’Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

What we do know is there are no long-term incentives in politics. The longest political term is five years; while most world leaders will not be alive in 28 years’ time.

We are currently experiencing 1.1 degrees now. We have a target of 1.5 degrees for 2030 — in 97 months time.

Unfortunately, recent climate catastrophes show climate models seem to have underestimated the intensity of the impact of global warming by a few 0.1 degrees.

The violence of climate change is faster and more savage than they predicted, even at 1.1 degrees — let alone at the “safer” 1.5 degrees.

“”Net zero” is a phrase that represents magical thinking rooted in our society’s technology fetish.” — Peter Kalmus

Net zero is a sum based on taking out carbon emissions to what we put into the atmosphere. It should equal zero.

But policy makers are betting the house on hypothetical carbon capture technologies. They do not yet exist and if they do; they are not proven at the scale we need.

Reforestation will help, but this will have a tiny impact compared to stopping fossil fuel use.

When policymakers talk about Net Zero by 2050, they are balancing the books of carbon emissions. They work to an equation: take out carbon from the atmosphere equal to what we put into the atmosphere.

And yet, none of these hypothetical technologies have proven to work on the massive scale needed.

Stopping fossil fuels would stop more carbon going into the atmosphere.

Instead of tip-toeing around big oil, governments need to end fossil fuel subsidies. New oil and gas infrastructure halted.

According to Mark Jacobson of Stanford University’s Solutions Project, alternatives to fossil fuels already exist. Almost every country has the natural resources required to convert to renewable energy.

Otherwise, it will be us who feel the pain first.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2021 at 5:13 pm

“Don’t Look Up,” a satire for our time

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Don’t Look Up, on Netflix, is worth watching. It’s satire, so although it’s comedy, you feel a strong undercurrent of anger and bitterness. The attiudes and actions it depicts are easily observed in modern society, in the US and around the world.

The apocalyptic doom in the movie is a comet hurtling toward the Earth, whereas the actual current apocalyptic danger we face is climate change, but the situations as depicted in the movie are much like what we see around us in real life. Scientists warn of what is assuredly going to happen, with data to prove it, but people and politicians in general ignore or reject those warnings.

Businesses that make money from fossil fuels — like Koch — fight to continue the use of fossil fuels, which of course contribute mightily toward warming the planet, and politicians from fossil-fuel states (coal-mining states for Joe Manchin) fight strongly against clean-energy initiatives.

Brazil continues to mow down the Amazon rainforest to clear land for cattle. We can see that climate change  is happening — the extreme-weather events of recent years are hard to ignore — but still we keep pumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, along with other greenhouse gases like methane (between 28 and 36 times worse). We don’t look up.

And of course, just as in the movie, a substantial number do not believe that it is happening or don’t even think about it. And those with great wealth look for how they can make more money from the event.

The movie is worth seeing, since it reflects (with some comic distortion) what we face and how we respond to it. 

Although we can see climate change happening, still there’s no sense of urgency, as shown by the continued increase of atmospheric CO2. Millions deny that climate change is happening, or deny that human activity is a factor. 

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

                                         — William Butler Yeats

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2021 at 11:20 pm

Winter is coming: Researchers uncover the surprising cause of the little ice age

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I think we know that climate change will bring crop failures and famine, even if we don’t know the specific mechanisms (drought, flood, unseasonal downpours, etc.). Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst describe one possible scenario (that of course does not preclude other causes in other regions).

New research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides a novel answer to one of the persistent questions in historical climatology, environmental history and the earth sciences: what caused the Little Ice Age? The answer, we now know, is a paradox: warming.

The Little Ice Age was one of the coldest periods of the past 10,000 years, a period of cooling that was particularly pronounced in the North Atlantic region. This cold spell, whose precise timeline scholars debate, but which seems to have set in around 600 years ago, was responsible for crop failures, famines and pandemics throughout Europe, resulting in misery and death for millions. To date, the mechanisms that led to this harsh climate state have remained inconclusive. However, a new paper published recently in Science Advances gives an up-to-date picture of the events that brought about the Little Ice Age. Surprisingly, the cooling appears to have been triggered by an unusually warm episode.

When lead author Francois Lapointe, postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in geosciences at UMass Amherst and Raymond Bradley, distinguished professor in geosciences at UMass Amherst began carefully examining their 3,000-year reconstruction of North Atlantic sea surface temperatures, results of which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020, they noticed something surprising: a sudden change from very warm conditions in the late 1300s to unprecedented cold conditions in the early 1400s, only 20 years later.

Using many detailed marine records, Lapointe and Bradley discovered that there was an abnormally strong northward transfer of warm water in the late 1300s which peaked around 1380. As a result, the waters south of Greenland and the Nordic Seas became much warmer than usual. “No one has recognized this before,” notes Lapointe.

Normally, there is always a transfer of warm water from the tropics to the Arctic. It’s a well-known process called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is like a planetary conveyor belt. Typically, warm water from the tropics flows north along the coast of Northern Europe, and when it reaches higher latitudes and meets colder Arctic waters, it loses heat and becomes denser, causing the water to sink at the bottom of the ocean. This deep-water formation then flows south along the coast of North America and continues on to circulate around the world.

But in the late 1300s, AMOC strengthened significantly, which meant that far more warm water than usual was moving north, which in turn cause rapid Arctic ice loss. Over the course of a few decades in the late 1300s and 1400s, vast amounts of ice were flushed out into the North Atlantic, which not only cooled the North Atlantic waters, but also diluted their saltiness, ultimately causing AMOC to collapse. It is this collapse that then triggered a substantial cooling.

Fast-forward to our own time: between the 1960s and 1980s, we have also seen a rapid strengthening of AMOC, which has been linked with persistently high pressure in the atmosphere over Greenland. Lapointe and Bradley think the same atmospheric situation occurred just prior to the Little Ice Age — but what could have set off that persistent high-pressure event in the 1380s?

The answer, Lapointe discovered, is to be found in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2021 at 11:34 am

The Oil Industry’s War on Reality

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David Troy interviews Christine Arena.

Christine Arena is a public relations veteran, climate activist, and filmmaker based in San Francisco. For the last several years she’s been studying the funding of influence campaigns by the carbon fuel industry, looking at ways to expose and disrupt their strategies.

She and Dave discuss the history of how the oil industry has not only sought to deny climate science, but to target lawmakers and the public with influence and psychological warfare campaigns that minimize the harms caused by the industry while outright obstructing any kind of action that might stand in their way.

Christine’s current project is a grant-funded documentary, PLAYED, which outlines the influence of the oil and gas industry and proposes ways to disrupt it. She has also appeared on the podcast series DRILLED by journalist Amy Westervelt, specifically in Season 3.

For more information, check out her website at, and check out DRILLED at

Listeners may also want to check out work on Discourses of Delay:…B6212378E32985A7

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2021 at 12:48 pm

Why the Second-Driest State Rejects Water Conservation

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Mark Olalde reports in ProPublica:

With rising temperatures and two decades of drought depleting the Colorado River, some Southwestern states are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pay homeowners to tear out their lawns and farmers to fallow their fields.

But Utah, the fastest-growing and second-driest state in the nation, is pursuing a different strategy.

Steered by the state’s largest water districts, with the help of their legislative allies, Utah has prioritized the pursuit of new pipelines over large-scale conservation programs. These districts — the public entities that supply water wholesale to cities and towns — have used their influence to secure funding for the costly infrastructure projects, and they have done this while opposing or slowing efforts to mandate conservation, according to a ProPublica review of the districts’ internal communications and every water-related bill filed in the Utah Legislature over the past decade.

In 2017, for example, the water districts opposed legislation intended to more accurately convey to consumers the true cost of water on their utility bills by capping how much of the cost could be covered by property taxes. A similar measure in 2019 passed only after being stripped of limits on water districts’ ability to collect property taxes.

Then, beginning in 2018, the districts and their allies raised concerns about a series of bills to mandate meters for water used on lawns and gardens. Again, the proposals were significantly scaled back.

And in 2020, when a lawmaker wanted to require utilities to find leaks in their systems as a means of conservation, a lobbyist for the districts rewrote the bill, removing the mandates.

Meanwhile, the districts have secured the Legislature’s support for new water development projects that would cost billions of dollars, such as for a pipeline to carry Colorado River water to southwestern Utah and for dams along the Bear River in northern Utah. Without these projects, they say, the state could run short of water within a few decades.

This approach is having an impact beyond Utah’s borders. Other states that have taken sometimes painful steps to cut back on what they draw from the over-allocated Colorado River have criticized Utah for failing to do the same. Utah’s political leaders, though, remain hellbent on securing what they believe is their full share of the river that supports 40 million people, as Arizona, California and Nevada have already.

Agriculture consumes a majority of the water used in the West. But Utah farmers have been forced to take less than they have in the past, turning the spotlight to cities and towns where most water is used on landscaping. Yet in a state with suburbs full of lush lawns and tree-lined streets more reminiscent of the Midwest than the Southwest, conservation mandates are politically unpopular.

“Water politics waste more water than anything else in Utah,” said a broker who buys and sells water in the state and who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the districts.

Critics call the districts’ prediction that Utah will run out of water without new infrastructure a myth. The state would have the water it needs to continue growing, they say, if it aggressively pursued conservation.

ProPublica found some projections by the state and districts rely on faulty data and questionable cost estimates. A legislative audit uncovered a rash of errors in data on water demand and supply, the very numbers used to justify new infrastructure. And while a district representative told legislators that new projects such as pipelines would be a cheaper source of water for Utahns, their own numbers show conservation has provided water at a fraction of the cost of those projects.

“Everyone realizes that reducing water demand and increasing water conservation is the cheapest source of new water for Utah’s future,” said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, a Democrat who proposed a water conservation bill that was opposed by the districts, “but folks who are interested in developing water and building expensive pipelines don’t really want that conversation.”

Uniting as Prepare60

The influential group that controls Utah water policy is largely unknown to the public, but they’re well known to policymakers. At its core are Utah’s four largest water districts, which work alongside a loose coalition of politicians and interest groups representing cities and rural water users.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2021 at 6:56 pm

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