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Top Interior official who pushed to expand drilling in Alaska to join oil company there

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Seems an obvious quid pro quo. Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report in the Washington Post:

Last summer, Scott Pruitt left his job heading the Environmental Protection Agency and within a few months had started consulting for coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Three weeks after leaving the Interior Department, energy counselor Vincent DeVito joined Cox Oil Offshore, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico, as its executive vice president and general counsel. Now, Joe Balash — who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday — is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope.

Balash, who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management for nearly two years, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday night that he will begin working for the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of Alaska’s largest oil prospects in years. On Wednesday, Oil Search officials said he would become senior vice president for external affairs in the company’s Alaska operations.

The company is drilling on state lands that lie outside — but nearby — two federal reserves where the Trump administration is pushing to increase oil and gas development: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. During his time at Interior, Balash oversaw the department’s preparations to hold lease sales on the coastal plain of the 19.3 million-acre refuge and to expand drilling on the 22.8 million-acre reserve to the west of the refuge. Both sites are home to large numbers of migratory birds as well as caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.

Balash said that even though in his new role he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.

“I’ll supervise those who do,” he said, referring to Oil Search staffers with business before the federal government, “but I have a ton of restrictions dealing with the Department of Interior. Most of Oil Search’s properties are state lands. There isn’t really the federal nexus.”

Nonetheless, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Interior’s ethics official Wednesday asking that the department provide copies of all ethics filings made by Balash and any notifications of his negotiations for future employment or compensation.

Udall is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

“I believe the public has a compelling interest in knowing whether the necessary steps were taken to address this potential conflict of interest,” Udall wrote.

Oil Search, along with its partner Repsol, has been expanding aggressively in Alaska, where it says it has acquired leases with more than 700 million barrels of crude reserves. In May, the company received the go-ahead from the Army Corps of Engineers, and it plans to ramp up production operations this year and over the winter.

Balash noted that Interior “was not even a cooperating agency” in the decision to grant Oil Search the recent permit under the Clean Water Act.

Oil Search staffers working on community outreach, government affairs, and communications in Alaska will report to Balash in his new position, according to a company spokeswoman.

“Joe is a proud Alaskan and brings significant regulatory and external affairs experience to Oil Search, a company relatively new to operating in the United States,” said Keiran Wulff, Oil Search executive vice president and president for Alaska. “We are excited by the opportunities in Alaska and committed to working with stakeholders in a collaborative manner.”

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said in an interview that the fact that Balash has been working to make more land available for exploration near Oil Search’s ongoing development raises concerns.

If Balash’s jump to Oil Search “ends up being legal, it’s further confirmation to me that our laws are simply inadequate,” Brian said. “It is hard to have confidence that decisions he was making while he was working for the taxpayers were not impacted by his aspirations or hopes to go work for a company that was materially affected by his work.”

Asked about Balash’s job plans last week, Interior would not comment.

Balash has extensive experience in Alaska state politics. He served as the deputy commissioner for Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources and ran the agency on an acting basis for just over a year, before becoming chief of staff for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). He joined Interior in December 2017.

Earlier, Balash served in the governor’s office as a special assistant on energy and natural resource development. And before that, he worked on the joint legislative budget and audit committee and served as chief of staff to the state Senate president. Balash also attended high school in Fairbanks.

Ethics experts said that regardless of the Alaskan’s job description, his decision to join an oil company raises potential conflict of interest issues, depending in part on the nature of his negotiations with the firm before he left public office.

Under 18 U.S. Code Section 208, a federal official is barred “from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests, as well as the financial interests of” his spouse, children and “a person with whom he is negotiating for or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment.”

“At the point Balash began discussing employment opportunities with Oil Search, he was prohibited from personally and substantially participating in any particular matter that would affect Oil Search’s financial interests,” said Brendan Fischer, federal reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Although Oil Search has not bid on federal leases in Alaska, officials from the firm met with Balash several times while he served as assistant secretary, according to his public calendar. On Jan. 10, 2018, he had a meeting classified as a video call with Wulff and other Oil Search executives, described as a “meet and greet” in his calendar notes. . .

Continue reading.

Not exactly draining the swamp.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2019 at 2:42 pm

Hurricanes are getting much worse, thanks to global warming

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Not that anything will be done about it, but global warming is also affecting hurricane strength. David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

The frequency of severe hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean has roughly doubled over the last two decades, and climate change appears to be the reason. Yet much of the conversation about Hurricane Dorian — including most media coverage — ignores climate change.

That’s a mistake. It’s akin to talking about lung cancer and being afraid to mention smoking, or talking about traffic deaths and being afraid to talk about drunken driving. Sure, no single road death can be attributed solely to drunken driving — and many people who drive under the influence of alcohol don’t crash — but you can’t talk meaningfully about vehicle crashes without talking about alcohol.

Climate change, likewise, doesn’t cause any one hurricane on its own, but it’s central to the story of the storms that are increasingly battering the Atlantic. Why are we pretending otherwise?

For more: I find the National Climate Assessment reports — cautious documents, written by a federal panel of scientists — to be helpful in understanding the role that climate change does (and doesn’t) play in influencing the weather. Those reports explain that the warming of the planet does not appear to be increasing the total number of hurricanes. But it does seem to be making those storms stronger and causing them to produce much more rain.

Warmer air and seawater cause storms “to rapidly reach and maintain very high intensity,” the scientists have written. Over the last few years, hurricane activity has been “anomalous and, in one case, unprecedented.”

Dorian became a Category 4 hurricane on Friday, before reaching Category 5 — the most severe designation — over the weekend and then falling back to Category 4 on Monday. Both Categories 4 and 5 qualify a hurricane as severe, and Dorian is the first Atlantic storm to reach that status this year. The heart of hurricane season often lasts from August to October.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, a typical year had only one severe hurricane. In this century, the average number has roughly doubled, as you can see in the chart above. And because global warming is intensifying, scientists expect the number of extreme storms to continue rising. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 September 2019 at 9:18 am

Why Climate Change Is So Hard

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on this. Basically it is because humans are not willing to make a drastic change in how they lead their lives. As Drum writes:

. . . I think Zaki misses the real issue: halting climate change, as he himself says, requires us to “dramatically alter our way of life.” This is not something most people are willing to do, regardless of empathy. We may feel tremendous empathy for the child in the well or the vicitim of a tornado, but we still aren’t willing to dramatically alter our way of life to help them. At most we’ll send some money to the Red Cross.

This is something that too many people don’t get. What makes climate change different from other environmental calamities isn’t that it’s bigger or farther away or difficult to see. Those things all contribute to our inaction, but the key difference is that halting climate change requires us to dramatically alter our way of life. All of us. For a very long time.

Human beings aren’t wired to do this. You aren’t doing it. I’m not doing it. Europeans aren’t doing it. No one is doing it. We’re willing to make modest changes here and there, but dramatic changes? The kind that seriously bite into our incomes and our way of life? Nope.

When I mention this to people, a common reaction is disbelief. You really think people will let the planet burn before they’ll give up their cars? That’s exactly what I think, because it’s happened many times before. Over and over, human civilizations have destroyed their environments because no one was willing to give up their piece of it. They knew exactly what they were doing but still couldn’t stop. They have overfished, overgrazed, overhunted, overmined, and overpolluted. They have literally destroyed their own lifeblood rather than make even modest changes to their lifestyles.

Anybody who’s interested in constructing a realistic plan to fight climate change has to accept this. It’s the the single biggest obstacle in our way, and it can’t be wished away or talked away. As frustrating as it is, it has to be addressed on its own terms. . .

I think it was Jared Diamond who wondered about the thoughts of the Eastern Islander who chopped down the last tree on the island…

I continue think I was quite fortunate in having my lifespan fall when it did.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 1:43 pm

Why New York City Is On the Verge of Disaster

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Matt Stoller has a good albeit alarming column in Big:

Three Swords Over New York

Electrical blackouts are scary things. On July 13th of this year, New York City had a blackout that lasted for five hours. The subway stopped along several lines, people were trapped in elevators, Carnegie Hall and Broadway theaters shut down, and Jennifer Lopez was cut off in at her concert at Madison Square Garden.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio blamed Con Edison, the New York utility that manages most electric power in the city. And why shouldn’t they? Just before the blackout, Con Ed president Tim Cawley embarrassingly said, “By any measure, we are the most reliable electric delivery system in the United States.”

The next weekend, it happened again, this time in Brooklyn.

Blackouts in New York City reflect the politics of the time. In 1965, and then again in 1969, Con Edison had massive outages that inspired frustration with what Americans perceived as an overall breakdown of the New Deal order. In 1977, it got worse, and there was widespread looting during a city-wide blackout during the rolling New York City financial crisis. The Carter and then Reagan eras of deregulation and concentrated capital were in many ways framed against the old, over-regulated, and antiquated systems represented by Con Edison, and in a bigger sense, New York City of the 1970s. In New York, partial deregulation of utilities finally came in 1997, and with this deregulation came a reduction in the amount of auditing by New York regulators.

We are beyond the Reagan era, of course, because that system is breaking down. Every age gets the metaphorical crises it deserves, and New York’s came in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the city and caused power outages across half the city. I was there, and at first everyone was really nice to each other. Within a few days, a Mad Max vibe began to creep into daily interactions. The lights came back on in time to get the city more or less back to normal, though not everywhere.

The storm was the immediate cause of the blackout, of course, but the storm took advantage of an electrical infrastructure weakened by years of poor investment choices. We know this because a few months after the storm, the Utility Workers of America, the union negotiating with Con Edison, released a report on the company’s operational practices, alleging that “Con Edison appears to operate its electric distribution system based on a policy of“run it until it fails.’”

The details of Con Ed’s operations are ugly. The union noted a lack of redundancy in voltage equipment, smart meters paid for by the stimulus that were never turned on, and a lack of basic supplies. “Our members have worked on cable so old,” said the report, “that it has paper insulation, and on utility poles that were installed in the 1930s and remain in service today.”

The company used to have a policy of keeping a “safety stockpile” of basic supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. No longer. So when Sandy hit, Con Ed ran out of utility ladders and utility cable. It had to rush order parts that did not work on Con Ed systems, including “entire truckloads of utility transformers” which the utility could not return “because of their specialized nature.”

Imagine that. Before Hurricane Sandy hit the city, Con Ed didn’t bother stocking up on ladders. Ouch.

Obviously the union wants to show how its workers are valuable and deserve higher compensation, but the report is consistent with what we’re seeing in corporate America more generally. The union’s motivations are also consistent with what the engineers at Boeing wanted, which was to do their job with integrity.

More broadly, what these new blackouts reflect is two things. First, they show the stresses that climate change are putting on our society. Sandy in 2012 and the heat waves in July pressured the electric grid. Second, they reflect how the short-term financialized mentality that is now pervasive among American policymakers and corporate leaders weakened the grid. It’s similar to what’s happening in Puerto Rico, where an electric grid ruined by years of corruption and financial pressure from bondholders was destroyed by a storm.

The blackouts in July show that the problems revealed during Sandy have not been fixed. I spent time this weekend going through some of Con Edison’s investor documents. And what I found is similar to what I found with Boeing. That is, this is a company focused on financial returns more than engineering integrity. Mainly what I noticed, and this is a fairly trivial observation, is that while Con Ed promised to radically improve its operations after the disaster, what it actually did is increase its dividend every single year and pay its CEO $10 million. I suspect the blackouts last month are one of the results.

But a dysfunctional Con Edison is just the first problem with New York City’s infrastructure.

The second big problem is the Hudson tunnel, the nation’s busiest railroad route, connecting New York City to New Jersey. The tunnel was built in 1910 and is on the verge of collapse. In 2009, as part of the stimulus, there was the money to rebuild what everyone knows is the most important piece of crumbling infrastructure in America. But then- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed it to attack Obama and promote himself as a Presidential candidate, Obama didn’t do anything about it, and Trump has refused to move forward on a new attempt. Concrete is falling apart in the remaining tube.

In other words, a good chunk of New York’s transportation infrastructure could collapse, at any point.

But beyond the political choice, contracting in America is insanely expensive and difficult. The high speed rail in California promised in the stimulus is basically dead, even though that did get approval, because costs ballooned. So even if we wanted to fix the Hudson tunnel, it would cost far too much to do so.

I don’t have a good analysis of why construction is so expensive in America, but this is my thesis in a picture.

To put it into words, the problem we have is corruption in the government contracting world, aided by immense amounts of useless overpaid make work. In 2011, an antitrust attorney did a report on how we overpay for government contracting. In service of ‘shrinking government,’ policymakers chose to set up a system where instead of hiring an engineer as a government employee for, say, $120,000 a year, they paid a consulting firm like Booz Allen $500,000 a year for a similar engineer. The resulting system is both more expensive and more bureaucratic.

Here’s one example I grabbed from a public government contracting schedule. The rate negotiated by the government’s General Services Administration for Boston Consulting Group is $33,063.75/week to get a single relatively junior contractor.

Most top tier management consulting is useless. It boils down to telling executives they should raise prices or avoid taxes in a fancy way, helping one faction in a corporation win an internal battle against another, or aiding a cowardly leader do something he or she knows she should do but is afraid of doing without outside validation. It’s highly overpaid make-work, which is why the movie Office Space resonated.

This corruption wasn’t that bad until the 1990s, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore introduced their ‘reinventing government initiative,’ which transferred large amounts of government work to overpaid private contractors. They bragged the size of government didn’t grow, even as they were building a slothful, incompetent, and highly corrupt shadow government in place of the relatively functional public system they took over. This trend of offshoring wasn’t just Federal, but state-level as well. Twenty five years later we’re dealing with a government that can’t govern.

Aside from Con Ed, and the Hudson tunnel, there’s a third problem facing New York City. Food. New York’s food supply nearly turned into a crisis during Sandy, largely because of corporation consolidation. Here’s Siddhartha Mahanta in 2013:

Until relatively recently, most of the food that wound up in New Yorkers’ stomachs came from the farms of upstate New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Even Brooklyn and Queens helped out, for a long while registering as the nation’s two biggest vegetable-producing counties.

When that locally grown food got to New York, it tended to stay around longer, sitting in warehouses for perhaps weeks at a time.

Now, New Yorkers rely chiefly on food from across the country, or the other side of the world. And to complicate matters, in recent decades the big companies that run these systems have radically altered how they manage the flow of this food through their supply chains. Most of the private companies that now dominate the distribution of food in America, like Walmart and Sysco, keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions—a strategy known as “just-in-time.” Analysts, in fact, expect Sysco—a major presence in the New York region—to continue cutting down an already super-lean supply chain operation.

In other words, the food on New York’s shelves flows through supply lines that stretch much further than ever before. And there’s a lot less of it along the way.

In other words, we have pooled risk in hidden ways and masked that with the appearance of financial profits. At Boeing it means the company was generating gobs of cash, but planes started crashing. In New York City, that means residents are vulnerable to losing electricity and food, and to transit collapses. Pretty important stuff, no?

Andrew Cuomo, the current Governor of New York, is part of the problem. His defining experience, in my view, was . . .

Continue reading.

We are going to see some extremely ugly happenings in NYC in the near future. It is being set up to fail. The people of NYC are assuming that things that are certain to happen cannot happen. It’s a sword-of-Damocles situation with the single hair holding the sword stretching to the breaking point, which is nigh.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2019 at 2:26 pm

If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

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James Hamblin writes in the Atlantic:

Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”

It’s not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body.

This sort of disposition toward ecological-based distress does not pair well with a president who has denied the reality of the basis for this anxiety. Donald Trump has called climate change a fabrication on the part of “the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He has also led the United States to become the only G20 country that will not honor the Paris Climate Accord, and who has appointed fossil-fuel advocates to lead the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

For people who experience climate-related anxiety, this all serves as a sort of exacerbation by presidential gaslight. The remedy for a condition like this is knowing what can be done to mitigate environmental degradation, from within in a country singularly committed to it.

Like what?

Helen Harwatt is a researcher trained in environmental nutrition, a field focused on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability. She’s interested in policy, but realistic about how much progress can be expected under the aforementioned leadership. So she and colleagues have done research on maximizing the impacts of individuals. As with so many things in life and health, that tends to come down to food.

Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.

That is, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.

“I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have,” Harwatt told me. There have been analyses in the past about the environmental impacts of veganism and vegetarianism, but this study is novel for the idea that a person’s dedication to the cause doesn’t have to be complete in order to matter. A relatively small, single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact—more so than downsizing one’s car, or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.

To understand why the climate impact of beef alone is so large, note that the image at the top of this story is a sea of soybeans in a silo in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The beans belong to a feed lot that holds 38,000 cattle, the growth and fattening of which means dispensing 900 metric tons of feed every day. Which is to say that these beans will be eaten by cows, and the cows will convert the beans to meat, and the humans will eat the meat. In the process, the cows will emit much greenhouse gas, and they will consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in meat, meaning far more clearcutting of forests to farm cattle feed than would be necessary if the beans above were simply eaten by people.

This inefficient process happens on a massive scale. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. (In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, collections of pus, in the meat.) According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.

This means much less deforestation and land degradation if so many plant crops weren’t run through the digestive tracts of cattle. If Americans traded their beef for beans, the researchers found, that would free up 42 percent of U.S. crop land.

“The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn’t have to be policy-driven,” said Harwatt. “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef.”

She and her colleagues conclude in the journal Climatic Change: “While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the ‘beans for beef’ scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts.”

The beans for beef scenario is, it seems, upon us.

“I think it’s such an easy-to-grasp concept that it could be less challenging than a whole dietary shift,” said Harwatt. The words vegetarian and vegan . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2019 at 2:27 pm

Even with Trump in Office, the Climate Denial Movement Is Quietly Falling Apart

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Geoff Dembicki reports in Vice:

It might seem like the climate denial movement is getting everything it wants.

The loose network of far-right think tanks and the reclusive billionaires who fund them helped convince Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty. The administration is passing a wish list of policies boosting the fossil fuel industry and escalating its rollback of climate research. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency this June killed one of America’s most far-reaching and effective climate laws, the Clean Power Plan, and replaced it with something much weaker.

But those who track and investigate climate deniers told VICE the movement itself appears to be in flux. Veteran deniers are being pushed out, fossil fuel funding is harder to come by and longtime policy goals are for now out of reach. They’re suing each other for hundreds of thousands of dollars and attacking companies like Exxon as “alarmist” sell-outs.

Is the movement that for over two decades spread doubt and uncertainty about climate science finally receding? Or is it merely updating its approach and tactics for an era when public concern about the climate emergency is rising? Either way, experts argued, deniers are not projecting confidence or cohesion.

“They’re not in great shape right now. They’re cranky, they feel like they’re being ignored and overlooked—they are—and they’re as discredited as they’ve ever been,” said Connor Gibson, a researcher for Greenpeace’s investigation team. “The only thing is, we’re currently living in the upside down… They’ve never had a more receptive president.”

Trump earlier this year tweeted a quote from a Fox & Friends guest claiming that “the whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.” The president also said in June that “climate change goes both ways.” However, even with a vocal climate change denier in the White House, the movement is in the midst of fundamental changes.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank co-founded by fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch, this May shut down a science program that for years has questioned the consensus that humans are responsible for warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

“They informed me that they didn’t think their vision of a think tank was in the science business, and so I said, ‘OK, bye,'” Pat Michaels, the climate skeptic and frequent Fox News guest who oversaw the program, told E&E News. Other well-known figures in the movement, including Richard Lindzen and Ryan Maue, have also departed the Cato Institute.

People who track the denial movement were caught off guard by the departures. “It was a bit of a shock to a lot of us,” said Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center. “When that came through, we were like, ‘Woah, that’s different, that’s new.'”

Still, he cautions against reading too much into it. He and other denier trackers don’t know if the Kochs cut off funding to the program, or whether it was merely a clash of personalities. Scientists like Michaels may simply resume their work at another organization. “We’re still trying to suss it out,” he said.

This isn’t a one-off setback for the movement, though. In July, the White House said it would shelve plans for an “adversarial” review of climate science. That frustrated Myron Ebell, a prominent denier who had led Trump’s EPA transition team. He complained to E&E news that the long-held goal of forcing mainstream scientists to publicly defend their basic findings against a government-sponsored team of deniers has “been totally stymied by the forces of darkness within the administration, but also by the looming election campaign.”

Penn State atmospheric scientist Michael Mann speculated the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel companies have little interest in the blowback that could come from a “full-frontal attack on the science” hosted by the White House. “I think their decision is they don’t need to do that, they’re getting everything they want, why stir up a hornet’s nest,” said Mann, who has been a frequent target of deniers and recently won a lawsuit against a Canadian group that had accused him of fraud.

A high-profile forum on whether climate change is real could rally the hardcore denier base—which represents about 9 percent of the U.S. population—but would unlikely be well-received by the growing numbers of Americans worrying about climate change. Polling from Yale suggests that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 12:28 pm

Food wars on the horizon: Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns

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Years ago I was blogging about how crop failures due to climate change would lead to famine and food wars (see, for example, this post from 2010, or look through these posts). This on-going disaster will be exacerbated by mass migrations caused by the rise in sea levels. Nothing, of course, is really being done to address the problem. It’s a great human weakness to go to extreme lengths to avoid making changes.

I answer a lot of questions on Quora about losing weight and changing one’s diet (always including a reference to my own diet advice, which I updated again just this morning—and BTW, my fasting blood glucose this morning was 5.5 mmol/dL (99 mg/dL), which is “normal”). I’ve noticed a pattern in these questions that illustrates how strongly people resist change.

  1. Questions about some food that can be added to one’s current diet that will result in weight loss, typically some combination of garlic, ginger, hot water, lemon juice, guava leaves, green tea, and so on. The idea is to make no change in one’s diet but just add the magic food and that will solve the problem.

  2. Questions about what diet, however drastic, that will result in losing lots of weight very quickly (like 10 pounds in a week or 20 pounds in a month), the idea being that the person can tolerate an awful diet for a short time to get of their excess weight, and then they can get back to their regular diet. Change is tolerated but only for a brief period, and then they return to no change.

  3. Questions about how to retain all the foods they are accustomed to if they do change their diet. I’m talking about foods like the Impossible Burger, or vegan “cheese,” or vegan “sausage” or “bacon,” or vegan “butter.” The idea is that they are willing to make a change so long as they don’t have to change anything.

Unfortunately, the desire to change nothing has not worked when the world itself is changing. The climate is now going to continue changing for 60 years regardless of what we do now. That change is already baked into the atmosphere (which shortly will be baking us), and that change is going to destroy much of what humans have achieved.

Christopher Flavelle reports in the NY Times:

The world’s land and water resources are being exploited at “unprecedented rates,” a new United Nations report warns, which combined with climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself.

The report, prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries and released in summary form in Geneva on Thursday, found that the window to address the threat is closing rapidly. A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, according to the report.

Climate change will make those threats even worse, as floods, drought, storms and other types of extreme weather threaten to disrupt, and over time shrink, the global food supply. Already, more than 10 percent of the world’s population remains undernourished, and some authors of the report warned in interviews that food shortages could lead to an increase in cross-border migration.

A particular danger is that food crises could develop on several continents at once, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the lead authors of the report. “The potential risk of multi-breadbasket failure is increasing,” she said. “All of these things are happening at the same time.”

The report also offered a measure of hope, laying out pathways to addressing the looming food crisis, though they would require a major re-evaluation of land use and agriculture worldwide as well as consumer behavior. Proposals include increasing the productivity of land, wasting less food and persuading more people to shift their diets away from cattle and other types of meat.

“One of the important findings of our work is that there are a lot of actions that we can take now. They’re available to us,” Dr.Rosenzweig said. “But what some of these solutions do require is attention, financial support, enabling environments.”

The summary was released Thursday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of scientists convened by the United Nations that pulls together a wide range of existing research to help governments understand climate change and make policy decisions. The I.P.C.C. is writing a series of climate reports, including one last year on the disastrous consequences if the planet’s temperature rises just 1.5 degrees Celsius above its preindustrial levels, as well as an upcoming report on the state of the world’s oceans.

Some authors also suggested that food shortages are likely to affect poorer parts of the world far more than richer ones. That could increase a flow of immigration that is already redefining politics in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

“People’s lives will be affected by a massive pressure for migration,” said Pete Smith, a professor of plant and soil science at the University of Aberdeen and one of the report’s lead authors. “People don’t stay and die where they are. People migrate.”

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras showing up at the United States’ border with Mexico increased fivefold, coinciding with a dry period that left many with not enough food and was so unusual that scientists suggested it bears the signal of climate change.

Barring action on a sweeping scale, the report said, climate change will accelerate the danger of severe food shortages. As a warming atmosphere intensifies the world’s droughts, flooding, heat waves, wildfires and other weather patterns, it is speeding up the rate of soil loss and land degradation, the report concludes.

Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — a greenhouse gas put there mainly by the burning of fossil fuels — will also reduce food’s nutritional quality, even as rising temperatures cut crop yields and harm livestock.

Those changes threaten to exceed the ability of the agriculture industry to adapt.

In some cases, the report says, a changing climate is boosting food production because, for example, warmer temperatures will mean greater yields of some crops at higher latitudes. But on the whole, the report finds that climate change is already hurting the availability of food because of decreased yields and lost land from erosion, desertification and rising seas, among other things.

Overall if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, so will food costs, according to the report, affecting people around the world.

“You’re sort of reaching a breaking point with land itself and its ability to grow food and sustain us,” said Aditi Sen, a senior policy adviser on climate change at Oxfam America, an antipoverty advocacy organization.

In addition, the researchers said, even as climate change makes agriculture more difficult, agriculture itself is also exacerbating climate change.

The report said that activities such as draining wetlands — as has happened in Indonesia and Malaysia to create palm oil plantations, for example — is particularly damaging. When drained, peatlands, which store between 530 and 694 billion tons of carbon dioxide globally, release that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, trapping the sun’s heat and warming the planet. Every 2.5 acres of peatlands release the carbon dioxide equivalent of burning 6,000 gallons of gasoline.

And the emissions of carbon dioxide continues long after the peatlands are drained. Of the five gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions that are released each year from deforestation and other land-use changes, “One gigaton comes from the ongoing degradation of peatlands that are already drained,” said Tim Searchinger, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, who is familiar with the report. (By comparison, the fossil fuel industry emitted about 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide last year, according to the institute.)

Similarly, cattle are significant producers of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, and an increase in global demand for beef and other meats has fueled their numbers and increased deforestation in critical forest systems like the Amazon.

Since 1961 methane emissions from ruminant livestock, which include cows as well as sheep, buffalo and goats, have significantly increased, according to the report. And each year, the amount of forested land that is cleared — much of that propelled by demand for pasture land for cattle — releases the emissions equivalent of driving 600 million cars. . .

Continue reading.

Meanwhile, the Republican party is doing everything in their power, which is considerable, to prevent completely or at least delay as much as possible doing anything at all to address climate change. Some Republican states have gone so far as forbidding any state agency even to mention climate change. “Conservative” = “change nothing.”

It will soon be over, I fear. My lifespan seems to be optimally timed.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2019 at 8:47 am

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