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Predictable catastrophe: Mass migration from global warming

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Although everyone can see it will happen, no one seems to be preparing for it. Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

This article, the first in a series on global climate migration, is a partnership between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, with support from the Pulitzer CenterRead more about the data project that underlies the reporting.

EARLY IN 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.

Even as hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled north toward the United States in recent years, in Jorge’s region — a state called Alta Verapaz, where precipitous mountains covered in coffee plantations and dense, dry forest give way to broader gentle valleys — the residents have largely stayed. Now, though, under a relentless confluence of drought, flood, bankruptcy and starvation, they, too, have begun to leave. Almost everyone here experiences some degree of uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Half the children are chronically hungry, and many are short for their age, with weak bones and bloated bellies. Their families are all facing the same excruciating decision that confronted Jorge.

The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 60% in some parts of the country, and the amount of water replenishing streams and keeping soil moist will drop by as much as 83%. Researchers project that by 2070, yields of some staple crops in the state where Jorge lives will decline by nearly a third.

Scientists have learned to project such changes around the world with surprising precision, but — until recently — little has been known about the human consequences of those changes. As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen.

In March, Jorge and his 7-year-old son each packed a pair of pants, three T-shirts, underwear and a toothbrush into a single thin black nylon sack with a drawstring. Jorge’s father had pawned his last four goats for $2,000 to help pay for their transit, another loan the family would have to repay at 100% interest. The coyote called at 10 p.m. — they would go that night. They had no idea then where they would wind up, or what they would do when they got there.

From decision to departure, it was three days. And then they were gone.

FOR MOST OF HUMAN history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1% of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing 1 of every 3 people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. Many will dig in, suffering through heat, hunger and political chaos, but others will be forced to move on. A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.”

People are already beginning to flee. In Southeast Asia, where increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought have made farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than 8 million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the African Sahel, millions of rural people have been streaming toward the coasts and the cities amid drought and widespread crop failures. Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.

Migration can bring great opportunity not just to migrants but also to the places they go. As the United States and other parts of the global North face a demographic decline, for instance, an injection of new people into an aging workforce could be to everyone’s benefit. But securing these benefits starts with a choice: Northern nations can relieve pressures on the fastest-warming countries by allowing more migrants to move north across their borders, or they can seal themselves off, trapping hundreds of millions of people in places that are increasingly unlivable. The best outcome requires not only goodwill and the careful management of turbulent political forces; without preparation and planning, the sweeping scale of change could prove wildly destabilizing. The United Nations and others warn that in the worst case, the governments of the nations most affected by climate change could topple as whole regions devolve into war.

The stark policy choices are already becoming apparent. As refugees stream out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe and from Central America into the United States, an anti-immigrant backlash has propelled nationalist governments into power around the world. The alternative, driven by a better understanding of how and when people will move, is governments that are actively preparing, both materially and politically, for the greater changes to come.

Last summer, I went to Central America to learn how people like Jorge will respond to changes in their climates. I followed the decisions of people in rural Guatemala and their routes to the region’s biggest cities, then north through Mexico to Texas. I found an astonishing need for food and witnessed the ways competition and poverty among the displaced broke down cultural and moral boundaries. But the picture on the ground is scattered. To better understand the forces and scale of climate migration over a broader area, The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica joined with the Pulitzer Center in an effort to model, for the first time, how people will move across borders.

We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.

Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5% of the total. If governments take modest action to reduce climate emissions, about 680,000 climate migrants might move from Central America and Mexico to the United States between now and 2050. If emissions continue unabated, leading to more extreme warming, that number jumps to more than a million people. (None of these figures include undocumented immigrants, whose numbers could be twice as high.)

The model shows that the political responses to both climate change and migration can lead to drastically different futures. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including informative graphics.

Later in the article:

IN NOVEMBER 2007, Alan B. Krueger, a labor economist known for his statistical work on inequality, walked into the Princeton University offices of Michael Oppenheimer, a leading climate geoscientist, and asked him whether anyone had ever tried to quantify how and where climate change would cause people to move.

Earlier that year, Oppenheimer helped write the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that, for the first time, explored in depth how climate disruption might uproot large segments of the global population. But as groundbreaking as the report was — the U.N. was recognized for its work with a Nobel Peace Prize — the academic disciplines whose work it synthesized were largely siloed from one another. Demographers, agronomists and economists were all doing their work on climate change in isolation, but understanding the question of migration would have to include all of them.

Together, Oppenheimer and Krueger, who died in 2019, began to chip away at the question, asking whether tools typically used by economists might yield insight into the environment’s effects on people’s decision to migrate. They began to examine the statistical relationships — say, between census data and crop yields and historical weather patterns — in Mexico to try to understand how farmers there respond to drought. The data helped them create a mathematical measure of farmers’ sensitivity to environmental change — a factor that Krueger could use the same way he might evaluate fiscal policies, but to model future migration.

Their study, published in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Mexican migration to the United States pulsed upward during periods of drought and projected that by 2080, climate change there could drive 6.7 million more people toward the southern U.S. border. “It was,” Oppenheimer said, “one of the first applications of econometric modeling to the climate-migration problem.”

The modeling was a start. But it was hyperlocal instead of global, and it left open huge questions: how cultural differences might change outcomes, for example, or how population shifts might occur across larger regions. It was also controversial, igniting a backlash among climate-change skeptics, who attacked the modeling effort as “guesswork” built on “tenuous assumptions” and argued that a model couldn’t untangle the effect of climate change from all the other complex influences that determine human decision-making and migration. That argument eventually found some traction with migration researchers, many of whom remain reluctant to model precise migration figures.

But to Oppenheimer and Krueger, the risks of putting a specific shape to this well established but amorphous threat seemed worth taking. In the early 1970s, after all, many researchers had made a similar argument against using computer models to forecast climate change, arguing that scientists shouldn’t traffic in predictions. Others ignored that advice, producing some of the earliest projections about the dire impact of climate change, and with them some of the earliest opportunities to try to steer away from that fate. Trying to project the consequences of climate-driven migration, to Oppenheimer, called for similarly provocative efforts. “If others have better ideas for estimating how climate change affects migration,” he wrote in 2010, “they should publish them.”

Since then, Oppenheimer’s approach has become common. Dozens more studies have applied econometric modeling to climate-related problems, seizing on troves of data to better understand how environmental change and conflict each lead to migration and clarify how the cycle works. Climate is rarely the main cause of migration, the studies have generally found, but it is almost always an exacerbating one.

As they have looked more closely, migration researchers have found climate’s subtle fingerprints almost everywhere. Drought helped push many Syrians into cities before the war, worsening tensions and leading to rising discontent; crop losses led to unemployment that stoked Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya; Brexit, even, was arguably a ripple effect of the influx of migrants brought to Europe by the wars that followed. And all those effects were bound up with the movement of just 2 million people. As the mechanisms of climate migration have come into sharper focus — food scarcity, water scarcity and heat — the latent potential for large-scale movement comes to seem astronomically larger.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2020 at 12:43 pm

Facebook is basically run by scum

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

Facebook is “aiding and abetting the spread of climate misinformation,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. “They have become the vehicle for climate misinformation, and thus should be held partially responsible for a lack of action on climate change.”

Brulle was reacting to Facebook’s recent decision, made at the request of climate science deniers, to create a giant loophole in its fact-checking program. Last year, Facebook partnered with an organization, Science Feedback, that would bring in teams of Ph.D. climate scientists to evaluate the accuracy of viral content. It was an important expansion of the company’s third-party fact-checking program.

But now Facebook has reportedly decided to allow its staffers to overrule the climate scientists and make any climate disinformation ineligible for fact-checking by deeming it “opinion.”

The organization that requested the change, the CO2 Coalition, is celebrating, E&E news reported on Monday. The group, which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, says its views on climate change are increasingly ignored by the mainstream media. Now it plans to use Facebook to aggressively push climate misinformation on the public — without having to worry about fact checks from climate scientists.

How it all started

A column published in the Washington Examiner in August 2019 claimed that “climate models” were a “failure” that predicted exponentially more warming of the earth than has occurred. The piece, co-authored by notorious climate science denier Pat Michaels, was quickly shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook.

There was just one issue: It wasn’t true.

This is exactly the kind of mess that Facebook’s network of independent fact-checkers is supposed to solve. In May 2019, Facebook partnered with Science Feedback, a site dedicated to explaining “why information is or is not consistent with the science.” Science Feedback’s process is extremely rigorous. Each piece has multiple . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2020 at 6:33 pm

BC Firm Lobbying Washington On Proposed Efforts to Suck Carbon Directly From The Atmosphere

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If the technology passes muster, then I think one sensible option would be for the government to take on a few cents per gallon to build a great many of these CO2 scrubbers and run them. I would think that one big plant could account for many cars, and taxing fossil fuels to pay for the removal of the CO2 they produce makes sense to me.

From the article by Sean Craig at the link:

A B.C. carbon capture firm has tapped a U.S. lobbying firm to build congressional support for fighting climate change by pulling CO2 emissions right out of the air.

Squamish-based Carbon Engineering (CE) paid about $30,000 in the first three months of 2020 to AJW, Inc., a firm that specializes in energy and environmental government relations, to meet with U.S officials in order to push carbon capture legislation, according to congressional records.

U.S. lawmakers are currently considering a handful of bills that could bolster investor appetite for the technology. They are at the centre of an emerging bipartisan approach to climate change legislation that relies on market incentives rather than spending, meaning the bills have a better chance of passing both houses of congress. (For example, the big spending, Democrat-backed Green New Deal was last year rejected by the Republican-led Senate).

One bill which is the focus of AJW’s lobbying, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019, would allow local or state governments to issue tax-exempt bonds in order to build carbon capture projects.

It was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet and cosponsored by his Republican colleague, Rob Portman of Ohio. House Republican Tim Burchett of Tennessee introduced the bill in the lower chamber, arguing it “allows the free market, rather than the government, to determine innovative ways to go green.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2020 at 7:48 pm

The planet has the climate equivalent of a serious infection

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From the newsletter Exponential View, by Azeem Azhar:

Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.

The latest measurement (as of April 2): 415.41ppm; April 1, 2019: 411.69ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.

Carbon output could drop 5% this year, nearly four times further than it did after the global financial crisis. (I reckon it might be higher because I am more bearish on the depth of the plunge. The airline industry might be furloughed for half-a-year or more and it, alone, contributed 2% of annual emissions.)

🔝 The largest impact of renewable hydrogen could be in decarbonising heavy-duty industries, such as steel and aluminium-making, glass, or cement.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2020 at 2:53 pm

‘We Knew They Had Cooked the Books’

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Robinson Meyer has in the Atlantic an article worth reading. It was referenced by Jonathan Chait in a post I blogged yesterday, but Meyer’s entire article is worth reading. It begins:

On a drizzly day in January 2018, Jeff Alson, an engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s motor-vehicles office, gathered with his colleagues to make a video call to Washington, D.C.

They had made the same call dozens of times before. For nearly a decade, the EPA team had worked closely with another group of engineers in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, pronounced nits-uh) to write the federal tailpipe-pollution standards, one of the most consequential climate protections in American history. The two teams had done virtually all the technical research—testing engines in a lab, interviewing scientists and automakers, and overseeing complex economic simulations—underpinning the rules, which have applied to every new car and light truck, including SUVs and vans, sold in the United States since 2012.

Their collaboration was historic. Even as SUVs, crossovers, and pickups have gobbled up the new-car market, the rules have pushed the average fuel economy—the distance a vehicle can travel per gallon of gas—to record highs. They have saved Americans $500 billion at the pump, according to the nonpartisan Consumer Federation of America, and kept hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution out of the air. So as the call connected, Alson and the other EPA engineers thought it was time to get back to work. Donald Trump had recently ordered a review of the rules.

Speaking from Washington, James Tamm, the NHTSA fuel-economy chief, greeted the EPA team, then put a spreadsheet on-screen. It showed an analysis of the tailpipe rules’ estimated costs and benefits. Alson had worked on this kind of study so many times that he could recall some of the key numbers “by heart,” he later told me.

Yet as Alson looked closer, he realized that this study was like none he had seen before. For years, both NHTSA and the EPA had found that the tailpipe rules saved lives during car accidents because they reduced the weight—and, with it, the lethality—of the heaviest SUVs. In 2015, an outside panel of experts concurred with them.

But this new study asserted the opposite: The Obama-era rules, it claimed, killed almost 1,000 people a year.

“Oh my God,” Alson said upon seeing the numbers. The other EPA engineers in the room gasped and started to point out other shocking claims on Tamm’s slide. (Their line was muted.) It seemed as if every estimated cost had ballooned, while every estimated benefit had shrunk. Something in the study had gone deeply wrong.

It was the beginning of a fiasco that could soon have global consequences. The Trump administration has since proposed to roll back the tailpipe rules nationwide, a move that, according to one estimate, could add nearly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Officials have justified this sweeping change by claiming that the new rules will save hundreds of lives a year. They are so sure of those benefits that they have decided to call the policy the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule—or SAFE, for short.

SNAFU may be a better moniker. To change a federal rule, the executive branch must do its homework and publish an economic study arguing why the update is necessary. But Trump’s official justification for SAFE is honeycombed with errors. The most dramatic is that NHTSA’s model mixed up supply and demand: The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Once this and other major mistakes are fixed, all of SAFE’s safety benefits vanish, according to a recent peer-reviewed analysis in Science. If SAFE is adopted into law, American traffic deaths could actually increase, carbon pollution would soar, and global warming would speed up.

In other words, SAFE isn’t actually safe—and the Trump administration based its rollback on flawed math.

Extensive interviews with key participants and a review of emails and documents reveal how this happened: The Trump administration kept the government’s top tailpipe-pollution experts from working on the tailpipe-pollution rule. For two years, rival bureaucrats at NHTSA and overworked Trump political appointees stonewalled the EPA team, blocked it from learning of the rollback, and prevented it from seeing analysis of the new rule. When the EPA engineers finally saw the flawed study and identified some of its worst errors, the same Trump officials ignored them.

This may have been a series of legally fatal blunders. The EPA team identified the phantom-vehicles problem early in the process. Within weeks of SAFE’s publication in August 2018, analyses from outside economists and the Honda Motor Company vindicated the EPA team’s assessment. Those groups found that the SAFE study was a turducken of falsehoods: it cited incorrect data and made calculation errors, on top of bungling the basics of supply and demand. Not since 1999—when NASA engineers accidentally confused metric and imperial units when building and navigating the Mars Climate Orbiter, leading to the spacecraft’s eventual destruction—have federal employees messed up a calculation so publicly, and at such expense and scale. And the EPA team saw it coming.

My reporting directly contradicts what EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told members of Congress last year. In a June letter to House Republicans, Wheeler said it was “false” that “EPA professional staff were cut out” of the rollback’s development.

In a statement, an EPA spokesman did not directly deny my reporting. “As we’ve stated multiple times before, career and professional staff within EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation were involved in the development of this proposal and continue to be involved in the final stages as we work with NHTSA to finalize this rule,” said Michael Abboud, the agency spokesman. He added that the old rule was “unworkable” and rushed into law at the end of the Obama administration.

A NHTSA spokesman declined to comment because the proposed regulation is under agency review. He referred me to older statements that said the EPA and NHTSA had reviewed “hundreds of thousands of public comments” and undertaken “extensive scientific and economic analyses” in the course of reworking the SAFE rule. A final version of the rule is expected in the next several weeks. But that new version of the SAFE study recognizes that the benefits of the rollback do not exceed its costs, according to a letter from Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, obtained by The Washington Post.

If Carper’s allegation is true, that could doom the proposal in court. In fact, several legal issues could hinder SAFE. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act “requires” the EPA to regulate carbon pollution “from new motor vehicles.” But my reporting has found that NHTSA employees—and not EPA staff—actually wrote the first version of the rollback, raising questions about whether the rule is legally valid.

Either way, the SAFE rollback has already caused chaos. Major automakers—some of which once begged Trump to weaken the rules—now despise SAFE, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal. When Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda began negotiating a compromise version of the standard with California last year, the Trump administration smacked them with an antitrust investigation. (It dropped the probe last week.) A fifth automaker, Mercedes-Benz, also considered joining the truce with California, The New York Times reported over the summer. (Mercedes did not respond to a request for comment.)

That chaos might have comforted Alson, who retired in 2018, and the other EPA engineers two years ago, as they sat slack-jawed in their conference room in Ann Arbor. Soon after unveiling the analysis, Tamm asked if anyone had questions. No one spoke. The meeting, originally scheduled to last an hour, adjourned after 30 minutes.

“We couldn’t even bring ourselves to try to engage,” Alson told me. “We knew they had cooked the books so bad that there wasn’t any reason to talk about it.”

Republicans will often claim that one federal rule or another meddles with an essential part of the economy. The tailpipe-pollution rules live up to the hype. They govern the place where the auto industry and the oil industry—two massive, planet-spanning businesses that together make up about 11 percent of American GDP—most often meet: the humble car engine.

There’s no way around this. In recent years, nearly one-fifth of the country’s climate-warming carbon pollution has come from cars and light-duty trucks, according to the EPA. It’s inevitable: If you burn gasoline in an internal-combustion engine, you release carbon dioxide; if you want to release less carbon, you must burn less gasoline. Some car regulations—such as those addressing traffic-safety issues—require only that some new technology, such as an airbag or backup camera, simply be affixed to a car’s frame. But any carbon-pollution rule must go to the heart of a motor vehicle: the engine, power train, and air conditioner.

Yet for decades, NHTSA—the traffic-safety arm of the Department of Transportation—set the nation’s fuel-economy rules. It was given that power for “purely political” reasons, says Lee Vinsel, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies American car regulation. “It had nothing to do with expertise.”

Congress first established the fuel-economy standards during the 1970s oil embargo as a “panic mode” policy that would reduce cars’ use of fuel and, by extension, American dependence on foreign oil, Vinsel told me. But lawmakers split on which agency should set the rules.

The EPA, then a young office, had already started measuring fuel efficiency as part of a broader campaign to defend the new Clean Air Act. Yet neither the EPA nor the other agencies in contention, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, won the support of Representative John Dingell, a powerful New Deal Democrat from Detroit. Although Dingell was an environmental champion who helped write the Endangered Species Act, his Michigan ties meant that he was “rabidly anti-regulation of the automobile,” Vinsel said. If fuel-economy rules had to pass, Dingell wanted to keep an eye on them. And he could do that through the Department of Transportation, whose purse strings he held via his seat on the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (which he later renamed the Energy and Commerce Committee).

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2020 at 12:01 pm

Good news via bad news: Obama Auto Standards May Survive Because Trump Staff Can’t Do Math

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the Obama administration’s most effective climate initiatives was tightened regulations of auto emissions, which will reduce carbon emissions by billions of tons. Trump, of course, is trying to roll it back. The good news is that he is almost certainly too incompetent to pull it off in his first term.

When regulatory agencies write new rules, they have to follow some fairly complicated legal procedures, which often have to hold up under judicial scrutiny. Historically, agencies win about 80 percent of the time against legal challenges. But Trump’s regulations lose about 90 percent of the time, because his administration is staffed with incompetent hacks.

The courts will soon be fighting over Trump’s plan to weaken auto-emission standards. Trump is highly likely to lose, because, as two new reports show, the incompetence of his regulators reached almost mind-boggling proportions.

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer has a deep dive into how Trump’s political appointees circumvented all the nonpolitical experts and tried to come up with cost-benefit studies justifying their decision. Meyer’s account of the bureaucratic car wreck should be read in whole, but here are a few highlights. They mixed up supply and demand, assuming higher prices would cause more cars to be driven:

The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Their own roster of economists dismissed their numbers:

In December 2018, 11 economists—including some whose research was cited by NHTSA in its flawed study—published a scathing assessment of the NHTSA-led analysis in Science. “The 2018 analysis has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, is misleading, and does not improve estimates of costs and benefits of fuel economy standards,” they wrote.

They even failed arithmetic. (“At one point, the NHTSA team forgot to divide by four.”) Oof.

The New York Times’ Coral Davenport adds even more detail. Any new policy that affects the environment needs an environmental impact study, but “no such document has been completed or sent to the White House,” she reports. The document is “sprinkled with glaring numerical and spelling errors (such as ‘Massachusettes’), with 111 sections marked ‘text forthcoming.’”

The main problem, in a nutshell, is that regulations have to show they pass some rational cost-benefit analysis. Trump’s actual goals — humiliating Obama, increasing short-term employment in the auto sector — can’t actually be included in the analysis. So they’re left trying to fudge the numbers to make it look like Americans win by buying less-efficient cars that spew more pollution into the atmosphere. It’s a hard case to make even if you’re good at spelling words and adding correctly, which Trump’s political staffers clearly are not.

However, if Trump wins a second term,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2020 at 6:31 pm

What will it take to get action?

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Well, start by watching this:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2020 at 2:07 pm

Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet

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George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

It sounds like a miracle, but no great technological leaps were required. In a commercial lab on the outskirts of Helsinki, I watched scientists turn water into food. Through a porthole in a metal tank, I could see a yellow froth churning. It’s a primordial soup of bacteria, taken from the soil and multiplied in the laboratory, using hydrogen extracted from water as its energy source. When the froth was siphoned through a tangle of pipes and squirted on to heated rollers, it turned into a rich yellow flour.

This flour is not yet licensed for sale. But the scientists, working for a company called Solar Foods, were allowed to give me some while filming our documentary Apocalypse Cow. I asked them to make me a pancake: I would be the first person on Earth, beyond the lab staff, to eat such a thing. They set up a frying pan in the lab, mixed the flour with oat milk, and I took my small step for man. It tasted … just like a pancake.

But pancakes are not the intended product. Such flours are likely soon to become the feedstock for almost everything. In their raw state, they can replace the fillers now used in thousands of food products. When the bacteria are modified they will create the specific proteins needed for lab-grown meat, milk and eggs. Other tweaks will produce lauric acid – goodbye palm oil – and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – hello lab-grown fish. The carbohydrates that remain when proteins and fats have been extracted could replace everything from pasta flour to potato crisps. The first commercial factory built by Solar Foods should be running next year.

The hydrogen pathway used by Solar Foods is about 10 times as efficient as photosynthesis. But because only part of a plant can be eaten, while the bacterial flour is mangetout, you can multiply that efficiency several times. And because it will be brewed in giant vats the land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly 20,000 times greater. Everyone on Earth could be handsomely fed, and using a tiny fraction of its surface. If, as the company intends, the water used in the process (which is much less than required by farming) is electrolysed with solar power, the best places to build these plants will be deserts.

We are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation, of any kind, for 200 years. While arguments rage about plant- versus meat-based diets, new technologies will soon make them irrelevant. Before long, most of our food will come neither from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life. After 12,000 years of feeding humankind, all farming except fruit and veg production is likely to be replaced by ferming: brewing microbes through precision fermentation. This means multiplying particular micro-organisms, to produce particular products, in factories.I know some people will be horrified by this prospect. I can see some drawbacks. But I believe it comes in the nick of time.

Several impending disasters are converging on our food supply, any of which could be catastrophic. Climate breakdown threatens to cause what scientists call “multiple breadbasket failures”, through synchronous heatwaves and other impacts. The UN forecasts that by 2050 feeding the world will require a 20% expansion in agriculture’s global water use. But water use is already maxed out in many places: aquifers are vanishing, rivers are failing to reach the sea. The glaciers that supply half the population of Asia are rapidly retreating. Inevitable global heating – due to greenhouse gases already released – is likely to reduce dry season rainfall in critical areas, turning fertile plains into dustbowls.

global soil crisis threatens the very basis of our subsistence, as great tracts of arable land lose their fertility through erosion, compaction and contamination. Phosphate supplies, crucial for agriculture, are dwindling fast. Insectageddon threatens catastrophic pollination failures. It is hard to see how farming can feed us all even until 2050, let alone to the end of the century and beyond.

Food production is ripping the living world apart. Fishing and farming are, by a long way, the greatest cause of extinction and loss of the diversity and abundance of wildlife. Farming is a major cause of climate breakdown, the biggest cause of river pollution and a hefty source of air pollution. Across vast tracts of the world’s surface, it has replaced complex wild ecosystems with simplified human food chains. Industrial fishing is driving cascading ecological collapse in seas around the world. Eating is now a moral minefield, as almost everything we put in our mouths – from beef to avocados, cheese to chocolate, almonds to tortilla chips, salmon to peanut butter – has an insupportable environmental cost.

But just as hope appeared to be evaporating, the new technologies I call farmfree food create astonishing possibilities to save both people and planet. Farmfree food will allow us to hand back vast areas of land and sea to nature, permitting rewilding and carbon drawdown on a massive scale. It means an end to the exploitation of animals, an end to most deforestation, a massive reduction in the use of pesticides and fertiliser, the end of trawlers and longliners. It’s our best hope of stopping what some have called the “sixth great extinction”, but I prefer to call the great extermination. And, if it’s done right, it means cheap and abundant food for everyone.

Research by the thinktank RethinkX suggests that proteins from precision fermentation will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035. The result, it says, will be the near-complete collapse of the livestock industry. The new food economy will “replace an extravagantly inefficient system that requires enormous quantities of inputs and produces huge amounts of waste with one that is precise, targeted, and tractable”. Using tiny areas of land, with a massively reduced requirement for water and nutrients, it “presents the greatest opportunity for environmental restoration in human history”.

Not only will food be cheaper, it will also be healthier. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2020 at 6:50 pm

Going 100% Green Will Pay For Itself in Seven Years, Study Finds

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Will Wade reports in Bloomberg:

A Stanford University professor whose research helped underpin the U.S. Democrats’ Green New Deal says phasing out fossil fuels and running the entire world on clean energy would pay for itself in under seven years.

It would cost $73 trillion to revamp power grids, transportation, manufacturing and other systems to run on wind, solar and hydro power, including enough storage capacity to keep the lights on overnight, Mark Jacobson said in a study published Friday in the journal One Earth. But that would be offset by annual savings of almost $11 trillion, the report found.

“There’s really no downside to making this transition,” said Jacobson, who wrote the study with several other researchers. “Most people are afraid it will be too expensive. Hopefully this will allay some of those fears.”

Some of Jacobson’s past findings have been questioned, notably a 2017 journal article that criticized his methodology on measuring the cost of phasing out fossil fuels.

The biggest challenge of ditching fossil fuels may not be economic. Even some clean-power advocates acknowledge technology isn’t available yet to run power grids entirely on renewables without jeopardizing reliability.

The report published Friday looked at 143 countries that generate more than 99% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. The savings would come from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2020 at 9:39 am

President Trump speaks about windmills

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Mediaite quotes from a speech President Trump gave in Wisconsin:

“I never understood wind,” Trump said. “I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody. I know it is very expensive. They are made in China and Germany mostly, very few made here, almost none, but they are manufactured, tremendous — if you are into this — tremendous fumes and gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right?”

“So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right spewing, whether it is China or Germany, is going into the air,” he continued.

“A windmill will kill many bald eagles,” Trump continued. “After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off, that is true. By the way, they make you turn it off. And yet, if you killed one, they put you in jail. That is OK. But why is it OK for windmills to destroy the bird population?”

This is the person that Republicans believe is a fine president.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 December 2019 at 8:37 pm

We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

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. About three-quarters of carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels for power, and we already have the technology to make a big dent in that. Solar power is now price-competitive with the most efficient natural gas plants and is likely to get even cheaper in the near future. In 2019, Los Angeles signed a deal to provide 400 megawatts of solar power at a price under 4 cents per kilowatt-hour—including battery storage to keep that power available day and night. That’s just a start—it will provide only about 7 percent of electricity needed in Los Angeles—but for the first time it’s fully competitive with the current wholesale price of fossil fuel electricity in Southern California.

Wind power—especially offshore wind—is equally promising. This means that a broad-based effort to build solar and wind infrastructure, along with a commitment to replace much of the world’s fossil fuel use with electricity, would go pretty far toward reducing global carbon emissions.

How far? Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that by 2050, wind and solar can satisfy 80 percent of electricity demand in most advanced countries. But due to inadequate infrastructure in some cases and lack of wind and sun in others, not all countries can meet this goal, which means that even with favorable government policies and big commitments to clean energy, the growth of wind and solar will probably provide only about half of the world’s demand for electricity by midcentury. “Importantly,” the Bloomberg analysts caution, “major progress in de-carbonization will also be required in other segments of the world’s economy to address climate change.”

This inevitably means we have to face up to some bad news. If existing technologies like wind, solar, and nuclear can get us only halfway to our goal—or maybe a bit more—the other half would seem to require cutting back on energy consumption.

Let’s be clear about something: We’re not talking about voluntary personal cutbacks. If you decide to bicycle more or eat less meat, great—every little bit helps. But no one who’s serious about climate change believes that personal decisions like this have more than a slight effect on the gigatons of carbon we’ve emitted and the shortsighted policies we’ve enacted. Framing the problem this way—a solution of individual lifestyle choices—is mostly just a red herring that allows corporations and conservatives to avoid the real issue.

The real issue is this: Only large-scale government action can significantly reduce carbon emissions. But this doesn’t let any of us off the hook. Our personal cutbacks might not matter much, but what does matter is whether we’re willing to support large-scale actions—­things like carbon taxes or fracking bans—that will force all of us to reduce our energy consumption.

Solutions depend on how acceptable these policies are to the public. To get a rough handle of what a significant reduc­tion means, the Nature Conservancy has a handy app that can help you calculate what it would take to cut your household carbon footprint in half.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2019 at 9:41 am

Out of this darkness we must find the will to fight back

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George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

Yes, it’s dark. Darker, arguably, than at any point since the second world war. We have a government not of conservatives but of the radical right, who will now seek to smash the remaining restraints on capital and those who accumulate it. They will take their sledgehammers to our public services and our public protections. They cheated and lied to assist their victory; they will cheat and lie even more to implement their programme.

They are led by a man who has expressed overtly racist views, who won’t hesitate to stir up bigotry and xenophobia whenever he runs into trouble, scapegoating immigrants, Muslims, Romany Gypsies and Travellers, the poor and the weak. They will revel in outrage and affront, using every attack on common decency to normalise the unacceptable. This government has no vision for the country, only a vision for the oligarchs to whom it is bound, onshore and offshore.

So I don’t want to minimise the scale and horror of what we face. But documenting it is one task; the other is resisting it. Here, roughly and briefly, is an outline of how we might begin. I am as tired and shocked and frazzled as you are, so please forgive me if I have missed some essential elements.

First, we must park the recriminations and blame. We need to be fully occupied fighting the government and its backers, not fighting each other. Solidarity is going to be crucial over the coming months. We should seek, wherever possible, to put loyalty to party and faction aside, and work on common resolutions to a crisis afflicting everyone who wants a kinder, fairer, greener nation.

All the progressive manifestos I’ve read – LabourGreenSNPLiberal DemocratPlaid Cymru – contain some excellent proposals. Let’s extract the best of them, and ideas from many other sources, and build an alliance around them. There will be differences, of course. But there will also be positions that almost everyone who believes in justice can accept.

I believe we need to knit these proposals into the crucial missing element in modern progressive politics: a restoration story. A powerful new narrative is the vehicle for all political transformations. While all the progressive parties in the UK have proposed good policies, none of them have told a story that exactly fits the successful narrative template. Let’s work together to craft the story of change.

We should use the new story, and the proposals this narrative vehicle carries, to build mass resistance movements, taking inspiration from – and building on – highly effective mobilisations such as the youth climate strikes. We will draw strength from the movements in other nations, and support them in turn.

A major part of this resistance, I believe, must be the reclamation of a culture of public learning. Acquiring useful knowledge requires determined study. Yet we have lost the habit of rigorous learning in adulthood, once seen as crucial to social justice. This makes us vulnerable to every charlatan who stands for election, and every lie they amplify through the billionaire press and social media.

Those who govern us would love to keep us in ignorance. When they deride “elites”, they don’t mean people like themselves – the rich and powerful. They mean teachers and intellectuals. They are creating an anti-intellectual culture, to make people easier to manipulate. Let’s reinvigorate the workers’ education movements. Let’s restore a rich public culture of intellectual self-improvement, open to everyone. Knowledge is the most powerful tool in politics.

We must expose every lie, every trick this government will play, using social media as effectively as possible. We must use every available tool to investigate its financial relationships, interests and strategies. We should use the courts to sue and prosecute malfeasance whenever we can.

But while all this is happening, more and more people will fall through the cracks. I recognise that charity is no substitute for justice, and we can never fully compensate for the failures of the state. Even so, we must enhance the support and giving networks for the people this government will neglect or attack. No one should have to face the coming onslaught alone.

We will create, to the greatest extent possible, a resistance economy. This means local cooperative networks of mutual support, which circulate social and material wealth within the community. The astonishing work of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 3:52 pm

The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback

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Andrew Freedman reports some bad tidings in the Washington Post:

The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region released Tuesday.

The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers.

The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic already may have become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

There has been concern throughout the scientific community that the approximately 1,460 billion to 1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon stored in frozen Arctic soils, almost twice the amount of greenhouse gases as what is contained in the atmosphere, could be released as the permafrost melts.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming. Ted Schuur, a researcher at Northern Arizona University and author of the permafrost chapter, said the report “takes on a new stand on the issue” based on other published work, including a study in Nature Climate Change in November.

Taking advantage of the new studies — one on regional carbon emissions from permafrost in Alaska during the warm season, and another on winter season emissions in the Arctic compared to how much carbon is absorbed by vegetation during the growing season — the report concludes permafrost ecosystems could be releasing as much as 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.

“These observations signify that the feedback to accelerating climate change may already be underway,” the report concludes.

“Each of the studies has some parts of the story. Together they really paint the picture of — we’ve turned this corner for Arctic carbon,” Schuur said. “Together they complement each other nicely and really in my mind are a smoking gun for this change already taking place.” . . .

Continue reading.

Meanwhile, conservatives and fossil-fuel companies deny that this is happening. I hope that works, but so far denial has proved ineffective at stopping (or even slowing) the trend..

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2019 at 8:42 am

Greenland’s ice losses have septupled and are now in line with its highest sea-level scenario, scientists say

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Chris Mooney reports in the Washington Post on a phenomenon whose existence conservatives continue to deny, even though denying reality is a bad survival strategy. He writes:

The Greenland ice sheet’s losses have accelerated so fast since the 1990s it is now shedding more than seven times as much ice each year, according to 89 scientists who use satellites to study the area.

The sheet’s total losses nearly doubled each decade, from 33 billion tons per year in the 1990s to an average now of 254 billion tons annually. Since 1992, nearly 4 trillion tons of Greenland ice have entered the ocean, the new analysis found, equivalent to roughly a centimeter of global sea-level rise.

While a centimeter may not sound like much, that uptick is already affecting millions.

“Around the planet, just 1 centimeter of sea-level rise brings another 6 million people into seasonal, annual floods,” said Andrew Shepherd, a University of Leeds professor who co-led the massive collaboration with NASA researcher Erik Ivins.

The results, from a scientific group called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), were published Tuesday in the journal Nature.

The research suggests an alarming pace of change for the Earth’s second-largest body of ice, which could theoretically drive over 20 feet of sea-level rise over a millennium.

[Quiz: How much do you know about ice sheets, and climate change?]

The recent Greenland losses, the experts suggest, match a more dire sea-level projection outlined by the United Nations’ chief climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Under that high-end scenario, Greenland could contribute about 16 centimeters, or around half a foot, to ocean levels by 2100.

“What that means is that really, the midrange scenario becomes what was previously the upper scenario, and they will have to invent a new upper scenario, because one currently doesn’t exist,” Shepherd said.

Much more sea-level rise would then come from melting in Antarctica and smaller glaciers around the world, along with the expansion of ocean water that stems from warmer temperatures. It is not yet clear whether these other components of the sea-level equation are also following the high end, or worst-case, path, however, and the current study was focused only on Greenland. (While Greenland is the biggest contributor to sea-level rise at the present moment, Antarctica ultimately has a larger long-term potential to raise seas.)

Sea-level rise would only continue — and, perhaps, accelerate further — after 2100.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, covered with a continuous sheet of ice produced by many thousands of years of snowfall. The ice sheet’s size rivals that of Alaska, and its center is well over a mile thick.

The ice flows outward under its own weight toward the ocean, but because of Greenland’s mountainous and rocky coastline, it usually reaches the sea in fingerlike glaciers that extend outward through fjords. These fjords are partially submerged valleys, which were themselves excavated over vast stretches of geological time by the glaciers’ movement.

Several large glaciers account for the biggest ice losses — with Jakobshavn Glacier, in central Greenland, leading the way. But there are hundreds of glaciers overall, and now more are losing ice as warming seas come in contact with them through the fjords.

The ice sheet itself is also being exposed to warming air temperatures. Most of Greenland has warmed by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) already, compared with the late 19th century, according to a Washington Post analysis of the globe’s fastest-warming regions. That is double the global average rate of warming.

[Dangerous hot zones are spreading all over the world]

In summer these higher temperatures produce more and more meltwater atop the ice sheet, which also runs into the ocean. A little more than half of the Greenland losses have arisen through this process, the study found, which is now happening too quickly to be offset by annual snowfall.

p class=”font–body font-copy color-gray-darkest ma-0 pad-bottom-md undefined”>The remaining losses are driven by the faster flow of the glaciers out into the extremely deep waters of Greenland’s fjords, where they break off into the ocean in pieces.

This faster flow may account for the fact that the ice sheet is losing more mass than previously expected. More and more glaciers are losing ice, said study co-author Beata Csatho, a Greenland expert at the University at Buffalo. This includes several very large glaciers in Greenland’s far north, she said, which lie closest to the Arctic Ocean and had previously been slow to change.

The new research is based on 26 separate satellite analyses, all individually published as separate studies. These employ a variety of methods to measure the recent change in the Greenland ice sheet.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2019 at 8:15 am

The Collapse of Civilization May Have Already Begun

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It does seem as though we are adrift on a wooden ship whose stern is fully ablaze while we continue to dance on the deck. Nafeez Ahmed writes in Motherboard:

“It is now too late to stop a future collapse of our societies because of climate change.”

These are not the words of a tinfoil hat-donning survivalist. This is from a paper delivered by a senior sustainability academic at a leading business school to the European Commission in Brussels, earlier this year. Before that, he delivered a similar message to a UN conference: “Climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity.”

***

In the age of climate chaos, the collapse of civilization has moved from being a fringe, taboo issue to a more mainstream concern.

As the world reels under each new outbreak of crisis—record heatwaves across the Western hemisphere, devastating fires across the Amazon rainforest, the slow-moving Hurricane Dorian, severe ice melting at the poles—the question of how bad things might get, and how soon, has become increasingly urgent.

The fear of collapse is evident in the framing of movements such as ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and in resounding warnings that business-as-usual means heading toward an uninhabitable planet.

But a growing number of experts not only point at the looming possibility that human civilization itself is at risk; some believe that the science shows it is already too late to prevent collapse. The outcome of the debate on this is obviously critical: it throws light on whether and how societies should adjust to this uncertain landscape.

Yet this is not just a scientific debate. It also raises difficult moral questions about what kind of action is warranted to prepare for, or attempt to avoid, the worst. Scientists may disagree about the timeline of collapse, but many argue that this is entirely beside the point. While scientists and politicians quibble over timelines and half measures, or how bad it’ll all be, we are losing precious time. With the stakes being total collapse, some scientists are increasingly arguing that we should fundamentally change the structure of society just to be safe.

***

Jem Bendell, a former consultant to the United Nations and longtime Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria’s Department of Business, delivered a paper in May 2019 explaining how people and communities might “adapt to climate-induced disruption.”

Bendell’s thesis is not only that societal collapse due to climate change is on its way, but that it is, in effect, already here. “Climate change will disrupt your way of life in your lifetimes,” he told the audience at a climate change conference organized by the European Commission.

Devastating consequences, like “the cascading effects of widespread and repeated harvest failures” are now unavoidable, Bendell’s paper says.

He argues this is not so much a doom-and-gloom scenario as a case of waking up to reality, so that we can do as much as we can to save as many lives as possible. His recommended response is what he calls “Deep Adaptation,” which requires going beyond “mere adjustments to our existing economic system and infrastructure, in order to prepare us for the breakdown or collapse of normal societal functions.”

Bendell’s message has since gained a mass following and high-level attention. It is partly responsible for inspiring the new wave of climate protests reverberating around the world.

In March, he launched the Deep Adaptation Forum to connect and support people who, in the face of “inevitable” societal collapse, want to explore how they can “reduce suffering, while saving more of society and the natural world.” Over the last six months, the Forum has gathered more than 10,000 participants. More than 600,000 people have downloaded Bendell’s paper, called Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating our Climate Tragedy, published by the University of Cumbria’s Institute of Leadership and Sustainability (IFALS). And many of the key organizers behind the Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaign joined the protest movement after reading it.

“There will be a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers,” concludes that paper, released in 2017.

Catastrophe is “probable,” it adds, and extinction “is possible.” Over coming decades, we will see the escalating impacts of the fossil fuel pollution we have already pumped into the atmosphere and oceans. Even if we ceased emissions tomorrow, Bendell argues, the latest climate science shows that “we are now in a climate emergency, which will increasingly disrupt our way of life… a societal collapse is now inevitable within the lifetimes of readers of this paper.”

Bendell puts a rough timeline on this. Collapse will happen within 10 years and inflict disruptions across nations, involving “increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict, and war.”

Yet this diagnosis opens up far more questions than it answers. I was left wondering: Which societies are at risk of collapsing due to climate change, and when? Some societies or all societies? Simultaneously or sequentially? Why some rather than others? And how long will the collapse process take? Where will it start, and in what sector? How will that impact others sectors? Or will it take down all sectors of societies in one fell swoop? And what does any of this imply for whether, or how, we might prepare for collapse?

In attempting to answer these questions, I spoke to a wide-range of scientists and experts, and took a deep dive into the obscure but emerging science of how societies and civilizations collapse. I wanted to understand not just whether Bendell’s forecast was right, but to find out what a range experts from climate scientists to risk analysts were unearthing about the possibility of our societies collapsing in coming years and decades.

The emerging science of collapse is still, unfortunately, a nascent field. That’s because it’s an interdisciplinary science that encompasses not only the incredibly complex, interconnected natural systems that comprise the Earth System, but also has to make sense of how those systems interact with the complex, interconnected social, political, economic, and cultural systems of the Human System.

What I discovered provoked a wide range of emotions. I was at times surprised and shocked, often frightened, sometimes relieved. Mostly, I was unsettled. Many scientists exposed flaws in Bendell’s argument. Most rejected the idea of inevitable near-term collapse outright. But to figure out whether a near-term collapse scenario of some kind was likely led me far beyond Bendell. A number of world leading experts told me that  . . .

Continue reading.

That video is worth watching. More on Extinction Rebellion:

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2019 at 1:33 pm

A Taste of the Climate Apocalypse to Come

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

PG&E’s rolling blackouts probably don’t eliminate fire risk, and they actually could make responding to fires harder. What they largely do is shift responsibility away from the company.

At the beginning of October, my kids’ preschool informed me that it might be closed the next day because of rolling blackouts — a radical new effort by our local power utility in Northern California to avoid sparking wildfires. The water company, faced with the shutdown of its pumps, asked us to fill our bathtubs before the cutoff. On the advice of experts, my car was backed into the driveway for a quick escape, its hatch packed with 7 gallons of water and a go-bag including leather gloves, breathing masks, spare clothes, headlamps and emergency food.

The National Weather Service was predicting 55-mile-an-hour winds, with 10% humidity. It was like living inside a ticking time bomb. And so, in a desperate attempt to avoid detonation, the utility decided to haul almost 800,000 households backward through time into premodernity, for days at a stretch. Around Silicon Valley, residential areas adjacent to some of the most technologically advanced corporations in the world — the offices of private space-exploration companies, internet search engines, electric vehicle manufacturers — would forgo basic electricity.

The blackouts solved nothing, of course. De-energizing the electrical grid is a bludgeon: imprecise, with enormous potential for collateral damage as people deal with a darkened world. It doesn’t even eliminate fire risk. What it largely does is shift responsibility away from Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility company, whose faulty transmission lines had been found to have caused some of the most destructive wildfires on record.

In fact, cutting power can exacerbate some fire risks. In a blackout, more people rely on home generators, many of which have been installed without permits and might be no less faulty than the utility’s own equipment. Detours and gridlock force more cars into vulnerable places. (Sparks off roadways are another top cause of wildfire.) The blackout makes it harder for the public to respond to fire emergencies even as it does little to prevent all the other factors that cause them — from careless barbecues to tossed-out cigarette butts to plain old arson. One of the state’s most serious fires so far this year was ignited by burning garbage.

But a mandatory blackout does have one radically positive effect. By suddenly withdrawing electrical power — the invisible lifeblood of our unsustainable economic order — PG&E has made the apocalyptic future of the climate crisis immediate and visceral for some of the nation’s most comfortable people. It is easy to ignore climate change in the bosom of the developed world. But you can’t fail to notice when the lights go out.

Only once the blackouts began to take effect did local agencies and governments seem to begin to grasp their rippling effects and implications. As the city of Oakland prepared to lose power, its Police Department — already strained by understaffing and rampant corruption — called back its off-duty officers and put its investigative units into uniform in the hopes of managing a city in the dark. Transportation officials prepared to close four tunnels that make up one of the Bay Area’s major highway arteries, effectively walling off thousands of people from their jobs in downtown Oakland and San Francisco.

As the lights went out across the region, the economies of whole towns and small cities ground to a halt. Grocery stores and gas stations closed, air conditioning was shut off and cell towers faltered — even as the cellphones themselves, now many households’ only means of communication, slowly began to lose battery power. People whose lives depended on home medical equipment faced life-threatening emergencies, and cars — without operating gas pumps — risked running out of fuel. My own town sat on the edge of an arbitrary boundary. The lights stayed on, but the mood was ominous.

And it ought to be. In the American West, our climate will only get hotter and drier, our wildfires worse. Every year more places are going to burn, and we will, repeatedly, be horrified by the losses. But we should not be shocked by them. The blackouts have laid bare the uncomfortable fact that the infrastructure we’ve built and maintained over the course of many decades isn’t matched to the threats we face in our rapidly unfolding climate emergency.

The safest way to proceed under such circumstances — on an annual basis, every time the thermometer kicks up and the winds begin to blow — is probably not simply to forgo the use of one of civilization’s most elementary and essential innovations. Significantly lowering emissions, reducing waste, managing our landscape and fortifying our communities would all do much more to save lives. But it’s hard to imagine that even deep-blue California will make sufficient progress on the climate-adapting steps we’ve long been implored to take.

At least mandatory blackouts force a glimpse into this new reality. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2019 at 11:30 am

U.S. Military Could Collapse Within 20 Years Due to Climate Change, Report Commissioned By Pentagon Says

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Apparently simply denying that climate change is happening (as is required by law in some Republican states (like North Carolina and Florida, for example)) is not expected to actually work. Nafeez Ahmed reports in Motherboard:

According to a new U.S. Army report, Americans could face a horrifically grim future from climate change involving blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation and war. The study found that the US military itself might also collapse. This could all happen over the next two decades, the report notes.

The senior US government officials who wrote the report are from several key agencies including the Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, and NASA. The study called on the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century.

The report was commissioned by General Mark Milley, Trump’s new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the highest-ranking military officer in the country (the report also puts him at odds with Trump, who does not take climate change seriously.)

The report, titled Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army, was launched by the U.S. Army War College in partnership with NASA in May at the Wilson Center in Washington DC. The report was commissioned by Gen. Milley during his previous role as the Army’s Chief of Staff. It was made publicly available in August via the Center for Climate and Security, but didn’t get a lot of attention at the time.

The two most prominent scenarios in the report focus on the risk of a collapse of the power grid within “the next 20 years,” and the danger of disease epidemics. Both could be triggered by climate change in the near-term, it notes.

The report also warns that the US military should prepare for new foreign interventions in Syria-style conflicts, triggered due to climate-related impacts. Bangladesh in particular is highlighted as the most vulnerable country to climate collapse in the world.

“The permanent displacement of a large portion of the population of Bangladesh would be a regional catastrophe with the potential to increase global instability,” the report warns. “This is a potential result of climate change complications in just one country. Globally, over 600 million people live at sea level.”

Sea level rise, which could go higher than 2 meters by 2100 according to one recent study, “will displace tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people, creating massive, enduring instability,” the report adds.

The US should therefore be ready to act not only in Bangladesh, but in many other regions, like the rapidly melting Arctic—where the report recommends the US military should take advantage of its hydrocarbon resources and new transit routes to repel Russian encroachment.

But without urgent reforms, the report warns that the US military itself could end up effectively collapsing as it tries to respond to climate collapse. It could lose capacity to contain threats in the US and could wilt into “mission failure” abroad due to inadequate water supplies.

Total collapse of the power grid

The report paints a frightening portrait of a country falling apart over the next 20 years due to the impacts of climate change on “natural systems such as oceans, lakes, rivers, ground water, reefs, and forests.”

Current infrastructure in the US, the report says, is woefully underprepared: “Most of the critical infrastructures identified by the Department of Homeland Security are not built to withstand these altered conditions.”

Some 80 percent of US agricultural exports and 78 percent of imports are water-borne. This means that episodes of flooding due to climate change could leave lasting damage to shipping infrastructure, posing “a major threat to US lives and communities, the US economy and global food security,” the report notes.

At particular risk is the US national power grid, which could shut down due to “the stressors of a changing climate,” especially changing rainfall levels:

“The power grid that serves the United States is aging and continues to operate without a coordinated and significant infrastructure investment. Vulnerabilities exist to electricity-generating power plants, electric transmission infrastructure and distribution system components,” it states.

As a result, the “increased energy requirements” triggered by new weather patterns like extended periods of heat, drought, and cold could eventually overwhelm “an already fragile system.”

The report’s grim prediction has already started playing out, with utility PG&E cutting power to more than a million people across California to avoid power lines sparking another catastrophic wildfire. While climate change is intensifying the dry season and increasing fire risks, PG&E has come under fire for failing to fix the state’s ailing power grid.

The US Army report shows that California’s power outage could be a taste of things to come, laying out a truly dystopian scenario of what would happen if the national power grid was brought down by climate change. One particularly harrowing paragraph lists off the consequences bluntly:

“If the power grid infrastructure were to collapse, the United States would experience significant:

  • Loss of perishable foods and medications
  • Loss of water and wastewater distribution systems
  • Loss of heating/air conditioning and electrical lighting systems
  • Loss of computer, telephone, and communications systems (including airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services)
  • Loss of public transportation systems
  • Loss of fuel distribution systems and fuel pipelines
  • Loss of all electrical systems that do not have back-up power”

Although the report does not dwell on the implications, it acknowledges that a national power grid failure would lead to a perfect storm requiring emergency military responses that might eventually weaken the ability of the US Army to continue functioning at all: “Relief efforts aggravated by seasonal climatological effects would potentially accelerate the criticality of the developing situation. The cascading effects of power loss… would rapidly challenge the military’s ability to continue operations.”

Also at “high risk of temporary or permanent closure due to climate threats” are US nuclear power facilities.

There are currently 99 nuclear reactors operating in the US, supplying nearly 20 percent of the country’s utility-scale energy. But the majority of these, some 60 percent, are located in vulnerable regions which face “major risks” including sea level rise, severe storms, and water shortages.

Containment

The report’s authors believe that domestic military operations will be necessary to contain future disease outbreaks. There is no clear timeline for this, except the notion of being prepared for imminent surprises: “Climate change is introducing an increased risk of infectious disease to the US population. It is increasingly not a matter of ‘if’ but of when there will be a large outbreak.”

Areas in the south of the US will see an increase in precipitation of between .5 and .8 mm a day, along with an increase in average annual temperatures of 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (C) by 2050.

Along with warmer winters, these new conditions will drive the proliferation of mosquitos and ticks. This in turn will spur the spread of diseases “which may be previously unseen in the US”, and accelerate the reach of diseases currently found in very small numbers such as Zika, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and many others:

“The US Army will be called upon to assist in much the same way it was called upon in other disasters. Detailed coordination with local, state and federal agencies in the most high risk regions will hasten response time and minimize risk to mission.”

A new era of endless war

The new report is especially significant given the Trump administration’s climate science denial. Commissioned by General Mark Milley, now the highest ranking military officer in the United States, the report not only concludes that climate change is real, but that it is on track to create an unprecedented catastrophe that could lead to the total collapse of US society without serious investments in new technology and infrastructure. However, while focusing on projected climate impacts, the report does not discuss the causes of climate change in human fossil fuel emissions.

The report was written by an interdisciplinary team active across several US government agencies, including the White House’s Office of American Innovation, the Secretary of Defense’s Protecting Critical Technology Task Force, NASA’s Harvest Consortium, the US Air Force Headquarters’ Directorate of Weather, the US Army’s National Guard, and the US State Department. The US Army War College did not respond to a request for comment.

Their report not only describes the need for massive permanent military infrastructure on US soil to stave off climate collapse, but portends

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2019 at 4:10 pm

Google Has Made Generous Contributions to Climate Change Deniers

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I thought Google’s motto was “Do no evil.” Apparently not. Stephanie Kirchgaessener writes in Mother Jones:

Google has made “substantial” contributions to some of the most notorious climate deniers in Washington despite its insistence that it supports political action on the climate crisis.

Among hundreds of groups the company has listed on its website as beneficiaries of its political giving are more than a dozen organizations that have campaigned against climate legislation, questioned the need for action, or actively sought to roll back Obama-era environmental protections.

The list includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that was instrumental in convincing the Trump administration to abandon the Paris agreement and has criticized the White House for not dismantling more environmental rules.

Google said it was disappointed by the US decision to abandon the global climate deal, but has continued to support CEI.

Google is also listed as a sponsor for an upcoming annual meeting of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization that supports conservative groups including the Heartland Institute, a radical anti-science group that has chided the teenage activist Greta Thunberg for “climate delusion hysterics”. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2019 at 2:59 pm

How USDA is failing farmers

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Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico:

ROCK PORT, Missouri — Rick Oswald is standing on the doorstep of the white farmhouse he grew up in, but almost nothing is as it should be.

To his right, four steel grain bins, usually shiny and straight, lie mangled and ripped open, spilling now-rotting corn into piles like sand dunes. The once manicured lawn has been overtaken by waist-tall cattails, their seeds carried in by flood waters that consumed this house, this farm and everything around it last spring.

“This house is 80 years old,” Oswald says, stepping inside the darkened living room, which now smells faintly of mold. “Never had water in it.”

American farmers are reeling after extreme rains followed by a “bomb cyclone”— an explosive storm that brought high winds and severe blizzard conditions — ravaged the heartland, turning once productive fields into lakes, killing livestock and destroying grain stores. The barrage of wet weather across the country this spring left a record-shattering 20 million acres unable to be planted — an area nearly the size of South Carolina. Other weather-related disasters, from fires in the West to hurricanes in the Southeast, have converged to make the past year one of the worst for agriculture in decades.

But the Agriculture Department is doing little to help farmers adapt to what experts predict is the new norm: increasingly extreme weather across much of the U.S. The department, which has a hand in just about every aspect of the industry, from doling out loans to subsidizing crop insurance, spends just 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget helping farmers adapt to climate change, whether it’s identifying the unique risks each region faces or helping producers rethink their practices so they’re better able to withstand extreme rain and periods of drought.

Even these limited efforts, however, have been severely hampered by the Trump administration’s hostility to even discussing climate change, according to interviews with dozens of current and former officials, farmers and scientists.

Top officials rarely, if ever, address the issue directly. That message translates into a conspiracy of silence at lower levels of the department, and a lingering fear among many who work on climate-related issues that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they say the wrong thing. When new tools to help farmers adapt to climate change are created, they typically are not promoted and usually do not appear on the USDA’s main resource pages for farmers or social-media postings for the public.

The department’s primary vehicle for helping farmers adapt to climate change — a network of regional climate “hubs” launched during the Obama Administration — has continued to operate with extremely limited staff and no dedicated resources, while keeping a very low-profile to avoid sparking the ire of top USDA officials or the White House.

“I don’t know if its paranoia, but they’re being more watchful of what we’re doing at the local level,” one current hub employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid possible retaliation. “It’s very interesting that we were able to survive.”

The result is parallel universes of information. On the climate hubs’ under-the-radar Twitter account, farmers, ranchers and the public receive frank reports about monsoon rain storms becoming more intense across the Southwest, fire seasons getting longer across the West and how rising temperatures are already affecting pollinators.

“With #climatechange, wet is wetter, hot is hotter, dry is drier… and what do we do about all that?” reads one hubs account tweet from last April, quoting a New Jersey farmer talking about how to adapt to climate change.

The climate hubs’ account has only 3,200 followers. There are about 2 million farmers and ranchers in the country. By contrast, the official USDA Twitter account, with nearly 640,000 followers, completely avoids the topic. That account hasn’t used the word “climate” since December 2017.

Nearly every farmer and rancher POLITICO interviewed for this story — dozens in hard-hit states including Nebraska, Ohio and California – said they had not heard of the climate hubs. Of the few producers who had heard of them, most were not aware of the many adaptation tools and resources that have been developed to help with decision-making.

Though Oswald has been unusually vocal about climate change negatively affecting farmers, he, too, hasn’t heard much from the climate hubs, nor does he ever hear USDA officials broach the subject. Asked if his local USDA office ever talks about climate change adaptation, Oswald laughed.

“No.”

The logic for such silence makes little sense to farmers like Oswald: Most believe that the climate is changing, though only a small share believe it’s primarily driven by human activities. But the department doesn’t have to dive into the debate about what’s causing climate change to help farmers prepare and adapt.

“I’m standing right here in the middle of climate change right now,” Oswald said.

***

The Agriculture Department is not one of those government agencies that believes it does best by doing least.

Founded in 1862, at Abraham Lincoln’s request, the department would grow to play a central role in the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt, embracing a more activist approach to respond to crises like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Today, its mission is even more expansive. The department doles out billions of dollars in farm subsidies, underwrites insurance on millions of acres of crops, researches and helps control diseases that threaten plants and animals and buys up massive quantities of food when farmers produce too much — a surplus that supplies food banks and schools nationwide.

But when it comes to climate change, there has been a curious silence hanging over the department, even as its own economists have warned that warming temperatures will make helping the agriculture sector more expensive in the future. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some interesting charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2019 at 5:58 pm

An Ancient Fruit Holds Secrets for How to Farm in Climate Change

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Marisa Endicott writes in Mother Jones:

Cloverleaf Farm, a small produce operation in Davis, California, managed to do okay during the extreme drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016. But in the first wet year after the long dry period, the farm lost its entire apricot crop to disease—$40,000 to $50,000 down the drain.

Researchers predict that as climate change worsens, there will be more frequent shifts between extreme dry spells and floods. As Cloverleaf learned the hard way, the phenomenon is already taking a toll on growers in the country’s largest food producing state. During the drought, California’s agricultural and related industries lost $2.7 billion in one year alone. Big cash crops like almonds and grapes are at particular risk in the future, unnerving farmers and vintners already taking hits from erratic and extreme weather.

Katie Fyhrie, a grower at Cloverleaf Farm, worries that the farm won’t be able to keep producing stone fruits—which depend on the timing and duration of winter chill—in the long-term. “It can be confusing to figure out how to move forward,” Fyhrie says. “Where we’re at right now, versus where we’re going to be 10, 20, 30 years down the line. It’s a really tricky thing to balance.”

Ancient plant species might hold important clues about which crops will survive in a harsher climate. With that in mind, Fyhrie and her team have started growing elderberries. An indigo pearl-sized fruit that grows on a big bushy plant, the elderberry is relatively unknown in the United States; the majority of the commercial market comes from an imported European variety. But Native American communities have been using a Western elderberry subspecies for centuries.

The elderberry that’s native to California grows remarkably well in drought conditions. After a couple of years, you can completely remove irrigation and the plant will keep producing. This last season, Cloverleaf harvested 130 pounds of berries from each of its most mature trees, none of which are irrigated. “That is a huge deal that we’re getting berries that are good for you, really versatile for a lot of products, and that require no additional fertilizer or water,” Fyhrie says. 

Elderberries are just one of “many hardy ancient foods and crops that may be a poised to make a twenty-first century comeback,” as Amanda Little puts it in her recent book The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World. Global warming is “forcing us to think differently about the quality and resilience of the crops we grow—both in the poorest parts of the world and the wealthiest,” she writes. Some researchers are trying to breed almonds, apples, and avocados that are more resistant to hot weather and drier saltier land. General Mills is now using Kernza—derived from ancient perennial wheatgrass native to the Kansas plains—in some of its cereals, snack bars, and crackers. In comparison to traditional wheat, Kernza is much more sustainable and better at sequestering carbon.

With support from a sustainability grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture awarded in fall of 2018 and in partnership with the University of California–Davis, Cloverleaf is running field trials with elderberries, developing best practices guides for growers, and doing nutritional and market analyses. The idea is to explore boosting grower adoption and consumer interest in the berry.  

At Cloverleaf, Fyhrie uses the fruit in syrup, jelly, and even fruit leathers and an elderflower cordial. Dried elderberries can be used for tea and baked goods. They’re also used in food coloring and dyes. Because of the berries’ antioxidant and antiviral properties (in certain subspecies at least), they’re popular in the health food community and are commonly used as supplements or to treat colds and flu.

While not all native plants are going to fare well under climate change, many . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 11:34 am

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