Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Climate change

More than 700 species facing extinction are being hit by climate change

Humans’ closest relatives, the primates, are among those worst affected because their tropical habitats have had a stable climate for thousands of years

  • Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent
  • Tuesday 14 February 2017

More than 700 mammals and birds currently threatened with extinction already appear to have been adversely affected by climate change, according to a major review of scientific studies.

Primates and marsupials are believed to have the most individual species suffering as a result of global warming, according to a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Only two groups of mammals, rodents and insect-eaters, are thought to have benefitted.

This is partly because they have fast breeding rates, tend not to be specialists suited to a particular habitat, and often live in burrows which provide insulation against changes in the weather.

The figures are much higher than previously thought, making up 47 per cent of land mammals and 23 per cent of the birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of species threatened with extinction.

According to the list itself, just seven per cent of the mammals and four per cent of the birds are described as being threatened by “climate change and severe weather”.

The researchers developed a model to compare the animals’ weight and other characteristics with changes in the climate, such as the temperature.

“Using this model, we estimated that 47 per cent of terrestrial [non-flying] threatened mammals (out of 873 species) and 23.4 per cent of threatened birds (out of 1,272 species) may have already been negatively impacted by climate change in at least part of their distribution,” the article in Nature Climate Change said.

“Our results suggest that populations of large numbers of threatened species are likely to be already affected by climate change, and that conservation managers, planners and policy makers must take this into account in efforts to safeguard the future of biodiversity.”

Primates and marsupials are more at risk than other animals partly because they have lived mostly in tropical parts of the world which have had a stable climate for thousands of years.

“Many of these [animals] have evolved to live within restricted environmental tolerances and are likely to be most affected by rapid changes and extreme events,” the paper added.

“In addition, primates and elephants are characterised by very slow reproductive rates that reduce their ability to adapt to rapid changes in environmental conditions.”

One reason why climate change is causing a problem for animals is changes in the distribution of plants.

“In areas with reduced precipitation and/or temperature seasonality, it is likely that plant species may have narrower climatic tolerances, and therefore that these areas may have already experienced vegetation changes with consequential loss of habitat for animals living there,” the paper said.

“A more specialised diet was also associated with greater probability of negative responses in mammals.

“Our findings are in agreement with previous studies on the predictors of general extinction risk, in which species with narrower diet breadths were associated with lower ability to exploit resources and adapt to new environmental conditions and selective pressures.”

Birds living in the world’s cold mountain regions appear to be particularly at risk.

“Populations of species living at high altitudes and in colder places have fewer opportunities to move towards cooler areas or upslope to avoid increasing temperatures, and hence may have increased extinction risk,” the paper said.

Another problem is that higher temperatures are inducing birds to lay eggs earlier.

“For animals living in these environments the effects of temperature changes may have been exacerbated, potentially leading to disruption in synchronisation between the timing of chick-feeding and peak food availability,” the paper said.

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Let Them Drown

The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*]

In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor.

The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated.

Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil?

The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Fascinating explanation of the intersectionality of settler colonialism and environmentalism through the lens of Edward Said.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet.

Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics.

This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century.

And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos.

And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads.

It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region.

In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again.

A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations.

A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands.

Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that.

Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’

As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.

In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

*

He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed.

What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic.

This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised.

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger.

It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future.

But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent.

It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

*

Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground.

There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries.

In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’.

In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands.

It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives.

Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities.

Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth.

And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species.

Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think 7 generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.

These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

*

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place.

This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible.

Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil.

This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change.

If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting.[†] The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.

These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line.

Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.

Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’

The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report.

‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough.

And now certain patterns have become quite clear:

first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

*

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army.

Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus.

Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’

In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat.

When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

*

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts.

The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record.

They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress.

The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised.

The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places.

We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’.

His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.

 Arsonists of Fort McMurray have a name

As the fire that ravaged Fort McMurray finally moves past the city, and the province tallies the heartbreaking damage, a search will begin to discover the source of the destruction.

Investigators will comb the nearby forests for clues, tracing the fire’s path to what they call its “point of origin.”

They’ll interview witnesses, collect satellite imagery, and rule out natural causes—much like the work of detectives.

Except in the age of climate change-fuelled mega-fires, this truly is a crime scene.

Not, I mean, the handiwork of troublesome teenagers, nor a campfire left accidentally burning. The devastation of Fort McMurray is the predictable outcome of arson on an entirely different scale.

These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal.

They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions.

The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come.

Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.””

Fossil fuel corporations are causing the climate change fuelling mega-fires
theguardian.com|By Martin Lukacs

Yet in the fire’s aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations. Of course they’re not the only ones who have fuelled climate change: all of us consume oil at every level of our lives.

But the record is clear that we are not equally responsible: an astonishing 90 companies alone have caused two-thirds of global carbon emissions. And all the oil giants involved in the Alberta tar sands are among them: ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, Chevron.

In the last week, these corporations have escaped accountability as quickly as ordinary Albertans have risen to action. Across the province, people have opened their homes to evacuees, offered gas, shared food.

The most marginalized have given the most: First Nations welcoming thousands to their communities; Muslims praying for rain at the Alberta legislature; and Syrian refugees, barely resettled in the province, gathering donations.

Stories of heroism have abounded: like the school principal who drove a bus full of children out of the burning city, reuniting each one with their families, and filling extra seats with strangers from the roadside.

At almost a moment’s notice, a province often written off as dog-eat-dog individualists proved the naysayers wrong: they have come together in a spirt of fellowship and solidarity.

Most of these people had no idea of the disaster that was coming. But there were some who did: the corporate arsonists themselves.

As far back as forty-five years ago, certain Canadian oil corporations already knew the lethal climate consequences of their business model. Last month, building on similar revelations about US companies, investigative reporters discovered stunning proof in the archives of a Calgary museum—a clue as good as any about this mega-fire’s “point of origin.”

An uncovered report produced in 1970 by Imperial Oil, the Canadian branch of ExxonMobil, put it crystal clear: “Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it.” Except the oil company proceeded to spend decades lying about what they knew, and ensured the disaster would be as profound as possible. Little wonder the same company report branded its own actions as “anti-social.”

The very picture of anti-social?

A fire ripping through a city. The incineration of homes. Irreplaceable possessions and family albums burned to ash. Climate refugees spilling across a province and country, stripped of their livelihoods and uncertain of their future.

Science may not show a direct link between climate change and the existence of one particular fire, but there is no doubt why the blaze that devoured the Alberta town was so powerful.

“We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”

Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”

To remain mute about those responsible for this devastation is not an act of sensitivity toward the citizens of Fort McMurray. It is to stand idly by while these corporations move on to claim their next victims.

To argue, as prime minister Justin Trudeau has, that making the connection between climate change and this infernal fire isn’t “helpful,” is not a gesture of statesmanly maturity. It is the prevarication of political cowards.

Other politicians have adopted an even more toxic approach: not letting the crisis go to waste. Former Conservative natural resources minister Joe Oliver argued on national television that Trudeau should seize the fire as an opportunity to force through a tar sands pipeline to the coast.

And British Columbia premier Christy Clark insisted the economic impact of the blaze could be balanced by ramming oil and liquified natural gas projects through the regulatory process—doubling down on what helped cause this crisis in the first place. In the days ahead, watch for this argument to grow even louder.

But the greatest model of insensitivity is this: the arsonists don’t seem content with the burning of just one Canadian town. The latest climate science has told us exactly how much fossil fuels we can burn before we lock in catastrophic warming—warming that will make today’s mega-fire look modest.

But companies have access to four or five times that amount in their reserves. They plan to extract and burn it all.

If we want to contain warming to the Paris climate accord’s target of 1.5 degrees, we will need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground—to strand these assets and shift to clean energy. But corporations have no such intention. “We don’t see any stranded assets. We think all our assets will be required,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said after the signing of the Paris accord. It “reinforces our approach,” Shell added. In other words, they’re bent on arson on a global scale.

The law is finally catching up to this planet-altering recklessness. In the United States, both California and New York’s attorneys general are investigating ExxonMobil for spending decades misleading the public about its knowledge of the risks of climate change.

Meanwhile, both Democratic presidential candidates have joined the chorus of voices demanding the federal Department of Justice join the investigation.

Last month, lawyers in the Philippines launched another precedent-setting case: a lawsuit against fifty of the world’s fossil fuel companies for damages the country has suffered from climate change-driven hurricanes.

This path should show the way forward for Canada, entrenching a basic moral principle: the polluter pays. Fossil fuel companies shouldn’t be celebrated for the minimal corporate paternalism they are now demonstrating—housing, feeding and flying evacuated workers out of Fort McMurray and the surrounding work camps.

They should be footing the bill for the devastation. They invested billions in an industry knowing it would prove destructive to the air, water, climate, and health of Albertans?

It’s time to put our hands—through higher taxes, royalties, even a public takeover—on some of their gargantuan profits, and use them to transition to a new economy full of good clean jobs and beyond these dangerous energy sources.

That would mean rejecting the lopsided sacrifice currently demanded of us: that corporations derive the rewards while we cover their damages. Canada’s fossil fuel companies have vacuumed billions in profits out of Alberta, and used their political influence to prevent the emergence of a more diversified economy in a province with incredible renewable energy potential.

Yet the relief and recovery effort, which may cost upward of $10bn, will be paid for by the government and taxpayers. The donations offered by individual Canadians are a testament to incredible generosity: they also represent an outsourcing of responsibility.

But that spirit of solidarity and mutual aid, of compassion and confidence in each other, is the best expression of ourselves. It points the way forward. Two people tragically died in the evacuation of Fort McMurray—but many more no doubt were saved, by courage and heroism and the deep care and love for fellow citizens that can flourish in a period of catastrophe.

Such are the values we will need to mount a collective fight against the unfolding disaster of climate change

Imagine these values actually governing our society—for a start, relaxing EI rules to ensure dignity for all of the evacuated workers. Imagine this resiliency, courage and generosity being harnessed to lead the transition to a healthier, more just post-carbon society—helping prevent even more extreme weather to come.

Imagine the rebuilding of Fort McMurray being not just a page turned on an unprecedented disaster, but the beginning of a new direction.

If that can happen, the smoke will truly lift from this country and this town.

On Twitter: @Martin_Lukacs

 

Naomi Klein: Climate Change

“Not Just About Things Getting Hotter… It’s About Things Getting Meaner”

In a wide-ranging conversation, the journalist and climate activist discusses the recent Paris climate accords, the politics of global warming, climate change denial and environmental justice.

A week and a half ago, just as a blizzard was barreling up the East Coast, I traveled to my hometown, Canandaigua, NY, and before a standing-room-only audience of more than 400 at Finger Lakes Community College, had a conversation with author and climate activist Naomi Klein.

Our talk was part of the George M. Ewing Forum, named in honor of the late editor and publisher of our local newspaper. He was a worldly and informed man, dedicated to good talk and a lively exchange of ideas. The forum brings to town a variety of speakers each year, some of them from the area, others not.

The Finger Lakes region is a beautiful part of the country. As has often been said, it runs on water, and as I grew up, there was an increasing realization that what we have is an invaluable natural resource we could be in danger of losing.

Over the years, the threats have grown ever more complex with greater hazards revealed as pollution and development have encroached on the landscape.

As a result, much of our audience was composed of environmentalists and concerned citizens, including a contingent from We Are Seneca Lake, the grassroots campaign fighting against the use of crumbling salt mines under the hillsides to store fracked natural gas and liquefied petroleum gases. (One of its leaders is biologist, mother and Moyers & Company guest Sandra Steingraber.)

The conversation with Naomi Klein was billed as “Capitalism vs. The Climate: Reflections on the 2015 UN Climate Conference,” and while we certainly spoke a great deal about that recent climate agreement in Paris, our talk ranged more widely as we discussed her life and work, politics, the continuing right-wing denial of global warming, and the climate justice movement.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s a member of the board of directors for 350.org, the global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.

Among many other honors, in 2015 she received The Izzy Award – named after the great writer and editor IF Stone — celebrating outstanding achievement in independent journalism and media.

Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, was shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Literary Awards in the nonfiction category. A documentary based on the book, directed by Avi Lewis, was released last fall.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“If you have a culture that treats people like they’re disposable, that doesn’t value people, then, when you confront a crisis like climate change, those values will govern how you confront that crisis.

And making a connection between the refugee crisis where the statistic was that 15 children died just this past week off of Greece, I think more than 45 people drowned.

(The drowning frequency has increased lately: Turkey is patrolling the easiest crossing passages and letting the refugees take the more dangerous maritime accesses)

So if we live in a culture that allows people to disappear beneath the waves because we don’t value their lives enough, then it’s not that big a step to allow whole countries to disappear beneath the waves, which is what we are doing when we allow temperatures to increase by three degrees, four degrees.”

A week and a half ago, just as a blizzard was barreling up the East Coast, I traveled to my hometown, Canandaigua, NY, and before a standing-room-only audience…
billmoyers.com

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. I began with the most basic question:

Naomi Klein talks about "We Are Seneca Lake" activist organization in conversation with Michael Winship on January 29, 2016.

Naomi Klein talks about “We Are Seneca Lake” activist organization in conversation with Michael Winship on January 29, 2016. (All photos by Mark Blazey)

This changes everything — how?

Naomi Klein: So the ‘this’ in This Changes Everything is climate change. And the argument that I make in the book is that we find ourselves in this moment where there are no non-radical options left before us. Change or be changed, right? And what we mean by that is that climate change, if we don’t change course, if we don’t change our political and economic system, is going to change everything about our physical world. And that is what climate scientists are telling us when they say business as usual leads to three to four degrees Celsius of warming. That’s the road we are on. We can get off that road, but we’re now so far along it, we’ve put off the crucial policies for so long, that now we can’t do it gradually. We have to swerve, right? And swerving requires such a radical departure from the kind of political and economic system we have right now that we pretty much have to change everything.

We have to change the kind of free trade deals we sign. We would have to change the absolutely central role of frenetic consumption in our culture. We would have to change the role of money in politics and our political system. We would have to change our attitude towards regulating corporations. We would have to change our guiding ideology.

You know, since the 1980s we’ve been living in this era, really, of corporate rule, based on this idea that the role of government is to liberate the power of capital so that they can have as much economic growth as quickly as possible and then all good things will flow from that. And that is what justifies privatization, deregulation, cuts to corporate taxes offset by cuts to public services — all of this is incompatible with what we need to do in the face of the climate crisis. We need to invest massively in the public sphere to have a renewable energy system, to have good public transit and rail. That money needs to come from somewhere, so it’s going to have to come from the people who have the money.

And I actually believe it’s deeper than that, that it’s about changing the paradigm of a culture that is based on separateness from nature, that is based on the idea that we can dominate nature, that we are the boss, that we are in charge. Climate change challenges all of that. It says, you know, all this time that you’ve been living in this bubble apart from nature, that has been fueled by a substance that all the while has been accumulating in the atmosphere, and you told yourself you were the boss, you told yourself you could have a one-way relationship with the natural world, but now comes the response: “You thought you were in charge? Think again.” And we can either mourn our status as boss of the world and see it as some cosmic demotion — which is why I think the extreme right is so freaked out by climate change that they have to deny it. It isn’t just that it is a threat to their profits. It’s a threat to a whole worldview that says you have dominion over all things, and that’s extremely threatening.

Just after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Bloomberg Business Week published a cover story and the cover said, “It’s global warming, stupid.” And now here we are, the two of us sitting here the day after a massive snowfall on the Atlantic seaboard. What’s that telling you, me and the rest of us to think?

That we’re really stupid? [laughter] I mean I do think that Sandy was a turning point. If you look at the polling around climate change in this country before Sandy, that was kind of the low point in terms of Americans believing that climate change was real and that humans were causing it. And I think that there have been so many messages, you know, whether it’s the California drought and the wildfires or the flooding that we just saw in the American South — it’s just getting harder and harder to deny that there’s something really, really strange going on.

We have a structural problem, because you can simultaneously understand the medium to long-term risks of climate change and also come to the conclusion that it is in your short-term economic interest to invest in oil and gas. Which is why, you know, anybody who tells you that the market is going to fix this on its own is lying to you.

And I’ve always been struck, too, by the military’s embrace of the reality of climate change, that they’ve been warning us for years about this. Because that’s why they’re going to have to fight a lot of the time.

Yeah. And I think that’s becoming clearer and clearer as well because — you know, I have to give credit to John Kerry in terms of the fact that he’s been out front making the connection between the civil war in Syria and climate change, that before the outbreak of civil war, Syria experienced the worst drought in its history and that led to an internal migration of between 1.5 and 2 million people, and when you have that kind of massive internal migration, it exacerbates tension in an already tense place.

In addition to that, beforehand you had the invasion of Iraq, which also had a little something to do with climate change in the sense that it was a war that had maybe a little something to do with oil [laughter], which is one of the substances causing climate change.

You also have the military burning these vast amounts of fossil fuels and yet saying global warming is a danger. But speaking of John Kerry, that brings up [the UN climate summit in] Paris. That was a month and a half ago now. Kerry described it as a victory for the planet. Michael T. Klare had said that Paris should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference, perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history. What do you think?

Michael said that before the summit, making the argument that if we don’t do what’s necessary in the face of the climate crisis, if we don’t radically bring down emissions and get to 100 percent renewable energy — which we can do very, very rapidly — if we don’t do that, then we’re going to be facing a world of conflict.

That became particularly relevant because two weeks ahead of the summit were those horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and then the world conversation really shifted, you know, almost as dramatically as after 9/11, where it was just like, okay, we were talking about climate change. That conversation is pretty much over and now we’re going to be talking about security all the time.

I was in Paris for three weeks in this period and it was pretty striking that the summit, even though it was in Paris, even though there were I believe 40,000 people who came to Paris for the summit, it barely made the front page of  Le Monde and Libération except for a couple of days, because the focus was so fervently on security issues.

So, you know, we need to make the connections, and it’s not — to me it’s not about saying this is more important than security, because that’s not a conversation you can win. I mean if people feel immediately threatened, that is going to trump climate change. It’s about showing the connections and saying these are not separate issues. We live in an interconnected world, in an interconnected time, and we need holistic solutions. We have a crisis of inequality and we need climate solutions that solve that crisis.

So in terms of what to make of Paris, the truth is, I think that the deal that those politicians managed to negotiate, there was all this euphoria. I’ve never seen leaders congratulate themselves so fervently. [laughter] It was truly unseemly. “We are awesome!” Yeah. [laughter]

And I have to say that the reporting was far too deferential, far too credulous. There were headlines like, you know, this agreement marks the end of the fossil fuel era. And then a couple weeks ago there was a piece interviewing executives from all the major oil companies about whether they felt that the Paris agreement was going to impact their business model and all of them [who] agreed to talk said not at all. And Exxon said, “We don’t expect it to impact any of our assets” and specifically said, “We don’t believe this will lead to a single stranded asset.” And now, since we know that the fossil fuel companies have five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with a two-degree temperature target — and what’s in the agreement is that we should actually try to keep it to 1.5 degrees warming Celsius — if they’re saying it’s not going to impact their assets, what they’re saying is, “Look, this is a nonbinding, non-legally binding, non-enforceable agreement and we’re going to continue with business as usual as long as we can.”

That said, the fact is that there is a very ambitious target in the agreement, [but] no policies to make it a reality, okay? So the agreement says that we pledge to keep temperatures below two degrees and we’ll endeavor to keep them below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now, we have already increased temperatures to one degree Celsius, okay? So we’re already in the dangerous era of climate change. But we can’t stop now. It’s just the nature of it. You know, we’ve already locked in impacts. So 1.5 is an extremely ambitious target. We would need to be cutting our emissions by at least 10 percent a year or more in wealthy countries if we were going to take that target seriously. If you add up all the targets that governments brought to Paris — because the way it was structured is, we have a goal, but because we don’t believe in regulation or anything top down — and this is where the ideology comes in — everybody can just go home and voluntarily say what they’re going to do and then we’ll add it all up and hope it works out. And it turns out, no, it doesn’t work out. It adds up to three to four degrees of warming.

Did you feel that the fact that after the terror attacks there was a clamping down on people being able to demonstrate and protest outside the conference, did that have an effect, do you think, on the meetings?

I do think it had an effect, yeah, I do. There was a blanket ban on demonstrations during the summit. The way the government defined it under the state of emergency was “any gathering of more than three people of a political nature was banned.” And this was quite extraordinary. I pointed out that even George Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t ban protests after 9/11. There was not a blanket ban across the board. And that was what the Hollande government did. And it was a very, very fraught situation for France because regional elections happened during the summit and the Front National, which is the sort of fascist party in France, was gaining in the polls and so the summit became this tool for the Hollande government that was supposed to be a fantastic public relations moment for them and they were bound and determined to get that happy picture at the end where everyone’s cheering and going, “You’re awesome.” And they got it. And I do think that if demonstrations had been permitted, there would have been a different kind of debate, in particular around an issue like agriculture.

Because one of the things that was really striking about the summit is that it was the most corporate sponsored UN climate summit that any of us had ever seen. There had been encroaching corporate sponsorship at previous ones but in France you got the nuclear industry, you got the private water industry, which is very, very strong in France, and these huge agribusiness companies that sponsored the summit. And so they were marketing their product as climate solutions, whether it was so-called drought-resistant GMO seeds, or they call it climate-smart agriculture, which is the new way they’re marketing GMOs, or companies like [GDF Suez], water companies seeing water scarcity as a market opportunity for obvious reasons or the huge nuclear power companies marketing nuclear power as a better alternative to renewables.

So they all had a big megaphone inside the summit because they had access, they were sponsoring, they had a whole forum to themselves. We knew that was going to happen but the streets were supposed to be ours. The streets were the social movements, this was where we were going to be presenting our alternatives. And then we were just told, “No. You have to stay — you’re not allowed on the streets. So you can still have your little alternative summit in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs that nobody’s going to go to.” And that’s the way it played out. So I don’t know that it would have changed the agreement, but I think it would have changed people’s understanding of what happened. I think there would have been a million people in the streets of Paris without that ban. That’s what they were projecting.

And even within the conference center itself, a lot of countries never got to speak.

Oh, it was so tightly controlled.

Because I think that they realized that they didn’t need a consensus, they just needed a majority to get it through.

And it was ugly. There was a moment where it was almost like a test of “will you stand with France? Are you really going to screw France in their moment of need?” It was just ugly. And you’re talking about countries that are fighting for their own survival. They’ve got a lot of skin in this game. So it was a very, very tightly controlled summit. The good thing is that it played out over two weeks — I mean, these are long events — and it was kind of amazing to watch the city get its courage back, because at the beginning of the summit people were really scared and really tentative about being in the streets and really not sure about whether they were being disloyal. But by the end people were ready to take their city back, they were ready to take their streets back, they were ready to defend liberty. This thing in France about liberté, that this is what’s under attack. And the way that we’re going to defend ourselves is that we’re all going to stay home? Or go shopping? As if any of this sounds familiar? [laughter]

But it was particularly striking because it was Christmas shopping season so everything’s lit up and everybody’s shopping. You’re allowed to shop and you’re encouraged to shop and all the Christmas markets are on and all the football matches are on, you just can’t protest. And so at a certain point the Parisians just said, “Screw it, we’re doing it.” And so in the end people did take to the streets again and I felt really lucky to be part of that process of people getting their courage back. And I think it was very important.

We have less than a year now, as of today, of Barack Obama’s administration. What is your assessment of him as an environmental president?

Well, you know, he certainly, in the final year and change in office, he is showing us what leadership looks like. And to me it’s all the more frustrating, in a way, that he didn’t do much more of this starting immediately. What he has done in the last few years shows that there was actually quite a lot of executive power, which people were saying from the beginning. You know, as soon as it was clear, in Copenhagen in 2009, that the Senate was blocking Obama from introducing meaningful climate legislation, the push was for him to use executive authority, use the EPA, use the tool of federal leases, and there was just a refusal to do it. And now we’re seeing it in the final years, but it’s very vulnerable. You know, it’s vulnerable to a next administration. And I’m not just talking about Trump. I’m talking about Hillary Clinton, because [initially] Hillary Clinton was, when it came to the Keystone fight, ready to rubber stamp that pipeline from day one.

So I think he’s doing what needs to be done to be able to say that he’s got a good legacy. But it’s not enough. I always remember the moment after the cap and trade bill fell, after it collapsed, Bill McKibben wrote an article to the environmental movement going, “Look, we tried it your way. We tried the polite lobbying, closed door, not making a fuss, you know, give the guy a chance, let’s compromise route, and it delivered less than nothing. So now we’re going to try something else. We’re going to try street pressure, outside pressure, civil disobedience. We’re going to try being a royal pain in the neck and see if that gets results.”

I think we waited too long and lost some precious time. Because the thing about climate change is, you know, you hear the clock ticking so loudly, right?

There was a video you did for The Guardian last spring in which you said that sometimes capitalism gives us a gift, and that with the decline in global oil prices, the moment was rife for kicking the fossil fuel industry while it’s down. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit.

Oil has gone from $150 dollars a barrel to below $30 dollars a barrel in a period of 18 months. I mean this is incredible. Nobody predicted this. And, you know, it’s potentially a game changer. But it’s complicated, right? I mean it isn’t just, okay, well, this is going to be good for climate action, because when oil is cheap it encourages people to use oil. It encourages people to buy bigger cars, it encourages people to treat this commodity as if it is cheap, because it is cheap, and not think about the impacts. So we actually need oil to be more expensive. And that’s why this would be an excellent time to introduce a carbon tax.

But this comes back to the sort of central argument I’m trying to put out there, that we are not going to do the things that we need to do unless we engage in a battle of ideas. I don’t know, has anybody read or started reading Jane Mayer’s new book about the Koch brothers, Dark Money? I mean it’s an extraordinary book because it reminds us that we have been living, over the past 40 years, a very planned and concerted campaign to change the ideas that govern our societies. The Koch brothers set out to change the values, to change the core ideas that people believed in.

And there is no progressive equivalent of taking ideas seriously. So we’ve got lots of funding for campaigns for people working on all kinds of different areas but a metanarrative, like the Charles Koch metanarrative — and he’s said it explicitly — is that he is challenging collectivism, he is challenging the idea that when people get together they can do good. And he is putting forward the worldview that we’re all very familiar with that if you free the individual to pursue their self-interest that will actually benefit the majority. So you need to attack everything that is collective, whether it’s labor rights or whether it’s public health care or whether it’s regulatory action. All of this falls under the metanarrative of an attack on collectivism.

So what is the progressive metanarrative? Who funds it? Who is working on changing ideas that can say, “Actually, when we pool our resources, when we work together, we can do more and better than when we only act as individuals.” I don’t think we value that. So here we are in this moment when of course we should be introducing a carbon tax but it’s like almost unthinkable that we could. I mean, tax, we can’t say tax, everyone hates taxes, right?

So we can’t avoid those battles of ideas. We can’t avoid those big discussions about what our values are. Because if we don’t engage in them then we aren’t going to be able to introduce these very simple policy solutions. So yes, okay, the argument I made about the oil price shock is this creates the conditions where we could really change the game but we’re not going to be able to do it if we’re not willing to talk about an aggressive carbon tax. But to me, I think the Koch brothers are so interesting in the sense that it really does show us how much ideological ground we’ve lost. They never take their eye off it.

Charles Koch was asked recently whether he feels he has had enough influence. And his answer was revealing, he said, “Well, they haven’t nationalized us.” That’s his concern. So then you think about it, we would never, it would be so unthinkable to just talk about, well, why don’t we nationalize Koch Industries? That’s a crazy thing to say, but he’s thinking about it.

He’s also worrying about, “If I spend $900 million dollars on this election, by God, I want to get something back for my money.” And it’s frightening what he expects to get. But he’s disappointed in all the candidates, he said in that same interview.

Yes, he’s disappointed but he knows it could be worse. It’s amazing how much money they need to spend. Another way of thinking about it is it’s extraordinary how much money they have to spend and they don’t always win. That’s amazing.

And I do think it’s going to get harder for fossil fuel companies. It really is going to get scary. And they’re terrified of the Exxon investigations because if Exxon has been systematically misleading the public, if they knew, all of this is going to be coming out, then this raises huge questions about the legitimacy of their profits. And Exxon is the most profitable company in the history of the world, $42 billion dollars in profits in a single year. And here we are unable to pay for public transit, unable to pay for the kinds of infrastructure that we need to deal with the crisis that they have created.

This is a conversation that they’re going to really try to have not happen. And I know there are people here who are working on a carbon tax. And it’s great but often you’ll hear people say, “Well, it has to be revenue-neutral. It has to be fee and dividend. Don’t call it a tax.” Because we accept the Koch framework as a premise that if we’re going to take money from people we have to give it all back, all of it. That’s what fee and dividend means, it means we will tax you and we’ll give you the exact same amount back that you gave us. That leaves the government with nothing. So what are you going to use to pay for transit? What are you going to use to pay for a renewable energy grid? How are you going to get to 100 percent renewables? We have to talk about the fact that we need more money. It has come from somewhere. So I think it is really worth studying how the center was moved in that way.

The famous Overton window, moving us rightward. And the degree, just going back to what you were saying about the degree of denial, it’s just so flabbergasting and I was hoping you would tell the story that you tell about covering the annual meeting of the Heartland Institute and what happened with Oklahoma’s US Senator Jim Inhofe, which is such a great story.

So the Heartland Institute, which is a free market think tank that hosts this annual climate change denial summit, their influence is waning. They’re very interesting, because I think that somehow they managed to market themselves as somehow having some scientific credibility, but they’re not. They are a free market think tank and when we interviewed Joseph Bast, the head of the Heartland Institute, I asked him how he got interested in climate change and he said, very frankly, “Well, we realized that if the science was true that would allow liberals to justify pretty much any kind of regulation, so we took another look at the science.” [laughter] He’s very frank about this.

And in the book the name of the chapter is “The Right is Right” because they’re not right about the science but I believe that they understand the implications of the science better than most liberals in the sense that they absolutely understand that if climate change is real, it is the end of their ideological project. The entire scaffolding on which their attack on regulations, attacks on collective action rests falls apart. Because of course you need collective action, of course you need to regulate corporations, it’s over, it’s game over for them. So they have to do everything possible to deny the science. And what’s amazing to me is how many liberal think tanks devote almost no energy to talking about climate change.

So the issue is how hard it is to change people’s minds when they’re as invested in these ideas ideologically but also funding-wise. Jim Inhofe gets a lot of money from the coal industry. So he was supposed to be the keynote speaker of this particular Heartland conference. It was advertised, people were extremely excited to hear from him. And Joe Bast announced in the morning that James Inhofe was sick and he was not going to be regaling them that morning. People were very disappointed. It came out later — we didn’t know this at the time — I looked into it after, what was wrong with Jim Inhofe because I wasn’t sure, was he really sick or did he just for some reason think it wasn’t a good idea to hang out with these crazies?

And it turns out he really was sick and he was sick because — and he explained this — he’d gone swimming in a lake in Oklahoma and it was in the middle of a heatwave and there was an outbreak of blue-green algae, which is linked to climate change. He basically had a climate change illness. [laughter] And this is why he could not speak at the climate denial conference.

But this did not make him go, “Oh, maybe they have a point.” He sent a letter just saying, “I can’t be there because I’m sick,” basically from his hospital bed going, “Keep up the good work.” [laughter] So people sometimes ask me, “Well, how can I change the mind of my extremely right wing uncle who only listens to Fox News and so on?” And I tell them, “Honestly, I’m not sure that you should devote that much energy to trying to change his mind. You can if you want to but first, there’s a much larger group of people out there who are not that invested in protecting an extreme ideological worldview or protecting their own financial interests who actually probably believe that climate change is real but are scared, don’t know what they can do about it, are sort of in a state of soft denial, like most of us are in, like, ‘Oh, I can’t look at it, it’s just too awful.’ That’s a much better place for us to invest our energy than trying to convince James Inhofe, because if getting a climate change-related illness didn’t impact him in any way [laughter], I don’t think you just laying out the science is going to help.”

I want to change course a little bit — what brought you to this point? How did you become this articulate advocate of this cause? What changed you? When you say, this changes everything, what changed Naomi Klein?

 

Are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg And Tech-Giant Supergroup Teaming Up Against Climate Change?

A dream team of tech giants – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma from Alibaba, along with a host of international tech leaders – have announced they’re coming together to combat climate change.

Note:  After you read this propaganda piece, revert to this link of Naomi Klein to discover how these tech-giants are fooling their audience and customers on what they claim to support green climate https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/this-greenwashing-trend-of-big-business-and-its-effects-on-the-planet-and-our-own-bodies/

Tom Hale. November 30, 2015

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition hopes to inspire and, more importantly, fund start-up companies that are developing technology to tackle climate change.

The coalition also hopes to challenge the stagnant model of separate public versus private development and start a new paradigm where governments, businesses, and researchers can all collaborate and benefit together.

On their website, they say:

The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles.

“Experience indicates that even the most promising ideas face daunting commercialization challenges and a nearly impassable Valley of Death between promising concept and viable product, which neither government funding nor conventional private investment can bridge.

“This collective failure can be addressed, in part, by a dramatically scaled-up public research pipeline, linked to a different kind of private investor with a long term commitment to new technologies who is willing to put truly patient flexible risk capital to work.”

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced the plan through a Facebook post on Sunday.

By no coincidence, the announcement coincides with the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this week.

The group of billionaire super-geeks hope to add pressure and inspire the talks, stressing that addressing climate change can’t just come from governmental funding and law alone, but aslo through innovation, investment and business.

Note: First, these tech giants and billionaire have to desist investing in giant oil companies and decrease the plane flight that rely on degraded climate sources

Everybody decided to support science and climate change? Pope included

On June 18, Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si: On care for our common home.

The letter has been widely praised for supporting the science on climate change.

But it goes much further than many expected in documenting the phenomenal changes that our planet is undergoing, beyond climate.

And the story of how the Pope has integrated science and religion (not always the easiest of companions, let’s face it) indicates, to me at least, a profound shift in world view. (Paradigmatic shift on minding the sustainable issues for survival)

Patsy Z shared this link TED, September 24, 2015 ·
The case for climate action as a moral imperative.
t.ted.com

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has been bringing together climate scientists, economists and scholars pretty much since Francis’ papacy began in March 2013.

My colleagues, professors Paul Crutzen, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and John Schellnhuber, have been part of a new level of dialogue between Earth system scientists and the Vatican.

In April of this year, I attended a one-day scientific workshop on the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable humanity.

At that workshop, which included economist Jeffrey Sachs and Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, Cardinal Peter Turkson reminded us that “we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries.”

Turkson was using language referring to research on planetary boundaries led by my group, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and carried out together with leading global sustainability scientists across the world.

First published in 2009 (and updated in a paper for Science in January), our work was initiated by growing alarm at the scale of human influence on Earth.

Indeed, humans, predominantly in wealthy nations that consume the most, are now the prime drivers of change in the Earth system.

We are altering the carbon, water and nitrogen cycles; we are changing the chemistry of the ocean. Only last week, researchers announced further evidence that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. (I had published the article on the 6th mass extinction many months ago)

Firmly grounded in this science, Pope Francis’ encyclical suggests — in line with our analysis — that planetary stewardship must now be the foundation of our values, beliefs and economic systems. It is a remarkable document on the moral imperative of climate action, as well as a call for a new journey of hope and dignity for all world citizens.

Again, these moral statements are surprisingly well aligned with scientific evidence. There is now mounting evidence that a grand transformation of our economic system will deliver both greater wellbeing for all and a sustainable future.

As several of us at the April meeting pointed out, it is the current economic model, known as business-as-usual — not sustainable transformation — that presents the high-risk path for humanity.

Business-as-usual stands little chance of delivering wellbeing to a world of perhaps 9 billion people by 2050. It is only by transforming to a sustainable world that Earth has a chance of continuing to support social and economic development to meet rapidly growing demands for health and wealth.

One of the ways to do that is to aim for zero emissions from fossil fuels by around the middle of the century. This is possible; the technology is available and investment in renewables is accelerating.

Pope Francis has made this careful intervention at a critical time. 2015 is unique.

In July, world leaders meet to discuss how to finance sustainable development. In September they meet again to agree on 17 global goals for development. And in December, they come together once more to hammer out a climate deal.

In April, the Earth League, a group of concerned scientists which I have the privilege of chairing, released the Earth Statement outlining the essential elements of a climate deal.

This has been endorsed by Desmond Tutu and members of the World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace. Religious leaders are mobilizing around these global environmental challenges.

2015 is a once-in-a-generation chance to overcome inertia and chart out a sustainable path for all.

The Pope’s intervention adds substantial weight to push for a more positive outcome than previous disappointments. Not least, because the window of opportunity is closing fast.

Climate Change: Point of No return?

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots:

  1. In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people.  (Iran experienced an effective heat of 70 Celsius)

2. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory.

3.  London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated.

4. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic.

5. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains.

6. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.

7. And all these catastrophic floods in Myanmar

8. And the multiple wild fires in France, Spain, Greece, Australia…

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065.

The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren’t cut, “We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Eric Rignot, a climate scientist at NASA and the University of California-Irvine and a co-author on Hansen’s study, said their new research doesn’t necessarily change the worst-case scenario on sea-level rise, it just makes it much more pressing to think about and discuss, especially among world leaders. In particular, says Rignot, the new research shows a two-degree Celsius rise in global temperature — the previously agreed upon “safe” level of climate change — “would be a catastrophe for sea-level rise.”

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be.

Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy.

Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be.

Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound.

Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate.

Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

And yet, these aren’t even the most disturbing changes happening to the Earth’s biosphere that climate scientists are discovering this year. For that, you have to look not at the rising sea levels but to what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.

Water temperatures this year in the North Pacific have never been this high for this long over such a large area — and it is already having a profound effect on marine life.

Eighty-year-old Roger Thomas runs whale-watching trips out of San Francisco. On an excursion earlier this year, Thomas spotted 25 humpbacks and three blue whales.

During a survey on July 4th, federal officials spotted 115 whales in a single hour near the Farallon Islands — enough to issue a boating warning. Humpbacks are occasionally seen offshore in California, but rarely so close to the coast or in such numbers. Why are they coming so close to shore?

Exceptionally warm water has concentrated the krill and anchovies they feed on into a narrow band of relatively cool coastal water. The whales are having a heyday. “It’s unbelievable,” Thomas told a local paper. “Whales are all over
the place.”

Last fall, in northern Alaska, in the same part of the Arctic where Shell is planning to drill for oil, federal scientists discovered 35,000 walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever documented “haul out” of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find.

Marine life is moving north, adapting in real time to the warming ocean. Great white sharks have been sighted breeding near Monterey Bay, California, the farthest north that’s ever been known to occur. A blue marlin was caught last summer near Catalina Island — 1,000 miles north of its typical range. Across California, there have been sightings of non-native animals moving north, such as Mexican red crabs.

No species may be as uniquely endangered as the one most associated with the Pacific Northwest, the salmon. Every two weeks, Bill Peterson, an oceanographer and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Oregon, takes to the sea to collect data he uses to forecast the return of salmon. What he’s been seeing this year is deeply troubling.

Salmon are crucial to their coastal ecosystem like perhaps few other species on the planet. A significant portion of the nitrogen in West Coast forests has been traced back to salmon, which can travel hundreds of miles upstream to lay their eggs. The largest trees on Earth simply wouldn’t exist without salmon.

But their situation is precarious. This year, officials in California are bringing salmon downstream in convoys of trucks, because river levels are too low and the temperatures too warm for them to have a reasonable chance of surviving. One species, the winter-run Chinook salmon, is at a particularly increased risk of decline in the next few years, should the warm water persist offshore.

“You talk to fishermen, and they all say: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before,’ ” says Peterson. “So when you have no experience with something like this, it gets like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ ”

Atmospheric scientists increasingly believe that the exceptionally warm waters over the past months are the early indications of a phase shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a cyclical warming of the North Pacific that happens a few times each century.

Positive phases of the PDO have been known to last for 15 to 20 years, during which global warming can increase at double the rate as during negative phases of the PDO.

It also makes big El Niños, like this year’s, more likely. The nature of PDO phase shifts is unpredictable — climate scientists simply haven’t yet figured out precisely what’s behind them and why they happen when they do. It’s not a permanent change — the ocean’s temperature will likely drop from these record highs, at least temporarily, some time over the next few years — but the impact on marine species will be lasting, and scientists have pointed to the PDO as a global-warming preview.

“The climate [change] models predict this gentle, slow increase in temperature,” says Peterson, “but the main problem we’ve had for the last few years is the variability is so high. As scientists, we can’t keep up with it, and neither can the animals.” Peterson likens it to a boxer getting pummeled round after round: “At some point, you knock them down, and the fight is over.”

Attendant with this weird wildlife behavior is a stunning drop in the number of plankton — the basis of the ocean’s food chain. In July, another major study concluded that acidifying oceans are likely to have a “quite traumatic” impact on plankton diversity, with some species dying out while others flourish.

As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it’s converted into carbonic acid — and the pH of seawater declines. According to lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT, that trend means “the whole food chain is going to be different.”

The Hansen study may have gotten more attention, but the Dutkiewicz study, and others like it, could have even more dire implications for our future. The rapid changes Dutkiewicz and her colleagues are observing have shocked some of their fellow scientists into thinking that yes, actually, we’re heading toward the worst-case scenario. Unlike a prediction of massive sea-level rise just decades away, the warming and acidifying oceans represent a problem that seems to have kick-started a mass extinction on the same time scale.

Jacquelyn Gill is a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. She knows a lot about extinction, and her work is more relevant than ever. Essentially, she’s trying to save the species that are alive right now by learning more about what killed off the ones that aren’t. The ancient data she studies shows “really compelling evidence that there can be events of abrupt climate change that can happen well within human life spans. We’re talking less than a decade.”

For the past year or two, a persistent change in winds over the North Pacific has given rise to what meteorologists and oceanographers are calling “the blob” — a highly anomalous patch of warm water between Hawaii, Alaska and Baja California that’s thrown the marine ecosystem into a tailspin. Amid warmer temperatures, plankton numbers have plummeted, and the myriad species that depend on them have migrated or seen their own numbers dwindle.

Significant northward surges of warm water have happened before, even frequently. El Niño, for example, does this on a predictable basis. But what’s happening this year appears to be something new. Some climate scientists think that the wind shift is linked to the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice over the past few years, which separate research has shown makes weather patterns more likely to get stuck.

A similar shift in the behavior of the jet stream has also contributed to the California drought and severe polar vortex winters in the Northeast over the past two years. An amplified jet-stream pattern has produced an unusual doldrum off the West Coast that’s persisted for most of the past 18 months.

Daniel Swain, a Stanford University meteorologist, has called it the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” — weather patterns just aren’t supposed to last this long.

What’s increasingly uncontroversial among scientists is that in many ecosystems, the impacts of the current off-the-charts temperatures in the North Pacific will linger for years, or longer.

The largest ocean on Earth, the Pacific is exhibiting cyclical variability to greater extremes than other ocean basins. While the North Pacific is currently the most dramatic area of change in the world’s oceans, it’s not alone: Globally, 2014 was a record-setting year for ocean temperatures, and 2015 is on pace to beat it soundly, boosted by the El Niño in the Pacific. Six percent of the world’s reefs could disappear before the end of the decade, perhaps permanently, thanks to warming waters.

Since warmer oceans expand in volume, it’s also leading to a surge in sea-level rise.

One recent study showed a slowdown in Atlantic Ocean currents, perhaps linked to glacial melt from Greenland, that caused a four-inch rise in sea levels along the Northeast coast in just two years, from 2009 to 2010. To be sure, it seems like this sudden and unpredicted surge was only temporary, but scientists who studied the surge estimated it to be a 1-in-850-year event, and it’s been blamed on accelerated beach erosion “almost as significant as some hurricane events.”

Possibly worse than rising ocean temperatures is the acidification of the waters.

Acidification has a direct effect on mollusks and other marine animals with hard outer bodies: A striking study last year showed that, along the West Coast, the shells of tiny snails are already dissolving, with as-yet-unknown consequences on the ecosystem.

One of the study’s authors, Nina Bednaršek, told Science magazine that the snails’ shells, pitted by the acidifying ocean, resembled “cauliflower” or “sandpaper.” A similarly striking study by more than a dozen of the world’s top ocean scientists this July said that the current pace of increasing carbon emissions would force an “effectively irreversible” change on ocean ecosystems during this century. In as little as a decade, the study suggested, chemical changes will rise significantly above background levels in nearly half of the world’s oceans.

I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” James Barry of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California told the Seattle Times in 2013. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous.”

Thanks to the pressure we’re putting on the planet’s ecosystem — warming, acidification and good old-fashioned pollution — the oceans are set up for several decades of rapid change. Here’s what could happen next.

The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. The appearance of low-oxygen regions has doubled in frequency every 10 years since 1960 and should continue to grow over the coming decades at an even greater rate.

So far, dead zones have remained mostly close to the coasts, but in the 21st century, deep-ocean dead zones could become common. These low-oxygen regions could gradually expand in size — potentially thousands of miles across — which would force fish, whales, pretty much everything upward. If this were to occur, large sections of the temperate deep oceans would suffer should the oxygen-free layer grow so pronounced that it stratifies, pushing surface ocean warming into overdrive and hindering upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich deeper water.

Enhanced evaporation from the warmer oceans will create heavier downpours, perhaps destabilizing the root systems of forests, and accelerated runoff will pour more excess nutrients into coastal areas, further enhancing dead zones. In the past year, downpours have broken records in Long Island, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and Pensacola, Florida.

Evidence for the above scenario comes in large part from our best understanding of what happened 250 million years ago, during the “Great Dying,” when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished after a pulse of carbon dioxide and methane from land-based sources began a period of profound climate change.

The conditions that triggered “Great Dying” took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. But humans have been emitting carbon dioxide at a much quicker rate, so the current mass extinction only took 100 years or so to kick-start.

With all these stressors working against it, a hypoxic feedback loop could wind up destroying some of the oceans’ most species-rich ecosystems within our lifetime. A recent study by Sarah Moffitt of the University of California-Davis said it could take the ocean thousands of years to recover. “Looking forward for my kid, people in the future are not going to have the same ocean that I have today,” Moffitt said.

As you might expect, having tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe is taking an increasingly emotional toll on scientists, and in some cases pushing them toward advocacy. Of the two dozen or so scientists I interviewed for this piece, virtually all drifted into apocalyptic language at some point.

For Simone Alin, an oceanographer focusing on ocean acidification at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, the changes she’s seeing hit close to home. The Puget Sound is a natural laboratory for the coming decades of rapid change because its waters are naturally more acidified than most of the world’s marine ecosystems.

The local oyster industry here is already seeing serious impacts from acidifying waters and is going to great lengths to avoid a total collapse. Alin calls oysters, which are non-native, the canary in the coal mine for the Puget Sound: “A canary is also not native to a coal mine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good indicator of change.”

Though she works on fundamental oceanic changes every day, the Dutkiewicz study on the impending large-scale changes to plankton caught her off-guard: “This was alarming to me because if the basis of the food web changes, then . . . everything could change, right?”

Alin’s frank discussion of the looming oceanic apocalypse is perhaps a product of studying unfathomable change every day. But four years ago, the birth of her twins “heightened the whole issue,” she says. “I was worried enough about these problems before having kids that I maybe wondered whether it was a good idea. Now, it just makes me feel crushed.”

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, moved from Canada to Texas with her husband, a pastor, precisely because of its vulnerability to climate change. There, she engages with the evangelical community on science — almost as a missionary would. But she’s already planning her exit strategy: “If we continue on our current pathway, Canada will be home for us long term. But the majority of people don’t have an exit strategy. . . . So that’s who I’m here trying to help.”

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That’s because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible.

If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that’s also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support.

Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children’s Trust, a legal advocacy organization that’s filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn’t just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it’s also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation.

In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Even if these novel challenges succeed, it will take years before a bend in the curve is noticeable. But maybe that’s enough. When all feels lost, saving a few species will feel like a triumph.

From The Archives Issue 1241: August 13, 2015
The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares-are-already-here-20150805#ixzz3i43OlwBz
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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