Jun 262018
 

by Amy Harder, in AXIOS – June 25, 2018

 

Climate change is intangible and complicated, which makes it an easy target for our era of fake news.

Why it matters: Addressing climate change, whether through government or private action, requires acknowledging a problem exists. Misinformation about the science, including inaccurate statements and articles, makes that harder. Concern about climate change has dropped over the past year among Republicans and independents, according to Gallup polling released in March.

Fake news and inaccurate climate information have been around for a long time, long before Donald Trump became president. But Trump’s election has enabled misinformation to spread by elevating leaders in politics and elsewhere who don’t acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change.

We’ve seen this play out across different forums: media articles, congressional hearings and public speeches.

Republican lawmakers said at a hearing in May that rocks tumbling into the ocean were causing sea levels to rise, not warmer temperatures fueled by human activity.
The Wall Street Journal has run opinion pieces that question mainstream climate science consensus. Some raise important points, but others are deeply inaccurate, such as this one in May that said sea level is rising but not because of climate change.
Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and others in the administration have repeatedly raised doubts that humans have an impact on climate change.
When Trump said his inauguration crowd size was the largest ever, it was easy to show a photo disproving his false claim. When Trump blamed Democrats for last week’s immigration crisis, it was relatively easy to show how his own policies led directly to family separations.

With climate change, there’s nothing simple about the subject — so it’s harder to cut through the barrage of misinformation.

I’ve been covering this issue for nearly a decade, and I still haven’t learned the science enough to know quickly and confidently the science behind why a certain piece of information — such as that sea level rise op-ed in the Journal — is wrong, even when I know it doesn’t sound right. I seek out scientists and other reputable experts to help distill it.

“There isn’t necessarily a good intuitive comparison like ‘the crowd in this photo looks a lot bigger than the crowd in this one.’ Even if you are looking at lines on a chart, you are comparing abstractions of real phenomena like temperature change.”
— Joseph Majkut, climate science expert at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank
Climate change isn’t simple because it’s inherently uncertain, just like all science — and it’s best to acknowledge that uncertainty. Some media articles, environmental activists and progressive politicians often over-simplify, downplay or dismiss altogether any uncertainty. That fuels the polarization on this topic.

The most important thing to know is that the overwhelming majority of scientists say human activity is driving Earth’s temperature up, according to Ed Maibach, an expert on climate-change communication at George Mason University.

Yet, just 15% of the public understands that more than 90% of scientists have reached that conclusion, according to a survey this spring by George Mason and Yale University. Nearly half underestimates the scientific consensus.

“It takes a lot of effort to dive in and learn the details about something, and we will do that when we are highly motivated to learn something,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale University professor who studies public perceptions of climate. “Most people aren’t willing to devote an enormous amount of brain energy to thinking about climate change.”

Changing this trend takes time and new leadership — which isn’t happening in big enough numbers to shift public debate.

Climate Feedback is a voluntary initiative of well-known and respected scientists reviewing climate change articles for accuracy, whose first work came in 2015.

Among the articles reviewed: The Wall Street Journal op-ed on rising sea levels, which was described as “grossly” misleading to readers; and, on the other side, a highly cited New York Magazine article that the reviewing scientists said exaggerated how bad climate change could get.
The number of people who read the reviews of those articles are undoubtedly a fraction compared to those who read the original pieces.
People take cues from leaders, such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Trump administration officials.

Until or unless people in those positions either leave or change opinions, it could be difficult to change the masses.
Earlier this month, we saw one leadership change: New NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who doubted the scientific consensus on climate change when he was in Congress, said reviewing the science convinced him to change positions.
Bridenstine’s views are important from a substantive perspective — NASA is one of the top agencies that monitors the planet’s climate. But he’s not well known enough to change a lot of people’s minds.
One non-science thing that could change the debate, in the view of a new bipartisan group, is convincing people to acknowledge the problem without getting stuck debating how serious it is.

Last week, a political group funded by energy companies and supported by a bipartisan pair of former congressional leaders launched a campaign to push for a carbon tax.

One of those leaders lobbying in support, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, said he remains skeptical of what he says are some scientists’ political motives — but that won’t be his focus.

“I’m not going to debate liberals and Democrats about the icebergs melting. I’m not going to argue how imminent a threat this is. I’m just going to say: ‘It is a problem. This is one way to address it. Let’s talk about it.’ ”
— Former Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.)

Aug 172017
 

Why Climate Change Isn’t Our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won’t Save Us
by Richard Heinberg
Published by Post Carbon Institute – August 17, 2017

Reposted with permission from Ecowatch.

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species, and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion, and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: if climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion, and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind, and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps, and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers, and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation, and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity, and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating, and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”).  Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines won’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

Apr 052017
 

Three recent studies point to just how broad, bizarre, and potentially devastating climate change is to life on Earth. And we’ve only seen one degree Celsius of warming so far.

Source: The Guardian   Author: Jeremy Hance    Date: Wednesday 5 April 2017

Climate change is rapidly becoming a crisis that defies hyperbole. For all the sound and fury of climate change denialists, self-deluding politicians and a very bewildered global public, the science behind climate change is rock solid while the impacts – observed on every ecosystem on the planet – are occurring faster in many parts of the world than even the most gloomy scientists predicted.
Given all this, it’s logical to assume life on Earth – the millions of species that cohabitate our little ball of rock in space – would be impacted. But it still feels unnerving to discover that this is no longer about just polar bears; it’s not only coral reefs and sea turtles or pikas and penguins; it about practically everything – including us.

Three recent studies have illustrated just how widespread climate change’s effect on life on our planet has already become.
There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts. “It is reasonable to suggest that most species on Earth have been impacted by climate change in some way or another,” said Bret Scheffers with the University of Florida. “Some species are negatively impacted and some species positively impacted.” Scheffers is the lead author of a landmark Science study from last year that found that current warming (just one degree Celsius) has already left a discernible mark on 77 of 94 different ecological processes, including species’ genetics, seasonal responses, overall distribution, and even morphology – i.e. physical traits including body size and shape.

Woodland salamanders are shrinking in the Appalachian Mountains; the long-billed, Arctic-breeding red knot is producing smaller young with less impressive bills leading to survival difficulties. Marmot and martens in the Americas are getting bigger off of longer growing seasons produce more foodstuffs, while the alpine chipmunks of Yellowstone National Park have actually seen the shape of their skulls change due to climate pressure.

Click here to read entire article

Apr 052017
 

Source: The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair   Date: April 5, 2017  Authors: Gretta Pecl: Deputy Associate Dean Research, ARC Future Fellow & Editor in Chief (Reviews in Fish Biology & Fisheries), University of Tasmania; Adriana Verges, Senior Lecturer in marine ecology, UNSW  Ekaterina Popova: Senior Lecturer in marine ecology, UNSW; Jan McDonald: Senior Scientist, ocean modelling, National Oceanography Centre

Last year in Paris, for the very first time, English sparkling wine beat champagne in a blind tasting event. Well established French Champagne houses have started buying fields in Britain to grow grapes, and even the royal family is investing in this new venture.

At the same time, coffee-growing regions are shrinking and shifting. Farmers are being forced to move to higher altitudes, as the band in which to grow tasty coffee moves up the mountain.

The evidence that climate change is affecting some of our most prized beverages is simply too great to be ignored. So while British sparkling wine and the beginning of the “coffeepocalypse” were inconceivable just a few decades ago, they are now a reality. It’s unlikely that you’ll find many climate deniers among winemakers and coffee connoisseurs. But there are far greater impacts in store for human society than disruptions to our favourite drinks.

Dramatic examples of climate-mediated change to species distributions are not exceptions; they are fast becoming the rule. As our study published last week in the journal Science shows, climate change is driving a universal major redistribution of life on Earth.

These changes are already having serious consequences for economic development, livelihoods, food security, human health, and culture. They are even influencing the pace of climate change itself, producing feedbacks to the climate system.

Species on the move

Species have, of course, been on the move since the dawn of life on Earth. The geographical ranges of species are naturally dynamic and fluctuate over time. But the critical issue here is the magnitude and rate of climatic changes for the 21st century, which are comparable to the largest global changes in the past 65 million years. Species have often adapted to changes in their physical environment, but never before have they been expected to do it so fast, and to accommodate so many human needs along the way.

For most species – marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species alike – the first response to rapid changes in climate is a shift in location, to stay within their preferred environmental conditions. On average, species are moving towards the poles at 17km per decade on land and 78km per decade in the ocean. On land, species are also moving to cooler, higher elevations, while in the ocean some fish are venturing deeper in search of cooler water.

Why does it matter?

Different species respond at different rates and to different degrees, with the result that new ecological communities are starting to emerge. Species that had never before interacted are now intermingled, and species that previously depended on one another for food or shelter are forced apart.

Click to read entire article and see graphics

Mar 072017
 

We’re relatively less worried than we were in 2007 and our beliefs split sharply along political lines.

By Robson Fletcher, CBC News – Posted: Mar 05, 2017

According to the latest evidence, Earth is hotter now than it has been in any of our lifetimes but Canadians are less concerned about climate change than they were a decade ago. NASA says the last three years have each been the three hottest on record, and 16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred this century, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This winter, we’ve witnessed Arctic sea ice dwindle to record lows. Yet, climate concern reached its “pinnacle” in Canada — outpacing all other worries, including the economy — around 2007 and has since waned, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research.

Economic anxieties came back to the fore in the wake of the “Great Recession” and continue to dominate, but that’s not to say climate worries have disappeared. They still rank near the top of the list for most Canadians, although views on the topic vary widely. People in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Graves said, are two to three times more likely than those in the rest of Canada to be skeptical of man-made climate change. But an even bigger division can be found — nationwide — along political lines. More than half of Conservative supporters have consistently said they “don’t believe all this talk about greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change” in EKOS polling. Outside the Conservative base, only about one in 10 Canadians say the same thing. “(Conservatives) are literally five times as likely to be on what we maybe call politely the enviro-skeptic — or, maybe less politely, the climate-change denier — side of the equation,” Graves said.

EKOS climate poll by political affiliation – March 2017

Continue reading

 

Mar 042017
 

Warm weather that arrives too soon can harm birds, trees — and people
By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News Posted: Mar 03, 2017   LINK TO ARTICLE HERE

Mounting evidence suggests spring is occurring earlier as a result of climate change. While that may sound like good news, the truth is, it can wreak havoc on our environment. While colder temperatures are making their way into some parts of Canada this week, warm weather swept across most of the country in February. By the end of the month, several cities had seen warmer than usual temperatures, some in the extreme. In Calgary, the temperature rose to 16.4 C on Feb. 16. In Toronto, where temperatures at time of year should be around 1 C, 15 out of 28 days were above normal, with a record of 17.7 C set on Feb. 23.That warm weather travelled east, and parts of Nova Scotia saw temperatures in the double digits. While there are a few chilly days ahead, temperatures in cities like Toronto, Montreal and Halifax are all expected to climb at least 4 C above normal within the week. A few days of warmer than usual temperatures occur frequently, but it’s the trend that is most concerning.

The U.S. National Phenology Network, which studies seasonal and natural changes, has found that this year, leaves are appearing about 20 days early in many parts of the southeastern U.S. stretching north into Ohio.Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the network, says that in the east and west — in the U.S. and Canada — “there is definitely a trend towards earlier spring, although there’s some spatial variation … and a stronger effect the further north you go.” David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, said this is occurring straight across the country.”We know that the winter and spring periods are showing the greatest change of temperatures since the 1940s,” he said.

The birds and the buds

The warmer weather provides signals to species far and wide. Insects emerge. Buds appear on trees. Birds begin to breed. But if this process begins earlier than normal, it can throw off the whole ecosystem.Take birds, for example. Birds that migrate short distances are able to respond to a signal that indicates warmer weather at their breeding site.However, those that have wintered thousands of kilometres away are unable to respond. They rely on longer days as their signal. One bird in particular, the wood thrush, arrives on almost the same date each year.Kevin Fraser, assistant professor at the Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, studies the migration patterns of birds.”When birds arrive late, and they’re mismatched with the peak productivity, they produce fewer young, and that actually is correlated in population declines,” Fraser said. It’s these birds that are facing the biggest challenges caused by climate change.Kevin Fraser has tracked purple martins migrating between the Amazon basin and Canada. The species is showing an unfavourable response to earlier springs. (Nanette Mickle) The purple martin, for instance, which Fraser studies, migrates thousands of kilometres from Canada to the Amazon basin.

“We know that long-distance migratory birds are declining more steeply than any other kind of bird,” Fraser said. The decline varies between one and three per cent annually. Interestingly, birds have been seen to respond to cooler weather by halting their migration or even retreating.”My concern is that long-distance migrants aren’t going to have the flexibility and plasticity that they need to respond to the rapid rate of environmental change that we have,” Fraser said.”Particularly with our springs; with earlier and warmer springs, we have birds that are trying to cue to this from great distances away and don’t seem to be keeping up with the pace of climate change.”

Long-term consequences

Earlier springs also greatly affect the ground, the consequences of which can carry on far past the season. Earlier snowmelt means the ground may dry out earlier, which can be particularly problematic to farmers, who may not receive enough precipitation to account for the loss. That can raise prices at the grocery store. Not only that, unseasonable temperatures can affect the quality of foods, even the beloved Canadian maple syrup.Phillips said if warm weather starts earlier, too much maple syrup can be collected. It can’t be processed quickly enough, and the quality can suffer.As well, maple syrup production in trees relies on a thaw-freeze cycle that warmer weather can break.’People are worried about agricultural production, crop production, with the change in climate.’ — Ecologist Jake WeltzinOverall, there is a concern about what warmer winters and earlier springs can mean to farmers.

Then there are fire concerns. Persistent dry conditions greatly increase the fire risk, as was demonstrated in Fort McMurray last year. The drier winter and early spring helped create a type of tinder box that resulted in the rapid spread of flames throughout the city.

Winners and losers

Phillips said that while we may enjoy hitting that patio a week or two earlier, there are consequences we might want to consider, such as allergies. People allergic to pollen may begin to feel their symptoms earlier or could see their runny noses and watery eyes stick around for longer. Some argue there are positives to earlier springs: some farmers may have longer growing seasons or may be able to grow new crops. We may see songbirds that are usually found farther south. And, of course, there may be more weekends at the cottage. However, each of those positives could also have a negative consequence. New birds might push out native birds, for example. The scourge of spring and summer — mosquitoes and blackflies — might arrive earlier and stick around longer.Already there have been more cases of Lyme disease seen farther north than normal, such as in Newfoundland and Labrador.Not all the consequences of climate change are known, but they will come.”Part of it is the sad story of seeing who are going to be the climate change winners and who are going to be the climate change losers,” Fraser said.

Jan 282017
 

Whether doctor or meteorologist, when we fail to look at the systemic causes of the immediate problems in front of us, we are guilty of malpractice.

By Richard J Jackson
The Daily Climate    LINK TO ARTICLE
Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from a speech Dr. Richard Jackson gave at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting on Jan. 23.

SEATTLE—At the core of medical and of public health training, we learn that you cannot just look narrowly at the problem in front of you, you are obliged to look for the systemic causes, how did the patient get into this state and what are the challenges going forward? Failing to do so is malpractice.

If an internist were to see a patient who is elderly and very overweight, and who came in complaining of a sore on her foot, one that wasn’t healing, and that internist merely prescribed an ointment and failed to address the very real likelihood that this patient has vascular disease and diabetes, and was in grave danger of gangrene and amputation, in that case an objective party would review this failure as medical malpractice.

It is not enough for the doctor to know a lot of science. It is equally important that the person who is put between the scientific world and the human being must show true diligence.
It is not enough for the doctor to know a lot of science. It is equally important that the person who is put between the scientific world and the human being must show true diligence.

I will assert the same is true for meteorologists, who are clinical practitioners. They are face-to-face, at least electronically, with the father getting his children ready for school, the farmer working out her planting and harvest schedule, the pilot and air traffic controller, or the mayor struggling with the decision about whether to require a full scale evacuation. You not only save lives, you save livelihoods.

Everyone wants to hear what meteorologists have to say. Much of the time they’re the only ones worth watching on television. We need them to be technically proficient, but we also need big picture thinkers who forecast, as the navy admirals do, way out beyond the bow.

I started my career as a pediatrician and then an epidemiologist focused on environmental hazards. Two decades ago I took the position as Director of the National Center for Environmental Health at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, arguably the highest public health and environment position in the United States. I was overseeing service programs like the childhood lead poisoning prevention, epidemic investigation of cancer and birth defect clusters, measurement of chemical levels in the American people.

During my first year at CDC, I assigned four epidemiologists to Chicago because of a serious heat wave. That investigation documented over 700 deaths. We learned much about the danger of social isolation, the effects of mental illness and poverty interfaced with climate disaster, and the importance of air-conditioning and the need for better designed buildings and places of refuge.

While at CDC I learned a great deal about climate change, especially from my colleagues at US EPA, NOAA, NCAR and others. I also learned from the doctors working in our refugee and international health group. I had underestimated the dreadful suffering that comes when 50,000 or 100,000 people are forced to move because of war or disaster. Look at the horrific suffering caused by the movement of a half million people from Syria.

Serious scientists and public health leaders, and Pentagon leaders, are gravely concerned about climate change. We fear that the violent storms, floods, droughts, sea level rise and loss of agriculture associated with climate change will cause migrations hundreds of times larger than the displacement from Syria.

An important aspect of this is that I really want to acknowledge and to thank meteorologists for very important work and outreach informing the public about weather threats. I would assert that both physicians and meteorologists are in a daunting and sacred position between people and the world of science.

In meteorology the systemic disorder is climate heating as a result of climate forcing gases. I worry deeply about the future of my country, about environment and health, about our economy and about our security threats. Some will likely say that it is not meteorologists’ job to report on longer-term and global threats, such as climate. In response here’s a medical story.

We struggled to deal only with individual cases, but we did not have a robust culture of alertness and intervention. After a series of tragic failures to identify children who were obviously victims of abuse, many of the states enacted laws that required that clinicians who “know or suspect” that a child is a victim of abuse, must report this to appropriate authorities within 24 hours. During my training this was drummed into us, but I naïvely thought that this was something pretty remote, that was in the newspaper, and that I would rarely see this.

I soon learned often and painfully that I was wrong. I was a skinny young red-haired pediatrician with lots of academic knowledge, but with limited practical experience. One evening while working in the emergency room at a busy city hospital, my next patient was a 10-year-old boy who clearly had been beaten. There were fist marks on his face and bruises on his body, but I was told that he had just taken a fall. I did a full exam looking for neurological symptoms, broken bones, blood in the urine and more, but the words “know or suspect child abuse?” echoed in the back of my mind. I decided to make the legal report and I called the social worker who helped me do the paper work.

I subsequently learned that the child was from a prominent family, and the son of a judge. The following day when I reported back to work at the emergency room, a burly man confronted me. He said he was the family’s private pediatrician. His face was red with anger and only six inches from mine. He began to berate me saying “No one calls for a child abuse investigation on one of my families. What you did was wrong. I’m going to have you fired.”

I wasn’t prepared for this, kept quiet for a bit, and then said: “Doctor, I can show you the law, it says: if we know or suspect child abuse, we are obliged to report. I could be liable for felony neglect if I failed to do so.” He did complain to the hospital administration, but after that I never heard another word from him.

I wonder if meteorologists are not in a similar role. Fellow citizens need meteorologists to keep them safe. When we fail to look at the systemic causes of the immediate problems in front of us, we are guilty of malpractice.

When we fail to identify threats to our children and grandchildren, we are guilty of child neglect, and in some cases child abuse. Just as with child abuse, when there is a grave threat, we need to speak with courage even when we don’t have absolute proof. That can be decided later.

Will our grandchildren, and all grandchildren, berate us: “you should have known we were in grave danger; why didn’t you act in time to protect us?”

Dr. Richard J Jackson is an author, and professor and researcher of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. He is the former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. 

Dec 302016
 

By Brian Kahn at CLIMATE CENTRAL  –  Published: December 28th, 2016
This year is likely to remembered as a turning point for climate change. It’s the year the impacts of rising carbon pollution became impossible to ignore. The world is overheating and vast swaths of the planet have suffered the consequences. At the same time, it’s also a year where world leaders crafted and agreed on a number of plans to try to turn the tide of carbon pollution and move toward a clean energy future. It’s clear 2016 was a year where planetary peril and human hope stood out in stark contrast. Here are the 10 most important climate milestones of the year.

The world struck an airline carbon pollution deal

The friendly skies got slightly friendlier. Air travel counts for about 7 percent of carbon emissions globally. That number will need to come down in the coming decades, and the International Civil Aviation Organization, the world’s governing body for airlines, put a plan in place to start that transition. The plan, which was signed off on by 191 countries, is focused on letting airlines buy credits that will help fund renewable energy projects to offset airplane emissions. It isn’t a perfect solution since it doesn’t directly reduce carbon pollution from air travel, but it’s a first step for an industry that will have to find novel, carbon-free ways to produce the fuel needed to fly you home for Christmas vacation.

An extremely potent greenhouse gas is also on its way out

Hydrofluorocarbons are the chemicals in your air conditioner that help keep you cool in the summer (and the food in your refrigerator cool year round). Ironically, they’re also a greenhouse gas that’s thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Reducing them is critical to keep the planet from heating up much more and in October, international negotiators struck a deal to do phase out hydrofluorocarbons. Countries still have to ratify the agreement — and it could face a major roadblock in the U.S. Senate — in order for it to take effect, but if approved, it will provide strong targets and a timetable to find replacement chemicals to keep you cool in a warming world.

July was the hottest month ever recorded. Then August tied it

The Arctic had a crazy heat wave this winter, but the planet as a whole really roasted through July and August. The summer is usually the warmest time of the year by dint of the fact that there’s more land in the northern hemisphere. But this summer was something else. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and it was followed by an August — usually a bit cooler than July — that was just as scorching. Those epically hot months helped set this year up for record heat (but more on that in a bit).

Arctic sea ice got weird. Really weird

The Arctic was probably the weirdest place on the planet this year. It had a record-low peak for sea ice in the winter and dwindled to its second-lowest extent on record. The Northwest Passage also opened in August, allowing a luxury cruise ship to pass through. Those milestones themselves are a disconcerting harbinger of a warming world, but November brought an even more bizarre event. Normally it’s a time when night blankets the region and temperatures generally plummet to allow the rapid growth of ice. But a veritable heat wave ratcheted temperatures 27°F above normal in November, hitting pause on ice growth and even causing ice loss for a few days. December has seen a similar warm spell that scientists have found would be virtually impossible if it wasn’t for climate change. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming region on the planet and 2016 served as a reminder that the region is being dramatically reshaped by that warming.

Divestment and clean energy investments each hit a record

Climate change is a huge, pressing economic issue as countries will have to rejigger their economies to run on renewables and not fossil fuels. Investors are attacking that switch at both ends, and 2016 stands out for the record pace at which they’re doing it. On the fossil fuel side, investors representing $5.2 trillion in assets have agreed to divest from fossil fuels. That includes massive financial firms, pension funds, cities and regional governments, and a host of wealthy individuals. Not bad for a movement that only got its start in 2011. On the flip side, a report showed that investors poured $288 billion into new renewable projects in 2015, also a record. That’s helping install 500,000 solar panels a day around the world and ensuring that 70 percent of all money invested into energy generation is going to renewables.

The Great Barrier Reef was decimated by warm waters

Coral has had a rough go of it around the world for the past three years. El Niño coupled with climate change has caused a massive coral bleaching event around the globe. Nowhere have the impacts been more stark than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Up to 93 percent of the reef was rocked by coral bleaching as record-warm waters essentially boiled coral to death. A third of the reef — including some of the most protected areas — are now dead. Researchers found that climate change made the record heat up to 175 times more likely, offering a glimpse into the dystopian future reefs face. A 1.5°C rise in the global average temperature would essentially mean game over for corals around the world.

The world breached the 1.5°C climate threshold

So about 1.5°C. It’s a threshold that’s crucial for low-lying island states to continue their existence (to say nothing of Miami or other coastal cities). Passing it would mean essentially issuing a death sentence for these places, corals and Arctic sea ice and other places around the world. The globe got its first glimpse of 1.5°C in February and March this year. Climate change, riding on the back of a super El Niño, helped crank the global average temperature to 1.63°C above normal in February and 1.54°C above normal in March compared to pre-industrial times. While the abnormal heat has since subsided a bit, it’s likely that 1.5°C will be breached again and again in the coming years and could become normal by 2025-30.

Carbon dioxide hit 400 ppm. Permanently

Scientists measure carbon dioxide in parts per million and in 2016, and it hit a not-so-nice round number at the Earth’s marquee carbon observatory: 400 ppm. Despite the seasonal ebb and flow, there wasn’t a single week where carbon dioxide levels dipped below 400 ppm. It’s the first time on record that’s happened. Because carbon pollution continues to rise, the world isn’t going to see carbon dioxide dip below 400 ppm again in our lifetimes (and likely a lot longer than that). Carbon dioxide also breached the 400 ppm threshold in Antarctica, the first time that’s happened in human history (and likely a lot longer). And in a report that was published this year, the World Meteorological Organization revealed that carbon dioxide passed the 400 ppm milestone globally in 2015. So yeah, 400 ppm was kind of a thing this year.

The Paris Agreement got real

The world got together to deliver the Paris Agreement in 2015, but the rubber really hit the road in 2016. Nearly 120 countries have ratified the agreement, putting it into force on Nov. 4. That includes big carbon pollution emitters like China, the U.S. and the European Union, and tiny ones like Mongolia, the Cook Islands and Sierra Leone. While there’s concern that President-elect Trump could pull the U.S. out of the agreement, signatories have stressed that they’ll go forward to meet their pledges regardless. With the rubber on the road, the next step is to get the wheels spinning.

It was the hottest year on record. Again

In case it wasn’t clear, the clearest sign of climate change is heat. And this year had lots of it. Hot Arctic, hot summer, hot water, and so it’s only fitting that the biggest climate milestone of the year (in a year that itself is a milestone) is record heat. Of course, that was the biggest story in 2014. And 2015 for that matter. This year marks the third year in a row of record-setting heat, an unprecedented run. It’s a reminder that we’ve entered a new era, where our actions have changed the world we call home. We also have the ability to decide what comes next.

 

Feb 092016
 

January 2016 was warmer than normal and most of the province was drier than normal.

This month, northern Ontario and the Far North were warmer than normal by 2 to 5 degrees Celsius. The largest variations were observed in the Moosonee area, where differences exceeded 5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, areas close to the lower Great Lakes were only slightly above normal.

The mean January temperature for Peterborough was -6.5 C  vs. a normal of -8.5 C for the 1981 – 2010 period. This is a difference of 2 C.

Throughout the province, the snowfall amounts that were received ranged from 30 to 60 per cent of the amount that would be expected in January, except for the eastern edge of the northeastern part of Ontario and the Far North.

source: Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meteorologist Environment Canada

Jan 162016
 

Inside the Paris Climate Agreement: Hope or Hype? 

By Brian Tokar (Dec. 30, 2015)

It has become a predictable pattern at the annual UN climate conferences for participants to describe the outcome in widely divergent ways. This was first apparent after the high-profile Copenhagen conference in 2009, when a four-page non-agreement was praised by diplomats, but denounced by well-known critics as a “sham,” a “farce,” and a mere face-saver. UN insiders proclaimed the divisive 2013 Warsaw climate conference a success, even though global South delegates and most civil society observers had staged an angry walk-out a day prior to its scheduled conclusion.

So it was no surprise when this happened again on December 12th in Paris. Francois Hollande praised the Paris Agreement as “ambitious,” “binding,” and “universal.” Ban Ki-moon said it ushers in a “new era of global cooperation,” and UN climate convention executive secretary Christiana Figueres described it as “an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable.” Barack Obama waxed triumphant and proclaimed the outcome a testament to American leadership in diplomacy and technology.

Source: CounterPunch  Continue reading

Jan 152016
 

Scorching. Balmy. Or, just plain mild. However you want to describe it, 2015 ended on an extraordinarily mild note. The month of December 2015 was by far the warmest December on record across virtually the entire province! How much warmer? The monthly average temperature in Ontario was five to ten degrees above the 1981-2010 normal. Such a large positive departure from normal over such a large area has never been seen before. This warm spell was characterized by its length, but also by its intensity. Not only were monthly mean temperature records set throughout the province, but single-day maximum temperature marks were also posted at a number of locations on December 11, 14, 23 and 24. Precipitation amounts were within the normal range in southern Ontario and the Far North, but conditions were wetter than normal for the remainder of the province. More rainfall than normal accompanied the warm temperatures, while unsurprisingly less snowfall also fell. This December and holiday season were extraordinarily mild and snow-free.

The mean temperature in Peterborough was 2.6 C, which is 7.0 C above the 1981-2010 normal of -4.4 C and 7.9 C above the 1971 – 2000 normal of -5.3 C.  The previous mean temperature record was 0.2 C, set in 2006.

source: Geoff Coulson Warning Preparedness Meteorologist Environment Canada ….

Dec 132015
 

Source: Craig Welch, National Geographic, PUBLISHED

The world came together. More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas. “It’s rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world,” French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time). After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”

Two weeks of marathon deal-making, which started with high hopes, ended with a surprisingly ambitious pact. Its 31 pages commit wealthier nations to provide billions of dollars to poor countries to battle rising seas and extreme weather, and called on every nation to begin a rapid transition toward clean energy. It remains to be seen how well nations will follow through on these pledges – and whether the newly aggressive goals can be achieved. But as a blueprint for the future, diplomats were clearly proud of their efforts, and even many skeptical climate activists praised the unexpected boldness of portions of the agreement. “Countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, “Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

Here are highlights of the deal–some surprises, some snubs, what it means, and where it takes us:

SURPRISES

1.5 Degrees

Aside from the fact that there’s an agreement at all, perhaps nothing was more unexpected than the ambitiousness of its goal: Negotiators came to Paris with a mission to stop the rise of greenhouse gases before they cause irreversible harm to the planet. Countries previously had set a target of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But the new accord commits the planet to limiting global temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” And it adds that nations will do so while also “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.”

Read the entire article

Dec 122015
 

Source: By Haydn Watters, CBC News Posted: Dec 12, 2015 3:01 PM ET

After lengthy overnight negotiations and two weeks of touch-and-go discussions, delegates at the UN climate talks in Paris have adopted a climate-change pact. The final text of the Paris Agreement — considered to be the world’s first universal climate agreement — is 31 pages long. While the plenary session agreed upon the final draft Saturday afternoon, it now must be ratified.

Read the agreement

Here are five of the agreement’s key points.

1. Limit temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 C
The agreement includes a commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2 C compared to pre-industrial times, while striving to limit them even more, to 1.5 degrees. Canadian officials agreed to this lower amount earlier this week, saying they would support a long-term goal of limiting rising average temperatures to within 1.5 C of pre-industrial levels. Scientists consider 2 C the threshold to limit potentially catastrophic climate change.

2. First universal climate agreement
It’s the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement, with all countries expected to pitch in. The previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only included rich countries.​ Canada signed on to Kyoto, but later backed out in 2011. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius presented the agreement’s final draft on Saturday, noting that it is legally binding.
3. Helping poorer nations
The deal also calls on developed nations to give $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020. This would help these poorer countries combat climate change and foster greener economies. The agreement promotes universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, particularly in Africa. It says this can be accomplished through greater use of renewable energy. In his appearance at the summit last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to helping poorer nations cope with global warming. In November, the Canadian government promised to spend $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

4. Publishing greenhouse gas reduction targets
Countries will be tasked with preparing, maintaining and publishing their own greenhouse gas reduction targets. The agreement says these targets should be greater than the current ones and “reflect [the] highest possible amibition.” These targets will be reviewed and revised every five years starting in 2023. The agreement also says that each country should strive to drive down their carbon output “as soon as possible.”

5. Carbon neutral by 2050?

The deal sets the goal of a carbon-neutral world sometime after 2050 but before 2100. This means a commitment to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally. Scientists believe the world will have to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether in the next half-century in order to achieve this goal.

Sep 122015
 

September 10, 2015
Written by: Anne Meador and John Zangas

Source: DC Media Group
The repercussions of climate disruption are still not being acknowledged fully, warned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, addressing an audience of Baby Boomer and Greatest Generation climate activists on September 9.

“We’ve now got an emergency,” he told about 150 “elder activists” at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, who were participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day.

Hansen–formerly NASA’s head climate scientist, now Adjunct Professor at Columbia University–is probably best known for bringing definitive evidence of global warming to Congress in testimony in 1988. In July of this year, he released a report with sixteen co-authors studying glacier melt in Greenland and Antarctica. Unlike previous models, the new report takes into account some feedback loops which may be hastening the loss of ice sheet mass far faster than anticipated.

Time is running out to transition to renewable energy, Hansen said, yet the most “relevant” people in power aren’t aware of the situation’s gravity. “Even people who go around saying, ‘We have a planet in peril,’ don’t get it. Until we’re aware of our future, we can’t deal with it.”

 James Hansen

James Hansen

Mass species extinction, extreme weather events, dry spells and fires are climate change impacts which are happening now. A warmer atmosphere and warmer oceans can lead to stronger storms, he explained. Superstorm Sandy, for example, remained a hurricane all the way up the Eastern seaboard to New York because Atlantic waters were abnormally warm.

“Amplifying impacts” and feedback loops will accelerate the changes, according to Hansen. “It will happen faster than you think,” he said. If major coastal cities become “dysfunctional” because of sea level rise, as he believes is possible, the global economy could be in peril of collapse.

It is therefore imperative to stop using coal, oil and gas as energy sources now. “We’ve already burned as much as we can afford,” he said. Fossil fuels already burned will continue to have impacts, because the climate system “has inertia.” “We’ve only felt the warming for half of the gases that are up there,” he said.

The use of fossil fuels is still on the rise in spite of the dangers, he said, because governments subsidize them and don’t make companies bear the real costs to society. The only viable way to make the price of fossil fuels “honest,” in his opinion, is to implement a “fee and dividend” system.

While Hansen denounced “unfettered capitalism”and “scary” trade agreements in the works, he believes government regulation can steer captains of industry onto the right path. “We’ve got to make the system work for us,” he said. “If you properly harness the market, it will work for you.”

He gave an example of incentives and tax breaks for solar panels, which he has on his own home, and how he contributes electricity to the grid. Yet one audience member took issue with a corruption-free scenario. “Come to Virginia, I dare you!” he said. (In Virginia, where Dominion Virginia Power has a stranglehold on state politics, “standby” fees and other barriers stifle solar panel installation by individuals.)
Hansen, a grandparent himself, was the keynote speaker at Grandparents Climate Action Day, an event to mobilize elder activists and promote a policy agenda aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hansen believes elders possess resources and wisdom which, combined with the zeal of youth, can help find solutions to climate change. “Older people have a lot of clout, a lot of votes, and time,” he said. With more older people getting involved, there will be more pressure to make needed changes.

Fellow speaker John Sorensen, co-founder of the Conscious Elders Network, echoed this point. The 80 million elders in the U.S.–25% of the population–are living longer and healthier lives with more time and resources to devote to activism.

Hansen is supporting a lawsuit in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government. (One of the plaintiffs is his granddaughter Sophie.) The lawsuit alleges that the federal government knew decades ago that burning fossil fuels and climate were linked, but continued on the same course anyway.

In his testimony for Youth v. Obama, Hansen said, “In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy.”

The judiciary, he believes, is the only viable recourse left for the younger generation, “because the courts will be less under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry.”

Photo by John Zangas
“Young people have all these rights that are guaranteed by the constitution, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to look at, and I think this may be our best chance to force the government to do its job,” he said.

Most of the elders participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day probably won’t live to see the worst effects of climate change, yet they were eager to learn about the earth future generations will inherit. One participant explained her reason for being there. After working with children for her whole career, she realized that “all of it mean[s] nothing if we don’t have a livable planet.”

Aug 062015
 

Source: Rolling Stone – August 5, 2015

 
The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected
By Eric Holthaus August 5, 2015

 

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. 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. 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. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. 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.

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.
Salmon Salmon on the brink of dying out. Michael Quinton/Newscom

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.”
India Pavement-melting heat waves in India. Harish Tyagi/EPA/Corbis

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.”
Turkey Biblical floods in Turkey. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty

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 Katharine Hayhoe speaks about climate change to students and faculty at Wayland Baptist University in 2011. Geoffrey McAllister/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty

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

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares-are-already-here-20150805#ixzz3i1wbTIhM
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Jul 202015
 

source:  New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE

JULY 13, 2015

Is climate change a serious threat to human health?

Simple logic would suggest the answer is yes, a point that the Obama administration is using to build support for the president’s effort to make climate change a centerpiece of his final months in office.

A White House report listed deepening risks. Asthma will worsen, heat-related deaths will rise, and the number and traveling range of insects carrying diseases once confined to the tropics will increase.

But the bullet points convey a certainty that many scientists say does not yet exist. Scientists agree that evidence is growing that warmer weather is having an effect on health, but they say it is only one part of an immensely complex set of forces that are influencing health.

For example, scientists note that global travel and trade, not climate change, brought the first cases of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne tropical disease, to Florida.
Temperatures may be rising, but overall deaths from heat are not, in part because the march of progress has helped people adapt — air conditioning is more ubiquitous, for example, and the treatment of heart disease, a major risk for heat-related mortality, has improved.
The resurgence of forests in the eastern United States and the subsequent increase in the deer population have helped drive a sharp growth in ticks and Lyme disease. But the increase in the prevalence of the illness in the United States has little to do with the climate, federal health experts say.

“There’s a lot of evidence showing that extreme weather can hurt people, but what we don’t know is whether those effects are getting worse,” said Patrick L. Kinney, director of the Columbia University Climate and Health Program, adding that scientists don’t have the long-term data needed to pinpoint how climate change is affecting health.

Still, climate change is a contributing factor. Ragweed now blooms about two to three weeks longer in the north central United States than it did a few decades ago, extending sneezing and watery eyes further into the fall, according to research led by Lewis H. Ziska, a plant scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Asian tiger mosquito, which came to the southern United States from Japan in the 1980s, likely in a shipment of used tires, has recently spread as far north as Connecticut, an encroachment scientists have connected to rising temperatures, said Dina Fonseca, an entomology professor at Rutgers University.

Mary H. Hayden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who studies climate and health, said of dengue fever, a tropical disease carried by mosquitoes: “I don’t think we can dismiss the role of climate. But can we say there is a direct causal link? No, we can’t. It’s more complex than that.”

The science is in its infancy. Data on insects, pollen counts and diseases in developing countries is often patchy. Many studies show associations, meaning two things are happening at the same time, but it is not clear that one is causing the other. Some experts compare it to the state of science in the early days of understanding smoking’s effect on lung cancer.
Evidence is accumulating, however. In 2000, the first National Climate Assessment, a government document weaving together the best evidence on climate change, had just 21 pages on health. The most recent assessment included a special section on health that filled more than 400 pages.

Two peer-reviewed British journals — Philosophical Transactions B and The Lancet — have dedicated many pages to the topic this year. Europeans, unburdened by the level of political controversy over climate change in the United States, often give more conclusive interpretations of the science.

“We are in a far more certain place now,” said Nick Watts of the University College London Institute for Global Health and a co-author of the Lancet analysis. “We feel very comfortable talking about direct effects of climate change on health.”

The climate’s effect on health is generally less pronounced in wealthier countries like the United States, where so many people are protected from the elements in their homes. A study comparing Laredo, Tex., and a city just across the border in Mexico found the incidence of dengue fever was far higher in Mexico, even though the mosquitoes that carry it were more abundant in Texas. Researchers attributed the Texan advantage to economics — air conditioning and windows that shut — not climate.

But climate change is affecting health in developed countries, too. In Canada, the tick population has exploded in recent years, with 13 areas where ticks were living and reproducing locally, up from just two in 1997. Researchers have found that some areas have become warmer, and thus more suitable for ticks. Warmer weather allows more immature ticks to survive into adulthood, expanding the population.

“The areas that are suitable for ticks to colonize are changing,” said Patrick Leighton, an assistant professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Montreal.

Insects like ticks and mosquitoes cannot regulate their own body temperatures, so their breeding, feeding and life cycles are extremely sensitive to temperatures. Canada now has about 700 locally acquired cases of Lyme disease a year, up from about 40 cases 15 years ago. Nearly all past infections used to happen outside Canada. Now most are acquired locally.

“This whole Lyme disease issue has gone from theory to reality for us,” said Dr. Nick Ogden, a senior scientist for the Public Health Agency of Canada. “Now the ticks are really moving in.”

But Lyme disease is also an example of just how difficult it is to draw broad conclusions about how climate change affects health. The disease is also moving south, with large sections of Virginia and parts of North Carolina now inundated with ticks that carry the disease. But that pattern appears to have little to do with climate.

Dr. C. Ben Beard, associate director for climate change at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said reforestation in the eastern United States and the expanding populations of deer and people appear to be factors.
“Climate is probably not driving the southward expansion,” he said. In general, the temperature effects of climate change on ticks are more significant in northern climates, he said.

Heat has caused hundreds of deaths in Pakistan recently, with victims concentrated among older adults and people who spend a lot of time outside, like the homeless. Scientists say it is all but impossible to tie a specific weather event to climate change but say with increasing certainty that temperatures are rising.

But even heat is complicated. A recent review of heat mortality in the United States found that the rate of heat-related deaths declined by more than half from 1987 to 2005. The researchers concluded that the population had become more resilient to heat over time, which might have resulted in part from the increased use of heat warning systems by cities and improvements in medical treatment for conditions that are risk factors for heat mortality.

A study in The Lancet in May analyzed 74 million deaths from 1985 to 2012 in more than 10 countries, including the United States, and found that about 8 percent of the deaths had been caused by abnormal temperatures. Of those, the rate of death from cold — more than 7 percent — far outnumbered that from heat, about 0.42 percent.

Health risks from climate change are fundamentally local. The dangers of heat are greater in New Delhi than in New York, not only because it is hotter in the Indian city, but because fewer people have electricity, sturdy houses and modern medical care. That makes drawing broad conclusions tricky. But it does not mean the risks are not there. As Dr. Kinney noted, “if we wait for the health evidence to be ironclad, it may well be too late.”

Jul 182015
 

July 16, 2015
In 2014, the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet, with several  markers such as rising land and ocean temperature, sea levels and greenhouse gases ─ setting new records.  These key findings and others can be found in the State of the Climate in 2014 report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

The report, compiled by NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate at the National Centers for Environmental Information is based on contributions from 413 scientists from 58 countries around the world (highlight, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space.  

State of the Climate Report

State of the Climate Report

“This report represents data from around the globe, from hundreds of scientists and gives us a picture of what happened in 2014. The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D, Director, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.
The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. The indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets.

“This is the 25th report in this important annual series, as well as the 20th report that has been produced for publication in BAMS,” said Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. “Over the years we have seen clearly the value of careful and consistent monitoring of our climate which allows us to document real changes occurring in the Earth’s climate system.”
Key highlights from the report include:

Greenhouse gases continued to climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2014, once again reaching historic high values. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 1.9 ppm in 2014, reaching a global average of 397.2 ppm for the year. This compares with a global average of 354.0 in 1990 when this report was first published just 25 years ago.

Record temperatures observed near the Earth’s surface: Four independent global datasets showed that 2014 was the warmest year on record. The warmth was widespread across land areas. Europe experienced its warmest year on record, with more than 20 countries exceeding their previous records. Africa had above-average temperatures across most of the continent throughout 2014, Australia saw its third warmest year on record, Mexico had its warmest year on record, and Argentina and Uruguay each had their second warmest year on record. Eastern North America was the only major region to experience below-average annual temperatures.

Tropical Pacific Ocean moves towards El Niño–Southern Oscillation conditions: The El Niño–Southern Oscillation was in a neutral state during 2014, although it was on the cool side of neutral at the beginning of the year and approached warm El Niño conditions by the end of the year. This pattern played a major role in several regional climate outcomes.

Sea surface temperatures were record high: The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record. The warmth was particularly notable in the North Pacific Ocean, where temperatures are in part likely driven by a transition of the Pacific decadal oscillation – a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered in the region.

Global upper ocean heat content was record high: Globally, upper ocean heat content reached a record high for the year, reflecting the continuing accumulation of thermal energy in the upper layer of the oceans. Oceans absorb over 90 percent of Earth’s excess heat from greenhouse gas forcing.

Global sea level was record high: Global average sea level rose to a record high in 2014. This keeps pace with the 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year trend in sea level growth observed over the past two decades.

The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low: The Arctic experienced its fourth warmest year since records began in the early 20th century. Arctic snow melt occurred 20–30 days earlier than the 1998–2010 average. On the North Slope of Alaska, record high temperatures at 20-meter depth were measured at four of five permafrost observatories. The Arctic minimum sea ice extent reached 1.94 million square miles on September 17, the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. The eight lowest minimum sea ice extents during this period have occurred in the last eight years.

The Antarctic showed highly variable temperature patterns; sea ice extent reached record high: Temperature patterns across the Antarctic showed strong seasonal and regional patterns of warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal conditions, resulting in near-average conditions for the year for the continent as a whole. The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.78 million square miles on September 20. This is 220,000 square miles more than the previous record of 7.56 million square miles that occurred in 2013. This was the third consecutive year of record maximum sea ice extent.

Tropical cyclones above average overall: There were 91 tropical cyclones in 2014, well above the 1981–2010 average of 82 storms. The 22 named storms in the Eastern/Central Pacific were the most to occur in the basin since 1992. Similar to 2013, the North Atlantic season was quieter than most years of the last two decades with respect to the number of storms.
The State of the Climate in 2014 is the 25th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.

 

Jun 192015
 

source: The Guardian 

The pope links the destruction of the environment with the exploitation
of the poor. The world should pay attention

Last modified on Friday 19 June 2015 00.00 BST

Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, is the most
astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past
100 years, since it is addressed not just to Catholics, or Christians,
but to everyone on earth. It sets out a programme for change that is
rooted in human needs but it makes the radical claim that these needs
are not primarily greedy and selfish ones.

We need nature, he says, and we need each other. Our need for
mutuality, and for giving, is just as real as the selfish aspects of
our characters; the need for awe and stillness in front of nature is
just as profound as any other human need. The care of nature and the
care of the poor are aspects of the same ethical commandment, and if we
neglect either one we cannot find peace. The environment, in the pope’s
use of the word, is not something out there: nature as opposed to the
human world. The term describes the relationship between nature and
humans, who are inextricably linked and part of each other. It is that
relationship that must be set right.

Starting from that premise, he launches a ferocious attack on what he
sees as the false and treacherous appetites of capitalism and on the
consumerist view of human nature. For Francis, there is a vital
distinction between human needs, which are limited but non-negotiable,
and appetites, which are potentially unlimited, and which can always be
traded for other satisfactions without ever quite giving us what we
most deeply want. The poor, he says, have their needs denied, while the
rich have their appetites indulged. The environmental crisis links
these two aspects of the problem.

This criticism attacks both kinds of defenders of the present world
order: the deniers and the optimists. The document is absolutely
unequivocal in backing the overwhelming scientific consensus that
anthropogenic global warming is a clear and present danger. It blasts
the use of fossil fuels and demands that these be phased out in favour
of renewable energy. But it is also explicitly opposed to the idea that
we can rely on purely technological solutions to ecological problems.
This may be the most explicit break with the liberal and broadly
optimistic consensus of the consuming world. There will never be a
technological fix for the problem of unrestrained appetite, the pope
claims, because this is a moral problem, which demands a moral
solution, a turn towards sobriety and self-restraint and away from the
intoxications of consumerism.

In this he is drawing partly on the tradition of Catholic social
teaching, and partly on moral thinking popular in the 1960s, when moral
philosophers were first grappling with the implications of nuclear
weapons and the sense that humankind had not grown up but reached its
toddler stage, where the capacity for destruction far outweighed our
capacity for judgment.

Once again we find that we possess the power to destroy the planet and
most of the multicellular life on it, but this time there is no
argument from enlightened self-interest that is as clear as the
argument against nuclear warfare was in the days of the cold war. The
balance of terror no longer exists in the same form as it did when the
use of nuclear weapons would be punished by nuclear retaliation: the
poor world will now pay for the crimes of the rich, and our children
and grandchildren must pay for their parents’ self-indulgence. This is
what he means by an “ecological debt”. The sometimes apocalyptic tone,
with the threats of resource wars as well as the more obvious forms of
ecological catastrophe, arises from the sense that this debt must at
some time be terribly repaid.

Will anyone listen? The pope is scathing, and rightly so, about the
lack of action that has followed high-minded declarations in the past.
Why should this time be different? The answer, not entirely reassuring,
is that we cannot go on as we are. Self-interest alone will not avert
the catastrophe. Without a moral and imaginative structure that links
our wellbeing to that of others, so that their suffering feels as
urgent as ours, or is at least measured on the same scales, we will
render our planet uninhabitable. The pope is trying to change our
understanding of human nature. Many people will disagree with his
understanding. But he is right that no smaller change will do.

Jun 182015
 

source: The Climate Group
18 June 2015

LONDON: Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, today welcomed the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, saying it would hugely build momentum to deliver a strong global climate deal at COP21 later this year.

“Pope Francis, one of the most influential leaders in the world, is stating that acting now on climate change has to be at the top of the list of priorities for all world leaders,” he says. “This is a hugely significant development: this is the first time the Catholic church has put such critical importance on urgent action on climate change, and puts real pressure on policymakers and business leaders to deliver at COP21.

“The driver to this intervention is that, while all of us will suffer the impacts of runaway climate change, it is the poor and the most vulnerable who will face the most devastating disruption and climate-related disasters. However what it does is mobilise 1.2 billion Catholics around the world into climate activists at a time when there is concern about the need to really raise ambition at the Paris climate talks later this year. The significance of this should not be understated.”

Climate change is primarily caused by human activity and is one of the biggest challenges for humanity, Pope Francis writes in his much-awaited encyclical released today, the first to be completely devoted to such a topic. “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet,” he writes.

The document, addressed to every bishop and therefore to every Catholic in the world, is a fervent appeal from the Pope to take action to safeguard the environment, “our common house”, which “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

CALL TO ACTION
The document is a clear recognition of the anthropogenic cause of climate change. “A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity,” the Pope writes in his encyclical.

“It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis,” he adds. The point is particularly important for US politics, where many Republican members of Congress must try to conciliate their skepticism toward climate change with their asserted devotion to Catholicism.

The Pope is well aware economic, social and cultural oppositions are making preventing climate disruption a difficult task, stressing: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity”.

To address this problem, he suggests humanity must “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it”.

GLOBAL CONSENSUS
Climate change impacts “will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption,” warns the pontiff. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us”.

This is why Pope Franis calls for “global consensus” ahead of the important climate talks in Paris later this year, to tackle what he defines “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries”. The pontiff specifically points out the need for “developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water”.

Pope Francis says an international climate agreement is necessary, not least for the sake of future generations. “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he asks. “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY
Focused on the need for a transition to cleaner energy and greater collaboration between countries as key to a robust global climate deal, he writes: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay”.

Tackling climate change implies “common and differentiated responsibilities,” writes the pontiff, recalling a term used in the climate negotiations to indicate that richer countries – which have historically polluted more than the developing ones – must restate such imbalance. “Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries,” writes Pope Francis, “it compels us to to consider an ethics of international relations.

A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time”.

For this reason, poor countries “They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources”.

COSTS AND BENEFITS
Interestingly, the Pope points out that in doing so “the costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change,” a statement that echoes last year’s New Economy Report. However, the pontiff is critical toward ‘carbon credits’, which in his opinion “can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” because “it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors”.

Therefore, “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced,” says the Pope, “for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy”.

Outlining that there is more than one ray of hope he writes: “Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion [of the global energy mix].

Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread”.

We have just “one world with a common plan one world”, affirms the Pope in the encyclical. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change”.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, comments: “Pope Francis’ encyclical underscores the moral imperative for urgent action on climate change to lift the planet’s most vulnerable populations, protect development, and spur responsible growth. This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year. Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now”.

Jun 132015
 

Source: CBS News

By Bianca Seidman  June 9, 2015

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac plants are becoming larger and stronger, a trend that’s been developing over recent years, according to researchers. That may be a combination of the plant’s nature to cause more severe reactions over time and the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.

A substance in the plants called urushiol oil is to blame for the notorious itchy rash that develops in people who touch it. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 70 to 85 percent of people exposed to urushiol oil in poison ivy and its cousins will experience an allergic reaction. Unlike other allergies that people may outgrow, sensitivity to this oil gets worse with each additional exposure.

Though urushiol oil starts penetrating the skin immediately, people may not recognize the danger and may continue touching the plant and spreading the oil, since the allergic rash often doesn’t appear for 12 to 24 hours.

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets, shiny, droop down, often asymmetrical)  - Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets, shiny, droop down, often asymmetrical) – Drew Monkman

“It’s becoming more prevalent. Climate change, warmer temperatures, carbon dioxide rising — in fact, carbon dioxide levels are expected to double by the end of the century. It tells the plants to grow bigger leaves. And the oil itself, that causes poison ivy rash, is more powerful and supercharged,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and assistant clinical professor at NYU School of Medicine, told “CBS This Morning”The first step in prevention is to recognize the poisonous plants, which have distinctive qualities. Many varieties of poison ivy and poison oak have branches with three leaves, hence the popular phrase, “leaves of three, let them be.” But the rule isn’t foolproof: the leaves sometimes grow in larger clusters. Poison sumac may have clusters of 7 to 13 leaves. The leaves often have black spots which look like paint splatters, caused by blobs of oil that leak out become oxidized in the air and turn black.

Poison ivy grows in every one of the lower 48 states except California. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best protection is to avoid contact with the plants; don’t try to remove or burn them because the oil can cause lung irritation if inhaled.

Outdoor workers should exercise extra care around wooded areas, including learning to identify the plants and wearing protective clothing when near possible growth. There is also a barrier lotion called IvyBlock that contains the only FDA-approved drug to prevent rash from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, known as bentoquatam.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) created this video explaining how poison ivy looks and works.

A more rare and dangerous poisonous plant which is also found in the Northeast, called wild parsnip, can cause rashes that leave scarring and blindness if its oil comes in contact with eyes.

If the oil from a poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac or related plants touches the skin, remove the oil as quickly as possible to minimize harm. The U.S. Forest Service recommends cleaning the skin with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol within 10 minutes. Some experts warn that using soap can can actually lift the urushiol oil and spread it around the skin.

Also wash clothes, shoes, gardening tools, even pets — anything that could have come in contact with the plants or their oils. The oil can remain active on surfaces and cause allergic reactions even years later.

Calamine lotion, antihistamine creams and hydrocortisone can help relieve itching if a rash develops. If a large rash spreads over 10 percent or more of the body, see a doctor.

© 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Note: We do not have Poison Oak or Poison Sumac in the Kawarthas – D.M.