Ocean Warming is Accelerating …

… Faster than Thought, New Research Finds

by Kendra Pierre-Louis

https://www.nytimes.com (January 10 2019)


Rising ocean temperatures can bleach corals, like these off of Papua New Guinea.CreditJurgen Freund/NPL/Minden Pictures
Image

Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up forty percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans”, said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year”.

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now”, said Malin L Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution, and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now”.

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels, and making hurricanes more destructive.

As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.

People in the tropics, who rely heavily on fish for protein, could be hard hit, said Kathryn Matthews, deputy chief scientist for the conservation group Oceana. “The actual ability of the warm oceans to produce food is much lower, so that means they’re going to be more quickly approaching food insecurity”, she said.

Because they play such a critical role in global warming, oceans are one of the most important areas of research for climate scientists. Average ocean temperatures are also a consistent way to track the effects of greenhouse gas emissions because they are not influenced much by short-term weather patterns, Mr Hausfather said.

“Oceans are really the best thermometer we have for changes in the Earth”, he said.

But, historically, understanding ocean temperatures has been difficult. An authoritative United Nations report, issued in 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented five different estimates of ocean heat, but they all showed less warming than the levels projected by computer climate models – suggesting that either the ocean heat measurements or the climate models were inaccurate.

[The IPCC also issued a report last year that described a climate crisis as soon as 2040.]

Since the early 2000s, scientists have measured ocean heat using a network of drifting floats called Argo, named after Jason’s ship in Greek mythology. The floats measure the temperature and saltiness of the upper 6,500 feet of the ocean and upload the data via satellites.

But before Argo, researchers relied on temperature sensors that ships lowered into the ocean with copper wire. The wire transferred data from the sensor to the ship for recording until the wire broke and the sensor drifted away.

That method was subject to uncertainties, particularly around the accuracy of the depth at which the measurement was taken. Those uncertainties hamper today’s scientists as they stitch together twentieth-century temperature data into a global historical record.

In the new analysis, Mr Hausfather and his colleagues assessed three recent studies that better accounted for the older instrument biases. The results converged at an estimate of ocean warming that was higher than that of the 2014 United Nations report and more in line with the climate models.

The waters closest to the surface have heated up the most, and that warming has accelerated over the past two decades, according to data from the lead author of the new study, Lijing Cheng of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Beijing.

As the oceans heat up, sea levels rise because warmer water takes up more space than colder water. In fact, most of the sea level rise observed to date is because of this warming effect, not melting ice caps.

Absent global action to reduce carbon emissions, the authors said, the warming alone would cause sea levels to rise by about thirty centimeters by 2100, and the ice caps would contribute more. That could exacerbate damages from severe coastal flooding and storm surge.

The effects of the warming on marine life could also have broad repercussions, Dr Pinsky said. “As the ocean heats up, it’s driving fish into new places, and we’re already seeing that that’s driving conflict between countries”, he said. “It’s spilling over far beyond just fish, it’s turned into trade wars. It’s turned into diplomatic disputes. It’s led to a breakdown in international relations in some cases.”

A fourth study reviewed by the researchers strengthened their conclusions. That study used a novel method to estimate ocean temperatures indirectly, and it also found that the world’s oceans were heating faster than the authors of the 2014 study did.

The study initially contained an error that caused its authors to revise their estimates downward. But as it turned out, the downward revision brought the study’s estimates much closer to the new consensus.

“The correction made it agree a lot better with the other new observational records”, Mr Hausfather said. “Previously it showed significantly more warming than anyone, and that was potentially worrisome because it meant our observational estimates might be problematic. Now their best estimate is pretty much dead-on with the other three recent studies.”

The scientists who published the four studies were not trying to make their results align, Mr Hausfather said. “The groups who were working on ocean heat observations, they’re not climate modelers”, he said. “They’re not particularly concerned with whether or not their observations agree or disagree with climate models”.

Laure Zanna, an associate professor of climate physics at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study, said the new research was “a very nice summary of what we know of the ocean and how far the new estimates have come together”.

Dr Zanna published a study this week that used existing data to estimate ocean temperatures dating back to 1871. The goal was to figure out places where sea level rise might happen even faster than expected because of the way ocean currents redistribute heat, allowing regions that are especially at risk to better plan for those changes.

[Here’s more on how the oceans are absorbing most of the planet’s excess heat.]

“We are warming the planet but the ocean is not warming evenly, so different places warm more than others”, Dr Zanna said. “And so the first consequence will be that sea level will be different in different places depending on the warming.”

Though the new findings provide a grim forecast for the future of the oceans, Mr Hausfather said that efforts to mitigate global warming, including the 2015 Paris climate agreement, would help. “I think there’s some reason for confidence that we’ll avoid the worst-case outcomes”, he said, “even if we’re not on track for the outcomes we want”.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

Is it Time to Charge Passengers …

… the True Cost of Flying?

by Lloyd Alter

https://www.treehugger.com (January 29 2019)


CC BY 2.0 Ready go fly from Haida Gwaii/ Lloyd Alter

If it weren’t so subsidized, it would be a lot more expensive, and people might fly a lot less.

When you fill your car at a gas pump, a big portion of the price goes to taxes. There are state taxes that are as high as 58 cents per gallon in Pennsylvania and federal taxes of 18.4 cents per gallon.

But airlines do not pay a penny of tax on jet fuel, thanks to a treaty signed in 1944 that the airlines have fought to preserve. If it was taxed like other fuels, it would add about a hundred bucks to the price of a transatlantic flight.


(c) HOK/ LaGuardia Airport renovation

If you fly that plane into La Guardia, you are landing at an airport going through a $4 billion renovation, half of which is being paid for by the taxpayer through the Port Authority.

If you are flying in a Boeing jet, you are in a plane that was built on subsidies. According to Erica Alini of Global News,

 

The company received $457 million in federal grants, which are typically non-repayable, between 2000 and 2014. In addition to that, there was a whopping $64 billion in federal loans and loan guarantees.

 

The company also got $13 billion in state and local subsidies.

Meanwhile, Boeing complains to the World Trade Organization that Airbus got $22 billion in illegal subsidies from the European Union.

Airplanes now drink five million barrels of oil every day and are the cause of 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, but the effects of those emissions might be much higher. John Gibbons of the Irish Times calls aviation “the red meat in the greenhouse gas sandwich”, noting that there are 10,000 passenger aircraft in the sky carrying over a million people every day.

No other discrete human activity is more intensely polluting than flying. Yet rather than being hammered, the aviation industry instead benefits from tax breaks and subsidies other sectors could only dream of … Rather than being penalised for their massive carbon footprint, frequent flyers are instead pampered by airlines with upgrades and incentives.

Gibbons thinks that raising the prices just penalizes people with lower incomes so that flying should be rationed.


Rationing Poster/Public Domain

The real point of rationing is not to raise revenue but to constrain demand, and vast amounts of the flying we now do are frivolous in the extreme. Irish people think nothing of having their wedding in Dubai, or stag parties in Berlin, confident the (relatively) low fares mean their family and friends will join them for a celebration that could as easily have been held locally.

I am not so sure about rationing, and wonder what is wrong with the good old free market. Stop all subsidies, and tax jet fuel at the same rate as any other fuel.


Bombardier C-Series Jet/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The first time I got on a Bombardier C-series jet (now an Airbus A-220), I joked that Canadian taxpayers should fly free, given the level of support and subsidy the plane had received. But it is the same everywhere in the world – the airports, the highways and trains to the airports, the planes and the fuel, all hugely subsidized or exempted from taxes that everybody else pays, which is, in essence, a subsidy.

Charge the customer the full cost of flying and people would do it a lot less.

https://www.treehugger.com/aviation/it-time-charge-passengers-true-cost-flying.html

Climate Change is Complex

We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions

by Justin Gillis

Illustrations by Jon Han

https://www.nytimes.com (September 25 2017)

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: Seventeen often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

 

Part 1
What is happening?


1. Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because “the weather has been so cold” in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2. How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by more than one degree Celsius since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 4.5 degrees Celsius, which would undermine the planet’s capacity to support a large human population.

3. What is the greenhouse effect, and how does it cause global warming?

We’ve known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the nineteenth century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

4. How do we know humans are responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide?

This one is nailed down.

Hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, shows that the extra gas is coming from human activity. Carbon dioxide levels rose and fell naturally in the long-ago past, but those changes took thousands of years. Geologists say that humans are now pumping the gas into the air much faster than nature has ever done.

5. Could natural factors be the cause of the warming?

Nope.

In theory, they could be. If the sun were to start putting out more radiation, for instance, that would definitely warm the Earth. But scientists have looked carefully at the natural factors known to influence planetary temperature and found that they are not changing nearly enough. The warming is extremely rapid on the geologic time scale, and no other factor can explain it as well as human emissions of greenhouse gases.

6. Why do people deny the science of climate change?

Mostly because of ideology.

Instead of negotiating over climate change policies and trying to make them more market-oriented, some political conservatives have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

President Trump has sometimes claimed that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public, or that global warming was invented by China to disable American industry. The climate denialists’ arguments have become so strained that even oil and coal companies have distanced themselves publicly, though some still help to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

 

Part 2
What could happen?

1. How much trouble are we in?

Big trouble.

Over the coming 25 or thirty years, scientists say, the climate is likely to gradually warm, with more extreme weather. Coral reefs and other sensitive habitats are already starting to die. Longer term, if emissions rise unchecked, scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities. The emissions that create those risks are happening now, raising deep moral questions for our generation.

2. How much should I worry about climate change affecting me directly?

Are you rich enough to shield your descendants?

The simple reality is that people are already feeling the effects, whether they know it or not. Because of sea level rise, for instance, some 83,000 more residents of New York and New Jersey were flooded during Hurricane Sandy than would have been the case in a stable climate, scientists have calculated. Tens of thousands of people are already dying in heat waves made worse by global warming. The refugee flows that have destabilized politics around the world have been traced in part to climate change. Of course, as with almost all other social problems, poor people will be hit first and hardest.

3. How much will the seas rise?

The real question is how fast.

The ocean has accelerated and is now rising at a rate of about thirty centimeters per century, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting coastal erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

The risk is that the rate will increase still more. Scientists who study the Earth’s history say waters could rise by thirty centimeters per decade in a worst-case scenario, though that looks unlikely. Many experts believe that even if emissions stopped tomorrow, five or six meters of sea level rise is already inevitable, enough to flood many cities unless trillions of dollars are spent protecting them. How long it will take is unclear. But if emissions continue apace, the ultimate rise could be 25 or thirty meters.

4. Is recent crazy weather tied to climate change?

Some of it is.

Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened a recent drought in California.

In many other cases, though – hurricanes, for example – the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. Scientists are gradually improving their understanding as computer analyses of the climate grow more powerful.

 

Part 3
What can we do?

 

1. Are there any realistic solutions to the problem?

Yes, but change is happening too slowly.

Society has put off action for so long that the risks are now severe, scientists say. But as long as there are still unburned fossil fuels in the ground, it is not too late to act. The warming will slow to a potentially manageable pace only when human emissions are reduced to zero. The good news is that they are now falling in many countries as a result of programs like fuel-economy standards for cars, stricter building codes, and emissions limits for power plants. But experts say the energy transition needs to speed up drastically to head off the worst effects of climate change.

2. What is the Paris Agreement?

Virtually every country agreed to limit future emissions.

The landmark deal was reached outside Paris in December 2015. The reductions are voluntary and the pledges do not do enough to head off severe effects. But the agreement is supposed to be reviewed every few years so that countries ramp up their commitments. President Trump announced in 2017 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, though that will take years, and other countries have said they would go forward regardless of American intentions.

3. Does clean energy help or hurt the economy?

Job growth in renewable energy is strong.

The energy sources with the lowest emissions include wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear power stations. Power plants burning natural gas also produce fewer emissions than those burning coal. Converting to these cleaner sources may be somewhat costlier in the short term, but they could ultimately pay for themselves by heading off climate damages and reducing health problems associated with dirty air. And expansion of the market is driving down the costs of renewable energy so fast that it may ultimately beat dirty energy on price alone – it already does in some areas.

The transition to cleaner energy certainly produces losers, like coal companies, but it also creates jobs. The solar industry in the United States now employs more than twice as many people as coal mining.

4. What about fracking or “clean coal”?

Both could help clean up the energy system.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is one of a set of drilling technologies that has helped produce a new abundance of natural gas in the United States and some other countries. Burning gas instead of coal in power plants reduces emissions in the short run, though gas is still a fossil fuel and will have to be phased out in the long run. The fracking itself can also create local pollution.

“Clean coal” is an approach in which the emissions from coal-burning power plants would be captured and pumped underground. It has yet to be proven to work economically, but some experts think it could eventually play a major role.

5. What’s the latest with electric cars?

Sales are still small overall, but they are rising fast.

The cars draw power at night from the electric grid and give off no pollution during the day as they move around town. They are inherently more efficient than gasoline cars and would represent an advance even if the power were generated by burning coal, but they will be far more important as the electric grid itself becomes greener through renewable power. The cars are improving so fast that some countries are already talking about banning the sale of gasoline cars after 2030.

6. What are carbon taxes, carbon trading, and carbon offsets?

It’s just jargon for putting a price on pollution.

The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called “carbon emissions” for short. That is because two of the most important gases, carbon dioxide, and methane, contain carbon. (Some other pollutants are lumped into the same category, even if they do not actually contain carbon.) When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading, and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods to put a price on emissions, which economists say is one of the most important steps society could take to limit them.

7. Climate change seems so overwhelming. What can I personally do about it?

Start by sharing this with fifty of your friends.

Experts say the problem can only be solved by large-scale, collective action. Entire states and nations have to decide to clean up their energy systems, using every tool available and moving as quickly as they can. So the most important thing you can do is to exercise your rights as a citizen, speaking up and demanding change.

You can also take direct personal action to reduce your carbon footprint in simple ways that will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off unused lights, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Taking one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car or putting solar panels on your roof. If your state has a competitive electricity market, you may be able to buy 100 percent green power.

Leading corporations, including large manufacturers like carmakers, are starting to demand clean energy for their operations. You can pay attention to company policies, support the companies taking the lead, and let the others know you expect them to do better.

These personal steps may be small in the scheme of things, but they can raise your own consciousness about the problem – and the awareness of the people around you. In fact, discussing this issue with your friends and family is one of the most meaningful things you can do.

Produced by Gray Beltran and Rumsey Taylor.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

Understanding Positive (increasing warming) Feedback Loops …

… That May Promote Runaway Global Warming

by Ken Mazlen

https://www.gw2016legacy.org (undated)

Rather than define feedback loops (or reciprocal associations), and positive versus negative feedback loops in general terms, below are simplified, key examples of positive (increasing warming) feedback loops that may promote runaway global warming.

Note: For these purposes, where the term “positive feedback loop” is used, it indicates “positive (increasing warming) feedback loop.
(Key for reading the diagrams: an arrow pointing up = increase; an arrow pointing down = decrease; a horizontal gray or curved blue arrow = causes)

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #1

Our burning of coal and oil releases CO2 which traps heat in the atmosphere. That extra heat puts more water into the atmosphere in two ways: the warming accelerates the evaporation of surface waters and, also, as the air warms, it holds more water – thus creating a positive feedback “loop” between water vapor and temperature, initiated by an increase in atmospheric CO2.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #2

As the increase in atmospheric CO2 increases air temperature, it promotes the thawing of the permafrost (frozen ground in the tundra) which contains large quantities of CO2 from the bacterial decomposition of previously frozen vegetation and animal life. Briefly, any increase in atmospheric CO2 leads to an increase in temperature which leads to further increase in temperature due to increased release of CO2 from the thawing permafrost – thus creating a positive feedback “loop” between increased atmospheric CO2 and temperature.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #3

A related feedback loop from the warming atmosphere and the thawing of the permafrost is the release of previously frozen methane into the atmosphere. Methane traps about thirty times more heat than CO2, although it stays in the atmosphere for on the order of decades as opposed to centuries for CO2 -thus atmospheric warming initiates a feedback loop involving previously frozen methane.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #4

Another feedback loop involves the release of methane from the deep seabeds. At sufficient depths, large amounts of frozen methane are stored on the sea beds as methane clathrates – frozen clumps of methane. But as the atmosphere and, hence, the seas warm, they will eventually melt the clathrates which will escape into the atmosphere, further warming the atmosphere – thus atmospheric warming initiates a feedback loop involves the release of previously frozen methane clathrates.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #5

A different type of positive feedback loop coming into play as the atmosphere and bodies of water warm involves the melting of the north polar ice (and land glaciers) that reflects ninety percent of radiant energy to expose water that absorbs 94% of the solar energy and thus increases warming which in turn reduces arctic ice and so on. The same sort of “decreasing reflectivity” loop is occurring where land ice glaciers are melting and exposing much more heat absorbent surfaces which in turn increase atmospheric warming and so on.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #6

Another different kind of positive feedback loop coming into play as the earth warms is the decline of forests which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere , that is, constitute CO2 “sinks”, reducing warming, because (1) of die-offs once the temperature exceeds a species’ thermal maximum, (2) increasing forests fires caused by increasing storms’ lightning – especially for dead forests, drought-affected forests, and insect infestations that kill off forests or otherwise make them more vulnerable to burn more easily.

Positive Feedback Loop: Example #7

A unique case of a warming feedback loop promoting forest decline that can cause rapid, dramatic warming involves warming to a level that will result in the collapse/disappearance of the Amazonian forest and release of CO2 because of increased bacterial decomposition at the “floor” of the great forest. The Amazon rain forest is such that it fosters its own precipitation level to sustain the forest. As warming increases, it reduces the rainfall in the Amazon and forest will, effectively, begin to dry out and take less CO2 out of the atmosphere. When temperature has increased enough the Amazon rain forest (and great CO2 “sink”) will collapse and the warmed soil and bacterial decomposition will yield an amount of carbon (CO2) greater than that in all living vegetation.

_____

The content on this website is the opinion of the author.

(c)2015-2018 KMMBengershon. All rights reserved.
Website design by Falcon Designs.

https://www.gw2016legacy.org/positivefeedbackloops.html

Major Climate Report

Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040

by Coral Davenport

The New York Times (October 07 2018)


Harry Taylor, 6, played with the bones of dead livestock in Australia, which has faced severe drought. Credit: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

INCHEON, South Korea – A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent”.

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 – a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning”, said Bill Hare, an author of previous IPCC reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago”. The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, two degrees Celsius, because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.

The new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner, at the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.

Why Half a Degree of Global Warming Is a Big Deal



It may sound small, but a half-degree of temperature change could lead to more dire consequences in a warming world, according to a sweeping new scientific assessment.

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

 

 

How much hotter is your hometown today than when you were born? Find out:  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/30/climate/how-much-hotter-is-your-hometown.html?module=inline.

 

For instance, the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions – perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 – would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union, and California, have enacted carbon pricing programs.


People on a smog-clouded street in Hebei Province, China, in 2016. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States. Credit: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

President Trump, who has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement. And on Sunday in Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gas, voters appeared on track to elect a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has said he also plans to withdraw from the accord.

The report was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies. The Paris agreement set out to prevent warming of more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial levels – long considered a threshold for the most severe social and economic damage from climate change. But the heads of small island nations, fearful of rising sea levels, had also asked scientists to examine the effects of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows. “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime”, said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.

To prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It also found that, by 2050, use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly forty percent today to between one and seven percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.

“This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal”, said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report.


President Trump has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

The World Coal Association disputed the conclusion that stopping global warming calls for an end of coal use. In a statement, Katie Warrick, its interim chief executive, noted that forecasts from the International Energy Agency, a global analysis organization, “continue to see a role for coal for the foreseeable future”.

Ms Warrick said her organization intends to campaign for governments to invest in carbon capture technology. Such technology, which is currently too expensive for commercial use, could allow coal to continue to be widely used.

Despite the controversial policy implications, the United States delegation joined more than 180 countries on Saturday in accepting the report’s summary for policymakers, while walking a delicate diplomatic line. A State Department statement said that “acceptance of this report by the panel does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report”.

The State Department delegation faced a conundrum. Refusing to approve the document would place the United States at odds with many nations and show it rejecting established academic science on the world stage. However, the delegation also represents a president who has rejected climate science and climate policy.

“We reiterate that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people”, the statement said.

The report attempts to put a price tag on the effects of climate change. The estimated $54 trillion in damage from 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming would grow to $69 trillion if the world continues to warm by 2.0 degrees Celsius and beyond, the report found, although it does not specify the length of time represented by those costs.

The report concludes that the world is already more than halfway to the 1.5-degrees Celsius mark. Human activities have caused warming of about one degree Celsius since about the 1850s, the beginning of large-scale industrial coal burning, the report found.

The United States is not alone in failing to reduce emissions enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The report concluded that the greenhouse gas reduction pledges put forth under the Paris agreement will not be enough to avoid two degrees Celsius of warming.

The report emphasizes the potential role of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. “A price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation”, the report concludes. It estimates that to be effective, such a price would have to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100.

By comparison, under the Obama administration, government economists estimated that an appropriate price on carbon would be in the range of $50 per ton. Under the Trump administration, that figure was lowered to about $7 per ton.


The World Coal Association disputed the conclusion that stopping global warming calls for an end of coal use. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group funded by the libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch, has made a point of campaigning against politicians who support a carbon tax.

“Carbon taxes are political poison because they increase gas prices and electric rates”, said Myron Ebell, who heads the energy program at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry-funded Washington research organization, and who led the Trump administration’s transition at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report details the economic damage expected should governments fail to enact policies to reduce emissions. The United States, it said, could lose roughly 1.2 percent of gross domestic product for every 1.8 degrees of warming.


A wildfire in Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California last month. The new IPCC research found that wildfires are likely to worsen if steps are not taken to tame climate change. Credit: Noah Berger/Associated Press

In addition, it said, the United States along with Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam are home to fifty million people who will be exposed to the effects of increased coastal flooding by 2040, if 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming occur.

At 2.0 degrees Celsius of warming, the report predicts a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. “In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant”, said Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and an author of the report.

You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not ten million.

The report also finds that, in the likelihood that governments fail to avert 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, another scenario is possible: The world could overshoot that target, heat up by more than two degrees Celsius, and then through a combination of lowering emissions and deploying carbon capture technology, bring the temperature back down below the 1.5-degrees Celsius threshold.

In that scenario, some damage would be irreversible, the report found. All coral reefs would die. However, the sea ice that would disappear in the hotter scenario would return once temperatures had cooled off.

“For governments, the idea of overshooting the target but then coming back to it is attractive because then they don’t have to make such rapid changes”, Dr Shindell said. “But it has a lot of disadvantages”.

_____

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate change, from the Washington bureau. She joined The Times in 2013 and previously worked at Congressional Quarterly, Politico, and National Journal. @CoralMDavenport • Facebook

(c) 2019 The New York Times Company

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html

Insect Collapse

“We are destroying our life support systems”

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished

by Damian Carrington, Environment editor

https://www.theguardian.com (January 15 2019)


El Yunque national forest in Sierra de Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Photograph: Stuart Westmorland/Corbis/Getty Images

“We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days”, said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.”

His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, eighty percent had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing”, Lister said.

 

 

Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after twelve hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.

 

“It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest”, he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result”.


The El Yunque national forest. Photograph: Alisha Bube/Getty Images

Earth’s bugs outweigh humans seventeen times over {1} and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon” {2}. When Lister’s study was published in October {3}, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.

Read More: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity-wiped-out-animals-since-1970-major-report-finds

The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. {4} The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest {5} was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen eighty percent since the 1980s.

“We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet”, Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this”.

It was not insects that drew Lister to the Luquillo rainforest for the first time in the mid-1970s. “I was interested in competition among the anoles lizards”, he said. “They’re the most diverse group of vertebrates in the world and even by that time had become a paradigm for ecology and evolutionary studies”.


La Mina river in El Yunque national forest. Photograph: Raul Touzon/NG/Getty Images

The forest immediately captivated Lister, a lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the US.

 

 

It was and still is the most beautiful forest I have ever been in. It’s almost enchanted. There’s the lush verdant forest and cascading waterfalls, and along the roadsides there are carpets of multicoloured flowers. It’s a phantasmagoric landscape.

 

It was important to measure insect numbers, as these are the lizards’ main food, but at the time he thought nothing more of it. Returning to the national park decades later, however, the difference was startling.

“One of the things I noticed in the forest was a lack of butterflies”, he said.

 

 

They used to be all along the roadside, especially after the rain stopped, hundreds upon hundreds of them. But we couldn’t see one butterfly.

 

Since Lister’s first visits to Luquillo, other scientists had predicted that tropical insects, having evolved in a very stable climate, would be much more sensitive to climate warming. “If you go a little bit past the thermal optimum for tropical insects, their fitness just plummets”, he said.

As the data came in, the predictions were confirmed in startling fashion. “The number of hot spells, temperatures above 29 degrees Celsius, have increased tremendously”, he said. “It went from zero in the 1970s up to something like 44% of the days”. Factors important elsewhere in the world, such as destruction of habitat and pesticide use, could not explain the plummeting insect populations in Luquillo, which has long been a protected area.

Data on other animals that feed on bugs backed up the findings. “The frogs and birds had also declined simultaneously by about fifty percent to 65%”, Lister said. The population of one dazzling green bird that eats almost nothing but insects, the Puerto Rican tody, dropped by ninety percent.


A Puerto Rican tody. Photograph: W arissen/Getty Images

Lister calls these impacts a “bottom-up trophic cascade”, in which the knock-on effects of the insect collapse surge up through the food chain.

Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet’s most important stories: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/19/sign-up-to-the-green-light-email

“I don’t think most people have a systems view of the natural world”, he said.

 

 

But it’s all connected and when the invertebrates are declining the entire food web is going to suffer and degrade. It is a system-wide effect.

 

To understand the global scale of an insect collapse that has so far only been glimpsed, Lister says, there is an urgent need for much more research in many more habitats. “More data, that is my mantra”, he said.

The problem is that there were very few studies of insect numbers in past decades to serve as a baseline, but Lister is undeterred: “There’s no time like the present to start asking what’s going on”.

Links:

{1} https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

{2} https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

{3} https://www.pnas.org/content/115/44/E10397

{4} https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

{5} https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1472-4642.2009.00578.x

 

As 2019 begins…

… we’re asking readers to make a new year contribution in support of The Guardian‘s independent journalism. More people are reading and supporting our independent, investigative reporting than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But this is only possible thanks to voluntary support from our readers – something we have to maintain and build on for every year to come.

The global community of readers financially supporting The Guardian is growing every day. When asked what motivates them to support our journalism, many tell us it’s because they believe we can be a force for positive change. They want to join the global collective of Guardian readers with a shared vision for the future of independent journalism, and for a more hopeful world. Our reporting has more impact when there are more readers behind us – a growing, diverse community providing inspiration and resource for our vital work. It means we can keep our journalism open to everyone, around the world – so that it’s free for those who can’t afford it, and supported by those who can. There really is strength in our numbers.

The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.

Please make a new year contribution today to help us deliver the independent journalism the world needs for 2019 and beyond. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

Support The Guardian:
Paypal and credit card

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/15/insect-collapse-we-are-destroying-our-life-support-systems

Russia, China, India, and Iran

The Magic Quadrant that is Changing the World

by Federico Pieraccini

Strategic Culture Foundation (January 25 2019)

With the end of the unipolar moment, which saw Washington dominate international relations, the richest and most powerful Eurasian countries are beginning to organize themselves into alliance structures and agreements that aim to facilitate trade, development, and cooperation.

At the height of the US unipolar moment, Bill Clinton was leading a country in full economic recovery and the strategists at the Pentagon were drawing up plans to shape the world in their own image and likeness. The undeclared goal was regime change in all countries with unapproved political systems, which would allow for the proliferation of US-made “democracy” to the four corners of the earth. Clearly Eurasian countries like Russia, India, China, and Iran were on top of the to-do list, as were countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The bombing and destruction of Yugoslavia was the final step in the assault on the Russian Federation following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Yeltsin represented the means by which Western high finance decided to suck all Russia’s wealth, privatizing companies and plundering strategic resources.

China, on the other hand, saw a rebirth as a result of American and European manufacturing companies relocating to the country to take advantage of the cheap labor it offered. India, historically close to the USSR, and Iran, historically averse to Washington, were struggling to find a new balance in a world dominated by Washington.

Tehran was clearly in open conflict with the United States because of the 1979 Islamic revolution that liberated the country from Western submission under the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. India understood the new reality, laying the foundations for close cooperation with Washington. Previously, the use of jihadism in Afghanistan, through the coordination between Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, had severely undermined relations between India and the United States, remembering that New Delhi was an important ally of Moscow during the Cold War.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the commencement of the unipolar era, India, Russia, China, and Iran started down their paths of historical rebirth, though starting from very different positions and following different paths. India understood that Washington had immense economic and military power at its disposal. Despite the early embraces between Clinton and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, relations between New Delhi and Washington reached unexpected heights during the Bush era. A series of factors helped to weld the bond. There was, firstly, the reality of India’s great economic growth. Secondly, India offered the opportunity of counterbalancing and containing China, a classic geopolitical scenario.

During this delicate unipolar period, there were two highly significant events for Russia and China that represented the beginning of the end for Washington’s plans to dominate the planet. First of all, Putin became president of the Russian Federation on December 31 1999. Secondly, Beijing was accepted into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Today’s Chinese economic power took flight thanks to the Western industrial companies relocating their manufacturing to China so as to see their dividends triplicate and costs more than halve. It was a winning model for the capitalist, and a loser for the Western factory worker, as we would come to see twenty years later. The strategic thinking of the newly elected Putin was geopolitically visionary and had at its base a complete revamp of Russia’s military doctrine.

China and Russia both initially sought to follow the Indian path of cooperation and development with Washington. Moscow attempted a frank dialogue with Washington and Nato, but the decision by the US in 2002 to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) marked the beginning of the end of the Western dream of integrating the Russian Federation into Nato. For Beijing, the path was more downhill, thanks to a vicious circle whereby the West relocated to China to increase profits, which were then invested into the US stock market, multiplying the gains several times. It seemed like the Americans were onto something until, twenty years later, the entire middle and working classes found themselves being reduced to penury.

In this period following September 11 2001, Washington’s focus shifted rapidly away from confronting rival powers to the so-called “fight” against terrorism. It was an expedient way of occupying tactically important countries in strategically important regions of the planet. In Eurasia, US forces settled in Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In the Middle East, they occupy Iraq for the second time and have made it an operational base from which to destabilize the rest of the region in the decades since.

While India and China mainly pursued peaceful growth as a means of economically empowering the Asian region, Russia and Iran early understood that Washington’s attention would eventually fall on them. Moscow was still considered the deadly enemy by the neoconservative Cold War warriors, while the Islamic revolution of 1979 was neither forgotten nor forgiven. In the decade following 9/11, the foundations for the creation of a multipolar order were laid, generating in the process the huge transitional chaos we are currently experiencing.

India and China continued on their path to becoming economic giants, even as there is a latent but constant rivalry, while Iran and Russia continued on their path of military rejuvenation in order to ensure a deterrent sufficient to discourage any attacks by Israel or the US respectively.

The breaking point for this delicate geopolitical balance came in the form of the “Arab Spring” of 2011. While India and China continued their economic growth, and Russia and Iran grew to become regional powers that were difficult to push around, the US continued its unipolar rampage, bombing Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq after having earlier bombed Yugoslavia, as the Pentagon devising light-footprint operations in the Middle East with the help of the Saudis, Israelis, Brits, and French, who aided and armed local jihadis to wreak havoc. First Tunisia, then Egypt, and finally Libya. More dead, more bombs, more chaos. The warning signs were apparent to all regional powers, from China and Russia to India and Iran. Even if the synergies were still not in place, it was clear to everyone what had to be done. US destabilization around the world had to be contained, with particular focus on Eurasia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Slowly, and not without problems, these four countries began a military, economic, political, and diplomatic cooperation that, almost a decade later, allowed for the ending of the US unipolar moment and the creation of a multipolar reality with different centers of power.

The first confirmation of this new phase in international relations, favoured by historical ties, was the increasingly multifaceted cooperation between India and Russia. Another factor was China and Russia being drawn to the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the Obama administration’s actions in the Middle East with its Arab Springs, bombing of Libya, and destabilization of Syria. They feared that prolonged chaos in the region would eventually have a negative effect on their own economies and social stability.

The final straw was the coup d’etat in Ukraine, as well as the escalation of provocations in the South China Sea following the launch by the US of its so-called “Pivot to Asia”. Russia and China were thus forced into a situation neither had thought possible for the previous forty years: the joining of hands to change the world order by removing Washington from its superpower dais. Initially, there were amazing economic agreements that left the Western planners stumped. Then came the military synergies, and finally the diplomatic ones, expressed by coordinated voting in the United Nations Security Council. From 2014 onwards, Russia and China signed important agreements that laid the foundations for a long-running Eurasian duopoly.

Obama’s legacy did not stop, with more than 100,000 jihadists unleashed on the country, financed by US and her allies. This led Moscow to intervene in Syria to protect its borders and obviate the jihadists’ eventual advance on the Caucasus, historically Russia’s soft underbelly. This move was hailed by the Pentagon as a new “Vietnam” for Russia. But these calculations were completely wrong, and Moscow, in addition to saving Syria and frustrating the plans of Washington and her confederates, greatly strengthened its relationship with Iran (not always a simple relationship, especially during the Soviet period), elevating it to the high level of regional cooperation.

Obama’s legacy was to inadvertently create a strategic triangle involving Iran, China, and Russia and their development of high-level projects and programs for the region and beyond. It represents a disaster for US foreign policy as well as the unquestionable end of the unipolar dream.

Jumping forward a few years, we find Trump in the driving seat of the United States, repeating just one mantra: America First. From the Indian point of view, this has further aggravated the relations between the two countries, with sanctions and duties placed on India for what was a Western decision in the first place to shift manufacturing to low-wage India in order to further fatten the paychecks of the CEOs of Euro-American companies.

Modi’s India is forced to significantly increase its ties to Iran to guarantee its strategic autonomy in terms of energy supply, without forgetting the geographic proximity of the two countries. In this context, Russia and Iran’s victory against terrorism in the Middle East pacifies the region and stabilizes Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Libya, thereby allowing for the development of such new projects as the mega Silk Road 2.0 investment on which Beijing places considerable importance.

We could go on in this vein, detailing how even China and India have overcome their historical mistrust, well aware that divide and rule only benefits those who are on the other side of the ocean, certainly not two countries experiencing great economic growth with a common border spanning thousands of miles. The meetings between Modi and Xi Jinping, as well as those between Putin and Xi Jinping or Putin with Modi, show how the intention of these three leaders is to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for their citizens, and this cannot be separated from a stronger union together with an abandonment of disputes and differences.

The synergies in recent years have shifted from the military and diplomatic arenas to the economic one, especially thanks to Donald Trump and his aggressive policy of wielding the dollar like a club with which to strike political opponents. One last step that these countries need to take is that of de-dollarization, which plays an important role in how the US is able to exercise economic influence. Even if the US dollar were to remain central for several years, the process of de-dollarization is irreversible.

Right now Iran plays a vital role in how countries like India, Russia, and China are able to respond asymmetrically to the US. Russia uses military power in Syria, China seeks economic integration in the Silk Road 2.0, and Iran bypasses the dollar by selling oil in exchange for goods or other currency.

India, China, and Russia use the Middle East as a stepping stone to advance energy, economic and military integration, pushing out the plans of the neocons in the region, thereby indirectly sending a signal to Israel and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are occasions for peacemaking, advancing the integration of dozens of countries by incorporating them into a major project that includes Eurasia, the Middle East, and North Africa instead of the US and her proxy states.

Soon there will be a breaking point, not so much militarily (as the nuclear MAD doctrine is still valid) but rather economically. Of course, the spark will come from changing the denomination in which oil is sold, namely the US dollar. This process will still take time, but it is an indispensable condition for Iran becoming a regional hegemon. China is increasingly clashing with Washington; Russia is increasingly influential in OPEC; and India may finally decide to embrace the Eurasian revolution by forming an impenetrable strategic square against Washington, which will shift the balance of global power to the East after more than 500 years of domination by the West.

_____

Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2019/01/25/russia-china-india-iran-magic-quadrant-that-is-changing-world.html