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24 MAR 2014: ANALYSIS
The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.
by fred pearce
Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.
But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more
firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.
The study, the result of a five-year review of published papers, is from the IPCC’s scientists working on the impacts of climate change. It complements an IPCC study late last year on the planetary science and will be followed next month by another that will focus on what we should do about it.
A leak of the final draft prepared by scientists at the end of October 2013 is circulating. It is not the final version, which will be a summary for policymakers that will be released on March 31, though there is unlikely to be much change. And, since government delegates at international talks in Japan this week will scrutinize the final draft before signing off
Hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts have often proved wrong.
for publication, what we have is effectively “the scientists’ cut.”
Past impacts reports from the IPCC were based around attempts to produce detailed forecasts of local climate in future decades and somewhat mechanistic assessments of what this would mean for society. But the new report is much more wary, especially of putting numbers on likely changes. Many previously firm-sounding forecasts have disappeared since the last major IPCC climate-impacts report in 2007, such as spreading droughts and crop losses in Africa and more violent hurricanes in the Atlantic.
The reason for avoiding precise forecasts is twofold. First, overly precise predictions got the authors of the 2007 report into trouble. The most famous faux pas was the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, when 2350 is a more likely date. But there were other unsubstantiated forecasts, such as that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries [in Africa] could be as much as 50% by 2020” — a misinterpretation of a paper, which was not peer-reviewed, that looked at rain-fed agriculture in just three North African countries.
The hundreds of authors of the draft report have been silent for some time, following IPCC rules by refusing to discuss their draft with journalists. But their chairman, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, told me soon after taking on the job in 2009 that he recognized serious mistakes had been made last time and that he was “committed to sufficient checking and cross-checking to ensure a truly error-free product next time.”
Another reason for the more measured tone is that hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts than seven years ago have often proved wrong. For parts of the world, model forecasts of regional climate change are diverging rather than converging. The more we know, it seems, the less we know for sure.
Caution is the watchword. Take the treatment of Africa. Last time, the chapter on that continent began with a declaration that up to a quarter of a billion Africans “are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due
The draft report lays out eight ‘key risks,’ including sea level rise and storm surges that could affect hundreds of millions.
to climate change.” This time, the leaked draft states simply that while “a reduction in precipitation is likely over North Africa … projected rainfall change over sub-Saharan Africa is uncertain.”
The draft agrees that “climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa” and will “very likely” reduce cereal crop productivity. But this time the discussion is not about how big or small those reductions might be, but on how African farmers might cope with less water, through terracing and agroforestry for instance.
Asia has fallen into a similar forecasting limbo. Last time, the IPCC warned that there would be less water in most Asian river basins and up to a billion people could experience “increased water stress” as early as the 2020s. This time, “there is low confidence in future precipitation projections at a subregional level and thus in future freshwater availability in most parts of Asia.” Last time the IPCC predicted “an increase of 10 to 20% in tropical cyclone intensities” in Asia. This time it reports “low confidence in region-specific projections of [cyclone] frequency and intensity.”
Some certainties do remain. The leaked draft suggests growing agreement among climate modelers that Scandinavia and much of Canada will see more precipitation and that the southwestern U.S., southern Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa can expect more droughts and emptier rivers.
Southern Europe looks set to fry, with crops shriveling in the fields, reservoirs emptying, deserts spreading, tourists staying away, and demand for air conditioning going through the roof. Even its vineyards will suffer, though a reference in a March 2013 draft to Venice being “lost forever” beneath the waves has since been removed.
Globally, the draft report lays out eight “key risks”: sea level rise and storm surges in coastal areas that could affect “hundreds of millions… by 2100”; food insecurity for the poor from warming and drought; inland flooding of cities; loss of access to water for drinking and irrigation; breakdown of infrastructure due to extreme events; loss of fisheries, due to a “global redistribution of maximum catch potential”; loss of terrestrial ecosystems such as
The idea that climate change is of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world has been rooted out.
“forest dieback … in the next one to three decades”; and extreme heat, especially for the poor in cities.
But it asks us to be grown-up about the uncertainties involved in what plays out when. “Responding to climate-related risks involves making decisions and taking actions in the face of continuing uncertainty about the extent of climate change and the severity of impacts in a changing world,” the draft report says. Or as Field put it to journalists in 2010: “Most people spend their lives making decisions under uncertainty, and that’s what dealing effectively with climate change demands — the same kind of decisions you make when you decide to buckle your seatbelt.”
The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.
Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call “climate exceptionalism” — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor.
“Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier,” it says. “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” Even for someone living on a sand spit in coastal Bangladesh, at constant risk of being washed away by rising tides and
On food security, the report is markedly more gloomy than the previous assessment in 2007.
superstorms, the country’s pervasive land inequality may be a bigger threat.
Thus climate will exacerbate and amplify pre-existing problems. The report notes how a drought in Australia in 2007 sent global food prices soaring in 2008. But it cannot answer whether we should blame climate change or a dysfunctional food system.
Food security is, nonetheless, one area where the report is markedly more gloomy that its immediate predecessor. The 2007 assessment argued that increases in crop yields in mid-latitudes could offset losses in hotter climates, at least for the next few decades. “Globally,” it said, “the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3 degrees C.” But that optimism has faded. The leaked draft forecasts that “local temperature increases of 1 degrees C or more… are projected to negatively impact yields.”
Average yields of major grains could fall by up to 2 percent a decade from here until the end of the century, it predicts. With demand for food crops likely to rise by 14 percent a decade, that sounds a daunting prospect — though it also suggests that climate change is only a small element in the emerging 21st century crisis over global food security.
Some nightmare scenarios are robustly defused. Past IPCC reports have warned that there might be as many as 50 million “climate refugees” around the world, who will flee drought, rising tides and spreading deserts. This report is set to dismiss that idea. “The current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather,” the draft
MORE FROM YALE e360
Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
says. “Predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” It also points out that migration is a good “coping strategy,” often to be encouraged rather than feared.
The report may irritate politicians in poor countries who look to blame climate change caused by the rich world for the ills of their people and want to demand reparations. But it may also dismay those who want to cite other factors to “prove” that climate change is never to blame. The world is more complicated, the scientists who prepared the draft conclude. The lesson of their report is that climate change will be implicated in a vast array of global ills, but it will rarely be the sole cause.
Climate change skeptics may want to characterize the report as debunking what they regard as the scaremongering of past reports. They may latch onto statements such as that “for most economic sectors,” factors such as changing demography, technology, lifestyles, and governance “will be large relative to the impacts of climate change.” And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.
Stern put the likely cost to the global economy of warming this century at 5-20 percent of GDP. The new IPCC draft says that a global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels may lead to a global loss of income of between 0.2 and 2 percent.
But if Americans think this puts them in a good position, they are wrong. While the report is silent on whether there might be more or stronger hurricanes hitting North America from the Atlantic (and “Katrina aside,” saw no trend in U.S. hurricane deaths since 1970), it states that “much of North American infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events.”
The message is clear. We may not be able to make hard and fast predictions, but prudency requires that we prepare for the worst.
Ending the World the Human Way
Climate Change as the Anti-News
By Tom Engelhardt
Here’s the scoop: When it comes to climate change, there is no “story,” not in the normal news sense anyway.
The fact that 97% of scientists who have weighed in on the issue believe that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon is not a story. That only one of 9,137 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between November 2012 and December 2013 rejected human causation is not a story either, nor is the fact that only 24 out of 13,950 such articles did so over 21 years. That the anything-but-extreme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an at least 95% guarantee of human causation for global warming is not a story, nor is the recent revelation that IPCC experts believe we only have 15 years left to rein in carbon emissions or we’ll need new technologies not yet in existence which may never be effective. Nor is the recent poll showing that only 47% of Americans believe climate change is human-caused (a drop of 7% since 2012) or that the percentage who believe climate change is occurring for any reason has also declined since 2012 from 70% to 63%. Nor is the fact that, as the effects of climate change came ever closer to home, media coverage of the subject dropped between 2010 and 2012 and, though rising in 2013, was still well below coverage levels for 2007 to 2009. Nor is it a story that European nations, already light years ahead of the United States on phasing out fossil fuels, recently began considering cutbacks on some of their climate change goals, nor that U.S. carbon emissions actually rose in 2013, nor that the southern part of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is now in operation, nor that 2013 will have been either the fourth or seventh hottest year on record, depending on how you do the numbers.
Don’t misunderstand me. Each of the above was reported somewhere and climate change itself is an enormous story, if what you mean is Story with a capital S. It could even be considered the story of all stories. It’s just that climate change and its component parts are unlike every other story from the Syrian slaughter and the problems of Obamacare to Bridgegate and Justin Bieber’s arrest. The future of all other stories, of the news and storytelling itself, rests on just how climate change manifests itself over the coming decades or even century. What happens in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential elections, in our wars, politics, and culture, who is celebrated and who ignored — none of it will matter if climate change devastates the planet.
Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories. It’s the prospective end of all news. Think of it as the anti-news.
All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention. The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are — every one of them — passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.
Climate change isn’t. New as that human-caused phenomenon may be — having its origins in the industrial revolution — it’s nonetheless on a different scale from everything else, which is why journalists and environmentalists often have so much trouble figuring out how to write about it in a way that leaves it continually in the news. While no one who, for instance, lived through “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the East Coast in 2012 could call the experience “boring” — winds roaring through urban canyons like freight trains, lights going out across lower Manhattan, subway tunnels flooding, a great financial capital brought to its proverbial knees — in news terms, much of global warming is boring and repetitive. I mean, drip, drip, drip. How many times can you write about the melting Arctic sea ice or shrinking glaciers and call it news? How often are you likely to put that in your headlines?
We’re so used to the phrase “the news” that we often forget its essence: what’s “new” multiplied by that “s.” It’s true that the “new” can be repetitively so. How many times have you seen essentially the same story about Republicans and Democrats fighting on Capitol Hill? But the momentousness of climate change, which isn’t hard to discern, is difficult to regularly turn into meaningful “new” headlines (“Humanity Doomed If…”), to repeatedly and successfully translate into a form oriented to the present and the passing moment, to what happened yesterday, today, and possibly tomorrow.
If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are allowed to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the science of what will happen sooner or later is relatively clear, even if its exact timetable remains in question: this world will be destabilized as will humanity (along with countless other species). We could, at the worst, essentially burn ourselves off Planet Earth. This would prove a passing event for the planet itself, but not for us, nor for any fragment of humanity that managed to survive in some degraded form, nor for the civilizations we’ve developed over thousands of years.
In other words, unlike “the news,” climate change and its potential devastations exist on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. Great devastations and die-offs have happened before. Give the planet a few million years and life of many sorts will regenerate and undoubtedly thrive. But possibly not us.
Nuclear Dress Rehearsal
Here’s the strange thing: we went through a dress rehearsal for this in the twentieth century when dealing (or not dealing) with nuclear weapons, aka the Bomb — often capitalized in my youth as a sign of how nuclear disaster was felt to be looming over life itself. With the dropping of that “victory weapon” on two Japanese cities in 1945, a new era opened. For the first time, we humans — initially in Washington, then in Moscow, then in other national capitals — took the power to end all life on this planet out of God’s hands. You could think of it as the single greatest, if also grimmest, act of secularization in history. From 1945 on, at least prospectively, we could do what only God had previously been imagined capable of: create an End Time on this planet.
In itself, that was a remarkable development. And there was nothing figurative about it. The U.S. military was involved in what, in retrospect, can only be considered operational planning for world’s end. In its first “Single Integrated Operational Plan,” or SIOP, in 1960, for instance, it prepared to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would then, if all went well, cease to exist. Official estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured. (Those figures undoubtedly underestimated radiation and other effects, and today we also know that the exploding of so many nuclear weapons would have ended life as we know it on this planet.) In those years, in the most secret councils of government, American officials also began to prepare for the possibility that 100 Russian missiles might someday land on U.S. targets, killing or injuring 22 million Americans. Not so many years later, the weaponry of either of the superpowers had the capability of destroying the planet many times over.
The U.S. and the USSR were by then locked in a struggle that gained a remarkably appropriate acronym: MAD (for “mutually assured destruction”). During the Cold War, the U.S. built an estimated 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs of every size and shape, the Soviet Union55,000, and with them went a complex semi-secret nuclear geography of missile silos, plutonium plants, and the like that shadowed the everyday landscape we knew.
In 1980, scientists discovered a layer of particularly iridium-rich clay in sediments 65 million years old, evidence that a vast asteroid impact had put such a cloud of particulates into the atmosphere as to deprive the planet of sunshine, turning it into a wintry vista, and in the process contributing to the demise of the dinosaurs. In the years that followed, it became ever clearer that nuclear weapons, dispatched in the quantities both the U.S. and USSR had been planning for, would have a similar effect. This prospective phenomenon was dubbed “nuclear winter.”
In this way, nuclear extermination would also prove to be an apocalyptic weather event, giving it an affinity with what, in the decades to come, would be called “global warming” and then “climate change.” The nuclear story, the first (and at the time the only imaginable) tale of our extinction by our own hands, rose into the news periodically and even into front-page headlines, as during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as into the movies and popular culture. Unlike climate change, it was a global catastrophe that could happen at any moment and be carried to its disastrous conclusion in a relatively short period of time, bringing it closer to the today and tomorrow of the news.
Nonetheless, nuclear arsenals, too, were potential life-enders and so news-enders. As a result, most of the time their existence and development managed to translate poorly into daily headlines. For so many of those years in that now long-gone world of the Cold War stand-off, the nuclear issue was somehow everywhere, a kind of exterminationist grid over life itself, and yet, like climate change, nowhere at all. Except for a few brief stretches in those decades, antinuclear activists struggled desperately to bring the nuclear issue out of the shadows.
The main arsenals on the planet, still enormous, are now in a kind of nuclear hibernation and are only “news” when, for instance, their very backwater status becomes an issue. This was the case recently with a spate of headlines about test cheating and drug use scandals involving U.S. Air Force “missileers” who feel that in their present posts they are career losers. Most of the major national arsenals are almost never mentioned in the news. They are essentially no-news zones. These would include the gigantic Russian one, the perhaps 200 weapons in theIsraeli arsenal, and those of the British, French, Indians, and Pakistanis (except when it comes to stories about fears of future loose nukes from that country’s stock of weapons).
The only exceptions in the twenty-first century have been Iran, a country in the spotlight for a decade, even though its nuclear program lies somewhere between prospective and imaginary, and North Korea, which continues to develop a modest (but dangerous) arsenal. On the other hand, even though a full-scale nuclear war between Pakistan and India, each of which may now have about 100 weapons in their expanding arsenals, would be a global catastrophe with nuclear-winter effects that would engulf the planet causing widespread famine, most of the time you simply wouldn’t know it. These days, it turns out we have other problems.
The End of History?
If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of both the nuclear situation and climate change. Each is now woven into our lives in essential, if little acknowledged, ways and yet both remain remarkably recessive. Add to that a fatalistic feeling among many that these are issues beyond our capacity to deal with, and you have a potent brew not just for the repression of news but also for the failure to weave what news we do get into a larger picture that we could keep before us as we live our lives. Who, after all, wants to live life like that?
And yet nuclear weapons and climate change are human creations, which means that the problems they represent have human solutions. They are quite literally in our hands. In the case of climate change, we can even point to an example of what can be done about a human-caused global environmental disaster-in-the-making: the “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Discovered in 1985, it continued to grow for years threatening a prospective health catastrophe. It was found to be due to the effects of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) compounds used in air-conditioning units, refrigerators, and aerosol propellants, and then released into the atmosphere. In fact, the nations of the world did come together around CFCs, most of which have now been replaced, while that hole has been reduced, though it isn’t expected to heal entirely until much later this century.
Of course, compared with the burning of fossil fuels, the economic and political interests involved in CFCs were minor. Still, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is evidence that solutions can be reached, however imperfectly, on a global scale when it comes to human-caused environmental problems.
What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren’t poured into alternative energy research and development. And like those cigarette companies, they go right on. They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into “Saudi America,” and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet. Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaignof climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.
In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn’t normally have a “left” or “right,” and to make bad science into an ongoing news story. In other words, an achievement that couldn’t be morecriminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.
In a world heading toward the brink, here’s the strange thing: most of the time that brink is nowhere in sight. And how can you get people together to solve a human-caused problem when it’s so seldom meaningfully in the news (and so regularly challenged by energy interests when it is)?
This is the road to hell and it has not been paved with good intentions. If we stay on it, we won’t even be able to say that future historians considered us both a wonder (for our ability to create world-ending scenarios and put them into effect) and a disgrace (for our inability to face what we had done). By then, humanity might have arrived at the end of history, and so of historians.
Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, isTerminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
[Note: I would like to thank Jonathan Schell for loaning me the term “anti-news” in relation to climate change.]
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Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt
Can we cool down the Earth? Don’t count on it, say scientists. Photo: KristinaDragana.
In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), among the most conservative scientific organizations on Earth, issued a report concluding that global warming is irreversible without geo-engineering.
Meanwhile, in December, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced that gradual change of the climate is not guaranteed: “The history of climate on the planet — as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores — is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.”
Indeed, Earth has witnessed a five-degree Celsius rise in global-average temperature during a span of 13 years.
Writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” Davies considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the abundant self-reinforcing feedback loops triggered on the climate-change front.
Considering only one feedback loop among many, methane release from the Arctic Ocean is expected to increase global-average temperature by more than 4°C by 2030 and 10°C by 2040, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24).
Humans have not occupied Earth at 3.5°C above baseline. If this seems problematic to you, I believe you’re paying attention.
– Guy McPherson, Transition Voice
In case it wasn’t already clear, there is now consensus that climate change will have a significant impact on the world’sfood systems. A leaked draft of the newest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscored the serious threat climate change poses for meeting demand for food in the coming decades. The contents of the report — though not a revelation — should be a catalyst for a complete reassessment of the global food system.
Increasingly, it is not a question of if or when a changing climate will impact our food, but rather how farms and agricultural systems will choose to adapt.
In a warming world there will be bursts of heavy rain and prolonged drought that will, as the UN puts it, exacerbate water shortages and shift growing seasons. Some of the biggest impacts from climate change will be felt on farms, with the UN estimating that yields of staple crops such as corn, wheat and rice could be depressed by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of the century.
What all of this will actually mean for the world’s hungry though, and what we can do about it is another story entirely. As awareness about the impacts of climate change increases, the debate about how to achieve climate resiliency and feed the world intensifies.
Food sector emissions are largely the result of industrial livestock operations, fertiliser and chemical use, carbon loss from soils on industrial farms, and significantly, deforestation driven by a handful of corporate controlled commodities.
We believe we cannot have these conversations without first acknowledging the role the food system itself currently plays in the crisis. Today, almost every aspect of our modern food system generates greenhouse gas emissions; responsible for one third of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions every year. Food sector emissions are largely the result of industrial livestock operations, fertiliser and chemical use, carbon loss from soils on industrial farms, and significantly, deforestation driven by a handful of corporate controlled commodities.
Indonesia is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, just behind China and the US. This is partially as a result of clearing rainforests and peatlands to make way for industrial palm oil plantations — an ingredient now found in much of the packaged foods lining our supermarket shelves.
The climate solutions from agribusiness players — such as commodity and chemical giants Cargill, Wilmar and Monsanto — are worth questioning in light of the impact these corporations have on our climate. In their PR spin, these corporations suggest that we face key tradeoffs: either accept chemicals, engineered seeds, and synthetic fertilisers as well as expansion of cropland into forests — or face more hunger. Echoing this talking point in 2008, the chair of the board of agrochemical giant Syngenta said: “The world has to choose between technology, deforestation and hunger. I can’t see another way out.”
But this is a false tradeoff. Executives from the companies profiting from industrial agriculture may see little reason to stray from their current path, but in an increasingly resource-constrained and climate-unstable world we cannot support life unless we shift away from input-intensive agriculture that is degrading ecosystems, marginalising small farmers, and failing to eliminate hunger.
So what can we do? We can move quickly and confidently toward climate-friendly farming. Protecting forests, working with smallholder farmers and promoting climate-smart agriculture can address the roots of hunger and the climate crisis.
A global assessment by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food concludes: “… agroecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty.”
Research has shown that by using agro-ecological methods, such as organic fertilisers, crop rotations, cover crops and ecological pest management, and focusing on improving the productivity of smallholder farmer communities that already feed one third of the world, we can maintain the health of farmlands. We can also promote increased resilience to climate change impacts and meet our food needs. A global assessment by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food concludes: “… agroecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty.”
We need to start incentivising — through corporate agreements, consumer demand, and policy — an agricultural system that’s climate smart and pro-farmer, and at the same time reduce emissions from the industrial food sector as fast as we can.
That means protecting pristine forests from soy or palm oil plantations; reducing dependency on synthetic fertiliser and petroleum-based agrochemicals; working with smallholders to improve the productivity of traditional farming systems; and addressing the rampant waste along the food chain.
Today, an estimated one third of all food that could be eaten is wasted. In some countries such as the US as much as half is wasted. Just focusing on food waste reduction could feed three billion people and still leave enough surplus for countries to provide 130 percent of the nutritional requirements for their entire populations, according to food waste expert, Tristram Stuart.
As a warming climate increasingly affects the world’s farmers, agribusiness will continue to prey on fears of “not enough” to preserve their way of doing business. It’s time to pursue a different path.
David Suzuki Foundation supporters who live in Western Canada often have eyes riveted on Ottawa to see what the federal government’s next move will be when it comes to environmental issues. So we sometimes too easily overlook Canadians in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador — coastal regions, like ours, on the front lines of climate change.
As oceans warm, water expands and sea levels rise. Melting glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets add to the water volume. Scientists predict oceans could rise by more than a metre before the end of the century. They’re also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012. A key finding from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that Atlantic Canada faces similar risks if climate change is left unchecked, with more severe storms causing surging tides, flooding and widespread coastal erosion.
For his captivating documentary, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, interviewed farmers, fishers, local residents, First Nations community members, scientists and business people from all around the Atlantic provinces. All say climate change is affecting their communities and livelihoods. They also agree something must be done and that the “business as usual” scenario is no longer an option.
The heart of the problem is our seemingly unquenchable thirst for mainly fossil-fuel based energy resources. As our desire for comfort and efficiency grows, so does our energy consumption, prompting the search for sources increasingly difficult to extract. The wordstar sands, shale gas, offshore drilling and fracking have only entered our vocabulary in just the past few decades – including in Atlantic communities, many of which now also rely on these fossil-based industries to fuel economic prosperity.
But with current talks about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shale gasfracking in New Brunswick, and moving tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the East Coast, we must ask if economic profit and prosperity for a few are worth the environmental and social risks to so many — especially when the latest IPCC report suggests that to avoid global catastrophic climate chaos, we must leave much of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.
In light of what the scientific community is telling us about the scope and impacts of climate change – largely a result of burning fossil fuels – we owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the choices we’re about to make in Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan reminded us before leaving his position earlier this year, Canada is not prepared for a major oil spill off the East Coast. And, as New Brunswick Chief Medical Health Officer Eilish Cleary points out regarding the economics of shale gas development, “[We] cannot simply assume that more money equates to a healthier population.”
Coastal regions such as Atlantic Canada have a long cultural history based largely on fishing, tourism and other marine activities. Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada’s existing economy and way of life at risk, affecting tourism and fishing in the ocean and on rivers like New Brunswick’s famous Miramichi.
When it comes to climate change, our future will not be determined by chance but by choice. We can choose to ignore the science, or we can change our ways and reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s up to us and our leaders to consider and promote energy alternatives and other solutions that modernize our energy systems, provide a clean, healthy environment for our families and offer long-term economic prosperity.
I’ll be touring Atlantic Canada with local and national experts at the end of November, premiering Mauro’s film and holding conversations with Atlantic communities about climate change and energy issues. Please join us and be part of the solution!
With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation-Quebec Science Project Manager Jean-Patrick Toussaint. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Among extremes have been super typhoon Haiyan, one of the most intense storms in history that smashed into the Philippines last Friday.
President Benigno Aquino said local officials had overstated the loss of life, which was closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated. His comments, however, drew scepticism from some aid workers.
Other extremes this year have included record heatwaves in Australia and floods from Sudan to Europe, the WMO said. Japan had its warmest summer on record.
Apparently bucking a warming trend, sea ice around Antarctica expanded to a record extent. But the WMO said: “Wind patterns and ocean currents tend to isolate Antarctica from global weather patterns, keeping it cold.”
In September, The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised the probability that mankind was the main cause of warming since 1950 to at least 95 percent from 90 in a previous assessment in 2007.
It predicted impacts including more heatwaves, downpours and rising sea levels.
“2010 was the warmest year on record, ahead of 2005 and 1998,” the WMO said.
The IPCC said the pace of temperature rises at the Earth’s surface has slowed slightly in recent years in what the panel called a “hiatus” that may be linked to big natural variations and factors such as the ocean absorbing more heat.
The WMO said that individual tropical cyclones, such as Haiyan, could not be directly attributed to the effects of climate change.
But “higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges. We saw this with tragic consequences in the Philippines,” Jarraud said. Seas have risen by about 20 cms (8 inches) in the past century.
As of early November 2013, there had been 86 tropical cyclones, from typhoons to Atlantic hurricanes, closing in on the 1981-2010 average of 89 storms, the WMO said. (Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Ralph Boulton)
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Sweet Snorkeling Pics
As humans increase atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, oceans absorb some of the CO2. The resulting drop in ocean pH, known as ocean acidification, has been called climate change’s “equally evil twin” by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco. Coral reefs, which are an invaluable part of marine ecosystems and tourism economies, are threatened by ocean warming and acidification. At the 2012 International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia, 2,600 scientists signed a petition calling for international action to preserve global coral reefs, reported the BBC. Noting that 25 to 30 percent of the world’s reefs are already “severely degraded,” the statement asserts that “climate-related stressors [represent] an unprecedented challenge for the future of coral reefs and to the services they provide to people.” A recent report from the World Resources Institute found that the Coral Triangle, an important area from central Southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific with many reefs, is threatened at a rate far greater than the global average.
Wine Tasting Parties
Winegrowers in France’s Champagne region and scientists have already seen changes in the past 25 years, reported The New York Times last year. They have “noted major changes in their vineyards, including an increased sugar content in the grapes from which they make their wine, with a consequent decrease in acidity, and a harvest time that regularly comes two weeks earlier than it once did.” Last year, the Telegraph reported that Bordeaux, one of the world’s most famous wine-producing regions, may be “unsuitable for wine-growing by 2050.” Yale Environment 360 explains that many European wines are tied to a specific geographical area, creating a problem for regions which may soon find themselves most suited to a new kind of grape. In the U.S., researchers at Stanford University found that climate change could mean “50% less land suitable for cultivating premium wine grapes in high-value areas of Northern California.” A 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “up to 81 percent” of “premium-wine-grape production area” could decline in the U.S. by the end of this century, reported Wired. Without any adaptation measures, wine-grape production could disappear from “many areas” of the country. Wired notes, “By the law of supply and demand, that suggests the best wines of tomorrow will cost even more than the ridiculous amounts they fetch today.”
Winnie The Pooh’s Key Plot Point
<a href=”http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/Hone/Hone-03-30-2012.pdf” target=”_hplink”>According to the USDA, bee populations are dropping nationwide</a>. Wetter winters and rainy summers make it harder for bees to get out and about to collect, leaving them to starve or become malnourished and more prone to other diseases. This doesn’t just mean a decline in honey. We rely on bees to pollinate crops. When bees disappear, many food crops could also die off.
Spring Break, Wohoo!
As global temperatures rise this century, sea levels are also expected to increase. South Florida may be hit particularly hard. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, global sea levels could rise over three feet by 2100, with a six foot rise possible. The U.S. Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming notes:
This threatens to submerge Florida’s coastal communities and economies since roughly 9 percent of the state is within 5 feet of the existing sea level. Rising sea level also threatens the beaches, wetlands, and mangrove forests that surround the state.
University of Florida professor Jack Putz said in 2008, “People have a hard time accepting that this is happening here,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. Seeing dead palm trees and other impacts “brings a global problem right into our own back yard,” he added. Click here to see a map showing what different levels of sea level rise would look like for Florida and other states.
Cute Baby Polar Bear Videos
A November 2011 study found that polar bear litters are getting smaller as climate change causes sea ice decline. <a href=”http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/media/press/2011/WWFPresitem19837.html” target=”_hplink”>According to World Wildlife Fund</a>, the study “found that if spring sea ice break-up occurs one month earlier than usual, 40-73 percent of pregnant females could fail to bring cubs to term.” The National Snow and Ice Data Center found that in 2010, <a href=”http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=49132&src=share” target=”_hplink”>Arctic sea ice</a> was at its lowest January level in 30 years. With decreased sea ice, polar bears may have greater trouble finding food sources. This could lead to cannibalism, which has already been observed by photographers. Environmental photojournalist Jenny Ross <a href=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16081214″ target=”_hplink”>told BBC News</a> in 2011, “There are increasing numbers of observations of it occurring, particularly on land where polar bears are trapped ashore, completely food-deprived for extended periods of time due to the loss of sea ice as a result of climate change.”
Thanks to a failing peanut crop due to last summer’s scorching hot weather, <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/peanut-butter-price-jump_n_1003732.html” target=”_hplink”>there was a shortage of peanuts in supply</a> at the end of 2011. If temperatures continue to rise, a jump in peanut butter prices is just the prelude to what could be in store for the beloved spread.
<a href=”http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/Newsroom/Documents/ghana_ivory_coast_climate_change_and_cocoa.pdf” target=”_hplink”>A report released by the International Center For Tropical Agriculture </a>warns chocolate could become a luxury item if farmers don’t adapt to rising temperatures in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where a majority of the world’s cocoa is grown. The October 2011 report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “calls for increased research into heat and drought resistant crops, and to help transition cocoa farming to new regions that will be suitable for production in the future,” <a href=”http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/09/30/332951/chocolate-climate-change-cocoa-industry-study/” target=”_hplink”>reported ThinkProgress</a>.
‘Friday Night Lights’ & ‘Varsity Blues’
As average temperatures rise over the course of this century, states in the Southern U.S. are expected to see a greater number of days with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit each year. Hotter temperatures will mean that football players in the South will face a greater risk of hyperthermia, explains GE’s TXCHNOLOGIST blog. ThinkProgress suggests, “Indeed, it is the conservative southern U.S., especially the South central and South east, who have led the way in blocking serious climate action, as it were, making yesterday’s worst-case scenario into today’s likely outcome.”
Bad news for allergy sufferers — climate change, and specifically warmer temperatures, <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/31/seasonal-allergies-rising_n_913650.html” target=”_hplink”>may bring more pollen and ragweed</a>, according to a <a href=”http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21259264″ target=”_hplink”>2011 study</a> from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Along with allergies, a changing climate may be tied to more infectious diseases. <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/flu-pandemic-climate-pattern-la-nina_n_1211480.html” target=”_hplink”>According to one study</a>, climate change could affect wild bird migratory patterns, increasing the chances for human flu pandemics. Illnesses like <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/global-warming-lyme-disease-west-nile_n_1400692.html” target=”_hplink”>Lyme disease could also become more prominent</a>.
Famed for producing some of the world’s best beer, <a href=”http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080502/full/news.2008.799.html” target=”_hplink”>Germany could suffer from a drop in production due to climate change-induced water shortages</a>. Barley and hops can only be grown with water, and using cheaper alternatives like corn isn’t possible in Germany because of <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinheitsgebot” target=”_hplink”>strict regulations</a> about what you can make beer with. Research published earlier this year in the journal <a href=”http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n7/full/nclimate1491.html” target=”_hplink”><em>Nature Climate Change</em></a> found that “unless farmers develop more heat-tolerant corn varieties or gradually move corn production from the United States into Canada, frequent heat waves will cause sharp price spikes,” <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/business/climate-change-effect-seen-for-corn-prices.html” target=”_hplink”>reported <em>The New York Times</em></a>. Price spikes for U.S. corn could affect prices of <a href=”http://beeradvocate.com/beer/style/38/” target=”_hplink”>American macrobrews</a> made with an <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjuncts” target=”_hplink”>adjunct ingredient like corn</a>.
Valentine’s Day Cliches
With higher temperatures expected in northern latitudes in coming decades, the U.K. has begun a program to develop strawberries that will survive in higher temperatures with less water. Since chocolate also may be threatened, could sexy chocolate-covered strawberries, a Valentine’s Day staple, be endangered? <a href=”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8603607/Climate-change-resistant-strawberries.html” target=”_hplink”>According to <em>The Telegraph</em></a>, Dr. David Simpson, a scientist with England’s East Malling Research, said last year, “Consumer demand for fresh strawberries in the UK has been growing year on year since the early 1990s. The British growers have done a great job of increasing their productivity to satisfy this demand between April and October. The future will be challenging due to the impacts of climate change and the withdrawal of many pesticides but the breeding programme at EMR is using the latest scientific approaches to develop a range of varieties that will meet the needs of our growers for the future.”
Coffee lovers may want to get that caffeine fix before the treasured drink becomes a rare export. Starbucks raised the issue last year when the company’s director of sustainability told <em>The Guardian</em> that <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/16/starbucks-climate-change_n_1011222.html” target=”_hplink”>climate change is threatening the supply chain</a> for the Arabica coffee bean. Starbucks Sustainability Director <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/oct/13/starbucks-coffee-climate-change-threat?newsfeed=true” target=”_hplink”>Jim Hanna told the paper</a>, “What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road – if conditions continue as they are – is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain, which is the Arabica coffee bean.”
Water Out West
According to a 2011 U.S. Interior Department report, “annual flows in three prominent river basins – the Colorado, Rio Grande and San Joaquin – could decline by as much [as] 8 percent to 14 percent over the next four decades,” reported the Associated Press. Expected changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to alter river flows “with increased flooding possible in the winter due to early snowmelt and water shortages in the summer due to reductions in spring and summer runoffs.” Mike Connor, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said, “Impacts to water are on the leading edge of global climate change.” Earlier this year, the Bureau of Reclamation asked the public to suggest ideas for meeting future water demand around the Colorado River basin.
Rudolph (And Donner And Blitzen)
Reindeer, also known as “caribou” in North America, could face a difficult future in a warmer climate. <a href=”http://www.usnews.com/news/energy/slideshows/10-animals-threatened-by-global-warming” target=”_hplink”>According to U.S. News & World Report</a>, “Russell Graham, associate professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum at Penn State University, says global warming will most harm the animals adapted to the coldest environments, primarily those accustomed to life in the Arctic.” A 2008 study found that caribou in West Greenland are “now arriving after peak foraging time, fewer calves are being born and more calves are dying,” <a href=”http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/341435/title/Animals_on_the_Move” target=”_hplink”>reported ScienceNews</a>.
Yummy Pancake Breakfasts
It may be a bit harder to drown your pancakes in maple syrup in the future, <a href=”http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/effects-global-warming-maple-syrup-production-20078.html” target=”_hplink”>studies suggest</a>. According to <a href=”http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Nov10/SyrupClimate.html” target=”_hplink”>a 2010 Cornell University study</a>, “maple syrup production in the Northeast is expected to slightly decline by 2100, and the window for tapping trees will move earlier by about a month.” Additionally, most maple syrup production south of Pennsylvania “will likely be lost by 2100 due to lack of freezing.” <a href=”http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/01/no-maple-syrup-2100″ target=”_hplink”>Click here to watch one farmer’s fight to save New Hampshire’s sugar maples.</a>
According to a <a href=”http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/ntrout.asp” target=”_hplink”>2002 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife</a>, a warming planet does not bode well for species that thrive in cold streams. The study found that “global warming is likely to spur the disappearance of trout and salmon from as much as 18 to 38 percent of their current habitat by the year 2090.” A 2011 study published in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academies of Science</em> produced “models [which] forecast significant declines in trout habitat across the interior western United States in the 21st century,” <a href=”http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/trout-fishing-in-a-climate-changed-america/” target=”_hplink”>reported <em>The New York Times</em></a>. The study claims, “The decline will have significant socioeconomic consequences as recreational trout fisheries are valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States alone.”
NYC’s Waterfront Real Estate
According to a 2012 report from New Jersey-based nonprofit <a href=”http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/” target=”_hplink”>Climate Central</a>, thousands of New York City residents may be at risk for severe <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/rising-sea-levels-threate_n_1347333.html” target=”_hplink”>coastal flooding as a result of climate change</a>. <a href=”http://slr.s3.amazonaws.com/factsheets/New_York.pdf” target=”_hplink”>Climate Central explains</a>, “the NY metro area hosts the nation’s highest-density populations vulnerable to sea level rise.” They argue, “the funnel shape of New York Harbor has the potential to magnify storm surges already supplemented by sea level rise, threatening widespread areas of New York City.”
The Best Part Of July 4th
With droughts and wildfires hitting many parts of the U.S., municipalities from <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/colorado-wildfires-2012-f_n_1647571.html” target=”_hplink”>Colorado</a> to <a href=”http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2012/07/03/climate-change-is-totally-ruining-your-4th-of-july” target=”_hplink”>Tennessee</a> canceled July 4th public fireworks displays or banned personal fireworks this year, citing the fire hazards they posed. In June, a <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/climate-change-wildfires_n_1588741.html” target=”_hplink”>study published in the journal <em>Ecosphere</em></a> found that almost all of North America will see more wildfires by 2100, reported Reuters. The study’s lead author, Max Moritz, said, “In the long run, we found what most fear – increasing fire activity across large areas of the planet.”
The Non-.com Amazon
Along with deforestation, climate change also poses a serious threat to South America’s Amazon rainforest. A 2009 study from the U.K. Met Office found that a global temperature rise of four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would cause 85 percent of the Amazon to die off in the next 100 years. Even a two degree Celsius rise would kill 20 to 40 percent of the rainforest, reported the Guardian. In May, The Club of Rome think tank predicted a global average temperatures rise of “2 degrees Celsius by 2052 and a 2.8 degree rise by 2080,” reported Reuters. Jorgen Randers, author of the club’s report, said, “It is unlikely that governments will pass necessary regulation to force the markets to allocate more money into climate-friendly solutions, and (we) must not assume that markets will work for the benefit of humankind.” He added, “We are emitting twice as much greenhouse gases every year as are absorbed by the world’s forests and oceans. This overshoot will worsen and will peak in 2030.”
As global sea levels rise during the 21st century, low-lying island nations like the Maldives could see their very existence threatened. With a three to six foot sea level rise predicted by 2100, nations like the Maldives could become uninhabitable, explained The New York Times. Maldives’ former president, Mohamed Nasheed, has been a tireless campaigner for the urgent need for countries to take action against climate change, arguing “You can’t pick and choose on science.”
Although seasonal fluctuations occur and El Nino/La Nina weather patterns affect snowfall, global temperature rise may impact conditions for skiers and boarders. “The long-term trend is less snow and earlier snowmelt. This means more frustration for snow sport enthusiasts and a negative impact on the snow sports industry,” writes the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Theo Spencer. In May, a snow-less ski race was held in Aspen, Colorado to “highlight the effect climate change has on the outdoor recreation industry,” reported the Associated Press.
Thanksgiving Dinner Food Comas
A 2010 paper in the journal <em>Food Research International</em> found that climate change may one day affect the cost and quality of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, <a href=”http://news.discovery.com/earth/thanksgiving-climate-change.html” target=”_hplink”>reported Discovery News</a>. Future temperature rises could impact the quality of turkey meat. Additionally, foods like “pumpkins, sweet potatoes, potatoes, grains [and] green beans … will be sensitive to water shortages should they arise,” study author Neville Gregory told Discovery News. In fact, common Thanksgiving foods were <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/21/thanksgiving-dinner-battles-weather_n_1099899.html” target=”_hplink”>impacted by weather events in 2011</a>, with shortages and price spikes hitting over the holidays.
The Views On Your Alaska Vacation
Earlier this year, researchers from the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that climate warming is killing southeast Alaska’s mighty yellow cedars. The study, published in the journal Bioscience, found that with decreasing snow cover, the trees’ shallow roots are more vulnerable to freezing, reported AP. Paul Schaberg, a U.S. Forest Service plant pathologist, said, “As time goes on and climates change even more, other species, other locations, are likely to experience similar kinds of progressions, so you might do well to understand this one so you can address those future things.”
“Lady & The Tramp”-Like Scenes
Scientists at the British Met Office warn that Italy may soon be forced to<a href=”http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/climate-threat-to-italys-pasta/story-e6frg6so-1225797946930″ target=”_hplink”> import the basic ingredients to make pasta because climate change will make it impossible to grow durum wheat domestically</a>. The crop could almost disappear from the country later this century, scientists say.
Home Sweet Home (For Kiribatians)
Along with the Maldives and other island nations, Kiribati is also threatened by climate change. Earlier this year, the president’s cabinet endorsed a plan to spend about $9.6 million for 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, reported AP. President Anote Tong told AP, “We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it.” He added, “It wouldn’t be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won’t be a matter of choice. It’s basically going to be a matter of survival.”
Super Duper Fast Wi-Fi Connection
A 2011 report from the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found that climate change could affect certain infrastructure, like wireless internet. <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/09/climate-change-wi-fi-connections” target=”_hplink”>The <em>Guardian</em> reports</a>, “higher temperatures can reduce the range of wireless communications, rainstorms can impact the reliability of the signal, and drier summers and wetter winters may cause greater subsidence, damaging masts and underground cables,” according to secretary of state for the environment. The <em>Guardian</em> notes, “The government acknowledges that the impact of climate change on telecommunications is not well understood, but the report raises a series of potential risks.”
The Great Smoky Mountains’ Smoke
The Great Smoky Mountains have the most annual rainfall in the southeastern U.S., which mostly falls as a light, misty rain, <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/28/great-smoky-mountains-climate-change_n_1461482.html” target=”_hplink”>explains OurAmazingPlanet</a>. A study by a team from NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions found that “light rainfall is the dominant form of precipitation in the region, accounting for 50 to 60 percent of a year’s total, governing the regional water cycle.” <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/28/great-smoky-mountains-climate-change_n_1461482.html” target=”_hplink”>OurAmazingPlanet</a> notes: <blockquote>The results suggest the area may be more susceptible to climate change than thought; as temperatures rise, more of the fine droplets from light rain will evaporate in the air and fail to reach the ground. Lower elevations will have to contend with not only higher temperatures, but less cloud cover.</blockquote>
California Beach Bums
Along the California coast, beach communities are finding that it may be impossible to stop coastal erosion as global sea levels rise. According to AP, David Revell, a senior coastal scientist at ESA PWA, acknowledged the relentless power of the sea, saying, “I like to think of it as getting out of the way gracefully.” A report released in June by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that West Coast ocean levels will rise several inches in the next few decades. Sea levels along the California coast are expected to be six inches higher by 2030 and three feet higher by the end of the century. Despite the risks, another recent NRDC study found that California is one of several states with the best plans to deal with the effects of climate change.
Repeats Of The Titanic
2012 could be a record year for the extent of Arctic sea ice at its yearly summer minimum. Walt Meier, a research scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, said that with recent satellite observations, “It definitely portends a low-ice year, whether it means it will go below 2007 (the record minimum in September), it is too early to tell,” <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/18/arctic-sea-ice-levels_n_1605441.html” target=”_hplink”>reported LiveScience</a>. As sea ice declines in the Arctic, countries are anticipating a <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/arctic-climate-change-military-activity_n_1427565.html” target=”_hplink”>competition for control of shipping lanes and mineral extraction</a> in the region. In Antarctica, research from the United States’ Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula has found that “87 percent of the peninsula’s land-bound glaciers are in retreat,” <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/environmental-threats-antarctica_n_1669023.html” target=”_hplink”>reported OurAmazingPlanet</a>. Decreasing sea ice levels were also addressed in <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/shell-arctic-ready-hoax-greenpeace_n_1684222.html” target=”_hplink”>a recent spoof of Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer</a>.
Crazy Sugar Highs
Climate change has already impacted sugarcane production in Indonesia. In late 2011, the <a href=”http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/11/09/sugar-association-blames-climate-change-production-drop.html http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/11/09/sugar-association-blames-climate-change-production-drop.html” target=”_hplink”>chairman of the Indonesian Sugarcane Farmers Association said</a>, “sugarcane production decreased by up to 30 percent in 2011 due to climate change that has occurred since 2009.”
Warning Joe: Coffee Extinct in The Future?
Climate changes and insect invasions threaten the future supply of morning joe.
Many of the ills of the modern world — starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease — are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change, a leaked draft of an international scientific report forecasts.
The report uses the word “exacerbate” repeatedly to describe warming’s effect on poverty, lack of water, disease and even the causes of war.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue a report next March on how global warming is already affecting the way people live and what will happen in the future, including a worldwide drop in income.
A leaked copy of a draft of the summary of the report appeared online Friday on a climate skeptic’s website. Governments will spend the next few months making comments about the draft.
“We’ve seen a lot of impacts and they’ve had consequences,” Carnegie Institution climate scientist Chris Field, who heads the report, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “And we will see more in the future.”
Cities, where most of the world now lives, have the highest vulnerability, as do the globe’s poorest people.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report says. “Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality.”
For people living in poverty, the report says, “climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden.”
The report says scientists have high confidence especially in what it calls certain “key risks”:
People dying from warming- and sea rise-related flooding, especially in big cities.
- Famine because of temperature and rain changes, especially for poorer nations.
- Farmers going broke because of lack of water.
- Infrastructure failures because of extreme weather.
- Dangerous and deadly heat waves worsening.
- Certain land and marine ecosystems failing.
“Human interface with the climate system is occurring and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems,” the 29-page summary says.
Exacerbating current health problems
None of the harms talked about in the report is solely due to global warming nor is climate change even the No. 1 cause, the scientists say. But a warmer world, with bursts of heavy rain and prolonged drought, will worsen some of these existing effects, they say.
For example, in disease, the report says until about 2050 “climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist” and then it will lead to worse health compared to a future with no further warming.
‘Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, intergroup violence and violent protests.’– Report
If emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas continue at current trajectories, “the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year will compromise normal human activities including growing food or working outdoors,” the report says.
Scientists say the global economy may continue to grow, but once the global temperature hits about 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than now, it could lead to worldwide economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0 percent of income.
One of the more controversial sections of the report involves climate change and war.
“Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, intergroup violence and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks,” the report says.
Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn’t part of the international study team, told the AP that the report’s summary confirms what researchers have known for a long time: “Climate change threatens our health, land, food and water security.”
The summary went through each continent detailing risks and possible ways that countries can adapt to them.
For North America, the highest risks over the long term are from wildfires, heat waves and flooding. Water — too much and too little — and heat are the biggest risks for Europe, South America and Asia, with South America and Asia having to deal with drought-related food shortages.
Africa gets those risks and more: starvation, pests and disease. Australia and New Zealand get the unique risk of losing their coral reef ecosystems, and small island nations have to be worried about being inundated by rising seas.
Field said experts paint a dramatic contrast of possible futures, but because countries can lessen some of the harms through reduced fossil fuel emissions and systems to cope with other changes, he said he doesn’t find working on the report depressing.
“The reason I’m not depressed is because I see the difference between a world in which we don’t do anything and a world in which we try hard to get our arms around the problem,” he said.
Have you heard the one about how global warming stopped in 1998? It’s been called a “pause,” a “hiatus,” a “slowdown” and a “siesta.” Above all, it’s a red herring, and it isn’t difficult to find where some of the ‘missing’ heat has gone.
First, in case you haven’t been paying attention: 97 percent of climate scientists agree about global warming and its man-made causes, now with 95 percent certainty, according to a report this month by the IPCC, the world’s most authoritative body of climate scientists. Greenhouse gases trap heat, which melts ice, raises seas and floods cities; this fundamental equation is not in doubt.
What has raised a few eyebrows recently is that temperatures on the surface of Earth have increased at a slower rate since 1998 than in previous decades. Scientists have largely chalked this up to the short-term variability of climate. However, climate skeptics have taken the surface-temp slowdown acknowledged by the IPCC to mean that global warming itself has stopped — that somehow the physics has changed.
“The planet is warming,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a reviewer for the IPCC report. “The warmth just isn’t being manifested at the surface.”
The chart below, from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows what’s going on beneath the surface. The red line shows a half-century of temperatures for the first 700 meters of ocean water below the surface; the black line shows temperatures of waters to a depth of 2000.
The warming at the ocean’s surface layer may have slowed a bit, but ocean temperatures in aggregate have continued to rise unchecked during the so-called hiatus, according to the IPCC. That’s important because while the atmosphere accounts for just 1 percent of planetary heat, the oceans carry 93% of the stored energy from climate change (melting ice and warming continents make up the rest).
In fact, there is mounting evidence that deeper regions of the ocean, down to 2000 meters, are absorbing heat faster than ever, Trenberth said in a phone call. His research shows the oceans began taking on significantly more heat at around the same time the surface warming began to slow in 1998. His widely cited work was published just after the cutoff to be included in the IPCC report.
The irony, says Trenberth, is that when the surface of the planet is unusually sweltering, the Earth actually radiates more heat into the atmosphere, in effect slowing the long-term warming of the planet. And in “hiatus” years, when the surface is cooler, the Earth absorbs more of the sun’s heat deep the oceans, slowly cooking the planet. What you see isn’t always what you get.
Ocean temperatures are just one of many independent lines of evidence showing that climate change continues to speed ahead on an alarming course. Need more? Look to the seas that are rising faster than previously anticipated, the imbalance of energy measured entering and exiting the upper atmosphere, and the melting glaciers and permafrost. I could go on.
But the next time you’re at a barbecue and someone tries to tell you global warming stopped in 1998, just throw some cold (ocean) water on the debate. And don’t sell your getaway ark just yet.
More by Tom Randall:
Bigger than that: (The difficulty of) looking at climate change. (FULL ARTICLE)
Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world. The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.
Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.
The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept….
Harper’s 5 Stages of Grief Over Climate Change | John McKay. (FULL ARTICLE)
The IPCC published an intensely detailed report on climate change last week. Even the 36 page executive summary is packed with detail, graphs and data all of which drives any reasonable person to the conclusion that climate change is real and largely driven by human activity. Consider its first conclusion: “Global mean surface air temperatures over land and oceans have increased over the last 100 years.”
There is no denying it, “we” have a problem. Admitting that you have a problem is probably the most difficult first step for a Prime Minister addicted to “bull horn diplomacy,” intolerance of dissent, and dumbed down public policy. Yet, even for PM Harper it is difficult to deny a 95 per cent certainty.
You have to have some sympathy for the Minister of the Environment who is obliged to maintain the Harper fiction regardless of the evidence and how foolish that it may make her look. To do so would be to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change and the fact that her government has done little to deal with that reality. That would be counterproductive to the PM’s efforts to secure approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. So, poor Minister Aglukkaq is left to dangle in the winds of non-sequiturs and contradictions….
- Climate change report sparks partisan attack by Environment Minister Aglukkaq (macleans.ca)
- The 5 Stages of Grief (heyredhey.com)