"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Fossil Fuels’

Mega Drought: The New Normal For The American Southwest?

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm

http://www.nationofchange.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/article_main_image/DroughtinCAtoStopFracking012014.jpg

Oldspeak: “As for now, personal bathing in showers in California continues without disruption for the foreseeable future because of advance planning for water shortages by state and federal agencies; however, in many respects the future is now as water resources are running short, quickly, very quickly, and as it happens, America’s dependency upon California for food is only as good as results from drilling into deep water aquifers on farmland, costing $500,000-to-$1,000,000 per job… As it goes, retail food costs are almost guaranteed to go up — a lot… Nevertheless, a much bigger issue is whether California produces food in 2015-20… In short, human influence is once again slowly inching the noose up around its own neck by carelessly burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. At current rates of carbon dioxide emissions, setting new records year-by-year, there may not be much of a tomorrow left for upcoming decades… “Rising greenhouse gases will lead to a steady drying of the Southwest.” -Robert Hunziker

“It’s time for us to wake up. If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months… I think it says that this region is in trouble. I think it says that we need to really rethink our water use in this region, our demand in this region because it is far outstripping the supply.” -Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“i wonder if the relentless and ever-increasing extraction rates of Big Water, Big Ag and Big Oil has been factored into the advance planning for water shortages by government agencies? Business as usual extractive energy and resource extraction all but guarantee America’s foodbasket will go dry indefinitely.  Then what? Keep in mind that what’s happening in the American southwest, is happening in all other food producing regions on the planet…. Tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

According to the Assessment of Southwest Climate Change (Arizona Institute of the Environment), the five decades from 1950 to 2000 were the warmest in over 600 years. The report predicts that reduced snowfall and increased evaporation from global warming will lead to more droughts over the next 90 years.

Droughts are a natural part of the climate cycle. As a matter of fact, studies of tree rings going back 1,000 years show mega droughts lasting for decades. Then, nature alone was the culprit, but what happens now when global warming/climate change is superimposed onto nature’s handiwork?

Is an intensified mega drought in the works for the United States?

California is already burning up.

Markedly, to a great degree, America depends upon California for its food.

“Up to half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in the Central Valley, one of the planet’s most fertile growing regions, between Los Angeles and Sacramento.” 1

Furthermore, as an aside, how will someone in LA or San Francisco react when, hopping into an A.M. shower, the water barely dribbles out of the faucet? That would be a new twist for California’s famous “ride-sharing” on its slow-moving heated freeways traveling to and from work.

As for now, personal bathing in showers in California continues without disruption for the foreseeable future because of advance planning for water shortages by state and federal agencies; however, in many respects the future is now as water resources are running short, quickly, very quickly, and as it happens, America’s dependency upon California for food is only as good as results from drilling into deep water aquifers on farmland, costing $500,000-to-$1,000,000 per job.

As it goes, retail food costs are almost guaranteed to go up — a lot.

Nevertheless, a much bigger issue is whether California produces food in 2015-20.

Droughts – A Perspective

Recent studies reveal that persistent dry periods lasting for multiple years to several decades have occurred many times during the last 500-1,000 years over North America… These historic droughts are linked to tropical SST variations, with La Nina-like SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific often leading to widespread drought in North America….

Since the middle 20th century, global aridity and drought areas have increased substantially, mainly due to widespread drying since the 1970s… Although natural variations … have played a large role in the recent drying, the rapid warming since the late 1970s has increased atmospheric demand for moisture and likely altered atmospheric circulation patterns … contributing to the recent drying over land. Since a large part of the recent warming is attributed to human-induced GHG increases, it can be concluded that human activities have contributed significantly to the recent drying trend.

The large-scale pattern shown in figure 11 appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling figure 11 a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States…. 2

In short, human influence is once again slowly inching the noose up around its own neck by carelessly burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. At current rates of carbon dioxide emissions, setting new records year-by-year, there may not be much of a tomorrow left for upcoming decades.

“Rising greenhouse gases will lead to a steady drying of the Southwest.”3

Droughts- Southwestern U.S.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board, California is bone dry. Nearly 50 communities in the state of California are in danger of running out of water.

Additionally, the draining of aquifers on California farmland is happening so fast that the ground is sinking, up to a foot in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley, which is a very, very significant part of America’s breadbasket. Sinking ground, in turn, damages irrigation pipes that deliver the water. It’s a vicious circle.

A new social media phenomenon “Drought Shaming” has begun in California. This involves people who take videos of neighbors wasting water, and it is posted on Facebook or Twitter.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas the situation is dire, according to climate scientist Tim Barnett, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: The city must find new sources of water or go out of business. Vegas’s long-standing standby massive water reservoir of the past 80 years, Lake Mead, is depleting so fast that fishermen notice a difference in the water level every few weeks.

“Andy Ameigeiras and two of his friends spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning hooking carp, catfish and stripers from the rocky shore of Echo Bay. He said the water had easily dropped three to five feet since the last time they fished there, just four weeks ago.” 4

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is spending $817 million on a new intake that will reach deeper into Lake Mead at an elevation of 860 feet. The two current intakes reside at 1,050 feet and 1,000 feet whereas Lake Mead’s water level is currently 1,082 feet.

The ongoing drought in America’s Southwest highlights the importance of the Colorado River, providing water to over 40 million people in the West, including key agricultural production in California’s Coachella and Imperial Valleys, which are extremely important to the food supply for the entire U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River, aka: the “lifeblood of the Southwest,” has experienced drought conditions since the year 2000.

“It’s time for us to wake up. If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months,” says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.5 His research, which uses satellites to track changes in water supplies, has confirmed that the Colorado River Basin has lost vast amounts of groundwater during the past decade.

The fact that Lake Mead is now 39% full shows how dire the water situation has become, according to Famiglietti: “I think it says that this region is in trouble. I think it says that we need to really rethink our water use in this region, our demand in this region because it is far outstripping the supply,”

Further east, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, there are 12 water districts in Texas with only 45 days of water remaining.

Wichita Falls, Texas, a city of 105,000 is building a water treatment plant that will process local sewage into drinking water. As such, residents will be drinking what they passed into the toilet only days before, which is the epitome of recycling!

The Human Footprint Clomps Onward

As the 21st century progresses, human-influenced climate change is forever at the forefront of disaster scenarios, from melting glaciers’ rising sea levels to deformed ocean plankton threatening the base of the food chain as a result of too much CO2, now drought conditions, enhanced by human-caused global warming, threaten food production and adequate water resources.

A recent study provides quantitative evidence of California’s drought linked to the role of human-caused greenhouse gases. 6

As far back as 1990, James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climatologist, in an article “Potential Evapotranspiration and the Likelihood of Future Drought“, (Journal of Geophysical Research, 95, 9983-10004), predicted that severe to extreme drought in the U.S., then occurring every couple of decades, would become an every-other-year phenomenon by mid-century: “If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase rapidly, the model results suggest that severe drought (5% frequency today) will occur about 50% of the time by the 2050s.”

Hansen was wrong. He was too conservative, especially in consideration of the fact that annual CO2 emissions are 50% higher than when Hansen wrote his paper.

Bottom line: If fossil fuel (oil, gas, and coal) usage flagrantly continues to spew carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, eventually an ice-free Arctic will kick up methane (CH4) like there’s no tomorrow, essentially injecting steroids into the global warming equation, and California will morph into a barren desert wilderness, similar to its ancient past.

Then, as large proportions of humanity are forced into a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, roaming eastward in search of sustenance, they’ll crash the gates.  It happened in France in the late 18th century when the world’s most powerful nation-state came tumbling down as starving people crashed the gates! There is no escaping the past.

Why should it be any different this time around?

As such, the real issue is: When will the United States government seriously promote a renewables energy plan?

Postscript

The greenhouse effect is simple science; greenhouse gases trap heat, and humans are emitting ever more greenhouse gases.

— Nicholas Stern, British economist and academic, Professor of Economics and Government, Chair- Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change/Environment, London School of Economics.

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  1. Stephen Neslage, “California Drought Threatens Food Supply of All Americans: Collapsing Aquifer Sinking Land”, Weather.com, May 29, 2014. []
  2. Aiguo Dai (Ph.D. Atmospheric Science, Columbia University), “Drought Under Global Warming- A Review”, Vol. 2, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, Jan./Feb. 2011. []
  3. Richard Seager et al, “Atmosphere and Ocean Origins of North America Droughts”, Journal of Climate, 27, 4581-4606. []
  4. Henry Brean,”Lake Mead Sinks to a Record Low”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 10, 2014. []
  5. Ian James, “Mead Reservoir Drops to Record Low”, The Desert Sun, July 14, 2014 []
  6. S. Y. Wang, et al, “Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought: ENSO Precursor and Anthropogenic Warming Footprint”, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41, Issue 9, May 16, 2014. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

 

 

 

ExxonMobil Carbon Asset Risk Report: ‘Climate Change, And Specifically Global Climate Policies, Are “Highly Unlikely” To Stop it From Selling Fossil Fuels For Decades To Come’

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 7:10 pm

CREDIT: AP/Hadi Mizban

Oldspeak: “Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, Director, Oil & Gas Program, Ceres“. -Ari Phillips

“Short Translation: “Business as usual to continue apace. Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction will continue, unabated, and in all probability, accelerated.  i mean, come on, the U.S. Canada, Russia, China, Denmark, Norway, have been meeting to divvy up the fossil fuel resources and shipping routes to be exploited when the Arctic completely melts. While climate “mitigation” plans go unmade, climate instability acceleration plans are in full effect. That means continued and accelerated warming, sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, perpetual drought, water scarcity, food scarcity, habitable land scarcity, and eventually extinction. There is no other probable outcome at this time. We need to stop pretending that there is.” -OSJ

Exxon Is Behind The Landmark Climate Report You Didn’t Hear About

 

 

By Ari Phillips @ Climate Progress:

Climate change is already impacting all continents. But it isn’t yet impacting all companies. The latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report released on Monday confirmed the former. A report released by Exxon Mobil the same day about how greenhouse gas emissions and climate change factor into its business model found that climate change, and specifically global climate policies, are “highly unlikely” to stop it from selling fossil fuels for decades to come.

Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago after Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management platform, and As You Sow, a non-profit promoting environmental corporate responsibility, agreed to drop a shareholder resolution on the issue. These shareholders have concerns that Exxon Mobil’s assets will become worth less as fossil fuel restrictions come into place in coming years and climate change becomes an even more immediate and dire societal problem.

In the report, Exxon didn’t feel the need to sound any alarm bells.

“We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s government affairs chief, told the AP in an interview Monday. “But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone’s lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world’s population out of poverty.”

Exxon said they take the risk of climate change seriously, but steps to address the problem “will be most effective if they are informed by global energy demand and supply realities, and balance the economic aspirations of consumers.”

Balancing these economic aspirations means that carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources peak around 2030 and begin to decrease within a decade after that as demand for access to electricity and heat is offset by increased efficiency and advances in low-carbon and renewable technologies.

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capita, told the AP that while the report is a milestone, she was disappointed that it failed “to explain what would happen if society did in fact adopt policies that would lead to sharply lower emissions, something known broadly as a low-carbon standard.”

The world will require 35 percent more energy in 2040 than in 2010, according to the report, and Exxon Mobil does not believe that new forms of energy will be able to supplant traditional hydrocarbons in that period.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, director of the Oil & Gas Program at Ceres, said in a statement. “Investors disagree, and will continue to push Exxon Mobil to align their planning with this reality.”

“This reality” being the one depicted in the new IPCC report that warns of the breakdown of food systems, new and prolonged poverty traps, and increased risks of violent conflicts and civil war. These warnings go far beyond investor’s concerns, and would require a commitment from Exxon Mobil to address — not just a statement of acknowledgement.

 

BP Energy Outlook: Carbon Emissions “Will Increase 29% By 2035; Remain Well Above Path Recommended By Scientists”

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Climate scientists agree that global carbon dioxide emissions need to be sharply cut. A prominent player in the energy industry predicts they will go in the opposite direction. -Alex Kirby

Oldspeak: “Translation = We’re fucked. This report matters more than anything any government official has to say about energy policy. Supra-national energy corporations basically control global energy policy. Some small nations have managed to greatly diminish their dependence on fossil fuels, but the major emitters (China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan) have no such plans.  There is a high probability that most remaining fossil fuel deposits will be extracted, no matter the impact on the ecology. Witness the battle to “carve up” the arctic by those very same major emitters. In these peoples unwell minds, the melting of the planets’ air conditioner, the arctic, is a good thing. The BP emissions estimate is probably underestimated, as they’ve not factored continued increasing release in methane hydrates from permafrost and the sea floor in their models….  A.K.A. We’re fucked. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick…” -OSJ

By Alex Kirby @ Climate News Network:

LONDON, 7 February – The good news, from the climate’s standpoint, is that while global demand for energy is continuing to grow, the growth is slowing. The bad news is that one energy giant predicts global carbon dioxide emissions will probably rise by almost a third in the next 20 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 and then decline if the world is to hope to avoid global average temperatures rising by more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Beyond 2°C, it says, climate change could become dangerously unmanageable.

But BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 says CO2 emissions are likely to increase by 29% in the next two decades because of growing energy demand from the developing world.

It says “energy use in the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia as a group is expected to grow only very slowly – and begin to decline in the later years of the forecast period”.

But by 2035 energy use in the non-OECD economies is expected to be 69% higher than in 2012. In comparison use in the OECD will have grown by only 5%, and actually to have fallen after 2030, even with continued economic growth. The Outlook predicts that global energy consumption will rise by 41% from 2012 to 2035, compared with 30% over the last ten.

Nor does it offer much hope that the use of novel energy sources will help to cut emissions. It says: “Shale gas is the fastest-growing source of supply (6.5% p.a.), providing nearly half of the growth in global gas.”

Renewables shine

Burning gas produces much lower CO2 emissions than using coal, but the sheer volume of shale production is expected to cancel out any possible emissions reductions. In fact the Outlook says of its predictions:  “…emissions [of CO2] remain well above the path recommended by scientists…Global emissions in 2035 are nearly double the 1990 level.”

An advantage claimed by some supporters of shale gas is that it will increasingly replace a much more polluting fossil fuel, coal. But at the moment many coal-producing countries are finding markets overseas for those they have lost to shale gas at home.

Oil, natural gas and coal are each expected to make up around 27% of the total mix by 2035, with the remaining share coming from nuclear, hydroelectricity and renewables. Among fossil fuels gas, conventional as well as shale, is growing fastest and is increasingly being used as a cleaner alternative to coal.

Bob Dudley, BP Group chief executive, said the Group was “optimistic for the world’s energy future”. Europe, China and India would become more dependent on imports, he said, while the US was on course to become self-sufficient in energy.

The Outlook does provide encouragement to the producers of renewables, which are expected to continue to be the fastest growing class of energy, gaining market share from a small base as they rise at an average of 6.4% a year to 2035. – Climate News Network

How The U.S. Exports Global Warming: Sells “The Dirtiest Fuel On The Planet” Toxic Tar Sands Waste To Asia

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm
How the U.S. Exports Global Warming

While Obama talks of putting America on the path to a clean, green future, we’re flooding world markets with cheap, high carbon fuels -Tim Dickinson

Oldspeak: Time ticks away as the U.S. fracks itself to death, poisoning its water supply producing more toxic petroleum and methane gas, digging up more coal than ever, it’s shipping the dirtiest fuel on the planet to China. China is consuming nearly as much coal and “petcoke”  than all other nations on earth COMBINED and it’s consumption is expected to grow 40 percent by 2020. “Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel.” So ignore all the bullshit stats about how the U.S. is greening, as though climate pollution was country specific.  Carbon emissions don’t respect arbitrary human created territorial boundaries. The U.S. is in fact INCREASING carbon emissions by exporting the filthiest most toxic wastes as fuel to developing economies world wide, that could it just as easily be exporting clean energy alternatives to. There is no genuine interest in eliminating fossil fuels by the Obama administration and the governments of most other major dirty energy consumers. Dirty fuel production is ACCELERATING.  Carbon emissions are rapidly increasing. Profit is all that matters in the sociopathic corptalitarian capitalist virus that has swept across the globe. The ecology is an externality in this deranged economic model. Very little being done is sustainable. Knowing these facts, we can reasonably expect the extreme climate change to occur, long before most unrealistically underestimating and incomplete climate models predict. We are firmly entrenched in and exacerbating earth 6th mass extinction. “ -OSJ

By Tim Dickinson @ Rolling Stone:

he greening of American energy is both real and profound. Since President Obama took office, the nation’s solar capacity has increased more than tenfold. Wind power has more than doubled, to 60,000 megawatts – enough to power nearly 20 million homes. Thanks to aggressive new fuel-efficiency standards, the nation’s drivers are burning nearly 5 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year than in 2008. The boom in cheap natural gas, meanwhile, has disrupted the coal industry. Coal-power generation, though still the nation’s top source of electricity, is off nearly 20 percent since 2008. More than 150 coal plants have already been shuttered, and the EPA is expected to issue regulations in June that will limit emissions from existing coal facilities. These rules should accelerate the shift to natural gas, which – fracking’s risks to groundwater aside – generates half the greenhouse pollution of coal.

See the 10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Global Warming

But there’s a flip side to this American success story. Even as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer – supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s – when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand – Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade.

“The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,” says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. “Coal, gas, refinery products – crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We’re going to export it.”

When the winds kicked up over the Detroit river last spring, city residents confronted a new toxic hazard: swirling clouds of soot taking flight from a mysterious black dune piled high along the city’s industrial waterfront. By fall, similar dark clouds were settling over Chicago’s South Side – this time from heaping piles along the Calumet River. The pollution in both cities made national headlines – and created a dubious coming-out party for petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” a filthy byproduct of refining gasoline and diesel from Canadian tar-sands crude. Despite the controversy over Keystone XL – the stalled pipeline project that would move diluted tar-sands bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast – the Canadian crude is already a large and growing part of our energy mix. American refineries, primarily in the Midwest, processed 1.65 million barrels a day in 2012 – up 40 percent from 2010.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Converting tar-sands oil into usable fuels requires a huge amount of energy, and much of the black gunk that’s refined out of the crude in this process ends up as petroleum coke. Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel. “Literally, in terms of climate change,” says Stockman, “it’s the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”

With domestic petcoke consumption plummeting – by nearly half since Obama took office – American energy companies have seized on the substance as a coal alternative for export. The market price for petcoke is about one-third that of coal. According to a State Department analysis, that makes American-produced petcoke “less expensive, including the shipping, than China’s coal.” Petcoke exports have surged by one-third since 2008, to 33.4 million metric tons; China is now the top consumer, and demand is exploding. Through the first nine months of 2013, Chinese imports were running 50 percent higher than in 2012.

No surprise: The Koch brothers are in the middle of this market. Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, was the owner of the Detroit dune, since sold off to an international buyer. But it’s a third Koch brother, Billy, who is the petcoke king. William Koch is the CEO of Oxbow Carbon, which describes itself as “the worldwide leader in fuel-grade petcoke sourcing and sales” – trading 11 million tons per year.

Read Our Feature On the Arctic Ice Crisis

With dirty Canadian crude imports on the rise, U.S. refineries have been retooling to produce even more petcoke. A BP refinery on the outskirts of Chicago just tripled its coking capacity and is now the world’s second-largest source of the black gunk. But the Promised Land of petcoke refining is on the Gulf Coast – which is part of why Big Oil is so hot to complete the Keystone XL pipeline. The Texas and Louisiana refineries that would process Keystone crude can produce a petcoke pile the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza every year, which, when burned, would produce more than 18 million tons of carbon pollution.

Despite the dangers of petcoke, the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to its proliferation. A 2011 State Department environmental-impact study of Keystone XL, commissioned under then-Secretary Hillary Clinton, treated petcoke as if it were an inert byproduct, and failed to consider its end use as a fuel when calculating the greenhouse impacts of the pipeline. According to the EPA, that decision led State to lowball the pipeline’s associated emissions by as much as 30 percent.

In 2013, the post-Hillary State Department revised that assessment, conceding that petcoke “significantly increases” the emissions associated with tar sands. However, State punted on the big issue of climate pollution, maintaining that Keystone XL won’t create a net increase because the Canadian crude would reach Gulf refineries with or without the pipeline.

A joint letter by Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, blasted State’s conclusion as “fundamentally flawed” and “contrary to basic economics” – noting that it would take a new forest the size of West Virginia to fully offset the carbon emissions Keystone XL would bring to market.

The tar-sands boom has the united states poised to become a top player in the global-export market for gasoline and diesel. And Obama’s top trade ambassador has been working behind the scenes to make sure that our climate-conscious European allies don’t shutter their markets to fuels refined from the filthy Canadian crude.

The U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, is a protégé of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and a top member of the president’s inner circle. Froman was confirmed last June to his current trade post, where he’s under direct orders from the president to “open new markets for American businesses.” His nomination was opposed by only four senators – chiefly Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who faulted Froman for refusing to commit to even the paltry standard for transparency in trade talks set by the George W. Bush administration. Warren was right to be concerned. In backroom negotiations, Froman has worked to undermine new European Union fuel standards intended to lower the continent’s carbon emissions. The European standards would work, in part, by grading the carbon toxicity of various crude oils. They logically propose placing polluting tar-sands oil in a carbon class all by itself; on its path from a pit mine to the filling station, a gallon of tar-sands gas is responsible for 81 percent more climate pollution than the average gallon of regular. But instead of respecting the EU’s commitment to slow global warming, Froman has worked to force North America’s dirtiest petrol into the tanks of Europe’s Volkswagens, Peugeots and lorries.

His hardball tactics were revealed in obscure written congressional testimony last year. In a question to Froman, Rep. Kevin Brady, an oil-friendly Texas Republican, slammed the European proposal as a “discriminatory, environmentally unjustified” trade barrier. Froman responded, “I share your concerns,” and described his work to “press the Commission to take the views of . . . U.S. refiners under consideration.” He explained how he had turned the standards into a point of contention in negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a major free-trade pact being hammered out between the U.S. and the EU. Last October, Froman’s team even went before the World Trade Organization to demand that all globally traded petroleum products be treated “without discrimination.”

Froman’s dirty-energy advocacy provoked an angry letter last December from the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force – prominently co-signed by Warren. It blasted the ambassador’s efforts to “undercut” the EU’s climate goals as well as his “shortsighted view of the United States’ economic interests.” Citing the projected $70 billion in adverse climate effects from exploitation of tar-sands crude, the task force demanded Froman justify his “troubling” actions in the context of the United States’ “long-term economic well-being.” The ambassador’s office has not responded.

“We’re telling the world on the one hand that it’s time for leadership from us on facing up to carbon pollution,” says Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island. “While on the other we’re saying, ‘Hey, here, buy our high-carbon-pollution fuels.'”

If Big Oil has its way, the United States could soon return to the business of exporting not only refined petroleum products but crude oil itself – a practice that’s been illegal since the oil shocks of the 1970s. The crude-oil-export ban has been the linchpin of U.S. energy security for more than a generation. With narrow exceptions for Alaskan crude and exports to Canada, the law requires that oil drilled here must be refined here – helping to insulate American drivers from disruptions in oil fields of the Middle East. But the unexpected boom in fracked crude from North Dakota and Texas has transformed this long-uncontroversial law into a bugbear for domestic drillers – who now see American energy independence as a threat to their profit margins.

When the Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 2007, the accepted notion was that Gulf Coast refineries would be able to process all the crude that the pipeline could carry. But the nation’s energy picture has since changed dramatically. Thanks to advances in fracking technology, North Dakota and Texas are bringing millions of barrels of “sweet” – low-sulfur, easily refined – crude to the market every day.

In this new reality, the fixed flow from a pipeline like Keystone XL, carrying more than 1.5 million barrels of Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast every day, is going to create excess supply. The surplus tar-sands crude, as much as 400,000 barrels per day, will have to be shipped out of the Gulf to the global market. “There is a limit to how much the Gulf Coast refiners can soak up,” said Esa Ramasamy, of the energy-information service Platts, in a recent presentation. “The Canadian crudes cannot go back up into Canada again. They will have to go out.”

An export ban or not, it will likely happen: As long as it’s not “commingled” with American crude, Canadian crude, despite its transit through the United States, remains Canadian.

The new flood of domestic crude, meanwhile, is straining U.S. refining capacity, producing a nearly $10-per-barrel discount for U.S. oil compared to the global average for sweet crude. America’s domestic drillers are desperate to fetch higher prices on the global market. (Exxon, the Chamber of Commerce and key senators like Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski have just launched a media offensive to kill the export ban altogether.)

In addition to promoting energy independence, the export ban now has the virtue of limiting the pace at which American drillers exploit the continent’s newfound climate-toxic oil riches. Ending the ban would not only hurt U.S. consumers by wiping out the home-oil discount, it would also boost the profits of domestic-oil companies and hasten exploration of now-marginal deposits. “Lifting the oil-export ban is simply climate denial in a new, and very dangerous, form,” says Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International’s executive director.

Nonetheless, Obama’s new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, told reporters at a recent energy conference that the ban is a relic and ought to be re-examined “in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.”

The greatest success story in the greening of American energy is the market-driven collapse of coal. Last year, American power plants burned 181 million fewer tons of coal than in the final year of the Bush administration, as power companies shifted to burning cheaper natural gas. And after years of delay, the administration finally appears to be committed to driving some regulatory nails into Big Coal’s coffin: In January, the EPA published a draft rule that’s likely to end the construction of new coal plants by requiring cost-prohibitive carbon-capture technology. This summer, the agency is expected to introduce climate-pollution rules for existing plants that should hasten the adoption of natural gas.

With the freefall in domestic demand, industry giants like Peabody are desperate to turn American coal into a global export – targeting booming Asian economies that are powering their growth with dirty fuel. China now consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and its demand is projected to grow by nearly 40 percent by the end of the decade. “China’s demand,” according to William Durbin, head of global markets for the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, “will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal.”

Since Obama took office, American coal exports are up more than 50 percent. And Big Coal has designs to more than double that tonnage by opening a direct export route to Asia, shipping coal strip-mined from the Powder River Basin, in Wyoming and Montana, by rail to a network of planned export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and then by sea to China. These new coal exports have received far less attention than Keystone XL, but would unleash a carbon bomb nearly identical to the greenhouse pollution attributed to the pipeline.

After inking a 2011 deal to export 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through the planned Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in Washington, Peabody Coal CEO Gregory Boyce gushed, “We’re opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation’s largest and most productive coal region to the world’s best market for coal.”

Last March, John Kitzhaber and Jay Inslee, the governors of Oregon and Washington, respectively, wrote to the White House expressing near disbelief that the administration seemed prepared to let Big Coal’s dreams come true. “It is hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export,” they wrote. Coal passing through Pacific Northwest terminals would produce, they argued, “climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

But the administration refused to intervene. Appearing before Congress last June, the acting regulatory chief of the Army Corps of Engineers announced that climate pollution would not factor in the evaluation of permits for the export terminals. The burning of American coal in Asia, she testified, was “too far removed” to be considered.

Even more troubling, the administration opened up more than 300 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin to bidding by the coal companies last year. The coal is on government land; it belongs to the public. Yet the leasing practices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are so flawed that one independent study estimates that taxpayers have been fleeced of $30 billion over the past three decades. In the past, that stealth subsidy to Big Coal at least helped create cheap power for American homes and businesses. Today, the administration has put American taxpayers in the position of subsidizing coal destined to fuel the growth of our nation’s fiercest, and carbon-filthiest, economic rival.

In the battle to prevent the United States from fueling the developing world’s global-warming binge, the deck is stacked against climate hawks. The fossil-fuel industry remains the single most powerful special interest in Washington, having successfully ball-gagged the entire Republican Party on global warming. More insidiously, the macroeconomic indicators by which the economy – and any presidency – are measured can be cheaply inflated through dirty-energy exports, which boost GDP and narrow the trade deficit.

But here’s the surprise: Climate activists are more than holding their own. Keystone XL is on an indefinite hold, and Whitehouse says he’s “optimistic” that the pipeline won’t gain approval on the watch of new Secretary of State John Kerry. Likewise, Obama’s Powder River Basin initiatives seem to be going nowhere in the face of strong regional and national opposition. Even Wall Street is getting cold feet on coal. In January, Goldman Sachs dumped its stake in the Cherry Point, Washington, terminal once celebrated by Peabody Coal’s CEO as emblematic of his industry’s future. And with no clear path to China, coal companies themselves are pulling back. In two BLM auctions last summer, one failed to solicit any bids by coal companies; the other received a single bid – and it was too low for even the famously coal-friendly BLM to accept.

But preventing America from morphing into the world’s dirty-energy hub will likely require something more: a competitive Democratic primary for 2016. By all outward indications, the Clinton regime-in-waiting is even more supportive of the dirty-energy trade than the Obama White House. Bill Clinton is a vocal proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling on America to “embrace it.” During Hillary Clinton’s reign as secretary of state, the department outsourced its flawed environmental assessment of Keystone XL to a longtime contractor for the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada – whose top lobbyist just happened to have served as a deputy manager for Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Clinton herself, in a 2010 appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, sounded fatalistic about bringing tar sands to market: “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf, or dependent on dirty oil from Canada,” she said.

In a contested primary, the issue of constraining the nation’s polluting exports is likely to emerge as a significant fault line between Clinton and whomever emerges to represent the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.

A credible challenger need not derail Clinton to make the difference. Recall that both Clinton and Obama began as reticent climate hawks in 2008 – even talking up the prospects of refining coal into a liquid for use as auto fuel – before the threat of John Edwards forced both candidates to commit to the ambitious goal of reducing climate pollution by 80 percent by 2050. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton simply cruises through the primaries, it’s a safe bet that the corporate center will hold – and that North America’s fossil exports are going to flow. That’s a state of affairs from which the world as we know it will not soon recover.

This story is from the February 13th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

“Off the charts” 195 Mph Monster Super Typhoon Haiyan “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history” Breaks The Philippines

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

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Oldspeak: ” Less than 2 months after Hong Kong was hit with “the strongest storm on earth“, we witness the wrath of “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history”. it’s not a matter of if the east coast of the U.S. will be hit with storms more destructive and devastating than Katrina or Sandy, but when. Our technology will not save us from the slow motion and full speed cataclysms to come.  When will we stop plunging headlong into our planet and civilization’s demise?” -OSJ

Related Story:

Super Typhoon Haiyan Tears into The Philippines

By Eric Holthaus @ Quartz:

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at 4am local time today with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, according to satellite estimates. That astounding claim will need to be verified by actual measurements at ground level, which should be collected over the coming days.

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The storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) has officially maxed out the Dvorak scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means Haiyan has approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere.  From the latest NOAA bulletin:

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DVORAK TECHNIQUE MAKES NO ALLOWANCE FOR AN EYE EMBEDDED SO DEEPLY IN CLOUD TOPS AS COLD [AS THIS]

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Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm this strong. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale. This meteorologist, for one, has never seen that before.

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Thousands were evacuated in the Philippines as the disaster-weary country prepared for impact. Ten regions in the central part of the country were under a Signal 4 warning, the nation’s highest typhoon alert level.

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Just last month, an area just south of Haiyan’s predicted path suffered a massive M7.2 earthquake, resulting in more than 100 deaths and widespread damage. That same region will experience strong winds and heavy rain from this typhoon.

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According to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at landfall, the storm packed sustained winds of 195mph (310kph). Gusts reached a mind-blowing 235mph (380kph). That’s good enough to rank Haiyan as almost assuredly the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

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The Philippines is the most typhoon-ridden nation on Earth, getting walloped or enduring close calls on average of 19 times per year.

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It’s nearly inconceivable that any weather station would survive such conditions for very long to verify, so we may never know exactly how strong this storm was. There have only been a handful of storms anywhere on Earth (pdf) that have reached this estimated intensity—and only three since 1969. Such strong storms usually remain out at sea where wind speed verification is impossible without aircraft.

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If verified, the storm’s wind speed at landfall would top the sitting world record holder, the Atlantic’s Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 with 190 mph winds.

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That’s certainly foreboding enough, but the humanitarian disaster that may unfold in the storm’s aftermath could be immense. Haiyan passed very near Tacloban, a city of a quarter million people, and Cebu, a city of nearly one million people:

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The country’s meteorological service, PAGASA, also supports a storm surge prediction model (appropriately named project NOAH) that estimates storm surge could have been up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) in Leyte, where the storm first made landfall. A storm surge of this magnitude—rare for the Philippines—would be especially devastating for coastal areas.

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Heavy rain, expected to approach 16 inches (400mm), will almost assuredly cause mudslides over the mountainous islands of the Philippines.

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Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” -Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. -Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

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.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

 

 

Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

(Image: <a href=" http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-106825397/stock-photo-refinery-with-smoke-and-global-warming-concept.html?src=NbITD5enX9lI4lerT943VQ-1-0"> via Shutterstock </a>)

Oldspeak:Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.” -Thom Hartmann

“The grim reality is, we’re ALREADY in earth’s sixth mass extinction. We’re witnessing its beginning. We’re losing 200 species PER  DAY. irreversible positive feedbacks have already begun.  Accelerated ocean acidification/warming/deoxygenation/mass extinctions , massive increases in methane releases globally  and permafrost melt have methane levels in the arctic higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years.  Phytoplankton, the organisms crucial to all life on earth, producers of half the worlds oxygen and sequestering carbon have decreased 40% since 1950. And there are no serious efforts to stop the extractive energy systems that are creating  these catastrophic positive feedbacks, in fact these systems are being EXPANDED.  The show is going on, whether we want to see it or not.” -OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

If you were standing outdoors looking at the distant and reddening sky 250 million years ago as the Permian Mass Extinction was beginning, unless you were in the region that is known as Siberia you would have no idea that a tipping point had just been passed and soon 95% of all life on earth would be dead.

It’s almost impossible to identify tipping points, except in retrospect.

For example, we have almost certainly already past the tipping point to an ice-free Arctic. And we are just now realizing it, even though that tipping point was probably passed a decade or more ago.

This is critically important because in the history of our planet there have been five times when more than half of all life on Earth died. They’re referred to as “mass extinctions.”

One – the one that killed the dinosaurs – was initiated by a meteorite striking the Earth. The rest all appear to have been initiated by tectonic and volcanic activity.

In each case, however, what happened was that massive amounts of carbon-containing greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide, were released from beneath the Earth’s crust and up into the atmosphere.

This provoked global warming intense enough to melt billions of tons of frozen methane on the oceans floors. That pulse of methane – an intense greenhouse gas – then brought the extinction to its full of intensity.

While in the past it took continental movement or an asteroid to break up the crust of the earth enough to release ancient stores of carbon into the atmosphere, we humans have been doing this very aggressively for the past 150 years by drilling and mining fossil fuels.

So the question:

Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

Geologists who study mass extinctions are becoming concerned. As more and more research is coming out about the massive stores of methane in the Arctic and around continental shelves, climate scientists are beginning to take notice, too.

The fossil fuel companies are sitting on roughly 2 trillion tons of underground carbon. That, in and of itself, is enough to warm the earth by 5 or 6°C, and is an amount of carbon consistent with tipping points during past mass extinctions.

There are an additional estimated 2 trillion tons of methane stored in the Arctic and probably 2 to 5 times that much around continental shelves all around the Earth.

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.

This is why we’ve produced a short documentary on this topic, and a short e-book titled The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction that you can find at www.lasthours.org.

Please check it out and share it with as many friends as possible.

The future of humanity is at stake.

“It’s as bad as we thought it was.”: IPCC Report: Irreversable Catastrophic Climate Change Certain Without Drastic Emmissions Reductions

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/70149000/gif/_70149764_climate_change_coloured_624.gifOldspeak: “What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other lifeforms depend. Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown.

This is a catastrophe we are capable of foreseeing but incapable of imagining. It’s a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.

The IPCC’s reports attract denial in all its forms: from a quiet turning away – the response of most people – to shrill disavowal. Despite – or perhaps because of – their rigours, the IPCC’s reports attract a magnificent collection of conspiracy theories: the panel is trying to tax us back to the stone age or establish a Nazi/communist dictatorship in which we are herded into camps and forced to crochet our own bicycles. (And they call the scientists scaremongers …)…..

But denial is only part of the problem. More significant is the behaviour of powerful people who claim to accept the evidence. This week the former Irish president Mary Robinson added her voice to a call that some of us have been making for years: the only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Press any minister on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. Yet no government will act on it.

As if to mark the publication of the new report, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has now plastered a giant poster across its ground-floor windows: “UK oil and gas: Energising Britain. £13.5bn is being invested in recovering UK oil and gas this year, more than any other industrial sector.”

The message couldn’t have been clearer if it had said “up yours”. It is an example of the way in which all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe the panel foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.” -George Monbiot

“So what we’re seeing is powerful people who accept the overwhelming evidence that our fossil fuel based economy is hastening the end of our planet as we’ve known it.   Rendering it incapable of supporting most life, including humans. They agree that unexploited fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to possibly prevent climate catastrophe. Yet no government will act to halt the continued search for and exploitation of dirtier and dirtier forms of fossil fuels. Fuels that will further poison our land, food, water and air as conditions worsen. Going so far as to aggressively collaborate  and subsidize the industries producing the poisons. Perhaps more frightening, the weird science of “Geoengineering” has been considered as a possible solution…. Also consider that the estimates and models referenced in this report are conservative. The truth is likely alot worse than we’re being told.  it’s possible we’ve already passed the 2c doomsday threshold. We’re already witnessing the first American climate refugees, and the beginning of irreversible non-linear positive feedbacks. With business as usual continuing and expanding unabated, they won’t be the last.” -OSJ

Related Stories:

Climate Change: How Hot Will it Get in Your Lifetime

America’s First Climate Refugees

Why Has Geoengineering Been Legitimized by the IPCC?

Is The IPCC Right On Climate Change? Just Ask The World’s Farmers

By George Monbiot @ The Guardian UK:

Already, a thousand blogs and columns insist the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s new report is a rabid concoction of scare stories whose purpose is to destroy the global economy. But it is, in reality, highly conservative.

Reaching agreement among hundreds of authors and reviewers ensures that only the statements which are hardest to dispute are allowed to pass. Even when the scientists have agreed, the report must be tempered in another forge, as politicians question anything they find disagreeable: the new report received 1,855 comments from 32 governments, and the arguments raged through the night before launch.

In other words, it’s perhaps the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history.

There are no radical departures in this report from the previous assessment, published in 2007; just more evidence demonstrating the extent of global temperature rises, the melting of ice sheets and sea ice, the retreat of the glaciers, the rising and acidification of the oceans and the changes in weather patterns. The message is familiar and shattering: “It’s as bad as we thought it was.”

What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other lifeforms depend. Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown.

This is a catastrophe we are capable of foreseeing but incapable of imagining. It’s a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.

The IPCC’s reports attract denial in all its forms: from a quiet turning away – the response of most people – to shrill disavowal. Despite – or perhaps because of – their rigours, the IPCC’s reports attract a magnificent collection of conspiracy theories: the panel is trying to tax us back to the stone age or establish a Nazi/communist dictatorship in which we are herded into camps and forced to crochet our own bicycles. (And they call the scientists scaremongers …)

In the Mail, the Telegraph and the dusty basements of the internet, Friday’s report (or a draft leaked a few weeks ago) has been trawled for any uncertainties that could be used to discredit. The panel reports that on every continent except Antarctica, man-made warming is likely to have made a substantial contribution to the surface temperature. So those who feel threatened by the evidence ignore the other continents and concentrate on Antarctica, as proof that climate change caused by fossil fuels can’t be happening.

They make great play of the IPCC’s acknowledgement that there has been a “reduction in surface warming trend over the period 1998–2012″, but somehow ignore the fact that the past decade is still the warmest in the instrumental record.

They manage to overlook the panel’s conclusion that this slowing of the trend is likely to have been caused by volcanic eruptions, fluctuations in solar radiation and natural variability in the planetary cycle.

Were it not for man-made global warming, these factors could have made the world significantly cooler over this period. That there has been a slight increase in temperature shows the power of the human contribution.

But denial is only part of the problem. More significant is the behaviour of powerful people who claim to accept the evidence. This week the former Irish president Mary Robinson added her voice to a call that some of us have been making for years: the only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Press any minister on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. Yet no government will act on it.

As if to mark the publication of the new report, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has now plastered a giant poster across its ground-floor windows: “UK oil and gas: Energising Britain. £13.5bn is being invested in recovering UK oil and gas this year, more than any other industrial sector.”

The message couldn’t have been clearer if it had said “up yours”. It is an example of the way in which all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe the panel foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.

It doesn’t matter how many windmills or solar panels or nuclear plants you build if you are not simultaneously retiring fossil fuel production. We need a global programme whose purpose is to leave most coal and oil and gas reserves in the ground, while developing new sources of power and reducing the amazing amount of energy we waste.

But, far from doing so, governments everywhere are still seeking to squeeze every drop out of their own reserves, while trying to secure access to other people’s. As more accessible reservoirs are emptied, energy companies exploit the remotest parts of the planet, bribing and bullying governments to allow them to break open unexploited places: from the deep ocean to the melting Arctic.

And the governments who let them do it weep sticky black tears over the state of the planet.

The 1,000-Year Flood: Did Global Warming Worsen Colorado’s Unprecedented Rainfall?

In Uncategorized on September 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

http://inserbia.info/news/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/colorado-flood.jpgOldspeak: “I think of this is as sort of perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged. When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage.” -Jim Pullen

Less than a year after Hurricane Sandy; a 700 year storm hundreds of miles across, destroyed large parts of the eastern seaboard of the U.S., historic droughts &  massive wildfires in the American west have severely degraded the ecosystem of the American west.  Last week a massive rainstorm, hundreds of miles across, parked over the state of Colorado and dumped enough rain to generate a 1000 year flood.  Time will tell what kind of contaminants.  Recent news of multiple devastating storms hitting Mexico on both coasts, it’s getting harder and harder to explain the stunning inaction in the face of imminent Global Ecological Collapse. Hundreds of years storms are happening every year. Multiple irreversible feedbacks are in early stages or on the near horizon. Things are getting worse really fast. And very few people in power are talking about it. ” -OSJ

Related Stories:

5 Things You Should Know About Colorado’s ‘1,000 Year Flood’

What We Can Learn From The Deadly Boulder Floods

By Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This skies have finally cleared over Colorado after over a week of rain that led to what experts are calling a 1000 year flood. At least 21 inches of rain fell on parts of Boulder in the last week, nearly double the area’s average annual rainfall. At least six people have died in the flooding. More than 1600 homes were destroyed in the region and another 20,000 damaged, along with dozens of bridges, roads, and major sections of highway. Many residents found themselves stranded by the high water. The overall flood zone encompassed 17 Colorado counties in an area nearly the size of Delaware. After a week of devastating floods, Colorado residents now face the threat of contaminated waters. The northeastern part of the state is home to thousands of gas and oil wells that were inundated with rushing water. The Denver business Journal reported at least two storage tanks were found floating in floodwaters, and it says the industry has shut down more than 1000 oil and gas well since the flooding began.

AMY GOODMAN: Colorado is also home to some of the world’s top, researchers, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth System Research Laboratory, which were forced to close due to flooding. We go now to Boulder, Colorado, where we’re joined by Jim Pullen a reporter and producer with the community radio station KGNU-FM. He is a geoscientist and physicist and also with us here in New York, Bill McKibben, Co-founder and Director of 350.org, just published his new book this week, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Jim, let’s start with you in Boulder. Can you lay out the extent of the devastation in Colorado?

JIM PULLEN: The flood of 1976 and — the big Thompson flood in 1976 and also we’ve had very severe fires over the past several years. But the extent of the storm is unprecedented. And it wasn’t — couldn’t be planned for in Boulder. And in adjacent areas. Now, I’ve lost you folks.

AMY GOODMAN: We can hear you fine, Jim. Talk about the response of the state right now in Colorado.

JIM PULLEN: There’s been a large federal and state response here in Colorado. FEMA is here, of course. Incident management teams are here — two incident management teams are here from the federal government. And Colorado, I think it is particularly well prepared to deal with the emergencies. Here in Boulder County, we have an effective intergovernmental organization that protects both the city and the county. They are well trained because of all of the fires, unfortunately, all of the fires that we have had. And so, there has been a — I would say there’s been a very effective response, and certainly has saved life.

One of the most critical aspects of this entire ordeal has been the air support. Because of our isolated mountain towns and people who are living singly in the mountains in isolated houses, the air support was critical to get people out in a timely fashion. We had some 80 children who were rescued who are participating in an outdoor camp. They were rescued by air. The entire town of Jamestown, about 175 folks and about as many animals, rescued by air. The town of Lyons completely evacuated, except for a few folks who voluntarily chose to stay. They were rescued primarily by ground vehicles. So, the National Guard response here was critical.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jim Pullen, can you tell us if Colorado is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events like the one we just witnessed?

JIM PULLEN: We have been having some extreme droughts for quite a few years now. I think some parts of the state are still in drought. We are accustomed to intense thunderstorms, of course, that might rain on a single valley, that might rain on a single mountain, and cause flash flooding that can be devastating and deadly. So, we have been experiencing some extreme weather.

AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of climate change, can you talk about, for example, also the pine beetle, how it has devastated millions of acres, making them weaker? Then you have the forest fires, then less ability to maintain water in the soil with the trees not there and then you have flooding like this that intensifies the devastation.

JIM PULLEN: I think of this is as sort of a perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged.

When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage, even without the pine beetle damage.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And when do you expect to learn, Jim Pullen, of the extent of the environmental contamination as a result of these floods?

JIM PULLEN: That, I think that is going to take some weeks, very unfortunately. There are two things going on — well there are several things that are going on that are of incredible concern. Of course, in any flood event, there are going to be a lot of contaminants in the water. There are going to be dead animals, there are going to be — there are oil stations — gasoline stations that have been inundated. People’s homes have been inundated, and people keep a lot of chemicals in their homes that are under relatively low protection.

We have some very serious issues here in the state of Colorado in addition to those normal flooding issues. We have the Rocky Flats plant, or what was once upon a time the Rocky Flats Plant where plutonium is underground. And there has been extensive flooding in that area. And we also have tens of thousands of active oil and gas wells in the state, 20,000 alone in Weld County. The industry — a lobbying group is reporting 1900 of those oil and gas wells have been shut down, and including the two largest suppliers, Noble Energy and Anadarko are reporting about five to ten percent of their wells have been shut down.

For example, Noble Energy owns 7600 wells in Weld County itself, which is right to the northeast of us. So, there are a lot of contaminants potentially floating around. And in the case of Rocky Flats, I spoke with a Christine Everson last night and she said it is going to take weeks for laboratory results of plutonium and other contaminants to become available to the public.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the governor of Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper. When we were covering the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Summit, he was one of the few governors who attended that summit in Copenhagen. He was there to participate in a discussion on the role of public transportation in reducing carbon emissions. That year he had won a 2009 mayors climate protection award for a large city. This is what he had to say about global warming.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I think what the real key is, we know that climate change is occurring. Everyone knows that. We know it’s dramatic, we know that man kind is the likely — the vast majority of is a result of our actions. So, we need to address it and move quickly. I think when you start trying to break down which part of the climate disruption is the consequence in which pollution images or who is responsible, that is when we get into trouble. I was certainly — dramatically, that we need billion of dollars.

AMY GOODMAN: That was, well, now Governor Hickenlooper, at the time he was the Mayor of Denver. So, he is rare in continually bringing up the issue of climate change. But, Jim Pullen, if you can talk about how that relates to fracking and the issues that you are raising right now?

JIM PULLEN: Well, you know, famously, the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, engaged in sort of a stunt with the oil industry where he drank some fracking fluid to sort of demonstrate that it is safe. Many feel that the governor is not acting in the best interest of the people of this state to protect their health and safety. The state itself — the state attorney general’s office has joined in lawsuits against the city of Longmont, our neighbor to the north, which has suffered tremendous devastation in this flood, he has enjoined in a lawsuit against the city of Longmont further voter approved ban against oil and gas fracking in the city itself. And so many people are very, very disappointed in the Governor and his approach to the oil and gas industry.

AMY GOODMAN: But how has it played out now with these massive floods?

JIM PULLEN: Well, I was at a press conference with the Governor. He came with our two state senators and three of our representatives just a couple of days ago. He flew into the municipal airport here, and he spoke about rebuilding Colorado better than ever. He spoke about Coloradans being strong. It was sort of a political speech. He actually had been on a rescue mission that morning, as they were flying to the airport, they saw people down below waving flags and they stopped to rescue those folks. That’s just how — there were a lot of people stranded here.

So, he certainly — I think Colorado in general is drawing together. And I think that is a strength of our state. We had people in Jamestown who have lost their town, essentially, have completely lost it. I know there’s a tremendous concern on their part that they get their town back as soon as possible. And I believe and hope that Coloradans, including our politicians, are going to pull together to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, we wanted to bring Bill McKibben in on this subject of what is happening in Colorado. Bill, you’re from Vermont. I know Vermont officials have gone to Colorado to consult with the state government because you all in Vermont had the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Can you talk about these hurricanes and climate change?

BILL MCKIBBEN: What is going on in Colorado is so ironic. Boulder, where Jim is talking from, is the headquarters of climate research, really for the whole world, The National Center for Atmospheric Research. A year ago it was evacuated because of fast-moving forest fires in the middle of this intense drought. This year it is evacuated because of the worst flooding. You can’t believe how off the charts that rainfall is. We’re in mid-September, Boulder has already passed its all-time annual rainfall record with months and months to go in the year.

The volume of water is only possible because we’ve changed the atmosphere. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. There are these tails of moisture coming up from the South in places where they have never been before. It is eerie he to watch, and the recovery. You know, everybody’s got a shot of adrenaline for a few days while people are being rescued and things. If the Vermont example is any indication, then you have to dig in for long, hard work for years to come in order to get back just to where you were before. We just can’t keep doing this. We have actually got to get a handle on global warming before this gets any further out of hand.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet with all of the limitless coverage — as it should be — of what is going on in Colorado, I haven’t seen it all, so I can’t say has not been a mentioned, but in all of the networks, I have not seen one mention of climate change.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, that’s, you know, because at the moment, there is this immediate, tense problem right in front of you. But, the underlying one is the one we tend to ignore. I don’t think we are ignoring it completely anymore. We are on the mainstream media, but that just goes to show. What is happening is the volume of these events has gotten so great — I mean, think about what is happening one mountain range further west. California is in the middle of its driest year ever, and we’ve just had the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra, burning straight across the land were John Muir invented the modern environmental movement in the high Sierra. I mean, it is just one irony piled on top of another.

And the polling data indicates that Americans are getting it, that two thirds, three quarters of Americans are now concerned about global warming. Their leaders aren’t concerned because, well, to give governor Hickenlooper’s example, they’re awfully deep in bed with the oil and gas industry. Now all Coloradans, or many of them, are going to get to drink fracking fluids, too, you know. It is not quite as funny as when he was doing it as a stunt.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. Jim, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Jim Pullen, reporter at KGNU-FM, which broadcasts on AM and FM, community radio in Boulder and greater Denver. Bill McKibben will stay with us as we talk to him about the latest climate change struggles around the Keystone XL and his new book that is out this week, called “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Stay with us.

The Sleeping Climate Giant: Scientists Warn Of Irreversable Extreme Weather, Starvation, Riots, & War

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlashof/Arctic-sea-ice-2012-3000x1800-nointtext.jpgOldspeak:”Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics. The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” -Arctic Methane Emergency Group

“The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at levels not seen since the Pliocene era, 3 million years ago, before humans walked the earth.  Large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide are rapidly filling the atmosphere, as a result of rapid melting of polar ice caps. Seems to be irreversible at this point.  This is the problem that with drive all other problems on this planet for thousands of years. Drought is global, food production is declining, with food riots are already reality in the global south. While global elites aggressively poison our water supplies profiting from drilling for toxic energy like oil, coal, natural gas & radioactive materials, those same activities will contribute to the destruction of our food supplies. Where are the nationwide marches to demand action on this? Indigenous peoples are on the case, they know what’s at stake. We need to get activated about the most dire threats to our existence, like yesterday. There’s no time to waste.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Scientific evidence is compelling that something big is brewing up north in the Arctic, “the sleeping climate giant.” As follows, when this sleeping giant awakens, life may never be the same. Unfortunately, its long slumber is now coming back to life, and the scientists studying this event are deeply concerned.

The danger involves an Arctic meltdown, and, as this sleeping giant awakens, it will prompt events that will likely cause significant disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and global war as worldwide food production is seriously impaired. Some leading scientists refer to this impending event as a prescription for “starvation.”

A five-year NASA campaign called CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) is currently in its third-year of analyzing the emissions of greenhouse gases in the Arctic, led by Charles Miller, principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, California. This team of researchers includes two-dozen scientists from twelve major institutions, like Langley Research Center.

From a base in Fairbanks, Alaska the team travel in a C-23 Sherpa aircraft up to eight hours daily at an altitude of 500 feet, which is categorized as flying “down in the mud.” By flying dangerously low, they are able to take measurements not previously possible, and they use very sophisticated instruments, as for one example, a very sensitive spectrometer, to “sniff” the atmosphere for greenhouse gases. The samples are shipped to the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research Stable Isotope Laboratory and Radiocarbon Laboratory in Boulder to determine whether the gases are from thawing permafrost.

According to Miller, based upon analyses of the first full year of studies, what they are finding is both amazing and potentially troubling: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest.”1 “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.”

CARVE hopes to find clues that will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. In general, scientists do not believe the Arctic has reached a tipping point just yet, but no one knows for sure. “We hope CARVE may be able to find that ‘smoking gun,’ if one exists,” says Miller.

World Food Production at Risk

In addition to CARVE’s 5-year on-going investigation of the Arctic, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (“AMEG”), a hard-core group of the world’s most esteemed climate scientists, have sounded the alarm about the dangers of an Arctic meltdown. An announcement on their web site claims: “Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve.”

AMEG’s statement begs the crucial question: Why will loss of Arctic sea ice cause starvation?

Here is AMEG’s answer: The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics.

AMEG goes on to say: “The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” This blunt statement by AMEG is indicative of their strong conviction.

These dire warnings by our planet’s most accomplished climate scientists should be expected to ring alarm bells, to take immediate corrective action, within the halls of governments all across the globe. Otherwise, the planet may sizzle and extreme weather patterns, i.e., flooding and droughts, may choke off our food resources.

In this regard, AMEG says, “The Arctic is the air conditioner for the entire Northern Hemisphere so the hemispheric climate will change along with further accelerated warming,”

Here is a general description behind the derivation of bad news for Northern Hemispheric agriculture and world food production: Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University presented new research that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.”

The jet stream has moved northwards over 270 miles over the past 22 years. The jet stream is located where the strongest winds are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-45,000 feet (7-9 miles) high, 200-300 mb in pressure.

Worldwide Extreme Weather Conditions

In point of fact, Dr. Francis’ explanation of the impact of Arctic sea-ice loss on weather events is exactly what the world has been experiencing these past few years, for example:

In the United States in 2012 a slow-moving jet stream was the culprit behind a “blocking weather pattern” within a massive dome of high pressure across the U.S. that led to remarkable March heat, sending temperatures in the Midwest and the Northeast soaring into the 80s overnight. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the subsequent 2012 drought was the worst since 1950.

Syria, a major part of the breadbasket of the Middle East has experienced a series of endless droughts from 2006-2011 with up to 60% of the land subject to severe drought and the most severe set of crop failures in the history of the Fertile Crescent.

India recently experienced is second major drought in four years, and as a result, at times a billion people were without power, experiencing the largest power outage in world history because of low hydropower resources and a strained power grid.

According to Dr. Mannava Sivakumar, Director of the WMO Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, India’s severe drought experienced rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab region, India’s breadbasket, Phil Behan, With Drought Intensifying Worldwide, UN Calls for Integrated Climate Policies, UN News Centre, August 21, 2012.

In August 2010 Russian PM Vladimir Putin shocked the world by announcing a ban on exports of grain because of the country’s worst drought in 40 years.

The jet streams over Russia and surrounding areas were locked with the trough of the wave over Pakistan, and the crest over Russia. The jet stream did not budge for 35 days. The trough was low pressure with lots of rain, and as a result, Pakistan flooded, beyond one month. At the time, worldwide television networks sent broadcasts of groups of Pakistanis huddled together on small landmasses surrounded by water. Simultaneously, Moscow was under a high-pressure ridge, experiencing a powerful 35-day heat wave. An estimated 50,000 Russians, over and above the normal mortality rate, died (not mentioned on TV), and the country lost 40% of its wheat crop.

According to People’s Daily online from China: “The drought has also left 6.61 million people and 4.24 million heads of livestock in the above regions short of drinking water.”2

Also, in China: “Four years of droughts in southern and northwest China have resulted in severe desertification, poor harvests, and water shortages, affecting the lives of 400 million people, according to a Chinese NGO,” Li Xia, Drought in China Turns Vast Tracts of Land to Desert, Epoch Times, March 19, 2013. According to the article, the desertification problem in China is the most severe in the world and could seriously hamper the country’s economic development. Alarmingly, China’s drought is its worst in 200 years, affecting more people than the entire population of North America.

As for other extreme weather consequences worldwide, according to meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters: “The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007-2008 global food crises. When we also consider the world’s expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.”3

And, the Flooding

An influential group of MPs in the UK have expressed concern about UK food security because of flooding “…which is increasing as climate change intensifies downpours….”4 “A run of poor weather since 2011 has led to extensive flooding of properties but has also severely dented the production of many foods, with the UK now being a net importer of wheat.”

In Central Europe, “While rescue teams scrambled to protect cities in Central Europe from some of the worst flooding in years, farm organizations are concerned about damage that could devastate crops for the entire growing season.”5 “The devastation follows a series of extreme weather events that have hit EU farmers in the past year, including a severe drought in southern Europe and extreme flooding in the United Kingdom.”

Floods and droughts are increasingly a worldwide problem as the weather adjusts to anomalous jet streams brought on by a warming Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than the planet overall.

The Food Threat and Food Riots

“… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.”6

The FAO FOOD PRICE INDEX (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

The FAO Food Price Index (United Nations) over the past 10 years has more than doubled, in nominal terms, and it is up over 50%, in real terms (accounting for inflation.) Ominously, the 23-year FAO Food Price Index graph shows worldwide prices traded in a basic range of 100-125, in real terms, from 1990 to 2006. Since then, it has been in a range of 125 to 175, in real terms. This new higher plateau in worldwide food prices most likely reflects abnormal agricultural conditions as exemplified by droughts and other embedded weather conditions, like floods. The FAO Food Price Index graph has the appearance of a bull market in the making, implying the distinct possibility of much higher food prices.

As it goes, and according to the above-referenced Council on Foreign Relations article, “You’re going to see the continuation of [political] instability driven in part by rapidly rising food prices. In 2008, we had food protests across much of the Middle East… Egypt is already spending about one-third of its subsidies on food, and it is draining the Egyptian foreign exchange reserve to continue those subsidies. This combination of an already mobilized population out on the streets demanding lots of different changes [in Egypt], and rising food prices is going to create a very unstable atmosphere.”

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.”7

Speaking at the International Food Safety Training Laboratory in York, England, Tim Benton, professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds and head of the UK’s Global Food Partnership said, “The probability of extreme weather to the extent that it will destroy any local agricultural production is increasing very, very rapidly… That is quite frightening because plants and production systems are adapted to produce food under normal circumstances. If the climate continues to change, we will get to the point where this will simply fall apart.”8

The prospect of food production getting to the point where “this will simply fall apart” in various locales of the world is unimaginable, but then again, it was not too many years ago when an ice-free Arctic was unimaginable. Changes in climate have a nasty habit of slowly creeping up on humanity until all of a sudden serious scientists are finally heard to say (after repeated warnings for years): We’ve got an emergency here. Take action now or starve. This is what is being said right now, but it is very difficult for people to absorb and fully appreciate the tenor of these clarion calls.

For inexplicable reasons, it does not seem possible that catastrophe will occur… in large measure, because people do not want to believe it! Also, it is too horrendous to seriously contemplate. Reading an article like this one may be interesting and entertaining, to a degree, but afterwards, people carry on with life, assuming the best.

Nevertheless, the reality is that Arctic ice is melting away at its fastest pace ever, which, in turn, prompts methane, which is 100 times more powerful than CO2, to spew into the atmosphere like gangbusters, all of which spells runaway global warming, and furthermore, as a very nasty prelude, freakish weather patterns threaten the world’s food supply.

What more can people do but carry on with everyday life. No, not true! People make the world go round, and they influence policies that directly cause an ice-free Arctic in the first instance. If people cause it, hopefully, they can fix it, and this is the message preached by AMEG. But, who is listening and who is taking an active role is the single biggest conundrum of the 21st century?

So far, steps to curb the ravages of climate change have been tiny baby steps, not big enough to tame a sleeping giant.

Excerpts of Letter Addressed to World Leaders from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:

-Emergency intervention to stabilize Arctic sea ice and thereby Arctic methane is today a matter of our survival.
-The latest research expedition to the region… witnessed methane plumes on a ‘fantastic scale’… to equal methane emissions from all the other oceans put together.
-The latest available data indicate there is a 5-10% possibility of the Arctic being ice free in September 2013, more likely 2015, and with 95% confidence by 2018. This, according to the recognized world authorities on Arctic sea ice, Prof. Wadhams and Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski, is the point of no return for summer sea ice. Once past this point, it could prove impossible to reverse the retreat by any kind of intervention.
-The conditions that have long been recognized as potentially causing vast quantities of methane to be released in the Arctic are clearly developing. The calamitous impacts of inaction are well-known – runaway climate change.

On a Positive Note: One Solution

The agricultural problems associated with extreme climate change are substantive; however, on a positive note, human ingenuity may offer a solution – Vertical Farms in cities. The world’s first commercial Vertical Farm is located in Singapore, built by Sky Greens Farms, producing one ton of fresh veggies every other day, which are sold in local supermarkets, and the produce is a hit with consumers! The farm consists of 120 aluminum towers thirty feet tall, like giant greenhouses, jutting into the sky. This is the world’s first low carbon hydraulic water-driven, tropical vegetable urban Vertical Farm, using minimal land, water and energy. Hopefully, ingenuity like this may help solve the world’s food problems in the face of impending extreme climate change, as dictated by a melting Arctic, but it will not resolve the onset of horrendous weather-related events.

Quote from astronaut Mike Collins (Apollo 11): “Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

  1. Alan Buls, Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, June 10, 2013. []
  2. Drought Affects 7.3 mln China Farmland Hectares,” April 3, 2013. []
  3. China’s Droughts Nears Worst in 200 Years, Adding Pressure to World Food Prices, Climate Progress, February 14, 2011. []
  4. Damian Carrington, Lack of Food Protection Spending Threatening UK Food Security, say MPs, The Guardian, July 4, 2013. []
  5. Farmers Brace for Major Losses from Central European Floods, EurActiv, June 7, 2013. []
  6. Isobel Coleman/Interview, U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices, Council on Foreign Relations, Aug. 2, 2012. []
  7. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell, Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops, Bloomberg, August 9, 2012. []
  8. Gary Scattergood, Extreme Weather ‘Likely’ to Wipe Out Food Production, Food Manufacture.co.uk, January 31, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

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