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

Archive for May, 2017|Monthly archive page

Report: Climate Change Estimated To Slash Major Crop Production Worldwide By 23% Over Next 30 Years

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Photo – Oxfam International/flickr

Oldspeak: “Hmm. 23% Less food for nearly 10 billion people equals a clusterfuck of monumental proportions. Resource wars, mass migration and mass mortality events become more probable. In fact, we’re bearing witness to 2 of 3 of those consequences as I type. As usual, the world’s poorest and least responsible for this planetary predicament are likely to be hit the hardest. With each passing day, the threats to “civilization” multiply, largely unnoticed by those most responsible for creating the threats. Sigh. Same fuckery, different day.” -OSJ

Written By Brian Bienkowsky @ The Daily Climate:

Extreme weather and temperature swings are estimated to cut production of major crops by 23 percent over the next 30 years, scientists warn.

Climate change, and its impacts on extreme weather and temperature swings, is projected to reduce global production of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans by 23 percent in the 2050s, according to a new analysis.

The study, which examined price and production of those four major crops from 1961 to 2013, also warns that by the 2030s output could be cut by 9 percent.

The findings come as researchers and world leaders continue to warn that food security will become an increasingly difficult problem to tackle in the face of rising temperatures and weather extremes, combining with increasing populations, and volatile food prices.

The negative impacts of climate change to farming were pretty much across the board in the new analysis. There were small production gains projected for Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in the 2030s, but by the 2050s, the models “are negative and more pronounced for all countries,” the researchers wrote in the study published this month in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

Lead author, Mekbib Haile, a senior researcher at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, said that an increase in average temperatures during the growing season isn’t projected to have much impact on the staple crops. But this is only true until that increase hits a certain “tipping point”, he said, which is about 89 degree Fahrenheit for these crops.

“Rising temperature at the two extremes—minimum temperature in the case of rice and maximum temperature in the case of corn—are detrimental to production of these crops,” he said.

In addition to temperature, extreme weather—including droughts and excessive rainfall—was predicted to slow production.

Haile’s study is one of two major studies this month reporting big impacts to major crops in the future. Just this week UC Davis researchers released a study in the Environmental Research Letters journal reporting that by the end of the century climate change is likely to cause France’s winter wheat yields to decrease 21 percent, winter barley yields to decrease by 17 percent and spring barley to decrease by about to 33 percent.

The reports are concerning as wheat and rice are two of the top calorie sources in the world, and decreases in such staple crops could add to the current total of 795 million people suffering from hunger and more than 2 billion people with nutrient deficiencies.

And there will be more mouths to feed as the world population is projected to grow by more than 2 billion, reaching about 9.7 billion people, by 2050.

Haile said some farming changes—such as improved irrigation or genetically modified crops, or more sustainable practices like increased organic production or tilling less—could help offset some climate-induced losses.

Agricultural crop production more than tripled between 1960 and 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ new report on the future of food and agriculture.

But farms will have to produce about 50 percent more food in 2050, and in some areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, output will have to more than double to meet increased demand from growing populations.

“Despite overall improvements in agricultural efficiency, yield increases are slowing due to climate change and so maintaining the historic pace of production increases may be difficult,” according to the FAO report.


The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering energy, the environment and climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski [at] EHN.org


Oceanographer: “The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound…” Ocean Oxygen Decline Greater Than Predicted

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2017 at 6:06 pm


Oldspeak: “From the department of Faster Than Expected, we find that one of the least studied of the ocean’s “deadly trio“, deoxygenation, is occuing 3 times faster than predicted. One of the “profound effects” scientists have observed is likely the continued collapse of the marine food chain resulting from the decline of its basis and producer of 70% of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, plankton. As Trump sucks up all the air in the room, the air gets more scarce worldwide. Couple this with recent reports that Global warming could breach 1.5c in less than ten years and what you have is a world of shit, friends.  And we’re alllll gonna have to take a bite. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

Written By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

Circulation changes caused by warming waters and melting polar ice are the most probable explanations for the rapidly falling levels of oxygen in the ocean.

LONDON, 10 May, 2017 US scientists who have been warning that warmer oceans are more likely to be poorer in dissolved oxygen have now sounded the alarm: ocean oxygen levels are indeed falling, and seemingly falling faster than the corresponding rise in water temperature.

That colder water can hold more dissolved gas than warmer water is a commonplace of physics: it is one reason why polar seas are teeming with marine life and tropical oceans are blue, clear and often relatively impoverished.

In 2013, an international consortium of marine scientists warned that oxygen levels in the oceans could fall by between 1% and 7% by the century’s end. And this could, other scientists predicted, lead to what they politely called “respiratory stress” for some marine life.

Ocean warming

Ocean ecologists in the US and Germany warned last year that parts of the deep oceans were already showing signs of oxygen deprivation with corresponding dead zones.

Earlier this year, another research group looked at the computer simulations for the years 1920 to 2100 and predicted that the hazards were likely to increase with warming.

Now the team have returned to the issue. They report in Geophysical Research Letters that they looked at data for the last 50 years and found the oxygen levels started dropping in the 1980s, as ocean temperatures began to climb and falling unexpectedly rapidly.

“The trend of oxygen falling is about two to three times faster than what we predicted from the decrease of solubility associated with ocean warming,” says Takamitsu Ito, of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who led the study.

“This is most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and the melting of polar ice.”

“If it is a warming signal, we should expect to see
continued widespread declines in oceanic O2.
The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound”

The sea’s oxygen content comes from air absorbed at the surface or released by phytoplankton photosynthesis, and carried deeper by ocean currents. But as water warms it becomes more buoyant, which means mixing with cooler subsurface waters becomes less likely. And melting ice delivers more fresh water to the ocean surface, which also interferes with the pattern of circulation.

“After the mid-2000s, this trend became apparent, consistent and statistically significant beyond the envelope of year-to-year fluctuations,” Dr Ito says. “The trends are particularly strong in the tropics, eastern margins of each basin and the sub-polar North Pacific.”

That the oceans are warming is well established. That the seas are becoming more acidic as extra carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions increases in the atmosphere is now widely accepted.

Oxygen loss

That the oceans are at risk of oxygen loss is harder to establish: the oceans cover seven-tenths of the planet, and systematic study of the oceans began only relatively recently. And, of course, such research is bedevilled by natural patterns of local variation: it becomes harder to make any link with manmade global warming.

But, the researchers conclude, “the evidence is consistent with anthropogenic warming acting as the primary driver of long-term trends in ocean O2. The trends we document are suggestive of the effects of warming beginning to supersede natural variability and emerge as a recognisable signal.”

And, they add: “If it is a warming signal, we should expect to see continued widespread declines in oceanic O2. The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound.” Climate News Network


The Absurd Economics Of 7.5 Billion People On One Planet

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2017 at 7:13 pm


Oldspeak: “Population overshoot is behind many of our most pressing economic problems. But the best intelligent response faces terrible obstacles….Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.

Don’t think America is immune, either. The Southwest is at population overshoot and directly in the path of climate change. Possibly the Southeast, too, beyond soon-to-be-submerged Florida.” –Jon Talton

“Population overshoot. Two of the most undesirable words one could ever utter in a globalized consumer culture predicated on buying ever more stuff and having ever more babies to plug in to the hyperconsumption matrix and perpetually restart the cycle. (closely followed by two other most undesirable words; ecological overshoot.) These conditions are unsustainable and omnicidal. At some point there’s likely to be a global regime shift to a significantly less hospitable state than present conditions. That regime shift is quite possibly underway now, one need only witness the disintergration of the cryosphere, worldwide…  As time passes and irreplaceable resources dwindle, these words will be harder to avoid saying. There is no infinite exponential growth on a finite planet. In my view, the economics of 7.5 billion people on one planet point to one outcome, 2 more undesirable words; population dieback. ” –OSJ

Written By Jon Talton @ The Seattle Times:

Population overshoot is behind many of our most pressing economic problems. But the best intelligent response faces terrible obstacles.

The most disheartening story in today’s Seattle Times today is about the 38 million pieces of trash, almost all plastic, strewn on remote and uninhabited Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean. When some future alien starship discovers post-apocalyptic Earth, their first impression will be, “What a bunch of slobs once lived here.”

This story can be told in many ways: A runaway consumer culture, globalization and the 10,000-mile supply chain, more affluence even in developing nations, environmental catastrophe from polluting the oceans. But don’t forget the latest estimate of the planet’s population: 7.5 billion. At the turn of the 19th century, it was only 1 billion. It took more than another century to add another billion. Since then, the billions have been piling on with astonishing speed. The world held “only” a little more than 6 billion in 2000.

Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.Don’t think America is immune, either. The Southwest is at population overshoot and directly in the path of climate change. Possibly the Southeast, too, beyond soon-to-be-submerged Florida. They’ll be moving here in the coming decades unless they go back to the Midwest and Northeast (so our mantra must be: “Seattle, it’s cold and rainy all the time”).

The most constructive response is to have societies where women have control over their bodies, including having access to birth control and abortion. Yet we have reached this population crisis at the same moment as religious fundamentalism has revived and, in many places, muscled out or exterminated moderate opposition. Women are considered little more than baby-making chattel in many nations, the ones that most need lower populations. This, as much as advances in medicine and agriculture, is to blame for population overshoot.

President Trump revived the Reagan-era ban on foreign aid for organizations that offer counseling on family planning that includes abortion. A powerful faction in the Republican Party also opposes most forms of birth control. Trump and the GOP show a curious lack of care for the fetus once it is born and needs, say, health care. Interestingly, abortion rates have declined sharply in advanced nations. In the United States, it is at the lowest level since the procedure was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Conservatives such as William F. Buckley used to argue that every new life was an asset, not a cost. And people of good will can certainly disagree over abortion. But when the new lives are born into radicalized traditional societies, where is their opportunity? And whatever the argument over abortion, the United States and advanced nations should be doing more to make birth control available in the developing world and advance the rights of women (offending our powerful Saudi “allies”). Nations with a modicum of freedom for women prosper…and birth rates go down. Those same nations turn economics from a zero-sum game into wide prosperity and breakthroughs.

Henderson Island is another marker for the slow crisis enveloping our larger common island in the black outland of space, and we have no lifeboats.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Wall Street just woke up

Bullish greed is put on hold

While Don gores himself





“It may well be one of the first epidemics because of global warming” : Climate Change Major Factor In Turning Dehydration Into A Deadly Disease

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

© Brett Gundlock/Boreal Collective

Oldspeak: “Climate change brings dire predictions of extreme weather and sea-level rise in the future, but it is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations right now, he says. And although heat exposure can affect the body in many ways, our kidneys are in the first line of attack, as their role is to keep electrolytes within the normal range and blood volume stable. “We predict the kidney is going to be one of the prime targets as heat increases.” 

Researchers currently classify the new form of chronic kidney disease as ‘climate-sensitive’, which means that climate is one ingredient contributing to the epidemic. As temperatures continue to rise, many such climate-sensitive diseases will become climate-driven, and monitoring and bringing attention to them will become even more crucial.” –Jane Palmer

“Mmm. Chronic kidney disease, brought on by chronic dehydration and re-hydration with sugary drinks and not water. Look for this epidemic to propagate as temperatures rise. I imagine if the studies done among poor outdoor workers in Central America and Mexico were conducted among similar workers in the mid latitudes around the world, similar results would be found. Poor people globally have limited access to clean water and in many cases the water they do have access to is contaminated.  Then you add to the mix rising temperatures, debilitating drought, and re-hydrating with basically artificially sweetened and acidified water that makes for a deadly situation among people who spend lots of time outdoors engaged in strenuous activity in earth’s mid-latitudes.” –OSJ

Written By Jane Palmer @ Mosaic Science:

By 10am in the sugarcane fields outside the town of Tierra Blanca in El Salvador, the mercury is already pushing 31°C. The workers arrived at dawn: men and women, young and old, wearing thick jeans, long-sleeved shirts and face scarves to prevent being scorched by the sun’s rays. They are moving quickly between rows of cane, bending, reaching, clipping and trimming in preparation for harvesting the crop in the weeks to come. In the scant shade, old Pepsi and Fanta bottles full of water swing from tree branches, untouched. Gulping only the thick air, the workers won’t stop until noon, when their shift is over.

Among them is 25-year-old Jesús Linares. His dream, he explains in English, was to be a language teacher, but like many Salvadoran children he went to work to help support his parents and siblings. Aged eight, he learned to hide in the towering canes whenever the police sought out underage workers; since then, he’s tended sugarcane from dawn to noon and then pigs until dusk. In the evenings, he tries to listen to English audio programmes or read a language book, but for the last year he’s been too tired to concentrate. So tired, in fact, that a few months ago he visited the Tierra Blanca clinic. Blood tests revealed that Linares was in the early stages of chronic kidney disease.

It’s a familiar story here in the Bajo Lempa region, where recent studies suggest that up to 25 per cent of its nearly 20,000 inhabitants have chronic kidney disease. Across El Salvador, kidney failure is the leading cause of hospital deaths in adults. But while chronic kidney disease is most commonly caused by hypertension and diabetes, two-thirds of patients in Bajo Lempa don’t have either of those conditions and the cause of their illness remains uncertain.

Scientists have identified certain key themes. The majority of people with the unexplained disease are men, and it strikes predominantly in hot, humid regions where people are engaged in strenuous outdoor labour: farming, fishing or construction work. Dehydration, which seems an obvious factor, causes acute kidney disease that is easily reversed by drinking water, rather than this chronic form. This has left two burning questions: what causes this new form of kidney disease, and will it be likely to spread as the world gets warmer?

Meanwhile, in El Salvador over the last two decades, more and more patients have arrived at clinics and hospitals, often taxing them to their limit. Many people, unable to get treatment, simply return to their homes to die.

“This is really a silent massacre,” says Ramón García-Trabanino, a Salvadoran kidney specialist.

The patients at the Hospital Nacional Rosales in San Salvador all have the same story: until three months ago they were perfectly fine. Most of them had never seen a doctor in their life before, and had ignored any early signs of ill health this time as well. The turning point came only when they were too sick to work.

Working hard lies at the heart of Salvadoran culture. During the 1980–92 civil war, the armed forces carried out a scorched-earth strategy, targeting the civilian population in the countryside to remove any possible support base for the rebels. Tens of thousands died and a quarter of the populace fled. When peace finally came, the rural communities were able to return to their land, which was parcelled out to cooperatives, industry and independent farmers. For the survivors, the only way forward was to work, and work hard, to overcome other challenges that peace could not resolve.

At 8,124 square miles, El Salvador is one of the world’s smallest countries, yet within its boundaries lie endless stretches of coastline, mountain ranges and an abundance of agricultural lowlands, which owe their fertility to rich volcanic soil. There are 23 volcanoes in El Salvador, standing over the cities and central plateaus like guardians. In 2013, people in the San Miguel province fled their homes when the Chaparrastique volcano began spewing hot ash and smoke into the air.

Volcanoes aren’t the only natural hazard. The country sits right where the western part of the Caribbean Plate overrides the Cocos Plate, making it one of the most seismologically active regions on earth. In 2001, two earthquakes south-west of San Miguel killed at least 1,000 people and destroyed or damaged nearly 300,000 homes.

Such challenges only add to the determination to work hard, and in keeping with this cultural work ethic, many agricultural labourers don’t admit to getting ill, even to themselves. But kidney disease is a sneaky opponent. It can totally destroy one kidney while the individual remains blissfully unaware. Only in the final stages of the disease do the workers get a hint that all is not well, and by the time they arrive at the emergency ward, they are dying.

García-Trabanino started a fellowship at the Rosales hospital as a young doctor in 1998, and what he encountered resembled a scene from a battlefield. He had expected to be treating heart disease, neurological patients, eye problems – the full gamut of medical conditions. Instead all he encountered were men dying – sometimes slowly, but usually quickly – from kidney failure. They came in such numbers that they overwhelmed the beds and spilled into the corridors.

“Sometimes, even with [our] obsolete dialysis techniques, we managed to get some of them to survive a night. A day. A week,” he says. Most died within a month, however, and no one seemed interested in finding out why, or even how many cases there were. So García-Trabanino and a colleague started counting them, one by one, at the door of the emergency ward until, after a few months, their count reached more than 200. The Ministry of Health in El Salvador didn’t follow up on their findings, but it did grant the doctors a medal, which garnered media attention.

“The next month people from the social organisations of the coastlands came,” García-Trabanino recalls. The visitors told him stories of years of living with unexplained deaths among their otherwise healthy young people. Every other week they had to burn the dead.

“You’ve just discovered what we have been living for years,” they said. “Tell me, doctor, what is the cure?” He had no answer.

Today, the hospital has 1,000 cases of chronic kidney disease, with more than 30 new patients arriving each month. “But we only have resources for half of them,” says Ricardo Leiva, head of the nephrology unit. By the time the new victims arrive they typically need dialysis, but the waiting list is long. Sometimes the nephrologists can administer peritoneal dialysis instead, using a hard plastic tube inserted into the belly by surgery. “It is an old technique that is not being used anywhere else in the world,” says Leiva. “But we need it.”

Back in Tierra Blanca, Juan Pablo Paniagua, a lean 60-year-old with a permanent toothy grin, talks about how the disease caught him totally by surprise. Working in the cornfields since he was a boy, then as a fisherman, he felt fine until seven years ago. “Then your body starts feeling something strange. You don’t know what it is,” he says. “You don’t feel any kind of pain, but you feel like you are slowly decaying.”

Paniagua received dialysis three times a week for two and a half years. After that, he was unable to pay for the regimen, which typically runs to about $120 for a single blood-cleansing session. So the doctors showed him how to take care of a catheter in his abdomen and instructed him in how to do peritoneal dialysis at home. “I’ve had moments of nearly dying but,” he says, “once I started dialysis, I realised that I was actually improving.”

Early in 2016, 32-year-old José Luis Morales, a healthy-looking man with a footballer’s physique, began to feel cramps in his legs and became so weak he couldn’t pick up a glass of water. Morales works as a truck driver in Chalatenango, a humid lowland area in northern El Salvador and another hotspot for chronic kidney disease. Unable to work, he went to San Salvador to see García-Trabanino.

“He had the classic picture of this disease,” García-Trabanino says. “He is not diabetic, he is not hypertensive. He is young without any past medical history.” Blood tests revealed low potassium and high uric acid levels, which García-Trabanino treated with medication. Currently in stage two of the disease, Morales will need to take medication for the rest of his life. “We can’t revive or bring back to life the lost kidney tissue, but we can take care of what is left,” says García-Trabanino.

Chronic kidney disease destroys kidney tissue until it can no longer filter waste from the blood. Without dialysis, this can lead to high blood pressure, weakness, dizziness and a host of other symptoms. But while diabetic kidney disease damages the glomeruli, the tiny units that clean the blood, the new form destroys the renal tubules, where urine is made and transported, and the interstitium, which surrounds the other structures in the kidneys and helps maintain the right balance of fluid. This is the same pattern of damage caused by some toxins, and because the new disease hit the agricultural communities so heavily, García-Trabanino suspected that exposure to herbicides and insecticides might be to blame.

To investigate, he teamed up with the Emergency Social Fund for Health in Tierra Blanca, as well as with Emmanuel Jarquín, an occupational health and safety consultant. Together, they investigated the incidence of chronic kidney disease in agricultural labourers in the lowlands, and compared them with similar workers in a region 500 metres above sea level. In the latter group, however, they found almost no cases of the mysterious disease. “They were working the same crops and using the same chemicals, but they were not getting sick,” García-Trabanino says. “We were clueless.”

The physicians began to wonder if they were just seeing a local problem, as most of the patients in Rosales hospital had come from the Bajo Lempa region. So Jesús Domínguez, a Spanish volunteer physician in Tierra Blanca, went on a mission. Renting a car and equipment, he drove from Mexico to Nicaragua, stopping by fields and taking urine samples from outdoor labourers toiling under the sun. His study indicated that many of the workers were already in the first stages of chronic kidney disease.

Far from being local, says García-Trabanino, “we realised the problem was bigger than we thought, and it was all across Central America and southern Mexico”.

Richard J Johnson, a kidney specialist at the University of Colorado, helped organise the World Congress of Nephrology in Canada in 2011. There, he learned about the strange new form of chronic kidney disease spreading through Central America. Researchers from various countries were beginning to get together and discuss the evidence. Like others, Johnson began to think about possible causes.

His own research was focused on the sugar fructose – identifying its role in obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. When a person eats fructose, the liver bears most of the brunt, but some of the sugar eventually ends up in the kidney. With each meal, fructose enters the kidney tubules, where it is metabolised into uric acid and causes oxidative stress, both of which can damage the kidney.

At first, Johnson thought people in the sugarcane fields could be eating so much of the plant itself that they were generating high levels of uric acid and oxidative stress in their kidneys. But, he calculated, even sucking on sugarcane all day wouldn’t produce enough fructose to cause disease. Then he discovered that, under certain conditions, the body processes regular carbohydrates to make its own fructose. And one of the triggers of this deadly alchemy is simple dehydration.

Until that point, nephrologists had thought that dehydration could only cause acute kidney injury, but Johnson’s findings put a new spin on the role of insufficient water intake. Could dehydration day in, day out be causing continuous fructose overproduction that, in turn, could be leading to long-term kidney damage?

Johnson took his theory to the lab, where his team put mice in chambers and exposed them to hours of heat at a stretch. One group of mice was allowed to drink unlimited water throughout the experience, while a second group had water only in the evenings. Within five weeks the mice with a restricted water intake developed chronic kidney disease. During the day, loss of salt and water caused the mice to produce high levels of fructose, and crystals of uric acid would sometimes form as water levels dropped in their urine. When the scientists disabled the gene that metabolises fructose and repeated the experiment, neither group developed chronic kidney disease.

Johnson took these results to a meeting of the Program on Health and Work in Central America, or SALTRA, in Costa Rica in 2012, where they caught the attention of García-Trabanino: “I was astonished. His animal models were absolutely in line with our findings.”

The two collaborated to investigate the biochemical effects of dehydration on workers in the fields of El Salvador. Levels of uric acid started high in the morning and increased throughout the day. “Some patients just had sheets of uric acid crystals in their urine,” Johnson says.

From these studies, Johnson believes that heat stress and dehydration drive the production of fructose and vasopressin, which also damages the kidney. However, he believes that another mechanism may also play a part in the epidemic: rehydration with sugary drinks. Frequently, not trusting the quality of local drinking water, workers drink sodas and soft drinks, and experimental evidence suggests that doing so can lead to even more kidney damage.

“At this stage, that heat stress and dehydration might be causing this problem is still a hypothesis,” Johnson admits. “Although it is a strong one.”

Each month, in the blistering afternoon heat, men sporting cowboy hats or baseball caps and women wearing short frilly aprons over their dresses gather at the Centro Cultural Monseñor Romero in Tierra Blanca. Seated in a shady area next to a garden overgrown with tropical plants, the 40-odd throng hold bottles of water provided for the occasion.

On a makeshift table, a volunteer nurse straps the inflatable cuff of a blood pressure monitor on thick arms, skinny arms, arms hardened by years of labour, wrinkled arms softened by old age. Amid the ministrations, raising his voice to drown out the chaos and laughter of children learning traditional dances nearby, Julio Miranda, the imposing leader of the Emergency Social Fund for Health, takes centre stage: “If you want to tell your experience, it will bring benefit to the community,” he says.

One by one, men and women stand to tell their stories. As they talk, heads nod in assent, some ask questions. But in true El Salvadoran style, despite the gravity of the accounts, good-humoured jibes prevail alongside the murmurs of empathy.

For Santos Coreas, an emaciated 57-year-old man who has worked in the fields since his teenage years, the money he receives from his sons working in the USA is the difference between life and death. It pays for his weekly haemodialysis, although that still falls short of the recommended three-times-a-week regime. His wife quickly interjects: “We can’t afford more; we do what we can.”

In El Salvador, social security benefits cover health costs for only a quarter of the population. Private, military and teachers’ schemes cover a further 5 per cent, and the Ministry of Health provides public healthcare to the remaining 70 per cent, according to García-Trabanino. From 2004 to 2013, in this area, 271 patients reached end-stage renal disease, the point at which the only options are dialysis or death. Only a third of them received any type of dialysis, a quarter of these relying on El Salvador’s largest source of income: relatives sending money home from abroad.

Of the 235 patients who relied on the public health system, many didn’t have access to dialysis or were afraid of outdated techniques that are associated with a high death toll. Transport costs to and from the city for treatment often proved beyond their means, too. Only 12 of these people were alive one year after diagnosis.

“You need dialysis or transplantation or you die, and we lose one or two people from this region every week,” García-Trabanino says. “It’s poverty, not the disease, that kills them.”

But dialysis isn’t the only line of defence if you can act early enough. For Rogelio Sánchez, a bout of ocmore than 10 years ago indirectly saved his life. Blood tests revealed his kidneys were in the early stages of chronic disease and, since then, medication has stopped the disease from progressing.

Sánchez has come to the meeting today with one of his four sons, Henry, a doe-eyed and healthy-looking boy who appears much younger than his 23 years. Five years ago, Henry started to feel sick and blood tests revealed that he also had the new form of chronic kidney disease. García-Trabanino, who is a volunteer physician at the meetings, prescribed a drug to boost his potassium levels, along with potassium and calcium supplements, and advised Henry to seriously reduce his football playing, avoid sun exposure and drink lots of water. Like his father, Henry now has the disease under control.

In 2006, the Emergency Social Fund for Health started taking blood samples from all the locals. In 6,000 samplings since, they have found 1,500 people in various stages of the disease. Only 100 have died, and these were workers already in the final stage. For the others, early diagnosis and medication can keep end-stage disease at bay for decades. This requires funding, however. Unsupported by the government, the organisation relies on donations. But in recent years, the number of people who need such treatment has continued to rise.

For Johnson, a clue as to why the epidemic is escalating came from a disturbing occurrence during his research with García-Trabanino. One day, when the field researchers were measuring uric acid levels, only seven workers showed up for work. “But they all had uric acid crystals in their urine. All of them,” Johnson says. “It was bad news for these seven.”

Alarmed, he contacted the lead investigator of the study, who felt that the team should ignore the finding as so few workers had turned up that morning. “But I said that maybe this is the most interesting group, because 100 per cent of the workers got it that day.”

He looked up the weather and found out that it had, in fact, been the hottest day of the year at the study location. “Suddenly a really, really big heatwave came in and the workers weren’t ready,” he says. “They went out because they were expecting it to be a relatively normal day and they got hit.”

Instead of his usual fare of nephrology and diabetes papers, Johnson began to pore over global maps of climate and solar radiation. The rise in average temperatures over the last few years in Central America had been incremental, but the number of extreme events had gone up disproportionately. “And, by gosh, the areas that have the highest solar radiation and heatwaves are overlapping the places right where the epidemics are.”

He contacted climate experts at the nearby National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. They verified and finessed his original discovery, and the team published an assessment report in May 2016, which suggested a connection between climate change and the epidemic. Johnson says it “may well be one of the first epidemics because of global warming”.

Climate change brings dire predictions of extreme weather and sea-level rise in the future, but it is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations right now, he says. And although heat exposure can affect the body in many ways, our kidneys are in the first line of attack, as their role is to keep electrolytes within the normal range and blood volume stable. “We predict the kidney is going to be one of the prime targets as heat increases.”

Researchers currently classify the new form of chronic kidney disease as ‘climate-sensitive’, which means that climate is one ingredient contributing to the epidemic. As temperatures continue to rise, many such climate-sensitive diseases will become climate-driven, and monitoring and bringing attention to them will become even more crucial.

“Climate change is not like a new thing, it has been here for a long time,” says Emmanuel Jarquín, who has seen the impacts of rising temperatures on farmers in El Salvador. Already the country has had hotter summers and longer, drier winters. Coffee plantations, usually between 600 and 1,000 meters above sea level, where ideal cool conditions exist for the crop, have shrunk upwards towards the top of the hillsides. The heat has also increased the number of pests and droughts, and some farmers have begun to swap coffee for cocoa trees.

And while climate change isn’t the root cause of the new chronic kidney disease, it is making it a lot worse, he says. “It will hit the poor people harder. It starts as a little problem and it will grow and grow and grow.”

For the people of El Salvador, then, this is yet another life-threatening obstacle to work hard to overcome. Living under constant threat from earthquakes and volcanoes, but also gang violence, political unrest and poverty, they have developed a strong defence mechanism: a forceful loyalty to family, community and fellow countrymen. “Even taking into account the conditions we live in, we still believe in good things and we are fighters,” says Jarquín. “We always try to do good things, against all odds.”

References and resources

A recent article by García-Trabanino, Johnson and colleagues sets out the link between climate change and the new form of chronic kidney disease.

The Nefrolempa study published results of its investigation into chronic kidney disease in the Bajo Lempa region in 2011. (In Spanish, with an English abstract.)

The Emergency Social Fund for Health (FSES) published results of its 10-year research in the same region in 2016. (In Spanish, with an English abstract.)

For García-Trabanino, the towering volcanoes have come to symbolise what it means to be El Salvadoran: “I used to think we were stupid people when I was younger, to build under the volcanoes,” he says. “But then I realised they were everywhere.” But living underneath the volcanoes gives people both an appreciation of life – because they can die any day – and a sense of strength.

“We have survived the civil war, earthquakes and volcanoes, but El Salvadorans fight, and they will fight again.”

The Human Ecological Predicament: Wages Of Self-Delusion

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2017 at 6:33 pm

With resource consumption and waste production outpacing nature’s capacity to keep up, humanity is on a precariously unbalanced path. Balance by Maik Meid | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Oldspeak: “Yep. What he’s said. Unfortunately, for us, there is no “alternative plan that similarly promises ecological stability, economic security, social equity and improved population health to future generations Not likely there will be, leaving aside the discussion of whether such a plan is even fucking possible at this point.  The Plan, in my view, is for our Transnational Corporate Network overseers to bleed us, and all of this muthafuckin planet dry. Smash & Grab. On a global scale. Come what may.” -OSJ

Written By William E. Reese @ Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere

Techno-industrial society is in dangerous ecological overshoot—the human ecological footprint is at least 60% larger than the planet can support sustainably (Wackernagel et al. 2002; Rees 2013; WWF 2016). The global economy is using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate and filling waste sinks beyond nature’s capacity to assimilate (Steffen et al. 2007; Rockström et al. 2009; Barnosky et al. 2012). (Even climate change is a waste management problem—carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight of industrial economies.) Despite the accumulating evidence of impending crisis, the world community seems incapable of responding effectively. This situation is clearly unsustainable and, if present trends continue, will likely lead in this century to runaway climate change, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and therefore diminished prospects for continued civilized existence (Tainter 1987; Diamond 2005; Turner 2014; Motesharrei et al. 2014).

The proximate drivers are excess economic production/consumption and over-population—human impact on the ecosphere is a product of population multiplied by average per capita consumption—exacerbated by an increasingly global compound myth of perpetual economic growth propelled by continuous technological progress (Victor 2008; Rees 2013). While there is evidence of some ‘decoupling’ of economic production from nature, this is often an artifact of faulty accounting and trade (e.g., wealthy countries are ‘off-shoring’ their ecological impacts onto poorer countries).  Overall, economic throughput (energy and material consumption and waste production) is increasing with population and GDP growth (Wiedmann et al 2013; Giljum et al. 2014). Consequently, carbon dioxide is accumulating at an accelerating rate in the atmosphere (NOAA 2017) and the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 sequentially shared the distinction of being the warmest years in the instrumental record (Hansen et al. 2017).

There is widespread general support for the notion of ‘clean production and consumption’ but in present circumstances, this must soon translate into less production and consumption by fewer people (Rees 2014). It complicates matters that modern society remains highly dependent on abundant cheap energy still mostly supplied by carbon-based fuels. Despite rapid technological advances and falling costs, it is still not clear that renewable energy alternatives, including wind and photovoltaic electricity, can replace fossil fuels in such major uses as transportation and space/water heating in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective carbon sequestration technologies, reducing fossil fuel use remains essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change. Resolving this energy-climate conundrum will require major conservation efforts, the prioritizing of essential non-substitutable uses of fossil fuels and the banning of frivolous ones.

At the same time, this is a world of chronic gross social inequity which greatly erodes population health and social cohesion (Wilkinson and Pickett 2010).  According to Oxfam (2017), the world’s richest eight billionaires possess the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the human family. More generally, the richest quintile of humanity takes home about 70% of global income compared to just 2% by the poorest fifth of the population (Ortiz and Cummins 2011).

Higher incomes enable the citizens of high income countries to consume, on average, several times their equitable share of global biocapacity while denizens of poor countries are unable to claim a fair allocation of Earth’s bounty (WWF 2016). This situation is egregiously unjust, socially destabilizing and ecologically precarious.

The major social implications of these realities should be self-evident. In a rational world, the global community (e.g., the United Nations, the World Bank/IMF) would cease promoting material growth as the primary solution to both north-south inequity and chronic poverty within nations. On a finite planet already in overshoot it is not biophysically possible to raise the material standards of the poor to those of the rich sustainably—i.e., without destroying the ecosphere, undermining life-support functions and precipitating the collapse of global society. The reasoning is simple. Because they facilitate growth and (over)consumption, globalization and trade have enabled many densely-populated high-income countries (e.g., most Western European nations and Japan) to greatly exceed their domestic carrying capacities.  These nations live mostly on imported biocapacity—they are running ‘ecological deficits’ with other nations and the global commons (Rees 2013, WWF 2016). Not every country can be a net importer of bio-resources, so the development path worn by so-called ‘First-world nations’ cannot be followed by developing countries. (Note that the bloated eco-footprints of many high-income countries make them effectively more over-populated than are poorer countries with nominally higher population densities.)  In particular, it is irresponsible for the governments of high-income countries to treat economic growth as the panacea for all that ails them.

The evidence argues instead that the world community should cooperate on redistribution, on devising methods to share the benefits of development more equitably. (Unsustainability is a collective problem that requires collective solutions.) Contrary to politicians’ assertions, there is an unavoidable conflict between material economic growth and ‘the environment’. The larger the human enterprise, the more diminished the ecosphere. H. sapiens has competitively displaced countless other species from their habitats and food resources. From only one percent 10,000 years ago, humans and their domestic livestock had grown to comprise over 97% of Earth’s mammalian biomass by 2000 (Smil 2011). This number may be closer to 98.5% in 2017.

The goal should be to enhance the material well-being of developing countries and the poor while simultaneously reducing both aggregate material throughput and world population. Ensuring an economically secure and ecologically stable environment for all requires:

1. that rich nations consume less to free up the ecological space needed for justifiable consumption increases in poorer countries (BCSD 1993; Moore and Rees 2013); and

2. that the world implement a universal population management plandesigned to reduce the total human population to a level that can be supported indefinitely at a more-than-satisfactory average material standard. This is what it means to ‘live sustainably within the means of nature’ (Rees 2014).

Fortunately, planned degrowth (Kerschner 2010; Gheorghică 2012) toward a quasi steady-state economy (Daly 1991, 2008) is technically possible (von Weizsäcker et al. 2009), would benefit the poor and could be achieved while improving overall quality of life even in high-income countries (Victor 2008).  Considering the human suffering that would be avoided and number of non-human species that would be preserved, it is also a morally compelling strategy.

Obviously, the foregoing diagnosis is anathema to the prevailing growth ethic, the belief that well-being is a linear function of income, and political correctness pertaining to population policy. Many will therefore object on grounds that the foregoing prescription is politically unfeasible and can never be implemented.

They may well be correct. The problem is that what is politically feasible is often ecologically irrelevant. Effective sustainability policy must be consistent with available scientific evidence; ‘alternative facts’ are mere self-delusion. Failure to implement a global sustainability plan that addresses excess consumption and over-population while ensuring greater social equity may well be fatal to the human prospect. Indeed, adherence to any variant of the status quo promises a future of uncontrollable climate change, plummeting biodiversity, civil disorder, geopolitical turmoil and resource wars. In the circumstances, opponents of the present prescription have an obligation to propose an alternative plan that similarly promises ecological stability, economic security, social equity and improved population health to future generations.


William E. Rees, PhD, FRSC wrees@mail.ubc.ca is a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC. Rees originated and co-developed ecological footprint analysis, which is described in the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.

Literature cited

Barnosky, A.D. et al. (2012) Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature 486: 52-58. doi:10.1038/nature11018.

BCSD (1993) Getting eco-efficient. Report of the BCSD First Antwerp Eco-Efficiency Workshop, November 1993. Geneva: Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Daly, H. (1991) Steady-State Economics (second ed.) Washington: Island Press

Daly, H. (2008) A Steady-State Economy. Presentation to the UK Sustainable Development Commission (24 April 2008). Accessed 17 January 2017.

Diamond, J. (2005) Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed. Viking (US) / Allen Lane (UK).

Gheorghică, A.E. (2012) The Emergence of La Décroissanse. CES Working Papers, IV (1),  Iași, Romania:  Centre for European Studies, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University.

Giljum, S., M. Dittrich, M. Lieber, and S. Lutter (2014) Global Patterns of Material Flows and their Socio-Economic and Environmental Implications: A MFA Study on All Countries World-Wide from 1980 to 2009. Resources 3: 319-339, doi:10.3390/resources3010319 resources ISSN 2079-9276

Hansen, J., Satoa, M., Ruedyb, R., Schmidt G.A. , Lob,K.,  Persin, A. (2017) Global Temperature in 2016. New York: Columbia University Earth Instutute. Accessed 18 January 2017.

Kerschner, C. (2010)  Economic de-growth vs. steady-state economy.  Journal of Cleaner Production 18:  544–551.

Moore, J. and W.E. Rees (2013) Getting to One Planet Living, Chapter 4 in State of the World 2013 – Is Sustainability Still Possible? Washington: World Resources Institute.

Motesharrei, S.,  J. Rivas, E. Kalnay (2014) Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics 101: 90–102.

NOAA (2017) Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth System Research Laboratory  (Global Monitoring Division). Accessed 25 January 2017.

Ortiz, I. and M Cummins. 2011. Global Inequality: Beyond the Bottom Billion – A Rapid Review of Income Distribution in 141 Countries.  New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Oxfam (2017) An Economy for the 99%: It’s time to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few. Oxford, UK: Oxfam GB for Oxfam International.

Rees, W.E. (2013) Ecological Footprint, Concept of.  In S.A Levin (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, second edition, Volume 2, pp. 701-713. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.

Rees, W.E. (2014). Avoiding Collapse — An agenda for sustainable degrowth and relocalizing the economy. Vancouver, BC: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Accessed 25 December 2016.

Rockström, J. et al. (2009) A safe operating space for humanity.  Nature 461: 472-475 (24 September 2009) | doi:10.1038/461472a.

Smil, V. (2011) Harvesting the Biosphere. Population and Development Review 37 (4) 613-636. Accessed 7 February 2017.

Steffen, W.,  P. J. Crutzen and J.R. McNeill (2007) The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature? Ambio 36 (8): 614 – 621 (December 2007).

Tainter, J. (1988) The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Turner, G. (2014)  Is Global Collapse Imminent?  MSSI Research Paper No. 4. Melbourne: Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.

Victor, P.A. (2008) Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

von Weizsäcker, E.U., K. Hargroves, M.H. Smith, C. Desha, P. Stasinopoulos (2009). Factor Five: Transforming the Global Economy through 80% Improvements in Resource Productivity. London: Earthscan.

Wackernagel, M., N.B. Schulz, D. Deumling, A.C. Linares, M. Jenkins, V. Kapos, C. Monfreda, J. Loh, N. Myers, R. Norgaard, J. Randers (2002) Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99: 9266–927.

Wiedmann, T.O., H. Schandl, M. LenzenD. Moran, S. Suh, J. West , and K. Kanemoto (2013) The material footprint of nations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112: 6271–6276, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1220362110.

Wilkinson, R. and K. Pickett (2010) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London:  Penguin Books.

WWF (2016) Living Planet Report 2016. Gland, Switzerland: Worldwide Fund for Nature.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/human-eco-predicament/

The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.

“Wavenumber 6” Persists: Early May Weather Pattern To Be Especially Extreme In Northern Hemisphere

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2017 at 2:30 pm

The weather pattern across the U.S. will feature a big West and East Coast trough (blue) and Central U.S. ridge (orange). Image: weatherbell analytics

Oldspeak: “Global weirding continues. Polar Vortexin. In May. Welcome to the new normal. Is it me, does this weather pattern look similar to the one that persists during Polar Vortex events during the winter? Sigh. Anyway, while the U.S. Northeast experiences an unseasonably cool spring,  the really bad news in this piece is this: “unseasonably mild weather is projected to envelop Greenland and parts of Canada, potentially initiating an early start to the ice melt season there and melting remaining snow cover in Alberta and Nunavut.” That means, accelerated glacial melting, less ice to reflect solar energy, increased permafrost melt, more methane clathrate releases, and more planetary warming.  No Bueno.” –OSJ


Written By Andrew Freedman @ Mashable:

During the course of the next 10 days or more, the weather pattern across the Northern Hemisphere will feature an undulating, wavy jet stream that will be stuck in place, with storms backed up like cars on an interstate highway at rush hour.

Large dips in the jet stream, which is the narrow current of fast-flowing air at high altitudes that plays a crucial role in creating and steering weather systems, will lead to prolonged periods of cool, wet weather across the West and East Coasts of the U.S. Snow is even possible in parts of the Northeast U.S. during the second week of May. (Seriously.)

At the same time, unseasonably mild weather is projected to envelop Greenland and parts of Canada, potentially initiating an early start to the ice melt season there and melting remaining snow cover in Alberta and Nunavut.

And this is just part of the story. Extremes will also occur further east, across Europe, Russia, and eastern Asia.

The particular weather pattern that’s shaping up is known as a wavenumber 6 pattern, named for the six large north-south dips in the jet stream, arrayed around the hemisphere. (To understand why this is called “wavenumber 6,” just count the number of jet stream troughs, shown in blue, in the Tweet above. These are associated with relatively cool air and storminess.)

Recent studies have tied historic extreme events to this weather pattern, particularly during the summer months.

A recent study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, proposes a link between more frequent high-amplitude, stuck weather patterns (and their associated extreme events) during the summer, with Arctic climate change. The hypothesis there is that Arctic warming has been increasing the odds in favor of slower-moving, undulating jet stream patterns.

10-day animation of global weather pattern evolution.
10-day animation of global weather pattern evolution.

Image: weatherbell analytics

You can think of these atmospheric dips and ridges like towering waves in the ocean, with the quasi-resonance akin to standing waves that form in the vicinity of rocks or other obstacles below the surface and where currents mix together.

Past studies have tied two particularly deadly extreme events — the 2003 European heat wave and the 2010 Russian heat wave and wildfires — to persistent, or “quasi-resonant,” high-amplitude jet stream waves such as the ones that computer models project will line up around the world in the next several days.

This does not guarantee that there will be a devastating weather event somewhere, nor does it prove that climate change is causing this weird early May weather.

Projection showing an upper level ridge accompanied by warmer-than-average air across Greenland, with unusually cold conditions near the U.S. East Coast.
Projection showing an upper level ridge accompanied by warmer-than-average air across Greenland, with unusually cold conditions near the U.S. East Coast.

Image: weatherbell analytics

But clues have been emerging in the scientific literature that particularly historic extreme events, many of which are heightened by global warming, tend to be associated with these types of highly-amplified, nearly stuck weather patterns.

For example, a study published in the journal Science Advances last year found that atmospheric traffic jams associated with “planetary wave resonance” can yield devastating weather events. Meteorologists might also know these jet stream patterns as exhibiting the characteristics of a Rossby wave train.

Rossby waves are named after the Swiss-American meteorologist Karl Gustaf-Rossby, who first described these phenomena in the early to mid-20th century. To understand what they are, picture a circle of people holding hands.

The planetary waves would be represented by two people moving their arm up and down and passing the wave like a snake from one person to another, around the circle. Wave resonance occurs when these upper level winds form particular patterns, much like ocean waves do, that leads to standing, building waves that can remain in place longer than others do.

Or in the case of the people holding hands, they would now be stretching their arms up and down in the same pattern for hours and hours.

The bottom line, though, is that you should pay particularly close attention to forecasts during the next two weeks. Also, be kind to the weather geek in your life, because they might be a little more distracted than usual during this time…


We’re Pretty Much Fucked: No Country on Earth Is Taking The Paris Climate Agreement 2c Warming Target Seriously

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2017 at 7:40 pm

Is it warm in here? (Shutterstock)

Oldspeak: “The actions necessary to hold to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees, are simply outside the bounds of conventional politics in most countries. Anyone who proposed them would sound crazy, like they were proposing, I don’t know, a war or something…

If we really want to avoid 1.5 degrees, and we can’t rely on large-scale carbon sequestration, then the global community has to zero out its carbon emissions by 2026.

Ten years from now.

There’s no happy win-win story about that scenario, no way to pull it off while continuing to live US lifestyles and growing the global economy every year. It would require immediate, radical shifts in behavior worldwide, especially among the wealthy — a period of voluntary austerity and contraction.

it’s very, very difficult to be the only one acting like there’s an emergency, especially when the emergency is abstract and science-derived, grasped primarily by the intellect.”

David Roberts

“Soooo true.  People don’t want to talk much about existential emergencies. When you’re the only one acting like there’s an emergency, people read articles on this blog and tell you “Your blog is intense.”They’d rather know what you “want to build”. They want to know “what you want your legacy to be” they stare at you quizzically and assert that “you’ll always be broke” because you have zero desire to own property. There is an astoundingly pervasive and resistant to fact strain of aggressive ignorance infecting humanity.  Preventing us from talking about or processing the brutal reality is that the actions required to have a maybe chance at keeping global average temperatures at around 1.5c-2c above baseline are politically and economically untenable. There are no efforts underway to radically downshift 1st world lifestyles, consumption habits, institute voluntary austerity or economic & energy use contraction. In fact, “The geopolitics has all gone wrong since Paris.” And of course there’s the inconvenient truth, articulated by writer Quincy Saul back in 2014;

The climate justice movement has an expiration date. If the tipping points in the earth system are passed, and the feedback loops begin their vicious cycle, human attempts at mitigation will be futile, and climate justice will become an anachronism – or at worst a slogan for geo-engineering lobbies. Thousands of scientists have come to consensus on this point, and many years ago gave us a deadline: A carbon emissions peak in 2015 followed by rapid and permanent decline.

So. That hasn’t happened. Carbon emission have been on a business as usual catastrophe inducing track. Quite a few tipping points have been passed. Irreversible non-linear positive feedback loops have been triggered. Consequently, humanity and by extension much of life on earth is in a desperate situation, a species-level planetary emergency, despite the fact no one is acting like it. And we’re pretty much fucked. So fucking weird this predicament. It’s like everyone in the 1st world  is living in their own sort of curated, pre-sorted, self selected reality.  Moving distractedly about this brutalized and disfigured Earth, from cage to cage of varying well-appointedness. Home cage. Store Cage. Work Cage. Store Cage. Work Cage. Home Cage. Repeat. Occasionally we’ll mix in time in Bar Cage. Gym Cage. Park Cage. Food Cage. On subconscious levels acutely aware and dismayed about the Great Dying happening around us. Medicating the pain of survival sickness away with our drugs of choice. Overscheduled and undestimulated. The climate “talks” continue, as the G8 plots how “grow” the transnational economy. While our Mother burns. Dissonance par excellence.  Sigh. I’m so over cage life. Aren’t You?” -OSJ


Written By David Roberts @ Vox:

One of the morbidly fascinating aspects of climate change is how much cognitive dissonance it generates, in individuals and nations alike.

The more you understand the brutal logic of climate change — what it could mean, the effort necessary to forestall it — the more the intensity of the situation seems out of whack with the workaday routines of day-to-day life. It’s a species-level emergency, but almost no one is acting like it is. And it’s very, very difficult to be the only one acting like there’s an emergency, especially when the emergency is abstract and science-derived, grasped primarily by the intellect.

This psychological schism is true for individuals, and it’s true for nations. Take the Paris climate agreement.

In Paris, in 2015, the countries of the world agreed (again) on the moral imperative to hold the rise in global average temperature to under 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” To date, 62 countries, including the United States, China, and India, have ratified the agreement.

Are any of the countries that signed the Paris agreement taking the actions necessary to achieve that target?

No. The US is not. Nor is the world as a whole.

The actions necessary to hold to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees, are simply outside the bounds of conventional politics in most countries. Anyone who proposed them would sound crazy, like they were proposing, I don’t know, a war or something.

So we say 2 degrees is unacceptable. But we don’t act like it is.

This cognitive dissonance is brought home yet again in a report published in October from Oil Change International (in collaboration with a bunch of green groups). It’s about fossil fuels and how much of them we can afford to dig up and burn, if we’re serious about what we said in Paris. It’s mostly simple math, but the implications are vast and unsettling.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Staying beneath 2 degrees means immediately and rapidly declining emissions

Scientists have long agreed that warming higher than 2 degrees will result in widespread food, water, weather, and sea level stresses, with concomitant immigration, conflict, and suffering, inequitably distributed.

But 2 degrees is not some magic threshold where tolerable becomes dangerous. A two-year review of the latest science by the UNFCCC found that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees means heat extremes, water shortages, and falling crop yields. “The ‘guardrail’ concept, in which up to 2°C of warming is considered safe,” the review concluded, “is inadequate.”

The report recommends that 2 degrees be seen instead as “an upper limit, a defense line that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable.”

This changing understanding of 2 degrees matters, because the temperature target we choose, and the probability with which we aim to hit it, establishes our “carbon budget,” i.e., the amount of CO2 we can still emit before blowing it.

Many commonly used scenarios (including the International Energy Agency’s) are built around a 50 percent chance of hitting 2 degrees. But if 2 degrees is an “upper limit” and “less warming would be preferable,” it seems we would want a higher than 50-50 chance of stopping short of it.

So the authors of the Oil Change report choose two scenarios to model. One gives us a 66 percent chance of stopping short of 2 degrees. The other gives us a 50 percent chance of stopping short of 1.5 degrees. Here’s what they look like:

scenarios: 1.5 and 2 degrees (Oil Change International)

This image should terrify you. It should be on billboards.

As you can see, in either scenario, global emissions must peak and begin declining immediately. For a medium chance to avoid 1.5 degrees, the world has to zero out net carbon emissions by 2050 or so — for a good chance of avoiding 2 degrees, by around 2065.

After that, emissions have to go negative. Humanity has to start burying a lot more carbon than it throws up into the atmosphere. There are several ways to sequester greenhouse gases, from reforestation to soil enrichment to cow backpacks, but the backbone of the envisioned negative emissions is BECCS, or bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration.

BECCS — raising, harvesting, and burning biomass for energy, while capturing and burying the carbon emissions — is unproven at scale. Thus far, most demonstration plants of any size attaching CCS to fossil fuel facilities have been over-budget disasters. What if we can’t rely on it? What if it never pans out?

“If we want to avoid depending on unproven technology becoming available,” the authors say, “emissions would need to be reduced even more rapidly.”

You could say that. This is from climate researcher Glen Peters, based on a scenario with a 66 percent chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees.

1.5 scenarios (Glen Peters)

Check out that middle graphic. If we really want to avoid 1.5 degrees, and we can’t rely on large-scale carbon sequestration, then the global community has to zero out its carbon emissions by 2026.

Ten years from now.

There’s no happy win-win story about that scenario, no way to pull it off while continuing to live US lifestyles and growing the global economy every year. It would require immediate, radical shifts in behavior worldwide, especially among the wealthy — a period of voluntary austerity and contraction.

That seems unlikely. So instead, let’s assume copious negative emissions technology will be available in the latter half of the century, just to give ourselves the most room possible.

In those scenarios, how much of the world’s fossil fuels can we burn? How much more can we find and dig up?

That math is daunting.

Staying beneath 2 degrees means ceasing all new fossil fuel development

First, a quick tour of terminology. There are fossil fuel resources (what is ultimately recoverable), reserves (what is known and economically recoverable), and developed reserves (what is known and recoverable in currently operating mines and fields). Here’s a handy guide:

fossil fuel terminology (Oil Change International)

Now let’s compare some numbers. It’s pretty straightforward. Roughly 95 percent of the carbon contained in fossil fuels gets released into the atmosphere, so a ton dug up means a ton emitted, more or less. [Correction 10/6/2016: This was misleadingly phrased. To clarify: 95 percent of the carbon in fossil fuels end up being burned; each ton of carbon burned yields roughly 3.6 tons of CO2.]

How do our carbon budgets compare with our fossil fuel reserves?

reserves v. carbon budgets (Oil Change International)

Another terrifying image.

On the left is global developed fossil fuel reserves. Remember the terminology: That’s what we can likely get out of currently operating fields and mines. On the right are our carbon budgets, for the 2 degree and 1.5 degree scenarios respectively. Existing developed reserves exceed the 2 degree budget, and oil and gas alone break the 1.5 degree budget.

If we are serious about what we said in Paris, then no more exploring for new fossil fuels. No new mines, wells, or fossil fuel infrastructure. And rapid, managed decline in existing fossil fuels.

We are betting our species’ future on our ability to bury carbon

An important note: The analysts at Oil Change assume that there will be BECCS from midcentury onward, but assume that CCS will not come online fast enough to substantially delay the decline of fossil fuels before then.

Obviously, that assumption could be wrong on either end. CCS could develop faster than expected or turn out to be utterly impractical and too costly on any time scale. It’s too soon to know.

What is clear is that we are betting our collective future on being able to bury millions of tons of carbon. It’s a huge and existentially risky bet — and maybe one out of a million people even know it’s being made.

Humanity is in a desperate situation

There are modeling scenarios that show us hitting our climate targets. But we should take no comfort from them. The fact is, we have waited until perilously late to act on climate change, and our range of options has narrowed. We face three choices:

1) In the event that massive carbon sequestration proves infeasible, avoiding dangerous climate change will require an immediate and precipitous decline in global carbon emissions over a decade or two. Given that most present-day economic activity is driven by fossil fuels, it would mean, at least temporarily, a net decline in economic activity. No one wants to discuss this, except climate scientist Kevin Anderson:

2) The second option is to immediately begin driving net global emissions down, hitting zero some time midcentury or shortly thereafter, and in the meantime develop the technology and infrastructure to bury millions of tons of carbon from biomass. Anderson explains just what that means:

The sheer scale of the BECCS assumption underpinning the [Paris] Agreement is breathtaking – decades of ongoing planting and harvesting of energy crops over an area the size of one to three times that of India. At the same time the aviation industry anticipates fuelling its planes with bio-fuel, the shipping industry is seriously considering biomass to power its ships and the chemical sector sees biomass as a potential feedstock. And then there are 9 billion or so human mouths to feed.

3) The third option is to allow temperatures to rise 3 or even 4 degrees, which Anderson has called “incompatible with an organized global community.” Such temperatures would bring suffering to hundreds of millions of people and substantially raise the probability of runaway global warming that can’t be stopped no matter what humans do. Runaway warming would, over the course of a century or so, serve to render the planet uninhabitable. Quite a legacy.

All of these are desperate options.

When climate activists say, “We have the technology; all we need is the political will,” they act like that’s good news. But think about the political will we need: to immediately cease fossil fuel exploration, start shutting down coal mines, and put in place a plan for managed decline of the fossil fuel industry; to double or triple the global budget for clean energy research, development, and deployment; to transfer billions of dollars from wealthy countries to poorer ones, to protect them from climate impacts they are most vulnerable to but least responsible for; and quite possibly, if it comes to it, to limit the consumptive choices of the globe’s wealthiest and most carbon-intensive citizens.

That level of political will is nowhere in evidence, in any country.

So for now, it’s cognitive dissonance.


It’s The End Of The World & We Know It: Scientists In Many Disciplines See Possible Near-Term Demise Of Our Species, Soon

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm

(Credit: Getty/Everlite/Leon Neal/Photo Montage by Salon)

Oldspeak: “I’m always simultaneously dismayed & amused by writers who spend entire articles expounding on the life-eradicating truths about climate change, global warming and Earth’s 6th mass extinction that confront us and then end it with some hopium soaked bullshit like this:

In a sense, though, religious people and scientists agree: We are in a unique moment of human history, one marked by an exceptionally high probability of disaster. The difference is that, for religious people, utopia stands on the other side of the apocalypse, whereas for scientists, there is nothing but darkness. To be clear, the situation is not by any means hopeless. In fact, there is hardly a threat before us — from climate change to the sixth mass extinction, from apocalyptic terrorism to a superintelligence takeover — that is inevitable. But without a concerted collective effort to avert catastrophe, the future could be as bad as any dystopian sci-fi writer has imagined.” -Phil Torres

I’d be curious to know how climate change and mass extinction are not inevitable. These are geologic processes that many scientists concede are irreversible and they are accelerating.  Biospheric integrity has been lost. planetary biogeochemical flows have been irrevocably imbalanced. Land systems have been changed negatively in ways humans barely understand fully. 2/3rds of global wildlife is forecast to be gone for good by 2020. That’s 3 and a 1/2 years from now. Humans have demonstrated no significant interest in doing less with less,  consuming fewer irreplaceable resources  & having fewer babies. Therefore, it’s only logical to expect that the”exceptionally high probability of disaster” only grows that much more certain by the day as the grim reality of this intractable predicament becomes harder to deny. Zen teacher Norman Fischer had a wonderful statement on hope:

“If you investigate hope, you’ll see how counterproductive it can be. To hope usually means to reject the experience of this moment, and, therefore, hope can be a kind of cowardice. Rather than face what’s going on right now, we focus our attention on later, when things will hopefully be much more pleasant than they are at the moment.”

It’s time we stop rejecting the experience of this moment and face what’s going on right now. Things will get worse. They will not get better. They will not become more pleasant at some magical time in the future. There is no ability to fix what is fucked up. We are facing “catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.” We have to have the courage to accept this. –OSJ

Written By Phil Torres @ Salon:

While apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world have, historically, been the subject of religious speculation, they are increasingly common among some of the leading scientists today. This is a worrisome fact, given that science is based not on faith and private revelation, but on observation and empirical evidence.

Perhaps the most prominent figure with an anxious outlook on humanity’s future is Stephen Hawking. Last year, he wrote the following in a Guardian article:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.

There is not a single point here that is inaccurate or hyperbolic. For example, consider that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000, with a single exception (namely, 1998), and with 2016 being the hottest ever. Although 2017 probably won’t break last year’s record, the UK’s Met Office projects that it “will still rank among the hottest years on record.” Studies also emphasize that there is a rapidly closing window for meaningful action on climate change. As the authors of one peer-reviewed paper put it:

The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far. Policy decisions made during this window are likely to result in changes to Earth’s climate system measured in millennia rather than human lifespans, with associated socioeconomic and ecological impacts that will exacerbate the risks and damages to society and ecosystems that are projected for the twenty-first century and propagate into the future for many thousands of years.

Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch. This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.

Along these lines, scientists largely agree that human activity has pushed the biosphere into the sixth mass extinction event in the entire 4.5 billion year history of Earth. This appears to be the case even on the most optimistic assumptions about current rates of species extinctions, which may be occurring 10,000 times faster than the normal “background rate” of extinction. Other studies have found that, for example, the global population of wild vertebrates — that is, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians — has declined by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The biosphere is wilting in real time, and our own foolish actions are to blame.

As for disease, superbugs are a growing concern among researchers due to overuse of antibiotics among livestock and humans. These multi-drug-resistant bacteria are highly resistant to normal treatment routes, and already some 2 million people become sick from superbugs each year.

Perhaps the greatest risk here is that, as Brian Coombes puts it, “antibiotics are the foundation on which all modern medicine rests. Cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants, surgeries, and childbirth all rely on antibiotics to prevent infections. If you can’t treat those, then we lose the medical advances we have made in the last 50 years.” Indeed, this is why Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, claims that “Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development and security.”

Making matters even worse, experts argue that the risk of a global pandemic is increasing. The reason is, in part, because of the growth of megacities. According to a United Nations estimate, “66 percent of the global population will live in urban centers by 2050.” The closer proximity of people will make the propagation of pathogens much easier, not to mention the fact that deadly germs can travel from one location to another at literally the speed of a jetliner. Furthermore, climate change will produce heat waves and flooding events that will create “more opportunity for waterborne diseases such as cholera and for disease vectors such as mosquitoes in new regions.” This is why some public health researchers conclude that “we are at greater risk than ever of experiencing large-scale outbreaks and global pandemics,” and that “the next outbreak contender will most likely be a surprise.”

Finally, the acidification of the world’s oceans is a catastrophe that hardly gets the attention it deserves. What’s happening is that the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this is causing their pH level to fall. One consequence is the destruction of coral reefs through a process called “bleaching.” Today, about 60 percent of coral reefs are in danger of bleaching, and about 10 percent are already underwater ghost towns.

Even more alarming, though, is the fact that the rate of ocean acidification is happening faster today than it occurred during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. That event is called the “Great Dying” because it was the most devastating mass extinction ever, resulting in some 95 percent of all species kicking the bucket. As the science journalist Eric Hand points out, whereas 2.4 gigatons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere per year during the Great Dying, about 10 gigatons are being injected per year by contemporary industrial society. Thus, the sixth mass extinction mentioned above, also called the Anthropocene extinction, could turn out to be perhaps even worse than the Permian-Triassic die-off.

So Hawking’s dire warning that we live in the most perilous period of our species’ existence is quite robust. In fact, considerations like these have led a number of other notable scientists to suggest that the collapse of global society could occur in the foreseeable future. The late microbiologist Frank Fenner, for example, whose virological work helped eliminate smallpox, predicted in 2010 that “humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change.” Similarly, the Canadian biologist Neil Dawe reportedly “wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witness the extinction of humanity.” And the renowned ecologist Guy McPherson argues that humanity will follow the dodo into the evolutionary grave by 2026. (On the upside, maybe you don’t need to worry so much about that retirement plan.)

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also recently moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, or doom, primarily because of President Donald J. Trump and the tsunami of anti-intellectualism that got him into the Oval Office. As Lawrence Krauss and David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

The United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both [curbing nuclear proliferation and solving climate change]. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.

At two-and-a-half minutes before midnight, the Doomsday Clock is currently the closest to midnight that it’s been since 1953, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union had both detonated hydrogen bombs.

But so far we have mostly ignored threats to our existence that many leading risk scholars believe are the most serious, namely those associated with emerging technologies such as biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. In general, these technologies are not only becoming more powerful at an exponential rate, according to Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, but increasingly accessible to small groups and even lone wolves. The result is that a growing number of individuals are being empowered to wreak unprecedented havoc on civilization. Consider the following nightmare disaster outlined by computer scientist Stuart Russell:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10 percent of them have to find the target.

Russell adds that “there will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys,” he concludes, to write the relevant computer code and launch these drones.

This scenario can be scaled up arbitrarily to involve, say, 500 million weaponized drones packed into several hundred semi-trucks strategically positioned around the world. The result could be a global catastrophe that brings civilization to its knees — no less than a nuclear terrorism attack or an engineered pandemic caused by a designer pathogen would severely disrupt modern life. As Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum put it in their captivating book “The Future of Violence,” we are heading toward an era of distributed offensive capabilities that is unlike anything our species has ever before encountered.

What sort of person might actually want to do this, though? Unfortunately, there are many types of people who would willingly destroy humanity. The list includes apocalyptic terrorists, psychopaths, psychotics, misanthropes, ecoterrorists, anarcho-primitivists, eco-anarchists, violent technophobes, militant neo-Luddites and even “morally good people” who maintain, for ethical reasons, that human suffering is so great that we would be better off not existing at all. Given the dual technology trends mentioned above, all it could take later this century is a single person or group to unilaterally end the great experiment called civilization forever.

It is considerations like these that have led risk scholars — some at top universities around the world — to specify disturbingly high probabilities of global disaster in the future. For example, the philosopher John Leslie claims that humanity has a 30 percent chance of extinction in the next five centuries. Less optimistically, an “informal” survey of experts at a conference hosted by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute puts the probability of human extinction before 2100 at 19 percent. And Lord Martin Rees, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, argues that civilization has no better than a 50-50 likelihood of enduring into the next century.

To put this number in perspective, it means that the average American is about 4,000 times more likely to witness civilization implode than to die in an “air and space transport accident.” A child born today has a good chance of living to see the collapse of civilization, according to our best estimates.

Returning to religion, recent polls show that a huge portion of religious people believe that the end of the world is imminent. For example, a 2010 survey found that 41 percent of Christians in the U.S. believe that Jesus will either “definitely” or “probably” return by 2050. Similarly, 83 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan and 72 percent in Iraq claim that the Mahdi, Islam’s end-of-days messianic figure, will return within their lifetimes. The tragedy here, from a scientific perspective, is that such individuals are worried about the wrong apocalypse! Much more likely are catastrophes, calamities and cataclysms that cause unprecedented (and pointless) human suffering in a universe without any external source of purpose or meaning. At the extreme, an existential risk could tip our species into the eternal grave of extinction.

In a sense, though, religious people and scientists agree: We are in a unique moment of human history, one marked by an exceptionally high probability of disaster. The difference is that, for religious people, utopia stands on the other side of the apocalypse, whereas for scientists, there is nothing but darkness. To be clear, the situation is not by any means hopeless. In fact, there is hardly a threat before us — from climate change to the sixth mass extinction, from apocalyptic terrorism to a superintelligence takeover — that is inevitable. But without a concerted collective effort to avert catastrophe, the future could be as bad as any dystopian sci-fi writer has imagined.


Parts of this article draw from my forthcoming book “Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.”