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

Posts Tagged ‘Resource Exaustion’

Sea Change: The Ecological Disaster That Nobody Sees

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Sea Change: The Ecological Disaster That Nobody SeesOldspeak: “The ocean is alive; it is a living minestrone soup with an even greater diversity of life than on the land, It is where most of our oxygen is created and carbon is taken out of the atmosphere. With every breath you take, you need to thank the ocean… .The ocean drives climate and weather, It is a planetary life-support system that we have taken for granted . . . We simply must protect the machinery, the natural systems upon which our life depends.” –Sylvia Earle, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chief scientist.

Experts warn that we are currently facing an extinction event in the oceans which may rival the “Great Death” of the Permian age 250 million years ago, when 95 percent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification, loss of oxygen and habitat – all conditions that are rife today…. Within the past half century the oceans have been transformed from the planet’s most productive bioregion into arguably its most abused and critically endangered…. Trillions of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton contribute seasonally between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, far more than all of the world’s forests combined. Nobody knows for certain how plankton will adapt to warming seas. But one study published in the United Kingdom last year suggested, worryingly, that changes in the temperature and chemical composition of the oceans would make these critical organisms less productive. Planktonremoves carbon from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. Fewer plankton will mean less oxygen and more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which will further intensify “a vicious cycle of climate change…Equally scary is the prospect that, as some researchers speculate, changes in ocean temperature may melt a frozen form of methane called “clathrates,” which is ubiquitous under the planet’s continental shelves. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times as potent in the short term as carbon dioxide. If these vast reserves bubble up into the atmosphere, it will truly be “game over” for the climate as we know it… But up to now, there has been little political will to tackle the tough issues that are leading to a death by a thousand cuts for the seas around us. The Global Ocean Commission reports that the toothless international treaties that purport to regulate human use of the oceans have failed utterly to protect them.” -Richard Schiffmann

“So basically, we’re running out of air. As time passes and conditions worsen, our air supply will steadily lessen, as greenhouse gasses further intensify. Our oceans in less than 50 years have been transformed from our planets most productive bioregion, into its most abused and critically endangered. Our oceans are the true lungs of the ecology. And they are boiling, acidifying, and dying. This cannot be stopped by human actions. While our attention is being directed toward manufactured threats like ISIS, Russia, and Ebola, We’re slowly and surely suffocating our way to extinction. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick……” -OSJ

By Richard Schiffmann @ Truthout:

On September 21, in what is being advance-billed as the largest climate march in history, thousands of protesters will converge on New York City to focus public attention on the slow-motion train wreck of global warming. But while Americans are becoming increasingly aware that our industrial civilization is destabilizing the earth’s climate, fewer know about another environmental disaster-in-the-making: the crisis of the global oceans.

Experts warn that we are currently facing an extinction event in the oceans which may rival the “Great Death” of the Permian age 250 million years ago, when 95 percent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification, loss of oxygen and habitat – all conditions that are rife today.

Within the past half century the oceans have been transformed from the planet’s most productive bioregion into arguably its most abused and critically endangered. That is the conclusion of a report issued earlier this summer by the Global Ocean Commission, a private think tank consisting of marine scientists, diplomats and business people, which makes policy recommendations to governments.

The report catalogues a grim laundry list of environmental ills. Commercial fish stocks worldwide are being overexploited and are close to collapse; coral reefs are dying due to ocean acidification – and may be gone by midcentury; vast dead zones are proliferating in the Baltic and the Gulf of Mexico caused by an influx of nitrogen and phosphorous from petroleum-based fertilizers; non-biodegradable plastic trash – everything from tiny micro-plastic beads to plastic bags and discarded fishing gear – is choking many coastal nurseries where fish spawn; and increased oil and gas drilling in deep waters is spewing pollution and posing the risk of catastrophic spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster which dumped an estimated 4.2 million barrels of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico during a five-month period in 2010.

Yet these worrying trends have failed to spark public indignation. It may be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.”

“If fish were trees, and we saw them being clear-cut, we would be upset,” renowned oceanographer Carl Safina observed in an interview with Truthout. “But the ocean is invisible to most people, an alien world.” It is hard for those of us who only see ocean life when it ends up on our dinner plates to get worked up about its destruction, Safina said.

Nevertheless, this world under the waves is vital to our survival, according to Sylvia Earle, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chief scientist. “The ocean is alive; it is a living minestrone soup with an even greater diversity of life than on the land,” Earle told Truthout. “It is where most of our oxygen is created and carbon is taken out of the atmosphere. With every breath you take, you need to thank the ocean.”

Trillions of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton contribute seasonally between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, far more than all of the world’s forests combined. Nobody knows for certain how plankton will adapt to warming seas. But one study published in the United Kingdom last year suggested, worryingly, that changes in the temperature and chemical composition of the oceans would make these critical organisms less productive. Planktonremoves carbon from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. Fewer plankton will mean less oxygen and more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which will further intensify “a vicious cycle of climate change,” according to the study’s authors.

Equally scary is the prospect that, as some researchers speculate, changes in ocean temperature may melt a frozen form of methane called “clathrates,” which is ubiquitous under the planet’s continental shelves. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times as potent in the short term as carbon dioxide. If these vast reserves bubble up into the atmosphere, it will truly be “game over” for the climate as we know it.

“The ocean drives climate and weather,” Earle said. “It is a planetary life-support system that we have taken for granted . . . We simply must protect the machinery, the natural systems upon which our life depends.”

But up to now, there has been little political will to tackle the tough issues that are leading to a death by a thousand cuts for the seas around us. The Global Ocean Commission reports that the toothless international treaties that purport to regulate human use of the oceans have failed utterly to protect them.

In an email to Truthout, former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband, a co-chair of the commission, wrote bluntly that the high seas are “a failed state . . . beyond the jurisdiction of any government, where governance and policing are effectively non-existent and anarchy rules the waves.” Miliband insists that the open ocean beyond national boundaries needs to be brought under the rule of international law. At present, global treaties make nonbinding recommendations, which are routinely violated by nations and commercial enterprises.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the wealthy countries that are disproportionally to blame for the ocean’s woes. According to the commission, the freedom of the seas is being “exploited by those with the money and ability to do so, with little sense of responsibility or social justice.”

One way this is happening is the chronic over-harvesting of the high seas by massive, technologically advanced ships largely from countries like France, Spain, Denmark, Japan and South Korea (the United States is actually a relatively minor player with a lower yearly catch than many far smaller countries). These floating factories frequently employ highly destructive methods like bottom trawling,the practice of dragging a heavy net on the bottom of the ocean, a process which can destroy ancient deep sea coral colonies and other fragile ecosystems.

Other questionable practices include fishing out of season and the use of cyanide and underwater explosives that stun or kill all marine life over vast swaths of the sea. Indiscriminate trawl nets and long-line fishing take untold thousands of sea birds, turtles, marine mammals and non-target fish species (called bycatch) daily, according to Earle. “It is like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds. You simply throw away the trees and all the rest.”

The results have been catastrophic. In 1950, less than 1 percent of fish species were overexploited or close to collapse. Today, that number has swollen to 87 percent, according to the Global Ocean Commission report. Not only are there “too many boats trying to catch too few fish,” but this overfishing is being abetted in many cases by government fossil fuel subsidies, which have driven an otherwise flagging industry into dangerous overdrive.

The irony is that, while the productivity of commercial fishing has never been lower, and boats need to go ever farther to catch fewer fish, the number of vessels exploiting the ocean has never been higher. While affluent countries spend tens of millions of their tax dollars to prop up their national fishing industries, coastal fisheries in the global south are being depleted and some fisher folk are barely able to survive on their diminished catches, as I discovered during a recent reporting trip to Barbados. They simply can’t compete with the big commercial fleets that are operating with impunity just beyond their territorial boundaries.

This problem is exacerbated in Barbados and elsewhere in the Caribbean by the rapid coral die-off. Instead of the thriving reefs that one would have seen only a few years back, there are now ghost forests of bleached white skeletons covered in slime. As the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide increasingly gets absorbed by the ocean’s surface waters, it creates carbonic acid, which changes the pH of the sea, making it more difficult for coral polyps and other shell-forming organisms to produce their rigid homes.

When corals die (Earle said fully half of the world’s reefs are already gone, or in steep decline) the fish and other organisms that breed among them die off as well. Equally important, reefs are an invaluable line of defense against storm surges and destructive waves. Without these natural seawalls, beach erosion and damage to low-lying coastal areas during hurricanes can spiral out of control.

Human-made physical changes to the world’s coastlines pose another threat. Productive natural hatcheries like mangrove swamps, mudflats and salt marshes are being cleared in many areas to make way for coastal development, barrier islands are dredged to build ship channels, and freshwater streams, which fish use to spawn, are blocked by dams.

In his eloquent book Running Silver, marine biologist John Waldman writes that in East Coast streams, where our forebears could “walk dry-shod on the backs” of schools of striped bass, shad, sturgeon and other fish during their spring migrations, today’s runs are as low as 2 percent of what they once were. In some cases, they’ve disappeared entirely. Cold-loving fish like salmon and cod are leaving their traditional ranges and heading toward the poles in search of cooler waters.

Amid this rising tide of bad news, however, there are some glimmers of hope. Carl Safina told Truthout that the US coastal fish populations were in free fall “until about 1998 when the Sustainable Fisheries Act went into effect [which sets strict fishing quotas]. We saw a recovery of inshore species which are wholly managed by US law and policy, at the same time as there was a continuing decline of the big offshore species like shark, tuna and many billfish in international waters.”

The challenge, as Safina sees it, is to bring the rule of law that has worked for some US fisheries to the high seas, which he calls “the Wild West in the space age.” We need something like a UN peacekeeper force for the open oceans, he said, to enforce treaties, clamp down on illegal fishing and draft strict environmental regulations.As a model for what he has in mind, Safina points to regional multination fishery boards (like those which already manage and set quotas for fisheries shared by the United States and Canada.) As this kind of international cooperation spreads, we’ll have a fighting chance to save imperiled species that are currently being fished to exhaustion. Safina alsosaid we need to stop fishing some critical areas to give them an opportunity to recover.

President Obama was clearly thinking along these lines when he announced in June the creation of the largest marine sanctuary on earth, a no-fishing and drilling zone comprising 782,000 square miles of open ocean surrounding small, unpopulated US territories in the South Pacific. Pacific island nations like the Cook and Kiribati quickly followed suit, banning fishing in their own territorial waters.

Sylvia Earle told Truthout that these are big steps in the right direction: “Here’s the good news: places where fish are protected, where we stop the killing, if enough resilience is there, these systems can be returned to abundance. It’s happened in the Florida Keys; it’s happened in protected areas off the coast of Chile, in Mexico, where grouper, snapper and sharks are making a reappearance.”

Still, until we address climate change and pollution, and find a way to establish justice and accountability on the high seas, the prospects for the world’s largest ecosystem remain grim.

 

 

 

 

The Brink Of Mass Extinction

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm
Brink of extinction

(Image: Polluted dawn, ice bergs via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

Oldspeak: “As our Great Mother burns,  industrial civilization grinds along, destroying and contaminating all life it contacts; ever-widening ecological overshoot, triggering & accelerating ever more non-linear irreversible positive feedback loops, conditions worsen and we draw nearer to extinction. The latest state of the ecology report from Dahr Jamail brings more grim news that is generally being ignored.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
 – Native American proverb

March through June 2014 were the hottest on record globally, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In May – officially the hottest May on record globally – the average temperature of the planet was .74 degrees Celsius above the 20th century baseline, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The trend is clear: 2013 was the 37th consecutive year of above-average global temperatures, and since the Industrial Revolution began, the earth has been warmed by .85 degrees Celsius. Several scientific reports and climate modeling show that at current trajectories (business as usual), we will see at least a 6-degree Celsius increase by 2100.

In the last decade alone, record high temperatures across the United States have outnumbered record low temperatures two to one, and the trend is both continuing and escalating.

While a single extreme weather event is not proof of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), the increasing intensity and frequency of these events are. And recent months have seen many of these.

A record-breaking heat wave gripped India in June, as temperatures hovered at 46 degrees Celsius, sometimes reaching 48 degrees Celsius. Delhi’s 22 million residents experienced widespread blackouts and rioting, as the heat claimed hundreds of lives.

Also in June, Central Europe cooked in unseasonably extreme heat, with Berlin experiencing temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius, which is more than 12 degrees hotter than normal.

At the same time, at least four people died in Japan, and another 1,637 were hospitalized as temperatures reached nearly 38 degrees Celsius.

NASA is heightening its efforts to monitor ACD’s impacts on the planet; recently, it launched the first spacecraft dedicated solely to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The spacecraft will have plenty to study, since earth’s current carbon dioxide concentration is now the longest ever in recorded history.

Earth

A recent report by the National Resource Defense Council warned that summers in the future are likely to bring increased suffering, with more poison ivy and biting insects, and decreasing quality of air and water.

As farmers struggle to cope with increasing demands for food as the global population continues to swell, they are moving towards growing crops designed to meet these needs as well as withstand more extreme climate conditions. However, a warning by an agricultural research group shows they may inadvertently be increasing global malnutrition by these efforts. “When I was young, we used to feed on amaranth vegetables, guava fruits, wild berries, jackfruits and many other crops that used to grow wild in our area. But today, all these crops are not easily available because people have cleared the fields to plant high yielding crops such as kales and cabbages which I am told have inferior nutritional values,” Denzel Niyirora, a primary school teacher in Kigali, said in the report.

The stunning desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is now in jeopardy, as Joshua trees are now beginning to die out due to ACD.

Another study, this one published in the journal Polar Biology, revealed that birds up on Alaska’s North Slope are nesting earlier in order to keep apace with earlier snowmelt.

Antarctic emperor penguin colonies could decline by more than half in under 100 years, according to a recent study – and another showed that at least two Antarctic penguin species are losing ground in their fight for survival amidst the increasing impacts of ACD, as the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on earth. The scientists who authored the report warned that these penguins’ fate is only one example of this type of impact from ACD on the planet’s species, and warned that they “expect many more will be identified as global warming proceeds and biodiversity declines.”

Water

Given that the planetary oceans absorb approximately 90 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions, it should come as no surprise that they are in great peril.

This is confirmed by a recent report that shows the world’s oceans are on the brink of collapse, and in need of rescue within five years, if it’s not already too late.

As the macro-outlook is bleak, the micro perspective sheds light on the reasons why.

In Cambodia, Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most productive freshwater ecosystems on earth. However, it is also in grave danger from overfishing, the destruction of its mangrove forests, an upstream dam and dry seasons that are growing both longer and hotter due to ACD.

Anomalies in the planet’s marine life continue. A 120-foot-long jellyfish is undergoing massive blooms and taking over wider swaths of ocean as the seas warm from ACD.

The Pacific island group of Kiribati – home to 100,000 people – is literally disappearing underwater, as rising sea levels swallow the land. In fact, Kiribati’s president recently purchased eight square miles of land 1,200 miles away on Fiji’s second largest island, in order to have a plan B for the residents of his disappearing country.

Closer to home here in the United States, most of the families living on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, have been forced to flee their multi-generational home due to rising sea levels, increasingly powerful storms, and coastal erosion hurried along by oil drilling and levee projects.

Looking at the bigger picture, a recently released US climate report revealed that at least half a trillion dollars of property in the country will be underwater by 2100 due to rising seas.

Meanwhile, the tropical region of the planet, which covers 130 countries and territories around the equator, is expanding and heating up as ACD progresses.

Residential neighborhoods in Oakland, California – near the coast – are likely to be flooded by both rising seas and increasingly intense storms, according to ecologists and local area planners.

On the East Coast, ocean acidification from ACD, along with lowered oxygen in estuaries, are threatening South Carolina’s coastal marine life and the seafood industry that depends upon it.

Record-setting “100-year” flooding events in the US Midwest are now becoming more the rule than the exception, thanks to ACD.

Even Fairbanks, Alaska received one-quarter of its total average annual rainfall in a 24-hour period earlier this summer – not long after the area had already received roughly half its average annual rainfall in just a two-week period.

Rising sea levels are gobbling up the coast of Virginia so quickly now that partisan political debate over ACD is also falling by the wayside, as both Republicans and Democrats are working together to figure out what to do about the crisis.

Reuters released a report showing how “Coastal flooding along the densely populated Eastern Seaboard of the United States has surged in recent years . . . with the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded NOAA flood thresholds more than tripling in many places during the past four decades.”

Flooding from rising seas is already having a massive impact in many other disparate areas of the world: After torrential rain and flooding killed at least a dozen people in Bulgaria this summer, the country continues to struggle with damage from the flooding as it begins to tally the economic costs of the disasters.

In China, rain and flooding plunged large areas of the Jiangxi and Hunan Provinces into emergency response mode. Hundreds of thousands were impacted.

The region of the globe bordering the Indian Ocean stretching from Indonesia to Kenya is now seen as being another bulls-eye target for ACD, as the impacts there are expected to triple the frequency of both drought and flooding in the coming decades, according to a recent study.

Another study revealed how dust in the wind, of which there is much more than usual, due to spreading drought, is quickening the melting of Greenland’s embattled ice sheet, which is already losing somewhere between 200 to 450 billion tons of ice annually. The study showed that increased dust on the ice will contribute towards another 27 billion tons of ice lost.

Down in Antarctica, rising temperatures are causing a species of moss to thrive, at the detriment of other marine creatures in that fragile ecosystem.

Up in the Arctic, the shrinking ice cap is causing drastic changes to be made in the upcoming 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. Geographers with the organization say it is the most striking change ever seen in the history of the publication.

A UK science team predicted that this year’s minimum sea ice extent will likely be similar to last year’s, which is bad news for the ever-shrinking ice cap. Many scientists now predict the ice cap will begin to vanish entirely for short periods of the summer beginning next year.

Canada’s recently released national climate assessment revealed how the country is struggling with melting permafrost as ACD progresses. One example of this occurred in 2006 when the reduced ice layer of ice roads forced a diamond mine to fly in fuel rather than transport it over the melted ice roads, at an additional cost of $11.25 million.

Arctic birds’ breeding calendars are also being impacted. As ACD causes earlier Arctic melting each season, researchers are now warning of long-ranging adverse impacts on the breeding success of migratory birds there.

In addition to the aforementioned dust causing the Greenland ice sheet to melt faster, industrial dust, pollutants and soil, blown over thousands of miles around the globe, are settling on ice sheets from the Himalaya to the Arctic, causing them to melt faster.

At the same time, multi-year drought continues to take a massive toll across millions of acres across the central and western United States. It has caused millions of acres of federal rangeland to turn into dust, and has left a massive swath of land reaching from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains desolated. ACD, invasive plants and now continuously record-breaking wildfire seasons have brought ranchers to the breaking point across the West.

Drought continues to drive up food prices across the United States, and particularly prices of produce grown in California’s Central Valley. As usual, it is the poor who suffer the most, as increasing food prices, growing unemployment and more challenging access to clean water continue to escalate their struggle to survive.

California’s drought continues to have a massive and myriad impact across the state, as a staggering one-third of the state entered into the worst stage of drought. Even colonies of honeybees are collapsing due, in part, to there being far less natural forage needed to make their honey.

The snowpack in California is dramatically diminished as well. While snowpack has historically provided one-third of the state’s water supply, after three years of very low snowfall, battles have begun within the state over how to share the decreasing water from what used to be a massive, frozen reservoir of water.

The drought in Oklahoma is raising the specter of a return to the nightmarish dust bowl conditions there in the 1930s.

Recently, and for the first time, the state of Arizona has warned that water shortages could hit Tucson and Phoenix as soon as five years from now due to ongoing drought, increasing demand for water and declining water levels in Lake Mead.

This is a particularly bad outlook, given that the Lake Mead reservoir, the largest in the country, dropped to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. Its decline is reflective of 14 years of ongoing drought, coupled with an increasing disparity between the natural flow rate of the Colorado River that feeds it and the ever-increasing demands for its water from the cities and farms of the increasingly arid Southwest.

Given the now chronic water crises in both Arizona and California, the next water war between the two states looms large. The one-two punch of ACD and overconsumption has combined to find the Colorado River, upon which both states heavily rely, in long-term decline.

Yet it is not just Arizona and California that are experiencing an ongoing water crisis due to ACD impacts – it is the entire southwestern United States. The naturally dry region is now experiencing dramatically extreme impacts that scientists are linking to ACD.

The water crisis spawned by ACD continues to reverberate globally.

North Korea even recently mobilized its army in order to protect crops as the country’s reservoirs, streams and rivers ran dry amidst a long-term drought. The army was tasked with making sure residents did not take more than their standard allotment of water.

The converging crises of the ongoing global population explosion, the accompanying burgeoning middle class, and increasingly dramatic impacts caused by ACD is straining global water supplies more than ever before, causing governments to examine how to manage populations in a world with less and less water.

Air

A recent report provides a rather apocalyptic forecast for people living in Arizona: It predicts diminishing crop production, escalating electricity bills and thousands of people dying of extreme heat in that state alone.

In fact, another report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found experts predicting that excessive heat generated from ACD will likely kill more than 150,000 Americans by the end of the century, and that is only in the 40 largest cities in the country.

Poor air quality – and the diseases it triggers – are some of the main reasons why public health experts in Canada now believe that ACD is the most critical health issue facing Canadians.

Another recent study shows, unequivocally, that city-dwellers around the world should expect more polluted air that lingers in their metropolis for days on end, as a result of ACD continuing to change wind and rainfall patterns across the planet.

As heat and humidity increase with the growing impacts of ACD, we can now expect to see life-altering results across southern US cities, as has long been predicted. However, we can expect this in our larger northern cities as well, including Seattle, Chicago and New York; the intensifications are on course to make these areas unsuitable for outdoor activity during the summer.

Recently generated predictive mapping shows how many extremely hot days you might have to suffer through when you are older. These show clearly that if we continue along with business as usual – refusing to address ACD with the war-time-level response warranted to mitigate the damage – those being born now who will be here in 2100, will be experiencing heat extremes unlike anything we’ve had to date when they venture outside in the summer.

Lastly for our air section, June was the third month in a row with global average carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere haven’t been this high in somewhere between 800,000 and 15 million years.

Fire

A new study published in Nature Geoscience revealed how increasing frequency and severity of forest fires across the planet are accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, as soot landing on the ice reduces its reflectivity. Melting at ever increasing speed, if the entire Greenland ice sheet melts, sea levels will rise 24 feet globally.

Down in Australia, the southern region of the country can now expect drier winters as a new study linked drying trends there, which have been occurring over the last few decades, to ACD.

On the other side of the globe, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the region is battling its worst fires since the 1990s, bringing attention to the likelihood that ACD is amplifying the severity of northern wildfires.

A recently published global atlas of deaths and economic losses caused by wildfires, drought, flooding and other ACD-augmented weather extremes, revealed how such disasters are increasing worldwide, setting back development projects by years, if not decades, according to its publishers.

Denial and Reality

Never underestimate the power of denial.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) was asked by an MSNBC journalist if he was concerned about the fact that most voters believe scientists on the issue of ACD. His response, a page out of the Republican deniers handbook, is particularly impressive:

Miller: It changes. It gets hot; it gets cold. It’s done it for as long as we have measured the climate.

MSNBC: But man-made, isn’t that the question?

Miller: Then why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Were there men that were causing – were there cars running around at that point, that were causing global warming? No. The climate has changed since earth was created.

Another impressive act of denial came from prominent Kentucky State Senate Majority Whip Republican Brandon Smith. At a recent hearing, Smith argued that carbon emissions from coal burning power plants couldn’t possibly be causing ACD because Mars is also experiencing a global temperature rise, and there are no coal plants generating carbon emissions on Mars. He even stated that Mars was the same temperature of Earth.

“I think that in academia, we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that,” Smith said.

On average, the temperature on Mars is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Yet there are no coal mines on Mars; there’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of,” he added. “So I think what we’re looking at is something much greater than what we’re going to do.”

During a recent interview on CNBC, Princeton University professor and chairman of the Marshall Institute William Happer was called out on the fact that ExxonMobil had provided nearly $1 million for the Institute.

Happer compared the “hype” about ACD to the Holocaust, and when asked about his 2009 comparison of climate science to Nazi propaganda, he said, “The comment I made was, the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

Happer, who was introduced as an “industry expert” on the program, has not published one peer-reviewed paper on ACD.

The ACD-denier group that supports politicians and “scientists” of this type, Heartland (a free-market think tank with a $6 million annual budget) hosted a July conference in Las Vegas for deniers. One of Heartland’s former funders is ExxonMobil, and one of the panels at the conference was titled, “Global Warming As a Social Movement.” The leaders of the conference vowed to “keep doubt alive.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used a current trip abroad to attempt to build support for a coalition aimed at derailing international efforts towards dealing with ACD.

He is simply following the lead of former Prime Minister John Howard, who teamed up with former US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to form a climate-denial triumvirate whose goal was to stop efforts aimed at dealing with ACD, in addition to working actively to undermine the Kyoto Protocol.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has said that ACD should be approached with great skepticism. He said that if global temperatures increased 3 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, “At the very most one of those [degrees] would be manmade.” He did not provide the science he used to generate this calculation.

In Canada, Vancouver-based Pacific Future Energy Corporation claimed that a $10 billion oil sands refinery it wants to build on the coast of British Columbia would be the “world’s greenest.”

Miami, a low-lying city literally on the front lines of ACD impacts, is being inundated by rising sea levels as its predominantly Republican leadership – made up of ACD deniers – are choosing to ignore the facts and continue forward with major coastal construction projects.

Back to reality, the BBC recently ordered its journalists to cease giving any more TV airtime to ACD deniers.

Brenton County, Oregon has created a Climate Change Adaptation Plan that provides strategies for the communities there to deal with future impacts of ACD.

Despite the millions of dollars annually being pumped into ACD denial campaigns, a recent poll shows that by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans would be willing to pay more to combat ACD impacts, and most would also vote to support a candidate who aims to address the issue.

Another recent report on the economic costs that ACD is expected to generate in the United States over the next 25 years pegged an estimate well into the hundreds of billions of dollars by 2100. Property losses from hurricanes and coastal storms are expected to total around $35 billion, crop yields are expected to decline by 14 percent, and increased electricity costs to keep people cooler are expected to increase by $12 billion annually, to name a few examples.

The bipartisan report also noted that more than a million coastal homes and businesses could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed.

The World Council on Churches, a group that represents more than half a billion Christians, announced that it would pull all its investments out of fossil fuels because the investments were no longer “ethical.”

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters recently that she is witnessing ACD’s impacts in practically every national park she visits.

A June report by the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security warned that ACD-driven mass migrations are already happening, and urged countries to immediately create adaption plans to resettle populations and avoid conflict.

For anyone who wonders how much impact humans have on the planet on a daily basis, take a few moments to ponder what just the impact of commercial airline emissions are in a 24-hour period by watching this astounding video.

Lastly, a landmark study released in June by an international group of scientists concluded that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction event comparable in scale to that which caused the dinosaurs to go extinct 65 million years ago.

The study says extinction rates are now 1,000 times higher than normal, and pegged ACD as the driving cause.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

Save The World, Work Less

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?…. This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically….But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea…It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets….Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes….What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs….Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.” -Steven T. Jones

“While the assertion is nice, the fact is at this point, working less will not save the world. The deed is done. We’re fucked. But, at some point we have to seriously consider where this ethos of “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, “More, More, More”, “GO GO GO”, “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” has gotten us. Mortally obese, neurosis-driven, overmedicated, hyperviolent, hyperaggressive, hypersexual, hyperconsumptive, fear filled, disconnected from our life-sustaining ecology…. This is not sustainable. Consider getting off the ever accelerating hamster wheel. There is nothing to be gained from working yourself to death but a dead planet and by extension, you. The trickle down economy of greed and growth can no longer animate our “civilization”.  “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” -Karl Marx. “Productivity” does not equal “Progress”. Your individual gains spell our collective annihilation. ” -OSJ

By Steven T. Jones @ SF Bay Guardian:

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs.

Save the world, work less. That dual proposition should have universal appeal in any sane society. And those two ideas are inextricably linked by the realities of global climate change because there is a direct connection between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Simply put, every hour of work we do cooks the planet and its sensitive ecosystems a little bit more, and going home to relax and enjoy some leisure time is like taking this boiling pot of water off the burner.

Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?

This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically.

But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea.

Last year, there was a brief burst of national media coverage around this “save the world, work less” idea, triggered by a report by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change.”

“As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours,” author David Rosnick wrote in the introduction.

He notes that per capita work hours were reduced by 50 percent in recent decades in Europe compared to US workers who spend as much time as ever on the job, despite being a world leader in developing technologies that make us more productive. Working more means consuming more, on and off the job.

“This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change,” the report said before going on to study various climate change and economic growth models.

It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets.

Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes. The Rosnick report contemplates only a slight reduction in working hours, gradually shaving a few hours off the week and offering a little more vacation time.

“The paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere),” the report concludes.

What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs.

Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.

Perhaps this forgotten goal is one worth remembering at this critical moment in our economic and environmental development.

HISTORY LESSON

Author and historian Chris Carlsson has been beating the “work less” drum in San Francisco since Jimmy Carter was president, when he and his fellow anti-capitalist activists decried the dawning of an age of aggressive business deregulation that continues to this day.

They responded with creative political theater and protests on the streets of the Financial District, and with the founding of a magazine called Processed World, highlighting how new information technologies were making corporations more powerful than ever without improving the lives of workers.

“What do we actually do all day and why? That’s the most basic question that you’d think we’d be talking about all the time,” Carlsson told us. “We live in an incredibly powerful and overarching propaganda society that tells you to get your joy from work.”

But Carlsson isn’t buying it, noting that huge swaths of the economy are based on exploiting people or the planet, or just creating unproductive economic churn that wastes energy for its own sake. After all, the Gross Domestic Product measures everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“The logic of growth that underlies this society is fundamentally flawed,” Carlsson said. “It’s the logic of the cancer cell — it makes no sense.”

What makes more sense is to be smart about how we’re using our energy, to create an economy that economizes instead of just consuming everything in its path. He said that we should ask, “What work do we need to do and to what end?”

We used to ask such questions in this country. There was a time when working less was the goal of our technological development.

“Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of worktime was one of the nation’s most pressing issues,” professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. “Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten.”

Work hours were steadily reduced as these debates raged, and it was widely assumed that even greater reductions in work hours was all but inevitable. “By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38,” Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

“People tend to think the way things are is the way it’s always been,” Carlsson said. “Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn’t happen.”

Writer David Spencer took on the topic in a widely shared essay published in The Guardian UK in February entitled “Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn’t make sense.”

He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.

Keynes called less work the “ultimate solution” to unemployment and he “also saw merit in using productivity gains to reduce work time and famously looked forward to a time (around 2030) when people would be required to work 15 hours a week. Working less was part of Keynes’s vision of a ‘good society,'” Spencer wrote.

“Marx importantly thought that under communism work in the ‘realm of necessity’ could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology,” Spencer wrote.

He also cited Bertrand Russell’s acclaimed 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” in which the famed mathematician reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached,” Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, “Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more.”

JOBS VS. WORK

Schor’s research has shown how long working hours — and the uneven distribution of those hours among workers — has hampered our economy, hurt our environment, and undermined human happiness.

“We have an increasingly poorly functioning economy and a catastrophic environmental situation,” Schor told us in a phone interview from her office at Boston College, explaining how the increasingly dire climate change scenarios add urgency to talking about how we’re working.

Schor has studied the problem with other researchers, with some of her work forming the basis for Rosnick’s work, including the 2012 paper Schor authored with University of Alabama Professor Kyle Knight entitled “Could working less reduce pressures on the environment?” The short answer is yes.

“As humanity’s overshoot of environmental limits become increasingly manifest and its consequences become clearer, more attention is being paid to the idea of supplanting the pervasive growth paradigm of contemporary societies,” the report says.

The United States seems to be a case study for what’s wrong.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that countries with high annual work hours have much higher carbon emissions and carbon footprints,” Schor told us, noting that the latter category also takes into account the impacts of the products and services we use. And it isn’t just the energy we expend at work, but how we live our stressed-out personal lives.

“If households have less time due to hours of work, they do things in a more carbon-intensive way,” Schor said, with her research finding those who work long hours often tend to drive cars by themselves more often (after all, carpooling or public transportation take time and planning) and eat more processed foods.

Other countries have found ways of breaking this vicious cycle. A generation ago, Schor said, the Netherlands began a policy of converting many government jobs to 80 percent hours, giving employees an extra day off each week, and encouraging many private sector employers to do the same. The result was happier employees and a stronger economy.

“The Netherlands had tremendous success with their program and they’ve ended up with the highest labor productivity in Europe, and one of the happiest populations,” Schor told us. “Working hours is a triple dividend policy change.”

By that she means that reducing per capita work hours simultaneously lowers the unemployment rate by making more jobs available, helps address global warming and other environmental challenges, and allows people to lead happier lives, with more time for family, leisure, and activities of their choosing.

Ironically, a big reason why it’s been so difficult for the climate change movement to gain traction is that we’re all spending too much time and energy on making a living to have the bandwidth needed to sustain a serious and sustained political uprising.

When I presented this article’s thesis to Bill McKibben, the author and activist whose 350.org movement is desperately trying to prevent carbon concentrations in the atmosphere from passing critical levels, he said, “If people figure out ways to work less at their jobs, I hope they’ll spend some of their time on our too-often neglected work as citizens. In particular, we need a hell of a lot of people willing to devote some time to breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry.”

world

That’s the vicious circle we now find ourselves in. There is so much work to do in addressing huge challenges such as global warming and transitioning to more sustainable economic and energy systems, but we’re working harder than ever just to meet our basic needs — usually in ways that exacerbate these challenges.

“I don’t have time for a job, I have too much work to do,” is the dilemma facing Carlsson and others who seek to devote themselves to making the world a better place for all living things.

To get our heads around the problem, we need to overcome the mistaken belief that all jobs and economic activity are good, a core tenet of Mayor Ed Lee’s economic development policies and his relentless “jobs agenda” boosterism and business tax cuts. Not only has the approach triggered the gentrification and displacement that have roiled the city’s political landscape in the last year, but it relies on a faulty and overly simplistic assumption: All jobs are good for society, regardless of their pay or impact on people and the planet.

Lee’s mantra is just the latest riff on the fabled Protestant work ethic, which US conservatives and neoliberals since the Reagan Era have used to dismantle the US welfare system, pushing the idea that it’s better for a single mother to flip our hamburgers or scrub our floors than to get the assistance she needs to stay home and take care of her own home and children.

“There is a belief that work is the best form of welfare and that those who are able to work ought to work. This particular focus on work has come at the expense of another, far more radical policy goal, that of creating ‘less work,'” Spencer wrote in his Guardian essay. “Yet…the pursuit of less work could provide a better standard of life, including a better quality of work life.”

And it may also help save us from environmental catastrophe.

GLOBAL TIPPING POINT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top research body on the issue recognized by the United Nations, recently released its fifth report summarizing and analyzing the science and policies around climate change, striking a more urgent tone than in previous reports.

On April 13 at a climate conference in Berlin, the panel released a new report noting that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever and urgent action is needed in the next decade to avert a serious crisis.

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, told The New York Times. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

After the panel released an earlier section of the report on March 31, it wrote in a public statement: “The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises.”

The known impacts will be displaced populations in poor countries inundated by rising seas, significant changes to life-supporting ecosystems (such as less precipitation in California and other regions, creating possible fresh water shortages), food shortages from loss of agricultural land, and more extreme weather events.

What we don’t yet know, these “surprises,” could be even scarier because this is such uncharted territory. Never before have human activities had such an impact on the natural world and its delicate balances, such as in how energy circulates through the world’s oceans and what it means to disrupt half of the planet’s surface area.

Researchers have warned that we could be approaching a “global tipping point,” in which the impact of climate change affects other systems in the natural world and threatens to spiral out of control toward another mass extinction. And a new report funded partially by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Goodard Space Center combines the environmental data with growing inequities in the distribution of wealth to warn that modern society as we know it could collapse.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” the report warned.

It cites two critical features that have triggered most major societal collapses in past, both of which are increasingly pervasive problems today: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’),” which makes it more difficult to deal with problems that arise.

Both of these problems would be addressed by doing less overall work, and distributing the work and the rewards for that work more evenly.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEM

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change — has some doubts about the strategy of addressing global warming by reducing economic output and working less.

“Economic activity which uses energy is not immediately correlated with work hours,” she told us, noting that some labor-saving industrial processes use more energy than human-powered alternatives. And she also said that, “some leisure activities could be consumptive activities that are just as bad or worse than work.”

She does concede that there is a direct connection between energy use and climate change, and that most economic activity uses energy. Zabin also said there was a clear and measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the Great Recession that began with the 2008 economic crash, when economic growth stalled and unemployment was high.

“When we’re in recessions and output and consumption slow, we see a reduction in impact on the climate,” Zabin said, although she added, “They’re correlated, but they’re not causal.”

Other studies have made direct connections between work and energy use, at least when averaged out across the population, studies that Rosnick cited in his study. “Recent work estimated that a 1 percent increase in annual hours per employee is associated with a 1.5 percent increase in carbon footprint,” it said, citing the 2012 Knight study.

Zabin’s main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. “Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable,” she told us, noting how that would hurt the working class.

But again, doesn’t that just assume that the pain of an economic slowdown couldn’t be more broadly shared, with the rich absorbing more of the impact than they have so far? Can’t we move to an economic system that is more sustainable and more equitable?

“It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use,” Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: “If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch.”

Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, “we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway.”

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? European leaders have already started opting for the latter option, slowing down their economic output, reducing work hours, and substantially lowering the continent’s carbon footprint.

That brings us back to the basic question set forth in the Rosnick study: As productivity increases, should those gains go to increase the wages of workers or to reduce their hours? From the perspective of global warming, the answer is clearly the latter. But that question is complicated in US these days by the bosses, investors, and corporations keeping the productivity gains for themselves.

“It is worth noting that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973-2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In that type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less. The analysis of this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past,” the study concludes.

So it appears we have some work to do, and that starts with making a connection between Earth Day and May Day.

EARTH DAY TO MAY DAY

The Global Climate Convergence (www.globalclimateconvergence.org [2]) grew out of a Jan. 18 conference in Chicago that brought together a variety of progressive, environmental, and social justice groups to work together on combating climate change. They’re planning “10 days to change course,” a burst of political organizing and activism between Earth Day and May Day, highlighting the connection between empowering workers and saving the planet.

“It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Earth Day to May Day 2014 (April 22 — May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions,” the group announced.

San Mateo resident Ragina Johnson, who is coordinating events in the Bay Area, told us May Day, the international workers’ rights holiday, grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the United States, so it’s appropriate to use the occasion to call for society to slow down and balance the demands of capital with the needs of the people and the planet.

“What we’re seeing now is an enormous opportunity to link up these movements,” she told us. “It has really put us on the forefront of building a new progressive left in this country that takes on these issues.”

In San Francisco, she said the tech industry is a ripe target for activism.

“Technology has many employees working 60 hours a week, and what is the technology going to? It’s going to bottom line profits instead of reducing people’s work hours,” she said.

That’s something the researchers have found as well.

“Right now, the problem is workers aren’t getting any of those productivity gains, it’s all going to capital,” Schor told us. “People don’t see the connection between the maldistribution of hours and high unemployment.”

She said the solution should involve “policies that make it easier to work shorter hours and still meet people’s basic needs, and health insurance reform is one of those.”

Yet even the suggestion that reducing work hours might be a worthy societal goal makes the head of conservatives explode. When the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about how “working a bit less” could help many people qualify for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (“Lower 2014 income can net huge health care subsidy,” 10/12/13), the right-wing blogosphere went nuts decrying what one site called the “toxic essence of the welfare state.”

Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders parroted the criticism in her Feb. 7 column. “The CBO had determined that ‘workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.’ To many Democrats, apparently, that’s all good,” she wrote of Congressional Budget Office predictions that Obamacare could help reduce hours worked.

Not too many Democratic politicians have embraced the idea of working less, but maybe they should if we’re really going to attack climate change and other environmental challenges. Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let’s talk about slowing things down.

“There’s a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do,” Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn’t dictate the work we do. “Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things.”

And what about those who would choose idleness and sloth? So what? At this point, Mother Earth would happily trade her legions of crazed workaholics for a healthy population of slackers, those content to work and consume less.

Maybe someday we’ll even look back and wonder why we ever considered greed and overwork to be virtues, rather than valuing a more healthy balance between our jobs and our personal lives, our bosses and our families, ourselves and the natural world that sustains us.

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs

IPCC Report: Effects Of Anthropogenic Climate Change Happening Now In Real Time, Threaten Global Food Stocks & Humankind. Worst Yet To Come.

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 3:49 am

Flooding in Pakistan in 2010, the kind of extreme weather events which the IPCC says is the result of climate change. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

Oldspeak: ““Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change

Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The report was built on the work of more than 300 scientists drawing from 12,000 scholarly articles to produce the most comprehensive picture of climate risks to date. Pachauri said the report provided all that governments could need for coming up with a strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting populations from climate change. The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report in 2007, and the findings make an increasingly detailed picture of how climate change – in tandem with existing fault lines such as poverty and inequality – poses a much more direct threat to life and livelihoods…. This was reflected in the language. The summary mentioned the word “risk” more than 230 times, compared to just over 40 mentions seven years ago, according to a count by the Red Cross…The report found the strongest evidence of climate change in the thawing permafrost in the Arctic and in the destruction of coral reefs. It found many freshwater and marine species had shifted their geographical range due to climate change…But the report said climate change was growing more evident in human systems as well, where it posed a series of risks….Climate change was already beginning to affect crop yields, especially for wheat and maize, and the report says that yields could decline sharply towards the middle of the century…The scientists found climate change was a driver of violent conflicts and migration, and was exacerbating inequality, making it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty…Climate change was also a factor in the rise of mega-disasters. The report said climate change was driving recent heatwaves and droughts, and was a risk factor for wildfires….At the forefront of those risks was the potential for humanitarian crisis. The report catalogued some of the disasters that have been visited around the planet since 2000: killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in Australia, and deadly floods in Pakistan…“We are now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said the leading author of the report, Chris Field of Stanford University. “We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential.”

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…. the more time passes, the worse it gets. it’s only going to get worse, there is no viable mitigation strategy, there is no way to avoid the worst effects of anthropogenic global warming. industrial civilization will collapse as a result of its continued and ever-increasing destruction of the ecology… Scientists have been told to prepare for 4 to 6 degree temperature rise.  Multiple irreversible non-linear feedback loops have been triggered and cannot be stopped and climate change is ACCELERATING. Changes will happen faster than lifeforms can adapt. Near term extinction is all but assured.” -OSJ

By Suzanna Goldenberg @ The U.K. Guardian:

A United Nations report raised the threat of climate change to a whole new level on Monday, warning of sweeping consequences to life and livelihood.

The report from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that climate change was already having effects in real time – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters.

And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

Monday’s report was the most sobering so far from the UN climate panel and, scientists said, the most definitive. The report – a three year joint effort by more than 300 scientists – grew to 2,600 pages and 32 volumes.

The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report, and the findings make an increasingly detailed picture of how climate change – in tandem with existing fault lines such as poverty and inequality – poses a much more direct threat to life and livelihood.

This was reflected in the language. The summary mentioned the word “risk” more than 230 times, compared to just over 40 mentions seven years ago, according to a count by the Red Cross.

At the forefront of those risks was the potential for humanitarian crisis. The report catalogued some of the disasters that have been visited around the planet since 2000: killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in Australia, and deadly floods in Pakistan.

“We are now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said Chris Field, one of the two main authors of the report.

Those extreme weather events would take a disproportionate toll on poor, weak and elderly people. The scientists said governments did not have systems in place to protect those populations. “This would really be a severe challenge for some of the poorest communities and poorest countries in the world,” said Maggie Opondo, a geographer from the University of Nairobi and one of the authors.

The warning signs about climate change and extreme weather events have been accumulating over time. But this report struck out on relatively new ground by drawing a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity, and conflict.

The report said climate change had already cut into the global food supply. Global crop yields were beginning to decline – especially for wheat – raising doubts as to whether production could keep up with population growth.

“It has now become evident in some parts of the world that the green revolution has reached a plateau,” Pachauri said.

The future looks even more grim. Under some scenarios, climate change could lead to dramatic drops in global wheat production as well as reductions in maize.

“Climate change is acting as a brake. We need yields to grow to meet growing demand, but already climate change is slowing those yields,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton professor and an author of the report.

Other food sources are also under threat. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by between 40% and 60%, according to the report.

The report also connected climate change to rising food prices and political instability, for instance the riots in Asia and Africa after food price shocks in 2008.

“The impacts are already evident in many places in the world. It is not something that is [only] going to happen in the future,” said David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University’s centre for food security, who devised the models.

“Almost everywhere you see the warming effects have a negative affect on wheat and there is a similar story for corn as well. These are not yet enormous effects but they show clearly that the trends are big enough to be important,” Lobell said.

The report acknowledged that there were a few isolated areas where a longer growing season had been good for farming. But it played down the idea that there may be advantages to climate change as far as food production is concerned.

Overall, the report said, “Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.” Scientists and campaigners pointed to the finding as a defining feature of the report.

The report also warned for the first time that climate change, combined with poverty and economic shocks, could lead to war and drive people to leave their homes.

With the catalogue of risks, the scientists said they hoped to persuade governments and the public that it was past time to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to plan for sea walls and other infrastructure that offer some protection for climate change.

“The one message that comes out of this is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate,” said Pachauri.

Abrupt Climate Change: Happening Now, Impacts Visible, Likely To Be More Extreme Than Projected & Beyond Lifeforms’ Ability To Adapt

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 3:22 am

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

Oldspeak: “…What we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections… With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change…abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme… some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice…..Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated…. Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon…. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average… The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded.  Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink.  In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave...” -Bruce Melton

“Our planets’ thermostats and air conditioners are failing. Not 50 or 100 years in the future. Now. Rapidly. We are aggressively and ever faster depleting and poisoning the resources we need to survive and have no viable plans to replace them, while exacerbating the conditions causing our thermostats (ice caps)  and air conditioners (forests) to fail…. We will need 2 to 3 earths to support our current levels of consumption. This is not sustainable. There isn’t much doubt that We are racing headlong to extinction. Our pathological anthropocentricity will be our undoing, as it has overridden our powers of self-preservation.  Globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy trumps Survival.  At some point we’ll have no choice but to recognize and accept what we’ve wrought; the non-human scale devastation to come. The risks are too great to ignore.” -OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Pine beetle kill in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over 64 million acres have been killed across the Rockies of North America by a native pine beetle gone berserk because of warming. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Today, we are burning fossil carbon one million times faster than it was naturally put in the ground, and carbon dioxide is increasing 14,000 times faster than anytime in the last 610,000 years (1,2). Climate is now changing faster than it has during any other time in 65 million years – 100 times faster than the Paleocene/Eocene extinction event 56 million years ago see here.(3) However, “climate change” is not the most critical issue facing society today; abrupt climate change is. Climate scientists now have the knowledge necessary to guide us beyond existing climate pollution policy. New policy needs to focus on abrupt climate change, not the relatively slow changes we see in climate models of our future. The social, economic and biological disruptive potential of abrupt climate change is far greater than that of the gradual climate change present policy is predicated upon.

Over about the last 100,000 years, the world has seen about 20 abrupt climate changes, averaging 9 to 14 degrees, including in Greenland, where the temperature changed up to 25 to 35 degrees. These abrupt climate changes happen 10 to 100 times faster than the climate change projections we have all come to know and love. Mostly they happened in several decades or less, but one of the biggest changes happened in just a few years. (4)

The evidence of these abrupt changes is clear in the highly accurate findings from ancient preserved air in ice sheets. They were likely all related to feedbacks and thresholds or tipping points. There are many different kinds of feedbacks and tipping points and the science is still unclear on many of them. Feedbacks are things like the snow and ice feedback loop: snow and ice reflect up to 90 percent of the sun’s energy back into space harmlessly as light, while ocean, rocks, soil, vegetation and etc. reflect only 10 percent back into space, and the rest is absorbed and turned into heat energy that gets trapped by the greenhouse effect. The trapped energy creates more warming, that melts more snow and ice, that absorbs even more energy, changing it into heat, and the loop continues until all the snow and ice are gone.

Tipping points are a little bit more difficult to describe in environmental systems, but can easily be described in other ways. A canoe has a tipping point, beyond which a dry lovely day on the water turns into something quite different. Environmental systems behave in a similar manner. We can dump a lot of water pollution into our lakes and rivers, and nothing major seems to happen. Degradation occurs, but the lake or river generally continues to behave like a lake or river until the pollution levels reach a critical point. Then, as when one leans over just a little too far in a canoe, an algae bloom happens and the lake or river turns green or brown overnight and gets really smelly and bad tasting. This is an ecosystem tipping point. Pollution levels (nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater runoff agriculture, etc.) accumulate over time to a sufficiently high level that finally, an algae population explosion occurs. Then a really devastating thing sometimes occurs if the tipping point is really critical. All the algae die, sink to the bottom and decompose simultaneously. The decomposition uses up all the oxygen in the water and there is a big fish kill on top of the stinky smelly unsightly algal bloom.

Our global environment is no different from a lake or river or even a canoe. Some of these 20 or so abrupt changes happened in direct response to tipping points that preceded them, like a shutdown of the North Atlantic portion of the Gulf Stream. Some of them happened because one or more feedbacks went out of control. Pinning down exact causes of the abrupt changes, however, remains a difficult task.

Unearthing the Evidence

Abrupt climate change wasn’t really a recognized phenomenon until about 20 years ago. Strong evidence of abrupt temperature changes had been found in the 1960s in Greenland ice cores, but they were poorly understood and considered anomalies at the time. Climate change science was dominated by sediment cores from oceans and lakes and slow, glacially paced changes of the 100,000-year cycles of our climate as Earth’s tilt and orbit changed around the sun. As time passed, the early evidence of abrupt change was found again and again in subsequent ice cores. Even in Antarctica, these same abrupt signals were found.

Bubbles of ancient air preserved in Greenland ice. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Those first records of abrupt climate change from the 1960s at Camp Century were found in ice cores from a WWII nuclear base in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Camp Century was chosen as one of the first places to drill ice because it was an existing station in a very hostile environment. The Greenland Ice Sheet is over two miles thick and 11,000 feet high. The ice cores seemed to show radical climate jumps in the clearly visible annual layers of snow, in oxygen and methane in the preserved ancient air and dust that increased and decreased dramatically according to temperature.

Over the next two decades and continued ice core drilling, the same signs of abrupt changes were seen, and some confidence began to emerge about the validity of this amazing storehouse of evidence. It was not until the early 1990s, though, that the story became clear. Two identical ice cores were drilled in one of the most stable parts of the ice sheet. The cores were identical down to 100,000 years ago, then close to bedrock, the annual layers became warped and folded. Above the level of ice at 100,000 years ago, the ice cores matched identically. The same volcanic eruptions from across the world were represented by characteristic ash from the different eruptions. Even the same dust from Siberia during really cold dry periods was found in the different ice cores. These abrupt changes were real and they were radical. Why then did sediment cores not reveal abrupt changes?

The reason was biopertubation. Bioperturbation is what happens to sediments when worms eat through organic material on the bottom of a lake or ocean. Dozens and even hundreds of years of sediment deposition per inch are mixed and remixed by the worms. It happens to almost all sediments everywhere. The best resolution in sediments at the time was really a century or more or even thousands of years. The abrupt nature of actual changes in the annual sediment layers was simply wiped out, or eaten up. Then we began to learn of areas of the globe where biopertubation did not exist.

A few areas of the ocean were identified that were stagnant and devoid of oxygen. Worms can’t live without oxygen and in these areas there is no bioperturbation. The same abrupt climate jumps as were found in Greenland were now plain to see. We have also found the same evidence in the annual layers of stalagmites and other cave formations.

It took another decade for science to catch up, but what we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections.

Extreme Impacts

With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change.

A new National Academy of Sciences mega-report takes on the prospect of future abrupt climate changes, asking whether changes may take place “so fast that the time between when a problem is recognized and when action is required shrinks to the point where orderly adaptation is not possible?”

The good news is that some of the more popular abrupt climate change scenarios are not likely, according to the report. Popularized and wildly exaggerated in movies like The Day After Tomorrow, a shutdown of ocean currents seems less likely in time frames that matter. Likewise, concern of serious trouble from methane outgassing from melting clathrates on the ocean floor and in permafrost seems unlikely. However, we do need to realize that the climate science consensus process is not flawless. That process told us in 2007 that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until after 2100, but now tells us in the 2013 IPCC report that Antarctic ice loss has already caught up with Greenland’s. So, when climate change consensus opinion now tells us ocean current shutdown and clathrate off gassing are not very likely, we must understand that this opinion cannot be counted as fact.

Moreover, the mega-report notes that abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme.(5) The report tells us that there are many more types of abrupt change than temperature and that science is now becoming good enough to help us anticipate some of them, but not all of them. It also tells us that some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice: “More open water conditions during summer would have potentially large and irreversible effects . . . because the Arctic region interacts with large-scale circulation systems of the oceans and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the Northern Hemisphere.”

We have already seen how increasing energy in the Arctic has increased the magnitude of jet stream loops and the speed of those loops across the planet. These loops carry more intense storms (the polar vortex) and because of their retarded movement across the globe, these more intense weather systems stall out, increasing the dry, wet or otherwise extreme conditions associated with them.

New discoveries have shown that it is likely that one of the most abrupt of all climate changes in the last 100,000 years happened 12,000 years ago. It was called the Younger Dryas, and the temperature in Greenland jumped 25 degrees in three years. Some 1,000 years later, it fell 25 degrees in a few decades. This abrupt tipping point is now a prime candidate in the extinction of 72 percent of North American mammals, including large mammals like the saber-toothed cat and mastodon.

There are other types of abrupt changes that can be triggered by slow climate change. They are called abrupt climate impacts. The report gives the example of the mountain pika, one of my favorite alpine animals. (7) The pika is a bunny-sized, rabbit-like mammal with short little mouse-like ears and a peculiar little squeaky nasally call. It gathers grass and wildflowers in its home in the high mountains, mostly above treeline during the short high altitude summer, and stores this “pika hay” in caches in the rocks of scree slopes high on mountainsides.

As temperatures rise, the alpine meadows that the pika evolved with rise up the mountainside in response to warming. The alpine vegetation follows the cool zone up the mountain. At some point this process ends abruptly as the top of the mountain is reached and no place remains for the pika’s hay to grow. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pika as endangered because of climate change, but has been turned down by both. Their reasoning is that the pika’s range is not in danger of disappearing in the next several decades. That is exactly what this article is about. Current policy simply does not take abrupt climate change into consideration. The consensus reports all mention it sooner or later, but then they caveat their way out of doing anything about it because too little is known about how these things actually happen. From the summary of “Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises”:

Although many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises, the scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or ‘tipping point’ to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes – which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years – have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

A much quicker example is the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The last time it happened 120,000 years ago, Earth was about the same temperature as it is today. We saw a similar collapse in 2003 when the Larsen B ice shelf, the size of Massachusetts, disintegrated in two months. Slow warming had created more and more melt on top of the Larsen B. Then a peculiar thing happened. The melt pools on top of the ice sheet became large enough and heavy enough (water is heavier than ice) to force cracks in the ice open. The cracks catastrophically opened all the way to the bottom of the floating ice sheet a thousand or more feet below and the entire thing broke into little bergy bits. We don’t know when this will happen to the Mexico-sized West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the largest remaining marine ice sheet), but we didn’t know a year ahead of time that collapse was going to happen to the Larsen B either. (8)

The current assumption as to how fast the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse is a hundred years minimum. But the similarities in the Larsen B and the West Antarctic are high, and the consensus has wildly underestimated ice processes in Antarctica before.

Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated. (9) Polar bears are at risk because their main prey, the ringed seal, rears its young on sea ice. The young ringed seals cannot swim until they mature – creating a large challenge for the perpetuation of that species with the absence of sea ice during the reproduction season. (10)

Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon. In the Rockies, prolonged drought has been caused by warmer temperatures. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average and the increase is even greater at elevations where the forests are. This is a long-term shift in relative wetness, shown in the climate models and now being realized. (11) The growing season has increased by 30 days or more in the spring, which is relatively easy to measure because of the onset of snowmelt. (12) In the fall, it is more difficult to measure, but the longer growing season and the hotter temperatures both add to the warming feedback that has perpetuated drought even as normal rainfall has returned to some areas. The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded. (13)

Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink. (14) In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave. (15)

Making Climate Science Real

So, what can we do to prepare for possible abrupt changes in the near future? The mega-report suggests setting up an Abrupt Change Early Warning System (ACEWS). Environmental systems often send out signals that a change of state is near. When weather flickers from cold to hot or wet to dry, it may be a sign that abrupt changes are to come. The ACEWS system would be integrated with a risk management system that takes into consideration the ultimate costs of an abrupt change. Example: coral bleaching events are certainly costly to some ocean systems and economies dependent on those ocean systems. An abrupt sea level jump, however, may not have near the impact on ocean systems, but have much more devastating impacts on global socio-economic factors.

Barring the creation of a full-blown abrupt change early warning system, scientists will continue to monitor ongoing changes and increase the accuracy of their measurements and their modeling efforts to simulate and recreate future and past change events. But as more knowledge on abrupt changes is discovered, one thing is becoming crystal clear: Climate change policy today has become severely dated, and we need to catch up.

Just a few years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was still a valid way of preventing dangerous climate change, emission reduction strategies were appropriate. We did not know nearly as much about abrupt climate change and abrupt impacts as we do today. The IPCC had not pronounced that greater than 100 percent emissions reductions for a sustained period are required to prevent dangerous climate change. (16) Now we know these things, and now we know we must begin to remove CO2 directly from our atmosphere because no amount of emissions reductions can remove greater than 100 percent of annual emissions.

We also know that once fully industrialized, air capture of CO2 can be done for $25 per ton. This means the removal of 50 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere can be done for what the US paid for healthcare in 2005 ($2.1 trillion). (17)

Why are we not yet implementing these changes? A large part of the answer is that the perceived debate has masked the facts. Climate science is not real to most people. It doesn’t really affect many of us yet; it’s not a priority, so it is not reported. Humanity needs to be brought up to speed. Once the knowledge is spread around – as crucial scientific facts, not politics – we will make the correct decisions. One only hopes we can spread that crucial knowledge before abrupt changes begin.

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Notes

1. We are using fossil fuels one million times faster than Mother Nature saved them for us . . . Richard Alley, Earth: The Operators’ Manual, Norton Publishing and PBS documentary.

2. 14,000 times faster… Zeebe and Caldeira, Close mass balance of long-term carbon fluxes from ice-core CO2 and ocean chemistry records, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, April 27, 2008.

3. 100 times faster than anytime in 65 million years . . . Diffenbaugh and Field, “Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions, Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” Science, Special Climate Edition, Volume 341, August 2, 2013, page 490, first paragraph: “The Pleistocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) encompassed warming of 5 degrees C in less than 10,000 years, a rate of change that is 100-fold slower than that projected by RCP8.5.”

4. Abrupt climate change as fast as a few years. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, December 2013, Preface, page vii, second paragraph.

9 to 15 degrees across the globe . . . Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 119, Figure 12.2.

Data for figure 12.2 is from Cuffey and Clow, “Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial Transition,” Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 102(C12), pp 26,383 to 26,396.

Greenland temperature change is twice that of the global average. Chylek and Lohmann, “Ratio of Greenland to global temperature change – comparison of observations and climate models,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 2005. Chylek and Lohmann say the Greenland temperature change is 2.2 times greater than the global average. From Alley’s Figure 12.2 (Cuffey and Clow), the 25 to 35 degree F abrupt changes in Greenland would equal 9 to 15 degrees average across the globe.

Also see: 25 to 35 degrees in “Greenland, National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, 2002. Figure 2.5, page 37.

5. More extreme than previously understood. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, preface, third paragraph.

6. Extinction of 72 percent of North American Mammals, ibid. page 1, second paragraph

7. Pika, ibid. page 118.

8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet, ibid., pages 7, 13, 33, 34, 59, 61, 62, 150, 161.

9. Seventy-five percent of Caribbean reefs destroyed. Alvarez-Philip, Dulvey, et. al., “Flattening of Caribbean coral reefs: Region-wide decline in architectural complexity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society-B, June 2009.

10. “Polar Bears,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 118.

11. The American West has warmed 70 percent more than the global average. Hotter and Drier, “The West’s Changed Climate,” Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, 2008, Executive Summary, page iv, paragraph 1.

12. Spring is coming 30 days sooner in the American West; 10–30 days over the 1948–2000 period. I. Stewart, D. Cayan, and M. Dettinger, “Changes in snowmelt runoff timing in western North America under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario,” Climatic Change 62 (2004): 217-232. Page 223, 4. Results, second paragraph.

13. “Bark Beetle Outbreaks,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 21.

14. The Amazon has flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source; Lewis et al., “The 2010 Amazon Drought,” Science, February 4, 2011.

15. 301 million trees killed in Texas in the drought of 2011; Texas A&M Forest Service.

16. IPCC 2013: Greater than 100 percent emissions reductions; IPCC 2013, Summary for Policy Makers, E.8 “Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility,” p 20, fourth bullet.

17. Lower Limit for Air Capture Costs: $25 per ton CO2 or slightly lower than the suggested minimum price for flue capture; Lackner et al., “The urgency of the development of CO2 capture from ambient air,” PNAS, August 14, 2012, page 13159, paragraph 6.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and http://www.climatediscovery.com Images copyright Bruce Melton 2012, except where referenced otherwise.