2018/12/05: The whole “fighting climate change” frame rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get things done. But that’s not always the case, as the linguist Deborah Tannen wrote in The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words back in 1998. Military and sports metaphors train us to see everything in terms of conflict — this side versus that side — and that perspective limits our collective imagination about what we can do to fix complex problems.
Coming from a pacifist background, and obsessed with linguistics, I’ve grown uneasy with the way war shapes our words. The thought struck me earlier this year: By pitting one group against another, do war metaphors undermine our ability to address the complex problem of climate change, the biggest global crisis we face? Are there other ways to frame our predicament and convey the sense of urgency that’s needed — without dividing us into Hatfields and McCoys?
My gut feeling was that talking about climate change as a battle between rivals will ensure our ultimate defeat. But the reality might be more complicated than that.
Hundreds of other studies have shown that the best way to get people to stop demonizing each other is to introduce them to the actual human beings they disagree with.
Instead of turning differences into fights, I could frame the climate discussion in positive terms — discussing how a shift to renewable energy creates jobs, for example.
2018/12/04: At a UN climate change summit in Poland Monday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin underlined the Holy See’s view that climate change is a moral issue and has an effect on human dignity.
“The scientific data at our disposal clearly show the urgent need for swift action, within a context of ethics, equity and social justice,” Parolin told the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Dec. 3.
“The transition to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” he stated, “is a problem not only within the domain of technology, but also a question of consumption patterns, education, and lifestyles. We are gradually becoming aware that climate change is an issue increasingly more moral than technical.”
Speaking on the first day of the COP-24 in Katowice, Parolin stressed the Holy See’s desire for the work program of the Paris Agreement be built on a “clear ethical foundation,” and on a commitment to “advancing the dignity of the human person, alleviating poverty and promoting integral human development.”
He also said implementation of the climate change agreement should be based on “easing the impact of climate change through responsible mitigation and adaptation measures” and on meeting the needs of both the present and the future.
Informally dubbed the COP-24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is taking place Dec. 3-14. The main task of the summit is developing a program for implementation of the Paris Agreement at the national level.
The Paris Agreement, which will take effect in 2020, was made within the UNFCCC to create a global response to combatting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. A long-term goal of the agreement is to help control the increase in the global average temperature by having countries pledge individual contributions towards the mitigation of global warming.
2018/11/28: The short-term outlook doesn’t look so scary. Climate change means a longer growing season, and conditions might actually improve in places like the Dakotas, where cold weather currently limits farming. Warming should also boost wheat and barley harvests. But rising temperatures and CO2 concentrations will also “enable ragweed and other plants to produce allergenic pollen in larger quantities,” for more months out of the year. And in the long term, harvests of all food crops, including wheat, are expected to decline unless farmers take unprecedented steps to adapt.
Radical adaptation could improve harvests and help solve the larger climate problem. Crops can suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in the soil. The report notes that “agriculture is one of the few sectors with the potential for significant increases in carbon sequestration.”
What would radical adaptation look like? The corn belt might move north from Kansas to Saskatchewan with the weather. Farmers could synch planting times and fertilizer application with precise weather forecasts. Governments might pay farmers for locking up carbon in their fields instead of maximizing profits. They could also provide the funding necessary for scientists to breed climate-adapted crops and animals.
In short, there are plenty of ways that agriculture can provide hope in place of worry. But without action, there’s going to be misery in farm country, according to the report.
2018/11/27: For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.
We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear. It begins with the galloping momentum calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Ocasio-Cortez and now backed by more than 14 representatives.
The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality.
That early 2020 deadline is important — it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.
The Westminster building located at 55 Tufton Street is home to a small but influential network of right wing think tanks including the UK climate denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The building itself is owned by Richard Smith, a businessman who owns HR Smith Group, a company that works on advanced aerospace technologies. The building was bought in 2009 by Specmat, one of Smith’s technology manufacturing companies. While he keeps a low profile, Smith is perhaps best known for flying former Prime Minister David Cameron to his home in Shobdon, Herefordshire, in 2007. Smith is associated with several of the organisations at 55 Tufton Street and also donated money to the Vote Leave campaign (once located at the same Tufton Street address).
The building is home to several groups which spread misinformation about climate science and work to reduce protections for the environment.
2018/10/15: Previous studies have looked at climate change’s impact on mood and on suicide. However, there hasn’t been much research between those extremes, says Nick Obradovich, the lead author on the study and a researcher at MIT’s Media Lab. To capture that middle ground, Obradovich and his team used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s collected responses to the question: “Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?”
They found that when the average monthly temperature in already hot places got even hotter — shifting from 77-86 degrees F to above that range — there was a 0.5 percent increase in self-reported mental health issues. It sounds small, but if extrapolated across the current U.S. population over a 30-day period, that increase would lead to almost 2 million additional individuals reporting mental health difficulties.
The systems we have in place aren’t equipped to handle this influx of mental health issues, says psychiatrist Elizabeth Haase, another member of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance. She says it may require rethinking and restructuring our mental health care system, with an emphasis on community-based and value-based health care, where medical professionals are paid based on outcome.
2018/10/15: extreme weather would reduce barley yield by between 3% and 17%. Some countries fared better than others: tropical areas such as Central and South America were hit badly, but crop yields actually increased in certain temperate areas, including northern China and the United States. Some areas of those countries saw yield increases of up to 90% — but this was not enough to offset the global decrease.
Finally, Guan and his colleagues fed these changes in barley yield into an existing economic model that can account for changes in supply and demand in the global market. This enabled them to look at how reduced barley production would affect pricing and consumption of beer in countries, as well as trade between nations.
In the worst-case scenario, the reduced barley supply worldwide would result in a 16% decrease in global beer consumption in the years of extreme-weather events. Prices would, on average, double...
One goal of the research, Guan says, was to make tangible how "climate change will impact people’s lifestyle... (If people) want to drink beer when we watch football, then we have to do something."
2018/10/10: it’s not that the news about climate has changed, but that the scientific community is finally discarding caution in describing the implications of its own finding.
They have also, thankfully, offered a practical suggestion, proposing the imposition of a carbon tax many, many times higher than those currently in use or being considered — they propose a tax of up to $5,000 per ton of carbon dioxide by 2030, growing to $27,000 per ton by 2100. Today, the average price of carbon across 42 major economies is just $8 per ton. The new Nobel laureate in economics, William Nordhaus, made his name by almost inventing the economic study of climate change, and his preferred carbon tax is $40 per ton — which would probably land us at about 3.5 degrees of warming. He considers that grotesque level “optimal.”
But a carbon tax is only a spark to action, not action itself. And the action needed is at a scale and a speed almost unimaginable to most of us. The IPCC report called it unprecedented. Other activists often see one precedent, in all of human history, citing the model of how the United States prepared for World War II, and calling for a global mobilization of that kind — all of the world’s rivalrous societies and nationalistic governments and self-interested industries organized around the common pursuit of a stable and comfortable climate as though warming was an existential threat.
It is. And the World War II mobilization metaphor is not hyperbole.
A few weeks ago, as the IPCC report loomed, I had lunch with a prominent climate scientist who’d been involved in earlier reports and has done considerable work on local preparedness as well. I asked if he thought New York would eventually build a sea wall or surge barrier to protect the city from sea-level rise and flooding. Yes, he said, Manhattan will be protected, at any cost. But major infrastructure projects like these take decades — typically about 30 years. Even if we began building today, he said, the barrier would not be finished in time to save Howard Beach and other parts of southern Queens and Brooklyn. Soon enough, he said, you’ll see the city adjust accordingly — halting new infrastructure projects there, eventually pulling back from even quotidian maintenance like sewer repairs and generally signaling to current residents that they will not be able to leave behind their homes, when they die, to their children. And of course a sea wall to protect New York only encloses the narrows of New York Harbor, leaving all of Long Island exposed.
This is just the threat from sea level, and just one (very rich) metropolitan area. The world is much bigger than that, but so is climate change. It is also very fast, with more than half the carbon humanity has ever emitted into the atmosphere having come in just the last 25 years, since Al Gore published his first book on climate change. Monday’s IPCC may seem like a dramatic departure, and it is. But there is going to be much more like it coming. So long as we continue to squander what little time we have, the news will only get worse from here.
2018/10/10: Climate change will be worse for people who are poor, or not white, or not men, or very young, or very old — or any combination of the above. So if you, in your daily life, are doing anything to make life easier for any of those groups, you are helping to fight the devastating impacts of climate change
2018/10/09: In the past few years, California has emerged as a global leader in tackling climate change through agricultural policy. One of its most successful programs to date has been the State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program, known as SWEEP. The first program of its kind in the country, SWEEP provides financial incentives to farmers to improve irrigation management in ways that both save water and reduce emissions. So far, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions the program is projected to achieve over its lifetime are equivalent to taking nearly 65,000 passenger vehicles off the road. However, state funding for the program hasn’t kept up with farmer demand. In the first three years, applications outnumbered awards by a nearly three-to-one ratio. And since drought faded from the headlines, funding for the program is in question.
Similarly promising, but struggling, is another first-of-its-kind climate-smart agriculture program: The Healthy Soils Initiative. This initiative offers financial assistance to farmers for a whole suite of practices that sequester carbon in soils, from reducing tillage to planting perennial vegetation to adding a thin layer of compost to the land. Although small, this program has been celebrated far beyond California as a particularly promising win-win policy, since carbon sequestered in soils not only reduces the burden on the atmosphere, but actually improves soils’ fertility and capacity to support healthy crops.
2018/10/09: Every scenario for keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius requires reducing per capita consumption. The scenarios range from shrinking world energy demand 15 percent by 2030 to constraining it to a 17 percent increase. Either way would mean less power for anyone rich enough to read this on a computer (if poorer people get more stuff under constrained growth, it means the richer people are going to have to make some lifestyle changes).
Some of this would come from efficiency, but it would also require “behavioural changes.”
Biofuel: Every scenario laid out by the IPCC relies on ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels to some extent, and projects an increase in farmland devoted to growing fuel. We could really use biofuels to replace jet fuel and gasoline, but it’s controversial. There are good scientists who say corn ethanol has a bigger carbon footprint than gasoline. Others say burning ethanol is already carbon negative and getting better all the time. It seems impossible to tell who is right. If you are cutting down rainforests for palm oil, that’s definitely a climate catastrophe. If you can get algae in a tank to turn sunlight to fuel, well, that’s awesome.
Nuclear power: All scenarios have nuclear providing a greater share of our electricity through 2050. Right now, nuclear power provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity. In one 1.5 degree scenario, the IPCC report has the world doubling the percentage of electricity it gets from nuclear by 2030, and quintupling it by 2050. The most “degrowthy” scenario, with dramatically decreasing energy demand, doesn’t require building new atomic plants but does require keeping the ones we have open.
2018/10/08: The Paris Agreement notes how it will take a little longer for poorer countries to fully decarbonise, raising the bar still further for the UK, USA and other wealthy nations.
To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2 C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system.
No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.
Sadly, the IPCC fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
The technological and social change the world needs dwarfs anything that’s come before in history.
we aren’t going to geoengineer our way out of this mess—cutting emissions is our number one priority. But as this new report makes abundantly clear, the disease we’ve unleashed on this planet is only getting worse, and we aren’t doing nearly enough to find the cure.
To correct course and avoid 1.5 C, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll need to cut emissions by half before 2030, and go carbon-neutral by 2050, the report says. That gives us three decades to transform our energy production into something unrecognizable, with renewable energy galore combined with carbon capture techniques like the bolstering of forests, and maybe even sucking the stuff out of the atmosphere and trapping it underground. We’ll have to change our behavior as individuals, too. Meaning, we’re looking at unprecedented change, what is essentially the restructuring of civilization.
That report says almost explicitly that, starting next Monday, an awfully big lot of people worldwide should really just sit still and smell the roses, consuming as little physical resources as it is possible to do while still living a decent, happy, meaningful life. Deliberately or not, that report is the single biggest argument in favour of real Universal Basic Income (UBI) that I have ever seen. If that report is correct, it has just made UBI just like democracy: paraphrasing someone quoted by Churchill, after that report “UBI is the worst form of economy, except for all those other forms that have been tried”.
Speaking of (digital) buzzwords…
That report is also a death sentence for several things much more related to my main line of work, and a well deserved sentence, in some cases. That report says that:
we may still have stuff like Instagram or Netflix, but on the same smartphone we already have, until it physically falls apart. More generally, we should all:
stop now buying anything electronic, unless it is really, really, really necessary
never buy anything that is deliberately made impossible to repair, even if it comes from the “coolest” company on Earth
only use and tolerate software that does not pollute more than absolutely needed
something like at least 80% of what is currently being marketed as “Internet of Things” (IoT) should simply fade away as quickly as possible. IoT is the new plastic. Stuff like Juicero, or the Tapplock should never go into production.
Community-level Digital DIY, instead, makes even more sense than it already did
the really smart home is the one made in this way
the only “smart cities” worth building are those made with Open Standards, instead of blockchains, just because it’s trendy
none of the bullets above means living worst than today, when it comes to stuff that matters
2018/08/24: concrete is an invention as transformative as fire or electricity. Since it came into widespread use around the turn of the 20th century, this man-made stone has changed where and how billions of people live, work and move around. It is the skeleton of almost every apartment block and shopping mall, and of most of the roads connecting them. It gives us the power to dam enormous rivers, erect buildings of Olympian height and travel the world with an ease that would astonish our ancestors.
The number of urban dwellers is rising by about 65 million people annually, according to the United Nations Population Division. That’s the equivalent of adding eight New Yorks - or 22 Torontos - to the planet every single year.
There’s no way cities could grow this fast without concrete.
Making all that concrete, however, takes a heavy toll on the atmosphere. The cement industry produces 5 per cent to 10 per cent of total carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide, putting it behind only coal-fuelled power plants and automobiles as a source of global-warming gases.
The most frightening aspect of our dependence on concrete might be that the structures we build with it won’t last. The vast majority of them will need to be replaced - and relatively soon.
To make matters worse, we’re running out of one of concrete’s essential ingredients: sand. Mining sand is its own colossal industry with its own litany of environmental devastations.
It’s time to start thinking about how much concrete we can afford.
2018/10/08: This little-noticed treaty has nothing to do with the Paris accord, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations that have dragged on since 1992, or energy sector emissions, which have resumed their rise.
The Kigali Amendment, which was agreed on October 15, 2016, and comes into force on January 1, will drastically reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These heat-trapping gases are the byproduct of industrial processes such as refrigeration and can be eliminated from those processes by re-engineering. The amendment comes under the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful international environmental treaty, which aims to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
HFCs are prime examples of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), a range of chemicals that are spewed into the atmosphere by human activities and contribute to global warming. While attempts to reduce climate change have rightly focused on the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, mostly produced from our use of fossil fuels, these other substances have been largely ignored.
Experts estimate that cutting down on SLCPs could reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees C. That would not be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change if we continue to burn fossil fuels, but it could buy humanity some much-needed time while carbon emissions are brought under better control.
“The only way to slow near-term feedbacks [which could drive climate change past tipping points] in the 15- to 20-year window before we lose control to runaway warming is to cut the SLCPs, which can provide considerably more avoided warming at mid-century than cuts to carbon dioxide can provide,” said Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a reviewer of the IPCC report on the effects of 1.5 C warming. “In fact, [they could provide] two to six times more [than carbon cuts].”
2018/10/07: landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.
Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.
The report emphasizes the potential role of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. “A price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation,” the report concludes. It estimates that to be effective, such a price would have to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100.
“Carbon taxes are political poison because they increase gas prices and electric rates,” said Myron Ebell, who heads the energy program at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry-funded Washington research organization, and who led the Trump administration’s transition at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The report details the economic damage expected should governments fail to enact policies to reduce emissions. The United States, it said, could lose roughly 1.2 percent of gross domestic product for every 1.8 degrees of warming.
In addition, it said, the United States along with Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are home to 50 million people who will be exposed to the effects of increased coastal flooding by 2040, if 2.7 degrees of warming occur.
At 3.6 degrees of warming, the report predicts a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. “In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant,” said Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and an author of the report. “You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”
The report also finds that, in the likelihood that governments fail to avert 2.7 degrees of warming, another scenario is possible: The world could overshoot that target, heat up by more than 3.6 degrees, and then through a combination of lowering emissions and deploying carbon capture technology, bring the temperature back down below the 2.7-degree threshold.
2018/10/03: There is no political issue more pressing than the official inaction on climate change. With time running out to avert hundreds of millions of deaths and global migration, food, disease, and water chaos, with 73% of US voters believing in climate change (albeit with a mere 57%
In a sample of 17 debates between candidates in competitive Senate and Congressional races, Media Matters found only a single question about climate, down from 25% in the 2016 election.
This year, the US blew through all spending records coping with climate change, spending at least $306 billion coping with climate-change-driven extreme weather events. But even in states where climate change has wreaked havoc, the candidates have barely mentioned the issue (and in many cases, they didn't mention it at all).
Connecticut, which is at risk from coastal and inland flooding, has had three gubernatorial debates, without a single climate change question.
The same is true for Kansas, which is at risk from drought, increasing tornadoes, extreme heat, crop failure and inland flooding; and Maine, which is at risk from coastal and inland flooding, as well as extreme heat and drought.
Rhode Island, which is at risk from coastal flooding, extreme heat, sea level rise and inland flooding, had no climate change questions asked during a gubernatorial debate. The same is true for Texas, which faces extreme heat, increasing hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and coastal and inland flooding.
Thus far, the one instance where climate change was brought into the debate was during a gubernatorial race debate in Minnesota, which is at risk from drought and extreme heat.
2018/10/04: World greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 - just 15 months from now.
According to a U.N. preview of the report, meeting the 1.5 goal would “require very fast changes in electricity production, transport, construction, agriculture and industry” worldwide, in a globally coordinated effort to bring about a zero-carbon economy as quickly as possible. It would also very likely require eventually removing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using technology that is not currently available at the scale that would be necessary. And there’s no time to waste: “The longer CO2 is emitted at today’s rate, the faster this decarbonization will need to be.”
The world has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees C, and the implications of that are increasingly obvious. In just the three years since the Paris Agreement was signed, we’ve seen thousand-year rainstorms by the dozens, the most destructive hurricane season in U.S. history, disastrous fires on almost every continent, and an unprecedented coral bleaching episode that affected 70 percent of the world’s reefs.
In this age of rapid warming, the IPCC report is inherently political — there are obvious winners and losers if the world fails to meet the 1.5-degree goal. If the world’s governments are to take the implications of IPCC’s findings seriously, it would be nothing less than revolutionary — a radical restructuring of human society on our planet.
Scary to see that world wide debt has increased by $57 trillion since the financial crises. Maddening that it would take only $16.5 trillion for the world to meet Paris climate change targets. Infuriating that rich people are hiding $26.5 trillion in offshore accounts, and that the wealth of the 1% is $127 trillion.