In the Face of Extinction

SUBHEAD: We must use our time wisely in the most monumental test our species has faced.

By Dahr Jamail on 3 December 2018 for Truth Out -
(https://truthout.org/articles/in-the-face-of-extinction-we-have-a-moral-obligation/)


Image above: People watch a globe at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), in Le Bourget, France, on December 10, 2015. Photo by Miguel Medina. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: We have not published an article for almost a month. There are several reasons. One is the sense of futility of changing the course of much else than our own behavior. Another is the long list of new projects, and the repair and maintenance of existing ones. As we move from dependence to self reliance more time is needed to live life rather than comment on it. Hunker down in place and take care of family. It's going to be a bumpy ride.] 

Researching and writing about the impacts of runaway climate change, as I’ve been doing now for too many years, I’ve watched several patterns recur.

One of these is evident in a recent warning from the UN. Biodiversity chief of the UN Cristiana Pașca Palmer warned that if governments around the globe don’t work to bring a halt to the loss of biodiversity and succeed in implementing a plan to do so within two years, humans could face our own extinction.

Palmer said, according to The Guardian, “People in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.”

People in all countries are already working to pressure their governments to do just that. Yet, with few possible exceptions, we know all too well how wedded most governments are to the current power structure and the economics that drive it to believe radical policy change like this will actually occur (without overthrowing said governments).

Then the pattern will repeat: After some time passes, and things are even worse, another dire warning or results of a study that serves as one is released, and again, nothing will change.

As cynical as this is, anyone paying attention over time can see this pattern.

Thus, we shall continue to watch these milestones as they pass by, then brace ourselves for what is to come.

Personally, I have instead surrendered and accepted the inevitability of our situation: that we will live the rest of our time, however long each of us might have left, on an irrevocably changed planet, while the Sixth Mass Extinction event continues apace. We will daily walk further into that frontier.

However, for me, this means that caring for the small piece of land where I live has never been more meaningful. Never have I felt as much gratitude for birdsong when I hear it, or for the scent of the Douglas fir near my home, or for the fresh air wafting down from the Olympic Mountains within whose shadow I live.

At the same time, never have I felt as morally obliged as I do today to live my life as close to my beliefs as possible. I’m obliged to work to serve and care for the planet with as much assiduity, tenacity and devotion as I am capable of. In fact, each time I read about the dire results of yet another human-caused climate/bio/geosphere disruption study, it is an opportunity to recommit to my beliefs.

At least for today, this is how I do this work in a way that is personally sustainable. Tomorrow, assuming I am still here, I might need a completely different approach.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to consider what your approach could be, as you take in each one of these reports below — each one a body blow humans have inflicted upon Earth.

To begin, a recently published study has shown that ocean acidification has already ignited a dangerous feedback loop that is literally dissolving the seafloor. Motherboard’s explanation of the study is worth quoting in full, as this is a critical feedback loop we all must be aware of:

Calcium carbonate, or calcite, lines the ocean floor. When calcite combines with carbon dioxide and water, the reaction produces calcium ions and bicarbonate ions. Because of this, the surrounding water becomes less acidic over long periods of time — think tens to thousands of years.

But when you throw more carbon dioxide into the equation, all of the seafloor calcite starts to get used up to power these reactions in extremely large amounts, meaning that the ocean floor is dissolving. Now, there’s not enough calcite but more carbon dioxide than ever, driving up acidity levels.

Foundational species in the marine food chain, such as coral, are fine-tuned to thrive within a very particular range of pH levels. When those levels change for a long period of time, these species — as well as the fish, bacteria, mollusks, and ocean life that depends on them — simply can’t survive. The last time the oceans were as acidic as they are now, 96 percent of ocean life was extinct.

Another study published in mid-November revealed how the climate policies of China, Russia and Canada alone will, if left unchanged, bring Earth above catastrophic 5 degrees Celsius (5°C) warming in less than 85 years.

The recently released US National Climate Assessment stated unequivocally that human-caused climate change will inflict “substantial damages” to the “economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

In many ways it restates the obvious: Climate change is already harming the lives of people in the US via disastrous wildfires in the west, soil loss in the Midwest, coastal erosion in Alaska, and east coast flooding. As did the aforementioned study, a previous climate assessment chapter stated: “without major reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century.”

Earth

Climate change-driven changes across this realm are becoming more dramatic with each passing month.

A recently published study showed that, due to increasingly warmer temperatures, climate change has become an “escalator to extinction” for mountain birds. Warmer temperatures are wiping out bird species that were already living atop mountains for the cooler climate.

Another recent study showed that climate change is essentially functioning to sterilize male insects. This grave damage to male insect reproductive systems under increasingly powerful heat waves could already be contributing to declines in biodiversity around much of the world.

Habitat loss for wildlife, according to a recent UN conference, is a threat to all of our futures. Biodiversity experts in attendance warned that the mass extinction of the planet’s wildlife is now as big of a danger as climate change itself. The World Wildlife Fund recently published its annual Living Planet report, which showed how, since just 1970, humans have annihilated 60 percent of Earth’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.

A very important recently published article by Yale Environment 360 showed how Earth’s climate zones are literally shifting due to climate change. This is bringing about food and water scarcity, and resulting in mostly negative consequences for local economies and public health.

Some of the highlights of the article: The tropics are expanding by 30 miles each decade, the Sahara Desert has gotten 10 percent larger since 1920, and the 100th meridian in the US — the line where the arid Western plains of North America meet the wetter eastern region — has shifted 140 miles to the east.

On that note, a government scientist in Canada is sounding the alarm about what is happening to forests in his country. Speaking to the fact that vast areas of Canadian forests are dying out, Canadian Forest Service research scientist Barry Cooke told the CBC, “We see these compelling images of trees dying over large areas and it’s fairly frightening.” The trees, which are dying off, are also a critical source of Canada’s biodiversity.

Meanwhile, a shocking new study showed that the Congo Basin rainforest, the second largest rainforest on Earth, may be gone by the end of this century, given current rates of deforestation. The study does not take into account climate change impacts like drought, wildfires and insect infestations that, of course, speed this up dramatically.

We are all acutely aware of the growing number of people from Central America heading toward the southern US border.

But what is usually not reported by the corporate media is that a vast percentage of these migrants, particularly those from Guatemala, are migrating due to climate change impacts like drought and shifting weather patterns, which are making life ever more difficult for small-scale farmers there.

This fall, a major hurricane in Hawai’i literally erased a small island from the map. Along with that disappearance came the loss of a critical breeding ground for monk seals, turtles and birds.

In what is truly a sign of the times, increasing numbers of “last chance” tourists are flocking to sites before they vanish. A recent article about this “last-chance tourism” — the phenomenon of people wanting to see places that are already irrevocably changed by climate change, or that will likely soon go away entirely — is rather disturbing. Some of the places attracting these “last chance” tourists are the Florida Reef Tract and Glacier National Park in Montana.

To close this section on a slightly heartening note, it is good to see more and more books and articles that are addressing the need to grieve all of this mounting loss.

Water

The now-infamous Pacific Blob, a vast patch of warm water that caused massive die-offs of marine life a few years ago, was just the precursor to what could become a pattern. Another mass of warm water has formed off the coast of Canada’s British Columbia, where warmer than normal ocean water is already covering about a 2,000 sq. km. area.

Despite Oregon being in the normally rainy Pacific Northwest, record heat and low rainfall have caused a declaration of emergency in almost one-third of the counties of the state. Amazingly, 86 percent of the state is also in severe drought.

In a dramatic indication of the rapidly diminishing cryosphere, a large glacier in China that draws millions of tourists annually is melting away before our eyes. The Baishui glacier, at 15,000 feet, is part of a massive blanket of ice in Central Asia referred to as the “third pole,” given that it is the third largest store of ice on the planet, behind Greenland and the Antarctic.

The area of ice, roughly the size of New Mexico and Texas combined, is vital as a water source for billions of people in Asia, and the 10 largest rivers in Asia rely heavily on its seasonal melting. In fact, it is one of the largest sources of freshwater on Earth, and it is in trouble.

Scientists working in China found that, by 2015, 82 percent of the glaciers they surveyed in China had retreated. A study published this year showed that the Baishui had lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 820 feet since just 1982.

“China has always had a freshwater supply problem with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield, told Phys.org. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.”

Scientists have also warned of a coming water crisis due to the melting glaciers in China; they expect it to begin around 2060.

Meanwhile, sea ice and glaciers in other parts of the world are not faring any better.

The Arctic sea ice is now thin enough that Russia is softening its regulations for the kind of vessels it allows to operate within its Northern Sea Route for shipping across the Arctic.

In Canada’s Yukon Territory, glaciers are now retreating much faster than previously believed, and bringing dramatic changes across the region. “In their recent State of the Mountains report published earlier in the summer, the Canadian Alpine Club found that the Saint Elias mountains – which span British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska – are losing ice faster than the rest of the country,” read a story in The Guardian about the melting glaciers. “Previous research found that between 1957 and 2007, the range lost 22 percent of its ice cover, enough to raise global sea levels by 1.1 millimetres.”

“When I first went to the St. Elias range, it felt like time travel – into the past,” David Hik, who co-edited the report, told The Guardian. “What we’re seeing now feels like time travel into the future. Because as the massive glaciers are retreating, they’re causing a complete reorganization of the environment.”

Then there are the ever-rising seas. Recently, three-fourths of Venice was flooded by an exceptionally high tide, which was augmented by strong winds. It was the worst flooding to inundate the city in a decade, and untold numbers of homes, commercial buildings and businesses flooded. We will, of course, see more of this colossal flooding in the not-so-distant future for all coastal cities around the globe.

One factor that causes the oceans to rise is the expansion of ocean waters as they warm. With that warming come other problems. For example, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has received another dire warning: the entire system is at risk from bleaching and more coral death. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a 60 percent chance that the entire Great Barrier Reef will reach alert level one, meaning that extreme heat stress and bleaching are likely. 2016 and 2017 both saw heat waves that decimated large swaths of the reef.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report warned that even with just a 1.5°C warming (Earth is currently at 1.1°C), the planet would lose 80 percent of its coral reefs. At 2°C they would all be destroyed.

Fire

California isn’t the only place experiencing increasingly intense and devastating wildfires.

A wildfire in George, South Africa, killed seven people, including a firefighter, as fires in the region are worsening due to ongoing drought and increasingly warming temperatures.

Bushfires following an intense heat wave across parts of Queensland, Australia — described as “highly unusual” for this time of year — have destroyed homes and forced evacuations. Normally, in Queensland, this time of year is the wet season.

“In this part of the world we have not experienced these conditions before,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll told the BBC. “It is unprecedented.”

Meanwhile, it’s not news that California, being warmer and drier than it used to be, is causing more and increasingly destructive wildfires as climate change progresses. Another report, this one from National Geographic, outlined how that state’s hottest and driest summers have all occurred in the last 20 years, along with the fact that 15 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history have occurred since just 2000. Additionally, 10 of the top 20 most destructive California wildfires have occurred since just 2010.

Air

According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate change is likely the cause of tropical cyclones now being pushed toward the poles. This means they are becoming increasingly destructive at the northern latitudes. This is due to the fact that climate change is actually causing the tropics to expand, is warming sea surface temperatures, and these conditions are causing cyclones to form further northward.

A November report by Yale Environment 360 showed that Arctic warming, which is happening twice as quickly as the warming of the rest of the globe, has allowed new species to spread northwards, which are bringing new diseases with them that are having an increasingly devastating impact on the region’s fragile ecosystems.

Denial and Reality

The rhetoric of climate denial is shifting, according to a recent report by Vox. The Republican Party, having become aware that — given the regularity of catastrophic climate events that is now undeniably upon us — engaging in ongoing denial of climate change makes them look bad, has shifted its wording again.

Rather than denying outright the reality of climate change, some Republicans are now increasingly challenging the idea that it is human-caused … while, of course, continuing to do the bidding of its fossil fuel funders. The rhetoric may have shifted, but in a sense, it doesn’t matter: Republicans are still working against any policy changes that might threaten the profits of Big Oil.

In one of the most blatant acts of denial possible, while commenting on the release of the aforementioned alarming US climate change report, President Donald Trump said, “I don’t believe it.”

Back in reality-land, Energy and Environment News published an important story outlining how every single US president from JFK on was warned about the dangers of climate change.

Meanwhile, New York State’s attorney general has sued ExxonMobil, accusing it of deceiving its shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change.

We must brace ourselves for a truly dystopian climate future that is inevitable. A very important report by Aeon shows us that we’re not just facing a “new normal” of climate extremes and the catastrophes that accompany them. In effect, we are entering a New Cretaceous period.

“Last November, the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn reported that warming by 3°C by 2100 is now the realistic expectation,” reads the report. “With no check on emissions, we are on course to see preindustrial levels of CO2 double (from 280 to 560 ppm, or parts per million) by 2050 – and then double again by 2100.

In short, we’ll be generating climate conditions last experienced during the Cretaceous period (145-65.95 million years ago) when CO2 levels reached over 1,000 ppm.”

It is worth noting that during the Cretaceous period, global temperatures were 3-10°C hotter than preindustrial temperatures, and we are currently at 1.1°C above preindustrial temperatures.

A final reality check for us all: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently reported that concentrations of key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are driving up global temperatures set a record in 2017. There is no sign of a reversal to this trend on the horizon.

According to the WMO report, the last time Earth experienced a similar concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when global temperatures were 2-3°C warmer than today, and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher than they are right now.

CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are 46 percent higher today than they were before the industrial revolution began. Concurrently, methane, which is a far, far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, is now present in the atmosphere at 257 percent of its level before the industrial revolution, and its rate of increase has been constant over the last decade.

The catastrophic impacts of runaway climate change are already upon us. We must all consider how to use our time and energies most wisely and carefully, as we face down the most monumental test our species has experienced.



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How do you degrow?

SUBHEAD: Facing large obstacles, huge consequences, humbling lessons and above all, mixed feelings.

By Constanza Hepp on 23 November 2018 for Degrowth.info -
(https://www.degrowth.info/en/2018/11/how-do-you-degrow/)


Image above: Handwashed cloth diapers hanging in the sun to dry. From original article.

We live nextdoor to my partner’s grandmother, Maria, who was born during the Second World War in Northern Italy. This means that she knows what hard times look like. Maria could not believe we would be using washable diapers for our baby boy.

With genuine surprise she asked me, “why?”, and then she was curious in which pot we were planning to boil the diapers. In her eyes, we could not possibly be choosing to use washable diapers – to her, an extinct garment reminiscent of poverty and manual labour – when there exists the comfort of the disposable.

Therefore, it must be that we cannot afford disposable diapers. Needless to say, for the first six months of our son’s life, every time Maria went to the supermarket, she bought us a packet of disposable diapers.

Everything about the lifestyle we are accustomed to, as rich westerners, has to change. If we let that sink in for a little bit that is when the real disruption comes in, giving way to a radical shift in perspective. So, where do we go from here?

As practitioners of the degrowth creed, the first challenge we face is precisely this, where do we start?
This is a very real question that needs to be answered when degrowthers decide to settle down. Since it’s possible to start anywhere, why not start with the closest and most immediate: ourselves. Our life.

Our lifestyle, our diet, our jobs. I want to bring forward how this radical decision – to choose the self as the first point of action towards a degrowth future – brings large obstacles, huge consequences, many humbling lessons and above all, so many mixed feelings.

How do we go about practicing degrowth?

So again, how do we go about practicing degrowth? Keeping in mind that the larger goal of degrowth is to socially organize through sufficiency, not to individually organize a lifestyle that soothes colonial guilt.

As I see it, there are two paths for practicing a degrowth lifestyle. One is to build an autonomous off-the-gird community that performs the visions for a degrowth society and the other is to coexist within existing ‘conventional’ communities, neighbourhoods and families.

I can only speak for the latter path, as it has been my experience for the last couple of years. Through coexisting with the status-quo, we are trying to change it from within. So far, the result is a living contradiction: we live in a small town, we manage a small homestead, and share with our community, but at the same time we are constantly breaking apart from them. The cultural obstacles are soul crushing.

Being surrounded by conspicuous consumption and judged by the same standards is overwhelming. It’s too easy to feel constrained when we are just trying to live in a way that is respectful of the natural world.

“I don’t understand this poverty vow you have taken for the sake of the environment”

Before my son was born, my mother said to me once, “I don’t understand this poverty vow you have taken for the sake of the environment”.

Only in that moment I realized what my choices look like to others. To me, it was both a sobering and a liberating choice, choosing to living with less in some aspects but really having so much more in other regards. However, to a set of very pragmatic eyes, voluntary simplicity looks a whole lot like poverty.

It’s hard to swallow just how much privilege is contained within that sentence, but it’s true. With her comment, my mother was echoing the common renunciations of Degrowth, which is something we (as a movement) absolutely must learn to deal with.

Part-time jobs mean more time for the unpaid reproductive labour in the home and the farm, but it also requires to make do with half the salary.

Second-hand clothes are an opportunity to be creative and original, but they also look like you cannot afford clothes and rely on hand-me-downs.

Fostering cooperation is a way of strengthening the bonds within a community, but it could also mean you are just needy and always seeking help. And so on.

Can we calmly coexist in communities when the waters are turbulent and bitter with contradiction? Not really, that’s my honest reply. There is no way around it, wherever both voluntary simplicity and frivolous materialism (and its resultant over-consumption) occur, a permanent contradiction exists that must be dealt with, never reconciled.

A couple of weeks ago, our neighbour’s daughter handed me a bag full of boy’s clothing and begged me not to be offended. Since the clothes were still good she thought maybe I could find use for them.

Twice she apologized for offending me in such a way. Offended! If anything, I am offended she thought I would be offended! I tried to show my gratitude and praise her gesture, but still she shied away.

In the performance of degrowth principles, the everyday things that add up to our existence become tense, there are constant contradictions and irreconcilabilities with the status-quo. And that’s a good thing. But a great deal of support is lacking, because there is definitely a kind of solitude in trying to be alright with a paradoxical existence.

There is a large degrowth community out there

The good news is, we are not alone! There is a large degrowth community out there; many odd-duck degrowthers living amidst capitalistic exploitation who can inspire and encourage each other. We are the revolutionaries that are living with less, the ones whose food choices imply a long explanation, and the ones choosing to wash diapers.

I’ve always accepted Maria’s weekly gift of disposable diapers. Although I’ve tried to explain several times, my point doesn’t really get across. She is doing us a favour and refusing her gift would damage our friendship. She is a generous woman who takes pride in her position of caretaker and the diapers are one of the many ways she helps us out.

I am thankful for that, but we don’t really understand each other. She has come to interpret that we are ‘artistic’, ‘eccentric’, and that we ‘experiment’ a lot. To her, we are not degrowthers, we are just poor.

This is an invitation: we want to read and share your stories.

How do you degrow? Share with us your experiences, your challenges, or even better – your successes. Write to us at blog@degrowth.de

Author:
Constanza Hepp studied Journalism in Santiago (Chile) and Human Ecology in Lund (Sweden). She is currently living in northern Italy, caring for her young family and establishing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project. She is interested in creating a bridge between academic activism and social practices with potential towards systemic change.

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Direct Air Carbon Capture

SUBHEAD: Combining renewable energy with Direct Air Capture for ‘Net Negative’ CO2 emissions.

By Carl-Friedrich Schleussner on November 7 2018 in Resilience  -
(https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-11-08/combining-renewables-with-direct-air-capture-for-net-negative-emissions/)


Image above: Climeworks direct air CO2 capture plant, Zürich, Switzerland. Photo by Simon Evans. From (http://carbonalist.com/2017/06/what-is-direct-air-capture-pt-2/).

[IB Pulisher's note: Artilce authored by Jan Wohland, Dirk Witthaut , Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, originally in www.carbonbrief.org]

The recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that limiting global warming to 1.5C is still within reach, but that it requires rapid and stringent cuts to global CO2 emissions.

Modelling pathways that achieve the Paris Agreement goals rely on swift decarbonisation of the power sector and scaling up of “negative emissions” – an array of techniques to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it on land or underground.

However, both tasks have challenges to overcome. Shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable electricity requires accommodating the variable nature of, for example, wind and solar power. Negative emissions techniques, meanwhile, face challenges of cost, scale and acceptability before being ramped up.

For example, Direct Air Capture (DAC) – a technology that essentially sucks carbon out of the air – is a process that needs heat and electricity. And, despite recent progress, DAC is still considered a niche technology prohibited by its energy demand and high costs.

But what if the dual challenges facing renewables and negative emissions could be tackled together? In a recent paper, published in Earth’s Future, we find that there is considerable potential for combining a renewables-reliant electricity system with DAC.

Renewables rise

We have witnessed a considerable expansion of renewable power generation over the past two decades. Along with increased deployment, costs have come down substantially. As of today, onshore wind energy is the cheapest source of electricity in many places – including in large parts of Europe. Photovoltaics also has seen massive price drops which have not been anticipated in the modelling community.

The variability of renewable electricity generation becomes increasingly important as renewables evolve from a niche player to the dominant contributor.

This variability leads to additional challenges and integration costs on a system level, such as for congestion management, transmission line expansion and storage.

Fortunately, solutions exist that can successfully integrate large shares of renewables into energy systems, including storage, continental-scale transmission line infrastructure, and sector coupling (the interconnection of sectors, such as transport, industry or housing, with the energy sector, allowing renewable electricity to be converted to heat or another fuel as needed).


The availability of cheap renewable energy provides an opportunity to implement negative emissions that were previously considered uneconomic.

DAC, for example, can provide some of the flexibility that is needed for system integration of renewables. This could make DAC more cost effective by using excess wind or solar power during periods of high supply, low demand and low prices.

Put simply, you can switch on DAC whenever renewable generation is high and leave it off at other times. On top of that, DAC could be deployed in a decentralised fashion, which can help alleviate local grid congestion.

Net neutral

To investigate the carbon removal potential of such an approach, we modelled a simplified European power system (based on data from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, known as “ENTSO-E”).

We assume that the more direct solutions to mitigate renewable generation variability have been implemented – such as unlimited electricity transmission across Europe and different levels of storage – but deploy conservative assumptions related to the energy efficiency of DAC. Also, our model still includes fossil gas power plants that can be fired up on demand.

For different levels of renewable contributions, we assessed the negative emission potential of DAC and the total emissions of the whole electricity system.

We find that “net neutral” European power systems – where any CO2 emitted is balanced by CO2 taken out of the atmosphere – are achievable with a renewable penetration of just above 100% and at least 30 gigawatts (GW) of DAC.

Here, “penetration” means the ratio of renewable power generation to electricity consumption (excluding DAC). If it exceeds 100%, this means that some renewable generation has to be curtailed and/or is used for DAC.

We also find that storage technologies and DAC are not competing, but complementary. Increases in storage size allow for reductions of remaining carbon emissions and enable more efficient use of DAC.

You can see this in the charts below, which show the average annual CO2 emissions for Europe (y-axis), according to the penetration of renewables (x-axis), and the amount of DAC – from 30 GW (left-hand chart) to 300GW (right-hand). This would be equivalent to DAC matching approximately 3-30% of current generation capacity in Europe.

The charts reveal that at a low take-up of renewables, net emissions are positive (red bars), no matter how much DAC is used. However, as renewables approach 100% penetration, DAC can be used to take net emissions negative (blue bars).


Image above: Chart of CO2 emissions potential carbon capture. From original article.

European CO2 emissions versus renewable penetration for different DAC capacities at a storage size of one average load day (where the energy typically consumed in one day can be stored). Red bars denote emissions from open-cycle gas turbines that are used for backup. Blue indicates negative emissions from DAC. Green circles denote net emissions. Source: Wohland et al. (2018)

In the case of a substantially higher share of renewables and an increase in DAC capacity to 300GW, negative emissions of up to 500m tonnes of CO2 per year (MtCO2/yr) could be achieved using the excess renewable energy generated in Europe.

By way of comparison, there are 3-14bn tonnes of net negative emissions each year by 2100 in scenarios limiting warming to 1.5C and included in the IPCC’s special report.

The system properties of DAC are more important than the exact numbers in this example, which are just given as an illustration and highly uncertain. What we show is that DAC can facilitate the integration of high shares of renewables and offers co-benefits with electricity storage.

The indications are that DAC could provide a sizeable contribution to negative emissions and thereby represent a suitable option for removing carbon from the atmosphere in future power systems – if carbon storage solutions can be provided.

A closer look

There are still many uncertainties to consider, perhaps most importantly, whether or not the approach we have laid out is economically practicable.

For example, in order to be viable even when not running around the clock, DAC’s future capital costs would need to be lowered substantially and/or carbon prices would have to increase, each by at least 10-fold. It is possible both conditions could be met as the technology is scaled up and global efforts to mitigate climate change become more tangible.

On the other hand, imperfections in real-world electricity grid and energy system design – that can lead to excess electricity and negative electricity prices even today – may enhance DACs attractiveness.

An increase in the efficiency of DAC – for example, by also making use of heat from other sources, such as industrial waste or renewable heat – would strongly increase its negative emission potential.

However, it is also worth noting that other options to use excess renewables in a “sector coupled” approach exist that would be in direct competition with DAC.

These might include electric vehicles that can be charged within a particular timespan, district heating with large reservoirs that store electricity, or converting electricity to hydrogen for transport and industry.

While DAC is, thus, clearly not a silver bullet for carbon dioxide removal, it does come with system friendly features. And given the need for negative emissions, the concerns about land-based options, and the rapid technological and cost evolution of renewables, our first results indicate that it might be worth a closer look.


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Why Permaculture Puts Food First

SUBHEAD: It teaches you to think ecosystemically: no waste; cyclical; nourishing body and soul; steady state.

By Albert Bates on 5 November 2018 for the Great Change -
(http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2018/10/why-permaculture-puts-food-first.html)


Image above: There are seven popular food crops in this photograph of The Farm. From original article.

When I teach permaculture, and now having done more than 50 full design courses, I try to de-emphasize gardening.

I do that because I know that most other Permaculture teachers do precisely the opposite; they begin with drawing a chicken and then make mandala gardens and herb spirals. I don’t usually do that because to me Permaculture is much more. It is a regenerative design science.

It teaches you to think ecosystemically: no waste; cyclical; nourishing body and soul; steady state. It applies to every aspect of your life, and of civilization; from how we brush our teeth to how we build our cities and exchange value for value.

But Permaculture is also about looking ahead, over the fence, up to the sky, into the forest, and observing the grander patterns.

Anyone who takes that kind of moment these days will be bound to notice phenological signs and portents, the uptick in unusual weather events, a spreading refugee crisis, and some really nasty resource wars appealing to our ethnic tribalism.
“The switch from growth to decline in oil production will thus almost certainly create economic and political tension.”
 — Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrére, Scientific American (1998)

These times have been long predicted, from Malthus’ and Arhennius’ calculations of population and carbon dioxide, to Limits to Growth, The Population Bomb, and now decades of reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All of those, and more, are known knowns.

Kerry Emanuel told us about the hurricanes and superstorms in 1987. I predicted the spread of mosquitoes, ticks, and viruses in 1989.

In that same decade James Lovelock, Tim Lenton, Johan Shellnhuber and others were warning that after diverging 2º Celsius from the pre-industrial maxima the carrying capacity of global agriculture would no longer support more than two billion people, and possibly fewer than one billion.

Healthy humans cannot be decoupled from net photosynthetic productivity and that cannot be decoupled from favorable growing conditions; ie: the Holocene epoch of mild and predictable sunlight and rainfall over vast areas of favorable soil.

Last year, a distinguished group of scientists issued this warning:
… [B]iomass plantations with subsequent carbon immobilization are likely unable to “repair” insufficient emission reduction policies without compromising food production and biosphere functioning due to its space‐consuming properties. 
... the requirements for a strong mitigation scenario staying below the 2°C target would require a combination of high irrigation water input and development of highly effective carbon process chains. Although we find that this strategy of sequestering carbon is not a viable alternative to aggressive emission reductions, it could still support mitigation efforts if sustainably managed.
***
This leaves us with a rather clear, but hardly comforting overall conclusion: Holding the 2°C line seems only feasible if two sets of climate action work hand in hand. On the one hand, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced as early and as effectively as possible. 
In fact, an even more aggressive strategy than reflected by the [IPCC] RCP2.6 scenario should be pursued, aiming at the “induced implosion” of most fossil fuel‐driven business cases in the next couple of decades. 
On the other hand, CDR [carbon dioxide removal] can significantly contribute as a “supporting actor” of the mitigation protagonist, if it gets started and deployed immediately. This means that the biological extraction of atmospheric CO2 as well as the suppression of CO2 release from biological systems must draw upon all possible measures — whether they are optimal or not, whether they are high‐ or low‐tech. 
We therefore suggest fully exploring the pertinent options available now, which include reforestation of degraded land and the protection of degraded forests to allow them to recover naturally and increase their carbon storage, e.g., within the Bonn Challenge initiative or the New York Declaration on Forests. 
Further options range from up‐scaled agroforestry approaches to the application of biochar and various no‐tillage practices for food production on appropriate soils. 
Also, it becomes overwhelmingly evident that humanity cannot anymore afford to waste up to 50% of its agricultural harvest along various consumption chains or to go on operating ineffective irrigation systems.
All of those techniques —reforestation of degraded land, up‐scaled agroforestry, biochar, organic no-till, eliminating waste, and low-tech, broad dissemination — are the meat and potatoes of Permaculture.

In 2008, James Lovelock wrote:
Whatever we do is likely to lead to death on a scale that makes all previous wars, famines and disasters small. 
To continue business as usual will probably kill most of us during the century. Is there any reason to believe that fully implementing Bali, with sustainable development and the full use of renewable energy, would kill less? \
We have to consider seriously that, as with nineteenth century medicine, the best option is often kind words and pain killers but otherwise do nothing and let Nature take its course.

***

Had we heeded Malthus’s warning and kept the human population to less than one billion, we would not now be facing a torrid future. 
Whether or not we go for Bali or use geoengineering, the planet is likely, massively and cruelly, to cull us, in the same merciless way that we have eliminated so many species by changing their environment into one where survival is difficult.
Permaculture is not willing to go gentle into that good night. And this is why food is so core to its pedagogy.

As a movement it is training as many people as possible, from white-gloved suburbanites to war-ravaged refugees, how to garden.

It is showing, through gardening, not-merely self-sufficiency and survival in daunting times, but regeneration of soils, recapture of carbon, and ingenious means for restoring the natural balance that ultimately will be the way we end the crises we are now committed to experiencing.

And with any luck, we’ll also get to eat.


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Is the "World" getting better?

SUBHEAD: It looks like progress to those well-off and fortunate enough to die before the collapse.

By Kurt Cobb on 4 November 2018 for Resources Insights -
(http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2018/11/is-world-actually-getting-better.html)


Image above: A fantasy "skyliner" with energy to burn for the sake of tourism. From (https://ok.ru/profile/565637386702/statuses/all).

A frequent critique of the daily news flow is that it is filled with negative events. This is partly a product of the human nervous system. We react very quickly to perceived threats and more slowly to hope of gain or pleasure. Editors and reporters know what will grab people's attention which is why the old adage—if it bleeds, it leads—still applies.

There are, of course, heartwarming stories about miraculous recoveries from illness and injury, rescued animals, and saintly persons doing amazing charitable acts. And, then there is a sub-genre of the feel-good story which I'll call the you've-been-living-in-opposite-land-things-are-actually-getting-better story.

Now as an antidote to the relentless negativity of the news, this kind of story gets attention. And, sometimes we need to be reminded, for instance, that life expectancy continues to rise, child mortality continues to decline, and smoking remains in decline. Humans are capable of making progress by certain measures.

"By certain measures" is the key phrase because what we typically measure when we say that things are getting better are measures of human well-being. Those who tell us not to fret about the doomsday predictions of environmentalists very craftily conflate two categories: the state of the natural world and the state of human well-being by telling us that the "world" is actually getting better.

Well, "world" in its primary definition means the planet. Other definitions are narrower and some include only humankind. If you are not paying attention, you will miss this sleight-of-hand used by apologists for the destruction of the natural world who tell us that the "world" is getting better—while carefully omitting any mention of the natural world or cherry-picking a few narrow and misleading trends concerning the environment.

If by "better" these apologists mean that generally accepted measures of human well-being continue to rise in across the entire global population, then we might grudgingly agree. (There are, however, plenty of trends that are negative in human affairs, but that discussion is for another time.)

What the apologists don't tell you is that human well-being is being purchased by the widespread, uncontrolled destruction of the very systems in the biosphere that have sustained humans in such great numbers to this point: the climate, the soil, the fisheries, the fresh water supplies, the air we breathe (through toxic pollution), the biodiversity of the plants and animals—and disruption of key systems such as the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle.

A Google search reveals this unconscionable omission in practically every top search item purporting to give us the good news.

And, this gets us back to the problem I have often noted regarding how we perceive risks.

We have been indoctrinated into the ideology of cost/benefit analysis which blinds us to the fact that no benefit can be justified if the risk or cost involved is the destruction of the very system which gives us the benefit—in this case, a biosphere with a habitable climate and resources from Earth systems sufficiently abundant and free of toxicity in order to sustain human life.

These necessities are no longer assured far into the future.

Yet perversely, we seek to exploit resources and undermine climate stability faster because this leads to better measures of human well-being—that is, until the day the Earth systems we rely on become so depleted and altered that the general level of human well-being goes in reverse, possibly rather quickly.

A system that is designed for collapse lies outside the category of "progress" by my definition. I am reminded of Sisyphus condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill only to have it roll right back down and repeat the process. Of course, it seems like it has been a very long roll uphill for industrial civilization.

But actually 200 years is a minuscule period in the life of humankind. It represents 6/100ths of one percent of the time homo sapiens have been around (about 315,000 years). The most likely path on our current trajectory is a tumultuous and destructive return to agrarian society.

All of this commotion we call industrial civilization understandably looks like progress to those living through it and fortunate enough to die before the decline begins. It's a kind of progress, I suppose, but the kind that rushes toward collapse.

And, that's not the kind the boosters of the the-world-is-getting-better meme want you to know about.

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Time's up! Cease and Desist!

SUBHEAD: Be carbon neutral and shelter in place. The storm is about to descend upon us.

By Juan Wilson on 6 November 2018 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2018/11/times-up-cease-and-desist.html)


Image above:Ted Kaczynski as an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkley in 1967... the Summer of Love. From (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kaczynski).

If you don't know about Ted Kaczynski you should. He was a young professor at UC Berkley in the late 1960's. Ted was a brilliant mathematician and observer of the scene.

After realizing the likely destruction of life on Earth due to modern industrialization he abandoned an academic career in 1969 to pursue a primitive lifestyle.

He moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water near Lincoln, Nebraska, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient.

After witnessing the destruction of the wilderness surrounding his cabin he became deranged and engaged in a terror campaign.  He became the Unabomber. Between 1978 and 1995, he killed three people and injured 23 others mailing explosives packages to those he deemed agents of the industrial destruction of nature. 

He issued a social critique in the form of a manifesto that he submitted to the New York Times and Washington Post opposing industrialization and advancing a nature-centered form of anarchism.

It's past time to come to grips with what Ted Kaczynski realized (before the Club of Rome Report) a half century ago.

In my opinion he was right about the industrial destruction - but he was wrong about fixing things by mailing bombs. My advice...

"Cease and Desist!"
A cease and desist order is sent to individuals or businesses to stop purportedly illegal or undesirable activity ("cease") and not to restart it ("desist").

Yes, this means you (and me)!

This article is not meant to be a warning. It's an instruction. Immediately cease and desist all activities producing a net loss of thriving biosphere.

To the degree that is possible stop eating packaged food, stop using disposable products, stop going places you are not needed, stop depending on the power-grid and information networks for all your information and entertainment... including this blog.

"Be Carbon Neutral!"
Make no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, especially through offsetting emissions by planting trees.

If what you are doing is not Carbon Neutral or better you are actively contributing to the near term extinction of life on Earth as we know it.

What this means is you personally achieving within the next two years a change in your life that will increase the living biosphere to a degree that outpaces your consumption of energy and natural resources.

"Shelter in Place!"
Already it is getting too late for many. If your not in a place that can be made self-sustaining it is already too late. Act now! Are there friends or relatives in sustainable places with whom you could contribute to a livable future? If so get in touch now.

If you are in a sustainable place, but not off the grid and growing your own food already, there is little time left. Act now! Get the tools you need. Plant the garden - Store fresh water - Capture energy. It take time and effort, with trials and errors, to make a place provide for life support. Get going!

The implications of the changes coming are massive.
  • It would mean abandoning access to automobiles for the purpose daily commuting, errands,  shopping or recreation. 
  • It would mean having an occupation, getting services, and obtaining food within walking distance from your home.
  • It would mean changes in lifestyle that would include an end to regular air travel for business or pleasure. 
  • It would mean an end to universal access to the Power Grid (most people would need to cleanly produce their own power).
  • It would mean a return to small family farming for the vast majority of people (about 90% in America before World War One).  
  • It would mean making and repairing the things you need in your daily life (meals, clothing, furniture, shelter.
My most optimistic future vision is one in which the future supports and sustains oases of biodiverse environments where living things can flourish. Including some humans. Each oasis may be far from one another, but an experienced traveler might wend their way from one to another.

My advice is to treat this information like a hurricane emergency alert that you find yourself in the path of. Act now and avoid the rush.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Biodiversity loss is our extinction 11/6/18
Ea O Ka Aina: Earth • Water • Fire • Air 11/2/18
Ea O Ka Aina: Living in a Shitstorm 10/17/18
Ea O Ka Aina: What's Omitted from the IPCC Report 10/9/18
Ea O Ka Aina: Final Call to Save the World 10/8/18
Ea O Ka Aina: The Well-To-Do Wrecking the Climate 10/8/18
Ea O Ka Aina: Scientists Outline Paths to Survival 10/4/18
Ea O Ka Aina: Being Green is being a Terrorist
 2/20/18
Ea O Ka Aina: 'Shrinking the Technosphere' review
12/30/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Find and Limit Ourselves 2/2/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Automation - whatta bitch! 1/4/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Planet Kaauai 2/26/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Oases on a future Eaarth
6/28/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Dark Ecology
 2/2/13
Ea O Ka Aina: The Luddite Rebellion 11/14/12


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Biodiversity loss is our extinction

SUBHEAD: The world has two years to  halt a ‘silent killer’ as dangerous as climate change, says UN.

By Joinathan Watts on 6 November 2018 for the Guardian -
(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/stop-biodiversity-loss-or-we-could-face-our-own-extinction-warns-un)


Image above: Deforestation in Indonesian to make way for a palm oil concession. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace From original article.

The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.

Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pașca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”

Pașca Palmer is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.

Its members – 195 states and the EU – will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pașca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.

Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity.

The last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs.

Eight years ago, under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.

The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer. Along with the Vatican, it is the only UN state not to participate.

Pașca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.

But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations.

By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.

“The numbers are staggering,” says the former Romanian environment minister. “I hope we aren’t the first species to document our own extinction.”

Despite the weak government response to such an existential threat, she said her optimism about what she called “the infrastructure of life” was undimmed.

One cause for hope was a convergence of scientific concerns and growing interest from the business community. Last month, the UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions and scientists held their first joint meeting.

They found that nature-based solutions – such as forest protection, tree planting, land restoration and soil management – could provide up to a third of the carbon absorption needed to keep global warming within the Paris agreement parameters.

In future the two UN arms of climate and biodiversity should issue joint assessments.

She also noted that although politics in some countries were moving in the wrong direction, there were also positive developments such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently being the first world leader to note that the climate issue cannot be solved without a halt in biodiversity loss. This will be on the agenda of the next G7 summit in France.

“Things are moving. There is a lot of goodwill,” she said. “We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction. It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing. We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature.”

.

Earth • Water • Fire • Air

SUBHEAD: New UN report warns of impending catastrophe as world warms, and glaciers melt.

By Dahr Jamail on 2 November 2018 for TruthOut -
(https://truthout.org/articles/new-un-report-warns-of-impending-catastrophe-as-world-warms-glaciers-melt/)


Image above: Glacier Peak in the central Cascade Mountains, seen from the East. The rapid retreat of the glaciers on this 10,541-foot mountain is starkly apparent in this photo of the fourth-highest mountain in Washington State. Photo from Dahr Jamail.=
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” —Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
I have come to accept the bittersweet nature of my mountain trips. I venture into the heights for solace from the political, social and ecological demise that is raging across the planet. While camping at 7,000 feet in the central Cascade Mountains, I take in the view of the grand east face of Glacier Peak from atop Fortress Mountain. I gulp in the thick stars above. I find solace in the fact that those who are wrecking the planet will never be able to desecrate the stars.

However, while marveling at the glaciers glowing in the morning sun on Glacier Peak, their rapid retreat is starkly highlighted by the barren Earth below, where they once resided.

My last trip was on October 20, and from the summit, a 360-degree view revealed no less than four wildfires still burning. It was well into the fall in the Pacific Northwest, yet smoke still covered vast swaths of the state and was rapidly filling in the valleys below me.

While hiking out later, the after effects were inescapable. Portions of the forest I hiked through bore the scars of previous wildfires, and served as a warning of more to come.

The biggest news in the corporate media regarding climate change since my last dispatch has been the UN report stating that we have 12 years left to limit a full-on climate change catastrophe. To avoid this fate, we would need to spend those 12 years curbing global emissions dramatically.

Essentially, there would need to be a government-mandated plan across the globe that would enable us to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade (1.5°C) rather than the 2°C goal of the 2015 Paris climate talks.

Eliminating that extra .5 of warming would save tens of millions of people from sea level rise inundation, and hundreds of millions from water scarcity and a myriad of other catastrophic impacts.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C would, scientists have said, require a radical rethinking of virtually every facet of modern society, including an abandonment of our entire fossil-fuel based economy.

However, currently, we are headed for at least a 3°C increase by 2100, with no mass government mobilization in sight.

Meanwhile, the warnings that the catastrophe is already upon us continue.

A recent study in a paper published August 31 in the journal Science warned that for each degree of rise in global temperature, insect-driven losses to the staple crops of rice, wheat and corn increase by 10-25 percent.

Given we are already at 1.1°C warming, we are already seeing these losses, which are sure to increase. “In 2016, the United Nations estimated that at least 815 million people worldwide don’t get enough to eat,” the University of Washington Press wrote of the study.
 “Corn, rice and wheat are staple crops for about 4 billion people, and account for about two-thirds of the food energy intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.”
At the same time, scientists are deeply concerned about the fact that non-pest insect numbers are declining rapidly. Bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects are far less abundant, and scientists around the world warn that these insects are crucial to as much as 80 percent of all the food we eat.

“You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects,” University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy told the AP. “How much worse can it get than that?”

Meanwhile, in the realm of sea level rise, things are irreversibly catastrophic. A recent study of Antarctic ice sheets shows them to be far more sensitive to temperature increases than previously believed.

The study showed that when global temperatures were only slightly warmer than they are currently, sea levels were 20-30 feet higher than they are right now. “It doesn’t need to be a very big warming, as long as it stays 2 degrees warmer for a sufficient time, this is the end game,” David Wilson, a geologist at Imperial College London and one of the authors of the new research told The Washington Post.

Equally disturbingly, lakes in the Arctic are literally bubbling and hissing: They are releasing methane in large quantities as the ground underneath them thaws.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 10-year timescale, and the widespread release of methane was a key driver of the Permian Mass Extinction event which annihilated more than 90 percent of life on Earth.

Meanwhile, the Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly. Ice extent reached its annual minimum recently, which is normally when the ice would begin reforming rapidly, particularly right in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Instead, the ice continued to decline.

To underscore how governments are not doing enough to mitigate climate change impacts, Brazil, a major greenhouse gas emitting country, recently elected right-wing extremist Jair Bolsonaro as president. To say he is anti-environment (in addition to homophobic, racist and sexist) would be a gross understatement.

Known as the Trump of the Tropics, his plans include disempowering federal environmental agencies, opening up Indigenous reserves in the Amazon to mining and farming, and building hydroelectric dams in the rainforest, where deforestation, already at crisis levels, is set to explode.

Earth

Impacts of human-caused climate disruption across the terrestrial plane are becoming increasingly stark.

A recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that global insects are in a crisis, and the problem is even more widespread than previously realized.

While previous studies had revealed a 45 percent decrease in invertebrates like bees and beetles in the last 35 years and another study showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the last few decades in German nature preserves, the new study shows a startling loss of insects now extending into the Americas.

The report cites climate change as the cause. “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read,” David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut told The Washington Post of the study.

Another recent study, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that more than 300 species of mammals have been driven to extinction by human activities.

The study showed that even if humans ceased destroying wilderness areas and ended poaching and pollution within 50 years, and extinction rates fell back to normal levels, 5-7 million years would be required for the natural world to recover from what we have done to it.

“We are doing something that will last millions of years beyond us,” Matt Davis, a research leader at Aarhus University in Denmark, told The Guardian. “It shows the severity of what we are in right now.

We’re entering what could be an extinction on the scale of what killed the dinosaurs. That is pretty scary. We are starting to cut down the whole tree [of life], including the branch we are sitting on right now.”

In the US West, a region iconic for its vast expanses and the freedom to roam in the wilderness that comes with them, some people refer to themselves as “prisoner[s] of the environment” (as reported in this piece in The Guardian) due to increasingly unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke, water shortages and drought. Many residents are now wondering whether they should move.

Longer, hotter fire seasons, increasingly warm temperatures, less snowfall, changes in plants, and shorter winters are in the process of fundamentally changing Yellowstone National Park in the next few decades.

“That conclusion is pretty much inescapable,” John Gross, ecologist with the National Park Service’s Climate Change response program, told USA Today. “It’s really more a question of the when and how it occurs than if.”

And it’s not just Yellowstone. The recently published study, “Disproportionate magnitude of climate change in United States national parks,” has shown that the parks have warmed twice as fast as the US average, and could well see the worst impacts of climate change. This is due to the fact that vast portions of national park areas are located at higher elevations, in the arid southwestern US, or in the Arctic.

The iconic trees of Joshua Tree National Park may soon find their environment uninhabitable. Glacier National Park will eventually be free of glaciers. And many other national parks could be left virtually unrecognizable by climate change.

Meanwhile, as permafrost continues to thaw and water seeps deeper into mountain crags, increasingly severe storms (thanks to climate change) will destabilize mountains and increase the risk of landslides and rockfall.

Speaking of permafrost, a recent report showed that coastal erosion in the Arctic is intensifying climate change. As the coast there eroded during the end of the last glacial period (20,000 years ago), dramatic amounts of the frozen CO2 were released into the atmosphere.

Now, this feedback loop — with climate change causing melting, melting causing CO2 release, and CO2 release exacerbating climate change — is beginning to occur again.

A recent study in Canada’s British Columbia showed that climate change is pushing alpine animals higher up mountains, as well as into extinction. The study showed that both plants and animals are shifting upslope 100 meters for every 1°C in temperature increase.
It’s not just plants and animals being forced to higher ground.

Some humans in the US are also moving to higher ground, as the era of mass climate migration has begun. The Great Migration in the US, a period during the 20th century when roughly 6 million black people fled the Jim Crow South for cities elsewhere, was the previous largest internal migration in the US.

One study showed that by the end of this century, sea level rise alone could displace 13 million people, six million of those in Florida alone. That number doesn’t include people fleeing drought and wildfire-prone areas, nor those having to move for lack of water, or ensuing violence.

Making matters worse, another leading climate scientist warned that 15-20 feet of sea level rise is possible within the next 70 years. That amount of sea level rise would mean the end of, literally, every major coastal city on Earth.

The number of people displaced would be in the hundreds of millions, as New York City, Boston, Miami, Lagos, Jakarta, Shanghai, Mumbai, New Orleans, vast swaths of Boston, and Ho Chi Min City would all be underwater.

A recent report from Yale 360 argued that the current system of rating hurricanes needs to be scrapped, because it fails to account for how climate change-augmented hurricanes are now carrying far more powerful storm surges, often moving slower, and bringing flooding from rainfall that the current system cannot account for.

If all of this information makes you feel despair, you are not alone. Another recent study warned of “catastrophic” mental health changes that are tied to climate change, including high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Water

As usual, climate change-induced disruptions are glaringly apparent in the watery realms of Earth.
A massive iceberg is now poised to break off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. The iceberg is notably larger than the one that broke off the same glacier a year ago, which was 4.5 times the size of Manhattan.

In the US, given how many millions of people live in coastal flooding zones, with more looking to move to the coast, no one is required to even tell you if your future home is likely to flood.

According to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sabin Center for Climate Law, “[i]n 21 US states there are no statutory or regulatory requirements for a seller to disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damages.”

The other 29 states have varying degrees of requirements to disclose this information.

In the low-lying coastal nation of Bangladesh, an entire country already beset by regular flooding, there is now an ongoing rural exodus into cities that is literally reshaping the country.

With 163 million people, Bangladesh is the world’s most populous delta. There, riverbank erosion alone displaces between 50,000-200,000 people annually, and the capital city of Dhaka is absorbing between 300,000-400,000 people — mostly climate migrants — each year.

On the other side of the spectrum of climate change-induced water disasters is drought.

In the US, a crisis at Lake Powell, between Utah and Arizona, is looming as the ongoing long-term drought impacts plaguing the Southwest are reaching farther and farther upstream. Water rationing has reached far upriver as places in Colorado have had to ration water due to diminishing snowpacks and the ongoing drought.

In New Mexico, water reservoirs are nearing bottom as they have been used to help people survive the record drought of 2018, but now they are nearly dry, prompting worries about how to deal with the future, for which only increasing widespread drought is predicted. For example, by late September, the largest reservoir in the state was at only 3 percent capacity.

Down in Australia, an ongoing drought is hotter and drier than anything people in the impacted areas have ever known, and it is getting worse.

“It’s quite unusual to get over 40C here but this last summer and the last couple of summers have been so scorchingly hot,” a sheep farmer there told The Guardian. “You can see the water being sucked out of the dams, sucked out of the soil, sucked out of my life and you can’t plan for that.”


Wildfires, made more frequent, hotter and larger due to climate change, are torching the Pacific Northwest. Photo from Dahr Jamail.

Fire

After another summer of rampant wildfires across the US West, several continue to burn well into the fall. Since my last dispatch, a Wyoming wildfire forced evacuations from hundreds of homes and forced the closure of a highway south of Jackson.

By mid-September the wildfire had scorched at least 40,000 acres.

At the time of this writing, wildfires continued to burn in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

A recent report discussed how wildfire tornadoes, record sizes and temperatures of wildfires, and other seeming anomalies will become phenomena we can expect regularly going into the future, thanks to climate change.

Air

Record-breaking warm temperatures beset Anchorage, Alaska, in September, along with unusually dry weather.

Of the record-breaking high temperatures there, climatologist Brian Brettschneider told the Anchorage Daily News, “we are absolutely smashing, obliterating, September records.” The average maximum daily temperature in September at the time of that report was 65.9 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 3 degrees warmer than the next closest September. On average, the typical average high temperature for the month of September there is 55°F.

High-temperature records were set across the state that month with Palmer, Kodiak, Seward, Kenai, Cordova and Valdez all setting records.

High-temperature records continue to be set around the world on a regular basis, yet in the US, the impacts are clear. Late October saw another record-breaking heat wave hit Southern California, with Los Angeles hitting 102°F.

Denial and Reality

In a recent interview, Donald Trump, who had called human-caused climate change “a Chinese hoax,” said it is real, “but I don’t know that it’s manmade.” He also said the climate will “change back again” — whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the ongoing denialism continues unabated in his administration. Climate change information was removed from an important planning document for a national park in New England, with the rationale that it was deemed a “sensitive” topic.

The North Carolina government did not like the science about sea level rise, so literally passed a law banning policies based on such forecasts. The state, of course, is still recovering from flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Meanwhile, Trump’s EPA has abandoned restrictions against hydrofluorocarbons, a chemical that has been linked to climate change. OPEC announced it is predicting a massive increase in oil production over the next five years — enough so that it will offset CO2 reductions from electric cars.

On that note, it was recently exposed that the state of Texas, already the leading emitter of greenhouse gasses in the US, has approved 43 petrochemical projects along the Gulf Coast since 2012 — projects that add millions of tons more of greenhouse gas pollution.

Stunningly, despite the terrifying weather events and dire predictions of what’s to come, it has come to light that the Trump administration is aware of and accepts a projected 7-degree rise in global temperatures by just 2100.

This came out in a draft statement issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was written to justify Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks built after 2020.

“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society,” Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the US Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002 told The Washington Post
“And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it.”
The Trump administration’s stance on climate change is essentially that we’re doomed, so what’s the point in cutting greenhouse gas emissions?

With regard to the alarming UN climate report, the White House basically shrugged it off, claiming that emissions in the US have dropped since 2005. This is a true statement, but does not explain the reason for that, which is a historic shift away from coal-fired electricity and toward renewables and natural gas.

Fortunately, reality is striking back.

A group of 17 bipartisan state governors representing states that comprise half of the total US GDP has vowed to both fight climate change and fight Donald Trump on the issue. They recently pledged $1.4 billion to support electric cars and institute new policies geared toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Stunningly, even Bloomberg, a business news outlet, is running stories with titles like “New Climate Debate: How to Adapt to the End of the World.

And of course, the language coming out of the UN is a sign that the international community is beginning to understand the full weight of climate change’s implication.

Alas, this realization has not yet been met with the policy response it deserves. The author of a key UN report on the dangers of breaching the 1.5°C global warming limit recently said that the world is “nowhere near on track” to keep warming below even that already arbitrary level.


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