Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia ‘literally burns’ | Bushfires | The Guardian #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateEmergency #ExtinctionRebellion #COP25 #TimeForAction

Climate experts ‘bewildered’ by government ‘burying their heads in the sand’, and say bushfires on Australia’s east coast should be a ‘wake-up call’

Firefighters battle a bushfire near Braidwood, New South Wales, on Friday. Scientists are perplexed that as bushfires have intensified on Australia’s east coast, political commentary on climate change has ‘very much died down’. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Leading scientists have expressed concern about the lack of focus on the climate crisis as bushfires rage across New South Wales and Queensland, saying it should be a “wake-up call” for the government.

Climate experts who spoke to Guardian Australia said they were “bewildered” the emergency had grabbed little attention during the final parliamentary sitting week for the year, which was instead taken up by the repeal of medevac laws, a restructure of the public service, and energy minister Angus Taylor’s run-in with the American author Naomi Wolf.

Escalating conditions on Thursday and Friday led to dozens of out-of-control bushfires, including in the NSW’s Hawkesbury region, where a fire at Gospers Mountain merged with two other blazes burning in the lower Hunter on Friday.

Sydney has been blanketed with a thick smoke haze that health officials said had led to a 25% increase in people presenting in emergency departments for asthma and breathing problems.

Smoke haze from bushfires blanket Sydney Harbour. Health officials have reported a 25% spike in hospital emergency admissions for breathing problems. Photograph: Steven Saphore/EPA

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist with the University of NSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, said she was “surprised, bewildered, concerned” that the emergency had prompted little discussion from political leaders this week.

“Here we are in the worst bushfire season we’ve ever seen, the biggest drought we’ve ever had, Sydney surrounded by smoke, and we’ve not heard boo out of a politician addressing climate change,” she said.

They dismissed it from the outset and haven’t come back to it since.

“They’re burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them and that’s the scary thing. It’s only going to get worse.”

Mark Howden, the director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute and a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said while the fires were raging on, “the commentary in terms of climate change has very much died down”.

“Yesterday they did a public service reshuffle, or there was medevac, or the ‘union-busting’ bill,” he said.

“The government chooses the points they want to discuss in the parliament and the fact they haven’t chosen to discuss it sends a message to me.

“Essentially, it’s a question of priorities, that’s how I interpret it.”

Howden said the general public had already joined the dots about the rising number of extreme weather days that brought heat, wind and dry conditions and high fire danger.

He said all of the indicators of fire danger were starting to change and the effects of this were evident through increased frequency of fires, larger fire areas, more severe fires, fires burning in ecosystems not prone to fire and a longer fire season.

Euan Ritchie, a wildlife ecologist at Deakin University, said he was “deeply concerned” that the extent and severity of the current fires meant that ecosystems that shouldn’t be burning – such as rainforests in NSW – were on fire.

“It’s another example of failure to act on climate change, which is hurting people’s lives as well as nature,” he said.

“There needs to be increased attention on the impact of climate change and it’s relationship with fire and how that threatens humans as well as nature and the environment.”

Firefighters work to protect a property in Kulnura as the Three Mile fire approaches Mangrove Mountain in NSW on Friday. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/EPA

Martin Rice, the head of research at the Climate Council, said the devastating fire conditions predicted by emergency leaders this year when they requested a meeting with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, were unfolding.

He said Morrison had still failed to meet with emergency leaders, however both Taylor and the emergency services minister David Littleproud have now done so.

Rice said the government was “failing to respond” to the climate crisis and to the “health emergency” created by toxic air around greater Sydney.

“This has to be a wake-up call to the federal government,” he said.

Rice said the Reserve Bank, medical practitioners, councils and mayors, emergency leaders and students were just some of the people who had made recent public pleas for a response.

“All walks of life in Australia are demanding action,” he said.

— Read on www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/07/leading-scientists-condemn-political-inaction-on-climate-change-as-australia-literally-burns

We really may have just 11 years to save the climate #ClimateEmergency #ExtinctionRebellion #StopAdani

By Thomas Hale

Comment: As the crisis becomes dominated by urgent survival needs, the political window to prevent further climate change will close 

“Eleven years to save the world” reads a common sign at the global Fridays for Future climate strikes.

Millions of people in over 100 countries, many of them too young to vote, have taken to the streets to demand governments radically increase efforts to fight climate change over the next decade.

But do we really have until just 2030 to avert climate catastrophe?

While emphasising the importance of urgent action, scientists have tried to caveat this crude message.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need to halve global emissions by 2030 in order to have at least a one in two chance of limiting warming to 1.5C, the goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Cop25 Bulletin: A rare press conference

The world will not “end” in 2030. But if we are not on a rapidly falling emissions pathway by that point, we are likely to blow through the 1.5C limit around 2040.

By that time, the climate strikers on the streets today will be entering middle age, starting families, rising up in their careers, and outvoting their irresponsible forebears.

So can they not just solve the problem then?

Geophysically speaking, perhaps. Because carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linger in the atmosphere for decades or longer, what matters most is the total stock of emissions over time.

That means sluggish action today could, in theory, be compensated for by aggressive action in the future.

Accordingly, some oil and gas companies have shifted from denying climate change altogether to accepting incremental steps like modest carbon prices.

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But anyone advocating an incremental approach – which most governments are now following – is making a strong assumption not just about climate models, but about the politics of climate change in the middle of the 21st Century.

In joint work with Jeff Colgan at Brown University and Jessica Green at the University of Toronto, my research is exploring how, as both climate change and decarbonisation advance over the next decades, climate politics will be increasingly existential.

This change will shift governments’ focus from prevention to reaction.

To date, contestation over climate policy resembles what political scientists call ‘distributional politics’.

Policies like carbon taxes or renewable energy deployment benefit some economic sectors and populations and impose costs on others. Interest groups that stand to win or lose from these changes advocate for their preferred policies.

But as we push the climate system to further extremes, the costs of climate change will become much more intense and widespread.

Not just small islands, but whole coastal regions will be inundated. Droughts will cut off vital water supplies from hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers as well as those that feed global supply chains. Deadly heat will render whole regions uninhabitable.

Under these conditions, climate politics will not just be a question of ‘who gets what, when, how’, as the political scientist Henry Laswell famously put it. Rather, climate politics will become a question of who gets to survive.

The UK must steer the Paris Agreement out of its ‘perilous decade’

At the same time, the advance of decarbonisation will pose a similar existential threat to companies, workers, regions and regimes whose economic survival is linked to fossil fuels.

Already, hundreds of coal plants and mines have shuttered across the world, taking investments, jobs and pensions with them. For this reason, a key demand of climate protestors today is for governments to provide a ‘just transition’ for workers in carbon-dependent sectors. Oil and gas companies may follow coal, and countries and political regimes based on the exploitation of these resources may follow.

Those that have managed to diversify or channel resources into sovereign wealth funds may adapt. Others – cruelly, it will be those least able to manage – may discover that the only thing worse than the ‘resource curse’ is the curse of lack of resources.

In other words, the advance of both climate change and decarbonisation efforts will not just change the distribution of resources; it will threaten the very existence of large swathes of the global economy and population. How can we expect political leaders in the middle of the century – the young people who are today demanding action in the streets – to react?

In the face of urgent survival needs, it may be substantially more difficult to invest political effort and resources in preventing further climate change by reducing emissions. Instead, governments will face increasing, and in some cases overwhelming, pressure to limit the harm climate change and decarbonisation are causing in the short term.

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Imagine you are the mayor of a Middle Eastern city in which the night time temperature has been over 50C for the last week. Will you spend the city budget on climate-saving electric cars or climate-destroying air conditioners?

Broadly, there are four strategies we can take to counter climate change. We can mitigate it by reducing emissions. We can adapt to it by taking steps like building seawalls or developing drought-resistant crops. We can compensate those who are hurt by its effects to reduce suffering. Or we can, perhaps, develop geoengineering technologies to limit temperature change or suck carbon from the atmosphere. To date we have focused mainly on mitigation. But as climate politics get existential, political incentives may shift to more defensive approaches.

Indeed, we are already seeing a growing emphasis on such strategies. When the countries of the world pledged, in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to “prevent dangerous changes in the Earth’s climate,” they meant reducing emissions. Since that time, vulnerable nations and ‘frontline communities’ have pushed adaptation onto the global agenda. We are already being affected by climate change, they argue, so we need to not just prevent but also treat the current harm being done.

More recently, the most affected countries and populations have pushed for compensation. Not only have we failed to prevent climate change, they argue, but its impacts are already so great they cannot be adapted to. Low-lying islands, for whom even a small degree of climate change is existential, have been strong advocates for so-called ‘loss and damage’ measures in international climate policy, demanding that those who have contributed most to climate change pay the reparations. In the future, expect these claims to grow.

In a climate emergency, there must be compensation for victims

And as climate change proceeds, what was previously unthinkable may become widely demanded. Today, many climate advocates reject geoengineering techniques (such as building machines to suck carbon from the air, or seeding clouds to reflect more sunlight back into space) as an unproven distraction from mitigation efforts. But if the impacts of climate change continue to accumulate, governments may come to see such technologies as vital components of national security.

All of these strategies will be far more costly, and far less effective, than mitigation. But by the time today’s climate strikers are watching their own children take to the streets, they might be the only options left.

The good news is that these trends are not inevitable. The more we can prevent climate change now, while also making sure that those dependent on fossil fuels are not left behind, the less existential climate politics will be in the future. In other words, the urgency of action today is demanded not only by climate science, but also by political science. We will certainly be dealing with climate change for longer than the next 11 years, but we may have only the next decade to prevent it.

Thomas Hale is associate professor in public policy (global public policy) at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. This article was published in the fourth issue of the Oxford Government Review, published in November 2019 by the Blavatnik School of Government.
— Read on www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/06/really-might-11-years-save-climate/

As Climate Change Worsens, A Cascade of Tipping Points Looms – Yale E360 #ClimateEmergency #StopAdani #COP25 #TimeForAction #ExtinctionRebellion

New research warns that the earth may be approaching key tipping points, including the runaway loss of ice sheets, that could fundamentally disrupt the global climate system. A growing concern is a change in ocean circulation, which could alter climate patterns in a profound way.

Some of the most alarming science surrounding climate change is the discovery that it may not happen incrementally — as a steadily rising line on a graph — but in a series of lurches as various “tipping points” are passed. And now comes a new concern: These tipping points can form a cascade, with each one triggering others, creating an irreversible shift to a hotter world. A new study suggests that changes to ocean circulation could be the driver of such a cascade.

A group of researchers, led by Tim Lenton at Exeter University, England, first warned in a landmark paper 11 years ago about the risk of climate tipping points. Back then, they thought the dangers would only arise when global warming exceeded 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. But last week, Lenton and six co-authors argued in the journal Nature that the risks are now much more likely and much more imminent. Some tipping points, they said, may already have been breached at the current 1 degree C of warming. 

The new warning is much starker than the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which critics say has until now played down the risks of exceeding climate tipping points, in part because they are difficult to quantify. 

The potential tipping points come in three forms: runaway loss of ice sheets that accelerate sea level rise; forests and other natural carbon stores such as permafrost releasing those stores into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), accelerating warming; and the disabling of the ocean circulation system. 

Researchers’ biggest fear is for the future of the ocean circulation system, which moves heat around the world and may dictate global climate.

The researchers once considered these tipping points to be largely independent of each other. Now they warn that the world faces a “cascade” of abrupt shifts in the planet’s climate system, as global warming takes hold. “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points,” they wrote in Nature. This “could trigger a shift in the state of the Earth system as a whole,” one of the authors, Will Steffen of the Australian National University in Canberra, told Yale Environment 360.

Their biggest fear is for the future of the global ocean circulation system, which moves heat around the world and may dictate global climate. They say melting Greenland ice in a warmer Arctic has driven a key component of ocean circulation to a thousand-year low. Further decline, which would lead to a shift in heat distribution around the planet, could trigger forest collapse in the Amazon; cause near-permanent drought in Africa’s Sahel region; disrupt Asian monsoons; rapidly warm the Southern Ocean, which would cause a surge in global sea levels as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegrates; and potentially shift the planet to a new climate regime they call “hothouse Earth.”

The nine active climate tipping points. Credit: Nature

One climate scientist, Mike Hulme of the University of Cambridge, dismissed the new analysis as “a speculative opinion from a small group of self-selecting scientists.” He added that “there are no new research findings presented here” and that “many earth systems scientists would challenge the view” that the earth is close to crossing major tipping points. Lenton and his co-authors accept there is speculation involved, but argue that “given its huge impact and irreversible nature… to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.” 

The “climate emergency” is not just political rhetoric, they argue. It is now an identifiable scientific fact. Their message to the latest UN climate negotiations, under way in Madrid this week, is that the world may be almost out of time to prevent what they call an “existential threat to civilization.” Their study was released as a new report said that greenhouse gas emissions have hit a record high, with 40.6 billion tons of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere in 2019.

The term “climate tipping points” was first coined 15 years ago by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, former director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and a co-author of the new analysis, to describe how, under pressure from global warming, parts of the climate system could suddenly collapse or run out of control.

In their new analysis, the researchers conclude that of the 15 potential tipping points they identified in 2008, seven now show signs of being “active,” along with two others they have added to their list.“ That doesn’t mean a tipping point has necessarily been reached,” says Lenton. “But it means the system in question is showing evidence of change, of heading in the wrong direction.”

Four of these nine active tipping points involve thawing ice. Arctic sea ice is rapidly disappearing, and ice loss is accelerating on all three of the planet’s large, land-based ice sheets: Greenland, West Antarctica, and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. Lenton says two of these, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Wilkes Basin, “are showing evidence consistent with having passed a tipping point,” meaning further ice loss may be unstoppable. 

Greenland may not be far behind.“ Models suggest that the Greenland Ice Sheet could be doomed at 1.5 degrees C [2.7 degrees F] of warming, which could happen as soon as 2030,” the researchers report. Exceeding the three ice sheet tipping points could eventually cause an irreversible rise in sea levels of about 13 meters (43 feet), says Lenton.

Unlike the slowly deteriorating ice sheets, passing biospheric tipping points will produce abrupt, immediate, and obvious changes.

This may take centuries or millennia to play out, as the ice sheets slowly disappear into the ocean. But it will be virtually unstoppable, because once a thaw sets in, the surface of the ice sheet is lowered, exposing it to ever warmer air at lower altitudes.

Four more of the already-active tipping points involve the biosphere and its stores of carbon. The Amazon is suffering recurring droughts and forest dieback. In the boreal forests of the far north, rising temperatures are triggering epidemics of forest fires and pests. Meanwhile, permafrost is thawing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas; and in the tropics, coral reefs are suffering massive die-offs, threatening wider ocean ecosystems. 

Unlike the slowly deteriorating ice sheets, passing biospheric tipping points will often produce abrupt, immediate, and obvious changes, say the researchers. These may also be imminent. For instance, deforestation in the Amazon is already reducing rainfall and lengthening the dry season to a point where the rest of the trees die or are consumed by fires.

Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo, who was not involved in the present analysis, says that “when the dry season becomes longer than four months, tropical forest turns to savanna.” He puts the Amazon tipping point at 40-percent tree loss, a figure that changing global climate could reduce to between 20 and 25 percent by 2050. That is disturbingly close to the current total loss, reckoned to be approaching 20 percent.

Forest fires in the Amazon in the state of Rondônia, Brazil in August 2019. Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace

Lenton says abrupt releases of CO2 from these natural carbon stores would drastically reduce the leeway the world has for avoiding global warming above 1.5 degrees, the preferred target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. That probably requires limiting future CO2 emissions to about 500 billion tons — roughly 12 years’ emissions at current rates. But abrupt forest dieback in the Amazon and boreal forests, coupled with methane emissions from thawing permafrost, could use up 300 billion tons of that emissions budget, Lenton says.

The basic mechanisms behind these tipping points have been well-known for some years, though the predictions of the time it will take before they are activated have become much shorter. But the real new concern, says Lenton, is the identification of the potential for tipping point “cascades,” in which breaching one tipping point triggers breaches of others, leading to a rapid escalation of damage.

Lenton, Steffen, and others argued last year that 2 degrees C of warming “could activate… a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth system to even higher temperatures.” Such a change to what they called “hothouse Earth” would be irreversible, they said, even if greenhouse gas emissions were brought to zero. 

The lynchpin of one such cascade, they say, is the ninth tipping point that they have identified to be active — a critical feature of the global ocean circulation system, centered in the North Atlantic and known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). 

“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency,” the scientists wrote.

The AMOC is currently initiated by evaporation of warm water moving north, which leaves behind saltier, denser water that sinks to the sea bed. It is responsible for driving the ocean circulation, distributes heat around the globe, and may be the prime regulator of the climate.

Stefan Rahmstorf, an oceanographer at the University of Potsdam and a co-author of the new analysis, told e360: “The AMOC stands at the center of tipping-point cascades because of its large-scale heat transport.” It is, he says, the main reason why the Northern Hemisphere is warmer than the Southern Hemisphere. But it is being disrupted.

“Arctic warming and Greenland melting are driving an influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic,” he says. The fresher water is less dense and sinks less. Rahmstorf calculates that, as a result, the AMOC has weakened by about 15 percent since global warming took hold in 1975. “It is now at its weakest in the past millennium, or even longer,” he says. 

This decline of the ocean circulation threatens to trigger other tipping points elsewhere. “A slowdown of the AMOC reduces rainfall over the Amazon basin, increasing the probability of crossing a tipping point there,” says Steffen. It could also mess with monsoon systems in Asia and West Africa, triggering drought in the Sahel. And by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, it would further destabilize ice in Antarctica, unleashing an acceleration in global sea level rise. 

Most climate models predict a continued weakening of the AMOC through the 21st century. It remains unclear how close it might be to a tipping point, the researchers admit. But Lenton says that historically the AMOC appears to jump between different stable states. “The question,” says co-author Johan Rockstrom, who is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “is, what are the pressure points where we might cross a threshold and trigger a state change?”

Temperature anomalies from 2014-2018, in degrees Fahrenheit. Meltwater from Greenland has created a pocket of cold, fresh water (seen in blue) in the northern Atlantic Ocean, which scientists say could disrupt global ocean circulation. NASA

In the face of this threat, the researchers wade into the political debate about whether — as the European Parliament voted last month — the world should declare a climate emergency. “In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency,” their Naturepaper concludes. 

They justify this claim by attempting to define a climate emergency in mathematical terms, as a product of the extent of the threat, the probability of it happening, and the urgency, defined as how much time we have left to act. They argue that the current climate crisis fits that definition, with huge risks, increasing likelihood, and time fast running out.

This claim has drawn fire from some scientists. Hulme says such a calculation is “deeply misleading and dangerous… It is a bid by these scientists to place themselves as arbiters of whether or not we are in a climate emergency.” It is for society as a whole to decide what an emergency is, not scientists, he said. 

“I am definitely not bidding to be an arbiter of climate emergency,” insists Lenton. “I am just trying to offer some scientific support for the already loud societal claims for climate emergency.” Referring to ongoing global youth protests demanding action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Lenton added, “The schoolkids are right.”

“We need to reach a social tipping point,” of low-carbon living, says an expert, “before we reach a planetary one.”

Hulme is also concerned about unintended consequences, such as encouraging politicians to embark on geo-engineering projects like deploying devices to shade us from solar radiation. “Calling a planet-wide emergency,” says Hulme, “can only accelerate the day when solar climate engineering is actively pursued” — something he opposes. Hulme and Lenton signed a joint statement, published in Nature Climate Change in 2015, warning of just such an eventuality.

Lenton says he remains opposed to geo-engineering, which he calls “as risky as the risks we are trying to avoid.” He thinks the threats the world faces are too great for scientists to stand on the political sidelines, especially given the world’s current failure to act to head off climate disaster. 

“The current approach of the UN Climate Change Convention is a failure,” says Steffen. But he is not without hope. He believes declining fertility, innovation towards low-carbon energy, and growing movements for “greener” consumption all suggest that human society may be reaching its own tipping point in responding to the crisis. The bottom line, he says, is that “we need to reach a social tipping point, before we reach a planetary one.”

— Read on e360.yale.edu/features/as-climate-changes-worsens-a-cascade-of-tipping-points-looms

Climate change could make parts of the world ‘too hot for humans’ #ClimateEmergency #Heatwave #Bushfire #Airpollution #StopAdani #ExtinctionRebellion #COP25 #TimeForAction

Legal & General analyst warns of climate catastrophe unless radical action taken.

By Eoin Burke-Kennedy a business journalist with The Irish Times

Imagine a world where between one and two billion people are exposed to heat and humidity that is consistent with human life expectancy of just six hours.

According to Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), one of the world’s largest fund managers with more than £1.1 trillion in assets, this is where we’re headed unless radical action is taken to avert the impending climate crisis.

The company has been warning clients that even on the basis of several “optimistic assumptions” to do with the adoption of renewables and the switch to electric vehicles, Earth is on course to experience global warming of between 3.5 and 4 degrees by 2100. This will result in an unparalleled climate catastrophe, it says.

“Parts of India, parts of the Middle East will be exposed for the first time in human history to a combination of heat and humidity such that if you were an adult male sitting in the shade with access to unlimited clean drinking water your maximum life expectancy would be about six hours,” LGIM’s head of commodity research Nick Stansbury said.

The fact that such a stark warning should come from an entity so embedded in the global financial system and with hundreds of billions worth of fossil fuel investments is arresting in itself.

The next 10 years are going to decide what sort of the climate outcome we end up with 

About two years ago, LGIM told Stansbury, one of its brightest analysts, to go away and digest the science around climate change and come back with a comprehensive assessment of the threat for non-specialists. Since then he has been on the road briefing staff and clients, stressing the need to balance environmental as well as financial concerns.

The next decade

Stansbury, who was in Dublin last week for a client seminar, said the “carbon budget” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century will be fully exhausted within an incredibly narrow window of time.

“What this means is by 2032 we can no longer emit a single tonne of CO2 and have a 50 per cent probability of staying within the 1.5 degree climate change outcome by 2100,” he said. “So we see this as a problem of the next decade. The next 10 years are going to decide what sort of the climate outcome we end up with.”

With more than $11 trillion invested in the energy sector and many governments dependent on the rents they extract from domestic fossil industries, this is going to involve a “really disruptive, potentially traumatic series of changes that we as investors need to get our heads around”, Stansbury said.

For the first time in modern economic history energy consumption has to be decoupled from CO2 emissions, “meaning even as energy consumption rises, emissions have to go down”.

Despite all these incredibly rapid techo-economic changes, we’re still on a pathway towards what scientists predict will be a climate catastrophe 

“And they don’t need to go down a little bit, they need to go down in absolute terms by somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent over a 30-year time horizon,” he said.

Rapid change

History tells us that these shifts typically take 50-100 years, but the current one will have to be done in a fraction of that time. “On a bunch of detailed but very optimistic assumptions, the world is heading to somewhere between 3.5 and 4 degrees of global warming by 2100 as a best case outcome,” Stansbury said.

“I’m talking about a pathway where by 2050 one in every two cars is electric, I’m talking about a world where renewables – wind and solar – take market share faster than any new source of energy has ever taken share in world history.

“And despite all these incredibly rapid techo-economic changes, we’re still on a pathway towards, what scientists predict will be a climate catastrophe.

“What we are likely to see, for the first time in human history, is parts of the world being so hot and so humid that human beings would not be able to survive for more than a few hours without access to air conditioning,” he said.

— Read on www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/climate-change-could-make-parts-of-the-world-too-hot-for-humans-1.4102349

The climate crisis is already affecting our health, and there’s more to come | RACGP: Heartlines to health | The Guardian #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #COP25 #TimeForAction #ExtinctionRebellion #ClimateEmergency

Our changing environment is already affecting Australians’ health, and GPs warn it’s just the tip of the iceberg

The health impacts of climate crisis-related events have never been more apparent in Australia, with recent catastrophic fire conditions visibly contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. But medical professionals warn that the climate emergency is likely to have a far wider reach.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) put out a climate change and human health position statement this year, recognising the climate crisis as a key public health issue.

The position statement cites a long list of health effects that could result from higher temperatures and increased heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and storms. These include risk of stroke and heat stress, worsening chronic respiratory, cardiac and kidney conditions, and psychiatric illness.

Dr Tim Senior, who works at the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation in south-west Sydney, is always busy, but the practice has been getting even more traffic lately. Like other GPs across the country, Dr Senior has a front-row seat to thegrowing impact of the climate crisis on the health of Australians.

“We’ve had more people coming in the last few weeks, with the smoke coming down from the bushfires in New South Wales, presenting with coughs, difficulty breathing – more than you’d usually expect,” he says.

“I’ve been aware increasingly of people coming in with symptoms that could be put down to climate change. The other doctors are seeing the same things; we’re all seeing that.”

Brace for impact: it’s going to get worse

The RACGP’s concerns are wide ranging, and cover the short and long term. Dr Senior says changing environmental impacts, such as air pollution, water access, and nutrition, will have flow-on effects for people’s health.

There are also concerns specific to different regions.

“Some GPs in southern Queensland will see more dengue fever coming through,” Dr Senior says. “Where I live it might be more Ross River or Barmah Forest virus.”

Then there are the indirect impacts, such as the effect of drought on food production, resulting in a poorer quality diet. Vulnerable patients, who already struggle to afford adequate housing, heating or cooling, will be the first affected and least able to deal with weather extremes.

The mental load 

Drought, bushfires and floods have been shown to have severe and long-term effects on mental health. They can also make existing problems worse.

“If you’re already struggling for money or work, having other difficulties piled on top – such as drought, going through a flood, or seeing your children get unwell because of the effect of a heatwave – that adds stress,” Dr Senior says.

Instead of drinking water, “yellow sludge” came out of the taps on the day that Dr Senior visited Walgett, a town in northern NSW. Residents had to boil it or wait for bottled supplies.

“You can imagine the [mental] impact of having to do that for something that we take for granted – it is terrifying.”

  • Three states across the east of Australia have seen tighter water restrictions due to the severity of the drought. Photograph: Klae Mcguinness/Getty Images.

Born into a heating world

Older Australians, children, and those with pre-existing conditions are likely to feel the health effects of the climate crisis earlier than the general population, but children have the most to lose, according to a report by Doctors for the Environment Australia. Research has found that globally, 88% of disease due to climate change is borne by children under the age of five, the report says.

“It’s hard to get your head around that,” Dr Senior says. “They will live through climate change in a way that no other generation has had to. They won’t know anything but chaotic climate.

“And we know from a lot of the research into health inequality that the first five years of life, as well as pregnancy, are crucial in terms of future health. They have a massive impact.”

Managing your health in a changing environment

Dr Senior says GPs understand what communities are going through, because it’s affecting them, too. GPs are best placed to help patients understand how changing temperatures and environment can affect their current conditions, or potentially spark new health concerns.

“We’ve always been advising behavioural change, and it’s based on having a therapeutic relationship with people,” he says.

“The behaviours that keep us well – walking more, driving less, eating less meat and less processed food, for example – also protect the environment.

“Our patients come first, which means our interventions are based on good science and evidence, along with a good understanding of the people we’re working with.”

That can entail advising individual patients at risk from heat or smoke to stay indoors at particular times, or advocating for those with respiratory illnesses to get better housing (as Dr Senior does).

It can also mean discussing interventions – such as diet, transport, energy usage, and community initiatives – to limit the effects of the climate crisis.

“We treat people and then we send them back to the circumstances that made them unwell,” Dr Senior says, “but it’s much better for all of us if we’re able to be kept well.”

GPs see 84% of the Australian population each year.

“That’s a massive reach. It’s a real opportunity to talk about the ways of mitigating climate change, the effects on their health.”

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is Australia’s largest professional general practice organisation – our mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of all people in Australia by supporting GPs, general practice registrars and medical students.

— Read on www.theguardian.com/racgp-heartlines-to-health/2019/dec/04/the-climate-crisis-is-already-affecting-our-health-and-theres-more-to-come

CoP25: Why it’s time nations must commit to meaningful climate action – The Financial Express #StopAdani #COP25 #TimeForAction #auspol #qldpol #ExtinctionRebellion

At CoP25, nations, especially developed economies, must commit to meaningful climate action; urgent implementation should follow.

One of the key points of discussion at CoP25 will be the modalities of carbon markets that will allow big emitters to buy carbon credits from countries that keep well within their emission goals.

The 25th Conference of Parties (CoP25) begins amid pessimism on global climate action—the UN has just warned that the world, even if all nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are met, will be hotter by 3.2oC by 2100 since global emissions will be 30% higher than the 2oC limit, and 120% higher than the 1.5oC limit in 2030.

Given the US has indicated it will walk out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 countries committed to the 2oC pathway—if incumbent president, Donald Trump, a climate-change-denier, wins the 2020 elections, it will do so after November 2020—the NDCs will definitely not be met.
Action on phasing out of fossil fuels, a large source of greenhouse gases, has been muted—the UN’s Production Gap report estimates that the world is on track to produce 150% more coal in 2030 than the absolute 2oC (warming above pre-industrial levels) compliance limit, and close to thrice of what is consistent with 1.5oC pathway.

Oil production will overshoot the said limits by 16% and 59% respectively. The fourth-largest coal-producer, Australia, and Brazil, a major oil economy, have both threatened a US-style Paris-deal-walk-out though they haven’t made any actual announcement. Climate action by three major fossil fuel producers, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, is estimated to be critically insufficient (that is, if all countries were acting similarly, the world would heat beyond 4oC by 2100). Yet, fossil fuel phase-out—this would require planning commensurate to the paradigm shift that it is—is not on the explicit agenda for CoP25.

Indeed, with the UN having said that the point of no return is upon us, and studies having warned that deferment and delay on such action exponentially increases costs of mitigation, it is surprising that nations are still pussyfooting on this.

The Katowice meeting (CoP24) was a lost opportunity—predictable, though, with host Poland being a major coal economy—but, if countries fail to make good in CoP25 and the major economies remain unwilling to adhere to the common but differentiated responsibilities principle, the Greta Thunbergs of the world would be right in accusing them of betraying future generations.

The world is already 1.1oC warmer than pre-industrial levels, and even this warming has had disastrous effects—with just 12 years of emissions left to exhaust the carbon budget for 1.5oC warming, a planetary climate crisis is looming.

Disasters rooted in climate change have already forced 20 million people to leave their homes annually over the past decade; people are seven times more likely to be internally displaced because of floods, cyclones, and wildfire than volcanic eruptions and earthquake, and three times more likely than because of conflict. The US shirking from the responsibility that its historical and current emissions demand in terms of climate action—it is currently the second-largest emitter and the largest per capita emitter—and the fact that NDCs are nowhere near as ambitious as required mean that CoP countries ex the US will have to vastly increase their commitment.

At the UN Climate Action Summit, held in New York in September, nations didn’t inspire much faith. CoP 25 may be the last forum to commit to meaningful climate action—Paris Agreement kicks in from the coming year. One of the key points of discussion at CoP25 will be the modalities of carbon markets that will allow big emitters to buy carbon credits from countries that keep well within their emission goals.

For this mechanism to work, countries will have to first commit to sharper cuts—emissions must go down by 7.6% per year over the next decade if the world is to keep to the 2oC pathway—and developed nations must agree to stick to common but differentiated responsibilities.

— Read on www.financialexpress.com/opinion/cop25-why-its-time-nations-must-commit-to-meaningful-climate-action/1783558/

The Grand Illusion – CounterPunch.org #ClimateEmergency #COP25 #TimeForAction #StopAdani #ExtinctionRebellion #Ecocide

The Grand Illusion – CounterPunch.org

Photograph Source: Nathaniel St. Clair

As the ecological crisis deepens, nearing the infamous Tipping Point – taking us closer to planetary catastrophe – we are being led to believe that an imminent “greening” of the world economy will deliver us from a very dark future. Somehow, against all logic, we have adopted a collective faith in the willingness of ruling governments and corporations to do the right thing. Carbon footprints will be drastically reduced thanks to a combination of market stratagems and technological magic. While greenhouse mitigation seamlessly advances, the ruling forces can return to what they do best – indulge their religion of endless accumulation and growth.

That scenario, so widely embellished, turns out to be the saddest – and most crippling – of all grand illusions. Nowhere is its peculiar influence stronger than in that worst of all environmental culprits, the United States.

The overblown 2015 Paris Agreement was touted as the last great hope, but is now better described as a well-intentioned exercise in futility, closer to James Hansen’s dismissive “fraud with no action, just promises”. At Paris the 200 members settled on a 20/20/20 formula: reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent, increase renewable energy sources to 20 percent of the total, elevate overall energy efficiency by 20 percent. That would theoretically keep global average temperatures at less than two degrees Celsius (ideally 1.5 degrees) above pre-industrial levels.

The problem is that all targets are voluntary, with no binding mechanisms. Under Paris each nation (currently 187 signatories) determines its own plans, sets its own outcomes, and reports on its carbon-mitigation efforts. In fact no members have yet moved forward to implement goals thought to be consistent with the 20/20/20 prescription – and most are woefully short. While President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris arrangements, its added carbon footprint turns out to be no worse and indeed better than other major emitters – China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, Mexico.

Despite greater reliance on sustainable energy in many nations, heightened overall economic growth has meant higher global carbon emissions of 1.6 percent in 2017 and 2.7 percent in 2018, with anticipated sharper increases for 2019. The fossil economy moves full-speed ahead: oil and gas extractions have reached all-time highs, with no slowdowns expected. Even as renewables significantly climb upward, as in China, India, the U.S., and Europe, we see a steadily rising carbon footprint because of total increases in economic growth and energy consumption. The top 10 countries presently account for 67 percent of all greenhouse emissions, with little change in sight.

Recently the United Nations Environmental Program, hardly a radical source, projected that by 2030 global production of fossil fuels will more than double what can be consumed to reverse further global warming. In other words, the Paris accords are essentially null and void. The UNEP report, extrapolating from emissions data among eight leading national emitters, concludes that “humanity” is moving along a suicidal path to ecological oblivion marked by temperature increases of four degrees Celsius, perhaps worse.

Even if the 20/20/20 targets were faithfully met by all leading nations, however, little would change. In fact the sum of all pledges at Paris would not keep temperatures from rising two degrees (even more) in coming decades. Overall fossil-fuel consumption dictated by soaring growth levels easily cancels such efforts, so that existing carbon-mitigation strategies turn out to be illusory. In fact many keen observers believe it is already too late, that burdened by a legacy of political failure we are headed straight toward planetary disaster. Waves of militant climate protests across the world speak to mounting public anger, yet these protests (and others before them) have yet to generate the kind of cohesive political opposition that could reverse the crisis. We appear trapped in a cycle of futility, a kind of psychological immobility that David Wallace-Wells, in Uninhabitable World, refers to as “climate nihilism”. Mass protests in such a milieu are not readily translated into anti-system change – or even far-reaching reforms like those associated with the various Green New Deals.

According to writers like Wallace-Wells, we are trapped in a world moving inexorably toward an additional four or five degree Celsius by the end of the century, if not sooner. He concludes: “. . . if the next 30 years of industrial activity trace the same arc upward as the last 30 years have, whole regions will become unlivable by any standard we have today.” Ecological cataclysm will befall large sections of Europe, North America, and South America. In this setting the world economy would be reduced to shambles, making Karl Marx’s famous crisis theory appear rather tepid. Wallace-Wells adds: “Warming by three degrees Celsius would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced through many millenia of strains and strife and all-out war.”

Along with “industrial activity” Wallace-Wells could have mentioned the even more problematic realm of agriculture and food: that will be the weakest link in a crisis-ridden system. Presently up to 80 percent of all fresh water goes to farming – half of that total utilized for meat production. We live in a world where it takes 2400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef and 685 gallons for one gallon of milk, compared to just a few gallons for equivalent amounts of grains and vegetables. Half of all arable land goes to corrosive animal grazing, with no decline expected as more nations reach industrialized status. Taking fossil-fuel use into account, the carbon footprint of meat-based agriculture could be 30 percent of the total, even more. Since more than two billion people are now deprived of adequate food and water, the severe unsustainability of capitalist agribusiness and fast-food industry should need little elaboration.

Amid fashionable pleas to “save the planet” and recent surge in “climate activism”, few countries have embraced a program of serious carbon mitigation. For government and corporate elites, it is continued business-as-usual. Writing in Climate Leviathan, British Marxists Geoff Mann and Jonathan Wainwright lament: “The possibility of rapid global carbon mitigation as climate-change abatement has passed. The world’s elites, at least, appear to have abandoned it – if they ever took it seriously.” Instead, the real plan going forward is one of adaptation to a continuously heating planet.

The same corporate behemoths that dominate the world economy also shape decisions impacting the ecological future. At present, according to Peter Phillips in Giants, 389 major transnational corporations manage a world system worth an estimated $255 trillion, much of that invested in a boundless trove of fossil fuels. The U.S. and Europe hold nearly two-thirds of that total. No more than 100 of these corporations are currently responsible for at least 70 percent of all greenhouse emissions. At the top of this pyramid 17 financial giants drive the world capitalist economy. To date there are no signs that the chieftains of fossil capitalism are ready to deviate from their historically destructive course.

In the U.S. nowadays, there is much inflated talk among Big Tech elites of slashing the carbon footprint, a move obviously beneficial to the corporate image. Managers at Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook seem anxious to launch their own greening crusades. They ritually tout green technology as the preferred route to carbon mitigation. Jeff Bezos claims Amazon will derive 100 percent of its energy from alternative sources by 2030. Other tech oligarchs, in command of a dynamic technological universe, seem to be promising a carbon-free economy – at least partly in response to mounting worker protests.

Another fine illusion: Big Tech and Big Oil have in fact decided to march forward in tight partnership, much to the advantage of those supposedly harmful fossil-fuel interests. The idea of “greening” apparently does not extend to moves by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others to profit from assisting those giants (Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, etc.) to locate better, cheaper, and more efficient drilling and fracking locations. Big Tech can furnish precisely what is most needed: lucrative cloud facilities, AI, robotics, troves of geological and meteorological data. This has been especially helpful in exploiting the mass shale oil boom in Canada and the U.S. Referring to ExxonMobil in particular, Bezos has said that “we need to help them instead of vilifying them.” That could mean an extra 50,000 barrels of shale oil daily for just one climate-destroying enterprise.

While business at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon is doing just fine, worker discontent flows through the hardly-dispossessed ranks – protests and walkouts directed not only at all the climate hypocrisy but at the spread of other “partnerships” with law enforcement, border-security agencies, intelligence operations, and of course the Pentagon. Another Big Tech scheme – to capture and sequester carbon emissions, or CCS – is widely viewed as another fantasy, highly problematic both technically and economically.

The stubborn reality is that, by 2040, the world will be consuming fully one-third more energy than is presently the case – probably 85 percent of that from oil, gas, and coal. Many trillions of dollars in fossil fuels remain to be exploited. Corporate logic dictates that such unbelievable sources of wealth be extracted to the maximum, whatever “greening” targets might be set at Paris and later environmental summits.

Meanwhile, reputable economic projections indicate that China will have a world-leading GDP of $50 trillion by 2040, followed by the U.S. at $34 trillion and India at $28 trillion. Those nations will presumably command more wealth than the rest of the world combined. More daunting, the leading two countries will possess more wealth – and control more resources – than the total of what exists on the planet today. What could this frightening scenario mean for energy consumption? For climate disruption? For social misery? For agriculture and food shortages? For resource wars and the militarism that figures to be both cause and effect of such wars? Could Paris and its succeeding international accords – or any Green New Deal – make a meaningful difference on such a wildly unsustainable planet?

As the crisis worsens, with few if any strong counter-forces on the horizon, what we desperately need is an entirely new political imaginary – one that finally sets the world free of transnational corporate domination.

The title of this article comes from the seminal 1937 Jean Revoir film Grand Illusion, in that case focused on the ideological mirage of warfare.

— Read on www.counterpunch.org/2019/11/29/the-grand-illusion-2/