Category Archives: General

Climate change caused havoc 2000 years ago

An Alaskan volcano once spurred climate change, darkening Mediterranean skies, launching a famine and possibly changing history.

LONDON, 1 July, 2020 – Once again, geologists have shown that climate change can be linked to some of the most dramatic moments in human history: civil strife in the Roman Republic that ended with the fall of a Greek dynasty in Egypt and the rise of the Roman Empire.

The summers just after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE (Before the Christian Era) were among the coldest in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years, and this sudden prolonged chill can be linked to lost harvests, famine, the failure of the all-important Nile flood and the death of the Roman Mark Antony and the last of Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra.

The trigger for that cold shadow over the Mediterranean theatre of history? Summer and autumn temperatures fell to as much as 7°C below normal because on the far side of the hemisphere an Alaskan volcano erupted in 43 BCE to hurl colossal quantities of soot and sulphates into the stratosphere and dim the sun’s radiation for much of the next decade.

And the evidence? Deposits of volcanic ash in the Arctic ice cores that can be linked directly to one once-smoking crater in the Aleutian islands now known as Okmok, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Average temperatures fell dramatically. Summer rainfall in southern Europe rose by 50% to 120% above normal. Autumn rainfall rose fourfold.

“To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth contributed to the demise of the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating”

The rest is history: literally. Roman and Chinese chronicles surviving from that time record what scientists call “unusual atmospheric phenomena” as well as “widespread famine.”

Less directly, records of lead pollution preserved in the annual layers of ice in Greenland tell a story of economic decline, reflected in what might be the reduction of mining and smelting of lead and silver during the last years of the Roman Republic.

And the effect on the hemisphere’s climate was also recorded in the annual flow and flood of the River Nile, a regular inundation that enriched the grain harvest of the Nile Valley, and supplied bread for Rome and its sister cities.

The research was led by Joe McConnell of the US Desert Research Institute in Nevada. “To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating,” he said. “It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2000 years ago.”

And one of his co-authors, Joseph Manning of Yale University, said: “We know that the Nile River did not flood in 43 BCE and 42 BCE – and now we know why. The volcanic eruption greatly affected the Nile watershed.”

Climate’s role

That mass migration, conflict and the collapse of once-stable regimes can be linked to climate change is not news: researchers have repeatedly found that drought, cold and harvest failure can be matched with the collapse of ancient empires in the Middle East and in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Just 1500 years ago volcanic eruptions have been timed to the famine, the Plague of Justinian, and other turmoil in the Byzantine empire. Professor Manning had already linked a failure of the Nile flood to the collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Neither the volcanic eruption nor the consequent climate disruption can be said to have “caused” ancient power struggles. But a backdrop of instability,  hunger and famine can be linked to conflict, and climate is now seen as an inseparable factor. Cold, heavy rain at the wrong season can ruin any harvest.

“In the Mediterranean region, these wet and extremely cold conditions during the agriculturally important spring through autumn seasons probably reduced crop yields and compounded supply problems during the ongoing political upheavals of the period,” said Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford, another author.

“These findings lend credibility to reports of cold, famine, food shortage and disease described by ancient sources.” – Climate News Network

An Alaskan volcano once spurred climate change, darkening Mediterranean skies, launching a famine and possibly changing history.

LONDON, 1 July, 2020 – Once again, geologists have shown that climate change can be linked to some of the most dramatic moments in human history: civil strife in the Roman Republic that ended with the fall of a Greek dynasty in Egypt and the rise of the Roman Empire.

The summers just after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE (Before the Christian Era) were among the coldest in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years, and this sudden prolonged chill can be linked to lost harvests, famine, the failure of the all-important Nile flood and the death of the Roman Mark Antony and the last of Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra.

The trigger for that cold shadow over the Mediterranean theatre of history? Summer and autumn temperatures fell to as much as 7°C below normal because on the far side of the hemisphere an Alaskan volcano erupted in 43 BCE to hurl colossal quantities of soot and sulphates into the stratosphere and dim the sun’s radiation for much of the next decade.

And the evidence? Deposits of volcanic ash in the Arctic ice cores that can be linked directly to one once-smoking crater in the Aleutian islands now known as Okmok, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Average temperatures fell dramatically. Summer rainfall in southern Europe rose by 50% to 120% above normal. Autumn rainfall rose fourfold.

“To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth contributed to the demise of the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating”

The rest is history: literally. Roman and Chinese chronicles surviving from that time record what scientists call “unusual atmospheric phenomena” as well as “widespread famine.”

Less directly, records of lead pollution preserved in the annual layers of ice in Greenland tell a story of economic decline, reflected in what might be the reduction of mining and smelting of lead and silver during the last years of the Roman Republic.

And the effect on the hemisphere’s climate was also recorded in the annual flow and flood of the River Nile, a regular inundation that enriched the grain harvest of the Nile Valley, and supplied bread for Rome and its sister cities.

The research was led by Joe McConnell of the US Desert Research Institute in Nevada. “To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating,” he said. “It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2000 years ago.”

And one of his co-authors, Joseph Manning of Yale University, said: “We know that the Nile River did not flood in 43 BCE and 42 BCE – and now we know why. The volcanic eruption greatly affected the Nile watershed.”

Climate’s role

That mass migration, conflict and the collapse of once-stable regimes can be linked to climate change is not news: researchers have repeatedly found that drought, cold and harvest failure can be matched with the collapse of ancient empires in the Middle East and in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Just 1500 years ago volcanic eruptions have been timed to the famine, the Plague of Justinian, and other turmoil in the Byzantine empire. Professor Manning had already linked a failure of the Nile flood to the collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Neither the volcanic eruption nor the consequent climate disruption can be said to have “caused” ancient power struggles. But a backdrop of instability,  hunger and famine can be linked to conflict, and climate is now seen as an inseparable factor. Cold, heavy rain at the wrong season can ruin any harvest.

“In the Mediterranean region, these wet and extremely cold conditions during the agriculturally important spring through autumn seasons probably reduced crop yields and compounded supply problems during the ongoing political upheavals of the period,” said Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford, another author.

“These findings lend credibility to reports of cold, famine, food shortage and disease described by ancient sources.” – Climate News Network

Sport’s carbon footprint is global bad news

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

The result of sport’s carbon footprint is worldwide damage. And global heating is itself penalising players and fans alike.

LONDON, 22 June, 2020 − The amount of damage caused by global sport’s carbon footprint and the other forms of climate pollution sport produces matches the havoc resulting from the activities of entire countries, a new study by a British journalist says.

Emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, equal those of a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also match those of nations like Spain or Poland, which consume much more fossil fuel.

But the climate crisis is in its turn exacting a heavy price from the sporting world. The study says that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Globally, half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

The studyPlaying against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change − was written by the British sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). It warns that the climate emergency, already damaging, will have far more severe consequences for several individual sports.

“Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport over professional and global sport”

Climate change affects every aspect of human life, sport included. In 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented Pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo, as the city’s sweltering summer now makes them impossible to run there.

The impact on competitors can be severe. “Once you start hitting 33-35°C and you are playing sport, it’s all bad news”, the report says, “and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global sporting calendar in the next few decades.” And that’s before allowing for the inevitable increase in humidity.

Few sports appear likely to remain immune: the study lists some of the ways in which football, cricket, tennis, athletics, motor racing and others will be hit, as well as possible threats to spectators and fans, many of whom will have travelled long distances to see the events.

Inertia prevails

The report suggests radical reforms for the rapid decarbonising of world sport, from committing every organisation to a carbon-zero plan by 2030, to ending sponsorship by fossil fuel interests. While it acknowledges the best and most innovative practice in sport’s environmental governance, it paints a stark picture of inaction.

In sporting parlance, the world is already deep into extra time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we must deliver carbon reductions in the next decade if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change. Dr Goldblatt believes global sport can offer visionary leadership on climate action.

One positive suggestion is this: “Perhaps most important of all, the global sports industry needs to reprioritise grassroots and local sport (low carbon) over professional and global sport (high carbon).”

And he goes further: “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single mega-city, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total”, he says.

“Yet few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport.

Hope for humanity

“Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

“Sport, from the street to the stadium, generates hope … [and] a precious set of cultural treasures to hold in trust for the world. If global sport is ready to adopt and pursue really radical change in the field of climate action, it might be able to offer them, in all good faith, to humanity … and then you just never know.”

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the RTA, echoes that. He says: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.

“If its players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, which is kindly supported by the KR Foundation, and the report is backed by Play the Game. The climate is changing faster than we are and the Alliance is an international initiative asking how we can speed up responses. It is coordinated by a small group of people drawn from the New Weather Institute, the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, and the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Institute of Development Studies, and with help from our friends, colleagues and supporters.

The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here. Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline. Thank you.

Our extraordinary 50th Earth Day

A milestone event occurs in the shadow of the coronavirus, as the editor of Yale Climate Connections recalls.

YALE, Connecticut, 22 April, 2020 − Happy 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Well, sort of anyway, “happy” being a relative term in these extraordinarily turbulent times.

This no doubt will be the strangest Earth Day: Each day since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic took hold may qualify as the strangest … until tomorrow comes.

That said, past Earth Days have brought together large assemblies of persons across the globe to celebrate our planet and fight for its continued wellbeing. None of that this year, please, other than digitally and with all due respect for the critical need for physical and social distancing. (Think Andrea Bocelli singing “Amazing Grace” in an empty courtyard in front of Milan’s Duomo Cathedral this past Easter Day.)

In the personal confines sequestering many of us this April 22, it will be important to acknowledge some inarguable conclusions:

  • We wouldn’t want to be living today in the environment of a United States that has not benefited from the environmental, conservation, and pollution control efforts triggered at the start of the ’70s by then-President Richard M. Nixon and his January 1 declaration of “the environmental decade.”
  • Picture our current 328+ million people and the air we would be breathing today were it not for the extraordinary progress made under the 1970 Clean Air Act. Remember days of “headlights at noon” ranging from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles? No thank you.
  • Or picture the water quality of our endless rivers, lakes, and streams were it not for the gains made under the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (AKA Clean Water Act). “Don’t come in, the water’s foul!” we’d be urging.
  • Or recall the so-called potable water that was being swept down the Mississippi River to folks in New Orleans. Kentucky’s best bourbons couldn’t have sufficed to make it worth tasting.
  • Endangered species? Wild and scenic rivers? Endless strip mining and “mountain top removal” (a euphemism for sure), “Right to know,” pervasive and random application of all sorts of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and more? Major federal laws on each were enacted in that first decade of Earth Days.

And that short listing doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the victories gained – the pollution and environmental degradation avoided – as a result of the January 1970 enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act, with its provisions for environmental impact statements. A modern world without NEPA? I’d rather not, thanks.

None of which, by the way, is intended to suggest that any of those statutes, nor the vast and complex implementing regulations under them, are “perfect.” Far from it. Nor does it suggest that the battles are won, the gains so far achieved irreversible. Farther still.

Created as they were by fallible beings, working always in a political and imperfect system, valid criticisms apply across the board. Overly litigious? Check. In some cases convoluted and imprecise? Got it. Idealistically ambitious in some cases (think “zero discharge” by 1977 under the Water Act)? True. Shortcomings abound.

But that’s OK, and in the end a tribute to and not a criticism of these five decades of accomplishment and aspiration since Earth Day One.

Toro cartoon

And oh, the ironies. This year’s Earth Day will be observed throughout much of the U.S. and the world in a period of unusually clean air and clear skies, distant horizons now visible in the absence of the smog and air pollution long endured in many places as being normal.

Think here of a New Delhi resident’s for the first time seeing the majesty of the Himalayas, the smog temporarily abated. Those air pollutants, as with those responsible for global warming, are diminished substantially, but certainly only temporarily: They’re gone as a result of the dearth now of what many have now come to abide, however reluctantly, as “normal,” the detritus from routine air and highway miles traveled daily by millions domestically and billions worldwide.

The cleaner air bonanza afforded us by the constraints imposed by the coronavirus realities – SPOILER ALERT: another irony here – comes during the tenure of what must clearly be regarded as the single most anti-environmental presidential administration of any in U.S. history.

That characterization applies to, and beyond, the highly controversial targeted evisceration of regulations and policies aimed over the past three-plus years specifically at the preceding administration’s climate change efforts. But it applies nowhere more than in the climate change context. And that’s notwithstanding this President’s protestations to the contrary, including his saying he is “an environmentalist.” That clearly is – what does one call it? – “fake news.”

It will be ironic too, won’t it, if year-end official atmospheric data show calendar year 2020 to have measured the most progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions? Or perhaps even if data at the end of this administration’s tenure show major declines in greenhouse gas emissions? The irony is gobsmacking but the likelihood highly possible. Prepare for it.

‘Will the 60th, or 70th, or even centennial celebration of #EarthDay find the #coronavirus lessons fully learned and applied to climate change?’ Click To Tweet

 

In the end, this 50th Earth Day will come. And go. That much is clear. What is far less clear at this point is the potential impact, physically and psychologically, that the eventual post-coronavirus era will have on public and political attitudes toward addressing the climate challenges still confronting the planet. Will the 60th, or 70th, or even centennial celebration of Earth Day find the coronavirus lessons fully learned and applied to climate change? Will the global climate by then have been healed, or still ailing and even far more so?

Perhaps, just perhaps, the world’s people and their leaders at all levels will have come together well before then to confront and overcome the perils of global warming, just as they certainly must come together soon to defeat coronavirus.

If only doing so were as simple and as straightforward as developing and providing a vaccine.

Tom Toro is a cartoonist and writer who has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010.

This report was originally posted at Yale Climate Connections  and is republished here with their permission.

A milestone event occurs in the shadow of the coronavirus, as the editor of Yale Climate Connections recalls.

YALE, Connecticut, 22 April, 2020 − Happy 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Well, sort of anyway, “happy” being a relative term in these extraordinarily turbulent times.

This no doubt will be the strangest Earth Day: Each day since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic took hold may qualify as the strangest … until tomorrow comes.

That said, past Earth Days have brought together large assemblies of persons across the globe to celebrate our planet and fight for its continued wellbeing. None of that this year, please, other than digitally and with all due respect for the critical need for physical and social distancing. (Think Andrea Bocelli singing “Amazing Grace” in an empty courtyard in front of Milan’s Duomo Cathedral this past Easter Day.)

In the personal confines sequestering many of us this April 22, it will be important to acknowledge some inarguable conclusions:

  • We wouldn’t want to be living today in the environment of a United States that has not benefited from the environmental, conservation, and pollution control efforts triggered at the start of the ’70s by then-President Richard M. Nixon and his January 1 declaration of “the environmental decade.”
  • Picture our current 328+ million people and the air we would be breathing today were it not for the extraordinary progress made under the 1970 Clean Air Act. Remember days of “headlights at noon” ranging from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles? No thank you.
  • Or picture the water quality of our endless rivers, lakes, and streams were it not for the gains made under the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (AKA Clean Water Act). “Don’t come in, the water’s foul!” we’d be urging.
  • Or recall the so-called potable water that was being swept down the Mississippi River to folks in New Orleans. Kentucky’s best bourbons couldn’t have sufficed to make it worth tasting.
  • Endangered species? Wild and scenic rivers? Endless strip mining and “mountain top removal” (a euphemism for sure), “Right to know,” pervasive and random application of all sorts of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and more? Major federal laws on each were enacted in that first decade of Earth Days.

And that short listing doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the victories gained – the pollution and environmental degradation avoided – as a result of the January 1970 enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act, with its provisions for environmental impact statements. A modern world without NEPA? I’d rather not, thanks.

None of which, by the way, is intended to suggest that any of those statutes, nor the vast and complex implementing regulations under them, are “perfect.” Far from it. Nor does it suggest that the battles are won, the gains so far achieved irreversible. Farther still.

Created as they were by fallible beings, working always in a political and imperfect system, valid criticisms apply across the board. Overly litigious? Check. In some cases convoluted and imprecise? Got it. Idealistically ambitious in some cases (think “zero discharge” by 1977 under the Water Act)? True. Shortcomings abound.

But that’s OK, and in the end a tribute to and not a criticism of these five decades of accomplishment and aspiration since Earth Day One.

Toro cartoon

And oh, the ironies. This year’s Earth Day will be observed throughout much of the U.S. and the world in a period of unusually clean air and clear skies, distant horizons now visible in the absence of the smog and air pollution long endured in many places as being normal.

Think here of a New Delhi resident’s for the first time seeing the majesty of the Himalayas, the smog temporarily abated. Those air pollutants, as with those responsible for global warming, are diminished substantially, but certainly only temporarily: They’re gone as a result of the dearth now of what many have now come to abide, however reluctantly, as “normal,” the detritus from routine air and highway miles traveled daily by millions domestically and billions worldwide.

The cleaner air bonanza afforded us by the constraints imposed by the coronavirus realities – SPOILER ALERT: another irony here – comes during the tenure of what must clearly be regarded as the single most anti-environmental presidential administration of any in U.S. history.

That characterization applies to, and beyond, the highly controversial targeted evisceration of regulations and policies aimed over the past three-plus years specifically at the preceding administration’s climate change efforts. But it applies nowhere more than in the climate change context. And that’s notwithstanding this President’s protestations to the contrary, including his saying he is “an environmentalist.” That clearly is – what does one call it? – “fake news.”

It will be ironic too, won’t it, if year-end official atmospheric data show calendar year 2020 to have measured the most progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions? Or perhaps even if data at the end of this administration’s tenure show major declines in greenhouse gas emissions? The irony is gobsmacking but the likelihood highly possible. Prepare for it.

‘Will the 60th, or 70th, or even centennial celebration of #EarthDay find the #coronavirus lessons fully learned and applied to climate change?’ Click To Tweet

 

In the end, this 50th Earth Day will come. And go. That much is clear. What is far less clear at this point is the potential impact, physically and psychologically, that the eventual post-coronavirus era will have on public and political attitudes toward addressing the climate challenges still confronting the planet. Will the 60th, or 70th, or even centennial celebration of Earth Day find the coronavirus lessons fully learned and applied to climate change? Will the global climate by then have been healed, or still ailing and even far more so?

Perhaps, just perhaps, the world’s people and their leaders at all levels will have come together well before then to confront and overcome the perils of global warming, just as they certainly must come together soon to defeat coronavirus.

If only doing so were as simple and as straightforward as developing and providing a vaccine.

Tom Toro is a cartoonist and writer who has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010.

This report was originally posted at Yale Climate Connections  and is republished here with their permission.

Violent weather rises spur more political conflict

Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often. And bloodshed may follow oftener too.

LONDON, 16 April, 2020 – Violent weather is on the rise. Days of exceptionally heavy rain in São Paulo, Brazil, have multiplied fourfold in one lifetime. In California, autumns have become hotter, and drier, and the risk of devastating wildfires is on the increase.

And climate extremes bring with them the risk of ever-greater political conflict. In those countries already politically unstable, one third of all episodes of conflict have started within seven days of a heat wave, landslide, storm or drought.

Climate scientists began warning almost 40 years ago that even a small rise in the average annual temperature of planet Earth would be accompanied by a greater frequency of ever more extreme weather events. And now, repeatedly, rainfall, wind speed and thermometer records have begun to provide supporting evidence.

Seventy years ago, any heavy rain – more than 50 mm in a day – in São Paulo was almost unknown. In February 2020, the floods arrived again when the skies opened and delivered 114 millimetres in 24 hours. This was the second highest measured rainfall in any day since 1943. In the last decade, São Paulo citizens have seen such days between two and five times a year.

“Intense rainstorms lasting a few hours with intense amounts of water, such as 80mm or 100mm, are no longer sporadic events,” said José Antonio Marengo, of Brazil’s Natural Disaster Surveillance and Early Warning Centre. “They’re happening more and more frequently.”

Rainfall increase

He and colleagues report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that the city’s dry season from April to September is now extended to October. The number of consecutive days without any rain has also increased.

But total rainfall has increased over the city, and the state of São Paulo has now recorded a third of all Brazil’s floods. The researchers do not rule out the possibility of natural climate variation, but it may also be related to global warming and to the growth of the city.

Californian scientists however are in no doubt that the risk of longer and more dangerous fire seasons can be linked to climate change driven by global heating, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from profligate use of fossil fuels.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that since the early 1980s the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled in California, and rainfall during autumn has dropped by 30%, while average temperatures have increased by more than 1°C.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts”

The region’s single deadliest wildfire, the two largest wildfires and the two most destructive wildfires all happened during 2017 and 2018. More than 150 people died. Damage costs reached $50bn.

“Many factors influence wildfire risk, but this study shows that long-term warming, coupled with decreasing autumn precipitation, is already increasing the odds of the kinds of extreme fire weather conditions that have proved so destructive in northern and southern California in recent years,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University, one of the researchers.

The bushfires that have devastated eastern Australia since last September are unlikely to spark any civil war, says Tobias Ide of the University of Melbourne. “But when it comes to droughts in Nigeria or storms in Pakistan, where you have large marginalised populations and little state presence, the picture may well change.”

He and colleagues in Germany report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they used a new statistical approach to confirm what other researchers have repeatedly proposed: that climate catastrophe can seemingly heighten the chance of political violence or civil war.

Violence more likely

They counted 176 conflicts in which at least 25 people had died in battle,
and more than 10,000 records of floods, storms, drought, heat wave, landslide and other weather-related phenomena, and found that almost one third of all conflict had been preceded by a climate-related disaster within seven days.

They don’t say the disaster caused the conflict: just that it made violence in already uneasy political conditions more likely.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts,” Dr Ide said.

“Only countries with large populations, the political exclusion of ethnic groups and relatively low levels of economic development, are susceptible to disaster-conflict links.

“Measures to make societies more inclusive and wealthier are, therefore, no-regrets options to increase security in a warming world.” – Climate News Network

Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often. And bloodshed may follow oftener too.

LONDON, 16 April, 2020 – Violent weather is on the rise. Days of exceptionally heavy rain in São Paulo, Brazil, have multiplied fourfold in one lifetime. In California, autumns have become hotter, and drier, and the risk of devastating wildfires is on the increase.

And climate extremes bring with them the risk of ever-greater political conflict. In those countries already politically unstable, one third of all episodes of conflict have started within seven days of a heat wave, landslide, storm or drought.

Climate scientists began warning almost 40 years ago that even a small rise in the average annual temperature of planet Earth would be accompanied by a greater frequency of ever more extreme weather events. And now, repeatedly, rainfall, wind speed and thermometer records have begun to provide supporting evidence.

Seventy years ago, any heavy rain – more than 50 mm in a day – in São Paulo was almost unknown. In February 2020, the floods arrived again when the skies opened and delivered 114 millimetres in 24 hours. This was the second highest measured rainfall in any day since 1943. In the last decade, São Paulo citizens have seen such days between two and five times a year.

“Intense rainstorms lasting a few hours with intense amounts of water, such as 80mm or 100mm, are no longer sporadic events,” said José Antonio Marengo, of Brazil’s Natural Disaster Surveillance and Early Warning Centre. “They’re happening more and more frequently.”

Rainfall increase

He and colleagues report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that the city’s dry season from April to September is now extended to October. The number of consecutive days without any rain has also increased.

But total rainfall has increased over the city, and the state of São Paulo has now recorded a third of all Brazil’s floods. The researchers do not rule out the possibility of natural climate variation, but it may also be related to global warming and to the growth of the city.

Californian scientists however are in no doubt that the risk of longer and more dangerous fire seasons can be linked to climate change driven by global heating, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from profligate use of fossil fuels.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that since the early 1980s the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled in California, and rainfall during autumn has dropped by 30%, while average temperatures have increased by more than 1°C.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts”

The region’s single deadliest wildfire, the two largest wildfires and the two most destructive wildfires all happened during 2017 and 2018. More than 150 people died. Damage costs reached $50bn.

“Many factors influence wildfire risk, but this study shows that long-term warming, coupled with decreasing autumn precipitation, is already increasing the odds of the kinds of extreme fire weather conditions that have proved so destructive in northern and southern California in recent years,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University, one of the researchers.

The bushfires that have devastated eastern Australia since last September are unlikely to spark any civil war, says Tobias Ide of the University of Melbourne. “But when it comes to droughts in Nigeria or storms in Pakistan, where you have large marginalised populations and little state presence, the picture may well change.”

He and colleagues in Germany report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they used a new statistical approach to confirm what other researchers have repeatedly proposed: that climate catastrophe can seemingly heighten the chance of political violence or civil war.

Violence more likely

They counted 176 conflicts in which at least 25 people had died in battle,
and more than 10,000 records of floods, storms, drought, heat wave, landslide and other weather-related phenomena, and found that almost one third of all conflict had been preceded by a climate-related disaster within seven days.

They don’t say the disaster caused the conflict: just that it made violence in already uneasy political conditions more likely.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts,” Dr Ide said.

“Only countries with large populations, the political exclusion of ethnic groups and relatively low levels of economic development, are susceptible to disaster-conflict links.

“Measures to make societies more inclusive and wealthier are, therefore, no-regrets options to increase security in a warming world.” – Climate News Network

Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

heat

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Polar ice melt raises sea level dangers

polar ice

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

India finally takes climate crisis seriously

India

With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last focusing on the dangers of global warming.

NEW DELHI, 18 March, 2020 – After decades of concentrating on economic development and insisting that global warming was mainly a problem for the more industrially-developed countries to solve, Indian industry is at last facing up to dangers posed to its own future by climate change.

More than 40 organisations – including major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra and Wipro through their various philanthropic organisations, plus academic thinktanks, business schools, aid agencies, and the government’s scientific advisers – have come together to co-operate on climate solutions.

The umbrella organisation, called the India Climate Collaborative (ICC), also includes international institutions such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the MacArthur Foundation.

Climate disasters

Although there have been many individual initiatives in India on climate change, and there has been government support for renewables, particularly solar power, efforts so far have been fragmented.

State and national governments, individual departments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and academics have all worked separately, and sometimes in opposition to each other.

The scale of the task facing India is underlined by the fact it has taken two years to get the ICC up and running. However, with India ranked fifth in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and facing one climate disaster after another – sometimes simultaneous extreme weather events – these organisations have agreed that the issue can no longer be ignored.

“It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own.”

Commenting on the launch, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said: “It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own. Business, government and philanthropy must collaborate within and among themselves themselves to drive results quickly and at scale. The India Climate Collaborative can make this happen.”

The ICC has identified three critical risk factors for India:

The first is that an astonishing 700 million people are still dependent on agriculture and they are the most vulnerable to an erratic climate.

The second is that around the country’s approximately 7,500 km coastline are several major cities. Many of these important economic hubs, which include all the country’s main ports, are a metre or less above current sea level.

Third, even with the increasingly rigorous focus on renewable energy, there is continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for producing electricity, which is still in short supply.

According to the India Philanthropy Report 2019, private funds in India, mostly raised through non-government philanthropy, provided about Rs 70,000 crore ($9.5 billion) in 2018 for the social sector, mostly focusing on key aspects such as health, education and agriculture.

However, only a small proportion was spent on climate change, and so the ICC aims to raise the current spending of about 7 % to at least 20 %.

Another hindrance to India’s many plans for adaptation or mitigation is the lack of capacity among government departments. Something as basic as preparing workable proposals for funding action is a tough task for many state governments.

The ICC plans to conduct technical training as “there are gaps to be filled to take care of the talent shortfall, and there is overall lack of capacity.”

One of the first training exercises is planned for state-level bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and in the western state of Rajasthan.

Cross-purposes

There is some concern that while the India government is represented on the ICC by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, its Principal Scientific Adviser, there is no representation from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), which represents the country at the climate talks.

Critics claim that this is particularly worrying because the various government departments are already seen as not working together, or often working at cross-purposes.

There are also fears that there is lack of community involvement, particularly the farmers, who are the largest single group most affected by adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.

However, Shloka Nath, executive director of the ICC and head of Sustainability and Special Projects at the Tata Trust, says the ICC plans to work with the MoEFCC to reach representatives of civil society and bring them into the process.

“It is through them [the ministry] that we plan to reach out to the community,” she says. “The people will be very much involved.”

Despite these shortcomings, Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), welcomes the idea. He says: “It is for the first time that Indian companies are understanding climate change and willing to invest in it.” – Climate News Network

With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last focusing on the dangers of global warming.

NEW DELHI, 18 March, 2020 – After decades of concentrating on economic development and insisting that global warming was mainly a problem for the more industrially-developed countries to solve, Indian industry is at last facing up to dangers posed to its own future by climate change.

More than 40 organisations – including major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra and Wipro through their various philanthropic organisations, plus academic thinktanks, business schools, aid agencies, and the government’s scientific advisers – have come together to co-operate on climate solutions.

The umbrella organisation, called the India Climate Collaborative (ICC), also includes international institutions such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the MacArthur Foundation.

Climate disasters

Although there have been many individual initiatives in India on climate change, and there has been government support for renewables, particularly solar power, efforts so far have been fragmented.

State and national governments, individual departments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and academics have all worked separately, and sometimes in opposition to each other.

The scale of the task facing India is underlined by the fact it has taken two years to get the ICC up and running. However, with India ranked fifth in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and facing one climate disaster after another – sometimes simultaneous extreme weather events – these organisations have agreed that the issue can no longer be ignored.

“It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own.”

Commenting on the launch, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said: “It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own. Business, government and philanthropy must collaborate within and among themselves themselves to drive results quickly and at scale. The India Climate Collaborative can make this happen.”

The ICC has identified three critical risk factors for India:

The first is that an astonishing 700 million people are still dependent on agriculture and they are the most vulnerable to an erratic climate.

The second is that around the country’s approximately 7,500 km coastline are several major cities. Many of these important economic hubs, which include all the country’s main ports, are a metre or less above current sea level.

Third, even with the increasingly rigorous focus on renewable energy, there is continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for producing electricity, which is still in short supply.

According to the India Philanthropy Report 2019, private funds in India, mostly raised through non-government philanthropy, provided about Rs 70,000 crore ($9.5 billion) in 2018 for the social sector, mostly focusing on key aspects such as health, education and agriculture.

However, only a small proportion was spent on climate change, and so the ICC aims to raise the current spending of about 7 % to at least 20 %.

Another hindrance to India’s many plans for adaptation or mitigation is the lack of capacity among government departments. Something as basic as preparing workable proposals for funding action is a tough task for many state governments.

The ICC plans to conduct technical training as “there are gaps to be filled to take care of the talent shortfall, and there is overall lack of capacity.”

One of the first training exercises is planned for state-level bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and in the western state of Rajasthan.

Cross-purposes

There is some concern that while the India government is represented on the ICC by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, its Principal Scientific Adviser, there is no representation from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), which represents the country at the climate talks.

Critics claim that this is particularly worrying because the various government departments are already seen as not working together, or often working at cross-purposes.

There are also fears that there is lack of community involvement, particularly the farmers, who are the largest single group most affected by adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.

However, Shloka Nath, executive director of the ICC and head of Sustainability and Special Projects at the Tata Trust, says the ICC plans to work with the MoEFCC to reach representatives of civil society and bring them into the process.

“It is through them [the ministry] that we plan to reach out to the community,” she says. “The people will be very much involved.”

Despite these shortcomings, Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), welcomes the idea. He says: “It is for the first time that Indian companies are understanding climate change and willing to invest in it.” – Climate News Network

Wastewater flushes away a river of wealth

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network

Timber buildings can help to slow global heating

Tomorrow’s town planners could take a leaf from nature’s book with timber buildings. More than a leaf: the whole tree and all the cuttings as well.

LONDON, 4 February, 2020 − European and US scientists have a root-and-branch answer to the challenge of tomorrow’s cities: switch to wood, construct timber buildings and reduce the risk of even more devastating global temperature rise.

Their reasoning is bold and simple: it takes energy to make steel and cement, which must be mined or quarried, a process that puts the remaining wilderness at risk.

Forests represent stored atmospheric carbon. If timber from the planet’s forests could be used to construct the houses and offices needed for the additional 2.3 billion urban dwellers expected by the year 2050, then that would mean that the great cities could become sinks or repositories of stored carbon.

And new trees could grow in the space left by the harvested timber to add to the world inventory of stored carbon. The new towns and cities could become a kind of bank vault in which to save up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year that might otherwise have spilled into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been releasing into the atmosphere all of this carbon that had been stored in forests and in the ground,” said Galina Churkina, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

“We wanted to show that there can be a vision for returning much of this carbon back into the land.”

Strong fire-resistance

Wood is a fuel. It burns well. Paradoxically tree trunks, and treated timber assembled from laminates, do not. Structural timbers may char in a fire, but this has been shown to make them more resistant to burning. Experiment and research has shown that buildings of engineered timber up to 18 stories in height can be resistant to fire.

In effect, atmospheric carbon, turned into high-strength wood fibre by photosynthesis, could be made as safe as reinforced concrete. But, according to a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability, in 2014 the making of cement spilled 1,320 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and steel manufacture added another 1,740 million tonnes.

And between 2005 and 2015, mining in Brazil alone was responsible for 9% of the loss of all Amazon forest land during that decade: the act of prospecting for or extracting mineral commodities destroyed 12 times more than the areas stipulated in the mining leases.

The Potsdam scientists are not the first to suggest wood as an alternative to bricks and mortar, or bamboo as a replacement for cement, steel and glass. But their analysis may be the most detailed so far of a new way to confront the challenge of tomorrow’s climate-tested cities.

The researchers built a series of scenarios to test their hypothesis. New city structures must be built to accommodate an additional million or more humans every week for the next three decades. The proportion now expected to be fashioned from timber is half of 1%.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth”

A five-storey house made from laminated timber could store 180 kilos of carbon a square meter: that is three times the biomass above ground in natural forests. If construction from wood was stepped up to 10%, new construction could store 10 million tonnes of carbon a year; if the world switched to 90% this figure could rise to almost 700 million tonnes.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study and a founder director of the Potsdam Institute.

“They take CO2 out of our atmosphere and smoothly transform it into oxygen for us to breathe and carbon in their trunks for us to use. There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of.

“Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilisation calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s town planners could take a leaf from nature’s book with timber buildings. More than a leaf: the whole tree and all the cuttings as well.

LONDON, 4 February, 2020 − European and US scientists have a root-and-branch answer to the challenge of tomorrow’s cities: switch to wood, construct timber buildings and reduce the risk of even more devastating global temperature rise.

Their reasoning is bold and simple: it takes energy to make steel and cement, which must be mined or quarried, a process that puts the remaining wilderness at risk.

Forests represent stored atmospheric carbon. If timber from the planet’s forests could be used to construct the houses and offices needed for the additional 2.3 billion urban dwellers expected by the year 2050, then that would mean that the great cities could become sinks or repositories of stored carbon.

And new trees could grow in the space left by the harvested timber to add to the world inventory of stored carbon. The new towns and cities could become a kind of bank vault in which to save up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year that might otherwise have spilled into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been releasing into the atmosphere all of this carbon that had been stored in forests and in the ground,” said Galina Churkina, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

“We wanted to show that there can be a vision for returning much of this carbon back into the land.”

Strong fire-resistance

Wood is a fuel. It burns well. Paradoxically tree trunks, and treated timber assembled from laminates, do not. Structural timbers may char in a fire, but this has been shown to make them more resistant to burning. Experiment and research has shown that buildings of engineered timber up to 18 stories in height can be resistant to fire.

In effect, atmospheric carbon, turned into high-strength wood fibre by photosynthesis, could be made as safe as reinforced concrete. But, according to a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability, in 2014 the making of cement spilled 1,320 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and steel manufacture added another 1,740 million tonnes.

And between 2005 and 2015, mining in Brazil alone was responsible for 9% of the loss of all Amazon forest land during that decade: the act of prospecting for or extracting mineral commodities destroyed 12 times more than the areas stipulated in the mining leases.

The Potsdam scientists are not the first to suggest wood as an alternative to bricks and mortar, or bamboo as a replacement for cement, steel and glass. But their analysis may be the most detailed so far of a new way to confront the challenge of tomorrow’s climate-tested cities.

The researchers built a series of scenarios to test their hypothesis. New city structures must be built to accommodate an additional million or more humans every week for the next three decades. The proportion now expected to be fashioned from timber is half of 1%.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth”

A five-storey house made from laminated timber could store 180 kilos of carbon a square meter: that is three times the biomass above ground in natural forests. If construction from wood was stepped up to 10%, new construction could store 10 million tonnes of carbon a year; if the world switched to 90% this figure could rise to almost 700 million tonnes.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study and a founder director of the Potsdam Institute.

“They take CO2 out of our atmosphere and smoothly transform it into oxygen for us to breathe and carbon in their trunks for us to use. There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of.

“Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilisation calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Climate migrants still face ‘immense disaster’

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.