Category Archives: General

Naomi Klein: ‘We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism’

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Read an extract from Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here.

The No Logo author talks to Natalie Hanman about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope.

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we’re not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We’re talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we’re in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don’t we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don’t think it’s coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that’s a link a lot of people haven’t made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That’s the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families? I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it’s going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this “my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women”. That doesn’t work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change. This debate has shifted a huge amount in the US because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They’re not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: “The hard truth is that the answer to the question ‘What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?’ is: nothing.” Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it’s so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that’s the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we’ve been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht …

Exactly. But this isn’t about what Greta is doing as an individual. It’s about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it’s magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don’t think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these “what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?” questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone’s shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I’m under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I’m happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we’re afraid to talk about. It’s been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn’t until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women’s bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers’s novel, The Overstory. Why?

It’s been incredibly important to me and I’m happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we’ve been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It’s the same conversation we’re having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It’s also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can’t. We believe we’ve been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I’m renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I’m inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we’ve finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we’ve spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Read an extract from Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here.

The No Logo author talks to Natalie Hanman about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope.

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we’re not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We’re talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we’re in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don’t we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don’t think it’s coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that’s a link a lot of people haven’t made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That’s the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families? I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it’s going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this “my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women”. That doesn’t work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change. This debate has shifted a huge amount in the US because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They’re not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: “The hard truth is that the answer to the question ‘What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?’ is: nothing.” Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it’s so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that’s the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we’ve been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht …

Exactly. But this isn’t about what Greta is doing as an individual. It’s about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it’s magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don’t think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these “what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?” questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone’s shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I’m under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I’m happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we’re afraid to talk about. It’s been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn’t until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women’s bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers’s novel, The Overstory. Why?

It’s been incredibly important to me and I’m happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we’ve been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It’s the same conversation we’re having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It’s also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can’t. We believe we’ve been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I’m renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I’m inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we’ve finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we’ve spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Political lobbying buys off climate law

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

Life within The Wall keeps The Others at bay

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

Climate science supports youth protests

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his or her doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his or her doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.

Savage heat engulfs temperate Tasmania

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Salt-free drinkable water comes at a cost

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Tell us more on palm oil sources, say buyers

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

Shutdown . . . Back Soon

LONDON, 24 December 2018


The Climate News Network is taking a short break: we shall not be publishing anything more from today until next Monday, 31 December.  Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just having a rest from the daily round, we wish you a happy break. Thank you for supporting us this year. We wish you the very best for 2019.

The Editors

LONDON, 24 December 2018


The Climate News Network is taking a short break: we shall not be publishing anything more from today until next Monday, 31 December.  Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just having a rest from the daily round, we wish you a happy break. Thank you for supporting us this year. We wish you the very best for 2019.

The Editors