The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. It’s time to panic

David Wallace-Wells writes:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change. [Continue reading…]

My generation trashed the planet. I salute the children striking back


George Monbiot writes:

The disasters I feared my grandchildren would see in their old age are happening already: insect populations collapsing, mass extinction, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, floods. This is the world we have bequeathed to you. Yours is among the first of the unborn generations we failed to consider as our consumption rocketed.

But those of us who have long been engaged in this struggle will not abandon you. You have issued a challenge to which we must rise, and we will stand in solidarity with you. Though we are old and you are young, we will be led by you. We owe you that, at least.

By combining your determination and our experience, we can build a movement big enough to overthrow the life-denying system that has brought us to the brink of disaster – and beyond. Together we must demand a different way, a life-giving system that defends the natural world on which we all depend. A system that honours you, our children, and values equally the lives of those who are not born. Together, we will build a movement that must – and will – become irresistible. [Continue reading…]

The Green New Deal battle ahead

Naomi Klein writes:

“I really don’t like their policies of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ or ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’”

So bellowed President Donald Trump in El Paso, Texas, his first campaign-style salvo against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s Green New Deal resolution. There will surely be many more.

It’s worth marking the moment. Because those could be the famous last words of a one-term president, having wildly underestimated the public appetite for transformative action on the triple crises of our time: imminent ecological unraveling, gaping economic inequality (including the racial and gender wealth divide), and surging white supremacy.

Or they could be the epitaph for a habitable climate, with Trump’s lies and scare tactics succeeding in trampling this desperately needed framework. That could either help win him re-election, or land us with a timid Democrat in the White House with neither the courage nor the democratic mandate for this kind of deep change. Either scenario means blowing the handful of years left to roll out the transformations required to keep temperatures below catastrophic levels.

Back in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a landmark report informing us that global emissions need to be slashed in half in less than 12 years, a target that simply cannot be met without the world’s largest economy playing a game-changing leadership role. If there is a new administration ready to leap into that role in January 2021, meeting those targets would still be extraordinarily difficult, but it would be technically possible — especially if large cities and states like California and New York escalate their ambitions right now. Losing another four years to a Republican or a corporate Democrat, and starting in 2026 is, quite simply, a joke.

So either Trump is right and the Green New Deal is a losing political issue, one he can smear out of existence. Or he is wrong and a candidate who makes the Green New Deal the centerpiece of their platform will take the Democratic primary and then kick Trump’s ass in the general, with a clear democratic mandate to introduce wartime-levels of investment to battle our triple crises from day one. That would very likely inspire the rest of the world to finally follow suit on bold climate policy, giving us all a fighting chance. [Continue reading…]

Toxic neighbors: Taking action to solve the climate crisis

 

Humans cannot survive without them yet within a century the world’s insects may be extinct

The Guardian reports:

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” [Continue reading…]

With the Green New Deal, Democrats present a radical proposition for combating climate change

Osita Nwanevu writes:

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office pushing a Green New Deal in November, she framed the proposal, which few had then heard of, as the only way for the Party and the country to seriously address climate change. “We do not have a choice,” she told them. “We have to get to one hundred per cent renewable energy in ten years. There is no other option.”

Now, less than three months later, sixty house Democrats and nine Senate Democrats, including five announced or expected Presidential contenders—Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders—have backed a resolution outlining the principles and goals of a Green New Deal. Once drafted, the legislation will be the most ambitious climate effort that Congress has ever considered. On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the resolution’s lead sponsors, marked its introduction with a press conference outside the Senate.

“Five decades ago, President Kennedy announced the ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon,” Markey said. “He didn’t say how it would be done but that we would do it. We would need a giant rocket made of new metal alloys that had not been invented yet, and it would have to be returned safely to Earth within ten years. He urged us to be bold. I say today that it is time for us to be bold once again.”

“This is a big day for activists all over the country and for frontline communities all over the country,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her turn at the podium. “Today is a big day for people who have been left behind. Today is a big day for workers in Appalachia. Today is a big day for children that have been breathing dirty air in the South Bronx.”

The resolution puts forward the broad goals talked up by Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, and others but avoids some of the fault lines that have emerged between climate activists and moderate Democrats over the past few weeks. Most notably, the resolution does not explicitly call for a ban on fossil fuels, one of the ideas initially put forward by some climate activists. It instead says that the Green New Deal will work toward “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”—language that leaves open the possibility of sustaining or expanding nuclear energy, which had been rejected in an open letter last month from over six hundred environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement. The resolution also does not rule out the possibility of a carbon tax—an idea favored by centrists but viewed as inadequate by many climate activists.

At the press conference, Ocasio-Cortez referred obliquely to debates over particular provisions. “When people say, what about this or what about that, the answer isn’t, ‘This is why it isn’t in here,’ the answer is, ‘That is part of the solution, too,’ and so I hope you all see that.”

For Greg Carlock, of the progressive group Data for Progress, which has offered its own Green New Deal outline and has been privy to the talks over the resolution, those debates are secondary to the task of getting members of Congress to take the Green New Deal’s overarching goals seriously. “I think some people will look at this and then tell you all the reasons why, as a legislative agenda, it’s too ambitious or controversial,” he says. “They’ll kind of say, ‘Look at the fossil-fuel ban,’ or look at renewable versus clean and all that kind of stuff. And I see this as a commitment to an effort to meet the scale and urgency of the challenges and define a vision for where we want to drive the country and society. It’s kind of asking Congress to go down on the record.” [Continue reading…]

The Green New Deal is an opportunity for America to get right with the world

Eric Holthaus writes:

There’s an inescapable truth when it comes to climate change: Through its historical emissions and political role throughout history, the United States is responsible for this problem more than any other country on Earth.

The unveiling of a sweeping Green New Deal resolution by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, along with several leading presidential candidates and dozens of other co-sponsors, is a legitimate effort to right those wrongs and repair our standing in the world on the biggest problem in human history.

The historical context for this moment should not be forgotten: After World War II, the U.S. normalized fossil fuel use on a massive scale, launching an explosive rise in carbon emissions that has continued largely unabated even after climate change was identified as a potentially existential problem decades ago. With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has produced 25 percent of all human-related greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution, twice that of China.

Beyond our direct emissions, U.S. politicians have a history of sabotaging global efforts to fight climate change, most notably American reluctance to keep its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Accord. Even American climate champions have fallen short: Obama presided over the failure of cap-and-trade legislation, the botched global deal in Copenhagen, and the rise of the natural gas industry. And all along, American fossil fuel companies have funded a campaign of disinformation designed to promote the status quo — regardless of who held the presidency. Current U.S. policy is “critically insufficient” to address climate change. [Continue reading…]

A huge climate change movement led by teenage girls is sweeping Europe. And it’s coming to the U.S. next

BuzzFeed reports:

A huge student protest movement led almost exclusively by teenage girls and young women is sweeping Europe, and it’s on the brink of breaking through in the US.

So far this year, tens of thousands of high school–age students in Belgium, Germany, and Sweden have boycotted class and protested against climate change. The loose movement’s inspiration, a 16-year-old girl who began a solitary picket last year outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, has compared the protests to the March for Our Lives movement organized by the Parkland teens in the wake of a shooting at their school that left 17 dead.

In the latest mass climate strikes, large crowds took to the streets in The Hague on Thursday, in the largest such protest in the Netherlands so far. The teens leading the climate strike across the border in Belgium were in Leuven, the country’s eighth-largest city, where they told BuzzFeed News they had 12,000 people on the streets in one of many actions across the country.

A climate march last weekend in the Belgian capital, Brussels, drew more than 100,000 people, and one of the country’s environment ministers resigned this week after falsely claiming intelligence services had told her the protests were a plot against her.

The protests are injecting a new urgency into the debate around climate change, and calling attention to a lack of action by governments. They are also a sign of the new political power of young women, especially in Europe. Climate strikes have also been organized by students in Australia, and US organizers are planning to participate in an international day of action on March 15. [Continue reading…]

NASA on global warming: ‘It’s here. It’s now.’ The last five years have been the warmest on record

The New York Times reports:

NASA scientists announced Wednesday that the Earth’s average surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth highest in nearly 140 years of record-keeping and a continuation of an unmistakable warming trend.

“The five warmest years have, in fact, been the last five years,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the NASA group that conducted the analysis. “We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future. It’s here. It’s now.”

Over all, 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.

The results of this warming, Dr. Schmidt said, can be seen from the heat waves in Australia and extended droughts to coastal flooding in the United States, in disappearing Arctic ice and shrinking glaciers. Scientists have linked climate change to more destructive hurricanes like Michael and Florence last year, and have found links to such phenomena as the polar vortex, which last week delivered bone-chilling blasts to the American Midwest and Northeast.

While this planet has seen hotter days, and colder ones, what sets recent warming apart in the sweep of history is the relative suddenness of the rise in temperatures and its clear correlation with increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane produced by human activity over the same period. [Continue reading…]

‘Unprecedented’ floods in Australia

The New York Times reports:

After weeks of unrelenting heat and bushfires across the continent, torrential rain and flooding in northern Australia have forced hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes in what weather officials describe as an “unprecedented” event.

Between Jan. 26 and the morning of Feb. 4, there was close to four feet of rain in Townsville, a coastal city in the state of Queensland, eclipsing records set in 1998 during a flood known as the “Night of Noah.”

“In seven days, we’ve received our annual total rainfall,” said Jenny Hill, the mayor of Townsville. “We’ve never seen weather like this.”

Ms. Hill said that about 18,000 residents had lost power and that hundreds of others had evacuated, including some who left their suburb on a garbage truck. Elsewhere, two police officers were stuck clinging to trees for half an hour after their car was washed away by floodwaters, while residents reported snakes and crocodiles roaming the streets. [Continue reading…]

In December, ABC (Au) reported:

An extreme heatwave in far north Queensland last month is estimated to have killed more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, equating to almost one third of the species in Australia.

The deaths were from colonies in the Cairns area where the mercury soared above 42 degrees Celsius two days in a row, breaking the city’s previous record temperature for November by five degrees.

Ecologist, Dr Justin Welbergen from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University) is collating the numbers of bat deaths and said it was the second-largest mass die-off of flying foxes recorded in Australia and the first time it had happened to this species.

“These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales,” he said.

“[The biggest] was in south-east Queensland back in 2014 where about 46,000 animals (predominantly black flying foxes) died.

“The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia.

“Losing a third of the species on a hot afternoon I would argue certainly strengthens the case for both the Federal and Queensland Governments to consider lifting the species from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’, if not ‘critically endangered’.”

Dr Welbergen said it was also the first time there had been mass deaths of flying foxes from heat stress in far northern Australia where conditions were typically hot and humid but usually remained below 40 degrees.

“Science pretty much agrees this is a sign of things to come,” he said.

“Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, also in terms of intensity and duration, and we can expect more extreme temperatures to occur increasingly frequently further north.

“A certain proportion of such an extreme event can certainly be statistically attributed to climate change for sure. I think the jury is no longer out on that.” [Continue reading…]