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The Internet Of Wild Things: Technology And The Battle Against Biodiversity Loss And Climate Change

7 hours 54 min ago
TechRepublic - 

The potential to install a regime of benign surveillance over the natural world is immense, ranging from earth-observation satellites to smartphones listening out for chain saws in the forest.

The interrelated issues of biodiversity loss and climate change are rising fast up the popular and political agenda. One reason is that the world increasingly appears to be -- on fire.
In August 2019, wildfires -- many started deliberately -- consumed large areas of Amazonian rainforest, reducing the Earth's 'lung capacity', rendering indigenous people and wildlife homeless, and releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases. In September, on the other side of the world, forests in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra burned. Again, human agency is widely suspected, as palm oil planters clear the jungle to make way for their crop. Massive bushfires are currently raging in eastern Australia, which experienced its hottest recorded summer in 2018/19.
Wildfires are also occurring in the far North with increasing frequency and intensity: in June 2019 (the hottest on record in the region), fires in the Arctic emitted 50 megatons of carbon dioxide -- equivalent to the total annual CO2 output from Sweden. Evidence that Arctic permafrost is melting faster than previously expected only exacerbates the carbon release problem.
Why is the world apparently fiddling while Rome burns?
The tendency for national governments to have a short-term focus, addressing immediate problems and deferring longer-term issues for successive administrations or generations, is not helpful when confronting planet-scale problems like climate change and biodiversity loss. That's because incremental 'business-as-usual' activities can run into irreversible tipping points that flip systems unexpectedly into new and undesirable states (the Amazon being an increasingly urgent example).
Although supranational bodies such as the UN and the EU try to take a wider view of such issues, recent years have seen a rise in nationalism around the world, leading to suspicion and even rejection of such bodies, often accompanied by the denigration of scientific evidence and expertise.
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is an area of science and technology that can help in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change. In this article we'll outline the current state of the IoT and examine some examples of its use in vulnerable ecosystems.

The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things comprises sensor-equipped devices ('things') that can capture data, perform varying amounts of local processing, and connect to the internet to pass data on for further processing and/or storage. The latest estimate from analyst firm IoT Analytics puts the number of connected IoT devices at around 9.5 billion worldwide at the end of 2019. 
There is a wide variety of internet connectivity for IoT devices: wireless personal area networks (e.g. Bluetooth), wireless local area networks (e.g. wi-fi), low-power wide-area wireless networks (LPWAN, e.g. Sigfox), wired networks, or cellular (including, increasingly, 5G). Use cases cover 'smart' homes and offices, factories, cities, transportation systems, and many points in between -- including monitoring what remains of the natural world, where satellite connectivity will become increasingly important.
By 2025, IoT Analytics forecasts that there will be 28 billion connected IoT devices worldwide -- that's about 3.4 devices for every person on the planet (UN world population estimate for 2025: 8.18 billion). Other forecasts are available, of course, but the consensus is clear enough: IoT devices will proliferate, generating vast amounts of data, which will become actionable if backed up by a robust architecture comprising appropriate connectivity, gateways, analytics (including machine learning and AI), and storage/archiving.
A 2019 report from IoT Analytics includes an 'on the radar' guide to emerging IoT technologies, using a five-level classification: 'Fairly mature'; 'Nearing maturity'; 'Coming up'; 'Years out'; and 'Far on the horizon'. Technologies nearing maturity include IoT platforms, edge analytics, IoT-based streaming analytics, supervised and unsupervised machine learning, containers, low-power wide-area networks, and pub/sub messaging. Many of these technologies are already in use in biodiversity and climate change-related projects.
Among its top ten IoT developments in 2019, IoT Analytics highlighted nanosatellites, such as Eutelsat's ELO constellation, that are dedicated to IoT connectivity, and also the increasing role of IoT technology in helping organisations achieve environmental goals, as summarised in a September 2019 report from IoT specialist Libelium.

Technology versus biodiversity loss and climate change
Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and charities
Instant Detect 2.0
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles, famously runs London Zoo, but is also an important international conservation charity. One of ZSL's current technology projects is Instant Detect, a monitoring system that combines sensors, cameras, low-power radio networks, and satellite technology to capture and transmit real-time information on wildlife and human activity anywhere in the world. The aim is to remotely monitor wildlife behaviour and habitat changes, and give timely warning of illegal poaching activity.
The first incarnation of Instant Detect, which was deployed in 2014, used cameras and metal-detecting sensors to identify poachers in protected areas, sending images or alerts over an FSK radio link on ISM frequency bands to a base station. From here, data was transmitted via the Iridium satellite network to a command centre, alerting the authorities in near-real-time to detected threats.
With the concept proven, ZSL and Cambridge Design Partnership set out to create the more ambitious Instant Detect 2.0 (ID 2.0). Key elements of the ID 2.0 specification were: affordability; maximising the number of sensor devices that can connect to a base station; reliable transmission between devices and the base station; good system diagnostics; usability; low power consumption; a modified camera; and cloud-based data and alert management.
Instant Detect 2.0 components (l-r): base station, sensor endpoint, camera. Image: Sam Seccombe / ZSL

The Instant Detect 2.0 system comprises a base station that talks to the Iridium satellite constellation, plus cameras and sensor endpoints that relay images and alerts to the base station. To improve on the original FSK-based system's transmission range and power consumption, ID 2.0 uses LoRa, a low-power wide-area network, for wireless communication between cameras and endpoints and the base station.
According to Sam Seccombe, ZSL's Technical Project Manager, "When we field tested LoRa radios in 2018 we managed radio transmissions of 10km when sending small packets of data through bushy scrub and up to 1km range when sending through dense rainforest." A custom LoRa protocol was developed to handle images, which are not normal fare for this traditional low-data-rate IoT-focused standard.
The base station can receive data from up to eight devices concurrently, and can queue transmissions if this number is exceeded. Testing in June 2019 achieved successful image transmissions over more than a kilometre  and improvements to the custom LoRa protocol are continuing, Seccombe says.
Left: An Instant Detect 2.0 base station ready for burial. Right: A camouflaged ID 2.0 camera. The camera can be triggered by a metal-detecting sensor rather than infrared, so that only images of humans carrying metal (poachers) are transmitted. Images: Zuzanna Reymer, Sam Seccombe / ZSLAs well as improved range, LoRa also offers reliable transmission thanks to its ALOHA-type protocol, in which communication is initiated by the end-device and uplinks can be sent at any time. These are followed by two short downlink windows that provide the opportunity for bi-directional communication with the base station — a resend request for an interrupted transmission, for example. The ID 2.0 devices are ruggedised and send daily reports on battery and memory status, signal strength, and image/sensor event frequency. Although cost considerations rule out GPS tracking, if a device is moved — due to human or animal activity, for example — a tamper alarm will trigger an alert.
System management is handled via a browser-based OAM (Observation, Administration, and Maintenance) tool, accessed over a wi-fi link. ID 2.0 devices, which are designed to sleep whenever possible, are powered by internal Li-ion batteries and optionally by external (possibly solar-powered) batteries. ZSL is currently working to reduce the power draw in sleep mode to prolong battery life, Seccombe says. The ID 2.0 camera has a 5MP sensor and optics that deliver wide-angle or zoomed fields of view, and runs a Linux OS hosting image-recognition software that determines whether captured images should be transmitted or not. A cloud-based interface is also planned for Instant Detect 2.0, which will support image and alert handling, and remote management of devices in the field. 
Field trials with Instant Detect 2.0 are currently underway and production is planned for early 2020.
"One of the big issues we are currently facing is passing the tests needed to CE mark the system so that it can be provided legally to users in the European Economic Area [EEA] and many other countries that use the EEA's CE marking standards," Seccombe told ZDNet. "I know this is not as fun to report on as elephants ripping sensors out of the ground by their antennas or poachers discovering cameras and chopping them off trees with machetes, but I don't think this issue is well known to potential developers of wildlife conservation technology solutions -- and if it's not budgeted for or thought about early enough it might act as a critical stumbling block for a lot of people out there," he added.
ZSL is currently redesigning some parts of Instant Detect 2.0 to eliminate unwanted electronic noise and comply with stringent EMC and RED requirements for CE certification.

TrailGuard AI
Another camera-based anti-poaching system with satellite connectivity and image processing at the edge is TrailGuard AI, developed by Washington DC-based non-profit RESOLVE in partnership with Intel and Inmarsat.
The TrailGuard AI camera has on-board computer vision intelligence courtesy of Intel's Movidius Myriad 2 VPU chip (inset). Images: IntelAs with ZSL's Instant Detect, the TrailGuard AI project needed to find a way of reducing false-positive threat alerts from its first-generation cameras, which were funded by the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation. It did this by incorporating Intel's Movidius Myriad 2 VPU (Vision Processing Unit) into the camera. This low-power (1W) SoC (System on Chip) adds an additional layer of image signal and vision processing intelligence, allowing it to determine when a person or a vehicle is present, rather than something harmless such as a moving cloud or an animal.
The Myriad 2-powered TrailGuard AI camera is designed to perform in the field for up to 18 months on battery power — a big improvement over the much larger original version, which had a separate compute unit requiring time-consuming and potentially dangerous field maintenance every 4-6 weeks.
The compact TrailGuard AI camera (ringed, left) is easily concealed, and therefore much less likely to be vandalised or stolen than a traditional wildlife camera trap (right). Images: RESOLVENear real-time alerting is achieved by transmitting images over cellular, LoRa, or satellite connections, depending on what's available in the particular protected area. Satellite connectivity for the TrailGuard AI cameras is provided by Inmarsat, using its L-band network and BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) satellite modems.
The military-grade Explorer 540 BGAN satellite modem (left) is also easily concealed -- under a fake rock, for example (right). Also shown (arrowed, left) is a small WildTech gateway that receives images from multiple TrailGuard AI cameras via LoRa and transmits them to the modem. Images: RESOLVE"Wildlife poaching in Africa is at epidemic levels, but despite the best efforts of dedicated rangers, the large park boundaries and rough terrain mean that they often only find out about poaching when it's too late," said Dr. Eric Dinerstein, Director of WildTech and the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE, in a statement.
With TrailGuard AI in place, ranger teams should be able to respond rapidly, intercepting poachers before they strike. Dr Dinerstein told ZDNet: "The biggest advantage of TrailGuard is with its early warning system: it can stop poachers before they lay down snares or shoot wildlife."
The original non-AI version of TrailGuard detected 50 intruders that led to the arrests of 30 poachers representing 20 different poaching gangs, Dinerstein said. "We seized over 1000 kilograms of bushmeat, motorcycles, snares, weapons, and so on in the space of a few months."
Now it's full steam ahead for the Intel-powered AI version. The first 300 hand-built units have been shipped to parks in Africa, Dinerstein told ZDNet, while the next 700 TrailGuards  -- all of which are spoken for -- will be built in China by an Intel ODM.

Rainforest Connection
Rainforest Connection repurposes Android smartphones, adding a solar array and a microphone, and installs them in the forest. Audio from these 'Guardians' is streamed to the cloud, where it's analysed for suspicious activity, raising real-time alerts. Image: Getty Images/iStockphotoRainforest Connection (RFCx) is the brainchild of Topher White, a San Francisco-based engineer and developer, who in 2011 was inspired to join the fight against rainforest destruction and climate change after visiting a gibbon reserve in Borneo and witnessing the illegal felling of an old-growth teak tree. The downed forest giant was no more than five minutes' walk from a ranger station, and yet the chain saw went unheard.
As an experienced 'maker', White set about creating an early-warning system based on repurposed Android smartphones that could be installed in the rainforest canopy, run on solar power, listen for suspicious activity (chain saws, vehicle engines) and alert the authorities to a positive match in near real time. Perhaps surprisingly, many rainforest areas -- particularly at the vulnerable edge -- have sufficient mobile phone coverage to make this feasible.
Still, White faced plenty of obstacles: the phones had to be stripped down to a bare minimum of components, an extra microphone attached, and the manufacturer-installed Android OS replaced by (now discontinued) CyanogenMod to ensure that the listening software -- which was created from scratch -- could run. Crucially, a system of solar panels had to be designed to cope with transient spots of direct sunlight in the forest canopy called 'sunflecks'. The result was a petal-shaped configuration of seven panels, spaced to the average diameter of a sunfleck, that could reliably deliver the voltage (5V) required to charge a mobile phone.
Subsequent developments have moved the analysis of the audio captured by these canopy-mounted 'Guardian' devices to the cloud, where Google's TensorFlow machine-learning framework is used to identify sounds of illegal activity and adjust audio inputs to minimise the number of false positives.
The AI system uses 'binary classifiers' to determine whether a section of audio contains signs of logging, and also a 'cognition layer' that extracts intelligence from the entire data set. 
Rainforest Connection currently has 'Guardian' projects in northern Brazil (Guama, Tembé Territory), Ecuador (Cerro Blanco), Peru (Alto Mayo, Tambopata), Romania (Carpathian Mountains), Costa Rica (Osa Peninsula), and South Africa (Cradle of Humankind). You can listen to audio streams from these projects via the Rainforest Connection mobile app on iOS or Android.
As well as detecting illegal deforestation, RFCx seeks to recognise patterns of activity related to poaching, and to pioneer 'bio-acoustic monitoring' of wildlife populations.

BTO Cuckoo Tracking Project
The UK breeding population of the Cuckoo has crashed in recent decades; the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has been tagging and satellite-tracking birds as they migrate to and from Africa to find out why. Image: Getty Images/iStockphotoThe Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is the traditional harbinger of summer in the UK and Europe, arriving in late March/April, mating, and laying its eggs in the nests of a range of host species, and leaving before summer's end to overwinter in Africa. During the past 20 years, the UK's breeding population of Cuckoos has more than halved, for reasons unknown. To discover more, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) began a tagging and satellite tracking project in 2011.
The BTO doesn't use GPS trackers to keep tabs on migrating Cuckoos because, although accurate, they are currently too large and power-hungry. Instead solar-powered PTTs (Platform Transmitter Terminals) weighing about 5g are used (male Cuckoos weigh around 130g). Solar PTTs transmit short-duration messages to the Argos satellite constellation, which estimates their location using the perceived Doppler shift between successive transmissions. This gives a typical location accuracy of within 500 metres (GPS, by contrast, has an accuracy of a few metres). As satellite tracking technology develops, the BTO hopes to use smaller tags with GPS accuracy, allowing the tracking of females (which weigh around 110g) and finer-grained investigation of habitat use.
To date, the BTO has discovered that after breeding in the UK, male Cuckoos fly south to Africa via one of two routes: to the west through Spain and Morocco or to the east through Italy and the Balkans, before crossing the Sahara and converging on their wintering grounds in the Congo rainforest. On the return journey the following spring, the Cuckoos fly to a previously unrecorded 'stopover' area in West Africa, where they fuel up for the northward Sahara crossing.
Mortality rates have been found to be higher on the western southward migration route, a finding that correlates with trends in the breeding population in the UK. Droughts, wildfires, and habitat change in Spain may be the cause, although food shortages during the breeding season are also implicated. Going forward, the BTO will look further into this differential southward mortality, and also examine the Cuckoo's dependence on resources associated with the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) during the West African stopover.
The BTO's satellite-tracking work elucidates the natural history of this charismatic bird, and highlights the importance of habitat conservation across its entire migratory life cycle. Furthermore, the Cuckoo's presence in an area has been found to be an effective surrogate for several aspects of biodiversity, making it a good candidate for citizen science projects.
(Read more on the BTO Cuckoo Tracking Project: Population decline is linked to migration route in the Common Cuckoo, a long-distance nocturnally-migrating bird.)

Citizen science and deep learning

The ability to capture and disseminate large amounts of image and other data across the internet has enabled the rise of citizen science, where the collective pattern-recognition abilities of non-scientists helps with the classification and analysis of large data sets. Zooniverse is a prominent citizen science portal, with 105 projects underway at the time of writing, covering a wide range of fields -- arts, biology, climate, history, language, literature, medicine, nature, physics, social science, and space.

Snapshot Serengeti
One of Zooniverse's longest-running projects is Snapshot Serengeti, which has been classifying images of animals captured by a grid of camera traps in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park since 2010. Multiple users view each image and record the species, number of individuals, associated behaviours, and presence of young with the help of an identification guide. An algorithm then aggregates these classifications to achieve a consensus, a process that has been validated against a 'gold-standard' subset of images classified by experts. After 10 seasons, the Snapshot Serengeti data set contains some 6.7 million images (around 75% of which are empty), with labels provided for 55 animal categories -- the most common being wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle.This 'wisdom of crowds' project provides the opportunity to study multi-species dynamics in an ecosystem of world importance, particularly the interactions between large predators and their herbivorous prey. Key to these dynamics is the seasonal rainfall that drives the annual migration of around 1.3 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra in search of the best grazing.
Large human-tagged sets of image data such as Snapshot Serengeti are also perfect for training deep learning algorithms, which can then be used to automate species detection and classification. Another Zooniverse project demonstrates the value of this approach.

Serengeti Wildebeest Count
The Serengeti ecosystem is dominated by the annual migration of some 1.3 million wildebeest. Counts are based on aerial photographs, which are analysed by experts, citizen scientists and now deep learning algorithms. Image: Getty Images/iStockphotoAs noted above, wildebeest, along with zebra, are a keystone species in the Serengeti ecosystem, so it's important to know about their population dynamics. Wildebeest are counted every two or three years by flying transects over the herds in March-May, when the population is mostly on short-grass plains (where they are most easily seen from above), and taking aerial photographs under controlled conditions. Manual counts of these images can take several experts several weeks, so the process has been outsourced to Zooniverse's Serengeti Wildebeest Count project, where images are counted multiple times by citizen scientists, tallies combined into a statistical model, and a final population estimate calculated.
In pursuit of even greater efficiency, a paper by Colin J Torney and others used this data to train automated machine learning algorithms, comparing the resulting counts with those generated by citizen scientists and by experts.
The study was based on 1,584 georeferenced images with a resolution of 7,360 by 4,912 pixels. These large images were divided into 12 tiles and uploaded to the Serengeti Wildebeest Count project, where 2,212 citizen scientists counted the number of wildebeest in each tile 15 times. For automation, the authors employed the YOLOv3 object detector and the Keras and TensorFlow open-source deep learning packages, using 500 randomly selected images for training. This resulted in a list of locations for potential objects in each image, which were then filtered by discarding detected objects that did not match up to an identification in the Zooniverse data.
Training took 34 hours on a powerful Nvidia Quadro GP100 GPU, whereupon 1,000 randomly selected survey images were processed by the (slightly modified) algorithm — a process that took two hours on the same Nvidia GPU platform. The deep learning and citizen science counts were then compared to a 'gold standard' estimate made by a single human expert, which was taken to be the true number of wildebeest in each image.
The citizen science and deep learning methods can both deliver 'highly accurate image counts', the researchers found. The best citizen science fit to the expert count was achieved when the 5 lowest of the 15 counts for each image were discarded and the mean taken of the remaining 10, suggesting a systematic tendency to undercount (in this project, at least). The deep learning algorithm delivered its results much faster, and within 1% of the expert's -- 1.7 miscounts per image on average, recording a total 20,631 wildebeest compared to the expert estimate of 20,489.
"The 1,000 images can be processed in under 2 hours, meaning every future census could be counted within 24 hours. Hence, a process that currently takes 3-6 weeks, involving 3-4 wildlife professionals and countless cups of tea, can potentially be replaced with an automated system that runs overnight," the researchers said
Earth observation projects
Landsat and forest loss/fragmentation

Perhaps the broadest definition of a sensor-laden IoT 'thing' is a satellite that observes changes on Earth from orbit, beaming data back to ground stations for distribution to scientists and policy-makers around the world. Landsat, a NASA/USGS project, has been collecting high-resolution multispectral images of the Earth's surface to aid decision-making on land use practices since 1972 with Landsat 1. The current satellite is Landsat 8, with Landsat 9 due to launch in late 2020. 
A Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) image of pastures in South America's Gran Chaco plain, east of the Pilcomayo River near Tezén in Paraguay, captured on 14 August 2016. The rectangular clearings in the dry forest are created by large-scale cattle-ranching operations. Image: NASA/USGALandsat data is freely available, and several projects have used it to investigate changes in forest cover around the world.
Time-series (2000-2012) analysis of Landsat images showing forest extent (green) and change (red=forest loss; blue=forest gain; purple=loss and gain).  Image: University of MarylandA landmark 2013 study led by the University of Maryland's Matt Hansen used Google's Earth Engine cloud platform to map the extent of global tree cover, plus losses and gains, between 2000 and 2012 at a resolution of 30 metres. This was a big job for Earth Engine, to say the least: 20 terapixels of data from 654,178 Landsat 7 images were processed using one million CPU-core hours on 10,000 computers. "When they ran it, the lights dimmed," Hansen told the New York Times.
When the lights came back on, Hansen et al found that the world had lost 2.3 million square kilometres of forest between 2000 and 2012 and gained just 0.8m km2, with 0.2 million km2 experiencing both loss and gain.
At the time of the 2013 study, losses in the Brazilian rainforest had been declining for a decade, while the opposite was true in Indonesia. Since then, as documented by Global Forest Watch (a WRI-funded initiative to which Hansen's research group contributes), the trend has reversed with Brazil showing a marked increase and Indonesia a dramatic decline in primary forest loss.
Images: Global Forest Watch

In an April 2019 blog post, GFW noted that the decline in forest loss in protected Indonesian forests was especially dramatic, reflecting the success of recent government policies. However, it warned that 2019, an El Niño year, would likely see dry conditions and a prolonged fire season. In October 2019, GFW reported that 2019's fires were the worst since 2015 -- the last time Indonesia experienced an El Niño weather pattern.
GFW estimates that annual gross carbon dioxide emissions from tree cover loss in tropical countries averaged 4.8 gigatons per year between 2015 and 2017. This means that, if tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third behind China and the US in CO2 emissions.
Image: Global Forest WatchTo keep tabs on these issues, Global Forest Watch collates several data sources into an interactive environmental early warning system. These include deforestation alerts from the University of Maryland's Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) lab, and VIIRS fire alerts from infrared sensors on weather satellites.

Early warning system: Deforestation alerts from the past year (purple) and a week's worth of fire alerts (yellow/red/black) in South America. Image (from 11 October 2019): Global Forest WatchDeforestation tends to go hand-in-hand with the fragmentation of remaining areas into ever smaller patches. The level of fragmentation affects wildlife in several ways: key species will have minimum habitat area requirements; reduced connectivity among remaining fragments means a smaller chance of recolonisation should a local population go extinct; and edge effects tend to be more severe in smaller fragments.

Landsat images of Amazon rainforest in Rondônia, Brazil, from 1975 (left) and 2012 (right). A major north-south road spawned secondary roads at right angles as settlers cut and burned the forest and established farms, creating a distinctive pattern of fragmentation.  Image: Landsat/NASA

Large-scale Earth-observation projects like NASA's Landsat and the ESA's Sentinel programme deploy very large and very expensive satellites with relatively long repeat cycles (16 days in the case of Landsat 8, for example). At the opposite end of the scale are CubeSats -- constellations of small, inexpensive satellites, often built with off-the-shelf components and open-source software, launched as secondary payloads or via the International Space Station (ISS) -- which can deliver high-resolution imagery on a much shorter cycle.
Planet's CubeSat satellites, called 'Doves', measure just 10x10x30cm and weigh 4kg. The company currently has a constellation of 120+ Doves in sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 475km. Images: PlanetPlanet is a leading exponent of what co-founder and CEO Will Marshall, an ex-NASA scientist, calls 'agile aerospace'. Founded in 2010, Planet numbers Google among its equity stakeholders following the acquisition of Terra Bella and its SkySat constellation in 2017. The company currently has over 150 satellites in orbit, comprising 120-plus PlanetScope 'Doves' (10x10x30cm, 4kg, 3m resolution), 15 SkySats (60x60x95cm, 110kg, 72cm resolution), and 5 RapidEye (<1m3, 150kg, 5m resolution) devices. Orbiting the poles every 90 minutes, Planet's constellation can image the entire land surface of the Earth every day, providing data suitable for use cases including mapping, deep learning, disaster response, precision agriculture, and temporal image analytics.
Here's an example of Planet's imagery documenting illegal gold mining in the Peruvian rainforest.
In 2016 the 'La Pampa' gold mine illegally expanded into the protected Tambopata National Reserve in Peru. The Amazon Conservation Association used Planet imaging data to publish a series of alerts which resulted in government intervention. Images: Planet What next?
The current focus on biodiversity loss and climate change is the latest manifestation of fears, traceable back to Malthus in the 18th century, that the combination of human population growth, resource consumption per capita (particularly in developed countries), and consequent degradation of the natural environment will so reduce the planet's carrying capacity that we risk apocalyptic consequences -- war, famine, disease, extinction.
Technology is often held up as a potential 'fix' for the negative effects of such developments, and the Internet of Things -- in its broadest sense -- can play an important role by providing timely and actionable information on the state of the natural environment.
From earth-imaging satellites mapping land use changes, to citizen scientists and deep learning algorithms monitoring species' population changes, to smart cameras detecting poachers in the bush, to sensor-tagged animals revealing details of their life histories, to smartphones listening out for chain saws in the forest -- the potential to install a regime of benign surveillance over the natural world is immense.
As biodiversity loss and climate change rise up the global agenda, businesses are beginning to take notice -- and sometimes action. A 2018 study led by Oxford University's Department of Zoology found that nearly half (49) of the top 100 companies from the 2016 Fortune 500 mentioned biodiversity in their reports; 31 made clear commitments, although only 5 were 'specific, measurable, and time bound'. 
Meanwhile, on climate change, Science Based Targets -- a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) -- reports that 732 companies are taking science-based climate action and 312 have approved science-based targets (as of mid-January 2020). CDP's 2019 A-List of 179 companies with "transparent and comprehensive disclosure of climate data, thorough awareness of climate risks, demonstration of strong governance and management of those risks, and demonstration of market-leading best practices" includes many global brands. (CDP runs similar lists for forests and water security, which will be released on 3 February.)
Governments must play their part too, of course. As of January 2020, 169 Parties (out of 196) have submitted NBSAPs (National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans) under the UN's 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Of the 169 NBSAP-submitting Parties, all but 13 take into account the CBD's 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, which includes 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Target 11 is among those aimed at improving the status of biodiversity:
"By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes." A notable absentee from the list of countries with an NBSAP is the United States
The Paris Agreement of December 2015 builds on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to 'accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future'. Its central aim is to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, with a target of 1.5 degrees. All Parties to the agreement are required to make Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with global stocktakes occuring every five years. To date, 187 out of 197 Parties have ratified the Paris Agreement
The ten absentees are: Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen. On 4 November 2019, the United States notified the UN of its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which will take effect on 4 November 2020.
There's plenty of technology and expertise available to help combat biodiversity loss and climate change. However, implementing that technology and expertise effectively around the world is another -- increasingly urgent -- matter.

Categories: External websites

(AU) Scott Morrison's Menu Still Doesn't Offer An Emissions-Free Option

7 hours 57 min ago
Sydney Morning HeraldMike Foley

This week in federal politics saw the Greens and independent MP Zali Steggall promoting climate policies aimed at middle Australia, while Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel gave a headland speech mapping out a "transition to the electric planet".
There are significant differences between these offerings, but what they share is a crucial ingredient lacking from the Morrison government's menu - a clear plan on how to guide the transition from a carbon-intensive to a low-emissions economy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told Today “it’s a beat up” that some members of the front bench don’t believe he is doing enough when it comes to climate change.

The Paris climate agreement commits signatories to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Under the accord, Australia has also signed up for a non-legally-binding target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Australian National University Emeritus Professor Will Steffen said given the levels of carbon already in the atmosphere, coupled with the current rate of emissions, the world could not afford to develop new fossil fuel reserves if it was to meet the Paris target.
"We can have no new fossil fuels, no extension of coal, no new gas … all must be banned if you are serious about Paris," Steffen said.
Greens leader Adam Bandt has gone as far as anyone from his party to create a policy space that Labor and the Coalition could conceivably enter.
Bandt's green new deal policy calls for an exit from thermal coal, the major contributor to Australia's emissions when burned in power plants and to global emissions when exported overseas.
But the policy also promotes opportunities to mine metals to build renewable energy infrastructure like batteries and wind turbines, and for manufacturing with green aluminium and steel.
The chief executive of the powerful Minerals Council, Tania Constable, said she was happy to accept Bandt's request for a meeting, highlighting the role of mining in a low-emissions economy and her organisation's commitment to the Paris agreement.
"The MCA will soon release a detailed Climate Action Plan which complements the already strong efforts by our members on climate change," she said.
The Mount Weld mine in WA, where rare earth minerals are being extracted. Credit: Trevor Collens
The Mount Weld mine in WA, where rare earth minerals are being extracted.Credit:Trevor Collens
"The global transition to low-emissions technologies – including solar, wind, batteries, gas, advanced coal and nuclear energy – depends on the metals and raw materials provided by the minerals sector."
Yet the Minerals Council remains a strong advocate for thermal coal.
Illustration: Richard Giliberto"Exporting Australia's high-quality coal can help displace poor-quality coals," Constable said. "Australia's investment in technology means coal can be used in the future in tandem with carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions further and meet the goals of the Paris agreement."
Bandt said that while a swift transition from thermal coal was necessary, the nation "owes a debt" to the coal workers who "helped power the Australian economy and contributed to our success".
"We have an obligation to see no one is left behind," he said. "We've seen transition done very badly in the past - just look at the car industry.
"Government needs to take the reins and oversee transition so we grow jobs and industry in areas where coal mines and power stations exist at the moment.
"I want a manufacturing renaissance in Australia, for Australia to be an energy superpower and to process the minerals here which we need for a renewable economy."
Steggall, who defeated former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah at last year's federal election by campaigning on a climate change platform, will introduce a private member's bill that would commit Australia in law to the Paris climate agreement.
Steggall said Warringah voters "put me here to be the sensible voice" on climate change, and "irrespective of some members of parliament describing climate change as an inner city green concern, it's impacting everyone in Australia".
"This bill is as sensible a centre as possible, so a vast majority of Australians can get on board and support it," she said.
At the heart of Steggall's Bill is an independent, expert body modelled on Britain's Committee on Climate Change, which has successfully guided policy to meet the legally binding target to hit net zero emissions by 2050.
Dubbed the Climate Change Commission, the body would have a remit to recommend policy to wean industry off coal-fired power and onto renewables, or to replace industries that weren't viable under the zero emissions regime.
Zali Steggall has crossbench support for her private climate change bill. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen"I know there are some critics who say this Bill doesn't go far enough, but I've tried really hard to find the common ground," Steggall said. "There is something in this for all communities, regardless of their political affiliation."
Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor broke new ground on the climate change front for the government when he said on Monday he expected to release a "long-term emissions reduction strategy" ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November.
The announcement was closely followed by ructions in the Coalition over climate policy.
Committed to coal: Resources Minister Keith Pitt. Credit: Alex EllinghausenTaylor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have repeatedly said Australia would "meet and beat" its 2030 Paris targets, potentially without controversial Kyoto carryover credits.
However when asked last week if Australia should commit to net zero emissions by 2050,  Morrison said he would "never make a commitment like that if I couldn't tell the Australian people what it would cost them".
Freshly-minted Resources Minister Keith Pitt told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that he saw no need for an industry transition policy for thermal coal.
"As Resources Minister I highlight that the International Energy Agency confirms that coal will remain an important part of the world's energy mix decades into the future, remaining the single largest source of electricity to 2040," he said.
"The coal industry contributes more than $6 billion annually in royalties, accounts for over 50,000 direct jobs, and helps maintain the living standard of every Australian."
Labor resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said while there was a need for transition planning in ageing coal-fired power stations, thermal coal had good prospects.
"There is no coal mining transition in Australia. There is a transition underway in the coal generation sector as our power plants approach the end of their physical and economic lives but the great bulk of our thermal coal is exported into growing markets, as is our metallurgical coal.
"While we must always work hard to build regional economic diversity, the coal mining industry will be with us for many years to come and that's a good thing."
Labor leader Anthony Albanese was more circumspect on the need for transition policy for thermal coal miners.
"We need to act on the challenge of climate change but also recognise it as an opportunity to create jobs, lower emissions and lower prices."
Finkel told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday "the transition will take many decades", which meant there would be ongoing need for fossil fuels to power production of the clean energy sources of the future, particularly hydrogen.
The Morrison government has committed $370 million to develop hydrogen technology, which eminent economist Ross Garnaut has argued can be the export bedrock of an renewable energy export boom for Australia.
But Finkel argued fossil fuels, along with carbon capture and storage, should be deployed.
"By producing hydrogen from natural gas or coal, using carbon capture and permanent storage, we can add back two more lanes to our energy highway, ensuring we have four primary energy sources to meet the needs of the future – solar, wind, hydrogen from natural gas and hydrogen from coal."
If the government can finally agree to a shift in policy, there are a wealth of road signs pointing in a new direction from the private sector.
Energy giant BP said this week it will aim to eliminate or offset carbon emissions from oil and gas sales by 2050. The world's largest asset manager, BlackRock, announced last month it was exiting investments in coal-fired power, and it would ask clients to disclose their climate-related risks.
The $25 billion Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory has been welcomed by the Minerals Council, which highlights vast amounts of lithium will be needed for the 22 million panels in what would be the world's biggest solar farm.
A report from late last year by Melbourne University's Energy Transition Hub, From Mining to Making: Australia's Future in Zero Emissions Metal, argues that Australia has "enormous potential" to develop new processes, using renewable energy, to create a zero-carbon metal industry that generates 65,000 jobs and $100 billion in export revenue.
Finkel called for an end to the "blame game" over climate and a new era of constructive policy for industry and emissions.
"Your solution is not the only solution. This is complex, we need to be meeting in the middle in the great vortex of all these technological solutions," he said.
"For people to say this is the way forward and there is no other possible pathway to be considered, I actually think that is the biggest part of the problem. Be open-minded, be positive."

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Major Airlines Say They’re Acting On Climate Change. Our Research Reveals How Little They’ve Achieved

7 hours 59 min ago
The Conversation

Sina Schuldt/DPA Susanne Becken Susanne Becken is Professor of Sustainable Tourism and Director, Griffith Institute for Tourism, Griffith University.
She is a globally recognised expert in the field of sustainable tourism, in particular climate change, resource management, resilience, and environmental behaviour. If you’re a traveller who cares about reducing your carbon footprint, are some airlines better to fly with than others?
Several of the world’s major airlines have announced plans to become “carbon neutral”, while others are trialling new aviation fuels. But are any of their climate initiatives making much difference?
Those were the questions we set out to answer a year ago, by analysing what the world’s largest 58 airlines – which fly 70% of the total available seat-kilometres – are doing to live up to their promises to cut their climate impact.
The good news? Some airlines are taking positive steps. The bad news? When you compare what’s being done against the continued growth in emissions, even the best airlines are not doing anywhere near enough.
Qantas has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Lukas Coch/AAPMore efficient flights still drive up emissions
Our research found three-quarters of the world’s biggest airlines showed improvements in carbon efficiency – measured as carbon dioxide per available seat. But that’s not the same as cutting emissions overall.
One good example was the Spanish flag carrier Iberia, which reduced emissions per seat by about 6% in 2017, but increased absolute emissions by 7%.
Changes in emissions for major airlines
Absolute emissions vs change in carbon intensity per available seat kilometre

35 airlines 2016/17 - 2017/18
Source: Airline initiatives to reduce climate impact, 2019For 2018, compared with 2017, the collective impact of all the climate measures being undertaken by the 58 biggest airlines amounted to an improvement of 1%. This falls short of the industry’s goal of achieving a 1.5% increase in efficiency. And the improvements were more than wiped out by the industry’s overall 5.2% annual increase in emissions.
This challenge is even clearer when you look slightly further back. Industry figures show global airlines produced 733 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions in 2014. Falling fares and more people around wanting to fly saw airline emissions rise 23% in just five years.

What are the airlines doing?
Airlines reported climate initiatives across 22 areas, with the most common involving fleet renewal, engine efficiency, weight reductions and flight path optimisation. Examples in our paper include:
  • Singapore Airlines modified the Trent 900 engines on their A380 aircraft, saving 26,326 tonnes of CO₂ (equivalent to 0.24% of the airline’s annual emissions);
  • KLM’s efforts to reduce weight on board led to a CO₂ reduction of 13,500 tonnes (0.05% of KLM’s emissions).
  • Etihad reports savings of 17,000 tonnes of CO₂ due to flight plan improvements (0.16% of its emissions).
Total carbon emissions by airline in 2018
CO₂ emissions, megatonnes (Mt, or million tonnes) by airline, 2018.

Source: Airline initiatives to reduce climate impact, 2019Nineteen of the 58 large airlines I examined invest in alternative fuels. But the scale of their research and development programs, and use of alternative fuels, remains tiny.As an example, for Earth Day 2018 Air Canada announced a 160-tonne emissions saving from blending 230,000 litres of “biojet” fuel into 22 domestic flights. How much fuel was that? Not even enough to fill the more than 300,000-litre capacity of just one A380 plane.

Carbon neutral promises
Some airlines, including Qantas, are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050. While that won’t be easy, Qantas is at least starting with better climate reporting; it’s one of only eight airlines addressing its carbon risk through the systematic Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures process.
About half of the major airlines engage in carbon offsetting, but only 13 provide information on measurable impacts. Theses include Air New Zealand, with its FlyNeutral program to help restore native forest in New Zealand.
That lack of detail means the integrity of many offset schemes is questionable. And even if properly managed, offsets still avoid the fact that we can’t make deep carbon cuts if we keep flying at current rates.

What airlines and governments need to do
Our research shows major airlines’ climate efforts are achieving nowhere near enough. To decrease aviation emissions, three major changes are urgently needed.
  1. All airlines need to implement all measures across the 22 categories covered in our report to reap any possible gain in efficiency.
  2. Far more research is needed to develop alternative aviation fuels that genuinely cut emissions. Given what we’ve seen so far, these are unlikely to be biofuels. E-fuels – liquid fuels derived from carbon dioxide and hydrogen – may provide such a solution, but there are challenges ahead, including high costs.
  3. Governments can – and some European countries do – impose carbon taxes and then invest into lower carbon alternatives. They can also provide incentives to develop new fuels and alternative infrastructure, such as rail or electric planes for shorter trips.
How you can make a difference
Our research paper was released late last year, at a World Travel and Tourism Council event linked to the Madrid climate summit. Activist Greta Thunberg famously sailed around the world to be there, rather than flying.
Higher-income travellers from around the world have had a disproportionately large impact in driving up aviation emissions.
High income earners are disproportionately responsible for airline emissionsCO₂ emissions by income bracket vs. share of global population, 2018.Note: From International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, 2018, using data from the United Nations and the World Bank in addition to their own modelling. Source: Airline initiatives to reduce climate impact, 2019This means that all of us who are privileged enough to fly, for work or pleasure, have a role to play too, by:
  1. reducing our flying (completely, or flying less)
  2. carbon offsetting
  3. for essential trips, only flying with airlines doing more to cut emissions.
To really make an impact, far more of us need to do all three.

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The One War That The Human Species Can’t Lose

22 February, 2020 - 04:00
New Yorker

The ice in Antarctica is melting six times faster than it did forty years ago, resulting in more calving of icebergs—with existential stakes. Photograph by Robin WrightOn the final day of my expedition to Antarctica last year, ten of us set out on a Zodiac to tour dozens of icebergs in nature’s wondrous ocean museum. The frozen sculptures glistened in exquisite hues of blue and cyan; iceberg colors vary by the density of air bubbles. Each was formed after snapping off an ancient glacier. The iceberg that sank the Titanic in the Atlantic, in 1912, was considered a mere “bergy bit,” or a smaller piece of floating ice; it melted within a couple of years. The ones we saw around Antarctica were massive.
Occasionally, we spotted blubbery elephant seals (which can weigh more than four tons) napping on icebergs, or Adélie penguins (so named by a French explorer, for his wife) leaping among them, or a Humpback whale’s blow unnervingly nearby. As we headed back to the ship, the naturalist steering the Zodiac suddenly turned off the motor. “Listen,” he said. Antarctica is usually a powerfully silent continent except for the gusting winds or the lapping waves on its coastline. He put his finger up, signalling to wait for it. We sat motionless. A thundering crack then ripped through the air, echoing across the water until it felt like it was going off inside my head. We watched a towering slice of the continent break off and crash into the Southern Ocean. It felt cataclysmic.
For almost a half century, I’ve covered wars, revolutions and uprisings on four continents, many for years on end. I’ve always been an outside observer watching as others killed each other. I lamented the loss of human life—and the warring parties’ self-destructive practices—from an emotional distance. In Antarctica, I saw war through a different prism. And I was the enemy. “Humans will be but a blip in the span of Earth’s history,” Wayne Ranney, a naturalist and geologist on the expedition, told me. “The only question is how long the blip will be.”
Last week, the temperature in Antarctica hit almost seventy degrees—the hottest in recorded history. It wasn’t a one-day fluke. Famed for its snowscapes, the Earth’s coldest, wildest, windiest, highest, and most mysterious continent has been experiencing a heat wave. A few days earlier, an Antarctic weather station recorded temperatures in the mid-sixties. It was colder in Washington, D.C., where I live. Images of northern Antarctica captured vast swaths of barren brown terrain devoid of ice and with only small puddle-like patches of snow.
The problem is not whether a new record was set, “it’s the longer-term trend that makes those records more likely to happen more often,” John Nielsen-Gammon, the director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A. & M. University, told me this week. “It’s sort of like a forest where trees are constantly growing and trees are dying, but if they start dying faster than they can grow back, then you eventually lose the forest,” he said. “The same thing applies to glaciers. Glaciers flow out to the ocean and break off, but if they break off faster then the glacier retreats and you lose ice—and then the sea level goes up around the world.”
The iceberg that I watched break off from Antarctica was part of a process called calving. It’s normal and a necessary step in nature’s cycle, except that it’s now happening a lot faster and in larger chunks—with existential stakes. The ice in Antarctica is now melting six times faster than it did forty years ago, Eric Rignot, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of a major study of the continent’s ice health, told me.
This month, an iceberg measuring more than a hundred square miles—the size of the Mediterranean island of Malta, or twice the size of Washington, D.C.—broke off the Pine Island Glacier (lovingly known as PIG, for short) in West Antarctica. It then broke up into smaller “pig-lets,” according to the European Space Agency, which tracked them by satellite. The largest piglet was almost forty square miles.
The frozen continent is divided into West Antarctica and East Antarctica. (The South Pole is in East Antarctica.) Most of the melting and much of the big calving has happened in the West and along its eight hundred-mile peninsula. But, in September, an iceberg measuring more than six hundred square miles—or twenty-seven times the size of Manhattan—calved off the Amery Ice Shelf, in East Antarctica. Calving has accelerated in startling style. Two other huge soon-to-be bergs are being tracked as their crevices and cracks become visible from space. One is from PIG in the West, the other is forming off the Brunt Ice Shelf in the East.
The world’s largest iceberg—a colossus measuring more than two thousand square miles, or about the size of Delaware—broke off West Antarctica, in 2017. It was so big that maps of the continent had to be redrawn. It’s now slowly making its way around the Antarctic Peninsula, headed toward the Atlantic Ocean on a path known as “iceberg alley.” As icebergs move into warmer water, they begin to melt—and thus sea levels rise.
The amount of ice on Earth was pivotal in the creation of human civilization ten thousand years ago, a fact that paleo-climatologists only discovered in the late twentieth century. Scientists now say that ice is the key to peace among civilizations for millennia to come, too. “The stability and size and mass of Antarctica is not a bad proxy for how violent the world could become, in that human civilization was built on a stable climate,” Spencer Glendon, a senior fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center, explained to me. “For the first hundred and ninety thousand years that they were on the planet, humans moved from place to place to find temperate weather, as ice and deserts shifted and temperatures moved in wild swings. About 10,000 B.C., the climate stabilized. When it stabilized, the nice places stayed nice. A stable climate helped humans stop being nomads. And that’s why people settled,” creating time and space to create humankind’s first civilizations.
In physics terms, the climate stabilized because there was just the right percentage of ice on the planet, Glendon explained. Ice reflects, so sunlight bounces off it back into space and doesn’t overheat Earth or its inhabitants. That’s now changing, as Antarctica (and Greenland) shrink. For the past ten thousand years or so, glaciers shrank in summer and grew in winter, but they had a mean or average size that was stable over time, he said. “Now, all the glaciers are receding. And that’s because it’s warmer, so they shrink more in the summer and expand less in the winter—and there’s less and less ice.”
At least eighty per cent of the planet’s fresh water is also contained in Antarctica’s ice. Icebergs that melt help replenish supplies. Again, the issue is balance. If Antarctica were to completely melt, the oceans would rise around the world by up to two hundred feet, an apocalyptic event that would reconfigure the globe’s geography. The might and majesty of Antarctica—in its huge spiny peaks and frigidly uninhabitable plateaus—makes that prospect seem impossible. In winter, the temperature has reached as low as a hundred and forty-eight degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Yet the process has begun. In 2018, a survey published in Nature reported that Antarctica lost more than three trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017. That’s enough to fill Lake Erie twelve times over, according to Earther. A quarter of the glacier ice in West Antarctica is now unstable due to melting over the same period, a second report, by scientists at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling in Britain, concluded last year. New snowfall can no longer compensate for the losses.
Glaciers, and their iceberg offspring, take millennia to produce.
The iceberg that sunk the Titanic probably originated with a snowfall in Greenland, three thousand years ago, possibly around the time that King Tutankhamun reigned in ancient Egypt, according to one account. It probably broke off Greenland in 1910 or 1911 and started floating toward the Atlantic. By the time it was struck by the Titanic, in 1912, killing more than fifteen hundred passengers and crew, it was already melting.
“By 2035, the point of no return could be crossed,” Matthew Burrows, a former director at the National Intelligence Council, wrote in a report last year about global risks over the next fifteen years. That’s the point after which stopping the Earth’s temperature from rising by two degrees Celsius—or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in turn triggering “a dangerous medley of global disasters.”
And that, in turn, goes back to ice and its role in fostering human civilization. “What’s coming—or is happening—is the end of the earth’s stability,” Glendon told me. “In human terms, that means a return to migration, but in a population of not just a few million, but several billion.”
Before I went to Antarctica, I checked in with Donald Perovich, a geophysicist at Dartmouth who tracks sea ice. We got to talking about wars. “You can argue that in all wars, there are winners and losers. Afterward, societies go on. There’s an opportunity to recover and move forward. If you approach climate change as a war, there are some really severe consequences across the board,” he told me. “This,” he added, “is the one war we can’t lose.”

Categories: External websites

The Government's Sudden Passion For Climate Technology Is Newfound And Insincere

22 February, 2020 - 04:00
The Guardian

The call for technology before action is a specious distraction designed to paper over the plan to take no action
‘With the technology available now to begin deep decarbonisation, it’s time to acknowledge that when it comes to achieving net-zero emissions, failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Photograph: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images Simon Holmes à Court is senior advisor to the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University and sits on the board of the Smart Energy Council.
If you’re committed to the Paris agreement – to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees – then at a minimum, logically, scientifically, you’re committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
So far, at least 77 countries have committed to the target, as has every state and territory in Australia. The fact that prime minister Scott Morrison is pushing back hard against the calls for such a target sends yet another strong signal that his government still denies the need to tackle climate change.
Sensing it must be seen to do something, but committed to doing nothing substantive, the government is arguing that investing in technology is the superior pathway to… to… to what? Are billions of dollars of public funds about to be allocated to a strategy that delivers on an unspoken goal?
This passion for technology is newfound and insincere. In truth, our government has a long history of undermining climate technologies.
In the three years to 2016, the government ripped just shy of $1bn from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena), the body charged with helping early stage technologies through to commercial launch.
The funding of a feasibility study for a coal power station in Collinsville and the foreshadowed gift of $11m to extend the life of the 42 years old Vales Point coal power station in the Hunter, demonstrate just how reluctant the Coalition is to let go of last century’s energy technologies.
One of the most promising and critical new technologies is the rapid maturation of the electric vehicle, but who can forget the government’s pushback against EVs during last year’s election?
Last November I visited the Leilac zero carbon cement project Belgium – an exciting project given that cement is responsible for 7% of global emissions, more than twice as much as aviation. The new process captures most of the carbon dioxide that’s ordinarily released to the atmosphere during cement manufacture. The technology, which can be powered by renewable energy, was developed in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria and was lured to Europe on the back of a €12 million grant and a price on carbon.
In the alternate universe where Arena and our carbon price weren’t smashed by ideological attacks, that world-changing technology would be proudly Australian made.
While there’s plenty of valuable research and development in our future, especially for the difficult to decarbonise sectors of cement, steel and aviation, the truth is that we already have the technology to deal with around 70% of global emissions.
The pathway is simple – electrify everything and swap fossil fuels for renewables. These technologies have come down in cost not because of boffins in laboratory coats, but because of innovation born of sustained deployment and ruthless competition.
Mike and Annie Cannon-Brooke’s Resilient Energy Collective is a case study for how far we’ve come. In just a handful of weeks the group has put together an emergency power product for restoring power to bushfire affected communities. The solar-powered, battery-backed system can be installed in a single day, and will be rolled out to 100 communities in as many days. The energy supply companies partnering in the project are stunned that the infrastructure is being rolled out in hours not months. Community members are amazed that they’re using solar power at night.
Likewise, Aemo, our grid operator, has just released a blueprint for reducing electricity sector emissions by 85%, using existing technologies and without compromising reliability. Industry is champing at the bit to implement such a plan — they just need a minister who believes in the end goal and is committed to resolving the roadblocks.
In reality, the call for technology before action is a specious distraction designed to paper over the plan to take no action. The greatest proponent of the frame is Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, one of a small cadre of almost respectable climate obfuscationists.
In the lead up to the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, Lomborg handpicked a panel of ancient Nobel laureates to rank 16 climate solutions. The four proposed carbon tax schemes were ranked dead last, and the top three projects deemed worthy of consideration were “marine cloud whitening”, energy research and development and “stratospheric aerosol insertion”.
The top-ranked solution would involve a global fleet of “1,900 unmanned ships spraying sea water mist into the air to thicken clouds” and reflect the sun’s rays back into space. The third solution involves fleets of planes spraying sulphur dioxide into the sky. The chemical would mimic the effects of volcanoes “reacting with water to form a hazy layer … spread around the globe … scattering and absorbing incoming sunlight”.
The first three years of the Coalition government focussed on tearing down climate policy. The next three used endless reviews that came to nothing – as intended.
In July 2014, Tony Abbott finally made good on his promise to dismantle Australia’s carbon price mechanism, our most effective and efficient climate policy. In doing so, not only did he throw away the best tool we had, he cheated Australian farmers out of earning billions from exporting carbon credits to Europe.
In 2015, Abbott managed to slash the renewable energy target – assisted in the background by Angus Taylor, the man now charged with reducing emissions – cutting future activity under the target by 40%.
The only half decent action has been the emissions reduction fund, called a fig leaf of a policy by the party’s once and future leader Malcolm Turnbull in 2009, whereby taxpayers, not polluters, buy carbon offsets. To date, the ERF has bought just 50m offsets, which doesn’t even cover the increase in emissions from just the LNG sector during the last 5 years.
Now the government is talking about a “technology investment target”, whatever that means. Will we be subjected to another barrage of lies that some magical technology exists to cut coal emissions? Remember CCS and HELE? Hopefully by now we all now know that “clean coal” is as real as healthy cigarettes.
If Scott Morrison is genuine about climate action, then sure, he should start by restoring the billion dollars ripped out of Arena. In fact, let’s give them a few hundred million a year to help Australian ideas reach their potential and give us a whole new export sector to replace the inevitable decline in coal exports. We have the resources, people and smarts to position Australia for great success in a carbon-constrained global economy.
At this point, the roadblocks to effective and affordable action are social and political, not technological.
So here we are again. Another strategy to kick the can down the road. The Finkel review bought the government a year of doing nothing in 2017, as did the national energy guarantee in 2018. The hollow climate solutions package helped the government escape scrutiny in 2019, however the “Black Summer” and the approaching November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow – where countries are expected to lift their commitments in the direction of the Paris agreement’s goals – leave the government with nowhere to hide.

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(AU) Climate Change Becomes Battleground In Bushfire Royal Commission

22 February, 2020 - 04:00

Scott Morrison wants the bushfire royal commission to report back quickly so its advice and recommendations can be acted on before the next fire season.
Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires in NSW this summer. Source: AAPPrime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled the terms of reference for a royal commission into the devastating bushfires which burned across Australia on Thursday, but not everyone is impressed.
The terms of reference show a focus on which levels of government are responsible for preparedness, response, resilience and recovery from fires and how this can be better coordinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses the royal comission on Thursday. AAPThe commissioners, led by former Defence Force chief Mark Binskin, are asked to keep in mind land management and hazard reduction, wildlife management and planning and development approvals.
But Mr Morrison has also explicitly acknowledged the role of climate change, and appointed ANU climate risk and environmental law professor Andrew Macintosh as one of the commissioners.
Former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett is the third commissioner.
"This royal commission accepts, it acknowledges, it understands the impact of climate change more broadly on the climatic conditions that Australia is living in," Mr Morrison said in Sydney.
"What this royal commission is looking at are the practical things that must be done to keep Australians safer and safe in longer, hotter, drier summers, in the conditions in which Australians will live into the future."
The commission will consider what legal framework is needed to better coordinate natural disaster responses across the country, including the possibility of the Federal Government being able to declare a national state of emergency.
Labor supports the bushfire royal commission, but the PM’s narrow terms of reference are a missed opportunity. They’re a political fix, for the issues he wants to talk about, rather than a genuine effort to look at all the issues involved.— Senator Murray Watt (@MurrayWatt) February 20, 2020 Labor backs the royal commission but said the narrow terms of reference were a huge missed opportunity to look at how to reduce bushfire risk by acting to slow climate change.
"I think most Australians want to see the government actually take action now to reduce the risk of those bushfires in the future rather than deal with the effects of them down the track," opposition disaster and emergency management spokesman Murray Watt said in Queensland.
Similarly, former emergency service chiefs say credible measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions are "the only way to keep Australians safe".
Former Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Craig Lapsley said this season's bushfires were so severe that areas where hazard reduction burns had been carried out - and even mown lawns - were torched.
The inquiry will also examine what actions can mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and whether Indigenous fire management practices could be better used.
The commission has been asked to finish by the end of August and collaborate with state inquiries, with the Federal Government keen to receive recommendations ahead of the next fire season.
More than 30 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed in horrific blazes that burned across Australia over the past spring and summer.

Categories: External websites

(AU Royal Commission) Climate Action Still Key: Ex-Fire Chiefs

21 February, 2020 - 04:10
Canberra Times - AAP

Former emergency service chiefs say the bushfire royal commission is doomed to fail.Former emergency service chiefs say Scott Morrison's bushfires royal commission doesn't take the heat off the federal government to take real action on dangerous climate change.
Emergency Leaders for Climate Action say credible measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions are "the only way to keep Australians safe".
"The root cause of this horror summer is climate change, driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas," former Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Craig Lapsley said in a statement on Thursday.
Mr Lapsley said this season's bushfires were so severe that areas where hazard reduction burns had been carried out - and even mown lawns - were torched.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the long-awaited commission.
He said while it would "acknowledge" climate change the inquiry would focus on practical action to make Australians safer.
"My priority is to ... better protect and equip Australians for living in hotter, drier and longer summers," Mr Morrison said in a statement.
Former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Lee Johnson welcomed the prime minister's acknowledgement that climate change contributed to the recent unprecedented bushfires.
"(But) in addition to focusing on adaptation and resilience measures to cope with a worsening climate, the federal government must urgently take measures to bring down emissions and tackle climate change to prevent bushfire danger from increasing further," Mr Johnson said in a statement.
"Credible climate action is the only way to keep Australians safe."
Mr Johnson said Australia wouldn't remain the lucky country if it continued to "delay, distract, and deflect attention away from the core problem we face - which is that climate change is driving worsening extreme weather".
The royal commission is due to report by late August with the federal government keen to receive recommendations ahead of the next fire season.
The inquiry will look at the resourcing of fire services, hazard reduction, land clearing and planning laws.
Former Defence chief Mark Binskin has been picked to lead the commission alongside two assistants.
Thousands of homes were destroyed and 33 people died in horrific blazes that burned across Australia in the 2019-20 bushfire season.

Categories: External websites

Every Child On Earth Faces 'Existential Threats' From Climate Change, Report Finds

21 February, 2020 - 04:00
TIMEMahita Gajanan

Teenage Climate Crisis activists from various climate activism groups protesting in Westminster during the first UK Students Strike Over Climate Change march of 2020 on February 14, 2020 in London, England. Getty Images—2020 Ollie MillingtonEvery child on Earth faces an uncertain future due to the effects of climate change and not one country is doing enough to ensure its children’s sustained wellbeing, a new report says.The findings, compiled by over 40 child and adolescent health experts in a commission convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the medical journal The Lancet, show that the health and future for every child and teen in the world is under threat. Climate change, ecological degradation and advertising practices that push harmful products toward youth are just some factors that have created an uncertain future for children, the report says.
“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” said Helen Clark, co-chair of the Commission and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, in a UNICEF statement about the report. “It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty. But of even greater concern, every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.”
In the short term, survival rates for children are among the highest they’ve been in history, Stefan Peterson, chief of health at UNICEF and one of the study’s authors, tells TIME. But, he says, rampant inequality and marketing practices have threatened the future of overall developments in nutrition and survival.
“The gains are not shared equally within countries and between the countries of the world,” he says, adding that children are increasingly exposed to marketing tactics for unhealthy foods, drugs and gambling — products that are harmful to health and further drive climate change. “It’s threatening children, and by extension, humanity.”
The report includes an index of 180 countries that compares findings on three measures of child wellbeing: flourishing, sustainability and equity. These three categories include factors like health, education, nutrition, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions, and income gaps.
“The poorest countries have a long way to go towards supporting their children’s ability to live healthy lives, but wealthier countries threaten the future of all children through carbon pollution, on course to cause runaway climate change and environmental disaster,” the authors write in the report. “Not a single country performed well on all three measures of child flourishing, sustainability, and equity.”
The study ranked Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands as the highest based on these factors. Chad, Somalia, Niger, Mali and the Central African Republic ranked the lowest.
But when the study authors took into account the per capita carbon emissions of the countries and compared it with performance on child flourishing, the countries where children face the some of the worst odds emit less carbon than countries where children have a higher chance of surviving and flourishing. The United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia are among the 10 worst carbon emitters globally. The current level of carbon emissions is pushing the world closer to dangerous levels of climate change.
“There’s a huge global inequity here in that children who benefit least from carbon emissions are the ones paying the biggest price in other parts of the world,” Peterson says.
Peterson and the dozens of other health professionals that worked on the report recommend reframing societal priorities to put children at the center of new policies. This includes a significant financial investment to ensure their health. Beyond monetary investments in healthcare, the authors urge people across all sectors, from housing to energy to transport, to work together to ensure future survival. They also encourage taking children’s voices into account. “Citizen participation and community action, including the voices of children themselves, are powerful forces for change that must be mobilized to reach the [Sustainable Development Goals],” they write.

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UN Ruling Could Be A Game-Changer For Climate Refugees And Climate Action

21 February, 2020 - 04:00
The Conversation
In this October 2011 photo, members of the Royal New Zealand defense force pump sea water into holding tanks ready to be used by the desalination plant in Funafuti, Tuvalu, South Pacific. The atolls of Tuvalu are at grave risk due to rising sea levels and contaminated ground water. AP Photo/Alastair Grant   
Yvonne Su
PhD, International Development and Political Science, University of Guelph, Canada
    The recent ruling by the United Nations that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change is a potential game-changer — not just for climate refugees, but also for global climate action.
    The UN Human Rights Committee’s landmark ruling made clear that “without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to violations of their rights … thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states.”
    The ruling elaborates further to say:
    “Given the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such a country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realized.” The judgment relates to the case of Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific island of Kiribati.
    In 2015, Teitiota applied for protection from New Zealand after arguing his life and his family members’ lives were at risk due to the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
    The South Pacific atoll Kiribati is seen in an aerial view. There are fears that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago. AP Photo/Richard VogelThe Republic of Kiribati is considered one of the countries most at risk of being rendered uninhabitable by rising sea levels. The UN committee ruled, however, that in the time that might happen — 10 to 15 years — there could be “intervening acts by the Republic of Kiribati, with the assistance of the international community, to take affirmative measures to protect and, where necessary, relocate its population.”
    As a result, the committee ruled against Teitiota on the basis that his life was not at imminent risk.

    Climate refugees acknowledged
    Teitiota did not become the world’s first climate refugee, but the committee’s ruling essentially recognized that climate refugees do exist, a first for the UN body. The ruling acknowledges a legal basis for refugee protection for those whose lives are imminently threatened by climate change.
    For several decades, academics and policy-makers alike have debated the existence of climate refugees, with many asserting that because migration can be fuelled by many factors, climate change cannot be singled out as the sole driver of any movement.
    However, with the acceleration of the climate crisis over the last 10 years, people are increasingly being displaced by disasters, desertification and coastal erosion linked to climate change.
    In this October 2015 photo, young children of a family that relocated from a drought area gather at their home in northwestern China. AP Photo/Ng Han GuanThe UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, confirmed that the recent ruling means those displaced by climate change should be treated like refugees by recipient countries. Grandi noted:
    “The ruling says if you have an immediate threat to your life due to climate change, due to the climate emergency, and if you cross the border and go to another country, you should not be sent back because you would be at risk of your life, just like in a war or in a situation of persecution.”Grandi and some media commentators have predicted the ruling may open the door to surges of legal claims by displaced people globally. But the burden of proof that someone’s life is under imminent threat by climate change remains high.
    Teitiota’s case is a good example. Despite his arguments that sea level rise, overpopulation and salt-water intrusion were threatening his life and the lives of his family, the New Zealand court and the UN Human Rights Committee ruled against him, saying he could not prove that his life was in imminent danger.

    Floodgates not open yet
    And so while this latest UN ruling is a momentous first step in international law, it by no means opens the floodgates to surges of climate refugees.
    But it does represent a win for global climate action. It’s not legally binding, but it illustrates to governments around the world that climate change will have an increasing impact on their legal obligations under international law. This is great news for citizens and governments of small island states who have long pushed for climate action but have been met with delays and rejections.
    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the Pacific Islands Forum in May 2019 in Suva, Fiji. Fiji Broadcasting via APFor example, during last year’s Pacific Island Forum that brings together 16 Pacific island nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand, the 16 islands put forward the Tuvalu Declaration to ask for more action on climate change.
    But sections of the original declaration were struck down due to reservations from Australia and New Zealand.
    Australia reportedly had concerns about emissions reductions, coal use and funding for the UN’s Green Climate Fund, while New Zealand also expressed concern about the fund.
    Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama criticized the final declaration, tweeting: “We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique.”
    #PIF2019: We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences –– like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds. pic.twitter.com/6pTyjZs1rS— Frank Bainimarama (@FijiPM) August 15, 2019
    In this photo evacuees board a Navy ship that plucked hundreds of people from beaches amid devastating bushfires. Australian Department of Defence via APTuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga also told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
    “You are concerned about saving your economies … I’m concerned about saving my people.”Ironically, following bushfires that recently raged across Australia and displaced thousands, concerns have arisen that Australia will soon have to deal with its own climate refugees.
    The pressure is mounting for world leaders to take serious climate action to aggressively curb greenhouse gas emissions. The latest UN ruling is step towards improving the lives of those most vulnerable and affected by climate change.

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    The End Of Australia As We Know It

    20 February, 2020 - 04:10
    New York TimesDamien Cave | Photographs Matthew Abbott

    What many of us have witnessed this fire season feels alive and monstrous. With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, will politics follow?
    Firefighters on the outskirts of Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on Feb. 1.SYDNEY, Australia — In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.
    They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.
    “I am standing here a traveler from a new reality, a burning Australia,” Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker, told a crowd of international executives and politicians in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate — it is here.”
    “We have seen,” she added, “the unfolding wings of climate change.”
    Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise.
    It’s also a hint of what may be coming to a town, city or country near you.
    And in a land usually associated with relaxed optimism, anxiety and trauma have taken hold. A recent Australia Institute survey found that 57 percent of Australians have been directly affected by the bush fires or their smoke. With officials in New South Wales announcing Thursday that heavy rain had helped them finally extinguish or control all the state’s fires that have raged this Australian summer, the country seems to be reflecting and wondering what comes next.
    Burned bush land on the outskirts of Bredbo, Australia, this month.Politics have been a focal point — one of frustration for most Australians. The conservative government is still playing down the role of climate change, despite polls showing public anger hitting feverish levels. And yet what’s emerging alongside public protest may prove more potent.
    In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered.
    “If there’s not a major shift that comes out of this, we’re doomed,” said Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne who has written extensively about environmental policy around the world. “It does change everything — or it should.”
    Professor Eckersley is one of many for whom climate change has shifted from the distant and theoretical to the personal and emotional.
    Before the fires peaked last month, she and I had often spoken in dry terms about Australia and climate change policy. This last time, as she sat in a vacation home southwest of Melbourne, where smoky haze closed a nearby beach, she told me about a friend driving south from Brisbane, “by all these towns and farms he couldn’t imagine bouncing back.”
    Australia, she argued, must accept that the most inhabited parts of the country can no longer be trusted to stay temperate — and, she added, “that means massive changes in what we do and the rhythm of our work and play.”
    A volunteer firefighter from Tasmania near Cathcart this month.More specifically, she said, the economy needs to change, not just moving away from fossil fuels, a major export, but also from thirsty crops like rice and cotton.
    Building regulations will probably stiffen too, she said. Already, there are signs of growing interest in designs that offer protections from bush fires, and regulators are looking at whether commercial properties need to be made more fireproof as well.
    The biggest shifts, however, may not be structural so much as cultural.
    Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts.
    Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.
    It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote.
    For months on end, driving through these areas, where tourism, agriculture, retirement and bohemian living all meet for flat whites at the local cafe, has meant checking reports for closed roads and wondering if the thick clouds of smoke in the distance mean immediate danger.
    There’s an absurdity even to the signs. The ones that aren’t melted warn of wet roads. Just beyond them are trees black as coal and koalas and kangaroos robbed of life.
    The fear of ferocious nature can be tough to shake. Fires are still burning south and west of New South Wales, and to many, the recent rain near Sydney felt as biblical as the infernos the storms put out — some areas got more than two feet, flooding rivers and parched earth hardened by years of drought.
    Last month in Cobargo, a dairy and horse town six hours’ drive from Sydney, I stood silently waiting for the start of an outdoor funeral for a father and son who had died in the fires a few weeks earlier. When the wind kicked up, everyone near me snapped their heads toward where a fire burned less than a mile away.
    A funeral on Jan. 24 for Robert Salway and his son, Patrick, in Cobargo. They died trying to protect their property from a bush fire on New Year’s Eve.“It just hasn’t stopped,” said an older man in a cowboy hat.
    No other sentiment has better captured Australia’s mood.
    That same day, in the coastal town of Eden, government officials welcomed a cruise ship, declaring the area safe for tourists. A week later, another burst of fire turned the sky over Eden blood red, forcing residents nearby to evacuate.
    It’s no wonder that all across the area, known as the South Coast, the streets in summer have looked closer to the quiet found in winter. Perhaps, some now say, that’s how it should be.
    “We should no longer schedule our summer holidays over the Christmas season,” Professor Eckersley said. “Maybe they should be in March or April.”
    “Certainly, we should rethink when and whether we go to all the places in the summer where we might be trapped,” she added.
    David Bowman, a climate scientist in Tasmania who wrote an article calling for the end of the summer school holiday, which went viral, said Australia’s experience could help the world understand just how much climate change can reorder the way we live.
    “You can’t pretend that this is sustainable,” he said. “If that’s true, you’re going to have to do something different.”
    Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular vacation destination, took refuge on a beach on New Year’s Eve.Smoke may be more of a catalyst than flame. For much of the summer, a fog of soot has smothered Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. In Sydney alone, there were 81 days of hazardous, very poor or poor air quality last year, more than the previous 10 years combined. And until the recent rains, the smell of smoke often returned.
    Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.
    “It’s bringing home the viscerality of what science and scientists have been telling us is going to happen,” he said.
    There’s unity in that, as so many have seen climate change up close and personal. But there’s also inequality. The air filters selling out at hardware stores last month cost close to $1,000 each. In December, I heard surfers in the waves at Bondi Beach deciding to get out early to avoid breathing in too much smoke and ash — but farther west, where working-class immigrants cluster, I met a bicycle delivery driver who said he could work only a couple of hours before feeling sick.
    Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?
    “If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said.
    Destroyed property in Conjola Park.“If they called on us to make radical change, the nation would do it.”
    In “The Lucky Country,” the 1964 book of essays by Donald Horne that is often described as a wake-up call to an unimaginative nation, Australians are deemed tolerant of mediocrity, but “adaptable when a way is shown.”
    One afternoon, I traveled to the Sutherland Shire, near where Prime Minister Scott Morrison lives, with Horne’s comments on my mind.
    Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.
    “The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”
    I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”
    Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”
    The remains of a bush fire in Bell. 
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    How Climate Experts Think About Raising Children Who Will Inherit A Planet In Crisis

    20 February, 2020 - 04:05
    Washington PostCaitlin Gibson

    Parents should help their children envision a future that is happy and safe, climate scientist Sarah Myhre says — but to do that, they must first process their own sense of fear and loss. (Jovelle Tamayo/for The Washington Post)

    In the midst of a winter that hasn’t felt much like one, as the coldest temperatures retreated to the highest latitudes, Jedediah Britton-Purdy carried his 5-month-old son, James, outside their home in New York City to bask in the unseasonable warmth. As a professor of environmental law at Columbia University, Britton-Purdy was acutely aware of the ominous implications of the city’s record highs. As a new father, what was there to do but revel in his child’s first true sense of springtime?
    “These are the first beautiful days he is feeling: We walk out in the warm sun, we laugh together, we look at a tree,” Britton-Purdy says. “Yet the experience is infused with all of this harm, all of this damage that has made this beautiful, beautiful day that I’m having with him.” He sighs. “We really haven’t figured out, he and I, what to do with that yet.”
    When Jedediah Britton-Purdy became a father, his perception of the world and the threats against it shifted, he says. (Family photo)What to do with that — a world that is breaking down, and a child who is growing up? Parents are meant to be guardians and guides, the ones to help their offspring make sense of the present and envision a future. Philosophically, and practically, this is a daunting task in the best of times — and these are not the best of times, particularly if one happens to be a climate scientist, or an environmental justice activist, or anyone whose profession demands a constant, clear-eyed acknowledgment of the damage wrought by the climate crisis.
    But this clarity can also be a gift, one that forces a sincere engagement with the problem. When Britton-Purdy became a father, his perception of the world and the threats against it shifted; the crisis, he says, took on a new immediacy.
    “My own temperament is that I’ve always been able to go on, even with a sense of loss, and have kind of a cheerful attitude toward the future as a practical matter,” he says. “But now that I feel personally and intimately anchored in the future in a different way, I feel a different kind of fear. The fear is right up against my heart in a way that makes it harder to think about what comes next.”
    After the birth of her son four years ago, climate scientist Kate Marvel experienced what she calls “a very profound revelation.” Marvel’s work for NASA and Columbia University involves projecting the future — not predicting, she emphasizes, but presenting possibilities of what could happen. Those projections once felt abstract. “But then I’m realizing, ‘Oh my God, somebody I love is going to be 35 in 2050,’ ” she says. “And that was just a very visceral thing for me.”
    One day last year, Marvel and her son stepped aboard the shuttle that runs between Grand Central Terminal and Times Square in New York City, and found themselves surrounded by a brilliant, bustling coral reef; the subway car was wrapped in an ad for David Attenborough’s “Our Planet” series. Her little boy was awestruck.
    “And I remember thinking, suddenly: This may be the closest thing he ever sees to an actual coral reef,” she says. “I felt a jolt at that.”
    But Marvel does not dwell on those sorts of thoughts, and when people ask her, as they often do, whether she is filled with existential dread as a climate scientist and a mother, she tells them emphatically that she is not. Her work has taught her that what matters is what we do right now, and the urgency of that edict leaves no room, no time for despondence.
    “I think, when a lot of people talk about climate change and having kids, they’re looking to the future and despairing,” she says. “For me, it makes me look at the present and be incredibly resolved.”
    In the face of potential climate catastrophe, some have questioned whether it’s moral to become a parent — is such a burden fair to the broken planet,climate scientist in Seattle and the mother of a 6-year-old son, rejects this line of thinking. You can’t save humanity by abandoning it, she says, and these sorts of messages are harmful to the children who are already here.
    “It’s really important to let kids know that they were born into a changing world, that they did not betray the world by being born, and that they are born into a time where they can do profound good,” saysscientist Sarah Myhre, shown with her 6-year-old son, Ansel, and her fiance, Zac Reynolds. (Jovelle Tamayo/for The Washington Post)“Kids are listening to that, and what they hear is that their presence in this world is a violation of the world itself,” she says. “It’s really important to let kids know that they were born into a changing world, that they did not betray the world by being born, and that they are born into a time where they can do profound good and have really transcendent, powerful impacts on the world.”
    That is what she’ll tell her son, when he’s old enough to ask about his future; for now, Myhre is focused on helping her son become the strongest, kindest person he can be.
    “I believe that the through line for us, as communities, as individuals, is the humanity that we bring to solving problems,” she says. “Our ethic of care, our empathy, our stewardship of one another. And so I think that stewarding that particular aspect of my son’s internal life is really important to me, so that he is coming to the world with a robust, empathetic, integrated sense of self.”
    This means that her family prioritizes quality time together, she says. “I have made a large pivot in my life, as a parent, toward the cultivation of joy on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s easy to say and a lot harder to do — because joy requires us to be vulnerable, it requires us to be in the moment.”
    Joy is what Britton-Purdy wants for his son, too, and so he will pause on a walk to place the infant’s fingers against the knobby bark of a tree, and someday he will show his child how to use a knot of twigs to dam the flow of creekwater, the way he once did as a young boy on the farm in West Virginia where his family still lives. He will teach James to marvel at nature wherever he can find it.
    “I want James to have an intimate foreground of experience that is really connected with the life of things, and the amazing wonder of living things, and not have his first thought be that it’s all going away,” Britton-Purdy says.
    And when it is time to talk about what is going away, he will remind his son that things have always been going away, that the natural world has been inexorably altered by humanity for centuries. Britton-Purdy wants James to knows this: that beauty and change and loss have always coexisted.
    “We have to not exaggerate or distort what it was like, or the nature of what’s being lost,” he says, “or else we will fall into a nostalgia for a world that never was.”
    There is resilience to be found in an honest accounting of our past, says Heather McTeer Toney, a former regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator and national field director for Moms Clean Air Force. As an environmental justice activist and African American woman, she wants to instill the perseverance and perspective of her ancestors in her 3-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter: “We’ve had no choice other than to figure out how we’re going to adapt and live,” she says. “This is not new to us.”
    “I do not want my children operating in fear. I do not want them operating in a mind-set that all hope is lost,” says Heather McTeer Toney, center with her family on a visit to Yellowstone National Park. (Family photo)Sometimes, after her children have gone to bed, she and her husband talk about where they should take the kids, the places they should see quickly, before they are irreparably changed. But when she speaks to her children about what lies ahead, there is no lingering in sorrow; she is determined that they will thrive.
    “My entire ancestral line is built on, ‘You have to figure out how to make it work, how to survive, because no one is going to help you,’ ” she says. “I do not want my children operating in fear. I do not want them operating in a mind-set that all hope is lost. That is not my mind-set.”
    A rash of violent storms recently swept through their town in Mississippi, and when the house lost power, Toney saw her teenager immediately reach for a flashlight and her smartphone. The storms, Toney says, have become more frequent lately, more severe, and she knows this pattern will worsen in the years ahead. She watched her daughter cradling her phone and thought of what would happen when, eventually, the battery died.
    Toney’s response was pragmatic: She would show her daughter where the candles were kept, and teach her to make her own light.
    How do we tell our children stories about the lives they might live, and the planet they will live on, with an ending that is still filled with possibility?
    “It is true that everything is going to have to change, and it’s going to change one way or another — either because we’re undergoing profound climatic shifts, or because we’re going to have to change the way we get energy and the way we run society,” Kate Marvel says. “Especially for young people who have these amazing imaginations, that gives them space to dream. And I think right now we’re really just focusing on the nightmares.”
    Parents must help their children imagine a future that is happy and safe, Sarah Myhre agrees — but to do that, they must first process their own sense of fear and loss. “If parents can’t transcend and make sense out of their feelings, and derive action and meaning from their feelings, then they are stuck,” she says, “and they are going to transpose that stuckness, that anxiety, onto their children.”
    This has always been the work of parenting, all the more essential now in extraordinary times: to hold a steady balance between grief and gratitude, to find a way to move with purpose through a world that brims with both beauty and heartbreak.
    Myhre feels this tension most in the North Cascades, where the snowline is receding steadily up the mountainsides — where, in recent years, the ski resorts she grew up frequenting have sometimes opened late and closed early. Throughout her formative years, there was nowhere that brought Myhre greater joy, and it has become her son’s favorite place, too. But someday in his adulthood, she knows, he won’t be able to ski on those slopes anymore.
    “There is this finite and precious window that he’s in right now,” she says, “and it’s going to shut.”
    This winter, Myhre has taken her child to the mountains every chance she gets. With each visit, his movements become more self-assured, more confident, more ecstatic. She follows through the snow, watching her son and his world transforming.

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    Too Many Rich Folks

    20 February, 2020 - 04:00
    Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the BiosphereAnne H. Ehrlich | Paul R. Ehrlich

    It is more important now than ever to talk about population. What will we do if we continue to grow at exponential rates? What are ethical, viable strategies to decrease population?
    • Anne Ehrlich is the American co-author of several books on overpopulation and ecology with her husband, Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich. She is associate director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
    • Paul Ehrlich is an American biologist, best known for his warnings about the consequences of population growth and limited resources. He is the Bing Professor of Population Studies of the Department of Biology of Stanford University and president of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology.
    • Too Many Rich Folks was first published in 1989.
    There is a widespread misapprehension that the population problem centers in the poor countries. In the popular view, the “population problem” is being caused by Indian peasants, African herders, macho Latin American men, and the like. And a casual glance at demographic statistics might easily persuade the unsophisticated that this is correct. The population growth rate in Kenya is over 4 per cent, which if unchanged would double the population in only 17 years. The average growth rate for the less developed world (excluding China) is 2.4 per cent (doubling time 29 years), and travelers virtually anywhere in the developing world are greeted by huge numbers of children under the age of fifteen, who make up roughly 40 to 50 per cent of the population.
    In contrast, rich nations have either very slow growth rates (well under 1 per cent), have reached zero population growth (ZPG), or in some cases such as West Germany and Hungary actually have shrinking populations. So, one might assume that, if Bangladeshis and Rwandans would just learn to use condoms, everything would be just fine.
    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Rapid population growth, and overpopulation itself, do create serious problems for poor countries; indeed, they explain why most of them seem unable to escape poverty.
    But population growth and overpopulation among the rich are creating a lethal situation for the entire world. It is the rich who dump most of the carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It is the rich who generate acid rain. And the rich are “strip-mining” the seas and pushing the world towards a gigantic fisheries collapse. The oil staining the shores of Prince William Sound was intended for the gas-guzzling cars of North America. The agricultural technology of the rich is destroying soils and draining supplies of underground water around the globe. And the rich are wood-chipping many tropical forests in order to make cardboard to wrap around their electronic products.
    It is not crude numbers of people or population density per se that should concern us; it is the impact of people on the life support systems and resources of the planet. That impact can be conceived as the product of three factors: population size (P); some measure of affluence or consumption per capita (A); and an index of the environmental damage done by the technologies used to supply each unit of affluence (T). The entire population-resource-environment crisis can be encapsulated in the equation:
    I = P x A x T (I = PAT)The I = PAT equation explains (in very simplified terms) why the industrialized nations, regardless of comparative population size or density (people per square kilometer), must be considered to have much more severe population problems than any poor nation. Unfortunately, nations do not even try to keep statistics on the average per capita environmental impact of their citizens; and it would be difficult to calculate precisely if they did.  In order to make reasonable comparisons of affluence per person, we have chosen a surrogate statistic: per capita use of commercial energy. This is a rather reasonable surrogate, since much environmental damage is done in the processes of extracting and mobilizing energy, and even more is done by its use. Per capita commercial energy use over simplifies by combining the A and T factors into a single unit of per capita impact, but that cannot be avoided. Generally, there is no convenient way to separate A and T using national statistics.
    But the legitimacy of using the surrogate can be seen by considering how societies handle energy. Hundreds of thousands of birds and sea mammals killed at Prince William Sound in Alaska, the death of lakes and forests in eastern North America and northern Europe from acid precipitation, and roughly three-quarters of the contribution to global warming that is due to carbon dioxide released in burning fossil fuels, all follow from the mobilization of energy to power overdeveloped societies. Global warming, entrained by huge releases of carbon dioxide, the acidification of ecosystems resulting from emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from factories, power plants, and automobile exhausts, are examples of damage caused by energy use. That damage is no respecter of wealth or national boundaries; its consequences are visited on the poor as much as the rich who enjoy the benefits of using the energy.
    Energy is also used in paving over natural ecosystems to create super highways and parking lots to serve automobiles; energy is required to produce the plastic and paper and aluminium cans that clog landfills and festoon highways and seashores; energy powers the boats that slaughter whales and deplete fisheries; energy is used to produce pesticides and cool the offices of Arizona developers as they plan the further unsustainable suburbanization of the American desert Southwest; energy warms the offices of oil company officials in Anchorage as they plan the “development” of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
    Energy is being used to pump aquifers dry around the world to support a temporary increase in grain production, and energy lets us fly in jet aircraft 30,000 feet above the circular irrigation patterns created by the pumping — energy that caused environmental damage when oil was pumped out of the ground and now is causing environmental damage as jet exhausts are spewed into the atmosphere. And, of course, energy damages when used to mine ores, win metals from those ores, and use those metals and other energy-intensive materials to manufacture automobiles, aircraft, TVs, refrigerators, and all the other paraphernalia of civilization.
    Poor people don’t use much energy, so they don’t contribute much to the damage caused by mobilizing it. The average Bangladeshi is not surrounded by plastic gadgets, the average Bolivian doesn’t fly in jet aircraft, the average Kenyan farmer doesn’t have a tractor or a pickup, the average Chinese does not have air-conditioning or central heating in his apartment. Of slightly over 400 million motor vehicles in the world in 1980, 150 million were in the United States, 36 million in Japan, 24 million in Germany, 1.7 million each in India and China, and 0.18 million in Nigeria.
    So statistics on per capita commercial energy use are a reasonable index of the responsibility for damage to the environment and the consumption of resources by an average citizen of a nation. By that measure, a baby born in the United States represents twice the disaster for Earth as one born in Sweden or the USSR, three times one born in Italy, 13 times one born in Brazil, 35 times one in India, 140 times one in Bangladesh or Kenya, and 280 times one in Chad, Rwanda, Haiti, or Nepal.
    These numbers can be somewhat misleading in several respects. Both Sweden and the Soviet Union use about half as much energy per capita as Americans. But the Swedes use it much more efficiently to produce a roughly equal standard of living, whereas Soviet energy use is much less efficient, and their standard of living is considerably less than half that of the United States (and much more pollution is produced).
    In most developing countries, including the last six named above, people overwhelmingly depend for energy on locally cut fuelwood, not commercially sold fossil fuels, hydropower, or charcoal, so their actual energy consumption is understated. The average Indian is certainly not eight times richer than a citizen of Chad or Haiti!
    Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, the concept is useful. There are more than three times as many Indians as Americans, so, as a rough estimate, the United States contributes about 10 times as much to the deterioration of Earth’s life support systems as does India. By the same standard, the United States has 300 times the negative impact on the world’s environment and resources as Bangladesh, and Sweden is 25 times more dangerous to our future than Kenya. These statistics should lay to rest once and for all the myth that population pressures are generated principally by rapid population growth in poor nations.
    There is another way to look at the disproportionate negative impact of rich nations on civilization’s future. The entire planet is now grossly overpopulated by a very simple standard. The present 5.3 billion people could not be supported if humanity were living on its income — primarily solar energy, whether captured by plants in the process of photosynthesis or by human-made devices such as solar heat collectors, solar electric cells, dams, or windmills.
    Far from living on its income, however, civilization is increasingly dependent on its capital, a one-time bonanza of nonrenewable resources inherited from the planet. These resources include the fossil fuels, high-grade mineral ores, and most importantly, rich agricultural soils, underground stores of “ice-age” water, and biotic diversity — all the other species of plants, animals, and microorganisms — with which human beings share Earth.
    In the process of depleting this capital, humanity is rapidly destroying the very systems that supply us with income. And people in industrial countries use a vastly disproportionate share of the capital. They are the principal depleters of fossil fuels and high-grade mineral ores. With less than a quarter of the world’s population, citizens of rich nations control some four-fifths of its resources. They and the technologies they have spread around the world are responsible for more than their share of the depletion of soils and groundwater, and they have played a major role in causing the destruction of biodiversity, both within their national territories and elsewhere.
    Overpopulation in industrial nations obviously represents a much greater threat to the health of ecosystems than does population growth in developing nations. The 1.2 billion people in the developed world contribute disproportionately to global warming, being responsible for about four-fifths of the injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels. Most of the responsibility for ozone depletion, acid precipitation, and oceanic pollution can be laid at the doorstep of industrial nations. So can the environmental consequences of much cash-crop agriculture, mining operations, and oil drilling and shipping worldwide. And industrialized nations share responsibility with developing countries for the roughly one-quarter of atmospheric CO2 buildup caused by tropical deforestation.
    While people in rich nations must shoulder responsibility for civilization’s resource depletion and environmental deterioration, they are also in a better position to lead the way in making the necessary changes to improve the human predicament. Still-growing populations, after decades of slackening growth, could soon achieve zero population growth and begin shrinking. Rather than lament the shift to an “older” population, people in developed countries could celebrate and encourage the trend. The smaller the population (P), if per-capita consumption or affluence (A) and technologies (T) remain the same, the less the environmental impact (I).
    But the affluence and technology factors also can be more easily reduced in rich countries than in poor ones. Energy consumption could be substantially lowered through conservation in virtually all developed nations. Considerable progress in that direction was made in the United States, one of the world’s more energy-wasteful nations, between 1977 and 1987, largely as a response to higher petroleum prices and growing dependency on imported oil. Unfortunately, the Reagan administration terminated or phased out most of the governmental incentives to conserve energy or develop alternative sources that had been put in place during the 1970s. By the late 1980s, Americans were reverting to their old bad habits, although the possibilities for energy conservation had only begun to be tapped. Far from lowering the standard of living, the changes that were implemented, as well as those that remain possible, reduce energy costs to consumers and substantially lessen pollution.
    Beyond conservation, many fairly painless changes could be made in the energy mix of most developed nations that would markedly reduce the release of CO2 to the atmosphere. By substituting natural gas for coal, for instance, CO2 emissions could be cut by about 50 per cent for the same energy benefit — and, again, less pollution. And renewable energy sources, especially solar-generated electricity, are increasingly practical substitutes for fossil fuels.
    Apart from energy, most developed nations have ample room to shift to more environmentally benign technologies (thus reducing T). What is needed are economic incentives for manufacturers to take account of the costs of transport, distribution, use, and disposal of products, not just production costs, in making decisions. This could prove tricky, as corporations increasingly shift manufacturing processes to poor countries to avoid higher labor costs and environmental restrictions in the home countries. As the global economy becomes more and more integrated, international standardization of environmental regulations may become necessary.
    If the overdeveloped nations of the world fail to reduce their environmental impacts, working as far as possible on all three factors — population, consumption, and technology — they can hardly expect the developing world to do so. And without reductions in CO2, and other greenhouse emissions by the rich, growing energy use by the poor nations will accelerate the greenhouse buildup. The sheer size and growth rates of populations in developing nations, along with their altogether reasonable aspirations and plans for development, virtually guarantee such an acceleration.
    To illustrate, suppose that China halted its population growth at about 1.2 billion (unlikely as that seems) and only doubled its per capita energy consumption, using its abundant supplies of coal. At that, its per capita consumption of energy would still be only 14 percent of the average American’s; yet that apparently modest increase would cancel the benefits of Americans giving up all use of coal (currently supplying about 20 percent of US energy) and not replacing it with a carbon-based fuel. Similarly, if India achieved success in ending its population growth at 2 billion, and doubled its per capita energy use to about 7 percent of present US consumption, it too would offset the foregoing of US coal. Unfortunately, Americans can only give up coal-burning once.
    So, while the rich nations today are the primary culprits in generating global warming (and numerous other environmental problems), an alarming potential for greatly increasing these problems resides in the poor countries, largely because the P factor is both so large and still growing so fast. If poor nations are to have any chance at all to end their population growth humanely and to develop their economies, the rich must scale back their assaults on the planet’s life-support systems.
    Viewed in this light, the situation clearly requires cooperation among all nations in implementing solutions to the human predicament. If the habitability of Earth is to be preserved for all our descendants, we have no choice but to end and reverse population growth, limit our consumption of resources, replace damaging technologies with gentler ones, and attempt to design a better, more sustainable civilization.
    Having pioneered in today’s destructive development, it seems only appropriate for the rich countries to lead in setting things right — by moving toward population shrinkage.

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    Guest Post: The Irreversible Emissions Of A Permafrost ‘Tipping Point’

    19 February, 2020 - 04:03
    Carbon Brief Christina Schädel

    Permafrost thaw in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Credit: Natural History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo. Dr Christina SchädelDr Christina Schädel is assistant research professor in the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University. She is also lead coordinator of the Permafrost Carbon Network and co-leader of the Permafrost Collaboration Team. Across vast swaths of the northern hemisphere’s higher reaches, frozen ground holds billions of tonnes of carbon.
    As global temperatures rise, this “permafrost” land is at increasing risk of thawing out, potentially releasing its long-held carbon into the atmosphere.
    Abrupt permafrost thaw is one of the most frequently discussed “tipping points” that could be crossed in a warming world.
    However, research suggests that, while this thawing is already underway, it can be slowed with climate change mitigation.
    Yet, what is irreversible is the escape of the carbon that has been – and is being – emitted.
    The carbon released from permafrost goes into the atmosphere and stays there, exacerbating global warming.
    Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    In short, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

    Permafrost and the global climate
    Permafrost is ground that has been frozen for at least two consecutive years.
    Its thickness ranges from less than one metre to more than a kilometre.
    Typically, it sits beneath an “active layer” that thaws and refreezes every year.
    A warming climate puts this perennially frozen ground at risk. When temperatures rise, permafrost thaws – it does not melt.
    There is a simple analogy: compare what happens to an ice cube and a frozen chicken when they are taken out of the freezer.
    At room temperature, the former will have melted, leaving a small pool of water, but the chicken will have thawed, leaving a raw chicken.
    Eventually, that chicken will start to decompose.
    This is exactly what happens to permafrost when temperatures increase.
    One quarter of the landmass of the northern hemisphere is underlain by permafrost, which acts like Earth’s gigantic freezer and keeps enormous amounts of organic matter frozen.
    Global permafrost map, International Permafrost Association. Credit: Brown, J., O.J. Ferrians, Jr., J.A. Heginbottom, and E.S. Melnikov, eds. 1997. Circum-Arctic map of permafrost and ground-ice conditions. Washington, DC: U.S. Geological Survey in Cooperation with the Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources. Circum-Pacific Map Series CP-45, scale 1:10,000,000, 1 sheet. This organic material includes the remnants of dead plants, animals and microbes that accumulated in the soil and were frozen into permafrost thousands of years ago.
    Permafrost including ancient bones (left image) and organic material (right image) in the Permafrost tunnel near Fox, Alaska. Credit: C. SchädelArctic temperatures have been increasing more than twice as fast as the global average. This has caused permafrost thaw in many locations and triggered newly awakened microbes to decompose the organic material thereby releasing CO2 or methane into the atmosphere.
    Both gases are greenhouse gases, but methane is 28-36 times more potent than CO2 over a century. However, there is more CO2 than methane in the atmosphere and methane is oxidised to CO2 on timescales of about a decade. So, it is the change in atmospheric CO2 concentration that really matters for long-term climate change.

    Carbon release from permafrost
    So, what role will permafrost play in future carbon emissions? And is there a tipping point that could trigger rapid thaw?
    Scientists estimate that there is about twice as much carbon stored in permafrost as circulating in the atmosphere. This is approximately 1460bn-1600bn tonnes of carbon.
    Most of it is currently frozen and preserved, but if even a small fraction is released into the atmosphere, the emissions would likely be large – potentially similar in magnitude to carbon release from other environmental fluxes, such as deforestation.
    This would still be about one order of magnitude smaller than emissions from fossil-fuel burning by the end of this century. Nevertheless, every additional molecule of CO2 or methane added to the atmosphere accelerates climate change and affects the whole planet and its climate.
    Collapsing permafrost with large ice volume. Credit: A. BalserTo our current knowledge, carbon release from permafrost is a gradual and sustained process that continually adds carbon to the atmosphere – thus, further reinforcing warming.
    Once the organic matter within permafrost decomposes and releases CO2 and methane, there is no getting it back. In this sense, permafrost thaw is irreversible – meeting one of the conditions of the definition of a tipping point.
    However, recent research suggests that if temperature rise were to slow and stop, permafrost thaw, too, would slow – and potentially stop, thus, preventing further emissions.
    This suggests that permafrost as a whole will not have shifted to a completely new state – as is the case with some tipping points, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. As a result, it would be possible to prevent further emissions were global warming to be halted.
    But, as things stand, permafrost thaw has already been observed in many locations in the Arctic. And as the recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out, warming this century will cause substantial emissions from permafrost:
    “By 2100, near-surface permafrost area will decrease by 2-66% for RCP2.6 and 30–99% for RCP8.5. This could release 10s to 100s of gigatonnes of carbon as CO2 and methane to the atmosphere for RCP8.5, with the potential to accelerate climate change.”How to add certainty to permafrost carbon release
    The ultimate contribution of permafrost carbon to climate change depends on a variety of factors: how much of the carbon will come out as CO2 or methane, for example, and how much can plants and trees offset some of the additional carbon release.
    Permafrost degradation can occur as gradual top down thaw or as abrupt collapse of thawing soil. Both processes release carbon to the atmosphere. Gradual top-down thaw is the result of warmer air temperatures causing the soil to thaw from the top down, whereas abrupt thaw occurs suddenly and unpredictably.
    Permafrost can contain up to 80% ice. If the ice melts – remember the ice does melt even though the soil does not – the ground suddenly collapses and deep layers get exposed to air temperature.
    Collapsing ground can leave the landscape pockmarked by “thermokarst” lakes, filled with meltwater, rain and snow. These wet conditions can promote the release of the more potent greenhouse gas methane.
    Thermokarst landscape. Credit: A. BalserIn uplands, natural drainage creates drier soil conditions after permafrost thaw, thereby accelerating organic matter decomposition and releasing large amounts of CO2. The ultimate impact of carbon release from permafrost will be stronger when a larger percentage of the permafrost zone dries out after thaw.
    What fraction of the landscape will become wetter or drier after thaw depends on the distribution of ground ice, but current ice measurements are only sporadic and better spatial coverage and more up to date measurements are urgently needed.
    Another important factor in the carbon balance of the permafrost zone is the carbon uptake by plants. The question is how much carbon release from thawing permafrost can be offset by increased plant growth? Plants take up carbon from the atmosphere and use it to grow and maintain their metabolism.
    Warmer conditions in the Arctic and all its associated changes stimulate plant growth, which means that some of the carbon added to the atmosphere from thawing permafrost is taken up by the boost to plant growth. But it is unclear how much carbon will be offset by plants and it is unclear how sustained this process is.
    Improving model projections of permafrost carbon release is crucial in determining the overall impact of thawing permafrost to the global climate. Recent results from the Canadian Arctic show that permafrost thaw is happening a lot earlier than scientists expected given current model projections.
    For the moment, models only account for gradual top-down thaw, but recent estimates show that abrupt thaw and collapsing soil could double carbon release from permafrost. One thing is clear: the less temperatures increase in the Arctic, the more permafrost will stay frozen and the more carbon will stay locked up in permafrost.

    Methane hydrates
    Often mentioned in the same breath as permafrost thaw is the potential danger associated with the breakdown of methane hydrates, also known as “clathrates”. This is methane “ice” that forms at low temperatures and high pressures in continental margin marine sediments or within and beneath permafrost.
    Of particular concern are the methane hydrates stored beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), a shallow coastal region to the north of Russia. Studies have suggested that thawing permafrost is releasing this methane, letting it bubble up and out of the seawater. This has led to research warning that the escape of large quantities of methane could have “catastrophic consequences for the climate system” and media reports of an impending “methane timebomb”.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. © EsriIn conversation with Dr Carolyn Ruppel, chief scientist for the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project, she tells me that methane hydrates trap about one-sixth of Earth’s methane carbon and that some deposits may, in fact, be degrading now as the climate warms. But, she says:
    “If the methane released during gas hydrate degradation reaches the ocean, it would mostly be consumed by bacteria in the water column and not reach the atmosphere.  In permafrost areas, degrading gas hydrate is usually deeply buried, so permafrost thaw is the more important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”While there “may be substantial methane leaking from Arctic continental shelves in areas of thawing subsea permafrost”, says Ruppel, “studies have shown that the flux rates are probably overestimated and the most likely source of the leaking methane is not thawing gas hydrates”. She adds:
    “Permafrost-associated hydrates are not that widespread and often occur deeper than the shallower sources of methane that can more readily leak into the atmosphere.”So, the latest research suggests that a methane bomb from thawing hydrates is not on the horizon. However, for permafrost, the science shows that thaw is already underway and the carbon it is releasing will already be contributing to our warming climate.

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    Guest Post: How Close Is The West Antarctic Ice Sheet To A ‘Tipping Point’?

    19 February, 2020 - 04:02
    Carbon Brief - Christina Hulbe

    Satellite image of Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica. Credit: NG Images / Alamy Stock Photo. Prof Christina HulbeProf Christina Hulbe is a geophysicist in the National School of Surveying at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Between its east and west ice sheets and its peninsula, Antarctica holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 60m.
    The West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is a relatively small part, containing an amount of ice equivalent to 3.3m of sea level rise. Yet, most of it sits in a precarious position and is considered “theoretically unstable”.
    As a result, how the WAIS will change in response to human-caused warming is generally thought to be the largest source of uncertainty for long-term sea level projections.
    Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    The most pressing aspect of this uncertainty is understanding whether instability thresholds of ice have been crossed, whether the retreat we are now measuring is destined to continue, and whether ice that appears unchanging today will remain that way in the future.
    The latest research says that the threshold for irreversible loss of the WAIS likely lies between 1.5C and 2C of global average warming above pre-industrial levels. With warming already at around 1.1C and the Paris Agreement aiming to limit warming to 1.5C or “well-below 2C”, the margins for avoiding this threshold are fine indeed.

    Marine ice sheet
    According to the recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere (SROCC) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there are two main controls on how much global sea levels will rise this century: future human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and how warming affects the Antarctic ice sheet. The IPCC says:
    “Beyond 2050, uncertainty in climate change induced SLR [sea level rise] increases substantially due to uncertainties in emission scenarios and the associated climate changes, and the response of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer world.”The concern around the vulnerability of the WAIS principally lies in something called “marine ice sheet instability” (MISI) – “marine” because the base of the ice sheet is below sea level and “instability” for the fact that, once it starts, the retreat is self-sustaining.
    Ice sheets can be thought of as huge freshwater reservoirs. Snow accumulates in the cold interior, slowly compacts to become glacier ice and then begins to flow like a very thick fluid back toward the ocean.
    In some places, the ice reaches the coast and floats on the ocean surface, forming an ice shelf. The boundary between ice resting on the land surface (or the sea floor in the case of a marine ice sheet) is called the “grounding line”. The grounding line is where water stored in the ice sheet returns to the ocean. And when it moves seaward, we say the ice sheet has a positive “mass balance” – that is to say, it is gaining more ice mass than it is losing back to the sea.
    But when the grounding line retreats, the balance is negative. A negative ice sheet balance means a positive contribution to the ocean and, thus, to global sea level.

    This basic picture of ice sheet mass balance is all you need to understand why glaciologists are concerned about MISI.
    Changes to the ice shelf on the floating side of the grounding line – such as thinning – can cause ice on the grounded side to lift off from the seafloor. As this ice floats, the grounding line will retreat. Because the ice flows more rapidly when it is floating than it does when grounded, the rate of ice flow near the grounding line will increase. Stretching caused by the faster flow becomes a new source of thinning near the grounding line.
    This is illustrated in the figure below. As the newly floating ice flows and thins more quickly, it can cause more ice to lift off and float, driving the grounding line back.
    In addition, the areas of the ice sheet at risk of MISI have a reverse, or “retrograde” gradient, which means it gets deeper further inland. As the grounding line retreats further into thicker parts of the ice sheet, the flow speeds up, further increasing ice loss. The reverse gradient makes this process self-sustaining as a positive feedback loop – this is what makes MISI an instability.
    Illustration of Marine Ice Sheet Instability, or MISI. Thinning of the buttressing ice shelf leads to acceleration of the ice sheet flow and thinning of the marine-terminated ice margin. Because bedrock under the ice sheet is sloping towards ice sheet interior, thinning of the ice causes retreat of the grounding line followed by an increase of the seaward ice flux, further thinning of the ice margin, and further retreat of the grounding line. Credit: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig CB8.1aIt is not clear yet if the MISI threshold has been crossed anywhere in Antarctica. We do know that grounding lines are retreating along the Amundsen Sea coastline – most spectacularly on the Thwaites Glacier. And the driver for the retreat appears to be relatively warm ocean water – about 2C warmer than the historical average – flowing toward the grounding line and causing stronger than usual melting.
    Graphic: Carbon Brief. Credit: Quantarctica/Norwegian Polar Institute.

    If the instability has not started and if the ocean warming stops, then the grounding line should find a new balancing point at a new location. But if it has started, then the retreat will continue no matter what happens next.

    Faster flow
    Even if the threshold has been crossed – or even if it is crossed in the future – the retreat can proceed at different rates depending on how hard we were “pushing” when it started.
    Here’s how that works. The instability depends on a balance of forces within the ice sheet. A force due to gravity causes the ice to flow at a speed that depends in part on its thickness and its surface slope.
    A larger melt rate on the floating side and faster flow across the grounding line will draw down the surface of the ice more quickly than smaller rates will. The faster draw-down generates a steeper surface slope and, thus, faster flow and faster retreat.
    Pine Island Glacier ice shelf rift. Credit: NASA Image Collection / Alamy Stock Photo.
    A modelling study of this feedback, published last year, found that when MISI started with a larger push (a larger melt rate), it proceeded more quickly than when it started with a smaller push, even after the extra melting was removed.
    This means that even if MISI is invoked, cutting global emissions and slowing warming will give more time to get ready for its consequences.

    Ice cliffs
    There appears to be a second source of instability for marine ice sheets – one that comes into play if the ice shelves are lost entirely.
    Some of the most spectacular images of glacier change are of iceberg calving – in other words, breaking off – from the heavily crevassed fronts of marine-terminating glaciers.
    This calving is caused by melting of the underside of the ice shelf, as well as “hydro-fracturing” – where meltwater forming on the surface of the ice shelf seeps into the ice and causes cracking – or a combination of the two.
    How quickly calving happens depends on the height of the ice cliff face above the waterline – the higher the cliff stands above the water, the larger the calving rate.
    As is the case for MISI, the declining gradient of seafloor beneath the WAIS means that as the ice cliff retreats into thicker ice it will continue to expose an ever-higher cliff to the ocean and the calving rate must increase.
    This process, illustrated below, is called “marine ice cliff instability” (MICI). The theory suggests that where the height of a glacier face exceeds around 100m above the ocean surface, the cliff will be too tall to support its own weight. It will, therefore, inevitably collapse, exposing a similarly tall cliff face behind it, which, too, will collapse. And so on.
    The IPCC’s SROCC says that “Thwaites Glacier is particularly important because it extends into the interior of the WAIS, where the bed is >2000m below sea level in places”. (Although, the SROCC also notes that while MISI requires a retrograde bed slope to occur, MICI could even happen on a flat or seaward-inclined bed.)
    This recently identified process is not as well studied as MISI, but this is sure to change in the years ahead, as scientists continue to observe fast-changing systems such as the Thwaites Glacier.
    Illustration of Marine Ice Cliff Instability. If the cliff is tall enough (at least ~800m of total ice thickness, or about 100m of ice above the water line), the stresses at the cliff face exceed the strength of the ice, and the cliff fails structurally in repeated calving events. Credit: IPCC SROCC (2019) Fig CB8.1bA Nature study in 2016 on MICI concluded that Antarctica “has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500”. More recent research concluded this is likely to be an overestimate, but noted it is not yet clear what role MICI could play this century. Another study has also suggested that rapid loss of ice through MICI may be mitigated by a slower loss of the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back.

    Threshold close
    Late last year, a large team of modellers assessed different studies of ice sheet response to the Paris climate target to keep global average warming “well below” 2C.
    The models all point in the same direction. Namely, that the threshold for irreversible ice loss in both the Greenland ice sheet and the WAIS is somewhere between 1.5C and 2C global average warming. And we are already at a bit more than 1C warming right now.
    This 1.5-2C window is key for the “survival of Antarctic ice shelves”, the review paper explained, and thus their “buttressing” effect on the glaciers they hold back.
    GlossaryRCP2.6: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP2.6 (also sometimes referred to as “RCP3-PD”) is a “peak and decline” scenario where stringent mitigation… Read More Another threshold may lie between 2C and 2.7C, the authors added. Reaching this level of global temperature rise could trigger the “activation of several larger systems, such as the Ross and Ronne-Filchner drainage basins, and onset of much larger SLR contributions”.
    The Ross and Ronne-Filchner are the two largest ice shelves in Antarctica. These could be substantially reduced “within 100–300 years”, another study says, in scenarios where global emissions exceed the RCP2.6 scenario. This emissions pathway is generally considered to be consistent with limiting warming to 2C.
    These findings imply that preventing substantial Antarctic ice loss relies on limiting global emissions to – or below – RCP2.6. As the paper concludes: “Crossing these thresholds implies commitment to large ice-sheet changes and SLR that may take thousands of years to be fully realised and be irreversible on longer timescales.”

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    Guest Post: Could The Atlantic Overturning Circulation ‘Shut Down’?

    19 February, 2020 - 04:01
    Carbon Brief Richard Wood | Laura Jackson

    An argo float measures ocean temperatures. Credit: Argo program, Germany/Ifremer. Generally, we think of climate change as a gradual process: the more greenhouse gases that humans emit, the more the climate will change. But are there any “points of no return” that commit us to irreversible change?
    The “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation”, known as “AMOC”, is one of the major current systems in the world’s oceans and plays a crucial role in regulating climate.
    It is driven by a delicate balance of ocean temperatures and salinity, which is at risk from being upset by a warming climate.
    The latest research suggests that AMOC is very likely to weaken this century, but a collapse is very unlikely. However, scientists are some way from being able to define exactly how much warming might push AMOC past a tipping point.

    The figure below shows an illustration of the AMOC. In the North Atlantic, warm water from the subtropics travels northwards near the surface and cold – and, hence, more dense – water is travelling southwards at depth, typically 2–4km below the surface.
    In the north, the warm surface water is cooled by the overlying atmosphere, converted to cold, dense water, and sinks to supply the deep, southward branch. Elsewhere, the cold water upwells and is warmed, re-supplying the upper, warm branch and completing the circuit.
    Schematic of the AMOC. The red pathways show warmer water nearer the surface, while the purple pathways show colder, more dense water moving at depth. Credit: Met OfficeCould the AMOC collapse? Tipping pointsThis article is part of a week-long special series on “tipping points”, where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change
    The AMOC is vulnerable to climate change. As the atmosphere warms due to increasing greenhouse gases, the ability of the ocean to lose heat from the North Atlantic surface is diminished and one of the driving factors of the AMOC is weakened.
    Climate-model projections of global warming this century consistently point to a weakening of the AMOC. The most recent assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the fifth assessment report (AR5) and special report on oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate (SROCC) – both conclude that the AMOC is “very likely” to weaken over the 21st century.
    Such a weakening would have a cooling effect on climate around the North Atlantic region, as the northward heat supply is slowed down. This effect is included in the climate projections, but the direct warming effect from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases is stronger, so the net result is still warming over land regions.
    But more dramatic changes are theoretically possible. A “tipping point” may exist beyond which the current strong AMOC becomes unsustainable.
    Evidence for this goes back to a seminal paper published in 1961 by one of the fathers of modern oceanography, Henry Stommel. Stommel realised that the AMOC is a kind of competition between the effects of temperature and salinity, both of which influence the density of seawater.

    The figure below illustrates the different possible AMOC states. In today’s climate, temperature dominates and the cold, dense high latitude water drives a strong AMOC (red curve). But in other climate states it is possible for fresh water (from rainfall or ice melt) to freshen – and so lighten – the high-latitude water; in this case, the water is not dense enough to drive the AMOC, which collapses (blue curve).
    If the freshwater input to the Atlantic were strong enough – from rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, for example – the blue dot would move to the right in the figure. According to Stommel’s model, at some point the strong AMOC state (red) becomes unsustainable and the AMOC collapses to the “off” state (blue). Then, even if the driving climate change were later reversed (the blue dot moving back to the left on the figure), the AMOC would stay on the blue curve and would not switch back on again until the climate had overshot the present day conditions in the opposite direction. This phenomenon is known as “hysteresis”.
    Tipping points and hysteresis of the AMOC in Stommel’s simple model. Possible states of the AMOC depend on the amount of freshwater input to the Atlantic Ocean (x-axis). AMOC strength is shown on the y-axis. [Note that both are measured in Sverdrups (Sv), where 1 Sv denotes one million cubic metres of water transported per second.] When there is low freshwater input, temperature dominates the flow and only a strong AMOC is possible (red curve). For high freshwater input, only a collapsed state is possible (blue curve). In between, both states are possible. If the freshwater input were to increase beyond a critical value (the tipping point), the AMOC would collapse. Then, even if the freshwater input were returned to its original state, the AMOC would remain off. Credit: Met Office.

    Long-term projections
    Stommel’s idea has evolved over the years, but the fundamental insight is still relevant. There is evidence that AMOC changes may have played a role in some major climate shifts of the past – most recently around 8,200 years ago as the world was emerging from the last ice age.
    At that time, a huge lake in northwest Canada was being held back by an ice wall. As temperatures warmed the ice wall collapsed, depositing the fresh water from the lake into the North Atlantic and interrupting the AMOC. A major cooling at this time can be seen in palaeoclimatic records across North America, Greenland and Europe.
    Comprehensive climate models generally do not project a complete shutdown of the AMOC in the 21st century, but recently models have been run further into the future. Under scenarios of continued high greenhouse gas concentrations, a number of models project an effective AMOC shutdown by 2300.
    Model projections of the future AMOC do range widely, though. As a result, on the question of what level of global warming would result in an AMOC shutdown, it is unlikely that the scientific community will see any convergence in the near future.
    While the fundamental mechanism that destabilises the AMOC in Stommel’s original model appears to be important in climate models, there are other processes that are trying to stabilise the AMOC. Many of these processes are difficult to model quantitatively, especially with the limited resolution that is possible with current computing power. So our AMOC projections will continue to be subject to quite some uncertainty for some time to come.
    Taking all the evidence into account, the IPCC’s AR5 and SROCC concluded that an AMOC collapse before 2100 was “very unlikely” (pdf). However, the impacts of passing an AMOC tipping point would be huge, so it is best viewed as a “low probability, high impact” scenario.

    What would be the impacts of a collapse?
    Climate models can be used to assess the impact on climate if the AMOC were to shut down completely. By adding large amounts of fresh water to the North Atlantic in a model, scientists artificially lighten the cold, dense water that forms the lower branch of the loop. This stops the AMOC and we can then look at the impact on climate.
    The figure below illustrates the changes that result in one such experiment. Shutdown of the AMOC results in a cooling (blue shading) of the whole northern hemisphere, particularly the regions closest to the zone of North Atlantic heat loss (the “radiator” of the North Atlantic central heating system). In these regions the cooling exceeds the projected warming due to greenhouse gases, so a complete shutdown in the 21st century, while very unlikely, could result in a net cooling in regions such as western Europe.
    Modelled change in surface temperature (C) following an artificially induced collapse of the AMOC. Shading indicates cooling (blue) or warming (orange and red). Reprinted by permission from Springer. Jackson et al. (2015) Global and European climate impacts of a slowdown of the AMOC in a high resolution GCM, Climate Dynamics.Other impacts include major shifts in rainfall patterns, increases in winter storms over Europe and a sea level rise of up to 50cm around the North Atlantic basin. In many regions these effects would exacerbate the trends due to global warming. While such model experiments are artificial “what if?” scenarios, they illustrate the magnitude of the changes that could result from an AMOC collapse. The impacts on agriculture, wildlife, transport, energy demand and coastal infrastructure would be complex, but we can be certain that there would be major socioeconomic consequences. For example, one study showed a 50% reduction in grass productivity in major grazing regions of the western UK and Ireland.

    What can be done about the risk of a collapse?
    As explained above, scientists are some way from being able to confidently define a level of global warming at which the AMOC would be at risk of crossing a tipping point.
    However, it may be possible to manage the risk of AMOC collapse, even without knowing how likely it is.
    To take a domestic analogy: I know that it is possible, but unlikely, that my house will burn down – it is a low-probability, high-impact event. I don’t have much idea of how probable it is that I will have a fire, but I can manage the risk anyway by getting the electrical wiring checked and by installing smoke alarms. The wiring check reduces the chance of a fire, while the smoke alarm gives me early warning if a fire starts so that the impact can be reduced – by evacuating the house and calling the fire brigade.
    Recently, along with colleagues at the University of Exeter, we have been exploring the possibility of developing an early-warning system for AMOC tipping.
    Using a simple model, we have shown that the way the salinities of the subtropical and subpolar Atlantic evolve over time can give an early indication if the AMOC is on the path to a collapse, possibly decades before any major weakening has been seen in the AMOC itself.
    It is early days for this research, but by monitoring such an indicator it may be possible to give more time to prepare for the consequences of an AMOC collapse, or to adopt more aggressive climate change mitigation measures to get the AMOC onto a more stable pathway.

    Outstanding questions
    As the world gets to grips with the challenges of meeting the targets of the Paris climate accord, interest is increasing in climate pathways that temporarily overshoot the final target level. It is important that such overshoots do not cross any irreversible thresholds on the way to the final destination, so research on tipping points needs to link theoretical results to these more practical questions.
    Much of the modelling of AMOC tipping points to date has used idealised scenarios of freshwater input to the North Atlantic. This is relevant to some past AMOC changes, but to model future climate change we need to understand what happens when warming and freshening are taking place together.
    This is a more challenging problem because the number of relevant processes and feedbacks is increased. Some of these processes operate at small scales that models struggle to resolve with current computing power. Improving the modelling of key AMOC processes needs patience and long-term commitment, but will eventually pay dividends in more confident AMOC predictions.
    Research on early warning of AMOC collapse is in its infancy, but may be a fruitful way to respond to the risk. One thing is for sure: early warning will require continuous observations of key aspects of the AMOC.
    AMOC monitoring entered a new era in 2004 with RAPID-MOCHA, an array of moored instruments that spans the width of the Atlantic at latitude 26.5 degrees north and provides continuous monitoring of the AMOC. Before this there had only been five snapshots of the circulation spread over 47 years.
    Results have already changed our understanding of how the AMOC varies in time: for example, an unexpected dip in the AMOC – observed in Autumn 2009 – is thought to have played a role in the unusually cold European winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11.
    More recently, a similar monitoring array has been installed further north in the subpolar Atlantic. Along with continuous measurements of temperature and salinity from drifting Argo floats, oceanographers now have an unprecedented database to study this crucial element of our climate system and give the world a chance to prepare for any nasty surprises.

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    Study: One-Third Of Plant And Animal Species Could Be Gone In 50 Years

    18 February, 2020 - 04:03
    University of Arizona - Daniel Stolte

    University of Arizona researchers studied recent extinctions from climate change to estimate the loss of plant and animal species by 2070. Their results suggest that as many as one in three species could face extinction unless warming is reduced.
    The common giant tree frog from Madagascar is one of many species impacted by recent climate change. (Photo: John J. Wiens)
    Accurately predicting biodiversity loss from climate change requires a detailed understanding of what aspects of climate change cause extinctions, and what mechanisms may allow species to survive.
    A new study by University of Arizona researchers presents detailed estimates of global extinction from climate change by 2070. By combining information on recent extinctions from climate change, rates of species movement and different projections of future climate, they estimate that one in three species of plants and animals may face extinction. Their results are based on data from hundreds of plant and animal species surveyed around the globe.
    A dead Alligator Juniper from Arizona. Unable to cope with rising temperature extremes, repeated surveys have shown that this species is literally being pushed up the mountain slopes under the impact of climate change. (Photo: Ramona Walls)Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study likely is the first to estimate broad-scale extinction patterns from climate change by incorporating data from recent climate-related extinctions and from rates of species movements.
    To estimate the rates of future extinctions from climate change, Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens, both in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, looked to the recent past. Specifically, they examined local extinctions that have already happened, based on studies of repeated surveys of plants and animals over time.
    Román-Palacios and Wiens analyzed data from 538 species and 581 sites around the world. They focused on plant and animal species that were surveyed at the same sites over time, at least 10 years apart. They generated climate data from the time of the earliest survey of each site and the more recent survey. They found that 44% of the 538 species had already gone extinct at one or more sites.
    "By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct," Román-Palacios said. "We also estimated how quickly populations can move to try and escape rising temperatures. When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species."
    The study identified maximum annual temperatures — the hottest daily highs in summer — as the key variable that best explains whether a population will go extinct. Surprisingly, the researchers found that average yearly temperatures showed smaller changes at sites with local extinction, even though average temperatures are widely used as a proxy for overall climate change. 
    "This means that using changes in mean annual temperatures to predict extinction from climate change might be positively misleading," Wiens said.
    Previous studies have focused on dispersal — or migration to cooler habitats — as a means for species to "escape" from warming climates. However, the authors of the current study found that most species will not be able to disperse quickly enough to avoid extinction, based on their past rates of movement. Instead, they found that many species were able to tolerate some increases in maximum temperatures, but only up to a point. They found that about 50% of the species had local extinctions if maximum temperatures increased by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius, and 95% if temperatures increase by more than 2.9 degrees Celsius.
    Projections of species loss depend on how much climate will warm in the future.
    "In a way, it's a 'choose your own adventure,'" Wiens said. "If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results."
    The paper's projections of species loss are similar for plants and animals, but extinctions are projected to be two to four times more common in the tropics than in temperate regions.
    "This is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics," Román-Palacios said.

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    (AU) Mammal That Mates Itself To Death Will Struggle Under Climate Change, Scientists Say

    18 February, 2020 - 04:02

    A small Australian mammal that mates itself to death will struggle under climate change, scientist have said.
    For a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, a team of researchers investigated how climate change may affect the yellow-footed antechinus, or Antechinus flavipes—a marsupial that has a rare and unusual mating behavior known as "male semelparity." This is where a whole generation of males die in their first mating season.
    In the case of the yellow-footed antechinus, the mating season may last two to three weeks and takes place in the Australian winter and spring months, depending on where in the country a given population is located. In this time the males succumb to stress and exhaustion after having copulated with so many female partners.In the latest paper, the scientists found that if this marsupial experiences warmer temperatures during the early stages of its life, it may be less capable of adapting to and surviving the winter. The marsupials are born between September and November and so they spend their first months in the Australian summer and autumn, which are expected to become hotter under climate change. This could mean that many males will be unable to survive the winter in future, so would be incapable of mating.
    The scientists, led by Clare Stawski from the University of New England and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, exposed captive-bred juveniles to either "cold" or "warm" temperatures—17 and 25 degrees Celsius (63 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.) The mammals were about 100 days old at the beginning of this experiment, and had just finished being weaned by their mothers.
    Stawski and colleagues then monitored various factors such as body mass and the activity levels of the animals.
    Once the juveniles had reached adult size, at around 220 days of age, the scientists conducted a series of temperature tests and measured the basal metabolic rate—the number of calories required to keep the body functioning at the most basic level while it is resting—of the animals.
    In one test, the mammals were placed in a chamber where the temperature was 18 degrees Celsius. This was then increased by 4 degree Celsius increments every two hours, until the temperature reached 30 degrees.
    In the second test, the initial temperature in the chamber began at 14 degrees Celsius and was reduced to 10 degrees after three hours.
    The results showed that temperatures experienced by juvenile yellow-footed antechinuses during development can impact the behavior and physiology of the animal.
    Juveniles placed in the "cold" group just after being weaned were able to adapt their metabolic rate as the temperature around them changed. But the metabolic rate of those juveniles that had initially been placed in the warm group did not change when exposed to colder temperatures.
    Stock photo: A yellow-footed antechinus. iStockAccording to the researchers, this indicates that the juveniles raised in warm conditions may have less "phenotypic plasticity"—the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental influences.
    This has significant implications for the yellow-footed antechinus given temperatures in Australia are expected to rise with climate change, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)—an Australian government agency.
    "We hypothesize that as individuals raised in warm conditions appear to have less phenotypic flexibility, they may not be able to respond effectively to prolonged increases in temperature and therefore struggle throughout winter," Stawski told ABC News.
    This lack of phenotypic plasticity in juveniles raised in warm conditions does not bode well for a species that is dependent on a single breeding event and experiences "a complete population turnover," the authors wrote in the study.
    This makes the species particularly vulnerable to potentially deadly environmental events, such as heatwaves, which are expected to become more common under climate change, according to CSIRO.
    If these events occur in the periods when there are no males, and only pregnant or lactating females, there is a chance that significant numbers of females could die, meaning fewer offspring, leading to a subsequent reduction in the population.
    While the latest study focused only on the yellow-footed antechinus, which has a relatively wide distribution across Australia, other species in the same genus (group of species) with smaller ranges may be even more severely affected by climate change, Andrew Baker from the Queensland University of Technology, Australia, who was not involved in the paper, told ABC.
    Scientists only know about a handful of species that display male semelparity. Most of these are invertebrates, or animals without a backbone, making Antechinus an unusual case.
    The Frontiers in Physiology paper is not the only recent piece of research to highlight the plight of animals in Australia under climate change.
    One study published in the journal Biological Conservation found that populations of the iconic platypus were at risk in the face of increasingly dry conditions. The researchers found that under current climate projections, platypus numbers could decline by up to 73 percent by 2070.

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    Landing A Blow Against Climate Change

    18 February, 2020 - 04:01
    Project Syndicate - 

    For the last decade, bioenergy has been confined to the sidelines of climate-policy debates, owing to the environmental problems associated with its production. But recent innovations have made this option for supplying sustainable, renewable energy not just viable, but necessary.
    Kambou Sia/AFP via Getty ImagesBONN – In the face of climate change, providing reliable supplies of renewable energy to all who need it has become one of the biggest development challenges of our time. Meeting the international community’s commitment to keep global warming below 1.5-2°C, relative to preindustrial levels, will require expanded use of bioenergy, carbon storage and capture, land-based mitigation strategies like reforestation, and other measures.
    The problem is that these potential solutions tend to be discussed only at the margins of international policy circles, if at all. And yet experts estimate that the global carbon budget – the amount of additional carbon dioxide we can still emit without triggering potentially catastrophic climate change – will run out in a mere ten years. That means there is an urgent need to ramp up bioenergy and land-based mitigation options. We already have the science to do so, and the longer we delay, the greater the possibility that these methods will no longer be viable.
    Renewable energy is the best option for averting the most destructive effects of climate change. For six of the last seven years, the global growth of renewable-energy capacity has outpaced that of non-renewables. But while solar and wind are blazing new trails, they still are not meeting global demand.
    A decade ago, bioenergy was seen as the most likely candidate to close or at least reduce the supply gap. But its development has stalled for two major reasons. First, efforts to promote it had negative unintended consequences. The incentives used to scale it up led to the rapid conversion of invaluable virgin land. Tropical forests and other vital ecosystems were transformed into biofuel production zones, creating new threats of food insecurity, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and desertification.
    In its Special Report on Climate Change and Land last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that scale and context are the two most important factors to consider when assessing the costs and benefits of biofuel production. Large monocultural biofuel farms simply are not viable. But biofuel farms that are appropriately placed and fully integrated with other activities in the landscape can be sustained ecologically.
    Equally important is the context in which biofuels are being produced – meaning the type of land being used, the variety of biofuel crops being grown, and the climate-management regimes that are in place. The costs associated with biofuel production are significantly reduced when it occurs on previously degraded land, or on land that has been freed up through improved agriculture or livestock management.
    Under the 1.5°C warming scenario, an estimated 700 million hectares of land will be needed for bioenergy feedstocks. There are multiple ways to achieve this level of bioenergy production sustainably. For example, policies to reduce food waste could free up to 140 million additional hectares. And some portion of the two billion hectares of land that have been degraded in past decades could be restored.
    The second reason that bioenergy stalled is that it, too, emits carbon. This challenge persists, because the process of carbon capture remains contentious. We simply do not know what long-term effects might follow from capturing carbon and compressing it into hard rock for storage underground. But academic researchers and the private sector are working on innovations to make the technology viable. Compressed carbon, for example, could be used as a building material, which would be a game changer if scaled up to industrial-level use.
    Moreover, whereas traditional bioenergy feedstocks such as acacia, sugarcane, sweet sorghum, managed forests, and animal waste pose sustainability challenges, researchers at the University of Oxford are now experimenting with the more water-efficient succulent plants. Again, succulents could be a game changer, particularly for dryland populations who have a lot of arid degraded land suitable for cultivation. Many of these communities desperately need energy, but would struggle to maintain solar and wind facilities, owing to the constant threat posed by dust and sandstorms.
    In Garalo commune, Mali, for example, small-scale farmers are using 600 hectares previously allocated to water-guzzling cotton crops to supply jatropha oil to a hybrid power plant. And in Sweden, the total share of biomass used as fuel – most of it sourced from managed forests – reached 47% in 2017, according to Statistics Sweden. Successful models such as these can show us the way forward.
    Ultimately, a reliable supply of energy is just as important as an adequate supply of productive land. That will be especially true in the coming decades, when the global population is expected to exceed 9.7 billion people. And yet, if global warming is allowed to reach 3°C, the ensuing climatic effects would make almost all land-based mitigation options useless.
    That means we must act now to prevent the loss of vital land resources. We need stronger governance mechanisms to keep food, energy, and environmental needs in balance. Failing to unleash the full potential of the land-based mitigation options that are currently at our disposal would be an unforgiveable failure, imposing severe consequences on people who have contributed the least to climate change.
    Bioenergy and land-based mitigation are not silver bullets. But they will buy us some time. As such, they must be part of the broader response to climate change. The next decade may be our last chance to get the land working for everyone.

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    ‘The Only Uncertainty Is How Long We’ll Last’: A Worst Case Scenario For The Climate In 2050*

    17 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian - Christiana Figueres | Tom Rivett-Carnac

    The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, a new book by the architects of the Paris climate accords, offers two contrasting visions for how the world might look in thirty years (read the best case scenario here)
    ‘The air can taste slightly acidic, sometimes making you feel nauseated.’ Photograph: Arctic-Images/Corbis The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a passionate call to arms written by Christiana Figures and Tom Rivett-Carnac.
    Christiana Figueres was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016 and the public face of the most pivotal climate agreement in history, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Tom Rivett-Carnac was Christiana's political strategist. Together they are the co-founders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on creating environmental and social change.
    They outline two scenarios for our future:
    • How life on Earth will be by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets; or
    • How it will look and feel to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world.
    It is 2050. Beyond the emissions reductions registered in 2015, no further efforts were made to control emissions. We are heading for a world that will be more than 3C warmer by 2100.
    The first thing that hits you is the air. In many places around the world, the air is hot, heavy and, depending on the day, clogged with particulate pollution. Your eyes often water. Your cough never seems to disappear. You think about some countries in Asia, where, out of consideration, sick people used to wear white masks to protect others from airborne infection. Now you often wear a mask to protect yourself from air pollution. You can no longer simply walk out your front door and breathe fresh air: there might not be any. Instead, before opening doors or windows in the morning, you check your phone to see what the air quality will be.
    Melting permafrost releases ancient microbes today’s humans have never been exposed to and have no resistance to Fewer people work outdoors and even indoors the air can taste slightly acidic, sometimes making you feel nauseated. The last coal furnaces closed 10 years ago, but that hasn’t made much difference in air quality around the world because you are still breathing dangerous exhaust fumes from millions of cars and buses everywhere. Our world is getting hotter. Over the next two decades, projections tell us that temperatures in some areas of the globe will rise even higher, an irreversible development now utterly beyond our control. Oceans, forests, plants, trees and soil had for many years absorbed half the carbon dioxide we spewed out. Now there are few forests left, most of them either logged or consumed by wildfire, and the permafrost is belching greenhouse gases into an already overburdened atmosphere. The increasing heat of the Earth is suffocating us and in five to 10 years, vast swaths of the planet will be increasingly inhospitable to humans. We don’t know how hospitable the arid regions of Australia, South Africa and the western United States will be by 2100. No one knows what the future holds for their children and grandchildren: tipping point after tipping point is being reached, casting doubt on the form of future civilisation. Some say that humans will be cast to the winds again, gathering in small tribes, hunkered down and living on whatever patch of land might sustain them.
    More moisture in the air and higher sea surface temperatures have caused a surge in extreme hurricanes and tropical storms. Recently, coastal cities in Bangladesh, Mexico, the United States and elsewhere have suffered brutal infrastructure destruction and extreme flooding, killing many thousands and displacing millions. This happens with increasing frequency now. Every day, because of rising water levels, some part of the world must evacuate to higher ground. Every day, the news shows images of mothers with babies strapped to their backs, wading through floodwaters and homes ripped apart by vicious currents that resemble mountain rivers. News stories tell of people living in houses with water up to their ankles because they have nowhere else to go, their children coughing and wheezing because of the mould growing in their beds, insurance companies declaring bankruptcy, leaving survivors without resources to rebuild their lives. Contaminated water supplies, sea salt intrusions and agricultural runoff are the order of the day. Because multiple disasters are often happening simultaneously, it can take weeks or even months for basic food and water relief to reach areas pummelled by extreme floods. Diseases such as malaria, dengue, cholera, respiratory illnesses and malnutrition are rampant.
    The aftermath of a wildfire in northern California, November 2018. Photograph: Noah Berger/APYou try not to think about the 2 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world, where, for upwards of 45 days per year, temperatures skyrocket to 60C (140F), a point at which the human body cannot be outside for longer than about six hours because it loses the ability to cool itself down. Places such as central India are becoming increasingly challenging to inhabit. Mass migrations to less hot rural areas are beset by a host of refugee problems, civil unrest and bloodshed over diminished water availability.
    Food production swings wildly from month to month, season to season, depending on where you live. More people are starving than ever before. Climate zones have shifted, so some new areas have become available for agriculture (Alaska, the Arctic), while others have dried up (Mexico, California). Still others are unstable because of the extreme heat, never mind flooding, wildfire and tornadoes. This makes the food supply in general highly unpredictable. Global trade has slowed as countries seek to hold on to their own resources.
    Countries with enough food are resolute about holding on to it. As a result, food riots, coups and civil wars are throwing the world’s most vulnerable from the frying pan into the fire. As developed countries seek to seal their borders from mass migration, they too feel the consequences. Most countries’ armies are now just highly militarised border patrols. Some countries are letting people in, but only under conditions approaching indentured servitude.
    A young boy picks material from a rubbish dump in Taez, Yemen. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP via Getty ImagesThose living within stable countries may be physically safe, yes, but the psychological toll is mounting. With each new tipping point passed, they feel hope slipping away. There is no chance of stopping the runaway warming of our planet and no doubt we are slowly but surely heading towards some kind of collapse. And not just because it’s too hot. Melting permafrost is also releasing ancient microbes that today’s humans have never been exposed to and, as a result, have no resistance to. Diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks are rampant as these species flourish in the changed climate, spreading to previously safe parts of the planet, increasingly overwhelming us. Worse still, the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance has only intensified as the population has grown denser in inhabitable areas and temperatures continue to rise.The demise of the human species is being discussed more and more. For many, the only uncertainty is how long we’ll last, how many more generations will see the light of day. Suicides are the most obvious manifestation of the prevailing despair, but there are other indications: a sense of bottomless loss, unbearable guilt and fierce resentment at previous generations who didn’t do what was necessary to ward off this unstoppable calamity.

    * This is an edited extract from The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

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    ‘Air Is Cleaner Than Before The Industrial Revolution’: A Best Case Scenario For The Climate In 2050*

    17 February, 2020 - 04:00
    The Guardian - Christiana Figueres | Tom Rivett-Carnac

    The Future We Choose, a new book by the architects of the Paris climate accords, offers contrasting visions for how the world might look in thirty years (read the worst case scenario here)
    ‘The ambient feeling of living on what has again become a green planet has been transformative.’ Photograph: Ichiro/Getty Images The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis is a passionate call to arms written by Christiana Figures and Tom Rivett-Carnac.
    Christiana Figueres was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016 and the public face of the most pivotal climate agreement in history, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Tom Rivett-Carnac was Christiana's political strategist. Together they are the co-founders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on creating environmental and social change.
    They outline two scenarios for our future:
    • How life on Earth will be by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets; or
    • How it will look and feel to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world.
    It is 2050. We have been successful at halving emissions every decade since 2020. We are heading for a world that will be no more than 1.5C warmer by 2100.
    In most places in the world, the air is moist and fresh, even in cities. It feels a lot like walking through a forest and very likely this is exactly what you are doing. The air is cleaner than it has been since before the Industrial Revolution. We have trees to thank for that. They are everywhere.
    It wasn’t the single solution we required, but the proliferation of trees bought us the time we needed to vanquish carbon emissions. When we started, it was purely practical, a tactic to combat climate crisis by relocating the carbon: the trees took carbon dioxide out of the air, released oxygen and put the carbon back where it belongs, in the soil. This, of course, helped to diminish climate crisis, but the benefits were even greater. On every sensory level, the ambient feeling of living on what has again become a green planet has been transformative, especially in cities.
    Reimagining and restructuring cities was crucial to solving the climate challenge puzzle. But further steps had to be taken, which meant that global rewilding efforts had to reach well beyond the cities. The forest cover worldwide is now 50% and agriculture has evolved to become more tree-based. The result is that many countries are unrecognisable, in a good way. No one seems to miss wide-open plains or monocultures. Now we have shady groves of nut and orchards, timber land interspersed with grazing, parkland areas that spread for miles, new havens for our regenerated population of pollinators.
    Drones organised along aerial corridors are now delivering packages, further reducing the need for vehiclesA major part of the shift to net-zero emissions was a focus on electricity; achieving the goal required not only an overhaul of existing infrastructure but also a structural shift. In some ways, breaking up grids and decentralising power proved easy. We no longer burn fossil fuels. Most of our energy now comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. All homes and buildings produce their own electricity – every available surface is covered with solar paint that contains millions of nanoparticles, which harvest energy from the sunlight, and every windy spot has a wind turbine. If you live on a particularly sunny or windy hill, your house might harvest more energy than it can use, in which case the energy will simply flow back to the smart grid. Because there is no combustion cost, energy is basically free. It is also more abundant and more efficiently used than ever.
    Homes and buildings all over the world are becoming self-sustaining far beyond their electrical needs. For example, all buildings now collect rainwater and manage their own water use. Renewable sources of electricity make possible localised desalination, which means clean drinking water can now be produced on demand anywhere in the world. We also use it to irrigate hydroponic gardens, flush toilets and shower.
     ‘The electric motor is simply a better way of powering vehicles.’ Photograph: Lucinda Merano/Getty Images/EyeEmPetrol and diesel cars are anachronisms. Most countries banned their manufacture in 2030, but it took another 15 years to get internal combustion engines off the road completely.
    What’s strange is that it took us so long to realise that the electric motor is simply a better way of powering vehicles. It gives you more torque, more speed when you need it, and the ability to recapture energy when you brake and it requires dramatically less maintenance.
    We also share cars without thinking twice. In fact, regulating and ensuring the safety of driverless ride sharing were the biggest transportation hurdles for cities to overcome. The goal has been to eliminate private ownership of vehicles by 2050 in major metropolitan areas. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress.
    We have also reduced land transport needs. Drones organised along aerial corridors are now delivering packages, further reducing the need for vehicles. Thus we are currently narrowing roads, eliminating parking spaces and investing in urban planning projects that make it easier to walk and bike in the city.
    While we may have successfully reduced carbon emissions, we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The long-living greenhouse gases have nowhere to go other than the already-loaded atmosphere, so they are still causing increasingly extreme weather, though it’s less extreme than it would have been had we continued to burn fossil fuels.
    Glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting and the sea is still rising. Severe droughts and desertification are occurring in the western United States, the Mediterranean and parts of China. Ongoing extreme weather and resource degradation continue to multiply existing disparities in income, public health, food security and water availability. But now governments have recognised climate crisis factors for the threat multipliers that they are. That awareness allows us to predict downstream problems and head them off before they become humanitarian crises.
    Everyone understands that we are all in this together. A disaster that occurs in one country is likely to occur in another in only a matter of years. It took us a while to realise that if we worked out how to save the Pacific islands from rising sea levels this year, then we might find a way to save Rotterdam in another five years.
    The zeitgeist has shifted profoundly. How we feel about the world has changed, deeply. And, unexpectedly, so has how we feel about one another.
    ‘All homes and buildings produce their own electricity.’ Photograph: Lari Bat/Getty Images/iStockphotoWhen the alarm bells rang in 2020, thanks in large part to the youth movement, we realised that we suffered from too much consumption, competition, and greedy self-interest. Our commitment to these values and our drive for profit and status had led us to steamroll our environment. As a species, we were out of control and the result was the near-collapse of our world.
    We emerged from the climate crisis as more mature members of the community of life, capable of not only restoring ecosystems but also of unfolding our dormant potentials of human strength and discernment. Humanity was only ever as doomed as it believed itself to be. Vanquishing that belief was our true legacy.

    * This is an edited extract from The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

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