Thursday, December 29, 2016

Climate Change Anxiety

Campaign against Climate Change Logo
Campaign against Climate Change Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Climate Change Anxiety

Climate Change Anxiety, boomer warrior
Image credit: Australian science communicator Joe Duggan, as a master’s student, began asking climate scientists in 2014 how being on the front lines of climate science makes them feel. The hand-written responses he got back showed a level of emotion and concern the public never sees.

About three years ago I decided to devote a lot of time to writing about the threat of climate change. I felt then - and feel now - that the planet is going to be in one hell of a worse mess in a few years unless we take action on a scale never seen before. It is unlike any previous threat we’ve ever faced in history.

After I had published two or three items on various news sites, I was surprised - actually shocked - to learn that, compared to other topics I have written about - such as international financial mismanagement and neo-liberalism - very few people read the climate change articles.

To try to find out why this is the case, I spoke with a few friends. Most said the thought of dramatic changes occurring on Earth were overwhelming. Worse still, they felt powerless to change the course of history. As it turned out, hardly any of my friends wanted to learn more about the threat or find out how they might help fight climate change.

I don’t know the psychological state of my friends, but an Australian psychologist believes she knows why millions of people are reacting emotionally to climate change.

Dr. Susie Burke of the Australian Psychological Society says that, as life on earth becomes more abnormal over time, it can bring on all kinds of feelings in people. Knowing this, I’d say some of my friends are in what is perhaps an early anxiety stage concerning the threat of climate change. As conditions worsen, their symptoms can be expected to worsen.

“Many people may feel seriously concerned, frightened, angry, pessimistic, distressed, or guilty in response to climate change,” she says. “Qualitative research finds evidence of some people being deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel they are making a difference in stopping climate change".

Climate Change Anxiety, boomer warrior
Photo credit: Getty images
“New terms such as ‘eco-anxiety’ or ‘climate change anxiety’ are sometimes used to describe this.” Dr. Burke says that if people experience something like an extreme weather disaster, the impact on them can get worse. So disasters occurring because of climate change, in addition to destroying our environment, will also affect us psychologically and mentally.
Depression, PTSD and complicated grief reactions are the most common mental health problems … and many, many more people who do not end up with a diagnosis of depression or PTSD, nonetheless end up with heightened distress, grief, stress and strain.
The most disastrous impacts are occurring in some developing countries. Recently a city in western India suffered through the country’s highest ever recorded temperature - a scorching 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 F). As a result of crops being wiped out by excessive heat, hundreds of depressed farmers across 13 states have killed themselves.

In Karachi, Pakistan, in anticipation of another heat wave this year, officials hired a digger to excavate three elongated trenches big enough for 300 bodies. In Canada, while climate change is not nearly as damaging - at least so far - as in many other countries, it already is having an impact on the mental health of many people.

Worst affected are the northern First Nations and Inuit, peoples who have a close relationship with nature. Melting permafrost is damaging vital ice roads, making them unstable and unsafe. In the past, roads in Ontario used to import vital goods, were safe about 70 days a year. Now they’re passable only about 35 days. The changes have made hunting more unpredictable. Changes in ice flow patterns have made hunting walrus more difficult.

Isadore Day, Ontario’s regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, says that despair over climate change is contributing to mental health and social problems, possibly even record-breaking suicide rates.

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Cape Breton University, says the impact of climate change on northern peoples was evident back in 2009, when she did her PhD dissertation in Labrador. She says family stress was elevated. Anxiety and depression seemed to be amplified. More people were turning to drugs and alcohol and having suicidal thoughts.

Interestingly, Willox said the people she interviewed weren’t talking to each other about their fears - which, I think, is similar to the way some of my friends are responding to the emerging crisis.

Some farmers on the Canadian prairies are also experiencing severe anxiety. Farmers have always been at the mercy of the weather at the best of times. But Kim Keller, who worked on her family’s grain farm about 200 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, told The Toronto Star that climate change is hitting some farmers hard. The dramatic changes are amplifying mental distress as farmers struggle with the floods, unseasonable frosts, and windstorms that scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe.

Planting crops year to year is becoming a “roll of the dice,” said Keller, a third-generation farmer. “The weather we tend to experience lately seems to be at one extreme or the other - drought or flooding, -40 C or 35 C. These unpredictable and extreme weather patterns add to all the other stressors farmers experience and deal with.”

In Alberta, the lives of thousands of people have been upended by the massive Fort McMurray wildfires, an event that is consistent with the predictions of climate change scientists. It’s not hard to predict that many people who will continue to live in the area will suffer anxiety. Meanwhile, the CBC reports that children who experienced the fires are suffering from stress.

On a worldwide scale, it appears that the impact of climate change on human health will be receiving much more attention in the future. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Council released in May says that massive action is needed to protect the human rights - particularly the mental health - of people.

The report warns: “The negative health impacts of climate change will increase exponentially with every incremental increase in warming. Limiting warming to the greatest extent possible and achieving the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels should therefore be the objective of all climate action.”

The problems in developing countries the report addresses also apply to native groups living in the Canadian North and prairie farmers: “States should establish, inter alia, early warning systems; utilize community-based monitoring, including traditional knowledge; enhance emergency response capabilities; and improve coordination in addressing climate migration ...”

While many Canadian mental health and some government officials are aware of the impact of climate change on human health, it does not appear that the actions recommended by the UN are being carried out in Canada.

This post was originally published at

Nick Fillmore is a Canadian freelance journalist and social activist who specializes in issues such as climate change, international finance, and media. Nick often writes about issues that are censored or poorly covered by mainstream media. You can visit his blog:, Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

VIDEO: Living with Coyote: Wildlife Management is Really a Misnomer - It’s About Managing People

on Aeon:

Once largely confined to the plains of central North America, coyotes have thrived and spread as human impact on the environment has increased over the past 150 years.

Today, the opportunistic predator inhabits most of the continent - from Alaska to Central Park to the Panama Canal - preying on rural livestock and scavenging in urban and suburban areas.

Combining interviews, animation and striking scenery from the western US, Living With Coyote carefully untangles North America’s coyote dilemma, shedding light on how human activities and attitudes created and define the problem.

Director: Priya Shelly
Producer: Priya Shelly
Cinematographer: Shaka Brookes
Editor: Danush Parvaneh

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

If Nature Is Sacred, Capitalism Is Wicked

capitalism-isnt-workingby Jake Johnson, Common Dreams:

In his remarkable study When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten recounts a meeting he attended ahead of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The meeting was led, Korten notes, by indigenous leaders who were anxious about the direction in which global environmental policy was being steered. They were also, quite justifiably, worried about who was doing the steering.

“In the conference’s preparatory meetings,” Korten writes, “corporatists … proposed that to save nature we must put a price on her.”

It’s a familiar story: capitalism, we are often told, can be made green. Incentives can be established. The corporations previously leading the way in pollution, plunder, and exploitation can, with a few adjustments, become the world’s leaders in the development of clean energy and pave the way to a sustainable future.

As is often the case, it is those who have seen up close the harm done by corporate greed who most quickly see through the facade. “These indigenous leaders recognized that this proposal would accelerate the monopolization by the richest among us of the resources essential to human life,” Korten observed. “Their position was clear and unbending. Earth is our Sacred Mother and she is not for sale. Her care is our sacred responsibility. Her fruits must be equitably and responsibly shared by all.”

This conflict between capitalism and the environment is not, of course, uncharted terrain. Naomi Klein, in her bestselling book This Changes Everything, argues that an economic order predicated on the relentless pursuit of profit is incompatible with a world in which natural resources are used with the necessary care and restraint. It truly is, as the subtitle of Klein’s book notes, “capitalism versus the climate.” Terrifyingly, capitalism is winning.

Under capitalism, everything is a business opportunity - catastrophes, from tsunamis to wars, are no exception. In fact, as Klein documented in her earlier book The Shock Doctrine, disasters are not viewed by business leaders as problems to be solved; rather, they are seen as circumstances of which they must take advantage.

But capitalism does not merely wait on the sidelines for these opportunities to arise. “An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial,” Klein notes.

Disasters of the kind Klein describes have become commonplace during the neoliberal period, in which markets have been deregulated, public services have been privatized, governments have become unresponsive to the needs of the citizenry, and trade accords have empowered corporations to run roughshod over sovereign nations in pursuit of profit.

The exploitation of the global poor in the process is a given - as Arundhati Roy observed in a piece condemning the government of India for sanctioning the displacement of indigenous communities in an effort to clear the way for corporate mining projects, it’s now just “business as usual.” “The battle lines,” she wrote, “are clearly drawn.”

Similar such cases, in which poor people are seen as disposable and their communities as capitalism’s waste dumps, abound.

In North Texas, the “birthplace of modern hydraulic fracturing,” residents have been suffering the consequences of living near the operations of the oil and gas industry for years - consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, heart problems, breathing troubles, and birth defects. “I’ve been trying to sell my house,” one resident told the Center for Public Integrity. “I’ve got to get out of here or I’m going to die.”

In 2015, Scientific American reported an unsurprising fact, by now almost a truism: It is the poor, disproportionately poor people of color, who have been forced to bear the brunt of the often devastating ills imposed by fracking. Unsurprising, and far from new: “Residents in these poor counties have been under assault for generations,” Alex Lotorto of Energy Justice said.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has been thoroughly documented, and rightly so. Less prominent has been coverage of East Chicago, Indiana, where for decades residents’ homes have rested on lead-contaminated soil. As the New York Times reported in August, “the companies responsible for the contamination” were sued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, but this is little comfort for the more than 1,000 people - including over 600 children - now forced to find a new place to live.

It is impossible to quantify the harm done in such circumstances; but, needless to say, those responsible for the harm harbor few qualms about their actions. One executive reportedly said aloud what most already knew was the case: poor communities are intentionally targeted because they lack the resources to mount effective resistance.

Thankfully, we have seen in recent weeks that this doesn’t have to be the case - that, when the opposition is sufficiently organized, corporate plunder can be obstructed. Though under-reported in mainstream outlets, the fight over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline provides a case in point.

North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe, joined by many other tribes and activists, has for weeks engaged in direct action in response to Energy Transfer Partners’ desire to move forward with the project, arguing that it would place at risk both the water supply and sacred land. State officials have responded with striking intensity.

“In recent weeks, the state has militarized my reservation, with road blocks and license-plate checks, low-flying aircraft and racial profiling of Indians,” wrote David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “The local sheriff and the pipeline company have both called our protest ‘unlawful,’ and Gov. Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency.”

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, over twenty protesters were arrested in “a military-style raid” which “interrupted a peaceful prayer ceremony.”

Far from dispiriting, such a vicious response to nonviolent demonstrations of this kind show how threatening organized protest is to corporations and their partners in government; though they claim to fear chaos, disorder, and violence, what corporate forces really fear is mass solidarity expressed through courageous acts of civil disobedience.

Of course, the protests at Standing Rock are not isolated acts, and they are, as Sarah Jaffe observes, “bigger than one pipeline.”

“We all have similar struggles, where this dependency this world has on fossil fuels is affecting and damaging Mother Earth,” David Archambault II told Jaffe. “It is the indigenous peoples who are standing up with that spirit, that awakening of that spirit and saying, ‘It is time to protect what is precious to us.'” Never has such action been more necessary.

The science tells us that we have reached a critical moment; as Naomi Klein has argued, “no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” Researchers agree, and some have joined the call for “radical change” that goes far beyond the agreements reached in Paris.

But such radical change cannot take place in the absence of mass anti-capitalist movements that recognize the interplay between economic interests and environmental degradation. The leaders of the struggle for a sustainable, equitable future will not, therefore, be corporate executives and billionaire philanthropists, with their deep ideological commitments to the economic order that so enriched them and their businesses. Rather, leading the way will be the indigenous communities that have for so long been forced to endure relentless dispossession in the name of business.

As Noam Chomsky has observed, “The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.” And, he adds, “countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet.”

If “water is life,” as the Sioux saying goes, an economic system that poisons water for profit is life’s contradiction - it is a system of destruction, a “suicide economy,” that must be dismantled. “Ultimately, the ‘success’ or otherwise of the Paris climate talks appears unlikely to challenge the fundamental dynamics underlying the climate crisis".

"Dramatic decarbonization based around limits upon consumption, economic growth, and corporate influence are not open for discussion,” conclude scholars Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg. “Until this changes, the dominance of corporate capitalism will ensure the continued rapid unraveling of our habitable climate.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Current Emissions Could Already Warm World to Dangerous Levels: Study

Se below
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Andrew Glikson, Australian National University, The Conversation:

Current greenhouse gas concentrations could warm the world 3-7℃ (and on average 5℃) over coming millennia. That’s the finding of a paper published in Nature today.

The research, by Carolyn Snyder, reconstructed temperatures over the past 2 million years. By investigating the link between carbon dioxide and temperature in the past, Snyder made new projections for the future.

The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit warming to a “safe” level of well below 2℃ and aim for 1.5℃ by 2100. The new research shows that even if we stop emissions now, we’ll likely surpass this threshold in the long term, with major consequences for the planet.

What is climate sensitivity?

How much the planet will warm depends on how temperature responds to greenhouse gas concentrations. This is known as “climate sensitivity”, which is defined as the warming that would eventually result (over centuries to thousands of years) from a doubling of CO₂ concentrations in the atmosphere.

The measure of climate sensitivity used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a doubling of CO₂ will lead to 1.5-4.5℃ warming. A doubling of CO₂ levels from before the Industrial Revolution (280 parts per million) to 560ppm would likely surpass the stability threshold for the Antarctic ice sheet.

As the world warms, it triggers changes in other systems, which in turn cause the world to warm further. These are known as “amplifying feedbacks”. Some are fast, such as changes in water vapour, clouds, aerosols and sea ice.

Others are slower. Melting of the large ice sheets, changes in the distribution of forests, plants and ecosystems, and methane release from soils, tundra or ocean sediments may begin to come into play on time scales of centuries or less.

Other research has shown that during the mid-Pliocene epoch (about 4.5 million years ago) atmospheric CO₂ levels of about 365-415ppm were associated with temperatures about 3-4 °C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. This suggests that the climate is more sensitive than we thought.

This is concerning because since the 18th century CO₂ levels have risen from around 280ppm to 402ppm in April this year. The levels are currently rising at around 3ppm each year, a rate unprecedented in 55 million years. This could lead to extreme warming over the coming millennia.

Temperature histories from paleoclimate data (green line) compared to the history based on modern instruments (blue line) suggest that global temperature is warmer now than it has been in the past 1,000 years, and possibly longer. NASA, Author provided

More sensitive than we thought

The new paper recalculates this sensitivity again - and unfortunately the results aren’t in our favour. The study suggests that stabilisation of today’s CO₂ levels would still result in 3-7℃ warming, whereas doubling of CO₂ will lead to 7-13℃ warming over millennia.

The research uses proxy measurements for temperature (such as oxygen isotopes and magnesium-calcium ratios from plankton) and for CO₂ levels, calculated for every 1,000 years back to 2 million years ago.

Some other major findings include:

The Earth cooled gradually to about 1.2 million years ago, followed by an increase in the size of ice sheets around 0.9 million years ago, and then followed by around 100,000-year-long glacial cycles.

Over the last 800,000 years, and particularly during glacial cycles, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and global temperature were closely linked.

The study shows that for every 1℃ of global average warming, Antarctica warms by 1.6℃.

So what does all this mean for the future?

Global warming past and future, triggered initially by either changes in solar radiation or by greenhouse gas emissions, is driven mainly by amplifying feedbacks such as warming oceans, melting ice, drying vegetation in parts of the continents, fires and methane release.

Current CO₂ levels of around 400ppm, combined with methane (rising toward 1,900 parts per billion) and nitric oxide (around 310ppb), are already driving such feedbacks.

According to the new paper, such greenhouse gas levels are committing the Earth to extreme rises of temperature over thousands of years, with consequences consistent with the large mass extinctions.

The IPCC suggests warming will increase steadily as greenhouse gases increase. But the past shows there will likely be abrupt shifts, local reversals and tipping points.

Abrupt freezing events, known as “stadials”, follow peak temperatures in the historical record. These are thought to be related to the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Current. We’re already seeing marked cooling of ocean regions south of Greenland, which may herald collapse of the North Atlantic Current.

A global temperature map for 2015 showing the cold water region in the North Atlantic Ocean. NASA, Author provided

As yet we don’t know the details of how different parts of the Earth will respond to increasing greenhouse gases through both long-term warming and short-term regional or local reversals (stadials).

Unless humanity develops methods for drawing down atmospheric CO₂ on a scale required to cool the Earth to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperature, at the current rate of CO₂ increase of 3ppm per year we are entering dangerous uncharted climate territory.

Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleo-climate scientist, Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, September 2, 2016

10 Years After Katrina, Louisiana Is Becoming A Model For Climate Resilience

by Kate Sheppard Enterprise editor/Senior reporter, The Huffington Post:

Floodwall/floodgate, New Orleans (G Herbert/Assoc Press)
A decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana, forcing 1.5 million residents to evacuate and causing $100 billion in damage, the region is becoming a model for climate change adaptation planning - even if some people in the state still don't want to say the "c" word.

Louisiana's governor, long-shot Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, has been non-committal on climate change. He'll acknowledge it's happening, but says he's uncertain how much humans are to blame.

Nevertheless, Louisiana officials have been planning for rising temperatures and the cascading impacts climate change will have on the state, from rising seas to potentially more dangerous storms. "We are leaders in climate change adaptation, we just don't call it that," said Doug Meffert, executive director of Audubon Louisiana.

The Louisiana coast, with an average elevation of just three feet above sea level and a buffer of rapidly disappearing wetlands, is among the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change. But the state and the city of New Orleans have taken actions in the last 10 years to help make sure recovery from one disastrous storm leads to preparation for challenges the coast will face in the future.

The Louisiana Audubon and a coalition of other environmental groups recently released a report looking at what's been done to make the region more sustainable, from rebuilding failed levees to developing a statewide plan for the coast, and where there still need to be investments.

Overhauling the levees

The failure of the levee system in and around New Orleans has been largely attributed to bad design and inadequate construction, which allowed water to flood 80 percent of the city in the aftermath of the storm. Improving the levees was a top priority, and New Orleans today boasts what has been called the "best flood control system of any coastal community." Congress authorized more than $14 billion for rebuilding the levees and other flood protections after Katrina, leading to the construction of a 133-mile feat of civil engineering.

Those investments have now protected the city against a 100-year flood - a term used to describe a flood whose severity has only a 1 percent chance of happening in any one year. Building to that level of protection has been celebrated as a major post-Katrina accomplishment. But some point out that the system was supposed to be built to at least those specifications before the storm. After Katrina - a 150-year storm for New Orleans and a 400-year storm for other parts of the Gulf Coast - many say the protections should be even stronger.

"Most folks feel like a major city like New Orleans, a major urban center with economic resources, probably should have 400- or 500- standard of protection," said John Lopez, a scientist and the coastal sustainability program director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Still, Lopez said, the levee system has "definitely improved since before Katrina."

Creation of a central coastal authority

Before the storm, coastal protection from storms and restoration efforts were handled by separate agencies, with some work falling under the Department of Transportation and other work to the Department of Natural Resources. The state legislature moved in December 2005 to unify coastal issues under the new Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or CPRA.

CPRA is required to submit a plan for ecosystem restoration and hurricane protection to the state legislature each year. The plan is supposed to include CPRA's projects, as well as federal, parish and private restoration work. 

Development of a coastal master plan

The most important part of that unified response under CPRA has been the creation of a state coastal master plan. The plan, to be updated every five years, is meant to outline the state's approach to "achieving a sustainable coast through the integration of coastal protection and restoration projects and programs based on the best science and engineering available."

The first master plan was finished in 2007. Meffert described it "as a learning model." But the most recent master plan, released in 2012, is a "masterpiece," Meffert said, based on sound science for what the region can expect as the climate changes and seas rise. "It did what no other master plan or general plan had done before - drew a map of Louisiana with projects that were impactful and doable, and it really for the first time put on the map what we could save," he said.

The plan includes restoration, structural improvements, and "nonstructural" measures - actions that acknowledge some flooding is likely to happen and that other steps, like raising houses above the flood plain and creating evacuation plans, are also necessary. The 2012 plan includes 109 projects along the coast, and would require $50 billion in investments over 50 years. The state is currently at work on its 2017 master plan. 

Restoring wetlands

A major part of the master plan involves protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, which provide a natural barrier to storms. "We need levees to protect urban centers, but we need our wetlands to protect our levees," said Lopez.

Louisiana has 3 million acres of wetlands, but it's losing them at an astonishing rate - a football field-size area every hour, according to a 2011 U.S. Geological Survey study. The coast is besieged by subsiding land and rising sea levels due to climate change. According to some projections, the Louisiana coast is seeing the highest rate of relative sea level rise in the world.

The outlook for the wetlands is bleak. But hope has come in an unlikely place: the massive settlement resulting from the 2010 BP disaster, which spilled more than 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, the Department of Justice announced an $18.7 billion settlement with BP for damages resulting from the spill. Up to $8.7 billion of that could go to Louisiana's coastal restoration efforts. That gives the state a major investment toward the restoration work in the 2012 master plan.

The state, "appears to be putting every cent they can get from BP into funding those restoration protections," said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. "Sadly, the way we found some of that money was BP." While the BP settlement is "a big step," said Lopez, it's not enough money fund all the elements of the state's master plan. 

A home on the Web

The state has created a public website showing coastal risks and protection projects, launched earlier this year. Housed on, the website for the CPRA, it includes interactive mapping that allows residents to pull up their own address and see both the flood projections and the efforts to reduce risks. The site is helping improve awareness about coastal vulnerabilities, as well as solutions.

"It gives people more of a reality check," said Simone Maloz, executive director of the group Restore or Retreat. "Unfortunately in Louisiana, that's important." 

Beyond restoration and fortification

While the state's various projects are helping make the coastal region more resilient, there is growing recognition they won't always be enough. "Restoration is not always an option, and neither is protection," said Maloz.

This work includes raising individual houses out of the flood plain and educating the public about storm safety and response - work that often falls to parish governments. Maloz said results have been mixed. One bright spot she points to is Terrebonne Parish, which has won funding through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants and state programs to raise more than 1,000 homes. That parish has a waiting list of people who want to elevate their houses.

"They have been able to cobble together all kinds of resources," said Maloz. But the challenge, she said, is that "One parish might be getting it done, doing it right, and neighboring parish might not be even close." To really protect residents of the coast, more attention should be given to these measures, said Sarthou.

"Restoration may take 10 to 20 years," she said. "Storms can happen any year. There needs to be more of an attempt to help those parishes prepare or mitigate damage or flood losses in those communities as we await the results of coastal restoration." 

A man with a plan

New Orleans has a new point person for handling some of those human challenges: Jeff Hebert. He was appointed chief resilience officer in November. Hebert, who also serves as the executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, comes from a background in neighborhood revitalization. "A lot of work has been done over 10 years, but much has been done in isolation from one another," said Hebert.

Hebert's resilience officer position was created through a program of the Rockefeller Foundation called 100 Resilient Cities, which aims to unify resilience work within cities and unite municipalities around the world to solve problems collaboratively.

Hebert said he sees his job as addressing three challenges: First, preparing for climate change, which includes homes, businesses and infrastructure, like water management systems. Second, working to connect city residents with job opportunities, particularly in climate-preparation work like coastal restoration and green infrastructure. Third, working to make it possible for people to stay in New Orleans, including financial literacy, access to health care and affordable housing.

Climate change is a large part of that work, Hebert said. "Resilience" requires a better understanding of what climate change, sea level rise and changing storm patterns will mean for the city, and beginning to prepare for that. "We're starting to understand that the future is going to look very different for us," he said.

Hebert's office plans to release a new strategy on Aug. 25 that will lay out a vision for the city. "We've been recovering for 10 years," said Hebert. "Today is the time to pivot from recovery to building the future city."

While many are using the 10-year anniversary of Katrina to reflect on what has been done, it's also an important point for reflecting on what still needs to happen. "We can't confuse recovery with sustainability," said Lopez. "Recovery gives you the opportunity to be more sustainable, but recovery is not sustainable in and of itself. It gives you the opportunity to take the next step."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Industrial Revolution Kick-Started Global Warming Much Earlier Than we Realised

A scuba diver looking at a giant clam on the G...
Giant clam on Great Barrier Reef (Wikipedia)
by Helen McGregor, University of Wollongong; Joelle Gergis, University of Melbourne; Nerilie Abram, Australian National University, and Steven Phipps, University of Tasmania, The Conversation:

In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, no-one would have thought that their burning of fossil fuels would have an almost immediate effect on the climate.

But our new study, published today in Nature, reveals that warming in some regions actually began as early as the 1830s. That is much earlier than previously thought, so our discovery redefines our understanding of when human activity began to influence our climate.

Determining when global warming began, and how quickly the planet has warmed since then, is essential for understanding how much we have altered the climate in different parts of the world. Our study helps to answer the question of whether our climate is already operating outside thresholds that are considered safe for human society and functional ecosystems.

Our findings show that warming did not develop at the same time across the planet. The tropical oceans and the Arctic were the first regions to begin warming, in the 1830s. Europe, North America and Asia followed roughly two decades later.

Surprisingly, the results show that the southern hemisphere began warming much later, with Australasia and South America starting to warm from the early 20th century. This continental-scale time lag is still evident today: while some parts of Antarctica have begun to warm, a clear warming signal over the entire continent is still not detectable.

The warming in most regions reversed what would otherwise have been a cooling trend related to high volcanic activity during the preceding centuries.

Global warming got underway much earlier in the north.

By pinpointing the date when human-induced climate change started, we can then begin to work out when the warming trend broke through the boundaries of the climate’s natural fluctuations, because it takes some decades for the global warming signal to “emerge” above the natural climate variability.

According to our evidence, in all regions except for Antarctica, we are now well and truly operating in a greenhouse-influenced world. We know this because the only climate models that can reproduce the results seen in our records of past climate are those models that factor in the effect of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by humans.

These remarkable findings were pieced together from the most unusual of sources - not thermometers or satellites, but rather from natural climate archives. These include coral skeletons, ice cores, tree rings, cave deposits and ocean and lake sediment layers, all of which record the climate as they grow or accumulate. These archives provide long records that extend back 500 years - well before the Industrial Revolution - and provide a critical baseline for the planet’s past climate, one that is impossible to obtain otherwise.

Corals can help reveal the climate of centuries past, long before weather records began. Eric Matson/AIMS, Author provided

But why is there no clear warming fingerprint yet seen across Antarctica? The answer most likely lies in the vast Southern Ocean, which isolates the frozen continent from the warming happening elsewhere. The westerly winds that circulate through the Southern Ocean around Antarctica keep warm air masses from lower latitudes at bay. Ozone depletion and rising greenhouse gas concentrations during the 20th century have also caused this wind barrier to get stronger.

The Southern Ocean currents that flow around Antarctica also tend to move warmer surface waters away from the continent, to be replaced with cold deeper water that hasn’t yet been affected by surface greenhouse warming. This process could potentially delay Antarctica’s warming by centuries.

Ocean insulation

The delay in warming observed in the rest of the southern hemisphere is something we do not yet fully understand. It could simply be because fewer records are available from the southern hemisphere, meaning that we still don’t have a full picture of what is happening.

Alternatively, like Antarctica, the southern hemisphere’s oceans could be holding back warming - partly through winds and currents, but perhaps also because of “thermal inertia”, whereby the ocean can absorb far more heat energy than the atmosphere or the land before its temperature markedly increases. Bear in mind that the southern half of the globe has much more ocean than the north.

Essentially, then, the coolness of the southern hemisphere’s vast oceans could be “insulating” Australasia and South America from the impact of global warming. The question is, for how long?

If our evidence of delayed warming in the southern hemisphere holds true, it could mean we are in in for more climate surprises as global warming begins to overcome the thermal inertia of our surrounding oceans. Could the recent record warming of Australian waters, and the subsequent damage to the Great Barrier Reef, be an early sign that this is already occurring?

Recent research suggest that the mass bleaching event of the reef was made 175 times more likely by climate change. Following the recent severity of such extremes, a better understanding of how anthropogenic greenhouse warming is already impacting the southern hemisphere is critical.

What to do about it

Leading scientists from around the world met in Geneva last week to discuss the goal of limiting average global warming to 1.5℃ - the more ambitious of the two targets enshrined in the Paris climate agreement. Last year, global temperatures crossed the 1℃ threshold, and 2016 is on track to be 1.2-1.3℃ above our climate baseline.

But here’s the kicker. That baseline is relative to 1850-1900, when most of our thermometer-based temperature records began. What our study shows is that for many parts of the world that estimate isn’t good enough, because global warming was already under way, so the real baseline would be lower.

The small increases in greenhouse gases during the 19th century had a small effect on Earth’s temperatures, but with the longer perspective we get from our natural climate records we see that big changes occurred. These fractions of a degree of extra warming might seem insignificant at first, but as we nudge ever closer to the 1.5℃ guardrail (and potentially beyond), the past tells us that small changes matter.

Helen McGregor will be online to answer your questions from 2pm AEST today. Post a query in the comments below.

The ConversationHelen McGregor, ARC Future Fellow, University of Wollongong; Joelle Gergis, ARC DECRA Climate Research Fellow, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne; Nerilie Abram, QEII Research Fellow, Australian National University, and Steven Phipps, Paleo Ice Sheet Modeller, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Would Happen if we Abandoned Britain's Farms and Left Them to Nature?

Now what? David Hughes/Shutterstock
by Christopher Sandom, University of Sussex, The Conversation:

Without farming, Britain’s countryside would be drastically different. Imagine walking through landscapes un-tilled, un-sown, un-fertilised and un-treated, nor grazed by cattle or sheep.

Following the Brexit vote, the government has to decide what to do about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s subsidy scheme for owners of farmed land.

Some of these subsidies support food production while others support environmental protection on land suitable to be farmed. In 2015, British farmers received roughly £3.2 billion from the EU.

Agricultural land covers 70% of the UK. If all subsidies stopped, the National Farmers Union reports many farmers would go out of business and large swathes of land would come out of production.

This may be unlikely (and it’s certainly not what I’d recommend) but it’s still worth exploring an even more dramatic scenario: what would happen if Britain’s farmers sold all their livestock and equipment and abandoned their land?

There would be cultural, social and economic shock for sure. With less food grown and reared locally, prices would undoubtedly rise as supermarkets scrambled to secure foreign supply lines. But what would happen to the land itself? Without farming, what would happen to Britain’s nature?

Scenario one: land abandonment

With the hungry mouths of livestock gone, along with the farmer’s ploughs, the great wheels of ecological succession would be freed to turn. Ecological “succession” is the process of change from one set of species to another. In this case, it would begin with dormant seeds, native or otherwise, that would start to emerge. Plants best adapted to fertilised soil such as nettles will thrive.

In time, shrubs and trees will venture into abandoned fields from woodland and hedgerows. Then would come fast growing, light-demanding trees like birch and oak, turning scrubland into early phase woodland. In the shade of the new canopy, lime and elm, both tolerant of low light conditions, will slowly establish themselves until they outlive or outgrow the trees that came before them.

It is a textbook story of succession. The varying climates and soils across Britain mean different species will prosper in different places, and plants will grow at different paces, but in time, in most places, the result will be largely the same. More trees.

England’s green and pleasant lands would mostly look something like this – eventually. ukgardenphotos, CC BY-NC-SA

Herbivores could halt this process in places, and roe, sika and red deer populations would be likely to thrive post-farming. But Britain is missing the heavy-duty herbivores like aurochs (the ancestor of domestic cows) and wild horses that can help halt succession. Storms and fire would open up the canopy in other places, but it is likely that woodland would come to dominate eventually.

So how would this affect Britain’s wildlife more broadly? We can look to the past for insight. Agriculture arrived in Britain around 5,000 years ago. Early farmers cleared woodland to allow them to graze cattle and grow crops. The result of this transition was that plants and animals that favoured open areas thrived. Woodland associated species suffered. In fact, most of the known recent extinctions in Britain are of woodland species, such as the red-backed shrike or scarce dagger moth.

Farmland abandonment would reverse this trend. Species associated with open habitats, such as grey partridge, skylark, lapwing, as well as many bees and butterflies, would find fewer places that meet their needs. But scrub and woodland species, such as bullfinch, nightingale, and capercaillie birds, as well as other groups like moths, beetles, fungi and mammals would thrive once more.

Bullfinches would flourish without farms. f.c.franklin, CC BY-SA

Scenario two: trophic rewilding

What would happen if instead of just abandoning the land, populations of large herbivores such as bison, wild horse, European elk (aka moose) or wild boar were established, along with their predators lynx, wolf and bear?

This scenario is known as “trophic rewilding”. The starting processes would be similar, and succession would still swing into action. But the shrubs and trees trying to establish in fields will be grazed and browsed. Areas of intense grazing would stay open.

But even large herbivores can be less inclined to browse where spiky bushes of bramble, hawthorn and gorse have established. Predators too will mean some areas are relatively free from large plant eaters, who would soon learn to avoid places where they feel at greater risk of being eaten. These plant havens would allow trees to grow, eventually poking out from the protective cocoon of spikes, to emerge above the browsing height of herbivores.

This combination of vegetation-driven processes rising from the bottom of the food-web and predator and herbivore driven processes cascading down from the top can create rich mosaics of habitats. Some of these habitats would be open grasslands full of wildflowers, others mighty woodlands, and some caught in transition. These different habitats would provide for the full range of Britain’s plants and animals.

But, as far as I know, Britain’s farmers have no plans of quitting. Plus, Britain’s nature is well worth investing in to secure our food supply, safeguard biodiversity and restore resilient ecosystems that support society. But this juncture gives us a chance to think about our future and perhaps, in some places, the return of wild nature should be welcomed.

Christopher Sandom, Lecturer in Biology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, August 19, 2016

From Epic Fires to a 1,000-Year Flood: The Climate Change of Here and Now

The Blue Cut fire burns near Phelan, California (Reuters)
by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer, Common Dreams:

From deadly floods in Louisiana to an "explosive" wildfire in California, the impacts of the climate change are being felt across the United States this week.

Neither extreme weather event can be exclusively blamed on global warming. But record-breaking heat, warmer oceans, and drier brush - all linked to man-made climate change - are certainly contributing factors.

"Climate change is never going to announce itself by name. But this is what we should expect it to look like," declared Jonah Engel Bromwich at the New York Times, referring to the flooding in southern Louisiana, which has been called the worst natural disaster to strike the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy.

In fact, current analyses suggest that - as was the case in 2012 - greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change at the very least increased the severity of the storm that brought on the flooding.
InsideClimate News reported Wednesday:
Of the two factors that made Louisiana's storm so devastating, one (increased moisture in the air) wears the fingerprints of man-made climate change from mostly fossil-fuel burning, while the other (how slowly the storm was moving) is not so easily explained. "This storm is a good example of why we care about a changing climate," said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, "because Louisiana is a place that is already at risk of flooding and climate change is taking the risk that we already face, and it's exacerbating" the threat [...] "with such a warm year, you're going to see much higher-than-average sea surface temperatures," Hayhoe said. Those water temperatures, in this case the Gulf of Mexico where the storm system formed on Aug. 7, mean the air above it has more than its usual share of water vapor, Hayhoe explained. 
Added Weather Underground's Bob Henson and Jeff Masters in a blog post on Monday:
The storm system carried near-record amounts of atmospheric moisture, drawn from the Gulf of Mexico and northwest Atlantic, where sea-surface temperatures are well above average. Climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week's Louisiana storm are expected to grow increasingly common in the coming years.
Indeed, wrote Gulf Coast mother and activist Cherri Foytlin on Thursday, "This type of storm is far from normal - but it could become normal if we don't act now. Across the region, tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, thousands of homes damaged, and at at least eleven people killed," wrote Foylin, who serves as state director of climate action group Bold Louisiana. "This fills my heart with both a deep sadness and deep anger - at the fossil fuel companies driving this ongoing crisis, and at an [Obama] administration that continues to sell them the right to do so."

As evidence, Foytlin pointed to the looming auction of "an area the size of Virginia for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico" - and called for President Barack Obama to call off the auction "and stop treating the Gulf Coast like a sacrifice zone."

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the Blue Cut fire now covers close to 50 square miles, threatening more than 34,000 structures and forcing the evacuation of more than 82,500 people. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the fast-moving wildfire, which was only 4 percent contained as of early Thursday morning. This event, too, can be linked to global warming. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has written:
Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snow-melt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire season, particularly in the western United States. These hot, dry conditions also increase the likelihood that, once wildfires are started by lightning strikes or human error, they will be more intense and long-burning.
"Climate change has exacerbated naturally occurring droughts, and therefore fuel conditions," Robert Field, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies," told Climate Central earlier this year.
And the New York Times reported Wednesday:
Richard Minnich, a professor in the department of earth sciences at the University of California, Riverside, said it was not so much the long-term drought, but the weather of the day - coupled with a prevailing fire management strategy in which, he said, small fires are knocked down quickly but larger ones can grow more out of control - that had driven the fire. The low humidity, Mr. Minnich said, had dried out shrubs and bushes - known as chaparral - making them as flammable as a carpet. “It’s got a reputation for burning explosively,” he said of the chaparral, adding, “As soon as it’s blowing up like that, the capacity to stop the fire goes to zero.”
Furthermore, a new Yale-led study conducted with collaborators from Harvard showed just this week that "a surge in major wildfire events in the U.S. West as a consequence of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades."

As an observer noted on Twitter, with more than 80,000 people currently under evacuation orders in California and 30,000 more displaced in Louisiana, "one might say there are over 100k climate refugee[s] in the US right now."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fossil Fuel Industry Holding Australian Economy to Ransom

foyster brown coal
Illustration by Greg Foyster,

And, of course, there are the network costs, the gold plating of which has seen consumer bills skyrocket in recent years. Even as regulators attempt to crack down on spending plans for yet more poles and wires, the network owners - and particularly the NSW government - is taking the regulator to court to enable them to spend more and pass those costs on to households and businesses.

Little wonder, then, that the ministers’ meeting in Canberra on Friday is being asked to look beyond more fossil fuel solutions - i.e. drilling for more gas - to solve the NEM’s problems, and to open the markets to more competition. Such measures might include new interconnectors, encouraging more battery storage and “complementary” renewables such as solar towers with storage. In short, they want more competition for the incumbents.

“The future of the national energy market is 100 per cent renewable,” says Tom Quinn, the CEO of the Future Business Council. “The grid must be re-imagined with this reality in mind and built to enable diversified generation and simple import and export throughout the national energy market.”

Quinn says Australia needs to rapidly transition from to its “dumb grid” to an “adaptive grid” and embrace those new technologies, which could include solar, storage, electric vehicles, pumped hydro and ocean energy. “The country has the world’s richest renewable energy resources and the opportunity to create the lowest cost base of energy for industry in the world,” he notes.

The Labor states appear to recognise this. South Australia’s Labor government says its economic future depends on transitioning to a clean energy economy. It is already nearly half way there, a benchmark that the incumbents and ideologues are keen to demonise rather than celebrate.

The ACT is half-way to its 2020 target of sourcing the equivalent of all its electricity from renewable energy, a remarkably canny and visionary strategy that will provide its homes and businesses with an effective hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices and price manipulation in the market.

Victoria and Queensland are keen to follow, and Tasmania is keen to use its massive hydro resources as a clean-energy battery for the mainland. Even Western Australia realises that the future lies in solar and storage.

But there is no sign of this transition at the federal level. Our interview with Josh Frydenberg last Thursday confirmed the worst fears of many in the industry. Frydenberg understands some of the dynamics that are working in the industry, but there is no sign that the Abbott era policies on climate and renewable energy are about to change.

Frydenberg may be less willing than some of his coalition colleagues to blames renewable energy for soaring electricity prices, but he shows he is not about to accelerate the push – ARENA will be stripped of funds; next year’s review of climate targets will be a stocktake, rather than a launch-pad; and there will be no long-term setting of targets, be they for renewable energy or for the decarbonised economy that the Coalition signed up for in Paris last year. The answer for everything appears to be: more gas.

This is depressing stuff. Everyone knows that the transition to new technologies is unavoidable, the question is over the shape, the pace and the cost of that change. The federal government’s role is critical: it can seize the moment and work towards becoming a world leader and renewable energy super-power, or it can be dragged along as it hits the brakes on change to suit the narrow business interests of a few powerful players.

It would, of course, be unfair to blame only Frydenberg for this mess. He, and Turnbull, are constrained by the right wing of the party who, far from wanting to accelerate the transition to clean energy, are reluctant to even accept the science of climate change. The actors may have changed, but the script remains the same.

The role of mainstream media is also important. In short, it has been appalling. Since when has the media considered its role to turn a blind eye - as it has done, quite literally - to the abuse of power of a few key players in the energy market.

The Murdoch press splashed a front page “scoop” about the absence of wind power at critical moments in early July, part of its long and intense campaign against renewable energy. Apart from being wrong - and sourced from the Coalition - it completely missed the point. Yet it has written nothing of the market manipulation and “economic” withdrawal of nearly 1,000MW of fossil fuel generation. The price gouging of retailers has barely got a mention.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry does as it pleases: demonising renewables, withholding capacity, exploiting market holes to push prices higher, pleading for subsidies to help fossil fuel generation leave the market, pleading for other subsidies to “guarantee” the retention of other fossil fuel generators, fighting rule changes that could open the market to new competition, and taking the regulator to court in an effort to further gold plate the grid.

That is what they are able to do. They have a majority share of the market operator, extraordinary influence over the policy maker and federal and state regulators, and a stranglehold over conservative politicians. And as long as the Coalition refuses to translate its Paris commitment to practical policy, they will continue to run amok. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Warming Arctic Is Creating a Greenhouse Gas Danger Zone

by Tim Radford/Climate News Network, on TruthDig: 

Permafrost pockets (Christopher Arp, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

Climate scientists have coolly established the mechanism by which a warming Arctic will accelerate the warming of the whole world. It’s simple: as the permafrost warms and dries, it will release ever greater quantities of carbon dioxide from the Arctic soils.

And those bits of tundra that warm, thaw and become increasingly soggy will release ever greater quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) more short-lived but also a far more potent heat trap than CO2.

The impact of the carbon dioxide, they say, could be dominant in accelerating global climate change. Since the Arctic region is already the fastest-warming place on the planet, and since the soils of the permafrost are calculated to hold twice as much carbon as is already in the atmosphere, the stakes are high - and so is the pressure on climate scientists to get the details right.

Christina Schädel, an ecosystem scientist at Northern Arizona University in the US, and 23 colleagues from New Zealand, Finland, the Czech Republic, the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Singapore and other US institutions report in Nature Climate Change that they made a meta-analysis of 25 separate incubation experiments with soils from the permafrost zone to establish the fine detail of what happens when long-frozen soil is warmed by 10°C. 

Carbon feedback

They found that temperature and moisture both mattered - and the biggest delivery of potential greenhouse warming came with the mix of microbes, soil carbon, and oxygen.

“Our results show that increasing temperatures have a large effect on carbon release from permafrost, but that changes in soil moisture conditions have an even greater effect,” Dr Schädel says. “We conclude that the permafrost carbon feedback will be stronger when a larger percentage of the permafrost zone undergoes thaw in a dry and oxygen-rich environment.”

That a thawing Arctic could, just by the act of thawing, still further accelerate climate change is not news. Researchers have not just repeatedly confirmed the hazard but have even tried to estimate the future toll on global economies.

A report in the latest edition of Geophysical Research Letters journal says that even under the shallow lakes that dot the Arctic lowlands, permafrost is beginning to thaw.

Lakebed temperatures at a depth of a metre or less have warmed by 2.4°C during the last three decades, and for five of the last seven years, the mean annual lakebed temperature has stayed above freezing. So warming is inexorable - and, with it, the potential release of huge quantities of long-buried carbon preserved in the peat and frozen plant material in the soils. 

Question of topography

The Nature Climate Change study picks apart the fine detail of the process, and the next step is to establish whether thawing polar soils will become wetter or drier overall. This could boil down to a question of topography.

“A few centimetres can make the difference in whether the ground slumps and becomes wetter or ends up high and dry, by separating more from the water table,” says Colleen Iversen, an ecosystem scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US and a co-author of the report.

“There are also big ponds that might dry out over large areas, as well as soils underlain by a network of ice wedges where warming could lead to a thermokarst, or a slumping, of the land surface as permafrost thaws and the ice wedges melt. So the wetting and drying of the Arctic is important to observe and model at scales ranging from a metre to multiple kilometers.” 

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Paris Climate Targets aren't Enough, But We Can Close the Gap

Image result for paris climate targets
by Malte Meinshausen, University of Melbourne, The Conversation:

The Paris climate agreement saw countries pledge to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and to aim to keep it within 1.5℃. The problem is that countries' current emissions targets are not enough to meet these goals.

In a paper published today in Nature, I and my colleagues from Austria, Brazil, China, South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland take a closer look at those pledges, and the studies that have so far evaluated them. The bottom line is that under the existing Paris pledges the world would be facing 2.3-3.5℃ of warming by 2100.

The pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs, would result in emissions 14 billion tonnes higher than they should be in 2030 under the cheapest pathway to limit warming.

While this path is well below the “business as usual” scenario, it is not yet in the range of the 1.5-2℃ objectives we have set ourselves. So it’s a first step, but bigger steps are needed. The less effort we make before 2030, the harder it will be to reduce emissions afterwards. However, my colleagues and I have found there are several ways to close the gap.

Why do the current targets make it harder after 2030?

To limit global warming to any level, we ultimately have to completely stop CO₂ emissions and ramp down other greenhouse gas emissions. For any given warming threshold, we have to limit total emissions to a certain amount, known as the “carbon budget”.

It is likely that to keep warming well below 2℃ we have a remaining carbon budget of between 750 billion and 1.2 trillion tonnes. For context, global emissions in 2010 were around 50 billion tonnes.

Remaining on the current path, as laid out by the INDCs, would mean the world would have to make very drastic cuts in emissions after 2030 to keep warming below 2℃ (and would likely make the 1.5℃ limit completely unachievable).

This dramatic cut would mean a lot of stranded investments, as emissions will have continued to rise up to 2030, suggesting continued investment in infrastructure that won’t deliver our long-term target. The same potentially goes for any investments in “transition” fuels, such as gas. If current investments cannot be part of a 2050 world that is close to zero emissions, then they would probably have to be retired before their usual use-by date.

If in 2030 there is a sudden realisation that we have to do more, the world would have to cut emissions by 3-4% each year. Countries like Australia would have to cut them by 10% each year. It’s like walking slowly up to a cliff and then jumping off it.

This is not the cheapest way to keep warming below 2℃. The least-cost option is to start investing now in the right technology. The International Energy Agency has argued that if we want a zero-carbon economy in 2050, or at least one that is close to zero-carbon, we need to make zero-emission investments today, because it takes a long time to turn over the existing investment stock.

The other problem is carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Paris Agreement pledges net zero greenhouse gas emissions after 2050. There is no pathway to this that doesn’t involve “net-negative” emissions, because there will still be some greenhouse gas emissions we can’t reduce, and we will have already overshot the carbon budget for keeping warming below 2℃, let alone 1.5℃. So we are going to have to come up with a way to pull CO₂ from the atmosphere.

How can we do that? The main option is thought to be bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This process involves growing biomass fuel, such as trees, then using the woodchips to produce electricity, then capturing the CO₂ produced, and finally sequestering and storing it underground.

In the past, CCS has been mostly combined with fossil fuels. But the dramatic fall of wind and solar costs will make it easier to decarbonise the electricity sector.

CCS would also likely require a carbon price, to incentivise the necessary investment in CCS by 2030. Retrofitting existing fossil fuel power plants with CCS or keeping coal demand high by supporting new coal power plants with CCS in India and China is hence likely an uphill battle that is lost on economic grounds. However, we would still need CCS and specifically BECCS to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere.

So how can we close the gap?

Our study has found several ways to reduce emissions further before 2030.

The first is to ratchet up the INDCs by using the review mechanism built into the Paris Agreement. This is thought by many to be the single most important element of the agreement, and would see INDCs revised and increased every five years. Of course these increases would have to be underpinned by domestic policies.

Some countries will overachieve their INDCs. China, for instance, has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, but seems to have the domestic policy in place to get there before 2020 given the concern about clean air.

Other countries have pledged emission levels that are so generously high that they would have to spend serious amounts of money to increase their emissions up to those levels. Turkey, Ukraine, Russia are examples. There are likely a billion tonnes of projected emissions that we will hence never get to see. Fortunately.

The INDCs could also be expanded to cover other greenhouse gases (which aren’t included by some countries), such as nitrous oxide and methane in China.

International shipping and aviation could also play a huge role. Aviation is one of the hardest nuts to crack because of the difficulties of producing sustainable, carbon-neutral jet fuel. So while the near-term emissions reductions options aren’t as big as many people think, these high-value sectors are hugely important because they can help to raise resources for mitigation action elsewhere.

For instance, the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s pledge of no-carbon growth after 2020 would require large offsets. This could unleash a lot of action, and transfer finance to other sectors.

However, both aviation and maritime transport need to part of the whole framework - and given that the Paris Agreement mentions all global emissions in its Art. 4.1, they are already included to some extent.

We found other initiatives - in the business sector and at regional and municipal levels - that could reduce emissions by a further 1 billion tonnes each year by 2030. However, more recent research suggests this could be as high as 6-11 billion tonnes each year, if all those additional initiatives in the solar energy, wind energy, forestry and methane sectors were implemented.

For instance, Europe’s solar and wind initiatives, if both implemented, could increase Europe’s target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 to 60%. And the United States' Sunshot and wind programs could overshoot its current emissions target, from 26-28% below 2005 levels to a staggering 60%.

These initiatives would put us well on the path to keeping warming below 2℃. Now we just have to get serious about it.

In Australia, we have neither an ambitious enough 2020 or 2030 target, nor the policies to get there. Current emissions are likely to overshoot the -5% target by 2020 (although accounting options to use previously banked credits will likely keep Australia compliant with its Kyoto Protocol targets).

There are good signs - such as state renewable energy targets, which now add up to more than the national target. And there is an immense opportunity for Australia in a zero carbon world: no other developed country is so blessed with solar and wind resources.

If Australia plays its cards right, it could become the energy superpower in a zero carbon world. But there’s still a way to go.

Malte Meinshausen, A/Prof., School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.