Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Greenland’s Glaciers Are Melting Faster Than Ever

Kulusuk, Greenland. (Photo: Grant DixonMore)
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart. Bio 
In the past century, the glaciers of Greenland have melted at least two times faster than they have at any other time in nearly10,000 years, according to a new study.

The reason, said lead researcher William D’Andrea, is increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Climate of the Past, offers new proof that glaciers can grow and shrink rapidly - over decades and centuries rather than hundreds or thousands of years - in response to temperature and snowfall changes.

The findings could help scientists better forecast how fast and how much sea levels will rise due to global warming in coming decades. The rapid melting of glaciers worldwide in the past century is a major contributor to increased sea levels.

In November, scientists reported that the melt of northern Greenland’s Zachariæ Isstrøm glacier, which alone holds enough water to hike sea levels 19 inches, has accelerated since 2012 to about 5 billion metric tons of meltwater a year.

“There is no reason to expect that glaciers should be retreating this fast based on natural forcing mechanisms alone,” said D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “But what we’re seeing all over the Arctic is glaciers melting, at rate that can’t be explained by natural long-term changes in the energy budget of the Arctic.”

To reconstruct a multimillennial record of change in Arctic glaciers, D’Andrea and colleagues took sediment core samples from Kulusuk Lake in Greenland, which is fed solely by two nearby glaciers. They tested the core’s layers, which went back roughly 10,000 years, to determine what sat on the lake bed from century to century.

While glaciers look inert, they are actually flowing downhill, grinding up the bedrock at their bases, said D’Andrea.

So it followed that when the glaciers near Kulusuk Lake were larger and heavier, they ground more silt, rocks, and boulders out of the bedrock, and meltwater then carried that material into the lake, said D’Andrea. When the glaciers were smaller, the deposits of dirt and rocks decreased.

“It’s a pretty simple story: You either have a lot of eroded material from these glaciers, or you don’t,” he said.

The mineral record in the core showed that the glaciers dwindled, possibly disappearing completely, around 8,000 years ago, and began growing again about 4,000 years ago. From that point their size was on a general upward trend until roughly 100 years ago, when the mineral record shows a sharp decline.

“There is definitely always natural variability in the climate system, especially in the North Atlantic. We see that the glaciers have had natural intervals when they’ve grown and shrunk,” said D’Andrea, and “that the whole climate system can undergo fairly rapid changes.”

But given the firm scientific evidence that human activities are increasing global temperatures, “it’s a logical extension that the retreat we’ve seen in the past 100 years is due to warming, and that that warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Asked if the great Arctic thaw could still be stopped, D’Andrea was cautious. “The extent of summer sea ice is getting smaller and smaller each year, which has huge implications for the amount of heat that can enter the Arctic each year,” he said. “Stopping emissions alone at this point probably isn’t enough.”

But cutting greenhouse gas emissions remains crucial, said D’Andrea. “Every CO2 molecule that doesn’t go into the atmosphere is not causing warming,” or increasing the rate of ocean acidification, he said. “There are things that are not just related to something beautiful like a glacier, or charismatic like a polar bear, that are threatened by CO2 - not to mention sea level rise.”

Monday, November 30, 2015

Don't Wait for Global Politics to Fix Climate Change: We Can do it Ourselves

Se below
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by James Dyke, University of Southampton, The Conversation:

It’s now almost certain that 2015 will be the warmest year ever recorded. However, rather than reduce greenhouse gas emissions - something that has to happen quite urgently in order to avoid crashing through the safety barrier of 2℃ warming - we continue to pump more into the atmosphere.

Thus far, the collective international response to climate change has been similar to a frog passively sitting in heated pan of water. We are in danger of being cooked alive from inaction.

We will have to wait and see if the latest and largest UN climate change summit in Paris will buck this trend and produce effective responses to climate change. Previous meetings have exposed a bewildering spectrum of issues, concerns, vested interests and general political dysfunction. By comparison, the physical science of climate change is simple.

170 years of global warming

Why has it proved so difficult to agree to limit carbon emissions?

One reason stems from the fact the Earth’s atmosphere is a public good, just like street lighting, schools or public parks. A public good is non-rivalrous in that my use of it does not reduce your or anyone else’s access to it. A stable climate is a global public good as it is something all of humanity enjoys. We all, to a greater or lesser extent, affect it too. It makes no difference if carbon dioxide is released in Beijing, Birmingham or Baltimore.

If the atmosphere is a global public good then, in the absence of enforcement via international law to limit carbon emissions, you may conclude we are doomed. There is nothing to stop someone from emitting more than their fair share - this is the free rider problem.

If enough people act selfishly (and much of economic theory begins with the assumption that humans are self-interested), then the Earth’s sinks for carbon pollution will be swamped and dangerous climate change will ensue. This would be an example of a tragedy of the commons which has become an influential feature of western economic thinking since the latter half of the 20th century. However, the situation is perhaps not quite so clear cut.

Can we avoid climate tragedy?

In 2009, US political scientist Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her work on the management of public goods and common-pool resources. What Ostrom established is that, contrary to certain grim predictions, there are numerous examples of effectively managed public goods: Nepalese forests, American lobster fisheries, community irrigation schemes in Spain and many other systems are looked after sustainably through following a combination of eight principles.

Elinor Ostrom

The implications are profound. Rather than assume the market or central control are the most effective mechanisms to manage goods and services, Ostrom showed that groups of people can self-organise around common interests.

But it hasn’t escaped the attention of those trying to get international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions that some of these principles will not apply. In fact, if you are feeling particularly pessimistic, these principles can almost serve as a checklist of why such agreement will prove impossible. National boundaries do not stop the circulation of atmospheric gases, for instance, and there is no international body to police and enforce carbon emissions.

Global concerns, local action

So it seems all the more remarkable that agreements to limit carbon emissions and even reduce them from the atmosphere have been achieved. What’s more, these agreements are popping up all over the place.

More than 80 major cities across the globe are currently coordinating climate action. There are now a number of carbon trading communities that encompass a range of states in North America. EU member nations have agreed binding reductions while earlier this year the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, the US and China, established important bilateral commitments to control carbon emissions in their respective countries.

These are all examples of polycentric governance. Having multiple levels of organisation allows flexibility and effective regional solutions to some of the obstacles that large, rigid governance can produce.

The Water Tribunal of the plain of Valencia, one of the world’s oldest law courts, rules on breaches of local irrigation law. Reuters

Are such efforts sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change? No. Nor are the national commitments to reduce emissions ahead of Paris. But what these regional initiatives show is that local communities can act independently of international agreements by making a global public good a local concern.

This may still seem puzzling to some economists and political scientists. While some of these initiatives make economic sense, what is the good of unilaterally self-imposed emissions limits if other regions don’t play ball? The answer to this question not only points the way to more effective action, but highlights a gaping hole in some people’s and institutions' understanding of climate change: it’s the right thing to do.

Climate change is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. Taking more than your fair share is wrong. Changing the climate which leads to people being harmed is wrong.

Any effective agreement that emerges from Paris will not have come out of a vacuum, but as a consequence of many individuals' and communities' agitation for change - some locally, some through the internet.

If we are going to address climate change, then recognising our shared values and interests is crucial. Humans are fundamentally a social species. We’ve only very recently appreciated that we are also a planet-altering species. Our moral senses know intuitively what we need to do in the light of such knowledge. Our economic and political institutions need to catch up rapidly.

James Dyke, Lecturer in Complex Systems Simulation, University of Southampton

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The 7 Fossil Fuel Divestment Myths, and Why They Don’t Stack Up

Blair Palese
Blair Palese
by Blair Palese and Anne-Marie Fort,, The Fifth Estate:

Since it was launched over three years ago, the global fossil fuel divestment campaign has become the fastest growing divestment effort in history with a recent study by Arabella Advisors in the US finding that an estimated US$2.6 trillion (AU$3.66 trillion) has been divested from coal, oil, gas, or a combination of all three, by funds, trusts and foundations.

A new study this week from Corporate Knights showed that US$23 billion (AU$32.4bn) has been lost by 14 funds who chose not to divest from fossil fuels, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (with a loss of AU$2.68bn).

Recent arguments from a range of business experts and the financial media suggest that divesting is a bad idea. Below, we’ve taken on their arguments to show that it makes great sense - not only for the global climate but, with fossil fuel prices dropping drastically and global commitments to reduce or phase out fossil fuel use altogether being made, for the bottom line as well. So, let the fossil fuel divestment myth-busting begin:

1. Shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies is the best way to drive change

Whatever your view, fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody have long been aware that burning their products would raise global temperatures enough to cause glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise by the middle of this century. So holding on to your shares and “engaging” with fossil fuel companies is pointless at this point in time because their very product simply cannot be used in the very near future if we are to keep our world below the 2°C of warming the world has committed to in order to ensure it remains liveable.

As co-founder Bill McKibben says, the likelihood of fossil fuel companies committing to change now, because of shareholder engagement, seems more or less impossible: “Engagement is unlikely to persuade a company to commit to eventually putting itself out of business.”

The leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt spent years engaging with fossil fuel companies on sustainability projects only to conclude that such efforts were futile. Porritt wrote: “There was a time when I seriously persuaded myself that it was still just about possible for companies like Shell and BP to find some way of transitioning into ‘fully-integrated energy companies’, investing as much in renewables, storage and efficiency as in hydrocarbons, instead of reverting to what they are today: pure-play hydrocarbon dinosaurs. It didn’t happen. Worse yet, the lengths they went to justify their continuing investments in new hydrocarbons have become more and more extreme.”

After years of documented resistance to proven climate change science, there is little evidence so far in support of the shareholder engagement approach.

2. We all use fossil fuels everyday, so divestment is hypocritical

Fossil fuel companies exist because we want and use the products that fossil fuels make and power – from airconditioning to heating, TVs to tennis balls. Shifting to new energy sources will take time, so no one is arguing for an on-the-spot end to all fossil fuel use.

In Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Francis has shown himself to be a strong supporter of progressive investment principles and clean energy. “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy,” he said.

The “divest-invest” strategy moves money into non-fossil fuel energy sectors that have already begun driving the transition to a low-carbon world. Analysis based on a report by Arabella Advisors has shown that the divestment movement has grown exponentially since its launch, with more and more investors reducing their fossil fuel holdings and diversifying their portfolios to include clean energy investment.

3. Divestment is not meaningful action - it’s just gesture politics

Divestment works by stigmatising the fossil fuel companies and removing their social license to operate. As pointed out in a report from Oxford University: “The outcome of the stigmatisation process poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies. Any direct impacts pale in comparison.”

Divestment can also bring pronounced negative visibility for individual companies as illustrated by the Australian National University’s decision to divest shareholdings in seven resource companies including Santos, Oil Search and Sandfire in October 2013. Many of these companies responded angrily, claiming that the decision was unfair.

Who would have thought that a small divestment of A$16 million could outrage companies with a combined market capitalisation of AU$45 billion? Since the ANU divested from Santos, the company’s shares plummeted 60 per cent - dropping from a share price of nearly $15 to $6. What Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the time called “stupid” turned out to save the university millions.

In addition, as an increasing number of companies and organisations divest from fossil fuels along with public concern and calls for action, it can actually make it easier for governments to take action. The dramatic reality of the divestment movement has already been demonstrated by successful campaigns against corporations in apartheid South Africa, tobacco companies, munitions and gaming.

4. Divestment is pointless - it can’t bankrupt coal, oil and gas companies

Over 460 organisations have made some move to divest since the launch of the divestment campaign including the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, which shed billions of dollars of coal investments from its $900 billion fund earlier this year. The $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested from fossil fuels in 2014 and Stanford University dumped coal investments from its $18.7 billion fund the same year.

Here in Australia, divestment commitments have been made by the City of Melbourne to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Local Government Super, the National Tertiary Education Union, the ACT Government in Canberra and the City of Newcastle - home to the world’s largest coal port - to name a few.

In the beginning, the aim of the divestment movement was not to bankrupt fossil fuel companies financially, but to bankrupt them morally. But support for the movement has exploded since 2014 and with over $2.4 trillion divested from fossil fuels, the impacts aren’t just being felt at the heart strings but at the bottom line too.

5. Divestment means stocks will be picked up cheaply by investors who don’t care about climate change at all

In reality, the reason for buying shares is to make money by investing in companies that you believe will make money. But according to IPCC climate experts, global greenhouse gas needs to be reduced by 40-70 per cent by 2050 and zero emissions need to be reached by the end of the century. Therefore, anyone who buys fossil fuel stocks are taking on a known risk. A recent Carbon Tracker report notes “the fossil fuel industry’s history is peppered with examples of failing to adequately assess risk to investments because certain scenarios were deemed highly unlikely”.

Importantly, if large scale divestment could lead to a strong increase of stranded assets it makes no sense for the public institutions and universities primarily targeted by the divestment movement to be holding these stocks.

6. Fossil fuels are essential to ending world poverty

Today there are more than seven billion people on the planet, and, without question, the real growth in energy demand is going to come from the developing world. The Pacific nations, on our doorstep, are already one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world. Climate change, driven by unchecked fossil fuel burning, will bring more cyclones, damaging storms and king tides, and for low-lying nations, inundation.

Australia’s Minerals Council - and the many pure play fossil fuel companies around the world - often argue that coal, oil and gas made the modern world and are essential to improving the lives of the world’s poorest citizens.

But as Marc Purcell from The Australian Council for International Development, argues: “Renewable energy development can provide cheap and easily accessible energy to the 1.2 billion people currently living without electricity. The Pacific now relies on fuel imports for power - by switching to renewables, savings from fuel subsidies can be invested in health and education. If we carry on growing the global economy at its current rate and continue to rely on fossil fuels, countries that already rely on our aid will need more help, and many of the development gains will be wiped out.”

So, there is a choice: ensure poverty is eradicated by the large-scale deployment of renewable energy, and shift money out of fossil fuels by divesting; or continue to sell fossil fuels to the developing world and inflict a growing number of extreme weather, drought and other climate change impacts on them and the rest of the world as a result. The right choice seems obvious.

7. It’s none of your business how other people invest their money

First, many divestment campaigners target their own pension funds, universities and local governments - which is, in fact, their money. But even when it is not, the impacts of fossil fuel investments are not limited to share owners themselves. The exploitation of fossil fuels is causing climate change that affects everyone on Earth.

While those who still doubt the existence of man-made global warming look more and more certain to end up with well-fried egg on their face - our children and grandchildren have every right to harshly judge our failure to act because we decided that it was none of our business how other people invested their money.

Furthermore, the “none of your business” argument would imply no divestment campaign has been legitimate, meaning that the harm caused by tobacco, and apartheid in South Africa, would have gone for a significantly longer time.

The speed and success of the fossil fuel divestment campaign has, in many cases, been the result of frustration due to the lack of government action on climate change at all levels. It has allowed people, funds, institutions, churches and philanthropic groups to take direct action against climate change by moving their money and it has gotten not only the attention of fossil fuel companies, but of investors too.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund chair Valerie Rockefeller Wayne summed up the future of energy best when she told Rolling Stone in January: “If you look back, when John D Rockefeller Sr got into the business, we got our oil from whales. It’s preposterous, right? His big breakthrough was to get oil out of the ground. The breakthrough now is going to be in clean energy. You should be there at the forefront. Those are the investors who are going to make the most money.”
Blair Palese is chief executive of Australia. Anne-Marie Fort is a volunteer with the organisation.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Paris Climate Talks: Now It’s Up to Turnbull to Save the Planet

Climate Talks
by , Renew Economy:

The last official round of negotiations before the Paris climate change talks have broken up in Bonn, with some progress made but a global climate deal still needing fresh impetus from political leaders to put the world on a course to rapidly decarbonise the global economy.

In Bonn, after a week of talks, a 20-page text was expanded to 63 pages, and will need to be cut back. But at least there appears to be agreement on what needs to be resolved. The principal blockages remain around the scale of ambition, and on issues such as finance and the concept of “loss and damage”.

The UN has what it says is a “manageable” text and a good “starting point” for negotiations. The text, say observers, has been expanded as each country or bloc inserts their own “bargaining” chip. They say it is now time for the leaders to step in.

Over the next few weeks a series of meetings will be held to try to resolve some of those issues. A pre-Paris ministerial meeting will take place in the French capital from November 8-10, which will be attended by environment minister Greg Hunt.

The G20 Heads of State will then meet in Turkey a few days later, followed by the Heads of State meeting of the Commonwealth (CHOGM) in Malta just before the Paris summit opens.

And it now seems clear that global leaders , including Turnbull, will be invited to be at Paris for the first few days of the talks in an endeavour to break any lingering political deadlock. Those talks will begin on November 30 and last for two weeks. Hunt and foreign minister Julie Bishop will also be in Paris at various points.

Paris should rival Copenhagen as an “event” and a spectacle. Nearly 50,000 people are expected to converge on the French capital for the talks - known as COP21 (they’ve been doing this for 21 years), and for numerous side events.

Australia’s own official delegation could total nearly 30. Another 60 NGOs and “BinGOs” (business types) will also be on the ground. And the media too. RenewEconomy, the only Australian media to cover the last three COPs, will also be there.

What’s at stake is becoming increasingly apparent. Failure at Paris will mean talks drifting aimlessly, possibly for years. Sealing a deal that locks in 2°C means trillions for the fossil fuel industry, because it will mean a major and rapid shift to clean technologies.

The move by the French hosts for an early intervention from political leaders is in complete contrast to the Copenhagen talks, which ended in disarray and confusion after leaders flying in at the last minute were unable to agree on the finer points of text.

Turnbull last week, in an interview with the Guardian, confirmed he will be attending the Paris talks. It will be a particularly poignant moment for him, because it was in the days leading up to the Copenhagen talks that Turnbull was rolled - as opposition leader - by Tony Abbott, over the very same issue.

Turnbull goes to Paris defending Abbott’s climate change policies – a 2030 emissions target that is described as weak, or modest at best, and a mechanism that no one outside of the Coalition seriously thinks will do the job.

This is a critical point for Australia. Turnbull also goes to Paris saying he wants an outcome that puts the world on a path to 2°C, so any effort to lift ambition will be consistent with that policy.

And Australia’s mechanisms, to date, simply consist of plucking emissions from accounting changes or government handouts. It is not yet setting the motions for a decarbonised economy.

As Erwin Jackson from the The Climate Institute notes: “That is the test for this government, and that is where government is trailing business. Business supports the concept of zero net emissions. It is time for the government to catch up.”

The Coalition’s target is for a 26 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030, which represents a 19 per cent reduction on 2000 levels.

It says it will increase this target to 28 per cent if there is no economic fallout, but its own studies show minimal extra economic costs under a 45 per cent reduction target, and even that is based on inflated costs of renewable energy.

This is the opportunity that Turnbull has to help change the course of history. He can’t do it alone, but if more countries, such as Australia and Canada, take a proactive role, rather than dragging the chains, then an effective climate agreement can be achieved.

Turnbull, of course, insists that he takes climate change seriously. No doubt he will be less evangelistic, and hopefully less naive,  than Kevin Rudd, when the then Labor PM went to Copenhagen convinced he could broker a deal between China and the US, and was mortified when he could barely get a seat at the table.

Much has changed since then. China and the US have been working hard to put on a good show that they are taking climate change seriously. Both have put in tough policies to reduce emissions and force out the dirtiest coal-fired generation.

Environmental NGOs say that climate finance remains the elephant in the room: developing nations want more clarity and detail on the $100 billion promised annually by developed countries, and on boosting it after 2020.

Richer nations do not want to be locked into details. But at Bonn, 134 developing countries demanded that developed nations commit to scaling up public climate aid in December’s UN deal.

And, of course, there is the so called “pollution gap”. Right now, the pledges from more than 150 countries would place an upper limit of around 2.7°C if those plans were implemented. That is opposed to the agreed target of 2°C, and a major push from vulnerable nations and some scientists for 1.5°C.

That gap will almost certainly not be resolved at Paris, but it is likely that a mechanism that will encourage emitters to ratchet up their climate targets every five years will be agreed.

In the meantime, Bill Shorten has left for a tour of the Pacific Islands accusing Turnbull of selling them short on climate change.  Shorten’s criticism of the Coalition is valid, and Labor shows more ambition with its willingness to push (again) for an emissions trading scheme and a 50 per cent renewable energy target (they could go higher).

But the Pacific Islands will tell them that real action to protect the region will mean no new thermal coal mines, and Labor is emerging as an enthusiastic supporter of all new coal mines, including Carmichael, Shenhua and other extensions.

“The Australian government must help broker an agreement that is not just good for Australia, but will also protect and support poorer nations like our Pacific neighbours,” says Kellie Caught, campaigner with WWF.

“Actions speak louder than words - increasing Australia’s pollution reduction targets, and providing more finance to support poor countries ahead of Paris would send the right signals.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Rise, Fall and Return of 1.5°C in the Global Climate Negotiations

(Photo: Stephane de Sukutin/Getty Images)
by Joe Solomon, Common Dreams:

On December 16th 2009, two days before the Copenhagen Accord was issued, when there was still a scant sliver of hope for a legally binding treaty, the Prime Minister of Grenada Tillman Thomas took the microphone and called on world leaders to cement a deal with a 1.5 Celsius target.

Thomas called on all countries to protect low-lying island nations from being "swept away in the king wave of climate change" by keeping "temperature increases to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels."

Thomas was speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 44 island countries drawn from all the oceans of the world. By the time Thomas took the microphone, AOSIS had turned "1.5 to Stay Alive" into a unifying rallying cry for over 100 nations - searing an alliance between the Islands and the African bloc.

Desmond Tutu wrote, "A global goal of about 2 degrees is to condemn Africa to incineration." Two degrees represented, in a word, death. Or, as Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, the then chair of the Least Developed Countries (LCDs) group, put it: 2 degrees would mean “unmanageable consequences - it will leave millions of people suffering from hunger, diseases, floods and water shortages.”

1.5 was the number that represented survival, hope, and unleashing a kind of global World War II-level mobilization to move beyond fossil fuels (after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it took 10 weeks for the US to completely halt car manufacturing, and begin the rapid switch to making aircraft bombers and heavy tanks for the war effort. Those 10 weeks also included the Christmas holiday season). 

The Fall of 1.5°C

Two days after the Prime Minister of Grenada made his plea to the world, President Obama took an overnight flight into Copenhagen and led the push for the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding treaty with a 2 degree Celsius target at its masthead.

It’s been nearly 5 years since Copenhagen, and now 2 degrees is the darling target for the UN, developed countries, and even many climate activists. It’s a number that has pushed its way into the cultural mainstream, not unlike how the 350ppm target did in 2009. CNN’s John Sutter wrote this past May that 2 degrees is "the most important number you've never heard of." Sutter even launched a fully dedicated CNN column for how we achieve 2°C - named, simply, "two°."

In the last week, VICE, MTV, & Mashable all published articles mentioning the 2 degrees target, without a whisper of 1.5. Wire reports in the AP and Reuters also regularly leave out 1.5 degrees when defining success in Paris. So: what happened to “1.5 to Stay Alive”?

Well, for starters, 141 countries signed onto the Copenhagen Accord - adding their weight to the 2 degrees target. Getting that many countries to agree to something is rare, and creates its own kind of momentum. That momentum was further strengthened at the Cancun talks in 2010, and the Durban talks in 2011, while a review of the science of 1.5 degrees was consistently punted to some later date.

Strategy of 2°C

Two and a half years after Copenhagen, 2 degrees picked up further steam with Bill McKibben’s 2012 Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math."

In the piece, McKibben lays out the flaws of the 2 degrees target. McKibben writes that “2 degrees is far too lenient a target” and amplifies then-NASA’s chief climate scientist James Hansen who said: "two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster." McKibben goes on to point out the consequences of 2 degrees: Island nations would “flat-out disappear,” and African nations would completely dry up.

Despite those intense warnings, however, McKibben ends with a kind of reluctant support of the number, writing, "it's fair to say that it's [2 degrees] the only thing about climate change the world has settled on … the official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can't raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius - it's become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees."

Inspired by that Rolling Stone article, 2 degrees would go on to form the bedrock goal for the fossil fuel divestment movement that has since swept the world.’s launch website for divestment exclaimed, "It’s simple math: we can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming - anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth."

In April of this year, Naomi Klein told French news site BastaMag that 2 degrees is "a target that is already a very dangerous one for many communities. But it provides us with a global carbon budget."

The strategic purpose of shouldering the 2 degrees target seems rather clear: since world leaders already agree on 2 degrees - and since those leaders have historically been inclined to set the Earth on a course of varying degrees of hellish intensity far beyond 2 degrees, it’s a chance to hold their feet to the fire. You might say: You can leverage consensus far better than you can leverage a lofty hope.

UN Doubles Down on 2 Degrees; UN Scientists Cry Out

By now, 150 countries have submitted their pledges for the Paris climate talks, with the European Union saying it would only back a deal with 2 degrees cemented as its goal. UN climate leadership is also gung-ho for 2 degrees even as the UN climate chief Christiana Figueres is worried pledges so far won’t cut it, and will lead to a 3 degrees world.

Whenever a country submits their pledges for Paris, the UNFCCC (the UN climate body) issues a stock press announcement to celebrate and uses it as a chance to highlight the 2 degree goal.

Curiously, when countries submit pledges calling for the more audacious 1.5 target, the response is much different. The UN’s press announcement regarding Belize, for example, counters the country’s ambition by saying the Paris agreement will "empower all countries to act to prevent average global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius."

More curious still, this past June the UN’s very own special expert investigation, tasked with examining the difference between a 1.5ºC and 2ºC limit, concluded that 2 degrees is "inadequate" as a safe limit and that 2 degrees could "hardly be seen as a 'guardrail' protecting us fully from dangerous anthropogenic interference." Two degrees would threaten "the very existence of some atoll nations" whereas 1.5 degrees may keep sea level rise to below 1 meter, perhaps preventing the outright drowning of  countries like Tuvalu and the Maldives.

Dr. Petra Tschakert, a member of the UN’s 1.5 vs. 2 investigative team (and a co-author of the UN’s latest climate report) points out that "the 2°C target will carry more extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves" - calling all of those "utterly unacceptable risks … for poor and marginalized communities."

The UN working group in charge of reviewing their experts' findings on the disparities between 1.5 and 2 degrees is set to make a final call in the midst of the Paris negotiations.

Island Nations Hold Their Ground

Island Nations, while not quite as unified as they were in 2009, aren’t done fighting for the target they believe is a necessity to their survival. The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister told the World Post in September: “We want to keep everything under 2 degrees - under 1.5 degrees, if possible …”.

A roundtable of Pacific Islands passed the Suva Declaration in September as a way to inject 1.5 back into the negotiations. The President of Fiji then took the microphone at the United Nations to plea for limiting “global average temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels” - mentioning that Fiji has “plans to move some 45 villages to higher ground, and we have already started.”

Last week, an alliance of Caribbean Islands partnered with a renowned poet in Saint Lucia to launch a "1.5 to Stay Alive campaign," calling on Island artists to lend their voice. And AOSIS has publicly stayed firm. Their latest post from late September states: “AOSIS has long contended that ‘well below 1.5 degrees Celsius’ is the right global goal to be aiming for, which is evident in the latest science, the UN’s own scientific review, and the extent of the extreme weather we are witnessing on every continent.”

This past May, Phillipines climate minister, Mary Ann Lucille L. Sering, asked, "How can we possibly subscribe to more than double current warming given what less than 1°C has entailed?" Just this past weekend, Typhoon Koppu came bearing down on the Philippines - sending over twenty thousand people fleeing from floods and mudslides, and killing at least twelve. 

Will 1.5 Find New Life in Paris?

Will Paris see a return of the battle for 1.5 or will all the momentum go towards sealing the deal on 2 degrees? In a sense, the answer is multiple choice.

The latest Paris draft deal - released October 20th - leaves three options, holding global temperature [below 2°C], [below 2 or 1.5°C] or [below 1.5°C], each option literally tucked into brackets for future clarification (the final choice was literally just added in Bonn - 1.5°C as a standalone target choice was not in the draft earlier this month).

With most of the negotiating cards from delegates, scientists, and UN leadership already on the table - the main wild cards left to be seen will likely be played by civil society.

The "largest [acts of] climate civil disobedience" are on the calendar for December, and a global movement to "reclaim our power" is already showing its force around the globe. It may be fair to say the Paris summit will be ringed by the most colorful, massive protests and highly orchestrated shows of dissatisfaction of any of its kind in the past 20 years.

If Island Nations can forge their call with those voices coming from the streets, then perhaps 1.5°C - and the fate of the planet’s most vulnerable - may yet stand a fighting chance after all.

Joe Solomon is a co-founder of, and is the former social media coordinator for and Energy Action Coalition. Joe is the co-editor of "The Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide Ever." He currently lives in West Virginia.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Divestment is an important symbolic act for universities.
Divestment is an important symbolic act for universities
by Arran Gare, Swinburne University, The Fifth Estate:

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2014, unless the world changes course immediately and dramatically, the fundamental systems that support human civilisation are at risk.

We can expect and are already beginning to see adverse effects on health and life, increasing regional conflicts, eroding social structures, general destabilisation and rising levels of violence.

A leaked report by Shell Oil Company observed that societies are not responding effectively to avert this impending crisis, and as a company it is planning for the consequences. It is well known that fossil fuel companies and their owners have played a major role in influencing government policies decisions, particularly in US and Australia, in preventing the required action being taken.

As a consequence of their political success, it is likely that hundreds of millions, and even billions of people will die, and the Earth in future will support only a fraction of the human population that it otherwise would. Under these circumstances, it is incumbent upon public institutions, and particularly universities, to do what they can to influence events. One way they can act is to divest their investments in fossil fuel companies.

It is important to do this for a number of reasons. Effective action to prevent climate destabilisation and a runaway greenhouse effect will involve moving to non-fossil fuel energy sources, which will radically decrease the profitability and value of companies involved in exploiting fossil fuels. If effective action is blocked, there could be significant financial gains to those who have invested in these companies.

It is important that public institutions are set up by an act of parliament that obliges them to serve the public good. They should not gain financially from having vested interests in the success of grossly immoral behaviour. Furthermore, they should avoid conditions where they could be corrupted further by having vested interests in outcomes contrary to the interests of humanity.

Divestment is also an important symbolic act. Symbolic acts function to anchor the ethical beliefs and behaviour of people, societies and civilisations. Their importance is often underestimated by calculating people who only think in terms of immediate practical outcomes, but there is ample evidence from the history of societies and civilisations that success is based on such symbolic acts, and when short-term calculation of effects of actions comes to dominate decision making, then societies and civilisation decay. That is, they become decadent.

The essence of such symbolic actions is that they are not based on such calculation. It is possible that by divesting from fossil fuel companies, the university will avoid losses caused by governments finally responding to the threat of climate destabilisation, or as a successful public relations exercise that could elevates the status of Swinburne and thereby its profit making capacity. However, these should not be the basis of decision-making or even be considered, as to do so would weaken the symbolic significance of acting ethically.

All such considerations should be put aside. We are at a crisis point in the history of humanity and civilisation. There is only one right way to act, to divest from all shareholdings in fossil fuel companies.

Arran Gare is associate professor in environmental philosophy at Swinburne University.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rich Nations Failing to Meet Climate Obligations at Expense of Poor: Report

Rich countries which benefited from burning fossil fuels for centuries are not doing enough to prevent irreversible climate change. (Photo: Billy Wilson/flickr/cc)
Still burning fossil fuels (Photo: Billy Wilson/flickr/cc)
by Nadia Prupis, staff writer, Common Dreams:

The U.S. and other wealthy nations are not pulling their weight in the climate change fight and may be setting the world on an even more devastating climate track, a new report published Monday reveals.

Globally, governments' pledges to limit greenhouse gas emissions are not adequate to stave off an average surface temperature warming of 2°C, the agreed threshold to prevent irreparable global warming and extreme weather events, according to the report (pdf), Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), crafted by 18 civil society groups.

The groups, which include Friends of the Earth International and Oxfam, analyzed the pledges put forth ahead of time in early negotiations in Bonn, Germany this week by about 150 United Nations (UN) member states taking part in this year's COP21 climate talks in Paris and determined that the "ambition of all major developed countries falls well short of their fair shares."

While there is no official method of determining a nation's climate obligations, the civil society groups weighed the pledges against individual countries' economic wealth and historical contribution to global warming.

Because the U.S. and the European Union (EU) can afford to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and because they have benefited financially from burning coal, oil, and natural gas for centuries, their pledges amount to roughly a fifth of what they owe on climate action, the coalition said. Japan has pledged a tenth, according to the same metrics.

Meanwhile, emerging nations were found to "exceed or broadly meet" their obligations. Kenya, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Marshall Islands are among the developing economies which are going beyond the call of duty.

"Emission cut pledges made by rich countries so far are less than half of what we need to avoid runaway climate change," said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. "The draft Paris agreement on the negotiating table this week shows that many seem ready to accept irreversible and devastating consequences for people and the planet."

The talks in Bonn, which will continue until Friday, are the last chance for nations to finalize their climate pledges before COP21 talks commence on November 30. The civil society groups' full report will be published next month.

Brandon Wu of ActionAid added, "Across the board, rich countries are failing to bring the two most important ingredients to the negotiating table - emission cuts and money."

The coalition found more than the so-called "action gap." According to Friends of the Earth Scotland (FOES), wealthy nations may even be purposefully shirking their duties and shifting climate obligations onto their developing neighbors.

FOES head of campaigns Mary Church said, "What we are seeing as the Bonn talks open is rich countries setting the stage for a great climate getaway in which they shift the burden of responsibility for tackling the climate crisis onto the shoulders of the poor."

"If the deal that world leaders sign in Paris looks anything like the Bonn negotiating text, then world leaders will have wholly failed to respond to the urgency of climate science, let alone climate justice," Church said.

"Wealthy countries understand the need to tackle the climate crisis, but are stubbornly unwilling to respond to it in a fair and equitable way," Church continued. "As they stand, combined pledges put us on track for 3ºC warming which means devastating impacts for billions of the world's poorest people. Not only are developed countries delaying urgent action to curb climate emissions at home, they are also failing to provide necessary support and finance to developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate crisis that are already being felt."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

'Capitalism is Mother Earth's Cancer': World People's Summit Issues 12 Demands

"Caring for Mother Earth is a moral issue," UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon (left) told the World People's Conference on Saturday. "We must change how we use Mother Earth's resources, and live in a manner that is sustainable." Here, he is pictured with Bolivian President Evo Morales. (Photo: Reuters)
Ban ki-Moon and Evo Morales(Photo: Reuters)
by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer, Common Dreams:

Decrying capitalism as a "threat to life," an estimated 7,000 environmentalists, farmers, and Indigenous activists from 40 countries convened in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya for this weekend's World People's Conference on Climate Change, aiming to elevate the demands of social movements and developing countries in the lead-up to upcoming United Nations-led climate talks.

"Capitalism is Mother Earth's cancer," Bolivian President Evo Morales told the crowd, which also heard over the course of the three-day conference from United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon as well as other Latin American leaders.

The people's summit, which concluded Monday afternoon, produced a 12-point declaration (Spanish) that will be presented during the COP21 climate negotiations taking place November 30-December 11 in Paris, France, during which 200 countries will attempt to cement an agreement to curb global warming.

The COP21 agenda has been criticized for its sidestepping of issues like the role of capitalism in climate change and for the robust involvement of multinational corporations in the talks. According to a translation, the Declaración de Tiquipaya calls for, among other things:
  • the creation of an international tribunal with "a binding legal capacity to prevent, prosecute and punish states that pollute and cause climate change by action or omission";
  • compensation from wealthy countries to developing nations for "climate, social, and ecological debt accumulated over time";
  • reclamation of the global commons; and
  • wholesale rejection of global capitalist and colonialist systems.
"We demand that the Paris Agreement does address the structural causes of capitalism," the declaration reads. "It does not have to be an agreement that reinforces the capitalist model, through more market mechanisms, allowing volunteer commitments, encouraging the private sector and strengthening patriarchy and neo-colonialism."

In advance of the Bolivia summit, the World People's Conference website elaborated further:
The world is being buffeted by multiple global crisis that manifests itself in a climate, financial, food, energy, institutional, cultural, ethical and spiritual crisis. These are the manifestations of unbridled consumerism and a model of society where the human being claims to be superior to Mother Earth ... it is a system characterized by the domination of the economy by gigantic transnational corporations whose targets are the accumulation of power and benefits, and for which the market values are more important than the lives of human beings and Mother Earth.
Though the establishment of an independent climate tribunal emerged as a central goal of the Bolivian summit, Reuters noted on Monday that the idea "is a non-starter with almost every other country going to the Paris talks."

Even the European Union, which as recently as December argued for a strong, legally binding deal, "is increasingly talking about a' pledge and review' system," Reuters wrote, "under which national commitments would be re-assessed every five years against a goal of halving world emissions by 2050."

As for Bolivia, teleSUR reports: "The South American nation has taken it upon itself to advocate for climate change issues on behalf of other developing nations," with environmental activist Moira Zuazo telling the publication that "70 percent of the Bolivian people say that development is less important than Mother Earth and we are listening to them."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top Indicators our Climate Change is Permanent

Can Positive Shrinkage Change the World, boomer warrior
Credit: World-Map-Face-Blue-Eyes-Images
by Rolly Montpellier, BoomerWarrior: 

As a Climate Reality Leader, I like to feature blog pieces from the multiple resources of the Climate Reality Project (Rolly Montpellier ~ BoomerWarrior Managing Editor).

How do we know our climate is changing permanently, rather than just going through a normal period of flux?

Let’s look at major changes scientists have seen in our climate system to help set the record straight.

Few global trends have been as controversial as climate change and the Earth’s warming. The Earth has gone through many shifts in cooling and warming driven by natural factors like the sun’s energy or variations in its orbit, but the trend scientists have seen over the past 50 years is unmistakable.

Let’s take a closer look: globally, average surface temperatures increased 1.1 - 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 - 0.9 degrees Celsius) between 1906 and 2005. However, it’s the rate of temperature change that’s especially troubling to scientists; temperatures have risen nearly twice as fast in the last 50 years alone.

What other ways has our climate system changed in the last century? How do we really know our climate is changing permanently, rather than just going through a normal period of flux? Between opinions from climate deniers and misinformation campaigns from the fossil fuel industry, it can be a challenge to get the unobstructed facts.

So to help set the record straight, we’re going to focus on major changes scientists have seen in our climate system. Each indicator described below has been extensively studied over the past several decades, and was captured from many different data sets and technologies.

Air Temperatures over Land are Increasing

Top Indicators Our Climate Change is Permanent, boomer warrior

It’s clear that weather stations on land show average air temperatures are rising, and as a result, the frequency and severity of droughts and heat waves are increasing. Intense droughts can lead to destructive wildfires, failed crops, and low water supplies, many of which are deeply affecting southern areas of the United States and other parts of the world.

Air Temperatures over Oceans are Increasing

Roughly 70% of the world is covered by oceans, so you can understand how hotter air over them could make a vast difference in the climate system. Oceans evaporate more water as the air right near the surface gets warmer. The result? More floods, more hurricanes, and more extreme precipitation events.

Arctic Sea Ice is Decreasing

Top Indicators Our Climate Change is Permanent, boomer warrior

Satellite images from space show that the area covered by sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking, and it’s continued a downward trend for the past 30 years. The Arctic ice cap grows each winter when there’s less sunlight, and shrinks each summer when days are longer, reaching its lowest point of the year in September.

Some research suggests that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but others believe that it could melt completely much sooner than that - in just a few decades.

Glaciers are Melting and Snow is Decreasing

Top Indicators Our Climate Change is Permanent, boomer warrior

The disappearance of glaciers is one of the clearest signs of climate change. People who rely on melting glacier water are facing shortages, and in many regions, the situation is only getting worse.

In a world unaffected by climate change, glacier mass stays balanced, meaning the ice that evaporates in the summer is fully replaced by snowfall in the winter. However, when more ice melts than is replaced, the glacier loses mass. And the people who depend on melting ice for water to support their farming and living needs are deeply affected.

Satellites show areas covered by snow in the Northern Hemisphere are becoming smaller. Snow is important as it helps control how much of the sun’s energy Earth absorbs. Light-colored snow and ice reflect this energy back into space, helping keep the planet cool.

However, as the snow and ice melts, it’s replaced by dark land and ocean, both of which absorb energy. The amount of snow and ice loss in the last 30 years is higher than many scientists predicted, which means the Earth is absorbing more solar energy than had been projected.

Sea Levels are Rising

Top Indicators Our Climate Change is Permanent, boomer warrior

Sea levels have been rising for the past century. And the pace is only increasing in recent years as glaciers melt faster and water temperatures increase, causing oceans to expand. You can imagine how this would affect the almost 40% of the US population that lives in a highly populated coastal area. Let’s not forget that eight of the 10 largest cities in the world are near a coast.

Consider how many millions of people are at risk as sea levels rise, storms intensify, and more extreme flooding occurs. Additionally, marine life is threatened as salt water intrudes into fresh water aquifers, many of which support human communities and natural ecosystems.

Ocean Heat Content and Sea Surface Temperature are Increasing

The ocean stores and releases heat over long periods of time. This is a natural and important part of stabilizing the climate system. Natural climate patterns (think, El Niño) occur regularly because of warmer ocean waters and influence areas like regional climates and marine life.

But it’s when short-term, natural climate patterns like El Niño occur at the same time as oceans are becoming warmer and warmer that we know that larger changes are happening. The increased heat content leads to higher sea levels, melting glaciers, and stress to marine ecosystems.

Measuring instruments also show that water temperatures at the ocean’s surface are going up. To some extent, this is a normal pattern: the ocean surface warms as it absorbs sunlight. The ocean then releases some of its heat into the atmosphere, creating wind and rain clouds.

However, as the ocean’s surface temperature continues to increase over time, more and more heat is released into the atmosphere. This additional heat can lead to stronger and more frequent storms like tropical cyclones and hurricanes.

Earth’s Lower Atmosphere Temperature in Increasing

The lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the troposphere, is the layer we’re most familiar with - it’s where we live and where our weather occurs. Satellite measurements show that this lowest layer of the atmosphere is warming as greenhouse gases build up and trap heat that radiates from the Earth’s surface.

Scientists tell us that human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, caused this increase in atmospheric temperatures. In fact, carbon dioxide levels have increased about 40% since the Industrial Revolution began in 1750. And unless we put a stop to this trend as soon as possible, these levels - and temperatures - likely will increase even more.

Time to Take Action

It’s difficult to argue against what’s happening once you’ve seen these ten climate change indicators. That’s why it’s up to each and everyone one of us to do our part and help spread truthful information about climate change to our networks of friends, peers, and family.

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer)  and Global Population Speakout.

Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Linkedin.

Friday, October 2, 2015

World Heritage Sites Increasingly Threatened by Extraction Mania

Mesoamerican Reef (Photo: Thomas Wiborg/flickr/cc)
Nearly one-third of the planet's natural World Heritage Sites are under threat from oil, gas, and mining exploration, a new report by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) published Thursday has found.

According to its new report - Safeguarding Outstanding Natural Value: The Role of Institutional Investors in Protecting Natural World Heritage Sites from Extractive Activity (pdf) - the WWF says an increasing number of sites designated natural treasures, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon in the U.S., and the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, are at risk from mineral and fossil fuel extraction.

Nearly 31% of all the natural sites are already threatened by extractive activity, whether through commercial mining or oil and gas operations or through deals between companies and host governments that are poised to bring such activity to the sites in the near future.

And when narrowing the lens, the numbers become bigger - like in Africa, where 61% of vulnerable sites are subject to some form of extractive activity.

That's a problem not just for environmental conservationists, but also for communities on the frontlines of the climate change fight. As WWF explains, extractive operations "can cause significant and permanent environmental damage both directly to landscape or water sources, and indirectly, by catalysing wide scale social and economic changes - especially in developing countries."

"We are going to the ends of the Earth in pursuit of more resources - resources, including minerals, oil and gas, that are becoming more difficult and more expensive to extract," said WWF-UK’s chief executive David Nussbaum. "Some of the world's most treasured places are threatened by destructive industrial activities that imperil the very values for which they have been granted the highest level of international recognition: outstanding natural value."

Among the sites included in the report is the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, which spreads throughout the Caribbean Sea to reach the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

But active oil wells in Mexico and awarded extraction contracts in Mexico and Belize threaten the reef's abundant biodiversity. And because reefs are particularly sensitive ecosystems, says WWF, extractive operations have the potential to cause "widespread environmental damage."
"We are going to the ends of the Earth in pursuit of more resources - resources, including minerals, oil and gas, that are becoming more difficult and more expensive to extract" - David Nussbaum, WWF .

Moreover, World Heritage Sites are often home to a number of endangered species, such as mountain gorillas, African elephants, snow leopards, whales, and marine turtles.

The WWF report, crafted with input from Aviva Investors and Investec Asset Management, argues that financial institutions have an important role to play in prioritizing conservation over profit. To that end, its authors urge investors to cut ties with extractive companies that threaten the world's most wondrous natural areas.

"Some places are too valuable to risk," wrote Tim Badman, director of the IUCN's World Heritage program. The report "highlights the heightened business risks for both sectors of a failure to respect the world’s most important protected areas."

Furthermore, WWF also encouraged global governments to create "no-go" areas within certain heritage sites, which would "balance economic development with environmental goals."

"Protecting these iconic places is not only important in terms of their environmental worth; it is crucial for the livelihoods and future of the people who depend on them," Nussbaum said.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beginning of the End for Fossil Fuels? Panic Sweeps Global Markets

vw windby Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy:

Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Panic selling swept major global stock-markets on Tuesday in what could be a foretaste of things to come, as investors suddenly woke up to the fact that the game has changed.

Fossil fuels and their associated investments are in decline, and the world is heading rapidly towards new and cleaner technologies.

A bunch of big stories this week highlight what is going on: VW, Shell, Glencore, BHP, Origin Energy and AGL. All linked by a common thread - their exposure to fossil fuels. It prompted a warning on the financial risks of climate change by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England.

The biggest news, of course, was VW. As we reported on Monday, the VW cheating scandal, where it sought to defraud regulators and millions of consumers on a massive scale over the level of its diesel car emissions, could likely signal the demise of the diesel engine.

But it could go further than that: it could see the rapid demise of the petrol engine too, and the use of fossil fuels in passenger vehicles altogether.

As more diesel car manufacturers came under scrutiny overnight, Fitch Ratings, an international credit agency, said the dominance of the internal combustion engine could come under pressure from a fundamental change in consumers and regulators’ attitude toward emissions and fuel efficiency.

“The Volkswagen scandal could therefore accelerate the underlying growth of vehicles with alternative powertrains, including fuel cells, electric and hybrid engines,” it said in a new report. That means the demise of both petrol and diesel cars, and the emergence of electric vehicles.

This is what the stock market is already telling us: Overnight, VW - a bastion of the Germany economy and the “made in Germany” brand, lost another 4% of its value, taking its total decline in the past fortnight to 44%, or more than $A50 billion.

The world’s biggest car-maker is still worth around $A72 billion, but as Alex Pollak writes in the SMH, it has $200 billion in liabilities, backed by the value of their vehicles. Those values are now under question.

Meanwhile, the share price of Tesla, the upmarket electric vehicle manufacturer that has become one of the world’s most valuable brand names, despite producing a fraction of the number of vehicles than its bigger rivals, is now worth $A44 billion.

The market is telling us a similar story about the coal industry. The plunge in the value of the world’s biggest non-government coal miner, Peabody Coal, has been well documented. It is down more than 90% in the past year, but even this fact hadn’t quite registered with the mainstream investor.

That was until this week, with the release of an Investec analyst’s report on Glencore that suggests that its equity value could be nil, and its Australian coal export business worthless. Others pointed to Glencore as potentially the commodity equivalent of Lehmann Bros.

Glencore and Peabody are particularly vulnerable because, like other companies, they are essentially financial constructs. Glencore in particular is a corporate put together by some very clever financiers. But when finance is leveraged at the top of the market, collapsing commodity prices can prove terminal for highly geared global structures.

As Greenpeace analyst Marina Lou writes in EnergyDesk, when Glencore purchased Xstrata two years ago in the biggest mining merger ever, chief executive Ivan Glasenberg commented,  “To really screw this up, the coal price has got to really tank.”

Well it did. And many had predicted exactly that.

“Most coal companies did top of the cycle peak priced multi-billion dollar debt funded acquisitions, including Peabody, Glencore, Adani Enterprises,” adds Tim Buckley, from IEEFA. “These strategic errors have come back to haunt their shareholders with crippling share price declines.

The dramatic fall in Glencore - already down 77% in a year - in turn triggered a slump in energy stocks, in which Australian gas companies such as Origin Energy and Santos were hit particularly hard. Why? Because there is a real question - following the fall in international oil prices - about whether the $200 billion invested in LNG export projects will ever deliver suitable  returns.

Origin Energy, whose share price has slumped more than half in less than a year, announced it would raise $2.5 billion in a heavily discounted share offer (25%), to shore up its balance sheet. It said it had to act quickly to ensure debt remained at sustainable levels.

As if on cue, Shell abandoned its search for oil in the Arctic. As Karel Beckman writes today, Shell is dumping the idea because of the “high costs” of the project, and the chance that regulators and governments might crack down on the idea.

As Beckman points out, neither of these can have come as a surprise. Critics have been warning for a long time that the costs of Alaskan drilling are prohibitive, and the “regulatory environment” in this part of the world will inevitably be unpredictable. Still, Shell went ahead and dropped $A2 billion on the idea.

And as HSBC and others have pointed out, it is not the only asset that is likely to be stranded. At current prices, trillions of dollars ($30 trillion in fact) of fossil fuel reserves will not be economic, and not exploited. The market has been given the numbers, it just seems that it is only now that it is paying attention.

Far from being peopled by “lefties” and “greenies”, many of these think-tanks have hired leading financial analysts and investment bankers, dumped by their international institutions because green research wasn’t making them enough money.
Their research has been ridiculed by vested interests in the mining industry, particularly the Minerals Council of Australia, and the ideologues within Australia’s Coalition government.

But last night they were endorsed by the Bank of England’s Carney, who warned that investors face “potentially huge” losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas “literally unburnable”.

Carney focused on the “carbon budget” - a concept promoted by Australia’s Climate Change Authority, Carbon Tacker and others, but ignored by the Coalition government and most in the fossil fuel industry. It suggests that only one fifth to one third of the world’s proven reserves of oil, gas and coal could be safely exploited.

“If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves ‘stranded’ - oil, gas and coal that will be literally unburnable without expensive carbon capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics,” Carney said, pointing to the upcoming Paris climate talks as a catalyst.

“A wholesale reassessment of prospects, especially if it were to occur suddenly, could potentially destabilise markets,” he said.

Emma Herd, the new head of Australia’s Investor Group on Climate Change, says: “The need to evaluate investments against a commitment to limit warming to two degrees Celsius must now be embedded in mainstream financial decision making”.

Which is why other companies considered to be in the firing line are busy shoring up their defences. Origin did this by announcing a $2.5 billion equity raising, while BHP, whose share price is at the lowest level since the global financial crisis, is insisting that its portfolio will withstand any great move away from fossil fuels, even “extreme” and sudden shifts that could be precipitated by Paris.

BHP said its portfolio would remain robust if emissions decline to levels consistent with a 2°C world after 2030, as well as in a stress test that models the implications of more rapid change. But it is assuming higher demand for uranium, and for gas, at least in the short term, and carbon capture and storage.

It also describes the UN’s ability to get the world on course to meet the 2°C target by 2030 as a “shock event” that is “unlikely and extreme”. But it insists that its portfolio is strong enough to resist that too.

This “shock event,” BHP says, describes an initial delay in coordinated climate change action followed by a faster than expected move to a largely decarbonised world.

“It simultaneously considers the impacts of several significant technology developments, such as rising renewables and battery penetration, increasing energy efficiency and ambitious climate policies to put the world on an accelerated track to achieve the 2°C goal.”

That may come as a “shock” to BHP, but some would say that is the most likely outcome.

AGL, too, under new leadership, is trying to convince investors that it has matters in hand. On Wednesday, its chairman was forced to defend the multi-billion buying spree in the last few years that has made AGL the largest owner of coal-fired generation in Australia.

Gerry Maycock said the handsome profits from the coal generators would be used to invest in renewables “if and when” the investment climate for renewables improved. Of course, AGL had been the country’s biggest investor in renewable energy before those coal purchases, but such investments have slowed dramatically since AGL and other utilities pushed the Coalition government to cut or even remove the renewable energy target altogether. You reap what you sow.