One of the world’s biggest cities is running out of water. Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, could run dry within weeks. The humanitarian and economic cost would be immense. The fiasco should be a global wake-up call for other metropolises. Hoping for rain isn’t a strategy. Chronic shortages would bring social unrest and undermine the city that is responsible for more than a fifth of the country’s GDP and is the capital of a region that accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s industrial production.
After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.
A loose system of individual commitments, in which each country unilaterally sets emissions targets, can help build trust and momentum for a more inclusive successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But if such a system is to work, general agreement would need to exist about what constitutes a fair target for each country. Fortunately, a study of the emissions targets to which countries have already agreed allows us to describe, and even quantify, what has historically been considered fair and reasonable.
For all the pronouncements about the United States and China reaching a historic climate pact, the agreement they announced Wednesday does not signal a seismic shift in policies by either nation, experts said. The deal is important for what it shows the rest of the world, particularly other large carbon emitters like India and Russia, in advance of a meeting in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate treaty.
The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.
So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The dangers of climate change have grown and become palpable in myriad ways but nations have made little progress. In fact, having put the car in reverse, they are accelerating in the wrong direction. The planet has a big problem. I’m here to argue that divestment from fossil fuel companies is an important strategy for fiduciaries of all types to pursue. Divestment by any group, but particularly by thought leaders such as those responsible for public pension funds, helps to stigmatize the oil, gas and coal giants as repugnant social pariahs and rogue political forces bent on profit at whatever cost to the planet and its people.
For Ebola Zaire to become airborne in humans, it would need to cause lung disease significant enough to release lots of virus into respiratory secretions. The virus would then need to survive outside the body, dried and in sunlight for a prolonged time. And it would need to be able to infect another person more than a couple feet away. There’s no evidence from previous epidemics or laboratory experiments that Ebola Zaire behaves in this way.
At a windy mountain pass on the edge of the Mojave Desert, North America’s most potent collection of batteries used for storing unused power is humming its way toward an electricity revolution. Southern California Edison, a utility that serves about 14 million people, has amassed more than 600,000 lithium-ion battery cells at a substation in Tehachapi, California. The $54 million, two-year test project aims to collect power generated from the area’s 5,000 wind turbines and store it for future use.
Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.
It is clear that the current drought event in California is an extreme event, and that it is resulting from a complex confluence of interacting climatic conditions. And it is also clear, given the dramatic and far-reaching impacts, that effective management of climate-related risks requires rigorous, objective assessment of the probability of this kind of extreme event in the current climate.
Ban’s message was simple: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. There are no losers in the fight to mitigate climate change and its consequences and for some the “win-win” character of climate action seems finally to be sinking in. Today’s carbon-intensive businesses may see far more risk than opportunity in climate action. But this view is shortsighted from a financial point of view and neglects the impact of public opinion.
Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.
We have undergone a transformation during the last few decades—what John Ralston Saul calls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion. We are no longer a capitalist democracy endowed with a functioning liberal class that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. We are governed, rather, by a species of corporate totalitarianism, or what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism.” By this Wolin means a system where corporate power, while it purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the three branches of government and a free press, along with the iconography and language of American patriotism, has in fact seized all the important levers of power to render the citizen impotent.
A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984. The WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin suggests that in 2013, the increase in CO2 was due not only to increased emissions but also to a reduced carbon uptake by the Earth’s biosphere.
The State of the Birds report, the most comprehensive review of bird trends and data ever undertaken in the US, makes clear that birds across the US are in deep trouble. Almost half of all shorebird species, such as ruddy turnstones, red knots and piping plovers, are either endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. In Hawaii the situation is even worse. “Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world,” says Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center.
According to the survey jockeys at Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who think global warming is “very serious” or “somewhat serious” has declined since 2006 (from 79 percent to 65 percent). Public alarm over the topic has receded over a period during which the scientific, journalistic, and political consensus on the topic has surged the other way.
The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.
For all their superhero powers, birds are in trouble. Globally, one in eight—more than 1,300 species—are threatened with extinction, and many others are in worrying decline, from the tropics to the poles. Much of their decline is driven by the loss of places to live and breed—their marshes, rivers, forests, and plains—or by diminished food supply. But more and more these days, the birds are telling us about new threats to the environment and potentially to human health in the coded language of biochemistry. Birds provide the starkest clues in the animal kingdom about whether humans, too, may be harmed by toxic substances. And they prophesy what might happen to us as the load of carbon-based, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere and oceans climbs ever higher.
The world’s existing power plants are on track to pour more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and current monitoring standards often fail to take these long-term emissions into account, according to new research from scientists at UC Irvine and Princeton University. The paper, published Tuesday in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to estimate the lifetime carbon emissions of power plants globally over multiple years.
Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, has shown that if only a few of the trillions of cells in a body escape destruction, a genome may survive for tens of thousands of years. For a long time, we have seen the genome as a tool for predicting the future, but it may have even more to tell us about the past. Geneticists are finding ways to explore not just big events but also the dynamics of populations through time.
Making money from water? Is this what Wall Street wants next? Bottled mineral water have always existed alongside a robust municipal water system that delivers clean water to the home. This summer, however, myriad business forces are combining to remind us that fresh water isn’t necessarily or automatically a free resource. It could all too easily end up becoming just another economic commodity. At the forefront of this firestorm is Peter Brabeck, chairman and former CEO of Nestle.
Physics provides the evolving core framework on which other fields of science are built. And now, science can go far beyond any previous expectation and extrapolation. In coming decades, everything will be susceptible to major revision as new cross-disciplines – and undisciplined threads of study – emerge. Quantum engineering teams are already springing up in academic and research institutes all around the world. The merging of computer science and engineering with neuroscience has already produced results that not long ago belonged only to science fiction.
Predicting global surface temperature changes in the short-term is a challenge for climate models. Temperature changes over periods of a decade or two can be dominated by influences from ocean cycles like El Niño and La Niña. We can’t yet predict ahead of time how these cycles will change. A new paper led by James Risbey just out in Nature Climate Change takes a clever approach to evaluating how accurate climate model temperature predictions have been while getting around the noise caused by natural cycles.
Aid group Oxfam has called on other rich nations to follow the example of Germany, which has promised €750m ($1bn) for the UN’s fledgling Green Climate Fund. The announcement by Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, where some 35 ministers from around the world are meeting to discuss international climate action, is the only large pledge of money for the Green Climate Fund so far.
Climate change poses a significant risk to national security. The U.S. has multiple tools at its disposal to mitigate the impacts of energy supply disruptions, help countries enhance their own energy security and mitigate global climate change. We will need to use all the tools in our tool kit to meet the energy and security challenges we face today. Congress can support the State Department’s role in energy diplomacy, expand our technical assistance programs, and consider energy exports in advancing energy security and promoting lower carbon fuels.
The net result of sub-national regulatory action, the Great Recession, and the widespread substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity generation is that US greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 10 percent between 2005 and 2012. But we must enact policies to maintain this progress, even if market forces change. The goals of Sophisticated Interdependence are to light that path domestically and to emphasize the importance of connecting with our global colleagues along the way.
Around the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate this is a catastrophe. But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
There’s been much to-do in the past month about the “war on coal,” the latest front of which is, supposedly, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants. What all this “war on coal” talk is missing is the fact that while the Obama administration is taking steps to discourage coal consumption at home, it is tacitly promoting coal exports overseas through a decades-long debacle known as the federal coal leasing program, which has cost taxpayers billions and effectively acted as a subsidy for Big Coal.
On an average day, some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide is liberated from oil and coal by combustion, wafting into the air. Only half of the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere; the other half falls back to earth. While scientists know what happens to half of that half — it dissolves into the oceans — the rest is a continuing puzzle. Now NASA is launching a satellite to help solve the puzzle.
To look for aliens, most people peer towards the sky. But if you look down, you’ll discover they already live among us. These aliens have brains, like we do, but they’re mostly inside their arms, and each arm acts as if it has a mind of its own – the aliens are cephalopods. The kinds of decisions that octopus arms can make on their own, such as those involved in self recognition and in complex camouflage, appear to be more complex than simple pain avoidance, and in addition to their arms’ impressive sensory abilities, cephalopods have excellent vision, are capable of generating and storing both short-term and long-term memories, and can learn new tasks with ease. Some species even use tools.
Taking a transit-oriented development approach can make public transport not just viable, but effective in its implementation. Three key elements of urban design support quality public transport, and can help cities move towards a transit-oriented development model. City leaders must reshape the roadways connecting communities within cities; create density around public transport to fuel demand; and design facilities that ensure safe and user-friendly transport systems.
Piketty is right that our political economy favors the growth of inequality, and that inequality in turn poisons our politics. But while we should aspire to create a society that shares its prosperity, we need to address a much bigger gap than the one between rich and poor. We need to address the gap between what’s demanded by our planet and what’s demanded by our economy.
The White House has set up a taskforce to tackle the decline of honey bees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats. Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.
Two major injustices – inequality and climate change – are threatening to undermine the efforts of millions of people to escape poverty and hunger. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives. And as climate change devastates crops and livelihoods, it undoes poor people’s efforts to feed their families.
President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.
The benefits of the Pentagon’s drive for energy efficiency go well beyond improving the U.S military’s energy security and lowering its costs. Through coordination and technology transfers with the private sector, the effort to create a more energy-efficient and secure fighting force could also stimulate innovation beyond the military and help reduce the carbon footprint of many businesses.
It seems only fair and reasonable, therefore, that all fossil-fuel entities, but especially the carbon majors, pay a levy on each ton of coal, barrel of oil, or cubic meter of gas they produce to a new International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which would help to fund efforts to address the worst effects of climate change.
Yesterday saw the release of the most important element of the Obama administration’s climate agenda. To some observers, this looks like the culmination of a long struggle to transform America’s rhetoric about the danger of climate change into action. At most, it is the end of the beginning. A quick look at the politics and the law at issue should explain why.
It took little time for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, in the most high-profile Senate race this year, to distance herself from the Obama administration’s proposal for sharp cuts to emissions from power plants.
In what could foreshadow a legal reckoning of who is liable for the costs of climate change, the class actions against nearly 200 Chicago-area communities look to place responsibility on municipalities, perhaps spurring them to take a more forward-looking approach in designing and engineering for a future made different by climate change.
Antarctica is now losing about 160 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean – twice as much as when the continent was last surveyed. The new assessment comes from Europe’s Cryosat spacecraft, which has a radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the ice sheet.
The World Health Organization has surveyed the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs around the world and come up with disturbing findings. The organization reports on its finding that antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites is an increasingly serious threat in every part of the world.
Chemicals in common household products such as toothpaste, soap and plastic toys have a direct impact on human sperm which could help explain rising levels of male infertility, scientists have found. The findings will raise further concerns about the hidden toxicity of chemicals deemed safe by toxicology tests.
The recently released third National Climate Assessment (NCA) is a collaborative effort by federal agencies and hundreds of experts, that focuses on the science of climate change impacts in the United States that are happening now, and those that are expected throughout this century.
A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. Wordsworth was a walker. Charles Dickens was a walker. Henry David Thoreau walked and walked and walked. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk? This is the era of the “smartphone map zombie” – people who only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in anything or being hit by a car. But you don’t have to be an author to see the value of walking. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking.
A chemical widely used on non-organic American apples was banned in the European Union in 2012 because its makers could not show it did not pose a risk to human health, according to a new analysis by Environmental Working Group (EWG). Even low levels of nitrosamines on raw apples, or in apple juice and applesauce could potentially pose a risk to human health.
We cannot succeed if we define ourselves solely by the things that we’re against. We must be just as effective, creative, and tenacious at identifying and establishing the positive solutions we do want to see. If we don’t articulate a vision for a prosperous society powered by clean energy, then the only “optimistic” perspective is to deny reality and bury one’s head in the sand. And that’s a dangerous thing to do when the seas are rising. So here’s what I want everyone to remember this Earth Day: The world is a wonderful place. In just 90 minutes, enough sunlight strikes this planet to provide our planet’s entire energy needs for one year. The contiguous United States has enough potential wind energy to provide all of our nation’s electricity — nine times over. Renewable energy has become economically competitive faster than anyone imagined just a few years ago — in many places it is already beating all fossil fuels and nuclear power on price alone. Got it? Now, make like Muir and spread the word!
Humans can survive weeks without food, but only days or hours without water. Water is life. So what happens when private companies control the spigot? Evidence from water privatization projects around the world paints a pretty clear picture: Skyrocketing water prices, unsafe supply, failing infrastructure. These problems fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us. This is why public institutions, not private corporations, must lead the development of water systems and delivery.
The greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning on assaults on American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the last 60 years. Tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.
In new estimates released today, WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
As part of an effort to make the public see global warming as a tangible and immediate problem, the White House has inaugurated a website, climate.data.gov, aimed at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps.
Scientists say they have extraordinary new evidence to support a Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe. The breakthrough was announced by an American team that has been using a telescope at the South Pole to make detailed observations of a small patch of sky. The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for “inflation” – the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. inflation came with a very specific prediction – that it would be associated with waves of gravitational energy, and that these ripples in the fabric of space would leave an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky -the famous Cosmic Microwave Background. The team says it has now identified that signal.
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication presents their report on Americans’ Actions to Limit Global Warming. The report provides insight into public interest as regards governmental process and political action, and business activities and consumer action. It also sheds light on efforts to achieve greater domestic energy efficiency.
We face an urgent need to provide innovative responses to natural resource use. Bamboo could play an important role in forest and landscape restoration. With adequate attention, investment, and the right standards in place, it could become a major renewable and sustainable crop—if we can update our outmoded view of it.
A companion to shoppers for a half-century, the plastic bag is now under siege in California, where a growing number of policy makers have come to regard it as a symbol of environmental wastefulness. Lawmakers in Sacramento are trying to make California the first state to approve a blanket ban on this most ubiquitous of consumer products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.
While historic winter storms have battered much of the US, California is suffering its worst drought on record. So why is America’s most valuable farming state using billions of gallons of water to grow hay – specifically alfalfa – which is then shipped to China? Cheap water rights and America’s trade imbalance with China make this not just viable, but profitable.
Putting aside GMOs for the moment, how many of the groceries sold at Walmart would never be stocked on Whole Foods shelves? The 78 ingredients on their blacklist end up comprising over 54% of all the foods sold in Walmart stores. What’s more, approximately 97% of the soft drinks/soda sold at Walmart contain ingredients that Whole Foods considers “unacceptable.”
Climate change may be the world’s “most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction, and urgent global action is needed to combat it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the earth is flat.
More than half the world’s population lives in cities. There is clearly a significant benefit to living in a large permanent settlement with many other humans. But is living in a large city greener than living in a small one? Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Erneson Oliveira and pals at the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil.
A new study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that production in the Athabasca oil sands region is leading to the emission of levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) two to three orders of magnitude higher—that’s one hundred to one thousand times greater—than previously thought.
Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.
Clean coal is an essential component of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, but on the heels of the West Virginia coal-cleaning chemical disaster, amid record climate disruptions and drought and flooding, Obama’s billion dollar bonus to Big Coal might signal “game over” for clean energy and climate initiatives in Illinois.
Utility-sized solar plants are beginning to appear across the US, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the south-west and California. In the west, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible.
We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.
Astronomers have measured the distances between galaxies in the universe to an accuracy of just 1%. This staggeringly precise survey – across six billion light-years – is key to mapping the cosmos and determining the nature of dark energy. While we can’t say with certainty, it’s likely the universe extends forever in space and will go on forever in time.
U.S. scientists believe they may have cracked one of the great biofuel conundrums. They have turned a thick soup of algae into a mix of crude oil, gas, water and plant nutrients in less than an hour. That is, they have taken 60 minutes to do what Nature does—at great pressures and temperatures—over millions of years.
Our generation can end the ancient scourge of extreme poverty, but it can also destroy the earth’s life-support system through human-induced environmental devastation. By necessity, then, we have entered The Age of Sustainable Development. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University is launching a free, global, online university course by the same name in January 2014. Sustainable development is both a way of understanding the world and a way to help save it, it will become the organizing principle for our politics, economics, and even ethics in the years ahead.
In the United States, two very different worlds have come into existence along the same coastline.New York City and New Bern, North Carolina both face the same projected rise in sea levels, but while one is preparing for the worst, the other is doing nothing on principle. A glimpse into America’s contradictory climate change planning.
UN member States have affirmed that the rights to water and sanitation are legally binding in international law, yet their agreement is marred by the reluctance of the United States to join in a universal agreement on the definition of these rights. The U.S. government’s position works against the interests of the billions of people who lack adequate access to water and sanitation.
Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.
In 2012, drought struck nearly eighty per cent of the nation’s farmland, and the growing season was the hottest and driest in decades. Unpredictable weather is hardly rare, or new. For thousands of years, floods, droughts, tornadoes, heat waves, and early frosts have been agriculture’s unyielding enemies. But even the most sophisticated farmer would have trouble planning for the vagaries of today’s climate.
When it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment. Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.
Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now returning to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago. The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.
Canada’s rush to exploit its tar sands and shale gas resources will destroy the environment as fast as possible. A major issue behind climate change is the deficiencies of the market system. Markets are lethal, if only because of ignoring externalities, the impacts of their transactions on the environment.
Ever since man first picked up a spear, other species have suffered. As his technology improved, so his destructive power increased. In a sense, this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, different species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor. Religion sanctioned his ascendancy. But in recent times attitudes have changed.
A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals and predators that populated the Continent long ago. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes — all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.
The Global Risks Report 2013 analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia. This year’s findings show that the world is more at risk as persistent economic weakness saps our ability to tackle environmental challenges.
The latest IPCC report describes our current predicament with disturbing clarity. The details near the top of the knowledge pyramid can and should be intensely debated. But our solid understanding of the fundamentals of global warming – the base of our knowledge of climate science – should provide reason enough to press on with the implementation of carbon-free energy technologies.
Until recently, European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had to rely entirely on the power of his words to push through his policies. That may change as he presents a list of 200 infrastructure projects that he sees as crucial for Europe’s future energy supply. He intends to spend a total of €5.8 billion ($7.9 billion) to promote the cross-border construction of new power lines, energy storage facilities and gas pipeline.
The latest IPCC Report puts a new debate center stage: how to reconcile increased action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with strong economic growth. The primary question that we need to ask is how public policy can help to achieve its core goals while reducing emissions and building a more climate-resilient economy. As science makes clear how imperative the climate question is, it is time for economists and policymakers to explain how it can be answered.
Ikea is to sell solar panels at its British stores for the first time in an attempt to tap growth in the heavily subsidised green energy market. The Swedish company has its own ambitious clean energy target, aiming to source at least 70% of its energy needs from wind and solar by 2015 and 100% by 2020.
Since it was created by the UN in 1988, the IPCC has synthesized scientific thinking around climate change and delivered a series of consensus assessments to policymakers. But the question is now being asked: Is the IPCC still fit for its purpose? It may do good science, but does it deliver what policymakers need?
The pause in global warming is consistent with numerous prior pauses. When walking up stairs in a tall building, it is a mistake to interpret a landing as the end of the climb. The slow rate of warming of the recent past is consistent with the kind of variability that some of us predicted nearly a decade ago.
Water is never far from the news these days. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, experts named water risk as one of the top four risks facing business in the twenty-first century. Major companies are already seizing on water-risk data. The message is clear: water-risk management is shifting into the mainstream of business practices.
The volume of sea ice in the Arctic hit a new low this past winter, according to observations from the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Cryosat mission. In its three years of full operations, Cryosat has witnessed a continuing shrinkage of winter ice volume. It underlines, say scientists, the long-term decline of the floes.
Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoes and mutated dinner entrees were the extent of biotech’s hunger to manipulate the genetic coding of the planet, scientists have now unleashed a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style insects into the wild in order to combat pests.
Corporations are authoritative organizations that can channel extraordinary levels of human, technical, and fiscal resources toward specific problems and missions. Multinational corporations dominate markets, trade, investment, research and development, and the spread of technology. To fight climate change, the international community needs to harness this power
In May the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, the highest since three million years ago. Sea levels then may have been as much as 65 feet above today’s; the Northern Hemisphere was largely ice free year-round. Unless we change course dramatically in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world utterly different in its very geography from the one in which our species evolved. By the next century, if not sooner, large numbers of people will have to abandon coastal areas in Florida and other parts of the world. Some researchers fear a flood tide of climate-change refugees. We’re going to see civil unrest, war. You just wonder how or if civilization will function. How thin are the threads that hold it all together? How do you get people to realize that Miami—or London—will not always be there?
The idea that an impact caused the Permian extinction has been around for a while. But the abruptness of the extinctions indicates the coup de grâce was administered by something else, and that something was an asteroid or a comet causing a huge burp of methane into the atmosphere making things too hot for much of the planet’s animal life.
Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm that hit the Atlantic Seaboard on Oct. 29, left at least 159 dead and caused $65 billion in damages. But as a presidential task force made clear this week, Sandy cannot be considered a seasonal disaster or regional fluke but as yet another harbinger of the calamities that await in an era of climate change.
The devastating wildfire in Southern California that destroyed 26 homes and threatened hundreds of others in the San Jacinto Mountains before it was mostly contained on Sunday has prompted some scientists to examine whether climate change has impacted on the onset and severity of wildfire season.
The battle against wildfires in Oregon, Idaho and Montana has helped push the national cost of fighting fires past $1 billion this year. This year, 33,000 fires have burned 3.4 million acres of land. Scientists suspect climate change could be the cause for the increased destruction, made more expensive as more people live in areas affected by the blazes.