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Lima 2014: Climate Change – Humans Remain the Same

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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Let me report… Of Nearly Everything: From Copenhagen, Durban, Rio+20 to Lima 2014), the conclusion remains the same: We need principles and accorded actions as this is the only way to tackle the grave problems of this planet.

We are lacking the elementary consensus in the Bretton Woods institutions, on Eastern Europe and Ukraine, on the WTO Doha Development round, on a nuclear non-proliferation (and NPT), in the IPCC, on the post-Kyoto negotiations, and finally on the alarming state of environment. Ergo, on a global scale we fundamentally disagree on realities of this planet and the ways we can address them.(1)

I am neither moralizing & idealizing nor agonizing. The world based on agreed principles and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.

Already some years ago, I noted in my writings (and in my lectures) that the confrontational nostalgia and academic inertia keeps recycling the Cold-War rhetoric, although the Soviet Union has disappeared from the geopolitical map over two decades ago. Hence, if these practitioners and thinkers are so fascinated with the simplified either with us, or against us logics – let’s keep it then! Adjusted to reflect our today’s realities (or as the grand Wiz of the EU, Jean Monnet used to say: if you have an unsolvable dilemma – enlarge the context), it would state as follows: either your socio-economic and politico-military policies and practices are for this planet and the very survival of human race or you are against the planet and every form of life inhabiting it.(2) What we have recently witnessed in MENA (including the unmentioned and unmentionable) and elsewhere, is highly disturbing and rather discouraging: as if the confrontational nostalgia, perpetuated by the intense competition over finite resources, in lieu of a real, far-reaching policy-making has prevailed again.(3)

We falsely believed, throughout the 20th century, that the nuclear holocaust will put an end to the entire human race. No! It will be a slow, nearly-unnoticed, gradual but steady construction of the global gas chamber (filled by the green-house gas emissions). And, this is not an environmental alarmism as the environmental nihilists, or to say lobbyists would like to water it down. The way we extract, produce, transport, distribute and consume, the way we keep all this running on a blind obedience to hydrocarbons, and finally the way how we do reflect, contemplate and study on all that (and live in denial of it), inevitably takes us right into the environmental holocaust.(4)

What we euphemistically call Climate Change is actually a brutal war against nature. It is a covert armed conflict since we are predominantly using the so-called monetizing-potent ‘technologies’ instead of firearms in our hands. (For this purpose hereby, the army units are replaced by the demolition-man of other name; ‘transnational corporations’.) This armed insurgency is waged against most of what is beautiful and unique on Earth – on the planet that gave us time and space enough to survive as species and to evolve as cognitive life. Thus, the known sustainability matrix of 3 maximums (of good, of species, and of time) becomes the maximum species, minimum time, and the maximum harm.(5)

Intentionally or not, it is a synchronized attack: We are steadily and passionately polluting our public sphere with the diverting banalities manufactured by the so-call social networks, reality shows, ‘celebrities’ and the like – trivializing the contents of our lives. At the same time, we are massively contaminating our biosphere (waters, lands, air and near outer space) with non-degradable and/or toxic, solid or aerosol, particles radiation and noise – irreversibly harming our habitat. We pollute the time as well, turning it into cross-generation warfare’s battlefield: Our dangerous patterns might seal off the fate for untold number of generations and sorts of species to come. No wonder, our corrosive assertiveness has (time-space) parallels: acidifying of oceans and brutalization of our human interactions, as well as over-noising both are just two sides of a same coin. What is the social sphere for society that is the biosphere for the very life on earth: the (space/time – content/form) frame we live in all.

Therefore, our crisis cannot be environmental, as it was never a financial – our crisis must be a moral one. This is a cognitive deficit crisis, which we would love to eagerly spend in a limbo of denial!   
Are we intentional in persistently spreading climate-change denial? Has the human race already passed the point of no return of its survival? Frankly, we do not know! Very sincerely, we do not care!

In every OECD country, an ordinary plumber (with just a few years of formal education and of no expectation pressure) is of a considerably better income then the university professor or the hospital doctor with a higher medical specialization (both of the huge societal responsibilities and both with over two decades of studies through the rigorous selections). Per average, the bank clerk (with under- or Matura level) of any banking entity in the EU states earns 14 to 16 salaries annually (basically, creating no new value for the society), but is nearly – per definition – protected by a life-long employment contract. At the same time, the majority of the EU double-PhD top researchers (per definition, creating a new value for the society) have comparably lower total annual pay, and many of them are just happy to win a 2 to 5 years research contract with the murky hope that the funding might be extended.(6)

Nearly all football players in the European Premier League, as well as the Formula I drivers (essentially the modern age gladiators, usually with a little to no formal education whatsoever) have individually higher yearly income than many key research institutes in the OECD states can afford to spend annually. Besides the superficial entertainment (enveloped in the ovations of masses on a brink of collective orgasm à la Mussolini parades), it is actually a triumph of brutal competition or competing brutality (football) and a massive exhaustion of hydrocarbons (Formula I) – what added value do they create to be so disproportionately overpaid?(7)

Some may contra-argue by stating that the present-day football celebrates the sports and a healthy life though the triumph of the physical strength of a sportsman. The Antique Greece has celebrated its athletes, and nearly worshiped the contesters and winners of the Games paying a tribute to the all-mighty Olympus. Equally, the old Greeks largely encouraged and celebrated, promoted and (financially) supported its philosophers and scientists. It was the age when the consciousness blossomed, wisdom flourished and knowledge triumphed – the theoretical basis of all essential technological breakthroughs, that occurred in the course of subsequent centuries up to nowadays, are in fact originating from the Ancient Eagan world. Ergo, the Classic times knew about the important equilibrium between an intellect and human body.(8) Modern Age has forgotten, disregarded, abandoned, betrayed and tacitly ridiculed this evolutionary wisdom.

Irrespective of our wrongly placed priorities (and passionately sustained craving to re-channel and discourage, to derail and denounce any serious debate, far too often by hiding behind a superficial entertainment), of our obscure and encouraged greed and incompetence, of our silencing, of all our residual or imposed ignorance and arrogance, and of our paramount and loud anti-intellectualism, the real facts are immitigable and are inexorably defeating:
–    There is not a single peer-reviewed international journal that has published even one scientific article in last 30 years, which reports on factual evidences that any organic (marine and conti- nental biota) or inorganic (soil, glaciers, water, polar caps, etc) system is doing better on this planet.
–    There has not been a single RE or UN report in last 30 years that credibly denies a worrying increase in severity and frequency of “natural” catastrophes worldwide.
–    Finally, there is not a single internationally recognized medical journal that has not been constantly reporting on an alarming increase in skin-cancers, respiratory and allergy related diseases for the past 30 years.   

We are drifting, dissolving and retreating on all levels and within each and every organic or inorganic system. For the grave, burning planetary problems, our human race needs an urgent and lasting consensus which presupposes bravery, virtue, vision and creativity. All this will not result from fear of coercion, or from further military (nuclear) confrontations, but from the universally shared willingness to accord our common planetary cause. Cognitive mind can do it all.
    


(1)    Additionally, we fundamentally disagree on a role to be played by technology, even on a very definition on what should be considered as technology. Technology is not a state-of-art of science; technology is a state of mind! It is not a linear progression in mastering the natural science disciplines, but a cognitive, emphatic cluster–mastering of the critical insight.   

(2)    As H. G. Wells once said in a different context: It is clearly the universe or nothing!   
(3)    Sagan, the great Cosmic Fugue’s storyteller, claims: “Up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perception awaits us. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic, religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars”.   
(4)    It is not only that our energy appetite is increasing. In a peak-time of what we call the ‘technological age’, our inability to achieve any global energy efficiency is widening as well. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), the total Primary Energy Supply (PES) in 1973 totalled at 6.107 Mtoe while the global Final Energy Consumption (FEC) for the same year totalled at 4.672 Mtoe. Still over 90% based on fossil hydrocarbons but already doubled in less than 40 years, the PES in 2010 was at 12.717 Mtoe while our FEC scored only 8.677 Mtoe. Ergo, we greedily demand more to burn but also to waste.   
(5)    The Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi has stated in its Report the following: „Climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 people, and economic cost rocketing to $ 600 billion.” Usually the confidential reports of the reinsurance industry leaders such as Swiss RE or Munich RE are less optimistic and more realistic than this one of the GHF.    
(6)    However, ignorance is bliss: In 2010, the GHF that authored such an indispensable report: Human Impact Report – Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, has shut down for lack of funds. The organization was unable to raise enough cash to stay afloat “because of the global economic crisis. On 31 March 2010 the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs announced that the Forum was over-indebted and obliged to cease its activity. “   
(7)    Finalists of different TV primetime tirades (so-called Reality shows) that mushroomed in the last decade are receiving generous paychecks and enormous media coverage. This is the way how these anonymous nobodies are overnight becoming prominent celebrities, societal roll-models with the wide influence, unquestionable authority and respect in the blink of an eye. In this constellation a subtle, yet message is clear: the education and to it related creativity, innovations, patents, and discoveries – notably a regular career path based on a diligent creation of new value for the entire society appears as a choice for the misfortunate youth, as the last resort for the failed segments of society.    
(8)    As Plato claims, the famous philosopher from Miletus Thales’ saying Νοῦς ὑγιὴς ἐν σώματι ὑγιεῖ – Healthy Soul in a Healthy Body (or in Latin: Mens sana in corpore sano).  

References:

1.    The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN FCCC/1992/84, GE.05-62220 (E) 200705 and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN FCCC of 1998, UN Office of Legal Affairs;
2.    Final Document: Durban Climate Summit 2011, The Climate Institute;
3.    IEA (2011), World Energy Outlook 2011, OECD – IEA Publications
4.    Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 109)   
5.    Global Humanitarian Forum (2009), Human Impact Report – Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, GHF, Geneva
6.    Dresner, S. (2002), The Principle of Sustainability, EarthScan London
7.    Smith, L.C. (2010), The World in 2050 – Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, Dutton (by Penguin group)
8.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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How Climate Change Affects Water Resources in Costa Rica

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Sitting on the thin stretch of land that separates the Pacific from the Caribbean, Costa Rica has in recent years experienced above-average ocean temperatures and the first hurricane ever recorded. With the help of the IAEA, its scientists are now turning to isotopic techniques to monitor these extreme weather events and protect the country’s water and population, in a region that has been identified as an area that could be particularly affected by climate change.

“Water has memory,” said Ricardo SánchezMurillo, coordinator of the Stable Isotopes Research Group at the National University of Costa Rica in Heredia. “With isotopes, we can record this memory and use the current information we gather in precipitation to understand past climate events and improve Costa Rica’s planning to face future meteorological events, including hurricanes.” In 2015, after a severe drought period, Central America saw one of the strongest El Niño Southern Oscillations — a warming of the ocean surface that has been happening in the region for centuries. One year later, Costa Rica faced the first hurricane recorded to date in the southernmost region of Central America.

“We didn’t have any historical records of hurricanes impacting Costa Rica,” SánchezMurillo said. “So we were susceptible and suffered the consequences, because we didn’t know how to respond.”

Such phenomena carry with them a collection of isotopic fingerprints that scientists like Sánchez-Murillo can capture using special nuclear-derived techniques. Once recorded, they use the isotope data, coupled with climatic models and past climatic records, to predict the frequency, magnitude and intensity of future meteorological events and inform authorities, who in turn can be better prepared. The science behind this is called isotope hydrology (see Isotope hydrology).

“We now have the tracers, which act as a sentinel,” Sánchez-Murillo said. “These techniques give us the capacity to see what conventional instruments cannot reach. Where conventional methods cannot see, isotopes can.”

Using isotopic techniques to study poorly understood water systems, experts are also finding solutions to water challenges related to climate change that are affecting even the wettest regions, including Costa Rica. With these techniques, scientists can determine the quantity and quality of water supplies. They use naturally occurring isotopes as tracers to find out where groundwater comes from, if it is recent or old, if it is being recharged or polluted, and how it travels.

Through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, hydrologists in Costa Rica have received support and training to develop a monitoring network that traces precipitation and underground water processes.

Understanding rainfall patterns helps hydrologists know where, when and how water is recharged — information that is key to devising land and water management plans. With isotopes, they have studied water in the Central Valley, a biological corridor between the Pacific and Caribbean slopes that supplies drinking water to approximately a fifth of Costa Rica’s population, around one million people. And today, they know the exact height and zones from which aquifers get new water.

“Understanding the key factors controlling rainfall patterns and their relationship with groundwater recharge is essential for government and environmental agencies to prioritize resources and efforts,” Sánchez Murillo said. “Now that we know the critical recharge areas and how groundwater travels, we can prioritize the conservation of these areas over commercial activities.”

Impacting policy

The work by Sánchez-Murillo and his team is intended to enable the government to target conservation measures at the most critical areas of recharge. This would, in turn, allow residents, farmers, or businesses to continue developing activities without having a negative impact on the sources of water.

“While we have always had regulations in place to protect our water, the difference is that now we can be more precise, more efficient,” Sánchez-Murillo said. “We know exactly which areas need special attention, and we know how to protect them to ensure water supply for now and the coming decades.”

THE SCIENCE

Isotope hydrology

Every water molecule has hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but these are not all the same: some atoms are lighter and some are heavier.

“All natural waters have a different hydrogen and oxygen isotopic composition,” said IAEA isotope hydrologist Lucía Ortega. “We use this isotopic composition as the fingerprints of water.”

As water evaporates from the sea, molecules with lighter isotopes tend to preferentially rise. As rain falls, molecules with heavier isotopes fall sooner. The further the cloud moves inland, the higher the proportion of molecules with light isotopes in rain.

When water falls to the earth, it fills lakes, rivers and aquifers, Ortega said. “By measuring the difference in the proportions between the light and heavy isotopes, we can estimate the origin of different waters.”

In addition, the abundance of naturally occurring radioactive isotopes present in water, such as tritium and noble gas isotopes dissolved in the water, can be used to estimate groundwater age — from a few days to one millennia. “And this is key to help us assess the quality, quantity and sustainability of water,” she said.

Climate change and water were topics discussed during the IAEA’s 2018 Scientific Forum. See more information about the Forum, titled Nuclear Technology for Climate: Mitigation, Monitoring and Adaptation, here.

IAEA

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How Genetics and Pollution Are Threatening Wild Dolphins

Meena Miriam Yust

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Dolphins are beautiful, highly intelligent and uncannily human in their interactions. Yet, they also have a language we humans cannot fully hear, and a culture that is in some ways similar to our own, and in others, a complete mystery.

Like us, they have circles of friends and acquaintances, with different greetings for different individuals, as if by name. They travel swiftly within a home range of about 100-square kilometers but can go further when they want to. They have the sleek design of a jet plane fuselage and the intelligence that comes with a 1,600-gram complexly structured brain. (The human brain is 1,300 grams.)

Found in almost all the world’s oceans, they communicate with friends and family through clicks and whistles, and echolocation allows them to view the world around them. They pass on knowledge of culture and tools through the generations from mother to daughter, a matrilineal line that preserves and protects their heritage.

Approximately 40 species of dolphins exist. Many belong to the Delphinidae (ocean dolphin) family, including the orca; others live in rivers. Collectively, there are approximately 90 species of cetaceans, the order comprising whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Scientists analyzing the dolphin brain have determined that, like us, they possess a very complex neocortex — a region of the brain linked to awareness, emotions, problem-solving and other human-like abilities. Further, the limbic (emotional) system in some species is even more complex than humans.

These sensitive creatures have made the headlines in the past few months. An endangered orca known as Tahlequah mourned the tragic loss of her baby, carrying her dead calf for a record 17 days and 1,000 miles on what some have deemed a “tour of grief.”

Shortly following Tahlequah’s tragedy, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the species of orca on the West coast of the US that has become critically endangered. The suit alleged that the agency has neglected to establish habitat protection for the orcas. With only 75 of these orcas left, the population is the lowest it has been in 30 years.

Meanwhile, a combination of factors is threatening the very survival of these animals.

Genetics and Pollution

A recent study published in the journal Science delivers a serious warning as to the likelihood that dolphins and other marine mammals could be extirpated by pollutants. The discovery concerns an evolutionary change to DNA approximately 53 million years ago, which makes cetaceans particularly sensitive and therefore vulnerable.

Their bodies underwent various gradual changes during this evolutionary period. One of these changes was the alteration of DNA that codes for a particular enzyme known as PON1. Scientists believe the enzyme’s metabolic processes were no longer needed for a life underwater. Terrestrial mammals, by contrast, maintained the intact DNA and its enzyme, which humans have to this day.

But 53 million years later, the genetic change has become marine mammals’ Achilles’ heel, thanks to human invention. The enzyme has a second function — an ability to defend against neurotoxins found in pesticides. Without PON1, these animals are unable to break down the neurotoxin and can be poisoned.

Dolphins and other sea creatures with the PON1 problem are thus defenseless against agricultural runoff containing pesticides. Part of the reason the endangered infant orcas off the coast of California are having trouble is this kind of pollution. Marine mammals by the Florida coast are at risk as well, as scientists sampling waterways have found significant levels of chlorpyrifos pesticide contamination.

Dolphins have also been disappearing from areas around the globe they once inhabited, such as off the coast of Argentina. There, where dolphins were once common, only “a single resident population” is believed to be left. Heavy metal contamination and overfishing are likely contributors the decline. Elevated levels of lead, zinc, copper and cadmium have been found in mollusks, crustaceans and sea lions, as well as elevated levels of mercury, cadmium, zinc and copper in bottlenose dolphins. Metals pass from mother’s milk to the baby, resulting in the newborn dolphin having a weakened immune system and a lower probability of survival. The bottlenose dolphin is believed to be a common species globally and consequently people are less concerned about it than they should be; in certain localities these dolphins are quietly disappearing, as along the Argentinian coast. Scientists warn that the Argentina study “provides an example of how the failure to recognize local population declines can threaten the national (and eventually the international) status of a once common marine species.”

To be sure, dolphins are facing similar toxic threats around the world. While metal pollution off the coast of Argentina is assumed to have resulted from decades-old mine waste, it is by no means unique to South America. Scientists examining the waters of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, discovered high levels of toxic metals including bromine, lead, mercury and cadmium. The toxins came from plastics, some of which had been banned or restricted decades ago, indicating the toxins remain in the environment for years. Plastic pollution is especially pervasive in oceans that dolphins inhabit – estimated at 150 million metric tons, with 8 million more tons added annually. Tellingly, a Malaysian dolphin was found dead after digesting nine pounds of plastic bags.

Chemicals can have a lasting and sometimes irreversible impact on the environment. Without containment, poisons that were banned years ago seep out of landfills, into streams and oceans, permanently contaminating water. For some species, a death sentence has already been passed. Change has come too late for the orca variety of dolphin, also known as the killer whale. This is the sad revelation recently published in the journal Science regarding polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and orcas. PCBs banned more than 30 years ago have leached into the oceans, and killer whales as apex predators are “the most PCB contaminated mammals in the world,” say the researchers, who found some of the killer whales had 1,300 milligrams per kilo of PCBs in their blubber – 50 milligrams per kilo has been shown in previous research to be sufficient to cause infertility and serious immune system problems. As with metals, mothers pass the PCBs on to their babies through milk. The researchers predict that “PCB-mediated effects on reproduction and immune function threaten the long-term viability of [more than] 50% of the world’s killer whale populations.” They forecast a population collapse of orcas near industrialized regions, as well as in regions where orcas feed on larger prey. In short, half of the world’s orcas will be gone in just a few decades.

Some dolphin species are already very close to extinction. The Yangtze River dolphin, also known as “baiji,” has lived in the river for 20 million years. There were thousands in the 1950s, but in the year 2000, there were a mere 13. By 2006, scientists pronounced the species extinct after an unsuccessful six-week hunt by conservationists. Its current status is either extinct or near extinction — in 2016, some amateurs believe they may have seen a baiji, although they are not certain. The baiji would be the first dolphin made extinct by humans, in this case through pollution, dam-building, overfishing and boat traffic.

Dolphins face threats from climate change as well. Twelve dolphins were washed ashore in one week this summer in Florida, as a result of a red tide disasterdue in part to rising temperatures, with six killed in 24 hours. Such numbers have usually been an annual loss in the past.

Dolphins face a particular and cruel peril in Japan. The town of Taiji holds an annual dolphin “drive hunt” in which more than 1,000 dolphins are massacred each year. Hunters find a pod of dolphins and first create a clamor to disrupt the dolphins’ sonar, upsetting the dolphins and driving them into a cove, where they are then killed one by one, as the water in the cove turns red.

Even when dolphins are captured and kept in captivity, they react to their surroundings.

Dolphin Intelligence and the Future of the Animal Population

That dolphins are highly emotional is well-known. Peter — a dolphin kept in captivity after being moved to a smaller facility and permanently separated from the regular keeper he loved — fell into depression. Dolphins do not breathe air automatically the way humans do; each breath must be made consciously. A dolphin who has lost the will to live does not swim to the surface for his next breath. This was the fate of Peter; imprisoned and friendless at the new facility, he did not swim up for air and was found lifeless on the tank floor.

The emotional intelligence of dolphins reveals that trauma and separation will hurt dolphin families for years to come. The bloody waters of Taiji might hold the carcasses but not all the casualties. The many Peters of the world, having lost loved ones forever, can also lose the will to live.

At the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists pondered the ethical and policy implications of dolphin intelligence. Neurobiologist Lori Marino argued that they may be Earth’s second-smartest creature. One can only agree.

A philosopher at the meeting proposed that dolphins perhaps ought to be considered “nonhuman persons.” He marvels at how, in addition to emotions and self-awareness, dolphins have personalities, exhibit self-control and even treat others ethically.

If a dolphin species becomes extinct, we lose not only a beautiful animal but a society and its culture. Dolphin habitat often spans the seas of many countries. Preserving them at home only to have them slaughtered on another shore is heart-wrenching. Preserving them abroad only to see them poisoned by pollution here is equally tragic. Countries must work together to ensure the survival of dolphins who swim beyond our borders, particularly as risks are compounded by climate change and pollution. The killing of whales for commercial purposes has been banned for many years. At the very least, this can be extended to their cousins now that we know they are under threat.

Pesticide use has to be regulated, particularly along the coasts to minimize PON1-related neurotoxic poisoning. Allowing a 53-million-year-old Achilles’ heel to be shot with the dart of human invention would be a tragedy. Minimizing plastic pollution is essential to dolphins as well. Preventing further PCB leakage into the oceans must also be a priority to save the orca populations, half of which are already facing collapse due to PCB-poisoning.

We have already witnessed the long-lasting effects of chemical runoff, from the decades-old plastic-derived toxins in Lake Geneva, to the 30-year-old PCBs seeping into oceans around the world. Once waters are contaminated, no one can go back. It is already too late for some orcas. Consequently, while we still can, we must prevent further contamination.

If nations can work together to minimize ocean pollution and affect laws to prevent chemical runoff, perhaps then Tahlequah and her fellow orcas will have greater success with the next generation of calves, and our children and grandchildren will continue to know the pleasure of seeing an orca or a bottlenose dolphin leap magnificently from the ocean.

Author’s note: this article first appeared in Truthout.org.

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Does the Latest IPCC Report Offer Hope For Earth

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Hurricanes and storms on both sides of the Atlantic appeared to encore the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.  It had just concluded the finalization of a special report on the impact of a 1.5 degree Celsius global warming above preindustrial levels.  Meeting in Incheon, South Korea (October 1-5), its three working groups of experts and government officials have huddled and jousted to strike a consensus on what will be necessary to restrict warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius when the globe is already up one degree.  What will earth be like with this level of warmth and what will happen if we fail?

Two earlier versions (January and June 2018) of the report were depressing to frightening.  They were made available for about a month for comment by experts and interested parties.  The real problem is a narrow window because human activity in the world emits 40 billion tons of CO2 per year — about 90 times the emission from volcanoes.  At some point, there will be enough in the atmosphere where the 1.5 degree rise will be a foregone conclusion.  While guesswork to some extent, it appears we have about 12 years before we exhaust the ‘carbon budget’; if we accept a 2C rise the date is 2045.

The tone may have been softened in the second report, but there is ‘substantial’ certainty the 2 degrees C target of the 2015 Paris Agreement, once considered safe, would be dangerous for humanity.  As the agreement also required governments to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, the remit to IPCC was to prepare a report comparing the consequences of the two alternatives as well as the feasibility and effort required to limit the rise to the lower figure.  The final report released on Oct 8, 2018 reviews 30,000 publications.

The fact that parts of the earth are already warmer than the 2 degree C figure and the results are observable should be a driver for governments.  In the Arctic, for example, where temperatures have risen up to 3 degrees C, the effort has seen chunks of icebergs breaking off and polar bears having difficulty in catching seals because of fewer blowholes — where they normally wait in ambush.  Current temperatures are higher than they ever have been in the past two millennia.

For low-lying Pacific Islands the 1.5C goal is critical for many there would lose habitat and some islands are expected to disappear under the 2C target.  The Maldives in the Indian ocean are partly under water, and some Pacific islands have already disappeared as average world sea levels rise by 3 mm a year.  Yet Tuvalu has become an exception and its land area, studied from 1971 to 2014, is growing.  Eight of its nine atolls are found to be still rising, increasing the “area by 29 percent, even though sea levels in the country rose by twice the global average.”

Even so the consequences of the earth already being 1 degree C higher than preindustrial times are apparent in the  proliferation of extreme weather events.  Unduly powerful hurricanes as in Puerto Rico or Houston, record-breaking forest fires in the U.S. and Australia, monsoons in South India this year that in Kerala have been the worst in this century, and the record temperatures in northern Europe are a few examples.  Last week the 155 mph Category 5 Hurricane Michael, 5 mph short of Category 6, devastated the Florida panhandle and continued its destruction onward into Georgia and beyond.  It was the strongest to hit this part of Florida since records began in 1881.  On the other side of the Atlantic within a week, storms and hurricanes battered Europe:  Hurricane Leslie in Portugal, storm Callum in Britain and heavy rains in France causing flash floods in the Aude region of south-west France.  All of which can be expected to worsen as the earth’s mean temperature rises, increasing in both frequency and intensity.

The IPCC report presents four pathways (p.19 Executive Summary) each with net zero CO2 emissions within the next quarter century.  The least interventionist scenario utilizes only afforestation to remove CO2.  The report is optimistic in demonstrating synergies (p.27) with sustainable development goals.  That CO2 removal technologies known as direct air capture (DAC) are also being developed successfully adds to the optimism.

At the same time the warnings are clear.  All the options require a rapid decarbonization of the fuel s:upply i.e. no fossil fuels — coal just about gone by 2050 and three-quarters of the energy from renewables (p.19 after four pathways graphs).  The risks for fisheries and coral reefs will remain high (p.13) even with the 1.5C scenario and coastal populations and farming will be worse off than now.  Severe weather consequences can be expected to worsen.  But all that is the world to be.  Hence the argument for the most interventionist scenarios where the atmospheric CO2 is eventually reduced.

For all this the need to act now is clear in the facts and numbers.

Author’s Note:  An earlier version of this article appeared on counterpunch.org.

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