REASON #1: Consider the category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have developed in one season — the intensity attributed to climate change. The latest, hurricane Maria devastated Dominica lost some of its force but still hit Puerto Rico as a category four — the worst in living memory. About two weeks earlier, hurricane Irma flattened St. Maarten with 225 mph winds. Including Matthew last October, there have been three of category 5 strength within the period of a year.
REASON #2: Harvey had been downgraded below a tropical storm in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the waters of the Gulf near the coast were 2.7 to 7.2 degrees F warmer than usual, and it regained strength returning to hurricane force. By the time it reached Houston, it had intensified to a category 4, the second most severe. Not only are waters warming but sea levels are rising exacerbating the effects of the storms — the storm surge rears up over a higher sea level increasing the height of the flood waters.
The heartrending television coverage of Houston shows the tragedy of residents who have lost everything. Schools and universities are closed. Rescuers have arrived from far-away states to help, as among other things there is a shortage of boats to ferry stranded homeowners. Many had never been flooded ever before and figured they were on high enough ground to be safe. The ravages of hurricane Harvey and the record 50 inches of rain in its wake is the result of what is described as a 500-year event. The only trouble with that is there have now been three in the last three years. The rainfall almost doubles each time, and this is by far the worst.
REASON #3: One consequence of the increased frequency of extreme events is scientific scrutiny of the hydrological cycle. Just published in Science (August 11, pp. 588-90), the prestigious organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is research on a vast continental scale in Europe. The 46 authors are one measure of the scope of the work, which looks at flood timing changes. Never previously observed with smaller studies, the authors have been the first to identify a clear climate change signal.
REASON #4: Look at what is happening in the Arctic. The plight of the polar bears, the pollution registered even in Arctic snow, the melting Arctic ice are just some of the symptoms. The latest Arctic Report Card released December 13, 2016 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is peer-reviewed, and brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations, and is key to tracking changes in the Arctic.
What is happening there is frightening. The region has experienced record-setting surface temperatures for three years in a row accelerating the ice and snow melt. In the past quarter-century it has lost two-thirds of the volume of sea ice as well as snow cover. The result is increased exposure of water to sunlight and greater absorption of heat, which in turn melts more ice and snow in a vicious cycle (Martin Jeffries, James Overland and Don Perovich, Physics Today, October 2013).
There is a really worrying photograph of the Arctic showing a large green patch in the middle. Green in the middle of the Arctic you ask yourself! The text explains what is happening. Ice cover is now so thin sunlight is able to penetrate through. That enables plankton to grow in the water below.
REASON #5: Look at the Antarctic. It, too, is not immune. Antarctica is featured in the July 2017 National Geographic. Dramatic satellite photos show how a 225 square mile chunk of ice breaks off from the Pine Island ice shelf, which supports a massive glacier. A second rift is forming already.
REASON#6: Hear just about any scientist working in the field. Every major international scientific academy endorses it including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. And the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2013) has enough detail to convince any rational skeptic — no one can convince the nuts.
REASON#7: Look at the scientists who have been protesting. Thousands of them have marched to protest your administration’s belittling of science. The demonstrations were planned for Earth Day to signal a particular concern with the enormity of current climate policy — across the US and in hundreds of cities across the globe, more than 600 actions on every continent including Antarctica. Your irrational skepticism has them baffled and clearly worried.
Look at all the evidence and the logic for there is only a small window, which is closing rapidly. That is why the scientists were marching. Their discipline, resilient yet based on fact, theoretical yet based on empirical evidence, brings benefits to society as a whole. Their conscience forces them to march.
You don’t fix your car yourself, do you? The experts know more. So, listen to them. It is the only way we can leave a habitable world for future generations.
UN Environment, Google, EC partnership effective to depoliticize water crisis in South Asia
This year the theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind’ and goes hand in hand with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-six which is ‘water for all by 2030’. However, the ground reality in South Asia appears gloomy and too far to achieve the SDG-6 as the countries are still politicizing water crisis.
The women and children walk miles each day in search for water in Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi. While, in India, according to a 2018 WaterAid report, about 163 million people in India lack access to clean water close to their home and 70 percent of the country’s water is contaminated. The situation in Bangladesh is no better, the demand for water in the Dhaka is 2.2 billion liters a day, while the production is 1.9 billion liters a day.
Besides, in Bhutan and Nepal, South Asia’s per capita water availability is already below the world average. The region could face widespread water scarcity— less than 1,000 cubic meters available per person.
Warning bells too have been sounded by Down To Earth, the magazine that Centre for Science and Environment, Bengaluru will see Cape Town-like water crisis in the not too distant future. As the number of waterbodies in Bengaluru has reduced by 79% due to unplanned urbanization and encroachment – while built-up are has increased from 8% in 1973 to 77% now.
Despite common concerns over the inevitable threat of water scarcity South Asian countries have found it difficult to collectively curate effective agreements over efficient water resource management within international river basins. The absence of guiding frameworks plagues hydro-diplomatic relationships of these countries. It is also being said that water will be one of the critical drivers of peace and stability in South Asia in the second decade of the 21st century.
Though there are some joint mechanisms like India-Pakistan Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.Both have repeatedly accused each other of violating the 1960s Indus Waters Treaty that ensures shared management of the six rivers crossing between the two neighbors, which have fought three major wars in the past 71 years.
Yet fast-growing populations and increasing demand for hydropower and irrigation in each country means the Indus is coming under intense pressure. Also, the NASA in one of its reports mentions that the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed basin. Another one is between India-Bangladesh Ganges Water Sharing Treaty of 1996, long-standing and seemingly intractable regional disputes have put a strain on these agreements.
The EastWest Institute, researchers have suggested steps should be taken towards enabling effective hydro-political regimes to take root in South Asia and involved countries should endorse the United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC). This will ensure, sharing of transboundary hydrological data and water bodies would be managed through the Integrated River Basin Management process.
Besides, Hydro-diplomats have a role to play along with the multilateral institutions like the World Bank. Local and international NGOs also have a key role to play by bring all stakeholders of these countries together for cooperation on the Indus basin.
The recent partnership between the UN Environment, Google, and the European Commission, which aims to ‘leave no one behind’ on World Water Day, have launched a groundbreaking data platform that would track the world’s water bodies—and countries’ progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And this partnership could be of vital importance for South Asian countries to depoliticize the water crisis.
I love the the Green New Deal but …
Ever since out first ancestor lit a fire, humans have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Add to that the first herder because ruminants are another large emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG).
Some people want to declare a national emergency and ban fossil fuels within ten years. How? I am for it and all ready to go. But please tell me how. Think of the quarter billion vehicles in the U.S. and the infrastructure supporting them; the myriad gas stations and repair shops and the people employed in them; the thousands of miles of domestic gas pipelines to homes using gas stoves and gas heating. Think of the restructuring, the replacement, the energy required, the megatons of metal and other materials used and their production which all require one thing — energy. And what about air travel and the shipping industry?
What of the millions of jobs lost? Think of the jobholders and their families. Most of these workers cannot switch skills overnight. These are not just the million and a half employed in the industry directly, but include gas company employees, your gas furnace repair and maintenance man, the people building furnaces, gas stoves, the auto repair infrastructure — electric motors of course are darned reliable and need attention only to brakes, tire rotation and battery coolant checks for the most part — and so on.
When you offer this laundry list, the response is likely to be, “Well I didn’t mean that.” In effect, it defines the problem with the Green New Deal: It is remarkably short on the ‘whats’ and especially the ‘hows’. Funny though I first searched for the Green New Deal at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (whose courage I admire greatly) official web page and surprisingly found … well nothing. Why not something practical like mandating solar collectors on new homes constructed?
So you want to suck the CO2 out of the air; you can. It takes 300MW to 500MW of electrical energy per million tons annually. To put it in perspective, we need to remove at least 20 billion tons (20,000 times more) each year to remove the minimum of a trillion tons expected to be emitted by the end of the century. The 10 million megawatt electrical base required for this is ten times the current total US electrical power grid of 1.2 million megawatts.
You want to bring carbon emissions down to zero. I am all for it even though our ancestor — the one who lit the coal fire — could not. Just tell me how. If you want to talk about carbon neutrality … now there’s an idea. But “switching immediately away from fossil fuels” as I read from one advocate recently … I wish it was possible.
The rest of the goals are equally laudable — in fact I have advocated many including the necessity for well-paying jobs, infrastructure spending, eating less meat, and even net-zero emissions. The big question is ‘how’ against entrenched interests.
In the meantime, would someone please electrify my local suburban train. The 1950s diesel-electric locomotives spew black smoke and the carriages were designed in the same era. Worse still, the service is chronically late. Electrification of rail lines and improving public transport in the U.S. should be job one. But every activity — and change particularly — uses energy.
Author’s note: This piece first appeared on counterpunch.org
Seven ways to fix a warming planet
Many people across the world, including schoolchildren, are demanding bolder action on climate change by governments, businesses and investors. There are tremendous opportunities here to “think beyond, solve different,” transform our economies, and change the way we live.
Climate change actions are key to sustainability, and part and parcel of globally agreed efforts in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Agriculture and food
According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, food systems from production to consumption have the potential to mitigate up to 6.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, which is second only to the energy sector. We need a global food transformation in the next 12 years in which food waste is halved and diets and health are improved through decreased animal protein intake. We also need to incentivize climate-smart and sustainable agriculture and end the current unjust food situation in which over 820 million people are undernourished.
Buildings and cities
Responsible for some 70 per cent of energy use, buildings and construction account for 39 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Vast amounts of urban infrastructure are to be built in the coming 15 years as rural-urban migration accelerates. There are huge opportunities here to retrofit existing buildings, improve building standards, and rethink urban planning such as by providing incentives for mini-grid solutions. We also need to tackle human-induced methane, nitrous oxide and CF11 emissions, and find smarter solutions for cooling, heating and waste management.
Educate girls: educated women have fewer and healthier children. Improve global access to, and education on, family planning. We need to focus on economic, social and political inclusion to leave no one behind. Education, skills, and awareness-building are essential ingredients for meaningful inclusion.
Invest in renewables and stop commissioning new coal-fired power plants. We need to redirect fossil fuel subsidies to incentivize large-scale investment and job creation in renewable energy. At the same time, we need energy efficiency standards for electric equipment (lighting, appliances, electric engines, transformers) and a transition towards efficiency-labelled electric equipment.
Help poor countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries could significantly cut emissions by 2020 if industrialized nations made good on their pledge to mobilize US$100 billion a year of climate funding. While energy investment is flowing increasingly towards clean energy, it is not flowing at the rate necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.
Forests and land use
Protect and restore tropical forests. Plant a trillion trees to boost carbon capture, with associated benefits for biodiversity, food security, livelihoods and rural economies. To do this we need to scale up investment to halve tropical deforestation by 2020, stop net deforestation by 2030 globally, and raise around US$50 billion per year to reach a target of 350 million hectares of forest and landscape restoration by 2030 in line with the Bonn Challenge. So far, 168 million hectares of restoration have been pledged by 47 countries. We should avoid any further conversion of peatlands into agricultural land and restore little-used, drained peatlands by rewetting them. We also need to plant more trees on agricultural land and pastures.
Transport is responsible for about one quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions, and set to increase to one-third by 2050, growing faster than any other sector. With the right policies and incentives, significant emission reductions can be achieved. For this to happen, we need to put in place vehicle efficiency standards, incentives for zero-emission transportation and invest in non-motorized mobility. For example, the Indian government is prioritizing policies that are helping to shift freight transport from road to rail.
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