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Why This Planet Is Becoming Uninhabitable

Eric Zuesse

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There are now overt indications that this planet is becoming uninhabitable. Not only are increasing numbers of humans migrating from near the Equator, northward toward nations that have more temperate climates, but also there are stronger and more frequent hurricanes and longer droughts and spreading desertification and larger and more frequent forest fires, all of which are lowering agricultural productivity in the global-overheating areas from which these migrants are coming. This is forcing billions of people to relocate from rural farming southern regions into big cities, and ultimately toward the cooler climates of the more-polar regions, as the large central Equatorial belt of our increasingly hot planet becomes less and less inhabitable for more and more of the people who are so unfortunate as to be still living there. Thus, instead of food being grown in that broad Equatorial belt where the Earth is fat and large, it’s increasingly being grown near the narrow, tiny, polar region. Agriculture is moving northward, and, as it does so, it will be occupying a band too small to feed the world. Agriculture is thus being severely threatened worldwide by global heating. Starvation will consequently soar, as this planet increasingly burns.

The inhabitable portion of this planet is shrinking, decade-by-decade, and especially century-by-century. A reasonable expectation would be that the grandchildren of today’s generation will routinely fight each other for food.

The Trump Administration finally now publicly accepts that all these things will happen, and sooner than scientists had been predicting even as recently as only a decade ago. But this Presidential Administration is determined to do nothing about it.

Here is the summary statement of the Trump Administration’s rationale for abolishing the Obama Administration’s anti-global-warming fuel-economy standards, as the Trump Administration has stated it, on page 107 of their finalized document. (The original document, which was their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement” on this matter, had been dated July 2018.) This final document was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on 16 October 2018. The public-comment period on that document closed ten days later, on 26 October 2018, and the document says:

[page 107:]NHTSA’s Environmental Impact Statement performed for this rulemaking shows that the preferred alternative [abolishing the Obama Administration’s fuel-economy standard] would result in 3/1,000ths of a degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by 2100, relative to the standards finalized in 2012 [which Trump is abolishing]. On a net CO2 basis, the results are similarly minor. The following graph compares the estimated atmospheric CO2 concentration (789.76 ppm) in 2100 under the proposed standards to the estimated level (789.11 ppm) under the standards [being abolished] set forth in 2012 — or [only] an 8/100ths of a percentage increase [as compared to the Obama-standards]:

Figure 2-4 – Estimated Atmospheric CO2 Concentration in 2100

Net Benefits from Preferred Alternative

Maintaining the MY 2020 curves for MYs 2021-2026 will save American consumers, the auto industry, and the public in general a considerable amount of money as compared to if EPA retained the previously-set CO2 standards and NHTSA finalized the augural [original] standards. This was identified as the preferred alternative, in part, because it maximizes net benefits compared to the other alternatives analyzed. Comment is sought on whether this is an appropriate basis for selection. [But that comment-period has already ended.]

A 789 ppm (parts per-million) CO2 (carbon dioxide) level compares against today’s 407 ppm, and that 382 ppm increase will, according to their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement”, raise global atmospheric temperatures by an estimated “3.48°C (6.27°F)” between now and the end of this century. That document’s summary asserts:

“Global mean surface temperature is projected to increase by approximately 3.48°C (6.27°F).”

“Projected sea-level rise in 2100 ranges from a low of 76.28 centimeters (30.03 inches) … to a high of 76.34 centimeters (30.06 inches) [depending upon which policy-option they adopt].”

With ocean-levels being raised around a yard by this century’s end, and hurricane-intensities being substantially increased, many coastal areas will have to become abandoned. Their plunged property-values haven’t even begun to be priced in to their inevitable downward spiral toward zero usability and thus economic worthlessness, as the coasts move inland. Since the self-reinforcing effects of higher ppm causing higher temperatures causing even higher ppm, temperatures have become clearly a vicious circle that’s beyond control, so that a yard higher by 2010 could become ten yards higher, much faster than the Paris Climate Accord was assuming would be the case if the world makes no policy changes at all — which is what Trump wants: no policy-changes. The shoddy Paris Agreement benchmark was to avoid exceeding 1.5 degree Centigrade or around 2.7 degree Fahrenheit temperature-rise by 2100, but that now clearly cannot be achieved, and so Trump and other recent global-warming deniers are ‘vindicating’ themselves by saying that the failure to do something when something could have been done is ‘confirmation’ that they were right, after all. They were ‘right’ to say “Don’t feed the horse,” because now the horse can no longer even be salvaged.

Furthermore:

5.3.4 Tipping Points and Abrupt Climate Change 

The term tipping point is most typically used, in the context of climate change, to describe situations in which the climate system (the atmosphere, hydrosphere, land, cryosphere, and biosphere) reaches a point at which a disproportionally large or singular response in a climateaffected system occurs as a result of a moderate additional change in the inputs to that system (such as an increase in the CO2 concentration). … [It] could result in abrupt changes in the climate or any part of the climate system. Abrupt climate changes could occur so quickly and unexpectedly that human systems would have difficulty adapting to them.

They are asserting what the scientific consensus has been asserting for the past fifty years, and with ever-increasing confidence: that the graph of future temperatures is now like a hockey-stick, and we’ve reached the suddenly and increasingly upward far-right side of it, where there’s runaway global heating and will soon (perhaps within even 200 years) be global burnout — an unlivable planet.

Basically, the Trump Administration is saying that by the present century’s end, this planet will be hellish, and that it will become unlivable soon thereafter, and that nothing can be done now to prevent any of this, because it’s too late to start and runaway global heating has already begun and it can’t be stopped.

The Trump Administration is therefore saying to its Republican base, that they had been suckers to believe them when they were asserting that global warming is a hoax (and had even been making fun of the people who were taking seriously the global-warming threat), or that it’s not Man-made; Trump is now publicly saying that it is Man-made, and that Man has, in fact, done it, and it’s now too late to stop or even to slow significantly; so, we should just forget about it. Their changed message now is: Buy your gas-guzzlers, because life’s going to be hell for your grandchildren and for virtually everyone anyway, so don’t worry about it.

Rex Tillerson, before he became Trump’s Secretary of State, was the CEO of ExxonMobil; and on 29 May 2013 he addressed his stockholders likewise that the reason not to worry about global warming is that it can’t be stopped. Here is the opening of one news-report about that, at the time:

Exxon Mobil CEO: We’re Going In, Can’t Pull Up, Brace For Impact

2 June 2013. Julian Cox

May 29th in what is set to become a defining moment in the history of capitalism; Rex Tillerson, the CEO of the world’s most valuable company, Exxon Mobil (XOM), in an address to shareholders redefined the meaning of rational self interest for the markets everywhere in a short series of astonishing quotes:

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” “We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 [ppm] outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world,”

“So the real question is, do you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at costs that will be detrimental? Or do you want to talk about what’s the path we should be on and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?”

The most interesting things about these statements:

  1. No more denial of scientific evidence.
  2. No more diversion about whether human activity or something else is to blame.
  3. No more disingenuous claims that NG or Hydrogen are clean fuels.

Just an honest and straightforward macroeconomic outlook: We are on a collision course with the consequences of rising CO2 levels, we cannot afford to stop it, and so there is nothing Exxon can offer but a warning to prepare for the worst. …

Here’s one of the numerous studies that have been done showing how the free-market approach has produced this coming hell-on-earth. To summarize its proven-true message: Making suckers of people is extremely profitable, and the richest people are the ones who are the most adept at doing it. They’ve won. Pity our grandchildren.

Some American teens (who definitely aren’t suckers) are suing the U.S. Government for violating the U.S. Constitution’s requirement to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” by the Government’s having refused to do what it must do against climate-change. The Trump Administration (on behalf of investors in America’s coal, oil, and gas corporations) unsuccessfully tried to block the suit.

Tillerson, to his stockholders, and now Trump, to his voters, say: Just have fun. Don’t worry about any grandchildren, and not even about your own children. This is the message, both to psychopathic stockholders, and to stupid voters. It’s obviously a winning message. It has already won. It’s the way any aristocracy wins: by lies, plus their societal system in which no accountability exists for the kingpins at the top of even the biggest crime that has ever been perpetrated, this world-ending crime. It is dictatorship by the aristocracy. That’s what we’ve had. And that’s the reason why this planet is becoming uninhabitable and why the process is now unstoppable — runaway global burning, soon to become hell-on-Earth. No religious “Apocalypse.” Just the result of billionaire psychopaths, and their fools.

Back in 2017, when the Paris Climate Agreement goal was “to keep global temperature rise well below 2° Celsius” and the realistic expectation was “that temperatures will rise between 2C and 4.9C by 2100”, there were no official predictions, anywhere, of a “3.48°C (6.27°F)” rise by 2100. In 2017, the fear was that the migrant-crisis might be “One Billion by 2050”, and “Up To 2 Billion Refugees By 2100”, and clearly the Trump Administration now accepts it. Trump’s response to this catastrophe is urgently to send the military and razor-wire to our southern border in order to block those people from getting out of their increasing hell. What these emigrants experience now is what all Americans will be experiencing in coming decades, but today’s refugees from the south are already experiencing it, and trying to escape it. They are trying to escape a global problem that the U.S. did more than any other country to cause.

By far, the one nation that (especially on a per-capita basis) has produced the largest percentage of CO2 in the global atmosphere is the U.S. — the very same nation that has now abandoned the Paris Climate Agreement because that Agreement doesn’t ‘sufficiently’ place the burden of clean-up from this catastrophic mess upon other nations, such as India and other near-Equatorial lands which are mainly in the near-Equatorial areas that will be suffering the most from the overheating that the U.S. has done more than any other nation to cause. For some reason, these victim-countries are not economically sanctioning and boycotting the products and services from their chief victimizer, their chief bringer-of-doom. Either the victim-countries will retaliate until the victimizer-country is forced to agree to take the exceptional steps that it would now need to take in order to reverse the global process that is unfolding, or else the victim-countries will let the U.S. continue to rape the planet. For the United States, the requirements should be and must be required to be far more stringent than are applied to the developing countries especially. If the U.S. will take that conscientious and intelligent path, then perhaps the U.S. will even lead the world to the technological breakthroughs that will now be needed in order to be able to reverse global warming. The U.S. would also benefit from doing that. Global burnout will otherwise destroy every nation. But if the victim-countries avoid forcing the U.S. to do what it must, the victim-countries will be raped even harder. Clearly, now, the United States won’t do what it needs to do, unless it’s forced to. The U.S. must be forced to become a decent member of the global community of nations. Or else, the world is doomed.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Green Planet

Climate Risks: Wildfires, Glacier Melt, Coastal Flooding … A Beautiful Antelope

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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California wildfires are again in the news as the Kincade Fire now raging risks 50,000 people, who have been evacuated.  It might come as a surprise but there have been 41,074 wildfires compared to 47,853 in 2018 for the first nine months of the year.  Blame the downslope Santa Ana winds for fanning them.  Fires can occur naturally through lightning strikes but these days some 90 percent are due to human carelessness:  discarded cigarettes, unquenched campfires and the like, all exacerbated by a warming climate.  Killing 85 people, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history seemed to have been caused by Pacific Gas and Electric power lines (although it is still under investigation), and they are suspected in the present Kincade Fire.  Wildfires do clear brush — 4.4 million acres burned off this year — ensuring a worse fire will not occur in the future.

As can be expected, such fires also place property at risk.  California, Texas and Colorado have the highest numbers of properties at risk, while Montana and Idaho are tops in percentage terms; in Montana 29 percent and in Idaho 26 percent of properties are in the danger zone.

If the west is prone to wildfires, the east has an opposite problem:  flooding.  Sea levels are rising.  The Greenland ice sheet holding enough water to raise the water line by 7 meters is melting.  Scientists estimate two-thirds of the ice loss is due to glacier calving as chunks of ice detach from the 300 odd outlet glaciers that end in the fjords.  As reported in Science magazine recently, (October 11, 2019), Helheim, a major glacier responsible for 4 percent of Greenland’s annual ice loss is being observed by a team headed by Fiamma Straneo of the Scripps Institution.

In severe retreat since 2014, the glacier has reduced “by more than 100 meters, leaving a tell-tale ring on the rock around the fjord.”  This summer its water temperature is 0.2C above the previous high in a relentless rise.  Also the data collected will improve mathematical modeling to predict future consequences.

Coastal flooding on the East Coast has been noted by the New York Times (October 8, 2019) in a feature article,  As Sea Levels Rise, So Do Ghost Forests.  Trees in coastal areas are dying off due to frequent total incursions of saltwater.

An excellent estimate of coastal flooding on the East and Gulf coasts, Encroaching Tides, was prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists a few years ago.  Sober reading, it forecasts coastal innundation over the next three decades.  It talks about adaptation to the new norms, the responsibility of Municipalities, States and the Federal Government, sea walls, economic consequences, and a retreat from heavily impacted areas.  Is anybody listening, and when they called for reducing emissions was the US listening?

When more than 190 countries signed up to almost all of the rulebook buttressing the 2015 Paris Agreement, it made the 24th International Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland (Dec 2018) a major success.  This December the 25th International Climate Conference will convene in Santiago, Chile.  A primary issue before it is how to avoid double counting i.e. counting the same emission reduction more than once.  Countries have so far failed to reach common ground on how to avoid it despite the threat to carbon markets underpinning the Paris Agreement.  Is bashing heads together in Santiago one answer? 

Meanwhile on the top of the world, inhabiting the Tibet plateau, the beautiful and majestic chiru or Tibetan antelope, once in trouble from excessive poaching and then recovering, is at risk again.  This time it is due to climate change.  It has caused excessive melt and a burst natural dam that used to surround Lake Zonag right beside their calving site.

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Satellites record second lowest Arctic sea ice extent since 1979

MD Staff

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The polar oceans are among the most rapidly changing oceans in the world. The yearly cycle of the build-up and melting of Arctic sea ice is one of the earth’s vital signs and a key climate variable monitored by scientists.

While they may be far from the world’s major population centres, changes in the polar regions have global implications: they affect the world’s climate through carbon storage and/or release, heat balance, and other environmental and ecological impacts.

One of the most visible indicators of this change is the reduction in the extent of Arctic sea ice by the end of September each year.

Since 1979, scientists have observed a decrease in the extent of Arctic sea ice in all months of the year. The September minimum extent is 36.5 per cent smaller in the period 2010–2019 than it was in the 1980s.

In a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC, 2019), scientists observed a reduction trend of 12.8 per cent (± 2.3 per cent) per decade. With 4.1 million square kilometres, the 2019 minimum arctic sea ice extent is the second lowest (after the record low of 2012) since the beginning of satellite monitoring in 1979. This rate of decline is likely (between a 66 per cent and 90 per cent probability) to be unprecedented in at least the past 1,000 years.

Arctic sea ice increases its extent during the northern hemisphere winter, reaching its maximum in March before decreasing during the summer. The extent of Arctic sea ice in 2019 was the second smallest since satellite monitoring started in 1979. This graph is updated daily and can be accessed from the UNEP World Environment Situation Room.
Graph by UNEP/GRID-Geneva, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Snow and Ice Data Center

Under a scenario of global heating of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, by the end of the 21st century, the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September once in every 100 years. Under a global warming scenario of 2°C, this would occur as much as one year in three, according the IPCC.

During the period monitored by satellites (1979-2019), the minimum Arctic sea ice extent in mid-September has shown a sharp decline (12.8 per cent per decade), which is likely to be unprecedented in the last 1,000 years. The summer of 2019 saw the second smallest extent of Arctic sea ice (after 2012).
Graph by UNEP/GRID-Geneva, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Loss of sea ice increases global heating. White snow reflects sunlight, whereas water absorbs it. Declining Arctic sea ice, therefore, amplifies the warming up of the Arctic. Temperatures increased by around 0.5°C per decade between 1982 and 2017, primarily due to increased absorbed solar radiation accompanying sea ice loss since 1979. This is twice as fast as the global average.

Arctic sea ice reflects the sun’s rays. As ice cover decreases, more of the sun’s rays are absorbed by the ocean, leading to further warming. While melting of sea ice does not directly contribute to sea-level rise, it contributes to the warming of the oceans, thus inducing thermal expansion.
Satellite images for 1979 and 2012 are from NASA (arrows added by UNEP/GRID-Geneva).

Thinner ice

Not only is the extent of Arctic sea ice reducing, but it is also much thinner, and scientists observe a transition to younger ice. Five-year-old sea ice has declined by about 90 per cent since 1979.

This has several impacts. It reduces the reflection of light, thus contributing to thermal expansion of the oceans. The change in Arctic sea ice extent may influence mid-latitude weather, and it may affect the regional composition of species, their spatial distribution, and the abundance of many marine species, with impacts on the structure of ecosystems.

For instance, reduced ice cover is adversely affecting the habitat of polar bears which now need to travel greater distances and swim more than previously, particularly threatening young cubs.

While the science tells us that global heating is happening, the exact impacts on fragile habitats and ecosystems are much harder to predict. 

“There is an urgent need to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions,” says Peduzzi.

UN Environment

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Dying Wildlife on a Warming Planet

Meena Miriam Yust

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Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan

The emaciated polar bear, a sorry remnant of magnificence, raiding garbage cans in an iconic, even infamous photo, is one consequence of global warming.  As the September (2019) National Geographic cover story displays depressingly, Arctic ice collected over winter is sparser, thinner, and now disappears completely during summer in parts of Canada.  If the effects of global warming are staring us in the face, then only the woefully or willfully ignorant – like Trump – can ignore them.  

One more aspect of warming on Arctic ice has been reported recently.  As we know, two-thirds of an iceberg lies under water.  As sea water warms, melt increases and scientists have made measurements to discover that submerged parts of icebergs and glaciers entering the sea are melting significantly more than was previously believed, contributing to rising sea levels.

Researchers are warning that permafrost collapse in the Arctic is releasing nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide.  The store is vast: nearly 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon lies trapped in the frozen soils of the permafrost region as a result of decaying organic matter over millennia.  That is almost double the quantity in the atmosphere.

The environmental costs of global warming appear in yet other unexpected ways.  A new paper in Science reports the threat to coral reef reproduction.  Free-spawning marine species synchronize spawning as a way to ensure reproduction.  In this way the gametes developed are so numerous that some escape their predators, ensuring species survival.  Global warming is now affecting this reproductive synchrony, threatening coral reef recovery.

Rising ocean temperatures impact fish, plankton and crustaceans, in turn affecting the creatures that feed on them.  So now sea birds, like the puffin, are struggling to stay alive.  These are striking birds with black and white plumage, bright orange legs and feet, and, during the mating season, orange beaks.  This past May, it was estimated that between 3,150 and 8,500 puffins starved to death in the Bering Sea, their emaciated bodies washing ashore on the Pribilof Islands, some 300 miles west of mainland Alaska.  Prior to the mass deaths, there was a documented period of elevated sea surface temperatures in the eastern Bering Sea according to scientists.  The unfortunate result was a shift in zooplankton composition and in forage fish distribution, both food sources for the puffin.

In Iceland, too, puffins are in trouble.  Researchers discovered that thousands of puffin chicks had died from starvation in the summer of 2018.  It turns out rising ocean temperatures have pushed cold-water fish farther north leaving the baby pufflings with little to eat.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) as vulnerable on its red list.  

Rising ocean temperatures are also affecting food availability and the habitat of many Arctic creatures, including the walrus, polar bear, gray whale, arctic fox, and ice seal.  Some are starving to death, some wandering long and far in search of food.  Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals at their breathing holes.  When the sea is not covered in ice, breathing holes become unnecessary as the seals can come up anywhere for air, and are no longer easy for polar bears to snatch up.  The World Wildlife Fund has reported a 40% drop in number of the southern Beaufort Sea polar bears between 2001 and 2010.   Worse still, scientists forecasting global polar bear populations estimate a high probability that 30% of polar bears worldwide will be gone by 2050.

Declining sea ice is also harming seals. Baby harp seals lie on the ice during their fragile first few weeks of life.  Without a thick and stable span of ice, seal pups may drown or be crushed by broken ice.  In 2007, a then surprising 75 percent plus of pups died due to thin ice conditions; in 2010, nearly all.  “Some years, when there’s poor ice in a given pupping ground, essentially all of the pups don’t make it,” says Duke marine biologist David Johnston.  As temperatures continue to rise, seal survival becomes precarious.

The Pacific walrus population is in decline with only 129,000 animals left.  Due to climate change, the floating summer ice that walruses used to haul themselves upon to rest is now way up north.  Consequently the animals are swimming ashore and taking to land in huge numbers.  Unfortunately their feeding grounds are far away from shore, forcing a 250 mile round trip.  In addition to exhaustion from traveling long distances and food scarcity, walruses also face threats from being on the beach in vast crowds.  In 2014, 35,000 walruses were seen together on the shore near Point Lay, Alaska.  The animals, which can weigh as much as 1.5 tons, can be frightened easily by loud noises like airplanes, causing stampedes and mass deaths by trampling, especially of young calves – as many as 500 in one incident.  If ice continues to diminish, their future looks bleak.  

Then there are the gray whales.  Their favorite crustacean is the amphipod – a small flat morsel with segments and antennae resembling a grasshopper.  These lipid-rich crustaceans are devoured by whales in bulk.  Over the past 30 years, as currents have warmed and sea ice has melted, amphipod populations have declined in the Bering Sea whale feeding area.  As a result, gray whale mothers and babies have had no choice but to swim north through the Bering Strait and far into the Arctic Ocean in search of an alternate food supply.  They are so hungry they are eating krill and mysid shrimp, but as it takes an enormous quantity to match the calories of lipid-rich amphipods, the whales remain hungry.

The North Atlantic right whale, a species federally classified as endangered, is also affected by the rising ocean temperatures.  The Smithsonian reports that right whales eat more than 2,000 pounds each day, mostly copepods.  Their favorite copepod, the Calanus finmarchicus, has dramatically declined because some of the deep waters of the north Atlantic have warmed almost 9 degrees Fahrenheit since 2004, forcing right whales to migrate elsewhere in search of food.  Several right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters in recent months, and a sixth dead whale was found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July of this year.  The steep rise since 2010 in the deaths of these whales from shipping vessel strikes as well as entanglement with fishing gear is attributed to the animals moving into new and unexpected areas where speed restrictions for vessels are not in place.  With some 400 right whales left (out of 500 in the early 2000s) and about 100 breeding females, the species may face extinction if these trends continue.  Researchers are hoping to use satellite technology to detect whales in new territory, allowing for faster responses in moving fishing nets and large vessels.

Creatures large and small face threats from melting ice.  Lemmings are like hamsters of the tundra – small, furry rodents with faces and whiskers as adorable as the childhood pet.  In winter, northern Norway lemmings burrow under the snow for insulation and protection from prey.  During good snow seasons, they reach population peaks and their young prosper.  But in Norway in recent years, rising temperatures are causing repeated thawing and icing periods resulting in poor snow conditions for the lemmings.  The resulting altered and reduced population cycles mean lemmings are no longer reaching population peaks. 

The arctic fox relies on lemmings as a primary food source, and scientists believe lemming decline has contributed to sharp declines and breeding failures in the arctic fox population of Norway.  Arctic foxes also face threats from the red fox, a larger more aggressive animal, which historically lived south of the arctic fox habitat.  Due to climate change and warming of the Arctic, however, the red fox is encroaching on arctic fox areas.  Warming is also converting the tundra to shrublands, a habitat the red fox desires.  The poor arctic fox faces loss of habitat, decreased food availability, increased competition for food, and possible displacement by the red fox.  And with the Arctic continuing to warm, these changes will only become more extensive.  Small wonder then that the arctic fox often has to travel long and hard to find food.  One female captured all our hearts as it traveled 3,500 km from Norway to Canada in 76 days, its remarkable journey including 1,512 km on sea ice.

These few examples demonstrate the impact of global warming on diverse forms of life — from coral reefs and lemmings to the right whale.  We learn that changes in plankton and tiny crustaceans can starve a giant whale and diminishing ice cover can cause polar bears to lose their primary food source, and we begin to register the intimate interconnectedness in the web of life.  Human well-being too is tied to this chain of life.  If fish decline, so does a food source for humans and the water birds that feed on fish, and as insect pollinators decline, so do our crops and the plants around us.  A study suggests that 40% of insect species are in decline.  And the U.S. and Canada have lost three billion birds since 1970.  In this anthropocene age, humans are not rapacious owners but stewards of our planet, holding it in trust for succeeding generations.  It is what the young led by Greta Thunberg are forcefully making clear to their elders.   

Author’s note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.

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