Archive for the ‘Desertification’ Category

Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

Sure, we’ve got enough time to agonize over Cruz or Trump, over Hillary or Bernie.  Plenty of time.  What’s that you say, “Nature Bats Last”?

dennis

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The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

A draft version of the paper was released last year, and it provoked a roiling debateamong climate scientists. The main conclusions have not changed, and that debate seems likely to be replayed in the coming weeks.

The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.

Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly.

That claim has intrigued some experts who say the paper may help explain puzzling episodes in Earth’s past when geological evidence suggests the climate underwent drastic shifts. Yet many other scientists are unconvinced by some of the specific assertions the authors are making.

“Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary,” said Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”

Despite any reservations they might have about the new paper, virtually all climate scientists agree with Dr. Hansen’s group that society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks. An agreement reached late last year in Paris seeks to cut emissions, but it is not remotely ambitious enough to limit global warming to the degree Dr. Hansen regards as necessary.

Among Dr. Hansen’s colleagues, some of the discomfiture about the new paper stems from his dual roles as a publishing climate scientist and, in recent years, as a political activist. He has been arrested at rallies, and he has joined with a group of young people who sued the federal government over what they said was its failure to limit global warming.

Dr. Hansen argues that society is in such grave peril that he feels morally compelled to go beyond the normal role played by a scientist and to sound a clear warning.

That stance has made him a hero to college students fighting climate change, but some fellow scientists fear he has opened himself to the charge that he is skewing his scientific research for political purposes.

In 2009, nations agreed to try to limit the planetary warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. The Earth has already warmed by about half that amount. The climate appears to be destabilizing, virtually all land ice on the planet has started to melt, and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace.

The paper, written by Dr. Hansen and 18 other authors, dwells on the last time Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Large chunks of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.

Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.

“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Dr. Hansen said in a video statement that accompanied the new paper.

The paper identifies a specific mechanism that the scientists say they believe could help cause such an abrupt climate shift.

Their idea is that the initial melting of the great ice sheets will put a cap of relatively fresh water on the ocean surfaces near Antarctica and Greenland. That, they think, will slow or even shut down the system of ocean currents that redistributes heat around the planet and allows some of it to escape into space. Warmth will then accumulate in the deeper parts of the ocean, the scientists think, speeding the melting of parts of the ice sheets that sit below sea level.

In addition, a wider temperature difference between the tropics and the poles will encourage powerful storms, the researchers contend. The paper cites evidence, much of it contested, that immense storms happened during the warm period 120,000 years ago.

For instance, the paper says such storms might have thrown giant boulders onto coastal ridges in the Bahamas, though other experts think a tsunami might have been responsible.

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The California Drought Is Just the Beginning of Our National Water Emergency

Friday, August 21st, 2015

For years, Americans dismissed dire water shortages as a problem of the Global South. Now the crisis is coming home

The United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed or running out.

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

In foreword to Foreign Office report, Baroness Joyce Anelay highlights holistic risks of global warming, including food security, terrorism and lethal heat levels

The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:

  • very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
  • unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
  • increased risk of terrorism as states fail
  • lethal heat even for people resting in shade

The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.

Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”

It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”

In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.

Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”

“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”

The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.

The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

– to the original article:

 

The 1847 lecture that predicted human-induced climate change

Monday, February 16th, 2015

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

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A near-forgotten speech made by a US congressman warned of global warming and the mismanagement of natural resources

When we think of the birth of the conservation movement in the 19th century, the names that usually spring to mind are the likes of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, men who wrote about the need to protect wilderness areas in an age when the notion of mankind’s “manifest destiny” was all the rage.

But a far less remembered American – a contemporary of Muir and Thoreau – can claim to be the person who first publicised the now largely unchallenged idea that humans can negatively influence the environment that supports them.

George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) certainly had a varied career. Here’s how Clark University in Massachusetts, which has named an institute in his memory, describes him:

Throughout his 80 years Marsh had many careers as a lawyer (though, by his own words, “an indifferent practitioner”), newspaper editor, sheep farmer, mill owner, lecturer, politician and diplomat. He also tried his hand at various businesses, but failed miserably in all – marble quarrying, railroad investment and woolen manufacturing. He studied linguistics, knew 20 languages, wrote a definitive book on the origin of the English language, and was known as the foremost Scandinavian scholar in North America. He invented tools and designed buildings including the Washington Monument. As a congressman in Washington (1843-49) Marsh helped to found and guide the Smithsonian Institution. He served as US Minister to Turkey for five years where he aided revolutionary refugees and advocated for religious freedom. He spent the last 21 years of his life (1861-82) as US Minister to the newly United Kingdom of Italy.

In other words, he kept himself busy. But I would argue his defining moment came on 30 September, 1847, when, as a congressman for the Whig party (a forerunner of the Republican party), he gave a lecture to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. (The speech was published a year later.) It proved to be the intellectual spark that led him to go on and publish in 1864 his best-known work, Man and Nature: Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action.

More than 160 years on, it really does pay to re-read his speech as it seems remarkably prescient today. It also shows that he was decades ahead of most other thinkers on this subject. After all, he delivered his lecture a decade or more before John Tyndall began to explore the thesis that slight changes in the atmosphere’s composition could cause climatic variations. And it was a full half a century before Svante Arrhenius proposed that carbon dioxide emitted by the “enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments” might warm the world (something he thought would be beneficial).

Yes, in his speech, Marsh talks about “civilised man” and “savages” – and the language is turgid in places – but let’s cut him a little slack: this was 1847, after all. It’s about half way through he gets to the bit that matters most to us today:

Man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air. The same causes modify the electrical condition of the atmosphere and the power of the surface to reflect, absorb and radiate the rays of the sun, and consequently influence the distribution of light and heat, and the force and direction of the winds. Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may effect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country, and Pallas believed, that the climate of even so thinly a peopled country as Russia was sensibly modified by similar causes.

Some of the terminology he uses is clearly a little archaic to our ears today, but, broadly speaking, his hunch has subsequently proved to be correct. You can see him grappling with concepts that we now know as the urban heat island effectand greenhouse effect.

But in the speech he also called for a more thoughtful approach to consuming natural resources, despite the apparent near-limitless abundance on offer across the vast expanses of northern America. As the Clark University biography notes, he wasn’t an environmental sentimentalist. Rather, he believed that all consumption must be reasoned and considered, with the impact on future generations always kept in mind: he was making the case for what we now call “sustainable development”. In particular, he argued that his audience should re-evaluate the worth of trees:

The increasing value of timber and fuel ought to teach us that trees are no longer what they were in our fathers’ time, an incumbrance. We have undoubtedly already a larger proportion of cleared land in Vermont than would be required, with proper culture, for the support of a much greater population than we now possess, and every additional acre both lessens our means for thorough husbandry, by disproportionately extending its area, and deprives succeeding generations of what, though comparatively worthless to us, would be of great value to them.
The functions of the forest, besides supplying timber and fuel, are very various. The conducting powers of trees render them highly useful in restoring the disturbed equilibrium of the electric fluid; they are of great value in sheltering and protecting more tender vegetables against the destructive effects of bleak or parching winds, and the annual deposit of the foliage of deciduous trees, and the decomposition of their decaying trunks, form an accumulation of vegetable mould, which gives the greatest fertility to the often originally barren soils on which they grow, and enriches lower grounds by the wash from rains and the melting snows.
The inconveniences resulting from a want of foresight in the economy of the forest are already severely felt in many parts of New England, and even in some of the older towns in Vermont. Steep hill-sides and rocky ledges are well suited to the permanent growth of wood, but when in the rage for improvement they are improvidently stripped of this protection, the action of sun and wind and rain soon deprives them of their thin coating of vegetable mould, and this, when exhausted, cannot be restored by ordinary husbandry. They remain therefore barren and unsightly blots, producing neither grain nor grass, and yielding no crop but a harvest of noxious weeds, to infest with their scattered seeds the richer arable grounds below.
But this is by no means the only evil resulting from the injudicious destruction of the woods. Forests serve as reservoirs and equalizers of humidity. In wet seasons, the decayed leaves and spongy soil of woodlands retain a large proportion of the falling rains, and give back the moisture in time of drought, by evaporation or through the medium of springs. They thus both check the sudden flow of water from the surface into the streams and low grounds, and prevent the droughts of summer from parching our pastures and drying up the rivulets which water them.
On the other hand, where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear, and the farmer is obliged to surrender his meadows to his cattle, which can no longer find food in his pastures, and sometime even to drive them miles for water.
Again, the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mould as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean. The suddenness and violence of our freshets increases in proportion as the soil is cleared; bridges are washed away, meadows swept of their crops and fences, and covered with barren sand, or themselves abraded by the fury of the current, and there is reason to fear that the valleys of many of our streams will soon be converted from smiling meadows into broad wastes of shingle and gravel and pebbles, deserts in summer, and seas in autumn and spring.
The changes, which these causes have wrought in the physical geography of Vermont, within a single generation, are too striking to have escaped the attention of any observing person, and every middle-aged man, who revisits his birth-place after a few years of absence, looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theatre of his youthful toils and pleasures. The signs of artificial improvement are mingled with the tokens of improvident waste, and the bald and barren hills, the dry beds of the smaller streams, the ravines furrowed out by the torrents of spring, and the diminished thread of interval that skirts the widened channel of the rivers, seem sad substitutes for the pleasant groves and brooks and broad meadows of his ancient paternal domain.
If the present value of timber and land will not justify the artificial re-planting of grounds injudiciously cleared, at least nature ought to be allowed to reclothe them with a spontaneous growth of wood, and in our future husbandry a more careful selection should be made of land for permanent improvement. It has long been a practice in many parts of Europe, as well as in our older settlements, to cut the forests reserved for timber and fuel at stated intervals. It is quite time that this practice should be introduced among us.
After the first felling of the original forest it is indeed a long time before its place is supplied, because the roots of old and full grown trees seldom throw up shoots, but when the second growth is once established, it may be cut with great advantage, at periods of about twenty-five years, and yields a material, in every respect but size, far superior to the wood of the primitive tree. In many European countries, the economy of the forest is regulated by law; but here, where public opinion determines, or rather in practice constitutes law, we can only appeal to an enlightened self-interest to introduce the reforms, check the abuses, and preserve us from an increase of the evils I have mentioned.

A footnote: it is 150 years ago this year since Marsh was personally appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be the US’s first ambassador to Italy. (Marsh was buried in Rome.) Just three years later, Lincoln approved the legislation which would lead to the creation of Yosemite National Park in California. This acted as a precedent across the world for federal and state governments to purchase or secure wilderness areas so they could be protected in perpetuity from development or exploitation. It’s speculation, of course, but I’ve always wondered whether Marsh and Lincoln ever discussed such matters, be it in person or in correspondence. Perhaps, there’s a keen historian out there who knows the answer?

– To the Original:  

– Research thanks to:  Piers L.

Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Study Warns of Unprecedented Risk of Drought in 21st Century

During the second half of the 21st century, the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains will face persistent drought worse than anything seen in times ancient or modern, with the drying conditions “driven primarily” by human-induced global warming, a new study predicts.

The research says the drying would surpass in severity any of the decades-long “megadroughts” that occurred much earlier during the past 1,000 years—one of which has been tied by some researchers to the decline of the Anasazi or Ancient Pueblo Peoples in the Colorado Plateau in the late 13th century. Many studies have already predicted that the Southwest could dry due to global warming, but this is the first to say that such drying could exceed the worst conditions of the distant past. The impacts today would be devastating, given the region’s much larger population and use of resources.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason E. Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Even when selecting for the worst megadrought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the megadroughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

“The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” said lead author Benjamin I. Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It all showed this really, really significant drying.”

The new study, “Unprecedented 21st-Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” will be featured in the inaugural edition of the new online journal Science Advances, produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which also publishes the leading journal Science.

Today, 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in much of the American West, including California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a collaboration of U.S. government agencies.

The current drought directly affects more than 64 million people in the Southwest and Southern Plains, according to NASA, and many more are indirectly affected because of the impacts on agricultural regions.

Shrinking water supplies have forced western states to impose water use restrictions; aquifers are being drawn down to unsustainable levels, and major surface reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at historically low levels. This winter’s snowpack in the Sierras, a major water source for Los Angeles and other cities, is less than a quarter of what authorities call a “normal” level, according to a February report from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. California water officials last year cut off the flow of water from the northern part of the state to the south, forcing farmers in the Central Valley to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

“Changes in precipitation, temperature and drought, and the consequences it has for our society—which is critically dependent on our freshwater resources for food, electricity and industry—are likely to be the most immediate climate impacts we experience as a result of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a climate researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Anchukaitis said the findings “require us to think rather immediately about how we could and would adapt.”

Much of our knowledge about past droughts comes from extensive study of tree rings conducted by Lamont-Doherty scientist Edward Cook (Benjamin’s father) and others, who in 2009 created the North American Drought Atlas. The atlas recreates the history of drought over the previous 2,005 years, based on hundreds of tree-ring chronologies, gleaned in turn from tens of thousands of tree samples across the United States, Mexico and parts of Canada.

For the current study, researchers used data from the atlas to represent past climate, and applied three different measures for drought—two soil moisture measurements at varying depths, and a version of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which gauges precipitation and evaporation and transpiration—the net input of water into the land. While some have questioned how accurately the Palmer drought index truly reflects soil moisture, the researchers found it matched well with other measures, and that it “provides a bridge between the [climate] models and drought in observations,” Cook said.

The researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising average temperatures on the regions. And, they compared two different global warming scenarios—one with “business as usual,” projecting a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; and a second scenario in which emissions are moderated.

By most of those measures, they came to the same conclusions.

“The results … are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Tree-Ring Laboratory there. Stahle was not involved in the study, though he worked on the North American Drought Atlas.

Smerdon said he and his colleagues are confident in their results. The effects of CO2 on higher average temperature and the subsequent connection to drying in the Southwest and Great Plains emerge as a “strong signal” across the majority of the models, regardless of the drought metrics that are used, he said. And, he added, they are consistent with many previous studies.

Anchukaitis said the paper “provides an elegant and convincing connection” between reconstructions of past climate and the models pointing to the risk of future drought.

Toby R. Ault of Cornell University is a co-author of the study. Funding was provided by the NASA Modeling, Analysis and Prediction Program, NASA Strategic Science, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

– To the Original:  

Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – new and improved

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

As Science publishes the updated research, four of nine planetary boundaries have been crossed

Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the journal Science (16 January 2015). The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).

Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call “core boundaries”. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” says Lead author, Professor Will Steffen, researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra. “In this new analysis we have improved our quantification of where these risks lie.”

Other co-authors from the Centre are Johan Rockström, Sarah Cornell, Ingo FetzerOonsie Biggs, Carl Folke and Belinda Reyers.

Request publication

What’s new?
The new paper is a development of the Planetary Boundaries concept, which was first published in 2009, identifying nine global priorities relating to human-induced changes to the environment. The science shows that these nine processes and systems regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth System – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend.

The research builds on a large number of scientific publications critically assessing and improving the planetary boundaries research since its original publication. It confirms the original set of boundaries and provides updated analysis and quantification for several of them, including phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, land-system change, freshwater use and biosphere integrity.

Though the framework keeps the same processes as in 2009, two of them have been given new names, to better reflect what they represent, and yet others have now also been assessed on a regional level.

“Loss of biodiversity” is now called “Change in biosphere integrity.” Biological diversity is vitally important, but the framework now emphasises the impact of humans on ecosystem functioning. Chemical pollution has been given the new name “Introduction of novel entities,” to reflect the fact that humans can influence the Earth system through new technologies in many ways.

“Pollution by toxic synthetic substances is an important component, but we also need to be aware of other potential systemic global risks, such as the release of radioactive materials or nanomaterials,” says Sarah Cornell, coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries research at the Centre. “We believe that these new names better represent the scale and scope of the boundaries,” she continues.

In addition to the globally aggregated Planetary Boundaries, regional-level boundaries have now been developed for biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows, land-system change and freshwater use. At present only one regional boundary (South Asian Monsoon) can be established for atmospheric aerosol loading.

Nine planetary boundaries
1. Climate change
2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

– More:

Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

“With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant.”

– Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

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Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

– To the original article:  ➡

 

‘Uncomfortable’ climates to devastate cities within a decade, study says

Monday, November 4th, 2013

– This is what John Roach of NBC News has to say on October 9th, 2013

– But this has all been coming, writ large, for a long time.  

-It’s been coming since:

Lyndon Johnson discussed the CO2 we were putting into the atmosphere in 1965.

Since the Club of Rome discussions and their paper on “The Limits to Growth” in 1972.

Since the World Scientists issued their warning to Humanity in 1992.

– But it is only just now beginning to reach the evening news as plausible news.  

– We have just a few greedy, self-centered people and corporations to thank for the fact that their misinformation has been instrumental in delaying humanities waking up on these threats until it is virtually too late.  

Most recently, Naomi Oreskes showed us this in her book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

– Some of us remember how Mussolini ended up.   I wonder, when the damages are finally appreciated, if these folks may fare the same.   I won’t cry any crocodile tears for them; that’s for sure.  

-By their actions many, many millions will die, cities and nations will fall, species innumerable will go extinct and most of our descendants will have less than optimal lives to look forward to; if they manage to live through the changes that are coming.

– dennis

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Lesser daysThe world is hurtling toward a stark future where the web of life unravels, human cultures are uprooted, and millions of species go extinct, according to a new study. This doomsday scenario isn’t far off, either: It may start within a decade in parts of Indonesia, and begin playing out over most of the world — including cities across the United States — by mid-century.

What’s more, even a serious effort to stabilize spiraling greenhouse gas emissions will only stave off these changes until around 2069, notes the study from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. The authors warn that the time is now to prepare for a world where even the coldest of years will be warmer than the hottest years of the past century and a half.

“We are used to the climate that we live in. With this climate change, what is going to happen is we’re going to be moving outside this comfort zone,” biologist Camilo Mora, the study’s lead author, told NBC News. “It is going to be uncomfortable for us as humans and it will be very uncomfortable for species as well.”

– To Read More of this article:  

– Still with the doubts, Sweetpea?   Then please read this:

 

As climate change intensifies, the world faces an unpalatable choice: eat or drink

Friday, November 1st, 2013

A quarter of the world’s food crops are now being grown in regions that are highly water-stressed, according to a report released yesterday by the nonprofit World Resources Institute (WRI). It gets worse: Half the planet’s irrigated cropland, which produce 40% of the global food supply, is located in areas facing severe water shortages as climate change exacerbates drought.

Tapping data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and academic studies, WRI researchers overlaid food production with water resources to create an online interactive map that shows where the most water-stressed crops are grown. The WRI defines high water stress as areas where 40% of the renewable water supply is withdrawn annually. In extremely high water stress regions, 80% of the water supply is tapped each year.
– More:  

Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

– I don’t think the best of our idealists are going to be going out on Greenpeace ships any more to protest politely.   Not when they stand to lose the most of their young lives sitting in Russian prisons for the crime of idealism and the crime of trying to wake people up to the stupidity and danger gathering all around us.

– The days or holding signs and protesting peacefully are withering away all over the world as people realize that none of that has been effective.   And now it is become downright dangerous.

– I first read that an ecologically sane world and the world of Capitalism may not be compatible bedfellows on this planet back in 2008 when I read The Bridge at the Edge of the World by James Gustave Speth; Yale University.   He is and has been a major leading light in all things environment in the U.S. and he’s been a team player all along.  So, this was a hard conclusion for him to come to.

– In the article, below, Naomi Klein tells us that others up and down the line are coming to the same conclusions.  

– If what we’ve been doing isn’t working and losing is not an option for those of us who love this world and our children, then quite simply, new measures will be needed.

– dennis

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Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions.

In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012,Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

– More: