The debate over climate change has long focused on determining attribution—whether rising greenhouse gases and global warming caused a particular storm, drought, flood, or blizzard. Now, a new study inNature Climate Change published Monday seeks to shift the underlying question from “if” to “how.” “The climate is changing,” wrote National Center for Atmospheric Research scientists Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo and University of Reading physicist Theodore Shepherd in their study, Attribution of Climate Extreme Events. “The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.” As keen observers have noted for years, attributing extreme weather events to climate is the easy part. Trenberth and his team say it’s time to start analyzing events from the assumption that climate change does influence all weather systems—and focus instead on how it influences them. Trenberth explained to the Washington Post on Monday that “the attribution community has been very conservative, they always start from scratch, from a null hypothesis that there’s no influence of humans. Yet we’ve proved over and over that there is, so why do we do it that way?”
An extract from Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilised in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesise nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet
In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money. Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimed with rubbish? No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil, banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans. Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.
Gun the engine, and the ignition of fossil fuel produces not just working energy but heat that dissipates quickly into the atmosphere. But it also produces carbon dioxide that dissipates into the atmosphere. And in less than two months, according to new research, that pulse of carbon dioxide will have engendered more heat for the planet than the original touch of the accelerator. Xiaochun Zhang and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford, California, in the United States report in Geophysical Research Letters that the carbon dioxide warming exceeds the heat released by a single act of oil combustion in just 45 days. Light the gas in the cooking stove and the heating cost to the planet is exceeded in 59 days. Burn a lump of coal, and the atmosphere feels the greater heat in just 34 days. And in all three cases, the pulses of carbon dioxide will go on heating the planet – and on, and on. “Ultimately, the warming induced by carbon dioxide over the many thousands of years it remains in the atmosphere would exceed warming from combustion by a factor of 100,000 or more,” said Professor Caldeira. No escape Caldeira and another colleague only
Subsidies for fossil fuels that cause climate change have soared since 2013, a new study from the International Monetary Fund has revealed. Oil, gas and coal costs will be subsidized to the tune of US$5.3 trillion a year in 2015. The last time the IMF ran the data it calculated they were worth $1.9 trillion. Economists say the latest figures are more accurate as they represent the “true” cost of energy, which includes the environmental, health and climate impacts of burning fossil fuels. “Over half of the increase is explained by more refined country-level evidence on the damaging effects of energy consumption on air quality and health,” IMF officials Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in a blog. The figure is larger than the health spending of all the world’s governments combined, a reckoning the pair called “shocking”. Coal is the biggest recipient of polluting subsidies, the IMF found, given its combined impact on air quality and high carbon emissions. “The most dramatic difference, compared with the pre-tax figures, is for coal which is the biggest source of post-tax subsidies, amounting to 3.0% of global GDP in 2011 and rising to 3.9% in 2015,” says the study. The World Bank
The fossil fuel industry receives $5.3 trillion a year in government subsidies, despite its disastrous toll on the environment, human health, and other global inequality issues, a new report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published Monday has found. That means that governments worldwide are spending $10 million every minute to fund energy companies—more than the estimated public health spending for the entire globe, IMF economists Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in a blog post accompanying the report (pdf). “These estimates are shocking,” Clements and Gaspar wrote. “The number for 2015 is more than double the US$2 trillion we had previously estimated for 2011.” Subsidies occur in two ways, IMF Fiscal Affairs Department directors Sanjeev Gupta and Michael Keen explained in a separate blog post published Monday: “[P]re-tax” subsidies—which occur when people and businesses pay less than it costs to supply the energy—are smaller than a few years back. But “post-tax” subsidies—which add to pre-tax subsidies an amount that reflects the environmental, health and other damage that energy use causes and the benefit from favorable VAT or sales tax treatment—remain extremely high, and indeed are now well above our previous estimates. The damages from energy use include “premature deaths through local air pollution, exacerbating congestion and other
I’ve mentioned in previous posts here on The Archdruid Report the educational value of the comments I receive from readers in the wake of each week’s essay. My post two weeks ago on the death of the internet was unusually productive along those lines. One of the comments I got in response to that post gave me the theme for last week’s essay, but there was at least one other comment calling for the same treatment. Like the one that sparked last week’s post, it appeared on one of the many other internet forums on which The Archdruid Report, and it unintentionally pointed up a common and crucial failure of imagination that shapes, or rather misshapes, the conventional wisdom about our future. Curiously enough, the point that set off the commenter in question was the same one that incensed the author of the denunciation mentioned in last week’s post: my suggestion in passing that fifty years from now, most Americans may not have access to electricity or running water. The commenter pointed out angrily that I’d claimed that the twilight of industrial civilization would be a ragged arc of decline over one to three centuries. Now, he claimed, I was saying that it was
What will our society look like as it is forced to migrate away from fossil fuels and confront more serious climate change and dwindling resources? With Richard Heinberg.
Plus, the many benefits of vinegar, prevention abilities of physical activity, and information from Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warren.
Since its founding in 1865, The Nation has been a home for writers instigating, reporting on and arguing about struggles for social and economic justice. We have held fast to our “Nation Ideals”— from racial justice to feminism, from a fair economy to civil liberties, from environmental sustainability to peace and disarmament—throughout our 150-year history. During our anniversary year, TheNation.com will highlight one Nation Ideal every month or two. We’ll celebrate by asking prominent contemporary Nation voices to read and respond to important pieces from our archive. Below, Zoë Carpenter reflects on two 1970 Nation articles on the emergence of the environmental movement. Learn more about our 150th anniversary events and special contenthere. * * * Louisiana is not a place that usually inspires hope for the environment. Nearly a century of oil and gas activity has cut the state’s swamps and bayous into vanishing ribbons. Hundreds of millions of gallons of oil have been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Underground caverns hollowed out by petrochemical companies are collapsing and creating sinkholes, some swallowing entire communities. Industry has fouled state politics, too, such that elected leaders reward corporations with $1.8 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks, while starving healthcare, education, and other public services. Several months ago I
What is the real story of energy and the economy? We hear two predominant energy stories. One is the story economists tell: The economy can grow forever; energy shortages will have no impact on the economy. We can simply substitute other forms of energy, or do without. Another version of the energy and the economy story is the view of many who believe in the “Peak Oil” theory. According to this view, oil supply can decrease with only a minor impact on the economy. The economy will continue along as before, except with higher prices. These higher prices encourage the production of alternatives, such wind and solar. At this point, it is not just peak oilers who endorse this view, but many others as well. In my view, the real story of energy and the economy is much less favorable than either of these views. It is a story of oil limits that will make themselves known as financial limits, quite possibly in the near term—perhaps in as little time as a few months or years. Our underlying problem is diminishing returns—it takes more and more effort (hours of workers’ time and quantities of resources), to produce essentially the same