Tuesday, November 04, 2014

"Last Song for Migrating Birds"

Snips from an Article By Jonathan Franzen for National Geographic  from July 2013

To a visitor from North America, where bird hunting is well regulated and only naughty farm boys shoot songbirds, the situation in the Mediterranean is appalling: Every year, from one end of it to the other, hundreds of millions of songbirds and larger migrants are killed for food, profit, sport, and general amusement. The killing is substantially indiscriminate, with heavy impact on species already battered by destruction or fragmentation of their breeding habitat. Mediterraneans shoot cranes, storks, and large raptors for which governments to the north have multimillion-euro conservation projects. All across Europe bird populations are in steep decline, and the slaughter in the Mediterranean is one of the causes.

Italian hunters and poachers are the most notorious; for much of the year, the woods and wetlands of rural Italy crackle with gunfire and songbird traps. The food-loving French continue to eat ortolan buntings illegally, and France’s singularly long list of huntable birds includes many struggling species of shorebirds. Songbird trapping is still widespread in parts of Spain; Maltese hunters, frustrated by a lack of native quarry, blast migrating raptors out of the sky; Cypriots harvest warblers on an industrial scale and consume them by the plateful, in defiance of the law.

In the European Union, however, there are at least theoretical constraints on the killing of migratory birds. Public opinion in the EU tends to favor conservation, and a variety of nature-protection groups are helping governments enforce the law. (In Sicily, formerly a hot spot for raptor killing, poaching has been all but eliminated, and some of the former poachers have even become bird-watchers.) Where the situation for migrants is not improving is in the non-EU Mediterranean. In fact, when I visited Albania and Egypt last year, I found that it’s becoming dramatically worse…

Under the 40-year Marxist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, totalitarianism destroyed the fabric of Albanian society and tradition, and yet this was not a bad time for birds. Hoxha reserved the privileges of hunting and private gun ownership for himself and a few trusted cronies. (To this day the national Museum of Natural History displays bird trophies of Hoxha and other members of the politburo.) But a handful of hunters had minimal impact on the millions of migrants passing through, and the country’s command-economy backwardness, along with its repellence to foreign beach tourists, ensured that its wealth of coastal habitat remained intact.

Following Hoxha’s death, in 1985, the country underwent an uneasy transition to a market economy, including a period of near anarchy in which the country’s armories were broken open and the military’s guns were seized by ordinary citizens. Even after the rule of law was restored, Albanians kept their guns, and the country remained understandably averse to regulation of all kinds. The economy began to grow, and one of the ways in which a generation of younger men in Tirana expressed their new freedom and prosperity was to buy expensive shotguns, by the thousands, and use them to do what formerly only the elite could do: kill birds….

Unfortunately, the old communist joke still applies to forestry officials responsible for the protected areas: The government pretends to pay them, and they pretend to work. As a result, the laws are not enforced—a fact that Italian hunters, limited by EU regulations at home, were quick to recognize and exploit after Hoxha’s death. During my week in Albania I didn’t visit a protected area in which there were not Italian hunters, even though the hunting season had ended, even in unprotected areas. In every case the Italians were using illegal high-quality bird-sound playback equipment and shooting as much as they wanted of whatever they wanted.

Albania was once ruled by Italy, and many Albanians still view Italians as models of sophistication and modernity. Beyond the very considerable immediate damage that Italian tourist hunters do in Albania, they’ve introduced both an ethic of indiscriminate slaughter and new methods of accomplishing it—in particular the use of playback, which is catastrophically effective in attracting birds. Even in provincial villages, Albanian hunters now have MP3s of duck calls on their cell phones and iPods. Their new sophistication, coupled with an estimated 100,000 shotguns (in a country of three million) and a glut of other weapons that can be used opportunistically, has turned Albania into a giant sinkhole for eastern European migratory biomass: Millions of birds fly in and very few get out alive….

In northeastern Africa, unlike in the Balkans, there is also an ancient, rich, and continuous tradition of harvesting migratory birds of all sizes. (The miraculous provision of meat accompanying the manna from heaven that saved the Israelites in the Sinai is thought to have been migrating quail.) As long as the practice was pursued by traditional methods (handmade nets and lime sticks, small traps made of reeds, camels for transportation), the impact on Eurasian breeding bird populations was perhaps sustainable. The problem now is that new technology has vastly increased the harvest, while the tradition remains in place….

I visited Al Maghrah late in the season, but the oriole decoys (consisting typically of a dead male on a stick) were still attracting good numbers, and the hunters rarely missed with their shotguns. Given how many hunters there were, it seemed quite possible that 5,000 orioles were being taken annually at this one location. And given that there are scores of other desert hunting sites, and that the bird is a prized quarry along the Egyptian coast as well, the losses in Egypt represent a significant fraction of the species’ European population of two or three million breeding pairs. Enjoyment of a colorful species with a vast summer and winter range is thus being monopolized, every September, by a relatively tiny number of well-fed leisure hunters seeking natural Viagra. And while some of them may be using unlicensed weapons to kill orioles, the rest are breaking no Egyptian laws at all thereby.

At the oasis I also met a shepherd too poor to own a shotgun. He and his ten-year-old son instead relied on four nets, hung over trees, and they were mostly catching smaller birds like flycatchers, shrikes, and warblers. The son was therefore excited when he managed to corner a male oriole, splendidly gold and black, in a net. He came running back to his father with it—“An oriole!” he shouted proudly—and cut its throat with a knife. Moments later a female oriole flashed close to us, and I wondered if it might be the dead male’s distraught mate. The shepherd boy chased it toward a netted palm tree, but the bird avoided the tree at the last second and headed into the open desert, flying southward.

Most of the Bedouin I spoke to told me that they won’t kill resident species, such as hoopoes and laughing doves. Like other Mediterranean hunters, however, they consider all migratory species fair game; as the Albanians like to say, “They’re not our birds.” While every Egyptian hunter I met admitted that the number of migrants has been declining in recent years, only a few allowed that overharvesting might be a factor. Some hunters blame climate change; an especially popular theory is that the increasing number of electric lights at the coast is frightening the birds away. (In fact, lights are more likely to attract them.)…

The basic message of environmental “education” is, unavoidably, that Egyptians should stop doing what they’ve always done; and the concerns of a bird-smitten nation like England, whose colonization of Egypt is in any case still resented, seem as absurd and meddling as a Royal Society for the Protection of Catfish would seem to rural Mississippians.

Most Egyptian coastal towns have bird markets where a quail can be bought for two dollars, a turtledove for five, an oriole for three, and small birds for pennies. Outside one of these towns, El Daba, I toured the farm of a white-bearded man with a bird-trapping operation so large that, even after the families of his six sons had eaten their fill, he had a surplus to bring to market. Enormous nets were draped over eight tall tamarisk trees and many smaller bushes, encircling a grove of figs and olives; the nets were an inexpensive modern product, available in El Daba for only the past seven years. The sun was very hot, and migrant songbirds were arriving from the nearby coastline, seeking shelter. Repelled by the net on one tree, they simply flew to the next tree, until they found themselves caught. The farmer’s grandsons ran inside the nets and grabbed them, and one of his sons tore off their flight feathers and dropped them in a plastic grain sack. In 20 minutes I saw a red-backed shrike, a collared flycatcher, a spotted flycatcher, a male golden oriole, a chiffchaff, a blackcap, two wood warblers, two cisticolas, and many unidentified birds disappear into the sack. By the time we paused in the shade, amid the discarded heads and feathers of cuckoos and hoopoes and a sparrow hawk, the sack was bulging, the oriole crying out inside it.

Based on the farmer’s estimates of his daily take, I calculated that every year between August 25 and September 25, his operation removes 600 orioles, 250 turtledoves, 200 hoopoes, and 4,500 smaller birds from the air. The supplemental income is surely welcome, but the farm would clearly have thrived without it; the furnishings in the family’s spacious guest parlor, where I was treated with great Bedouin hospitality, were brand-new and of high quality.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities"

Hot and Getting Hotter: Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities From Climate Central:

Urban heat measured by satellite in Louisville, Ky. Click image to enlarge. 

Cities are almost always hotter than the surrounding rural area but global warming takes that heat and makes it worse. In the future, this combination of urbanization and climate change could raise urban temperatures to levels that threaten human health, strain energy resources, and compromise economic productivity.
Summers in the U.S. have been warming since 1970. But on average across the country cities are even hotter, and have been getting hotter faster than adjacent rural areas. (report continues below interactive)
With more than 80 percent of Americans living in cities, these urban heat islands — combined with rising temperatures caused by increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions — can have serious health effects for hundreds of millions of people during the hottest months of the year.  Heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the U.S., and the hottest days, particularly days over 90°F, are associated with dangerous ozone pollution levels that can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and other serious health impacts.
Our analysis of summer temperatures in 60 of the largest U.S. cities found that: 
  • 57 cities had measurable urban heat island effects over the past 10 years. Single-day urban temperatures in some metro areas were as much as 27°F higher than the surrounding rural areas, and on average across all 60 cities, the maximum single-day temperature difference was 17.5°F.
  • Cities have many more searing hot days each year. Since 2004, 12 cities averaged at least 20 more days a year above 90°F than nearby rural areas. The 60 cities analyzed averaged at least 8 more days over 90°F each summer compared to adjacent rural areas.
  • More heat can increase ozone air pollution. All 51 cities with adequate data showed a statistically significant correlation between higher daily summer temperatures and bad air quality (as measured by ground-level ozone concentrations). Temperatures are being forced higher by increasing urbanization and manmade global warming, which could undermine the hard-won improvements in air quality and public health made over the past few decades.
  • In two thirds of the cities analyzed (41 of 60), urbanization and climate change appear to be combining to increase summer heat faster than climate change alone is raising regional temperatures. In three quarters (45 of 60) of cities examined, urbanized areas are warming faster than adjacent rural locations.

  • The top 10 cities with the most intense summer urban heat islands (average daily urban-rural temperature differences) over the past 10 years are:
  • Las Vegas (7.3°F)
  • Albuquerque (5.9°F
  • Denver (4.9°F)
  • Portland (4.8°F)
  • Louisville (4.8°F)
  • Washington, D.C. (4.7°F)
  • Kansas City (4.6°F)
  • Columbus (4.4°F)
  • Minneapolis (4.3°F)
  • Seattle (4.1°F)
  • On average across all 60 cities, urban summer temperatures were 2.4°F hotter than rural temperatures.

"Science Shows How Climate Change is Baking Australia"

Science Shows How Climate Change is Baking Australia from Climate Central
As smoke billows from unnervingly early-season wildfires charring the Australian state of Tasmania, yet more dust is settling on the scientific discussion over how climate change contributed to last year’s deadly Australian heat.
Last year was Australia’s hottest on record. And each of a set of five research papers published Monday in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society reached the same conclusion regarding the year of unprecedented heat. The research teams independently concluded — in two cases writing that they could do so with “essentially” 100 percent certainty — that climate-changing greenhouse gas pollution played a substantial role in fueling it.
Australia has left behind its climate of generations past and moved into an era where extreme heat waves and warm winter months, such as those of 2013, are more likely to occur, researchers concluded.
“They’ve left behind the climate that they used to have,” said NOAA research meteorologist Thomas Knutson.
Last year’s intense heat was perhaps most noticeable during summer, when temperatures of 120 degrees were recorded in some places. But the differences between recorded and average temperatures were greatest during the Austral winter and fall. Never in more than a century of record-keeping has the average Australian temperature reached last year’s level.
The high temperatures and frequent heat waves were the combined result of natural variation and human influence on the climate. Low rainfall that contributed to the hot conditions does not appear to have been caused by climate change, one of the research teams concluded. That natural phenomenon combined with unnatural climate change-juiced heat, however, leading to extraordinary temperatures. Heat waves killed hundreds of peopledelayed play and injured players at Melbourne’s Australian Open, and caused 100,000 bats to spectacularly tumble from their perches, dead.
“We now have some very solid, quantitative work that says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, climate change is implicated in these things,’” said Australian National University professor Will Steffen, who was a climate commissioner until the new federal government terminated the nation’s climate advisory group. The former government agency has since reconstituted itself as an independent nonprofit....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Lyme disease surges north, and Canada moves out of denial"

Article in the 'Daily Climate'

Scientists long expected climate change to harm human health. But one of the clearest signs of health risks in a warming world has emerged in one of the world’s most advanced economies, as Canada belatedly struggles to cope with Lyme disease's migration in North America. 
Canada should have seen this coming. In the United States, reported cases of Lyme disease have increased from fewer than 10,000 reported cases in 1991 to more than 27,000 cases by 2013. Canada was well-positioned to be affected by the spread of the Canada lyme mapdisease. As early as 2005, modeling published by researcher Nicholas Ogden, then at the University of Montreal, indicated that the geographic range of the Lyme-carrying tick could expand northward significantly due to climate change in this century. 
Scientists long have anticipated that global warming would harm human health, and the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlights the risk for poor populations that don't have access to quality health care or other public services. For example, the risk of heat stroke is greatest in areas without access to power for air conditioning, and water-borne illnesses like cholera and intestinal viruses flourish in areas without safe drinking water. 
But one of the clearest signs of the changing health risks in a warming world has emerged in two of the world's most advanced economies, the United States and Canada, as Lyme disease spreads in North America. 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year added Lyme disease to its list of climate change indicators, a report meant to aid in public understanding of the effects of warming that scientists have been able to document....
'An emerging clinical problem'
The doctors presented their findings in April at an American College of Rheumatology symposium but declined to talk to The Daily Climate about their research until it is published in a medical journal. They are still working on finalizing their paper, an IWK Health Centre spokeswoman said. But in the abstract presented at that meeting, they called Lyme arthritis "an emerging clinical problem in Nova Scotia," with cases expected to continue to rise.
Untreated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the nervous system, and even the heart. Heart block due to Lyme carditis can develop in minutes or hours, and is a rare but fatal complication. A more common problem that causes even greater concern in the health community: Lyme patients with symptoms persisting long after antibiotic treatment. There's great controversy over how long antibiotic treatment should be continued in such cases and who should bear the costs. The issue underscores the importance of early detection. "Almost always the persistent cases are in patients who were not treated early," said the CDC's Beard. 
Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief public health officer, says one problem with diagnosis has been that Lyme involves "a lot of non-specific symptoms." Of the cluster of pediatric arthritis cases at IWK, he said, "that case series reminded us that there are joint and neurologic and cardiac ways that Lyme disease can present itself."...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jon Stewart "Burn Notice"

On why people have to 'March' anyway (Republicans in the House of Representatives - Science, etc. Committee):

The Daily Show - Burn Notice

Excerpt from the 'hearing':

Bucshon: Is it true that this rule has no effect on the global temperature change?
Holdren: Can I take that? I’d like to respond to that.
Bucshon: There’s public comment out there that that question has been asked and answered saying no.
Holdren: You should look at the scientific literature [interrupted] rather than the public comments …

Bucshon: Of all the climatologists whose careers depends on the climate changing to keep themselves publishing articles? Yes, I could read that, but I don’t believe it.
(Bucshon is the Representative from Indiana - from my district)

UN Climate Summit 2014

UN Climate Summit 2014 - live broadcast

Climate Summit 2014 - 1) Opening Ceremony 2) National action and ambition announcements, Plenary 3 (National Announcements and Heads of State and Government) 3) Joint conclusion of the morning National Action and Ambition Announcements
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanize and catalyze climate action. He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.

This is what inspired the NYC march and other marches / demonstrations around the world. There is hope that the various government representatives will work together to make changes to business as usual. It is a world-wide problem that takes world-wide solutions. 

I think we need rationing - at the individual and country levels. Plus industries need more controls - enforced regulations on emissions. There needs to be more requirements for large corporations to be efficient. Green energy needs to be promoted, of course - with an end to oil and gas subsidies and a limit on how much is extracted per year.

The Biggest Climate March Ever! - September 21, 2014 - New York City

"Environment Climate change Carbon map"

Environment Climate change Carbon map – which countries are responsible for climate change?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

More Jellyfish Off the Coast of Maine

A frame grab taken from a video by USM student Amy Santiago shows a large group, or smack, of moon jellies. Santiago took the video about a month ago while kayaking off the Wolfe’s Neck area in Freeport.

From the Portland Press Herald:

As jellyfish come in waves off Maine coast, questions follow - The early summer invasion appears to be heavier than normal this year, surprising some and distressing others.

Or, the June bloom could be a random explosion of a species that goes as fast as it comes.

Although they move without intent, drifting on currents, jellies – the term scientists tend to use for the gelatinous zooplankton these days, rather than jellyfish – are opportunists. They take advantage of holes in the system, competing with fish for the same tiny nutrients.

The waters off Maine have three types – moon jellies, comb jellies and lion’s mane jellies. Only the lion’s mane has a sting harmful to humans.

“It is frustrating to not be able to say anything other than speculative things about why,” she said.

That’s because no one in Maine has made a study of them. Trying to get a jelly expert on the phone is like playing a game of hot potato where you’re the potato, but all roads seem to lead to Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer and ecosystem modeler at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. Even he demurs.

But at least one researcher, Nick Record of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, has decided after two seasons of a noted increase in jellies that it is high time to start tracking the species in Maine. This summer he began building a library of the species spotted here and hopes to create predictive models that might tell us when to expect jelly blooms like the one that began this June.

“Then hopefully, a field program,” Record said. That’s all contingent on getting funding, because as he points out, although the public is more aware than ever about what is happening on the Maine coast – and ready to send an email or make a phone call to report it – there is less funding for such studies because of federal cutbacks in research.

“We have had jellyfish before,” he said. “But we haven’t had jellyfish where you look off the dock and all you see is jellyfish.”

“This year it was scary,” said Anne Murphy, whose family has owned a summer place in Brigham’s Cove since the late 1970s. She opted not to swim in the jelly-thickened water.

“I looked down in the water and I was like, ‘What is that?’ I have never seen so many,” Murphy said.

For weeks, Maine’s marine research centers have been flooded with questions about a seeming jellyfish invasion in local waters, primarily Casco Bay. They’ve ranged from the urgent – should I let my kids go in the water, or are they going to get stung? – to expressions of longer-term fears, namely, is this the result of global warming? Ocean acidification in the warming Gulf of Maine? Proof of a hypothesis that we’re headed for an ocean ecosystem clogged by jellies, creatures that cause many beachgoers to shudder in revulsion?

Researchers across the board say they just don’t know what the cause is. It could be climate change, including warmer waters. It could be a depletion of oxygen in coastal waters because of runoff from the land, or some response to overfishing.

Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of the Friends of Casco Bay, said her group has been getting questions about the creatures “everywhere we go this summer.”

“I am the person willing to talk about jellyfish, but it is an interesting state of affairs where I am what passes for an expert on jellyfish,” Pershing said. “I can’t think of anyone who studies them (in Maine) and we don’t really have good data on the distribution of jellyfish.”

“It’s hard talking to scientists because none of them want to commit and none of them want to be wrong,” said Dan Devereaux, marine warden for the town of Brunswick. He believes it’s all about elevated ocean temperatures....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

California's Drought

Climatologist Who Predicted California Drought 10 Years Ago Says It May Soon Be ‘Even More Dire’

U.S. Drought Monitor forWest


First, though, as I’ve reported, scientists a decade ago not only predicted the loss of Arctic ice would dry out California, they also precisely predicted the specific, unprecedented change in the jet stream that has in fact caused the unprecedented nature of the California drought. Study co-author, Prof. Lisa Sloan, told me last week that, “I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire that our study suggested.”
“Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air,” Sewall said. “The shift in storm tracks over North America was linked to the formation of these columns of warmer air over areas of reduced sea ice.” In January, Sewall wrote me that “both the pattern and even the magnitude of the anomaly looks very similar to what the models predicted in the 2005 study (see Fig. 3a [below]).”
Here is what Sewall’s model predicted in his 2005 paper:
Figure 3a: Differences in DJF [winter] averaged atmospheric quantities due to an imposed reduction in Arctic sea ice cover. The 500-millibar geopotential height (meters) increases by up to 70 m off the west coast of North America. Increased geopotential height deflects storms away from the dry locus and north into the wet locus
“Geopotential height” is the height above mean sea level for a given pressure level. The “500 mb level is often referred to as the steering level as most weather systems and precipitation follow the winds at this level,” which is around 18,000 feet.
Now here is what the 500 mb geopotential height anomaly looked like over the last year, viaNOAA:

2013 anomaly
That is either a highly accurate prediction or one heck of a coincidence.
The San Jose Mercury News explained that “meteorologists have fixed their attention on the scientific phenomenon they say is to blame for the emerging drought: a vast zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast, nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, so stubborn that one researcher has dubbed it the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.” This high pressure ridge has been acting “like a brick wall” and forcing the jet stream along a much more northerly track, “blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore in California, deflecting them up into Alaska and British Columbia, even delivering rain and cold weather to the East Coast.
Last year, I contacted Sloan to ask her if she thought there was a connection between the staggering loss of Arctic sea ice in recent years and the brutal drought gripping the West, as her research predicted. She wrote, “Yes, sadly, I think we were correct in our findings, and it will only be worse with Arctic sea ice diminishing quickly.” Last week, Sloan wrote me:
Yes, in this case I hate that we (Sewall & Sloan) might be correct. And in fact, I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire that our study suggested. Why do I say that? (1) we did not include changes in greenhouse gases other than CO2; (2) maybe we should have melted more sea ice and see what happens; (3) these atmospheric and precipitation estimates do not include changes in land use, in the US and elsewhere. Changing crops, or urban sprawl increases, or melting Greenland and Northern Hemisphere glaciers will surely have an impact on precipitation patterns.
2013-2014 was California’s warmest winter on record. (NOAA/NCDC)
2013-2014 was California’s warmest winter on record. (NOAA/NCDC)
 The increasing trend in annual temperature in California over the past 118 years. (Source: NOAA). This trend mirrors the global increase.
From UJ:
This same phenomena that is causing the California drought is causing Alaska to get more warm air, which would warm the arctic more (presumably). It also is what pushed cold air down to the Midwest / Great Lakes region this past winter - referred to as the Polar Vortex. We had near record snowfalls, and were colder than usual. It also took longer than normal (by 3-4 weeks) for Spring to get here this year.
It is interesting to see the world as whole - departures from normal - below:

March 2014 land and sea surface temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius. NOAA

Earth & Reverie

I wanted to add the blog, Earth & Reverie  to my blogroll, but Blogger is not co-operating.

So I am posting it here. It is a new group blog that I started on the subject of Global Warming.

I am reposting my most recent post below. The numbers are what brings it all home, gives me pause.

Numbers Rising
I recently discovered Bill McKibbens article from July of 2012, “Global Warming's Terrifying New Math”. If I had noticed it before, I did not fully digest it. Some highlights from it include:
The First Number: 2° Celsius 
Some context: So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) 
The Second Number: 565 Gigatons 
Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. ….Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we're already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.CO2 emissions last year (2011) rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before….In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years (2028). "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees." [Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist] That's almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.…[The tar sands of Alberta] contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon (or almost half of the available space if we take the 565 limit seriously)… The Orinoco deposits (in Venezuela are larger than Alberta's . 
The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons 
The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.  …John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion.The numbers are simply staggering – this [fossil fuel] industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they're planning to use it. …Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas. The five biggest oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the millennium…
Bill McKibben thinks one answer is to make the fossil fuel industry pay the cost of it’s ‘externalities’ - the cost of the pollution / CO2. “The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless.”
I don’t know that that is the best way. The fossil fuel company and the heavy users could probably never repay the world for the cost of  the warmed planet (and costs of droughts, all the storms, etc.) and the cost of acidified ocean and loss of sea life (i.e. our food). And when the price of things get higher, the poor suffer the most, the wealthy would be fine for a long time.
The news came out about the same time as this McKibben article that the the Super-Rich have up to $32 Trillion in stored in ‘offshore’ tax havens (probably more now). So money - wise, there is little that could be done to prevent the very wealthy from using fossil fuels until they were gone. That is why rationing is the only practical solution.
I expect rationing would be difficult to enforce on the wealthy, who are used to getting whatever they want. But theoretically, it would give them an incentive to be more creative in how they use energy. If they were going to have large homes, for instance, they would need to incorporate smart designs and use renewable energy sources. (There could be limits on home size, too, for that matter). If they were going to travel, thought would have to be put into how to do so without using fossil fuels (sailing?). Efforts would have to be made to travel less. Perhaps the super-rich could buy other’s rations, but at least the other people would get some benefit and the overall use would be less.
The enforced slow-down of consumption, along with the re-planting of trees / forests, would be a good start. The other thing that should happen is a world-wide limit of one child per family (to make it per woman would be the practical way to do it). Part of the problem is clearly that too many people consuming too much energy is more than the planet can contain. We know that wars and famines have been predicted (and are happening). Some agriculture will be able to be shifted north - to Canada and Siberia, perhaps eventually to Greenland. But still, we know that more and more people want to live the ‘American’ dream life, no matter where on the earth they live. And since it is not reasonable to say that we can live it and other’s cannot, the only reasonable thing is to reduce the population equally, world wide. From looking at the charts, it looks like it should be reduced until the world population is at least down to one billion people. If people are going to ‘live the good life’, it may need to be less than that.
Unfortunately, if no rationing takes place, if deforestation continues, and population increases, nature will take care of things herself. But we should not consider her to be ‘cruel’ (as many people will surely die & extinctions are already happening at a rate of 3 species per hour), humanity has beaten nature down for quite some time. At some point, there is only so much nature can take before humans will no longer be able to continue life as we have come to think is usual.
Zach Klonoski wrote a good piece, "Wash hands of oil?" based on McKibbens book on the same subject as the above reference article, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.”

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels"

First a synopsis of the Ukrainian riots from the KyivPost:
A new wave of protests and clashes between protesters and police in Kyiv started after the Verkhovna Rada failed to register a resolution on reinstating the 2004 version of the Ukrainian constitution on Feb. 18, upon which the opposition had insisted. Over 80 people died in the clashes. This ultimately led to the change of government in the country: President Viktor Yanukovych has gone into hiding, and the Ukrainian parliament elected Oleksandr Turchynov as the new speaker and interim president on Feb. 22. The Verkhovna Rada also reinstated the 2004 constitution and scheduled early presidential elections for May 25. Yanukovych was declared internationally wanted on Feb. 24 on suspicion of responsibility for mass killings of peaceful protesters. 
....Most Russians are following the events in Ukraine, and nearly half of them are sure that the recent protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities have been influenced by the West, as is seen from a public opinion poll of 1,603 people the Levada Center sociological service conducted in 130 populated areas of 45 regions of Russia on Feb. 21-25. 
In the view of 45 percent of those polled, the Ukrainians are protesting under the influence of the West seeking to draw Ukraine into the orbit of its political interests, 32 percent explain the riots by nationalistic sentiments in society, and 17 percent are sure that the protests were fueled chiefly by hatred toward Yanukovych's corrupt regime.

That riots would break out as shortages increased was to be expected to happen sometime. This author says it is now. From the Guardian.UK by Nafeez Ahmed:
If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession. 
But this hasn't happened. And it won't
Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraineIceland, and Thailand
This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet - but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else. 
Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of thedanger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.
The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others. 
In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa - Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on. 
Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere. 
Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week: 
"Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months... In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest." 
But Bar-Yam's analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don't go deep enough - he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface. 
The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels. 
...Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine's oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment. 
...Currently, about 80% of Ukraine's oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia.   
...Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change's (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius. 
This is likely to be a very conservative estimate
 ....Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn't the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition - backed up with people power and ethical consistence....