Climate Change
August 22, 2019

Extinction Porn

Extinctionists: Leaders and decision-makers who accept extinction – minor or major, local and global – as an acceptable outcome of climate change; and justify it in order to maximize power and benefit.

For example:

BRAZIL:  Record Amazon Wildfires

Brazil’s space research center has reported 72,843 wildfires in the Amazon rainforest this year, with 9,507 of them taking place since last Thursday. The agency said that fires have increased in the states of Rondonia and Amazonas, which declared a national emergency earlier this month over the wildfires.

While fires in the Amazon can naturally occur between the months of August and November, they are frequently started to create space for cattle ranching. Residents as far as São Paulo in southeastern Brazil experienced blackouts on Monday due to smoke from wildfires in the Amazon and nearby Paraguay.

Sao Paulo: August 19, 3 pm


The Extinctionist:

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Two recent stories, the first from Brazil:

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil fired the head of a government agency that had revealed a steep increase in deforestation in the Amazon.


The second from America:

… for the first time, regulators would be allowed to conduct economic assessments … when deciding whether a species warrants protection.  Critically, the changes would also make it more difficult for regulators to factor in the effects of climate change on wildlife …


These stories illustrate how denial of climate change by the authoritarian populists, Bolsonaro and Trump, is leading, without ambiguity, to a tolerance of extinction.  These leaders and those who support them, explicitly or by their silence, are willing to not only eradicate species and biospheres but take all of us all down with them if it helps speed up the liquidation of the last good stuff, by seizing power and wealth. As illustrated so presciently by The New Yorker.

It may seem cynically extreme to say that those in power, public or private, whose job it is to assess risk and respond appropriately care little for civilizational survival so long as they see short-term gain.  Let’s instead assume they’re operating on a 3D Strategy: doubt, deny, delay.  Acknowledge climate change, if need be, include it in the long-term assessments, fund a few programs, but keep any disruptive change that requires immediate and large-scale response off the agenda.  Or use it against your opponents.

But that only makes sense so long as nothing substantially changes in the short term that confirms the long-run predictions and starts to scare people.  And unfortunately the changes are coming fast and looking uncomfortably furious:

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One of the world’s most iconic vans is making a comeback…

But this time, it’s electric. Slated for production by 2022, the “electric microbus” is one of five new electric models in Volkswagen’s ID. series — a family of 100% electric vehicles, which includes a crossover, a compact, a sedan, and of course, the van.

Just like the classic VW van, there will be room for up to seven people with an adjustable interior that includes a table and movable seats. Volkswagen also intends on enabling all ID. series models with a fully autonomous feature option.

Distance, a major concern of many when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, is no longer an issue. The van will have an electric range of 400 to 600 km, comparable to pretty much any gas-powered vehicle. Further, Volkswagen has partnered with Electrify Canada (partnership formed by Electrify America in cooperation with Volkswagen Canada) to build ultra-fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure to give Canadians the reliability they need to confidently make the switch to electric. Planning and deployment are well underway, including network routes — you can check out the Vancouver to Calgary route here.

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I’ve heard this twice from people that are experts in their fields, and now the BBC News writer Matt McGrath is reporting  on a new study published in  Science that recommends planting trees~billions of trees~to counter global warming.

Trees have a natural ability to capture carbon dioxide on a remarkable scale, and estimates suggest that there is a capacity the size of the United States that could be reforested around the world. Of course while tree planting may be an effective strategy it is still critical to arrest fossil fuel emissions. Estimates in the research study suggest trees can neutralize two-thirds of all carbon burden. That means that planting 900 million hectares of trees would result in an additional storage of 205 billion tons of carbon.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that if the world wanted to limit the rise to 1.5C by 2050, an extra 1bn hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees would be needed. The problem has been that accurate estimates of just how many trees the world can support have been hard to come by.This new report aims to show not just how many trees can be grown, but where they could be planted and how much of an impact they would have on carbon emissions.

Scientists from ETH-Zurich used Google Earth mapping software to create a predictive map exploring where new tree canopy could be located. Excluding farms and cities, they estimate that globally nearly 1 billion hectares of tree cover could be added. And those trees once matured “could pull down around 200 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, some two-thirds of extra carbon from human activities put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.”

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Transportation and Land Use Planner Eric Doherty in The Observer has written a thoughtful piece that drills down on the “Climate Emergency”. Earlier this month Canada endorsed the global “Green New Deal” which aims to halve greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in eleven years.

There are two main causes of GHG in Canada~transportation and the oil & gas industries. Doherty makes a convincing argument that transportation, “the second largest source of GHG pollution in Canada, must not be ignored.”  

We must be politically prudent in having the discussion about the impact of vehicle pollution on climate change. And that will require a complete shift at the federal and provincial levels in terms of what is funded and why, and ensuring that link between GHGs and vehicle use is recognized in effective policy to mitigate climate change. We simply need to stop building roads.

The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. Governments understand full well that expanding highways results in more traffic and climate pollution. The 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (the federal-provincial climate agreement) already commits the federal and provincial governments to shift spending away from things that increase carbon pollution, such as urban highways and airport expansion, to low-carbon transportation including public transit, walking and cycling. However, both federal and provincial governments are largely ignoring this commitment.”

With transportation increasing GHG pollution by 43 percent between 1990 and 2017, public spending on highways increase air pollution. Commuting leads to health problems and isolation.

Doherty identifies several ways to mitigate the transportation GHG impacts.

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Like some unprecedented mass shooting, it’s the kind of record-breaking news one tends to think twice about discussing at the breakfast table.

As reported by Popular Science, among many other media outlets, late last week the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured carbon levels in the atmosphere at 415 parts per million. That’s more than 100 ppm higher than any point in almost 1 million years’ worth of atmospheric data available.

For nearly a million years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have maintained an average of about 280 ppm, not going above 300 ppm or below 160 ppm…the latest human-caused warming event is occurring over just a couple of centuries, which is so quick in comparison that the trend line appears vertical as it approaches today.

Do we actually still need to wonder why this is happening?

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In David Wallace-Well’s worthwhile and worrying book on climate change – “The Uninhabitable Earth” – he writes this:

The United States Geological Survey… recently “war-gamed” an extreme weather scenario they called “ARkStorm”: winter storms strike California, producing flooding in the Central Valley three hundred miles long and twenty miles wide, and more destructive flooding in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Bay Area up north, altogether forcing the evacuation of more than a million Californians …

Hard to get your head around the idea of evacuating a million people in sudden and stormy circumstances.  Unless you’re Indian, in the impoverished state of Odisha hit by a severe cyclone :

… the authorities, sobered by past tragedies, moved a million people to safety, really fast.  …

On Thursday morning, Odisha government officials released a five-page action plan. They seemed to have left nothing uncovered. The most important part was to get people to the shelters. Since Odisha has been hit by many killer storms, state emergency officers said they had drilled on their evacuation plans many times. …

Krishan Kumar, an officer in the Khordha district of the Odisha government, said the government’s success reflected an accumulated wisdom.

How likely is it that California could do the same? Maybe.  Maybe they have the plans, the training, the experience – and the generals.  Those in charge, those accountable, those with the mandate and resources to face the threat and mobilize people – as Odisha did.

People in the sustainability community tend not to be fans of the idea that we need generals – and should be including them now in our ‘Climate Emergency’ strategies.  But when it comes to evacuating a million people in response to climate emergencies, how could you do without them?

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“In a lot of ways it was the best apartment I’d ever had. Partly just the proximity to the ocean…”

For lovers of cheeky dystopian thrillers and urban planners alike…

Written and directed by Nate Sherman and Nick Voley, Wet City is a series of shorts from Adult Swim which begs the important question: What would life be like if Amazon tried expanding into New York City after the polar ice caps have melted?

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Munich Re (the insurer’s insurer) may have more impact on society’s response to climate change than scientists and legislators.

From The Guardian:

Insurers have warned that climate change could make cover for ordinary people unaffordable after the world’s largest reinsurance firm blamed global warming for $24bn (£18bn) of losses in the Californian wildfires.

Ernst Rauch, Munich Re’s chief climatologist, told the Guardian that the costs could soon be widely felt, with premium rises already under discussion with clients holding asset concentrations in vulnerable parts of the state. …

After comparing observational data spanning several decades with climate models, the report concluded that the wildfires, which killed 85 people, were “broadly consistent with climate change”.

Nicolas Jeanmart, the head of personal insurance, general insurance and macroeconomics at Insurance Europe, which speaks for 34 national insurance associations, said the knock-on effects from rising premiums could pose a threat to social order. … 

“The sector is concerned that continuing global increases in temperature could make it increasingly difficult to offer the affordable financial protection that people deserve, and that modern society requires to function properly,” he said. …

Dr Ben Caldecott, the director of Oxford University’s sustainable finance programme, said: “Company directors and fiduciaries will ultimately be held responsible for avoidable climate-related damages and losses and urgently need to up their game to avoid litigation and liability.”

Munich Re has divested its large thermal coal holdings. However, it maintains some gas and oil investments.


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