Chilling Warning on Warming’s Future Effect


The sea sweeps across a road after Hurricane Sandy hit Assateague Island off the east coast of the US in 2012. Image: NPS Climate Change Response via Wikimedia Commons

The sea sweeps across a road after Hurricane Sandy hit Assateague Island off the east coast of the US in 2012. Image: NPS Climate Change Response via Wikimedia Commons

Posted on Feb 11, 2016 By Alex Kirby / Climate News Network

Source: Truthdig

LONDON—Humanity is taking a huge risk of causing irreversible damage for untold millions of people in future generations by treating climate change as simply a short-term problem, according to an international team of scientists..

They warn that the window of opportunity for reducing emissions is now small, and that the speed at which we are currently emitting carbon into the atmosphere could result in the Earth suffering damage lasting for tens of thousands of years.

Writing in Nature Climate Change journal, they say too much of the climate policy debate has focused on the past 150 years and their impact on global warming and sea level rise by the end of this century.

Peter Clark, professor of geology and geophysics at Oregon State University in the US, and the study’s lead author, says: “Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years—and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years.”

Long-term view

Co-author Thomas Stocker, professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and former co-chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warns of “the essential irreversibility” of greenhouse gas emissions.

He writes: “The long-term view sends the chilling message of what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era. It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that, for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

The authors say sea level rise is one of the most graphic impacts of global warming, yet its effects are only just starting to be felt. The latest IPCC report, for example, expects that likely sea level rise by the year 2100 will be no more than one metre.

They examined four scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end attainable only with massive effort to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

“We are making choices
that will affect our
grandchildren’s grandchildren – and beyond”

The Paris Agreement reached at the UN climate change summit in December last year aims to keep temperatures “well below” the 2°C previously accepted internationally as the safe level of increase

But with just 2°C of warming in the low scenario examined in the study, sea levels are predicted eventually to rise by about 25 metres. And with 7°C expected in the high scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 metres, over several centuries to millennia.

“It takes sea level rise a very long time to react—on the order of centuries,” Professor Clark says. “It’s like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn’t boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on—but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

An estimated 122 countries have at least 10% of their population in areas that will be directly affected by rising sea levels in the low scenario. About 1.3 billion people—20% of the Earth’s population—may be directly affected.

“We can’t keep building seawalls that are 25 metres high,” Clark says. “Entire populations of cities will eventually have to move.”

Moral questions

Another of the study’s co-authors, Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard University’s Centre for the Environment, is concerned about the moral questions involved in the kind of environment this generation is handing on.

“Sea level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren—and beyond,” he says.

The analysis says the long timescales involved mean that reducing emissions slightly or even significantly is not sufficient. Clark says: “To spare future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, the target must be zero or even negative carbon emissions—as soon as possible.”

Geologists say that in the last 50 years humans have changed the climate and introduced the Anthropocene, a new geological era with fundamentally altered living conditions for thousands of years ahead.

“Because we do not know to what extent adaptation will be possible for humans and ecosystems, all our efforts must focus on a rapid and complete decarbonisation—the only option to limit climate change,” Stocker concludes.

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The Polluters the Paris Treaty Ignores


chemtrails

By Julian Spector, CityLab – 10 January 16

 

International shipping and aviation emit as much as entire wealthy nations, but they’re not bound by the COP21 deal.

 

With the Paris climate talks coming to a close, participating nations are hashing out the details of how to hold each other to their carbon reduction goals and finance the whole transition to a cleaner world. Non-state actors are present, too; 400 cities signed a Compact of Mayors to set and track climate goals. And financial institutions have made big commitments to shift investment away from fossil fuels and better disclose climate-related business risks.

But there are two particular industries that must factor into any plan to cut carbon and yet aren’t directly represented in the current COP21 talks: international shipping and aviation.

They’re both big. International shipping produces 2.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to all of Germany. Meanwhile total aviation yields about 2 percent of global GHGs, and international flights account for 65 percent of that figure. These emissions won’t be covered by reductions being discussed at COP21, because they don’t happen within the boundaries of any specific countries. They’re also projected to rise dramatically by 2050.

Two major obstacles stand in the way of resolving emissions from international shipping and aviation. The first is procedural: those industries are not bound by the Paris climate deal. The second is practical: the world currently lacks a promising technology to replace carbon-based propulsion systems, as well as a promising alternative to carbon-based fuel.

The limits of COP21

The acronym-laden gathering of 196 nations in Paris is administered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That’s the organization created in 1994 to rein in greenhouse gases before they caused dangerous climate interference. The UN agencies charged with overseeing the environmental impacts of international transport are the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The ICAO has said that next year at its assembly the group will decide on a global market-based measure to reduce carbon emissions. (Meantime airlines have acted on their own; in 2009, the International Air Transport Association industry group pledged to improve fuel efficiency 1.5 percent each year until 2020, when emissions will peak, and to halve 2005-level emissions by 2050.) And the IMO has set an energy efficiency requirement for ships built in 2025, but not an overall carbon emissions target.

The parties at COP21 could include language to direct those organizations to cut emissions from international shipping. But, as Politico reports, that requires a delicate balancing act: many of the maritime nations most threatened by rising sea levels also rely on shipping and air travel for their economic health. As of Thursday evening, the draft text for the Paris treaty did not contain the words “shipping” or “aviation.”

Technological challenges

Even if world leaders could determine carbon cuts for these industries, significant advances in technology and deployment would need to happen to make them possible.

Electric cars are growing cheaper and more accessible by the day, but electric propulsion doesn’t seem likely for international transit. When you’re out at sea or up in the air, you can’t stop to plug in and recharge your batteries. Additionally, air travel is extremely sensitive to the weight of an aircraft, and the batteries needed to power a long flight will weigh too much for the foreseeable future.

The industries can cut some emissions by looking at fuel efficiency, but not a lot. Airlines already did the more attainable upgrades in that regard during the fuel price spike of 2008, says environmental consultant Suzanne Hunt, president of Hunt Green LLC. Fuel prices impose the largest cost airlines face (up to two-fifths of total costs), so they have a strong incentive to trim their demand wherever possible.

The shipping industry doesn’t face the same pressures, because in most cases the company hiring a ship to transport cargo pays for the fuel required, says Galen Hon, who manages the shipping efficiency operation at the Carbon War Room, a D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates market-based ways to reduce carbon emissions. That means the ship owner doesn’t feel financial pressure to improve efficiency, unless customers start factoring in environmental qualities when they select a transporter (Carbon War Room developed a tool to do just that).

In both shipping and aviation, then, the most significant carbon reductions will come from adopting different fuels or propulsion technologies.

The green future of aviation

In his ambitious roadmap for decarbonizing society by 2050, Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson calls for all new aircraft to fly on liquid hydrogen by 2040. That’s what rockets burn, and if you want a rundown of the fantastically difficult requirements of a volatile fuel that must be kept at -423°F, head to NASA. The Soviet Union successfully flew an experimental hydrogen-propelled airliner called the Tu 155, so it can be done; it just can’t be done economically.

Part of the expense and time involved in creating a new generation of jet fuel is the safety requirements, Hunt says. That’s why she thinks the most likely non-fossil fuel for planes will be biofuels, which can be grown sustainably and poured into existing aircraft fuel tanks.

“There’s absolutely no margin for error, so the safety precautions for flying are really rigorous—it can take them many, many years to bring new technology into the airspace in terms of the aircraft,” she says. “One of the reasons people are so excited about aviation biofuel is that you don’t need to change the airplane or the engine.”

These biofuels typically derive from oils or fats (from plants or animals), or sugars. These are processed into hydrocarbons that function much like oil, but with the potential for much less carbon emission than conventional fuel (the accounting for this is very complicated, and some biofuels are more greenhouse gassy than others). More importantly, three types of biofuel have already been approved for blending with jet fuel for aviation and have entered into commercial use.

But just because they’re allowed doesn’t mean there will be enough of them. The biofuel industry, still quite young, needs to scale up to compete with traditional fuels, and so far the investment just isn’t there. Once it is, biofuel manufacturing will consume more raw ingredients, which calls for more farmland to grow them. If that takes away land from food production it creates tricky justice questions; if manufacturers use leftover materials from other industries, it might be hard to meet the global demand. The key is doing it at scale and at a price that airlines can actually pay.

“It’s really, really hard to make large quantities of sustainable biofuels for aviation,” Hunt says. “The industry is very much in its infancy and very capital intensive and it’s competing against the most powerful industry on the planet, oil.”

All hands on deck to clean up shipping

Electric propulsion has been gaining steam for smaller ships, but not for large cargo haulers. That’s because currently, electric generation on large ships tends to be a few percentage points less efficient than conventional propulsion, and those few points add up to a lot of money on a long voyage, says Hon of the Carbon War Room.

In the short term, then, carbon savings will come from efficiency upgrades to the hulls and rotors of ships. Some companies are turning back to wind power: the German company SkySails, for instance, produces large kite-like sails that attach to ships and give them a boost. A spokesperson for the company says they have installed the sails on five ships and that, in good wind conditions, they can save 30 tons of CO2 emissions per day. (Since winds don’t always blow steadily, the average comes down to two or three tons per day.) These can work well for bulk carriers—ships with large tanks for transporting grains or ore—but not on container ships, which carry almost all non-bulk cargo.

Again, the big carbon cuts will come from switching fuel sources. Ships burn what’s called bunker fuel, which is the heaviest, sludgiest oil left over when refineries distill gasoline, butane, and other useful hydrocarbons. Since it’s less refined, it’s also cheaper. And since ships burn it out at sea, the effects are less visible to the landlubbers who might be writing environmental policy.

The New York Times recently profiled the first container ships to run on liquefied natural gas, which burns cleaner than bunker fuel, especially in terms of particulate matter and acid rain-producing sulfur dioxide. But this approach doesn’t look like it will provide much of a net gain in greenhouse gas reductions, due to the technical requirements of running the ship and the possibility of methane leaks. It’s also expensive, because like liquid hydrogen, the liquefied natural gas must be kept at extremely low temperatures.

Then there’s nuclear. The U.S. Navy has successfully run naval vessels on nuclear power for decades, so that technology is totally feasible and does not burn fossil fuels. A handful of commercial ships ran on nuclear, but it never caught on widely. With civil shipping, the security risks are higher: What if Somali pirates didn’t just capture hostages but a nuclear reactor? There are also environmental concerns about what to do with the waste and what happens if a nuclear vessel sinks. And there are more expenses up front, with savings on fuel costs coming over time.

The most likely clean fuel for shipping might be biofuels or fuel cells, Hon says. Biofuels offer the same benefits and drawbacks as they do for airplanes—they don’t require technological changes to the craft, but they’re hard to source at scale. Fuel cells connected to electric engines would be a clean way of producing energy—they use chemical processes, not combustion, to provide the needed electrons.

“None of these technologies are viable right now,” he says. “Efficiency is totally possible with net-negative costs, that’s what we’re trying to figure out how to make happen sooner.”

The first hurdles

Since international transportation is, well, international, any policies to clean it up need to be global in scope. If the European Union passes a strong law for lowering emissions from international flights, airlines could just divert air travel to other places with more lenient approaches to carbon. And a patchwork of different policies in different nations will make global travel exceedingly complicated.

A worldwide carbon tax could go a long way to driving cleaner performance from ships and aircraft and increasing market pressure for alternative fuels. Michael Gill, director for aviation environment at the International Air Transport Association, says the aviation industry supports the ICAO developing a global, market-based regulation to cut carbon from flying, but they’re wary of a carbon tax: that might constrict the growth of the industry. Instead, he’d like to see a carbon offset scheme that includes incentives for switching to cleaner fuels.

If nations do want to act on their own, they could do a lot worse than ending subsidies for fossil fuels. A working paper by researchers at the International Monetary Fund estimated global post-tax subsidies for energy—mostly coal, natural gas, and oil, with a tiny sliver going to electricity—at an astounding $5.3 trillion for 2015, or 6.5 percent of global GDP. Stopping direct budgetary support for fossil fuels would be a logical place to start.

“Getting rid of subsidies for mature industries would be something you’d think would be palatable for liberals and conservatives alike,” Hunt notes.

It’s still possible, if unlikely, that some language about international transportation will make it into the final Paris treaty. Even if it doesn’t, there can still be progress. A successful deal at COP21 will generate political momentum for the ICAO’s next meeting in September 2016, says Gill. And the IMO will work on reducing emissions at a meeting in April, says Hon.

Environmentalists may well say that timeline isn’t fast enough. But that sounds like more of a testament to just how quickly the COP process has accelerated in the last few years. As recently as 2009 the question was: “Will the world ever forge a meaningful climate treaty?” Now we’ve advanced to asking: “Once we get the deal, how soon can international transit follow suit?”

COP21: The Most Possible Agreement Text


 

tour Eiffel 1,5degrees

The Eiffel tower is lit up with a reference to the tougher global warming target of 1.5C that is expected to appear in the final draft Paris climate text. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images

Conference of the Parties
Twenty-first session Paris, 30 November to 11December 2015
Agenda item 4(b)
Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (decision 1/CP.17)
Adoption of a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties
ADOPTION OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT
Proposal by the President
Draft decision-/CP.21

READ: Adoption Of The Paris Agreement (COP21)

 

Environmental Terrorists Meet In Paris


 

Activists of global anti-poverty charity Oxfam, wearing masks depicting some of the world leaders, stage a protest ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris, France, November 28, 2015. (photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Activists of global anti-poverty charity Oxfam, wearing masks depicting some of the world leaders, stage a protest ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris, France, November 28, 2015. (photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News – 03 December 15

 

World “leaders” hold world hostage, no release seen soon

 

Maybe that sub-head is too bleak, maybe it’s unjustified, maybe there is an invisible political will to survive more than the next fiscal quarter or election. If COP21, the UN climate conference that began November 30, actually manages to provide some reason to believe the world will not continue to stumble deliberately toward self-incineration, that would beat present expectations. But even that unlikely result would be far short of the profound changes needed to prevent the world from heating more than the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) already considered inevitable – and calamitous.

COP21 stands for the 21st session of the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty established in 1992 (at the Rio Earth Summit) “to consider what they could do to limit global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with its impacts.” Like the UN, UNFCCC is dominated by the richest and most powerful countries, whose perceived interests give little weight to the needs of the poorest or most vulnerable countries. 

That underlying structural problem of power imbalance is amplified at COP21 by sheer numbers. COP 21 has at least 36,276 registered individual participants. Of these, 23,161 people represent 198 countries (two of which are only observers). There are another 1,236 observer organizations, including 36 units of the UN, 71 intergovernmental organizations, and 1,109 non-governmental organizations, altogether represented by 9,411 people. And there are 1,366 media organizations with 3,704 registered participants. All of them (and all of us) will have to slog through jargon and Orwellian language which have the effect of obscuring meaning, not exposing it. 

The official goal of this gathering of world leaders is: “COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”

COP21 is theatre of the absurd, diverting the frogs as the water boils

What passes for global “leadership” has already pissed away more than three decades since climate change was identified as a clear and present danger to life on earth. Even now the world’s leaders appear content to lounge in their comfortable bubbles of denial of reality and conflicts of interest that reinforce that useful denial. We live in a time when shameful leaders almost everywhere appear to lack the capacity for shame, much less the capacity to change their shameful behavior.

They aim to achieve a legally binding agreement on climate? If they wanted a legally binding agreement, or even an agreement that worked, they would have had one long since. 

They aim to achieve a universal agreement on climate? They don’t need a universal agreement on climate, they need only to agree among the powerful few and the agreement would then be universal.  

Those making a globe-saving agreement unlikely, if not impossible, are the ones who brought the globe to the climate brink in the first place. These are the governments that have for decades subsidized their oil and coal companies, whose social conscience is exemplified by Exxon. Almost 40 years ago, in 1977, Exxon learned that carbon dioxide produced by burning oil and gas was warming the planet and could threaten humanity. Exxon immediately blew the whistle – on sharing that information. Continuing to accept government subsidies, Exxon poured millions of dollars into a decades-long disinformation campaign debunking the climate change it knew to be real. In effect, even after the government knew through other sources about global warming, government continued to subsidize Exxon’s possibly criminal lies to the government and the public. Forbes magazine defends Exxon, arguing that Exxon was right because global warming has increased more slowly than predicted by some.

Corporate polluters embedded in UNFCCC (go ahead, pronounce it)

Exxon and its ilk have long had a heavy hand in UN activities to address climate change and they are well-represented at COP21. It is not in their interest to have the conference reach an enforceable and universal agreement, because most of their corporate assets are oil and coal in the ground and they can’t cash in on the value of those assets without burning them, no matter what they do to the planet. 

When a society, in this case a global society, sets out to confront criminal behavior, if they’re serious, they don’t convene a conference of criminals. Assuming that planetary destruction is at least a crime against humanity (this is controversial in some circles) what earthly sense does it make to have the world’s global plunderers, governmental and corporate, choose themselves to figure out how to reduce their plunder without reducing their profits and power?

Having absolute authority to take ameliorative steps on their own initiative, the plunderers swamp the credulous media with claims that an unwieldy conference with a track record of 23 years of failure is the only possible way to find a solution to the dangers of climate change. To emphasize that opinion, the plunderers exclude the most articulate voices against plunder from their conference. Those are the lucky ones. The less lucky are deposed by military coup and jailed, while the US is quick to recognize the coup government of the Maldives as it promptly issues offshore oil leases, showing their willingness to see their own people drown sooner or later. Like the Marshall Islands (under US “protection”), the Maldives are a looming test case of whether the world prefers long term humanity over short term profit. 

The Marshall Islands were the subject of a long, lavishly illustrated page one piece in the December 2 New York Times fatalistically headlined “Pacific Island Nation Struggles Against Relentless Rising Sea (and worse online: “The Marshall Islands Are Disappearing”). The story is strangely disconnected from COP21, as if assuming there’s nothing that can be done to save the Marshall Islands. The Times even characterizes foreign minister Tony A. deBrum as somewhat unconcerned with saving his country:  

Mr. deBrum’s focus is squarely on the West’s wallets – recouping “loss and damage,” in negotiators’ parlance, for the destruction wrought by the rich nations’ industrial might on the global environment. Many other low-lying nations are just as threatened by rising seas.… But the Marshall Islands holds an important card: Under a 1986 compact, the roughly 70,000 residents of the Marshalls, because of their long military ties to Washington, are free to emigrate to the United States, a pass that will become more enticing as the water rises on the islands’ shores.

Speaking, as it typically does, in the voice of the plundering class, the Times frames the destruction of a sovereign nation in terms of issues that matter to the plunderers: they want our money, and they want to come here – the horror. But the full moral squalor of the Times as plunderer mouthpiece comes later. The Times describes neighborhoods in the Marshall Islands that already suffer periodic flooding with salt water and raw sewage, followed by sickness and disease, fever and dysentery, in a cycle that will only repeat more quickly as warming continues. Such health conditions would be forbidden in the US. The Times, sounding like Marie Antoinette with the monstrous detachment of the rich and unaffected, worries only that Marshall Islanders “could see their homes unfit for human habitation within the coming decades.”

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”

The plunderers also ban peaceful protest against plundering, using the “terrorism” threat as an excuse to prevent protest against the eco-terrorism of the plunderers. When the plunderers’ gag on free speech is met with non-violent protest, the plunderers’ police respond with a violent put down and 200 arrests. This is Paris now. The local police state also used the “terrorism” smear to raid the homes of climate change activists, putting them in house arrest without charges. French President François Hollande, a head of a leading plunderer state, lied about the police actions this way:

This is why these protests are not authorized. We knew there would be troublemakers, who by the way have nothing to do with climate activists, or those who want the conference to succeed, and who are there only to create problems. That’s why they were put under house arrest. And it’s doubly unfortunate, I’d even say scandalous, Place de la Republique, where there are all these flowers and also candles placed in memory of those who were killed by the bullets of terrorists.

While Hollande’s first remarks are commonly dishonest, unprovable smears of unnamed and uncharged citizens, his last remark is a callous, demagogic lie. Video of the police attack shows that the memorial at the Place de la Republique was protected by the protesters and trashed by the police.

As with past UN climate meetings, peaceful protesters have been kept away from the eyes and ears of registered participants. What does it say about the participants’ arguments about climate change to see that they need police to protect them from counter-arguments? As one protester said, commenting on their exclusion from any meaningful part in the process: “If you’re not at the table, you are on the menu. So, we want to be at the table.”

Do the people at the table care what happens after they’re dead?

If the people at the table actually thought and felt in global terms, if they actually thought and felt in generational terms, they could not possibly act as they do, fecklessly, ineffectively, self-servingly and soullessly. Their terrorism is magnitudes larger than the “terrorism” they pretend to “protect” us against with their creeping totalitarian controls. If it were otherwise, there would not be so many casualties among climate change action advocates. Another such excluded expert is Pablo Solon, a former chief negotiator for Bolivia, now denied a seat at the table. He went to Paris to protest against the scripted charade of COP21, where there is no negotiation of unenforceable national promises to reduce emissions. Perhaps the conference would be better named COP-OUT21, if Solon is right:  

There is an official document from the UNFCCC that says,… we are going to be increasing the temperature between 2.7 to 3.9 degrees Celsius…. And now to be speaking about [global warming of] four degrees or five degrees Celsius is, to put it in other terms, to burn the planet. So the Paris agreement is an agreement that will see the planet burn.

For that prediction to be wrong, our global “leaders” need to change their behavior in radical ways that they have so far shown every intention of resisting. More likely Paris is another sham. It’s as if a ship captain with a vessel taking on water demands that the crew bail faster, and viciously punishes anyone trying to plug the hole. Faced with the need to reverse course to avoid calamity, the captains of our ships of state have gathered to discuss only the possibility of slowing down, while maintaining the same course.

    • 50% of the world’s population, the poorer half, cause only 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

  • 10% of the world’s population, the richest 10%, cause almost 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.   

The plunderers show little interest in sacrificing their wealth to save the poor, or the planet. Among US presidential candidates so far, only Bernie Sanders has acknowledged that climate change is the most serious national security issue this (or any other) country faces. His campaign is predicated on the possibility of a political revolution from below, which might allow the possibility of US actions consistent with protecting the planet. It’s not that the ways to protect the planet are unknown or unachievable. But the best ways to protect the planet – especially keeping fossil fuels in the ground – are fundamentally unacceptable to those whose present interests are in conflict with efforts to keep the planet from burning. And the plunderers still control the game at the top.

What is needed from the Paris climate change conference / Ban Ki-moon


TourEiffelCOP21

Secretary-General of the United Nations
Nov 30, 2015
Source: LinkedIn

Today I am joining world leaders in Paris, along with 45,000 others — from civil society, businesses, media and more — to urge Heads of State and Government to forge a new global agreement on climate change.

People in towns and cities across the world joined together yesterday for a Global Climate March — biggest climate mobilization ever. While security precautions prevented the climate march that had been planned for Paris, this did not deter thousands of concerned citizens in many countries from showing their support for urgent climate action and making their voices heard.

I hope that leaders and negotiators will heed those voices — because the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) happening here over the next two weeks offers an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the defining issue of our time.

In one way or another, we are all experiencing the effects of climate change, and these impacts will only increase. Yet climate change does not affect us all equally. Those who suffer first and worst are those who did least to cause it: the poor and most vulnerable members of society who are the least equipped to mitigate and adapt to this changing situation.

The price of inaction is huge.

Around the world, I have seen how floods, droughts, rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms are causing terrible harm, and prompting families to migrate, often at great peril.

Aside from the devastating human toll, the cost of disasters is huge: since 1995 – including earthquakes and tsunamis – disaster losses amount to between $250 billion and $300 billion annually. 

If left unchecked, the current course of climate change will alter life on Earth as we know it.

We must take urgent action now.

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So what exactly needs to happen at COP21? 

First and foremost, we need the 195 governments that will attend along with the European to reach a new climate agreement that to reach a new climate change agreement that puts us on the road to keeping global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – beyond which there will be an increase in the risk of severe, pervasive, and in some cases, irreversible impacts. 

Paris must be a turning point, sending a loud and clear signal to citizens, markets and the private sector that the transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial, and already underway.

In recent years we have seen a groundswell of momentum for action on climate change across all sectors of society — from individuals to governments to businesses. It is heartening to see a growing number of governments and companies taking steps to carve out a low-carbon future. They know the very real impacts of climate change, but they also embrace the effective, affordable solutions at our fingertips.

What’s more, companies that are taking action to reduce emissions and become more sustainable are finding it helps their bottom line. It makes business sense.

Ahead of COP21, almost all countries, as well as states, cities, business and investors, have come forward with comprehensive pledges and plans to reduce carbon emissions and bolster resilience. More than 180 countries have submitted national climate commitments. Developed countries have pledged to support the efforts of developing countries to move toward low-emission economies.

These are encouraging steps and I urge all countries to follow suit. 

No one, in any nation can avoid the impacts of climate change and we all have a responsibility – and an opportunity – to do something about it. So while leaders gather in Paris to chart the course ahead, let’s all help address climate change, starting today and wherever you are. From activities you can do easily at home, to how you can get involved with efforts organized in your community and beyond, get ideas for climate action here.

Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars


In 2004, when I was working at the Union of Concerned Scientists, I had an interesting email exchange with my fellow countryman and ardent climate change columnist, George Monbiot.

This was before he went to the dark side and became a nuclear power apologist.  We were discussing climate skeptics and, as we did so, I began to think about their similarity to Holocaust deniers.  I suggested to Monbiot that climate “denier” was a more apt term than “skeptic.”  Monbiot ran with it.  Today it’s in the lexicon.

But it’s time for a change.  Because, as the revelations surrounding Exxon clearly illustrate, these “deniers” actually know better.  Even Donald Trump, for all his repulsive policies and personality traits, is not necessarily stupid.  He probably gets climate change.  It’s just vaguely possible that even Ted Cruz and Ben Carson do, too.  Which means none of them are really Climate Deniers.  They, like Exxon, are Climate Liars.

This makes them worse than genuine skeptics because they are deliberately sabotaging the long-term survival of our planet for short-term gain.  Some are doing this to win election to, or retain, public office.  Others are simply lining their pockets, eager for the lavish handouts the fossil fuel industry is willing to make to stay alive and perpetuate the myth that it is relevant.

Whether lying or denying, dismissing climate change is a winning formula because the public has been fed a steady diet of misinformation about the urgency of global warming.  More disturbingly, we are bombarded daily with news about truly inconsequential, often celebrity-driven gossip, or quotidian stories that are sensationalized into national dramas.  These obliterate the opportunity to impart information of genuine significance.  Instead, click bait and trivia have created an addiction to soft, rather than hard, news.

Meanwhile, the empirical facts languish like leftovers, of no interest to a fast-food consumer who prefers an easily digestible sound bite, even if it isn’t true.  Politicians know this and latch onto the messaging that will serve their ends, regardless of the veracity factor.

Mired in this melange of myths is nuclear energy.  Its spokespeople include a handful of misguided climate scientists like James Hansen who should know better but are pushing nuclear anyway as a climate change solution.  Just before the recent violent events in Paris, Hansen was promoting a press conference he planned to hold there during the upcoming COP 21 (Conference of Parties) climate talks.  Although COP is still going ahead, it’s not yet clear how many, if any, of the side events will.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the ravages of climate change are now a present crisis rather than a distant threat, the Hansen crowd will be unrelenting in their promotion of nuclear energy.  This has historically stifled progress on climate change, and will continue to do so.

Are Hansen and his followers nuclear deniers, or actually nuclear liars?  It’s hard to know.  Hansen has refused to debate us or answer the obvious flaws in his thesis — such as the fact that nuclear energy cannot possibly come on line in time or in sufficient capacity to address climate change.

Hansen’s press releases and public statements tend toward rhetorical over-reaching and even insults.  This has become a favorite pastime of the nuclear power panderers, catering once more to the easy sell and quick snicker at the opposition’s expense.  Thus, Hansen, with all his lofty NASA credentials, has stooped to calling on donors to pull funds from green groups that oppose nuclear energy.  He even mocks solicitation requests that are “doubtless accompanied with a photo of a cuddly bear.”   Such cheap shots seem unworthy of a man who professes to represent serious science and uses his august curriculum vitae as a door-opening calling card.

Rectifying this problem is no easy task.  For one thing, blasting people with the truth about nuclear power doesn’t always work.  It is too technical, too complicated, too wonky and too grim.  Try telling someone about the dangerous state of a nuclear reactor drywell liner.  It’s a problem that could lead to disaster, cost people their lives and livelihoods, and force permanent evacuation.  But as a piece of messaging, it is dead on arrival compared to the “safe, clean and reliable” misleading mantra adopted by the pro-nuclear cronies.

The dialogue has to change, and obviously, though fun and even effective, name calling, like “climate liars,” isn’t the answer either.  Or at least, it isn’t an answer.  What we must do is stop the hemorrhaging of U.S. taxpayer dollars funding further, futile attempts to build a better nuclear mousetrap.

Like the billions spent on bombing raids that create more terror rather than eradicating terrorism, the never-ending flow of dollars toward the illusory phantom of a so-called “next generation” nuclear reactor is a failed strategy.  Such nuclear reactors have been “in progress” for decades and will likely never arrive in time for climate change, if at all.  They have demonstrated no strong likelihood that they will even work or ever be safe and will simply swallow up precious dollars and time that we cannot afford to waste.

For example, the U.S. Department of Energy has been funding a “next generation” favorite, the Small Modular Reactor (SMR), since the 1990s.  Today, there are still no SMRs in operation, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to receive a single license application.

Climate disruption is adding to the terrible strife in our world.  Another nuclear disaster would destabilize the globe even more.  Things could not be more urgent.  Like terrorism, nuclear energy delivers fear and tragedy.  From leukemia clusters to meltdowns; the environmental racism of uranium mining to the exclusion zones of Chernobyl and Fukushima; we live in the perpetual shadow of disaster as long as nuclear power continues.

As everyone from Hansen to Huckabee doubtless knows, there are other ways forward.     They need look no further than the empirical evidence found in the 2015 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, where we see nuclear energy continuing to stagnate and even decline while wind and solar energy soar globally.   It’s time to follow the example of Germany and take nuclear power out of the energy equation.  Continued nuclear irresponsibility will have only one, tragic outcome;  allowing the climate crisis to slip beyond the point of no return.

How Wall Street Is Cashing In on Climate Catastrophe


aronoff Climate-WallStreet

By Kate Aronoff
Source: In These Times

Come hell or high water, the finance industry will make a killing

Bigger and more expensive storms are brewing. One study found that as much as $507 billion worth of U.S. coastal property could be underwater by 2100. With $416 billion in assets at risk, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development labels Miami as the city that could face the most property damage worldwide as a result of rising tides. Hurricane Katrina already claimed $48.7 billion in insured losses; Hurricane Sandy caused $18.75 billion worth.

Governments, meanwhile, are doing little to prepare. As we head into this year’s climate talks in Paris, prospects seem dim for a comprehensive plan to scale back emissions to the extent required to prevent catastrophic warming. In the United States, Department of Energy scientist Tom Wilbanks has called this country’s crumbling infrastructure, which is woefully ill-equipped to cope with even moderate climate impacts, “a national crisis.” On top of that, our federal disaster response mechanisms remain sluggish, still underfunded and encumbered by the bureaucratic mismanagement that characterized the responses to Katrina and Sandy.

But thanks to Wall Street’s ability to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, one disaster management tool is starting to gain traction.

The “catastrophe bond,” devised in the aftermath of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, is a form of “reinsurance.” Reinsurance protects insurance companies in case they can’t pay out—for example, after a flurry of simultaneous claims following a catastrophic event. Stung by Katrina and Sandy, in the last decade insurance companies and eager investors have fueled an average annual growth of as much as 25 percent in what is known as the “cat bond” market, with a record $8 billion sold to investors in 2014 alone. These financial instruments are also being floated as a solution for the risk incurred by public-sector entities that range from the debt-ridden National Flood Insurance Program to impoverished countries that could face bankruptcy should a massive storm hit.

There’s just one hitch: Cat bonds are fundamentally financial instruments, hawked by Wall Street firms and global reinsurance companies that have no duty to the public. 

A cat bond is born

Here’s how cat bonds work: Say an insurance company in Florida is looking to buy an extra layer of insurance for itself in case of a particularly severe hurricane season. It might draft up a contract with a reinsurer that—in return for a hefty fee—will set up a special-purpose vehicle (SPV), a legal entity created specifically to manage cat bond transactions. The SPV then sells cat bonds to investors, whose principal goes into a fund, typically housed in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. These bonds offer investors, who are generally larger institutional players like hedge or pension funds, the promise of steady returns. Payouts come from the insurance company’s premiums, plus any interest that accrues on the investment principal. Should the cat bond “trigger”—in this case, if a “once in a lifetime” hurricane tears through Florida—investors lose their money and the insurance company uses the cat fund to pay claims. Otherwise, investors can claim back their principal at the end of the bond’s term.

In theory, cat bonds are high-risk, high-reward investments that also provide insurers an alternative to traditional reinsurance, which has been around for over a century. In reality, as “speculative” products go, they make a fairly safe bet for investors—which, ironically, is what can make them a risky prospect for insurance companies. As Tom Keatinge, former managing director of JPMorgan Chase’s insurance capital management team, told Bloomberg Business, “For a cat bond to trigger, you need a bull’s-eye to be hit instead of a general shot in the right direction.” In creating the bond, teams of derivatives experts and geoscientists sift through piles of data on past storms and emergent weather patterns in order to model and predict the exact chances that an event will cause a certain amount of damage to a certain place within a certain time period. Only after a catastrophe causes a certain amount of damage or crosses a certain meteorological threshold will the bond be triggered. 

As of 2012, just eight of the 232 cat bonds issued since 1996 had paid out. Only one was triggered during 2005’s brutal hurricane season, which caused more than $100 billion in damages. Insurance consulting firm Lane Financial LLC reports that, in sum, investors have lost just $682 million of the $51 billion in cat bonds they purchased in the same period. Using computer modeling, one insurance firm estimates that the probability a storm will be large enough to trigger a payout to insurers is just 2.89 percent. If you’re looking to invest in the cat bond market, the odds are good that even a major storm won’t cut into your returns. 

Recently, however, Hurricane Patricia has given some investors a reason to sweat. Investors are anxiously awaiting news on the fate of a $100 million cat bond—MultiCat Mexico Ltd.—structured for the Mexican government in 2012 by Goldman Sachs and the world’s largest reinsurers, Munich Re and Swiss Re, with the help of the World Bank. Whether or not the $100 million will be deposited into Mexico’s disaster fund depends on whether atmospheric pressure within Patricia ever dropped below 920 millibars. The lower a hurricane’s atmospheric pressure, the stronger its force. 

As Patricia-level storms become more common, the question of who controls relief funding post-disaster will become increasingly weighty.

None of these concerns have stopped cat bond proponents from extolling their virtues. In July, Goldman Sachs boasted of having structured $14 billion in cat bonds since 2006 as part of its “long-standing commitment to harness markets and deploy capital to scale-up clean energy technologies and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon energy future.” The World Bank, the United Nations and the Union of Concerned Scientists have all heralded cat bonds as a way to leverage private capital markets to protect against climate catastrophe. In 2014, the World Bank created a $30 million cat bond to cover the risk of tropical cyclones and earthquakes in 16 countries, including Haiti.

In the United States, corporations are hyping cat bonds as a private-market solution to the National Flood Insurance Program’s $24 billion debt (caused almost entirely by Katrina and Sandy). The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies testified before Congress last year that “ceding a portion of the NFIP’s risk to the private sector through reinsurance and catastrophe bonds could reduce taxpayer exposure to future debt.”

Though framed as a convenient, market-friendly means to help governments and insurance companies cope with disaster, cat bonds are no substitute for public sector investment in resiliency and robust federal disaster relief. And judging from these products’ short history, we should be vigilant as to whether the private sector’s “innovative” catbond solution to climate disaster truly serves the public good, or is another way to increase private profits.