Sea Levels Will Rise Faster Than Ever


 

sea-level-rise

Scientific research indicates sea levels worldwide have been rising at a rate of 0.14 inches (3.5 millimeters) per year since the early 1990s. The trend, linked to global warming, puts thousands of coastal cities, like Venice, Italy, (seen here during a historic flood in 2008), and even whole islands at risk of being claimed by the ocean. Photograph by Andrea Pattero/AFP/Getty Images (National Geographic)

By Scott Waldman, ClimateWire on November 8, 2016

Source: Scientific American The Atlantic coast will be one of the hardest hit regions

Sea levels across the globe will rise faster than at any time throughout human history if the Earth’s warming continues beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

The Atlantic coast of North America will be one of the worst-hit areas as melting glaciers cause the sea level to rise over the next century, a new study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds.

However, that rise is not expected to be uniform, as gravity and the movement of the ocean will play a role in how the water is distributed, and some areas will be hit worse than others. New York and other cities along the East Coast could see seas rise by more than 3 feet by the end of the century if the Earth warms by 4 or 5 degrees beyond pre-industrial levels.

If the rate of carbon emissions continues unabated, the authors said, the globe would warm by 2 degrees and cause significant sea-level rise by 2040. It would be worse along the East Coast of North America and Norway, which are expected to experience a sea-level rise of about a foot. The relative speed of the sea’s rise means many areas won’t have time to adapt, researchers found. And from there, warming would accelerate even faster.

“The coastal communities of rapidly expanding cities in the developing world and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems will have a very limited time to adapt to sea-level rises after the ‘2 degrees Celsius’ threshold is likely to be reached,” said Svetlana Jevrejeva, a researcher at the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, England, and lead author of the study.

The sea-level rise comes as the Earth’s record-breaking warmth is expected to become the “new normal,” according to another study published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. While 2015 was the hottest year on record, it could be the average within the next decade if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, it found. And even if countries take action to limit carbon dioxide, humanity may have already locked in the increased warmth by 2040.

But limiting emissions now will mean some of the regions of the globe are not locked in for the new levels of warmth, and that they can still have significant variability.

“It gives us hope to know that if we act quickly to reduce greenhouse gases, seasonal extremes might never enter a new normal state in the 21st century at regional levels for the Southern Hemisphere summer and Northern Hemisphere winter,” said Sophie Lewis, a researcher at the Australian National University.

Millions of urban dwellers at risk

Nations that signed the Paris Agreement limiting warming to a maximum of 2 degrees are meeting this week in Morocco to put the accord into motion. Meanwhile, the United Nations has already cautioned that the emission targets countries voluntarily set may not be strict enough to meet the 2-degree goal.

Two degrees of warming is expected to cause an average global sea-level rise of 8 inches, but virtually all coastal areas will see more of a rise, Jevrejeva found. If warming exceeds 2 degrees by 2100, as some climate scientists worry it might, about 80 percent of the global coastline could experience a rise in sea levels of 6 feet. Such a rapid rise in sea levels is unprecedented since the dawn of the Bronze Age about 5,000 years ago, according to the study.

The research takes further the potential for sea-level rise posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which argued that sea-level rise of 11 to 38 inches is possible by 2100. Many climate scientists have since claimed that estimate is too conservative.

Absent a concerted effort to limit warming, cities and island nations across the globe are at risk, researchers found.

“Coastal communities, notably rapidly expanding cities in the developing world; small island states; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Cultural World Heritage sites; and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems will have a very limited time after mid-century to adapt to these rises,” they wrote.

The rise for New York is predicated on a warming of 5 degrees by 2100, which some researchers have contested may be too high. But at the upper scale of that level of warming, tens of millions of people around the world would be displaced. That includes “2.5 million living in low-lying areas of Miami; 2.1 million in Guangzhou [in China]; 1.8 million in Mumbai; and more than 1 million each in Osaka [in Japan], Tokyo, New Orleans, New York, and [Vietnam’s] Ho Chi Minh City,” researchers contended.

The study is part of a growing body of research that looks for possible scenarios that involve the potential for catastrophic sea-level rise, but more attention should be paid to the loss of land ice, as well, said Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While researchers typically focus on the loss of glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland, the loss of land ice in other spots across the globe is now contributing to sea-level rise at almost the same rate as the Arctic’s melting ice, he said. It’s the full scope of the current glacial loss that concerns political leaders and policymakers because it has already presented a pressing need to be addressed, he said.

“This near-term time scale is the time of greatest concern to decision makers,” he said. “Research that reaches out to 2100 and beyond is scientifically exciting, but really of secondary importance to the people who are trying to make sense of the science for decision-making.”

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

As Earth Warms, the Diseases That May Lie Within Permafrost Become a Bigger Worry


permafrost-buried_basal_ice_525

By Sara Goudarzi, Scientific American – 30 October 16
Source: Reader Supported News

 

Scientists are witnessing the theoretical turning into reality: infectious microbes emerging from a deep freeze

 

This past summer anthrax killed a 12-year-old boy in a remote part of Siberia. At least 20 other people, also from the Yamal Peninsula, were diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease after approximately 100 suspected cases were hospitalized. Additionally, more than 2,300 reindeer in the area died from the infection. The likely cause? Thawing permafrost. According to Russian officials, thawed permafrost—a permanently frozen layer of soil—released previously immobile spores of Bacillus anthracis into nearby water and soil and then into the food supply. The outbreak was the region’s first in 75 years.

Researchers have predicted for years that one of the effects of global warming could be that whatever is frozen in permafrost—such as ancient bacteria—might be released as temperatures climb. This could include infectious agents humans might not be prepared for, or have immunity to, the scientists said. Now they are witnessing the theoretical turning into reality: infectious microorganisms emerging from a deep freeze.

Although anthrax occurs naturally in all soil and outbreaks unrelated to permafrost can occur, extensive permafrost thaw could increase the number of people exposed to anthrax bacteria. In a 2011 paper published in Global Health Action, co-authors Boris A. Revich and Marina A. Podolnaya wrote of their predictions: “As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”

And permafrost is indeed thawing—at higher latitudes and to greater depths than ever before. In various parts of Siberia the active layer above permafrost can thaw to a depth of 50 centimeters every summer. This summer, however, there was a heat wave in the region, and temperatures hovered around 35 degrees Celsius—25 degrees warmer than usual. The difference possibly expanded or deepened the thaw and mobilized microorganisms usually stuck in rigid earth. Although scientists have yet to calculate the final depth, they postulate that it is a number that has not been seen in almost a century. Permafrost thaw overall could become widespread with temperatures only slightly higher than those at present, according to a 2013 study in Science. Heat waves in higher latitudes are becoming more frequent as well.

What thawing permafrost could unleash depends on the heartiness of the infectious agent involved. A lot of microorganisms cannot survive in extreme cold, but some can withstand it for many years. “B. anthracis are special because they are sporulating bacteria,” says Jean-Michel Claverie, head of the Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology and a professor at Aix-Marseille University in France. “Spores are extremely resistant and, like seeds, can survive for longer than a century.”

Viruses could also survive for lengthy periods. In 2014 and 2015 Claverie and his colleague Chantal Abergel published their findings on two still infectious viruses from a chunk of 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost. Although Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirus sibericum can infect only amoebas, the discovery is an indication that viruses that infect humans—such as smallpox and the Spanish flu—could potentially be preserved in permafrost.

Human viruses from even further back could also make a showing. For instance, the microorganisms living on and within the early humans who populated the Arctic could still be frozen in the soil. “There are hints that Neandertals and Denisovans could have settled in northern Siberia [and] were plagued by various viral diseases, some of which we know, like smallpox, and some others that might have disappeared,” Claverie says. “The fact that there might be an infection continuity between us and ancient hominins is fascinating—and might be worrying.”

Janet Jansson, who studies permafrost at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State, is not worried about ancient viruses. Several attempts to discover these infectious agents in corpses have come up empty, she notes. She does advocate, however, for further research to identify the wide range of permafrost-dwelling organisms, some of which could pose health risks. To accomplish that goal, she and others are using modern molecular tools—such as DNA sequencing and protein analysis—to categorize the properties of unknown microorganisms, sometimes referred to as microbial dark matter.

The likelihood and frequency of outbreaks similar to the one in Siberia will depend on the speed and trajectory of climate change. For instance, it is possible that another heat wave will expose the carcasses of animals infected by anthrax, Revich says. “The situation on the Yamal Peninsula has shown that the risk of the spread of anthrax is already real,” he adds.

In effect, infectious agents buried in the permafrost are unknowable and unpredictable in their timing and ferocity. Thus, researchers say thawing permafrost is not our biggest worry when it comes to infectious diseases and global warming. The more immediate, and certain, threat to humans is the widening geographical ranges of modern infectious diseases (and their carriers, such as mosquitoes) as the earth warms. “We now have dengue in southern parts of Texas,” says George C. Stewart, McKee Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis and chair of the department of veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri. “Malaria is seen at higher elevations and latitudes as temperatures climb. And the cholera agent, Vibrio cholerae, replicates better at higher temperatures.”

Unlike the zombie microbes lurking in the permafrost, modern spreading diseases are more of a known quantity, and there are proved ways to curb them: mapping trends, eliminating mosquito-breeding sites and spraying insecticides. Of course, dramatically lowering fossil-fuel emissions to combat climate change could tackle both threats—the resurgence of ancient and deadly pathogens and the widening ranges of infectious diseases—in one shot.

BREAKING: Tar Sands Pipeline Shut Down


activists-tar-sands

By Afrin Sopariwala, Tim DeChristopher’s Website – 12 October 16

Source: Reader Supported News

This morning, by 7:30 PST, 5 activists have successfully shut down 5 pipelines across the United States deliverying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock. Activists employed manual safety valves, calling on President Obama to use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to avert catastrophe.

192 nations have agreed that average global temperature should not increase 1.5C° above baseline in order to avert climate change cataclysm. This objective cannot be met, and any hope of keeping temperature below even 2.0°C depends on a total ban on new fossil fuel extractions and an immediate end to oil sands and coal use. In the absence of any political leadership or legal mechanisms for accomplishing this, these individuals feel duty bound to halt the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels by personal direct action.

Ken Ward, 59, of Corbette OR said, “There is no plan of action, policy or strategy being advanced now by any political leader or environmental organization playing by the rules that does anything but acquiesce to ruin. Our only hope is to step outside polite conversation and put our bodies in the way. We must shut it down, starting with the most immediate threats — oil sands fuels and coal.”

Emily Johnston, 50, of Seattle WA said, “For years we’ve tried the legal, incremental, reasonable methods, and they haven’t been enough; without a radical shift in our relationship to Earth, all that we love will disappear. My fear of that possibility is far greater than my fear of jail. My love for the beauties of this world is far greater than my love of an easy life.”

Annette Klapstein, 64, of Bainbridge Island, WA said “Like mothers everywhere, I act from a deep love that extends to all children and young people, and all living beings on this planet. I have signed hundreds of petitions, testified at dozens of hearings, met with most of my political representatives at every level, to very little avail. I have come to believe that our current economic and political system is a death sentence to life on earth, and that I must do everything in my power to replace these systems with cooperative, just, equitable and love-centered ways of living together. This is my act of love.”

Michael Foster, 52 of Seattle WA said, “I am here to generate action that wakes people up to the reality of what we are doing to life as we know it. All of our climate victories are meaningless if we don’t stop extracting oil, coal and gas now.”

Leonard Higgins, 64, of Eugene, OR said, “Because of the climate change emergency, because governments and corporations have for decades increased fossil fuel extraction and carbon emissions when instead we must dramatically reduce carbon emissions; I am committed to the moral necessity of participating in nonviolent direct action to protect life.”

WHERE. Enbridge line 4 and 67, Leonard, MN; TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, Walhalla, ND; Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline, Coal Banks Landing, MT; Kinder-Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline, Anacortes, WA.

WHO. Climate Direct Action is Emily Johnson, 50 and Michael Foster, 52, of Seattle, WA, Annette Klapstein, 64, of Bainbridge Island, WA, Ken Ward, 59, of Corbett, OR, and Leonard Higgins, 64, of Eugene, Oregon, with the support of Climate Disobedience Action Fund.

BP Platform Leaks Oil Into North Sea With No Plans to Clean It Up


Oil slick visible from spill off BP Clair platform in the North Sea. (photo: Maritime and Coastguard Agency)

Oil slick visible from spill off BP Clair platform in the North Sea. (photo: Maritime and Coastguard Agency)

By Dan Zukowski, EcoWatch -09 October 16
Source: Readers Supported News

 

About 95 metric tons of oil leaked into the North Sea on Sunday from BP‘s Clair platform, and it will be left in the ocean. BP says the oil is moving away from land and dispersing naturally, but the spill is a reminder that accidents happen as more oil development is eyed for the Arctic.

In what BP called a “technical issue,” oil was released into the North Sea, located about 46 miles, west of the Shetland Islands. BP shut down the oil rig and said it is investigating the accident.

The oil company said it had conducted five aerial surveys with three more planned for Tuesday to monitor the oil slick.

“It is considered that the most appropriate response remains to allow the oil to disperse naturally at sea, but contingencies for other action have been prepared and are available, if required,” BP said.

In addition to Clair, BP operates the Quad204 facility in the North Sea, 108 miles west of Shetland, in a field that has been drilled since 1998. The North Sea has seen oil and gas extraction for decades, with about half of the estimated reserves having already been taken. Oil production peaked in 1999, but production has been on an upswing in recent years. A recent discovery off Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oil field, is expected to begin production in 2019.

According to energy consultancy Crystol Energy, “The Johan Sverdrup field is expected to be one of the most important industrial projects in Norway over the next 50 years.”

From 2000 to 2011, there were 4,123 separate oil spills in the North Sea, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Oil companies were fined for just seven of them. No single fine was greater than about $25,000.

There have been a number of major oil spills in the North Sea—the largest of which was the 1977 Bravo blowout that released an estimated 80,000 to 126,000 barrels of oil. The well spewed oil for seven days. In 2011, Shell spilled more than 200 metric tons from the Gannet Alpha platform, and a 2007 mishap while a tanker was loading oil resulted in a spill of 4,000 metric tons, or about 25,000 barrels of oil. None of these spills were alleged to have any ecological impact, and all but the Bravo blowout were allowed to disperse, unchecked, by the sea.

As the Arctic Ocean warms, oil giants are eyeing the northern seas for more oil exploration and development. It is a dangerous environment in which to drill.

As Greenpeace stated, “The long history of oil spills around the world has made one thing clear: the only way to prevent an oil spill is to keep oil in the ground.”

eco-watchyeoxnr4p_normal

The Arctic lacks the infrastructure to stop, mitigate or clean up a major oil spill, or even to quickly aid workers on a damaged platform.

But that isn’t stopping oil companies. Today, Caelus Energy boasted of a “world-class” discovery that could turn out to be one of the largest finds in Alaska. In a press release, Caelus CEO Jim Musselman called the find “really exciting” and the company said the Smith Bay complex could produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day.

“Without the state tax credit programs, none of this would’ve happened, and I’m not sure Caelus would’ve come to explore in Alaska,” Musselman added.

In June, 400 scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to stop any further oil development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. A 2014 study found that the polar bear population in the Southern Beaufort Sea had dropped by an astounding 40 percent from 2001 to 2010.

“Accidents can and do happen, and in this extreme environment, the only truly safe approach to protect the unique and fragile Arctic offshore environment is no drilling whatsoever,” Brad Ack, World Wildlife Fund‘s senior vice president for oceans, said in July.

Noam Chomsky: Climate Change & Nuclear Proliferation Pose the Worst Threat Ever Faced by Humanity


noam chomsky

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! – 16 May 16
Source: Reader Supported News

Video Democracy Now!

 

President Obama has just passed a little-noticed milestone, according to The New York Times: Obama has now been at war longer than any president in U.S. history—longer than George W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Obama has taken military action in at least seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Just last month, President Obama announced the deployment of 250 more Special Operations troops to Syria in a move that nearly doubles the official U.S. presence in the country.
As war spreads across the globe, a record 60 million people were driven from their homes last year. Experts warn the refugee crisis may also worsen due to the impacts of global warming. Over the weekend, NASA released data showing 2016 is on pace to be by far the hottest year ever, breaking the 2015 record. Meanwhile, many fear a new nuclear arms race has quietly begun, as the United States, Russia and China race to build arsenals of smaller nuclear weapons.
These multiple crises come as voters in the United States prepare to elect a new president. We speak with one of the world’s preeminent intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His latest book is titled “Who Rules the World?”


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road here in New York, then on today to [Chicago], to Madison, Wisconsin, and then to Toronto, Canada.

The New York Times is reporting President Obama has just passed a little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than any president in U.S. history—longer than George W. Bush, longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, longer than Abraham Lincoln. Obama has taken military action in at least seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Just last month, President Obama announced the deployment of 250 more Special Operations troops to Syria in a move that nearly doubles the official U.S. presence in the country.

As war spreads across the globe, a record 60 million people were driven from their homes last year. Experts warn the refugee crisis may also worsen due to the impacts of global warming. Over the weekend, NASA released data showing 2016 is on pace to be by far the hottest year ever, breaking the 2015 record. April became the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records. Meanwhile, many fear a new nuclear arms race has quietly begun, as the United States, Russia and China race to build arsenals of smaller nuclear weapons. These multiple crises come as voters in the United States prepare to elect a new president.

To make sense of the challenges facing the globe and the state of the U.S. election, we’re joined today by one of the world’s preeminent intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. His latest book is called Who Rules the World?

Noam Chomsky, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Noam, who rules the world?

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s, to a certain extent, up to us. It is possible for populations to rule the world, but they have to struggle to achieve that. And if they don’t, the world will be ruled by concentrations of power—economic power, state power—closely linked with consequences that are of the kind that you describe. But that’s a choice.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the United States set the terms of the global discourse and, overall, what’s happening in the world?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that’s basically an outcome of the Second World War. At the end of the Second World War, the United States had a level of power and comparative wealth that had never existed in history. It had literally half the world’s wealth. It had an incomparable position of security—controlled the hemisphere, controlled both oceans, controlled the opposite sides of both oceans. In military terms, it was overwhelmingly preeminent. Other industrial societies had been devastated or severely weakened. The war had actually greatly benefited the U.S. economy. It ended the Depression. Industrial production virtually quadrupled. There was a debt, which you could easily grow out of it by growth. So the United States was in fact in a position to pretty much set the terms for virtually the entire global system.

It couldn’t stay that way, of course, and it began to erode pretty quickly, though, with all the changes over the past years, the United States still is in a preeminent position with incomparable advantages and maybe now a quarter of the world’s wealth. In military terms, on that dimension, the United States is completely alone. It’s the only country that has hundreds, maybe a thousand, military bases around the world, troops all over the world. U.S. military spending is almost as great as the rest of the world combined, technologically much more advanced. And within that context of the past 70 years or so, the United States has had a—usually, a pretty dominant role in world affairs and setting the framework within which others operate—not without conflict, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the two major threats facing the world today: nuclear war and climate change. Talk about each.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I might start by referring to the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a clock that’s—since 1947, shortly after the atomic bombing, they established a Doomsday Clock. Every year, a panel of specialists make an estimate of how close we are to midnight. Midnight means termination for the species. It’s moved up and back over the years. Right now, it—just last year, it was moved two minutes closer to midnight because of the two threats that you mentioned, stayed there this year. That’s three minutes to midnight, close as it’s been since the early 1980s, when there was a major war scare. It was recognized then to be serious. Now that Russian archives have been opened, we see that it was far more serious than was assumed. We were at one point literally minutes away, several points in fact, minutes away from nuclear war. That’s where the Doomsday Clock stands now.

The nuclear threat is the threat of—on the Russian border, which happens to be the invasion route through which Russia was virtually destroyed twice last century by Germany alone—well, Germany as part of a hostile military alliance—on that border, both sides are acting as if a war is thinkable. The U.S. has just sharply increased; it quadrupled military expenses on its side. The Russians are doing something similar. There are constant near collisions, jets coming close to colliding with one another. A Russian jet a couple months ago virtually hit a Danish commercial airliner. U.S. troops are carrying out maneuvers virtually on the Russian border. That threat is escalating and very serious. William Perry, a respected nuclear specialist, a former defense secretary, recently estimated that the threat is higher than it was during the 1980s. There are also confrontations near the Chinese around China, South China Sea and so on. That’s one major threat.

The other is what you just described. The threat of global warming is very serious. Every time one reads a science journal, there’s an even more alarming discovery. Virtually all the ice masses are melting. The Arctic ice mass, which was assumed to be pretty stable, is actually melting very fast, much more than was thought. The glaciers are melting. There’s severe droughts. Right now already, about 300 million people in India are on the edge of starvation from drought, which has been going on for years. The groundwater is depleted as the Himalayan glaciers melt, as they’re doing. It will undermine the water supply for huge areas in South Asia. If people think there’s a migration crisis now, they haven’t seen anything. The sea level is rising. Chances are it could rise three to six feet, maybe more, by the end of the century—some estimate even sooner. It will have a devastating effect, not just on coastal cities, but on coastal plains, like, say, Bangladesh, where hundreds of millions of people will be severely threatened. I mean, this is a—we’re already killing other species at the level of the so-called fifth extinction. Sixty-five million years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth, devastating consequences ended the age of the dinosaurs, opened the way for small mammals to develop, ultimately evolve, finally evolve into Homo sapiens, which now is acting the same way the asteroid did. That’s the fifth extinction. It’s going to get worse. All of these are—the rate of global warming today is far faster, maybe a hundred or more times as fast as any moderately comparable period that can be estimated in the geological record.

And to make it worse, of these two huge threats, we have an electoral—the quadrennial electoral extravaganza is going on right now, of course. And it’s pretty remarkable to see how the worst threats that the human species has ever faced, the most important decisions it must make—and soon—are virtually absent from the discussions and debates. On the Democratic side, there’s a couple of comments about it here and there, not much. On the Republican side, it’s much worse. Every single candidate either denies global warming altogether or, in one case, Kasich, admits that it’s taking place but says we shouldn’t do anything about it, which is even worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam—

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s 100 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we’re going to go to a break. When we come back, we’ll play the last remaining Republican in the race, Donald Trump’s comment on climate change, and also get your take overall on the 2016 presidential election here in the United States. Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, has a new book out; it’s called Who Rules the World? Stay with us.

Wasted Food’s Heavy Burden On Climate


food-waster

April 12, 2016, by Tim Radford
Source: Climate News Network

As obesity levels soar, cutting the vast amount of food we waste could have a major impact on reducing the effects of climate change, as well as alleviating world hunger.

LONDON, 12 April, 2016 − By mid-century, an estimated one-tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be traced back to food waste, according to new research.

Human use and misuse of land accounts for up to a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and farming directly contributes at least 10%, and perhaps twice as much. Yet roughly one-third of all food produced never makes it to the plate.

“Reducing food waste can contribute to fighting hunger, but to some extent also prevent climate impacts like more intense weather extremes and sea-level rise,” says lead author Ceren Hic, a scientific assistant at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Her PIK colleague, Prajal Pradhan, a researcher in climate impacts and vulnerabilities, adds: “At the same time, agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20% of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010. Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change.”

Weight increases

The news comes little more than a week after researchers at Imperial College London calculated that obesity levels among men have tripled, and among women, worldwide, have doubled to a new total of 640 million. More ominously, the average weight of humans has been increasing by 1.5 kilograms a decade since 1975. That means that humankind is growing not just in numbers, but in mass.

The two Imperial scientists and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that they analysed body type, food needs, food availability, economic development and greenhouse emissions for the past and the future, under a number of possible scenarios.

“It is quite astounding that up to 14% of overall agricultural emissions in 2050 could easily
be avoided by better management
of food utilisation and distribution”

This kind of thinking ahead is not new, nor confined to any one country. Researchers worldwide have been thinking about the links between food security and climate, and the consequence of global dietary change on emissions has been a consistent calculation in the analysis of climate change. So much food is wasted that researchers have identified it as a potential energy source.

What the Potsdam scientists found was that although global average food demand per person remained almost constant, food availability had increased rapidly in the last 50 years. And, Dr Pradhan says, this availability kept in step with development, which in turn suggested that rich countries consumed more food than was healthy, or simply wasted it.

Right now, humans discard 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year. In turn, that suggests that greenhouse gas emissions linked to food waste could soar from 500 million tonnes now to somewhere between 1.95 and 2.5 billion tonnes by 2050.

Agricultural emissions

Lifestyle changes and population growth – ever more people with seemingly ever larger appetites – could push emissions from agriculture alone to 18 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

“Thus, emissions related to discarded food are just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Pradhan says. “However, it is quite astounding that up to 14% of overall agricultural emissions in 2050 could easily be avoided by better management of food utilisation and distribution. Changing individual behaviour could be one key towards mitigating the climate crisis.”

As traditionally once-frugal communities develop, so the problems multiply.

Jürgen Kropp, a co-author of the report and head of climate change and development research at PIK, says: “As many emerging economies like China or India are projected to rapidly increase their food waste as a consequence of changing lifestyle, increasing welfare and dietary habits towards a larger share of animal-based products, this could over proportionally increase greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste − at the same time undermining efforts for an ambitious climate protection.” – Climate News Network

The Cult of the Professional Class


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

— Albert Einstein

In a recent interview on BillMoyers.com about his book Listen Liberal, author Thomas Frank spoke of the professional class that rules the Democratic Party and the orthodoxy instilled in them by their Ivy League institutions. Indeed, every president since 1988 attended an Ivy League university. Not only does this perspective from the professional class cross party lines, their orthodox worldview extends far beyond politics. It is based on an ideology that has served elites well – (semi) free-market capitalism and continuous economic growth. It is an orthodoxy that values corporate interests and personal gain over public good. It permeates all fields of society and American culture.

In their book Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky laid out the media propaganda model of journalism, in which they describe the small parameters of discourse allowable in mainstream media, due to factors such as advertising, corporate ownership, and the dominant elite mindset. The media propaganda model they describe is akin to the Ivy League orthodoxy of which Frank speaks. Disciplines cater to a small span of acceptable dialogue and thought based upon shared assumptions. Within that realm, diversity exists, but that diversity does not usually breach understood boundaries. Some voices reach the periphery of the border, but retract from crossing the line through caveats. Those who traverse boundaries tend to be marginalized, regardless of the substance, depth, and validity of their arguments and ideas. This orthodoxy is maintained chiefly through tacit self-censorship and is internalized by those who practice it.

The professional, upper-class orthodoxy infiltrates more than just Ivy League institutions because all others revere and aspire to it, and therefore tend to mimic it. My educational background is fairly privileged. My secondary school and undergraduate university were filled with students whose families possessed tremendous wealth, power, and advantage. My perspectives, experiences, and way of life from my modest, middle-class background were quite different from the majority of the rich students around me. People like me are subtly urged to fit in because we see that doing so would better enable us to garner the successes of the elite. But students far more disadvantaged than me have a great deal of trouble assimilating, not because they lack the intellectual ability but because they feel isolated. Thus, most who persist and whose backgrounds are anomalous – like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – adopt the mindset of the privileged. They deny or ignore their own histories and the voices they used to hear, voices that may call into question the veracity of the elite orthodoxy.

This elite-generated social control maintains the status-quo because the status quo benefits and validates those who created and sit atop it. People rise to prominence when they parrot the orthodoxy rather than critically analyze it. Intellectual regurgitation is prized over independent thought. Voices of the dispossessed, different, and un(formally)educated are neglected regardless of their morality, import, and validity. Real change in politics or society cannot occur under the orthodoxy because if it did, it would threaten the legitimacy of the professional class and all of the systems that helped them achieve their status.

The orthodoxy is why issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, and deterioration of public health and the environment continue unabated. They are eminently solvable, but cannot be solved under the implicit and often defective assumptions accepted by the orthodoxy.

We see examples of orthodox rules that benefit the capitalistic elite, versus independent alternatives which are discounted or overlooked, in all aspects of modern life:

In public education:

Most privileged members of society have never set foot in a public school or taught under the mandates therein. They have little appreciation for the teaching profession, which is filled with intelligent, overworked, over-stressed, caring and devoted individuals who are crippled by lack of resources, lack of time, lack of money, and lack of autonomy. The elite create their unsound educational policies without practical knowledge and evidence – policies which (one could only assume at this point) exist to crumble the public education system and pave the way for privatization. Charter schools, common core, endless standardized testing, and erroneous teacher evaluations do not support the needs of students. The acolytes of the professional class have no clue about what is best for students, particularly students with socioeconomic hardships they cannot and do not fathom. Social support systems for students outside of the classroom, equivalent funding for all students in all public schools, teacher independence, administrative support for teachers, higher teacher pay, and smaller class sizes would do well to tackle some of the fundamental problems in public education, but these out-of-the-box solutions undermine elite authority and corporate prospects. In a similar vein, technological devices – computers, tablets, etc. – have been pushed relentlessly into classrooms, even though their enhancement of learning, according to studies, is questionable or nonexistent.

In economics:

Even Alan Greenspan admits that neoclassical economics has flaws in theory and practice, yet it continues to be the dominant model at universities and in society. The faulty belief in the uber-rational, self-interested homo economicus probably persists mainly because it is a projection of the people who inhabit the privileged class. Corporate externalization of costs are absorbed by society and forgotten when heralding the successes of industrialists and capitalists. Resource extraction and environmental degradation, which are part and parcel of production, consumption, and consequently, economic growth, are downplayed or ignored. Talk of a basic income, a maximum income or maximum wage, and wealth distribution (except flowing to the top) are left out of practical discourse. This, despite that way back in the oft-mentioned halcyon days of the 1950’s under Eisenhower, the top marginal income tax rate was over 90% and the rich did not seem to suffer a bit from it. That tax rate, effectively a maximum income, could support needed social programs and infrastructure and redistribute wealth to those who have spend the past three decades (at least) earning far less than their rightfully owed compensation given their abundant productivity. But such ideas are considered ludicrous according to the orthodoxy.

In health care and medicine:

The orthodoxy of medicine is to emphasize treatment over prevention. Though increasingly stressed during the past several decades, preventative techniques focus on personal lifestyle factors and rarely account for systemic issues. American medicine tends to deal in proximal causes of diseases, such as changes in physiology, versus distal causes, such as extrinsic factors responsible for the changes in the physiology. For instance, you go to the doctor for newly acquired migraine headaches and receive medicine to lessen the pain. Medicine is a helpful immediate remedy, but you may never get to the real cause, which is the fact that you have new carpeting in your home that is outgassing toxic substances resulting in your having headaches. Industrial causes of disease like pollution and toxic exposure are not commonly accounted for under the dominant orthodoxy. In psychology, social factors are discounted, so depression and anxiety are treated as individual mental health issues rather than stemming from an unjust and untenable society. If you are not on prescription medications for something, you are quite atypical, because health care is a business and always needs new markets under the orthodoxy. In medicine, there is also the disregard for unnecessary and questionable interventions. For example, use of CT scans proliferated before enough adequate research as to their safety and efficacy. Consequently, studies have found that excessive use of CT scans may now result in preventable cancers in at least 1 out of 2000 people undergoing CT. But rather than further understanding the body’s innate ability to heal itself in many situations and rather than utilizing the comprehensive knowledge of well-learned critical diagnosticians, medicine now over-uses technological and pharmaceutical diagnostic and treatment methods. Though these sometimes harm patients more than they help, they serve to enhance capitalism and expand economic markets.

In fiction:

Writers such as George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair, who shed light on the ills of society and the reality of the human condition, would probably not be published today. While dystopian fiction – especially science fiction and fantasy – is quite popular, look more closely and you will find that these novels, while characterizing some of the unpleasant realities of modern society, almost always end on a bright note with hope for the future. The benefits of technology are triumphed and the negative consequences minimized. Positivity is mandated. Narratives are about escape and denial. Protagonists are heroes who almost always save the day. I recently finished the popular Ready Player One, and while it demonstrates some societal issues, each time the protagonist faces an immediate, dire situation, he manages to overcome the obstacle, often because of simple coincidence or blind providence. The tragic heroes in Shakespeare and other classic works, who are doomed to die in the end but are always better for the knowledge and experience gained, are no more. What message is sent when heroes magically overcome obstacles instead of learning lessons about themselves and their world? This narrative orthodoxy of novels also pertains to most fictional films and television series. (Though some cable shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mr. Robot seem to be puzzling exceptions.)

capitalism poverty

In environment:

Market-driven, corporate-friendly, and technological solutions to environmental issues dominate the discourse in environmental programs, in the largest environmental advocacy organizations, and in governmental policies. On the topics of climate change, toxic contamination, and pollution, questioning the necessity or sustainability of ever-increasing production and consumption is forbidden in polite company. In a panel conversation I attended about sustainability in agriculture, the discussion turned to ways of feeding a growing world population. Everyone agreed that the problem is not caused by a scarcity of food but by unequal distribution, but no one on the panel seemed to think that fact merited practical consideration. Furthermore, since at least 1/3 of food produced in the world is wasted, addressing the waste stream might mark a point at which to intervene in the problem, but the idea was scoffed at. Pragmatic discussion and research on the issue of food usually assumes the current industrial farming model. Ideas about small, independent, localized, organic systems of food growth and distribution, though favored more and more by consumers and shown in studies to be the sole sustainable method for the future, are not recognized as policy solutions by the orthodoxy. Home gardens, as anyone who tends one knows, could sustain many families fairly easily, but those require land and land is not given away for free under capitalist orthodoxy. Also, they require time, which overworked and underpaid citizens (who are even able to find work) are not allowed to have. So a system of universal gardening is not even considered. As far as toxic substances, one cannot suggest banning an unnecessary and potentially hazardous product or technology. The controversial endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) probably does not need to exist at all, as its applications are mostly superfluous to our lives, but not only are policymakers reluctant to regulate it, if they do, they will only apply the mandate of “safe levels” of exposure, even if there is no way to truly determine or evaluate a safe level for human health or the environment. Though there is no credible evidence to support the notion that limiting exposures to hazardous substances, that techno-fixes, or that “win-win” market driven solutions to environmental problems can be at all sustainable in the long-term, these are the only acceptable answers to pollution, climate change, and environmental degradation available within the orthodoxy.

Much is taken as a given under the orthodoxy; instead we might consider:

Why can’t all trade be fair trade?

Why can’t all crops be organic? Two corollaries: why do we call pesticide-laden crops “conventional” rather than “poisoned”? Why not call “organic” food just “food,” as it was prior to the petro-chemical revolution?

Why is single-payer universal healthcare, the model in most countries throughout the world, not discussed in U.S. congressional hearings on healthcare reform?

Why do we automatically denigrate poverty? Why do we not heed stories from the poor themselves?

Why is democracy celebrated as a political structure while only hierarchy is allowed in the workplace?

Why can we not question the ethical implications of wealth and excess with regard to economic inequality or environmental sustainability? Why does our dominant Judeo-Christian society value wealth and excess despite scripture clearly stating its immorality?

Why can we not factually declare the immorality of Wall Street and the general obscenity of commodifying basic necessities of life, such as food, water, and homes (real estate)?

Why is the work ethic venerated, even when that hard work may be only self-serving, or worse, may be generating tremendous harm? What’s the use of being constantly “busy” if your busyness is not useful (and may be destructive)?

Why do we not consider the direct and indirect ways our occupations – and the organizations from which we earn money and power – exploit other species, other humans, and the environment as a whole? What might happen if we were all to do so?

Why do we equate wealth – rather than empathy or altruism – with intelligence and success?

Why can we not fundamentally question capitalism?

The Ivy League-derived orthodoxy of the professional, educated class saturates all areas of American society. Alternative voices and viewpoints are ostracized through a number of means. If you do not possess the expertise and stamp of approval as authorized by the academic infrastructure, your ideas are often dismissed out of hand, however profound and substantive. If you posses the authorization to speak, but step outside of the boundaries of permissible thought (and action), your voice will remain virtually meaningless, or worse, maligned. While scholarship, research, writing, and practices outside of orthodox parameters exist at universities and in other professions, the work of these professionals does not generally penetrate the paradigms of larger society, nor does it affect large-scale public policies. Some academics suffer job loss for their unorthodox views. Steven Salita, Norman Finkelstein, and Ward Churchill are emblematic of the consequences to those who exceed the limits. Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kirakou, and Thomas Drake who began within the parameters, for moral and ethical reasons violated the border of orthodoxy and paid a price. Environmental, social justice, peace and animal rights advocates like Tim DeChristopher and Jessica Reznicek also know the penalties for defying the orthodoxy.

Our biosphere is in a global death spiral. The sources of life support, for those who can still afford them, are diminishing in quality and quantity. None of the orthodoxy coming from the Ivies and the professional class is effecting change in this trajectory. We need other voices – voices of the disposed, disenfranchised, maligned, harmed, victimized, and powerless – to help find answers. We need to value voices of the indigenous, who have lived as close to sustainably on this planet as we have ever witnessed and whose traditions and knowledge may well be fading into oblivion. We need to respect the voices of those whose knowledge comes from experience, rather than just from books. We need to consider the voices of those whose main purpose is not professional advancement, but public good. We need to consider information from others based on the merits of their arguments and evidence, rather than the letters that follow their names.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the orthodoxy is that we cannot truly speak to that fact that humanity is no longer facing the downfall of a single nation or the destruction of a single empire, but the decimation of an entire planetary ecosystem. If we do not challenge the cabal of political and social power in America and around the world, it will likely be the death knell for us all.

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