Nasa: More Bad News About Climate Change

For the last two decades, scientists and government officials have been saying that if we can just keep global warming under 2°C/3.6°F that we can avoid planetary catastrophe. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”), the International Energy Agency, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and others have all trumpeted this imperative.

Unfortunately, they got it wrong.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies released a new study in December 2011 that examined exactly when climate change will become dangerous. NASA scientists and climatologists studied the Earth’s paleoclimate history through cores drilled into the polar ice sheets and deep ocean sediments. They found that the planet is much more sensitive to climate change than many had believed.

According to their data, the Eemian period of Earth history, which began approximately 130,000 years ago and lasted 15,000 years, had surface temperatures that were less than 1°C/3.6°F warmer than they are today. Sea levels then were 4 to 6 meters/13 to 19.7 feet higher than now.

Thus, a 2°C/3.6°F rise in temperature over pre-industrial times “would be a prescription for disaster,” claims James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

With a 2°C/3.6°F rise, not only can we expect a significant loss of our ice sheets and a concomitant rise in sea levels, much greater than 4 to 6 meters/13 to 19.7 feet, a great deal of our permafrost will melt, releasing massive levels of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is between 20 to 72 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That methane will accelerate global warming even more.

A 2°C/3.6°F rise in temperature will send invasive plant, animal, and insect species into ecosystems, and agricultural areas, unable to fend them off. We can expect catastrophic losses of plant and animal species, many of which feed humans. Many of our fresh water resources will collapse. Major parts of the world are already struggling with water shortages.

According to the International Energy Agency, we have only until 2017 to keep the planet’s surface temperature from reaching that disastrous 2°C/3.6°F rise in temperature.

Meanwhile, at the November/December 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa participants from nearly 200 countries agreed to a new international agreement, one intended to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But that agreement only established a group to create a new legally-binding protocol . . . by 2015. And that new protocol won’t go into effect until 2020.

The representatives did, however, agree to keep the Kyoto Protocol in effect beyond 2012. The bad news? Human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have risen 28 percent since the Kyoto Protocol was enacted, primarily because the United States was not a signatory on the Protocol and its emissions have kept growing, as have the emissions from China, India, and other developing countries which were not obligated under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their emissions. Those industrialized countries that were bound by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions—by a whopping 5 percent—are on target to keep their commitments by 2012.

The problem is that few countries, including powerhouses like the United States and China, are willing to take the radical actions necessary today to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, even as the world hurtles toward catastrophic climate and planetary changes.

The Big Three—the US, China, and India—did agree in Durban to set and meet voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for themselves until the new protocol takes effect in 2020. But those commitments are not legally binding, nor enforceable, and if the last decade is anything to go on, politics will soon turn those targets into mincemeat.

Originally, scientists predicted that if we were unable to reverse global climate change, or at least slow it down, the planet’s surface temperature would rise by 4 to 6°C/7.2 to 10.8°F by 2100.

Now, many scientists are revising those estimates. They say temperatures could rise by 10°C to 12°C/18°F to 21°F over the next ninety years.

Today’s 2°C/3.6°F imperative will seem like Nirvana by then.

The Real Financial Risks of Climate Change

**Note, the below is a pure opinion piece**

Forget Hollywood

People, pundits, politicians, and even scientists continue to speak of climate change as if it’s some far off event that will affect us someday like a Hollywood version of a global apocalypse that swallows cities whole and ravages the countryside. Climate change is here, it is affecting us now, the risks we face are real, not computer-generated, and they’re only going to get worse in our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes.

Now, more than ever, knowledge is power. The more we know, the better prepared we can be to hopefully minimize the wide-ranging threats climate change brings to human lives, property, and national economies.

What’s In Your Wallet?

The one risk that everyone understands is financial. Climate change impacts are already expensive and their costs will soon be exorbitant.

Entire agricultural industries, for example, are threatened by changing weather patterns, from higher temperatures to heavier rains or more frequent droughts. The 2011 drought in Texas cost that state’s agricultural and ranching industries more than $6 billion and raised the price of beef for all Americans.

Crop yields decrease as temperatures climb. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every 1ºC/1.8ºF rise in the planet’s normal surface temperature means a 10 percent lower crop yield. In this century, we can now expect a 3°C to 4°C rise in surface temperatures, which means crop yields could plummet by 30 to 40 percent. They’re already declining.

When agriculture is the foundation of a nation’s economy, as it is for countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, declining crop yields will have a devastating financial impact on everyone, not just farmers. “Decreasing crop yields would shake countries to the core,” warn researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.

Climate change fuels extreme weather events, like the hard rain and high winds of Hurricane Irene and its salt water storm surge which hit the northeastern United States in 2011, devastating farm fields and crops, which was a financial disaster for farmers.

Massive flooding in the third quarter of 2011 contaminated Vietnam’s aquaculture fish ponds, which supply 90 percent of the world’s Pangasius, an Asian shark catfish with mild-flavored white flesh. Without fish supplies, 70 percent of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Pangasius processing plants had to shut down.

The financial toll of extreme weather events extends far beyond agricultural fields and aquaculture ponds.

A Costly New Normal

In the United States, insurance losses due to extreme weather events in 2011 totaled $35 billion, which translated into $70 billion in economic losses.

Climate change is turning extreme weather events into the new norm. We’ve been told by scientists to expect more heat waves, more record high temperatures, longer and more severe droughts, more violent rainstorms, more frequent and intense snowstorms, and stronger cyclones/hurricanes.

They’re already here. In 2005 in Mumbai, India, three feet of rain fell on the city in just 24 hours. In March 2012, the U.S. set nearly 6,800 high temperature records.

An extreme weather event can damage or destroy necessary infrastructure, from power lines to roads and bridges. That infrastructure has to be repaired or replaced, and that costs money.

An extreme weather event can damage or destroy a home or business, which has to be repaired or rebuilt, and that costs money. Extreme weather events often turn vehicles like passenger cars, big rig trucks, railroad cars, and boats into playthings, leaving them damaged beyond repair, so they have to be replaced. That costs money, too.

Thus far, according to the IPCC, extreme weather events fueled by climate change cost the world approximately $80 billion in physical damage annually, and much more in economic losses.

Those numbers are about to explode. Take one extreme event: tropical cyclones/hurricanes, which are expected to be more powerful because of climate change. They will cause$109 billion in damage annually, particularly to the U.S. and China, according to a joint Yale University and MIT study released in January 2012.

Cyclone damage to tropical island nations, especially in the Caribbean, as well as Central American countries, will cost as much as 37% of those countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Annually. Those figures do not take into account human casualties—injuries and deaths.

It’s not just local, state, and national governments paying for those losses. Extreme weather events are reaching into the pockets of everyday citizens, too. Insurance companies, for example, have been taking a big hit in recent years and now they’re telling their clients to share the load. Companies like Allstate and State Farm are raising home insurance premiums unilaterally, often by as much as 10 percent. Expect them to go higher still in the coming years.

Climate change is also helping to raise food prices, which affects every citizen.

Canada Calculates the Cost

A study from Canada’s National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy found that climate change will cost that country CAD$5 billion a year by 2020, and between CAD$21 billion to CAD$43 billion annually by the 2050s.

Those figures are mostly wishful thinking, because they are based on keeping global warming from climbing more than 2°C/3.96°C by 2050, and that’s far from being a given. The caveats don’t end there. The study predicts that the longer climate change impact is ignored, the higher the costs will run. “Our modelling . . . shows there is a risk those costs could not be just higher, but much higher,” declares the Roundtable.

How high is high? Canada could be looking at CAD$91 billion a year if global warming exceeds the 2°C/3.96°C threshold and the country doesn’t implement all of its planned adaptation strategies.

Actually, the costs to Canada will be higher still, because the study only examined three areas—human health, coastal regions, and timber—and climate change affects so much more than that.

Managing the Financial Risk

We can significantly reduce the financial risk of climate change.

First, we can construct the infrastructure we need to protect people, livestock, and property from extreme weather events. Worried about the cost? The cost of doing nothing is much greater. Plus, infrastructure projects create jobs and support construction-related businesses, which strengthens the economy.

Second, national agricultural policies and programs must mandate sustainable agriculture, which will make our farms much more resilient to climate change and much more productive. “Given the region’s current state of food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture has to become the central part of Asia’s [climate change] adaptation strategy,” says Raj Paroda of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions. The same must be said for every other agricultural region on the planet.

Third, plan for comprehensive disaster response now at the local, regional, and national levels. See my earlier article, “Preparing for Trouble: Communities and Climate Change,” for more ideas.

Effect of Dogs on Climate Change

The effect of wild dogs on climate change cannot be understated. There is a prevalent problem that has been plaguing the world that has gone unnoticed. This is the impact of having roaming, wild dogs throughout the forests.

While it may not seem like a big deal since there are plenty of animals in the wild, it’s particularly damning to the environment if dogs are allowed to roam around in the wild.

The premise is simple – dogs have become domesticated and simply do not have any defined place out in the wild.

The non-domesticated species that are out in the wild have evolved to adapt to one another and their climate. Dogs aren’t part of that evolution.

Dogs eat prey that naturally wild species are supposed to be feeding on to thrive. When this happens, those animals turn to eating vegetation instead of meat. This puts a great strain on the plant-life in the ecosystem. As a result, climate change occurs.

So what is being done about it?

A team of professors have recently taken on 10 post-doctoral students to capture all of the roaming wild dogs that are in the forests using dog crates.

They have received a privately funded grant to purchase large dog crates and bring them to the wild to catch dogs. The dog crates are made of heavy-duty metal and are nearly indestructible. They opted for heavy-duty dog crates to ensure that the wild dogs aren’t going to break out of the dog cage.

Once the dogs are caught in the dog crates, they will be retrieved that same day and taken to an animal care facility.

At that point scientists will keep the dogs in their dog crates, but will perform tests on the dogs. They want to see what kind of pathogens the wild dogs are housing and what their diet consists of. The dogs will remain in their dog cages at all times – both for the safety of the dog and for the safety of the scientists.

It’s going to be a large scale project, and the team will probably need to purchase many dog crates to accomplish this goal, but they are confident that they can help put into place a plan to alleviate the world of this problem.

Ignoring Climate Change and Food Shortages

As nations awaken to the growing danger of food shortages worsened by climate change, they have started reinvesting in agricultural research and development to create greater food security for their own people. Unfortunately, some countries are focused on short-term benefits, courting investment for investment’s sake and ignoring the long-term consequences.

The news has been full of stories in the last few years about foreign nations and companies buying up farmland in developing Latin American and African countries, many of which have trouble feeding their own people. These foreign buyers use the land to grow food that they then ship back to their own countries to enhance their food security. The developing countries selling their farmland receive a little money but no improvement to their own food security.

Some developed countries are making similarly poor choices.

Between 1984 and 2010, the amount of agricultural land in Australia owned in whole or in part by overseas companies and investors nearly doubled to 11 percent nationally. In South Australia, foreign ownership almost tripled to 12 percent. In the Northern Territory, it grew from 18 percent to 24 percent.

In early 2009, Australian billionaire James Packer sold 17 cattle ranches in northern Australia with a land area larger than that of The Netherlands for A$425 million to Terra Firma, a British company.

Other foreign companies like Westchester Group Investment Management, Inc. of the United States, London-based Anglo-Australian Southern Agricultural Resources, COFCO Group of China, and Thailand’s Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation are also spending millions of dollars buying up Australian farmland, ranches, and vineyards.

Australia is the world’s second largest exporter of wheat, after the United States. Half of Australia’s 23 licensed wheat exporters are owned by foreign companies.

Why are foreign buyers and investors interested in farmland in a country that is the driest inhabited continent on the planet, one that has been besieged in the twenty-first century by drought? One viable reason must be short-term memory loss. A second is actually the decade of drought, because it sent agricultural land prices plummeting between 20 and 50 percent, depending on location, since late 2007. Cheap land prices are always appealing to investors.

Also luring buyers to Australia is La Nina, which ended the national drought last year with plentiful rains that helped beleaguered farmers produce bumper crops two years in a row.

Many of those farmers are still selling their land. Battered by drought and floods, they are often grateful for the money they receive for farms that have been in their families for generations. Their children, who watched the economic and emotional toll climate change took on their parents, are choosing different careers and leaving the land. Offered millions of dollars in exchange for back-breaking work and global warming-induced stress, they and their parents are selling.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, known as ABARES, enthusiastically supports these sales to foreign buyers and investors, as does Australia’s national government, which issued a report in mid-January 2012 insisting that foreign investment in agriculture boosts the nation’s farm production and creates rural jobs.

Unlike the buyers of farmland in many developing countries, Australia’s foreign buyers and investors are more interested in profit than shipping food back home to their own people. But, as climate change accelerates, that could easily change. These companies may soon be forced to answer to national concerns about food security. In the next few decades, foreign-owned Australian farm and ranch land could be “conscripted” to produce food for China, Thailand, Great Britain, even the United States instead of growing food for sale to Australian and international markets.

Australia has approximately 2.96 million square miles of land of which just 6.5 percent is arable land, according to the World Bank.

How much farmland can Australia sell before it finds it can’t feed its own people?

Farmers Can Slow Global Warming

As businesses, oil companies, car companies, their lobbyists, and myopic politicians continue to stall any significant efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the world still has a chance to slow global warming if it supports some unlikely saviors: farmers.

Farmers can reduce significantly their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, and that can help stabilize the climate.

How?

Agriculture is responsible for between 13 and 32 percent of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, those emissions, and we can slow global warming.

How does agriculture generate greenhouse gas emissions? With traditional agricultural practices, farm machinery consumes over three gallons of petroleum-based fuel per acre and emits more than 73 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre annually. The world has approximately 3.4 billion acres of arable land.

Plowing is another problem. Soil stores (sequesters) carbon dioxide. Traditional plowing practices break up the soil, which releases that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Plowing also kills the microorganisms in the soil. As they die, they break down into carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere, generating a significant portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Similarly, having livestock over-graze grasslands and pastures strips the land of its protective vegetative cover, exposing the soil to sunlight and wind and rain erosion, all of which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is why we recommend that livestock be kept in large pet crates when not grazing.

Traditional farming practices also leave the land bare for up to seven months at a time between the planting of cash crops, which generates greenhouse gases. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the soil. If plants aren’t there, the soil releases the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Traditionally flooded rice fields generate much of the world’s methane emissions. Methane is a 23 times more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Then there’s deforestation. Each year, millions of acres of forest around the world are clearcut to create farming and grazing lands, which releases two to eight tons of carbon per acre into the atmosphere not just once with the initial clearcutting, but annually for up to twenty years.

Chemical fertilizers also feed global warming, both through their manufacturing process, which emits greenhouse gases, and through their use on farm fields, where they emit greenhouse gases. Nitrogen, for example, is often dumped on a field in a single application in amounts that are much more than plants and the soil can absorb. So, about half of that nitrogen decomposes into nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 298 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide.

Even the livestock we raise are contributing to climate change. Their manure generates 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, primarily methane. In the United States, cattle and their flatulence and their manure are responsible for 33 percent of the country’s annual methane emissions. New Zealand’s ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) generate 85 percent of that country’s methane emissions.

Clearly, agriculture has a significant impact on climate change, which means farmers have the power to slow global warming.

To overcome climate change, we need to unite as human beings. We need to bring together millions of people, thousands of communities, and hundreds of countries. How can you help? By donating your time and your ideas to help protect the planet and humanity:

Hunger Stalks North America

The news is full of stories about the terrible spread of hunger in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The news is not full of stories about the terrible spread of hunger in developed countries, which might lead people to assume that hunger is not an issue in, for example, North America or Europe.

But it is.

Among the 25 member nations of the European Union, 100 million people suffer from hunger.

In the U.S., which is the world’s largest agricultural producer and exporter, nearly 49 million people, 15 percent of the population, are food insecure. Of those, 16 million are children. In upscale Santa Barbara County, California, one-quarter of the children are food insecure. In recession-battered Zavala County, Texas, nearly one-half of the children are food insecure.

In the five boroughs of New York City, 3.3 million men, women, children, seniors, and people with disabilities are food insecure. Equally troubling, poor New Yorkers can’t afford to buy healthy food, like fresh produce. The can only afford fat-, sugar-, and salt-laden processed foods and fast foods, which is creating an epidemic of diabetes and obesity among the urban poor.

Then there is the other half of North America, seemingly quiet and peaceful and abundant Canada, where many politicians are insisting that hunger isn’t an issue for the 34 million people in their country.

But it is.

In May 2012, Olivier De Schutter, a Belgian human rights expert and the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food who is studying hunger issues in developed nations, issued a report claiming that 800,000 households (i.e., more than 2 million people) in the country are food insecure. He called food insecurity among Canada’s Aboriginal peoples a “desperate situation.

“What I’ve seen in Canada is a system that presents barriers for the poor to access nutritious diets and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and [between] Aboriginal [and] non-Aboriginal peoples,” he said in a follow-up press release. Adequate diets “have become too expensive for poor Canadians.”

Rather than going “Gosh, we really have a problem and we need to do something about it,” Canada’s Conservative politicians and administration were outraged, loudly dismissing De Schutter’s report in newspaper and television interviews.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird: “There are, what, 193 members of the U.N.? I think most Canadians would think that spending 11 days in Canada on this issue . . . his time would be better spent elsewhere.”

Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq: “I met with the individual this morning and found him to be an ill-informed, patronizing academic studying, once again, the aboriginal people, Inuit and Canada’s Arctic, from afar. I took the opportunity to educate him about Canada’s north and the aboriginal people who depend on the wildlife that they hunt every day for food security.”

In his report, De Schutter had pointed out that the country’s Nutrition North Canada program, which subsidizes retailers that serve remote communities so that they can offset transportation costs and provide reasonably-priced food to those communities, isn’t working. “The retail subsidy is not being fully passed on to the consumer,” De Schutter noted.

This was mild language for what has become a catastrophic problem throughout northern Canada, where traditional food supplies are dwindling rapidly (hunting is not providing daily food security) and retailers are charging prices that go far beyond exorbitant.

In Nunavut in far northern Canada, a province the size of Western Europe with a population of around 35,000 predominantly Inuit people struggling with low or nonexistent incomes, stores are charging $10.25 for green peppers, $19 for cranberry juice, $28 for a cabbage, $65 a pound for chicken, and $105 for 24 bottles of water (safe drinking water is a critical problem in Aboriginal communities).

Yes, those are real prices.

The stores know “we have no choice,” one Nunavut citizen told reporters. “They can just do what they want and we have no option.”

Some desperate citizens actually fly to Edmonton, Alberta to shop and fly home. The roundtrip cost is lower than if they had gone to Nunavut stores.

Nunavut retailers also stock most of their shelves with processed food, rather than healthy and nutritious food. It is cheaper to buy soft drinks than apple juice in Nunavut.

“Nutrition North was supposed to bring improvements to the availability of healthy foods in Nunavut. But we see the same unhealthy food being displayed and sold in our store,” Jakob Gearheard, Executive Director of the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River, Nunavut, told reporters. With the Nutrition North program broken, “the bottom line is that healthy food is less accessible and more expensive than before.”

Ignored by the current Conservative administration, Nunavut citizens are beginning to fight back. They have launched a Facebook group called Feeding My Family (17,000 members and counting) which is helping to organize actions, like protests in front of convenience and food stores and calls for much greater access to healthy food at fair prices.

Similarly, a Change.org petition is being circulated to drum up action on food insecurity in Nunavut.

Just Think

sky-earth-galaxy-universeYou ever see the movie The Day After Tomorrow? One morning everything is fine. The next morning the whole Earth has frozen over.

Why did it happen?

Because climate change was happening and the population was way too slow to adapt.

But that’s not just the words of Hollywood – that’s actually a reality.

Humans need to do a better job of saving our planet.

The only way that will ever get done is if humans spread the word about what is going on with our Environment.

One voice cannot possibly change the world, but an idea can. Yes, I just quoted the movie Inception.

But it’s true. One idea can spread like wildfire. The ideas that generally do spread are marketed by those who are most persuasive.

As one person, we have a hard time spreading the ideas as so few of those individuals mentioned above exist. However, when the voices of many are spreading the idea, then it can spread like wildfire.

Let’s band together and help spread the word.