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Can an Unequal Earth Beat Climate Change?

U.S. Groundwater in Peril: Potable Supply Less Than Thought

A groundwater well near Estancia, New Mexico. (Photo: Debra Perrone)

A groundwater well near Estancia, New Mexico. (Photo: Debra Perrone)

U.S. Groundwater in Peril: Potable Supply Less Than Thought

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater, report UA hydrologist Jennifer McIntosh and colleagues.

The U.S. groundwater supply is smaller than originally thought, according to a new research study that includes a University of Arizona hydrologist.

The study provides important insights into the depths of underground fresh and brackish water in some of the most prominent sedimentary basins across the U.S.

The research by scientists from the University of Saskatchewan, the UA and the University of California, Santa Barbara was published Nov. 14 in Environmental Research Letters.

“We found that potable groundwater supplies in the U.S. do not go as deep as previously reported, meaning there is less groundwater for human and agricultural uses,” said Jennifer McIntosh, a University of Arizona Distinguished Scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences.

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater.

“We show that there is potential for contamination of deep fresh and brackish water in areas where the oil and gas industry injects wastewaters into – or in close depth proximity to – these aquifers,” McIntosh said. “These potable water supplies are already being used up from the ‘bottom up’ by oil and gas activities.

“Groundwater is the primary source of domestic water supply for about half of the people living in the U.S. About 40 percent of all of the water used in the U.S. for irrigated agriculture comes from groundwater,” McIntosh said. “In Tucson, Arizona, about half of our drinking water comes from groundwater.”

Many rural areas in Arizona and other parts of the U.S. rely exclusively on groundwater for both agricultural and domestic use, she said.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change

It is accepted that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel that restrains oil production and keeps prices higher than they would otherwise be. Indeed, this is the premise behind the “OPEC Accountability Act of 2018” in the US Senate. This bill would address high and rising oil prices by trying to break OPEC. US pressure on OPEC — particularly on friendly governments such as Saudi Arabia that are seen as leaders in the organization — to “open the spigots” is not new. Nor is the control of oil exports by producing countries for political purposes. However, the environmental impact of high oil prices is only lightly considered.

There is little debate that motor vehicle industry changes to increase fuel efficiency were a historic and significant environmental advance. When OPEC action has led to increased prices, the quantity of oil in demand has fallen. This was starkly demonstrated when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) — founded in 1968 — flexed its price-making muscles in the 1970s. Production cuts and an embargo against sale of oil to several countries raised the spot price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude from $3.56 per barrel in mid-1973 to $4.31 later in the year to $10.11 in January. By the time President Jimmy Carter famously suggested we all turn down our thermostats, the price of WTI crude had reached $14.85 per barrel. The price finally peaked in mid-1980 at $39.50 — a 1000 percent increase in seven years. The price of gasoline more than tripled. In response, we got the Department of Energy, the Chevy Citation, and more fuel-efficient Japanese and German automobile imports.

More recently, the total vehicle miles traveled in the US fell in 2007 amid high oil prices and the Great Recession, and did not increase again until gas prices fell over the second half of 2014 ― from $3.69 per gallon to $2.12.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?

Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?

Photo Source Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

The growing season used to be too short to grow corn in Alberta. That’s no longer true, according to a front page story in the November 26 Wall Street Journal: “Warming Climate Pushes Corn North.”  Thanks to climate change, a warming planet means longer growing seasons, making it practical for Canadian farmers to raise corn.  In the little town of La Crete, Alberta (“roughly as far north as Juneau, Alaska”) temperatures “are 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average annually than in 1950…and the growing season is nearly two weeks longer.”

The Journal continues:

Canada’s corn acreage has climbed 20% over the past decade, while soybean acreage has roughly doubled… Before 2013, provinces such as Saskatchewan and Alberta grew no significant amounts of soybeans….  Now soybeans cover 425,000 acres in those provinces.

*    *     *

“Today, the U.S. corn belt is in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana,” Cargill CEO David MacLennan said in a 2016 interview. “In 50 years, it may be in Hudson Bay, Canada.”

As for regions where corn has traditionally been grown, they’re seeing bigger harvests.  “Warming has helped increase U.S. corn harvests, delivering more than one-quarter of the yield growth across Corn Belt states since 1981….”

All this is great news, right? Yet there is a down side.  To its credit, the Journal admits that bigger harvests may be harder to sustain as temperatures increase further, and climate shifts already are working against yields in some corn-producing regions….  Overall, climate change-driven heat, droughts and soil erosion will likely diminish U.S. agricultural production, according to the latest installment of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, issued Friday [Nov. 23]” (my italics).

At Jake Vermeer’s farm southeast of Edmonton, Alberta, the growing season is now 17 days longer.  However, warmer temperatures also bring “unusually long dry spells and harsher storms” which make farming “more uncertain.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

From Obama to Trump, Climate Negotiations are Being Run by the Same Crew of American Technocrats

FROM OBAMA TO TRUMP, CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS ARE BEING RUN BY THE SAME CREW OF AMERICAN TECHNOCRATS

ON MONDAY, THE Trump administration hosted an event on behalf of the fossil fuel industry at the United Nations climate talks in Poland, known as COP24. It was almost identical to the one it hosted at last year’s climate talks in Germany: trying to write coal, oil, and gas into the world’s response to climate change, and bemoaning “alarmism” on climate. Both were disrupted by organizers from the United States voicing their opposition, and both received more media coverage than just about anything else happening at either talks, which this year are focused on arriving at a deeply technical rulebook to implement the Paris agreement.

What the flashy White House sideshow obscured, though, is that the U.S. position in Poland, when it comes to the substance of the talks, is indistinguishable on many fronts from the approach taken by the Obama administration. In fact, that agenda is being carried out by many of the very same people, a largely overlapping crew of career technical negotiators keeping a lower profile than Donald Trump team’s at the White House.

That’s not necessarily good news. While the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration was 180 degrees from that of the Trump administration, American negotiators under President Barack Obama were not intent on driving the world toward the most aggressive climate action possible. Quite the opposite.

Since Trump’s election, the narrative surrounding the team of U.S. negotiators at U.N. climate talks has been a largely sympathetic one, of well-meaning career diplomats simply trying to keep their heads down and make the best of it before the administration can officially pull out of the Paris agreement in late 2020.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Extinction Rebellion’s Direct-Action Climate Activism Comes to New York

THE EXTINCTION REBELLION’S DIRECT-ACTION CLIMATE ACTIVISM COMES TO NEW YORK

THE NEW YORK CHAPTER of Extinction Rebellion held its first planning meeting on Thursday. Incensed and terrified by the accelerating climate crisis, activists gathered in Manhattan to discuss how they might replicate some of the successes the direct-action group has had in the United Kingdom.

In London, less than a month after Extinction Rebellion activists blocked roads, occupied bridges, lay down in the street and got arrested to draw immediate attention to the climate crisis, Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a climate emergency, vowing to do “everything in our power to mitigate the risk” of climate catastrophe. Coincidence? Greg Schwedock doesn’t think so.

“That was unthinkable before the Extinction Rebellion,” Schwedock told a standing room-only crowd gathered in a Manhattan co-working space on Thursday night. Dressed in office gear and “Rise and Resist” sweatshirts, accompanied by their children and at least one dog, the attendees came together with the hope that a New York chapter of the group might have similar success in sparking a response commensurate with the dire crisis.

“Getting a million people to D.C. isn’t enough. We need to escalate,” said Schwedock, who emphasized that the group will take the path of disruptive, attention-grabbing civil disobedience, rather than just marching and chanting about the importance of climate change. “We’re not the ‘Extinction Yell About It.’”

The explosive growth of the Extinction Rebellion — which began in England with the support of a group of academics just a few months ago and already has 190 affiliates on five continents — is fueled by the ballooning ranks of people around the world who are frustrated, alarmed, and depressed by the failure to tackle the accelerating climate disaster.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Brexit: stage one in Europe’s slow-burn energy collapse

Brexit: stage one in Europe’s slow-burn energy collapse

The Brexit fiasco and French riots are accelerating symptoms of Europe’s earth system crisis

Riots in Paris (source: Irish Times)

Everyone’s talking about Brexit. Some about the French riots. But no one’s talking about why they are happening, and what they really mean. They might think they are, but they are usually missing the point.

On 6th May 2010, the Conservative Party took the reins of power for the first time since 1992, propped up with some help from the Liberal Democrats. Hours before the election result, I warned in a blog post that whichever government was elected, it would be the first step in a dramatic shift toward the far-right that would likely sweep across the Western world within 10 years.

“The new government, beholden to conventional wisdom, will be unable or unwilling to get to grips with the root structural causes of the current convergence of crises facing this country, and the world,” I wrote, describing the failure of all three political parties to understand why the heyday of economic growth was unlikely to return.

“This suggests that in 5–10 years, the entire mainstream party-political system in this country, and many Western countries, will be completely discredited as crises continue to escalate while mainstream policy solutions serve largely to contribute to them, not ameliorate them. The collapse of the mainstream party-political system across the liberal democratic heartlands could pave the way for the increasing legitimization of far-right politics by the end of this decade…”

My prediction was astonishingly prescient. The global shift to the far-right began within exactly five years of my forecast, and has continued to accelerate before the decade is even out.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

Commuters by bike share in New York City

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There’s something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and tackling it could be our greatest health opportunity,” according to the medical journal The Lancet.

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, by 150 experts from 27 academic institutions and intergovernmental organizations, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank, is blunt: “A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air.”

The report examines the association between health and climate change, including resilience and adaptation, financial and economic implications, the health and economic benefits of addressing the crisis, and the need for political and societal engagement, with a greater role for health professionals.

Sadly, the researchers conclude that a lack of concerted effort from governments is compromising human health and health infrastructure and services. They note some progress has been made, including a global decline in coal use, rapid growth in renewable energy installation and increasing fossil fuel divestment.

But it’s far short of what’s needed to keep global average temperature from rising more than 2 C, let alone the more ambitious target of 1.5 C.

People in more than 90 percent of cities breathe air that is toxic to cardiovascular and respiratory health, and it appears to be getting worse, “particularly in low-income and middle-income countries.” Pollutants from burning coal and other fossil fuels are causing millions of premature deaths every year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

Once is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.

The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Disappearing Acts

Disappearing Acts

We are living in an age of loss: the sixth mass extinction. Following this year’s shocking report that the planet has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years, and the 2018 Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I wrote this piece on art and disappearance for Dark Mountain’s ‘The Vanishing’ section. Here we look not only to extinction – the deaths of entire species – but to the quieter extirpations and losses that are steadily stripping our world of its complexity and beauty. How do we, as writers and artists, stay human during such times? .

What does it mean to disappear? It’s a cold night and I am shivering outside the Café de Paris in London. I’m standing behind Trevor, hoping that his TV producer status will get me in, when Karen Binns, doorkeeper to this hippest of ’90s dance nights, lets me through. It’s over for you, she laughs, which in her Brooklyn back-to-front street talk, means it’s happening for me. As it turns out it was prophetic both ways. Because the last time I saw her was at a family gathering a year later, as I was about to leave the city.

She’s out of here, she announced to the chattering table. Everyone just carried on talking.
It’s two minutes to twelve, she said.

What does any of this have to do with extinction you might ask? Bear with me. To know how to deal with disappearance, you have to know about your own. To know that when you go, there is a world of difference between being ignored and being seen.

For a few weeks now. I’ve been wondering what to write about extinction. Does the world need another elegant essay on nature in peril, another rant about palm oil deforestation?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change and the Limits of Reason

Climate Change and the Limits of Reason

Modern urban-industrial man is given to the raping of anything and everything natural on which he can fasten his talons.  He rapes the sea; he rapes the soil; the natural resources of the earth.  He rapes the atmosphere.  He rapes the future of his own civilization.  Instead of living off of nature’s surplus, which he ought to do, he lives off its substance. He would not need to do this were he less numerous, and were he content to live a more simple life.  But he is prepared neither to reduce his numbers nor to lead a simpler and more healthful life.  So he goes on destroying his own environment, like a vast horde of locusts.  And he must be expected, persisting blindly as he does in this depraved process,to put an end to his own existence within the next century.  The years 2000 to 2050 should witness, in fact, the end of the great Western civilization.  The Chinese, more prudent and less spoiled, no less given to over-population but prepared to be more ruthless in the control of its effects, may inherent the ruins.

– George Kennan, diary entry, March 21, 1977

But as I grow older I realize how limited a part reason plays in the conduct of men.  They believe what they want to—and although liable to shipwreck they generally get off with a hole in the bottom of their boat and stick an old coat into that.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (to Harold Laski), December 26, 1917

We all see what’s happening, we read it in the headlines every day, but seeing isn’t believing and believing isn’t accepting.

– Roy Scranton, We’re Doomed. Now What?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Scientist: World’s Richest Must Radically Change Lifestyles to Prevent Global Catastrophe

Climate Scientist: World’s Richest Must Radically Change Lifestyles to Prevent Global Catastrophe

The 24th United Nations climate summit comes amid growing warnings about the catastrophic danger climate change poses to the world. In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has only a dozen years to mitigate climate change or face global catastrophe—with severe droughts, floods, sea level rise and extreme heat set to cause mass displacement and poverty. But on Saturday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait blocked language “welcoming” the landmark IPCCclimate report. New studies show global carbon emissions may have risen as much 3.7 percent in 2018, marking the second annual increase in a row. A recent report likened the rising emissions to a “speeding freight train.” We speak with Kevin Anderson, professor in climate change leadership at Uppsala University’s Centre for Environment and Development Studies, and 15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg about the drastic action needed to fight climate change and the impact of President Trump on climate change activism.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit right here in Katowice, Poland. And we’re continuing our conversation with Greta, who has been on a school strike calling for climate action. She sits outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. In September, before the election, she sat for three weeks straight on weekdays. A number of kids also then started to join her.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Countries that Blocked ‘Welcoming’ of Major Climate Science Report at UN Talks have Dozens of Delegates with Ties to Oil, Gas, and Mining

Countries that Blocked ‘Welcoming’ of Major Climate Science Report at UN Talks have Dozens of Delegates with Ties to Oil, Gas, and Mining

COP24 plenary

At least 35 delegates from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia and the US are either currently employed or used to work for companies and organisations involved in the petrochemical and mining industries or lobbying on behalf of those industries.

On Saturday, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “noted” the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark 1.5 degrees report at the annual talks in Katowice, Poland. Poor and undeveloped countries, small island states, Europeans and many others called to change the wording to “welcome” the study, Climate Home reported.

The IPCC’s report, released in October 2018, warned that the world has 12 years to radically cut emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. The report was commissioned by countries at the annual climate talks in Paris in 2015.

Of the 35 delegates DeSmog UK has identified with ties to the fossil fuel and mining industries, 12 are representing Saudi Arabia, and nine are representing Russia. NGO Climate Tracker previously identified 13 delegates representing Kuwait that worked for the fossil fuel industry.

Most of the Saudi Arabian delegates currently work for state oil and gas producer Saudi Aramco – reportedly the most profitable company in the world – including Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s Minister Energy, Industry and Natural Resources and chairman of Saudi Aramco. The company is estimated to be worth around $2 trillion.

Two of the Russian delegates at this year’s annual talks work for natural gas producer Gazprom, in which the Russian government holds the majority stake. Six delegates work for aluminium producer, Rusal.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What World Do We Seek?

What World Do We Seek?

If David Attenborough (the British Natural Historian, narrator of the video series, Planet Earth and a national treasure in the U.K.), gives a speech to the UN proclaiming the end of civilization and few hear it, does our world still collapse? If the President releases the Congressional report on climate change on Black Friday and no one heeds it, does it have an impact? If Trump tweets his denial of the substance of the report (which strongly affirms the reality of global warming) – does that mean anything at all? And, if the U.N. releases a chatbot designed to empower the people of the planet (at least, those with access to Facebook) to act in reducing carbon emissions, does that signal a democratization of the process or a profound cynicism as to the likelihood of an organized, intra-government, legislative solution to the climate catastrophe?

We are being stress-tested on our ability to survive in the multiverse, the fractured continuum of space, time, matter and energy thatmanifests in parallel worlds wherefactual and counterfactual narratives co-exist.

We are being asked, by our political circumstances, to believe in both truth and untruth, the fake and the real, and yet retain our equanimity. We are being asked to hold two opposed ideas in our mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function – a feat that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered “was the test of a first-rate intelligence”. We are being asked to consume and to conserve; to change and to sustain; to believe in progress – time’s arrow, and in the everlastingness of a regenerative natural world – time’s cycle.

We are being asked to believe in the possibility of continued fossil-fueled economic growth while that phenomenon’s miasmic specter of global warming threatens to destroy the productivity and habitability of vast swathes of the planet.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode

Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening to the nonhuman life forms with which we share this planet, you’ve likely heard the term “the Sixth Extinction.” If not, look it up.  After all, a superb environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert, has already gotten a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book with that title.

Whether the sixth mass species extinction of Earth’s history is already (or not quite yet) underway may still be debatable, but it’s clear enough that something’s going on, something that may prove even more devastating than a mass of species extinctions: the full-scale winnowing of vast populations of the planet’s invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.  Think of it, to introduce an even broader term, as a wave of “biological annihilation” that includes possible species extinctions on a mass scale, but also massive species die-offs and various kinds of massacres.

Someday, such a planetary winnowing may prove to be the most tragic of all the grim stories of human history now playing out on this planet, even if to date it’s gotten far less attention than the dangers of climate change.  In the end, it may prove more difficult to mitigate than global warming.  Decarbonizing the global economy, however hard, won’t be harder or more improbable than the kind of wholesale restructuring of modern life and institutions that would prevent species annihilation from continuing.

With that in mind, come along with me on a topsy-turvy journey through the animal and plant kingdoms to learn a bit more about the most consequential global challenge of our time.

Insects Are Vanishing

When most of us think of animals that should be saved from annihilation, near the top of any list are likely to be the stars of the animal world: tigers and polar bears, orcas and orangutans, elephants and rhinos, and other similarly charismatic creatures.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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