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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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More extreme weather events caused by climate change?

The US state of Texas has experienced some terrifying extreme winds and unprecedented flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey.  Photographs in the US press show homes destroyed, highways flooded and elderly people in an old people’s home sitting up to their waists in flood water.

Climate experts have been saying for a while that tornados, monsoons, tropical cyclones, hurricanes and flooding are becoming more extreme.  Climate change deniers are saying there is no evidence of a link between climate change and severe weather events but that these events are just due to natural variability.  However, I feel that the scientific evidence produced from studying 140 weather events around the world from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to the California drought shows a clear link. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief has mapped all of these events:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/mapped-how-climate-change-affects-extreme-weather-around-the-world

and their analysis suggests that 63% of all extreme weather events studied were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for nearly half of such events (46%), droughts make up 21% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 14%.

A recent article in The Guardian (28th August 2017) by Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, has discussed whether Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change. He concluded that climate change has worsened the impact of the Hurricane and other extreme weather events.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/28/climate-change-hurricane-harvey-more-deadly?CMP=share_btn_tw

And where is Trump in all of this?

I wonder whether the current US devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will change Donald Trump’s mind about the reality of climate change. 

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Probably not, as he only seems to listen to the group of buddies he has gathered around him at the White House, most of whom have a vested interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels.  But will the swamped and bereaved residents of Houston and Florida allow him to continue on this blinkered course?

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists has raised another problem arising from Hurricane Harvey: that more then 650 energy and industrial facilities may have been flooded as a result of the hurricane, with the Gulf Coast being home to many chemical industries as well, thus raising the risk of people living in the Houston area of being exposed to toxic chemicals.

http://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/flooded-by-hurricane-harvey-new-map-shows-energy-industrial-and-superfund-sites

Meanwhile, Greenpeace have pointed out that the global media has focused on the disaster in Texas and ignored all the other tragic weather events taking place across the globe.  These include:

Flooding in South Asia:

In India, Nepal and Bangladesh 1200 people have also been recently killed by flooding, with 1.8 million children unable to go to school. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) estimates more than 41 million people have been affected by monsoon rains and severe flooding as of June this year. Whilst the numbers are massive, the stories to come out of this disaster are just as tragic. Several people are reported to have died from falling into open manholes, a two-year-old has lost her life to a wall collapse and many are reported to be missing.

Sierra Leone:

Two weeks ago a mudslide hit Sierra Leone, killing at least 499 people.

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Niger floods force thousands from their homes:

Serious flooding has led the authorities in Niger to order thousands of people to leave their homes in the capital Niamey. While many are sheltering in schools, others have nowhere to go. Already the torrential rains are reported to have killed at least 44 people in Niamey and other parts of the West African country since June, and has caused the destruction of hundreds of houses.

Storm Lidia

Tropical Storm Lidia hit the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula with heavy rain and high winds on Thursday evening. While not projected to reach hurricane strength, authorities in the state of Baja California Sur suspended classes and flights until conditions were deemed safe.

Hurricane Irma:

This powerful hurricane rapidly intensified in the open Atlantic, posing a major threat to the Caribbean and potentially the United States. Initially labelled a tropical storm, Irma strengthened into a large Category 5 hurricane in a process known as “rapid intensification”.  This has caused extreme damage to many of the Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless.  Full news of the devastation is yet to emerge.

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Mark Lynas of CNN has written, “this is what climate change looks like”. See:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/31/opinions/climate-change-harvey-lynas-opinion/index.html?utm_source=Weekly+climate+roundup&utm_campaign=7733095a5f-Climate+Roundup+16_06_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_81339309ed-7733095a5f-141770409

He goes on to say:

“It is not politically opportunistic to raise this issue now. Instead we have a moral duty not to accept the attempted conspiracy of silence imposed by powerful political and business interests opposed to any reduction in the use of fossil fuels. We owe this to the people of Texas as much to those of Bangladesh and India, and Niger — which was also struck by disastrous flooding this week.

Climate disasters demonstrate our collective humanity and interdependence. We have to help each other out — in the short term by saving lives and in the longer term by cutting greenhouse gases and enhancing resilience, especially in developing countries.”

 

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350.org: a global movement to take targeted action to free the world from the use of fossil fuels

 

The following email was received yesterday from the organisers of 350.org

 

After last month’s powerful resistance against fracking in Lancashire, another huge moment is coming up where people from across Europe will take a stand against the fossil fuel industry. Over the next 10 days, thousands will gather in the Rhineland, Germany. Together they will say “Ende Gelände” — here and no further.

The lignite mines and coal power plants in the Rhineland, Germany are the biggest source of CO2 in Europe. So on 24-29 August, thousands of people will take action in and around the coal pits, demanding a quick coal phase-out in Germany and bold international climate action. There’s also a climate camp beginning today. Then, when world governments meet in Bonn in November for the UN climate conference, there will be more actions in the lignite mines to show where the real climate negotiations are happening in Germany.

You can help support our friends in Germany and help make this a powerful moment by sharing the video and news from the camp and actions as it happens (look out for updates on 350’s facebook and twitter).


A Swedish group are also heading to the Rhineland and will be live-streaming the action, so you can follow the journey of four activists who are taking part. If you’ve never taken part in an action like this before, it’ll be a chance to get a real sense of what it’s like. They’ve put together a live screening kit in case you want to get together with your friends to watch live.

From Lancashire to the Rhineland, let’s keep building this people power and keep fossil fuels in the ground,

Danni, Ellen and the 350.org team


Fossil Free UK is part of an international network campaigning to divest institutions from the fossil fuel companies that are causing the climate crisis. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for email updates on our homepage.

 

Latest News:

This action did take place In Germany on 24-29th August 2017.  Six thousand people attended. A video of the action can be seen at:


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20 Countries Most At Risk From Sea Level Rise

From:  https://weather.com/science/environment/news/20-countries-most-risk-sea-level-rise-20140924

Climate Central just completed a novel analysis of worldwide exposure to sea level rise and coastal flooding. They found that 147 to 216 million people live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century, assuming emissions of heat-trapping gases continue on their current trend.  Only countries with a total population of over 1 million were included in the analysis.  This means that most island nations do not appear in their tables, which are copied below:

CCTable

These tables appear to grade countries according to the size of their populations and what proportion of that population is at risk from coastal flooding.  Thus, China would have the greatest number of their inhabitants affected by sea level rise but, in terms of the percentage of their population as a whole, this is only 4%.  Conversely, the Netherlands have a smaller number of their people at risk from coastal inundation, compared with China, but this represents almost half (47%) of their total population, putting them at the top of the table, percentage-wise.

Chapter 1 (Figure 15) of my book features some of the maps produced by National Geographic Creative.  These show the new coastlines if all of the ice caps were to melt. From these maps, I personally would want to place countries like Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Denmark, Cambodia, Japan, much of the eastern coast of USA (especially Florida), southern Thailand, much of Indonesia, most of the Pacific and Indian ocean island nations, very close to the top of the list.  But then, I am looking at them in terms of territory lost, rather than the numbers of people displaced.  It would be interesting to see these tables showing countries rated according to how much territory they would lose.

Another factor that needs to be looked at is the huge numbers of major cities of the world which would go under water.  They include:

London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, Venice, Lisbon, Rome, Baghdad, Doha, Kolkata, Dhaka, Singapore, Rangoon, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Phenom Penh, Manila, Melbourne, Auckland, Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Cancun, Honolulu, Georgetown, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Alexandria, Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Dakar, Bissau, Freetown, Maputo.

See:

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2013/09/rising-seas-ice-melt-new-shoreline-maps/

And to add to this report, there was a recent piece in The Times, warning about the effects of rising sea levels in Scotland.  It can be found at:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/rising-sea-levels-threaten-scores-of-coastal-towns-airport-and-faslane-n903n90jg

According to the report, scores of coastal towns, Prestwick airport and Faslane are all at risk.

And another recent report from Molly Rubin in Quartz, report on measures that are being taken in New York to prevent another storm surge like the one that occurred with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It involves a system of underwater gates, which can be raised and lowered to block surges. The UK and Netherlands use similar systems: the Thames Barrier in London and Maeslantkering in Rotterdam.

With more superstorms predicted, there’s a dream project to keep New York above water

The US clearly has the money to introduce such systems, which developing countries do not have.

And another recent article, this time in The Guardian (3rd November 2017) focuses on Lincolnshire and outlines how much farmland and coastal regions will go under water with 3 degrees of global warming, changing the coastline for ever.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/03/lincolnshires-coast-and-farms-will-sink-with-3c-of-warming

According to The Guardian, the county is a major recipient of the government’s six-year £2.5bn programme to strengthen sea and flood barriers in England. This is done with a mix of soft defences (sandy shores, mudflats and wetlands to absorb wave impact) by the coast along with hard defences (concrete walls) further inland.  The authorities replenish eroded beaches such as Skegness each year with 350,000 cubic metres of of sand. Earlier this year, two new flood-alleviation reservoirs were completed in Louth and Horncastle. A public inquiry has also been held for a £100m flood barrier scheme in Boston.

This is another example of a developed country being able financially to deal with the effects of sea level rise.

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A coastal region of the flat Lincolnshire countryside

 


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Electric Cars and their need for cobalt

An article in the Financial Times by David Pillings last week identified a growing problem associated with the mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With the increase in the production of electric cars, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, there is an increasing demand for cobalt, used in their batteries. The greatest availability for cobalt appears to be in the Congo, a country riven with conflict, corruption and extreme poverty.  Whilst an increased demand for cobalt ought to help the country in tackling poverty, this is apparently not happening. Some of the wealth has apparently disappeared and the rest has gone into the pockets of the foreign mining companies.

The Congo is rich in many minerals: gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, copper and cobalt.  Local Congolese may have the benefit of working in these mines but they are paid very little and the work is dangerous.  Many of them are children.

And it is not only electric car batteries that need cobalt.  All kinds of other gadgets make use of it: cell phones, tablets, laptops and other portable electronic gadgets However, very few people know that cobalt, the element needed to produce these batteries, is the product of underpaid adults and children working in sub-human conditions in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is the source of about half of the world’s production of cobalt.

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child workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Quite clearly, if electric cars are to be the vehicles of the future, urgent investigations into the practice of corporate mining companies need to be made.

 


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Oxford Research Group’s July Briefing: Climate Change, Migration and Security by Paul Rogers

The full briefing can be found through the following link:

http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/paul_rogers_monthly_briefing/climate_change_migration_and_security

This article examines the reasons behind migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe and concludes that it is not so much due to conflict and war in the countries of origin but more due to the combined effects of climate change and economic marginalisation.

The economic factors associated with migration are described clearly by Rogers, as follows:

The first is the awareness among some millions of relatively marginalised peoples that their life chances may both be dismal and unlikely to improve. For many hundreds of thousands of people one such response is to seek to migrate to wealthier regions where work may be available. Typically in such circumstances, extended families or even wider communities may share resources to enable a fit young man to attempt the journey, hoping to succeed, find work and then send money back home and perhaps even enable relatives to join him. The journey may be fraught with danger but the rewards are sufficient when measured against the levels of desperation.

Such migratory pressures may be difficult to explain generically, given that many countries across sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing modest degrees of economic growth, but there is abundant evidence that this economic success is not shared equitably. At the same time, improving literacy and communications make marginalised communities all too aware of their predicaments. Given that there appears to be little prospect of moving towards more equitable economies, the expectation must be that migratory pressures will be maintained.”

Migrants drawning in the Mediteranean April 2015

An overloaded small boat sinking in the Mediterranean Sea

Climate change is discussed in a section on environmental factors, as follows:

In relation to climate change, two elements concerning migration are particularly relevant. One is that in many parts of the world the process is accelerating and the second is that its effects are geographically asymmetric. The rate of change in the near Arctic is currently exceeding the prediction of the most reliable computer simulations but there is also growing evidence that this is also happening in many regions across the tropics and sub-tropics. In these regions the main effects are increases in temperature and decreases in rainfall, the latter because of a trend for rainfall to be distributed away from land masses and towards the oceans and the polar region. The primary impact of this is on the ecological carrying capacity of tropical and sub-tropical agricultural systems, with the capacity to produce food much diminished.

Perhaps most important of all, this is a phenomenon that is already apparent in many parts of the Global South – it is not something for the future but is happening now. Moreover, it is directly affecting the displacement of people. Last month the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) published its Global Trends report ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June. According to the report, a record high of 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2016. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) last month predicted that:

“By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.”

That means that nearly one-quarter of the world’s population could be living on less than 500m³ of total available fresh water per year. That is Currently, World Bank data lists at least 27 countries surviving under such conditions. While a few of them, like Israel, Singapore, Malta and the Gulf States, have the wealth to invest in desalination, storage, imports or draining aquifers of millennia of deposited water, this will not be the experience of most. Indeed, even most such high-tech schemes may only last for decades, as long as the aquifers or oil wealth available.

Notably, the list of countries already experiencing absolute water scarcity includes all of the Arabian peninsula, North Africa (except Morocco) and the Levant (except Lebanon) and large parts of Central and Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa. Some of the most critically affected countries included Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Syria. It may be no coincidence that these countries are some of the world’s most conflict-affected, nor that they have produced some of the largest volumes of refugees in recent years.”

The article concludes that this is a situation to be faced now, rather than in the future and a list of four action areas are provided:

  • A much more rapid transition to ultra-low carbon economies across the industrialised world in order to mitigate the causes of climate change.
  • Assistance to the countries across the Global South that are most affected by climate change to mitigate the effects, not least in changes in agricultural practice.
  • Assistance to the same countries to develop low-carbon economies such that they may further develop and industrialise without amplifying climate change.
  • Investment in water storage and carbon-neutral desalination technologies to mitigate the impact of fresh water shortages, especially in the Global South.


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Dozens of craters opening up in Siberia: scientists link this to climate change

Reports from several sources are providing information about craters forming in the frozen north of Siberia over the last three years, some of them associated with the sound of explosions, which light up the sky.  The most likely cause of this is global warming, which is melting the ice and releasing the melting methyl hydrate, which has previously been trapped underground.

Satellite images suggest a link with pingos which form when ice is trapped between layers of earth.  See: http://uk.businessinsider.com/russian-exploding-permafrost-methane-craters-global-warming-2016-6?r=US&IR=T

Whatever the cause, it is a reason for great concern, for the release of methane into the atmosphere is going to significantly speed up global warming.

The following photograph was released by the Siberian Times:

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Once the craters have formed it would appear that they grow in size and fill up with water.

There have been several reports on the phenomenon, with photographs, as follows:

Daily Mail ; Business Insider; National Geographic; Live Science; Siberian Times; Science Alert; slate.com;  CNBC; Huffington Post etc