threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

AustralianBushfire

koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough speak to each other

An interesting conversation between Greta and David was set up recently by the BBC and can be seen on youtube:

It appears to have been set up by the BBC, as Mishal Hussain was the interviewer in the process.  Another report stated that the BBC was somewhat embarrassed to send Mishal to Sweden by air, when Greta has stood out so firmly against air travel.



 


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Message from the Future

This post was written on Facebook by an Australian man, who grew up in Queensland in the 70s and 80s and now has a young family of his own.



Great-Barrier-Reef

I lived in Australia for three years during the early 60s and have returned for short visits in 1994 and 2010.  On both occasions I found the country to be hotter and drier.  This last month my brother, who has lived in NSW most of his life, had his home threatened by bush fires for the very first time.



 


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The European Parliament declares climate emergency

See: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191121IPR67110/the-european-parliament-declares-climate-emergency

Ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid 2-13 December, the European Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. They also want the Commission to ensure that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C.

In a separate resolution, Parliament urged the EU to submit its strategy to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest, to the UN Convention on Climate Change. MEPs also called on the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to include a 55% reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in the European Green Deal.

Stepping up global emission reductions for aviation and shipping

MEPs said that current aviation and shipping ambitions fall short of the necessary emissions reductions. All countries should include emissions from international shipping and aviation in their national contributions plans (NDCs), and urged the Commission to propose that the maritime sector be included in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

More financial support needed to fight climate change

EU countries should at least double their contributions to the international Green Climate Fund, Parliament said. EU member states are the largest providers of public climate finance and the EU’s budget should fully comply with its international commitments. They also noted that pledges by developed countries do not meet the collective goal of 100 billion USD per year as of 2020.

Finally, they urgently called on all EU countries to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.

Quote

“The European Parliament has just adopted an ambitious position in view of the upcoming COP 25 in Madrid. Given the climate and environmental emergency, it is essential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030. It also sends a clear and timely message to the Commission a few weeks before the publication of the Communication on the Green Deal “”, said Pascal Canfin (RE, FR), Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, during the debate on Monday.

Background

The resolution on declaring a climate and environmental emergency was adopted with 429 votes for, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions. The European Parliament adopted the resolution on COP25 with 430 votes for, 190 votes against and 34 abstentions.

A number of countries, local administrations and scientists have declared that our planet is facing a climate emergency.

The European Commission has already proposed the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but the European Council has still not endorsed it as Poland, Hungary and Czechia are opposed.

Parliament at the COP25

COP25 takes place in Madrid 2-13 December 2019. The President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli, (S&D, IT) will attend the official opening. A delegation from the European Parliament, led by Bas Eickhout (Greens, NL), will be there 9-14 December.



 


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Citizen’s assembly planned for next year 2020 in Birmingham

From the UK parliament website:

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/news-parliament-2017/citizens-assembly-climate-change-19-20/

Parliament sends 30,000 invitations for citizens’ assembly on climate change

02 November 2019

From Wednesday 6 November, 30,000 invitation letters will be landing on doormats across the UK – including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – inviting people to join Climate Assembly UK.

Participants in Climate Assembly UK, which was commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons Select Committees, will look at how the UK will reach its net zero emissions climate target, and what can be done by members of the public to help reduce carbon emissions. The citizens’ assembly has been launched before the dissolution of Parliament, to ensure that the assembly’s report is available to the new Parliament as it begins its work.

In June this year, following a recommendation by independent advisors the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK became the first major economy in the world to adopt a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This means that by 2050 the UK will have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases it produces to a much lower level than today, and balance its remaining emissions by absorbing the same amount from the atmosphere.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Chair’s comments

Commenting, Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said:

“Adopting the net zero target was a major milestone for the UK, reflecting the strong cross-party support for action on climate change.

“We now need to set out a clear roadmap for the actions to achieve net-zero. It’s very clear that we will all need to play a part in meeting this target and that we all share a responsibility to future generations to do so. Finding solutions which are equitable and have public support will be crucial. Parliament needs to work with the people and with Government to address the challenge of climate change.

“The Climate Assembly UK will advise Parliament on how people want us to meet the net zero target, and suggest policies that the Government can implement to secure success.”

Citizens’ assemblies bring together people from all walks of life to discuss important issues. They have been used all around the world, including in the UK, to help shape the work of governments and parliaments. 30,000 addresses have been chosen at random to receive invitations to participate in Climate Assembly UK which will run over four weekends between late January to the middle of March next year in Birmingham. A representative sample of the population will then be selected from those who respond to the invitation, with 110 people taking part in the assembly.

Treasury Chair’s comments

Commenting, Mel Stride MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee said:

“Public concern around climate change is as high as it has ever been and this is a chance for people from all parts of society to come together, to decide how we as a country can best meet our net zero emissions target.

“Net zero is an opportunity, therefore, for people to not just explore ways in which the UK can end its contribution to climate change, but also create a cleaner, healthier environment as well as benefit from the opportunities around creating a low-carbon economy.”

Key themes to be discussed at Climate Assembly UK will include how people travel, what people buy and household energy use. The outcomes of discussions will be presented to the six select committees, who will use it as a basis for detailed work on implementing its recommendations. It will also be debated in the House of Commons.


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How a Green New Deal will benefit us all

Taken from the Labour Party’s manifesto and written by Paul Halas, with acknowledgements also to:

https://watershed2015.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/how-a-green-new-deal-will-benefit-us-all-paul-halas/


There’s been a lot of excitement about Labour’s Green New Deal, but what does it involve and how will it affect us?

Burning up carbon deposits – in the form of oil, coal and gas – which were laid down over hundreds of millions of years, is pushing us to the brink of extinction. To avoid this we need to take some pretty drastic action and we’ll have to be prepared for major changes in the way we live, work, travel and even eat.

As part of its Green New Deal, Labour has undertaken to make the UK carbon neutral by 2030. This is how –

Some of the biggest changes will have to take place at the top, starting with the major international corporations – which carry the biggest responsibility for carbon emissions. They produce and sell both the fossil fuels and the machines and gadgets that cause climate change. By increasing tax on products and services that release more carbon, and reducing it on ones that cause less damage, big business can be made to do the right thing.

Greener energy will be a priority. Renewable energy sources now account for half our electricity, but to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 green energy must still be increased vastly. Labour plans to double offshore wind-powered generation, and will encourage local energy production – whether it’s from sun, wind or water, or a combination of them.

Transport and travel are major contributors to climate change. The Green New Deal will encourage greener ways of travelling, more sustainable technologies and better ways of making use of the resources we have. While they’re only a partial solution, the development and ownership of cars running on electricity from renewable sources will be helped, public transport will be improved and bus and rail networks widened. In the areas still not well served by public transport, vehicle-sharing schemes will be created.

Energy saving begins at home, and the Green New Deal proposes both a massive scheme of building new, energy-efficient homes and finding ways of improving existing buildings. There will be a major drive to insulate homes better, and the Conservatives’ tax increases on solar heating will be reversed.

Over time we’ll have to adapt our eating habits. Clearly, flying in foodstuffs from the four corners of the globe produces an unacceptable carbon footprint; equally, industrial-scale meat production releases an incredible amount of methane, another greenhouse gas. Producing more of our food closer to home will reduce our carbon output and help our economy, and a more plant-based diet will be less wasteful and in the end healthier.

Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. Much of our economy depends on technology and services that are no longer sustainable and will have no place in our greener future. Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. This will inevitably mean that some jobs disappear, but an expanding green economy will mean that more and better jobs will be created, and training will be provided for those who fill them. The green technological revolution will be funded by a £250 billion national investment scheme.

As well as a greener future, Labour’s Green New Deal aims to bring about a more equal future too. The excesses of the super-rich corporations will be curbed; tax avoidance will at last be tackled. The multimillionaire class have taken more and more, while the rest of us – the many – have been left with less and less. One way to tackle the problem is through taxation, and another is through localism – also known as Community Wealth Building. Many communities throughout the world are already benefiting from these schemes, and an increasing number of towns and cities in the UK are adopting them.

The idea is that communities and councils always give priority to local suppliers and services. For instance when building a new school, or hospital, or sports complex, etc, local firms will always be preferred to the big players to carry out the work. The same goes for services. Under the Labour Green New Deal local energy suppliers will be encouraged, especially if they are publicly-owned, or run by people’s co-operatives. Local credit unions will be created, house-building schemes, housing associations, food co-operatives – all manner of local enterprises – all creating fairly-paid, unionised jobs. That way money earned in the locality stays in the locality and benefits local people. It cuts down our carbon output by reducing transport of both people and goods, and encourages green technologies. It also creates a greater degree of equality and reduces our dependence on the big corporations. What’s not to like?

To prevent catastrophic climate change we’re all going to have to adapt to major changes. But they needn’t be daunting. We’re not going to go back to a pre-industrial age. We won’t have to cycle everywhere unless we want to, and we won’t have to live on a diet of turnips and pottage.

 

Many of the changes will be beneficial and will bring about a more equitable and contented society. They should be embraced.

These policies were mentioned in Jeremy Corbyn’s address to the 2019 Labour Party Conference and the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group is campaigning on the Green New Deal as part of the Campaign against Climate Change which set up the One Million Climate Jobs campaign.



 


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Hundreds of temperature records beaten over the summer of 2019

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49753680?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment&link_location=live-reporting-story

Story on BBC website by

Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer, according to an analysis of temperature records.  The records were broken in 29 countries for the period from 1 May to 30 August 2019.

A third of the all-time high temperatures were in Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands.

France

People cooling off during the heatwave in France

 

The analysis was carried out by the California-based climate institute Berkeley Earth.

Over the summer, there were 1,200 instances of places in the northern hemisphere being the hottest they’d ever been in a given month.  The data included measurements from weather stations in the northern hemisphere that had at least 40 years of observations. Some of this data has not yet been subjected to formal review by weather agencies. These reviews, to check for problems that might have produced false readings, sometimes cause a small fraction of the records to be discounted.

European heatwaves

Heatwaves in Europe in June and July sent temperatures soaring, smashing a number of local and national records.

France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C, while the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported new highs.

This summer was notable for the very large number of all-time temperature records set in Europe, according to Dr Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist at Berkeley Earth.

“Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs,” he told the BBC.

The extent of the hot spells on the continent is clearly visible when looking at a breakdown of when the most temperature records were broken. In late July, all-time temperature records were set in a number of European countries including the UK.

_109163273_records_by_date_v2-nc

Elsewhere, more than 30 all-time records were broken in the US, according to the Berkeley Earth data. In Japan, where 11 people who died as a result of the summer heatwave, 10 all-time temperature record highs were set.

The summer saw 396 all-time high temperatures in total.

Most all-time temperature records in measuring stations covered by the data were broken in 2010, followed by 2003.

The increasing number of record high temperatures are a part of the long-term trend of global warming, said Dr Rohde.

“As the Earth warms, it has become easier for weather stations to set new all-time records. In the past, we would usually only see about 2% of weather stations recording a new record high in any given year,” he explained.

“But, recently, we sometimes see years, like 2019, with 5% or more of the weather stations recording a new all-time record high.”

Further data and charts can be found on the BBC website cited at the beginning of this article.



This chart of global weather hot spots from Jan-June 2019 was produced by Climate Central:

2019tmps



Europe was not the only place to experience extremely hot weather during the year.  The following came from Vietnam:

vietnam



And another bar chart from NASA showing increasing temperatures over the last century:

temperature-means-yearly-NASA-3