human activity and the destruction of the planet

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Australian PM waters down Pacific Islands declaration on climate change

The 50th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum met in Tuvalu on 13th – 16th August 2019.  During the meetings a declaration was produced on the climate change crisis. Australian PM, Scott Morrison, and his parliament had been working to dilute the language in the declaration; they succeeded in removing the word “crisis”, as well as removing all but one reference to coal.  Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, said that it looked as if Pacific leaders would not be successful in getting the language of “climate change crisis” into the declaration, with the words “climate change reality” being substituted.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, middle, watered down a climate crisis resolution this week at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, (centre) at the Pacific Islands Forum

Pacific leaders have been strident in their calls for urgent action on the climate crisis at the forum in Tuvalu, one of the countries most at risk due to climate change. It is affected by rising temperatures as well as rising sea levels, erosion, tide inundations and salinity in the water table that makes growing food very difficult. Many on the islands believe their country will be submerged within their lifetimes, forcing them to leave.

On Monday, the Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, called for Australia “to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”, saying coal posed an “existential threat” to Pacific islands.

“Watered-down climate language has real consequences,” said Bainimarama, “like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

After a joint press conference, Enele Sopoaga said he had told the Australian prime minister during the retreat: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries.”

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was similarly critical of the declaration’s stymied content.

It was reported that the Prime Minister of Tonga had cried at the retreat while talking about two young women who had presented to leaders on Monday about the impacts of the climate crisis in Tonga.

Further information about the plight of many Pacific Island groups can be found in another blog on this site entitled: “The effects of rising sea levels on island nations”.

Tuvalu’s plight:


Climate change on Tuvalu


The nine islands of Tuvalu are located in the middle of the Pacific. Funafuti, the main island and capital, is at 1000 km North of Fiji. Tuvalu became, notably thanks to the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the international symbol of the consequences of climate change. Sea-level rise, one of the most known consequences, is a major threat for Tuvalu, considering that this country’s highest point is 4,5 meters over sea-level (whereas most of the land is way below that point). The consequences of climate change will have and already have considerable impacts on these islands.

In the National Adaptation Programme of Actions (NAPA), the government of Tuvalu has identified seven main and immediate threats for the livelihoods of Tuvaluans. These seven adverse effects are presented here:

Coastal: Following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea-level has already risen by 20 centimetres between 1870 and nowadays. Considering the low-lying position of Tuvalu, this trend is going to dangerously affect the islands. The objective of the government is to increase the resilience of coastal areas and settlement to climate change.

Agricultural: Due to sea-level rise, the ground of Tuvalu is prone to increasing salinization, threatening the habitats of some plants, such as pulaka and coconut trees. Considering that Pulaka traditionally is the staple food in Tuvalu, the adaptation strategy is to introduce salt-tolerant pulaka.

Water: The islands of Tuvalu have progressively lost their fresh groundwater resources, not only due to sea-level rise, but also because of human pollution. In consequence, Tuvaluans only rely on rainwater storage to meet their needs. However, the seasons on Tuvalu are getting irregular and difficult to forecast, leading to droughts and water shortage. In order to ameliorate this situation, the adaptation plan recommends improved and increased water collection and water conservation techniques.

Health: Vectors breeding grounds will have an increasing availability in the next years and decades because of higher tides, inundations and tropical cyclones. The increased availability will exacerbate the exposure of the Tuvaluans to water borne diseases and will increase the epidemic potential of the islands.

Fisheries: Climate change, heating the ocean water, impacts the corals and consequently the marine fauna. The biodiversity of the ocean, and also, in the case of Tuvalu, of the atolls will decrease. In order to prevent this irreparable lost of species due to heat, fragile ecosystems have to be protected.

Fisheries: The biodiversity of the atoll and particularly in the shallower water in the lagoon, will not be the only affected by the impacts of the rising surface water temperature. The rising temperatures will also considerably reduce the shellfish and available fish resources. Considering that the Tuvaluans, on average, eat 500 grams of fish per capita every day, a reduction of the resource will have a disastrous impact of the livelihoods and, thus, also on development.

Disaster: Tuvalu has been increasingly exposed to tropical storms and cyclones since 1990.  Between 1970 and 1990, only three tropical storms, hurricanes or cyclones struck Tuvalu. However, between 1990 and 2005, the islands experienced thirteen similar meteorological events. In order to ease the impacts of the population, the country will have to implement disaster alerts and response systems.

These different threats that Tuvalu is or will be experiencing in the next years or decades are similar to all Small Island Developing States.

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The effects of heat waves on human survivability

An article in the New Scientist (No.3161) by John Pickrell, entitled “Too hot to handle”, discusses the increasing trend of heatwaves throughout the world, as a result of climate change.


Pickrell starts by discussing Australia, which had a heatwave in January 2017, with the hottest ever recorded temperatures in Sydney and Brisbane (Sydney had over 47 degrees). Large parts of the country had temperatures over 40 degrees C for weeks on end, as well as bush fires.  Many of the unique species of wildlife common to Australia had to be rescued from fires and heat, many of them suffering from heat exhaustion, burns, dehydration and stress.




Temperatures of 50 degrees C are predicted by 2040 for Australia.

Pickrell then goes on to cite papers, which give statistics about fatalities during heatwaves, one from The Lancet which covered research by 26 institutions (including the World Health Organization).

The 2003 heatwave in France killed 70,000 people – but it would appear that the level of humidity is the crucial factor, as high levels of water in the atmosphere can reduce the body’s ability to cool down through sweating.  To sweat effectively, you must maintain your blood volume, so dehydration can cause heat stress, followed by heat stroke, multiple organ failure and possible death.  The elderly and children are at greater risk of heat stroke, as well as those on medication or with heart disease.

I came across another wordpress website, which gives a useful chart showing temperature against relative humidity and which combinations are lethal:


and below for the table (with acknowledgments):


The black crosses in the chart above show temperature and relative humidity during events that were lethal. The blue line shows the likely boundary between lethal and non-lethal events, and the red line is a 95% probability threshold.

According to The Lancet, global warming has reduced the workforce in India by 418,000.

An interesting map of the world is given in the New Scientist article to show the probability of deadly heatwaves for three global warming scenarios: 1.5 degrees C; 2 degrees C and 4 degrees C.  This can be seen by clicking on the link below:

heatwaves data

It shows that, even with an increase in global temperature of 2 degrees, many parts of the world will become uninhabitable, through rising temperatures: North West Africa, much of the Middle East, parts of Central and South America, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and much of Australia.  At four degrees the situation is dire throughout much of the tropical world.

The New Scientist article concludes with a list of advice on how to keep cool.

 Another academic article on a similar subject has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA by Sherwood and Huber in 2010 (Vol 107, (21), 9552-5) entitled “An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress.”  This article has been summarised in the Science & Technology section of the The Observer (10th Sept. 2017).  This article gives a chart showing which species die at particular degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels.  Amphibians will be the first to go (at 0.6 degrees+), followed by penguins, due to loss of food sources, as the krill populations dwindle. At 1.6 degrees+, the wooded tundra is lost, along with its inhabitants, moose, lynx and brown bears, followed by large African mammals, such as elephants, then rain forest dwellers (orangutans, jaguars, sloths) at 2.6 degrees+.  At a warming of 4 degrees, 70% of species would be extinct, coral reefs dead and deserts would expand across the world. The fate of humankind would be dominated by mass migration, on a scale even larger than we see today, with water resources extremely limited, as we would have to abandon most of the Earth or live underground.  The authors predict that, by 2050, temperatures will be in a range that nobody has experienced before.

It is interesting to note that the Australian town of Coober Pedy, a major site for opal mining, has already built an underground town, including hotels, for those times in the year when it is already too hot to live above ground.

2nd August 2018

Since this post was first written, time has now moved on into 2018 with heatwaves across much of the northern hemisphere (see other posts on this site for details).  Even climate sceptics are now beginning to accept that climate change is with us, with the extremes of weather which accompany it.

A piece this week in The Guardian by David Carrington deals with the issue of human survivability during heat waves.  I quote a short passage from him, in which he summarises scientific work on the issue:

The new analysis assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, which is measured as the “wet bulb” temperature (WBT). Once the WBT reaches 35C, the air is so hot and humid that the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade die within six hours.

A WBT above 31C is classed by the US National Weather Service as “extreme danger”, with its warning stating: “If you don’t take precautions immediately, you may become seriously ill or even die.”

He then goes on to discuss which parts of the world are most at risk of high WBT temperatures.  This would appear to be the north China plain, with a population of 400 million people, most of them farmers.  The scientists who produced the data have predicted that by 2070 to 2100, this area of the world will become uninhabitable.  Other areas at risk are the Middle East, around the Gulf (particularly Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and the coastal cities of Iran) and parts of South Asia (around the Indus and Ganges valleys).

For the full Guardian article, see:

July 2019

The UK has experienced another heatwave period this summer, with record temperatures being reached in a number of countries.  It was particularly humid in the UK, with weather forecasters predicting the humidity above 50%, a level which can prove fatal with temperatures above 25ºC, according to the graph shown above.

So its worth looking again at the relationship between WBT (wet bulb temperature) and death due to heat stress.  The following can be found in Wikipedia:

“Living organisms can survive only within a certain temperature range. When the ambient temperature is excessive, humans and many animals cool themselves below ambient by evaporative cooling (sweat in humans and horses, saliva and water in dogs and other mammals); this helps to prevent potentially fatal hyperthermia due to heat stress. The effectiveness of evaporative cooling depends upon humidity; wet-bulb temperature, or more complex calculated quantities such as Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) which also takes account of solar radiation, give a useful indication of the degree of heat stress, and are used by several agencies as the basis for heat stress prevention guidelines.

A sustained wet-bulb temperature exceeding 35 °C (95 °F) is likely to be fatal even to fit and healthy people, unclothed in the shade next to a fan; at this temperature our bodies switch from shedding heat to the environment, to gaining heat from it. Thus 35 °C (95 °F) is the threshold beyond which the body is no longer able to adequately cool itself. A study by NOAA from 2013 concluded that heat stress will reduce labour capacity considerably under current emissions scenarios.

A 2010 study concluded that under a worst-case scenario for global warming with temperatures 12 °C (22 °F) higher than 2007, the wet-bulb temperature limit for humans could be exceeded around much of the world in future centuries. A 2015 study concluded that parts of the globe could become uninhabitable. An example of the threshold at which the human body is no longer able to cool itself and begins to overheat is a humidity level of 50% and a high heat of 46 °C (115 °F), as this would indicate a wet-bulb temperature of 35 °C (95 °F).”


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‘An Existential Threat To Our Civilisation’ by David Cromwell

This well-written article can be found on the Media Lens website, as follows:

and has been circulated widely. David Cromwell is an oceanographer at Southampton University.

“Undoubtedly, what will appal future historians most is that the urgent calamitous risks of human-induced climate change were well known, but that nothing was done to stop the looming chaos. Worse than that: powerful private business, financial and economic elites, and the governments they had essentially co-opted, forged ahead with policies that accelerated the climate crisis.

The evidence has already been unequivocal for many years. In November 2017, a comprehensive review of climate science by thirteen US federal agencies concluded in a 477-page report that evidence of global warming was ‘stronger than ever’. They said that it was ‘extremely likely’ – meaning with 95 to 100% certainty – that global warming is human-induced, mostly from carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

One climate scientist said:

‘A lot of what we’ve been learning over the last four years suggests the possibility that things may have been more serious than we think.’

The language was couched in typical scientific caution. But the horror at what was unfolding was surely not far from the surface of academics’ minds.

And yet, in a further sign of the short-term insanity that drives state and corporate policy, governments continued to channel huge sums of public money into planet-killing industries. European states, including the UK government, gave more than €112bn (£99bn) every year in subsidies to support fossil fuel production and consumption.

In 2016, gas companies spent €104m in intensive lobbying campaigns to try to encourage European policymakers to accept the myth that natural gas is a ‘clean fuel’ in an attempt to ‘lock in’ fossil fuels for decades to come. Moreover, fossil fuel companies lobbied hard behind the scenes of the Paris climate talks, as well as follow-up negotiations, to manipulate outcomes in their private favour. After all, cynical corporate madness has no boundaries when profits are the overriding concern. Absurdly, the text of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change did not even include the words ‘fossil fuels’. Scientists warned that fossil fuel burning is set to hit a record high in 2017.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that 2017 is set to be one of the top three hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO also noted that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have ‘surged at unprecedented speed’ to the highest level in 800,000 years.

The signs of ecological breakdown are all around us. Last month, a new study revealed that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years. The results had ‘shocked scientists’. This matters hugely because flying insects are, of course, a vital component of a healthy ecosystem upon which we are crucially dependent for food, water and oxygen. Robert Hunziker observes succinctly that this ecosystem, ‘the quintessential essence of life on our planet’, is breaking down. Our life support system is being destroyed.

One of the many symptoms of this breakdown that is likely to overwhelm human society is mass migration as a result of climate change. Tens of millions of people will be forced to move because of climate disruption in the next decade alone. This flood of human refugees will make the numbers of those who fled the Syrian conflict into Europe look like a trickle.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said:

‘What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.’

However, if governments really were motivated to protect the public, as they always claim when amplifying the threat of terrorism, they would have already announced a halt to fossil fuels and a massive conversion to renewable energy. A landmark study recently showed that global pollution kills nine million people a year and threatens the ‘survival of human societies’. If terrorism was killing nine million people every year, and the very survival of human society was threatened, the corporate media and politicians would be reacting very differently. But because it’s global pollution, merely an economic ‘externality’, private power can continue on its quest for dominance and profits.

The situation now is truly desperate. We are literally talking about the survival of the human species. There will be those who declare, either with black humour or a morally-suspect flippancy, that ‘the planet would be better off without us’. But we surely cannot so casually dismiss the lives and prospects of literally billions of people alive today and their descendants too.

Government policies are driven primarily by short-term political gain and corporate power, so there needs to be a massive public demand for control of the economy towards sustainability. The alternative is no human future. But just at a time when public resistance and radical action are most needed, social media networks owned and controlled by huge corporations are suppressing dissent. A major part of the struggle for human survival, then, will be to overcome the unaccountable media corporations and tech giants that are attempting to define what is deemed ‘acceptable’ news and commentary.”


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Why climate change puts the poorest most at risk by Martin Wolf

Recent IMF data shows that low-income nations suffer most from climate change events for which they bear no blame

The full article can be read in the Financial Times of October 17th 2017:

There is a chapter in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, which concludes that the economic impact of weather shocks is felt most strongly in tropical countries, nearly all of which are low-income countries.  Thus, they are the innocent victims of changes for which they bear no responsibility.

Wolf states in his FT article that, if little or no action is taken on global warming, average temperatures could rise by 4°C or more above pre-industrial levels, by the end of the century. Aware of the lengthy lead times needed if effective action is to be taken, both to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it, he states that rational people would act now.

He then goes on to identify the obstacles to such immediate action: economic interests, especially of those in the fossil fuel industry; free-marketeers, who despise both governments and environmentalists and reject the science behind global warming, because of its policy implications; a resistance to change in living standards and inconvenience, which is necessary for the future and for people in poorer countries.

The article provides graphic evidence for global warming, caused by human activity, as well as a bar chart showing those countries which emit the most carbon dioxide per head.  The top four countries in this list are the US, Russia, Germany and Japan, with the US being way ahead of any other country.  Other graphs demonstrate the increasing frequency of tropical cyclones and heat waves.

Wolf then goes on to outline the serious implications of the IMF’s analysis, most of which involve mitigating the effects of weather shocks and helping poorer countries to adapt to them.


Not the future but now

Letters to the Editor, Financial Times, 24th October 2017.

In a response to Wolf’s article, Chris Bain, director of CAFOD, states there is only one fault in Wolf’s analysis – that it describes the effects of climate change as being in the future, whereas Bain believes that it is impacting poorer countries right now. It is a present-day reality for countries in East Africa, who are experiencing drought, and others, like Bangladesh, where floods are forcing people from their homes.  He quotes Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, which describes the earth as our common home, the care of which requires a “new and universal solidarity.”

The biggest obstacle to achieving this solidarity is, of course, the hedonistic march of the fossil-fuel industry, and the rich, towards more and more profits at the cost of the planet and the poorest in society.

This theme is also echoed in my book, Three Generations Left, featured on this website, which suggests in chapter 9, the concept of global co-operation, without which global warming will never be reversed.  In Chapter 2, in a section entitled “Who are the worst polluters?”, I cite data, from Damon Matthews from Montreal, which clearly shows that it is the industrialised countries who are emitting the highest carbon emissions. He calculates the carbon debt of each of these countries, relating it to population size. Climate debt (those who pollute more than their fair share per head of population), also puts the US in the lead (highest climate debt), followed by Russia and Japan.  The UK is sixth in this list.

In terms of individuals, the richest people in the world contribute to 85% of total carbon emissions.