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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Earth’s Oceans bearing the brunt of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide

A new IPPC report outlines how oceans and marine life are responding to climate change:

https://news.un.org/feed/view/en/story/2019/09/1047392

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Throughout history, oceans and seas have been vital conduits for trade and transportation.

Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, at the current time, there is a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small scale fisheries.

bears

Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Even if all human carbon-releasing activities ceased immediately, the overheated oceans will continue to heat the rest of earth’s already overheated overcrowded ecosystem for decades and possibly centuries.

Facts and figures:

  • Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume.
  • Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
  • Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 per cent of global GDP.
  • Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
  • Oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
  • Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
  • Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.
  • Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$50 billion less per year than they could.
  • Open Ocean sites show current levels of acidity have increased by 26 per cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Coastal waters are deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication. Without concerted efforts, coastal eutrophication is expected to increase in 20 percent of large marine ecosystems by 2050.

Eutrophication is excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to run-off from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life.

ocean zones

At the Ocean conference in September 2019, climate experts said:

Our oceans and frozen spaces have been “taking the heat” for global warming for decades, and warned that without a radical change in human behaviour, hundreds of millions of people could suffer from rising sea levels, frequent natural disasters and food shortages.”

“The ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive”, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states. “Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe.”

According to the IPCC report on the ocean and cryosphere – the frozen parts of the planet – global warming has already reached one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

This temperature rise, which the 195-strong Member State body attributes to greenhouse gas emissions, has resulted in “profound consequences” for people and the planet.

“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC.

In total, 670 million people who live in the world’s high mountain regions and around the same number in low-lying coastal zones “depend directly” on the planet’s oceans and frozen resources, the IPCC notes.

In addition, four million people live permanently in the Arctic region, and small island developing states are home to 65 million people.

In a bid to protect them, their surroundings and livelihoods, the IPCC is calling for the introduction of measures to limit global warming “to the lowest possible level”, in line with the internationally agreed 2015 Paris Agreement.

“If we reduce emissions sharply, (the) consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable”, said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people. But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”

According to the IPCC report, average sea level rise is now 3.6 millimetres a year.

This is more than twice as fast as during the last century and levels could rise more than a metre by 2100 “if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly”.

The result is likely to be more extreme sea level events that occur during high tides and intense storms. “Indications are that with any degree of additional warming, events that occurred once per century in the past, will occur every year by mid-century in many regions, increasing risks for many low-lying coastal cities and small islands”, the report states.

Without major investments in adaptation, these low-lying zones would be exposed to escalating flood risks, and some island nations “are likely to become uninhabitable”.

Glaciers could shrink 80 per cent, by 2100

Highlighting the importance of coordinated, ambitious and urgent action to mitigate the impact of global warming, the IPCC report also warns that glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining “and will continue to do so”.

In Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia, smaller glaciers are projected to lose more than 80 per cent of their current ice mass by 2100, under worst emission scenarios.

This is likely to increase hazards for people, for example through landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods, in addition to farmers and hydroelectric power producers downstream.

“Changes in water availability will not just affect people in these high mountain regions, but also communities much further downstream”, said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group I.

melting glaciers

Sea ice getting thinner every month

On sea ice, the IPCC report underscores that the extent of Arctic ice has declined every month, “and it is getting thinner”.

If global warming can be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September once in every 100 years, the study suggests. At two degrees Celsius, however, this would occur up to one year in three.

“Some people living in the Arctic, especially indigenous peoples, have already adjusted their travelling and hunting activities to the seasonality and safety of land, ice and snow conditions, and some coastal communities have planned for relocation,” the report states.

Permafrost ‘warming and thawing’

Turning to permafrost – ground that has been frozen for many years – the IPCC suggests that it is “warming and thawing and widespread permafrost thaw is projected to occur in the 21st Century”.

Even if global warming is limited to well below two degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, around a quarter of the permafrost down to three to four metres depth, will thaw by 2100.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly, there is a potential that around 70 per cent this near-surface permafrost could be lost.

In writing the report, more than 100 authors from 36 countries assessed the latest scientific literature on the ocean and cryosphere, basing their findings on some 7,000 scientific publications.

It will provide input for world leaders gathering in forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Chile, in December.



And a Guardian report on this issue:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/25/extreme-sea-level-events-will-hit-once-a-year-by-2050

“Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to a landmark report by the world’s scientists.

The stark assessment of the climate crisis in the world’s oceans and ice caps concludes that many serious impacts are already inevitable, from more intense storms to melting permafrost and dwindling marine life.

But far worse impacts will hit without urgent action to cut fossil fuel emissions, including eventual sea level rise of more than 4 metres in the worst case, an outcome that would redraw the map of the world and harm billions of people.”



Another WordPress blogger has come up with the idea of sequestering carbon dioxide by planting kelp forests in a deserted part of the South Pacific.

Maximum carbon sequestration.

Here is a quote from this site:

“The South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and South America is at present ocean desert. In fact, it is the world’s largest ocean desert at around 37 million square km. It is far from any landmass and a lack of dust and minerals means there is very little life to be found. Growing a kelp forest ecosystem in this area would transform it from a desert into a teeming mass of life as well as providing Carbon sequestration on a truly massive scale. I suggest that every kelp plant grown in this forest could be free-floating and attached to its own simple bamboo buoy, ( The Peel Technique ).

How would the approach work?. Vast forests of both bamboo and kelp will be required.  Land based bamboo plantations would be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, produce oxygen and restore degraded lands. The bamboo plantations would also supply the kelp buoy production factories with the bamboo that they require. The bamboo buoys would be used to assist young kelp plants to float in deep ocean waters. The buoys would also carry the minerals that the growing kelp plants require to survive.”



And from the UK Government’s website:

While attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, International Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, announced on 24th September that ten countries have signed up to a UK-led initiative to safeguard the world’s ocean and its wildlife. The initiative was endorsed by the Prime Minister, also at the United Nations General Assembly, and was welcomed by the environmental organisation Greenpeace UK.

The announcement received positive coverage on several international outlets: OceanographicBusiness Leader, Energy Live News, Brits in Kenya, and Seychelles State House Blog, as well as on social media, including a tweet from the Finnish Minister of Environment, Krista Mikkonen, who said: “We must live up to our promise of halting the loss of #biodiversity.”

The 30by30 initiative, which is pushing for at least 30 per cent of the global ocean to be protected in Marine Protected Areas by 2030, has been supported by 10 countries including:

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • Finland
  • Gabon
  • Kenya
  • Seychelles
  • Vanuatu
  • Portugal
  • Palau, and
  • Belgium

Further details at:

Ten countries join UK’s leading 30by30 initiative to safeguard the world’s ocean



 


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An alarmists guide to climate change

This is an article written by Prof Bill McGuire of University College, London and published by Scientists for Global Responsibility, as well as in: Responsible Science journal, no.1; Advance online publication: 14 February 2019.

Below is copied in its entirety from SGR magazine: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/alarmist-s-guide-climate-change

ProfBillMcGuire

Prof. Bill McGuire, University College London

“Have you noticed how the term ‘alarmist’ has been hijacked? In the context of climate breakdown, habitat and wildlife loss and other environmental issues, it has become synonymous with scaremongering; with the voice of doom. In certain circles it is frowned upon and judged to be a hindrance to getting the global warming message across. Iconic broadcaster David Attenborough is the latest to express the view that ‘alarmism’ in the context of the environment can be a ‘turn-off’ rather than a call to action. But are such viewpoints justified, especially when our world and our society teeter on the edge of catastrophe? After all, the simplest, most straightforward, meaning of an ‘alarmist’ is someone who raises the alarm. Is this not what we need now more than ever; to be told the whole story – warts and all? The alternative, it seems to me, is to play down the seriousness of our predicament; to send a message that is incomplete, and to conveniently avoid or marginalise predictions and forecasts that paint a picture regarded as too bleak for general consumption. Surely, this is the last thing we need at this critical time?

No-one could ever accuse the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of being alarmist. Because every sentence of IPCC report drafts is pored over by representatives of national governments – some of whom are lukewarm or even antagonistic to the whole idea of climate change – the final versions are inevitably conservative. The closest the IPCC has come to sounding an alarm bell can be found in its latest report Global Warming of 1.5ºC, published in October. Here it warns that emissions must be slashed within 12 years (by 2030) if there is to be any chance whatsoever of keeping the global average temperature rise (since pre-industrial times) below 1.5ºC, and fall to zero by 2050.

Notwithstanding the unlikelihood of achieving net zero global emissions in a little more than three decades, the pace and degree of climate change are about more than just anthropogenic emissions. They are also influenced by tipping points and positive feedback loops; sudden changes in the behaviour of ice sheets, carbon sources and sinks, and ocean currents, which can accelerate warming and its consequences way beyond the expected. Depressingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the latest IPCC report’s Summary for Policymakers [1] – let’s face it, the only bit likely to be read by the movers and shakers – includes just one brief mention of feedbacks and has nothing at all to say about tipping points. The justification for this appears to be that because it is not possible to assign levels of confidence to such known unknowns, they cannot be included. But it is difficult not to conclude that the real reason is to tone down the threat in order to appease those governments that view climate change as a nuisance that they would like to go away.

The decision to bury concerns over tipping points and feedbacks in the depths of the full report rather than flagging them in the Summary is nonsensical. Touting the critical importance of drastic action while at the same time soft peddling the threat has the potential to backfire, providing the obvious get out: well, if the situation is not so bad, maybe the response doesn’t need to be that urgent. If drastic, life-changing, action is being mooted, people need to know – have a right to know – why. They need to be presented with a complete picture showing how bad things might get – however scary or poorly constrained.

Bringing the potential consequences of tipping points and feedbacks into the equation inevitably transforms perceptions of the dangers we face. Suddenly, climate change ceases to be something vaguely inconvenient that we can leave future generations to deal with. Instead, it becomes far more of an immediate threat capable of tearing our world apart. Take sea level, for example. The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, [2] published in 2013 and 2014, predicts – for a worst-case scenario – that global mean sea level could be about a metre higher by the end of the century. Bad enough for millions of coastal dwellers, but nothing compared to what our descendants might experience if a tipping point is crossed that sees the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice sheets start to disintegrate in earnest. Models that do incorporate this, point to sea level rising far more rapidly. One suggests that the ice loss in Antarctica could occur at a much faster rate than expected, leading to global average sea level being more than 3m higher at the end of the century. [3] Another, based upon correlations between temperature and sea levels during the last interglacial, which ended around 115,000 years ago, proposes that sea level – in theory at least – could climb by as much as 5m by 2100. [4]

Worrying evidence that we might be at a tipping point in Antarctica comes from a very recent study on the rate of ice loss from 2012 to 2017. During this five-year period, Antarctic ice loss shot up threefold, from 76 billion tonnes annually, to a colossal 219 billion tonnes. [5] In total, more than 2.7 trillion tonnes of Antarctic ice has melted in the last quarter century, adding three quarters of a centimetre to global sea level. At the new rate, the contribution over the next 25 years would be 1.5cm. Not enough to worry about in its own right. If, however, the rate of increase is maintained over this period, then the annual rise by 2043 would be close to a catastrophic five centimetres a year. And this is without the growing contribution from Greenland and from the increasing expansion of sea water as the oceans warm.

And there are other causes for serious concern too. None more so than the behaviour of the Gulf Stream and associated currents (together making up the AMOC – Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) that warm north-west Europe and also have a big influence on global weather patterns. In the distant past, surges of meltwater from shrinking ice sheets have caused the Gulf Stream to shut down. Now, it looks as if it might be in danger of doing so again as huge volumes of freshwater from the crumbling Greenland Ice Sheet pour into the North Atlantic, forming a so-called ‘cold blob’.

The IPCC’s official line is that another complete shutdown is ‘very unlikely’, but this is not the same as ruling it out. And there are certainly some worrying signs. The Gulf Stream has slowed by 15 – 20 percent since the middle of the 20th century and is now at its weakest for at least 1600 years. [6] The Gulf Stream has a tipping point, and – evidence from the past shows – can shut down in just a few years when this is crossed. The problem is that no-one knows when – or even if – this will happen. If it does, the ramifications will be sudden and widespread. The North Atlantic region will cool dramatically, particularly across the UK, Iceland and North West Europe, while sea ice will expand southwards (without, it should be emphasised, counteracting the trajectory of climate change). Sea-levels along the eastern seaboard of North America could rise at three to four times the global average rate. Further afield, changes to weather patterns are forecast to include a weakening of Indian and East Asian monsoons, which could have devastating consequences for crop yields. No-one is saying that the Gulf Stream is in imminent danger of collapse. Nonetheless, the threat is not insignificant, and as such should be soberly touted, not wilfully ignored.

Of the many and varied feedback loops and tipping points linked with rapid anthropogenic warming, perhaps the most disquieting involves the vast tracts of permafrost at high latitudes – both on land and beneath the sea. Trapped beneath this frozen crust are colossal quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a warming effect 86 times greater than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, methane has a relatively short residence time in the atmosphere and breaks down to carbon dioxide within a few decades. Nonetheless, major outbursts of methane from the rapidly thawing permafrost are capable of causing climate mayhem with little or no warning. The geographic region of most concern is probably the submarine permafrost that floors the East Siberian Continental Shelf, where an estimated 1400 billion tonnes of carbon, in the form of methane, is lurking beneath a frozen carapace that is thawing rapidly.

According to Natalia Shakhova and colleagues, [7] as much as 50 billion tonnes of this is available for sudden release at any time, which would – at a stroke – hike the methane content of the atmosphere 12 times. According to a study published in 2013, [8] a discrete methane ‘burp’ on this scale, could advance global warming by 30 years and cost the global economy US$60 trillion – a figure close to four times the US national debt. Once again, the occurrence of such an outburst is far from a certainty and there are other issues to consider, including how much methane is absorbed by the ocean as it bubbles upwards. Notwithstanding this, there is a potential danger here that needs to be promulgated rather than hidden away, so that the scale of the climate change threat is clear to everyone.

So – to conclude – be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it. Drastically change your lifestyle; become an activist; vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – all three.”
Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London and a co-director of the New Weather Institute. His current book is Waking the Giant: how a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. He is a signatory of an academics’ letter in support of the School Climate Strike.
References

1. IPCC (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C. Summary for Policymakers. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

2. IPCC (2014). Fifth Assessment Report. http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/

3. Le Bars D. et al (2017). A high-end sea-level rise probabilistic projection including rapid Antarctic Ice Sheet mass loss. Environmental Research Letters, vol.12.

4. Hansen J. et al (2016). Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous. Atmos. Chem. Phys., vol.16, pp.3761-3812.

5. The IMBIE Team (2018). Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet 1992 – 2017. Nature, vol.558, pp.219-222.

6. Caesar L. et al (2018). Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nature, vol.556, pp.191-196.

7. Shakhova N.E. (2008). Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf. Geophysical Research Abstracts, vol.10, EGU2008-A-01526. Abstract.

8. Whiteman G., Hope C., Wadhams P. (2013). Vast costs of Arctic change. Nature, vol.499, pp.401–403.


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An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change

An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change.

A number of progressive economists have been pointing out the facts relating to this statement for the last few years.  Yet, political leaders across the world still seem to be deaf to their words and obsessed with a need to find ways to fuel economic growth through a market economy and promoting austerity, and then praise themselves for doing it, even though their austerity measures affect the poorest in society and damage the environment.  It is part of an adherence to a competitive world, in which one’s own country must come out on top.  This blinkered approach encourages the manufacturing industry, much of which uses fossil fuels, and trading across the globe, in order to balance the difference between imports and exports – what is termed ” a balanced economy”.  I deal with the issue in Chapter 7 of my book, which can be found elsewhere on this website.

fioramonti

In the UK, this approach was perhaps pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and her crony in the US, Ronald Reagan.  But it was later picked up with enthusiasm by Tony Blair and developed further, until it became an obsession with economists.  According to George Monbiot, they are using the wrong mathematics and this approach is both outdated and harmful to the environment. See:

George Monbiot (2015) Guardian 24th November 2015.  “Consume more, conserve more: Sorry but we just can’t do both.”

A number of progressive economists have been saying a similar thing for a number of years.  Perhaps the late Richard Douthwaite was the first to say this in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999) but there have been others too:  Molly Scott Cato MEP (“Green Economics”), Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics and also “Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us” Guardian 6th April 2017), Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”), Paul Krugman  (“How did economists get it so wrong?” in the New York Times), Pat Conaty and the New Economics Foundation among others (full details of each in my references section on this website).

The current UK Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also wrote a booklet about this in June 2007, whilst a member of Tony Blair’s “market economy party”.  It is entitled “Another World is Possible” and shows amazing foresight about the consequences of market economy politics, which we are living with now. He was courageous to write this, at a time when Blair was pursuing another path.

AWIP

“Another World is Possible”  (2007) is published by the Labour representation Committee, PO Box 2378, London E5 9QU.  ISBN 978-0-9555771-0-9.

This excellent booklet includes a section entitled “A Planet Plundered for Profit” in which McDonnell states that “we cannot tackle climate change unless we address the system which has caused it…….the wasteful consumption of the wealthier nations has brought environmental impacts, which…. disproportionately affect the poorest countries….The UK has a wealth of natural resources that lend themselves to renewable energy production which, once set up, are low cost to run and cause no pollution… a programme of investment in renewable would not only create thousands of jobs in engineering and manufacturing sectors that have declined in recent years….”

According to Kate Raworth in her Guardian article, “Things are not going well in the world’s richest economies. Most OECD countries are facing their highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, while generating ecological footprints of a size that would require four, five or six planet Earths if every country were to follow suit. These economies have, in essence, become divisive and degenerative by default. Mainstream economic theory long promised that the solution starts with growth – but why does that theory seem so ill-equipped to deal with the social and ecological fallout of its own prescriptions?”

In May 2017, Lorenzo Fioramonti*, Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria, wrote an article for The Conversation, republished in Quartz. He opens: “GDP as a measure of growth fails to account for damages caused to the environment by industrial activity”. In his new book “Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth” he points out that the “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies”.  He asks the question, “What exactly is growth” and further expounds the idea that it is not a silver bullet to success.  Further details of this concept in his book are summarised in:

https://britain2020.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/fioramonti-growth-is-dying-as-the-silver-bullet-for-success-this-may-be-good-thing/

Kate Raworth has also circulated her latest blog, which contains a video, which tries to explain the issue in easily understandable terms, using puppets.  She hopes that this will be used in secondary schools and in teaching economics undergraduates that the GDP/growth model does not work:

Economic Man vs. Humanity: a puppet rap battle

by Kate Raworth

An economist, a songwriter, and a puppet-maker walked into a recording studio. What do you think came out?. . . An economics puppet rap battle, of course.

One of the most dangerous stories at the heart of 20th century economics is the depiction of humanity as rational economic man. In my book Doughnut Economics I decided he needed a portrait so I drew him, standing alone, with money in his hand, ego in his heart, a calculator in his head and nature at his feet. He hates work, he loves luxury and he knows the price of everything.

Now here’s the most fascinating (and unnerving) thing I discovered while researching the history and influence of this character. The more that economics students learn about him – from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3 of their studies – the more they say they value traits such as self-interest and competition over traits such as altruism and collaboration.

The implication? Who we tell ourselves we are shapes who we become.

Over the past year I have been contacted by many economics teachers around the world – especially those in secondary schools – who want to encourage their students to critique this text-book model and offer them a far more nuanced understanding of human behaviour.

So that got me thinking…

I teamed up with the brilliant puppet designer Emma Powell and the ingenious musician Simon Panrucker and, with funding from the Network for Social Change (big thanks, folks!), we created this video – Economic Man vs Humanity: a puppet rap battle.

We’d love to see it in use in classrooms, conferences, reading groups, community groups, and shared widely on social media, on web platforms, on teaching resource sites.

If you are a teacher, please do use it to start a debate in your classroom (the video ends with a question for that very reason). Download the complete lyrics of the rap, and if your students want to dive further into the back story and future possibilities of Rational Economic Man, then I recommend Chapter 3 of Doughnut Economics, which was the basis for the whole project.

If you are a student, please do share the video with your fellow future economists, get your teacher involved, and help kick off a much-needed discussion.

And if you host a web discussion, a new economics resource site, a community network, or a teachers’ forum, you are very welcome to feature the film on your site – we’d love to hear what you do with it.

So sit back and enjoy the Puppet Rap Battle – sing along, pass it on, and let’s say farewell to Rational Economic Man. Today’s students know that it’s time to create a better portrait of who we are for 21st century economics.”

Kate Raworth | 5 September 2018 at 10:14 | URL: https://wp.me/p3sUHn-Bb

 

And yet, despite all of these highly knowledgeable progressive economists writing at length about it, the old way of seeking “growth, growth and more growth” still persists. The present conservative government in the UK has used this maxim extensively over the last 10 years, and even used it as a hammer to batter the opposition with – that they are weak on the economy – a deceitful myth that a gullible public unwittingly believed, when voting at the ballot box – until June 2017, that is.  And the present Chancellor constantly brings statistical data to parliament, in an attempt to show that their economic austerity policies are working.  What he does not say is that they are contributing to climate change, as well as making many marginalised people much worse off.  Indeed, they seem to have abandoned any pretence of working towards attaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.  George Monbiot has slated their 25-year environment plan, as “A Grand Plan to do Nothing”. See: http://www.monbiot.com

This last year, we have seen some of the extreme consequences of climate change:

  • excessive heatwaves this summer;
  • a prolonged unusual freeze-up last winter;
  • last year having the most violent and numerous hurricanes;
  • island nations losing some of their territory due to sea level rise;
  • the last few years, global temperatures being the hottest ever on record.

Some of these issues have been described in more detail in other recent blogs on this website.

Just recently, I have read an article by Alan Cottey, a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility: “Environment change, economy change and reducing conflict at source”, just published in AI & Society, where he sets out alternatives.  Here is an extract from the Abstract:

At a time when fossil fuel burning, nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other retrograde steps are being promoted, the prospects for world peace and environmental systems stability may appear dim. Exactly because of this is it the more important to continue to examine the sources of conflict. A major obstacle to general progress is the currently dominant economic practice and theory, which is here called the economy-as-usual, or economics-as-usual, as appropriate. A special obstacle to constructive change is the language in which economic matters are usually discussed. This language is narrow, conservative, technical and often obscure. The rapid changes in the environment (physical and living) are largely kept in a separate compartment. If, however, the partition is removed, economics-as-usual, with its dependence on growth and its widening inequality, is seen to be unsustainable. Radical economic change, for better or worse, is to be expected. Such change is here called economy change. The change could be for the better if it involved an expansion of the concept of economics itself, along the lines of oikonomia, a modern revival of a classical Greek term for management or household. In such an expanded view, not everything of economic value can be measured. It is argued that economics-as-usual is the source of much strife. Some features are indicated of a less conflictual economy—more just, cooperative and peaceful. These features include a dignified life available to all people as of right, the word ‘wealth’ being reconnected with weal, well and well-being, and ‘work’ being understood as including all useful activity.”

The whole article can be found at:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00146-018-0816-x


I think that many of us have stood on the sidelines of this issue for long enough now.  It is time for the progressive economists I have named above, and those cited in Cottey’s article, to come together, in formulating together a new economic theory, with a clear structure, that takes care of the environment, does not increase the gap between rich and poor, and which reduces conflict and competition between nations.  They have written separately for too long.  Now, we are looking for a new partnership, a new structure – a really new economics, based on compassion and equality, not austerity, which will also work towards reducing the damaging effects of climate change.


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News from the Marshall islands: possible leak of American nuclear waste from a concrete dome, caused by sea level rise

This story by Debra Killalea, has been published in the New Zealand Herald on 27th November 2017.  See:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11948569

It relates to the legacy of nuclear tests carried out by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.  Bikini Atoll, where 23 atomic bomb tests were carried out, is part of the Marshall Islands group. And another 40 tests were carried out at other islands in this group.  Mark Willacy, foreign correspondent, during a visit there, discovered that a giant concrete dome was built on Runit Atoll, in which tonnes of nuclear waste, including 400 lumps of plutonium, were disposed of.

Now rising sea levels and climate change threaten to unleash highly radioactive plutonium into the Pacific Ocean in a nightmare scenario for those who live in the Marshall Islands, where dozens of nuclear blasts took place, as well as further afield in the Pacific Ocean.  According to Willacy, rising sea levels have meant that water has begun to penetrate the dome, which contains the toxic waste, with radioactive material leaking out.

A 2013 report commissioned by the US Department of Energy confirmed that the dome was leaking. Whilst the US paid for the clean-up, Willacy said initial plans to line the bottom of the dome with concrete didn’t go ahead and the soil was permeable, which means that seawater gets inside.  He said,

“The dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan. Instead it was a shoddy cost cutting exercise.”

He said cracks are visible in the dome’s surface but said, even if the structure failed, the US government didn’t necessarily believe it would lead to a change in the contamination levels in the waters surrounding it.  The concrete dome can be seen right beside a crater, presumably from a nuclear detonation, – and is best seen from aerial photographs.  It can also be seen from Google Earth images.

Image result for bikini atoll crater

Image from: https://stationsimon.wordpress.com/tag/nuclear-bomb/

More than 50,000 people live in the Marshall Islands and climate change is happening for these people now.  Their views are very different to those of the complacent US authorities, who do not have to live there. Marshallese community leader Alson Kelen told Willacy the dome was the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age.

“We’re not talking just the Marshall Islands, we’re talking the whole Pacific Ocean” he said.

John Hallam, a nuclear disarmament campaigner, has said,

“When the dome was constructed, the US DoD (Department of Defense) almost contemptuously reassured the RMI (Republic of Marshall Islands) government that it would last for the next 200,000 years. This is of course nonsense, and it’s now breaking apart.”

He said the Marshall Islands story is part of the wider one of nuclear testing in the pacific, carried out by the US, France, and the UK.

Further information about the nuclear tests carried out in the Marshall Islands can be found at:

http://www.michaeljohngrist.com/2009/11/nuclear-craters-in-the-marshall-islands/#sthash.rPZQCef6.dpbs

Related image

Map of the Marshall Islands showing Bikini Atoll

In a further report about the situation in the Marshall Islands, entitled “A tiny island used as a nuclear dumpsite is about to be submerged by water”, Joe McCarthy provides further information. See:

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/enewetak-atoll-marshall-islands-nuclear-climate-ch/

Some of his report is copied below:

The Enewetak Atoll is all but invisible on Google Maps. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, the ribbon of land is home to a small indigenous population that has seen their way of life eroded by decisions far outside of their control.

For more than half a century, the atoll, which is part of the Marshall Islands, has been contaminated by nuclear explosions and waste, according to ABC Australia. The decades ahead could leave it submerged by rising sea levels.

In this way, Enewetak “is at the intersection of two of the biggest problems of the last century and this century, nuclear weapons and sea level rise,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York who has studied the atoll, told Global Citizen.

Both of these problems are at risk of converging, ABC Australia reports, because the main holding container for the atoll’s nuclear waste is being compromised by rising waters.

The atoll’s problems began in the 1940s and 1950s when the US began using it for nuclear bomb tests. The people of Enewetak were evacuated and 67 nuclear bombs were dropped, devastating wildlife, spreading nuclear toxins far and wide, and creating massive craters.

One of those craters was on Runit Island. In the late 1970s, the US began to partially clean the nuclear waste from the island. Some of the radioactive chemicals had relatively short half-lives, Michael Gerrard wrote in an op-ed, and were left to naturally decay despite their risks. Another toxin, plutonium-239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and had to be dealt with.

The 100-meter wide crater on Runit Island was deemed a good place to dump as much soil contaminated with plutonium as possible. Chunks of unexploded plutonium-239 were also disposed of in the hole.

When the cleanup was finished — far below standards that would be deemed sufficient in the US, according to Gerrard — a massive concrete shell was built to cover the hole.

No reinforcements were made to the bottom and sides of the hole, meaning the waste directly interacts with the soil and a dumpsite for radioactive waste fails to meet standards for normal trash landfills, Gerrard said.

The displaced people of Enewetak Atoll were finally allowed to return in 1980, despite the widespread contamination of their home. Traditional forms of fishing, farming, and gathering had to be abandoned because the wildlife became too contaminated, ABC Australia reports.

And despite the ongoing threat posed by the non-reinforced radioactive dumpsite, no adjustments have been made to it, ABC notes. That’s because the radiation outside the dome exceeds the radiation inside of it, according to the US Department of Energy report, so the release of the waste wouldn’t make a major environmental difference.

Rising sea levels have compromised the dome in the years since its construction, a problem that has only grown worse in recent years, and a powerful typhoon could destroy it, according to the report.

The Marshall Islands are around six feet above sea level, and large parts of Enewetak are at risk of being submerged in the years ahead. Current flooding rates are already making the islands uninhabitable once again, according to ABC Australia.

“It’s important to recognize that the Marshall Islands are doubly screwed,” Gerrard said. “They were the site of nuclear explosions by the US, and one of the things that they left behind was this nuclear dome and the other thing is the country is going underwater because of greenhouse gas emissions for which the US is major contributor.”

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Map of US nuclear test sites (acknowledgements to National Cancer Institute)

Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested 66 nuclear weapons near Bikini atoll. Populations living nearby in the Marshall Islands were exposed to measurable levels of radioactive fallout from these tests.

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Another report received in January 2019

https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/nuclear-weapons-tests-in-the-enewetak-atol-a-toxic-legacy/

Nuclear weapons tests: rising sea levels add to the toxic legacy

 The Enewetak Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, is about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. After WWII, the atoll came under control of the US, and in 1948 the first nuclear test was carried out. For 10 years, as part of the Cold War, 43 nuclear bombs were detonated on Enewetak – twice as many tests as its neighbour, Bikini Atoll.

 The US sent around 4000 personnel to the area in 1977 to clean the site. During the three-year process, they mixed contaminated soil and debris with cement and buried it in one of the blast craters on the beach. The concrete dome was added and in 1980 the atoll was said to be safe for habitation. Local residents returned the same year. But the effect of rising sea levels due to climate change had not been anticipated.

In 2013, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories issued a disturbing report commissioned by the US Department of Energy which examined the ‘Cactus’ dome on Runit Island, one of 40 islands of the Enewetak Atoll, recorded the cracks and ordered repairs.

atoll cover.JPG

 

Double standards?

 It noted (p2) that “If the Cactus crater concrete containment structure on Runit Island were located in the United States proper (or subjected to U.S. regulatory authority), it would be formally classified as a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Site and be subject to stringent site management and monitoring practices”.

 A reader sent a link to an article by Australian journalist Phoebe Loomes, who reports that rising sea levels have added to the degradation of the large, concrete-dome holding the toxic materials which are leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Mike Willacy, an investigative journalist, travelled to the Marshall Islands for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in 2017. He said that the dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan – a cost-cutting exercise.

He saw the cracks in the concrete dome and was told that residents feared for their lives if the structure collapsed. They warned of the fallout that could arise from the water flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

Enewetak-Atoll (2).jpg

“Seawater is penetrating the underside of the dome, because when they threw all this material into the old bomb crater, they didn’t line it with anything. They were supposed to line it with concrete, but that never happened because of cost considerations. So, as the sea level has risen, the groundwater level has risen and therefore you have groundwater penetrating inside the dome, because a lot of this atoll is obviously sand (and) coral. It’s permeable material.”

In the Marshall Islands, the most common cause of death is diabetes, which is related to a thyroid disorder – the second is cancer. There are high levels of birth defects, cancer and thyroid problems, which locals attribute to continued fallout from the radioactive bombing of the area.  Studies have shown that there is a higher level of cancer in residents of the Marshall Islands, who were alive during the years of the US nuclear tests, especially amongst those people living in the northern islands (closer to the test sites), when compared with those living further south:

https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/nci-dose-estimation-predicted-cancer-risk-residents-marshall-islands

The population of the Marshall Islands is around 70,000 and local people are allowed to live and work in the US without a visa as part of the reparations for the nuclear testing that took place. Over a third have already moved to the US. Ms Loomes adds, “It is said that when you leave the Marshall Islands, you buy a one-way ticket”.

As sea levels continue to rise and the climate becomes more unstable, residents of the Marshall Islands are faced with the harsh reality that their island homes are becoming uninhabitable. Willacy writes: “The children who live there refer to themselves as ‘the last generation’ “.


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May 2019: See also
https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/radiation-levels-due-to-nuclear-weapons-tests-in-the-marshall-islands-the-leaking-dome-or-both/


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The loss of low-lying islands in the Pacific: report in the New Scientist by Alice Klein

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Those who have visited this website before will know that I have been keeping a record of island nations which are currently suffering due to sea-level rise.  Those reports can be found on my blog entitled: The Effects of Rising Sea Levels on Island Nations.  The New Scientist report below gives a summary of the situation, which indicates that Pacific islands are more at risk but those with mangrove cover and lagoons seem to be protected.  Here is the latest report:

Eight low-lying Pacific islands swallowed whole by rising seas

By Alice Klein

With acknowledgements to the New Scientist:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2146594-eight-low-lying-pacific-islands-swallowed-whole-by-rising-seas/

“At least eight low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean have disappeared under rising seas.

Sea levels are currently climbing by an average of 3 millimetres per year around the world due to climate change. But they are creeping up even faster in the western Pacific, where a natural trade wind cycle has caused an extra build-up of water over the last half-century.

In Micronesia and the Solomon Islands, which lie in the western Pacific, sea levels have risen by up to 12 millimetres per year since the early 1990s.

In 2016, a study led by Simon Albert at the University of Queensland in Australia found that five of the Solomon Islands had been lost since the mid-20th century.

Now, Patrick Nunn at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia has observed a similar phenomenon in Micronesia.

Miniature Atlantises

His team conducted coastal surveys, spoke to local people and reviewed satellite images for the island of Pohnpei and several low-lying islands scattered throughout the surrounding reef.

Pohnpei shows surprisingly little coastal erosion, probably because it is relatively high above sea level and ringed by mangrove forest, says Nunn. “Mangroves provide a buffer by absorbing wave energy and trapping sediment,” he says.

 Three small islands on the west side are also well-preserved, possibly because they are sheltered from strong winds and waves by the main island, says Nunn. A nearby coral atoll – Ant Atoll – also has very little erosion, which is probably because an adjacent lagoon acts like a sediment trap.

However, several of the other low-lying reef islands – mostly to the south of the main island – have shrunk considerably or disappeared entirely.

Lost to the waves

And some islands have disappeared entirely. Local people told the researchers about two former islands called Kepidau en Pehleng and Nahlapenlohd – the latter of which was famous for hosting a great battle between warring chiefdoms in 1850. Both appear to have vanished within the last century.

Aerial images revealed that another six low-lying islands – in the unpopulated Laiap, Nahtik and Ros island chains – became submerged between 2007 and 2014. Each was about 100 square metres.

These changes in Micronesia are a preview for other low-lying nations around the world, says Nunn. As sea levels continue to rise, many inhabitants will be forced to move to higher ground, he says. This is already happening in the low-lying Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, where a resettlement scheme is underway to move the population to Bougainville – a higher island 90 kilometres away.

However, one positive finding from the Micronesia study and others is that not all low-lying islands are destroyed by rising seas, says Albert. Islands that are sheltered, or have mangrove forests or lagoons for trapping sediment, appear to have good resilience, he says.

“These are the first places on Earth to experience really high rates of sea level rise, so they give great insights into what can happen,” says Albert. “But we’re finding there’s a large diversity of responses – not every island will erode.”

Understanding why will help us plan our response as seas rise around the world.”

Journal reference: Journal of Coastal ConservationDOI: 10.1007/s11852-017-0531-7



25th October 2018:

And here is a Quartz News report an another Pacific islands lost to the waves:

“East Island is gone.

The 11-acre island roughly 400 miles northwest from the Hawaiian island chain was wiped off the map after a powerful Pacific hurricane swept through the region earlier this month, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

The island, part of a chain of small islands called the French Frigate Shoals, was a critically important habitat for one of the cutest and most endangered seals on the planet: The Hawaiian monk seal.

monk seal

There are only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild. To give you an idea of how precarious their existence is, roughly 30% of the monk seals alive are alive “due to direct life-saving interventions,” according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In a typical year, 30% of monk seal pups are born on East Island, Civil Beat noted.

East Island was also the single most important nesting site for the Hawaiian green sea turtle, another imperiled species. The French Frigate Shoals serve as nesting ground for 96% of the Hawaiian green sea turtle population, and approximately half lay their eggs at East Island, Charles Littnan, a conservation biologist with NOAA, told Civil Beat. NOAA scientists estimate that 19% of this year’s nests on East Island had not yet hatched and were swept away by the storm, the Huffington Post reports.

Hurricane Walaka, which wiped out the island, was one of the strongest Pacific Ocean storms in recorded history. As the New Republic notes, its rapid intensification from a 40 mph storm to a 120 mph hurricane in just 30 hours is consistent with the effects of climate change—storms passing over hotter-than-average seas intensify far faster.”

See: https://qz.com/1436004/east-island-a-remote-hawaiian-island-just-sunk-into-the-sea/


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Eco Experts give countries’ survival index for effects of climate change

Quoted from Thomas Tamblin, the Huffington Post 5th July 2017:

http://sourced.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2017/07/05/this-map-shows-the-countries-that-ll-survive-global-warming/?ncid=webmail

In 2014, the University of Notre Dame produced a definitive ranking system that showed how countries around the world would fare if global warming increased at its current rate. The rankings took into account the country’s location, its population density and how financially equipped it was to deal with the rising sea level and increase in temperature.”

Maps from each continent of the world were included, with colour coding according to risk.  According to this ranking, Africa fares the worst, with dark brown showing those countries most at risk through to dark green showing those least at risk.

climatechange1 (1)

I must admit that whilst concerned about these projections, I find myself somewhat bemused about how the Eco Experts weighted their calculations.  It appears to give greater weighting to poorer countries but less weighting to those countries most likely to be affected by sea level rise, such as Netherlands, Denmark, UK, in Europe, New Zealand in Australasia, island states and parts of the USA (Florida in particular).  Maps from National Geographic show this more clearly. For example, the following one for Europe, which shows new coastlines if all the polar ice-caps were to melt.

MI National Geographic map ice melting

Source: National Geographic Creative

It is possible that temperature plays a part in the Eco Experts weightings, as the more temperate countries seem to have a greater chance of survival than those closer to the equator.

 


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Three generations left? Or is it only three years? New evidence from climate experts in Nature magazine

Christiana Figueres, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Gail Whiteman, Johan Rockstrom, Anthony Hobley and Stefan Rahmstorff – all experts in climate change issues – have written an article in Nature magazine (28th June 2017) to warn that we have only three years to safeguard our climate. Figueres, a former UN climate chief and executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whom the Paris agreement was signed, and her colleagues, who also include prominent figures from the UNFCCC, set out a six-point plan for turning the tide by 2020.

See: https://www.nature.com/news/three-years-to-safeguard-our-climate-1.22201

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Christiana Figueres is second from the left in the front row.  Photograph taken after the signing of the Paris agreement in December 2015 (COP21)

After rising for decades, global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have levelled in the past three years – a sign that investment in climate mitigations are starting to pay off.  But there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy.

For example, globally, the mean rate of sea level rise increased by 50% in the last two decades. In 2017, temperatures have already reached their highest levels in history in some areas, from California to Vietnam. And the past three years were the hottest on record.  And, two days ago, the highest ever recorded temperature (54˚C) was recorded in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, a city of 1.1 million people.
Due to increases in global temperatures, driven by human activity, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already losing mass at an increasing rate. Summer sea ice is disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs are dying from heat stress — entire ecosystems are starting to collapse. The social impacts of climate change from intensified heatwaves, droughts and sea-level rise are inexorable and affect the poorest and weakest first. An American study recently published in Science and reported in the Financial Times, shows that poorer parts of the US stand to suffer damages of up to 20 per cent of their income if global warming continues unabated and that they will suffer disproportionately more than richer areas. 

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The writers of the Nature article believe that the year 2020 is crucially important because if emissions continue to rise, or even stay level, the temperature goals set in Paris in 2015 will become unattainable and they set out the reasons for this.

The six-point plan includes milestones to be achieved in Energy (to 30% renewables worldwide); Infrastructure (decarbonising buildings); Transport (moving to 15% electric vehicles, fuel efficiences for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the airline industry); Land (reducing deforestation and a shift to reforestation, sustainable agricultural practices and healthy, well-managed soils); Industry (a goal of halving carbon emissions by 2050, especially in carbon-intensive industries, such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, oil and gas); Finance (to rethink financial investments, the issuing of more green bonds to finance climate-mitigation efforts).

The authors have launched Mission 2020, a collaborative campaign to raise ambition and action across key sectors, so that the carbon emissions will start to go down.  See:

http://www.mission2020.global/

A 29-page report ‘2020: The Climate Turning Point’ can be accessed on the mission2020 website.  It gives the evidential basis for their conclusions that 2020 will be the point of no return, unless carbon emissions have started to drop by then. They suggest actions to bring down the emissions.  These are far-reaching and require a total commitment globally.

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A report on this in the Guardian includes quotes from some of the authors:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/world-has-three-years-left-to-stop-dangerous-climate-change-warn-experts?utm_source=Weekly+climate+roundup&utm_campaign=f65ae632b3-Election+special+-+weekly+roundup&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_81339309ed-f65ae632b3-141770409

Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, commented: “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020.”

Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre said: “We have been blessed by a remarkably resilient planet over the past 100 years, able to absorb most of our climate abuse. Now we have reached the end of this era, and need to bend the global curve of emissions immediately, to avoid unmanageable outcomes for our modern world.”

The authors hope that their 6-point plan will be adopted at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8th July.