Back in March when the prospect of a majority NDP government in Alberta was still a twinkle in Rachely Notley’s eye, the to-be premier...
This is a guest post by David Suzuki.
It’s fitting that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released during Earth Month. After all, the third chapter of its Fifth Assessment focuses on ways to keep our planet healthy and livable by warding off extreme climatic shifts and weather events caused by escalating atmospheric carbon.
Doing so will require substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions – 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 and to near-zero by the end of the century. We must also protect carbon “sinks” such as forests and wetlands and find ways to store or bury carbon. The good news is that weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, conserving energy and shifting to cleaner sources comes with economic and quality-of-life benefits.
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said economist Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of Working Group III, which produced the chapter.
Doing nothing isn’t an option. That would lead to a significant increase in global average temperatures and extreme weather-related events such as storms, droughts and floods, wreaking havoc on our food systems, communities and the natural environment we depend on for our health and survival. Technological measures and behavioural change could limit global mean temperatures to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, but only with “major institutional and technological change.”
Because we’ve stalled so long, thanks largely to deceptive campaigns run by a small but powerful group of entrenched fossil fuel industry interests and the intransigence of some short-sighted governments, we must also consider ways to adapt to climate change that’s already occurring and that we can’t stop.
This week, a United Nations panel on climate change issued one of its most urgent warnings to date, explaining that unless major changes to greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years, it will become extraordinarily difficult to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.
“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee, told The New York Times.
With the time to cut emissions running out, the Obama administration has seized upon the hope that greenhouse gasses can be cut dramatically by switching from coal to natural gas, because gas gives off half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned. Indeed, when the EPA published its annual greenhouse gas inventory this Tuesday, it credited a switch from coal to natural gas with helping to cut carbon emissions nationwide.
But a new scientific paper, also published Tuesday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, further upends the notion that the current shale gas drilling rush is truly helping the U.S. cut its total greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the evidence suggests, the Obama administration has understated the full climate impacts of natural gas, focusing too much on only carbon dioxide and failing to take into account another key greenhouse gas: methane.
The paper, the first to directly measure methane plumes above natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, recorded methane leaks far more powerful than EPA estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere — in other words, during the small window of time identified as crucial by the U.N.’s climate panel.
This is a guest post by David Suzuki.
April is Earth Month, and April 22 Earth Day. We should really celebrate our small blue planet and all it provides every day, but recent events give us particular cause to reflect on our home and how we’re treating it.
Through an amazingly ordered combination of factors, this spinning ball of earth, air, fire and water – with its hydrological, carbon, nitrogen and rock cycles, biological diversity and ideal distance from the sun – provides perfect conditions for human life to flourish. But with our vast and rapidly increasing numbers, breakneck technological advances, profligate use of resources and lack of concern for where we dump our wastes, we’re upsetting the balance.
We’re a relatively new species, but we’re altering the geological properties of Earth to the extent that many scientists refer to this epoch as the Anthropocene – from the Greek anthropos meaning “human” and kainos meaning “recent”.
When Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8, crews in planes and boats set out to search the Indian Ocean. Debris sightings raised hopes that the crash site was located, but they turned out to be endless streams of garbage that humans have been dumping into the oceans for ages – plastic bottles and bags, fishing gear, household wastes, cigarette butts, detritus from shipping containers, even bits of space shuttle rocket boosters.
We now have massive swirling garbage patches in our oceans, and thousands of birds and fish from remote seas turning up dead, their bellies full of plastic and flotsam.
If you’ve come across any of the recent headlines on the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, you’re probably feeling pretty low. The doom and gloom levels were off the charts. And understandably so. Major nations across the globe – especially Canada – are dragging their heels when it comes to climate change action. Canada, sadly, doesn’t have any climate legislation.
But maybe that’s because Canada was waiting for a group of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists to come up with a report for policy makers — you know, something to outline useful guidelines to keep in mind when looking to get your country out of the climate doghouse.
Well, Canada, you’re in luck. Here are some of the IPCC report’s most useful guidelines for responding to the multiple and growing threats of climate change:
“Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” IPCC WGII AR5
Every five years or so thousands of scientists from around the world release a major report on the state of climate science. These reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are the most definitive source of information for understanding not only the planet’s geologic and climatic history, but how humans are now influencing earth’s systems, most notably by altering the composition of the atmosphere.
The second part of the most recent report, released today in Yokohama, Japan, focuses on the impacts of climate change and how well governments are adapting to those impacts. This newly-released portion of the report, from the IPCC’s Working Group II, does not bode well for the future of people on this planet. The report predicts massively negative effects on crops, extinction of species, devastating heat waves, acid oceans and geopolitical conflict.
And that’s being called a “conservative” outlook.
Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.
The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.
But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.
Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.
Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.”
“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”
Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.
IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.
In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.”
Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”
By David Suzuki.
Starting in late September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its Fifth Assessment Report in three chapters and a summary. Not to be outdone, contrarians have unleashed a barrage of attacks designed to discredit the science before it’s released. Expect more to come.
Many news outlets are complicit in efforts to undermine the scientific evidence. Contrarian opinion articles have run in publications in Canada and around the world, from the Financial Post and Washington Post to the Australian and the U.K.’s Mail on Sunday.
In the Guardian, scientists Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham point out that attacks cover five stages of climate denial: deny the problem exists, deny we’re the cause, deny it’s a problem, deny we can solve it and claim it’s too late to do anything.
One attack that’s grabbing media attention is the so-called International Climate Science Coalition’s report “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science.” It’s written by Fred Singer, a well-known tobacco industry apologist and climate change denier, with Bob Carter and Craig Idso, also known for their dismissals of legitimate climate change science, and published by the Heartland Institute, a U.S. non-profit known for defending tobacco and fossil fuel industry interests. Heartland made headlines last year for comparing people who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change with terrorists and criminals such as Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski!
Read Singer’s report if you want. But it’s full of long-discredited claims, including that carbon dioxide emissions are good because they stimulate life. It’s not the goal of deniers and contrarians to contribute to our understanding of climate change; they want to promote fossil fuel companies and other industrial interests, a point explicitly stated in the Heartland-ICSC news release.
Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation hosted The Heartland Institute's CEO Joseph Bast, along with two of Heartland's contracted climate denial scientists (Willie Soon and Bob Carter), to present their new report that denies the seriousness of global warming. Greenpeace was there to ask Heartland about the report's funders, including billionaire Barre Seid, and to challenge Heartland's assertion that their work has any scientific validity (it doesn't). See the video for yourself.