Category Archives: Climate

Climate Change: Pacific Ocean Acidity Dissolving Shells of Key Species by Paul Rogers 

What many people do not realize is that nearly a third of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved in the oceans. Some of that forms carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more corrosive.

What many people do not realize is that nearly a third of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved in the oceans. Some of that forms carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more corrosive.

In a troubling new discovery, scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found the first evidence that increasing acidity in the ocean is dissolving the shells of a key species of tiny sea creature at the base of the food chain. The animals, a type of free-floating marine snail known as pteropods, are an important food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.

If the trend continues, climate change scientists say, it will imperil the entire ocean environment.

“These are alarm bells,” said Nina Bednarsek, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle who helped lead the research. “This study makes us understand that we have made an impact on the ocean environment to the extent where we can actually see the shells dissolving right now.”

Scientists from NOAA and Oregon State University found that in waters near the West Coast shoreline, 53 percent of the tiny floating snails had shells that were severely dissolving—double the estimate from 200 years ago. Until now, the impact on marine species from increasing ocean acidity because of climate change has been something that was tested in tanks in labs, but which was not considered an immediate concern such as forest fires and droughts.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal based in England, changes that. “The pteropods are like the canary in the coal mine. If this is affecting them, it is affecting everything in the ocean at some level,” said one of the nation’s top marine biologists, Steve Palumbi, director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove.

The vast majority of the world’s scientists—including those at NOAA, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Meteorological Organization—say the Earth’s temperature is rising because of humans burning fossil fuels like oil and coal.

But what many people do not realize is that nearly a third of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved in the oceans. Some of that forms carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more corrosive.

Over the past 200 years, the ocean’s acidity has risen by roughly 30 percent. At the present rate, it is on track to rise by 70 percent by 2050 from preindustrial levels. More acidic water can harm oysters, clams, corals and other species that have calcium carbonate shells. Generally speaking, increasing the acidity by 50 percent from current levels is enough to kill some marine species, tests in labs have shown.

If people reduce emissions of fossil fuels, cutting carbon dioxide levels in the decades ahead, the damage to the oceans can still be limited. “But if we keep on the emissions profile we have now, by 2100 the oceans will be so harmed it’s hard to imagine them coming back from that in anything less than thousands of years,” Palumbi said.

“We are in a century of choice,” he said. “We can choose the way we want it to go.”

Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25664175/climate-change-pacific-ocean-acidity-dissolving-shells-key

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Climate Change: The Least We Can Do by Robert Walker, Population Institute

People trying to get out of war-torn Syria, the first country to officially slide into civil war due to climate disaster-caused severe drought and overpopulation.

People trying to get out of war-torn Syria, the first country to officially slide into civil war due to climate disaster-caused severe drought and overpopulation.

As the IPCC’s (intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fifth Assessment Report makes clear, we are long past the point of avoiding climate change. The best we can do now is to avoid the worst effects. The situation is more dire than previously projected and the consequences of inaction more starkly drawn than ever before:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased…. Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence)…. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a perfect world, the IPCC’s report would summon forth our best efforts at mitigating climate change and its effects. We would be doing whatever is necessary and prudent to avoid a human and environmental catastrophe. By now, however, it is evident that governments—and the people they represent—are shrinking from the challenge. Hope for concerted global action on any kind of meaningful scale has largely evaporated.

Instead of asking what is the most that can be done to mitigate climate change and alleviate its consequences, perhaps we should be asking, “What is the least that can be done?”

The “least” we can do is to mitigate the scale of human suffering and displacement, and the single most cost-effective means of doing so is to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Nearly 40 percent of all pregnancies in the world are unwanted or unintended, and preventing them would make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Giving every woman the power to avoid unwanted pregnancies would dramatically lower projected population growth rates. According to the latest UN population projections, world population, currently 7.2 billion, is likely to reach 9.6 billion by mid-century and continue rising, but if the total fertility rate (i.e. the average number of children per woman) were to fall by just half a child, world population would rise to only 8.3 billion and gradually decline during the second half of the 21st century.

It’s particularly important to prevent unplanned pregnancies in the United States, where our carbon footprints are, on average, nearly twice as high as they are in many European countries and twenty or more times higher than many developing countries. A study released five years ago found that the average “carbon legacy” of a child born in the U.S. would produce about 20 times more greenhouse gases than the mother or father would save by adopting a lower carbon lifestyle (i.e. driving a highly fuel efficient vehicle, using energy efficient appliances, etc.).

But even where carbon footprints are relatively small, no one should discount the contribution that birth control could make to lowering projected greenhouse gas emissions. A 2010 study of energy use and demographics by Brian C. O’Neill concluded that slowing global population growth “could provide 16-29% of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.” That is not insignificant.

Even if preventing unplanned pregnancies in developing countries contributed absolutely nothing to reducing future greenhouse gas emissions, there is a compelling moral case to be made for expanding international family planning services and information. That’s because women and children in countries like Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia find themselves on the front lines of climate change. Subsistence farmers, in particular, are vulnerable to the crop damage that will be inflicted by heat, drought, flooding, and rising seas. Some of the most vulnerable and food insecure countries in the world—countries that are already in a struggle for survival—could likely see their populations double or even triple in the next half century. Denying women in these countries the ability to space and limit their pregnancies will compound the suffering that is likely to be caused by climate change. Large families in environmentally-stressed communities will be less resilient and inevitably suffer more from disease, food insecurity, and water scarcity.

Access to reproductive health services is recognized by the United Nations as a universal right, but in many parts of the developing world it is far from being a reality. Making that right a reality for women everywhere may not save the world from climate change, but it would go a substantial way toward alleviating the human suffering that will accompany it. The costs of empowering women and providing family planning services are trivial compared to the benefits that would result from giving women reproductive choice. It really is the least we can do—for climate change—and for the women and their families who will endure some of its worst effects.

 

Robert Walker is the President of the Population Institute in Washington, DC. 

Prior to joining the Population Institute, Mr. Walker was President of the Population Resource Center. He formerly was the Executive Director of the Common Cause Education Fund, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to promote open, honest and accountable government.

He also served for three years as President of Handgun Control, Inc. and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.

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Assume the Worst When it Comes to Climate Change and Population, General King tells Kansas Farmers Union by Tom Parker

Dr. W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College.

Dr. W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College.

History has a way of repeating itself, which means that if military historians and strategists peer back far enough, certain precedents can be found to illustrate patterns and models useful for the prediction of the near-term future.

Unfortunately, as retired Brigidier General W. Chris King told members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka on Jan. 4, there is no historical precedence for what the nation and the world face in the future from the combined forces of climate change, overpopulation and resource depletion. “We have nothing on which to base projections,” he said. “We have to assume climate change is going to make everything worse. And there’s no easy, immediate fix. It’s a really, really hard problem.”

King, chief academic officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, said that while the idea of climate change seems addressed to our times, it was already being discussed back in the 1970s and 1980s. The problem was, nobody was listening, least of all the U.S. military. Nor did the military consider them worthy of study.

“These subjects were not well received because [the authors] had patches on their sleeves and they didn’t get along with the military,” King said.

That began to change when one of the leading environmental scholars of the time, Norman Myers, characterized the impending shortage of resources as a national security issue on par with hostile nations. “It relates to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate and other factors that rarely figure in the minds of military experts and political leaders,” he wrote in The Environmentalist.

That assessment was mirrored in the latest National Security Strategy of the United States, dated May 2010, which declared “the danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”

The bottom line, King said, will be more failed states, more tension and conflict, and higher demand for military forces. “So now it’s my business,” he said. “Everything I do in the Department of Defense has been to address the threats identified in the National Securities Strategy, to protect the nation against all enemies.”

The primary culprit is climate change, he said, but it’s driven by population. Since 1950 the world’s population almost tripled from 2.5 billion to over 7 billion, and projections estimate an additional billion people every decade and a half.

Space is already at a premium, he said, and many parts of the world have already reached or exceeded their carrying capacity. “Where do you put all those people?” King asked. “All the good spots are already taken.”

Much the world’s population lives along coastlines and many others live by necessity on marginal lands susceptible to flooding or weather extremes.

With sea levels rising, the Alaskan town of Newtok is predicted to be underwater by 2017, earning residents the unfortunate status as the first climate refugees in America. The loss of living space and freshwater salination hold potential catastrophic outcomes, as would the collapse of estuarine fisheries. The loss of ice and snow in the arctic poses additional security problems of an open, unregulated and unguarded northern border. Rising temperatures will trigger fluctuations in extreme weather by increasing intensity and frequency as well as expanding areas at risk. Precipitation patterns will also change, impacting water, sanitation and food sources.

The military needs to adapt to changing climate and its associated global threats, and to develop strategies for action, King said. “When you dial 911 on a national level,” he said, “you call the military. Nobody else has the logistics capacity to move people and supplies on so vast a scale.”

Already worldwide 780 million people lack access to clean water, he said. More than three million people die each year from causes related to water or sanitation. Basic sanitation is lacking for two and a half billion people, and more than one billion people suffer from chronic hunger; most are children.

Compounding the problems, he said, is that many of these countries have the highest birth rates.

“Even if climate change didn’t exist, the 7.2 billion people and the limited resources to produce food and clean water to meet basic human needs is a disaster that’s coming at some rate which we don’t know yet,” he said. “And climate change is going to make it worse.”

The military response must be in less emphasis on force-on-force and more on humanitarian assistance, developing strategies for handling huge refugee and migration populations and to provide massive amounts of water when needed during emergencies, King said.

The solution, he added, isn’t up to the military. “We have to partner with the State department, economics, agriculture and other parts of the government that are going to have to adapt and develop,” he said.

The key is education. Kansas State University is now helping developing countries to move to sustainable systems rather than resource mining, he said. Overall, government agencies and organizations are trying to initiate a basic sustainable-needs model that will guide them into the uncertain future.

“This is our biggest threat,” King said. “But we’re not managing the planet that way.”

W. Chris King is Chief Academic Officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. This article reports on a talk King gave to members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka on Jan. 4, 2014. King retired from active duty at the rank of Brigadier General in August 2006—after more than 32 years of active service—and is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal. Source: the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal, February 17, 2014.  http://www.hpj.com/archives/2014/feb14/feb17/0203KFUConference1PIXsr.cfm

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Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization By Paul Ehrlich

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse.  Photo by Chris Wevers.

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse. Photo by Chris Wevers.

A major shared goal of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) and Sustainability Central is reducing the odds that the “perfect storm” of environmental problems that threaten humanity will lead to a collapse of civilization. Those threats include climate disruption, loss of biodiversity (and thus ecosystem services), land-use change and resulting degradation, global toxification, ocean acidification, decay of the epidemiological environment, increasing depletion of important resources, and resource wars (which could go nuclear). This is not just a list of problems, it is an interconnected complex resulting from interactions within and between what can be thought of as two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system. The manifestations of this interaction are often referred to as “the human predicament.” That predicament is getting continually and rapidly worse, driven by overpopulation, overconsumption among the rich, and the use of environmentally malign technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service the consumption. 

All of the interconnected problems are caused in part by overpopulation, in part by overconsumption by the already rich. One would think that most educated people now understand that the larger the size of a human population, ceteris paribus, the more destructive its impact on the environment. The degree of overpopulation is best indicated (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis, which shows that to support today’s population sustainably at current patterns of consumption would require roughly another half a planet, and to do so at the U.S. level would take four to five more Earths.

The seriousness of the situation can be seen in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most important activity: producing and procuring food. Today, at least two billion people are hungry or badly in need of better diets, and most analysts think doubling food production would be required to feed a 35% bigger and still growing human population adequately by 2050. For any chance of success, humanity will need to stop expanding land area for agriculture (to preserve ecosystem services); raise yields where possible; increase efficiency in use of fertilizers, water, and energy; become more vegetarian; reduce food wastage; stop wrecking the oceans; significantly increase investment in sustainable agricultural research; and move feeding everyone to the very top of the policy agenda. All of these tasks will require changes in human behavior long recommended but thus far elusive. Perhaps more critical, there may be insurmountable biophysical barriers to increasing yields – indeed, to avoiding reductions in yields – in the face of climate disruption.

Most people fail to realize the urgency of the food situation because they don’t understand the agricultural system and its complex, non-linear connections to the drivers of environmental deterioration. The system itself, for example, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and thus is an important driver of the climate disruption that seriously threatens food production. More than a millennium of change in temperature and precipitation patterns is now entrained, with the prospect of more crop-threatening severe storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods- all of which are already evident. Thus maintaining – let alone expanding – food production will be ever more difficult in decades ahead.

Furthermore, agriculture is a leading cause of losses of biodiversity and the critical ecosystem services supplied to agriculture itself and other human enterprises, as well as a major source of global toxification, both of which pose additional risks to food production. The threat to food production of climate disruption alone means that humanity’s entire system for mobilizing energy needs to be rapidly transformed in an effort to hold atmospheric warming well below a lethal 5o C rise in global average temperature. It also means we must alter much of our water-handling infrastructure to provide the necessary flexibility to bring water to crops in an environment of constantly changing precipitation patterns.

Food is just the most obvious area where overpopulation tends to darken the human future – virtually every other human problem from air pollution and brute overcrowding to resource shortages and declining democracy is exacerbated by further population growth. And, of course, one of our most serious problems is the failure of leadership on the population issue, in both the United States and Australia. The situation is worst in the U.S. where the government never mentions population because of fear of the Catholic hierarchy specifically and the religious right in general, and the media keep publishing ignorant pro-natalist articles, and in Australia even advertise on prime-time TV to have more kids.

A prime example was a ludicrous 2010 New York Times screed by David Brooks, calling on Americans to cheer up because “Over the next 40 years, the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million.” Equal total ignorance of the population-resource-environment situation was shown in 2012 by an article also in the New York Times by one Ross Douthat “More Babies, Please” and one by a Rick Newman in the USNews “Why a falling birth rate is a big problem,” both additional signs of the utter failure of the US educational system.

A popular movement is needed to correct that failure and direct cultural evolution toward providing the “foresight intelligence” and the agricultural, environmental, and demographic planning that markets cannot supply. Then analysts (and society) might stop treating population growth as a “given” and consider the nutritional and health benefits of humanely ending growth well below 9 billion and starting a slow decline. In my view, the best way to accelerate the move toward such population shrinkage is to give full rights, education, and job opportunities to women everywhere, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion. The degree to which that would reduce fertility rates is controversial, but it would be a win-win for society. Yet the critical importance of increasing the inadequate current action on the demographic driver can be seen in the decades required to change the size of the population humanely and sensibly. In contrast we know from such things as the World War II mobilizations that consumption patterns can be altered dramatically in less than a year, given appropriate incentives.

The movement should also highlight the consequences of such crazy ideas as growing an economy at 3-5% per year over decades (or forever) as most innumerate economists and politicians believe possible. Most “educated” people do not realize that in the real world a short history of exponential growth does not imply a long future of such growth. Developing foresight intelligence and mobilizing civil society for sustainability are central goals of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (“the MAHB” – mahb.stanford.edu), goals now also a major mission of the University of Technology, Sydney.

Source: http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/overpopulation-and-the-collapse-of-civilization/

 

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Holy Icebergs! The Future is Thirsty by Stephanie Feldstein

Capture icebergs? Or lower emissions?

Capture icebergs? Or lower emissions? Photo by Angela Sevin, used under Creative Commons license.

If you’ve spent days this winter battling the polar vortex, it might be hard to wrap your head around the idea that the freezing weather was actually caused by warming temperatures. But wait, there’s more: The same global warming that sent arctic weather our way will also lead to massive water shortages in the not-so-distant future.

A group of researchers from 12 countries recently released a report predicting that an increase of just 2 degrees Celsius in global temperatures above present levels could leave one-fifth of the world’s population thirsty. On the list of the most at-risk regions for severe water scarcity: the southern United States.

A couple days ago, The New York Times published an article on the Colorado River that started with the sobering statistic that the once-mighty river of the Southwest has suffered “14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.”

Seven states rely on the Colorado River for water. An Interior Department report released in 2012 projected that the population served by the Colorado could nearly double in the next 50 years, from 40 million to 76.5 million people. With rising temperatures and demand already exceeding supply, the river won’t be able to keep up. Facing the reality of water shortage scenarios, Nevada official John Entsminger told The New York Times, “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

The Colorado River isn’t the only stressed watershed in the region. Southern California’s Santa Ana River Watershed was the topic of a 2013 Interior Department report. According to the agency, the future’s looking a bit dry there, too, as human population, agricultural and industry demands keep growing at the same time climate change is diminishing the supply side. A river just can’t catch a break these days.

Back to that 2 degree increase that’ll cause water shortages for one-fifth of the world. Based on our current track record, it could happen as soon as mid-century — around the same time the global population is pushing nearly 10 billion people.

So, how do we stop this?

Suggestions from the Interior Department’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study included “wrapping large water bags around icebergs in the Alaska region and using tug boats to transport the frozen water to a port along the coast of Southern California.”

Icebergs.

Or we could focus on reducing emissions, conserving water and stabilizing population growth so we can have a healthier planet where people and wildlife thrive.

Climate change, overconsumption and population growth need to be more than just bullet points buried in policy reports. These issues need to be the policies.

We need to drastically cut back on water and energy intensive systems, like raising livestock for food. And instead of continuing the trend of unprecedented attacks on reproductive rights in the U.S., we need to increase access to contraception and family planning. Watershed management plans should go beyond simply meeting the needs of ever-growing human populations to actually enhance the watershed’s habitat and provide a healthier ecosystem for the people and wildlife relying on it.

And maybe, if we place our bets on confronting global warming and population growth, we can give rivers, wildlife and us a chance.

Stephanie Feldstein is Population and Sustainability Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Overpopulation and Climate Change, from the Center for Biological Diversity

The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global climate disruption due to the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.

Portland, Oregon, for example, decreased its combined per-capita residential energy and car driving carbon footprint by 5 percent between 2000 and 2005. During this same period, however, its population grew by 8 percent.

A 2009 study of the relationship between population growth and global warming determined that the “carbon legacy” of just one child can produce 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person will save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, etc. Each child born in the United States will add about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent. The study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”

One of the study’s authors, Paul Murtaugh, warned that: “In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime. Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources. . . . Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”

The size of the carbon legacy is closely tied to consumption patterns. Under current conditions, a child born in the United States will be responsible for almost seven times the carbon emissions of a child born in China and 168 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.

The globalization of the world economy, moreover, can mask the true carbon footprint of individual nations. China, for example, recently surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter. But a large portion of those gases is emitted in the production of consumer goods for the United States and Europe. Thus a large share of “China’s” greenhouse gas footprint is actually the displaced footprint of high-consumption western nations.

WorldCarbonEmiss

The United States has the largest population in the developed world, and is the only developed nation experiencing significant population growth: Its population may double before the end of the century. Its 300 million inhabitants produce greenhouse gases at a per-capita rate that is more than double that of Europe, five times the global average, and more than 10 times the average of developing nations. The U.S. greenhouse gas contribution is driven by a disastrous combination of high population, significant growth, and massive (and rising) consumption levels, and thus far, lack of political will to end our fossil-fuel addiction.

More than half of the U.S. population now lives in car-dependent suburbs. Cumulatively, we drive 3 trillion miles each year. The average miles traveled per capita is increasing rapidly, and the transportation sector now accounts for one-third of all U.S. carbon emissions.

Another one-fifth of U.S. carbon emissions comes from the residential sector. Average home sizes have increased dramatically in recent decades, as has the accompanying footprint of each home. Suburban sprawl contributes significantly to deforestation, reducing the capacity of the planet to absorb the increased CO2 we emit. Due to a dramatic decrease in household size, from 3.1 persons per home in 1970 to 2.6 in 2000, homebuilding is outpacing the population growth that is driving it. More Americans are driving farther to reach bigger homes with higher heating and cooling demands and fewer people per household than ever before. All of these trends exacerbate the carbon footprint inherent in the basic energy needs of a burgeoning U.S. population.

Globally, recent research indicates that assumptions regarding declining fertility rates used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to develop future emissions scenarios may be overly optimistic. While fertility rates have generally declined over the past few decades, progress has slowed in recent years, especially in developing nations, largely due to cutbacks in family planning assistance and political interference from the United States. And even if fertility rates are reduced to below replacement levels, population levels will continue to climb steeply for some time as people live longer and billions of young people mature and proceed through their reproductive years. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions may drop, but the population bulge will continue to contribute to a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Time is short, but it not too late to stop runaway global warming. Economy-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to a level that brings atmospheric CO2 back from 386 parts per million to 350 or less, scaling back first-world consumption patterns, and long-term population reduction to ecologically sustainable levels will solve the global warming crisis and move us to toward a healthier, more stable, post-fossil fuel, post-growth addicted society.

Source: The Center for Biological Diversity, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/climate/index.html

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.

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Ocean Damage ‘Is Worse Than Thought’ by Alex Kirby

Are we willing to give up fossil fuels to ensure live coral?

Are we willing to give up fossil fuels to ensure live coral?

A new report says the world’s oceans are changing faster than previously thought, which could have dire consequences for both human and marine life.

Marine scientists say the state of the world’s oceans is deteriorating more rapidly than anyone had realized, and is worse than that described in last month’s UN climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They say the rate, speed and impacts of ocean change are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought—and they expect summertime Arctic sea ice cover will have disappeared in around 25 years.

Their review, produced by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, agrees with the IPCC that the oceans are absorbing much of the warming caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused by human activity. But it says the impact of this warming, when combined with other stresses, is far graver than previous estimates. The stresses include decreasing oxygen levels caused by climate change and nitrogen run-off, other forms of chemical pollution, and serious overfishing.

Professor Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford, IPSO’s scientific director, says: “The health of the ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated.”

The IUCN’s Professor Dan Laffoley says: “What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses.”

Or do we want only dead corals?

Or do we want only dead corals?

Damaged Mollusks Found

The review says there is growing evidence that the oceans are losing oxygen. Predictions for ocean oxygen content suggest a decline of between 1% and 7% by 2100. The loss is occurring in two ways: through the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years, and because of the “dramatic” increase in coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) associated with eutrophication, when excessive nutrient levels cause blooms of algae and plankton. The first is caused by global warming, the second by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage. Both are a direct result of human numbers and activities.

The authors are also concerned about the growing acidity of the oceans, which means “extremely serious consequences for ocean life, and in turn for food and coastal protection”. The Global Ocean Commission reported recently that acidification would make up to half of the Arctic Ocean uninhabitable for shelled animals by 2050.

Professor Rogers told the Climate News Network: “At high latitudes pH levels are decreasing faster than anywhere else because water temperatures are lower, and the water is becoming more acidic. Last year, for the first time, molluscs called sea butterflies were caught with corroded shells.”

When atmospheric CO2 concentrations reach 450-500 parts per million (ppm) coral reefs will be eroded faster than they can grow, and some species will become extinct. Projections are for concentrations to reach that level by 2030-2050: in May they passed 400 ppm for the first time since measurements began in 1958.

Methane A Concern

With the ocean bearing the brunt of warming in the climate system, the review says, the impacts of continued warming until 2050 include reduced seasonal ice zones and increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion. It also expects increased releases from the Arctic seabed of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere (the releases were not considered by the IPCC); and more low oxygen problems.

Another stress identified is overfishing. Contrary to claims, the review says, and despite some improvements, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to ecosystems. In 2012 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said 70% of world fish populations were unsustainably exploited.

The scientists say world governments must urgently reduce global CO2 emissions to limit temperature rise to under 2°C—something which would mean limiting all greenhouse gas emissions to 450 ppm. They say current targets for carbon emission reductions are not enough to ensure coral reef survival and to counter other biological effects of acidification, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 emissions and the detection of dissolved oceanic CO2.

Potential knock-on effects of climate change, such as methane release from melting permafrost, and coral dieback, mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated. The scientists also urge better fisheries management and an effective global infrastructure for high seas governance

Source: Climate News Network: http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2013/10/ocean-damage-is-worse-than-thought/

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U.S. Census Report Finds Increases in Coastal Population Growth Put More People at Risk of Extreme Weather by NOAA & U.S. Census Bureau

Wreckage from Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Spleeness/Flickr/cc

Wreckage from Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Spleeness/Flickr/cc

If current population trends continue, the already crowded U.S. coast will see population grow from 123 million people to nearly 134 million people by 2020, putting more people at increased risk from extreme coastal storms like Sandy and Isaac, which severely damaged infrastructure and property last year. The projection comes from a new report from NOAA, The National Coastal Population Report: Population Trends from 1970 to 2020, issued in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the report, which analyzed data from the 2010 census, 39% of the U.S. population is concentrated in counties directly on the shoreline—less than 10% of the total U.S. land area excluding Alaska.  Also 52% of the total population lives in counties that drain to coastal watersheds, less than 20% of U.S. land area, excluding Alaska. A coastal watershed is an area in which water, sediments, and dissolved material drain to a common coastal outlet, like a bay or the ocean.

“People who live near the shore, and managers of these coastal communities, should be aware of how this population growth may affect their coastal areas over time,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service. “As more people move to the coast, county managers will see a dual challenge—protecting a growing population from coastal hazards, as well as protecting coastal ecosystems from a growing population.”

For the first time, this report offers coastal managers and other users two perspectives on population growth along the U.S. coast:

1) the traditional perspective that looks at status and trends throughout counties that drain to coastal watersheds, called Coastal Watershed Counties, and

2) a newer focus that examines only those counties that directly border the coast, including the Great Lakes.

“Understanding the demographic context of coastal areas is vital for our nation and helps us to meet the challenges of tomorrow. To help inform policymakers and the public through this report, the Census Bureau developed a new measure of coastal populations,” said James Fitzsimmons, assistant chief of the Census Bureau’s population division.

Coastal population statistics in the overall total of 769 ‘Coastal Watershed Counties’ provide context for coastal water quality and coastal ecosystem health-related issues. Data from the 452 of those counties that lie directly on the shoreline, called ‘Coastal Shoreline Counties’, can be used to talk about coastal resilience, coastal hazards, and other ocean resource dependent issues.

“Whether you’re talking about watershed counties or shoreline counties, the coast is substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole,” said report editor Kristen Crossett of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “Population density in shoreline counties is more than six times greater than the corresponding inland counties. And the projected growth in coastal areas will increase population density at a faster rate than the country as a whole.”

The report also found that from 1970 to 2010, Coastal Shoreline Counties population increased by 39%, and Coastal Watershed Counties population increased by 45%.

The report is available on NOAA’s ‘State of the Coast’ website, which provides quick facts and more detailed statistics through interactive maps, case studies, and management success stories that highlight what is known about coastal communities, coastal ecosystems, and the coastal economy and about how climate change might impact the coast.

Source: NOAA press release <http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130325_coastalpopulation.html>

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Immigration Reform–For the Climate by Bill McKibben

Immigrants come to the U.S. determined to make a new life. So often they’re more open to the kind of changes we’ll need to deal with climate change.

Climate activists with 350.org

Climate activists with 350.org

For environmentalists, population has long been a problem. Many of the things we do wouldn’t cause so much trouble if there weren’t so many of us. It’s why I wrote a book some years ago called Maybe One: An Argument for Smaller Families. Heck, it’s why I had only one child.

And many of us, I think, long viewed immigration through the lens of population; it was another part of the math problem. I’ve always thought we could afford historical levels of immigration, but I understood why some other environmentalists wanted tougher restrictions. More Americans would mean more people making use of the same piece of land, a piece that was already pretty hard-used.

In recent years, though, the math problem has come to look very different to me. It’s one reason I feel it’s urgent that we get real immigration reform, allowing millions to step out of the shadows and on to a broad path toward citizenship. It will help, not hurt, our environmental efforts, and potentially in deep and powerful ways.

One thing that’s changed is the nature of the ecological problem. Now that global warming is arguably the greatest danger we face, it matters a lot less where people live. Carbon dioxide mixes easily in the atmosphere. It makes no difference whether it comes from Puerto Vallarta or Portland.

It’s true that the typical person from a developing nation would produce more carbon once she adopted an American lifestyle, but she also probably would have fewer children. A December report from the Pew Research Center report showed that birthrates in the U.S. were dropping faster among Mexican American women and women who immigrated from Mexico than among any other group.

This is a trend reflected among all Latinas in the U.S. As an immigrant mother of two from the Dominican Republic told the New York Times: “Before, I probably would have been pressured to have more, [but] living in the United States, I don’t have family members close by to help me, and it takes a village to raise a child. So the feeling is, keep what you have right now.” Her two grandmothers had had a total of 27 children. The carbon math, in other words, may well be a wash.

But there’s a higher math here that matters much more. At this point, there’s no chance we’re going to deal with global warming one household at a time—scientists, policy wonks and economists have concluded it will also require structural change. We may need, for example, things such as a serious tax on carbon; that will require mustering political will to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

And that’s precisely where white America has fallen short. Election after election, native-born and long-standing citizens pull the lever for climate deniers, for people who want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, for the politicians who take huge quantities of cash from the Koch brothers and other oil barons. By contrast, a 2012 report by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza found that Latinos were eager for environmental progress. Seventy-seven percent of Latino voters think climate change is already happening, compared with just 52% of the general population; 92% of Latinos think we have “a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creation here on Earth.”

These numbers reflect, in part, the reality of life for those closer to the bottom of our economy. Latinos are 30% more likely to end up in the hospital for asthma, in part because they often live closer to sources of pollution.

But immigrants, by definition, are full of hope. They’ve come to a new place determined to make a new life, risking much for opportunity. They’re confident that new kinds of prosperity are possible. The future beckons them, and so changes of the kind we’ll need to deal with climate change are easier to conceive.

Republicans think immigrants are a natural fit for their party, and I hope they’re at least partly right—some force needs to help ease the Republicans out of their love affair with ideology and back into a relationship with reality. As commentator Bill O’Reilly put it as he watched Mitt Romney lose despite gaining a huge majority of white votes, “it’s not a traditional America anymore.”

He’s right. And for the environment, that’s good news. We need immigrants to this nation engaged in public life, as soon and as fully as possible. It’s not just the moral thing to do, it’s a key to our future.

Bill McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College, is the author of many books and the founder of 350.org. He is dedicated to fighting climate disaster.  Source: Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2013.

The U.S.-Canada border.

The U.S.-Canada border.

The U.S.-Mexico border

The U.S.-Mexico border

COUNTERPOINT: Bill McKibben’s Magical Thinking on Immigration, Population Growth, and Climate Change by Leon Kolankiewicz

Bill McKibben, climate activist, author of the landmark book The End of Nature, and founder of the group 350.org, is deservedly recognized as one of America’s leading contemporary environmentalists.

Many of these same leading contemporary environmentalists assiduously dodge one of the most important environmental issues of all—population. Overpopulation is considered a politically inconvenient and polarizing distraction. Worse yet, it is entangled (often falsely) in the public imagination with a host of other hot-button issues and even travesties—religion, sex, women’s rights, birth control, abortion, immigration, forced sterilization, China’s one-child policy, and eugenics, just to name a few. Thus, it’s not surprising, but still disappointing, that leading environmentalists and their organizations prefer to duck population.

Not Bill McKibben. He forthrightly acknowledges that, “many of the things we do wouldn’t cause so much trouble if there weren’t so many of us.” After all, it is common sense and simple arithmetic – the more of us there are using up resources and excreting wastes, the greater our aggregate burden on the environment, including the climate.

Even conscientious environmentalists like McKibben inexorably leave behind some ecological and carbon footprint or legacy—if a somewhat smaller one than the average apathetic American.  It goes with the territory called living. And the more we consume to live well, to enjoy a higher standard of living and the quality of life that often but not always goes with it, the deeper and larger the ecological footprint we impose on a beleaguered biosphere.

For years McKibben’s position on population displayed a common sense all too uncommon among the nation’s politically correct environmental establishment. But now he appears to have taken leave of his senses. Inexplicably, in a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, he promotes not only amnesty for illegal immigrants but argues more generally that expansive immigration policies —in effect, higher immigration rates—will help America address climate change. He admits this will boost America’s population in a land that is already “pretty hard-used.” And yet, in his magic formula, more people will magically emit less carbon dioxide.

How can that be?  In what McKibben calls “a higher math” and what I call an extraordinary, unfounded leap of faith, he claims that immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, yearn not just for a higher standard of living—which is, after all, why most of them come to America—but to save the Earth from runaway global warming. He fanaticizes they are more likely to embrace a carbon tax, for instance, and to evince a determination to face down the entrenched fossil fuel industry.

His argument boils down to this: Americans are selfish and short-sighted sinners, and immigrants are the saints who might just save us from our own sinful ways.

On what evidence does McKibben base this feckless faith? His fetching belief that, “immigrants, by definition, are full of hope” and his misplaced confidence in a dubious 2012 survey by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza that claimed, “Latinos were eager for environmental progress.”

The Sierra Club is the same purportedly environmental organization that back in the 1990s abandoned an earlier commitment to U.S. population stabilization to appease open borders advocates. La Raza (“The Race” in Spanish) is the largest national Latino advocacy organization. It has long pushed amnesties and what amounts to open borders—what it thinks of as good for its own ethnic constituency—but with disdain for America’s sovereignty and well-being as a whole, as well as utter disregard for environmental sustainability in general.

In other words, the 2012 report McKibben cites is highly suspect. What appears to be at work is political expediency orchestrated by operatives in the Democratic Party, or “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” I’ll support amnesty if you support or at least give lip service to climate advocacy.

In a 2008 research paper, I estimated CO2 emissions of the average immigrant (legal and illegal combined) in the U.S. at 18% less than those of the average native-born American.  However, these same immigrants produced four times more CO2 in the U.S. than they would have in their countries of origin. The average Mexican immigrant to the U.S. generated only half the COemissions of the average native born American but three times as much CO2 as the average Mexican who stayed in Mexico. Elevated CO2 emissions of immigrants to the U.S. accounted for about 5% of the total increase in annual worldwide CO2 emissions from 1980 to 2008.

My skepticism about the 2012 Sierra Club-La Raza findings that McKibben says fill him with such hope is informed by three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America and more than 20 years of marriage to an immigrant Latina, fluency in Spanish, and two decades of personal involvement with the Latino immigrant experience here in the U.S.

The Central Americans I lived and worked with in the Peace Corps were decidedly less concerned about the environment than North Americans. This was not because of any ethical shortcomings on their part but because of the pressing need to make ends meet and an understandable focus on improving their precarious material standard of living. Rather than worrying about the disappearing tropical rainforests of their country, or the nauseating contamination in the river that ran through town (so polluted you could smell it before you saw it), my wife’s family in a Tegucigalpa, Honduras shantytown was more concerned with trying to get a toilet and indoor plumbing to replace their old wooden outhouse. And replacing the old 55-gallon drum out back on which they cooked with firewood with an actual indoor electric stove was a much higher priority than saving polar bears endangered by disappearing Arctic ice from a warming climate. Such lofty concerns were a luxury my in-laws could not afford.

With the noteworthy exception of tiny Costa Rica (which sends few immigrants here) and its vaunted national parks system, not one Latin American country is widely considered a beacon of enlightened environmental policy and management. Are the immigrants who hail from these countries all that different? If so, they haven’t shown it by joining and supporting American environmental advocacy organizations in large numbers. But maybe at least in part this is because they aren’t made to feel welcome in these same groups that avoid the immigration issue so as to not appear unwelcoming to immigrants.

To believe that immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants will display an enlightened environmental ethic and advocacy so strong that it will more than offset the increased environmental burden of their burgeoning numbers is nothing short of preposterous. It is magical thinking on an outrageous scale.

By advocating amnesty and essentially unlimited immigration to any and all comers, Bill McKibben would doom America to population growth with no end in sight, and sacrifice America’s environment and its response to climate change on the altar of political expediency masquerading as “the moral thing to do.”   

Leon Kolankiewicz is a professional environmental scientist and planner who has researched and written extensively about immigration, U.S. population growth, and the environment.

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Energy, Ethics and Civilization by Vaclav Smil

Dr. Smil is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Smil is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba.

In 1922 Alfred Lotka (1880–1949) formulated his law of maximized energy flows: In every instance considered, natural selection will so operate as to increase the total mass of the organic system, to increase the rate of circulation of matter through the system, and to increase the total energy flux through the system so long as there is present and unutilized residue of matter and available energy.

The greatest possible flux of useful energy, the maximum power output (rather than the highest conversion efficiency) thus governs the growth, reproduction, maintenance, and radiation of species and complexification of ecosystems. The physical expression of this tendency is, for example, the successional progression of vegetation communities toward climax ecosystems that maximize their biomass within the given environmental constraints—although many environmental disturbances may prevent an ecosystem from reaching that ideal goal. In the eastern United States, an unusually powerful hurricane may uproot most of the trees before an old-growth forest can maximize its biomass. Human societies are, fundamentally, complex subsystems of the biosphere and hence their evolution also tends to maximize their biomass, their rate of circulation of matter, and hence the total energy flux through the system.

The trend toward higher energy throughputs has been universal, but the process has been proceeding at a very uneven pace, with affluent countries claiming disproportionate shares of modern energies…..

In order to keep the future global warming (climate disruption) within acceptable limits, concentrations of atmospheric CO2 should be kept below 500 ppm (they surpassed 394 ppm in 2012). That, of course, implies a necessity of limiting the future rate of fossil fuel combustion. Two much-discussed strategies commonly seen as effective solutions are energy conservation and massive harnessing of renewable sources of energy. Unfortunately, neither of these strategies offers a real solution…. Claims that simple and cost-effective biomass approaches could provide 50% of the world’s TPES by 2050 or that 1–2 Gt of crop residues can be burned every year would put the human appropriation of phytomass close to or above 50% of terrestrial photosynthesis. This would further reduce the phytomass available for microbes and wild heterotrophs, eliminate or irreparably weaken many ecosystemic services, and reduce the recycling of organic matter in agriculture. Only an utterly biologically illiterate mind could recommend such action. . . .

These realities make it clear that a society concerned about equity, determined to extend a good quality of life to the largest possible number of its citizens and hence willing to channel its resources into the provision of adequate diets, good health care, and basic schooling could guarantee decent physical well-being with an annual per capita use (converted with today’s prevailing efficiencies) of as little as 50 GJ. (US is about 375 GJ)

Pushing beyond 110 GJ per capita has not brought many fundamental quality-of-life gains. I would argue that pushing beyond 200 GJ per capita has been, on the whole, counterproductive. The only unmistakable outcome is further environmental degradation.

The benefits of high energy use that are enjoyed by affluent countries, that is by less than one-sixth of humanity consuming more than150 GJ per capita, cannot be extended to the rest of the world because fossil fuels cannot be produced at that rate even if their resources were not an issue, and, in any case, the environmental consequences of this expansion would be quite unacceptable. Are not these realities sufficiently compelling to start us thinking about what too many people believe to be unthinkable, about approaching the global energy problem as an ethical challenge, as a moral dilemma? 

We have the technical and economic means to move gradually away from the pursuit of maximized energy throughputs and thus reverse perhaps the greatest imperative of human evolution. The most important first step is to agree that an ever-rising energy and material throughput is not a viable option on a planet that has a naturally limited capacity to absorb the environmental by-products of this ratcheting process. To invert Lotka’s dictum, we must so operate as to stabilize the total mass of the organic system, to limit the rate of circulation of matter through it, and to leave an un-utilized residue of matter and available energy in order to ensure the integrity of the biosphere.

Vaclav Smil received a doctorate in natural sciences from Carolinum University in Prague in 1965. In 1969, after the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, he came to the United States, earning a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1972. Smil is now a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba. His interdisciplinary research deals with interactions of energy, environment, food, economy, population and technical advances. He is the author of 30 books on these topics. Source: http://www.vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/smil-articles-science-energy-ethics-civilization.pdf  Excerpts from Chapter 35 of Science, Energy, Ethics and Civilization.

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