Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Climate Change -- by Hugh Robertson

This article is posted with Hugh's permission, and will be number XV in his Ecology Economics Ethics blog. A member of Ottawa Quaker meeting, he first published this series in New Edinburgh News, whose editor writes of a "significant decline in media reporting on climate change issues since 2007, despite the fact that the evidence of climate change continues to mount and meteorological records are shattered as GHG emissions rise at an unprecedented rate, temperature and rainfall records are broken, the thinning of the Arctic ice pack continues at an alarming rate, and catastrophic weather events drive insurance claims to unprecedented levels. [Robertson] concludes that we are now faced with the dual options of mitigation and adaptation... [especially] mitigation through reduced consumption.
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The danger posed to the world by unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases is truly the greatest story never told. Douglas Fischer's Daily Climate.
Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil
From Other/Fun
Although 2011 was a year of meteorological records, media reporting on environmental issues followed the downward trend of the past few years. Global warming and climate change have been steadily sliding off the radar screen of the popular media in North America.

Andrew Weaver, one of Canada’s best known scientists, examined climate reporting in 5 daily newspapers. He noted a sharp decline in the number of articles and editorials published since 2007. 

Tom Spears of The Ottawa Citizen discovered that references to Kyoto have dropped off since 2008 when the treaty came into effect. Not even the recent Durban conference in December on the future of the Kyoto Protocol generated much coverage.

In the US, media coverage – both print and broadcast – of climate issues has dropped even more precipitously: down by 42 percent since 2009. Joe Romm, a senior energy official in the Clinton administration, and now editor of Climate Progress, suggests that the decline in environmental reporting is driven, not by reporters, but by editors, which in turn raises other questions about the selection and impartiality of climate news stories.

More disturbing are claims emerging from the recent conference of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver that Canadian government scientists are being muzzled. Even The Globe and Mail lent its support to the scientists in an editorial, arguing that political and bureaucratic interference has no place in the world of science. The drop in media coverage of climate change that has taken place since 2007 appears to have been accentuated by the restrictive policies imposed by the government.

Fortunately, scientific journals continue to publish articles that are both evidence-based and peer-reviewed, but unfortunately, they seldom find their way into the popular press. As a consequence, the public, denied important current information, remain shielded from the implications climate change.

However much the media and government policies induce public indifference and apathy, statistics recording the perils of climate change keep rolling out:
  • Both the International Energy Agency and the Global Carbon Project have confirmed that 2010 set a record for global greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions: a total of 10 billion tonnes. This represents a 50 percent increase in overall emissions in the past 20 years.
  • Besides total tonnage, ghg are also measured in parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. In 1880 the figure stood at 285 ppm and had been constant for 10,000 years. It now stands at 392 ppm – probably the highest level in 15 million years – and increasing steadily.
  • Ghgs, whether measured in tonnes or ppm, are escalating rapidly and driving up planetary temperatures. 2011 was the 35th consecutive year since 1976 that the annual global temperature was above average.
  • 2001-2010 was the warmest decade ever recorded according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
  • 2010 holds top spot for the warmest year on record while 2011 has its own special niche. La Nina currents force cooler water to the surface of the Pacific which in turn moderates global temperatures. 2011 was the hottest La Nina year ever documented.
  • The Berkeley Earth Project, the most comprehensive independent review of temperature records, has confirmed the findings of the major climate organizations that average global temperatures have risen by nearly 1 degree since 1950. Rapidly increasing ghg emissions combined with existing accumulations in the atmosphere put us on track to exceed the critical 2 degree threshold well in advance of 2050.
  • Global warming is increasing the levels of water vapour in the atmosphere and producing more rainfall. 2010 and 2011 were the wettest years recorded over land.
  • 2011 was the hottest year ever in the Arctic. Not surprisingly, the ice is thinning and disappearing faster than anticipated, far faster than the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expected.
  • Deforestation is pushing the Amazon basin past a tipping point. For eons the forests have acted as a carbon sink as trees absorbed carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and released oxygen. Cutting, burning and ploughing is now returning huge quantities of carbon to the atmosphere.
  • The oceans are on life support. Water temperatures are warming, acidity levels are increasing and sea levels are slowly rising. More ominous is the sharp decline in the phytoplankton, not only an important part of the ocean food chain but critical in the creation of life-sustaining oxygen.
  • The Amazon basin and the oceans are the lungs of planetary life. Nature does not do double lung transplants.
  • According to the insurance industry, 2011 was the costliest year world-wide in history: $380 billion in losses, mostly climate related. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2011 set a record for the most billion dollar weather-related disasters ever in a single year in the US.
The Secretary-General of the WMO, Michel Jarraud, summed up the situation in the organization’s annual statement for 2011: “Climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat. 

The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans.”

The pattern is clear: the temperature trajectory is ever upward and so is the fallout. These statistics are not doom and gloom prophecies or gratuitous alarmism. Global warming is scientific fact. We can no longer deny climate reality. “Mother Nature is just warming up,” as a recent NBC newscast described the freakish winter tornadoes in the US mid west.

The question facing us now is how we respond to the challenges posed by rapidly changing conditions. We have basically three choices: inaction, mitigation and adaptation.

Mark Hertsgaard has written on environmental issues for the past two decades. His recent book Hot: Living through the next fifty years on earth addresses the problems that his daughter Chiarra (born in 2005) will face in her lifetime. Hertsgaard argues that the twin imperatives of the climate battle are reversing global warming before the tipping points kick in (mitigation) and preparing for the longer term impacts (adaptation).

Environmentalists have been reluctant to endorse adaptation, believing that acceptance of the inevitability of climate change and then actively preparing for the changes is an admission of failure. 

Furthermore, they contend that adaptation will divert efforts from the more urgent task of mitigating the threats to climate stability.

Inaction in the face of conclusive evidence is not an option. Presented, then, with the dual responses of mitigation and adaptation, the responsibility of our generation is to mitigate climate change by curtailing our excessive consumption. Our failure will bequeath to future generations the greater burden of having to adapt to the changes that we have failed to mitigate. They will justifiably denounce us for our moral delinquency. 
Ed. notes: the 2012 federal budget
  • eliminated the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy;
  • cut Environment Canada’s budget by a further 6%;
  • cut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency budget by 40%;
  • reduced the scope and timelines for environmental assessment of projects (like pipelines);
  • cut the energy retrofits (Eco-Energy) program;
  • provided 8 million dollars to investigate the politics and international funding of (radical environmental) non-profits.
for more details see Politics Respun 31 Mar 2012.  Tonya Surman of CSI asks why Ottawa will not support a 21st c economy of social innovation. Scientists protest Harper's attempt to gut Fisheries Act protection against water pollution, 23 March. Harper and tarsands oilco's designate aboriginals and environmentalists as "enemies" - Greenpeace 26 Jan 2012. Canada's actions abroad are equally regressive. Humanitarian NGOs must aid mining co's bottom line - Globe and Mail 30 Jan 2012. Tory appointees announce 3 Apr 2012 that Rights and Democracy, the human rights watchdog, is to be closed down.

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