Screenshot of the home page for 'The New Climate Economy', http://newclimateeconomy.report/. Graphic: newclimateeconomy.report

By Paul Krugman
18 September 2014

(The New York Times) – This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?

I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.

Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.

On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.

And thanks to these co-benefits, the paper argues, one argument often made against carbon pricing — that it’s not worth doing unless we can get a global agreement — is wrong. Even without an international agreement, there are ample reasons to take action against the climate threat.

But back to the main point: It’s easier to slash emissions than seemed possible even a few years ago, and reduced emissions would produce large benefits in the short-to-medium run. So saving the planet would be cheap and maybe even come free.

Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth. [more]

Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free?

A vaquita trapped in a fisherman's net. Fewer than 100 vaquitas are living today, their population nearly wiped out by poachers sweeping up another rare species and shrimp fishermen casting huge nets. Photo: via savenaturesavehuman.blogspot.com

By ELISABETH MALKIN
14 September 2014

SAN FELIPE, Mexico (The New York Times) – It is a rare moment when scientists can point to an animal at the edge of extinction and predict when it might disappear forever. But it is happening here, under the golden waters of the desert-rimmed sea, where a small porpoise has almost vanished.

Nobody imagined that the end would approach so quickly. What changed was the appearance of a new threat to the snub-nosed porpoise known as the vaquita: organized crime.

The vaquita, a shy marine mammal, is simply collateral damage as poachers here sweep up another endangered species, a giant fish called the totoaba, to please consumers in China. The vaquitas become entangled and die in the nets set for totoaba.

Like the Chinese demand for other rare animal parts, including shark fins, the market for totoaba is driven by customers who pay generously, in this case, for the totoaba’s swim bladder. Dried and served in soup, it is believed to have medicinal qualities.

With each kilogram of swim bladder fetching as much as $10,000 here, its sale is more lucrative than that of marijuana.

The effect of the totoaba poaching on the vaquita came as a shock to conservationists. A study released in July concluded that half of the population, which inhabits the northern reaches of the Gulf of California, had been killed in two years, leaving just 97 vaquitas.

The numbers prompted a group of Mexican and international vaquita experts to issue a dramatic warning. Without drastic steps to save the world’s smallest marine mammal, the group said, it would disappear within four years.

“It’s definitely the last call for this species,” said Barbara Taylor, a marine mammal expert who is part of the scientists’ group, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. [more]

A Porpoise Is Ensnared by Criminals and Nets

Cracked ground in an area which used to be underwater at the Jaguari dam, 5 September 2014. The dam is part of the Cantareira system, which faces the worst drought in São Paulo's history. Photo: Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty Images

By Marianna Musset
15 September 2014

(tcktcktck.org) – The ongoing drought crisis in São Paulo has reached a critical level that continues towards rock bottom. Brazil’s largest city, home to more than 9 million people, could run dry in the next 100 days according to Brazil’s Public Ministry.

The Cantareira reservoir which supplies 45% of the city’s metropolitan population has reached a record low of 10.7% capacity. Despite ongoing recommendations to implement water rationing to the city, the São Paulo state have failed to do so.

Instead, they have turned to financial incentives to promote reduced water consumption amongst its citizens and tapping supplies from other reservoirs. Customers who reduce their water use by 20% are offered a 30% reduction in their annual water bill. Sabesp, São Paulo’s water utility company, claims the measure has been as effective as water rationing would have been at reducing water use.

However, as water levels have continued to decrease Sabesp have resorted to pumping what is known as dead water from three out of five of the Cantareira reservoirs. Dead water refers to the water below the minimum water level that is not normally used.

Political motivations have been cited as the cause of the denial of the severity of the drought crisis as the looming October elections are just around the corner.

Deforestation and climate change impact the flying rivers of the Amazon

Southeastern Brazil has suffered from its driest six months in 84 years.

Not only have temperatures been higher than usual but rains that usually travel southwards from the Amazon at this time of year have failed to arrive.

“The last rainy season was drier than the dry season,” Mauro Arce, São Paulo’s water resources secretary, told the Guardian.

The missing rains have been blamed on the loss of what is known as the “flying rivers”- the massive volumes of water vapour released from the Amazonian trees.

Brazilian scientists warn the absence of these flying rivers is not a quirk of nature but a symptom of continuing deforestation in the Amazon compounded by climate change.

The latest figures released by the Brazilian government show that Amazon deforestation has increased by 29%  in 2013, reversing gains made in the region since 2009. [more]

Brazil’s drought: Sao Paulo – 100 days till rockbottom


By Jonathan Watts in
5 September 2014

São Paulo (The Guardian) – From his front door to the banks of the Cantareira reservoir, José Christiano da Silva used to stroll only a hundred metres when he first moved to the area in 2009. Today, amid the worst drought in São Paulo's history, he must now trek a kilometre across the dried-up bed before he reaches what's left of the most important water supply for South America's biggest city.

"It's frightening to look at," says the retiree, standing on cracked mud. "In the past, we'd already be under water here." After the driest six months since records began 84 years ago, the volume of the Cantareira system has fallen to 10.7% of its capacity, raising alarms for the nearby urban population of 20 million people and the most important economic hub on the continent.

The drought, affecting Brazil's southeast and central regions, has prompted rationing in 19 cities, undermined hydropower generation, pushed up greenhouse gas emissions and led to squabbles between states vying for dwindling water resources.

Supplies are usually abundant. Brazil has 12% of the world's freshwater and less than 3% of the world population. Apart from the arid northeastern Cerrado, its cities are normally more likely to be plagued with floods than droughts. With big rivers like the Amazon and Paraná, the country generally meets 80% of energy needs with hydropower.

But this year, the rain fronts that are normally carried south from the humid Amazon have largely failed to materialise and temperatures have been higher than usual, prompting the authorities to scrabble to tap new sources and reduce demand. "It has been a terrible year. The last rainy season was drier than the dry season," Mauro Arce, São Paulo's water resources secretary, told the Guardian. "This is a crisis and we are responding with technical measures and the support of consumers."

In São Paulo city, that has meant financial incentives to encourage residents and businesses to reduce consumption, the reduction of water pressure by 75% at night (which in effect means a cut for those – often the poor – living in high areas) and tapping alternative supplies. In neighbouring cities, like Gaurulhos, more draconian measures are in place with some neighbourhoods only able to get water one day in three.

Tensions have emerged between cities, and between those who want water for energy and those who need it for drinking, food and sanitation.

São Paulo has tussled with Rio de Janeiro over the use of the Rio Jaguari, a river that runs across state borders and is used by the latter for hydropower plants and to dilute sewage in the absence of adequate treatment plants. São Paulo, which is downstream, has tapped this river to partially recuperate the Paraiba reservoir system despite the protests of its neighbour and admonitions from the federal government.

"We're defending the inhabitants of São Paulo," said Arce. "Brazilian law is very clear. In situations like the one we face now, the priority is people and animals … People in Rio should have no concerns. They have a lot of water." [more]

Brazil drought crisis leads to rationing and tensions


By Vanessa Dezem 
19 September 2014 

(Bloomberg) – Brazil’s São Paulo state is rationing water for more than 3.6 million people in 29 cities as reservoirs dry up amid months of drought, O Globo said.

The state’s reservoir levels continue to decline, with the Cantareira system that supplies almost half of the state’s population just 8.6 percent full this week, the Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper said.

The drought is the state’s worst in decades. São Paulo is home to 44 million people, in 645 cities, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, known as IBGE.

Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de São Paulo, or Sabesp, is among the world’s largest water utilities.

Sao Paulo Rationing Water for 3.6 Million People, O Globo Says

Aerial view of coastal erosion in Venice, Louisiana, 1956-2010. At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, NOAA scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater. Graphic: ProPublica

By Bob Marshall
28 August 2014

(Scientific American) – In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.

This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.

The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year. [more]

Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana Is Disappearing, Quickly

Sea surface temperature anomaly for the Northern Hemisphere, 17 September 2014 Graphic: NOAA / arctic-news.blogspot.com

By Harold Hensel
18 September 2014

(Arctic News) – For the first time in thousands of years, warm water is flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Warm water from the deep ocean is showing up on surface images. There is no way to put this into the context of 'normal.' Historic temperatures have kept the Arctic frozen on an even keel for thousands of years. Even if there was a 'natural cycle' it has been completely overridden by the astonishing amount of pollution that is going into the atmosphere.

Over 90 percent of Earth's energy imbalance has been going into the oceans, almost unnoticed by people keeping track of the temperatures in the atmosphere. The warmer ocean water is going through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, East Siberian Sea, and worst of all, the Laptev Sea.

There are methane hydrate concentrations in all of these areas up to 1,500 feet deep for miles and miles. There are fractures here that give mantel methane a route to the surface that have been safely sealed by ice. The hydrates and seals are thawing. [more]

Warm water flowing into Arctic Ocean

Evidence of declines in invertebrate abundance. (A) Of all insects with IUCN-documented population trends, 33 percent are declining, with strong variation among orders. (B) Trends among UK insects (with colors indicating percent decrease over 40 years) show 30 to 60 percent of species per order have declining ranges. (C) Globally, a compiled index of all invertebrate population declines over the past 40 years shows an overall 45% decline, although decline for Lepidoptera is less severe than for other taxa. (D) A meta-analysis of effects of anthropogenic disturbance on Lepidoptera, the best-studied invertebrate taxon, shows considerable overall declines in diversity. Graphic: Dirzo, et al., 2014

18 September 2014 (The Mind Unleashed) – Those who keep taking our biodiversity for granted: dumping corporate waste, spraying copious amounts of herbicides and pesticides, contaminating our water with […] industrial chemicals while generally ignoring the environment at large, have another thing coming. According to a Stanford biology professor, Rodolfo Dirzo, the earth has begun its 6th mass extinction cycle – and it’s our fault.

More than 3.5 billion years of biodiversity hang in the balance. According to lead author Dirzo, we have reached a tipping point. In a recently published review of scientific literature and an analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the beginning of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

While 320 terrestrial animals have died off since 1500, populations of the remaining animal species show a recurring decline of 25 percent. There is a similar dire prophecy for invertebrate life.

What’s alarming is that previous extinctions were caused by planetary transformation or asteroid strikes, and the current die-off is entirely due to human error.

Professor Dirzo is calling our time an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.” Human ignorance and greed are its causes. According to the study:

Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans. [more]

Stanford Biologist Warns: Early Signs of Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction in Progress

Houses on Eastwood Avenue, Detroit, photographed in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. Photo: Redditor Scarbane / Google Street View

By Olivia Brindley
9 June 2014

(Distractify) – It's no secret that the city of Detroit is not the thriving industrial city that it once was, but as things decay over time, it's sometimes hard to notice just how drastic some of the changes have been. Redditor Scarbane has compiled a startling collection of images from Google Street View showing just how much things have deteriorated in just a few years. These pictures broke my heart a little bit…

Hopefully, the government can find a way to turn this city around and make it a more appealing place to live. It's so sad to think about the people that have lived in these now-dilapidated homes. [more]

Detroit's Sad Decline Is Shown In These Shocking Transformation Photos

27 August 2014 (euronews) – Is the sun setting on Japan’s tuna fishing industry? Faced with a recent report that the bluefin tuna population is close to collapse, Tokyo has done an about-turn and decided to slash catches by half.

Last year the USA, Japan, China, and South Korea agreed to cut catches by 15% of young, under three-year-old fish, but Japanese fisherman have taken fright and will demand the four nations agree next year to a 10-year plan to cut by 50% the number of fish under 30 kilos. This should allow the species to more easily reproduce and recover.

Japan is also to propose an ‘early warning system’, letting fishermen know when they are approaching the limit of their quota, when they have to stop fishing completely.

This is designed to minimise disruption and allow the industry to better anticipate periods of no activity.

Japan sounds bluefin warning, calls for 50% catch cut

Palm trees topple due to coastal erosion on the Carteret islands, which is at risk from rising sea levels. Photo: Citt/flickr

By Greg Harman
15 September 2014

(The Guardian) – The island paradise is under attack. Thanks to destabilizing forces of climate change – rising sea levels and strengthening storms, particularly – some of Earth’s most picturesque locations are being scrubbed from the map. And the residents of these postcard settings are being forced to consider relocating to avoid being swept away into the sea.

In Tuvalu, a collection of reef islands and atolls midway between Hawaii and Australia, saltwater intrusion has already made it difficult to grow traditional crops, and the rainfall that provides much of the drinking water has become unreliable. Despite investments in freshwater storage systems and makeshift bulwarks to slow coastal erosion, much of the nation – where the average land height is a mere 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above sea level – will likely be under water by the end of the century.

“It’s already like a weapon of mass destruction,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said last month of the impact climate change is having on his nation.

In what has been called a landmark ruling, New Zealand’s immigration court in August granted a Tuvaluan family legal residency after the pair’s attorneys argued, in part, that climate change and overpopulation has made life untenable on their native island. The ruling in favor of Sigeo Alesana and his family came just three months after New Zealand rejected the world’s first climate refugee claim, that of Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati.

Because the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees still doesn’t recognize climate change as valid factor for refugee status, the New Zealand attorneys representing the Tuvaluan couple also relied on more traditional arguments – including the existence of established family relationships inside New Zealand – to make their clients’ claim.

“To be successful, it need[ed] to be argued beyond the convention, which is what we did,” Carole Curtis wrote the Guardian by email.

But the roughly 10,800 residents of Tuvalu are by no means the only ones at risk of losing their homes to climate change. While the estimates of future migrants vary widely, from tens of thousands to one billion, there’s little question that an increase in climate refugees is on the way.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in a 2012 paper that forced migrations will likely grow in the years ahead. “For locations such as atolls,” the report reads, “in some cases it is possible that many residents will have to relocate.”

A thousand miles due west of Tuvalu, a staged relocation effort has been underway for years, as hundreds of islanders from the Carteret atoll make their way to the larger island of Bougainville, 50 miles southwest.

The increasing infertility of the atoll soils, a consequence of increasing saltwater intrusion, has been a major factor in the decision to relocate, said Ursula Rakova, who is helping lead the Carteret islanders to the “big island”. [more]

Has the great climate change migration already begun?

 

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