The top 30 highest-volume U.S. four-day rainfall totals over areas of 14,000 square miles since 1949. Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Florence rank #1 and #2. Graphic: Dr. Kenneth Kunkel / North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies

Dr. Jeff Masters
8 December 2018

(Weather Underground) – Preliminary research by precipitation expert Dr. Kenneth Kunkel of the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, announced in September 2018, found that the three highest-volume rainfall events in the U.S. in the last 70 years have occurred since 2016: Hurricane Harvey in Texas/Louisiana in 2017, Hurricane Florence in North Carolina in 2018, and a March 2016 storm in Louisiana. It is highly unusual to get three such extreme events in one three-year period, and the odds of this occurring were increased by global warming, which boosts the amount of water vapor in the air and increases the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events.

Dr. Kunkel’s ratings were based on four-day rainfall totals over an area of 14,000 square miles (an area 40% larger than the state of Maryland). Harvey delivered an average of 25.6 inches of rain over an area of 14,000 square miles, while Florence was a somewhat distant second place, with an average of 17.5 inches of rain over a like-sized area.

The analysis only used stations that have been reporting reliably throughout the 70-year period, so only a small fraction of current reporting stations were used. However, the use of a consistent network of stations across the entire period increases the reliability of the resulting rankings. When looking at a bigger area--20,000 square mile--Harvey remained in first place, 1998′s Hurricane Georges was second, and Hurricane Florence fell to seventh place. The analysis has not been published or peer reviewed yet, but will be presented at the January 2019 meeting of the American Meteorological Society, Kunkel said. Below is a short description of the top-ten list of highest-volume U.S. rainfall events over a 14,000 square mile area over the past 70 years. [more]

The 3 Highest-Volume U.S. Rainfall Events on Record Have Happened in the Past 3 Years

Temperature forecast in Northern Territory, Australia for 23:00 AEDT on 12 December 2018. Graphic: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

11 December 2018 (NT News) – Did your air con just not cut it in Darwin last night?

Well, no surprises there because the Top End capital has just sweltered through its hottest ever night on record.

In a message on social media this morning the Bureau of Meteorology (Northern Territory) posted: “This will not be a false alarm. Since 9am Tues morning, the temperature at Darwin Airport has not dropped below 30C, breaking the previous record of 29.7C”.

The previous overnight minimum record of 29.7C was recorded on Tuesday morning so it’s been a sweltering two nights in a row for Darwin residents.

A Bureau spokesman said they were not expecting much in the way of rain over Darwin for the next few days so, unfortunately, not much relief from the skies on the horizon.

Darwin swelters through hottest night ever recorded

An environmental activist protests fossil fuel production on 10 December 2018 in front of the venue hosting the U.N. climate change summit in Katowice, Poland. Photo: Grzegorz Celejewski / Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

By Griff Witte and Brady Dennis
10 December 2018

KATOWICE, Poland (The Washington Post) – President Trump’s top White House adviser on energy and climate stood before the crowd of some 200 people on Monday and tried to burnish the image of coal, the fossil fuel that powered the industrial revolution — and is now a major culprit behind the climate crisis world leaders are meeting here to address.

“We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” said Wells Griffith, Trump’s adviser.

Mocking laughter echoed through the conference room. A woman yelled, “These false solutions are a joke!” And dozens of people erupted into chants of protest.

The protest was a piece of theater, and so too was the United States’ public embrace of coal and other dirty fuels at an event otherwise dedicated to saving the world from the catastrophic effects of climate change. The standoff punctuated the awkward position the American delegation finds itself in as career bureaucrats seek to advance the Trump administration’s agenda in an international arena aimed at cutting back on fossil fuels.

“There are two layers of U.S. action in Poland,” said Paul Bledsoe, an energy fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and former Clinton White House climate adviser.

One is the public support of fossil fuels, which Bledsoe said is “primarily aimed at the president’s domestic political base, doubling down on his strategy of energizing them by thumbing his nose at international norms.”

The quieter half is the work of career State Department officials who continue to offer constructive contributions to the Paris climate agreement that President Trump loves to loathe.

Which facet of the American presence proves more influential in Poland could have a big impact on whether this year’s climate summit, now in its second week, ends in success or failure. [more]

That was awkward — at world’s biggest climate conference, U.S. promotes fossil fuels

PM2.5 concentration and use of solid fuels in the states of India, 2017. (A) Population-weighted mean ambient air PM2.5 (B) Proportion of population using solid fuels. Graphic: Balakrishnan, et al., 2018 / Lancet Planetary Health

NEW DELHI, 6 December 2018 (Press Trust of India) – One in eight deaths in India last year was attributable to air pollution, which contributes to more disease burden than tobacco use, a study said Thursday while asserting the highest exposure to ultra-fine particulate matter, PM2.5, was in Delhi followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

Around 1.24 million deaths in India in 2017 is attributable to air pollution, it said and termed air pollution a leading risk factor for deaths in the country where the average life expectancy would have been 1.7 years higher if the pollution levels were less than the minimal level causing health loss.

The study, published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, asserted that with 18 per cent of the global population, India suffered 26 per cent of premature mortality and health loss attributable to air pollution globally.

Over half of the 1.24 million deaths in India attributable to air pollution in 2017 were of those aged less than 70, it said and asserted that 77 per cent of India's population is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) safe limit.

The northern Indian states had particularly high outdoor air pollution levels, the study said.

Uttar Pradesh, last year, recorded the most 2,60,028 deaths attributable to air pollution, followed by Maharashtra at 1,08,038 and Bihar 96,967, it said.

The first comprehensive estimates of the impact of air pollution on deaths, health loss and life expectancy reduction in each state of India said there were 607,000 deaths due to particulate matters outdoors and 408,000 deaths due to household air pollution. [more]

Over 1.24 mn deaths in 2017 due to air pollution in India, says study

ABSTRACT: The annual population-weighted mean exposure to ambient particulate matter PM2·5 in India was 89·9 μg/m3 (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 67·0–112·0) in 2017. Most states, and 76·8% of the population of India, were exposed to annual population-weighted mean PM2·5 greater than 40 μg/m3, which is the limit recommended by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in India. Delhi had the highest annual population-weighted mean PM2·5 in 2017, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana in north India, all with mean values greater than 125 μg/m3. The proportion of population using solid fuels in India was 55·5% (54·8–56·2) in 2017, which exceeded 75% in the low SDI states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha. 1·24 million (1·09–1·39) deaths in India in 2017, which were 12·5% of the total deaths, were attributable to air pollution, including 0·67 million (0·55–0·79) from ambient particulate matter pollution and 0·48 million (0·39–0·58) from household air pollution. Of these deaths attributable to air pollution, 51·4% were in people younger than 70 years. India contributed 18·1% of the global population but had 26·2% of the global air pollution DALYs in 2017. The ambient particulate matter pollution DALY rate was highest in the north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, and Rajasthan, spread across the three SDI state groups, and the household air pollution DALY rate was highest in the low SDI states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Assam in north and northeast India. We estimated that if the air pollution level in India were less than the minimum causing health loss, the average life expectancy in 2017 would have been higher by 1·7 years (1·6–1·9), with this increase exceeding 2 years in the north Indian states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.

The impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017

Paleogeograpy in the middle of the Paleogene Period. Graphic: Wikipedia

By Eric Holthaus
11 December 2018

(Grist) – Our current rate of warming will quickly lead us back to a climate that predates the evolution of modern humans, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That kind of rapid change has no direct comparison in all of Earth’s multi-billion year history.

“The only thing that comes to mind is a meteorite impact,” says co-author Jack Williams, a paleoecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The researchers analyzed the current, near-past, and near-future climates for every part of the planet, and then compared them to what likely existed during similar warming periods of the distant past. The results were shocking, even to Williams.

“We are creating a geological-scale climate event,” Williams says. “These things don’t happen that often, and we don’t know how humans will do through it.”

Without rapidly reducing emissions, we’ll quickly go back to a climate similar to somewhere between the Pliocene and Eocene — geological epochs that occurred about 3 million, and about 56 million years ago, respectively. Both would have hellish consequences and likely reshape human civilization permanently.

During the Pliocene period, global temperatures were about 2-4 degrees Celsius warmer than today and sea levels eventually stabilized about 60 feet higher than current levels. It was a world largely inconsistent with natural ice formation.

By 2030, under a business-as-usual scenario, Pliocene-like conditions become the closest match for most land areas, according to the study. Under a moderate climate action scenario, like the lax pledges of the Paris Agreement, that could be extended out to 2040. Only a drastic, economy-wide makeover within the next decade, consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, would avoid the transition.

“This is coming up pretty fast,” Williams says.

An even more worrying period in Earth history was the Eocene, about 56 million years ago. The warmest part of this period — the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum — lasted around 200,000 years and was one of the warmest times in Earth history. The 8 degrees C-warmed world triggered a deep-sea mass extinction event and rainstorms so intense they scoured away the land surface at a continent scale. Humans are currently releasing carbon into the atmosphere at approximately 50 times the rate of the volcanic eruptions that led to the Eocene warm period. [more]

Welcome to the Eocene, where ice sheets turn into swamps

12 December 2018 (University of Leeds) – A recently published paper shows that humans are reversing a long-term cooling trend, which traces back at least 50 million years. And it’s taken just two centuries.

The paper, co-authored by Professor Alan Haywood from the School of Earth and Environment, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was led by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study examined the future climate projections, set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report and the similarities these have with several periods of geologic history. The findings suggest that the Earth’s climate is expected to resemble the much higher temperatures of the Pliocene period of three million years ago by 2030. And without reduction of greenhouse gases, by 2050, the climate could resemble the warmth of the ice-free Eocene period (50 million years ago).

“After studying the Pliocene for the last 20 years in order to find out more about how warm climates work, it is sobering to know that, all things being equal, I will live long enough to see and recognise more and more characteristics of a climate state which has not existed for more than 3 million years” said Professor Alan Haywood.

Lead author, Professor John Williams and colleagues first published work on this topic in 2007 which focused on the climate data from the early 20th century. Whereas this study examines climate conditions using more extensive data, enabling a deeper understanding of the Earth’s geological past and better comparisons.

Recent findings have shown that the accelerated rate of change appears to be faster than anything life on the planet has experienced before. Whether or not humans and the flora and fauna we understand today can adapt to these rapid changes is still an uncertainty.

Professor Williams said: “We can use the past as a yardstick to understand the future, which is so different from anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. People have a hard time projecting what the world will be like five or 10 years from now. This is a tool for predicting that — how we head down those paths, and using deep geologic analogs from Earth’s history to think about changes in time. We’ve seen big things happen in Earth’s history — new species evolved, life persists and species survive. But many species will be lost, and we live on this planet. These are things to be concerned about, so this work points us to how we can use our history and Earth’s history to understand changes today and how we can best adapt.”

Climate change could take us back 50 million years

ABSTRACT: As the world warms due to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, the Earth system moves toward climate states without societal precedent, challenging adaptation. Past Earth system states offer possible model systems for the warming world of the coming decades. These include the climate states of the Early Eocene (ca. 50 Ma), the Mid-Pliocene (3.3–3.0 Ma), the Last Interglacial (129–116 ka), the Mid-Holocene (6 ka), preindustrial (ca. 1850 CE), and the 20th century. Here, we quantitatively assess the similarity of future projected climate states to these six geohistorical benchmarks using simulations from the Hadley Centre Coupled Model Version 3 (HadCM3), the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Model E2-R (GISS), and the Community Climate System Model, Versions 3 and 4 (CCSM) Earth system models. Under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) emission scenario, by 2030 CE, future climates most closely resemble Mid-Pliocene climates, and by 2150 CE, they most closely resemble Eocene climates. Under RCP4.5, climate stabilizes at Pliocene-like conditions by 2040 CE. Pliocene-like and Eocene-like climates emerge first in continental interiors and then expand outward. Geologically novel climates are uncommon in RCP4.5 (<1%) but reach 8.7% of the globe under RCP8.5, characterized by high temperatures and precipitation. Hence, RCP4.5 is roughly equivalent to stabilizing at Pliocene-like climates, while unmitigated emission trajectories, such as RCP8.5, are similar to reversing millions of years of long-term cooling on the scale of a few human generations. Both the emergence of geologically novel climates and the rapid reversion to Eocene-like climates may be outside the range of evolutionary adaptive capacity.

SIGNIFICANCE: The expected departure of future climates from those experienced in human history challenges efforts to adapt. Possible analogs to climates from deep in Earth’s geological past have been suggested but not formally assessed. We compare climates of the coming decades with climates drawn from six geological and historical periods spanning the past 50 My. Our study suggests that climates like those of the Pliocene will prevail as soon as 2030 CE and persist under climate stabilization scenarios. Unmitigated scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions produce climates like those of the Eocene, which suggests that we are effectively rewinding the climate clock by approximately 50 My, reversing a multimillion year cooling trend in less than two centuries.

Pliocene and Eocene provide best analogs for near-future climates

A hoverfly displaying yellow and black striping to deter predators. Photo: Chris Hassall

5 December 2018 (University of Leeds) – Harmless flies have evolved over millions of years to mimic the appearance of stinging insects, but new evidence suggests climate change is reducing the effectiveness of that disguise.

Many species have adopted a form of the yellow and black banding commonly seen on stinging insects, which predators such as birds and spiders have learnt to avoid, but now University of Leeds scientists say global warming may compromise that defence.

For the first time, researchers have shown that predators can learn during which seasons they should avoid eating yellow and black striped insects, based on when stinging insects are born and active.

They understand they can target them at other times because they will be non-stinging flies.

Dr Christopher Hassall from Leeds’ School of Biology, who led the study, says the Earth’s temperature is crucial to when insects emerge and, as it warms, stinging insects are emerging first.

“The patterns of hatching we have studied suggest that stinging insects are benefiting from climate change because they are born earlier each year.

"There is less randomness in the cycles than in the past, which benefits stinging insects the most, followed by predators who have learnt the seasons when they can eat or should avoid striped insects, but it helps the ‘mimics’ least.

“The time of year when they emerge shifts every year in response to spring weather, but their colours require many years for any change to occur. This means that predators have got wise to the trick.”

Dr Hassall said a small number of "mimic" flies have benefited because of earlier hatching, but for the majority, as the climate has warmed, they have lost out.

Citizen science

In the first part of the project, the researchers needed to understand how many flies were actually likely to be mimicking stinging insects, compared with those which just had a broadly similar appearance. To measure mimicry, the research team carried out a large "citizen science" project.

Recruiting people via Twitter, they created a website showing participants pictures of 42 different types of mimics, and 56 types of stinging insect, and used the human brain as a processing tool and the power of the crowd to generate data.

The team asked participants to rate how close in appearance the insects were and, out of 2,352 potential pairs, 30,000 rankings were submitted by participants during a year, resulting in 237 "high fidelity pairs" consisting of a mimic and a similar stinging insect.

The research team then examined long-term monitoring data stretching back over 50 years to identify those pairs whose historical spring appearance timing had been altered by climate change.

Gaming the species

Usually scientists study the behaviour of animals to predict human behaviour, but as part of this study, the researchers created a virtual reality computer game for people to play the role of a predator.

The game helped them to determine how successful predators were at telling the difference between harmless and stinging prey depending on the order of when the mimics or stinging insects appeared.

Using the game, the researchers tested whether different scenarios also affected how successful predators were in finding prey – when the stinging insects were born first, the mimics were born first, or when they appeared at random.

They found that predators could learn quickly when one prey type was presented first, but that randomness confused them. These results showed just how important it was who emerged first, and provided important information on how the mimics, stinging insects and predators might fare if that order was changed.

The game was played by 45 participants and the data gathered helped the research team to infer how the changes over time might affect the success of the mimics, stinging insects, and the predators.

Dr Hassall said the three elements of the study came together to show how climate change occurring over years or decades can influence evolutionary relationships that have taken millions of years to develop.

He explained the results indicated that mimics, models, and predators each experience different costs and benefits depending on whether the mimics or stinging insects occur first, or co-emerge, with the stinging insects benefiting most from appearing first presumably due to accelerated predator learning.

The full article, “Climate-induced phenological shifts in a Batesian mimicry complex”, is published in the PNAS journal.


Peter Le Riche, University of Leeds press office, 0113 343 2049,

Climate change affects insects’ ability to evade predators

ABSTRACT: Climate-induced changes in spatial and temporal occurrence of species, as well as species traits such as body size, each have the potential to decouple symbiotic relationships. Past work has focused primarily on direct interactions, particularly those between predators and prey and between plants and pollinators, but studies have rarely demonstrated significant fitness costs to the interacting, coevolving organisms. Here, we demonstrate that changing phenological synchrony in the latter part of the 20th century has different fitness outcomes for the actors within a Batesian mimicry complex, where predators learn to differentiate harmful “model” organisms (stinging Hymenoptera) from harmless “mimics” (hoverflies, Diptera: Syrphidae). We define the mimetic relationships between 2,352 pairs of stinging Hymenoptera and their Syrphidae mimics based on a large-scale citizen science project and demonstrate that there is no relationship between the phenological shifts of models and their mimics. Using computer game-based experiments, we confirm that the fitness of models, mimics, and predators differs among phenological scenarios, creating a phenologically antagonistic system. Finally, we show that climate change is increasing the proportion of mimetic interactions in which models occur first and reducing mimic-first and random patterns of occurrence, potentially leading to complex fitness costs and benefits across all three actors. Our results provide strong evidence for an overlooked example of fitness consequences from changing phenological synchrony.

SIGNIFICANCE: Climate change can degrade ecological interactions by separating interacting species in space and time, but this is not the case in one of the best-studied examples of mimicry in which hoverflies (mimics) imitate stinging wasps and bees (models). While there is no evidence of the emergence of mimics and models tracking climate change in the same way, historical records suggest that the mimicry complex is undergoing complex shifts in evolutionary pressures under climate change through changes in the relative emergence patterns of model-mimic pairs. This finding is based on the community-level description of mimetic relationships (comparing 2,352 pairs of species) and the most comprehensive demonstration of the importance of phenology for the fitness of mimics, models, and predators.

Climate-induced phenological shifts in a Batesian mimicry complex

Average reduction in grain protein at elevated relative to ambient CO2 for 18 cultivated rice lines of contrasting genetic backgrounds grown in China and Japan using FACE technology. Graphic: Zhu, et al., 2018 / Science Advances

By Elena Suglia
10 December 2018

(Scientific American) – Is it possible to starve yourself of nutrients while simultaneously gaining weight? It turns out the answer is yes. According to a growing body of research, rising carbon dioxide levels are making our food less nutritious, robbing key crops of vitamins essential to human development.

Studies have shown that crops as varied as wheat, maize, soybeans and field peas contain less protein, zinc, and iron when grown under levels of carbon dioxide expected by 2050. Many crops have already suffered losses in these nutrients; one study compared modern plants with historical herbarium specimens and found that levels of all minerals, including zinc, iron, and calcium, closely tracked carbon dioxide levels through time.

The latest paper on the topic, published earlier this year in Science Advances, found that concentrations of essential nutrients decreased in 18 strains of rice after being exposed to increased carbon dioxide levels in an experiment. The study was the first to show that B vitamins like riboflavin, which helps your body break down food to make energy, and folate, which is important for fetal development, dropped by as much as 30 percent.

It seems counterintuitive that more carbon dioxide could harm plants, since it is one of the main ingredients that plants use to grow, but it turns out that too much carbon dioxide is as unhealthy for plants as too many carbohydrates are for humans. Extra carbon dioxide acts like empty calories or “junk food” for the plants, which gorge themselves on it to grow bigger and faster, consequently getting larger but less nutrient-packed. Just like America’s obesity epidemic, which is partially due to people’s increased access to an abundance of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor food, more is not always better.

Agricultural scientists have known for some time that our food has been getting less nutritious, but they thought it was only due to a byproduct of modern farming methods: soil overuse which leads to mineral depletion, or breeders favoring high-yield varieties, which sacrifices nutrition for size. Meanwhile, plant researchers working over the last couple of decades were finding something surprising: that elevated carbon dioxide also contributes to lowering mineral content in plants.

The plant and agricultural scientists each had pieces of the puzzle, but no one put two and two together to fully explain the nutrient depletion phenomenon until recently.

In 1998, a scientist named Irakli Loladze learned that zooplankton starve from nutrient deficiency when eating algae that are given extra light and grow faster. He thought the same thing might be happening with plants as a result of excess carbon dioxide, and his instincts proved right. The phenomenon was dubbed the “great nutrient collapse.”

The implications of this research are troubling for anyone, but especially people in poor or undeveloped areas of the world where it is more difficult to compensate for the lack of nutrients by supplementing diets with more protein and vitamins.

According to the Global Hunger Index, 2 billion people worldwide already suffer from “hidden hunger,” in which people starve consequent to malnutrition even though they are consuming enough calories. Iron deficiency is the top nutritional disorder in the world, one of every three people are affected by inadequate zinc intake, and millions are deficient in calcium, magnesium, or selenium. Diets low in these essential nutrients can lead to impaired cognitive development in children, increased childhood and maternal deaths, reduced growth in infants, and impaired immune function. [more]

Vanishing Nutrients

ABSTRACT: Declines of protein and minerals essential for humans, including iron and zinc, have been reported for crops in response to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, [CO2]. For the current century, estimates of the potential human health impact of these declines range from 138 million to 1.4 billion, depending on the nutrient. However, changes in plant-based vitamin content in response to [CO2] have not been elucidated. Inclusion of vitamin information would substantially improve estimates of health risks. Among crop species, rice is the primary food source for more than 2 billion people. We used multiyear, multilocation in situ FACE (free-air CO2 enrichment) experiments for 18 genetically diverse rice lines, including Japonica, Indica, and hybrids currently grown throughout Asia. We report for the first time the integrated nutritional impact of those changes (protein, micronutrients, and vitamins) for the 10 countries that consume the most rice as part of their daily caloric supply. Whereas our results confirm the declines in protein, iron, and zinc, we also find consistent declines in vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B9 and, conversely, an increase in vitamin E. A strong correlation between the impacts of elevated [CO2] on vitamin content based on the molecular fraction of nitrogen within the vitamin was observed. Finally, potential health risks associated with anticipated CO2-induced deficits of protein, minerals, and vitamins in rice were correlated to the lowest overall gross domestic product per capita for the highest rice-consuming countries, suggesting potential consequences for a global population of approximately 600 million.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients, and vitamin content of rice grains with potential health consequences for the poorest rice-dependent countries

Magazine covers for TIME's Person of the Year 2018: 'The Guardians and the War on Truth'. Clockwise from upper-left: Jamal Khashoggi; the Annapolis, Maryland, staff of the 'Capital Gazette,'; Chit Su Win and Pan Ei Mon hold photos of their husbands, Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone; Maria Ressa, co-founder of the news site Rappler. Photo: Moises Saman / Magnum / TIME

By Karl Vick
10 December 2018

(TIME) – The stout man with the gray goatee and the gentle demeanor dared to disagree with his country’s government. He told the world the truth about its brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it.

Every detail of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing made it a sensation: the time stamp on the surveillance video that captured the Saudi journalist entering his country’s Istanbul consulate on 2 October 2018; the taxiway images of the private jets bearing his assassins; the bone saw; the reports of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” recorded on audio as the life was choked from him.

But the crime would not have remained atop the world news for two months if not for the epic themes that Khashoggi himself was ever alert to, and spent his life placing before the public. His death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U.S. alliance and—in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links—the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?

Khashoggi put his faith in bearing witness. He put it in the field reporting he had done since youth, in the newspaper editorship he was forced out of and in the columns he wrote from lonely exile. “Must we choose,” he asked in the Washington Post in May, “between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” Khashoggi had fled his homeland last year even though he actually supported much of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda in Saudi Arabia. What irked the kingdom and marked the journalist for death was Khashoggi’s insistence on coming to that conclusion on his own, tempering it with troubling facts and trusting the public to think for itself.

A Bangladeshi police officer grabs the mouth of photographer Shahidul Alam, preventing him from speaking to the press during a court appearance in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 6 August 2018. Alam was arrested after criticizing the government in an interview. Photo: Suvra Kanti Das / TIME

Such independence is no small thing. It marks the distinction between tyranny and democracy. And in a world where budding authoritarians have advanced by blurring the difference, there was a clarity in the spectacle of a tyrant’s fury visited upon a man armed only with a pen. Because the strongmen of the world only look strong. All despots live in fear of their people. To see genuine strength, look to the spaces where individuals dare to describe what’s going on in front of them.

In the Philippines, a 55-year-old woman named Maria Ressa steers Rappler, an online news site she helped found, through a superstorm of the two most formidable forces in the information universe: social media and a populist President with authoritarian inclinations. Rappler has chronicled the violent drug war and extrajudicial killings of President Rodrigo Duterte that have left some 12,000 people dead, according to a January estimate from Human Rights Watch. The Duterte government refuses to accredit a Rappler journalist to cover it, and in November charged the site with tax fraud, allegations that could send Ressa to prison for up to 10 years.

In Annapolis, Md., staff of the Capital, a newspaper published by Capital Gazette Communications, which traces its history of telling readers about the events in Maryland to before the American Revolution, press on without the five colleagues gunned down in their newsroom on 28 June 2018. Still intact, indeed strengthened after the mass shooting, are the bonds of trust and community that for national news outlets have been eroded on strikingly partisan lines, never more than this year. [more]

TIME Person of the Year 2018

Protesters at the UN climate talks in Poland disrupt a U.S. panel on coal power with chants of ‘Keep it in the ground’ and ‘Shame on you’, 10 December 2018. Photo: Lukasz Kalinowski / REX / Shutterstock

By Jonathan Watts
10 December 2018

Katowice, Poland (The Guardian) – A Trump administration presentation extolling the virtues of fossil fuels at the UN climate talks in Poland has been met with guffaws of laughter and chants of “Shame on you”.

Monday’s protest came during a panel discussion by the official US delegation, which used its only public appearance to promote the “unapologetic utilisation” of coal, oil and gas. Although these industries are the main source of the carbon emissions that are causing global warming, the speakers boasted the US would expand production for the sake of global energy security and planned a new fleet of coal plants with technology it hoped to export to other countries.

The event featured prominent cheerleaders for fossil fuels and nuclear power, including Wells Griffith, Donald Trump’s adviser on global energy and climate, Steve Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy at the energy department, and Rich Powell, the executive director of the ClearPath Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on “conservative clean energy”. The only non-American was Patrick Suckling, the ambassador for the environment in Australia’s coal-enthusiast government.

None of the US participants mentioned climate change or global warming, focusing instead of “innovation and entrepreneurship” in the technological development of nuclear power, “clean coal” and carbon capture and storage.

Ten minutes into Griffith’s opening speech, he was interrupted by a sudden, sustained, loud volley of laughter by several dozen protesters that was then followed by a single shout of “It’s not funny”, and then a series of chants of “Keep it in the ground” and “Shame on you”.

Several campaigners read statements. “There is no such thing as clean coal. Coal is deadly from the beginning to the end. They talk about the life cycle of coal, I talk about it as a death march. My father died of black lung, and I am in this struggle with others whose fathers and husbands are dying of black lung right now,” said Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which represents Appalachian coal workers in North America.

After the protesters were led away by security guards, Griffiths said: “In the US our policy is not to keep it in the ground, but to use it as cleanly and efficiently as possible”.

This statement was contradicted by climate analysts, who noted the US environment agency estimates that 1,400 more deaths per year will result from Trump’s proposal to replace the Clean Power Act.

“It’s ludicrous for Trump officials to claim that they want to clean up fossil fuels, while dismantling standards that would do just that,” said Dan Lashof, the director of the World Resources Institute. “Since taking office, this administration has proposed to roll back measures to cut methane leaks from oil and gas operations, made it easier for companies to dump coal ash into drinking water, and just days ago proposed easing carbon pollution rules for new coal-fired power plants.” […]

This was the second consecutive year that the Trump team was heckled after promoting fossil fuels and nuclear power at the climate talks, underscoring how the US position has shifted since the president took power in 2017. [more]

Protesters disrupt US panel's fossil fuels pitch at climate talks


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