Friday, May 30, 2014

Scholarships Available for Caribbean Students – Latin American Student Energy Summit

Latin American and Caribbean students are eligible for scholarships to attend the Latin American Student Energy Summit will take place at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City from June 9 to 21, 2014.

The scholarships are intended for undergraduate students to work on energy issues (graduate students are also eligible). Applications are expected by Saturday, 7 June 2014. The event is part of a series of Regional Student Energy Summits that will occur simultaneously with others in Africa, North America and Europe.

For More Information click image below


Caribbean seeks to take full advantage of new U.N. climate fund

“Despite our region’s well-known, high vulnerability and exposure to climate change, Caribbean countries have not accessed or mobilised international climate finance at levels commensurate with our needs,” said Dr. Warren Smith, the president of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The CDB, which ended its annual board of governors meeting here on Thursday, May 29, had the opportunity for a first-hand dialogue on the operations on the GCF, through its executive director, Hela Cheikhrouhou, who delivered the 15th annual William Demas Memorial lecture.

But even as she addressed the topic “The Green Climate Fund; Great Expectations,” Smith reminded his audience that on a daily basis the Caribbean was becoming more aware of the severe threat posed by climate change.

“Seven Caribbean countries…are among the top 10 countries, which, relative to their GDP, suffered the highest average economic losses from climate-related disasters during the period 1993-2012.

“It is estimated that annual losses could be between five and 30 percent of GDP within the next few decades,” he added.

According to a Tufts University report, published after the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study and comparing an optimistic rapid stabilisation case with a pessimistic business-as-usual case, the cost of inaction in the Caribbean will have dramatic consequences in three key categories. Namely hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure damage due to sea-level rise.

The costs of inaction would amount to 22 percent of GDP for the Caribbean as a whole by 2100 and would reach an astonishing 75 percent or more of GDP by 2100 in Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Turks and Caicos.

“In the Caribbean, the concern of Small Island Developing States is all too familiar – the devastating effects of hurricanes have been witnessed by many. Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions,” Cheikhrouhou warned.

Executive director of the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie told IPS that regional countries were now putting their project proposals together to make sure they could take full advantage of the GCF.

“The CARICOM [Caribbean Community] heads of government, for instance have asked the centre to help in putting together what they consider bankable projects and we are in the process of going to each member state to ensure that we have projects that as soon as the GCF comes on line we would be among the first to be able to present these projects for consideration.”

Leslie said that in the past, Caribbean countries had been faced with various obstacles in order to access funds from the various global initiatives to deal with climate change.

“For instance if we mention the Clean Development Mechanism [CDM], the cost was prohibitive because our programmes were so small that the monies you would need upfront to do it were not attractive to the investors.”

He said the Caribbean also suffered a similar fate from the Adaptation Fund, noting “we have moved to another level where they said we will have greater access, but again the process was much more difficult than we had anticipated.”

The GCF was agreed at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Cancun, Mexico. Its purpose is to make a significant contribution to the global efforts to limit warming to 2°C by providing financial support to developing countries to help limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. There are hopes that the fund could top 100 billion dollars per annum by 2020.

“Our vision is to devise new paradigms for climate finance, maximise the impact of public finance in a creative way, and attract new sources of public and private finance to catalyse investment in adaptation and mitigation projects in the developing world,” the Tunisian-born Cheikhrouhou told IPS.

She said that by catalysing public and private funding at the international, regional, and national levels through dedicated programming in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and as a driver of climate resilient development, the GCF is poised to play a relevant and timely role in climate action globally.

Cheikhrohou said that it would be most advisable if Caribbean countries “can think of programmatic approaches to submit proposals that are aggregating a series of projects or a project in a series of countries.”

She said that by adopting such a strategy, it would allow regional countries “to reach the scale that would simplify the transaction costs for each sub activity for the country” and that that she believes the GCF has “built on the lessons learnt from the other mechanisms and institutions in formulating our approach.

“To some extent there is embedded in the way of doing work this idea of following the lead of the countries making sure they are the ones to come forward with their strategic priorities and making sure we have the tools to accompany them through the cycle of activities, projects or programmes starting with the preparatory support for the development of projects,” she told IPS.

Selwin Hart, the climate change finance advisor with the CDB, said the GCF provides an important opportunity for regional countries to not only adapt to climate change but also to mitigate its effects. He is also convinced that it would assist the Caribbean move towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“The cost of energy in the Caribbean is the highest in the world. This represents a serious strike on competitiveness, economic growth and job creation and the GCF presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for countries to have a stable source to financing to address the vulnerabilities both as it relates to importing fossil fuels as well as the impacts of climate change,” he said.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock

Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences?

A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together.

He believes the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be amenable to hearing their arguments, although the court’s requirement that all parties to a dispute agree to its jurisdiction would be a major stumbling block.

“It is most unlikely that the countries that are warming the planet, which incidentally now include India and China, not just the United States, Canada and the European Union…[that] they would agree to jurisdiction,” Sanders told IPS.

“The alternative, if countries wanted to press the issue of compensation for the destruction caused by climate change, is that they would have to go to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Sanders said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries could “as a group put forward a resolution stating the case that they do believe, and there is evidence to support it, that climate change and global warming is having a material effect… on the integrity of their countries.

“We’re seeing coastal areas vanishing and we know that if sea level rise continues large parts of existing islands will disappear and some of them may even be submerged, so the evidence is there.”

Sanders pointed to the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented” and gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of 60 million dollars.

“People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real,” Sanders said.

“They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past, from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none, from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding, and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.”

At the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November, developing countries fought hard for the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. After two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations, they finally won the International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD), to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

The details of that mechanism will be hammered out at climate talks in Bonn this June, and finally in Paris the following year. As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Nauru will be present at a meeting in New Delhi next week of the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to try and build a common platform for the international talks.

“It isn’t just the Caribbean, of course,” Sanders said. “A number of other countries in the world – the Pacific countries – are facing an even more pressing danger than we are at the moment. There are countries in Africa that are facing this problem, and countries in Asia,” he told IPS.

“Now if they all join together, there is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations and maybe that is the place at which we would more effectively press it if we acted together. It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity,” he added.

Pointing to the OECD countries, Sir Ronald said they act together, consult with each other and come up with a programme which they then say is what the international standard must be and the developing countries must accept it.

“Why do the developing countries not understand that we could reverse that process? We can stand up together and say look, this is what we are demanding and the developed countries would then have to listen to what the developing countries are saying,” Sir Ronald said.

Following their recent 25th inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller praised the increased focus that CARICOM leaders have placed on the issue of climate change, especially in light of the freak storm last year that devastated St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At that meeting, heads of government agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and SIDS to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations.

In Antigua, where drought has persisted for months, water catchments are quickly drying up. The water manager at the state-owned Antigua Public utilities Authority (APUA), Ivan Rodrigues, blames climate change.

“We know that the climate is changing and what we need to do is to cater for it and deal with it,” he told IPS.

But he is not sold on the idea of international legal action against the large industrialised countries.

“I think what will cause [a reversal of their practices] is consumer activism,” he said. “The argument may not be strong enough for a court of law to actually penalise a government.”

But Sanders firmly believes an opinion from the International Court of Justice would make a huge difference.

“We could get an opinion. If the United Nations General Assembly were to accept a resolution that, say, we want an opinion from the International Court of Jurists on this matter, I think we could get an opinion that would be favourable to a case for the Caribbean and other countries that are affected by climate change,” he told IPS.

“If there was a case where countries, governments and large companies knew that if they continue these harmful practices, action would be taken against them, of course they would change their position because at the end of the day they want to be profitable and successful. They don’t want to be having to fight court cases and losing them and then having to pay compensation,” he added. More


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Antarctica's ice collapse threatens metres of sea level rise within decades

Scientists know that if Antarctica's ice sheets and glaciers collapse, sea levels could rise 5 metres. But the idea that it will take 200 years to happen is based on a linear model, writes Dady Cherry. In fact, the process is exponential - and could take place 'within decades'.

We conclude that this sector of West Antarctica is undergoing a marine ice sheet instability that will significantly contribute to sea level rise in decades to come.

Imagine further that a thick layer of ice covers, not only the surface of the island that lies above the sea but also an extensive portion of the perimeter that is beneath the sea.

The peaks are higher above sea level than on any continent. In winter, the sea freezes because temperatures drop to less than -80 degrees Celsius (-112 degrees Farenheight), and the island's area grows to about 10 million square miles.

In summer when some of the ice melts, the ice cover remains on average more than a mile thick, although the overall surface area of the island shrinks to about 5 million square miles. Even in summer, however, the island is still larger than Europe or Australia. It is Antarctica, and it is impossible to imagine.

When glaciers no longer rest on bedrock, they are doomed

So let us instead consider an island that is a large glacier with a thick cover of ice that extends outward, well beyond its land area. The island is shaped roughly like an infinity symbol, with the right (east) side much larger than the left (west).

The west side is really a peninsula and archipelago that share a common bedrock, but this is invisible because of the ice cover. What we can see is that even at the perimeter, where there is no land above sea level, there is ice. In some places, the ice reaches down, well beneath the water surface, all the way to the bedrock.

This situation is unstable, because in principle, the mass of ice that is beneath the sea and in continuous contact with liquid water should eventually melt. When it does, this initially leaves an overhanging shelf of ice over the water at the island's perimeter.

Being less dense than water, this shelf will want to float up and, given enough time, will eventually break away from the more interior ice that is pinned to land above sea level. Indeed, about 40% of Antarctica's perimeter consists of such ice shelves. In another 40% of the perimeter, the ice cover reaches all the way down to the bedrock.

An uncomfortable equilibrium is coming to an end

Island, ice and sea have coexisted for millennia in an uncomfortable equilibrium. In particular, the sea temperatures have not grown sufficiently warm to erode the ice edge irreversibly.

Furthermore, the mass of ice on the surface has remained relatively constant, with the seasonal flows of water out to sea in the summer being replaced by deposits of ice in winter.

The ice shelves have not thinned sufficiently to become so weak that they would snap and float away out to sea. This was all before the one-degree Celsius warming in the Earth's surface since around 1980.

Currently, the warmer seawater is eroding the island's submerged perimeter of ice. Simultaneously, the warmer air is also melting the ice cover at such an accelerated rate that it cannot be entirely replaced in the winters.

The process is irreversible

Once both kinds of erosion become irreversible, meaning that no net ice is replaced, the ice mass will shrink and become more and more bare, in a process that will accelerate out of control until the ice appears suddenly to vanish.

This is more or less the story that Eric Rignot and his colleagues reported about West Antarctica in a Geophysical Research Letters article that was accepted for publication on May 12, 2014.

They used satellite-based radar interferometry to map the edges of a series of glaciers that drain into a large bay called the Amundsen Sea Embayment, and combined their data with the results of other kinds of surveys.

Beating a rapid retreat

They discovered that between 1992 and 2011:

  • Thwaites Glacier retreated 8.7 miles (14 km) at its core and zero to six miles (1 to 9 km) at its edges,
  • Haynes Glacier retreated 6 miles (10 km) at its edges,
  • Smith / Kohler Glacier retreated about 22 miles (35 km), and its ice shelf is barely pinned to the surface.
  • Pine Island Glacier retreated 19 miles (31 km) at its center and snapped and detached from the ground.
All these retreats occurred mostly between 2005 to 2009. The authors note that they must have had a common cause and that the most reasonable explanation is the general warming of the ocean. They further explain that there is no natural land mass to prevent the movement of the massive glaciers out to sea. They conclude:

"The retreat is proceeding along fast-flowing, accelerating sectors that are thinning, become bound to reach floatation and un-ground from the bed.

"We find no major bed obstacle upstream of the 2011 grounding lines that would prevent further retreat of the grounding lines farther south.

"We conclude that this sector of West Antarctica is undergoing a marine ice sheet instability that will significantly contribute to sea level rise in decades to come."

In other words, the disappearance of West Antarctic ice is well under way, and it is irreversible.

The melting is exponential, not linear

It is notable that this research was done under difficult circumstances. For example, the authors write that, since 2001, the ERS-2 satellite has operated without its gyroscopes, and "This made it difficult to control the antenna pointing ... ".

They further observe that "In July 2011, ERS-2 terminated its mission after 16 years of services, far exceeding its planned operational lifespan."

In addition, they make a point of acknowledging "two anonymous reviewers for their comments." Possibly, the report was delayed, and some of its more frightening arguments had to be removed before publication.

In a later publication for the general public, Rignot stressed that the estimate of 200 years for the Radmunsen sea collapse, which has been repeated again and again in the press, is based on the melting continuing at its current rate.

This we know to be impossible because the melting is an exponential process that has been accelerating all the time and will continue to accelerate even more.

How long before sea rise is catastrophic?

The acceleration is driven, among other things, by an accelerated warming of the atmosphere and sea surface, continued expansion of the ozone hole, strengthening of currents that bring greater masses of warm waters from the tropics to Antarctica, weakening of the ice shelves due to accelerated melting of the surface ice, weakening of the attachment of the ice below sea level due to an accelerated erosion, and decreasing reflectivity of the Earth.

With regard to climate change, again and again, exponential processes have been treated as if they would develop linearly, despite scientists knowing quite well that they would not. Consider for example, a storm that is approaching your house from six miles away.

The storm is currently moving at five miles per hour, but it is expected to double its speed with every new mile. Do you make sure to have cover within one hour and 12 minutes, or within about 22 minutes?

Again and again, scientists have done the equivalent of feigning surprise when their timelines, based on a completely bogus linearity, have turned out to be too long. Things have gone much too far for us to continue to play such numbers' games.

West Antarctic ice sheet could raise sea levels 5m 'within decades'

Rignot blames carbon emissions, which have tripled since the Kyoto Protocol, for the current state of affairs, and he categorically says that the collapse of the ice cover from "the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica [is] unstoppable, with major consequences - it will mean that sea levels will rise one metre [more than 3 feet] worldwide.

"What's more, its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres [10 to more than 16 feet]. Such an event will displace millions of people worldwide."

The sea-level rise of 10 to 16 feet will come in decades, rather than 200 years. It will submerge essentially every port city in the world, including Guangzhou, Mumbai, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Osaka-Kobe, Alexandria, New York, New Orleans, Miami, and indeed all of South Florida.

This will likely displace over 300 million people, many of them in countries that have equated development with movement of the majority of their populations to low-elevation coastal zones in port cities.

What other impacts will follow?

The displacement and homelessness from the changes in sea level might be the least of humanity's problems. More


Sunday, May 25, 2014

This Ice Sheet Will Unleash a Global Superstorm Sandy That Never Ends

If you want to truly grasp the scale of Earth's polar ice sheets, you need some help from Isaac Newton. Newton taught us the universal law of gravitation, which states that all objects are attracted to one another in relation to their masses (and the distance between them).

The ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland are incredibly massive—Antarctica's ice is more than two miles thick in places and 5.4 million square miles in extent. These ice sheets are so large, in fact, that gravitational attraction pulls the surrounding ocean toward them. The sea level therefore rises upward at an angle as you approach an ice sheet, and slopes downward and away as you leave its presence.

This is not good news for humanity. As the ice sheets melt due to global warming, not only do they raise the sea level directly; they also exert a weaker gravitational pull on the surrounding ocean. So water sloshes back toward the continents, where we all live. "If Antarctica shrinks and puts that water in the ocean, the ocean raises around the world, but then Antarctica is pulling the ocean towards it less strongly," explains the celebrated Penn State University glaciologist Richard Alley on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "And as that extra water around Antarctica spreads around the world, we will get a little more sea level rise in the US than the global average."

Alley, a self-described "registered Republican" and host of the PBS program Earth: The Operators' Manual, spoke on the occasion of truly dire news, of the sort that ice sheet experts like him have been dreading for some time. Last week, welearned from two separate research teams that the ice sheet of West Antarctica, which comprises just one relatively small part of Antarctic ice overall but contains enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by some 10 or 11 feet, has been irrevocably destabilized. Scientists have long feared that of all the planet's great ice sheets, West Antarctica would be the first to go, because much of it is marine-based—the front edge of the ice sheet is bathing in increasingly warm water, which is melting it from beneath. Here's a helpful visualization of how this process works:

The great ice sheet naturally wants to push outward and spread into the sea, Alley explains, much like water spreads out when poured onto a flat surface. But the advance is held up by the "grounding line"—the ice sheet's mooring at a particular point on the sea floor.

And here's where the problem arises: The latest research suggests that the ice is melting from below, and thus, losing its moorings. The oceanfront glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are experiencing "rapid grounding line retreat," in scientific parlance, and this is happening "sooner than we initially expected, scientifically," says Alley. The cause seems to be a change in winds driven by global warming, which in turn is sending more warm water toward Antarctica's glaciers. And as the glaciers lose ice from below, there is less friction with the ground, and thus faster ice flow into the sea, where it can contribute to sea level rise.

"What they found," Alley continues, "is that it's likely that the fuse has already been lit." More


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change

This is an invitation, an invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who'd like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.

My guess is people will come by the tens of thousands, and it will be the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change. Sure, some of it will be exciting – who doesn't like the chance to march and sing and carry a clever sign through the canyons of Manhattan? But this is dead-serious business, a signal moment in the gathering fight of human beings to do something about global warming before it's too late to do anything but watch. You'll tell your grandchildren, assuming we win. So circle September 20th and 21st on your calendar, and then I'll explain.

Since Ban Ki-moon runs the United Nations, he's altogether aware that we're making no progress as a planet on slowing climate change. He presided over the collapse of global-climate talks at Copenhagen in 2009, and he knows the prospects are not much better for the "next Copenhagen" in Paris in December 2015. In order to spur those talks along, he's invited the world's leaders to New York in late September for a climate summit.

But the "world's leaders" haven't been leaders on climate change – at least not leaders enough. Like many of us, they've attended to the easy stuff, but they haven't set the world on a fundamentally new course. Barack Obama is the perfect example: Sure, he's imposed new mileage standards for cars, but he's also opened vast swaths of territory to oil drilling and coal mining, which will take us past Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's biggest petro producer.

Like other world leaders, that is, he's tried, but not nearly hard enough. Consider what he told The New Yorker in an interview earlier this year: "At the end of the day, we're part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right." And "I think we are fortunate at the moment that we do not face a crisis of the scale and scope that Lincoln or FDR faced."

We do, though; we face a crisis as great as any president has ever encountered. Here's how his paragraph looks so far: Since he took office, summer sea ice in the Arctic has mostly disappeared, and at the South Pole, scientists in May made clear that the process of massive melt is now fully under way, with 10 feet of sea-level rise in the offing. Scientists have discovered the depth of changes in ocean chemistry: that seawater is 30 percent more acidic than just four decades ago, and it's already causing trouble for creatures at the bottom of the marine food chain. America has weathered the hottest year in its history, 2012, which saw a drought so deep that the corn harvest largely failed. At the moment, one of the biggest states in Obama's union, California, is caught in a drought deeper than any time since Europeans arrived. Hell, a few blocks south of the U.N. buildings, Hurricane Sandy turned the Lower East Side of New York into a branch of the East River. And that's just the United States. The world's scientists earlier this spring issued a 32-volume report explaining exactly how much worse it's going to get, which is, to summarize, a lot worse even than they'd thought before. It's not that the scientists are alarmists – it's that the science is alarming. Here's how one Princeton scientist summarized the situation for reporters: "We're all sitting ducks."

The gap between "We're all sitting ducks" and "We do not face a crisis" is the gap between halfhearted action and the all-out effort that might make a difference. It's the gap between changing light bulbs and changing the system that's powering our destruction.

In a rational world, no one would need to march. In a rational world, policymakers would have heeded scientists when they first sounded the alarm 25 years ago. But in this world, reason, having won the argument, has so far lost the fight. The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it's too late.

So in this case taking to the streets is very much necessary. It's not all that's necessary – a sprawling fossil-fuel resistance works on a hundred fronts around the world, from putting up solar panels to forcing colleges to divest their oil stocks to electioneering for truly green candidates. And it's true that marching doesn't always work: At the onset of the war in Iraq, millions marched, to no immediate avail. But there are moments when it's been essential. This is how the Vietnam War was ended, and segregation too – or consider the nuclear-freeze campaign of the early 1980s, when half a million people gathered in New York's Central Park. The rally, and all the campaigning that led to it, set the mood for a planet – even, amazingly, in the Reagan era. By mid-decade, the conservative icon was proposing to Mikhail Gorbachev that they abolish nuclear weapons altogether.

The point is, sometimes you can grab the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and shake it a little. At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time. That's on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – indeed, as I've written in these pages, it's very clear that the fossil-fuel industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as it would take to break the planet. On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens. A loud movement – one that gives our "leaders" permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so – is the only hope of upending that prophecy.

A loud movement is, of necessity, a big movement – and this fossil-fuel resistance draws from every corner of our society. It finds powerful leadership from the environmental-justice community, the poor people, often in communities of color, who have suffered most directly under the reign of fossil fuel. In this country they're survivors of Sandy and Katrina and the BP spill; they're the people whose kids troop off to kindergarten clutching asthma inhalers because they live next to oil refineries, and the people whose reservations become resource colonies. Overseas, they're the ones whose countries are simply disappearing.

Sometimes in the past, trade unionists have fought against environmentalists – but unions in health care, mass transit, higher education, domestic work and building services are all beginning to organize for September, fully aware that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Energy-sector unions see the jobs potential in massive solar installation and a "just transition" off fossil fuels. Here's a banner I know you'll see in the streets of New York: CLIMATE/JOBS. TWO CRISES, ONE SOLUTION.

There will be clergy and laypeople from synagogues and churches and mosques, now rising in record numbers to say, "If the Bible means anything, it means that we need to care for the world God gave us." And there will, of course, be scientists, saying, "What exactly don't you understand about what we've been telling you for a quarter-century?"

And students will arrive from around the country, because who knows better how to cope with long bus rides and sleeping on floors – and who knows better that their very futures are at stake? They're near the front of this battle right now, getting arrested at Harvard and at Washington University as they fight for fossil-fuel divestment, and shaking up the establishment enough that Stanford, with its $18.7 billion endowment, just agreed to get rid of its coal stocks. Don't worry about "kids today." Kids today know how to organize at least as well as kids in the Sixties.

And then there will be those of us plain old middle-class Americans who may still benefit from our lives of cheap fossil fuel, but who just can't stand to watch the world drift into chaos. We look around and see that the price of solar panels has fallen 90 percent in a few decades; we understand that it won't be easy to shift our economy off coal and gas and oil, but we know that it will be easier than coping with temperatures that no human has ever seen. We may have different proposed solutions – carbon taxes! tidal power! – but we know that none of them will happen unless we open up some space. That's our job: opening up space for change on the scale that physics requires. No more fine words, no more nifty websites. Hard deeds. Now. More


Monday, May 19, 2014

Climate Change Will Force Us to Abandon Coastal Cities

On Monday, the New York Times reported on two new climate change studies that came to the same, terrifying conclusion: “The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.”


While actual abandonment would not happen for many years (we’re talking centuries), the studies warned that our actions now are irrevocable and will lock in these future sea level rises. In other words, our descendants will be dealing with irreversible damage that we are committing today.

So, fast forward a few centuries from now, what will the world look like? What will the United States look like? Will people still live in Miami? Boston? New York? We don’t know what technology we will have then and we aren’t able to predict the pattern of storms. We do know that sea levels are rising and will threaten cities along the coasts of the United States.

“Barring some extraordinary advances in technology that we currently do not foresee,” Robert Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, said, “you are left with the options of retreating from coastal areas not only in the United States, but around the world, or building fortifications against rising sea levels that would make the projects that we now see in places like the Netherlands look like child’s play.”

The Dutch government has set aside one billion euros a year through 2100 to strengthen dunes and dams throughout the country. Due to its low-lying position, the Netherlands is one of the most at-risk countries and has already crafted a long-term strategy to ensure the country’s survival. But in the United States, where one of our two main political parties remains skeptical about man-made climate change, such planning is unlikely to happen.

“If you have a plan and vision to stay there it is more likely to occur,” Robert Nicholls, a professor of coastal engineering at the University of Southampton, wrote in an email. “But USA does not have a planning culture.”

Planning will not come cheap. The mitigation techniques needed to fortify a city like Miami will cost billions of dollars, if not more. State and local governments will undoubtedly turn to the federal government for help, but that will be a political nightmare. Americans from non-coastal regions will likely object to paying for the restoration and fortification of coastal cities that are no longer naturally fit for habitation.

“Ultimately, reality will set in in the United States too, despite it being a relatively wealthy country,” Hartwig said. “Some areas will necessarily be abandoned or potentially become, in effect, islands. That’s another possibility. You say to yourself, do I abandon Miami or do I simply wall in a certain number of square miles of what is currently Miami and in effect create an island?

“Resources are always scarce and there are going to be many in the United States who think spending every available dime of every available tax dollar to save people from rising sea levels on the coast is a complete waste of money,” Hartwig added. “And they will have a point, because they’re paying tax dollars in Missouri or in North Dakota and they will not directly see a return on this investment.”

Global warming poses risks besides rising sea level. Severe storms may increase in frequency, although it’s difficult to predict how they will play out. Saltwater intrusion could imperil farm land up the Mississippi River. Droughts may become more common. Already now, scientists are wondering whether we’ve reached Peak Phosphorusthe point at which we reach the maximum global production rate of phosphorus, an essential fertilizer for crops.

Colin Green, a professor of water economics at Middlesex University, wrote in an email that he tells his students three things: “(1) they will not be able to retire until they are 75; (b) they will need to become vegetarians because we don't have enough water to support a high meat based diet; and (c) that when they go to the supermarket, they will need to take their urine with them which will be analysed and then they will be able to buy food with the same phosphorus content as the urine they bought in.”

The consequences of our inaction today will not be fixable down the road, no matter how much money the government spends. Instead, we will focus on containing the damage, whether through mitigation or abandonment. Insurance will be an important tool to allow the government to spread around some of that risk. But that assumes insurers don’t deem certain areas uninsurableand that in turn depends on what we do today.

“I would say that if you look at the gradual sea level rise predicted over the next century, provided appropriate mitigation on the structures and in the communities in the higher cities are undertaken, then insurance is possible in these areas albeit at higher costs,” Hartwig said.

In some cases, the federal government may sell the insurance. For instance, right now, the feds offer subsidized flood insurance to homeowners in at-risk areas. When Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012 to allow those rates to rise to their market level, they faced a swift backlash from homeowners who were going to see their insurance rates skyrocket. Led by congressmen from Gulf states, Congress gutted the bill in March. If that is any sign of what is to come, then policymakers are not prepared for the infinitely higher costs and tough choices they will face down the road. More


Friday, May 16, 2014

Coral Reefs Protect Shorelines By Reducing Wave Energy By 97 Percent, Study Finds

Coral reefs provide substantial protection against wave energy, lessening the impact of sea level rise and intense storm surges for 7 million people in the U.S. alone, according to a new report.

The report, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, reviewed 255 studies on the protective nature of coral reefs and found that reefs reduce wave energy by 97 percent on average, causing the waves that reach the shoreline to be significantly calmer than they would have been without the reefs. Michael Beck, one of the authors of the report and senior scientist for the Nature Conservancy, said he was surprised at the 97 percent average for reef wave reduction. He said he knew it would be a large number — other studies have shown that reefs are effective at reducing wave energy, but none yet had quantified it ocean-wide — but he didn’t know just how big.

The report also found that worldwide, 197 million people are protected by reefs, and that maintaining the health of coral reefs is far less expensive than installing artificial defenses — according to the report, the median cost of building artificial wave defenses is $19,791 per meter, while the median cost of coral restoration projects is $1,290 per meter. Beck said the Nature Conservancy is working in a coral reef in Grenville, Grenada to build back the reef’s crest, the highest part of the reef that’s the most important for wave-breaking. He said degredation of the reef crest, which has been caused over the last 50 years by climate change, pollution, and sand mining, can explain a “huge amount” of the erosion and sedimentation that’s been occurring in the bay.

“A variety of causes has led to a little bit of degradation in height in the reef, and when you’ve lost that height in the reef, you can suddenly explain a huge amount of problems that have been happening,” he said.

Beck’s team has been been building back the reef in Grenada by using old coral rubble and concrete blocks, then trying to regrow the living coral on those structures. Projects like that, he said, are important to coral reefs’ survival — though coral is threatened gravely by climate change and ocean acidification, he said reefs “can be resilient” and recover from stresses like bleaching. He pointed to a mass bleaching event that occurred in 1998, after El NiƱo drove up water temperatures worldwide, as evidence. Though many were worried the reefs wouldn’t bounce back from this event, which was the most extensive and severe in history, certain reefs did recover, despite significant losses worldwide.

“Those reefs that were managed well, where you reduce the other stressors like pollution and overfishing, recovered,” he said. “Living coral came back and came back in quite good abundances in places were coral reefs were managed well.”

That event points to the need for better reef management, Beck said, especially now, as reefs around the world continue to suffer the effects of warming oceans, pollution, fishing practices and other impacts. Elkhorn coral, which play an integral role in the reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys, are being killed off by White Pox disease, which one researcher says is likely caused by untreated human sewage that enters the ocean through leaky septic systems in Florida. And outside of the 1998 event, scientists have found other significant evidence of coral bleaching, an effect that’s due to warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures and is likely to get worse as the ocean warms.

Other coastal and marine ecosystems provide protection from storm surge, sea level rise and erosion, but they too are struggling with human-induced impacts — in fact, Beck said coral reefs are in better shape worldwide than oyster reefs and mangrove forests. These coastal ecosystems have also been found to be a cost-effective way of providing protection — an April report noted restoring ecosystems like oyster reefs can create more jobs than offshore oil development and provide $15 in net economic benefits for every $1 invested. More


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management

A slate of recently developed Caribbean Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) knowledge products, which focus on tools geared toward building climate resilience in the Caribbean water sector, as well as, resources for the wastewater sector professionals, were launched at a two-day (April 29-30) Regional Meeting of Partners in the Water and Wastewater Sector in the Caribbean this week.

The products include those developed under the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL)-Water initiative, a joint collaboration between GWP-C and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. The Session will also showcase wastewater videos and materials from the GEF CReW, an effluent discharge database and other resources.

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) technical focus paper on IWRM in the Caribbean: The challenges facing SIDS.

Over the course of the two-day Regional Meeting of Partners in the Water and Wastewater Sector in the Caribbean, the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), the United Nations Environment Programme, Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit (UNEP-CAR/RCU) and the Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) hosted a Knowledge Sharing Session on New Tools and Resources for IWRM in the Caribbean.

IWRM is an holistic approach to managing water that takes into consideration that different uses of water are interdependent. IWRM means that water allocations and management decisions consider the effects of each use on the other. The approach is grounded in the understanding that water resources are an integral component of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good.

Representatives from more than fifty (50) regional and national agencies in water and wastewater management are scheduled to attend the Session. Download Press Release here. More

Credit: Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C)