Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Noose Tightens



CORRECTION:  I failed to mention in my last article that Australia sells and sends a great deal of coal to China every year.  My oversight – sorry!

February 24, 2015 – It’s been 43 years since the Club of Rome commissioned scientists at MIT to conduct research into the likelihood of civilization collapse.  Their results were published in a book titled The Limits to Growth.  Its primary focus was the finiteness of our planet, and its inability to support never-ending population growth and resource depletion.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne recently decided to examine the accuracy of Limit’s predictions.  Dr. Graham Turner used data provided by both the United Nations and the United States, specifically the UN’s department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the UN’s food and agriculture organization, the UN statistical yearbook, and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What he and his research team learned is that, in keeping with the book’s many forecasts, resources are being depleted too rapidly, pollution is increasing at an unsustainable rate, and population – despite heroic efforts to the contrary – continues to rise.  Because resources have now reached peak output, industrial production is expected to start falling right about now.  Because chemical inputs used to enhance agricultural output will also begin their decline, food production is expected to decrease in the coming years.

Health and educational services are already in decline, which will persist and increase.  As a result, the death rate will start to rise in about the year 2020.  Global population will begin its plunge around 2030, at half a billion people per decade.  All of the aforementioned will lead to living conditions last seen in the early 1900s, no later than the year 2100.

Some maintain that decline has already started.  The global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08 and the very slow rate of recovery from it may turn out to have been a harbinger of things to come.  Peak oil production can only serve to exacerbate an untenable situation like that described.  Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned that peak oil is upon us. 




With thanks to The Guardian online.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Lies Ahead



February 15, 2015 -NASA released a report on Friday the 13th, detailing the effects of megadroughts they foresee occurring in the United States throughout the rest of this century.  I don’t think I need to tell you that the only way to mitigate these effects is by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).  What might very well need saying is that our future and the future of humankind rests in the hands of the Chinese, and the people of India.

            Don’t misunderstand: we must all do much better, and very, very soon.  However, the population of the United States is paltry when compared with the populations of either of these two countries.  Combine that fact with the increasing demands of rising middle classes in both, and you get bad news.  Combine that bad news with the fact that China burns staggering amounts of coal, and you get, according to NASA, megadroughts in the United States.  What NASA has forecast for the rest of the world, I do not know.

            The Southwest and Central Plains are expected to suffer the most, although the rest of the country is predicted to become drier, as well.  My husband and I are moving to the Pacific Northwest later this year.  Currently, rainfall has been below normal even there; temperatures are also a bit higher.  The glaring exception to NASA’s prediction would appear, at present, to be the Northeast.  Earlier forecasts, made by other government agencies, have predicted increased rainfall for most of us.  I imagine the truth will be found somewhere in the middle.

            That said, the overriding principle that “wet will get wetter and dry will get drier” appears to be holding sway.  And, like it or not, your future, my future, everyone’s future is in the hands of the aforementioned Asian giants.  Finally, it would appear that extremes will be the new normal, rather than the moderate weather humanity has enjoyed for the last 10,000 years.  Past floods and droughts will pale in comparison with what lies ahead.

            Greenhouse gas emissions hold the key.  While it is no longer possible to simply stop global warming in its tracks, it will always be possible for us to mitigate its effects.  By the same token, continued emissions rates similar to those we now produce will lead to chaos.  How does NASA describe this?  I certainly have not read the report, but I gather they predict that people living in the most affected regions of the country will “migrate” to the eastern half of the country.  (Don’t forget that Texas will be a part of the affected region.)  This could very well lead to the complete breakdown of what passes for law and order in this country.

            I know that significant numbers of the Chinese people are extremely unhappy about air pollution in China, and that the government has achieved some minor progress in that regard.  Be aware, however, that the United States is not shipping the coal it still mines to the moon – it’s going to China.  Shame on us, shame on them.   We both need to mend our ways as quickly as humanly possible.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: This Changes Everything

January 7, 2015 – I want to tell you about a book I just read, by Naomi Klein, called This Changes Everything.  Klein’s book is about climate change, and how very close we have now come to exchanging our world for a place that’s nearly unlivable.

She begins with dogged conjecture regarding why we appear to want to change our world in such a manner.  We don’t, of course, so we engage in various degrees of climate change denial.  I’ll interject here that looking away and pretending everything will be just fine is essentially mandatory, at least from time to time, if we’re to continue living in this world without going mad.  Draconian measures are required, as all non-Republicans are now aware.  In the words of Angelica Navarro Llanos, “We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth.”  All good Republicans know what that means: the United States will get stuck with the bill.  And that terrifies them.

Except that now, China has admitted that it must do something to greatly reduce coal-burning emissions.  So have we, for that matter.  What terrifies all of us is that radically reducing fossil fuel use isn’t anywhere near enough to make things right with the world.  In the developed world, we must change everything about the way we live.  We must revive local economies.  We must end “Citizens United” corporate-style influence buying in the United States.    We must end trade deals with poor countries that allow them to believe they can enjoy a western-style standard of living, if only they will pollute their way out of poverty.  We must invest in mass transit. 

We must take back ownership of essential services like energy and water.  We must re-invent our agricultural model.  In my opinion, we must also stop spending obscene amounts of money on wars we consistently lose.  The good news, according to the author, is that in changing the way we live, we can change the world for the better.  The much better.  All manner of new jobs will be necessary, thereby helping to close the gap between rich and poor.  As a result, power will once again be more equally dispersed to the many, rather than consolidated in the hands of the rich few.  With a rejuvenated democracy, fairer policies can be enacted that will benefit rich and poor alike.

Where do we stand right now?  Based upon preliminary data collected during 2013, global carbon dioxide emissions were 61 percent higher then than in 1990.  How much time do we have to get CO2 emissions under control?  Estimates vary, from zero to ten years.  A full-blown transition to renewable energy must happen right away.  The public sphere must once again belong to all of us.  Taxes must be raised on the wealthy.  Regulations must be re-instated across the board.  These actions, while extremely threatening to an elite minority, must take place if we are to save ourselves.  There is no savior on the horizon.  We must help ourselves or accept the consequences.

As Klein herself puts it, “So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate.”  It’s a hell of a choice, but we’ve done this to ourselves. 


Start changing everything.  Today.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The End of Deforestation


I like Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General.  He doesn’t just talk about doing things; he makes things happen.  I refer specifically to a new collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  These two organizations intend to restore at least 150 million hectares of forest by 2020 (a hectare is slightly more than 2 acres).  Their joint effort will be announced at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.

Restoring 150 million hectares of forest, an area about the size of Alaska, would sequester roughly 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide and/or the equivalent thereof every year, reducing the current emissions gap by 11 – 17 percent.  The target date of 2020 is ambitious, but would generate US$85 billion per year in ecosystem services that would benefit the rural poor all 
over the world.

The rate of global deforestation has slowed significantly since the beginning of the 21st century.  However, we still lose 13 million hectares a year (an area the size of Greece).  The willingness of nations rich and poor to sign onto this program is due in large part to the growing realization that forests provide services that could very nearly be termed “priceless.”  Among them are rainfall creation, carbon removal from the atmosphere, storing and purifying water, maintaining soil quality, providing rich habitat, and species maintenance.

Brazil can be cited as an outstanding example of declining deforestation.  It decreased by 70 percent between 2005 and 2013.  This has been due in large part to a moratorium agreed to by the soy and beef industries.  The country has agreed to an 80 percent reduction by 2020.  The Union of Concerned Scientists says that Brazil has “already made a very large contribution to combating climate change – more than that of any other nation on Earth.  For this … Brazil can rightfully be very proud.”  It bears pointing out that, prior to the moratorium, Brazil was the world’s leading contributor to changing climate.

Glenn Hurowitz, of the American consultancy group Climate Advisers and its activist arm, Catapult, is quoted as saying, “ … in some countries we are winning battles against the war on trees … I think it is the beginning of the end.  There are countries where forests are actually regrowing, including Europe, the US, India, China, Vietnam, and even some in Africa.”  Anti-deforestation pledges made by food giants Wilmar, Unilever, and most recently Cargill point to a paradigm shift.

May this be the beginning of a new activism on the part of participant nations and corporations.


With thanks to independent.co.uk and unep.org.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do Something

July 16, 2014 - Stephen Leahy has just written a landmark article, which can be found at http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-new-ddt-is-starving-out-insect-eating-songbirds.  I kind
of wish he wouldn't use that phrase, "the new ddt," though I understand why he does.  He's actually talking about neonicotinoids, which I've written about here previously.  His article is based on a science article published in the journal Nature on July 9.  The name of the article begins "Declines in insectivorous birds ... ."

Neonicotinoids were introduced 20 years ago.  Their usage has increased every year since then.  When did their manufacturers realize that these toxins were 5,000 - 10,000 times more poisonous than DDT?
As the now-adage goes, what did they know, and when did they know it?  The contagion makers have unleashed on an unsuspecting world amounts to a lethal pandemic.  You see, neonicotinoids don't stay put.  They are absorbed not just by crops, but by every plant in the vicinity.  Some, not very close to farm fields at all.

Let's skip to the punch line, then go back.  Many insect-eating birds are starving because there are now too few insects to eat.  Populations of insectivorous birds have crashed 50 - 90 % over the past two decades.  Once a plant - any plant - has taken the poisonous neonicotinoid into its system, it, too, becomes poisonous: to bees, butterflies, beetles, caterpillars, and, perhaps most damaging of all, to earthworms.

Birds are starving, and so are their offspring, because insects constitute an "indispensable" part of a baby bird's diet, according to the article in Nature.  Dutch researchers have linked the steady decline of 60% of the insect-eating birds they studied to the introduction, in the late 1990s, of imidacloprid, the most commonly used neonicotinoid.  These substances are nerve poisons, and they have migrated into our soil and water.  Once in a waterway, there is little to limit the distance they can travel.  What these researchers found was that the regions with the highest levels of nerve poison in the soil and water had experienced the biggest declines in birds that eat insects during the breeding season.

In fact, only 5 percent of the insecticide winds up in the plant.  One percent of it gets blown away.  All the rest accumulates, over the course of multiple applications, in the surrounding soil and water.  As a result, insects that spend any part of their life cycle in the water are probably being killed, as well.  This adds up to unbelievable numbers of North American songbirds that are threatened with extinction: kingbirds, warblers, whip-poor-wills and other nightjars, swifts, swallows, martins, flycatchers, and others.  Their populations have plummeted by 50 to 90 percent.

For this reason, the American Bird Conservancy has called for an immediate and permanent ban on the use of neonicotinoids.  Ask your state legislators what action they are taking to stop the use of neonicotinoids in your state.  Tell your federal representatives that you agree with the American Bird Conservancy.  Congratulate Home Depot on their decision to no longer carry products containing neonicotinoids.  Shop there!  Find a list of bannable products at www.beyondpesticides.org/pollinators/documents/pesticide_list_final.pdf.

Do something!



With thanks to Stephen Leahy and Nature.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dear Readers

Dear Readers - I'll be writing only sporadically from now on.  Thanks for caring - do all you can. - Best, Vicki

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tiny Steps


May 12, 2014 - The Daily Climate features an article by Al Kesselheim today.  Kesselheim writes about the need for Americans to notice the beauty of nature in their own backyards, rather than expecting to encounter nature only when they visit a state or national park.  Actually, Kesselheim writes about wilderness; I will, too, but on a very small scale.

For many Americans, what Kesselheim advises is a bland prospect, at best.  First-time homeowners many times own just enough yard to mow, a miniature imitation pasture of sorts that has been scraped off and graded.  Those lucky enough to own property that has been tended and loved (or, better yet, neglected!) probably would find a great deal going on in their private outdoors that would be worth noticing.  What so many of us lack is the time it would take to do so.

The bugs and the birds are, nevertheless, right there under ignorant and knowledgeable noses alike.  What if you were to decide that your own natural paradise consisted of the square yard of lawn nearest your back door?  Let’s say – you devil, you! – you’ve decided to let it “go wild.”  No mowing allowed.  Gadzooks, you could even up the ante: no chemicals, either.  The rain would rain, the breeze would blow, the days would follow one after the other, just like always.

What do you suppose would be the first thing you would notice?  How pretty the long grass looks as it waves in the wind?  The fact that a Cooper’s Hawk now occupies a mature tree in your neighbor’s yard, expecting a mouse or chipmunk to exit the newly created “wilderness?”  How about the butterflies stopping by to enjoy the wildflowers that have shown up, seemingly out of nowhere?

One day it dawns on you that you’ve been getting up a few minutes earlier in the morning so you’ll have time to observe what transpires out in the back 40 (ho ho).  That you’ve been scrawling the occasional note on random pieces of paper.  That your spouse now takes an interest, and your children surprise you when they mention having told their teachers about Daddy’s Wilderness Project.  One of them commented that Daddy’s project had science fair written all over it!

Being interested in and caring about the outdoors is exactly as far away as your back door.  All it takes is a modest amount of personal involvement.  After that, sit back and see where it takes you.  Find out what interests you most.  What you will discover after awhile is that it’s all pretty interesting, all quite beautiful, and that the world absolutely would be a sadder, poorer place without the outdoors.

Ready to take that first step?