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Pope Francis on the Environmental Crisis

18 Jun

An article in the NYTimes opens:

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.

The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this encyclical will have on world affairs. The Pope, of course, is not the first public figure to speak out on climate, and it takes more than words to change the world.

But a papal encyclical is not a speech or a white paper, it is the official expression of an institution whose history stretches back two millennia and whose constitutions live on every continent and speak a multitude of tongues. It is thus transnational in scope in a way that perhaps no other document is. And it is a teaching document (emphasis mine):

Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks “to address every person living on this planet.”

Will that happen? And not just on this Sunday, but on many Sundays after, Saturdays too, and Wednesday evenings.

In part we can measure the impact of Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) by the opposition it provokes.

Yet Francis has also been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who have interpreted the document as an attack on capitalism and as unwanted political meddling at a moment when climate change is high on the global agenda.

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2014 Was Hottest Year on Record, Surpassing 2010 – NYTimes.com

16 Jan

The New York Times:

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

via 2014 Was Hottest Year on Record, Surpassing 2010 – NYTimes.com.

When will China reverse its carbon emissions?

13 Nov

From Tyler Cowen, note the last  paragraph below, which I’ve bolded:

Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues. For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of. (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.) The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about. Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions? “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate. Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent. How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions? Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

The media coverage I have seen of the U.S.-China emissions “deal” has not been exactly forthcoming in presenting these rather basic points. It’s almost as if no one studies the history of air pollution anymore.

I understand why a lot of reporters want to “clutch at straws” — it’s good for both clicks and the conscience — but a dose of realism is required as well. The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release.

via When will China reverse its carbon emissions?.

I Worked in a Strip Club in a North Dakota Fracking Boomtown | Mother Jones

16 Oct

Around the same time, the Pentagon issued a warning that climate change, caused by unchecked fossil-fuel extraction, “will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” A subsequent report issued by the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board, a government-funded military research organization, went even further, stating that the effects of climate change—food insecurity and massive forced displacement, just to name two—”will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict.”

via I Worked in a Strip Club in a North Dakota Fracking Boomtown | Mother Jones.

Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned | Environment | theguardian.com

14 Oct

The governor of the Bank of England has reiterated his warning that fossil fuel companies cannot burn all of their reserves if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, and called for investors to consider the long-term impacts of their decisions.

According to reports, Carney told a World Bank seminar on integrated reporting on Friday that the “vast majority of reserves are unburnable” if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2C.

Carney is the latest high profile figure to lend his weight to the “carbon bubble” theory, which warns that fossil fuel assets, such as coal, oil and gas, could be significantly devalued if a global deal to tackle climate change is reached.

via Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned | Environment | theguardian.com.

From derp to denial — Crooked Timber

24 Sep

Against the expectations of doubters, wind and solar PV are steadily increasing their share of electricity generation, to the point where they constitute the majority of new installations in many countries. Again, the costs have been trivially small: in Australia’s case, made up almost entirely of the reduction in asset value imposed on existing generators.

There is as far as I am aware, no credible analysis to support the opposite claim (call it the economic armageddon hypothesis) that decarbonization will involve economic costs sufficient to greatly reduce living standards, or, for poor countries, prevent catchup to the developed world. (Again, more detailed argument over the fold.

via From derp to denial — Crooked Timber.

Bottom-Up Climate Fix – NYTimes.com

22 Sep

YES! A thousand times YES! The top is busted, we must start from the bottom. Change starts in the community.

As one of those who, as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, negotiated that first United Nations treaty in 1992, I believe we need to shift gears and try something new. Relying on national governments alone to deliver results is not enough, as the last two decades have shown. The real action on climate change around the world is coming from governors, mayors, corporate chief executives and community leaders. They are the ones best positioned to make change happen on the ground. Accordingly, we need to move from a top-down strategy to a bottom-up approach.

Mayors in Barcelona, Melbourne and the Brazilian city of Curitiba, for instance, are trying to expand public transportation. New York City’s former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg worked with pipeline companies to increase natural gas access so residents could shift from dirty fuel oil furnaces to cheaper and cleaner natural gas ones.

via Bottom-Up Climate Fix – NYTimes.com.

Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com

22 Sep

John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels.

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.

The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.

In recent years, 180 institutions — including philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments — as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies from their portfolios and to invest in cleaner alternatives.

via Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com.

Taxonomy of a Landscape — re:form — Medium

10 Sep

The photographs are stunning!

The reader is left to infer that Sambunaris has stepped into the cartographer’s shoes as a 21st-century documentarian of human presence in the American landscape. The photos in this book, taken during half a dozen road trips over more than a decade, capture the massive scale of modern industry — mines, dams, freight trains, highways and logistics centers; the pipelines of Alaska and the Mexican border fence. She spent a particularly long period photographing Nevada, Utah, and the town of Wendover, which straddles the state line. She recorded the steam that rises from the ground at Yellowstone National Park, hinting at the massive volcano that sits beneath it. Each image conveys the tension between the epic timescale of geological features and the blink-short span of modern infrastructure’s tenure.

via Taxonomy of a Landscape — re:form — Medium.

This Legendary Accounting Firm Just Ran the Numbers on Climate Change | Mother Jones

10 Sep

Surprise! Surprise!

With every year that passes, we’re getting further away from averting a human-caused climate disaster. That’s the key message in this year’s “Low Carbon Economy Index,” a report released by the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report highlights an “unmistakable trend”: The world’s major economies are increasingly failing to do what’s needed to to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. That was the target agreed to by countries attending the United Nations’ 2009 climate summit; it represents an effort to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of runaway warming, including food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction.

via This Legendary Accounting Firm Just Ran the Numbers on Climate Change | Mother Jones.