Monday, November 24, 2014

World Is Locked into ~1.5°C Warming & Risks Are Rising, New Climate Report Finds

World Is Locked into ~1.5°C Warming & Risks Are Rising, New Climate Report Finds

Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the report warns of longer droughts, extreme weather, and increasing ocean acidification. In the tropical Andes, rising temperatures will reduce the annual build-up of glacier ice and the spring meltwater that some 50 million people in the low-land farms and cities rely on. Heat and drought stress will substantially increase the risk of large-scale forest loss, affecting Amazon ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as the forests’ ability to store carbon dioxide.

Rising temperatures also affect food security. The oceans, which have absorbed about 30 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide so far, will continue to acidify and warm, damaging coral ecosystems where sea life thrives and sending fish migrating to cooler waters. The result for the Caribbean could be the loss of up to 50 percent of its current catch volume.

Middle East and North Africa

People in the Middle East and North Africa have been adapting to extreme heat for centuries, but the report warns of unprecedented impact as temperatures continue to rise. Extreme heat will spread across more of the land for longer periods of time, making some regions unlivable and reducing growing areas for agriculture, the report warns. Cities will feel an increasing heat island effect, so that by 4°C warming – possibly as early as the 2080s without action to slow climate change – most capital cities in the Middle East could face four months of exceedingly hot days every year Rising temperatures will put intense pressure on crops and already scarce water resources, potentially increasing migration and the risk of conflict. Climate change is a threat multiplier here – and elsewhere.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the report shows how the impact of climate change will vary region to region. Melting glaciers and warming temperatures will shift the growing season and the flow of glacier-fed rivers further into spring in Central Asia, while in the Balkans in Eastern Europe, worsening drought conditions will put crops at risk. Rising temperatures also increase the thawing of permafrost, which releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. By mid-century, if temperatures continue to rise toward 2°C, the release of methane from thawing permafrost is likely to increase 20 to 30 percent in Russia, creating a feedback loop that will drive climate change.

Working to Lower the Risk

"The good news is that there is a growing consensus on what it will take to make changes to the unsustainable path we are currently on," President Kim said. "Action on climate change does not have to come at the expense of economic growth. At the World Bank, we are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy to help countries lower their emissions while growing their economies, and in clean transportation that can put fast-growing cities onto more sustainable growth paths. We are also working with governments to design policies that support clean growth, including developing efficiency standards, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, and pricing carbon. It’s clear that the public sector cannot solve the climate challenge alone – private investment and smart business choices are crucial, but business leaders tell us they need governments to provide clear, consistent policy direction that reflects the true costs of emissions. We now screen our projects in 77 countries for climate risk and for opportunities for climate action. We are helping countries find opportunities in climate action and developing financial instruments to increase funding that can help them grow clean and build resilience.

"Our response to the challenge of climate change will define the legacy of our generation," President Kim said. "The stakes have never been higher." More

 

 

 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Smart Dedicated Eleven-Year-Old Takes Vow of Silence Demanding Climate Action

Eleven-year-old Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez is proving to the world that sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is absolutely nothing.

Today marks Day 22 of the indigenous eco-rapper’s silent strike demanding science-based climate action. His T-shirt explains, “I am taking a vow of silence until world leaders take action on climate change.” After classmates suggested that one sixth grader in Colorado couldn’t influence leaders, Itzcuauhtli added, “When I say world leaders, I’m talking about us.”

Accusing “so-called ‘leaders’” of failing, Itzcuauhtli (pronounced “eat-squat-lee”) asks why his generation should “go to school and learn all this stuff if there is not going to be a world worth living in? Maybe it’s up to youth. Maybe each one of us has to be a world leader.”

Judging by the hundreds of thousands of hits his site is getting, kids worldwide agree. Several classmates even tried to join his campaign, only to be forbidden by parents certain it wouldn’t change anything.

“He was so disappointed,” his mother, Tamara Roske, said. “He cried silent tears. It was heartbreaking.” Itzcuauhtli, who will begin homeschooling after Thanksgiving, is bolstered by “overwhelming” international support, especially since actor and father-of-three Mark Ruffalo called the boy’s campaign “brave and thoughtful.”

Itzcuauhtli’s greatest champion, however, is 14-year-old brother Xiuhtezcatl, director of Earth Guardians and a co-plaintiff in a youth climate lawsuit, the Supreme Court will consider Dec. 5. The brothers, raised in the Earth-honoring ceremonies of their father’s Aztec culture, perform a passionate eco-rap and count Trevor Hall, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Michael Franti among their fans. They rocked Brazil’s 2012 climate summit and, more recently, were part of the 400,000-strong at the People’s Climate March in New York City.

After the march, though, Itzcuauhtli despaired when people insisted it was too late to avoid an apocalyptic future. On the white board he now communicates with, he writes, “I felt desperate. I had to do something drastic to change the outcome of our future. I decided I wasn’t going to speak again until there was concrete action on climate change.”

He looks hopefully toward the 2015 Paris UN conference, where leaders could agree on meaningful—and binding—recovery plans.

When asked why last week’s historic U.S.-China climate deal didn’t prompt him to resume the boisterous jokes his family misses, Itzcuauhtli responds, “It’s not strong enough. [Former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute] James Hansen says we have to cap carbon in the next year. If we wait another 15 years, which is when China said they would cap carbon, it’s going to be too late.

Itzcuauhtli will resume speaking when he sees “we’re moving together in the right direction.” That means applying a planetary “prescription” written by 18 top climate experts, who outlined a recovery plan based on science, not politics—the same remedy demanded in his brother Xiuhtezcatl’s lawsuits against state and federal governments. To achieve the six percent global carbon cuts necessary for a livable planet, Itzcuauhtli invites children and adults to “join me in this vow until world leaders:

  • Agree on and implement a Global Climate Recovery Plan to get us back to a safe zone of 350 ppm
  • Massively reforest the planet to help absorb our excess carbon
  • Support renewable energy solutions to replace the dirty fossil fuel industry”

Roske wonders when she’ll hear her “little comedian” talk again. “Next month’s climate gathering in Peru on Dec. 10 would be first day he’d break his silence. As a mom, I prefer he start talking before that.” But, she acknowledges, she may have to wait more than a year. “That 2015 Paris climate summit will determine these guys’ future on some level.”

Itzcuauhtli vows to continue as long as he must, despite calling his strike “the hardest thing I have ever done.” While he still laughs and finds ways to communicate with peers, he expresses special gratitude for friends old and new who support him or, better yet, join his campaign to “amplify the voices of children everywhere.”

“One person alone can start the revolution. It takes all of us to be the revolution.”

Visit ClimateSilenceNow to join Itzcuauhtli’s silence “even for an hour!” More


 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’

"Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable." Thus spoke President Kennedy in a 1961 address to the United Nations.

Naomi Klein

The threat he warned of was not climate chaos — barely a blip on anybody’s radar at the time — but the hydrogen bomb. The nuclear threat had a volatile urgency and visual clarity that the sprawling, hydra-headed menace of today’s climate calamity cannot match. How can we rouse citizens and governments to act for concerted change? Will it take, as Naomi Klein insists, nothing less than a Marshall Plan for Earth?

"This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate" is a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable. Klein’s fans will recognize her method from her prior books, "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" (1999) and "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (2007), which, with her latest, form an antiglobalization trilogy. Her strategy is to take a scourge — brand-driven hyperconsumption, corporate exploitation of disaster-struck communities, or "the fiction of perpetual growth on a finite planet" — trace its origins, then chart a course of liberation. In each book she arrives at some semihopeful place, where activists are reaffirming embattled civic values.

To call "This Changes Everything" environmental is to limit Klein’s considerable agenda. "There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming," she contends, "but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules." On the green left, many share Klein’s sentiments. George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian, recently lamented that even though "the claims of market fundamentalism have been disproven as dramatically as those of state communism, somehow this zombie ideology staggers on." Klein, Monbiot and Bill McKibben all insist that we cannot avert the ecological disaster that confronts us without loosening the grip of that superannuated zombie ideology.

That philosophy — neoliberalism — promotes a high-consumption, carbon-hungry system. Neoliberalism has encouraged mega-mergers, trade agreements hostile to environmental and labor regulations, and global hypermobility, enabling a corporation like Exxon to make, as McKibben has noted, "more money last year than any company in the history of money." Their outsize power mangles the democratic process. Yet the carbon giants continue to reap $600 billion in annual subsidies from public coffers, not to speak of a greater subsidy: the right, in Klein’s words, to treat the atmosphere as a "waste dump."

So much for the invisible hand. As the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson observed, when it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check.

Klein diagnoses impressively what hasn’t worked. No more claptrap about fracked gas as a bridge to renewables. Enough already of the international summit meetings that produce sirocco-quality hot air, and nonbinding agreements that bind us all to more emissions. Klein dismantles the boondoggle that is cap and trade. She skewers grandiose command-and-control schemes to re-engineer the planet’s climate. No point, when a hubristic mind-set has gotten us into this mess, to pile on further hubris. She reserves a special scorn for the partnerships between Big Green organizations and Immense Carbon, peddled as win-win for everyone, but which haven’t slowed emissions. Such partnerships remind us that when the lamb and the lion lie down together, only one of them gets eaten.

In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. "Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews," Klein writes. "Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war."

Klein reminds us that neoliberalism was once an upstart counterrevolution. Through an epic case of bad timing, the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the rise of the anti-regulatory World Trade Organization, and the cult of privatizing and globalizing everything coincided with the rising public authority of climate science. In 1988, James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, delivered historic testimony at Congressional hearings, declaring that the science was 99 percent unequivocal: The world was warming and we needed to act collectively to reduce emissions. Just one year earlier, Margaret Thatcher famously declared: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." In the battle since, between a collective strategy for forging an inhabitable long-term future and the antisocial, hyper-corporatized, hyper-carbonized pursuit of short-term growth at any cost, well, there has been only one clear winner.

But counterrevolutions are reversible. Klein devotes much of her book to propitious signs that this can happen — indeed is happening. The global climate justice movement is spreading. Since the mid-1990s, environmental protests have been growing in China at 29 percent per year. Where national leaders have faltered, local governments are forging ahead. Hundreds of German cities and towns have voted to buy back their energy grids from corporations. About two-thirds of Britons favor renationalizing energy and rail.

The divestment movement against Big Carbon is gathering force. While it will never bankrupt the mega-corporations, it can reveal unethical practices while triggering a debate about values that recognizes that such practices are nested in economic systems that encourage, inhibit or even prohibit them.

The voices Klein gathers from across the world achieve a choral force. We hear a Montana goat rancher describe how an improbable alliance against Big Coal between local Native American tribes and settler descendants awakened in the latter a different worldview of time and change and possibility. We hear participants in Idle No More, the First Nations movement that has swept across Canada and beyond, contrast the "extractivist mind-set" with systems "designed to promote more life."

One quibble: What’s with the subtitle? "Capitalism vs. the Climate" sounds like a P.R. person’s idea of a marquee cage fight, but it belies the sophistication and hopefulness of Klein’s argument. As is sometimes said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Klein’s adversary is neoliberalism — the extreme capitalism that has birthed our era of extreme extraction. Klein is smart and pragmatic enough to shun the never-never land of capitalism’s global overthrow. What she does, brilliantly, is provide a historically refined exposé of "capitalism’s drift toward monopoly," of "corporate interests intent on capturing and radically shrinking the public sphere," and of "the disaster capitalists who use crises to end-run around democracy."

To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet "This Changes Everything" is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. The result is the most momentous and contentious environmental book since "Silent Spring." More

 

 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The end of beaches? Why the world’s shorelines are in serious trouble

We can have our beachfront properties — our Miami high-rises, our Hamptons mansions, our Jersey boardwalks — or we can have our beaches. But as geologist and Duke University emeritus professor Orrin Pilkey has been arguing for decades now, we can’t have both.

Bradenton Beach, June 2012

As the oceans warm and sea levels rise, coastal living is becoming an increasingly risky proposition. Any climate scientist would tell you not to invest in a beach house, and yet large-scale migration inland is something we’ve yet to see. The beaches themselves can withstand extreme weather, of course. But it’s our attempts to hold them in place, through techno-fixes like seawalls and beach replenishment, that ironically enough will end up destroying them. Sooner or later, Pilkey argues, we’re going to be forced to retreat. The question is whether there’ll be any beach left by then.

The Last Beach,” which Pilkey co-wrote with J. Andrew G. Cooper, a professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster, is but his latest attempt to drive home just how wrong-headed our push to build on and preserve shorelines is. It’s been an uphill battle; for Pilkey, what counts as progress was that people acknowledged his plea not to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy instead of just attacking him for suggesting it — even if they didn’t really end up following his advice.

Bring pollution, oil spills and the destructive business of sand mining into the picture, and it’s not so extreme, Pilkey told Salon, to imagine a future where beaches as we know them — as places to live and even as places to visit — will no longer exist.

Our conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

We don’t typically think of beaches as something that can “go extinct,” but it seems like that’s basically what you’re arguing here.

That’s exactly what we argue: that beaches in developed areas will not be there, that they will be replaced by seawalls large and small. There will be beaches left in remote places and on national seashores and things like that, perhaps — although they’ll be suffering too, because they’ll be eroding and retreating back separately from the developed areas, which will be standing still for a while.

By the time we really begin to see what’s happening, like we are right now in Florida, we’ll be worrying about Manhattan and Queens and Boston and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Charleston, all those cities. We fully expect that the great expense required to hold back the shoreline — which is a losing proposition in any event — will be overwhelming for them.

It seems to us to be pretty obvious — and I think most geologists would agree with this — that in a 50- to 100-year timeframe we’re in trouble. The best example of that, the proof in the pudding, is Florida, where they have hundreds of miles of highrise-lined shoreline. What can they do? You could move the buildings back, but that’s very costly and there’s no place to move them to. So what we see right now, especially with the current governor of Florida, is the building of seawalls right and left. All you have to do is declare an emergency and you can build a seawall.

In the book, you also discuss how beaches have become dangerous places. So would you say there’s also a loss of beaches, not physically, but as we are able to enjoy them?

Yeah, that was the point of that. We, by the way, were really shocked — the one chapter that was really out of our range was pollution, and we were rather shocked at the numbers. We saw repeated statements about how to use a beach, if you’re going to go to a beach what should you do and how should you use it, in the technical literature, but it hasn’t been getting out to the public. Maybe that’s a little bit of irresponsibility on the part of some of the biochemists in not getting that out to the public. On the other hand, I know what would happen. They would get heavily criticized, probably, as being alarmists.

But yes, the fact is that the beaches are getting more and more polluted, and as more and more villages and towns and cities crowd up against the beaches that’s going to continue. Some of the things the literature said seemed rather outrageous to us. One is never to go barefoot on a beach. That’s a tough one. The one thing that everyone agrees is a bad thing to do is to get buried in the sand. And who in this world has not been buried in the sand at some time in their life? If you have a cut or an abrasion of some kind… I’ve always thought that going in the salt water had a healing effect on cuts, but that was really wrong. I’ve told that to a thousand students over the years, and if any of them are reading this I take it all back. It’s very dangerous.

Well, not very dangerous. There’s a very low probability of getting something, but if you do, the probability of getting something serious is high.

And that’s worse than it used to be?

There are no numbers to show it, that we know of, but yes. The pollutants on beaches are higher than they used to be, we think.

I imagine that you must have trouble getting people to take some of the issues you write about seriously. For example, there’s the beach that was stolen in Jamaica — something like that can come off as an offbeat, funny news story instead of a serious environmental crime. Do you come across that sort of response often?

Where we are not taken seriously? Of course, but I’m used to that because I’ve been arguing for years that we need to move houses back and retreat from the shoreline, or let houses fall in, but not leave them in place. My argument in the past in similar situations has been that we have a choice at the shoreline: We can have beaches or we can have buildings, but we can’t have them both. You have to take your choice — and of course, that is met with a lot of derision by beach property owners.

“The Last Beach,” I anticipate, will be met with some derision, because it seems a little extreme. But it’s not extreme at all. Of that I am certain. In my 40 years of working on this I can see the situation deteriorating. We’re going down a bad road, no question about it, and I feel confident about that.

Right after Superstorm Sandy, you wrote an article for the New York Times arguing that we shouldn’t rebuild. What kind of response did that get?

I got some money — somebody wanted to support my next book. Everything that happened to me directly was good, and I think the response was really good, surprisingly good. I heard that the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) — which is a civilian group beating a hard drum of “there’s no need to retreat” — in their newsletter they made a few nasty comments about me…

A long time ago, when I started saying these things, the response was really negative, like “aw, c’mon, don’t be stupid, nobody’s going to move back.” Now, moving back is not outrageous, and the relationship between seawalls and the loss of beaches is pretty widely known. I think I can say that the response to that editorial was so different than it would have been 30 years ago, 20 years ago. And that’s a good thing.

What about the actual response from people working on recovery from the storm? Did anyone listen? Is the East Coast going to be just as vulnerable the next time a storm comes?

Thirty years ago, the response would have been massive seawalls, there’s no question of that. Hurricane Sandy was the first time I’ve heard serious discussion on the part of the governors of New Jersey and New York about maybe moving back and not rebuilding. As it was, they didn’t do much — they basically rebuilt — but that was music to my ears. I’ve never heard that before. In the past it’s always been “c’mon, we’re Americans, we’re not going to throw up our hands and slink away.”

Almost every house, if there was a house left, had an American flag in front of it. It brought out patriotism, for some reason or another. I guess that’s better than depression, but it’s different. Even though most of these things didn’t bear fruit, we’re getting there. I guess I’m learning that it takes years to get this into the public understanding. I don’t know how many years it’s going to take before we really start moving back, but we’re going to have to, no question about it, or we’ll just give up on the beach. I really believe that we will give up on the beach, for the most part. Beach replenishment, you see, will not be feasible as the sea level rises, because you’re holding the shoreline back in place, where it doesn’t want to be.

The beaches will disappear much faster than they are now. In North Carolina a typical beach lasts about three years. In New Jersey it’s probably about the same, and in Florida, where the wave energy is a little lower, it’s about seven to nine years. In any case, it’s a very costly proposition and it’s definitely going to get more costly.

How far back do people realistically need to move?

It all depends on where you are. If you’re on a barrier island you can move to the back side of the island, but the problem with that is that the back side of the island is lower in elevation. The highest elevation on most barrier islands is at the front of the island, so you’re moving back but on the other hand the chance of being struck directly by waves is increased.

For the most part, if someone is going to go through the cost of moving they ought to get off the island. In Florida, there ain’t no place to get off the island. It’s very, very low and flooding quickly as the sea level rises. We have a photograph in the book of the so-called “Outlaw House” in North Carolina (Outlaw was the family name). It was moved back three or five times, depending on who you believe, and right now it’s very close to the beach once again. That’s a mom-and-pop cottage, and initially it was moved by mules. All the houses near the Outlaw House now are all McMansions. They can be moved, but they’re expensive. The McMansion that was in the movie “Nights in Rodanthe” was just moved down the highway a bit to a safer place — I say safer, but not safe.

In a recent interview, you said you’ve stopped defining yourself as a scientist and have instead become a scientific advocate. When and how did that change come about?

I started out as a deep-sea sedimentologist. I worked on the continental margin of North Carolina and the abyssal plains — I sampled 13 abyssal plains around the world — but I got tired of going to sea. When my parents’ house was damaged in Hurricane Camille, my father and I wrote this little book called “How to Live On an Island,” and it was three eighths of an inch thick and it cost a dollar fifty, and I couldn’t believe the impact it had. People were asking to quote us and so forth, and I realized there was a real vacuum here and I began to move to the beach. I traded a research vessel for a 16-foot skiff, and I’m very happy about that. It’s been very satisfying.

When I first came to Duke it was not possible, before you get tenured, to get involved with controversial things with the general public. One had to wait until one had tenure before one could start pounding on the table about these things, and by the time I got my 16-foot skiff I was already tenured. I had also been a journal editor and a couple other things, and that gave me credibility in the scientific community. Nonetheless, I remember a number of times being criticized by scientists, basically saying “you’re off-base for doing this kind of thing.” I have a 25-book series, “Living with the Shore” for every state, and we have local geologists who were the senior authors of each of these books. I think for probably every book, at least one of the authors would say “I’m not going to lower myself and make science so simple,” or something to that effect, saying that “we can’t expect the public to understand everything we’re doing.”

But I don’t think I hear much of that anymore. I think at least geologists, and probably a lot of others now, are recognizing the value of being able to converse with the public. I know that most universities, Duke included, appreciate work that has an impact on the general public. It’s not like it was when I started at all. We are rewarded for doing such work, although there are local problems in individual states, probably in every state, where public schools still have problems. Here in North Carolina, I know at least two, maybe three geologists who have been asked to turn in their emails, or to furnish all emails that have to do with sea-level rise.

What you’re asking of the public is really difficult: You’re asking them to give up something they love, that they can protect in the short term, in favor of looking at the big picture. It’s something that people come up against with a lot of these environmental and climate problems. Do you have any insights into how to get that message through to people?

The reason you go to beaches is because you went down there with your mother and father during the summer and had the most wonderful time in your whole life, and what could be better than to live there year-round? But here in North Carolina we have some really good newspapers, at least on this issue. I spent a few years back in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and I found that the people there were far less educated on the problem of beaches and seawalls and retreating shorelines. It was a very marginal thing in Massachusetts, but in North Carolina we have a much longer shoreline and a much higher-energy shoreline. So it’s not a surprise to most people. If they come here from Kansas it might be a surprise, but the locals here are pretty well-educated. Excepting the particular political situation we have right now, which is very pro-development — but that comes and goes — I think in North Carolina we’re better prepared than some other states.

The real resistance to good coastal management with a long-term view is coming not from the people who came down there because their mommy and daddy brought them to the beach. It’s coming from the people who are making money on it. From what I’ve seen here, the high-cost developments are the ones who are trying to change the laws to let them build seawalls. They’re going to protect the houses; they couldn’t give a damn about the general public. Up on South Hampton, New York, rich people are building massive walls. They’re doing things that are illegal in some communities, but when you have billions of dollars you can get an army of lawyers to hold off the community very readily. Wealthy communities are the problem. More

 

 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ocean acidification tops the annual list of important stories ignored by the mainstream media

Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn't told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth's self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity's CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean's peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This "butterfly effect," once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we're frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year's most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

"Information is the currency of democracy," Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year's Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, "the general public remains uninformed."

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what's important. Context is key, and many of its "top censored" stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored's panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year's list.

"There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they're out there," Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

"There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list," Roth said. "But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should."

Indeed, though Welch's story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to "imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That's what we do to the oceans every day."

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification's threat to the arctic food chain.

"Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas," the study's authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch's story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into "dumb jocks," scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

"It's not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space," Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more "action focused," Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama's "awkward coffee cup salute" to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president's ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media's focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, "'important stories' are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage." But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what's the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on "drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence."

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

"Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world's water faster than ever before, and faster than the world's leading scientists predicted," Welch said, but it's not getting the attention is deserves. "Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000."

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there's still time to act?

Probably not, and that's why we have Project Censored and its annual list: More


 

 

Science has Spoken - Ban Ki Moon

 

 

Offshore islands amplify, rather than dissipate, a tsunami's power

A long-held belief that offshore islands protect the mainland from tsunamis turns out to be the exact opposite of the truth, according to a new study.

Common wisdom — from Southern California to the South Pacific — for coastal residents and scientists alike has long been that offshore islands would create a buffer that blocked the power of a tsunami. In fact, computer modeling of tsunamis striking a wide variety of different offshore island geometries yielded no situation in which the mainland behind them fared better.

Instead, islands focused the energy of the tsunami, increasing flooding on the mainland by up to 70 percent.

“This is where many fishing villages are located, behind offshore islands, in the belief that they will be protected from wind waves. Even Southern California residents believe that the Channel Islands and Catalina will protect them,” said Costas Synolakis of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, a member of the multinational team that conducted the research.

The research was inspired by a field survey of the impact of the 2010 tsunami on the Mentawai Islands off of Sumatra. The survey data showed that villages located in the shadow of small offshore islets suffered some of the strongest tsunami impacts, worse than villages located along open coasts.

Subsequent computer modeling by Jose Borrero, adjunct assistant research professor at the USC Viterbi Tsunami Research Center, showed that the offshore islands had actually contributed to — not diminished — the tsunami’s impact.

Synolakis then teamed up with researchers Emile Contal and Nicolas Vayatis of Ecoles Normales de Cachan in Paris; and Themistoklis S. Stefanakis and Frederic Dias, who both have joint appointments at Ecoles Normales de Cachan and University College Dublin to determine whether that was a one-of-a-kind situation, or the norm.

Their study, of which Dias was the corresponding author, was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A on Nov. 5.

The team designed a computer model that took into consideration various island slopes, beach slopes, water depths, distance between the island and the beach, and wavelength of the incoming tsunami.

“Even a casual analysis of these factors would have required hundreds of thousands of computations, each of which could take up to half a day,” Synolakis said. “So instead, we used machine learning.”

Machine learning is a mathematical process that makes it easier to identify the maximum values of interdependent processes with multiple parameters by allowing the computer to “learn” from previous results.

The computer starts to understand how various tweaks to the parameters affect the overall outcome and finds the best answer quicker. As such, results that traditionally could have taken hundreds of thousands of models to uncover were found with 200 models.

“This work is applicable to some of our tsunami study sites in New Zealand,” said Borrero, who is producing tsunami hazard maps for regions of the New Zealand coast. “The northeast coast of New Zealand has many small islands offshore, similar to those in Indonesia, and our modeling suggests that this results in areas of enhanced tsunami heights.”

“Substantial public education efforts are needed to help better explain to coastal residents tsunami hazards, and whenever they need to be extra cautious and responsive with evacuations during actual emergencies,” Synolakis said. More