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


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

Let's tell the truth about extreme weather

(CNN) -- Raging fires forced thousands to flee the San Diego area this week, as mandatory evacuation notices went out to 11,000 homes and businesses. Even Legoland had to be evacuated as so-called devil winds whipped through the heat. As the chaos unfolded, the latest data from the U.S. National Drought Monitor shows half of the country is deep in drought.

Climate change is here and will only
worsen. Get used to more flooding,
wildfires and drought, depending on
where you live. That's the take-home
message of a new White House
report released Tuesday that is part
of President Barack Obama's
second-term effort to prepare
the nation for rising sea levels and
increasingly erratic weather.
Here, a flooded parking lot at
the Laurel Park horse racing track
is seen Thursday, May 1, 2014,
in Laurel, Maryland.

Half of America is in the throes of a drought, and it's only May.

Welcome to another a typical day in America, a day marred by weather-related carnage. Ponder the new normal.

On Monday, two days before the San Diego fire, a wind-whipped blaze sent fear and panic across the Texas Panhandle. One victim said she "just couldn't breathe." Almost 100 homes were swept up in flames as thousands raced from "a tornado of smoke."

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, people staggered around wondering where their houses had gone after a tornado had touched down.

"I guess it just lifted up the house and slammed it back down, because it's just in a pile of rubble right now," said one homeowner. And in Missouri, people in the small town of Orrick stood around in bafflement after twisters damaged 80% of their town, including more than 200 homes. "It has been tough," said one woman. And, ma'am, it will likely get tougher.

Let's be clear. Climate change is here. And it's only going to get worse.

That's the headline of the new White House report on the environment released last week. The study warns of rising temperatures and sea levels, noting "corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience."

It says many parts of the nation have already seen an increasing number of billion-dollar weather events: droughts, fires, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, each with damages of a billion dollars or more. These events will continue and worsen, damaging roads, railways, bridges and electrical grids. Unless we do something -- and fast.

Clearly, the National Climate Assessment, compiled by 300 experts over several years, is designed to take global warming out of the cerebral realm of egghead scientists and put it in terms that will resonate with average Americans. It warns that climate change is "already affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the economy." The report calls for "urgent action" to protect our communities.

But something's missing. Can an 840-page scholarly dissertation ever give you chills? Will any wonky report ever pack enough of a punch to make you swear off plastic bottles, switch to an electric car, start composting, go meatless on Mondays and demand our politicians do more to restrict industrial emissions? A study, by its very nature, is an abstraction.

Here's what is missing from our national conversation about climate change: an emotional charge that hits you in the gut. We need in-your-face cause and effect. And this is where the media needs to step up.

Every day, it seems, a new extreme weather catastrophe happens somewhere in America and the media's all over it, profiling the ordinary folks wiped out by forest fires, droughts, floods, massive sinkholes, tornadoes.

But do reporters covering the who, what, when, where and how, ever talk about the real why? Do reporters mention climate change when they're stuck in a torrential downpour or use an out-of-control forest fire as a backdrop? No. It's still considered inappropriate to talk about the big elephant in the field, namely what we have long accepted as an act of God is increasingly becoming an act of man.

The end of April saw a massive storm that inched up the Eastern Seaboard.

Florida experienced horrific flooding. Pensacola airport saw the largest amount of rain in a single calendar day since the first tracking of rainfall there in 1880, according the National Weather Service. A senior citizen died after being swept into a drainage ditch. In Alabama, people were reportedly climbing onto their rooftops to survive. In Maryland, cars disappeared as a street collapsed. Where was the discussion of human-induced climate change in the midst of the horror?

"It's too soon," is something I've heard as an explanation for why the news media avoids linking human-induced climate change to the breaking news coverage of a storm, a hurricane, a tornado, a flood or a forest fire. It's a shame, because that's when the conversation would have the most impact. It would force people to confront the effects of their own carbon footprint. If we keep saying, "it's too soon," soon it will be too late.

Some would say it's heartless to lecture people about our collective lifestyle when they're in the throes of a crisis that could cost them their homes and even their lives.

But isn't it the responsibility of journalists to tell viewers the truth, no matter how unpleasant? Wouldn't it help Americans more, in the long run, if we were forced to accept some responsibility for the environmental wreckage we prefer to assume is totally out of our control? More


Editor's note: Jane Velez-Mitchell is an HLN-TV host whose show airs nightly at 7 EST. She has written several books, including "iWant: My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life," "Addict Nation: An Intervention for America" and "Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Third National Climate Assessment: Climate Change Impacts in the United States

Please see the message below announcing the release of the new U.S. National Climate Assessment and the associated websites where it is available.

We are so pleased to announce today’s release of the Third National Climate Assessment: Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The Third National Climate Assessment (NCA), which delivers on USGCRP’s legal mandate and the President’s Climate Action Plan, is the most comprehensive, authoritative, transparent scientific report ever generated on U.S. climate impacts, both as currently observed and as projected for the future. The Third NCA documents climate change-related impacts and responses across key sectors and all regions of the U.S. with the goal of better informing public and private decision-making at all levels.


The Third NCA is available to download and also can be explored in a novel interactive format through USGCRP’s newly redeployed web presence at An important feature of this interactivity is the traceability of the data and other information in the report, giving users the means to refer back to these data for their analyses and decision support. The site is mobile-compatible and every piece of the report—from highlights to chapters to key messages to graphics—has its own unique URL for social network sharing. Please find below links that will help you navigate the Third NCA:

· Full Report:

· Highlights:

Beyond the Third NCA, the new features accessible and dynamic information on a wide range of climate-related topics.

Any White House materials about the release of the Third NCA will be available from: At 2:00 pm EDT, the White House is hosting a stakeholder event that will feature speakers from the Administration, NCA authors, and users of the report. For those who won't be at the event in person, you can tune into the live webcast:


The data and information in the Third NCA can be of great value to the adaptation planning and implementation efforts of U.S. Federal Agencies and their partners and stakeholders. Some examples include:

· The latest science on observed trends and projected future conditions of changes in the climate across the 8 NCA regions and contiguous U.S. as well as 13 sectors and cross-sectors.

· Examples throughout of on-the-ground impacts across the U.S., many of which are already directly affecting substantial numbers of Americans.

· For the first time in a U.S. national assessment, explicit chapters on Decision Support, Mitigation, and Adaptation, with specific information on those topics as they are practiced now in addition to identifying research needs associated with these topics for improving future implementation of climate resilience measures. Specifically related to adaptation, the following information is captured in the Adaptation chapter:

o Adaptation key terms defined

o An overview of adaptation activities at multiple levels including the Federal government, states, tribes, local and regional governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector

o Example barriers to adaptation

o Several illustrative case studies of adaptation in action

· A useful and informative section that answers some frequently asked questions about climate change. The questions addressed range from those purely related to the science of climate change to those that extend to some of the issues being faced in consideration of mitigation and adaptation measures.

· Data and metadata behind content and images used in the assessment are accessible and traceable.



Sunday, May 4, 2014

Climate change is clear and present danger, says landmark US report

Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama's environmental agenda.

The findings are expected to guide Obama as he rolls out the next and most ambitious phase of his climate change plan in June – a proposal to cut emissions from the current generation of power plants, America's largest single source of carbon pollution.

The White House is believed to be organising a number of events over the coming week to give the report greater exposure.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," a draft version of the report says. The evidence is visible everywhere from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean, it goes on.

"Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between."

The final wording was under review by the White House but the basic gist remained unchanged, scientists who worked on the report said.

On Sunday the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said the world needed to try harder to combat climate change. At a meeting of UN member states in Abu Dhabi before a climate change summit in New York on 23 September, Ban said: "I am asking them to announce bold commitments and actions that will catalyse the transformative change we need. If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone."

Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University and vice-chair of the NCA advisory committee, said the US report would be unequivocal that the effects of climate change were occurring in real-time and were evident in every region of the country.

"One major take-home message is that just about every place in the country has observed that the climate has changed," he told the Guardian. "It is here and happening, and we are not cherrypicking or fearmongering."

The draft report notes that average temperature in the US has increased by about 1.5F (0.8C) since 1895, with more than 80% of that rise since 1980. The last decade was the hottest on record in the US.

Temperatures are projected to rise another 2F over the next few decades, the report says. In northern latitudes such as Alaska, temperatures are rising even faster.

"There is no question our climate is changing," said Don Wuebbles, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois and a lead author of the assessment. "It is changing at a factor of 10 times more than naturally."

Record-breaking heat – even at night – is expected to produce more drought and fuel larger and more frequent wildfires in the south-west, the report says. The north-east, midwest and Great Plains states will see an increase in heavy downpours and a greater risk of flooding.

"Parts of the country are getting wetter, parts are getting drier. All areas are getting hotter," said Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for global change at the US Geological Survey. "The changes are not the same everywhere."

Those living on the Atlantic seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska who have weathered the effects of sea level rise and storm surges can expect to see more. Residents of coastal cities, especially in Florida where there is already frequent flooding during rainstorms, can expect to see more. So can people living in inland cities sited on rivers.

Some changes are already having a measurable effect on food production and public health, the report will say.

John Balbus, senior adviser at the National Institute of Environmenal Health Science and a lead author of the NCA report, said rising temperatures increased the risk of heat stroke and heat-related deaths.

Eugene Takle, convening lead author of the agriculture chapter of the NCA report, and director of the Climate Science programme at Iowa State University, said heatwaves and changes in rainfall had resulted in a levelling off in wheat and corn production and would eventually cause declines.

In California, warmer winters have made it difficult to grow cherries. In the midwest, wetter springs have delayed planting. Invasive vines such as kudzu have spread northward, from the south to the Canadian border.

Some of the effects on agriculture, such as a longer growing season, are positive. But Takle said: "By mid-century and beyond the overall impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock."

The assessments are the American equivalent of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. This year's report for the first time looks at what America has done to fight climate change or protect people from its consequences in the future.

Under an act of Congress the reports were supposed to be produced every four years, but no report was produced during George W Bush's presidency. More