Everything is connected, and everything is changing
By Kate Marvel on December 30, 2019
A state of emergency was declared on November 11, 2019 and residents in the Sydney area were warned of “catastrophic” fire danger as Australia prepared for a fresh wave of deadly bushfires that have ravaged the drought-stricken east of the country.
It rains in the Amazon because the trees want it to. There is plenty of moisture in the oceans that surround the continent, but there is also a hidden reservoir on the land feeding an invisible river that flows upward to the sky. The water held in the soil is lifted up by the bodies of the trees and lost through the surfaces of their leaves to the atmosphere. The local sky plumps with moisture, primed for the arrival of the seasonal rains driven by the annual back-and-forth march of the sun’s rays. As climate scientist Alex Hall puts it, the trees are co-conspiring with the sky to attract an earlier monsoon.
This is the decade we knew we were right. It began with the warmest year on record; it then broke that record at least five times. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached levels unprecedented since humans were hominins. There were droughts and floods and brutal heat waves. Coral reefs turned white and gave up. Australia is in drought. The Amazon is on fire.
Nothing is eternal and nothing is infinite. There were once forests in the Sahara—if not quite the Amazon, still lush and tropical, clustered around the largest freshwater lake on the planet. In geologic time, this was practically yesterday: less than ten thousand years ago. The lake is mostly gone now, vanished in the span of a few hundred years. In its place there is nothing but dust.
The changes now are different. We expected most of them, and they are occurring with a terrifying rapidity that is no more reassuring because it is easily understood. We have known that carbon dioxide traps heat for over a hundred years. We have known that we are changing the planet for decades now. There is no consolation in being right.
The climate always changes. It is dry in the Sahara because the planet wobbled slightly in its orbit, weakening the monsoon rains in the west of Africa. The plants sucked the moisture from the soil; it was not replaced. They died, and no more moisture entered the atmosphere: a vicious cycle of dying and drying that led to the dusty, depopulated desert we know today. This was climate change; it was likely not the fault of humans. But the existence of past climate change does not mean we are not responsible for it this time. There have always been gentle and natural deaths. This does not make murder impossible.
The decade began with lies and ended with evasions. Hackers, probably Russian, stole the emails of a few scientists and offered single sentences, taken wildly out of context, to an eager and credulous media. We heard both sides: the truth, and the not-truth, and were encouraged to draw our own conclusions. The temperature rose; physics was not watching the debate. We learned nothing from the experience.
The winds over the Sahara come from the East, dense, sinking forced sideways as the Earth rotates away underneath it. The dust is carried across the Atlantic, enlarging the beaches of the Caribbean, scattering low-angle sunlight into brilliant purple-orange sunsets, and landing gently on the forests of the Amazon. But the air over the Sahara has arrived from the tropics, rising and shedding its moisture on a journey toward the poles. When it can go no further, it cools and sinks. There are no deserts without the tropics.
Everything is connected. Children were murdered in their schools, and were angry about it. Children saw their futures bargained away for short-term profit, and were angry about it. Children saw the changing world, and were angry about it. The streets swelled with angry children and heartbroken parents, a chorus of hurt that would have echoed through the halls of power had they been able to hear. Nothing was done, and the anger grew louder. This was the decade we saw that history was renewable. We promised to make more of it.
If you want to see the future of the Amazon, you must use physics and assumptions and know that you are almost certainly wrong. All models are wrong, but all climate models strive to be useful, to show a plausible future that may still be avoidable. If the future atmosphere is larded with even more carbon dioxide, the plants of the Amazon will not need to open the pores on their leaves quite so much to take in the gases they need. They will expel less water from these shrunken pores into the atmosphere. The trees will lose their ability to summon the monsoon. There will be fire and drought. Where there was once forest will be only dust.
Here is one thing worth remembering in the dark days of the northern mid-latitude winter. The rainforest is so lush that it cannot fertilize itself. Every nutrient is seized by the greedy vegetation, locked up in the bodies of plants before it can leach into the soil. But the forest is fertilized, given life by the dead lake in the Sahara. There is phosphorus in the lakebed, turned into dust and swept across the Atlantic by the prevailing winds.
From the old comes the new, a fragile phoenix borne upward from the tropics on the rising updrafts of thick convective cloud. The Amazon exists because the Sahara does, the desert is there because the tropics are here. None of this was ever going to stand alone.Scientific American Blog Network @ https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/hot-planet/this-was-the-decade-we-knew-we-were-right/
Special Report on Climate Change and Land — IPCC site
— Read on www.ipcc.ch/srccl/
Deep-Sea Mining and the Race to the Bottom of the Ocean
– The Atlantic
Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.
These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up.
Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan and South Korea have embarked on national projects to exploit their own offshore deposits. But the biggest prize for mining companies will be access to international waters, which cover more than half of the global seafloor and contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined…
By Nathaniel Rich
Photographs and Videos by George Steinmetz
AUG. 1, 2018
“While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.”
University of Auckland’s Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond responds to the OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance with suggestions on how the fresh water crisis might be tackled
The OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance is crystal clear. New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation is at immediate risk from the degradation of many New Zealand lakes and rivers. International media, buyers of New Zealand products, tourism interests and public opinion polls have all been ringing alarm bells, and now the OECD itself has joined the uproar.
As the report notes, “fresh water is a fundamental asset underpinning New Zealand’s economy”, in primary production as well as tourism and many other industries.
While leaders in national and local government and primary production have tried to shut down freshwater scientists and others warning about the damage to New Zealand’s waterways, they can’t ignore this message from the international community. Decisive action to enhance the state of many springs, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and aquifers across the country must be taken.
Although much was hoped from the Land and Water Forum, which for almost a decade has brought key stakeholders together to agree on ways of taking care of New Zealand’s water courses, the government has not listened to most of the Forum’s recommendations. At the regional level, too, collaborative processes have often been hijacked by powerful commercial interests.
In addition, iwi claims to proprietary interests in ancestral waterways have been upheld by the Waitangi Tribunal. In response, the government has argued that “no one owns the water”. Conversations between the government and iwi leaders about this are conducted in private, despite acute public interest in how fresh water in New Zealand should be managed.
The OECD recognises that iwi interests in waterways have to be resolved if freshwater management in New Zealand is to move ahead. The report highlights the need for the application of national standards at the catchment level to be independently monitored. It also notes that charging for the commercial use of fresh water and polluter pays charges might be considered.
Sir Eddie Durie and the New Zealand Māori Council have suggested that in order to bring greater consistency to the management of waterways across the country, and to recognise iwi interests in fresh water, an independent Waterways Commission might be established. If closely linked with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, this would have a number of advantages.
If charging for the commercial use of fresh water is introduced, it is imperative that this income flow is not privatised. All New Zealand citizens have a stake in the country’s waterways, and if water charges are introduced, this funding should be dedicated to improving fresh water quality for the benefit of all, including iwi projects to enhance ancestral waterways, as in Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act.
The visionary recognition in Te Awa Tupua Act of the rights of waterways themselves could be extended to other waterways. Rivers, springs, streams, wetlands and lakes existed long before people arrived in New Zealand, and as both the Whanganui people and the OECD recognise, human beings depend on freshwater ecosystems for our health, prosperity and survival, as much as the other way around.
While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.
The legal rights of all citizens to enjoy waterways across New Zealand should underpin the work of a Waterways Commission. It is vital that the application of national standards for fresh water is nationally monitored by an independent body, to ensure that the management of waterways and any funding from water rights are not hijacked by private interests.
The OECD’s report is a call to action. Declining standards for fresh water in New Zealand must be decisively tackled. A Waterways Commission – one that is truly independent and well resourced, reconciles the rights and responsibilities of iwi with those of other citizens, and takes good care of our waterways – would bring urgency and national oversight to this task.
Dame Anne Salmond is the Patron of the Te Awaroa: 1000 Rivers project. She was the 2013 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
22nd December 2016 Commercialisation has poisoned all areas of contemporary life, and together with its partner in crime, consumerism, is the principal cause of man-made climate change.
Operating under the suffocating shadow of neo-liberalism, the market forces of commercialisation act blindly and indiscriminately. The presiding deity is money; the goal of endeavour quick profit and limitless growth – no matter what the human or environmental costs may be. And the consequences to both are great, long-term and far-reaching: global climate change, with its numerous effects, and the wholesale destruction of the natural environment being the most significant.
The Earth is our home, “our sister”, as Pope Francis calls it in his ground-breaking Encyclical letter, “On Care For Our Common Home”. But we are poisoning and raping her; polluting the rivers and oceans, destroying the rainforests, coral reefs and natural habitats; the treasures she has given us to care for. It is unchecked human behaviour that is lighting the various fires of destruction. Unless there is a change in the unsustainable, overindulgent way we are living, the
prospects for the planet are bleak.
The interrelated environmental catastrophes are the greatest threat to human and non-human life, and they affect the economic and social crises facing humanity. And they highlight the need for a new imagination to meet the challenges we face.
Our abuse of the Earth, together with what many believe to be a growing threat of nuclear confrontation, has, as Noam Chomsky makes clear, brought about the most serious crisis in human history. It has motivated millions of concerned people throughout the world to unite against government apathy and destructive actions, but is being met with complacency and arrogance by ideologically-driven politicians and the corrupt corporations, who, to a greater or lesser extent, determine policy.
Pope Francis expresses the view of many when he says that, “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”. He goes on to point out that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”, resulting from the wide-ranging effects of climate change and global warming.
While man-made climate change resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is due to various factors, a lifestyle based on rapacious desire for all things material is the key underlying cause. This is made clear in a University College London (UCL) research paper, which states that, “although population and demographics are considerable factors in carbon emissions and consequent global warming, consumption patterns remain the most significant factor. It adds that consumers, rather than people, cause climate change,” although in the world of big business and among some governments these appear to be synonymous terms…
A world of exacerbated consumption
Consumerism is the life-blood of capitalism. It is an engineered pattern of behaviour that functions and is perpetuated through the constant agitation of desire for pleasure, a transient state that is sold as happiness.
The consumer culture has been manufactured. Human beings are not naturally rapacious but have been coerced into it. Through manipulative advertising and marketing strategies corporations have promoted the false idea that happiness and contentment will be discovered on the next shopping excursion, inside the packaging of the new gadget or video game.
The designers of the consumer game know well that no such peace will be discovered in the material world of make-believe, and so discontent is guaranteed, prompting the next desire-fuelled outing. And so the cycle of inner emptiness, perpetual longing and dependence on transient appeasement through consumption is maintained…
The consequences of this are ever-greater energy demands, oceans of landfill waste, deforestation, contaminated air that kills millions every year, and widespread environmental destruction.
Consumerism is a Western way of life, another toxic export – together with fast food, obesity and diabetes – that is now finding its way into the cities of some developing countries. It is not the billions living in poverty in the towns and villages of sub-Saharan Africa, or rural India and China, who are indulging in the voracious consumption that is crippling the planet. The poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population is, according to Oxfam, responsible for a mere 10 per cent of “total lifestyle consumption emissions”. The cult of consumerism is predominantly the pastime of the spoilt and bored – with access to easy credit – in the developed nations of the world. Europe and America, for example, with a mere 12 per cent of global population, account for over 60 per cent of worldwide consumption…
Unrestrained consumption and perpetual growth are essential to the success and profitability of the neo-liberal project, which without such consumerism would collapse. And so insatiable desire for material possessions is virtually insisted upon by governments obsessed with economic growth, and businesses that depend on sales. This itch, which is constantly excited by persuasive advertising, a culture of comparison and narrow definitions of the self, feeds an urge to continually consume…
The extreme capitalist system that is demanding such behaviour is inseparable from wealth and income inequality, climate change, displacement of people and environmental degradation. All of these are interconnected and increasingly recognised to be so…
All forms of life are mistreated in such a world because nothing has any inherent value; everything has fallen prey to the curse of commercialisation and is seen as a commodity, including human beings. Rivers, valleys, forests and mountains all are commodified. They are bought up by large companies who see such natural treasures in terms of an end product, a source of profit when sold in the shopping centres and homogenous high streets of our towns and cities.
In the rush to drain the Earth of all goodness, huge numbers of indigenous people are displaced, the land ruined and beauty lost. Where the corporate hand of mankind is found, all too often one witnesses exploitation, destruction and waste…
Impelled by a restless appetite to conquer everyone and own everything, “capitalism,” as Naomi Klein rightly states, “is at war with life on earth”. And if triumph is to be judged in terms of destruction and degradation, at the moment it is winning.
Heating up the planet
Climate change brought about by greenhouse gases and the resulting warming of the planet dates from the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th Century. According to analysis by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times”. Two thirds of this increase took place since 1975, and it’s intensifying. Nine out 10 of the hottest years on record occurred since 2000 and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this sharp increase is “due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations”.
As Naomi Klein puts it, climate change “has less to do with carbon [and other polluting emissions] than with capitalism”. An extreme form of capitalism that only prospers when certain negative aspects of human behavior are elicited: selfish, materialistic tendencies, which the ideological disciples, who benefit from this divisive way of living and believe in its dogma are committed to encouraging. Honing in on Ms Klein’s statement further, we can say, as Pope Francis, UCL and others have concluded, that the most significant cause of man-made climate change is the food and drink of capitalism – consumerism.
The logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness
Worldwide, awareness of climate change varies from region to region. In a Gallop poll of 128 countries taken in 2008, it was found that overall 61 per cent of the global population were aware of global warming, of which only 11 per cent felt they “knew a great deal about it”. Europe was the region where awareness was highest, 88 per cent being aware, with 70 per cent knowing “something about it”. This figure drops in the Americas (North and South) to 64 per cent and plummets to 45 per cent in Asia, 37 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 42 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.
Even where some acceptance of climate change exists, people are often reluctant to change their lifestyle and make the required sacrifices – for example, stick with their existing mobile phone, buy less stuff, reduce the use of electricity/gas, give up that diesel car or use public transport.
Awareness of climate change is a beginning, but understanding of the underlying causes and effects is needed to change behaviour, as well as a major shift away from selfishness and greed. Such tendencies create separation – from oneself, from others and from the natural environment – desensitize us and lead to complacency. These ingrained patterns of behaviour are strangling the purity out of the Earth and stifling the humanity in us…
Knitted firmly into the heart of this culture and the crises facing humanity is neo-liberalism – an unjust system that needs to be laid to rest and replaced by one that flows from the recognition that humanity is a family and that all human beings have the same needs and the same rights to live secure, dignified lives…
Moving away from the present unjust economic model would create the possibility of purification taking place: purification first and foremost of us, of the way we think and act…
Purification of our internal lives, in which we break the addiction to material goods, cease to look externally for happiness and reduce our levels of consumption, will lead to purification of the natural environment.
A massive education programme is needed to bring about such a shift in thinking and behaviour, one that inspires a shift in consciousness away from the idea of the individual as the centre of all activity, determinedly competing with everyone else, to recognition of one’s place within the whole and the responsibility that goes with that…
Otherwise, the model of consumerism will continue to advance, and with it the further contamination of the Earth, the destruction of ecosystems and the heightened threat to human life.
The choice is ours.
© Scoop Media
Each year, I look so forward to Eid Al Adha – the holiest holiday for Muslims worldwide – but not this year. As I watched my daughters prepare for the celebrations with joy, I learned of a horrific crime. A 36-year-old woman dressed in traditional garb was set on fire on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. She was the same age as me, walking in the city where I was born and raised. This comes at the heels of two Muslim women in Brooklyn who were physically assaulted by a woman as they pushed their babies in strollers. As if this news wasn’t enough, we also learned that a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, which Omar Mateen reportedly used to visit, had been set on fire. They had to cancel their planned holiday celebrations as a result. How could I enjoy the day without thinking of them? Instead of celebrating as planned, the community in Florida has to explain to their children why someone would intentionally set their place of worship, their sanctuary, on fire the night before the highest holy holiday. These horrific acts follow the execution style murders of an imam and his assistant in Ozone Park, and the stabbing of a 60-year old Muslim woman in Queens. These are only the stories that make the headlines. I don’t think we know the extent of the impact, trauma and pain of Muslim communities nationwide. Muslim Americans found themselves caught in a conversation about how close Eid Al Adha was to the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Pundits wondered whether Muslims would alter their annual Eid celebrations for sensitivity purposes. This insinuation both disappointed and outraged me…
DEEP SEA MINING: AN INVISIBLE LAND GRAB
July 20, 2016
By Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue
Thousands of meters beneath the azure ocean waters in places like the South Pacific, down through a water column saturated with life and to the ocean floor carpeted in undiscovered ecosystems, machines the size of small buildings are poised to begin a campaign of wholesale destruction. I wish this assessment was hyperbole, but it is the reality we find ourselves in today.
A deep sea mining machine.
After decades of being on the back burner owing to costs far outweighing benefits, deep sea mining is now emerging as a serious threat to the stability of ocean systems and processes that have yet to be understood well enough to sanction in good conscience their large-scale destruction. Machines tear up the seabed producing minerals sent up to a capture boat.
Critical to evaluating what is at stake are technologies needed to access the deep sea. The mining company, Nautilus Minerals, has invested heavily in mining machinery. However, resources needed for independent scientific assessment at those depths are essentially non-existent.
The layout of a mining operation.
China is investing heavily in submersibles, manned and robotic, that are able to at least provide superficial documentation of what is in the deep ocean. Imagine aliens with an appetite for minerals flying low over New York City taking photographs and occasional samples and using them to evaluate the relative importance of the streets and buildings with no capacity to understand (or interest) in the importance of Wall Street, the New York Times, Lincoln Center, Columbia University or even the role of taxi cabs and traffic signals. They might even wonder whether or not those little two-legged things running around would be useful for something.
The International Seabed Authority, located in Jamaica and created under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is currently issuing permits for mining exploration. At the very least, might there be ways to issue something like “restraining orders” owing to the lack of proof that no harm will be done to systems critical to human needs? Or also at the very least protecting very (very, very) large areas where no mining will be allowed?
Do you see life in this picture? I do.
The role of life in the deep sea relating to the carbon cycle is vaguely understood, and the influence of the microbial systems (only recently discovered) and the diverse ecosystems in the water column and sea bed have yet to be thoughtfully analyzed. If a doctor could only see the skin of a patient, or sample what is underneath with tiny probes, how could internal functions be understood?
The rationale for exploiting minerals in the deep sea is based on their perceived current monetary value. The living systems that will be destroyed are perceived to have no monetary value. Will decisions about use of the natural world continue to be based on the financial advantage for a small number of people despite risks to systems that underpin planetary stability – systems that support human survival?
Please read more at the link below.
n January this year, I visited friends in Miami. One of the most urgent topics of conversation was about what they saw as the greatest problem faced by the city – rising water levels, and a long-standing reluctance on the part of government and business to take the necessary steps to control the extensive damage. From inundated homes, shops and roads, to fresh water pollution and sewage being forced upwards, the impacts are widespread. In a Christian Aid report (pdf) published last week, Miami ranked ninth in a list of cities most at risk from future coastal flooding as a result of sea level rises. Supported by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, projections for the year 2017 suggest that Kolkata and Mumbai, both in India, are most exposed to coastal flooding. Bar Miami, the top ten cities are all in Asia. Facebook Twitter Pinterest A woman walks through a flooded street in Miami Beach, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images As global water levels rise, as parts of Florida experience the heaviest rain since records began, as the flooding and salination of farmland in Bangladesh increases, the risk to coastal cities can be seen for what it is – a sign of the apparently inexorable effects of a high-carbon economy on a fragile environment. It is not a demand for economic stagnation, nor a matter of having some sort of anti-business agenda But what is also clear from the Christian Aid research is how ecological disaster intensifies inequality. In prosperous nations it is the poorest who are most at risk from environmental changes such as those Miami faces because they have the least means to cope with or move away from the problem. In developing countries, coastal cities and their surrounding regions have even less in the way of defence. Business as usual – that familiar and illusory process – will simply deepen the gulf separating the economically secure from the insecure, at least in the short term. In the long run, to paraphrase Keynes, we are all insecure. There are measures that can be, and are being, taken with the help of NGOs and other civil society groups to limit the damage. During last year’s flooding in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for example, Oxfam distributed water, hygiene kits and cash grants, and worked with other international NGOs to coordinate the humanitarian response. But the underlying question is becoming more and more pressing: what is it about our prevailing global model of economic growth that apparently blinds us to the cost of the high-carbon system? A process of so-called growth that inexorably increases the distance between rich and poor in one way or another ought to look nonsensical to us. Philippines investigates Shell and Exxon over climate change Read more Economic activity is still so often defined in terms of an unending upward spiral of consumption in a materially limited environment. Are we looking hard enough at the contradictions here? Are we asking what kind of economies are sustainable? The launch this week of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, headed by Professor Tim Jackson who wrote the groundbreaking 2011 report Prosperity Without Growth, looks to galvanise a more urgent discussion of these issues.