Political will and urgent action required to save our planet, IPCC Report warns

IPCC 2018reportThe world’s climate science experts have spoken in the landmark report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on October 8.  The full title is: Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty . That dry title doesn’t reflect the importance and impact of this report –  the first time that the UN body has modeled the difference between the impacts of the Paris agreement goals of 2°C and 1.5 °C, and an urgent, unanimous challenge by 91 scientists to the policy makers and politicians of the world to act on the solutions outlined in their models .  An IPCC official  quoted in a CBC report strikes the hopeful tone the report tries to achieve: “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible… This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”

The official report, commonly called  Global Warming 1.5  runs over 700 pages. The official press release  states:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air….Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes”.  A 34-page Summary for Policymakers and a 3-page Headline Statements provide official summaries. Climate Home News offers  “37 Things you need to know about 1.5 global warming”  and  The Guardian offers summary and context in  “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods”  by Nicholas Stern and “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”  (also republished in The National Observer) .

CAN CANADIANS EXPECT URGENT ACTION? :  A thorough CBC summary of the report appears in “UN Report on global warming carries life- or- death warning” , and the Globe and Mail published “UN Report on Climate Change calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change”    (Oct 8) – yet no official reaction has been released by the federal government of Canada. “Trudeau’s Big Oil-friendly decisions mean climate chaos”  from Rabble.ca contrasts the IPCC report with a brief summary of Canada’s recent policy failures. “No change to Canada’s climate plans as UN report warns of losing battle” appeared in the National Observer (Oct. 8).  The National Observer also posted “We challenge every Federal and provincial leader to read the IPCC report and tell us what you plan to do” on October 9, characterizing Canada’s current divisions over a national carbon tax as representative of the world’s dilemma – the failure of political will to act on known scientific facts.  350.org Canada also addresses the issue of political will with  an online petition   calling for an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Canada’s plan to limit climate change, in light of the IPCC report.

Opinion Pieces are still being written, including:  “To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need carbon pricing” by Dale Beugin and Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission in the Globe and Mail  (Oct. 9) which argues that  “The best that economics has to offer is telling us we have a key solution right under our noses. Carbon pricing is now a Nobel Prize-winning idea. ”

On Climate, Our Choice Is Now Catastrophe or Mere Disaster ” by Crawford Kilian in The Tyee  . ….” modern governments and most of their voters are sleepwalking into catastrophe. If anyone or anything can wake them up, we might have a chance. And if we don’t work hard to turn that catastrophe into a mere disaster, we won’t be able to say nobody warned us. ”

“Canada’s carbon-tax plan is collapsing just as the planet runs out of time” in the Washington Post (Oct. 9)…. ” Today, Canadians should take a minute to write to their elected officials provincially and federally and demand that we get the carbon tax done. Every elected official should take a moment to decide how they would like to be remembered. That is, assuming there will be anyone around to remember.”

WELL-INFORMED GLOBAL SUMMARIES :IPCC: Radical Energy Transformation Needed to Avoid 1.5 Degrees Global Warming”   and “Not Just CO2: These Climate Pollutants Also Must Be Cut to Keep Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees”appeared  in Inside Climate News. The World Resources Institute published “8 Things You Need to Know About the IPCC 1.5˚C Report” , accompanied by a  blog and infographic which  explains the consequential difference between 1.5 and 2.0 global warming levels. Climate Action International monitored the discussions leading up to the release of the report: here is their summary and a compilation of global reactions . A compilation of reactions from the academics at Imperial College and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE) is here.

A brief Comment was already issued by the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which calls the report a “conservative assessment” because it omits discussion of some of the largest risks and their impacts – notably  population displacements, migration and possibly conflict, as well as  potential climate  ‘tipping points’, such as disruption to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and shifts in the monsoon in Africa and Asia.

Another key issue: the controversial role of geoengineering, such as carbon capture and storage or “carbon dioxide removal technologies”(CDR) .  “Negative Emissions technologies in the new report on limiting global warming” was posted at Legal Planet (Oct. 8) , pointing out how important geoengineering is in the report’s models. The author argues that ”  …. The text of the relevant chapter is honest about large-scale negative emissions, when it states:  “Most CDR  technologies remain largely unproven to date and raise substantial concerns about adverse side-effects on environmental and social sustainability. ” But the author argues that the message was deliberately watered down  in the executive summaries and in the Summary for Policymakers.

On October 4, just before the release of Global Warming 1.5, 110 organizations and social movements, led by Friends of the Earth International, released their Hands Off Mother Earth! Manifesto, which opposes any geoengineering solutions, including carbon capture and storage.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this report, and it will draw more and more discussion as the UNFCCC meetings in Katowice, Poland approach in December 2018.

“Hothouse Earth” and “Losing Earth” reporting missed the point – there is still time to act

earth from spaceTwo high-profile news stories appearing in August highlight the perils of climate change journalism: the “Hothouse Earth”  article, and  “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” in the New York Times Magazine.  Both prove the old adage that there are two sides to every story; if you only read the original articles, here is some discussion and context to counter the fatalistic news coverage.

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) on August 6 was  widely reported as the “Hothouse Earth” article. It reviewed the existing studies about feedback loops which could push the Earth System toward “a planetary threshold”  that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperatures and cause “continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway”.  The Guardian translated the  scientific language and quoted some of the authors in “Domino-effect of climate events could move Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state”  (Aug. 7), but the byline “Leading scientists warn that passing such a point would make efforts to reduce emissions increasingly futile” typifies the sort of fatalistic coverage which followed.  One of the worst examples appeared  in an Opinion piece from The Tyee on August 12  “If We Can’t Stop Hothouse Earth, We’d Better Learn to Live on It” .

In fact, the original PNAS paper was a call to action,  calling for “ stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”   It was accompanied by a supplementary document  which included specifics in  Table S5: Human actions that could steer the Earth System onto a ‘Stabilized Earth’ trajectory.  The authors have also been active in promoting  their main message: “World is finally waking up to climate change, says ‘hothouse Earth’ author”  (August 19) in The Guardian, in which Hans Joachim Schellnhuber states: “There’s a time to sit down and work at your desk and there’s a time to get up and leave the area where you are comfortable. That time is now.”

Similarly, in  “Hothouse Earth” Co-Author: The Problem is Neoliberal Economics” by Kate Aronoff in The Intercept (Aug. 14)  another co-author,  Will Steffen states:  “the obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” He suggests something “more like wartime footing”  at very fast rates for renewable energy , transportation and agriculture ”.

Others also call for action: Eric Holthaus, in “Terrified by ‘hothouse Earth’? Don’t despair — do something”  in The National Observer (Aug. 7) states  “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia” .  David Suzuki struck a similar note in “David Suzuki: Cool solutions mean a hothouse planet isn’t inevitable” in The Straight (August 14) and also in Rabble.ca , saying, “The research is profoundly disturbing. But the media coverage often missed or downplayed a crucial element: the solutions the report outlines toward a “stabilized Earth pathway.”  Suzuki states: “We must insist that politicians represent the interests of citizens rather than corporations. We must stand up to the fossil fuel industry and climate science deniers.”, and quotes Professor Simon Lewis from University College London and University of Leeds, saying “diagnosing global warming and its consequences is a scientific issue, but solving climate change is about power, money, and political will.”

For a review of other scientific studies : “Is our planet headed toward a ‘Hothouse’? Here’s what the science does — and doesn’t — say” in the  Washington Post (Aug. 10)  by Richard Betts, a U.K. scientist, who credits the importance of the article but speculates that it has received such outsize press response because of the timing of being released in the midst of the world’s heat waves, and because of the use of the perjorative “hothouse” term.

The second case which needs some context:  “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” , published on August 1 in the New York Times Magazine . The article was preceded by extensive publicity to establish its importance and authority:  “with support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article by Nathaniel Rich is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews, documenting the history of climate change science and activism between 1979 and 1989.” Sounds unassailable, and presents a highly detailed historical account, yet criticism followed immediately. From The Atlantic, “The Problem With The New York Times’ Big Story on Climate Change” (Aug. 1) with the byline: “By portraying the early years of climate politics as a tragedy, the magazine lets Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry off the hook”.  In an interview in Democracy Now, ““Losing Earth”: How Humanity Came to Understand Climate Change & Failed to Act in Time”, Amy Goodman invites Nathaniel Rich  to refute some of the criticism.  Finally,  “Capitalism killed our climate, not human nature”  by Naomi Klein appeared in The Intercept (Aug. 4), stating: “ it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.”  … Klein argues that climate activism  “suffered from an epic case of historical bad timing… governments were getting together to get serious about reining in the fossil fuel sector, the global neoliberal revolution went supernova, and that project of economic and social reengineering clashed with the imperatives of both climate science and corporate regulation at every turn.” She concludes: “We aren’t losing earth — but the earth is getting so hot so fast that it is on a trajectory to lose a great many of us. In the nick of time, a new political path to safety is presenting itself. This is no moment to bemoan our lost decades. It’s the moment to get the hell on that path.”

Climate science and facts in the Trump Administration -protecting the public right to know

For those who rely on U.S. climate change research and science, two recent  incidents in the Trump transition are noteworthy. First, the U.S. Department of Energy released a Directive for Scientific Integrity,  approved January 4, 2017,  which states:  “The cornerstone of the scientific integrity policy at DOE is that all scientists, engineers or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views. ” Department of Energy personnel “will not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings or intimidate or coerce any covered personnel, contractors or others to alter or censor scientific or technological findings or conclusions.” It also directs the DOE to appoint a “Scientific Integrity Official within the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Energy to serve as an ombudsperson for matters related to scientific integrity.”  Canadians, who recall the muzzled scientists of the Harper era , will applaud the policy, even as we  continue to fight for scientific rigour  in environmental assessments .  A recent DeSmog blog explains.

Every day brings new developments in Washington:  President Trump has effectively gagged staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture.  In response, a Scientists March on Washington is being organized, according to Scientists.jpgClimate Central (Jan. 25).    The preliminary website states: ” There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”

A  reassuring development for researchers, in light of the Trump order to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency website:  Volunteer scientists, computer programmers, librarians and citizens  have been hard at work since December,  gathering and archiving environmental and climate change data produced by the U.S. government, in advance of the Trump inauguration. “Guerilla archiving” events, beginning at  the University of Toronto , have also taken place at  University of Pennsylvania,  San Francisco, and Los Angeles (on Inauguration Day!)  in the coordinated task of identifying and gathering the URL’s of important sources of information which will likely become vulnerable to removal in the Trump government.   Read “Climate Data Preservation Efforts Mount as Trump Takes Office”  in MIT Technology Review (Jan. 20) for an up to date summary and links to some of the many players in this complex effort.  A December blog by The Project Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC) group explains the major players and indicates the scale of the effort.

Briefly, many of the collected web sites are being stored in the servers of the End of Term Web Archive,   a collaborative effort  of established actors such as the Internet Archive , (which already stores 279 billion web pages!), Library of Congress, the U.S. Government Publishing Office, University of California Digital Library, and others. Over 10,000 URL’s of federal climate data websites have already been nominated for archiving, according to the public list available here , though none of the “in process”  web pages are available to view yet . For those concerned by the scrubbing of the White House website of all mentions of “climate change”,  a separate White House archive , housing the Obama version, is available here .

The University of Pennsylvania’s Program in Environmental Humanities is housing a separate DataRefuge project, in part to back up environmental data sets that standard Web crawling tools can’t collect.  The  Climate Mirror is a distributed effort conducted by volunteers to mirror and back up  data in locations outside the U.S. – an effort also underway at the Internet Archive.   Quartz has published  “Hackers downloaded US government climate data and stored it on European servers as Trump was being inaugurated”    (Jan. 21) .

Most of the work is being done by volunteers, who are eager for help and donations.  The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative   has a clear set of requests for help, including a list of upcoming archiving events in Ann Arbor and New York City. There is a well-developed process to nominate vulnerable sites, which requires the help of knowledgeable researchers, as well as a need for programmers and IT nerds to work on scripts to help harvest data sets and web pages not easily accessed.  The Free Government Information  website (another volunteer group )  has also published “2016 End of Term (EOT) crawl and how you can help” .   Success will ensure that environmental data and facts survive in the public realm.

 

Government Scientists Continue their Fight for their Right to Speak Out

The Professional Institue of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) represents scientists employed in some 40 federal departments and agencies, including many directly involved with climate change. Having previously documented the culture of intimidation felt by their members in two reports, The Big Chill and Vanishing Science, the union is now addressing the issue at the bargaining table. Amongst the demands in the current round of bargaining: the right to speak about one’s work; the right to attend professional development meetings and conferences; and the development of a scientific integrity policy. The bargaining proposals have both an English version and French version.

Federal Government Scientists: an Open Letter in their Support, and an Injunction for Energy East Based on their Concerns

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), along with the Union of Concerned Scientists, marked the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology week with an advertising campaign which included an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

muzzle_scientists_canada_report_535_692The letter states: “Canada’s leadership in basic research, environmental, health and other public science is in jeopardy…We urge you to restore government science funding and the freedom and opportunities to communicate these findings internationally”. The letter was signed by more than 800 scientists from 32 countries, from institutions such as Harvard Medical School in the U.S. and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. PIPSC, which represents scientists employed by the federal government, has published earlier surveys of its members to document their perceptions of being “muzzled”; a related advocacy group, Evidence for Democracy, released its own report on October 8, compiling and ranking the communications policies of federal government departments.

The world has seen this before, as described in a blog by the Union for Concerned Scientists, and coincidentally, by the New York Times obituary on October 19, 2014 for Rick Pitz. Pitz was a U.S. whistleblower who exposed the subtle manipulation of scientific reports on climate change in the Bush administration between 2002 and 2003.

Ignoring the opinions of federal government scientists has its perils. On September 23, the Quebec Superior Court issued a temporary injunction to stop TransCanada’s exploratory drilling for the Energy East pipeline. Part of the reason for the injunction: environmental groups provided internal documents showing that scientists from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans had been raising concerns for months about the impact of the exploratory drilling on the habitat of threatened St. Lawrence beluga whales, and of the proposed oil terminal that would be built to service 250-metre long supertankers. The court ruled that, by ignoring the scientists’ concerns, Quebec’s Minister of the Environment erred in issuing a permit for the exploratory work.

LINKS:

PIPSC Press release, with a link to the Open Letter, is at: http://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/news/newsreleases/news/21102014

Can Scientists Speak? Grading Communication Policies For Federal Government Scientists is at: https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/canscientistsspeak, with a blog which summarizes Canadian and U.S. experience at the Union of Concerned Scientists at: http://blog.ucsusa.org/want-to-talk-to-a-scientist-in-canada-dont-look-to-the-federal-government-678

See the CBC report at:http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/foreign-scientists-call-on-stephen-harper-to-restore-science-funding-freedom-1.2806571 for links to previous stories in this ongoing issue.

Rick Pitz obituary in the New York Times (Oct. 19, 2014) is at: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/a-passing-rick-piltz-a-bush-era-whistleblower/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0, and the related expose of Philip A. Cooney, “Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming” in the New York Times (June 8, 2005) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/08/politics/08climate.html?emc=eta1

“TransCanada work on St. Lawrence port Suspended by Quebec Court Order” on the CBC website (September 23) at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/transcanada-work-on-st-lawrence-port-suspended-by-quebec-court-order-1.2775613