April 30 2019

April 30 2019

a global deal for nature, northern cities as climate refuges, baked Alaska, rising taxpayer spending on disaster relief, the backlash against reason

InsideClimate News reports on the Global Deal for Nature, a proposal from an international group of authors that identifies a unifying objective: protect ecosystems to combat climate change and combat climate change to protect ecosystems. The scientific paper proposes setting aside 30 percent of the planet’s lands for various degrees of protection from development and destruction by 2030, with additional protections for another 20 percent. Achieving this goal is essential to major ecological changes (described as “ecosystems unraveling”) — including large-scale coral bleaching events, massive tree mortality in coniferous forests and infestations of ticks affecting reindeer, moose and other large cold-climate species. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that deforestation is rising again around the world, destroying ecosystems that store vast amount of carbon.

The Guardian reports on the Harnessing Plants Initiative of the Salk Institute, an effort to use genetic modification techniques to enhance the ability of widely-planted crops to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their roots as suberin (a type of cork). When the plants die, much of the suberin remains in the soil instead of returning to the atmosphere as the plants decompose. This project is attempting to take advantage of plants as the most efficient and effective mechanism available to take carbon out of the atmosphere. CNN reports on the growing global efforts for reforestation, including a recent analysis of how tree-planting should be a critical part of addressing climate change.

An article in the New York Times describes how some northern cities are considering themselves as “climate refuges,” and are examining how their future climates might attract residents. As the climate warms in the U.S., cities like Duluth, Minnesota or Buffalo, New York, will have less frigid winter days and still have comparatively mild summers and abundant freshwater. An article in the Guardian explores climate change, and the challenge of talking about it, in Natchez, Mississippi.

The Green New Deal (GND) resolution and activism by young people have changed the political landscape for climate action (see the comments of Scotland’s First Minister), and some Republican legislators are responding with proposals centered around the concept of “innovation” as key to a healthy future. While it’s great to have some movement on the Republican side, Dave Roberts at VOX notes that these Republican proposals are “all hat and no cattle.” Innovation requires government investment at many stages along the path from invention to commercialization, but for the most part Republicans are unwilling to support these policies. In the Guardian, an op-ed describes why the GND is also a Public Health New Deal. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that the GND is feasible, but that corporate political power is a key challenge to its adoption.

A post at RealClimate notes that the breakup of ice on rivers in Alaska is happening earlier than ever due to the abnormal warmth in that region. The Guardian reports on the impacts of ongoing flooding in the midwest on farmers, ranchers and the agricultural economy. The New York Times reviews how, in every region of the country, farmers and scientists are trying to adapt an array of crops to a combination of warmer temperatures, invasive pests, erratic weather and earlier growing seasons.

Bloomberg Business Week has an in-depth look at the Chinese company BYD, which is now the largest maker of electric-powered vehicles in the world. The Union of Concerned Scientists responds to a misleading op-ed in the Washington Post about electric vehicles.

Bloomberg also has a detailed look at flood risk for operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. After Fukushima, U.S. regulators told operators to calculate their exposure to various flood risks and compare that to their plant’s design specifications. Ninety percent of plants had at least one risk exceeding their design. Despite this finding, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has decided that additional investment by plant operators to mitigate these risks is unnecessary. Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko disagrees with this decision. “Any work that was done following Fukushima is for naught because the commission rejected any binding requirement to use that work,” he says. “It’s like studying the safety of seat belts and then not making automakers put them in a car.”

A Washington Post analysis concludes that in a typical year, taxpayer spending on the federal disaster relief fund is almost 10 times higher than it was three decades ago, even after adjusting for inflation. With extreme weather on the rise due to climate change, and more people living in vulnerable areas, three of the past six years have seen the highest federal spending on disaster relief on record. Axios reports on recent analyses that conclude investors are underpricing the risk to their assets posed by intense heat, wildfires, drought, storms and floods.

In Salon an excellent essay examines the fundamental link between science and democracy. The authors note that underlying the current backlash against “elites” is a cynicism about reason. In place of the reflective thought and reasoned debate that are essential features of democratic governance, we have the expression of emotions, especially anger and rage. This is leading a growing segment of the population to welcome authoritarian governance to provide comfort and clarity, a shift that is also promoted by economic and social distress.

The Decolonial Atlas notes that 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. A map notes their names, including the CEOs, and the countries in which they are located. Science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi has a short story in MIT Technology Review about a future America experiencing the full brunt of climate change (having your favorite adult beverage close by is recommended while reading).

The Intercept has an interesting video from a possible future, narrated by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The video examines what might happen if we do not “drive off the climate cliff,” but instead radically changed our society along the lines of the Green New Deal. The accompanying article describes the passage of the original New Deal, including some of the opposition that reminds one of the current critiques of the Green New Deal.