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Posts Tagged Climate science

Carbon News headlines 22/9/14: If the PM doesn’t worry about climate change, why should we? Gareth Renowden Sep 22

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Welcome to a new regular feature on Hot Topic: the week’s Carbon News headlines, brought to you every Monday. Carbon News is an NZ-published web newsletter covering climate and carbon news from around the world, published and edited by experienced journalist Adelia Hallett. The full articles are behind the Carbon News paywall, but there’s a free 7 day trial if you’re not sure you want to front up the full subscription straight away. Click on any headline to be taken to that story on the site.

Scientists plead for cuts to ballooning fossil fuel emissions

Scientists are calling for rapid cuts in the use of fossil fuels in the wake of data out today showing we have almost used up our fossil-fuel credit. Greenhouse gas emissions this year will hit a new high of 40 billion tonnes in what the Global Carbon Project is calling a carbon budget blow-out.

Political parties fail to get the sustainability message through

New Zealanders’ support for a shift to a sustainable economy is growing, according to new research from Colmar Brunton. The fact they didn’t vote that way in Saturday’s general election is probably more to do with campaign messages failing to get enough airtime with all the other ‘dirty politics’ noise than it is to do with interest in environmental issues, says the research company’s chief executive Jaqueline Ireland.

If the PM doesn’t worry about climate change, why should we?

New Zealanders are taking their cue on climate change from the Prime Minister, says social trends researcher Jill Caldwell. “They think that John Key is successful and smart, and that if there was really anything to worry about he’d be worried,” she told Carbon News.

Big business signs up with sustainability driver

Some of New Zealand’s largest companies and organisations have signed up to a new international movement on sustainable business.

Why Kiwibank took its business to the kids

When Kiwibank wanted to know how to move beyond the first stage of being a sustainable business, it asked a bunch of 10-year-olds.

We’re spending millions, say green-wise farmers

Manawatu-Whanganui region farmers have spent an average $110,000 each over the past five years on measures to protect the environment, according to a Federated Farmers survey.

Growth and greening now go together, says Stern study

Governments and businesses can now improve economic growth and reduce their carbon emissions together, says a major new report by a commission of global leaders.

… but critic says report fails to back up core message

A new report called Better Growth, Better Climate draws the seductive conclusion that “we can create lasting economic growth while also tackling the immense risks of climate change”.

Let’s do for climate change what we did for apartheid, says Tutu

WEB: Largest-ever climate change march rolls through NYC
* China cautious on fresh commitments ahead of climate change summit
* Will the new EU Commission assure Europe’s leadership on sustainable development?
* It’s time to teach climate change in school
* After An Inconvenient Truth: the evolution of the climate change film

Move over, Queensland, here comes the Great Sydney Reef

Welcome to tropical Sydney, where colourful surgeonfishes and parrotfishes a=
re plentiful, corals have replaced kelp forests, and underwater life seems b=

Population explosion lowers chance of managing climate change

By Tim Radford: New projections say the population of the planet will not stabilise at 9 billion sometime this century. In fact, there is an 80 percent likelihood that, by 2100, it will reach at least 9.6 billion — and maybe rise as high as 12.3 billion.

China goes up a gear but still has a lot of work to do

In the lead-up to the UN leaders’ summit on climate change, China is shifting up a gear in its drive towards national emissions trading.

How renewables can lead to prosperity and jobs

A new handbook shows how forward-looking communities around the world are already moving away from reliance on fossil fuels and generating their own power with 100 per cent renewables — while also becoming more prosperous and creating jobs.

LED street lights could be 50% cheaper

Installing LED lights in streets could halve energy consumption from street lighting, the government’s energy efficiency agency says.

Drought now could be drought forever in California

Things could soon get worse for drought-hit California. New research predicts that, by the close of the century, global warming could have reduced the flow of water from the Sierra Nevada mountains by at least a quarter.

We can make a good life for most in the doughnut

Is it possible for humans to fulfil their needs without also destroying the environment? It’s a question we need to find an answer to soon, as the world’s poorer regions demand the same perks that come with development.

Twister terror coming earlier in tornado alley

The terrifying whirlwinds that punctuate the mid-Western summer in the United States so frequently as to earn the nickname Tornado Alley for the southern plains region states such as Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas, are forming up to two weeks earlier than they did 60 years ago.

And the winner is…

The winner of a copy of MiStory, Philip Temple‘s cli-fi story set in a futuristic New Zealand, is the out-going Labour MP and climate change spokesperson Moana Mackey.

Solid Energy needs extension of guarantee

Commercially troubled state coal miner Solid Energy requires an extension of a government guarantee to meet the $103 million future cost of returning mined land to its pre-mined condition in order to maintain positive equity in its balance sheet.

Pumped-up couple win energy award

The switch to a gravity-feed water system has resulted in huge cost-savings for Otago farmers David and Sarah Smith, winners of an energy excellence award in the 2014 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Focus on certainty

National’s grip on the government benches means certainty for the Emissions Trading Scheme, OMFinancial reports.

Want to recycle? just ask the garbage guru

Sydney has launched an app it hopes will drive recycling.

All material provided courtesy of Carbon News and Futura Media. Given the broad scope of the post, please treat this as an open thread.

Reason in a Dark Time Bryan Walker Sep 03

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Dale Jamieson is a philosopher long acquainted with the work of climate scientists. His recently published book was begun 25 years ago, “an avocation that became an obsession”. He used to joke when asked why the book wasn’t appearing that he was waiting to see how the story ended. Then it dawned on him after the failed 2009 Copenhagen conference that there was no ending, and certainly not a happy one. The continuing journey is largely a matter of salvaging what we can from the wreckage. The book’s title sets the stark picture: Reason in a Dark Time. Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – and What it Means for Our Future.

Not surprisingly with such a title the book is not a call to action but rather an invitation to understand our failure and to think about what we might learn from it and how best live in the changed world we are creating.

Jamieson proposes a variety of reasons for our failure. Scientific ignorance is one. He recalls British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” claim in 1956 that the British political and cultural elite, educated in the humanities, was quite ignorant and even contemptuous of science. The “two cultures” are alive and well in the United States today, including among the political elites.  In particular the weight of peer-reviewed science is often not grasped. Jamieson presents an illuminating explanation of the process of peer review which enables the incremental advance of solid science. It is scientific ignorance which has allowed climate change denial to find a foothold, aided by powerful corporations anxious to prevent or delay action which might affect their profitability.

But it’s our ways of making political decisions that have contributed most to our failure. Climate change is a “wicked problem” politically, in that it comes in many frames – global governance, market failure, technological failure, global justice, and others – each requiring its own focus. Our political systems are not good at coping with such complexity. The extraordinarily cumbersome processes of government in the US have certainly not been up to the task. The vulnerability of democracies to populism makes it difficult to see how they can be persuaded to accept the constraints that might help make climate stability possible. It’s a terrifying possibility that we might simply not be able with our systems of government to measure up to the challenge of climate change but it’s difficult to argue with Jamieson’s observations.

He puts at the heart of our failure the notion that evolution did not design us to solve or even to recognize this kind of problem. The onset of climate change is gradual and uncertain. Evolution has geared us to respond to the immediate and obvious. Our animal nature doesn’t help us. Climate change must be thought rather than sensed and we are not very good at thinking. I always find myself resisting this kind of analysis, comforting myself with the thought that evolution has also endowed us with an intelligence capable of modifying our instinctive reactions and that in the history of civilisation there is often evidence of longer term planning. But I have to admit that in the middle of an election campaign in New Zealand the short term predominates.

Neither economics nor commonsense morality are up to the complex challenge of climate change. Jamieson is painstaking in his explanation of why there is no substantial hope from those quarters. He remarks that some economists give the impression that acting too aggressively to reduce emissions is as bad as failing to act aggressively enough, and contrasts this with the scientists’ emphasis on precaution. I wondered whether he sufficiently differentiated the work of economists like Stern who call for early and decisive action because they clearly understand and accept the stark realities of the science, while those who counsel delay do not.

Jamieson acknowledges that many will find his conclusions depressing, and goes on to offer such consolation as he can muster as we live in the world we have changed. In part he writes of what he describes as the “virtues” needed for personal life in the Anthropocene. They are a mix of the traditional and the new or the re-interpreted.  Humility, temperance, the love of nature, mindfulness, cooperativeness, simplicity.

He also offers opportunities for “temporary victories and local solutions while a new world comes into focus”. They are very much of a piece with what more optimistic campaigners urge, albeit toned down and modest in scope: integrate adaptation with development, increase terrestrial carbon sinks, adopt full-cost life cycle energy accounting, put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, force technology adoption, substantially increase research in renewable energy and carbon sequestration, and finally and more generally plan for the flexibility demanded by life in the Anthropocene. There is unlikely to be any concerted global deal to remove the threat of major climate change, but that doesn’t mean we attempt nothing.

When writing this review I watched the film Hot Air which was included in this year’s film festival screenings. It tells the sorry story of how well-intentioned attempts, from both the right (in the early stages) and the left, to introduce climate change legislation in New Zealand were stymied by powerful business lobbies and the argument that we would place ourselves at an economic disadvantage if we took action to reduce emissions. That was just in our small corner of the world. I came away from the film angry and despairing and ready to concede, however unwillingly, that Jamieson’s judgment is likely to prove correct.

[Amazon]

Friday melts, weird weather and whales (it’s been a long time…) Gareth Renowden Aug 22

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It’s been a long time since my last post: apologies for that. You may blame a bad cold, an urgent need for root canal work, the peak of the truffle season (and truffle tours for culinary heroes1 ), the start of pruning and political distractions for the drop off in activity here. Normal service should resume in the near future, but meanwhile here are a few of the things that have caught my eye over the last week or two. You may therefore consider this an open thread – and given what follows, somewhat more open than usual…

The political distraction, of course, has been the response to Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. I haven’t yet read the book — it’s queued up on the iPad — but as everyone now knows, it concerns the sordid activities of right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater, and in particular his close ties with senior government politicians. Slater has a long record of climate denial — often lifting material from µWatts or the Daily Mail to support his ignorant bluster — but the revelation that he published paid material for PR companies masquerading as his own opinion begs a question: was there a similar motivation for his climate denial posts?

As far as I can tell, Hager’s book only mentions climate once, in a discussion of Slater’s pet hates, but it will be interesting to see if the “raw data” now being drip fed into the public domain by the hacker2 who obtained Slater’s emails and Facebook chat messages contains any hints of another motivation — if it indeed it does go beyond the knee-jerk denial so common on the far right of NZ politics. For the record, I should note that Slater once used the words “twat” and “fraud” in close conjunction with my name. It would appear that both are likely to apply rather more aptly to him.

The real world, of course, obeys the laws of physics rather than the wishful thinking of political smear merchants, and out here the signs of continued warming are unmistakable. Europe’s Cryosat has detected a big increase in ice sheet melt at both poles, for example:

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

The atmosphere is also responding to energy accumulation by delivering an astonishing sequence of heavy rainfall events and flash floods. The BBC reports that 160 people have died in floods in Nepal and northern India, while in Hiroshima 36 people have died in landslides triggered by rain falling at rates of 100mm per hour (Japan Times). In Sweden, heavy rain is causing “catastrophic” flooding, while last month northern Italy bore the brunt of torrential downpours. Flash floods also hit parts of Arizona earlier this week. Nor should we forget the heavy rains that brought damaging floods to Northland in July. For a roundup of July’s weather, check out Chris Burt’s blog at Weather Underground.

Some of these rainfall extremes may be explained by the poleward expansion of the tropics, bringing warmer wetter air into the mid latitudes, as this new paper explains. Some of that tropical air may have been tickling Britain, which apart from experiencing some flash flooding has also just recorded its warmest January to July period since records began. And as a WMO conference found this week: “rising temperatures will have a “multiplying effect on weather events as we know them”.

Finally, and in brief: Earth Overshoot Day shot past this week – earlier than ever; warming may be hiding in the Atlantic; Choiseul in the Solomon Islands becomes the first town to relocate because of sea level rise; and The Wireless is running lots of good climate material this week.

  1. See also: why.
  2. @whaledump on Twitter, see here for why whale dumps are important for climate.

Climate Change and Human Development Bryan Walker Aug 15

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It has been clear for some years that climate change is affecting poorer populations sooner and more gravely than it is economically developed societies. There is little sign that the wealthy nations are much disturbed by this fact, and no sign that it has any braking effect on the inexorable drive to find and exploit fossil fuel reserves. But there are some who care and they can show a dogged persistence in demanding that we take notice of how drastically the climate change for which we are responsible is threatening the lives of people with few defences against it.

Hannah Reid, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, has written a book Climate Change and Human Development which falls into that category of the doggedly persistent. She draws much of her material from a wide range of NGOs’ contact with affected communities and individuals. The book contains numerous short reports of what is happening to people in many parts of the globe, particularly Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Island states. It brings the reader close to the struggles of people like the tribal community elder in Pakistan who describes the disappearance of birds, the advent of mosquitos, the eroding flash floods and concludes: “Our options for survival are shrinking day by day”.

The examples pile up: severe drought in Kenya, erratic rains in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, salt water intrusion into estuaries and aquifers in Bangladesh, rising sea levels affecting mangrove forests in Pacific Island states, glacial retreat threatening the livelihood of South American communities, and a great many more.

Although many of the examples the book provides are localised, the populations from which they are drawn are large. Looking a little ahead Reid points out that if not addressed, climate change could put an additional 80–120 million people at risk of hunger, 70 to 80 per cent of whom will be in Africa.  Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may quickly become unviable.  If temperatures rose by 2 degrees, large areas of Kenya currently suited to growing tea would become unsuitable; this would have an enormous impact on Kenya’s economy. Over 100 million poor people in Indonesia stand to suffer increasing hardships within two generations as a result of climate change. 2000 small islands in the Philippines will likely be lost by 2030 and many thousands of coastal farmers throughout the archipelago will have to look for other livelihoods as sea level rise predictions take effect. Vast numbers of people are under threat.

Painstakingly the book lists and discusses the major areas of concern, drawing on the predictions of climate science as well as the adverse effects already being experienced. Food and farming heads the list, appropriately since hunger is an ever-present threat to the poor and many of them are engaged in precarious subsistence farming. Water is next. Reid points out that 1.5 billion people already lack access to clean drinking water for a variety of reasons and that global warming is making the situation far worse. A further 2 billion are expected to be water-stresses by 2050. The list continues through health, weather disasters, migration, conflict and others, all of which impact heavily on less developed poorer nations.

The book is more than an account of the severe difficulties experienced and to be experienced by those living nearest to poverty. It demonstrates many efforts being made to cope with the changes and build resilience for what is yet to come. Heartening examples are provided from diverse areas: changing crops in Nepal, establishing sustainable agricultural practices and empowering small farmers in the Philippines, pooling resources and sharing technological information with farming neighbours in Kenya, rural communities joining to increase the productivity of their farms in west Honduras, and so on through many localities in many countries.  The book is clear that local engagement and cooperation is the key factor, with NGO and other assistance delivered through community engagement.

But no adaptive strategies lessen the need for a drastic lowering of carbon emissions by the industrialised nations. Reid emphasises the need for wealthy countries to make plans to implement cuts is emissions of greenhouse gases of between 60 and 80 per cent by 2050.  She also points to the moral and ethical obligations those nations have to help vulnerable nations and people deal with the consequences of climate change.

In her final section she challenges the notion that development is dependent on global economic growth, describing it as a major driver of the destruction of the natural environment.

“It is as if we hope that by turning natural capital into financial capital we can somehow disengage ourselves from our dependence on the natural environment and the ecological limits of our world. In climate change we find evidence that this approach is misguided, myopic and unsustainable.”

She invites contributions from four “world-leading thinkers”, development practitioners from poorer countries, to suggest new models for human development in a climate-change-constrained world. Their ideas give considerable substance to the book’s closing chapter. Local communities figure strongly in much of the thinking they articulate.

Earnest and well-intentioned books like this are important, even though they are likely to be little regarded by those who wield power in the wealthy world. The NGO world which the author represents is a better custodian of the values which civilisation is meant to embody than many of the companies and accomplice politicians who continue heedless of the human consequences of the continued use of fossil fuel. The sanity and decency the book exemplifies has intrinsic worth, whether or not it prevails against the unreason and greed which currently holds sway.

TDB Today: Dragon breath and the age of consequences Gareth Renowden Aug 13

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In my column at The Daily Blog this week — Dragon breath and the Age Of Consequences — I take a look at the latest news on Arctic methane. It’s not good, as Jason Box demonstrated by not mincing his words about the seriousness of the threat. For an idea of the consequences, I strongly recommend finding half an hour to look at the video above. Max Wilbert interviews some of the top scientists in the field (including East Siberian Shelf methane expert Natalia Shakova), and the result is a good overview of the pace of change up North and the sheer scale of the permafrost carbon threat.

Wake up and smell the coffee (before it’s too late) Gareth Renowden Aug 10

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Coffee is more than just a hot beverage: consumption of the bitter liquid made by steeping the ground roast beans of an Ethiopian plant is an obsession for many. In this interesting short video from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, coffee researchers explain how they are monitoring climate changes and its impacts on coffee plants in their native environment too work out how to keep the crop — which supports as many as 100 million farmers around the world — viable as the planet warms. If nothing is done, coffee could become extinct in the wild within the next 70 years. (Via Climate Central)

Wake up and smell the coffee (before it’s too late) Gareth Renowden Aug 10

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Coffee is more than just a hot beverage: consumption of the bitter liquid made by steeping the ground roast beans of an Ethiopian plant is an obsession for many. In this interesting short video from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, coffee researchers explain how they are monitoring climate changes and its impacts on coffee plants in their native environment too work out how to keep the crop — which supports as many as 100 million farmers around the world — viable as the planet warms. If nothing is done, coffee could become extinct in the wild within the next 70 years. (Via Climate Central)

People talking’ #17 Gareth Renowden Aug 01

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It being the weekend that truffle growers from all over New Zealand meet to discuss their trade and to eat the fruits of their endeavours, I will be absent from the Hot Topic helm for the next few days. Please use the occasion to discuss anything and everything climate-related, from the state of the climate to bizarre holes in Siberian tundra that may be caused by dragon breath… Keep it polite, please.

New Zealand’s Southern Alps have lost a third of their ice Gareth Renowden Jul 29

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This article by Jim Salinger, University of Auckland; Blair Fitzharris, University of Otago, and Trevor Chinn, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, was first published at The Conversation. The photo at left shows the calving face of the Tasman Glacier in Dec 2013.

A third of the permanent snow and ice of New Zealand’s Southern Alps has now disappeared, according to our new research based on National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research aerial surveys. Since 1977, the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 18.4 km3 or 34%, and those ice losses have been accelerating rapidly in the past 15 years.

The story of the Southern Alps’s disappearing ice has been very dramatic – and when lined up with rapid glacier retreats in many parts of the world, raises serious questions about future sea level rise and coastal climate impacts.

The Southern Alps’ total ice volume (solid line) and annual gains or losses (bars) from 1976 to 2014 in km3 of water equivalent, as calculated from the end-of-summer-snowline monitoring programme.

Glaciers are large-scale, highly sensitive climate instruments, which in an ideal world we would pick up and weigh once a year, because their fluctuations provide one of the clearest signals of climate change.

A glacier is simply the surplus ice that collects above the permanent snowline where the losses to summer melting are less than the gains from winter accumulation. A glacier flows downhill and crosses the permanent snowline from the area of snow gain to the zone of ice loss. The altitude of this permanent snowline is the equilibrium line: it marks the altitude at which snow gain (accumulation) is exactly balanced by melt (ablation) and is represented by the end-of-summer snowline.

Tasman Lake, photographed in March 2011. (Trevor Chinn)

In 1977, one of us (Trevor Chinn) commenced aerial photography to measure the annual end-of-summer snowline for 50 index glaciers throughout the Southern Alps.

These annual end-of-summer surveys have been continued by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). We then use the NIWA results to calculate the annual glacier mass balance and hence volume changes of small to medium sized glaciers in the Southern Alps. Small to medium glaciers respond quickly to annual variability of weather and climate, and are in balance with the current climate.

Not so the twelve largest glaciers: the Tasman, Godley, Murchison, Classen, Mueller, Hooker, Ramsay, Volta/Therma, La Perouse, Balfour, Grey, and Maud glaciers. These have a thick layer of insulating rocks on top of the ice lower down the glaciers trunk. Their response to new snow at the top is subdued, and take many decades to respond.

Up until the 1970s, their surfaces lowered like sinking lids maintaining their original areas. Thereafter, glacial lakes have formed and they have undergone rapid retreat and ice loss.

The Rolleston index glacier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, showing the accumulation area where fresh clean snow gain occurs above the end-of-summer snowline, and the area of melting ice below. Here, a negative balance year in 2009 shows a higher end-of-summer snowline revealing underlying old snow. (Trevor Chinn)

To come up with our calculations, we have used the snowline survey data plus earlier topographic maps and a GPS survey of the ice levels of the largest glaciers to calculate total ice-volume changes for the Southern Alps up until 2014.

Over that time, ice volume had decreased 34%, from 54.5 km3 to 36.1 km3 in water equivalents. Of that reduction, 40% was from the 12 largest glaciers, and 60% from the small- to medium-sized glaciers.

These New Zealand results mirror trends from mountain glaciers globally. From 1961 to 2005, the thickness of “small” glaciers worldwide decreased approximately 12 metres, the equivalent of more than 9,000 km3 of water.

Global Glacier Thickness Change: This shows average annual and cumulative glacier thickness change of mountain glaciers of the world, measured in vertical metres, for the period 1961 to 2005.(Mark Dyurgerov, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder)

Martin Hoelzle and associates at the World Glacier Monitoring Service have estimated estimate the 1890s extent of ice volume in New Zealand’s Southern Alps was 170 km3, compared to 36.1 km3 now. That disappearance of 75-80% of Southern Alps ice is graphic evidence of the local effects of global warming.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013

Further large losses of ice in the Southern Alps have been projected by glaciologists Valentina Radic and Regine Hock, suggesting that only 7-12 km3 will remain by the end of the 21st century. This is based on regional warming projections of 1.5°C to 2.5°C. This represents a likely decimation of ice cover of the Southern Alps over two centuries because of global warming.

And where does all this melted glacier ice go? Into the oceans, thus making an important contribution to sea level rise, which poses a serious risk to low-lying islands in the Pacific, and low-lying coastal cities from Miami in the US to Christchurch in NZ.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated mountain glacier melt has contributed about 6 to 7 centimetres of sea level rise since 1900, and project a further 10 to 20 cm from this source by 2100.

The disappearing ice story calls for robust effective climate policy to moderate effects on our landscape and coasts, otherwise future generations will have little of New Zealand/Aotearoa’s “long white cloud” alpine ice left to enjoy.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Adventures in the Anthropocene Bryan Walker Jul 28

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Science journalist Gaia Vince left her desk at Nature and spent two years visiting places around the world, some of them very isolated, where people were grappling with the conditions of what is sometimes described as a new epoch, the Anthropocene. It dates from the industrial revolution and represents a different world from the relatively settled Holocene in which human civilisation was able to develop. Adventures in the Anthropocene tells the story of Vince’s encounters with some remarkable individuals and their communities. It also includes lengthy musings on the technologies the future may employ as humanity faces the challenges of climate change, ocean acidification, population growth, resource depletion and more.

Vince goes to the front lines of the human battles. In a remote village in Nepal she describes the extraordinary work of Mahabir Pun who gained a university scholarship in the US and returned years later to bring computers and Wi-Fi to the children of his village. It’s a fascinating story, full of hope for development in his region. But it’s also precarious. Electricity for the computers comes from a small hydro-scheme fed by glacier water. In the same chapter Vince points out that the warming rate in that Himalayan region is five times greater than the global average and the glaciers are melting. Once they are gone there is no meltwater and no power. Levels have already been diminishing in the once-deep stream near the village.

Nowhere is the precariousness of forward-looking attempts to carve out development in the Anthropocene more poignant than in the Maldives where Vince expresses her deep admiration for the work of since-ousted President Mohamed Nasheed. All the impressive attempts to adapt to rising seas and to set an example of renewable energy development are clearly doomed by inexorable sea level rise, as the author explicitly recognises in her fictional epilogue.

Vince spends time with renowned activist Rosa Maria Ruiz in the Amazon forest. Here the immediate danger is not (yet) from climate change so much as from the human forces hell bent on destructive activity which will hasten its onset. Vince reports Amazon activists killed at the rate of one a week in 2011. It is not at all clear that government control will be asserted to protect significant sectors of the great forested areas.

The book’s stories from a great variety of different places around the world are valuable chronicles of how individuals and larger communities are seeking to sustain and enhance human life in often difficult circumstances. Vince acknowledges those difficulties and gives them due weight. The relentless pressure of climate change is always prominent among them. She can be quite brutal about the realities. For instance she describes the aim of experimenters she visits in the Brazilian Amazon as being “to discover whether the Amazon will reach a tipping point and change rapidly to desert, or gradually worsen, perhaps giving us time to act”.

She can also point to reasons for optimism. The vast unexploited tracts of sun and wind-exposed deserts are seen as the key to future energy production in the Anthropocene. But at the same time there are very few signs of the uptake of renewable energy at a rate sufficient to replace fossil fuels in good time. China, Vince says, needs to be bolder in its development of non-carbon energy.

Threats and opportunities jostle in the communities Vince visits and in her book. For all her recognition of human adaptability and inventiveness and her innate optimism she cannot assure her readers that all will be well for humanity in the Anthropocene. It is city life on which she places most of her hope. Cities may be the most artificial environment on Earth, but they are where humanity feels most at home, and they may well be where our demands on the environment can be most minimised. Not that she idealises them – her account of wading through a stream of raw sewage to reach a shanty slum she wants to visit is one of the memorable moments in the book. Cities can include areas of extreme deprivation, as described in the city of Khulna in south Bangladesh where 40,000 flood-displaced migrants were joining the slums each year. But slums can be rebuilt and cities ultimately deliver better lives. Colombia’s Medellín  is offered as a prime example.

The book provides impressive city statistics. If the population of a city is doubled, average wages go up by 15%, as do other measures of productivity, like patents per capita. Economic output of a city of 10 million people will be 15– 20% higher than that of two cities of 5 million people. At the same time, resource use and carbon emissions plummet by 15% for every doubling in density, because of more efficient use of infrastructure and better use of public transportation.

Cities are certainly growing fast. A million-person city will be built every ten days for decades to come. By 2030, 75% of Chinese will live in cities; thirty years ago, less than 20% did. Vince’s cities chapter includes lengthy surveys of ways in which such highly urbanised life can be sustainable, while acknowledging that some existing cities will be drowned by rising seas.

The author emerges from her invigorating tour of the Anthropocene with hope grounded on the human qualities she has encountered on her journeys.

“Our threats are many, including much of what we are bringing on ourselves – but we humans are resourceful, intelligent and endlessly adaptable.”

Let’s hope there is enough power in the qualities she lists to see humanity through the crises ahead. But there are also darker forces at work driving us to environmental destruction of massive proportions, and it remains an open question as to which will prevail.  Vince doesn’t pretend her book answers the question conclusively. But she does offer some plausibility for a better outcome than many of us fear.

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