Posts Tagged Guardian

Morgan Godfery: No climate refugees please, we’re New Zealanders Gareth Renowden May 14

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Ioana Teitiota, the Kiribati man seeking climate refugee status in order to avoid being deported from New Zealand, has had his case rejected by the Court of Appeal. He and his family will now have to return to the low-lying islands and deal with the worsening impacts of sea level rise. In a powerful Comment Is Free piece for the Guardian, Morgan Godfery looks at the lack of humanity implicit in the court’s ruling:

The decision reveals — in all its misery — the protection deficit in international law. A judicial decision is an uncodified statement of power relations. Never could there be a more unequal power relationship than here: on one side, the I-Kiribati and their sinking home, on the other the rigid machinery of international law. If Lord Diplock is right, then “law is about man’s duty to his neighbour”. That principle should underpin our approach to climate change and forced migration.

He then echoes Naomi Klein’s call for mass action to compel governments to act:

But the law doesn’t encompass all of our moral obligations. It’s clear that the international system isn’t fit for purpose. Let’s look past it to social resistance and political solutions. Science, as Naomi Klein argues, “is telling us to revolt”. Ordinary people need to put pressure on their governments to deal with climate change displacement. The missing link isn’t some new legal rule, but mass action.

As the news about sea level rise gets worse, with bigger rises looking likely to happen sooner than expected, the prospects for the I-Kiribati and many tens of thousands more in the Pacific are becoming ever more gloomy. In that context, New Zealand’s responsibilities to its neighbours is clear. Godfery’s conclusion is compelling:

The social history of the Pacific is one of migration, from the early Austronesian and Polynesian expansions to the recent European settler migration. How can we say no to refugees when we are all migrants ourselves?

Quite so.

Arctic code red: uncharted territory Bryan Walker Sep 16

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Nearly four years ago I reviewed Climate Code Red by Australians David Spratt and Philip Sutton. Even then the authors spoke of the recently released 2007 IPCC report as too conservative in its predictions. Here’s how I described their position:

The authors lament the limitations of the IPCC system, ascribing them partly to pressure from vested interests harboured by some countries, partly to the long process of gathering the information from published material and the early cut-off date for reports, and partly to scientists being uncomfortable with estimates based on known but presently unquantified mechanisms.  It adds up to a process so deficient as to be an unreliable and even misleading basis for policy-making.

They instanced particularly the diminishing Arctic sea ice and its amplifying consequences, the possibility of faster disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet, the vulnerability of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the likelihood of much higher sea rise than anticipated, as well as widespread species and eco-system destruction.

That was four years ago. In a recent striking article David Spratt reacts to the increased loss of Arctic summer sea ice by re-emphasising and extending the message that the science frame has changed considerably since the 2007 IPCC report. Climate changes and impacts are happening more quickly and at lower temperatures than expected, and he details some of them. He quotes Kim Holmen, Norwegian Polar Institute international director, saying that the big sea-ice melt of 2012 is “a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago”. It “has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us”.

The surprise that Holmen voices is echoed by many other scientists. Leading glaciologist Lonnie Thompson is one, writing to Suzanne Goldenberg:

“These observations are concerning as they point to the continuing increase in the rate at which global climate change is impacting on ice on this planet in all its forms from sea ice to glaciers and ice sheets.”

“When I was beginning my career we used to use the phrase “at glacier speed” to mean something changing very slowly, but that is no longer the case. Glaciologists have had to come to terms with the fact that ice can respond much faster to climate change than we ever thought possible. Certainly, the loss of ice on our planet is one of the most convincing pieces of evidence for global climate change and it is impossible to argue that they have a political agenda.”

Another is James Overland, reported in the Guardian:

These changes are happening much earlier than scientists thought, said James Overland, an oceanographer and researcher at the University of Washington.

“We’ve only had a little bit of global warming so far,” Overland said.

As the sea ice continues to decline, the jet stream will likely continue to slow more, and shift further north “bringing wild temperature swings and greater numbers of extreme events” in the future he said. “We’re in uncharted territory.”

Guardian journalist Damien Carrington offers a thoughtful and sobering reflection:

Will this be the first great tipping point to tumble the world into a new and hostile climate regime, as the cooling, reflective ice vanishes? Will the new, warm Arctic radically alter the temperate weather enjoyed by Europeans, for whom global warming has seemed a distant concern?

We seem to be prepared to take that chance. The shrinking ice has not opened new leads for decisive global action to tackle climate change. Instead, in a vicious irony, the new channels are being exploited for oil and gas exploration, unearthing more of the very fuels driving the warming.

Decades from now, will today’s record sea ice low be seen as the moment when our Earthly paradise gave up the ghost and entered a hellish new era? I sincerely hope not, but with this global distress signal failing to attract attention, I fear the worst.

The failure of what is happening to attract attention or jolt policy makers is also David Spratt’s concern. He concludes his article:

…there is no indication that either of the major parties [in Australia] have a clue about this post-IPCC science frame. Nor are there many signs of the major environment and climate advocacy groups incorporating this understanding into their public communications.  Most of their campaigning is stuck in the IPCC 2007 frame.

Is this another form of climate science denial? Not the denial of the Murdoch press and the Moncktons and Plimers, but the denial of those who for the sake of political convenience live in a bubble of outmoded policy frames that have been superseded by the pace of events in the real, physical world.

I see no sign in New Zealand either that the major parties, or indeed any of the parties other than the Greens, are awake to the magnitude of what is unfolding in the Arctic and in many other impacts of climate change already being experienced around the globe. They are not pleasant to contemplate and they demand the kind of attention which politicians absorbed in immediate issues no doubt find it difficult to summon.

However it seems increasingly likely that the warming planet is approaching great disruptions. Some of them already look unavoidable. Mitigation can be undertaken, but until our policy makers take on board the full current reality of the science, the immensity of what is threatening, they’ll continue to justify exploiting the oil and gas of the Arctic or of the oceans surrounding New Zealand, or the coal of the Denniston plateau or the lignite of Southland. They’ll timorously delay the decarbonising of our economies. And we’ll continue on the road to climate disaster.

Pump up the volume (before the ice is gone) Gareth Renowden Aug 12

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Early results from the European Space Agency’s Cryosat-2 satellite, launched in 2010, suggest that the Arctic sea ice volume in summer is currently being lost at the rate of 900 cubic kilometres per year, Robin McKie reports in The Guardian. By combining Cryosat data with other sources they have concluded that there has been a dramatic reduction in sea ice volume over the last eight years:

In winter 2004, the volume of sea ice in the central Arctic was approximately 17,000 cubic kilometres. This winter it was 14,000, according to CryoSat.

However, the summer figures provide the real shock. In 2004 there was about 13,000 cubic kilometres of sea ice in the Arctic. In 2012, there is 7,000 cubic kilometres, almost half the figure eight years ago. If the current annual loss of around 900 cubic kilometres continues, summer ice coverage could disappear in about a decade in the Arctic.

Ten years (or less) ’til its gone in summer. I hate to say I told you so, but…

Until Cryosat data came along, the only comprehensive source of information on sea ice volume was the PIOMAS modelling done at the University of Washington. The last time I looked at PIOMAS numbers, back in 2010, they showed an annual reduction of 780 km3 in the mean volume of sea ice at minimum in September. I’m not sure how the Cryosat and PIOMAS numbers will stack up against each other, but the Guardian report suggests that they are telling the same story. And that’s not a good thing, as McKie points out:

The consequences of losing the Arctic’s ice coverage, even for only part of the year, could be profound. Without the cap’s white brilliance to reflect sunlight back into space, the region will heat up even more than at present. As a result, ocean temperatures will rise and methane deposits on the ocean floor could melt, evaporate and bubble into the atmosphere. Scientists have recently reported evidence that methane plumes are now appearing in many areas. Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas and rising levels of it in the atmosphere are only likely to accelerate global warming. And with the disappearance of sea ice around the shores of Greenland, its glaciers could melt faster and raise sea levels even more rapidly than at present.

This summer in Greenland has already been extraordinary, but ice melt is likely to go further into overdrive if the entire ice sheet is surrounded by rapidly warming oceans. I suspect that a lot of assumptions about what sorts of melt rates are feasible are going to have to be reviewed — and in the wrong direction.

Professor Chris Rapley of UCL said: “With the temperature gradient between the Arctic and equator dropping, as is happening now, it is also possible that the jet stream in the upper atmosphere could become more unstable. That could mean increasing volatility in weather in lower latitudes, similar to that experienced this year.”

Rapley’s point is key. The continuing loss of sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean is already affecting northern hemisphere weather patterns1. The loss of sea ice is therefore driving changes in climate throughout the northern mid-latitudes. Climate change is no longer an abstract concept for future generations to worry about. It’s real, it’s here and it’s happening now.

[See also: Arctic Sea Ice blog, and for what might happen to winter ice, my thoughts from 2010.]


  1. See Jennifer Francis’ presentation, linked a week ago.

The truth is molten Gareth Renowden Jul 05

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Extreme weather events are where the climate change rubber hits the road, and if events over the last month are anything to go by, global warming is currently doing doughnuts and burnouts on tarmac right round the globe. Kevin Trenberth put it rather nicely in an interview with PBS Newshour in the US: “This is a view of the future, so watch out.” John Vidal in The Guardian sums up the situation rather well:

…how much more extreme weather does it take for governments and individuals to act, or for the oil companies to withdraw from the Arctic, or the media to link global warming with the events now being witnessed around the world? Must the sea boil, the Seine run dry, New York flood and the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into taking concerted action?

Damn good question.

Let’s review the recent evidence. The extraordinary heatwave in the USA, coupled with horrendous forest fires, occurring in parallel with torrential rainfall and flooding and a rare but incredibly fierce derecho event1, has been making all the headlines, but the rest of the world has also been suffering. In India, heavy monsoon rains have drowned Assam, killing 77 people and driving over two million people from their homes. Britain and much of Europe has had a record wet spring and early summer. Huge forest fires have been burning in Siberia, and the Arctic sea ice is in record low territory for the time of year. It’s on track for a new record minimum come September2.

All of these events are taking place in an atmosphere that has already changed. Weather is being generated in a measurably different context to the recent past. There’s more water vapour — 4% more, globally, since the 1970s — available to drive storms and fall as rain. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is changing seasonal surface to atmosphere energy flows dramatically. As a consequence, northern hemisphere weather patterns are changing.

The atmosphere has already changed, and with it, our climate. Climate change is not some far off thing we can chose to ignore: it’s happening now. It’s here. Weather extremes are the most visible symptom of these changes, the most dramatic of near term impacts. Current events should be driving us towards taking action, but instead we have politicians paying lip service to reality while doing nothing of substance.

Bill McKibben got close to the truth in a piece earlier this week, in which he finally exposed climate change as a hoax:

It looks real, but it isn’t—it’s just nature trying to compete with James Cameron. So please don’t shout fire in the global 3-D theater. Stay cool. And get a big tub of popcorn—in this epic disaster flick we’re not even close to the finale.

Bill’s “hoax” may have been tongue in the cheek, but he’s right about the ending. We ain’t seen nothing yet3.

[Donovan (with Jeff Beck), and apologies.]

  1. It killed 20 people, and left millions without power around Washington DC.
  2. But I won’t be betting this year.
  3. Look out for the ENSO diagnostic due soon.

Bangladesh: on the front line Bryan Walker May 12

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The Guardian’s environmental editor John Vidal is a journalist who takes opportunities to report the adverse effects of climate change already being experienced by some of the world’s poorer populations. In earlier posts I’ve drawn attention to pieces he’s written about Peru and some of the countries of Africa.  This week he tells of the problems confronting villagers in Bangladesh. Coastal villages face enormous challenges from increased flooding, erosion and salt-water intrusion and the local communities are tackling them with vigour. Vidal writes of Rebecca Sultan  of the village of Gazipara which suffered enormous damage from two super-cyclones in recent years:

Sultan and 30 other women have raised their small houses and toilets several feet up on to earth plinths. Others are growing more salt-tolerant crops and fruit trees, and most families are trying different ways to grow vegetables. “We know we must live with climate change and are trying to adapt,” said Sultan.

Elsewhere in Bangladesh, hundreds of communities are strengthening embankments, planting protective shelter belts, digging new ponds and wells and collecting fresh water. Some want to build bunkers to store their valuables, others want cyclone shelters.

Added to the severity of cyclones are the increasing drought experienced in the north of the country and the ever-present threat of rising sea levels. This is how Bangladesh is described by Bangladeshi scientist Saleemul Huq:

“It’s by far the most aware society on climate change in the world. It has seen the enemy and is arming itself to deal with it. The country is now on a war footing against climate change. They are grappling with solutions. They don’t have them all yet but they will. I see Bangladesh as a pioneer. It has adapted more than any other country to the extremes of weather that climate change is expected to bring.”

The resilience and adaptive capacity of the Bangladesh population was also underlined by Mark Hertsgaard in his book Hot, which I drew attention to in this post. Their spirit is worthy of respect, however much it may ultimately be overwhelmed by the force of events in the future. It’s also worthy of assistance. The kind of help needed is indicated by Atiq Rahman, director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies:

’Many know to plant more tolerant crops in hard years, but lack the drought-tolerant or salt-resistant seeds now needed to deal with worsening conditions. We need new technologies, funds and knowledge.”

The funds are not coming. Vidal reports foreign minister, Dipu Moni, as saying that rich countries had not given the money they had pledged to help Bangladesh and other vulnerable countries adapt.

“Climate change is real and happening,” Moni said. “A 1C rise in temperatures for Bangladesh equates to a 10% loss of GDP. One event like cyclone Sidr can take 10 to 20 years to recover from and cost us billions of dollars. But we don’t see the money coming.’

Some has come — $125 million — but donors are unwilling to say whether this is just subtracted from development aid, and therefore not new money at all. That’s not what is supposed to happen, and prevarication on the issue looks suspicious.

It’s all too easy to avoid contemplating what is happening in countries like Bangladesh and to starve it of the significance it deserves. The foreign minister takes a stab at the reason:

“The people being affected are not the big banks but the poor. Our plight goes quite unnoticed. It does not make the rich countries produce trillions of dollars overnight. It’s a shame, but we keep trying.”

All too often there appears little more one can do than bemoan the failure of the richer countries of the world to absorb the seriousness of the effects of climate change on the lives of some of the world’s poorer peoples, let alone offer the help that by any measure of justice is their due.  But all honour to journalists like Vidal who persevere in confronting us with the reality and the need. They at least remove the excuse that we didn’t know.

How to talk to a denier Gareth Renowden Apr 03

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This interesting new video by George Marshall from Talking Climate discusses how to talk to someone who doesn’t accept the reality of climate change or the need to act, and how best to start persuading them that they might be in error. From the Talking Climate blog post:

George emphasises that argument, conflict, and dis­respectful language will make it more difficult to achieve the goals you are aiming for — that is, to encourage some­body who is sceptical about climate change to engage with the problem and possible solutions to it. Finding ‘common ground’ and being able to under­stand why people are sceptical about cli­mate change in the first place is critical. It isn’t all that much to do with a lack of under­standing of ‘the science’, but has a lot to do with the ‘personal journey’ that people go through when forming their beliefs about cli­mate change and whether to engage in sustain­able behaviour.

George last featured at Hot Topic a year ago, when I discussed his talk on the ingenious ways we avoid believing in climate change. In some respects this new talk builds on that, taking into account the social psychology of belief in climate change. For a more detailed discussion of what’s going on, Marshall’s colleague at Talking Climate, Adam Corner, popped up at the Guardian last week to discuss an experiment on how attitudes condition belief:

What this experiment illustrates, though, is that “belief” in climate change is very much what matters. Without belief in climate change, scientific evidence simply bounces off. And it is social views and cultural beliefs that predict climate change denial, not people’s level of knowledge about climate science.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in Marshall’s video, in Corner’s article and at the Talking Climate web site. I would like to think that I follow Marshall’s suggested approach in one-on-one conversations — I usually find it pretty easy to find common ground with my more sceptical neighbours, for instance — but even the best of intentions can break down in the face of an intractable relative, whether Uncle Bob or the sister-in-law from over the sea…

See also: The Debunking Handbook, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.

[Nick Lowe]

(Not So Simple) Twist Of Fate Gareth Renowden Feb 21

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Something I didn’t expect: Peter Gleick, the director of the Pacific Institute, a vocal opponent of climate denial and a highly respected scientist, turns out to have been behind the leak of the Heartland Institute board meeting documents that have been creating waves for the last week. Gleick made the admission in an article at Huffington Post earlier today (NZ). He reports that he received:

…an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

In order to attempt to verify that document’s contents, he:

…solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget.

Gleick goes on to apologise for what he calls “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics”.

As you might expect, the usual suspects are all over Gleick’s admission like a rash, but it’s important to retain some perspective here. The people so ready to decry Gleick’s actions were notably silent about the theft and release of private emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The Heartland Institute was central to promoting discussion of those emails, and continues to paint their contents as a scandal. Their hypocrisy, and that of Watts, McIntyre and the rest of the Heartland fellow travellers, is breathtaking.

Nevertheless, Gleick should not have done what he did. However valuable the public service he performed in exposing the reality of Heartland’s climate lobbying and the roots of its funding — and that information is hugely important to any “rational discussion” of why, more than 20 years after the problem was first identified, the USA and the world remains unable to take meaningful action on emissions reductions — the means he chose were not those we would expect from a respected senior scientist.

However this plays out in the longer term, it’s clear that Peter Gleick played the role of whistleblower, bringing the attention of the world to the nefarious activities of a well-funded right wing lobby group with mysterious “anonymous donors” and zero accountability for their actions. It’s a job that any worthwhile investigative journalist would have loved to have done — and which should have been done long ago.

Together with the sterling efforts of John Mashey, the leaked documents confirm in detail what many had suspected. Heartland have made a career out of subverting the truth, the law, and the democratic process.

Gleick might pay a heavy price for his indiscretion, however laudable his goals. Heartland, its funders and the pet “scientists” on their payroll must be made to pay the higher price. Their actions have condemned future generations to far worse than any lapse of judgement or ethics. The real price of Heartland’s policies will be paid in human suffering, and for that there will be no forgiveness.

See also; The Guardian, George Monbiot on why We need to know who funds these tinktank lobbyists, Union of Concerned Scientists report on How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, Josh Rosenau on parallels between Heartland’s climate “education” tactics and that of creationists, plus Peter Sinclair on Heartland’s abject pleading for tobacco money as recently as 1999 — and let’s not forget they arer still getting it today, and are happy to have a “smoker’s lounge” on their web site.

[Amongst many, I like KT Tunstall, Jeff Tweedy and Bryan Ferry, but there's also a worthy Diana Krall, and of course His Bobness when he could remember how to sing.]

To boldly go… to a low carbon future Bryan Walker Jan 08

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I liked the sub-heading to a Guardian article on Friday. ’The theory that cutting carbon emissions costs us growth is bunk, in fact, it’s an economic opportunity.’ The article itself is a little less exuberant in its expression, understandably given that one of its authors, Vinod Thomas (pictured), is director general for independent evaluation at the Asian Development Bank and the other, Manish Bapna, is interim president at the World Resources Institute, a well-established and respected global environmental think tank. Nevertheless its affirmation is clear:

’Not only can preparing for climate change offer opportunities for economic growth, it would be unwise to pursue one without the other.’

They acknowledge that there is currently something of a stalemate between the stubborn economic downturn and the need to effectively address climate change, with many arguing that the latter would be harmful to economic recovery. The writers disagree. They present specific examples of ’common sense policies that can promote growth and cut greenhouse gas emissions’. The examples are not unfamiliar, but it’s worth being steadily reminded of them in a world which seems to find it so difficult to think of economic recovery in any other terms than a re-establishment of disrupted patterns.

First is energy, which substantially influences both the climate and the economy. The article points to the huge gains to be made through energy efficiency, which can both drive growth and make a significant dent in emissions, given the right drivers and incentives. The other obvious step is phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which attracted a staggering $409 billion in 2010. It is politically challenging, but it would both spur global clean energy development and generate economic growth.

The writers’ second example is forestry. Land in areas such as the Amazon is worth a good deal more with trees than cleared for pasture, at even a modest price of $10 a ton for unreleased emissions. Preventing deforestation in such situations is an economy-boosting opportunity. So is the restoration of already degraded lands.  Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, offers a prime example. Reform of land and tree tenure and a programme to support regeneration of trees has benefitted 4.5 million people, increasing food production and farmers’ incomes, as it creates new markets.

The third example is public transport.

’While an expanding auto industry can be part of a country’s economic recovery, investments in cleaner public transport have been found to generate even greater economic returns.

’In the United States, stimulus dollars spent on public transport yielded 70 more job hours than those spent on highways, according to Smart Growth America. Meanwhile in Mexico, the government is pursuing an innovative transportation approach with policies and investments to scale up bus rapid-transit networks across the country.’

The writers recognise that against the logic of such examples powerful special interests are blocking progress in many countries.

’To overcome these entrenched interests, countries – especially the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters — need to recognize that addressing climate change is in their national interest and will improve public well-being.’

Entrenched interests are certainly the sticking-point. In a country like the US they wield enormous power, helped greatly by the ease with which political support can be purchased. In another Guardian article this week Bill McKibben is eloquent on the need to get corporate cash out of Congress. The sad spectacle of Republican presidential nomination candidates falling over each other in the rush to deny or soft-pedal the scientific reality of climate change and to support continuing fossil fuel exploitation has been a reminder of the iron grip of vested interests on the political life of that country.

Not that heavy funding of political parties is the only way such interests are secured. When I was reading the Guardian articles I thought of the New Zealand government’s position. It speaks of addressing climate change and of economic growth, but not in terms of their being interdependent; finding balance between the two demands is its preferred, and frequently reiterated, mode. The difference is not inconsequential. It allows strong support to the maintenance of business as usual, tempered or disguised by a patina of light environmental regulation such as the current form of the emissions trading scheme. It envisages with equanimity the full development of New Zealand’s fossil fuel resources, down to Southland lignite and offshore methane hydrates if we can get to them. Blatant financial backing of political candidates may not figure strongly in the New Zealand setting, but the political influence of vested interests is pervasive and it is apparently in any case difficult for many politicians to move in their thinking outside the conventional structure of the economy.

Thomas and Bapna use the term political courage as they urge countries to act boldly and urgently toward the low carbon future which must ultimately be embraced, and remind us that there will be rewards for those who do. They could have added that the longer the delay the more fearful the consequences, but they stayed with their central argument that there is commonality, not conflict, between effective mitigation of climate change and economic recovery.

Vidal’s voyage to Durban Bryan Walker Nov 28

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How better to journey to the climate conference at Durban than through the African countries along the way which are already grappling with climate change? That’s the route John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor, has been following over the past ten days and reporting on in a series of articles.

He started in Egypt. The impacts of climate change are difficult to disentangle from natural coastal processes and the effects of human activities on the flow of the Nile, but an inexorably rising sea level and the increasing intensity of storms threaten increased salination of groundwater and soil as well as inundation. Extreme heat will also take its toll on city life.

Sudan was next. A Sudanese researcher reports drought and extreme flooding becoming more frequent, temperatures rising in winter, extreme — good and bad — years now more common and rainfall patterns changing. If temperatures continue to rise, as is predicted over the next 50 years, Sudan can expect more desertification, and more tension between traditionally hostile groups. The country is not well placed to adapt to changes in climate, stressed as it is by endemic poverty, ecosystem degradation, complex conflicts and limited access to markets, infrastructure and technology. In South Sudan changes in rainfall patterns threaten crops and livestock.

In Uganda Vidal visited a coffee-growing village.

 One by one, the farmers, who mostly cultivate two acres of land each, tell us what they have observed in their lifetimes. “The springs are drying up”; “we find we can only plant crops twice’; “the coffee has started behaving differently; it flowers even as it fruits”; “we have more diseases”; “we have lost 20% of our income”; “there is less water from the mountain”.

The villagers say they have no scientific understanding of why it is hotter and there is less rain, but they instinctively believe it’s because there are fewer trees, and argue that they should plant more. And they had something to say to the negotiators at Durban:

“We must start with mitigation. Our message to the world leaders and the countries meeting in South Africa is to talk less and act more”, says Januario Kamalha, a villager.

Vidal moved on to Kenya where he reports the ambitious plans to continue the legacy of Wangari Maathai in massive tree-planting projects and to build one of Africa’s biggest wind farms near Lake Turkana. He includes an extract from the environment department’s official assessment of what has happened in the past 20-30 years:

“Rainfalls have become irregular and unpredictable, when it rains [the] downpour is more intense, extreme and harsh weather is now the norm. Since the 1960s both minimum (night time) and maximum (daytime) temperatures have been warming. Rainfall has increased variability year to year, there is a general decline in the main rainfall season and drought in the long rains season is more frequent and prolonged. On the other hand, there are more rains during September to February. This suggests that the short rains are expanding into what is normally the hot and dry period of January and February.”

An official in the environment department sums it up:

’We are vastly affected by climate change. The trends are now extreme. We are seeing adverse effects everywhere. When no crops grow, we have to seek aid. Our economy is greatly affected, so adaptation is our priority.’

In South Africa Vidal visited Ocean View near Capetown, where 75 fisherwomen each own a small 5 metre-long boat and go one mile out in the giant Atlantic swells two or three times a week to catch rock lobsters. They know that fish stocks are affected adversely by a variety of factors, including poaching and over-fishing, but they are convinced that climate change now plays a part.

“We the fisher people know what we see, and we can see changes. The lobsters are hibernating for longer, and their shells are softer and more fragile than they were. Their breeding cycles are being disrupted. The sea temperature is definitely warmer than it used to be. The seas are much rougher these days and people are scared to go out. The wind comes up bigger than before. The weather patterns seem to have changed too.”

Vidal sums his journey up in a final article.

From north to south the broad observations are remarkably similar. More floods, droughts, storms and changing seasons are being experienced: the heatwaves are getting longer and more frequent; the storms more intense; the nighttime temperatures higher; the farmers see new diseases and pests; and the growing seasons appear disrupted. On top of that, the marginal areas are turning to desert and cities are becoming unbearably hot. The peer-reviewed science is still sketchy, but it’s the best there is in a continent starved of research funds and it is consistent with the latest models done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But as the evidence continues to mount and the pain begins to be experienced in some of the poorer parts of the world there is little sign that the rich countries are preparing to tackle the issue seriously  at Durban or anywhere else:

… some leaders of the rich and big-emitting countries have lost interest and political momentum and want to consign the talks, like those on world trade, to a never-ending, never-achieving, low-grade, low-profile discussion to take place in backrooms without anyone listening or caring much. They may profess concern, but there is little evidence they want to act.

The 175 or more developing countries are not taking this submissively.

[They are] talking more as one, and the great illusion trick of the rich world is wearing thin. What has changed, they ask? The science of climate change is firmer than it ever was. A 2C-4C temperature rise still means that Africa fries and the polar bears die out, that Bangladesh and Egypt drown, the droughts in Latin America and Ethiopia continue to worsen, and the poorest communities and small-island states, who have the least resources to adapt, will be hurt the hardest.

Vidal is hardly optimistic. He ends with the comment that convincing the US to stop playing with the lives of the poorest or China to brake their economic rise may be too much to expect. Nevertheless he’s right to put his journalism at the service of those who are already discovering in their vulnerable lives what climate change means. Maybe the rich world will prove impervious to moral appeal. But the advocacy must continue and be reiterated again and again so that at least we cannot claim ignorance of the human effects of ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions. I often think how repetitive I feel my own writing about climate change has become as the years go by and little appears to change, at least at the political level. But there’s no escape from that repetition. The twin themes of the reality of the science and the injurious human impacts of climate change must go on being sounded until the world wakes up to what we are doing to ourselves.

Grim news on emissions Bryan Walker May 30

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The Guardian, with the exception of the foolishness of its analysis of the climategate emails, is one of the world media’s bright spots when it comes to recognising and communicating the realities of climate change. It carried grim news yesterday. Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey reported International Energy Agency (IEA) unpublished estimates that greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history.

’Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel — a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.’

She reported IEA chief economist Fatih Birol (pictured) telling the Guardian:

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions. It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

Nicholas Stern was trenchant:

“These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100.

’Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

In an accompanying article linking the news to the latest round in twenty years of talks due to be held at Bonn 6 — 17 June, Harvey again quotes Stern as hoping that the figures might be a wake-up call to governments and lead to a speeding up of progress in the international talks, which has been slow since Cancún.

“The window of opportunity to meet the 2 degrees target is closing, and further delay risks closing it altogether. The challenge is not simply to meet the targets agreed at Cancún but to raise our ambition from there.”

Fatih Birol went so far as to say that the goal of keeping temperature rise to less than 2 degrees was likely to be just ’a nice Utopia’, though if there was ’bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding.’

A fat chance of that. As John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said:

“This news should shock the world. Yet even now politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world’s last remaining reserves of fossil fuels — even from under the melting ice of the Arctic. You don’t put out a fire with gasoline. It will now be up to us to stop them.”

To which I might add that it is also up to us in New Zealand to stop the dangerous development of Southland lignite which will release many more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and commit us to a long-lasting capital investment. The tying of our economic development to the exploitation of our fossil fuels which marks our new energy strategy is far removed from any rational response to the threat of a much warmer world.

Damien Carrington, the Guardian’s head of environment, in blogging on the news of increasing emissions writes of the urgent need to decouple the link between economic growth and carbon dioxide.  Our government instead speaks of holding the two together in an ’astute balancing of conservation values and economic growth.’

Carrington wrote also of the need to align the hopes and fears of the rich industrialised world and the poor developing world. While the developed world continues to balk at the major transfer of wealth needed to enable the developing world to fund a clean emergence from deprivation there is little chance of an international agreement.

As I was writing this the Guardian followed up with a Monday editorial on the subject. It concludes that we are still hurtling towards dangerous climate change at a time when policymakers are out of solutions for slowing this process, and that we should be alarmed. I guess that’s pretty obvious, but at least the Guardian says it and doesn’t keep silent on an issue so fundamental for the human future. I notice the editorial in this morning’s Herald was on the green light polls show the NZ public is giving John Key on tough issues. No suggestion that tackling climate change effectively was one of them. There’s little to suggest it occurs to him either.

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