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Doing nothing is not an option for survival

Kevin Rudd, The Australian
THE science tells us that continued high levels of carbon pollution have led to global warming and if the world continues on a business-as-usual trajectory the consequences for us all will be significant. The economics tells us that the cost of responsible action is much less than if we as a planet fail to act on climate change now. The longer we delay, the higher the cost.

And Ross Garnaut tells us the case for Australia is particularly acute because we are already a hot and dry continent.

That is the reality the Australian Government faces today.

Some commentators have said acting on climate change will take courage. Frankly, however, the reverse applies. It would be reckless not to act. Reckless for our generation. Reckless for our children. Reckless for our grandchildren.

Because the fact is if we do not begin reducing the nation’s levels of carbon pollution, Australia’s economy will face more frequent and severe droughts, less water, reduced food production and devastation of areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu wetlands.

Kevin Rudd is Prime Minister of Australia
(8 July 2008)

A different climate change apocalypse than the one you were envisioning

Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics blog, New York Times
Let’s say you are convinced that climate change is a huge threat and will have catastrophic consequences for humankind in the foreseeable future. How exactly do you envision that catastrophe playing out?

Most people I speak with, and most accounts I’ve read and seen, lean toward the apocalyptic. But what are the mechanisms by which disaster strikes? Where does it occur? Who is most likely to suffer?

According to a fascinating new working paper (abstract here; download available here) by Melissa Dell, Benjamin F. Jones, and Benjamin A. Olken, the answer to that last question may be an easy one: poor countries.

This answer may not surprise you very much, but Dell, Jones, and Olken have done a good job of showing the relationship between climate and the economy, and their paper may substantially inform the way that people – especially in the U.S. and other rich countries – consider the possible effects of climate change.

Here is the excellent first sentence of their paper:

Climate change may – or may not – be a central issue for the world economy.

… Here is the gist of their findings:

Our main results show large, negative effects of higher temperatures on growth, but only in poor countries. … In rich countries, changes in temperature have no discernible effect on growth.

What does this mean? Among other things, it may mean that many Americans – who are by definition rich – are worried about the wrong thing. Instead of thinking about weather apocalypses, they should instead be thinking about border invasions: the huddled masses from the poorest countries who will be seeking refuge as their own economies collapse. This would be Darwinism on the most epic scale imaginable – but instead of the finch with the shorter beak becoming extinct, it’ll be the poorest millions, or perhaps billions.
(7 July 2008)
Contributor Scott Chisholm Lamont writes:
Although this discussion does not mention it, peak oil, peak phosphorous, and other issues of resource scarcity and expense will all affect poor countries more adversely, particularly if they get priced out of the market. It is difficult to foresee what will happen, but I would really like to see a collaboration of economists and ecologists model what may happen with these kind of complex interactions.

What strikes me is the neutral tone of the article, as if these are not millions or billions of human beings whose deaths are being projected, but some other form of life, perhaps insects or bacteria. If the author really believes that projections of millions of deaths may be true, then this is a pathological reaction — schizoid or sociopathic. The author seems to be sympathetic, but distant somehow, as if these events weren’t his concern or responsibility.

It may be easier to see the problem if we imagine an adult watching calmly at the “interesting” fate of a child drowning in a swimming pool. We’d be quick to classify the parent as inhuman. And yet here we’re talking about the deaths of million of children.

Unfortunately, emotional deadening is a widespread form of mental illness. On one level, we know that our actions are contributing to the deaths and sufferings of other human beings. On another level, we remove ourselves emotionally through cynicism or pseudo-scientific detachment.

Time for Plan B: cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020

Lester R. Brown, Janet Larsen, Jonathan G. Dorn, and Frances C. Moore; Earth Policy Institute
When political leaders look at the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming, they ask the question: How much of a cut is politically feasible? At the Earth Policy Institute we ask a different question: How much of a cut is necessary to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change?

By burning fossil fuels and destroying forests, we are releasing greenhouse gases, importantly carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere. These heat-trapping gases are warming the planet, setting in motion changes that are taking us outside the climate bounds within which civilization developed.

We cannot afford to let the planet get much hotter. At today’s already elevated temperatures, the massive Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets-which together contain enough water to raise sea level by 12 meters (39 feet)-are melting at accelerating rates. Glaciers around the world are shrinking and at risk of disappearing, including those in the mountains of Asia whose ice melt feeds the continent’s major rivers during the dry season.

Delaying action will only lead to greater damage. It’s time for Plan B.

The alternative to business as usual, Plan B calls for cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020. This will allow us to prevent the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, already at 384 parts per million (ppm), from exceeding 400 ppm, thus keeping future global temperature rise to a minimum.

Cutting CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020 will take a worldwide mobilization at wartime speed.
(2 July 2008)

Climate change: now what?

Cristine Russell, Columbia Journalism Review
A big beat grows more challenging and complex

Media coverage of climate change is at a crossroads, as it moves beyond the science of global warming into the broader arena of what governments, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens are doing about it.

… These reporters are in the advance guard of an army of journalists around the world who are covering what Time magazine has dubbed the “War on Global Warming.” Journalists will play a key role in shaping the information that opinion leaders and the public use to judge the urgency of climate change, what needs to be done about it, when and at what costs. It is a vast, multifaceted story whose complexity does not fit well with journalism’s tendency to shy away from issues with high levels of uncertainty and a time-frame of decades, rather than days or months.

In 2009, climate-change coverage will grow in significance on a number of domestic and international fronts:

In science, the impact of global warming will be followed closely at the two poles as well as Pacific island hot spots, like the low-lying islands of Papua New Guinea, that are in the greatest danger.

In politics, after eight years of relative inaction by the Bush administration, the new U.S. president and Congress will be under pressure to pass legislation to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.

Internationally, the United Nations has scheduled key conferences-in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008 and in Copenhagen in December 2009-to hammer out a new international treaty that is practically and politically feasible. Shortages and high prices are bringing the role of biofuels in the global food crisis under added scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the efforts of countries, businesses, communities, and even individuals to reduce their “carbon footprints” will increasingly be examined.

Climate change will require thoughtful leadership and coordination at news organizations
(July/August 2008)
Long article.

Ruthless drought in West Timor puts children in crisis

Arwa Damon, CNN
REMOTE WEST TIMOR (CNN) — Maria’s labored breath echoes within the walls of her family’s mud hut. Her tiny, bony hands open and close in slow claw-like motions.
Baby Maria weighs just 10 pounds at 15 months due to malnutrition in West Timor.

She’s 15 months old, but weighs just 10 pounds — one of countless children under the age of 5 facing severe malnutrition in Indonesia’s West Timor. A typical infant weighs about 24 pounds at 15 months.

“Maria sleeps most of the time. Sometimes she cries but not often,” her 25-year-old mother Adolphina Fao says softly.Video Watch how malnutrition devastates region »

Maria is fighting to live, wasting away in her remote village where aid officials say climate change has brought on a severe drought in recent years. It’s nearly impossible for residents to live off the land like they have for generations.

… According to the survey, more than 90 percent of households don’t have enough food.

Families try to farm the land, but the prolonged drought has destroyed their crops, cutting off their main food supply. That results in less food for each house, further eroding the supply of much-needed nutrition for young children.
(7 July 2008)