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A roundup of news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere.  Click on the headline link to see the full article.

Talks in the city of light generate more heat

Kevin Anderson, Nature Journal
The climate agreement delivered earlier this month in Paris is a genuine triumph of international diplomacy. It is a tribute to how France was able to bring a fractious world together. And it is testament to how assiduous and painstaking science can defeat the unremitting programme of misinformation that is perpetuated by powerful vested interests. It is the twenty-first century’s equivalent to the victory of heliocentrism over the inquisition. Yet it risks being total fantasy.

Let’s be clear, the international community not only acknowledged the seriousness of climate change, it also demonstrated sufficient unanimity to define it quantitatively: to hold “the increase in … temperature to well below 2 °C … and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.

To achieve such goals demands urgent and significant cuts in emissions. But rather than requiring that nations reduce emissions in the short-to-medium term, the Paris agreement instead rests on the assumption that the world will successfully suck the carbon pollution it produces back from the atmosphere in the longer term. A few years ago, these exotic Dr Strangelove options were discussed only as last-ditch contingencies. Now they are Plan A…

Insurers paid out $27bn for natural disaster claims in 2015

Reuters via The Guardian
Around $27bn (£18bn) was paid out by insurers for natural disaster claims last year, with weather causing 94% of incidents, according to data from reinsurer Munich Re.

While the climate phenomenon known as El Niño reduced the development of hurricanes in the north Atlantic, storms and floods still caused billions of dollars worth of damage in Europe and North America, the world’s largest reinsurer said in an annual review.

Munich Re said floods in the UK and Scandinavia caused by Storm Desmond last month may cause about €700m (£515m) in claims. It added that flooding from Storm Eva may cause overall damage of more than €1bn. Climate change may have played a role in the floods, according to the insurer…

Was Obama serious about keeping fossil fuels in the ground? Here’s a Colorado test case.

David Roberts, Vox
…Late last year, Obama rejected the pipeline entirely, saying: "Ultimately, if we’re gonna prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

"We’re gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground." That is no small thing for a president to say. But which fossil fuels?

In some ways, Keystone was an easy test case — a project owned by a foreign company, built to ship foreign oil through the US, mostly for export.

Going forward, most federal decisions about fossil fuels and the national interest will be much trickier. One such decision is playing out in Colorado right now, a perfect representation of what happens when "keep it in the ground" meets an American community in need…

Droughts and heatwaves cause 10% drop in annual crop harvests

Robert McSweeney, Carbon Brief
Over the past five decades, hundreds of droughts and heatwaves have struck countries across the world. A new study finds that these events caused an average annual drop in national crop production of around 10%.

The cumulative global losses of these hot and dry extremes amount to 3bn tonnes of cereal crops, the study says – equivalent to three times the global maize harvest last year…

EPA Confirms Activists’ Longtime Claims: Neonicotinoid Pesticide Threatens Honeybees

Mike Ludwig, Truthout
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Wednesday that a preliminary risk assessment of the pesticide imidacloprid shows that the chemical poses a threat to some pollinators, specifically honeybees.

Imidacloprid is one of four neonicotinoid pesticides that honey producers and environmentalists have long suspected to be linked to rapidly declining bee populations in North America and beyond, a phenomenon widely known as colony collapse disorder. The EPA is in the process of reviewing the class of chemicals to determine whether they pose an ecological threat to pollinators, starting with imidacloprid…

What You Should Know About The Drastic Decline Of Wild Bees

David Freeman & Jacqueline Howard, The Huffington Post
The buzzing insects are crucial pollinators for many agricultural crops, from pumpkins and squashes to peaches and apples. It turns out, however, that wild bee populations are on the decline in some of the main U.S. farmlands that need them the most.

A team of researchers across the country identified these at-risk regions this month in the first national map of dwindling bee populations, which was published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

HuffPost Science recently posed a series of questions about wild bee populations and why we should be concerned to Dr. Insu Koh, a post-doc research associate at the University of Vermont who led the team. What follows is a lightly edited version of our discussion…

Sea Change In Spanish Politics As Citizens Reclaim the City

Steve Rushton,
Maadrid’s city council recently broke the rules on its debts, prioritizing money for "social sustainability" over "financial sustainability" and diverting €500 million ($550 million) into public spending. Barcelona’s city council meanwhile has reclaimed empty propertiesfrom banks and turned them into social housing.

The acts are not isolated, and reflect a sea change in Spanish local politics. May’s local elections saw a tide of citizen-led initiative reclaiming power across many cities. In December’s state elections, these initiatives stood alongside Podemos, lifting the party to third nationally and winning in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Spain’s Radical Mayors
Many Spanish cities with socially progressive mayors witnessed sweeping changes in 2015, as official cars were swapped for public transport and citizens stepped in to halt evictions.

Seven months after spring elections, Madrid is the first European city to start a debt audit process, aimed a canceling illegal or illegitimate debt. Barcelona has plans underway to extend citizen engagement, both digitally and through assemblies, and is planning a new local currency…

Bernie Sanders promises to protect organic farming and denounces Monsanto

Jed Shlackman, The Examiner
Speaking at a private event on December 27, 2015, Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stated "The debate should be – how do we make sure that the food our kids are eating is healthy food? And having the courage to take on these huge food and biotech companies who are transforming our agricultural system in a bad way." Sanders, while speaking at this gathering, discussed the farm to table agriculture movement and success of small farms in his home state of Vermont, summarizing his views by stating:

"We need legislation and efforts designed not to protect factory farming, corporate farming, but to protect family-based agriculture."

One Map That Explains the Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict

Jon Schwarz, The Intercept
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday. Hours later, Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. On Sunday, the Saudi government, which considers itself the guardian of Sunni Islam, cut diplomatic ties with Iran, which is a Shiite Muslim theocracy.

To explain what’s going on, the New York Times provided a primer on the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, informing us that “a schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632” — i.e., 1,383 years ago.

But to the degree that the current crisis has anything to do with religion, it’s much less about whether Abu Bakr or Ali was Muhammad’s rightful successor and much more about who’s going to control something more concrete right now: oil…

Whatever became of ‘peak oil’? Still to come?

David Appell,, Yale Climate Connections
hat ever happened to the idea of “peak oil”?

Ten years ago you couldn’t avoid it if you tried. Books by James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Kenneth Deffeyes, and others were warning that worldwide oil production would inevitably peak soon, based on analysis similar to that of celebrated geologist M. King Hubbert, who predicted, in 1956, that U.S. oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970.

Darn if he wasn’t right.

With the presumed world peak in oil production, national economies hooked on injecting oil straight into their largest arteries then began to decline. Peak oil doesn’t mean oil would disappear – half of it would still be left – just that less of it would be produced each year going forward, and shell-shocked economies would fall into a permanent state of recession as consumers battled, Mad Max-like, for every last barrel…

Why James Hansen Is Wrong About Nuclear Power

Joe Romm, Think Progress
Climatologist James Hansen argued last month, “Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change.” He is wrong.

As the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) explained in a major report last year, in the best-case scenario, nuclear power can play a modest, but important, role in avoiding catastrophic global warming if it can solve its various nagging problems — particularly high construction cost — without sacrificing safety.

Hansen and a handful of other climate scientists I also greatly respect — Ken Caldeira, Tom Wigley, and Kerry Emanuel — present a mostly handwaving argument in which new nuclear power achieves and sustains an unprecedented growth rate for decades. The one quantitative “illustrative scenario” they propose — “a total requirement of 115 reactors per year to 2050 to entirely decarbonise the global electricity system” — is far beyond what the world ever sustained during the nuclear heyday of the 1970s, and far beyond what the overwhelming majority of energy experts, including those sympathetic to the industry, think is plausible.

They ignore the core issues: The nuclear power industry has essentially priced itself out of the market for new power plants because of its 1) negative learning curve and 2) inability to avoid massive delays and cost overruns in market economies. This is doubly problematic because the competition — renewable power, electricity storage, and energy efficiency — have seen steady, stunning price drops for a long time…

Dangerous Methane Leak Requires Emergency Measures

Anne C. Mulkern, Scientific American
California must craft a plan to blunt the impact of large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that have spewed into the air from a methane leak in Los Angeles, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said yesterday.

The state also needs to produce emergency rules for all natural gas storage facility operators in the state, Brown said in a proclamation. Those regulations need to mandate at least daily inspections with leak detection technology, he said, and ongoing verification that storage wells are secure.

The governor declared a state of emergency connected to Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, where methane has been leaking since Oct. 23, 2015. The leak has forced evacuations in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, located in the San Fernando Valley…

Shale’s Running Out of Survival Tricks as OPEC Ramps Up Pressure

Dan Murtaugh, Bloomberg
…The Energy Information Administration now predicts that companies operating in U.S. shale formations will cut production by a record 570,000 barrels a day in 2016. That’s precisely the kind of capitulation that OPEC is seeking as it floods the world with oil, depressing prices and pressuring the world’s high-cost producers. It’s a high-risk strategy, one whose success will ultimately hinge on whether shale drillers drop out before the financial pain within OPEC nations themselves becomes too great…

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How to change the world in 3 easy steps

Nafeez Ahmed, Insurge Intelligience
I often get asked by people about what they can do to change things, to change the world, when each of us is just one person, in the face of so much that we cannot even hope to control or influence.

What can we do? Why bother, given our powerlessness?

As we look back on the key events of 2015, and the processes that led to them, it would be all too easy to succumb to despair…


News clippings image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.