International News

Global sea levels have climbed 8cm since 1992, Nasa research shows

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 11:13pm

Scientists say warming waters and melting ice were to blame for levels rising faster than 50 years ago and ‘it’s very likely to get worse’

Sea levels worldwide have risen an average of nearly eight centimetres (three inches) since 1992 because of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of Nasa scientists said on Wednesday.

In 2013 a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from between 0.3 and 0.9 metres by the end of the century. The new research shows that sea level rise would probably be at the high end of that, said a University of Colorado geophysicist, Steve Nerem.

Related: Sea levels rising faster than previously thought says new study

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Categories: International News

Naomi Klein on climate change: 'I thought it best to write about my own raw terror'

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 6:57pm

A Q&A with the bestselling author before her visits to Melbourne and Sydney

Naomi Klein, the Canadian author, film-maker and social activist, will arrive in Australia this month for a series of events. The author of No Logo and the Shock Doctrine – a self-confessed fan of avocado on toast – will be discussing climate change and capitalism, the key topics in her new bestselling book This Changes Everything. She spoke to Guardian Australia’s Oliver Milman.

Oliver Milman: You write in the book that you were a “climate denier”, not in that you denied the science but that you just didn’t want to engage on the subject. Why did you, and others, do this, do you think?

There are moments where the deep moral crisis of climate change breaks through

My book is an argument for a deep ideological shift … the pendulum has swung so far in favour of market fundamentalism

As sea levels rise that this mean streak and open racism is going to become more extreme

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Categories: International News

How a Cardboard Sign and a Sharpie forced Climate Change onto the Campaign Trail - August 26, 2015 - 2:15pm

Yesterday, local activists disrupted Stephen Harper’s campaign stop in Montreal to remind him that you can’t avoid the issue of climate and tar sands expansion if you’re campaigning to be leader of this country.

Organizers from communities opposed to the Energy East and Line 9b pipelines, local residents, members of the CSN workers union and students from Divest McGill showed up at the event. In a packed room of supporters in the suburban riding of Pointe-Claire, one climate activist interrupted the Prime Minister’s speech, as several other organizers rallied outside the venue.

There has been similar actions calling out all party leaders on climate in these first three weeks of the elections campaign, all across Canada. Here’s highlights of yesterday that show the creativity, resolve and dedication of folks who pulled this off:

1. First sign of success: a journalist turned it into a GIF

Cherry on the pie for this action, a journalist who was there made this awesome GIF where you can see Harper get interrupted mid-sentence with the mighty power of a sign and sharpie.

Harper event in Quebec is interrupted by climate change protester. Watch how quickly he is removed by security

— Patrick Morrell (@PatMorrell_CBC) August 25, 2015

2. They got in the way of the livestream and let Twitter do the rest

You could see the disruption caught on all major networks cameras inside the event. Given how notoriously secretive Stephen Harper’s campaign events are, this was indeed “something you don’t see everyday,” as one journalist put it. Twitter took note.

3. Which earned them  some good commentary

As the action was unfolding, Green Party leader made this cheeky reference in the Twittosphere:

4. Outside, there was some cross-movement solidarity

While Harper was going on about his party’s economic achievements inside, union members were outside to remind him that economic justice and tackling climate change go hand in hand. Members from the CSN, one of Quebec’s major union, joined in with local organizers opposing tar sands pipelines in their communities to highlight the need for a just energy transition and the fact that in this campaign no party leader has a plan that keeps tar sands in the ground.

5. And some creative fossil fuel divestment youth

Also cheering on outside, youth from Divest McGill  showed some real determination, pouring molasses to creatively call out Harper on his abysmal decade on expanding the tar sands and calling on people to vote for political change, not climate change.

This action was the latest of a wave of powerful interventions on the campaign trail that have been putting climate change on the agenda. Folks from all parts of this movement are carrying it forward across the country and making sure that this election includes a vision of a Canada that works for people and the planet. All party leaders, take note. Get involved in organizing and download some resources here.

Categories: International News

Coal in the US Faces “Absolute Destruction”

Climate Crocks - August 26, 2015 - 10:34am
As Poland endures a crushing drought, vanishing waterways yield long hidden skeletons buried in the mud. Guardian: As river levels in Poland fall to record lows in a prolonged drought, Jewish tombstones and a Soviet fighter plane with the remains of its pilots have been found in the riverbank, evidence of Poland’s tortured 20th-century history. […]
Categories: International News

The Kechimov case – protecting ancestral lands from oil giants - August 26, 2015 - 7:29am

On August 17,  a 5-minute hearing  was  held in a provincial court of Surgut District (Siberia). The defendant, Sergey Kechimov, a reindeer herder from Yugra and one of the few Khanty indigenous people left, is accused of threatening to kill two workers of Surgutneftegaz – one of the largest Russian oil companies. Being sentenced may cost him up to 2 years in prison, under the Russian criminal code.

During the hearing, lawyers reminded the judge, Mrs. Asharina, that Sergey was not provided with translators throughout the investigation. Despite admitting Sergey’s rights had been violated, Judge Asharina decided to proceed with the case. The next hearings will take place on September 12. But this is a case that goes far beyond the accusations being levied.

What brought Sergey Kechimov before the Court?

The Kechimov case could be conveniently framed as involving a petty crime and deemed unworthy of the public’s attention. According to the case, the conflict rose when Sergey had to shoot a dog owned by the oil-company workers that had killed a reindeer in his herd and attacked him as well. Oil-company workers claimed Sergey also ordered them out of his ancestral lands and demanded compensation payment while waving his shotgun at them.

Sergey is one of the last Khanty people living near the Imlor lake. For centuries, Khantys have deified and praised nature, believing that no person can take more gifts from her than those she is ready to share.   

The Imlor Lake – courtesy

When the oil companies arrived, the sacred Imlor lake became an expendable source of hydrocarbons, spoiled by oil and mutilated by ugly constructions. Animals around the lake are now hunted and fish caught mercilessly by oil-company workers – at any rate, this oil deposit will be  over in a couple of decades, and the industry will move on leaving only barren fields with rusty pipes behind.

Unsurprisingly, most of the Khanty people decided not to live side by side with the newcomers, leaving their ancestral lands behind for the oil workers to take over. Those like Sergey and the others who dared to stay have become a constant nuisance for the oil companies. Government measures to protect the ancestral peoples’ rights are providing effective motivation for oil companies to swiftly get rid of such peoples.

For the locals, the presence of oil companies resembles the days of military occupation – with block-posts, humiliating document checkings and personal searches by private security guards.

Sergey Kechimov shows the traces the oil companies left on Khanty land – courtesy Denis Sinyakov, Greenpeace

So the “Kechimov case” is not just a conflict between individuals, it’s an expression of two incompatible approaches to the relation between people and nature colliding. A conflict now left for Judge Asharina, at the 2nd sub-district of the Surgut Court District, to resolve.  

It’s time to end this threat!  

Statistically, 99.6% of the court verdicts on criminal cases in Russia result in guilty convictions, and Sergey is likely to get up to 2 years of prison. Public attention and a powerful call from around the world is, perhaps, his only chance to change this prospect.

In order to save the Khanty, the unique Imlor lake and their traditional taiga landscape, any industrial activities within their lands must be completely banned.  

Neither “restrictions” nor “obligations” would help at this point; the forces are too incompatible. Even in large Russian cities, enforcing the most basic environmental regulations becomes challenging when they rule against the interests of big businesses – remember the Khimki Forest story, or the unceasing battle for Moscow parks.The scientists have warned us: humankind must leave most of the existing fossil fuel reserves underground to avoid a climate catastrophe of geological scale. A good start would be to keep the oil under ancestral peoples’ lands in the ground  


Sign a petition to support Sergey Kechimov

Sign to demand world governments to keep fossil fuels in the ground


Categories: International News

New Orleans launches resilience roadmap to tackle climate and social challenges

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 5:26am

As well as focusing on climate-related catastrophes, the 41-step resilience strategy addresses social issues such as poverty, racial inequality and crime

In the week that marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans officials have launched a comprehensive “resilience strategy” aiming to secure the city’s future.

As well as seeking ways for the city to both prevent and survive more climate-related catastrophes, it treats social challenges such as poverty, racial inequality and crime as disasters that must be addressed if New Orleans is to become truly “resilient”. In the strategy’s parlance, it tackles both “shocks” and “stresses”.

Related: Our strategy to rebuild New Orleans for the threats it will face in 50 years' time

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Categories: International News

Lord Stern hits out at claims about cost of climate cuts

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 5:00am

There is no conflict between economic growth and action on climate change, ambassadors told in Paris

The eminent climate economist Nicholas Stern has condemned the counterposing of economic growth with climate action as a false and diversionary tactic that could damage prospects for agreement at the Paris climate talks in December.

Several business groups have complained about the costs of climate mitigation and Andrzej Duda, the Polish prime minister, recently said that EU plans for ambitious emissions cuts would be costly and “bad for Poland”.

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Categories: International News

Tutu, Klein and Chomsky call for mass climate action ahead of Paris conference

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 4:00am

Artists, journalists, scientists and academics among 100 signatories calling for mobilisation on scale of slavery abolition and anti-apartheid movements

Desmond Tutu, Vivienne Westwood, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky are among a group of high-profile figures who will issue a mass call to action on Thursday ahead of the UN’s crunch climate change conference in Paris in December.

They call for mass mobilisation on the scale of the slavery abolition and anti-apartheid movements to trigger “a great historical shift”.

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Categories: International News

Cronking ravens and flower oracles – our natural barometers?

Guardian - August 26, 2015 - 12:29am
Wenlock Edge, Shropshire As I peer into the yarrow and gentians, thinking about changes in this strange season, a raven flies low over the trees - then the raindrops fall

The curious and alluring autumn gentians are flowering. At the top of the bank where the rabbits have nibbled turf down to the quick and people have broadened the path along the fence, in the wood where the last fragments of wild meadow have been heavily grazed, little clumps of lilac coloured flowers are blooming. I have rarely seen autumn gentian in any of these places until now.

This plant is biennial, growing reddish stems less than a foot high. The plants I saw last year had pointy leaves and this year are producing upright tubular flowers that open into lilac stars at the top and reveal inner “ribbons”. They are easy to miss but when they’re spotted they have a strange allure.

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Categories: International News

In defence of ecovillages: the communities that can teach the world to live sustainably

The Conversation - August 26, 2015 - 12:26am
The Calafou community lives in a repurposed factory complex near Barcelona. Dvdgmz/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

What types of communities do the best job of living with a minimal impact on the planet? I asked myself this question when I read a recent article on The Conversation, which argued that even if everyone on Earth lived in an ecovillage we would still be using too many resources.

I am more optimistic — some ecovillages provide a much better blueprint than others.

As a 2013 study of 14 ecovillages by US political scientist Karen Litfin shows, ecovillages can be regarded as “pioneer species”. They show people how to improve their sustainability: the ecovillages Liftin studied used 10–50% fewer resources than their home-country averages and, being whole communities, were more influential than a single sustainable household.

Litfin’s assessment took in a wide range of factors – ecological, economic, even psychological – but one example of how ecovillages show the way forward is in power consumption.

Mainstream households tend to rely on national or regional supplies of gas or electricity, with no (or little) control over their sources. In places like Victoria, which has a very emissions-intensive power sector, this can make it difficult to make sustainable choices. However, ecovillage neighbours who have banded together to access renewable energy, say solar or wind power, can make off-grid environmental savings.

While there are financial (and other) barriers to setting up environmentally sound residential neighbourhoods, there are useful rules of thumb. In general, small is beautiful and sharing is efficient. One simply cannot fit as much “stuff” into a smaller house, and sharing accommodation often economises on consumption of goods and services.

Some ecovillages shame others in reducing their environmental footprint. Where ecovillages re-inhabit and renovate old buildings, they save on resources. A good example is the postcapitalist eco-industrial Calafou colony, northwest of Barcelona, which houses some 30 people in an old textile factory complex.

Members of another community that I have stayed at, Ganas in New York City, live in renovated residential buildings and operate several second-hand businesses at which residents work. Residents at Twin Oaks in Virginia, where I worked for three weeks, have a surprising level of collective sufficiency, with residents working on farming and making hammocks and tofu to sell, the proceeds of which are shared between the group.

Such experiments can be scaled up, settling residents in ex-commercial and ex-industrial premises — effectively shrinking cities by encouraging higher-density, more sustainable collective communities.

Crops and solar panels at Twin Oaks in Virginia. Author provided

The global village

This feeds into the idea of “planned economic contraction” or “degrowth”, which as Samuel Alexander argued on The Conversation is necessary in order to live sustainably. But I don’t share his pessimism about the ability of ecovillages to show us a way towards this sustainable life.

An analysis of Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland showed that an average resident travels by air twice as much as an average Scot, yet their total travel and overall ecological footprint was half the Scottish and UK averages.

Residents of Findhorn and of another UK ecovillage, Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED), make significant savings in terms of car travel. It follows that just by avoiding air travel, these residents would have even more environmentally sound practices.

Managing without money?

Members of ecovillages such as Twin Oaks not only share “one purse”, but also complement their efforts at collective sufficiency with minimal use of money. (Avoiding money is part of the culture of squatters generally.) Members of Calafou put in money to the community on the basis of their individual capacity but share governance and benefits equally. Here social and environmental values dominate.

In contrast, money is the principle on which capitalism revolves. If we reduce consumption — and we will need to, to become sustainable — then production has to be reduced. But capitalist producers have no successful operating systems for shrinking. Most often, when consumption decreases it results in unemployment and austerity, rather than orderly degrowth.

Money pressures us to opt for more rather than less, or else risk poverty and powerlessness. Thus it applies a systemic pressure to expand. Growth is not simply a result of people’s greed – even not-for-profit cooperatives aim to create a monetary surplus. How would you run a business or your household using money income in a shrinking market? What would happen to prices and savings?

Many suggest a guaranteed minimum income, but the value of the currency will prove unstable in such conditions and, anyway, what really matters to us is what we can purchase with that income (meaning that prices matter).

Such questions lead us to the conclusion that strategies for degrowth must leap not only beyond capitalism but also beyond money. This is the strength of Litfin’s focus on ecology, community and consciousness, incorporating skills which we need to replace production for trade on the principle of money.

In the future, collectively sufficient ecovillages could operate environmentally efficiently on the basis of direct democracy and arrange production and exchange within the commons they lived off without the use of money. Instead, ecovillagers would make non-monetary exchanges, where necessary, on the basis of social and environmental values.

Thus we could reduce our footprint and stay within Earth’s capacity.

Anitra Nelson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Categories: International News

Godzilla Rises. Stunning El Nino Forecasts are Literally Off the Chart

Climate Crocks - August 25, 2015 - 11:10pm
Above, NOAA has published a graph of modeling predictions from various professional groups looking at the developing El Nino event in the Pacific. The dark line that starts at the left is actual observations of what we see so far in unusually warm surface water in the central and eastern pacific.  The various colored lines […]
Categories: International News

News Flash: Chris Horner – Leading Climate De-Nihilist – Funded by Big Coal

Climate Crocks - August 25, 2015 - 7:39pm
Irony alert. Leading anti-science attack dog’s funding comes to light in a coal company bankruptcy proceeding. Chris Horner, (who I met some years ago while soundly thrashing him in a “debate”), is an attorney, who, early in his career, worked for Enron. Presumably, they were not evil enough for him, so he moved on to […]
Categories: International News

World must face up to cost of carbon reductions, says European climate expert

Guardian - August 25, 2015 - 7:01pm

Former European commissioner Connie Hedegaard agrees with Tony Abbott that wind turbines are not ‘beautiful’, but calls power plants ‘visually awful’

The former European commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard has urged countries to acknowledge the cost of reducing emissions to fight climate change, and called on politicians to shift away from short-term thinking.

Speaking at the City of Sydney’s CityTalks 2015 on Tuesday, Hedegaard urged action to reduce emissions in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference in December.

Related: Tony Abbott defends 2030 emissions target criticised as 'pathetically' low

Related: Tony Abbott agrees windfarms may have 'potential health impacts'

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Categories: International News

Bushfires, heatwaves and early deaths: the climate is changing before our eyes | Tim Flannery

Guardian - August 25, 2015 - 4:22pm

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Atmosphere of Hope, Tim Flannery argues that recent events in Australia and around the world show how global warming is much more than a debate about scientific projections

When I wrote The Weather Makers, I laid out the state of climate science as it was understood in 2005. The book received much acclaim, but it was also criticised by climate-change sceptics as extremist and alarmist.

Since the book was published, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has completed two major summaries, in the form of its fourth and fifth assessment reports, and thousands of scientific publications have added to our understanding of how Earth’s climate system responds to carbon pollution.

With climate change an experienced reality the room for climate change denialism keeps shrinking

The Rod Laver Arena had not been built to cope with the threat, and lives and money were put at risk

Humanity’s first intimation of just how great a threat to health heatwaves could become arrived in the summer of 2003

The number of hot days in Australia per year has doubled in the last 50 years

At almost every step along the way, climate change had some influence on the severity of the Black Saturday bushfires

As Earth warms, health problems are bound to increase, and the health effects will be compounded by other factors

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Categories: International News

Decades on, the promise of 'clean coal' remains elusive

The Conversation - August 25, 2015 - 4:02pm
Carbon capture and storage would help the coal industry survive, but it remains elusive. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

For more than a decade the coal industry’s favoured response to climate change was carbon capture and storage, or CCS. CCS is still the main defence, but the absence of functioning projects is making it ever more threadbare.

Last week Citigroup released a report with the catchy title ENERGY DARWINISM II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth arguing that commercial CCS may come too late to save some members of the coal industry, unless it receives significant government assistance.

The trouble for the coal industry is that the market has already decided. Over the past 15 years CCS has received all the (expensive) support it is ever likely to get from politicians and investors, and aside from some pilot projects and a very special case or two, it has not delivered anywhere near the number of projects that were anticipated.

Early days

When it comes to global warming, fossil fuels have been in the frame since Svante Arrhenius suggested in 1896 that the burning of coal would increase the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

It wasn’t until 1976 that Cesare Marchetti of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis proposed disposing of “waste” carbon dioxide in the deep oceans.

Through the 1980s, carbon capture and storage was the subject of various US Department of Energy studies, but rated only glancing mentions at both the Australian Coal Association’s 1990 conference and an International Energy Agency conference on clean coal technologies, held in Sydney in November 1991.

Through the 1990s it made a long slow march, from the first international conference devoted to CCS in March 1992 to the Norwegian Sleipner Field in the North Sea (where carbon dioxide was injected into empty gas fields and billed as climate mitigation).

In Australia, after some initial scoping work of suitable storage sites beginning in 1999, it came to politicians' attention via the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, chaired by the then chief scientist, Robin Batterham.

Batterham was also employed by Rio Tinto, to some consternation; this was later found by a senate inquiry to be a conflict of interest. Batterham resigned as chief scientist in 2005 to take up a full-time position at Rio Tinto. He still advocates CCS.

The 2002 report from the innovation council on tackling climate change was vigorously critiqued by academics for its emphasis on CCS. CCS was also criticised by non-government organisations and think tanks.

Into the mainstream

In 2003 Australia was a founder member of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum. Meanwhile the United States launched its FutureGen project (since abolished, re-started and re-abolished) aiming to create a demonstration project.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a CCS report in 2005. The mass rollout of CCS was one of the climate stabilisation “wedges” proposed by Stephen Pacala and Robert H. Socolow at Princeton University.

From 2006 there were attempts to have carbon capture and storage included within the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, which would have allowed CCS projects to compete for funds with reforestation and energy efficiency projects. These attempts succeeded in 2012.

Carbon capture rises in Australia

Following the mid-2003 report of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, environmentalists feared both that CCS would not cut emissions, and that support for it would starve renewables of funding.

In 2003, with great fanfare, the Coal21 partnership was launched between industry and government, with a National Plan following the next year.

In December 2006 the Coal21 initiative announced a A$1 billion fund to investigate CCS, paid for from a voluntary levy on coal.

2008 marked the peak of elite interest. In March of that year the Australian Coal Association, WWF, Climate Institute and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) all combined to call on the government to fund further research into CCS. The CFMEU, understandably mindful of its members’ jobs, called for a minimum Power from Carbon Capture and Storage target for 2020, analogous to the renewable energy target.

In November 2008 the Australian Coal Association launched an advertising campaign about NewGenCoal.

“Clean coal” (also variously branded as smart coal, green coal, and quick coal) was mercilessly spoofed in an episode (A Waste of Energy) of the television show The Hollowmen.

Undeterred by the satire, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, despite the reservations of Australia’s leading CCS expert and proponent Peter Cook.

However, along came the global financial crisis, which briefly wiped millions off the balance sheets of Big Coal and caused projects to collapse (see also here). By the time balance sheets recovered, facts on the ground (or rather under it) had made CCS an even dimmer prospect.

The elusive dream

The Queensland “Zerogen” project collapsed, at great expense to the taxpayer, in 2010.

In 2013 it emerged that the Coal21 fund set up in 2006 to fund CCS projects had been retooled to fund promotion of coal.

Although one Canadian project is now operating (thanks to an unusual synchronicity of large amounts research and development funding, the willingness of a company to get onto the learning curve, and a market for the carbon dioxide), the trajectory of CCS is very weak compared with earlier expectations.

In Australia the coal industry has set up another roundtable and continues to produce glossy brochures and graphs.

There are daunting legal and technological risks to carbon capture and storage, alongside the challenges of corporate technology strategy.

The dilemma for the industry is this: if CCS doesn’t work, fossil fuel companies are left naked, with no other technological fix to offer. If it does work, they will need to start implementing it, which will cost a fortune and eat into their profits (based on insights from James Meadowcraft at the University of Carleton).

The fundamental dilemma for the rest of us is this: in order to drive investment, there would need to be (among other factors) a very high carbon price. But a high carbon price would also encourage the growth of renewable energy, which would remove the need for the CCS infrastructure.

Marc Hudson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Categories: International News


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