Bill McKibben / RNZ Community Scoop & Eric Holthaus / Grist – 2018-05-31 00:21:35
The Oil and Gas Industry Are Going to
‘Break the Planet’ if We Let Them
Bill McKibben / RNZ Community Scoop
(May 20, 2018) — With half the Arctic summer sea ice gone, and climate change still just beginning, the fight has never been so urgent, says environmentalist Bill McKibben.
McKibben has been at the forefront of climate change action for 30 years, first as a journalist with the New York Times then an activist with 350.org. He says climate change is the first ever time-limited test humanity has faced. “If we don’t solve it soon we won’t solve it and there’s no guarantee that we’re going to — at the moment we’re losing.”
The oil and gas industry knows its time is up, he says, but is trying to squeeze every last dollar out of its business.
“These guys know in 30 years we’ll run the world on sun and wind because it’s free, but they don’t want to surrender any sooner than they have to. They want to squeeze more cash out of this operation — but they’re going to break the planet if they do.”
McKibben welcomed the government’s recent announcement that it will not grant new deep-sea oil and gas exploration permits. “It’s one of the signals that world needs to hear. Very few people have figured out we need to cut off the supply as well as demand . . . it’s rare and encouraging to see a government that’s figured out where the future lies.”
Thirty years ago McKibben says climate change was an abstract concept — but no longer.
“Now it’s clear what scientists warned about has come true, and come true much more quickly and with much more force than even the most dire predictions. Half the summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone and we’re still near the beginning of climate change, which is why the fight has never been more urgent than it is now.”
New Zealand has a “front row seat” to climate changes effects, he says. “It’s your neighbours in the Pacific whose nations are disappearing, people are having to evacuate their homes. Because the tide means they can’t live in places where humans have lived for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s not their fault. Global warming manages to very efficiently injure most those who have done least to cause it — it’s injustice on steroids.”
That injustice has been fuelled by billions of dollars spent on disinformation, McKibben says.
“Thirty years ago the big fossil fuel guys — Exxon and the rest — knew everything there was to know about climate change. They had good scientists hard at work on it and they understood how fast the temperature was going to go up, and they believed their scientists. Exxon started building all its drilling rigs higher to compensate for the rise in sea level they knew was coming.
“What they didn’t do, was tell anybody else.”
McKibben says that campaign has recently paid rich dividends with a climate-change-denier now in the White House. “We’ve gone from arguably one of the smartest leaders the US has ever had to a grotesque buffoon, and in his buffoonery threatening to drag down not only an important nation but also the whole planet.”
But McKibben still sees reason for some hope.
“I’m confident that there’s a movement in place around the planet that wasn’t there a decade ago and that movement guarantees there’ll be a fight — a serious fight.”
He says the campaign to divest money from fossil fuels has gone much better than he expected. Since the campaign was launched six years ago $US6 trillion has been divested from fossil fuel companies. It’s an area where New Zealand needs to do more work, he says.
“The big banks here continue to pump money into the fossil fuel industry. Money is the oxygen on which global warming feeds.”
We Can Now See How Humans
Have Altered Earth’s Water Resources
Eric Holthaus / Grist
(May 21, 2018) — For millennia, humans have harnessed rivers, built dams, and dug wells to quench our growing civilization. Now, for the first time, we have a picture of what all those generations have wrought on our blue planet’s most defining resource.
Newly analyzed data from groundwater-detecting satellites “reveals a clear human fingerprint on the global water cycle,” according to a study out Wednesday in the journal Nature. It’s the kind of result that is equal parts terrifying and long-expected in its implications.
“We know for sure that some of these impacts are caused by climate change,” says lead author Matt Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA. “We are using huge parts of the [Earth’s] available water.”
The authors used the satellite data to construct a map of 34 rapidly changing regions around the world, painting a unified picture of current hot spots of water scarcity and excess. Nearly every activity that involves people requires water — rice farming, nuclear power, aluminum smelting, you name it — so the lives of people living where reserves are being rapidly depleted are under grave threat.
“The resulting map is mind-blowing, and has staggering implications for water, food, and human security that we are just not aware of or prepared for,” says study co-author Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We are very literally seeing all of the hotspots for climate change, for changing extremes of flooding and drought, and for the impact of human water management define themselves.
“Our future challenges could not be more clear from looking at this map.”
Annotated Map of TWS Trends: GRACE (NASA)
The map offers a powerful first glimpse of what climate change and over-exploitation of water resources looks like — a “global pattern of freshwater redistribution, due to climate change,” according to Famiglietti. It’s stark, visual evidence that the way humans use water is unsustainable.
The study’s authors took 14 years of data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), which measures minute fluctuations in the Earth’s gravitational field as water moves around the planet. They then tried to track down the root causes of the biggest changes they found — an analysis that took eight years to complete.
In two-thirds of the cases, the researchers discovered a direct link to human activity. And in some of those, especially in remote regions of southern Africa and China, the colossal scale of the shifts was previously unknown.
The footprints left behind by massive feats of engineering are also visible in the new map. You can see the consequences of the filling of major reservoirs, like the one bound by the massive Three Gorges Dam in China, of the diverted rivers in India, and of the exploitation of the High Plains aquifer in the central United States for agriculture.
Long-predicted climate shifts are also apparent, such as the rapid warming and moistening of the Arctic, melting ice in mountain glaciers, and increasingly extreme cycles of droughts and floods.
To be sure, there are drawbacks to this study, says Kate Brauman, a water researcher at the University of Minnesota who was unaffiliated with the research. The main problem is related to the fact that the GRACE satellite’s output is not very geographically specific.
“Relatively small changes in weather make a big difference” on the huge regions the study covers, says Brauman. She says the method the authors used identifies only large-scale changes — roughly the size of Kansas or larger. That’s too coarse a view to spot individual water-wasters, but it’s possibly accurate enough to raise hope for monitoring and governing previously untracked and unregulated large-scale abuses.
The next generation of GRACE satellites, launching on Saturday, should provide additional evidence of exactly how humans are altering the planet’s water cycle, and with more accuracy. And in another 15 years or so, Rodell says, his team should be able to draw even bolder conclusions about exactly which parts of the world are being affected most by shifts in rainfall and changing water policies.
For Famiglietti, the research was life-changing. The work inspired him to leave his job at NASA for a role at the University of Saskatchewan studying “the forces that drive water insecurity in the major hotspots revealed by this map.”
A year from now, Famiglietti hopes to be working to assemble local groups around the world focused on water conservation in each of the affected regions. For him, the message behind the data is clear: It’s time to act.
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