U.N. Secretary General Warns of a Dangerous Tipping Point on Climate Change

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, called climate change “the                                                                           defining issue of our time.”

“Living is easy with eyes closed. Misunderstanding all you see.” – from The Beatles song: “Strawberry Fields Forever”, written by John Lennon, released in February 1967.

johnlennon

“Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking; into the future.” – Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” song, written by Steve Miller, released in May 1976.

Steve Miller Band

Steve Miller Band performs on the ‘Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ at the NBC Studios September 12, 2003 in Burbank, California.

Warning of the risks of “runaway” global warming, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, on Monday called on global leaders to rein in climate change faster.

“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change,” Mr. Guterres said at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment,” he said. “Scientists have been telling us for decades. Over and over again. Far too many leaders have refused to listen.”

His remarks came with countries around the world far short of meeting the goals they set for themselves under the 2015 Paris accord to reduce the emissions that have warmed the planet over the last century. The next round of climate negotiations is scheduled for this year in Poland.

One of the big tests at those talks, which start Dec. 3 in Katowice, will be whether countries, especially industrialized countries that produce a large share of global emissions, will set higher targets for reducing their emissions.

“The time has come for our leaders to show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands,” Mr. Guterres said, without taking questions from reporters. “We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Mr. Guterres’s speech came days before a high-level climate meeting in San Francisco, spearheaded by Gov. Jerry Brown of California, meant to demonstrate what businesses and local leaders have done to tackle climate change.

The United Nations chief seems to be taking a page from Mr. Brown’s playbook. He, too, is looking beyond national leaders to make a difference. He has invited heads of industry and city government leaders to his September 2019 climate change forum in an apparent effort to increase pressure on national governments.

The Paris Agreement aims to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels in order to avoid what scientists call the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

But few countries are even close to meeting the targets they set under the Paris pact. And an assessment by the United Nations found that country targets so far would achieve only one-third of the global target.

Mr. Guterres sought to make the case that a shift away from fossil fuels like oil and coal would create jobs and bolster economies. Rebutting critics who argue that such a shift would be costly, he called that idea “hogwash.”

He cited the steps private companies are taking to wean themselves away from polluting fossil fuels — including a hat tip to the insurance company Allianz, which has promised to stop insuring coal fired power plants — though he said such actions are plainly insufficient.

“These are all important strides,” Mr. Guterres said. “But they are not enough. The transition to a cleaner, greener future needs to speed up.”

He warned that governments were not meeting their Paris Agreement commitments and goaded world leaders to step up.

“What we still lack, even after the Paris Agreement, is leadership and the ambition to do what is needed,” he said.

Mr. Guterres did not mention any countries or any heads of state by name. But looming large over his remarks was the leader of world’s most powerful country: President Trump, who has dismissed climate science, rolled back environmental regulations and vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

FoBy Somini Sengupta
Sept. 10, 2018

Correction: September 9, 2018
An earlier version of this article included quotations from an advance copy of Mr. Guterres’s speech that were ultimately not used in his address at United Nations headquarters. He did not use the phrase “break the paralysis” referring to global action on climate change, nor did he use the words “government backsliding.”

Somini Sengupta covers international climate issues and is the author of “The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young.

Fly Like an Eagle – Lyrics
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
I wanna fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
‘Till I’m free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution
Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution
I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
‘Till I’m free
Fly through the revolution
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the

cropped-atime

 

 

 

 

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Center for Biological Diversity Report on Airplane Emissions

AIRPLANE EMISSIONS
Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming almost 5 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a new Center report.

Aircraft emit staggering amounts of CO2, the most prevalent manmade greenhouse gas. In fact they currently account for some 11 percent of CO2 emissions from U.S. transportation sources and 3 percent of the United States’ total CO2 emissions. All told, the United States is responsible for nearly half of worldwide CO2 emissions from aircraft.

In addition to CO2, aircraft emit nitrogen oxides, known as NOx, which contribute to the formation of ozone, another greenhouse gas. Emissions of NOx at high altitudes result in greater concentrations of ozone than ground-level emissions. Aircraft also emit water vapor at high altitudes, creating condensation trails or “contrails” — visible cloud lines that form in cold, humid atmospheres and contribute to the warming impacts of aircraft emissions. The persistent formation of contrails is associated with increased cirrus cloud cover, which also warms the Earth’s surface. Aircrafts’ high-altitude emissions have a greater global warming impact than they would if the emissions were released at ground level.

Alarmingly, aircraft emissions are expected to more than triple by mid-century. But the Center is working to make sure that prediction doesn’t come true: In December 2007 we joined with states, regional governments and other conservation groups to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the effects of aircraft pollution under the Clean Air Act. The agency continued to drag its feet on the issue, so in June 2010 the Center and allies sued the agency for its failure to address global warming pollution from aircraft, ships and nonroad vehicles. The next year a court ruled that the EPA must formally determine whether greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft endangers human health and welfare. When the agency still hadn’t done so nearly three years later, in August 2014 the Center and allies filed a notice of intent to sue it over its failure to reduce global warming pollution from aircraft engines. The next month the EPA announced the beginning of a domestic rulemaking process to determine whether the fast-growing carbon emissions from American aircraft endanger public health and welfare.

In June 2015 the EPA finally released a draft finding that greenhouse gas pollution from America’s aircraft fleet does harm the climate and endanger human health and welfare. But the agency also considered handing off responsibility for airplane emissions to a secretive international aviation organization that, for the past 18 years, has refused to curb aircraft-induced global warming. That agency is now debating setting aviation CO2 emissions standards in 2016, but the standards under consideration are woefully insufficient. By as late as 2030, they would likely affect just 5 percent of aircraft — and even then would do next to nothing to lower the industry’s steeply rising emission curve.

The EPA does not have to adopt do-nothing international standards. It has powerful tools: The U.S. Clean Air Act is designed to force the implementation of technological and operational innovation that prevents or reduces carbon pollution. This means adopting operational measures to minimize fuel use and reduce emissions from aircraft; requiring the use of lighter, more efficient airplanes; and producing and using cleaner jet fuels. A recent International Council on Clean Transportation report found that some of the top 20 transatlantic air carriers can drive down emissions by as much as 51 percent using existing technology and operational improvements, and still remain competitive with their better-performing peers.

Finally, in July 2016 — after nine years of delay — the EPA officially acknowledged in a so-called “endangerment finding” that planet-warming pollution from airplanes disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare. But the agency failed to move forward on rules to actually reduce aircraft emissions. The Center’s work to reduce U.S. airplane emissions continues.

Achieving meaningful global action is also critical. That’s why the we urged U.S. climate negotiators to support strong airplane pollution rules in the Paris climate treaty and performed a thorough analysis of the worldwide impacts of pollution from the aircraft sector. Read our report Up in the Air: How Airplane Carbon Pollution Jeopardizes Global Climate Goals.


HOME NEWS ISTHMUS COVER STORIES
Taking it personally
In the fight against global warming, local activists are walking the walk

BY LINDA FALKENSTEIN APRIL 19, 2007

This is the year Al Gore won an Academy Award for his documentary ‘ really more of a disaster movie ‘ about global warming. An Inconvenient Truth was a surprisingly entertaining ride through blind misdeeds to the planet that have left Homo sapiens teetering on the edge of disaster. Is there still time to save life on earth as we know it?

Even as the film made Al Gore the unlikely Angelina Jolie of climate change, the man who was once the next president of the United States was ripped by the right-leaning Tennessee Center for Policy Research for not being energy efficient in his own lifestyle. His home near Nashville, the group charged, uses more than 20 times as much electricity as the national average.

While some have defended Gore and challenged the group’s claims, the incident underscores the importance of not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Turning back the clock on global warming requires not just rhetoric but personal sacrifice.

Governments have an essential role to play. The federal government can insist on higher fuel-efficiency standards and promote alternative sources of energy. President Bush, seen by many as an impediment to progress, has called for a 20% cut in gasoline usage over the next 10 years.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Spencer Black and Sen. Mark Miller have introduced a ‘Global Warming Solutions’ bill modeled on a landmark law in California. It seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels. Black says possible approaches could include the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles, the development of biofuels, incentives for buying hybrid cars, an increase in mass transit, and other initiatives to reduce reliance on automobiles.

Locally, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has embraced a ‘Natural Step’ program to maximize the city’s energy efficiency. But the city council last month defeated a proposed ordinance to require landlords to use more energy-efficient lighting.

These initiatives aside, it’s clear, at least to some people, that turning back the clock on global warming will require widespread changes in personal behavior. The whole of our society is complicit in energy policies that have clogged the atmosphere; thus we all need to help find solutions.

But how great a role?

A common criticism is that the kinds of changes recommended for the average Joe ‘ buy a more efficient refrigerator, ease off on the heat and air-conditioning, use fluorescent bulbs ‘ are too slight. But when advocates advance more dramatic proposals ‘ fining people for driving gas guzzlers, making it harder to park, enforcing carpooling ‘ they are met with derision.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t point to global warming as a looming catastrophe that cries out for forceful action, then ridicule and dismiss all calls for dramatic change.

In Madison, as throughout the nation, some individuals are taking personal responsibility for the problems caused by global warming. They are setting an example for others by altering the way they live their lives.

As we head into the 37th annual Earth Day this weekend, we’ve picked a half-dozen such souls from the Madison community, to present a range of responses to the crisis of global warming.

Finding win-win solutions

Jon Foley is not a pessimist. He knows the challenge is great, but he’s up to it.

‘To pretend everything is fine, to keep on dancing on the deck of the Titanic, is not smart,’ says Foley, 38, director of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at UW-Madison. But he doesn’t think all is lost: ‘We have to get started on solving these problems now ‘ but we also have some time to keep working on them.’

Foley knows it’s frustrating that many solutions seem small: ‘One percent here and there. But if we keep at it and look at the long term,’ these little actions add up. Besides, encouraging small changes is more effective than ‘screaming at people about how we are going to have to live in caves and eat tofu by candlelight from now on.’

Where is the best place to direct our attentions? Foley plays the ‘win-win’ card. Almost everything that ordinary people do to help save the planet will save them money too.

Among his suggestions: Use compact fluorescents instead of incandescent bulbs. Get a home energy audit. Install additional insulation and weather stripping. Have your furnace inspected, and change the filter regularly for better performance.

Foley doesn’t mince words about SUVs: Don’t drive them. He blames much of the U.S.’s abysmal per-capita energy consumption on these ‘living rooms on wheels.’ Buy a smaller car, he advises, or use the bus system.

In his own case, Foley used to live in Mazomanie and commute. But he moved to live close enough to walk to work. His four-member family, including two drivers, gets by with one car. He takes a taxi when the need arises, which he says is far cheaper than insurance and maintenance on a second car.

Foley and his family have managed to cut their home energy usage in half, mainly through upgrading appliances. They get by without air-conditioning. He’s looking to make other changes to his home, built in 1910 ‘ better windows, a new furnace, maybe even a solar water heater. He sees it as a five-year process. He spins it as ‘not a sacrifice, but living smarter.’

In addition, Foley’s family buys 100% wind power through a green energy program that Madison Gas & Electric hopes to expand in 2008 (currently there’s a waiting list). And he’s planted trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

The good news, says Foley, is that solutions to global warming ‘are in our grasp. We have the engineering solutions we need.’ And while he’s troubled that the state is eying more coal-fired power plants, he’s encouraged by signs that it’s helping to develop cleaner energy.

‘It’s time to become leaders in this field,’ he says. ‘This is a whole new industry, and Wisconsin could become the go-to place in the world for renewable energy and smart biofuels. It’s a great business opportunity.’

Curtailing auto use

Mike Neuman has been working on ‘the car problem,’ as he calls it, for 25 years. His original job for the state Department of Natural Resources was to study the environmental impacts of state highway projects.

Looking at emissions and the effect of highways, he saw that car emissions were clearly causing environmental harm, including forest and wetland loss. And he tied vehicle emissions to an increase in asthma attacks, including the one that killed Madison Times publisher Betty Franklin-Hammonds after a peak traffic period.

In 1999, Neuman made headlines when he proposed a plan to actually pay people not to drive. An uproar ensued, and Neuman ended up being reassigned within the DNR. Having him continue to review environmental impact statements, he says, was ‘just too much for them.’

Neuman cites evidence that the climate is warming faster than scientists previously predicted. ‘We can’t put this off. We have to reduce motor vehicle use, increase mass transit use, particularly buses, get rid of single drivers and instead carpool.’

And while Neuman, 57, still owns a car, he tries to use it as seldom as possible. He bought his near-west-side home more than 20 years ago, and always commuted to his job downtown via bike or bus. ‘I can’t say I’m 100% non-driving, but I’m more watchful in terms of how many miles I drive.’

Neuman considers environmental advocacy his second job. He frequently writes letters to the editor and to public officials. He has testified before legislative committees, and works within groups, including the Preserve Our Climate Coalition and the Madison Bus Advocates. He also writes for madisonindymedia.org on environmental issues.

The number-one thing people can do to combat global warming, says Neuman, is to cut back on auto use. ‘The auto is the worst thing to ever happen to the environment,’ he says.

Well, actually, it’s the second worst thing. Air travel, it turns out, is even more of a burden on the environment, per passenger mile, than driving cars. Neuman suggests that people fly less and ‘invest in forestry somewhere’ to offset the impact of jet fuel emissions.

Maximizing efficiency

Andy Olsen, 46, has long cared about the environment. The former Dane County supervisor (and, briefly, Madison alder) is now a policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. He’s working on ‘repowering the Midwest,’ helping farmers invest in cleaner, renewable energies. This involves some ‘rabblerousing in very rural America,’ where farmers and environmentalists have often disagreed. A big part of his work is to form coalitions with ag groups.

Olsen helps farmers to become more energy-efficient and utilize renewable technologies like wind, solar power and biofuel. This allows agriculture to be ‘more part of the solution than the problem’ in terms of global warming. And farmers can own the energy-creating systems, so these initiatives contribute to rural economic development as well as environmental protection.

One innovative project Olsen supports is the Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program. It would pay landowners for storing carbon in their soil through ‘no-till crop production and longtime grass-seeding practices.’ The Farmers Union would then trade the carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. Big companies could purchase these credits to offset their emissions. Thus industry would foot the bill to pay farmers for following environmentally sound practices.

At home, too, Olsen looks out for the health of the planet. Last year, as a birthday gift, he got a portable solar panel that folds up like a briefcase ‘ basically a solar generator that recharges batteries.

Olsen and his wife, Debra Stapleton, have bought a hybrid car, invested in a high-efficiency washing machine and an energy-efficient refrigerator and are continuing to weatherize their home. He’s also looking at installing solar space heating. He uses compact fluorescent bulbs, and has given these bulbs as Christmas gifts. Through such means, he estimates he’s cut his energy use by 30%.

‘Before you go solar, start with efficiency,’ he advises. ‘It gives the most bang for your buck.’

Having faith in the future

Dave Steffenson, a Methodist pastor, retired in 2000 and began working with Wisconsin congregations to reduce the ecological footprint of churches and parishioners. He’s now acting director of the Wisconsin Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign, preaching that protecting the planet invokes three central precepts of the Judeo-Christian tradition:

Stewardship. In Genesis, it says the role of humans is to take care of the earth for all creation.

Justice. The role of religion to speak for the voiceless ‘ including, in this case, the natural world.

Values. The prophets and Jesus believed in a life

not based in materialism. People of faith are called on to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Even so, urging people of faith to change their ways is a challenge, says Steffenson, because ‘congregations have not had environmentalism in their self-image.’ Some Christians on the extreme right ‘misunderstand environmental themes, see it as pagan or New Age, nature worship or blasphemy.’ But he sees a shift occurring, especially among younger church members.

Churches themselves can be somewhat wasteful, because they tend to be large buildings that are not in constant use. Steffenson likes to start with noncontroversial changes, like switching to compact fluorescent lighting, and move on to larger projects, like advocacy to the Legislature.

Steffenson, 69, has a long history of activism, starting with civil rights campaigns in the 1960s and the peace movement during the Vietnam War. He became interested in environmental issues when he moved to Green Bay in 1972. The environment, he says, is a ‘good way to get at a whole lot of social issues.’

He moved to central Madison so he could walk more, noting that he’s getting a little old to bike. He owns a hybrid car and buys locally grown food.

‘I’m just one indicator of the religious community in U.S. becoming aware of the threat [to] nature and becoming active,’ says Steffenson, who has 14 grandchildren and is ‘haunted by whether they will curse us in the future. We have a very short time to do the turnaround. That’s what motivates me.’

Pulling out all the stops

Jan Sweet, 48, is not actually a global-warming activist. He is, however, vehemently anti-car.

Sweet’s crusade to reduce oil use would doubtless help combat global warming, even though he is ‘neutral’ on the issue of climate change. ‘Weather does change in cycles,’ he says. ‘I’m not on board with global warming 100%.’

But Sweet does think humans have failed to manage the earth’s resources. Instead, ‘we extracted and exploited,’ creating a world of trouble.

Sweet devotes himself full time to raising public awareness over our finite supply of oil. He fronts a Madison group called Cities Without Cars, devoted to reducing oil dependence and strategizing ways to survive when oil is no longer available.

‘Maybe when the car you have right now reaches its maturity, you don’t get another one,’ he suggests. In the future he foresees, with more co-housing, groups of 25 families could share one or two cars.

He has proposed building new housing without parking and a ban on auto ads. He’s called for capping buildings at five stories in anticipation of the day when there won’t be enough electricity to run elevators. He’d plant fruit trees around town to stave off famine from breakdowns in the food supply.

To the extent that there’s been a response at all to Sweet’s push, it’s been hostile. A Wisconsin State Journal editorial has deemed his proposals ‘twaddle.’

Yet it may be a misstep to dismiss his ideas out of hand. One of Sweet’s more recent proposals, to charge drivers a toll to drive into central Madison, is modeled on a system adopted in London in 2003. If you’ve ever been stalled in a bottleneck on East Johnson or University Avenue heading in or out of the isthmus, you can see how the argument makes some sense. Even if everyone were driving a Prius, there would still be a traffic jam.

Sweet’s concerns about cars destroying communities started decades ago, when he went to the UW-Milwaukee for a degree in urban planning. He gave up his car in late 1980s. ‘The first year was the hardest,’ he relates. ‘It gets easier.’ Living in Madison ‘ a walkable city with good public transportation ‘ makes things a bit easier.

If some of Sweet’s ‘little economies’ seem a bit offbeat, his goal is sincere: ‘I’m tickled to think that I am doing something to help Madison.’

Getting by with less

Marion Stuenkel is so conscious of her carbon output she didn’t go to a family gathering in Ohio last Christmas. The 60-year-old grandmother could have ridden in a car with other family members ‘ as they pointed out, she wouldn’t be using up any extra energy ‘ but Stuenkel held her ground. ‘You have to give up the idea that you will only be happy through traveling,’ she says.

Stuenkel’s parents were conservationists. Her father, a steelworker, once turned down a job at a nuclear plant: ‘There was always a sense that we were mindful of the environment.’ She moved to Madison in 1993, in part to be closer to her son. ‘I didn’t want to waste energy going back and forth from New Mexico to Wisconsin.’

Last year, Stuenkel retired from her state job, after calculating that she could get by on retirement benefits. Given her lifestyle, it doesn’t take much.

Stuenkel avoids shopping, because ‘we don’t need all this stuff that we’re advertised into buying.’ She walks or takes a bus most places she goes; she owns only a few pieces of clothing; she drinks tap water. Her view is that stuff generates more stuff: If you buy books, you need a bookcase. Clothes need hangers. Bottled water generates bottles.

Because most grocery store food is transported long distances, she buys food only at farmers’ markets. That means this time of year, her diet is ‘somewhat restricted.’ The one indulgence she hasn’t given up, yet, is coffee.

If this makes retirement ‘ a time when others are playing golf and taking Caribbean cruises ‘ sound like enforced penury, Stuenkel doesn’t see it that way. As she puts it, ‘Working all your life does not give you license to destroy the environment.’

Stuenkel admits it’s been hard not to travel. She’d always dreamed of seeing the Great Wall of China; she has friends in New Mexico and a Swedish exchange ‘sister’ she may never see again. But she prefers to see the positives in staying put. She calls it ‘gathering appreciation’ and ‘swearing stability.’

In her 644-square-foot apartment on Madison’s east side, Stuenkel unplugs appliances (including her refrigerator) when they’re not in use and relies on natural light when she can. If she needs to use the Internet, she goes to the library. She uses a solar oven for her personal cooking. It’s portable and can cook eggs in about two hours, she reports, so long as the sun is shining. And when it’s not? ‘You don’t always have to eat cooked food.’

While Stuenkel believes in everything she’s doing, she is not one to force her practices on others. But she thinks others will come around as the need for change becomes more evident.

‘All this stuff has been thought of before and shoved aside,’ she says. ‘Thoreau has one paragraph that says it all.’ She’s referring, of course, to his classic advice: ‘Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!’ He wasn’t ahead of his time, says Stuenkel, so much as we are behind ours.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS ABOUT TO TRANSFORM EARTH INTO AN UNRECOGNIZABLE, ALIEN LANDSCAPE

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Within the next 100 years, Earth as we know it could be transformed into an unrecognizable, alien world, with ecosystems around the globe falling apart. After looking at over 500 ancient climate records, scientists have said current climate change is comparable to what the planet went through when it came out of the last ice age—and the seismic shift in biodiversity that took place then will likely happen again.

At the end of the Last Glacial Maximum—when ice sheets covered most of North America, Asia and northern Europe—the planet warmed up by between four and seven degrees Celsius. Over the course of 10,000 years, the ice melted and entirely new ecosystems emerged, eventually developing into what we see today.

Climate scientists are currently predicting that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate (the so-called “business as usual” scenario) then the planet will have warmed around four degrees Celsius by 2100.

California Climate Assessment: Heat Waves, Forest Fires, and Floods to Increase Dramatically due to Climate Change


September 2, 2018
The state of California released a climate assessment that points to “apocalyptic” conditions if climate change is not halted or mitigated in the next 30 years. We discuss the report with one of the co-authors and a California EPA deputy director