A Devastating US ‘Dust Bowl’ Is Twice as Likely Now Than During The Great Depression

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Due to global warming, the United States is today more than twice as likely to endure a devastating “dust bowl” scenario than during the Great Depression, researchers said Monday.Nearly a decade of heatwaves and massive dust storms across the US Great Plains in the 1930s ruined agricultural land and drove tens of thousands of farming families far and wide in search for food and work.”The 1930s Dust Bowl heatwaves were extremely rare events that we might expect to see occur once in a hundred years,” said Tim Cowan, a researcher at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, and lead author of a study in Nature Climate Change.”Under today’s levels of greenhouse gases, they are more than twice as likely to occur, with their period-of-return reduced to once in around 40 years.”Even in the 1930s, the finger print of global warming was perceptible, although the impact on weather and climate was then extremely small.Nearly a century later, the signature of human-induced climate change is unmistakable, and portends even more dire consequences, said senior author Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environment Change Institute at the University of Oxford.”If extreme heatwaves and drought reduce the vegetation as they did in the 1930s, heatwaves could become even stronger,” threatening global food supplies, she said in a statement.”This scenario is more likely than ever, and should urge us to develop and implement more ambitious adaptation and mitigation plans.”Mitigation refers to reducing the source of greenhouse gases, which are produced overwhelmingly by the burning of fossil fuels.US west in a ‘megadrought’Otto is a world leader in the growing field of attribution science, which uses observational data and simulations based on computer modelling to tease out the impact of global warming from natural variations in weather and climate.Her warning is backed up by research published in March which shows that a multi-year Dust Bowl-type drought in the US could deplete US grain stores and have a cascading effect through the world’s food system.”A four-year decline in wheat production of the same proportional magnitude as occurred during the Dust Bowl greatly reduces both wheat supply and reserves in the United States and propagates through the global trade network,” a team led by Alison Heslin at Columbia University reported in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.By the fourth year of such an event, US wheat exports would fall by half, and the country would exhaust 94 percent of its reserves, they calculated.The year 1936 still holds the record for the hottest year in the continental United States, but the country is tracking toward ever-warmer summers.A study last month in the journal Science concluded that the western United States has likely entered a period of megadrought – the fourth in 1,200 years – that could last decades, even a century.Globally, 19 out of 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred this century.Average global surface temperatures – including over oceans – have increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era, the standard benchmark for global warming.© Agence France-Presse

Extinction Rebellion: The New Eco-Radicals

The fiery activists of Extinction Rebellion reject the environmental protests of old for campaigns of mass civil disobedience and disruption

Josh Eells April 1, 2020 10:48AM ET

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS, DECEMBER 20, 2019:Several climate activists with eyes painted in their palms during the demonstration.People from several climate organisations gathered with eyes painted on their hands symbolising 'We are watching you'. From there they walked to the Tweede Kamer, to demand radical climate action. In front of the Tweede Kamer, the group Extinction Rebellion carried out the performance Blood of our children is on the governments hands.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Ana Fernandez / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Ana Fernandez / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

One Monday morning last April, an Englishman named Simon Bramwell glued himself to a glass door at Shell’s London headquarters and refused to leave.

Bramwell, 47, is a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, a two-year-old climate-activist group dedicated to the belief that real change will only come through mass civil disobedience. For the next 10 days, XR, as the group is known for short, launched a series of coordinated actions targeting several sites throughout London — blocking traffic outside the stock exchange, interrupting train service at Canary Wharf, and generally bringing the city’s business to a snarling standstill.

The atmosphere was more jovial street fair than window-smashing anarchist mob. Activists brought potted trees to the middle of Waterloo Bridge and danced to a samba band while shutting down Parliament Square. More than 1,000 people ended up being arrested — teenage students, octogenarian retirees, teachers, construction workers, doctors and nurses, and a 41-year-old marine biologist who was seven-months pregnant — many of them for the first time.Top articles1/5READ MOREWho’s Zoomin’ Who? Songwriters Try Remote Collaboration in the Social Distancing Era

Extinction Rebellion is part of a new generation of activists treating global warming not simply as an environmental problem, but an existential one — and amplifying their tactics accordingly. Though their public demonstrations are now on hold because of the coronavirus, there is no doubt that they will be back at it as soon as the pandemic passes. With the science growing increasingly dire, and the world’s governments still refusing to act (or worse, denying there’s a problem), marches and calls to Congress, these groups say, aren’t enough. “Unfortunately, people just don’t pay attention to petitions,” says Liam Geary Baulch, 26, an action coordinator with XR. “Movements win by causing disruption.”

Or as another activist put it: “You can have a million people marching each week and no one cares. But you block a road, people take notice.”

XR has positioned itself in explicit opposition to older, more established groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, whom XR views as insufficiently confrontational for the crisis at hand. One of XR’s very first actions was to occupy Greenpeace’s office in London, where protesters delivered cake and flowers to the staff while simultaneously imploring them to up their game. “Failure to do things differently, when everything is failing,” an XR statement said, “can only be described as complicity.”

Greenpeace, of course, is no slouch in the law-breaking department, with a long history of provocative actions and hard-won victories. But even some leaders acknowledge that their more targeted, small-scale approach — while effective — has been outpaced and dwarfed by the sheer enormity of the problem. “The movement has evolved because it wasn’t working,” Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, has said. “The science is stronger than ever, and we’re still losing.” Now, even Greenpeace is starting to take a page from XR’s civil-disobedience book, co-organizing Jane Fonda’s Fire Drill Fridays, in which the actress and her supporters get arrested the first Friday of each month.

At first blush, the concept of a “rebellion” to combat climate change might sound extreme. But given both the incomprehensible scale of the catastrophe and the inertia we must overcome, it also seems almost comically pointless to, for example, stand outside a grocery store holding a clipboard, asking people if they have a minute for the environment. If society is going to change as drastically and urgently as we need it to, some level of painful disruption seems necessary.

But how much? At one end of the spectrum, emails and petitions seem too easy to ignore. But disrupt too much — start getting people fired because they can’t make it to work on time, or prevent an ambulance from reaching a hospital — and you risk turning off the exact people whose support you need. What, then, is the proper degree of nuisance for a climate activist? How far is too far — and how far is not nearly far enough?

In some ways, this new breed of aggressive climate activists hearkens back to the earliest environmental radicals who broke the law in defense of the planet. Although groups like Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front had much narrower goals (wildlife conservation, stopping animal testing) and much more destructive tactics (vandalism, firebombing), the challenge they faced was more or less the same. “It is not enough to write letters to congressmen, deliver sermons, make speeches, or write books,” author and activist Edward Abbey wrote way back in 1983. “The Earth that sustains us is being destroyed.… We need more heroes and heroines — about a million of them.”

“Yes … we must continue to take part in political action,” Abbey added. “But at some point we must also be prepared to put our bodies on the line.”

Extinction Rebellion was started in Stroud, a quaint, bohemian town (population 30,000) in the rolling hills of southern England. Several members had roots in the Occupy movement; others were vets of anti-fracking and air-pollution campaigns. But they all agreed that what they’d been doing wasn’t working. They devised a name for their group that would be alarming on purpose, to jar people out of complacency. For a logo, they chose the extinction symbol: an hourglass, as in, time is running out.

“I think [XR] really came out of a sense of frustration and a deep grief that so many different environmental groups had tried so many things, and it’s still getting worse,” Baulch says. “Maybe it’s time to take bigger risks.”

From the start, the group set out to adopt the so-called civil-resistance model — forcing change by peacefully breaking the law. According to its research, history’s most successful mass uprisings — from the American civil rights movement to the British suffragettes to the Arab Spring — had some key things in common. First, they were absolutely nonviolent. Second, they involved a critical mass of people gathering in a capital city, where the media and power reside. And third, they broke the law and got arrested.

“Politicians seem to be much more afraid of large numbers of people getting arrested than a small number of people doing a higher-risk thing,” says Baulch. “The idea was, how can we get people to move from being concerned, to saying, ‘I’m going to make a sacrifice. I’m going to risk legal action and sit down in the road.’ In a way, we were lowering the bar for entry by saying you don’t need special skills like driving a boat. So rather than have people saying, ‘Oh, those environmentalists over there, they’re really brave, they’re doing it for us,’ this was about ‘How do we make this everyone’s concern? How do we make it so everyone is implicated.’”

“There’s something materially different about going on a march on a Saturday morning versus going out and getting arrested,” says Clare Farrell, 37, another XR co-founder. “It’s about calling out the government — saying the social contract is broken, and this is a dereliction of your primary duty to protect your citizens.”

XR’s strategy is most fully laid out in a manifesto by co-founder Roger Hallam, called Common Sense for the 21st Century. Hallam, a 53-year-old organic-farmer-turned-academic, did his doctoral work on the history of civil disobedience and radical movements — from Gandhi and the struggle for Indian independence to the revolution in Ukraine. (He’s joked that he has a Ph.D. “in how to cause trouble effectively.”) “We have to be clear,” Hallam has written. “Conventional campaigning does not work. Sending emails, giving money, going on A-to-B marches. Many wonderful people have dedicated years of their lives to all this, but it’s time to be honest.… You cannot overcome entrenched power by persuasion and information. You can only do it by disruption.”

“We need to get arrested,” Hallam writes in his book. “Tens of thousands of us. No more protests or petitions. Instead, nonviolent disobedience, lots of it and on a large scale. Close down cities until the politicians take action.”

XR’s public debut came in October 2018, when a few dozen activists, including Greta Thunberg, gathered in front of a crowd of 2,000 at the U.K.’s Parliament and issued a “Declaration of Rebellion.” They had three demands: First, that we as a society collectively tell the truth about how fucked we are. Second, that the government commit to reducing greenhouse emissions to net-zero by 2025. And third, that Britain establish a democratic Citizens’ Assembly — free from corruption and special interests — to best decide how to deal with the threat of climate change.

Baulch was one of a dozen XR activists arrested that day. “It was really important that we showed our strategy from the beginning,” he says. But it was six months later that XR truly entered the mainstream, with its massive protests in April 2019. Tens of thousands of regular people, from elementary schoolers to nonagenarians, helped lock down locations throughout London. “To be honest, I didn’t think we’d be able to occupy any of the sites for more than a day,” Baulch says. “And somehow we managed to occupy all of them for at least a week.”

The campaign cost London more than $20 million in police overtime, plus untold millions more in lost productivity. The action won huge attention for XR and, more important, widespread public support. Within a month, Parliament had given into their first demand and declared a climate emergency.

There are three key things to note about the civil-resistance model as practiced by XR. First, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The actions are planned to be fun and inviting, so people want to participate. “We try to think about how can we disrupt these roads in the most nonviolent, loving way possible,” says Baulch. “Crowds of people planting trees, singing songs, and waving colorful flags look inviting, as opposed to a purely angry mob.” As Hallam writes, “The general atmosphere should be: ‘We’re going to take down the government and have fun doing it.’”

Second, the actions are designed to be disruptive, but not too much. For instance, XR canceled plans to shut down Heathrow airport, and it tries to work with police in advance to make sure it isn’t blocking emergency routes or risking the public’s safety. The goal is to find the sweet spot at which XR is not endangering or alienating people yet still causing enough headaches that it can’t be ignored. “The process of political change involves people getting pissed off,” Hallam once said. “So the key issue is not whether they get pissed off, it’s whether them getting pissed off leads to attitude change.”

Finally, and perhaps most important, civil resistance doesn’t require a majority in order to be successful. According to XR, there’s a tipping point at which a movement’s momentum will carry it to success. “We should not make the mistake of thinking ‘the people have to rise’ in the sense of the majority of the population,” Hallam writes. “We need a few to rise up, and the rest will be willing to ‘give it a go.’”

This strategy is based in large part on the work of Harvard professor Erica Chenoweth, the co-author of a book called Why Civil Resistance Works. Chenoweth studied more than 300 movements since the turn of the 20th century, and according to her research, the magic number for success is surprisingly small: only 3.5 percent. Which is to say, every nonviolent movement she looked at that had the active participation of just 3.5 percent of the population was a success.

In other words, if just a few hundred thousand people can mobilize in New York City, it might be enough to spark massive structural change. “There’s lots of people who disagree with what we do,” says Baulch. “But you don’t need the whole population to act. You just need a majority of the population to not be against you.

“If you look at the polling that was done after our big rebellion in April,” he adds, “you saw a huge increase in the number of people in the U.K. who thought climate change was one of the top issues we need to focus on right now. And you saw the media start to cover climate change as if it’s an emergency. So even if people disagree with our tactics, they still might realize, ‘Oh, shit. I actually do want my kids to have a future.’”

Extinction Rebellion is growing worldwide, with nearly 800 branches in more than 57 countries. Here in the U.S., where there are dozens of chapters from Montana to Miami, XR members in New York shut down Times Square last October, and more than 60 people were arrested. A good start — though far from a revolution.

Stateside, the most successful new group is the Sunrise Movement — a self-described “army of young people” taking a more traditionally political route. Sunrise, which was born in 2013 inside a borrowed office at the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, grew out of the campus divestment movement, where students pushed their colleges and universities to stop investing in fossil fuel. It made its first big splash in November 2018, when 51 young people were arrested after taking over Nancy Pelosi’s office and calling on her to support the Green New Deal. A just-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stopped by to show her support, and the videos went viral.

Sunrise has boomed in part because it’s been savvy about communicating with Gen Z’ers and millennials: The group is fluent in Twitter-speak, handy with memes, and knows how to engineer a viral moment, like a subsequent sit-in at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office where the 85-year-old California moderate lectured the kids on political realism but mostly succeeded in winning more converts to Sunrise’s cause.

So far, the movement has devoted most of its energy to organizing politically: pressuring lawmakers, advocating for legislation, and helping get out the vote. In January, Sunrise endorsed Bernie Sanders, and its top priority this year is mobilizing young voters in November. But according to the group’s five-year plan, while 2020 is about winning the election, 2021 will be dedicated to “engag[ing] in mass noncooperation to interrupt business as usual.”

As of a few weeks ago, Extinction Rebellion was gearing up for another worldwide campaign, starting May 23rd — one that it hoped would be even bigger. “We’re calling it a rolling rebellion,” said Clare Farrell at the time. “The goal is sustaining it for six weeks. We’ve done quite well at ringing the alarm. Now we’re focused on mobilizing as many people as possible. Our ambition is to get a million people activated this year.”

Obviously, the coronavirus hit pause on all that. Extinction Rebellion NYC recently announced they were postponing their major spring protests until at least the summer, and for the foreseeable future, XR actions everywhere — like so much of life these days — are migrating online. In late March, Extinction Rebellion UK issued a new set of suggestions for how to mobilize during the pandemic, including growing the movement digitally and planning actions for a drastically changed world. “There will come a time,” a statement read, “for us to be out on the streets together again.”

Climate change: Scientists to report on ocean ’emergency’ caused by warming

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent. Monaco

ice melt
Melting in Greenland and Antarctica is contributing significantly to sea level rise

It will be the clearest declaration yet on how an overheating world is hammering our oceans and frozen regions. 

Scientists have been meeting in Monaco to finalise a report on the seas and the cryosphere. 

Released on Wednesday, it will show how the oceans have been a friend, helping us cope with rising temperatures. 

But it will warn that warming is turning the seas into a huge potential threat to humanity.

Researchers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were encouraged by Prince Albert II and the Monaco government in 2015 to produce a special report on the oceans and cryosphere – the Earth’s surface where water is frozen solid.

For the past three years, the scientists have been reviewing hundreds of published papers on how climate change affects the seas, the poles and glaciers. 

Their report will track the flow of water from the frozen tops of mountains to the bottom of the seas, and how this is changing in a warmer world. 

In 1980, the minimum sea ice extent was 7.7 million square kilometres. This year it was at 4.7 million square kilometres.2012 was the lowest year on record, when it was down to 3.6 million square kilometres - less than half what it was in 1980.

Over the past few days, they have been trying to agree a short summary of their findings with government representatives that will be published on Wednesday. 

It will likely detail the growing threat from rising sea levels that could imperil hundreds of millions of people before the end of this century. 

It will also warn of the threat posed by the growing acidification of the seas, the threats to coral and fisheries and the possibility that warming might melt permafrost, releasing huge amounts of the CO2 gas that’s the key to rising temperatures. 

“At current emissions rates, we are effectively dumping one million tonnes of CO2 into the oceans every hour,” said Melissa Wang, a scientist with Greenpeace. 

“Unless we accelerate efforts to curb carbon emissions and take greater steps to protect our oceans, there will be devastating human, environmental and economic consequences.”

First things first, how are the oceans connected to the climate system?

The oceans are like the big sister that constantly has to bail out her careless younger sibling. Every year, the ocean waters soak up about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions that arise from human activities. 

The acceleration in melting of the ice sheet covering Greenland has shocked researchers

Glaciers are now melting all over the world

Since 1970, the oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the extra heat that’s come about through global warming. If they hadn’t taken in that warming, the surface of the planet would have been devastated by excess heating. 

All this absorption has come at a price, though. Our seas are now warmer, less salty and more acidic as a result.

“The reality is that we have been quietly reliant on the ocean to do these things, but there comes a point where the ocean changes because of the scale of what we are doing,” Prof Dan Laffoley, from the International Union to Conserve Nature, told BBC News. 

How is warming changing our relationship with the oceans and ice?

The heating of the world is having a profound impact on all things frozen. So the IPCC report will look at the loss of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as well as from glaciers on mountains around the planet. 

It will chart the rise of CO2 that is making the waters more acidic and more difficult for sea life. It will also link the warming to the rise of “superstorms”. 

One of the big changes has been in the impact of warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which has grown substantially in recent decades. 

These frozen regions are critically important for global sea levels, which impact flooding around the world. 

As documented by my colleague David Shukman, this year has been one of record melting on the gigantic frozen island of Greenland. 

In one day alone it lost 12.5 billion tonnes of ice.

Antarctica has also enormous capacity to raise the waters around the world. 

According to studies, the amount of ice lost from the vast frozen region increased six-fold per year between 1979-1990 and 2009-2017.

Will this report be all about sea level rise?

It is likely that much of the report will focus on the growing threat posed by rising sea waters. There is an expectation that some of the existing predictions for sea level will be revised upwards, with the threat posed to small island states and large cities increasing substantially by the middle of this century. 

“By the end of this century, and if current adaptation efforts are not substantially scaled up, we must expect high levels of risk on low coasts such as atoll islands like the Maldives, and some Arctic communities even in a low-emission scenario,” said Alexandre Magnan, a research fellow at the policy research institute IDDRI in Paris, and a co-author of the IPCC Ocean Report. Low-lying small island states will be badly hit by sea level rise

“In a higher-emission scenario, even wealthy megacities such as New York or Shanghai and large tropical agricultural deltas such as the Mekong will face high or very high risks.”

The estimations for the centuries beyond 2100 will be even more stark, with suggestions that sea level rise could be 100 times higher than today. The threat of flood damage is likely to accelerate over this century

“What happens with sea level rise is not disconnected with what happens with warming,” said Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a co-chair of the expert group of a High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

“Because the ocean is warming we are getting more intense storms. Because the ocean is rising the impact of storm surge from those storms has much more potential.”

What other impacts on the seas will the report look at?

It will also look at the increase in marine heatwaves – these could increase by a factor of 50 by 2100. This will have big implications for ecosystems and will increase coral bleaching. 

“Extreme sea level events, such as surges from tropical cyclones, that are currently historically rare, for example today’s 100-year event, will become common by 2100 under all emissions scenarios,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, an IPCC author and a CNRS research scientist at Sorbonne University. 

“This will have major consequences for many low-lying megacities and small islands.”

However, the report will also look at ocean acidification and will show how climate change is changing the balance. 

There will also be sections on coral reefs and there will also be a focus on fishing and fish stock, which are likely to suffer dramatic declines. 

What about glaciers and frozen regions?

For people living in the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, a warmer future means that at first they will get too much water from glaciers as they melt. Then there will be too little. The melting of permafrost could add billions of tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere

report last year stated that two-thirds of these giant ice fields could disappear by the end of the century without rapid emissions cuts. This could have huge implications for the millions of people living in the region.

The IPCC report will also document the threat posed by warming to permafrost.

Some 30-99% of the Northern Hemisphere’s permanently frozen soils could melt by the end of the century, freeing up billions of tonnes of CO2 which could in turn accelerate warming to a new, ever more dangerous level. 

Surely there are some positives in this report?

Yes – the report will also show that the oceans could hold some important solutions to the threats posed by climate change. 

There is great scope for renewable energy systems based on the oceans, while cutting carbon from shipping would be a major step forward. Planting more mangroves and sea grass could remove huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Even the potential to switch diets to get more of our protein from the oceans would likely help cut carbon. 

Follow Matt on Twitter.

“The damn thing melted”

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Climate change and US interests in the Arctic

By Lee Gunn and Joe Bryan

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer announced that a rewrite of the Navy’s Arctic strategy was underway.  Asked by a reporter after the hearing what prompted the new strategy just four years after the Navy issued its U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030, Spencer stated “the damn thing melted.” 

Secretary Spencer was right. The Arctic is melting. Just this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual Arctic report card for 2018. NOAA’s headline “Effects of persistent Arctic warming continue to mount” was an understatement. Among the agency’s findings, air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and sea ice “remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past.” The implications of these changes for U.S. national interests cannot be ignored. Consider recent developments.

In late August, a container ship operated by the global shipping behemoth Maersk, left Vladivostok bound for St. Petersburg though the Northern Sea Route. While that was a first such transit for a commercial container ship, it surely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, the operating environment in the Arctic, even for experienced shipping firms, is incredibly difficult: the weather is poor; the conditions unpredictable; and much work remains in the way of charting the sea floor and identifying maritime hazards. Nevertheless, given warming trends, opportunities for transit and exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic will continue to grow. 

Those potential opportunities are already drawing a crowd as allies and adversaries alike position themselves to benefit from the melting ice. Russia’s build up in the high north is ongoing. As to China, a recent report by CNA’s Mark Rosen and Cara Thuringer estimates that Chinese firms have already invested about $90 billion dollars in Arctic and Arctic-related infrastructure. These developments increase the risk of international disputes or an accident that could take generations to recover from.

In October, the U.S. joined eight other countries, including Russia and China, and the European Union in signing the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The agreement precludes commercial fishing in the area until there is sufficient scientific data to determine how such activities should be managed. It also commits signatories to establishing a Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring to inform when and how commercial fishing activity ought to be permitted. Forging international consensus to preclude commercial activity — prior to such activity even being initiated in any significant way — was an historic achievement. While agreements like this are important for protecting the Arctic ecosystem, they are also critical to reducing the risk of future conflict. 

Mitigating the worst impacts of climate change ultimately depends on significant reductions in global carbon emissions. 

The United States should rejoin the international community and recommit to aggressive cuts in CO2. 

However, we cannot ignore the implications of warming that is already happening. Forging consensus with the international community is essential to dealing with these implications, avoiding future conflicts, and keeping the Arctic a cooperative part of the planet.

Lee Gunn is a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral

Joe Bryan is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy.