10 Life Changes That Will Actually Make A Difference For The Environment


As wildfires dominate the news, experts suggest some of the best ways you can help the planet and combat climate change.

It’s easy to feel a sense of powerlessness when it comes to the environment.

The risk of wildfires all over the world is only growing, in part because of man-made climate change. We just lived through the hottest decade on record. Meanwhile, our leaders, at least in the U.S., have not enacted meaningful policy reform and many are dismissive of the threat of climate change.

While reforms need to be made at the federal, state and local government levels, our individual actions ― at least in the aggregate (tell your friends to do these things, too!) ― can make a difference. We asked environmentalists and climate change activists to share a few ways that each of us can reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Here are 10 useful suggestions:

1. Cut back on air travel — entirely if you can.

The idea of curbing your air travel, if not giving it up outright, was brought into the spotlight when Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg refused to fly to speaking engagements. She has traveled to events around Europe mainly by train and sailed from the U.S. to Portugal to attend the United Nations climate meeting in Madrid in December.

Critics of air travel usually point to the environmental damage done by international air travel, but domestic flights aren’t much better. As The New York Times reported recently, take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve contributed about 20% of the greenhouse gases that the typical car emits over the span of an entire year.

So when reducing air travel, don’t forget the domestic flights you likely take with more frequency ― a wedding here, an industry conference there.

“The antidote to air travel is to choose adventures closer to home, exploring your own state, arriving at destinations by train, bus or the family car,” said Erin Rhoads of The Rogue Ginger, one of Australia’s popular eco-lifestyle websites.

“The other benefits of this are learning the history about the country you are on in greater depth, supporting local towns off the beaten track, discovering hidden gems and creating new memories all while saving money,” she added.

For unavoidable flights, consider purchasing carbon offsets through airlines, online travel bookers and independent sellers like Terrapass. With your purchase, you fund environmental projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thus, in theory, reducing your personal carbon footprint.

Traveling by train is a more environmentally sound way to travel.

Traveling by train is a more environmentally sound way to travel.

2. Avoid all single-use disposable plastic items.

Plastics help protect and preserve goods while reducing weight in transportation ― but the benefits pretty much end there. Plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from creation to disposal, according to a May 2019 report, “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” released by the Center for International Environment.

Recycling plastic alone won’t cut it; you have to stop buying it, too. Avoid single-use disposable plastic as much as you can, said Jay Sinha, the co-founder of the online store Life Without Plastic.

“Do a little personal plastic audit of your current plastic use and assess where you’re at,” he said. “Buy in bulk rather than purchasing packaged foods. Eliminate your takeout plastic waste by carrying your own non-plastic mug, water bottle, utensils, straw, food container, reusable bag. Try living a zero-waste lifestyle ― new zero-waste bulk stores are popping up all over to help you out.”

3. Eat local and go vegetarian or vegan.

There’s no way around it: A meat-heavy diet is not great for the environment. The production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than 10 times the fossil fuel input needed for a calorie of plant protein. Then, there’s the carbon footprint of the refrigeration required to extend the longevity of foods when they’re being shipped, the transportation of goods to and from airports, and the packaging, Rhoads said.

Minor tweaks to your diet can make a huge impact ― if more of us do it.

“Select vegetables and fruit grown locally in your country by visiting farmers markets, signing up to a CSA [community-supported agriculture] box or asking your local supermarket to stock local fruit and vegetables, preferably without the packaging,” she said. “Increasing your local protein staples from plants like beans and legumes grown in your state or country is the most sustainable diet choice, and your health and the planets will be better for it.”

Buy local as much as possible and keep your diet veggie-based.

Buy local as much as possible and keep your diet veggie-based.

4. Cancel your Amazon Prime subscription and cut back on online purchases overall.

This one might be a bit of a challenge for those of us who’ve gotten used to quick-and-easy Amazon buys. But that overnight or two-day delivery speediness comes at an enormous cost to the environment.

“If a FedEx Priority Overnight truck is dispatched to your suburban neighborhood just to bring you the socks you ordered ― even though you could have waited for [slower] ground delivery or bought them somewhere locally while buying other things ― that’s a significant greenhouse gas emissions tab you are creating unnecessarily,” Sinha said.

Gay Brown, a personal environmental health adviser and author of “Living With a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World,” put it even more simply.

“Every time you order something, it has to be pulled by a human, boxed, wrapped, shipped, flown, or trucked, and delivered by more humans. Each of these people have to have used public or private transportation to get [to] their jobs and are using more transportation to get to you,” she said.

The domino effect from your selecting two-day delivery is huge, so if at all possible, buy those socks locally.

5. Ditch the car.

The decision to drive somewhere is a mindless thing for most of us: We hop in, maybe put our destination in Google Maps, and head from point A to point B. Over time, though, all those miles rack up. The average American drives 13,473 miles per year. If you aimed to plant trees to offset all your carbon emissions from driving, you would need around 37 trees a year, according to Carbonify.com.

It’s time to be more mindful of your driving. Avoid all unnecessary car trips and cluster errands for efficiency, Brown said.

“As a Californian for 35 years, I avoid going out to the store or running errands by car if there isn’t a few stops in that area,” she said. “My favorite mode of transportation is to walk. I like being out in the environment and
feeling the weather. A good rule of thumb is if your destination is one walkable mile or less from your dwelling, opt to walk instead of drive.”

Other non-driving options besides walking? Bike (though admittedly, that can be difficult in big cities with narrow bike lanes), take the train or hop on the bus.

Walking, rather than driving, to destinations near you can make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

Walking, rather than driving, to destinations near you can make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Reconsider the number of kids you’d like to have.

In 2009, scientists suggested that having a child is one of the worst things you can do for the environment, especially among the world’s wealthiest people. Americans and other rich nations produce the most carbon emissions per capita, even as those in the world’s poorest nations suffer the most from severe climate change.

While the decision to have children is deeply personal, its impact on the planet is becoming a topic of public conversation again. Given the state of the environment, many believe it’s worth reevaluating ideas about family planning. If you were thinking of having, say, three or more children, could you be just as happy with two? It’s even more worthwhile to consider adoption.

“Population is the number one environmental crisis that no one is addressing,” Brown said. “I think two children is a great idea because you are not adding to the population too much. A friend of mine says that Harry and Meghan have decided to have two for this exact reason. I think that’s a great idea.”

7. Give composting a chance.

Kathryn Kellogg, author of “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste,” considers composting the most effective tool “in the save-the-world tool belt.”

That’s because Americans waste an unbelievable amount of food and most of it ends up in a landfill. In New York City, for instance, the average household will dispose of 650 pounds of organic waste in one year.

“You think food would break down since it’s dumped into a giant hole in the ground, but it doesn’t because landfills aren’t aerated for proper decomposition,” Kellogg said. “Instead, all of that oxygen-deprived organic matter releases methane, and methane is 30 times more powerful than CO2.”

Composting is a good way to combat wastefulness. And Kellogg said not to worry about critters or bad odors; she’s been composting for years and hasn’t had any visitors or awful stench.

“If you have a backyard, you have it pretty easy. You can have a tumbler bin, an enclosed bin that stands alone, a worm bin, or you can even do trench composting,” she said.

Trench composting is when you dig a hole at least a foot deep, put your food scraps in and bury them. (It’s also a safe way to compost pet waste.) Kellogg said you want to make sure your hole is deep enough so that animals passing by won’t be tempted to dig anything up.

What if you live in an apartment? Kellogg recommends using bokashi bins, electric composters and even worm bins.

“Also, if you have a small balcony, a tumbler compost bin would work just fine since you don’t have to have any sort of ground for that,” she said.

8. Don’t rush out to buy new clothes and shop secondhand whenever you can.

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, according to the World Bank. The water used to manufacture clothing has drained rivers and lakes around the world, destroying ecosystems. Look in your closet and drawers, and you’ll no doubt see your personal contribution to this particular problem.

Rectify your fast-fashion buying ways by wearing the clothes you do have instead of running out to purchase a new outfit for every occasion, said Lindsay Miles, a waste educator and author of “Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life.”

“Using what we have and making stuff last might not be as sexy or Instagrammable as buying a shiny new stainless steel reusables kit or purchasing a wardrobe full of new ethical fashion, but that’s what is going to help the environment most,” Miles said.

If you’re really hankering to shop, consider going secondhand. Consignment stores and eBay aren’t the only options worth exploring if you’re sustainably minded. Online resale platforms like Depop, ThredUPThe RealReal and Relovv are worth a look, too. But since any online option requires shipping, a vintage store in your area should be your first go-to.

“This isn’t to say we never buy anything new ever again ― hello, brand new underwear ― we just need to dial it right back,” Miles said. “By doing this, not only are you reducing demand and stemming the flow of new stuff when you buy secondhand (because you’re reducing demand for new) but you’re helping keep existing items in use for longer, maximizing their potential and making the best use of the resources that were used.”

When you do need to shop, consider secondhand stores and online resale platforms. 

When you do need to shop, consider secondhand stores and online resale platforms. 

9. Hold more meetings online.

If you’re in a managerial position at work and your employees are far-flung (they have long local commutes or live in distant cities), suggest video conference calls over in-person meetings. Brown said she used to log 250,000 air miles a year for work travel but now does most everything ― especially one-on-one meetings ― via Google Hangouts, Skype or FaceTime.

“I do allow myself to fly for important dates like big events like conferences,” she said. “If I happen to be in a city where I’ve had virtual meetings and I’ve never met the people I’m doing business with, I will reach out to try to meet the person(s) for a coffee or something casual to develop a personal relationship. If I’m making a lot of new business relationships, I will do a quarterly trip to one area to do a ‘geographic’ swoop to ‘press the flesh.’”

10. Talk about this stuff regularly with your friends and family, and get involved politically.

If you tried any of the suggestions above and found it a lot easier than you’d expected, tell your friends and family about it. Personal stories are often the most effective in persuading others to give change a chance.

Of course, this isn’t all on you. Encourage your local elected officials to implement bigger, more substantial changes in your city or district, said Crystal Chissell, vice president of operations and engagement at Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that researches how global warming can be reversed.

“Gather a group to write to or visit your elected officials to let them know you care and expect them to work with experts to explore solutions,” she said. “We will be less overwhelmed by our awareness of the problem when we each recognize our power to collectively solve it, share the tasks and enjoy working together for our common good. We’ll need strong bonds with others to face the challenges ahead.”

What is climate change? A really simple guide

Media captionOur Planet Matters: Climate change explained

Scientists say global warming could have a catastrophic effect on the planet.

Human activities have increased carbon-dioxide emissions, driving up temperatures. Extreme weather and melting polar ice are among the possible effects.

What is climate change?

The Earth’s average temperature is about 15C but has been much higher and lower in the past.

There are natural fluctuations in the climate but scientists say temperatures are now rising faster than at many other times.

World is getting warmer

This is linked to the greenhouse effect, which describes how the Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the Sun’s energy.

Solar energy radiating back to space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by greenhouse gases and re-emitted in all directions.

This heats both the lower atmosphere and the surface of the planet. Without this effect, the Earth would be about 30C colder and hostile to life.

Greenhouse effect

Scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect, with gases released from industry and agriculture trapping more energy and increasing the temperature.

This is known as climate change or global warming.

What are greenhouse gases?

The greenhouse gas with the greatest impact on warming is water vapour. But it remains in the atmosphere for only a few days.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), however, persists for much longer. It would take hundreds of years for a return to pre-industrial levels and only so much can be soaked up by natural reservoirs such as the oceans.

Most man-made emissions of CO2 come from burning fossil fuels. When carbon-absorbing forests are cut down and left to rot, or burned, that stored carbon is released, contributing to global warming.

Since the industrial revolution began in about 1750, CO2 levels have risen more than 30%. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.

Other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are also released through human activities but they are less abundant than carbon dioxide.

What is the evidence for warming?

The world is about one degree Celsius warmer than before widespread industrialisation, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says.

The 20 warmest years on record all occurred in the past 22 years, with 2015-18 making up the top four.

Across the globe, the average sea level increased by 3.6mm per year between 2005 and 2015.

Most of this change was because water increases in volume as it heats up.

Sea level rise infographic

However, melting ice is now thought to be the main reason for rising sea levels. Most glaciers in temperate regions of the world are retreating.

And satellite records show a dramatic decline in Arctic sea-ice since 1979. The Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced record melting in recent years.

Satellite data also shows the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass. A recent study indicated East Antarctica may also have started to lose mass.

The effects of a changing climate can also be seen in vegetation and land animals. These include earlier flowering and fruiting times for plants and changes in the territories of animals.

How much will temperatures rise in future?

The change in the global surface temperature between 1850 and the end of the 21st Century is likely to exceed 1.5C, most simulations suggest.

The WMO says that if the current warming trend continues, temperatures could rise 3-5C by the end of this century.

Temperature rises of 2C had long been regarded as the gateway to dangerous warming. More recently, scientists and policymakers have argued that limiting temperature rises to 1.5C is safer.

Media captionClimate change: How 1.5C could change the world

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2018 suggested that keeping to the 1.5C target would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

The UN is leading a political effort to stabilise greenhouse-gas emissions. China emits more CO2 than any other country. It is followed by the US and the European Union member states, although emissions per person are much greater there.

But even if we now cut greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically, scientists say the effects will continue. Large bodies of water and ice can take hundreds of years to respond to changes in temperature. And it takes CO2 decades to be removed from the atmosphere.

Top emitters chart

How will climate change affect us?

There is uncertainty about how great the impact of a changing climate will be.

It could cause freshwater shortages, dramatically alter our ability to produce food, and increase the number of deaths from floods, storms and heatwaves. This is because climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events – though linking any single event to global warming is complicated.

Media captionMatt McGrath explains why we should care about climate change

As the world warms, more water evaporates, leading to more moisture in the air. This means many areas will experience more intense rainfall – and in some places snowfall. But the risk of drought in inland areas during hot summers will increase. More flooding is expected from storms and rising sea levels. But there are likely to be very strong regional variations in these patterns.

Poorer countries, which are least equipped to deal with rapid change, could suffer the most.

Plant and animal extinctions are predicted as habitats change faster than species can adapt. And the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the health of millions could be threatened by increases in malaria, water-borne disease and malnutrition.

Media captionHow temperatures have risen since 1884

As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, uptake of the gas by the oceans increases, causing the water to become more acidic. This could pose major problems for coral reefs.

Global warming will cause further changes that are likely to create further heating. This includes the release of large quantities of methane as permafrost – frozen soil found mainly at high latitudes – melts.

Responding to climate change will be one of the biggest challenges we face this century.

Our Planet Matters header

Sir David Attenborough warns of climate ‘crisis moment’

  • 16 January 2020
Media captionChina needs to tackle climate change – Attenborough

“The moment of crisis has come” in efforts to tackle climate change, Sir David Attenborough has warned.

According to the renowned naturalist and broadcaster, “we have been putting things off for year after year”.

“As I speak, south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing,” he said.

Sir David’s comments came in a BBC News interview to launch a year of special coverage on the subject of climate change.

Scientists say climate change is one of several factors behind the Australian fires; others include how forests are managed and natural patterns in the weather.

Sir David told me it was “palpable nonsense” for some politicians and commentators to suggest that the Australian fires were nothing to do with the world becoming warmer.

“We know perfectly well,” he said, that human activity is behind the heating of the planet.

What does Sir David mean by ‘the moment of crisis’?

He’s highlighting the fact that while climate scientists are becoming clearer about the need for a rapid response, the pace of international negotiations is grindingly slow.

The most recent talks – in Madrid last month – were branded a disappointment by the UN Secretary-General, the British government and others.

Decisions on key issues were put off and several countries including Australia and Brazil were accused of trying to dodge their commitments.

World is getting warmer

“We have to realise that this is not playing games,” Sir David said.

“This is not just having a nice little debate, arguments and then coming away with a compromise.

“This is an urgent problem that has to be solved and, what’s more, we know how to do it – that’s the paradoxical thing, that we’re refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken.”

What are those steps?

Back in 2018, the UN climate science panel spelled out how the world could have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most dangerous temperature rises in future.

It said that emissions of the gases heating the planet – from power stations and factories, vehicles and agriculture – should be almost halved by 2030.

Bushfire in AustraliaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAustralia has been badly hit by bushfires

Instead the opposite is happening.

The release of those gases is still increasing rather than falling and the key gas, carbon dioxide, is now in the atmosphere at a level far above anything experienced in human history.

As Sir David put it: “Every year that passes makes those steps more and more difficult to achieve.”

Why does this matter right now?

This year is seen as a vital opportunity to turn the tide on climate change.

The UK is hosting what’s billed as a crucial UN summit, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November.

Ahead of that gathering, governments worldwide are coming under pressure to toughen their targets for cutting emissions.

That’s because their current pledges do not go nearly far enough.

How much worse chart

Assuming they are delivered as promised (and there’s no guarantee of that), there could still be a rise in the global average temperature of more than 3C by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The latest assessment by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays bare the dangers of that.

It suggests that a rise of anything above 1.5C would mean that coastal flooding, heatwaves and damage to coral reefs would become more severe.

And the latest figures show that the world has already warmed by just over 1C.

What happens next?

As things stand, further heating looks inevitable.

“We’re already living in a changed world,” according to Professor Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading, a scientist whose depictions of global warming have often gone viral on social media.

He uses bold coloured stripes to show how much each year’s temperature is above or below average – different shades of red for warmer and blue for colder.

Media captionOur Planet Matters: Climate change explained

The designs now adorn T-shirts, scarves and even a tram in Germany.

At the moment, Prof Hawkins uses dark red to denote the highest level of warming, but regions such as the Arctic Ocean have seen that maximum level year after year.

Such is the scale of change that he’s having to search for new colours.

“I’m thinking about adding dark purple or even black”, he told me, to convey future increases in temperature.

“People might think climate change is a distant prospect but we’re seeing so many examples around the world, like in Australia, of new records and new extremes.”

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.

What else is on the environmental agenda this year?

The natural world, and whether we can stop harming it.

While most political attention will be on climate change, 2020 is also seen as potentially important for halting the damage human activity is having on ecosystems.

Sir David has a blunt explanation for why this matters: “We actually depend upon the natural world for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food that we eat.”

World leaders are being invited to the Chinese city of Kunming for a major conference on how to safeguard Nature.

Northern white rhinoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe northern white rhino (seen here) is down to just two animals, making it “functionally” extinct

A landmark report last year warned that as many as one million species of animals, insects and plants are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

A more recent study found that the growth of cities, the clearing of forests for farming and the soaring demand for fish had significantly altered nearly three-quarters of the land and more than two-thirds of the oceans.

One of the scientists involved, Prof Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London, says that by undermining important habitats, “we’re hacking away at our safety net, we’re trashing environments we depend on”.

He points to the impact of everything from the use of palm oil in processed food and shampoo to the pressures created by fast fashion.

And while the need for conservation is understood in many developed countries, Prof Purvis says “we’ve exported the damage to countries too poor to handle the environmental cost of what they’re selling to us”.

The gathering in Kunming takes place in October, a month before the UN climate summit in Glasgow, confirming this year as crucial for our relations with the planet.

Follow Davidon Twitter.

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These Are the Biggest Climate Questions for the New Decade

The 2010s brought major climate science advances, but researchers still want to pin down estimates of Arctic melt and sea level rise

These Are the Biggest Climate Questions for the New Decade
In this aerial view ice lies in a lake formed by meltwater from the Rhone glacier on August 19, 2019 near Obergoms, Switzerland. Credit: Sean Gallup Getty Images

The 2010s were almost certainly the hottest decade on record — and it showed. The world burned, melted and flooded. Heat waves smashed temperature records around the globe. Glaciers lost ice at accelerating rates. Sea levels continued to swell.

At the same time, scientists have diligently worked to untangle the chaos of a rapidly warming planet.

In the past decade, scientists substantially improved their ability to draw connections between climate change and extreme weather events. They made breakthroughs in their understanding of ice sheets. They raised critical questions about the implications of Arctic warming. They honed their predictions about future climate change.


The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, with temperatures rising at least twice as fast as the global average. Many scientists believe that understanding the consequences of Arctic warming is essential for making accurate predictions about climate change around the world.

Some of these links are straightforward. Melting Arctic ice pouring into the ocean can raise global sea levels. Thawing permafrost can release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, potentially accelerating the rate of global warming.

Others are more contentious.

In the last decade, a growing scientific debate has arisen about the influence of Arctic warming on global climate and weather patterns, particularly in the midlatitudes.

Some observational studies have pointed to a statistical connection between Arctic warming and weather events in places like the United States, Europe and parts of Asia — for instance, a link between shrinking sea ice and cold winters in Siberia, or Arctic heat waves and extreme winter weather in the United States.

The trouble is models have a hard time capturing the causes driving these connections.

“No one argues that the Arctic meltdown will affect weather patterns, the question is exactly how,” said Arctic climate expert Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Woods Hole Research Center. “So figuring out what’s not right in the models will be a major focus. Without realistic models, it’s hard to use them to separate Arctic influences from other possible factors.”

One ongoing project known as the Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project is conducting a series of coordinated model experiments, all using the same standard methods, to investigate the Arctic climate and its connections to the rest of the globe. Experts say these kinds of projects may help explain why modeling studies conducted by different groups with different methods don’t always get the same results.

Outside that debate, there are still big questions about the Arctic climate to resolve. Scientists know the Arctic is heating up at breakneck speed — but they’re still investigating all the reasons why.

Researchers believe a combination of feedback processes are probably at play. Sea ice and snow help reflect sunlight away from the Earth. As they melt away, they allow more heat to reach the surface, warming the local climate and causing even more melting to occur.

One key question for the coming decade, Zhang said in an email, is “what relative role each of the physical processes plays and how these processes work together” to drive the accelerating warming.

Unraveling these feedbacks will help scientists better predict how fast the Arctic will warm in the future, according to Francis — and how quickly they should expect its consequences to occur. They include vanishing sea ice, thawing permafrost and melting on the Greenland ice sheet.


Sea-level rise is one of the most serious consequences of climate change, with the potential to displace millions of people in coastal areas around the world.

At the moment, the world’s oceans are rising at an average rate of about 3 millimeters each year. It appears to be speeding up over time. That may not sound like much, but scientists are already documenting an increase in coastal flooding in many places around the world.

Accurately predicting the pace of future sea-level rise is one of the biggest priorities in climate science. And one of the biggest uncertainties about future sea-level rise is the behavior of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, both of which are pouring billions of tons of ice into the ocean each year.

Recent satellite studies have found that ice loss in both places is speeding up. Antarctica is losing about three times as much ice as it was in the 1990s, while losses in Greenland may be as much as seven times higher than they were in previous decades.

Investigating the processes driving the accelerations — and then using that knowledge to fine-tune predictions of future sea-level rise — is a key priority for 2020 and beyond, according to Marco Tedesco, an ice sheet expert at Columbia University.

“How do we connect the physical processes that we do understand are creating this acceleration from Greenland and Antarctica, very likely over the next decade, to sea-level rise impacts?” he asked E&E News. “And how do we account for the potential shocks of the things that we cannot anticipate still?”

Some scientists worry that as ice loss continues to speed up in both Greenland and Antarctica, parts of the ice sheets could eventually destabilize and collapse entirely — leading to catastrophic sea-level rise.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that warm ocean currents are helping to melt some glaciers from the bottom up, both in Greenland and particularly in parts of West Antarctica. Better understanding the relationship between oceans and ice is a key priority for glacier experts, Tedesco said.

At the same time, monitoring the way water melts and moves along the top of the ice is also a major priority. In Greenland, climate-driven changes in the behavior of large air currents like the jet stream may be helping to drive more surface melting.

“The important thing is to understand how Greenland mass loss can be connected to the recent changes in the atmospheric circulation that we are witnessing,” Tedesco said.


The past decade saw leaps and bounds in a field of climate research known as “attribution science” — the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

It was once thought to be impossible, but scientists are now able to estimate the influence of global warming on individual events, like heat waves or hurricanes. In the past few years alone, scientists have found that some events are now occurring that would have been impossible in a world with no human-caused climate change.

As attribution science has advanced, researchers have been able to tackle increasingly complex events, like hurricanes and wildfires, which were previously too complicated to evaluate with any confidence. They’ve gotten faster, too — researchers are now able to assess some extreme events nearly in real time.

Some organizations are working to develop sophisticated attribution services, similar to weather services, which would release analyses of extreme events as soon as they occur. The German national weather service; the United Kingdom’s Met Office; and the Copernicus program, part of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, have all begun exploring these kinds of projects.

At the same time, scientists are working to improve their predictions of future extreme events in a warming world.

So far, climate models predict that many extreme weather events will happen more frequently, or will become more severe, as the climate continues to change. Heat waves will be hotter, hurricanes will intensify, heavy rainfall events may happen more frequently in some places, and droughts may be longer in others.

Continuing to improve these kinds of predictions — and then communicating them in useful ways to communities that will be affected by them — is a major priority, according to Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds.

There’s often great uncertainty when it comes to predicting extreme weather events, he noted — different climate models sometimes deliver vastly different results. But it can often be both expensive and time-consuming to run the models enough times, and at high enough resolutions, to investigate and narrow these uncertainties.

Tackling this issue is one of the key challenges for climate modeling in the coming years, Forster said, noting that “we need to get clever about how we use models to make projections and how we test them.”


Predicting how much the Earth will warm, given a certain level of greenhouse gas emissions, may seem like the simplest goal of climate modeling. But it’s harder than it sounds.

Climate models don’t always agree on the Earth’s exact sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions — although they do tend to fall within a certain range. If global carbon dioxide concentrations were to double, for instance, models from the past decade have tended to predict that the Earth would warm from between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.

Scientists around the world are working on a new suite of updated climate models, which will be used to inform future reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But there’s one issue that’s already raising eyebrows, according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley — so far, the newer models seem to be predicting a much higher climate sensitivity than the older models.

“The high end is much higher,” he told E&E News. “There’s a number of models above 4.8 degrees sensitivity and even up to 5.6.”

Only about 20 new models have submitted results; far more will come pouring in before the project is complete. And as Hausfather pointed out, other recent studies have suggested that the Earth’s climate sensitivity might actually be narrower than the old models suggested.

But it’s something to keep in mind at a time when accurate predictions about future warming are more pressing than ever.

“The fact that some of these models are high is interesting but doesn’t necessarily mean we should believe them over other lines of evidence,” Hausfather said. “It just reflects the fact that climate sensitivity is this huge remaining source of uncertainty in our climate projections.”

At the same time, climate modelers are also working to hone their projections in other ways. Models are able to capture increasingly complex processes the more they advance. But there are still a few key areas scientists are focused on improving.

Clouds, for instance, are believed to have a significant influence on the climate system. But they’re notoriously difficult to reproduce in climate models. Certain aspects of the carbon cycle are also underrepresented in models, Hausfather noted — for instance, the way that forests and oceans absorb or release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

And scientists are also working to develop more realistic climate scenarios for their modeling projects. In the past, many studies have focused on a “business as usual” climate scenario, which suggests high rates of future greenhouse gas emissions, the continued expansion of coal, and other assumptions about industry and socioeconomics that may no longer be realistic, according to Hausfather.

While global climate action is still significantly lagging when it comes to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the future may not be as dire as previous business-as-usual climate studies would suggest. Focusing new studies on more realistic scenarios may be more useful to policymakers and communities trying to plan for the future.

“In many ways the range of possible futures is narrowing,” Hausfather said. “As we get closer to 2100 and as the world takes more climate action, the worst-case 4 degrees-plus warming scenarios are a lot less likely.”

Blood-red skies loom over southeast Australia after deadly bushfires bring ‘one of worst days ever’

(CNN)Skies turned blood red above parts of southeast Australia on Sunday as residents sought refuge from deadly bushfires, and a senior firefighter described the previous 24 hours as “one of our worst days ever.”

Photographs of Pambula, in the state of New South Wales, showed an eerie, smoke-filled landscape, with deserted streets illuminated by an otherworldly, blazing red sky.
About 30 kilometers (19 miles) south, blood-red skies loomed over the town of Eden. There, hundreds of residents were seeking shelter on the beach on police advice, one Eden resident told CNN. Many houses have been destroyed in the area, and officials said they feared there would be fatalities.
A total of 146 fires are burning across the state, with 65 uncontained, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS). About 2,700 firefighters were tackling the blazes on Sunday.
“Conditions have eased today and firefighters have gained the upper hand on several dangerous fires. There are no total fire bans in place for Monday,” the NSWRFS posted on Twitter.
A blood-red sky looms over Eden, New South Wales, on January 5, 2020.

Earlier, NSWRFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told a news conference that Saturday was “one of our worst days ever on record.”
A “considerable number” of properties were lost across NSW on Saturday, Fitzsimmons said, adding that a 47-year-old man had died from cardiac arrest while fighting a fire threatening his friend’s home in Batlow. The man is the 24th person to die nationwide this fire season.
Separately, four firefighters in NSW were hospitalized due to smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion and hand burns. They have since been released.
Fitzsimmons said that conditions could worsen again in the coming days. “Today will be a relief — psychological relief but not what we need,” he said.
Fire-induced thunderstorms over New South Wales, seen from a flight on January 5, 2020.

Australia’s flag carrier Qantas canceled all flights to and from the country’s capital, Canberra, on Sunday due to smoke and hazardous weather conditions.
An airline passenger spotted huge clouds caused by the fires over NSW during a flight from Sydney to Melbourne on Sunday. They are pyrocumulonimbus clouds — fire-induced thunderstorms — which form when hot air rises from a ground based fire, according to CNN meteorologists. The air cools and condenses as it ascends, causing a cloud to form.
“This process is similar to the development of a thunderstorm,” said CNN Weather’s Derek Van Dam. “As such, a downdraft forms within the base of the pyrocumulonimbus cloud, allowing for embers to be picked up and carried to form new fires.”
In the neighboring state of Victoria, three fires have combined to form a single blaze bigger than the New York borough of Manhattan. The fires joined overnight Friday in the Omeo region, creating a 6,000-hectare (23 square mile) blaze, according to Gippsland’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The country’s capital, Canberra, smashed its heat record of 80 years, reaching 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday afternoon, according to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology. In the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, the mercury climbed to 48.9 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) — setting a new record for the whole Sydney basin.
Victoria has declared a state of disaster, and NSW has declared a state of emergency — both granting extraordinary powers and additional government resources to battle the fires.
It marked the first time Victoria has activated these powers since the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the deadliest bushfire disaster on record in Australia with 173 people killed and 500 injured.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was another difficult night across the country — in particular in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Morrison — who in December faced criticism for taking a vacation to Hawaii during the fires — said the government’s response was the most significant and comprehensive ever to a natural disaster.
An eerie, smoke-filled landscape in Pambula, New South Wales, on January 5, 2020.

“I believe that’s where we need to focus our attention, and we are seeking to communicate that directly to Australians to ensure they have comfort that the response is matching the need,” he said.
“Sure there’s been a lot of commentary, there’s been plenty of criticism. I’ve had the benefit of a lot of analysis on a lot of issues. But I can’t be distracted by that, and the public, I know, are not distracted by that.
“What they need us to focus on, all of us actually, all of us focusing on the needs there and getting the support where it needs to go. That’s very much where my focus is, and that’s where it will continue to be.”
In a news release on Sunday, the Australia Defence Force (ADF) said it was significantly increasing its support in fighting the massive fires and had called up 3,000 army reserve forces and others with specialist capabilities.
An Australian army soldier helps people evacuate onto a Black Hawk helicopter in Omeo, Victoria on January 5, 2020.

They will also provide aircraft, ships and its largest vessel, HMAS Adelaide, with helicopter landing capabilities.
One priority for the ADF will be to assist in evacuations of people in isolated communities. HMAS Adelaide, the Australian Navy’s largest ship, arrived off the coast of Eden on Sunday as evacuations took place there.
Some ADF bases will be opened to house those displaced by the fires. Troops will also help move material and supplies, support recovery centers, and aid in fire trail clearance.
New Zealand and Singapore have also offered military support, and the ADF is assessing where they can help, the news release said.
Members of the UK royal family sent their “thoughts and prayers” to Australians affected by the massive bushfires through social media accounts on Saturday. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip issued a message of condolence expressing thanks to emergency services. “I have been deeply saddened to hear of the continued bushfires and their devastating impact across many parts of Australia,” the Queen wrote in a statement published on Twitter.
On their Instagram account, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they were “shocked and deeply saddened” by “the fires that are destroying homes, livelihoods and wildlife across much of Australia,” posting a photo of a kangaroo with a burning building in the background.
Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex urged support for those affected by the environmental crisis in an Instagram post linking to a number of Australian fundraisers, such as the Australian Red Cross, the Country Fire Authority and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

Greta Thunberg to interview David Attenborough as part of BBC takeover

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate march in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate march in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Greta Thunberg will interview environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough as part of a special BBC radio takeover, it has been announced.

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist will speak with the Seven Worlds, One Planet documentarian on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, to air on Monday. They will discuss topics including the environment and the natural world, she said.

Nobel Prize nominee Thunberg had previously announced she would be a guest editor for the show, one of five people to guest edit the daily current affairs programme during the festive period.

David Attenborough smiles at a ceremony for the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough at Camel Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Asadour Guzelian/Pool Photo via AP)
David Attenborough smiles at a ceremony for the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough at Camel Laird shipyard, Birkenhead, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Asadour Guzelian/Pool Photo via AP)

Each programme will include an interview with the guest editor, with Thunberg speaking to Attenborough, 93, one of the UK’s most revered documentary makers.

The official BBC Radio 4 twitter announced the interview with a video of Thunberg.

Read more from Yahoo News UK:
Greta Thunberg stuck on floor of crowded German train after climate summit
Brazilian president calls activist Greta Thunberg a ‘brat’
Sir David Attenborough’s new BBC show recycles footage from Netflix series

Artist Grayson Perry, rapper George The Poet, Charles Moore, a critic of the BBC, and Supreme Court president Lady Hale will also guest edit the high-profile news show.

Previous guest editors have included Prince Harry, Angelina Jolie, John Bercow, Sir Lenny Henry and Professor Stephen Hawking.

Earlier this month, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called Thunberg a “brat” after she expressed concern about the killings of indigenous Brazilians in the Amazon.

The environmental activist became a symbol for youth over the last 12 months, demanding radical change to confront climate change when she sparked global school strikes.

Opinion: Your electric car and vegetarian diet are pointless virtue signaling in the fight against climate change

Getty Images
Enjoy your Tesla for the right reasons.



MALMÖ, Sweden (Project Syndicate) — Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, wash your clothes in cold water, eat less meat, recycle more, and buy an electric car: We are being bombarded with instructions from climate campaigners, environmentalists and the media about the everyday steps we all must take to tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, these appeals trivialize the challenge of global warming, and divert our attention from the huge technological and policy changes that are needed to combat it.

For example, the British nature-documentary presenter and environmental campaigner David Attenborough was once asked what he as an individual would do to fight climate change. He promised to unplug his phone charger when it wasn’t in use.

Attenborough’s heart is no doubt in the right place. But even if he consistently unplugs his charger for a year, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions will be equivalent to less than one-half of one-thousandth of the average person’s annual CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom. Moreover, charging accounts for less than 1% of a phone’s energy needs; the other 99% is required to manufacture the handset and operate data centers and cell towers. Almost everywhere, these processes are heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Although I am a vegetarian and don’t own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve.

Attenborough is far from alone in believing that small gestures can have a meaningful impact on the climate. In fact, even much larger-sounding commitments deliver only limited reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, environmental activists emphasize the need to give up eating meat and driving fossil-fuel-powered cars. But, although I am a vegetarian and don’t own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve.

Going vegetarian actually is quite difficult: One large U.S. survey indicates that 84% of people fail, most of them in less than a year. But a systematic peer-reviewed study has shown that, even if they succeed, their vegetarian diets reduce individual CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 540 kilos — or just 4.3% of the emissions of the average inhabitant of a developed country. Furthermore, there is a “rebound effect,” as money saved on cheaper vegetarian food is spent on goods and services that cause additional greenhouse-gas emissions. Once we account for this, going entirely vegetarian reduces a person’s total emissions by only 2%.

Likewise, electric cars are branded as environmentally friendly, but generating the electricity they require almost always involves burning fossil fuels. Moreover, producing energy-intensive batteries for these cars invariably generates significant CO2 emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an electric car with a range of 400 kilometers (249 miles) has a huge carbon deficit when it hits the road, and will start saving emissions only after being driven 60,000 kilometers. Yet, almost everywhere, people use an electric car as a second car and drive it shorter distances than equivalent gasoline vehicles.

Despite subsidies of about $10,000 per car, battery-powered electric cars represent less than one-third of 1% of the world’s 1 billion vehicles. The IEA estimates that with sustained political pressure and subsidies, electric cars could account for 15% of the much larger global fleet in 2040, but it notes that this increase in share will reduce global CO2 emissions by just 1%.

We already spend $129 billion per year subsidizing solar and wind energy, yet these sources meet just 1.1% of our global energy needs.

As IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol has said, “If you think you can save the climate with electric cars, you’re completely wrong.” In 2018, electric cars saved 40 million tons of CO2 worldwide, equivalent to reducing global temperatures by just 0.000018°C — or a little more than a hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius — by the end of the century.

Individual actions to tackle climate change, even when added together, achieve so little because cheap and reliable energy underpins human prosperity. Fossil fuels currently meet 81% of our global energy needs. And even if every promised climate policy in the 2015 Paris climate agreement is achieved by 2040, they will still deliver 74% of the total.

We already spend $129 billion per year subsidizing solar and wind energy to try to entice more people to use today’s inefficient technology, yet these sources meet just 1.1% of our global energy needs. The IEA estimates that by 2040 — after we have spent a whopping $3.5 trillion on additional subsidies — solar and wind will still meet less than 5% of our needs.

The real action that’s needed

That’s pitiful. Significantly cutting CO2 emissions without reducing economic growth will require far more than individual actions. It is absurd for middle-class citizens in advanced economies to tell themselves that eating less steak or commuting in a Toyota TM, +0.13% Prius will rein in rising temperatures. To tackle global warming, we must make collective changes on an unprecedented scale.

By all means, anyone who wants to go vegetarian or switch to an electric car should do so, for sound reasons such as killing fewer animals or reducing household energy bills. But such decisions won’t solve the problem of global warming.

The one individual action that citizens could take that would make a difference would be to demand a vast increase in spending on green-energy research and development, so that these energy sources eventually become cheap enough to outcompete fossil fuels. That is the real way to help fight climate change.

Bjørn Lomborg, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School, is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. His books include “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” “Cool It,” “How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place,” “The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World,” and, most recently, “Prioritizing Development.” Follow him on Twitter @BjornLomborg. This column was first published by Project Syndicate — “Empty Gestures on Climate Change”.

Huge amounts of greenhouse gases lurk in the oceans, and could make warming far worse

Stores of methane and CO2 in the world’s seas are in a strange, icy state, and the waters are warming, creating a ticking carbon time bomb.

Scientists are finding hidden climate time bombs—vast reservoirs of carbon dioxide and methane—scattered under the seafloor across the planet.

And the fuses are burning.

Caps of frozen CO2 or methane, called hydrates, contain the potent greenhouse gases, keeping them from escaping into the ocean and atmosphere. But the ocean is warming as carbon emissions continue to rise, and scientists say the temperature of the seawater surrounding some hydrate caps is within a few degrees of dissolving them.

That could be very, very bad. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, responsible for about three-quarters of emissions. It can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of yearsMethane, the main component of natural gas, doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2—about 12 years—but it is at least 84 times more potent over two decades.

The oceans absorb a third of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions and 90 percent of the excess heat generated by increased greenhouse gas emissions; it’s the largest carbon sink on the planet. If warming seas melt hydrate caps, there’s a danger that the oceans will become big carbon emitters instead, with grave consequences for climate change and sea level rise.

“If that hydrate becomes unstable, in fact melts, that enormous volume of CO2 will be released to the ocean and eventually the atmosphere,” says Lowell Stott, a paleoceanographer at the University of Southern California.

The discovery of these deep ocean CO2 reservoirs, as well as methane seeps closer to shore, comes as leading scientists warned this month that the world is now surpassing a number of climate tipping points, with ocean temperatures at record highs.

The few CO2 reservoirs that have been found so far are located adjacent to hydrothermal vent fields in the deep ocean. But the global extent of such reservoirs remains unknown.

“It’s a harbinger, if you will, of an area of research that is really important for us to investigate, to find out how many of these kinds of reservoirs are out there, how big they are, and how susceptible they are to releasing CO2 to the ocean,” Stott says. “We have totally underestimated the world’s total carbon budget, which has profound implications.”

Jeffrey Seewald, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who studies the geochemistry of hydrothermal systems, questioned the magnitude of hydrate-capped reservoirs.

“I don’t know how globally significant they are as most hydrothermal systems that we know of are not associated with large accumulations of carbon, though there’s still a lot to be explored,” he says. “So I would be a little careful about suggesting that there are significant accumulations of CO2 that are just waiting to be released.”

A threat closer to home

Other scientists are far more concerned about potential climate time bombs much closer to home—methane hydrates that form on the shallower seafloor at the margins of continents.

Hydrothermal vents like this one can have reservoirs of liquid CO2 nearby, kept in place by icy hydrate caps. If those caps melt, the carbon could seep into the ocean, and ultimately into the atmosphere.


For one thing, there apparently are a lot of them. Between 2016 and 2018, for instance, researchers at Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deployed a new sonar technique to discover 1,000 methane seeps off the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States.

In contrast, just 100 had been identified between 2015 and the late 1980s, when scientists first stumbled across methane deposits. There are likely many more to be located, given that as of 2018, researchers only had mapped 38 percent of the seafloor between Washington State and Northern California.

“Because a lot of methane is stored on the continental margins in relatively shallow water, the effects of ocean warming will get to it sooner and potentially destabilize the methane hydrates that are present in the sediment,” says Dave Butterfield, a senior research scientist and hydrothermal vent expert at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

He noted that these methane seeps likely constitute a far larger global reservoir of greenhouse gases than pools of carbon dioxide under the deep ocean floor.

“This idea is that if you destabilize the methane hydrates, that methane would be injected into the atmosphere and cause more extreme global warming,” says Butterfield, who in 2003 was part of an expedition that discovered a hydrate-capped reservoir of liquid CO2 at a hydrothermal system on the Mariana Arc in the Pacific.

Stott and colleagues earlier this year published a paper presenting evidence that the release of carbon dioxide from hydrothermal seafloor reservoirs in the eastern equatorial Pacific some 20,000 years ago helped trigger the end of the last glacial era. And in a new paper, Stott finds geological indications that during the end of Pleistocene glaciations, carbon dioxide was released from seafloor reservoirs near New Zealand.

The spike of atmospheric temperatures during previous periods when ice ages were ending mirrors today’s rapid rise as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. While the oceans have long been suspected as significant contributors to ancient global warming, the prevailing consensus was that the CO2 was released from a layer of water resting deep in the ocean. But research from Stott and other oceanographers over the past decade points to a geological culprit.

Like a needle in a haystack

Take the hydrate-capped liquid CO2 reservoir found by Butterfield and his colleagues on a volcano in the Pacific. They calculated that the rate that liquid CO2 bubbles were escaping the seafloor equaled 0.1 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted on the entire Mid-Ocean Ridge. That may seem like a small amount, but consider that the CO2 is escaping from a single, small site along a 40,390 mile-long system of submerged volcanoes that rings the planet.

“That’s an astonishing number,” says Stott.

Scientists believe such reservoirs can be formed when volcanic magma deep beneath the ocean floor interacts with seawater to produce superheated fluids rich in carbon or methane that rise toward the surface. When that plume collides with cooler water, an ice-like hydrate forms that traps the carbon or methane in subsurface sediments.

This newly discovered methane seep contained two different phases of methane: gas (bubbles) and solid form (hydrate, methane frozen in water). It is a rare occurrence to observe solid hydrates above the sediment like this. Typically these formations are buried under sediment layers.


The risk the reservoirs pose depends on their location and depth. For example, rising ocean temperatures could in coming years melt a hydrate capping a lake of liquid CO2 in the Okinawa Trough west of Japan, according to Stott. But the absence of upwelling currents there means a mass release of carbon dioxide at a depth of 4,600 feet would likely acidify the surrounding waters but not enter the atmosphere for an extremely long time.

Stott notes that finding CO2 and methane reservoirs in the deep ocean is a “needle and haystack situation.”

But in a paper published in August, scientists from Japan and Indonesia revealed that they had detected five large and previously unknown CO2 or methane gas reservoirs under the seafloor in the Okinawa Trough by analyzing seismic pressure waves generated by an acoustical device. Since those waves travel more slowly through gas than solids under the seafloor, the researchers were able to locate the reservoirs. The data indicates that hydrates are trapping the gas.

“Our survey area is not broad, so there could be more reservoirs outside of our survey area,” Takeshi Tsuji, a professor of exploration geophysics at Kyushu University in Japan and a co-author of the paper, says in an email.

Trump’s North America Trade Deal Is Poised to Worsen Climate Change

While Congressional Democrats made clear that they would not bring the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to a vote until it had the backing of the AFL-CIO, support they finally secured last week, Democrats appear comfortable voting on the replacement trade deal that has virtually no support from leading environmental groups.

A House vote could come in the next few days and on Friday December 13, ten environmental organizations, representing 12 million members, sent a letter urging Congressional representatives to vote against the proposed deal, which will replace the 25-year-old North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“This final deal poses very real threats to our climate and communities and ignores nearly all of the fundamental environmental fixes consistently outlined by the environmental community,” the letter stated. The groups — which include the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and 350.org — noted that “the deal does not even mention climate change, fails to adequately address toxic pollution, includes weak environmental standards and an even weaker enforcement mechanism, supports fossil fuels, and allows oil and gas corporations to challenge climate and environmental protections.” The groups link to a two-page analysis produced by the Sierra Club that goes into greater detail about what the group sees as the deal’s environmental shortcomings.

According to the environmental news organization E&E News, at a Politico event last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the USMCA as “substantially better” than NAFTA and said “we are very pleased with the environment [provisions].” While she conceded “we want more,” she stressed, “but we don’t have to do it all in that bill” and praised it for “talk[ing] about the environment in a very strong way.”

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who co-led the House working group focused on environmental trade issues, told reporters at a press conference last week that “this is going to be the best trade agreement for the environment” and cheered its monitoring and enforcement provisions. Rep. Bonamici did not return In These Times’s request for comment.

Back in May, every Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), sent a letter to President Trump criticizing the draft agreement for its language around the environment, including its lack of “any apparent provisions directed at mitigating the effects of climate change.” Now the Committee is championing its work to shape the final text, saying the “revised version will serve as a model for future U.S. trade agreements.”

Having so many members of Congress support this agreement is especially frustrating for climate advocates because, in September, more than 110 House Democrats, including 18 full committee chairs, sent a letter to the president urging the new trade deal to “meaningfully address climate change” and to “include binding climate standards and be paired with a decision for the United States to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement.”

“While Democrats claim this deal improves on some environmental provisions, they have yet to explain how it meaningfully addresses climate change,” said Jake Schmidt, the managing director for the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Climate advocates point to the growing problem of “outsourced” pollution — where wealthier countries like the United States and Japan take credit for improving their own domestic environmental standards, while then importing more goods from heavy-polluting countries. Critics say the current draft of USMCA does nothing meaningful to address this problem.

The trade agreement is being hailed for rolling back the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, controversial private tribunals that have enabled corporations to extract huge payments for government policies that may infringe on their profits. But Ben Beachy, a trade expert with the Sierra Club, says the agreement includes a major loophole for Mexico, where oil and gas companies will still be able to sue in those private tribunals.

“The approach the NAFTA 2.0 deal takes is recognizing there’s a problem but then allowing some of the worst offenders to perpetuate it,” he told In These Times. “It’s an unabashed handout to Exxon and Chevron: It’s like saying we’ll protect the hen house by keeping all animals out, except for foxes.”

Beachy says the deal overall “dramatically undercuts” the ability of the U.S. to tackle the climate crisis. “By failing to even mention climate change, it’ll help more corporations move to Mexico, and this is not a hypothetical concern,” he said. “We cannot simultaneously claim to fight climate change on one hand and enact climate-denying trade deals on the other. Do we really want to lock ourselves into a trade deal for another 25 years that encourages corporations to shift their pollution from one country to another?”

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the program director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, told In These Times the final agreement represents an even worse situation for farmers than under NAFTA. “On food and farm issues it’s definitely several steps back,” she said, pointing as an example to how USMCA will make it easier for companies to limit the information they provide to consumers about health and nutrition.

Emily Samsel, a spokesperson with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), told In These Times that her organization informed members of Congress “that [they] are strongly considering scoring their USMCA vote when it comes to the House floor on LCV’s Congressional scorecard.” LCV was one of the ten environmental groups to sign the letter opposing the trade deal last week.

USMCA does include language requiring parties to adopt and implement seven multilateral environmental agreements, but the 2015 Paris Agreement is not among them. Getting the president to agree to putting anything about climate change or the Paris Agreement was always going to be a tough sell, considering Trump has promised to withdraw from the landmark climate pact. Still, environmental advocates insist House Democrats have real leverage that they should use more aggressively, particularly since getting the trade deal through Congress is Trump’s top legislative priority for 2019.

Democratic supporters of USMCA say the existing language is good enough for now, and that it will position the government well for when Trump is out of office. A spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi told The Washington Post that “the changes Democrats secured in USMCA put us on a firm footing for action when we have a President who brings us back into the Paris accord.” Earlier this year 228 House Democrats voted for a bill to keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement.

U.S. labor groups have thus far remained mostly silent on the concerns raised by environmental organizations.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which opposes the deal on labor grounds, did not return request for comment on the USMCA’s environmental provisions. The Communications Workers of America released a statement on Friday saying the deal includes some “modest improvements” for workers over NAFTA, but a spokesperson for the union told In These Times, “We don’t have any comment on the environmental provisions.” The BlueGreen Alliance, a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups, has issued no statement on the trade deal, and did not return request for comment.

And the AFL-CIO issued a statement last week praising the deal, though noted “it alone is not a solution for outsourcing, inequality or climate change.” A spokesperson for the labor federation did not return request for comment.

Nine climate tipping points now ‘active,’ warn scientists


Authors Timothy M. Lenton, Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Stefan Rahmstorf, Katherine Richardson, Will Steffen & Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
Full press release

More than half of the climate tipping points identified a decade ago are now “active”, a group of leading scientists have warned.

This threatens the loss of the Amazon rainforest and the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, which are currently undergoing measurable and unprecedented changes much earlier than expected.

This “cascade” of changes sparked by global warming could threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Evidence is mounting that these events are more likely and more interconnected than was previously thought, leading to a possible domino effect.

In an article in the journal Nature <<https://www.nature.com/magazine-assets/d41586-019-03595-0/d41586-019-03595-0.pdf>>, the scientists call for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent key tipping points, warning of a worst-case scenario of a “hothouse”, less habitable planet.

“A decade ago we identified a suite of potential tipping points in the Earth system, now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said lead author Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.

“The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see. The situation is urgent and we need an emergency response.”

Co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels.

“It is also that as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming.

“This is what we now start seeing, already at 1°C global warming.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

In the commentary, the authors propose a formal way to calculate a planetary emergency as risk multiplied by urgency.

Tipping point risks are now much higher than earlier estimates, while urgency relates to how fast it takes to act to reduce risk.

Exiting the fossil fuel economy is unlikely before 2050, but with temperature already at 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperature, it is likely Earth will cross the 1.5°C guardrail by 2040. The authors conclude this alone defines an emergency.

Nine active tipping points:

  1. Arctic sea ice
  2. Greenland ice sheet
  3. Boreal forests
  4. Permafrost
  5. Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
  6. Amazon rainforest
  7. Warm-water corals
  8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet
  9. Parts of East Antarctica

The collapse of major ice sheets on Greenland, West Antarctica and part of East Antarctica would commit the world to around 10 metres of irreversible sea-level rise.

Reducing emissions could slow this process, allowing more time for low-lying populations to move.

The rainforests, permafrost and boreal forests are examples of biosphere tipping points that if crossed result in the release of additional greenhouse gases amplifying warming.

Despite most countries having signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to keep global warming well below 2°C, current national emissions pledges – even if they are met – would lead to 3°C of warming.

Although future tipping points and the interplay between them is difficult to predict, the scientists argue: “If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization.

“No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.”

Professor Lenton added: “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points.

“However, the rate at which they progress, and therefore the risk they pose, can be reduced by cutting our emissions.”

Though global temperatures have fluctuated over millions of years, the authors say humans are now “forcing the system”, with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global temperature increasing at rates that are an order of magnitude higher than at the end of the last ice age.