climate change


World needs to get its shit together on climate change | 

The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's Kiboko Research Station.
The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s Kiboko Research Station.
Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT

Another week. Another meeting. Another paper. Another warning that climate change is a big deal.

It’s the annoying broken record playing in the background so quietly that most people don’t hear it. The few that do hear the repeated calls for immediate action to slow down the progress of climate change are trying to make the world’s leaders pay attention and actually do something.

The latest warning comes in the form of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In far more technical terms, the hundreds of scientists who participated in the report agree that we are all screwed if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut. This will have an impact in every part of the world, falling hardest on the world’s poor who are already vulnerable to shocks like erratic rains, droughts and natural disasters.

It is careful to say that climate change alone is not going to doom the world. There are other factors that are already making things hard for some people, from lack of economic opportunity to inadequate healthcare access. These are the kind of areas where worldwide progress has been made, but are at risk if climate change is not reigned in.

For his part, Columbia University’s Steven Cohen is a glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to climate change. The Executive Director of the Earth Institute blogged about his optimism in the Huffington Post following the post-IPCC report hysteria. In it, Cohen said he believes solutions will be found to the problem that go well beyond simply reducing the amount of carbon we toss up into the air.

“The issue we face is not our survival, but our willingness to accept the final triumph of technology at the expense of the planet we are biologically and emotionally connected to. Currently, we do not have the technology to supplant nature. For that reason, and possibly others, the IPCC’s projections do not consider the possibility that natural systems could be replaced by artificial ones,” he wrote.

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US power is declining and it’s a good thing | 

The rest of the world is catching up to and will soon pass the dominant US.  It is estimated that today’s developing countries will be responsible for roughly two-thirds of the global GDP by 2030.

That is great news for the US and Europe, if the right steps are taken, says Charles Kenny, resident optimist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. His book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West describes why the future is rosy for the world. Although the economic center of gravity is heading back East, there is reason to be excited about what is to come.

The rise of the economies of China, India and Brazil are all but a foregone conclusion. Recent hiccups aside, the emerging economies of today will be meaningful economic forces in the coming decades.

The once dominant US will concede its top spot in the coming years. What it means for the world is where experts begin to diverge.

“[T]he fortunes of Americans have irreversibly declined and their future has been mortgaged,” has repeated Shanghai venture capitalist Eric Li in the Huffington Post, New York Times and elsewhere.

Fears emerged during the recent financial crisis that China would take advantage of the fact that it holds a large amount of US debt. Such concerns overstated the ability of the Chinese economy. Current trade deals and organizations are already normalizing trade, and China is not at a point where it could weather a serious global trade disruption.

“If China was to really strong arm the rest of the planet some way or another—try to push a really biased trade deal or manipulate its currency—the cost would be greater to it,” said Kenny to Humanosphere. “It is far more exposed, when looking at its trade, than the US.”

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The Public-Private Climate Change Spending Gap | 

If you spend it, they will come.

That was thought to be the way to go about getting the private sector to invest in climate mitigation and adaptation activities. As this graphic shows, it is not working so well.

Public spending Climate

The private sector spent twenty-five cents on the dollar as compared to the public sector between 2010 and 12. The data is a bit murky because it depends on private companies disclosing their spending on climate change activities.

“This can make it hard to understand how best to use public finance to attract private finance to tackle climate change,” says the Overseas Development Institute.

Thought what to do is unknown, the information at least points towards a need to get the private sector more involved.

The 10 stories you missed while following the Philippines | 

The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.

While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.

1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.

Gates Foundation

The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.

The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
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Clean cookstoves can save 1 million lives a year, says World Bank | 


Global pollution is accelerating the melting of ice and snow. A new report from the World Bank and  International Cryosphere Climate Initiative says fourteen actions must be taken today to preserve the world’s ice, snow and permafrost in order to slow down climate change.

Acting now will save lives and keep the global temperature from rising. A fifty percent reduction in open field and forest burning can save 190,000 lives each year. Another 340,000 deaths can be averted by reducing the emissions from diesel vehicles.

The recommendations are not solutions to the problem of emissions, rather targeted areas where global leaders can focus their efforts and have impact. For developing countries, the situation is dire. An estimated 1.5 billion people live in the Himalayan mountain range in Asia. Rising temperatures and melting snow is contributing to problems like increased floods in some parts and drought in others.

The biggest gains can be made in the household. Getting four cleaner cooking solutions into the hands of the world’s poor could save one million lives a year, says Rachel Kyte, VP of the Sustainable Development Network, in the report’s introduction.

“The benefits would multiply because, with cleaner air, cities become more productive, child health improves, and more food can be grown,” she writes. Continue reading

Climate and conflict study author answers critics | 

NKOTB brings the heat

Yesterday we reported that a study published in Science linking climate change and conflict sparked a bit of a debate. Turns out one of the authors of the study, Marshall Burke, wrote a lengthy blog post addressing criticisms from other academics. For example, Idean Salehyan of the department of political science at the University of North Texas, Denton says that the plant is experiencing increasing temperatures while conflict is declining.

Burke responds that Salehyan is not quite right. There are fewer civil wars since the mid-1990s, but civil conflicts have increased over the past few years. The analysis includes both large (more than 1,000 deaths) and small (more than 25 deaths) conflicts in its analysis. What is interesting is he goes on to say that the causal link is not clear using the New Kids on the Block (yes, them) as an example.

[T]here are about a bazillion other things that are also trending over this period.  The popularity of the band New Kids On The Block as also fallen fairly substantially since the 1990s, but no-one is attributing changes in conflict to changes in NKOTB popularity (although maybe this isn’t implausible).  The point is that identifying causal effects from these trends is just about impossible, since so many things are trending over time.

Our study instead focuses on papers that use detrended data – i.e. those that use variation in climate over time in a particular place.  These papers, for instance, compare what happens to conflict in a hot year in a given country, to what happens in a cooler year in that country, after having account for any generic trends in both climate and conflict that might be in the data.  Done this way, you are very unlikely to erroneously attribute the effects of changes in conflict to changes in climate.

Burke addresses other concerns in the post that adds further clarity, but are unlikely to convince critics of the study.

Climate change will lead to more conflict! Well, not exactly | 

Mauritania village struck by drought in 2011.

UN/John Isaac

Mauritania village struck by drought in 2011.

Researchers have long connected climate change and conflict. They warn that the effects of climate change will lead to instability that will lead to fighting. Problem is that the evidence was quite thin.

A new study, published last week in Science, by Princeton’s Solomon Hsiang and University of California, Berkeley’s Marshall Burke again found that conflict and climate change are connected. They say that the evidence is overwhelming, but other researchers disagree.

“We think that by collecting all the research together now, we’re pretty clearly establishing that there is a causal relationship between the climate and human conflict,” said Hsiang in a press release. “People have been skeptical up to now of an individual study here or there. But considering the body of work together, we can now show that these patterns are extremely general. It’s more of the rule than the exception.”

The findings come from an analysis of 60 previous studies on climate change and conflict. The data shows that for every standard deviation increase in temperature and extreme rainfall person-to-person violence increases by 4% and group-based conflict rises by 14%. In other words, climate change leads to more fighting. They raise the alarm by saying that parts of the world are expected to warm up by 2 to 4 standard deviations by 2050. Fighting is on its way!
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Not climate change or global warming: A call for new lingo | 


Calling all Humanospherians: We need new lingo for our slow crawl toward crisis.

Humanoclasm? Geocrash? Globapocalypso?

Exploding Metal Earth
Flickr, Oliver Erdmann

It’s a hot time in much of the Western United States, which means we will see more stories about global warming. President Barack Obama, last week, proposed a plan to reduce our nation’s industrial carbon emissions as part of an effort aimed at fighting climate change, aka global warming.

“The question is not whether we need to act,” Obama said last week. “The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”

Eh, the problem here isn’t lack of courage. And this transient heat wave likely won’t do much more than other past heat waves have done to prompt popular urgency and action.

The problem is partly how we talk about this threat. Continue reading