Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Executive Rebellion – when should we take to the streets on climate?

In September 2019, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Clare Farrell, who is also a lecturer at Central St Martins, gave an open lecture at the University of Cumbria, where she was introduced by Professor Jem Bendell. In this article, Dr. Bendell reflects on whether and how executives could respond to the growing protests on climate change. (The opinions are the author's, not an organisation). 

Climate protests are becoming unmissable. The youth-led climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion (XR) are mobilising millions of people around the world to demand significant action on climate change. This awakening amongst the general public is heartening for people who have been championing change within their organisations for years. Heartening, yes, but also confronting. Because the message from the streets is that efforts within the current economic system have not been enough – and won’t be enough.

Activists like XR co-founder Clare Farrell point out that decades of initiative have not stopped carbon emissions increasing at near exponentialrates since the industrial revolution. In her lecture at our University, she explained how the lack of change led her to take non-violent direct action. Unfortunately, the latest climate models are warning us of a catastrophe ahead that would unravel civilisation. Climate anxiety is spreading for good reason. It is the sane and informed response.  


Faced with this challenge to the economic and political systems we live within, what could executives in the private sector do? Some have expressed support for the protesters, for instance in public letters. Others have heard the alarm and are planning their escape to places they consider safer from the ravages of climate change. But will a bunker really insulate anyone from the collapse of agriculture due to extreme weather? No – as XR Spokesperson Dr. Rupert Read explained in an Occasional Paper for us, if resilience to future disruption is possible then it will be collective. It will involve whole societies coming together to curb emissions, adapt to extreme weather and soften the breakdown of our normal ways of life. That means system change - and fast.

So how might busy executives join this rebellion? Sitting on a street and waiting for arrest might not seem like the best use of your time. Though scoffing at such tactics would be churlish when nothing else has been effective yet on the climate emergency. People of all ages and from all walks of life are joining protests in over 60 cities. But how else might a busy executive rebel? I recently discussed this issue with both leaders in Extinction Rebellion and senior executives who have been applauding them from the side-lines.

As a result, I can share with you four steps you could take to join an executive rebellion against the ecological and climate crisis. Two of these involve using the power you have if you are a senior manager.

First, stop pretending to yourself or anyone else that corporate responsibility, social enterprise, sustainable business or responsible investment will make a dent in the problem at the scale or speed that is required. As someone who worked for over 20 years on voluntary business responses to environmental problems, I know the seductiveness of the story that we can take meaningful action within current systems. But it is time to let that go. Instead, you could seek to ensure that your company is not undermining, directly or indirectly, government action on the ecological and climate emergency. And commit to learn about how the system needs to change, rather than seeking more influence over the way it might.  

Second, engage internally within your organisations on the truth of the situation. That means discovering how much disruption to water, food, finance, and the international order is already underway and spreading. Create employees’ assemblies to help staff and families begin to explore how to prepare emotionally and practically for that disruption, and how to help others. Empower them with funds to back what they decide to do in their communities.  

Then consider what you can do outside of your organisation to leverage the capabilities you have an executive. Find time to reach out to activists to help them better understand how to upend the current system. For instance, to leave oil in the ground, it would help if activists knew who sets the accounting rules for large oil firms to keep valuing that stranded black stuff as an actual asset. Or if you know how precarious the just-in-time supplies of key food stuffs is becoming, the public should hear about it. The activists are asking for that help. It is why they have launched TruthTeller.life for executives to secretly rebel, by safely leaking information on inaction or the vulnerabilities in our global economy to top journalists.

But I think I’ve saved the best advice for last. 

The climate crisis is an existential one, threatening the future of humanity. The best thing one can do for children today is not to buy them a fancy education or top up their trust fund. Rather, it is to drop everything in order to try and slow the climate crisis and adapt societies to the difficulties ahead. So the fourth step you could take is to quit. Because our jobs are not as important as the climate crisis. Key leaders in the movement quit their jobs to join in full-time. Andrew Medhurst, quit his job in the City of London and ended up finance director for Extinction Rebellion. Alison Green quit her job as a Pro Vice Chancellor of a university to join the rebellion. Since then she set up Transition Lab to develop the policies for transformation. Another option is to go part-time, to find more time for the climate cause. Thanks to the flexibility of the University of Cumbria, that is what I did, so I could launch the Deep Adaptation Forum for people to prepare both practically and emotionally for breakdowns in our way of life. It is rapidly becoming a gathering place for people who wish to rebel just enough to help their professions adapt deeply and fairly to the troubles ahead. 

Executives in the private, government and charity sectors all face growing frustration at the clear net impotence of our actions on climate change. This ‘stasis anxiety’ will grow as the news on extreme weather and the latest science becomes more worrying. Extinction Rebellion call on “everybody now” to act with urgency. As protests unfold in cities around the world, it is time to consider joining an executive rebellion on climate change. 

Clare Farrell was a student on the sustainable leadership course, taught as an intensive residential by Professor Bendell just once a year in the Lake District, UK. The next cohort gathers in April 2020. You can read more or apply here



Thursday, 19 September 2019

Climate scientists should admit failure and move on - writes Dr Wolfgang Knorr


Dr Wolfgang Knorr is a senior climate scientist, most recently with Lund University, Sweden. IFLAS invited him to write an article on the response of the climate science profession to the climate emergency.
TIME FOR ACCEPTANCE
The climate crisis demands new ways of thinking – scientists should be first to admit failure and move on.
By Wolfgang Knorr 
A universal policy failure

Inarguably, one of the most significant and long-lasting legacies of the 50-year old Apollo programme was the life-changing experience its astronauts had upon viewing the earth from the vantage point of another celestial body. The vision they described of its fragile and delicate beauty is all the more striking and poignant at this moment in climate emergency.

We, that is to say, humanity has this beautiful planet, home now to 7 billion people with nowhere else to go, and are running a reckless experiment, that has taken the Earth system right out of the mode of operation it has been running in for millions of years. Climate and earth scientists should be and should have been the first to see the utter insanity of this hellishly dangerous undertaking.

But in some strange way, and despite the warnings over the past decades of many individuals such as Roger Revelle, Jim Hansen, Kevin Anderson, to name but a few,–– it appears the latest generation of protesters, from Fridays for Future to Extinction Rebellion – have done far more to hammer home the real message that climate crisis cannot be taken lightly, and is urgently and ultimately a most horrifying question of life and death. We do not know when it will happen and who will be hit first, but one thing is certain: if we do not change course quickly, things can get very nasty indeed.

I am not advocating sending climate researchers to space, or holding the next climate summit on the surface of the moon – not least for the tremendous CO2 emissions that would entail. But after 27 years as a climate and Earth scientist, I believe that it is my own profession that most urgently needs to take a huge step back and view the whole planetary picture from a new perspective. After decades of climate system research much of it coordinated with a political process to mitigate climate change, global CO2 emissions keep rising in a quasi-exponential fashion (see Figure).1 As far as the atmosphere is concerned, there has been no action on climate change whatsoever. If we were some kind of super bug that has found a way of rapidly decomposing deep carbon reserves, the picture would not alter in the slightest. Any extra-planetary observer of the current crisis with advanced remote sensing capabilities would be compelled to conclude there is no intelligent life on Earth.


Climate science responsibilities

How and in what way have we as scientists contributed to this disastrous failure of climate policy? The first point indicates scientific conservatism and has been noted before by many.2 It is our job as scientists to question new theories to make sure they hold up. So, we demand to know how certain we are this is true. But what we do not ask is if we can be sure this effect will never happen. This latter is how anyone is trained to think in an emergency situation.3 The best-known example is probably the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change's (IPCC) decision to explicitly exclude ice sheet melt from its Fifth Assessment Report's estimate of future sea-level rise. It is now widely believed that there is a substantial risk of much more rapid change, mainly due to the possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.4

The second has to do with our holding on to illusions, for fear of inciting panic. The IPCC's Special Report on 1.5 degrees warming gives a remaining emissions budget as of 1 January 2018 of 320 billion tonnes (Gt) of CO2, when accounting for some Earth system feedbacks.5 Using the latest estimate for 2018,1 and a continuing exponential rise in emissions in accordance with the last 170 years,6 I conclude that the budget given by the IPCC will be exhausted at the beginning of 2025. Past investment in fossil-fuel and energy infrastructure alone has been estimated to commit the world to emitting 658 Gt CO2, as of 2018.7 Given that the approach of climate policy has been to address fossil-fuel emissions at the demand and not the supply end,8 and that the negative emissions technologies that dominate the IPCC's below 1.5 degree warming scenarios are unproven,9 it is extremely unlikely the Paris Agreements goal will be met.10 But even the publications outlining the most dramatic scenarios – scientific or popular – never seem to say it is too late.

Another way we, as scientists, have contributed to the crisis concerns the excessive rationalisation of a threat. In other words - we switch off common sense and produce scientific results borne of idealized models – be they mathematical or intellectual. All of us are probably well apprised of the knowledge that there is no decisive and radical action on climate change – no car free Sundays as enforced during the 1980's oil crisis (I'm old enough to remember!), no massive push towards public transport, no willingness to stop the continuing rise in air travel, or awareness of the enormous energy consumption of the internet.11 The Climate Action Tracker initiative estimates that given existing pledges, the world is heading towards 3 degrees of warming.12 As citizens we all know the difference between a politician's words and deeds and we are all painfully aware of recent changes in the geopolitical landscape, implying a very real risk of a 4 or higher degree of warming.13 And yet, the IPCC's various assessment reports have repeatedly relied on highly idealized so-called integrated models that know and admit nothing of these things, and therefore be easily bent to produce results that fly in the face of common logic.14 In our official model, this purportedly objective approach is the very one implemented to inform policy makers.

Finally, Paul Watzlawick's famous dictum that we cannot not communicate is also true for us climate scientists, even if we do not want to hear it. By going on with our daily routines and not rebelling – filling in another grant application for looking at yet another tiny detail of the complex web of cause and effect that is the planetary climate system, following the demands of a funding system that might serve the interests of politicians as much as those of humanity – we send out a powerful message that everything is under control. The way the IPCC's assessments are structured makes it very clear that regarding climate change, we are dealing first of all with a physical problem (Working Group 1) that has impacts on the natural world and societies (Working Group 2), that have to be dealt with by technical solutions (Working Group 3)15. An alternative point of view may be simply expressed by saying we are dealing with the mundane problem of good housekeeping – the original meaning of the Greek word "economy". Climate change, biodiversity loss, overfishing and air pollution could also just be symptoms of a more fundamental problem: that the word "economy" has assumed a different meaning from its origin, and that we cannot imagine a functioning economy without never ending growth supported by unlimited resources.16

A way out

The fact that we have been so stunningly unable to react to climate change may have to do with a failure to see precisely where the problem really resides and that the community of climate scientists have falsely assumed the position of superior expertise, where in fact it should have belonged to social anthropologists, historians, psychologists, and political and social activists. If this is so, it would explain the remarkable success of the latest protest movement, and the failure of the science and policy establishment.

If we take this point of view on board for a moment, it becomes clear where the way out of the crisis can be found – at least in principle: acceptance of our collective failure, humility on the part of the "experts", and immediate action from the human side of the problem. Most of the funding so far plunged into expert meetings, science conferences, computer resources, expeditions and lab work should now go towards building social capital and political trust, the facilitation of pertinent, open debate, and the establishment of global democratic institutions with capacity to deal with a global problem that – so far – has been impossible to tackle.

[To read an interview of Dr Knorr by the founder of IFLAS, Professor Jem Bendell, see here]
 

References 
1See figure. Emissions from Global Carbon Project until 2017 for energy and cement production plus land use change, 2018 using preliminary estimate by LeQuéré et al., Earth System Science Data, 10, 1-54, 2018, DOI: 10.5194/essd-10-2141-2018. 2018 land use emissions assumed unchanged against previous year.

2For example Brysse, K. et al. Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama? Global Environmental Change 23 (2013) 327–337, or "Discerning Experts", Oppenheimer et al. 2019, https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/D/bo33765378.html

3Peacock K. A. A Different Kind of Rigor: What Climate Scientists Can Learn from Emergency Room Doctors. Ethics, Policy & Environment 21, 194-214, 2018.

4Bamber J. L. et al. Ice sheet contributions to future sea-level rise from structured expert judgment, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 116, 11,195-11,200, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1817205116

5CO2 released through permafrost melt and methane released by wetlands.

6The rise of 1.65% per year is the one that corresponds to the long-term trend as shown in the figure. However, since 1945 emissions from fossil-fuel burning have been rising much faster for most of the time, see Hansen J. et al. Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature, PLoS ONE 8, e81648, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648, 2013.

7Tong, D. et al., Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target, Nature 572, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1364-3, 2019.

8Denniss, R. and Green, R. Cutting with both arms of the scissors: the economic
and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies, Climatic Change 150:73–87 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2162-x, 2018.

9 Fuss S. et al., Betting on negative emissions, Nat. Clim. Change 4, 850-853, 2014. Anderson, K., Duality in climate science, Nat. Geosci. 8, 898-900, 2015.

10The IPCC's estimate notably excludes a range of positive Earth system feedbacks that could lead to more warming. For a more complete list of Earth system feedbacks see e.g. Steffen W. et al., Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, 115, 8,252-8,259, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1810141115, 2018.

11Heinberg, R. and Fridley, D. Our Renewable Future. Island Press, 2016.

12https://climateactiontracker.org/global/cat-thermometer/

13Special issue of Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A, 'Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications' Vol. 269, 2011.

14This refers in particular to Chapter 2 of the IPCC 1.5-degree Special Report. Figure 2.4 shows a range of socio-economic scenarios, of which most seem to comply with the constraint that climate change is limited to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Figure 2.5 then shows that a large number of them imply massive negative carbon emissions during the period, to the amount of a quarter of half the current positive emissions. I assert here that to think our willingness to engage in altruistic behaviour on such an absolutely massive scale,  one that would reach levels of carbon flux comparable to the much easier activity of burning fossil fuels – driven by selfish desire for convenience –  is truly and utterly in defiance of common sense.

15For a wider discussion of the implications of the General Circulation Model view of the climate problem see Demeritt, D., The construction of global warming and the politics of science, Ann. Assoc. American Geographers, 91, 307–337, 2001.

16Meadows, D., Randers, D., and Meadows, D., The limits to growth – the 30-year update. Earthscan, London, New York, 2012.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks James Rumball (mail@jamesrumball.com) for suggestions and copy editing.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Extinction Rebellion and Climate Activism - free talk and Q&A




As part of one of our sustainable leadership courses, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Clare Farrell, gives a free lecture at the University of Cumbria.

July 19th 545pm to 7pm, Heelis Room, Charlotte Mason Building, Ambleside Campus, Rydal Road, Ambleside.

A co-founder of the global protest movement Extinction Rebellion, Clare Farrell will share reflections on climate activism. Clare is a lecturer at Central St Martins art college. In 2018 she co-founded Extinction Rebellion, a non-violent civil disobedience campaign. Clare is a key media spokesperson for the group, and representative at their key meetings with politicians and others.

A Q&A will be hosted by Prof Jem Bendell.

No registration: first come first served, capacity of 70 (with 40 students already attending).




Sunday, 7 July 2019

Compendium of Research Reports on Climate Chaos and Impacts

Professor Jem Bendell, July 7th, 2019

Since the Deep Adaptation paper was released from IFLAS at the end of July 2018, there have been many alarming reports about environmental change and its implications for humanity. These reports, from the world’s leading scientists and international organisations, provide extra weight to the argument that humanity needs to prepare for disruptive impacts as well as seeking to curb them. Prepared by the author of the Deep Adaptation paper, Professor Jem Bendell, this Compendium summarises some of the more significant studies. The Compendium is divided into four sections. The first is on our changing climate, the second is on related environmental changes, and the third is on societal impacts and the fourth is on the significance of our response.

These summaries of 23 studies over the 12 months since July 2018 is nowhere near exhaustive, but provides a basis for an up-to-date discussion. In most summaries of each research report, Professor Bendell offers a short reflection in a paragraph beginning “One might conclude that…” Such paragraphs should not be equated with what the research paper authors write themselves.

If you work on this topic professionally, or have written one of the papers and would like to comment, we encourage you to consider joining in the Research Discussion Group on the Deep Adaptation Forum at www.deepadaptation.info. This Compendium does not include recent research on mitigation innovations or on adaptation to climate change, the latter of which will be covered in a future summary. If you are a researcher and could help with compiling such a Compendium on Adaptation, for release in 2020, please join the Research Group where you will find some guidance for contributing. To keep up-to-date with future research summaries, please consider subscribing to the Deep Adaptation Quarterly.

To reference this compendium, please cite:
Bendell, J. (2019) Compendium of Research Reports on Climate Chaos and Impacts, Unpublished Research Note, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS), University of Cumbria, UK.


OUR CHANGING CLIMATE

Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene

This study introduced the notion of "tipping cascades" (p4) in our climate system, helping us to understand the risk posed to the future of the human race from destabilising our climate. The list of potential tipping points or cascading systems that the paper discusses includes the thaw of permafrost, which would release trapped greenhouse gases; the death of the Amazon rainforest, which would eliminate one of the most powerful natural ways that atmospheric carbon dioxide gets reduced; and the loss of ice sheets. It explains strong, intrinsic, biogeophysical feedbacks that are difficult to influence by human actions. “If these tipping points were to cascade, a high level of warming could be locked in no matter what humans tried to do" (p6). Agricultural production and water supplies are especially vulnerable to changes in the hydroclimate, leading to hot/dry or cool/wet extremes. Societal declines, collapses, migrations/resettlements, reorganizations, and cultural changes were often associated with severe regional droughts and with the global megadrought at 4.2–3.9 thousand years before present, all occurring within the relative stability of the narrow global Holocene temperature range of approximately ±1°C (p5). The authors describe the possibility of a climate trajectory that they call Hothouse Earth. Such a situation would exceed the limits of adaptation and result in a substantial overall decrease in agricultural production, increased prices, and even more disparity between wealthy and poor countries (p5). A Hothouse Earth trajectory would almost certainly flood deltaic environments, increase the risk of damage from coastal storms, and eliminate coral reefs (and all of the benefits that they provide for societies). While reducing emissions is a priority, much more could be done to reduce direct human pressures on critical biomes that contribute to the regulation of the state of the Earth System through carbon sinks and moisture feedbacks, such as the Amazon and boreal forests, and to build much more effective stewardship of the marine and terrestrial biospheres in general (p5). The contemporary way of guiding development founded on theories, tools, and beliefs of gradual or incremental change, with a focus on economy efficiency, will likely not be adequate to cope with this trajectory (p6).

One might conclude that this study shows how we need to not only have systemic change to drawdown and cut carbon, but also that we need to prepare to deeply adapt to the coming climate chaos. The mainstream climate adaptation community has been based on an assumption of maintaining current socio-economic systems, and this study could imply that we move beyond that to discuss how to adapt to a breakdown in our normal societies (i.e. the “deep adaptation” agenda).

Steffen, W. et al (July 2018) "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene", PNAS. Available from: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2018/07/31/1810141115.full.pdf (accessed 30 Dec 2018)

Global Warming Will Happen Faster Than We Think

This study concludes that three lines of evidence suggest that global warming will be faster than projected in the 2018 IPCC special report. First, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising – and more rapidly. Second, governments are cleaning up other forms of air pollution faster than the IPCC and most climate modellers have assumed, thereby reducing the aerosol masking effect (global dimming). Third, there are signs that the planet might be entering a natural warm phase that could last for a couple of decades. The Pacific Ocean seems to be warming up, in accord with a slow climate cycle known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. The authors conclude that "These three forces reinforce each other. We estimate that rising greenhouse-gas emissions, along with declines in air pollution, bring forward the estimated date of 1.5 °C of warming to around 2030, with the 2 °C boundary reached by 2045"

One might conclude from this study that it is time to listen to the many critics of the IPCC for being too conservative in its estimates, arising from questionable methodology and political influence (see below). The implication is that we cannot continue our incremental efforts like we do now; even if we try to, the planet won’t let us.

Xu,Y., Ramanathan,V. & Victor, D. (2019) "Global warming will happen faster than we think" Nature 564, 30-32 Available from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07586-5?fbclid=IwAR2-BZM9BB8wXGw37sQ54MgUQ5kSPWBod060HQjVuc658KidE_s0x25cXPw (Accessed Jan 5 2019)

Global Reconstruction Of Historical Ocean Heat Storage And Transport

This study used analysis of real time currents and ocean temperature changes to reconstruct ocean temperature changes over the past century. Estimating for global, full-depth ocean coverage, they reveal warming since 1871. They conclude that more than 90% of the heat trapped by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the seas, with just a few per cent heating the air, land and ice caps respectively.

One might conclude from this study that we should heed those scientists who argue that there is a significant time lag in the effect of increased CO2 on global average atmospheric temperatures. Which means that a lot of heating is already locked in over the coming decades, whatever we do to emissions. Like a hot water radiator in your living room, this heat will warm our air. That suggests we need to explore how to prepare.

Zanna, L., Khatiwala, S., Gregory, J. M., Ison J. & Heimbach, P. (2019) "Global reconstruction of historical ocean heat storage and transport", PNAS. Available from https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1808838115 (Accessed Jan 8 2019)

WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018

The study provided an authoritative statement on the accelerating rate of sea level rise. Global mean sea level for 2018 was around 3.7 mm higher than in 2017 and the highest on record. Over the period January 1993 to December 2018, the average rate of rise was 3.15 ± 0.3 mm yr-1, while the estimated acceleration was 0.1 mm yr (p 16). However, if one does not restrict analysis to the caution of established statisticians and uses the measurements of sea level rise over the last few years to indicate a possible trend (rather than anomalies), then this means the rate of rise is increasing.

This study also provided an overview of some of the impacts from climate change. In particular it mentioned agriculture and the displacement of people. It explained that exposure of the agricultural sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition, as world hunger is now rising after a prolonged decline. Hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. Displacement is also rising due to climate change. Out of the 17.7 million IDPs tracked by the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (IOM DTM), over 2 million people were displaced due to disasters linked to weather and climate events as at September 2018.

One might conclude from the data on sea level rise that the whole climate system is now changing in a non-linear way. That means a form of runaway climate change. Because, as explained in the Deep Adaptation paper, sea level rise can only come from the melting of ice on land or the thermal expansion of water – so it is a key indicator of overall changes.

WMO (2019) "WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018", WMO Available at https://library.wmo.int/doc_num.php?explnum_id=5789

Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic

This paper reports that the melting of the permafrost in one area of the Arctic is happening much faster than had been projected by models, even running the worst-case scenarios based on emissions growth. What is being seen now was not meant to be happening until 2090.

One might conclude that this is evidence of climate change occurring much faster than past predictions and therefore the situation is more dangerous than intergovernmental consensus had warned and that the cause of this discrepancy could be the positive feedback loops, where the Earth is now heating itself.

Farquharson, L. M., Romanovsky, V.E., Cable, W. L., Walker, D. A., Kokelj,S. V., & Nicolsky, D. (2019). "Climate change drives widespread and rapid thermokarst development in very cold permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic. Geophysical Research Letters, 46. Available at https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL082187

Greenland Melt Drives Continuous Export Of Methane From The Ice-Sheet Bed.

This study explains that ice sheets have been ignored in assessments of global methane predictions and budgets. This research found that ice sheets overlie extensive, biologically active methanogenic wetlands and that high rates of methane export to the atmosphere can occur as ice sheets melt. The research shows that the methane situation is worse than we thought.

One might conclude that this is another example of how methane has not been given sufficient attention in our climate change assessments, which is a grave error given how powerfully warming the gas is in the atmosphere.

Lamarche-Gagnon, G. et al (2019) "Greenland melt drives continuous export of methane from the ice-sheet bed." Nature Vol. 565, pages 73–77. Available from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0800-0 (Accessed Jan 3, 2019)

Very Strong Atmospheric Methane Growth In The Four Years 2014-2017: Implications For The Paris Agreement

This study finds that methane's increase since 2007 was not expected in future greenhouse gas scenarios compliant with the targets of the Paris Agreement. If the increase continues at the same rates it may become very difficult to meet the Paris goals. The radiative forcing, or heating effect from methane is about 25% stronger than the value used in the IPCC assessment. There is now urgent need to reduce methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel industry. If the increased methane burden is driven by increased emissions from natural sources or driven by a decline in the oxidative capacity of the atmosphere, and that these are climate feedbacks (warming driving further warming) then the implications are serious indeed.

One might conclude from this study that our situation is more precarious than we had been told before, that methane emissions need cutting immediately, but that we don’t know if reducing those emissions will make much difference to atmospheric levels, so we need to consider other options. Such options might include limited and cautious forms of geoengineering but must also include adaptation to future climate chaos. There is no conclusive evidence from this study that there is significant methane release from hydrates on the Arctic seafloor (which is the major concern, as that would threaten human extinction).

Nisbet, E. G., et al. (2019) “Very strong atmospheric methane growth in the four years 2014-2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement” Global Biogeochemical Cycles Vol. 3 Issue 33 pp 318-342, Available at https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GB006009

Permafrost Nitrous Oxide Emissions Observed On A Landscape Scale Using The Airborne Eddy-Covariance Method

This study looked at Nitrous Oxide, a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and which stays in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years. It has “conventionally been assumed to have minimal emissions in permafrost regions”, according to the authors. They found that nitrous oxide emissions are 12 times higher than previously thought and therefore more of a threat. These emissions are coming from melting permafrost. Nitrous oxide also poses a second threat because in the stratosphere, sunlight and oxygen convert the gas into nitrogen oxides, which destroy the ozone layer.

One might conclude that this study shows how once we destabilise the climate sufficiently, there are unforeseen consequences, so that we are not in control of the situation (if we ever were).

Wilkerson, J. et.al. (2019) “Permafrost nitrous oxide emissions observed on a landscape scale using the airborne eddy-covariance method” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Vol. 19, 4257-4268. Available at https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-19-4257-2019 (Accessed April 19 2019)

Large Influence Of Soil Moisture On Long-Term Terrestrial Carbon Uptake.

This study is the first to actually quantify the effects through the 21st century and demonstrates that wetter-than-normal years do not compensate for losses in carbon uptake during dryer-than-normal years, caused by events such as droughts or heatwaves. That is an important finding because, currently, the ocean and terrestrial biosphere (forests, savannas, etc.) are absorbing about 50% of releases of greenhouse gases by human activity —explaining the bleaching of coral reefs and acidification of the ocean, as well as the increase of carbon storage in our forests. The authors state: "It is unclear, however, whether the land can continue to uptake anthropogenic emissions at the current rates." Instead, there findings suggest that the increasing trend in carbon uptake rate [on land] may not be sustained past the middle of this century and could result in accelerated atmospheric CO2 growth.

One might conclude that this is another example of how the planet’s capacity for moderating human activity has been breached, and therefore we now face runaway climate change, so that drawing down and cutting carbon is no longer a sufficient agenda.

Gentine, P. et al (2019) "Large influence of soil moisture on long-term terrestrial carbon uptake." Nature 565, 476–479

What Lies Beneath: The Understatement Of Existential Climate Risk

This report explains how the process of consensus and scientific conservativism in the IPCC means that over decades it has systematically under-estimated the pace and risks of climate change. It explains that this reckless conservativism has been supported by a culture of political expediency: deciding what is acceptable to say to placate governments and their corporate interests. It gives details of how the IPCC have excluded key information over the years due to uncertainty, rather than including it based on a precautionary principle. It explains how the IPCC shifted the baseline from the start of the industrial revolution to 1850 in order to make the targets seem more feasible. It then argues that IPCC carbon budgets are false; once projected emissions from future food production and deforestation are taken into account, there is no carbon budget left for fossil-fuel emissions within a 2°C global heating target. (p24).

The authors argue that rapid reduction of carbon emissions was excluded from consideration by policymakers because it is deemed to be too economically dislocating. Therefore the IPCC accepted the continuing expansion of  fossil fuels in the first half of the 21st century, eventually counteracted by massive expansion of  negative emission technologies, including those not yet invented or not economic at scale, in the second half of the century. The authors that that in so doing, both the IPCC and government policymakers are complicit today in destroying the very conditions which make human life possible – and that there is no greater crime against humanity (p39). The authors condemn the “fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leaderships. Their ability to spot, identify and handle unexpected, non-normative events is... perilously inadequate at critical moments...” (p38).

The authors argue that a different paradigm was required, that focused on existential risk management i.e. deliberations on what is needed to protect billions of people and even the very survival of the human race. That “requires brutally honest articulation of the risks, opportunities and the response time frame, the development of new existential risk-management techniques outside conventional politics, and global leadership and integrated policy.” (p15).

One might conclude that this report adds weight to the arguments in the Deep Adaptation paper that those working on environmental issues are amongst the worst deniers of likely collapse, due to their income, status and identity being wedded to a narrative of pragmatism of incremental change. One might also wonder whether the IPCC’s past winners of the Nobel Prize may one day face calls to appear in a future Climate Truth and Reconciliation process, for crimes against humanity.

Spratt, D., & Dunlop, I. (2018) "What lies beneath: The Understatement Of Existential Climate Risk" National Centre for Climate Restoration. Available from https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au (Accessed Jan 1 2019)

Aerosol-driven droplet concentrations dominate coverage and water of oceanic low-level clouds

This study reports on the latest insight into the cooling effect of the aerosol pollution from human activity. It is mainstream consensus that the global climate is cooled by about 0.5 C due to an aerosol masking effect, coming from pollution from burning coal and other dirty fuels. The research concludes that the atmosphere is twice as sensitive to aerosols as was previously thought, so that more of the sun’s rays are reflected away from the Earth than previously calculated.

One might conclude that this finding means it is game over for humanity preserving our current civilisation. By which I mean as we clean up our dirty pollution, then the world’s climate will heat further and very fast (as the masking effect from such pollution only lasts about a month or so). Some may conclude that this situation means we even risk rates of warming that could trigger cascading feedbacks that risk not only societal collapse but human extinction. With that in mind, more people may call for Marine Cloud Brightening to be tested right now over the Arctic.  

Rosenfeld David; Zhu, Yannian; Wang, Minghuai; Zheng, Youtong; Goren, Tom & Yu, Shaocai (2019) "Aerosol-driven droplet concentrations dominate coverage and water of oceanic low-level clouds" Science Vol. 363, Issue 6427. Available at https://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6427/eaav0566

Status of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) and Goals of the Workshop

This is a presentation for a workshop where the latest generation of climate models was discussed.

The latest climate models, which use more advanced scientific methods, are showing temperatures rises at least 2 degrees hotter than previous projections based on the same carbon emissions. There are a variety of theories about why, some of which relate to the importance of more dynamic relationships between multiple factors. Although not a peer-reviewed paper, it is included here because it helps explain why the IPCC and climate science community have been under-predicting the pace and impacts of climate change.

One might conclude from this conference presentation that we will soon have a more accurate view of what the climate may do in future. That would be a mistake, because models are not great predictors of climate. Instead, the fact that these models are projecting more rapid and damaging changes than past models shows how the previous confidence of climate scientists and policy makers, including within the IPCC, was based on a false pride in a particular mode of human thought – using statistics and computers. Instead, information from the paleo record, basic logic, and actual observations, combined with the precautionary approach and a reverence for nature, could have led to more intelligent conversations over decades within the field of climate science and policy. However, these models do suggest that the future IPCC meetings and reports are going to be quite dramatic. Yet if the international system of cooperation breaks down in the face of climate disruption then their soft power may disappear.

Eyring, V; Flato, G; Lamarque, J; Meehl, J; Senior, C; Stouffer, R & Taylor K (2019) “Status of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 and Goals of the Workshop” Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. Available at https://cmip6workshop19.sciencesconf.org/data/CMIP6_CMIP6AnalysisWorkshop_Barcelona_190325_FINAL.pdf


RELATED ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

Worldwide Decline Of The Entomofauna: A Review Of Its Drivers

The study shows that the biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. Compiling a range of studies, it estimates 80% of the total biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years. It reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades. This is a huge problem for ecosystems and the human race, as insects are at the base of every food web; they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, and control pests. The paper finds that intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides, but that climate change is also a significant factor.

One might conclude from this report that humans have made the environment more susceptible to collapse from climate change, by weakening ecosystems. Together, this may be a perfect storm that speeds up the collapse agricultural productivity and therefore human civilisation as we know it today.

Sánchez-Bayo, F., & Wyckhuys, K. A. G. (2019) “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers” Biological Conservation Vol. 232, pp 8-27.  Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320718313636

IPBES Global Assessment (Preview)

This study will be a 1,800-page tome authored by 400 scientists, published by a UN agency. In a preview of the full document, it chronicles widespread destruction wrought by humans, some of it irreparable. Up to a million of Earth's estimated eight million species face extinction, many of them within decades. This is shown to have major impacts on agriculture and thus food supply. Therefore “feeding the world in a sustainable manner entails the transformation of food systems," the report notes. It calls for revamping global food production, retooling the financial sector, moving beyond GDP as a measure of progress and many other "transformative changes"  to both save Nature and ourselves.

One might conclude from this report, and how it has been promoted ahead of full publication, that the scientific community involved in the environment is starting to panic as they see the collapse of ecosystems around the world.

Díaz, Sandra; Settele, Josef; Brondízio, Eduardo et al (2019) "Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [Advance copy]" IPBES. Available at https://www.ipbes.net/system/tdf/ipbes_7_10_add-1-_advance_0.pdf (accessed 7 July 2019)

Co-Extinctions Annihilate Planetary Life During Extreme Environmental Change

This study concludes that many species die together when key species are badly affected. “As our understanding of the importance of ecological interactions in shaping ecosystem identity advances, it is becoming clearer how the disappearance of consumers following the depletion of their resources - a process known as ‘co-extinction’ - is more likely the major driver of biodiversity loss… ecological dependencies amplify the direct effects of environmental change on the collapse of planetary diversity by up to ten times.”

One might conclude that Chief Seattle was the smart one in the room when he told the invaders: “Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”

Strona, Giovanni & Bradshaw, Corey J. A.  (2018) “Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change” Nature: Scientific Reports Vol. 8, Article number: 16724. Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-35068-1 accessed Jun 23 2019


SOCIETAL IMPACTS

Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC

This study from the IPCC warned that the impacts and costs 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming will be far greater than the expectations previously established by the IPCC. It argues that half a degree may be the difference between a world with coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice, and a world without them. To meet a goal of only 1.5 °C average warming, this demands immediately cutting the planet’s emissions to 45 % below 2010 levels by 2030. The report states this target means “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” It notes that the world is on track for a 3-4°C temperature rise: something that will be catastrophic for human civilisation.

One might conclude from this report that the climate system is more sensitive than policy makers knew, and therefore mitigation targets should be even more stringent. However, the report is from the IPCC, which now has a proven track record of underestimating and toning down findings. Looking at its recommendations, which include rolling out technologies for carbon sequestration which do not exist yet, one may conclude that this report is the first time readers are able to conclude that it is too late to stop catastrophic warming, and so the agenda needs to more clearly involve adaptation.

IPCC (2018), "Global Warming of 1.5 ºC", IPCC. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15 (accessed 30 Dec 2018)

The Effects Of Climate Extremes On Global Agricultural Yields

This study finds that Africa is most vulnerable to hunger as temperatures rise, in part because most of their grain is consumed by humans, so there is little leeway when harvests fail. It argues that “increasing the resilience climate extremes requires a concerted effort at local, regional and international levels to reduce negative impacts for farmers and communities depending on agriculture for their living."

One might conclude from this study that adaptation to climate change could become the central principle for anti-poverty programmes across Africa and the majority world.

Vogel, Elisabeth, et al. (2019) “The effects of climate extremes on global agricultural yields” Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 14, No 5 Available at https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab154b (accessed July 3 2019)

The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

This study explains that of 6000 cultivable plant species, only 9 account for 66% of total global crop production, which means they are very vulnerable to diseases. More food than ever is produced, but in monocultures and only 1% of farmland is used in organic production. There is also a rapid decline in key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against storms, floods and other hazards, and habitats for species such as fish and pollinators. This situation of limited food diversity increases the risk of from climate change, which will stress plants and animals and make disease more likely.

One might conclude from this study that our modern agricultural system, driven by profit, has accentuated the hazards from climate change and we urgently need leadership to diversify our food systems, as described in my review of food security here.

Bélanger, J., & Pilling, D. (eds.). (2019) “The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture”,  FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Assessments Available at http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/CA3129EN.pdf (Accessed April 1 2019)

Climate Change Impacts on Fisheries

This study finds that global fisheries have been shrinking due to climate change. It concludes that by combining the data on global fishery populations with maps of rising ocean temperatures from 1930 to 2010, in turn understanding the effects of temperature changes on sustainable catches. This analysis is aside from the impacts of ocean acidification on fisheries.

One might conclude from this study that the human race is being taught a lesson in remembering we are part of nature and nature is part of us. Because not only is our own human-designed agriculture on land at threat of disruptions through climate change, but fish are also disappearing just when we might seek other means of sustenance.

Plagányi, É. (2019) “Climate change impacts on fisheries” Science Vol. 363, Issue 6430, pp. 930-931. Available at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6430/930 (Accessed April 1 2019)

Climate Change and Poverty

This report notes that the world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis. It says that the global south (or majority world) will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis. It explains how the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.” In addition, “the risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses.” Therefore, “…democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights are every bit at risk”. The report therefore aligns with the premise of Deep Adaptation that climate change will create a cascade of disruption, beginning with food and water, leading to breakdowns in societies. In the report, the author Philp Alston strongly criticises all those working to uphold human rights, including his own previous work, for not making the climate crisis a central issue.

One might conclude that finally someone in a senior role is joining the climate dots to describe how changes are affecting human societies. The author’s criticism of the reticence of his own professional community to engage with how tragic the situation is becoming, and the difficult issues it invites us to discuss, resonates with the analysis in the Deep Adaptation paper on the denial within the environmental movement and profession.

Alston, Philip (2019) “Climate change and poverty” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_39.docx

Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II: Impacts, Risks, And Adaptation In The United States

This report is focused on consequences of a changing climate for government departments in the United States. It points out that departmentalising can be counterproductive because you need to see whole systems, but whole-system modelling "is incredibly challenging. It is hard enough to model one system on its own, let alone connect it with a series of others."

One might conclude from this study that although some governmental bureaucracies are seeking to engage with our predicament, despite political volatility, there is little that can be done without leadership from the top to reshape the whole of the economy and society. Which will either energise you or help you to let go, depending on your perspective on the political process in your country.

National Climate Assessment (2018) "Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II" US Global Change Research Program. Available from https://nca2018.globalchange.gov (Accessed Jan 1 2019)

SIGNIFICANCE OF RESPONSE

Warming Assessment Of The Bottom-Up Paris Agreement Emissions Pledges

This study looked at the climate implications of current emissions pathways of countries. Under the Paris agreement, there is no top-down consensus on what is a fair share of responsibility to cut carbon emissions. To get around these differing concepts of fairness, the paper assesses each nation by the least stringent standards they set themselves and then extrapolates this to the world. The findings are that current policies and initiatives are putting the world on course for a global average rise of 5 degrees.

One might conclude from this paper that despite widespread knowledge of climate change amongst politicians and their civil servants, current policies and trajectories mean we will experience global heating sufficient to collapse civilisation and even threaten our own extinction. One might conclude therefore that something is very broken – and worldwide.  

Robiou du Pont, Y. & Meinshausen, M. (Nov 2018) "Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges", Nature Communications Vol. 9 Article 4810. Available from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07223-9

Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2019

The UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) is the flagship report of the United Nations on worldwide efforts to reduce disaster risk. This study explained how “risk science is changing. Hazards interact with each other in increasingly complex ways…” It outlines a new Disaster Risk Assessment framework called Sendai Framework which treats risk as a systemic and complex thing. Climate change is seen to exacerbate others risks and now means that risk reduction policies and measures need to be much more ambitious.

One might conclude that this UN agency is gearing up to provide a new comprehensive and holistic philosophy and framework for how to govern societies in turmoil. One might conclude that such a task won’t have a chance of helping if pursued in such a technocratic fashion.

UNDRR (2019). Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Geneva, Switzerland. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

To discuss this research or contribute to a future Compendium, visit the Deep Adaptation Forum's Research Group. 

Acknowledgements: Professor Bendell thanks Matthew Slater for Research Assistance in the preparation of this Compendium and Alan Heeks for funding that assistance.  

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Because It’s Not a Drill - Presentation at a European Commission event on Climate Emergency


As news of our climate predicament worsens, more organisations are exploring the possibility of future disruption to our social and economic systems.

That was the topic of an event organised by staff of DG Connect of the European Commission on May 13th 2019. In the morning, invited speakers shared their views on the climate emergency and potential societal collapse. Then in the afternoon, a workshop was organised on Deep Adaptation to our climate predicament.

The originator of the Deep Adaptation approach, Professor Jem Bendell, gave a speech based on a paper he prepared for the conference. The paper "Because It’s Not a Drill: Technologies for Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos." is downloadable here.

The paper is being discussed in the Government and Policy interest group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.


Abstract

The climate emergency calls on us to explore what we can do, individually and collectively, to adapt to climate-induced disruption. Such adaptation must go beyond mere adjustments to our existing economic system and infrastructure, in order to prepare us for the breakdown or collapse of normal societal functions. A framework for exploring this issue, called Deep Adaptation, is summarised. Technologies will be important for helping us develop not only resilience but also collapse-readiness. Five areas of technology are outlined in order to illustrate the kinds of ideas that can emerge from applying a Deep Adaptation approach to our predicament. In outlining technological possibilities, it is emphasised that any technology should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, rather than from a general perspective on whether technology is helpful or not. In addition, the focus on technology in this paper and its associated discussions is not intended to distract from the political and psychological challenge of our climate emergency. Therefore, a transformative economic agenda is retained as a context for how we imagine policies to harness technologies for Deep Adaptation. Brief recommendations are offered for the European Commission   

Friday, 22 February 2019

Deep Adaptation Concept Unlocks Conversations Worldwide on our Climate Tragedy

The release of the Deep Adaptation paper by IFLAS in July 2018 has generated significant attention worldwide. It has been downloaded over 200,000 times, mentioned in media around the world (from Bloomberg to the New York Magazine), and inspired a new generation of climate activists, including some leaders in the Extinction Rebellion movement. Given that impact, Professor Bendell was one of the first academics to sign a public letter supporting the launch of the non-violent rebellion - one of the Guardian's most shared letters ever.

In his paper, Professor Jem Bendell reviewed the latest climate science as well as the pace of response to conclude that humanity now faces inevitable collapse of our societies due to disruptive climate change. He invites readers to explore what an acceptance of that situation could mean for our life and work. He created Deep Adaptation as a framework to aid that exploration. It differs from the mainstream agenda on adaptation as it is premised on the belief that we will not be able to maintain our current systems and way of life in the face of disruptive climate change. Bendell explains "the concept of Deep Adaptation has been unlocking conversations on our climate tragedy because it helps make it slightly more acceptable to discuss our fears about how bad things are and what to do about that."

In the past months Prof Bendell has given some speeches and interviews about this topic. These included a public lecture to 300 people in Bristol, UK in December, then an interview with Scientists Warning TV.

Jem was also interviewed by Extinction Radio and the Future is Beautiful podcast. In 2019 he will be speaking about Deep Adaptation at a range of events, listed here. The topic will also be explored in the leadership course he tutors this summer, over 4 days in the Lake District, UK. He is also now supervising doctoral researchers who are linking their work to the Deep Adaptation agenda.

Given the reaction to the paper, Professor Bendell provided further reflections in a blog on hope and vision in the face of climate-induced collapse. He will be discussing these psychological aspects at the Climate Psychology Alliance event in London in April.

To help the wide range of professionals who want to explore this agenda but are finding their colleagues too incredulous to engage, Bendell is launching a free Deep Adaptation Forum in March. This will enable closer collaboration than the 1000+ Deep Adaptation group on LinkedIn (join that to receive the information on the forum launch).