Tag Archives: Global warming

Climate Change: Too Late? Here’s Why There’s Hope…

I don’t know about you but I’m suffering from Trump fatigue. He’s just too much – and tweeting too much. So this week I looked at another issue (which Trump is no doubt making worse): climate change. Just published on Impakter, here’s the beginning:

Will climate change and global warming eradicate humans? This summer, the worst scorcher to date, has become a season for panic: wildfires across the Western United States, Greece and Sweden, record temperatures in China, unprecedented floods in India and Japan, a surge in heat waves in urban areas that are predicted to get worse by 2080, killing up to four times as many people as they do today.

With Trump’s America leading the charge, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and pulling down every environmental protection rule, it looks like the battle for Earth and our survival is lost.

After all, America is still the largest industrial country in the world and a major polluter, on par with China. And while China “got the message” and is at least trying (though not always successfully) to curb its climate-destructive ways, America is not.

True, single American states, like California and a few others, as well as big cities like New York and San Francisco that have joined a world alliance of big C-40 cities, are trying their best to counter climate armageddon.

But that’s not enough. The problem is Washington and Trump. American climate deniers are having a field day, and they are winning.

Earth lovers and tree huggers are fighting back. The New York Times this week came up with an extraordinary piece of long journalism. In a single-theme issue of its Magazine, focused on climate change, it published an authoritative article with the striking title: Losing the Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The article is both a mesmerizing and heart-breaking read. It helps dispel the cultural amnesia we suffer from too often, the idea that the climate change fight is something recent. Or that the fuel industry wasn’t aware of the dangers of fuel emissions – it was well aware of them, as far back as the 1950s. And at first, it had even tried to play along and prepare for an alternative green energy future: Exxon financed honest, independent research…until it didn’t.

The article was put together over 18 months with support from the Pulitzer Center on crisis reporting. It was written by author Nathaniel Rich, whose apocalyptic novel Odds Against Tomorrow was an instant bestseller when it came out in 2013.

That book made Rich one of the young and rising stars of climate fiction, a new genre that went viral with the new century. This is a novel I read with great pleasure when it came out, a not-to-be-missed thriller with unexpected twists and turns that will bring home what it feels like when your town is flooded (in this case, New York).

The article is illustrated with stunning video and photo work from award-winning photographer George Steinmetz who specializes in aerial imagery.

The online version starts off with a long video shot of melting snow and the stark words:

“30 years ago we had a chance to save the planet.”

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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The Weather War: UN Report Shows Toll of Climate Change

On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.

Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).

The numbers are mind-boggling. Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured  in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.

But we shouldn’t. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.

Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it’s not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.

And then there’s the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?

Adoration of the Golden Calf by Poussin


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Our Future on Earth: Fab or Scary?

This week, our future is the talk of the town, from Tokyo to Lima.The message from the Japanese designers show, “The Fab Mind”, is positive, it’s a fab future: “fixing stuff, repairing the world” as Alice Rawsthorn, a British design critic wrote in the New York Times (see her article  here).

Repairing? Not quite, Takram, a Japanese design engineering firm, has produced a visualization of the impact of rising sea levels, heightened radiation and dwindling resources on Earth 100 years from now. More scary than fab!

As to the show in Lima, it’s the Climate Change Conference organized by the United Nations,  called in UN-ese language: “the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC” – and here the future is definitely scary. The goal is to build the foundation of a new climate agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late — an agreement to be struck in Paris next December and take effect in 2020 (for more, read this Newsweek article here).

Will it happen with American climate deniers stomping around?

I have my doubts. The recent agreement between Obama and the Chinese President to curb their greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years has encouraged environmentalists. But this is without counting on a Republican-controlled Congress that is bound to block any progress towards global climate measures. In America, financial interests in keeping the way things are have become so politically strong, especially since the Supreme Court opened the door to the financing of political parties, that we cannot reasonably expect  any rational decision-making from the US. Yet America matters, it may only be 5 percent of the world population, but it accounts for 25 percent of total carbon dioxide production. It’s still the world’s top polluter and China comes second.

Yet, for years now, if you’re surfing the Net for pictures of the future, you’ll find plenty of evidence, and most of it is the stuff of nightmares. Here’s a photo of today’s coastline in Spain, snapped in 2009, and what, according to Greenpeace, it will look like 100 years from now as a result of rising sea levels:

This was part of a photo album Greenpeace had put together, hoping to sensitize the Spanish to the effects of climate change (it worked, at least in Spain).

Unfortunately, and in spite of mounting evidence, lots and lots of people in America still don’t believe it’s happening. They claim there’s no scientific proof even though top American scientists, from Princeton University to the Goddard Institute Space Studies, say otherwise. By now, the climate models run by hundreds of scientists prove beyond any possible doubt that climate change is with us and that it has become irreversible.

It’s no longer a question of “will it happen” but of “what can we do to mitigate the effects”.

For those still hesitant, I urge you to watch this Discovery Channel video about “what you should know about global warming”. Done under the guidance of  American news anchor Tom Brokaw, one of 19 recipients of the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed on “inspiring, bold Americans”, I think it’s one of the best films on climate change. Even though it dates back to 2012, it is still, alas, exceedingly topical:

It will take an hour out of your life to watch, but it really is time well-spent. I predict it will change your understanding of what is in store for mankind, particularly the latter part of the video…

You’ll learn about “feedback loops” that can kickstart and accelerate change in unexpected ways. Carbon dioxide by itself cannot cause global warming, it’s those feedback loops that make the difference – for example, with the increase in water drops in the air (clouds), heat will be trapped in the atmosphere and you could get a rise of between 4 and 6 degrees in this century. And of course, as spring comes earlier and summers last longer, whole species of plants and animals will disappear, polar bears and corals will be no more – yes, the 6th Extinction is upon us.

At the same time, a warmer climate will favor certain species like insects. Expect them to multiply and insect-borne diseases like malaria to rise (by the way, there are new strains of malaria that cannot be treated – at least for now). Humans of course won’t be spared, drought will cause famines, wars will be fought on whatever productive land is left.

So are we doomed?

To figure this out, you need to take into account two other big trends besides climate change:

  • increasing income inequality, as described by Thomas Piketty in his now-famous book that has become a number one best seller in economic history on Amazon;
  • the fast pace of technological change: the digital revolution is accelerating; there is absolutely no stagnation in technical progress, as shown in this masterly book written by two MIT professors: “Race Against the Machine”.

And of course, it’s not just the digital revolution. NASA with its recent Orion test is giving us an exciting glimpse of the future.  The test was a big success,  a flight to Mars by 2040 – that’s just 25 years from now! – is very much in the cards. Here is the key moment when the Delta IV rocket lifted Orion on December 5, 2014:

And here, some 4 hours later, is the recovery of Orion – the spacecraft withstood amazing temperatures (up to 4,000 degrees Farhenheit) and landed in the Pacific exactly where it was supposed to be, 600 miles from San Diego:

So the future is going to be highly technological, profoundly unequal and…very hot!

That’s something that is a matter of concern to me, as a mother and grandmother.

In what kind of world will our grand-children and great-grand-children live? Since I also happen to be a fiction writer, I tried my best to imagine the future, when global warming has wrecked havoc to the fullest, when plants and animals are headed for extinction and whatever remains of mankind is trying to survive the best it can on the little good land left.

I figure all that won’t happen tomorrow morning, nor will it happen all that fast. Give or take another 200 years before we have to face full extinction. At that point, global warming will no longer be a subject of debate, it will be a given. That is the setting of my novel Gateway to Forever – and in that sense, the book can be said to fit into climate fiction, or cli-fi, a word coined by Daniel Bloom, to define what is fast becoming a hot new genre in both books and films.

Gateway to Forever for Twitter
Available here

What will the world be like?

You have to remember the two trends I mentioned above. There will obviouly be a handful of super wealthy individuals facing impoverished masses; the rich will enjoy all the benefits of science, the others won’t. That means it will be a world divided not only between the rich and the poor, but the technologically advanced and the backward. The impoverished masses will live in medieval conditions, some worse off like cavemen, others slightly better like the middle classes today.  The rich, the One Percenters, will live in gated communities that will provide them with a perfect, pollution-free environment. They will enjoy the benefits of an Age Prevention Program that will keep them looking young till they drop dead at a ripe old age. They will take control of the only virgin land left on Earth, Antarctica, and they will be able to travel to other planets, even traveling faster than light as the technology to compress space and time becomes available.

In short, they can escape while the rest of us can’t.

That makes of Gateway to Forever a very unusual science fiction book.

Fans of sci-fi love to imagine a robotic future where the machines are king, but in my book, what matters are not the machines but the machine owners, the One Percenters. I’ve even had one reader comment that the future I depict in my book is not “futuristic” enough! But that’s the whole point: the future will not be “futuristic” at all for the poor masses, only the rich elite will live a futuristic life. They will have the possibility to avoid extinction and take refuge in space, nobody else will. And that’s what the book is about: how can mankind survive, and in particular, how can one very pretty girl called Alice escape when she wasn’t born a One Percenter?

Gateway to Forever is exceptionally available at the giveaway price of 99 cents from 9 to 12 December. Hurry, grab your copy here, and find out what happens to Alice…

This is the portrait I made of her, fiery and defiant, staring at a dead world:

Yes, come and imagine the future with Alice!

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Why Climate Change is Only a Side Show: the Sixth Extinction is Upon Us!

In the United States, Climate Change is viewed with suspicion: many Americans don’t believe in it, at best they’ll agree that climate warming may have natural causes but they strongly refute the idea that it could be due to human action. And in any case, they reject any causal linkage with extinction of life on earth. Life has survived long periods of colder and warmer climate, they argue, and there’s no reason to believe that this time will be any different, regardless of who’s responsible for the warming – and supposing the warming actually occurs. 

For a strong statement expressing this viewpoint, see here, “global warming debunked” by Gary Ellis, who describes himself as an electrical engineer “with 40-plus years of work experience in electrical generation from methane gas to coal, natural gas and nuclear.” Incidentally, not a climate specialist but a person whose life has been invested in energy extraction.

Right. You can always argue as he does that the science behind Climate Change is not strong enough or persuasive, that there’s a political agenda behind it. Whose agenda is never spelled out though the agenda of people debunking climate warming is pretty clear: they want to defend their kind of economy based on energy extraction that spews out tons of carbon in the air. Just ask the Chinese authorities and watch what they do to control the smog in Beijing.  They’re the ones (along with India) who constantly defeat United Nations discussions on Climate Change and how to control it.

But this discussion is sterile when confronted with the actual numbers out there:  the numbers describe an alarming increase in the rate of extinction of species that often have been around for millions of years (like amphibians) and yet are headed for extinction – in some cases, right now. The rate in extinction is so massive that scientists have taken to calling it the Sixth Extinction – there were five before, notably the one that killed off the dinosaurs (that one was caused by an asteroid impacting the earth and causing the equivalent of a “nuclear winter”). But this one, the Sixth, is shaping up to be bigger than any other, the biggest ever, and it is caused by…yes, us, humans.

Think of it. We’ve covered the earth, all 7 billions of us soon to become 8, 9, 10 billions – there seems to be no end to the population explosion. We use up every available natural resource, we cover the earth with our buildings, we shape the landscape, we travel everywhere, bringing seeds and species along in our baggage, thoughtlessly putting local biodiversity at risk. Big changes are in the offing: the disappearance of amphibians caused by the spread of a fungus, the fast acidification of the oceans that threaten the survival of reefs and all life in them, the extinction of bats in the United States – even our outdoor cats can be a cause of extinction as they relentlessly kill birds. 

I read about the cats (some 80 million of them in the US) yesterday in the International New York Times (see here: “That Cuddly Kitty is Deadlier Than You Think”): yes, a recent study has shown that sweet cats, some of the best companions we have, are among the most feral predators and given the facts of rapidly rising urbanization and modern agriculture reducing forest space, birds have few places left to breed and live. Add cats to the mix, and there you go: a silent spring!

This is a horror story and it is excellently described by New Yorker journalist Elizabeth Kolbert in her book The Sixth Extinction, an Unnnatural History –  now a #1 bestseller on Amazon in biology and a must read for anyone remotely interested in what the future holds for us. She expertly takes us along for the ride as she herself travels around and interviews scientists, often following them in their investigations. All this makes for a very human and effective read, in my view, Pulizer Prize stuff! 

What I like best about it, is that she cleverly avoids the confrontation with Climate Change: it is obvious that it enters the equation, it is a fallout of our activities but if you believe it is not, in fact, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change the thrust of the arguments about the Sixth Extinction or the results of observation. The data showing the on-going extinction is not anybody’s invention, it is solid science and cannot be debated or refuted like climate warming. As Kolbert says, even if you find a totally clean energy (say fusion), what would matter is whether you continue to cut down the rain forest. Some of those biologists interviewed by Kolbert have no doubts: human life is headed for extinction and what will follow are…giant rats!

The rate of the current extinction? Scientists believe that up to 50 percent of existing species will have disappeared by the end of the century. Fast! And inevitable, it is already on-going. Nothing in our political set-up (especially at the United Nations where everyone is allowed to speak, including those who don’t understand the issues: see the failure in Copenhagen, here) permits us to think that we can escape the ultimate outcome. We might have the science to do it but we won’t do it for political reasons.

For me, the book was an eye-opener and I highly recommend it. This is of course why I have set my upcoming book “Forever Young” some 200 years from now  (btw, it’s nearly finished, I’m going through the last edits – expect it soon!). Kolbert’s book came out just in time to confirm my timing and give me extra confidence in the world I envision in “Forever Young” – a world that is not only sharply divided between the haves and have-nots, with every costly technological advance going to the ultra rich who can afford it. It is also a world threatened with extinction – and again, only the ultra rich have escape options. Some decide to fly to another pristine planet, others to take refuge on the last virgin continent, Antarctica, and wait there, in a protected environment, for the end of life – with the intention of resettling the earth once the Sixth Extinction is over. But this is a novel, not a scholarly treatise of futurology. So I’ve thrown in that future world people like you and me who have to figure out what to do – and still try to live a full life and know happiness in love. But is it possible when everything collapses around you? The answer in “Forever Young”…

In a way, I see this book “Forever Young” as my own contribution to the debate, or, if you will, “duty of care”.  As Kolbert reports, paraphrasing Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists who discovered ozone depleting chemicals, “What’s the use of having predictive science if you don’t listen to the predictions?

My hope is that people who read “Forever Young” will start to listen to the predictions and do something about it… And here’s a fun (?) video – anyway worth watching:

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