Category Archives: global climate change

The Future Earth – Eric Holthaus


The Future Earth

A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming

Eric Holthaus

Genre: Nature

Price: $14.99

Expected Publish Date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: HarperOne


The first hopeful book about climate change, The Future Earth shows readers how to reverse the short- and long-term effects of climate change over the next three decades. The basics of climate science are easy. We know it is entirely human-caused. Which means its solutions will be similarly human-led. In The Future Earth, leading climate change advocate and weather-related journalist Eric Holthaus (“the Rebel Nerd of Meteorology”—Rolling Stone) offers a radical vision of our future, specifically how to reverse the short- and long-term effects of climate change over the next three decades. Anchored by world-class reporting, interviews with futurists, climatologists, biologists, economists, and climate change activists, it shows what the world could look like if we implemented radical solutions on the scale of the crises we face.  What could happen if we reduced carbon emissions by 50 percent in the next decade?What could living in a city look like in 2030?How could the world operate in 2040, if the proposed Green New Deal created a 100 percent net carbon-free economy in the United States? This is the book for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the current state of our environment. Hopeful and prophetic, The Future Earth invites us to imagine how we can reverse the effects of climate change in our own lifetime and encourages us to enter a deeper relationship with the earth as conscientious stewards and to re-affirm our commitment to one another in our shared humanity.

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The Future Earth – Eric Holthaus

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Atomic Accidents – Jim Mahaffey


Atomic Accidents

A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima

Jim Mahaffey

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: February 4, 2014

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

A “delightfully astute” and “entertaining” history of the mishaps and meltdowns that have marked the path of scientific progress ( Kirkus Reviews , starred review). Radiation: What could go wrong? In short, plenty. From Marie Curie carrying around a vial of radium salt because she liked the pretty blue glow to the large-scale disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, dating back to the late nineteenth century, nuclear science has had a rich history of innovative exploration and discovery, coupled with mistakes, accidents, and downright disasters. In this lively book, long-time advocate of continued nuclear research and nuclear energy James Mahaffey looks at each incident in turn and analyzes what happened and why, often discovering where scientists went wrong when analyzing past meltdowns. Every incident, while taking its toll, has led to new understanding of the mighty atom—and the fascinating frontier of science that still holds both incredible risk and great promise.  

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Atomic Accidents – Jim Mahaffey

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Can climate change be stopped? Here’s what the Democratic presidential candidates say.

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Can climate change be stopped? Here’s what the Democratic presidential candidates say.

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Scientists create a new guide for saving corals in a warming world

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Scientists create a new guide for saving corals in a warming world

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The life-altering, world-ending topic they’re still not teaching you about in school

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The life-altering, world-ending topic they’re still not teaching you about in school

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Cool It – Bjørn Lomborg


Cool It

Bjørn Lomborg

Genre: Environment

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: September 4, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

Bjorn Lomborg argues that many of the elaborate and staggeringly expensive actions now being considered to meet the challenges of global warming ultimately will have little impact on the world’s temperature. He suggests that rather than focusing on ineffective solutions that will cost us trillions of dollars over the coming decades, we should be looking for smarter, more cost-effective approaches (such as massively increasing our commitment to green energy R&D) that will allow us to deal not only with climate change but also with other pressing global concerns, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And he considers why and how this debate has fostered an atmosphere in which dissenters are immediately demonized.

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Cool It – Bjørn Lomborg

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Kirsten Gillibrand doesn’t just support the ‘idea’ of a Green New Deal, she’s wholly behind it

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In a testament to the power of political pressure and grassroots activism, a number of 2020 candidates have recently supported the concept of a Green New Deal — an economy-wide climate fix being championed by the Sunrise Movement and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Why push the plan so hard now, when there’s little chance of legislation passing the Senate? Sunrise co-founder (and Grist 50 member) Evan Weber told Vox part of the logic is “to have a platform for candidates to run on in 2020.” In that sense, the initiative has been wildly successful: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke have all signed on to the idea of a Green New Deal. But what exactly does that mean?

Kirsten Gillibrand, the most recent Democrat to make a 2020 announcement, just raised the stakes. On Thursday, she tweeted out what amounts to the strongest endorsement of a Green New Deal from a 2020 candidate thus far.

The junior senator from New York also sent a letter to Republican John Barrasso, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — a committee on which she serves as a minority member — outlining her vision for actually building out a Green New Deal.

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“Given the stakes, we do not have time to waste,” she wrote, citing the 4th National Climate Assessment that came out in November and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in October.

In order to achieve a green America, Gillibrand asks the committee to hold hearings and consider legislation that would help decarbonize the economy and “get us to net-zero emissions by as close to 2050 as possible.”

She also calls for investment in green jobs, upgraded public transit, and other measures that would support a green economy. Most notably, she calls for legislation that will build “resiliency across a range of infrastructure in low-income and frontline communities that will bear the worst of climate impacts.”

All these steps and more align with what Sunrise activists and AOC have outlined in previous calls for a Green New Deal. And while it’s unlikely that Barrasso will take any of her suggestions seriously, Gillibrand’s letter might set an example for other candidates who have yet to express anything other than mild support for the plan’s goals.

Gillibrand doesn’t appear to be putting all her eggs in the same green basket, either. In an earlier interview with Pod Save America, she voiced support for a carbon tax, calling it an effective way to “attack global climate change.” The Sunrise Movement does not currently include a carbon tax as part of its approach, but in a previous interview with Grist, Weber said the group isn’t ruling the option out entirely.

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Kirsten Gillibrand doesn’t just support the ‘idea’ of a Green New Deal, she’s wholly behind it

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Just a reminder: The world is perilously close to annihilation!

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The world’s most eminent predictors of doom, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, gathered Thursday to announce just how close humanity is from irreversible collapse. The answer: pretty damn close.

The Doomsday Clock is two minutes from midnight (read “the end of everything”), thanks largely to climate change and the threat of nuclear annihilation. That’s exactly where it was last year, when the collection of scientists set it at 11:58, the nearest it’s been to midnight since 1953 when the Soviet Union and the United States were testing nukes.

The current state of climate and political doom is starting to feel familiar. The Bulletin’s name for it is the “new abnormal.”  

“The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions,” said Robert Rosner, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Chicago, during a press conference announcing the Doomsday Clock’s settings in Washington, D.C. The most serious global threats — climate change, nuclear, and information warfare — are all being denied or ignored, Rosner said.

Since 1947 when the Cold War was getting underway, the Doomsday Clock has been used to bring awareness to the biggest existential threats. The first team behind the iconic clock came from The Manhattan Project, the scientists and engineers who produced the first atomic bomb. For most of the clock’s history, nuclear war has been the largest threat (it started at seven minutes to midnight). Yet since 2007, climate change has become a growing risk, nudging the clock’s minute hand closer to Doomsday.

The scientists noted that there’s another way to measure of our proximity towards doom: carbon dioxide levels. “Every year that we continue to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, irreversibly ratchets up the level of human suffering and ecosystem destruction that will occur due to global climate change,” said Susan Solomon, an atmospheric scientist and professor at MIT, at the announcement.

After years of remaining stable, global emission levels rose in 2017 and reached an all-time high in 2018. Part of the reason is that the United States, China, and other big polluters have increased their emissions, which Solomon called an “act of gross negligence.”

That the clock didn’t tick this year is a sign that we’ve made no progress on avoiding impending disaster. “The new abnormal climate that we already have is extremely dangerous,” said Solomon. “And we’ve moved onto a path that will make our future much more dangerous still.”

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Just a reminder: The world is perilously close to annihilation!

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How cities can lead on climate change solutions

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This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

This week, diplomats from about 130 countries are gathered in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the latest in the annual series of climate change meetings convened under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the heart of the discussions this year is a grim report released in October by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C (SR1.5).

The product of more than 90 scientists working from thousands of peer-reviewed studies, SR1.5 laid out the catastrophic effects of exceeding 1.5 degrees C warming over the coming decades. Much of the global news coverage that followed the report’s release focused on a chilling projection in the form of a 12-year deadline the IPCC established to limit the most disastrous impacts of planetary warming. “It’s a line in the sand,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of Working Group II of SR1.5.

But the report wasn’t just a grave warning: It was also a roadmap to solutions. These solutions were organized around four areas, or systems — energy, land use and ecosystems, cities and infrastructure, and industry. And while urban issues comprise one of those four areas, actions in cities are integral to each system transformation. Put another way: There is no way to save the planet without serious changes in how city-dwellers live, work, and move. That’s a point stressed in this summary of the IPCC report aimed at urban policymakers, which was released at COP24. (I was one of the 21 co-authors of this report.) The necessary changes to limit warming must be made not only by national governments and the private sector, but also by city leaders and the residents of urban areas.

As a co-chair of the working group on impacts, Roberts led the world’s top climate scientists through the assessment, drafting, and approval process. A scientist herself, Roberts is the head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit, eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa. In other words, she is a rare climate expert who’s familiar with the scientific, diplomatic, and urban policy issues that this unparalleled global challenge represents.

CityLab asked Roberts to talk about the role city residents can play in delivering climate action, the critical importance of local political decisions, and the responsibility we all have to talk about — and act on — climate change with our neighbors.

Q. What should city residents, far removed from these diplomatic processes, take away from the current climate negotiations and SR1.5 in particular?

A. There are two really important sets of messages. First, we are probably facing a serious existential threat as a species. Along with that very serious message is a second key message about the need for rapid and ambitious action. We are probably living in the most important period of our species’ history. But when you face such a big call to action, such an historic moment, the individual can really feel lost.

What is profoundly important to me about the 1.5 report is that it points to lines of response to this big challenge that we face as a species by identifying four systems that need to go through rapid, unprecedented transformations: energy, land use and ecosystems, urban, and industry. While the public and private sectors certainly have input, the report also calls out that the individual has a role to play, too.

If you think about the energy system, the report tells me is that every element of action is important — all the way from the international to the national, to what I do in my life. Think about energy systems. I should be able to make choices about what energy I use in my home. Am I able to go off-grid, generate my own electricity, and if I generate excess, put it back in the grid? And if those choices aren’t there, then I need to reflect on why I don’t have those options. If I don’t have leadership which is making it easy for me to make these choices, then I need to change leadership. It’s a real call to action on personal choices, and that we need to be more cognizant of the leaders we put in place at all spheres of government.

Q. The possible impacts outlined in SR1.5 can make the individual feel irrelevant. But there’s this line that I found really striking: “Humans are at the center of global climate change: Their actions cause anthropogenic climate change, and social change is key to effectively respond to climate change.” How do you put the human back in a story that was once so focused on nation-states and climate regimes?

A. The scientific literature puts people back. That’s why those four systems transitions are so important. When it comes to urban systems, yes we can choose what kind of transport we use. When it comes to land systems, by changing our diets we change the pressures on land. When you think about industry, we are consumers. We are very powerful in terms of our ability to purchase, and we can be more critical of the things we choose to consume. Those four systems are in the real world. They define many of the ways we live our lives, and they give us the power to influence the outcome.

Every level of activity counts, all the way from changing your lightbulbs to the other end of the spectrum at the climate negotiations. So it’s empowering but it also involves a strong responsibility. The science is very clearThere is no physical or chemical law which will stop us from limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C. There is nothing that stands in our way. In fact, the key element is the political and societal will to make these changes.

Q. In the U.S. recently, there’s been talk about a “Green New Deal” for climate change. Huge, society-spanning transformation is needed, in other words. But when you look through SR1.5 at the things that every individual in a city can do, they’re things like riding a bike or line-drying laundry. It all sounds so far from this sweeping historical mission.

A. What you and I do, literally in our day-to-day boring lives, is an important element in saving the world. This is a global project. Everybody has to be in on it. You cannot leave a single person out. Before, as you indicated, the scientific debate tended to alienate the person on the street with formulas and graphs and international negotiations that no one really understood. This report is clear: Hanging out your laundry counts. This change is possible, and we can all contribute to that change.

Q. How do you encourage the tougher choices that are tied to larger, structural issues — what are frequently referred to in climate science as enabling conditions — that are often determined at the regional and national levels?

A. We need multi-level governance structures that enable us to make choices well beyond the laundry. When I go to work, I must be able to take a public transport system or access a shared car. And if I’m driving that car, that car must be electrified. Those are the important things. Those are choices I do not have control over. I have control over the laundry I put out on the line. I don’t have a choice around bigger systems of transport, energy production systems, and so on. But the onus is still on me in terms of how democracies work — in calls to action, at the voting booth, in talking to my neighbors and talking to local leadership about this.

That requires more of you than the hanging of the washing. Those enabling conditions — which involve changing policies, promoting effective governance, deployment of technologies in the right kinds of spaces — require us to be active.

Q. In a previous conversation I did here with Michael Ignatieff, we talked about the roles that neighbors must play in making cities work. It’s an interesting frame in the climate space, when people sometimes feel helpless: Have they spoken with their neighbors?

A. Everyone has to be in, but it’s hard for me to imagine how I’m in a process with somebody sitting in Thailand. I’ve got a much better sense of the community I live in. I can say to my neighbors, “OK, where are your solar geysers [a kind of solar water heater]?” That puts it at a scale that is about human action, and I think that’s what this report does. It humanizes not only the impacts — look at how we are already impacted, and how the poor and vulnerable are already disadvantaged — but it put the humans back in the solution space again.

Q. You work in a city and in the international diplomatic arena. What is the status of urban expertise when you’re starting to develop a report like this?

A. The IPCC started out largely focused on the natural and physical sciences. But as it became clear that you weren’t going to be able to solve climate change through some mysterious new technology, or entirely mitigate your way out of it because of lack of political ambition, the social sciences have become a more prominent voice in the process. We have drawn in as many practitioners as we could as authors of the report, who have the ability to assess knowledge so that the report speaks to things that are important in the real world.

I, as a local government practitioner, can pick up the report and can see they’ve looked at the literature on things that are important to me. If you look to chapter 4, you’ll see a huge amount of work on the feasibility assessment. That’s what I need to know as a practitioner. I need to know if an action is likely to work, and what its enabling conditions are. There’s a drive to use the science to fulfill the original IPCC mandate of providing objective information on the causes of climate change, but we’re also becoming clearer and smarter around the solutions. The moment you talk about solutions, people must be in that space.

Q.The document has a unique place in diplomatic history, but is also part of a developing story where practitioners and urban perspectives are gaining prominence. But of course, if nation-states don’t step up, cities won’t have the enabling conditions they need to take action. You operate at both the municipal and international levels. How do you think about that landscape?

A. The practitioner community is a particularly important community. What do I do in my day job as a local government practitioner? I speak to local leadership and local communities about these issues. But I am sometimes limited by national laws and policies, then I have to go talk to the national government. Local government can become a force for change. We’ve experienced that throughout our own work at the city level. Often cities will lead best. People don’t phone the president if their house washes away. They phone the mayor. We’re most aware of where the challenges lie. Local government has an important role to knock on national government’s door and say, “Those policies work; those do not,” and explain how you might enable us to do our work better.

To me, the nation-state is not a hallowed thing. It must be in service of the people. And where it disconnects, we as local government bear that responsibility for refocusing their attention and resources where they need to be. The report underscores the importance of local government. It’s really where a lot of this action is going to happen.

Q. Local government possesses expertise, and, depending on the tax structure where you are, some resources. But you’re really talking about local government as advocate. A bit like the individual with his or her neighbor, the city must advocate with the nation-state.

A. I suppose that’s what we’re saying as a principle. To the individual, deal with your neighbor. As a local government, the national government is a neighbor of sorts. We need to pop our heads over the wall and say, look, we need things to change. This is not a time for complacency.

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How cities can lead on climate change solutions

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The radical tools that could save coral reefs

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Coral reefs, considered the canaries of the world’s oceans, are being cooked. As many as 50 percent of reefs worldwide have been lost over the last few decades, with major die-offs in recent years due to mass bleaching events brought on by warmer ocean temperatures.

As the planet heads toward potentially catastrophic climate change, scientists have come to a sobering realization: Coral reefs, sensitive ecosystems that provide habitat for more than 25 percent of marine species and are vital to coastal communities around the globe, may not persist without radical human intervention.

On Wednesday, a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a 200-page interim report that identifies more than two dozen intervention strategies, many of them experimental, that could make corals more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Coral scientists have reached an “unheard-of state of urgency,” recognizing that the status quo likely won’t be enough to stabilize reef ecosystems in a warming world, Stephen Palumbi, the committee’s chair and a marine biology professor at Stanford University, said at a briefing on Wednesday. This sense of urgency was on full display at the committee’s first meeting in February, where Mark Eakin, the coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, said the situation facing corals is dire.

The new report — the first of two that the 12-person committee is tasked with producing — provides an in-depth look at 23 techniques scientists could use to give corals a fighting chance, from relocation and genetic manipulation of coral species to antibiotic use and spraying salt water into the atmosphere to shade and cool reefs.

This is the “first time anyone has looked into what abilities we might have to stabilize any major world ecosystem,” Palumbi told HuffPost. In much the same way that the agricultural sector is planning for changing climate conditions, the committee set out to identify the range of resilience tools available to the field of coral science, he said.

The good news is, there are many.

“Not all of them are usable. Not all of them will work. Not all of them are actually feasible at the scale we want,” Palumbi said at the briefing. “But the fact that the coral reef community is pulling together to produce this list right now is, in fact, I think, the take-home message. The toolbox is not empty.”

The report primarily focuses on ways of protecting corals against bleaching, a phenomenon in which heat-stressed corals turn white after expelling their algae, which provide most of the coral polyps’ energy. If not allowed to recover free of stressors, the corals can perish. The most recent bleaching event, which lasted from June 2014 to May 2017, was the “longest, most widespread, and possibly the most damaging coral bleaching event on record,” Coral Reef Watch says. Among the reefs hardest hit was Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where an estimated 29 percent of shallow water corals perished.

Scientists say failing to rein in greenhouse emissions, the primary driver of global climate change, will spell the end of coral reefs as we know them. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading United Nations consortium of researchers studying human-caused climate change, issued a dire report in October that found reefs could decline by 70 to 90 percent if the planet warms 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, and by 99 percent at 2 degrees Celsius. And the latest federal climate assessment, released last week by the Trump administration, concluded that the loss of unique coral reef ecosystems “can only be avoided by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Palumbi emphasized Wednesday that the known interventions are not a substitute for cutting carbon emissions or reducing other environmental stressors.

“These interventions will help coral reef ecosystems be resilient enough to hang out while we figure out fixing climate change,” he said.

The “huge lift,” he added, will be finding ways to implement them on regional or global scales. So far, none have made it beyond lab or field trials, “making their efficacy and impacts uncertain,” the report states.

The project, sponsored by NOAA and called Interventions to Increase the Resilience of Coral Reefs, is expected to take up to two years. The committee’s second report, due out next year, will provide a decision-making framework for world leaders to assess the risks and benefits of intervention strategies and to implement them to help protect reefs.


The radical tools that could save coral reefs

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