Climate change and a new agricultural system

This week, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a long-awaited report on land, climate change and agriculture.* The report’s findings confirm that the agriculture and food systems on which we now depend are no longer viable. 

Individual consumer choices in the global north, about what to eat, won’t be enough to get rid of a bad system, nor will they be enough to build a just transition to a better one.

Image result for agroecological and regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture can make farmers stewards of the land again. Rock Hills Ranch in South Dakota uses managed grazing techniques to maintain healthy, diverse plant communities in its pastures. Credit: Lars PloughmannCC BY-SA

While much of the media coverage of the new IPCC report on land and agriculture focus on diet, the report needs to be understood as saying this: we (in protein-rich countries, at the very least), must replace our current large-scale industrialized systems of agriculture and food production with those based on agroecological and regenerative practices. Food security and agricultural resilience, in the face of a changing climate, depend on this.

From IATP’s perspective, replacing our current industrialized system requires dismantling the power of large-scale corporate agribusiness to manipulate markets, drive consumer demand, and influence everything from our food safety regulatory system to the rules laid down in international trade agreements.

For agroecological and regenerative systems sector-wide, we must achieve widespread public understanding of the productive, environmental, and economic legitimacy of these systems; invest heavily in them, in the farmers designing them and in the rural communities in which they prosper; and reawaken ourselves to the cultural and societal significance of our agriculture and food systems.

Globally, industrialized agriculture now emits extraordinarily high levels of GHG emissions as a sector. In our 2018 in-depth report, Emissions Impossible, IATP and GRAIN calculated total GHG emissions by a corporation, rather than by country. This gave us new insights into the astonishing lack of accountability for GHG emissions of the world’s largest 35 meat and dairy corporations. Responsible for the design, promotion, perpetuation and performance of large-scale industrialized agricultural systems of meat and dairy production, these corporations must also be accountable for their role in perpetuating, or curbing, climate change, system-wide.

It is imperative not to confuse large-scale industrialized meat and dairy corporations with agroecological and regenerative livestock producers, whose vision and practice is precisely what is needed. Fueling that confusion is the entanglement (at some point in their supply chains), of large, vertically integrated corporations with producers of all kinds and sizes. Vertical integration and corporate concentration in agribusiness is another tough problem to solve. We can start by enforcing what is left of antitrust laws and stopping more mega-mergers.

It is imperative, too, that we think far beyond single-note dietary changes. For example, consumer campaigns focused on the importance of reduced meat consumption should not rest their case with individual consumer choice, but instead, recognize the role of corporate influence in the system, as well as promoting the importance of livestock to regenerative agricultural systems. A simplistic “no meat” message can too easily and swiftly fall into a populist and misdirected movement harmful to farmers worldwide who are, right now, responsibly building our agroecological and regenerative agricultural systems.

Plant-based diets that continue to rely on agricultural inputs that are themselves high emitters of GHGs (such as fertilizer), pollutants and toxic chemicals are of no use. Nor are plant-based diets dependent on GMOs. Nor are plant-based diets that depend on the continued exploitation of farm labor, farmers forced to sell their commodities for less than the cost of production, and inequity in their ability to purchase and hold farmland. There is the possibility that the choice to eat less meat, (or none at all), could be erroneously seen by those who make it, as an act that naturally leads to agriculture that is good for the land, for farmers, for ecosystems, for consumers. Just not so.

The shift from agrarian societies to industrial, to digital, has come at a high cost when it comes to the general public’s knowledge of agriculture. The value of that loss cannot be over-estimated when it comes to consumer campaigns and the role they can and must play in promoting the system changes we need for a just transition to sustainable agriculture, sector-wide.

The wildly expanding market for organic food tells us that consumers can and do understand the importance of what they eat as individuals, yet it remains unclear how and if this market growth signals a much-needed change in societal values when it comes to the land and the people who farm it. We certainly are not seeing a change in values reflected in the apparent market growth for fake meat, for example. We do not need more unregulated start-up fake meat labs designed to exploit our addiction to fast food. We already know that the societal cost of fast food is much too high a price to pay for private profits gained. What we do need is a consumer u-turn of sorts, away from one-note dietary panaceas, and toward recognizing and insisting on the extraordinary and unimaginably crucial diversity of the ecological and biological systems necessary for the food that sustains life.

Consumers will not understand how agricultural systems work (and what we must do to maintain them), without being taught. Agribusiness will not cede power without the strong insistence of the public and political will. Farmers will not change their practices with no support to do so and little role in defining what a just transition to sustainable and resilient agriculture and food systems should look like.

All of these changes require the responsibility of people committed to our civic role in governance, mindful of the stakes, confident in our role’s legitimacy in a democracy, and tenacious in our determination to get it right. SOURCE

 

How the youth-led climate strikes became a global mass movement

The Global Climate Strike is the result of a whole new generation taking bold action and could be the turning point for grassroots resistance to fossil fuels.

Image result for waging nonviolence: The Global Climate Strike is the result of a whole new generation taking bold action and could be the turning point for grassroots resistance to fossil fuels.

It began as a call to action from a group of youth activists scattered across the globe, and soon became what is shaping up to be the largest planet-wide protest for the climate the world has ever seen.

The Global Climate Strike, which kicks off on Sept. 20, will not be the first time people all over the world have taken action for the climate on a single day. But if things play out the way organizers hope, it could mark a turning point for the grassroots resistance to fossil fuels.

“Strikes are happening almost everywhere you can think of,” said Jamie Margolin, a high school student from Seattle who played a role in initiating this global movement. “People are participating in literally every place in the world.”

“Suddenly there’s this entire new generation of activists calling out everyone no matter who they are for not doing enough, and that’s woken people up.”

Starting Friday and continuing throughout the following week, thousands or possibly millions of people will participate in actions calling on governments to address the climate crisis. From elementary school students organizing walk-outs, to experienced activists planning nonviolent disruption in major cities, people will call attention to the moral urgency of climate change by interrupting business as usual.

“It’s a galvanizing moment for the climate movement, which frankly has been losing the battle up to now,” said Jake Woodier of the UK Student Climate Network, which is organizing for the strike in London and other cities across the United Kingdom. “Suddenly there’s this entire new generation of activists calling out everyone no matter who they are for not doing enough, and that’s woken people up.”

As is nearly always the case for large social movements, momentum for the Climate Strike came from many different people in different places. But if its origins can be traced to a specific event, it would probably be a 2018 march spearheaded by the youth-led organization Zero Hour, which Margolin co-founded a year earlier with a small group of other young activists — mainly students of color.

The Zero Hour youth climate march took place on July 21 of last year in Washington, D.C. and was preceded two days earlier by a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill, along with other student-led events all over the United States. Hundreds of young people joined the D.C. action despite rainy weather, drawing considerable media attention and shining a spotlight on how Generation Z is disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. But what hardly anyone could have guessed was that behind the scenes, Zero Hour had put in motion a series of events that would lead to an even larger, worldwide mobilization led by young people.

Jamie Margolin speaking to a crowd of youth climate activists. (Facebook/Zero Hour) 

On the other side of the Atlantic, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, 15 years old at the time, had been reading news about Zero Hour online and was inspired by its leaders’ vision of a distinctively youth-led movement. She began following organizers like Margolin on social media, and soon the teens from different continents were communicating about climate activism over the internet. On August 20, 2018, Thunberg staged her first “climate strike,” skipping school to protest for climate action outside the Swedish parliament. The following month she launched the ongoing “Fridays for Future” strikes, inviting other students to join her in holding school walkouts every week.

“Greta Thunberg’s actions sparked a movement,” Woodier said. “In a world where we’re often made to feel individualized and atomized, that we’re small and can’t make a difference, she has been a massive inspiration to many young people.”

 Why desperation could be the key to tackling climate change

In late 2018, Thunberg began attending intergovernmental climate meetings in Europe, including a U.N. summit in Poland. She wasn’t the first young person to show up at the United Nations and call on leaders to take action, but there was something unique about her approach.

For one thing, Thunberg was decidedly more pointed than her predecessors in calling out policymakers’ inaction, telling the leaders in Poland, “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.” For thousands of people around the world who were fed up with decades of government inertia, her tone was a welcome change.

Moreover, several converging factors contributed to Thunberg’s activism coming at the perfect time. The climate movement has — over the last decade — been getting gradually better at organizing coordinated actions across continents, making possible the rapid spread of new tactics. At the same time, in the United States, the high school student-led March for Our Lives against gun violence provided a model for what a mass youth movement could look like. Finally, with extreme weather hammering nearly every part of the world, more people are waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis, making them receptive to Thunberg’s message. As a well-spoken member of the generation that will bear the costs of climate change more than any other alive today, Thunberg was the perfect movement spokesperson to harness the opportunity created by these events. Soon her addresses to world leaders were going viral on YouTube.

Meanwhile, the Fridays for Future movement was growing — especially in Europe, where it has had the most influence so far. In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited pressure from youth activists as one reason her government plans to move more aggressively to curb carbon emissions. Across much of Europe, the strike movement has helped put climate change higher on the political agenda for both policymakers and voters. A Green Party surge in May’s E.U. parliamentary elections is possibly the most concrete sign yet of the movement’s impact. But the strikes quickly spread beyond Europe.

There are now nearly 700 strikes scheduled in the United States, and hundreds of others in 117 countries across the globe.

By early 2019, school strikes were taking place in countries including the United States, Brazil, India and Australia. Then, over the spring and summer, calls started coming for a new escalation of the movement — one led by youth, but with participation from people of all ages. The idea was for a worldwide strike where people would leave school, work or other daily tasks to join protests for climate action.

The date chosen to kick off the planet-wide strike coincides with the lead-up to an emergency climate summit, called by U.N. Secretary-Gen. António Guterres and is scheduled to begin in New York on Sept. 23. Many see this U.N. gathering — intended as an opportunity for countries to strengthen their goals under the Paris climate agreement — as being itself a direct reaction to the grassroots pressure governments are feeling.

“This climate action summit was called in response to the worsening climate crisis and pressure from the strike movement,” Woodier said. “That’s a reversal from the past, when climate organizers planned demonstrations in response to official events set in stone long beforehand.”

Greta Thunberg (center) joined other climate striking youth in New York City last month. (Twitter/@GretaThunberg) 

Thunberg has been invited to address the U.N. meeting, and a special youth summit will be attended by teens from around the world, including Margolin. On Aug. 28, Thunberg arrived in New York after crossing the Atlantic in an emissions-free yacht. She had barely set foot on U.S. soil before joining a youth-led climate protest outside the U.N. headquarters. Meanwhile, the Global Climate Strike has been endorsed by close to 200 organizations in the United States alone, and hundreds more internationally.

While the largest demonstrations will take place in major cities, strike actions are also making waves in smaller towns, even within fossil fuel-producing states. “I expect our growing local climate movement will bring out more people for the strike than we’ve ever seen before,” said Jeff Smith, co-chair of 350 Montana, one of several organization involved in planning a series of strike actions in Missoula. “I expect the crowds alone will be enough to dominate our local news cycle.”

In the United States, national organizations encouraging their members to join the strikes include Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, Oil Change International, MoveOn, Food and Water Watch and many others. According to the international climate group 350.org, there are now nearly 700 strikes scheduled in the United States, and hundreds of others in 117 countries across the globe.

 8 lessons for today’s youth-led movements from a decade of youth climate organizing

350.org has a good amount of experience with this type of international climate mobilization. The organization initiated the first truly large-scale day of action specifically devoted to climate change in October 2009. It took place in the lead-up to that year’s U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen and was meant to push delegates to adopt a strong, binding international climate treaty. The idea that such a goal could have been successful at that point may appear naïve in hindsight, but at the time it didn’t seem so unreasonable. The United States had recently elected Barack Obama as its president, and even many climate activists had yet to realize just how deeply entrenched fossil fuel money was in the halls of government.

Indeed, the 2009 day of global action was largely a festive, celebratory affair. Groups posed for photos with banners in front of melting alpine glaciers and other landmarks affected by climate change. There was lots of artwork and relatively few truly large marches. This made sense for a global movement that was just finding its feet — at a time when it genuinely seemed like world leaders might be gently prodded into doing the right thing. But with international progress on climate change largely stalled, legislative action in the United States nonexistent, and the ascendancy of right-wing leaders like Donald Trump, the mood of the climate movement has changed dramatically.

“Folks watching the science understand we are now in the runaway phase of climate catastrophe,” said Nadine Bloch, an organizer with #ShutDownDC, which is planning an action to bring work in the U.S. Capitol to a standstill next week. “The urgency of being on fire has finally been heeded by folks outside traditional activist communities.” The Global Climate Strike will take place just 10 years shy of the 2009 mobilization, and it will include larger and more escalated demonstrations. Its message — that action on climate change takes precedence over school and day jobs — reflects this increased urgency.

Yet, while the word “strike” connotes a more militant type of nonviolent action than photo shoots and rallies, not everyone shares the same vision of what it looks like. “In the United States in particular, a lot of people don’t understand what a strike actually is,” Bloch said. “They’re still talking about getting permits for protests, which isn’t a true strike.” #ShutDownDC envisions something more disruptive, though nonviolent. “We’re planning to interrupt business as usual in the seat of government power where leaders are refusing to acknowledge the climate crisis or take responsibility.”

“I’m motivated by two things: What I’m for and what I’m against,” Margolin said.

Activists are also planning for how to carry momentum from the strike forward into other youth-led movements. “Dismay at government inaction has led people to get involved in the climate strikes,” said Gracie Brett of Divest Ed, which works with over 70 campus-based fossil fuel divestment campaigns. “This same urgency has led to the divestment movement getting a second wind recently. It offers an opportunity to be involved beyond the strike.”

Jamie Margolin also sees the strike as a way to bring larger numbers of young people into the climate movement. “A lot of people aren’t initially attracted to the nitty gritty organizing, which is the vast majority of the work that goes into climate activism,” she said. “But if you say to them, ‘Hey do you want to join this mass action?’ — that attracts nearly everyone. Mobilizations like the strike are a point of entry to the wider movement.”

Margolin, who originally helped inspire Greta Thunberg’s activism, has since followed her lead by regularly striking from school. She has relatives in Colombia and is motivated by the knowledge of how climate change will impact both her current home and the place of her family’s origins. In this sense, she has much in common with other young people in an increasingly diverse and international climate movement — where teenagers and young adults use the internet to coordinate actions across continents and oceans.

“I’m motivated by two things: What I’m for and what I’m against,” Margolin said. “I’m fighting to protect the beautiful Pacific Northwest where I live today, and the beautiful Amazon Rainforest in the place my family is from. But I’m also fighting against the handful of people at the top of a handful of corporations who are literally destroying life on Earth for the other seven billion of us. SOURCE

Coal power becoming ‘uninsurable’ as firms refuse cover

US insurers join retreat from European insurers meaning coal projects cannot be built or operated


Smoke and vapour rising from the cooling towers and chimneys of the lignite-fired Jänschwalde power plant in eastern Germany. Photograph: Christophe Gateau/dpa/AFP via Getty Images

The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels, according to a new report.

The report, which rates the world’s 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declares that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance.

Ten firms moved to restrict the insurance cover they offer to companies that build or operate coal power plants in 2019, taking the global total to 17, said the Unfriend Coal campaign, which includes 13 environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Client Earth and Urgewald, a German NGO. The report will be launched at an insurance and climate risk conference in London on Monday, as the UN climate summit gets underway in Madrid.

The first insurers to exit coal policies were all European, but since March, two US insurers – Chubb and Axis Capital – and the Australian firms QBE and Suncorp have pledged to stop or restrict insurance for coal projects.

At least 35 insurers with combined assets of $8.9tn, equivalent to 37% of the insurance industry’s global assets, have begun pulling out of coal investments. A year ago, 19 insurers holding more than $6tn in assets were divesting from fossil fuels.

Peter Bosshard, one of the Unfriend Coal campaign co-ordinators, said: “We hope within two to three years it will be so difficult to obtain insurance that most coal projects won’t be able to go forward.

“We’ve seen the acceleration [in firms pulling out of coal] for a good reason – people are freaking out.”

As global temperatures climb, hurricanes, wildfires and floods have become more frequent and severe, resulting in higher claims bills for insurers.

Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, is the only major European firm which continues to insure new coal projects. SOURCE

 

Yes, electric vehicles really are better than fossil fuel burners

Hans-Werner Sinn’s opinion piece on whether electric cars are as climate friendly as they seem generated a good deal of controversy. William Todts, executive director of Transport & Environment, gives his response. William Todts


 ‘If we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff.’ Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hans-Werner Sinn is quite the character. This German economics professor’s writings range from the Greek crisis to migration, to German energy policy.

Recently he has discovered a new passion: electric vehicles. Back in April Sinn published a paper claiming electric cars were worse than diesel. The study was roundly criticised for being misleading. Even Germany’s largest carmaker VW felt compelled to publicly contradict the report days after its publication, giving a rare glimpse of its own lifecycle analysis based on company-specific data that shows Volkswagen EVs are better than their diesels.

Yet rather than backing down, Sinn’s now back at it in an article published by the Guardian. Rather than forcing carmakers to invest in clean technology – the EU’s current policy – Sinn proposes introducing a big fuel tax on car drivers which he believes would be more effective than forcing German carmakers to go electric.

But this isn’t about Sinn. In fact, whenever you read a newspaper article claiming EVs are worse than diesel or petrol cars, that article will be based on a report that deliberately makes EVs look worse than they are.

Usually the plot is as follows: a smaller petrol or diesel car is compared with a bigger, more powerful electric car; then the fossil fuel car is assumed to be as efficient as the EU’s official tests portray (in reality its fuel economy is always a lot worse); and finally the electric car is driving in a region with a very dirty electricity mix. Then you assume very high emissions for battery production based on outdated studies and finally you pretend electric cars don’t last very long and that its batteries aren’t reused or recycled.

There will always be a new study with some flawed assumptions to keep us all busy and we could rebut these until we all drop. The advantage for the oil and diesel industry is that articles and reports, however poor, keep the controversy alive. Discrediting or distorting science is a political strategy, as Naomi Oreskes chronicles so well in Merchants of Doubt.

So let’s skip the detailed rebuttal and just look at some basic facts. Every year we burn around 275m tonnes of petroleum and diesel in cars, vans and trucks in the EU alone. Petrol and diesel vehicles are hugely inefficient. Around 70% of the energy that goes into a car engine is wasted. Oil that is burned cannot be recovered, reused or recycled. Oil cannot be made clean. Actually, thanks to the rise of unconventional oil, it is getting dirtier.

So if we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff. That’s the unique appeal of electric cars, trains and buses. They’re ultra-efficient and have no tailpipe emissions. And yes, of course, we’ll need clean electricity to run the vehicles and to produce the cars and batteries.

But we know how to make power clean and we’re making rapid progress towards exactly that. The UK has almost got rid of coalGermany is phasing it out, and even in Poland and Trump’s America, coal is in decline. Meanwhile clean wind and solar power are on the rise. By 2030 half of the EU’s electricity will come from renewables driven by renewable electricity mandates and the increasingly robust EU carbon pricing scheme.

The rise of electric cars and green power are some of the biggest climate success stories of the past few years. It is the result of regulators in Europe, California and China doing their job and industry rising to the occasion. It shows what we can achieve if we set industry ambitious goals to clean up its act.

That might not please some but it is fair, effective and, for the climate, unequivocally a good thing. As the Nobel prize committee eloquently put it: “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.” SOURCE

 

Albertans must not let our government push a polarized partisan narrative

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. AMBER BRACKEN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Monday isn’t the first time Alberta has elected mostly Conservative MPs. What does seem different, though, is the anger. Premier Jason Kenney described the idea of a Liberal minority government as a “Frankenstein” scenario, in which non-Conservatives pose an existential threat to Alberta.

We Albertans should ask ourselves how far we are prepared to let our provincial government push this polarized partisan narrative in our name. Other Canadians, too, should ask how much they’re prepared to accommodate this belligerent approach.

A few things work together to produce such a charged environment. While relatively few Albertans work directly in oil and gas (6.1 per cent in 2017), the idea that Alberta’s prosperity is tied to oil and gas is pervasive. My own research shows that about 70 per cent of Albertans report that oil and gas is very important for Alberta’s prosperity, compared with only about 24 per cent when that prosperity connection is made to their personal finances. This may be why it is so easy for some to conflate “energy” almost exclusively with oil and gas in Alberta.

So why are Albertans so angry? Certainly, some simply strongly connect only oil and gas to the province’s prosperity. While many Albertans may not say it explicitly, there’s appetite for conversations about energy transition and the environment; politicians across all parties and levels of government ignore this at their peril.

But another factor – partisanship – helps explain the anger. If partisanship is seen as a social identity, then it is ripe for polarization. Polarized partisans see competition between other parties as zero-sum, and then these partisans feel threatened, they will fight to maintain the position and status of their group. Importantly, polarized partisans also feel emotions on behalf of their party, so they are more euphoric when they win, and more angered when they lose.

To this, another factor must be considered. While many Albertans are not polarized partisans, they all feel at least a degree of Western alienation and have long expressed aggravation at the idea that our resources are used to enrich elites in Central Canada. This explains why the bellicose posturing of both Alberta’s Premier Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe after Monday’s election references equalization and getting a “fair deal” from the rest of Canada. Again, while this sentiment is not new, it helps reinforce this “us versus them” narrative made explosive by partisan polarization.

This is not the first time that Canadians will be confronted with a region or province that is not satisfied; what is worth considering now is what actions the federal government should take that would satisfy discontented folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would also be seen as acceptable, or even positive, by other Canadians. While I doubt polarized partisans will ever be satisfied, I also doubt we can have this conversation without addressing equalization.

The difficulty is that few Canadians can accurately report much, if anything, about equalization. In speaking to Albertans, I’ve found that many agree with the fundamental principles of the program: Canadians should be able to access comparable levels of services regardless of where they live, and provinces should have autonomy in determining how they provide those services. Where Albertans are easily led astray, though, is about what equalization is meant to, well, equalize. It’s about fiscal capacity – that is, a province’s ability to generate revenue.

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. It’s estimated that if Alberta imposed taxes at the same level as British Columbia, where the economy has consistently outperformed Alberta’s in recent years, we would generate $11.2-billion a year more in revenue. But there appears to be little appetite to reconsider this. This leaves Alberta open to criticism, justifiably, for asking the federal government to help pay its bills when it’s unwilling to put in the same effort as other provinces to raise revenue.

I can see why the current pugnacious strategy is favoured by Premiers Kenney and Moe. It’s reasonable to assume that most Westerners are easily angered, albeit in ignorance, about equalization. Add partisan polarization into the mix, and it becomes especially easy to shift blame for things Westerners don’t like to the federal government.

Given that it’s already too easy to blame the feds for things that are exclusively the choice of Alberta’s government (i.e. our systematic under-use of our own fiscal capacity), I anticipate that, sometime soon, blame for harsh budget cuts meted out by Mr. Kenney’s government will be presented as Justin Trudeau’s fault. This strategy is certainly as partisanly effective as it is devoid of principled and ethical leadership.

Taken together, this is why a national conversation about the politics of equalization and the Canadian federation, while arguably needed, likely won’t get very far. It’s hard to escape the impression that, at least for some Albertans, the anger is the goal.  SOURCE

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A letter to the West: Let’s put aside the climate change thing for a bit and focus on some realities

Climate Change Will Make Us Sicker and Lose Work Hours

Experts have given the United States a warning: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or suffer the consequences of lower productivity and a sicker population for generations to come.


Credit: iStock.com/filadendron

Climate change has medical experts worried about our health, according to a recent report from the Lancet Countdown, an interdisciplinary group of 34 academic institutions and United Nations agencies. Authors include climate scientists, doctors, economists, and other experts.

Heat and air pollution are some of the worst offenders, according to the report. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be the only way to lower health risks in the long run.

The report issued results for countries across the world, and it gives the United States a dismal diagnosis: People will face higher exposure risk to Zika virus from longer mosquito seasons and a widening habitat; they’ll have an elevated risk of diarrheal illnesses and water contamination from worsening floods, and they’ll witness disasters that could cause anxiety and post-traumatic stress. These are just a few examples of the wide-ranging consequences to health from climate change.

Here are four major takeaways from the report for public health in the United States:

1. Worker productivity is dropping because of soaring temperatures. Hotter days are only growing more frequent: Since the turn of the century, we’ve experienced 18 of 19 of the hottest years on record. Scorching temperatures are now limiting the number of hours people can work outside in agriculture and industry. Last year alone, the United States lost 64.7 million potential labor hours from extreme heat. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are some of the U.S. states most at risk of losing productivity hours and have some of the highest rates of poverty.

2. Older adults are more and more at risk from heat waves. By 2030, all members of the baby boomer generation will be over the age of 65. This aging population will be more at risk of falling sick or dying from increased temperatures because they may lack the ability to seek shelter from the heat or have preexisting health issues that heat could exacerbate. Heat zaps our ability to think, leads to dehydration and complications for people on certain medications, and in the most severe cases can cause heatstroke and heart failure. Heat wave exposures have been increasing in recent years and—like many other health effects from climate change—hurt communities that are already vulnerable.

3. Soot and small particles from burning coal and oil are killing people. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is causing thousands of premature deaths in the United States every year. Burning fossil fuels releases fine particles (smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) that can lead to a whole host of health problems, including asthma and birth complications. Black and Latinx people are hit harder by air pollution compared with the general population, despite contributing the least to the problem. In 2016, 64,200 people died prematurely in the United States from air pollution.

4. Children will face a lifetime of health risks from climate change. Children born today will face far greater negative impacts on their health than those of earlier generations, and children of color will be the most affected. From birth complications in the womb to heat-related illness in infancy and young adulthood, children will face health impacts at each stage of development that can affect their entire lives. As the authors write in the report, “without significant intervention, this new era [of climate change] will come to define the health of an entire generation.”

Paths Forward

Limiting carbon emissions will be crucial to curtailing inequality and reducing future health care costs. Cutting emissions can be cost-effective: In the Rust Belt, health care cost savings from addressing carbon emissions would override the costs of switching to renewable energy by 34%.

The United States has a way to go to meet emissions cutbacks. Last year, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by more than 3%. But some states have already begun to take action: Ten states and the District of Columbia rolled out plans for 100% clean or renewable electricity, and even more have enacted low-emissions standards for vehicles.

The report was published last week.

Failure to address climate crisis puts children at risk

 

Child wearing mask with wildfire smoke in background(Photo: Aulia Erlangga via Flickr)

On November 12, Veneto, Italy’s regional council was debating climate policy in its Venice offices. Minutes after a majority voted against budget amendments to address climate disruption, the chambers were inundated with water. Venice is known for flooding, but it’s getting worse, and the timing in this instance felt like a message.

Our existence is a marvellous phenomenon. We live on a spinning ball of water and rock at just the right distance from the sun for natural cycles to have developed to create ideal conditions for life as we know it. But exploding human populations and hyperconsumption-driven societies have, in a relatively brief time, knocked these natural systems out of balance. We’ve upset the carbon cycle so rapidly by indiscriminately burning fossil fuels and destroying natural carbon sinks like forests and wetlands that consequences are hitting much faster than predicted.

Australia is on fire. Parts of Europe are flooding. Melting permafrost in Northern Canada is raising fears that naturally stored methane will escape, accelerating heating. Refugees are fleeing homelands as climate disruption makes farming and living in many areas difficult. Entire villages in India are being abandoned for lack of water and temperatures too high for crops to survive.

Canada’s North is heating at close to triple the global average rate, and the country overall at twice the average. The recent Lancet Countdown, an international academic review of climate impacts on human health by 120 experts from 35 institutions, found people in Canada face a range of health risks, including the many effects of increasing wildfires and pollution, such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses. It found pollution from land-based transportation alone caused more than 1,000 deaths in 2015.

In Canada and worldwide, as well as committing our children, grandchildren and those yet to be born to an uncertain future, we’ve made conditions worse for young people today.

In Canada and worldwide, as well as committing our children, grandchildren and those yet to be born to an uncertain future, we’ve made conditions worse for young people today. The Lancet report found children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to climate disruption, as are the least well off.

Global heating is creating a range of health problems. Illness and death are increasing from climate-driven wildfires and smoke, insects carrying diseases such as Lyme and dengue are moving into new territory, malnutrition is on the rise as droughts and flooding cause crop failures and food scarcity, and deadly diarrhea from bacteria like cholera is spreading, with children bearing the brunt of the problems.

“Children’s bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants,” said Lancet Countdown executive director Nick Watts. “The damage done in early childhood lasts a lifetime. Without immediate action from all countries climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation.”

You’d think we’d do everything in our power to protect our children, but we aren’t.

You’d think we’d do everything in our power to protect our children, but we aren’t. Governments here and elsewhere are still putting the fossil fuel industry’s interests ahead of citizens’, while downplaying the climate crisis. Climate science deniers are as vocal and uninformed as ever. Oil industry executives claim to take climate seriously while arguing that fossil fuel demand is rising so we might as well get some money.

With all the knowledge and solutions available, why are we stalling and putting humanity at risk?

As my friend, UBC professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics William Rees argued in a two-part Tyee article, we’re still addicted to fossil fuels. Echoing my sentiments, Rees writes, “A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago.” But we didn’t act rationally, and many still aren’t. Rees offers 11 strategies to deal with the crisis, which he argues must go beyond the current “green new deal.” Included are “Formal recognition of the end of material growth and the need to reduce the human ecological footprint,” and reducing production and consumption.

We can’t go back to former conditions. But with great effort and human ingenuity, we can learn to better live in balance with nature. We can get through the climate crisis. But it’s too late for half measures. We need an all-out effort as great as or greater than mobilizations for the “great” wars. We need to kick our fossil fuel addiction now, for our sake and the children’s. SOURCE

Unite for bold climate action