How to Prepare for Climate Change’s Most Immediate Impacts

If you weren’t already convinced by the epic snowstorm, fatal heat dome, horrific flooding, apocalyptic fires, and terrifying IPCC report of 2021, let’s make one thing clear: Climate change is here, now, today. Even if we all became carbon zero overnight—an impossibility—the climate would still keep changing.

And while it’s important to keep fighting, lobbying, and making lifestyle changes to reduce the impacts of climate change, it’s also important to admit that our planet has irrevocably changed and each of us needs to learn how to adapt.

The biggest challenge of learning to live in a new climate is that there’s so much uncertainty about what’s going to happen, to whom, and when. “Climate change will cause mass migrations and economic disruptions,” says John Ramey, the founder of The Prepared, a website focused on prepping.

“What will happen when millions of homes are lost, people move, food and water is scarce, and whole economic sectors fail?” Nobody knows the answer to that question, much less whether it’s guaranteed that will all happen, but here’s a hint: Even a fraction of that is gonna be bad, and you’re gonna be glad that you read and took the advice in this article.

And if you’ve been eyeing cans of Spam at the grocery store, take heart that you’re not alone. According to a FEMA study, there’s been a recent growth in prepping—from 3.8 percent of American households in 2017 to 5.2 percent in 2019. Ramey predicts that after the double whammy of a pandemic and nonstop climate disasters, that number could now be as high as 10 percent.

“The climate crisis is one of the single largest reasons behind the huge growth in the modern prepping community,” Ramey says, “especially among people under the age of 35 or so, since they’re broadly well educated, believe the science, and have the fear or impression that the world will burn within their lifetime.”

When we hear the word prepping, most of us think immediately of a man with a long beard who lives in a hut in the woods, collects guns and “tactical” gear, and eats beans everyday for lunch. Or a Silicon Valley billionaire with a concrete fortress built to withstand nuclear war (with a bowling alley, because, you know, the apocalypse gets boring real fast).

“The media likes to highlight extreme characters and stories, such as a nutter wrapping his entire suburban house in foil or moving into the woods to teach combat shooting to their toddlers,” says Ramey. “Those people are no more representative of preppers than the Kardashians are of Californians.” At its core, prepping simply means taking actions to prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario. Chances are, you already do some form of prepping, whether that’s buying life insurance or installing a smoke alarm in your home.

While there may not be an exact blueprint for what climate change is going to do to each of our lives, experts have some solid guesses that, combined with some good old common sense, can help each of us prepare for our new normal. “I can’t tell you when you’re going to get hit by a climate disaster,” says David Pogue, tech journalist and author of How to Prepare for Climate Change. “But I can tell you that sooner or later, it’ll come.”

Climate-Induced Natural Disasters

The evidence is clear: Climate change is making natural disasters more frequent, more severe, and more expensive. “We’re getting freak heat waves and freak snowstorms, devastating droughts and historic downpours, flooding and water shortages,” explains Pogue. “Everything is changing simultaneously: oceans, atmosphere, plants, animals, permafrost, weather, seasons, insects, people.”

Because your risk of natural disaster is completely dependent on where you live, what’s most important is that you understand what disasters you, personally, may face (and don’t just rely on what disasters you’ve faced in the past—that’s not an accurate assessment anymore). You can do this by researching your city or county’s emergency preparedness tips and making sure you understand the basics of surviving an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.

Pogue says that, no matter where you live, you should make sure your homeowner or renter insurance covers the disasters you’re at risk for. He also points out that you don’t need to live on a coast to be at risk for flooding, and homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding.

After your insurance is squared away, he suggests prepping for two weeks of having no water, food, or power, packing a “go bag” to sustain you for a couple of days outside of your home, and making a plan with your family about where to meet if cell towers aren’t working. His last piece of advice is the simplest: download the Red Cross Emergency app.

It’s free and will give you early warning about disasters. “The most tragic way to die in a fire, flood, or hurricane is in your home because you never got the word to evacuate.”

Supply Chain Breakdown and Food Shortages

Whether or not you agree with experts who say that climate change could bring about a Roman Empire–esque societal collapse, it’s clear that shortages and supply chain disruptions are on the increasingly warm horizon. As Covid-19 showed us, those disruptions can impact anything from medical supplies to car parts to finding a winter coat. But the most concerning shortages that we face are access to food and water.

A 2019 UN report warns of a looming food crisis, and drought already threatens 40 percent of the world’s population, according to the WHO, and over 80 million people in the United States, according to the US government’s Drought Information system. A new paper published in Advances in Nutrition suggests that climate change will cause rising food prices, greater food insecurity, and may lead to micronutrient deficiencies in more people.

While there may be little you can do to impact the global food chain, you can start in your own backyard by planting a fruit tree or starting a garden, learning how to grow climate-appropriate vegetables, and making sure your pantry is fully stocked with two weeks of water and food, along with any necessary medical supplies. It’s also important to assume you won’t have warning before a food and water shortage, according to Ramey, so don’t put off stocking up until it’s too late.

Becoming Resilient Together

Resilience may be an overused term when we talk about climate change, but for most of us, it’s grossly lacking in how prepared we are to care for ourselves, our loved ones, and our property if emergency workers aren’t able to assist us. Barely half of Americans can perform CPR, only 17 percent know how to build a fire, and just 14 percent feel confident in their ability to identify edible plants and berries.

Basic skills—like learning how to operate a two-way radio, knowing the smartest escape route out of your city or neighborhood, or being able to change a bike tire—may sound simple, but can be the difference between life and death in a disaster.

Perhaps the most effective way to take care of yourself is to get close to others. According to FEMA, 46 percent of people expect to rely a great deal on people in their neighborhood for assistance within the first 72 hours after a disaster. “Prepping is not a lone wolf activity,” says Ramey. It’s important that your immediate neighbors know your name and who is in your family—including pets—so they can inform first responders in the case of an earthquake or a fire.

In the event of supply chain disruptions, your neighbors may be your only access to vital supplies like batteries or extra diapers. Building connections in your local community is also a great way to build an informal service network, because who knows when you may need help with an injury or a home repair. As Ramey puts it: “Community wins in 99 percent of situations.”

By: Emma Pattee

Emma Pattee is a writer from Portland covering topics related to feminism, climate change, and mortality. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, The Washington Post, WIRED, Marie Claire, and more. 

Source: How to Prepare for Climate Change’s Most Immediate Impacts | WIRED

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The Controversial Plan To Vacuum Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere

In its 2018 report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that our current efforts just to lower carbon emissions aren’t enough. To prevent the worst of climate change, the world needs to remove carbon from the atmosphere in large quantities.

The idea of removing it from the air at any kind of scale requires the proper technology, money, political cooperation, all of which pose unique—and seemingly insurmountable—challenges.

On Friday’s episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Clive Thompson, journalist and author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World, about the race to suck carbon out of the air. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: You recently wrote a story, which ran in Mother Jones, about direct air carbon capture, a new technology that might be helpful in addressing the climate crisis. What is DAC?

Clive Thompson: Direct air carbon capture is basically the art and science of extracting CO2 from the air. You create a machine that uses a chemical process to bind CO2 and turn it into something that you can then store somewhere. Maybe you shove it really deep in the ground so it’s gone, maybe you turn it into something else that you can use.

Who is actually making the DAC technology?

So at the high end, you have a company like Carbon Engineering, which is up in Canada. And the way it works is that they have a big machine that’s the size of a building, with a huge fan on top of it that sucks air in and blows it down into a pool of liquid sorbent.

Then it reacts. Once there’s lots of CO2 in the sorbent, they use a process that requires temperatures of hundreds and hundreds of degrees to turn it into CO2 that can be stored as a pressurized gas. The downside is that a lot of energy is needed to run that machine. That’s one model.

What’s the other model?

The other model is to have much smaller machines that you could tuck anywhere that use a lot less energy, which is great, but they also don’t suck quite as much CO2 out of the air. Klaus Lackner [a professor at Arizona State University] created a tree of these discs that stands 30 feet high, and the wind just blows air past it.

That reacts with the sorbent inside these discs, and then once every hour or so when the discs are full of CO2, it collapses down almost like an umbrella, and squeezes it out with a little bit of heat. They’re so low-energy that he imagines you might need tens of millions of them, but you could put them literally anywhere.

Direct air capture sounds very sci-fi. When we’re thinking about it in the public policy arena, it seems like there are two big questions: What would it take scientifically to do this at scale, and what would it take practically and politically?

What you’d need to really do this is an almost wartime mobilization of resources. And, there are lots and lots of choke points. You’d need tons of that sorbent chemical. You’d need to figure out a lot of issues: Where do you put all that carbon? What do you do with that stuff? But could you get it out of the sky, could you do that at scale? Yes. I think you could.

On a practical level, even saying there was the global will for this, it seems like there are three big structural hurdles: cost, transportation and storage. How much does it cost to do this?

The estimate that I most often heard is that right now the cheapest they can do is about $500 per ton of CO2. Everyone who looks at this field basically says that that is way too much. That is way too expensive to be able to do what we need to do. Because the IPCC was talking about removing 10 gigatons a year, which is billions of tons. So at 500 per ton, you’re talking about trillions and trillions of dollars.

So, what price does it need to get to? No one really knows. But if it were around $100 per ton, then there starts to be a more of a market for this stuff. If you got it down to $50 or $10 a ton, then you’re really talking.

There’s another issue besides cost. How can you move the carbon dioxide once you’ve got it?

These machines could be anywhere. They could be in Boston, they could be out in the desert in Arizona, they could be all over the place, and you need to have a pipeline. And piping CO2 is really not easy because it is a highly pressurized gas.

If you have a leak, it’s really bad stuff. It erupts with high pressure, it is an asphyxiating gas so it would kill people, and worse of all it hangs low to the ground. It’s heavier than air if it’s in a dense quantity.

You’re not really selling direct air capture to me here.

Let me make it a little bit worse by pointing out that traditionally pipelines get run through Indigenous lands. So yeah, am I selling it? No. My goal with this story was to paint a very realistic picture of the enormous opportunity but the enormous challenge here.

I’m not saying it would be impossible to do that, and if it became like “we have no other option,” then I guess we would bite the bullet and figure it out. But it’s something you’d want to really think hard and plan for if you’re going to do it, which is a good reason to think about the problems now.

The other level of this story that takes it to another bananas head-scratching place is that it seems from your reporting that the only players who could afford to do this, who have a really vested interest in doing this, are Big Oil companies.

Yeah.
This is the issue that really alarms a lot of environmentalists about direct air capture. Nearly all of the projects that I’ve been telling you about here are all being developed hand in glove with oil and gas companies, fossil fuel companies. Why is that? Well, the people who understand how to build things at scale that have to do with energy and how to move gases around are the oil and gas companies. They’ve got decades of experience in this. So they’re the first obvious partners.

What do you do with that CO2 when you’ve captured it? We talked about shoving it in the ground to get rid of it. The problem is that in the short run—and by the short run I mean a decade or more—there’s really no one who’s planning to shove that in the ground. What all of these projects are doing is working with oil and gas companies to do something that creates a market for the reuse of that CO2.

There is a market right now for CO2, but it’s niche. There’s a company in Texas, for example, that uses it to get the last drops of oil and gas out of nearly empty wells.  It’s something other companies might adopt. And that brings us back to this question of environmentalists having to work with or rely on oil companies. Are some environmentalists able to say, “OK, this involves a deal with the devil but it gets us there”? Or is it just like, “No, that’s a nonstarter”?

Environmentalists are divided on this. Many of the environmentalists, I would say the majority of them, said to me, “We think this is a costly distraction. We think that all the money being put into developing direct air capture should just be put into scaling out renewables dramatically right now.

Innovating on that front. That is how we decarbonize. We do it by just rapidly throwing everything we can at this. And we seal the oil and gas companies out of this process because they are just bad news.” These environmentalists argue that oil and gas companies just want this tech to exist as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Because it helps them reduce their net emissions?

Yeah. It would become this way of saying, “Hey, we’re net neutral! We’re creating lots more emissions by selling lots of oil and gas, but we’re also shoving it in the ground.” Or even worse, they’ll develop this technology a little bit, but never get serious enough about it. This is what’s known as the moral hazard argument.

If you start developing the technology, it takes the pressure off of society to decarbonize its energy production. If you think that there is a magic solution coming 10 or 20 years from now, then yeah, maybe it’s OK to keep burning oil and gas and maybe we don’t need to aggressively roll out solar and renewables.

The thing about direct air capture that is so fascinating is how complicated it is. Not in terms of the tech, but in terms of the moral and ethical equations around it.

Among other things, direct air capture would allow for a certain level of environmental and economic justice insofar as we’re now in a situation where parts of the Global South are rapidly trying to expand their economies, and to do that you need lots and lots of cheap energy right now.

Those societies want to do what we did, which is to burn lots of oil and gas to get themselves as prosperous as possible as quickly as possible. So the progressive argument is that maybe it’s up to the developed countries that made this mess to work on direct air capture and clean up the problem for the countries that we have trod all over in the last 50 or 100 years.

Would doing direct air capture on a global scale be an admission of defeat?

Yeah, absolutely. It would be a complete admission of defeat insofar as it would be us saying to ourselves, “We couldn’t change the way we lived.” For decades we were unwilling to do that. We knew in the ’90s that we needed to work on decarbonizing the economy as rapidly as possible and rolling out renewables and we didn’t do it.

We didn’t push for it. To the extent that a lot of citizens did push hard for it, they faced ferocious opposition from oil and gas companies and from many politicians who were absolutely in their pockets.

What do we know about how the oil companies are approaching these projects?

Several people said to me that one of the reasons why they are dubious of the motives of oil and gas companies is that none of them are really reorienting their spending habits around it. They’ve got R&D projects, but things only really change when you see what they do with their annual budgets. And with their annual budgets they’re still just drilling for oil.

Some people have said that the only way that we’re going to roll out million and millions of direct air capture machines and make it really cheap is if for the next 10 or 20 years we actually turn the CO2 back into liquid fuel and burn it again. When I say to them, “That sounds circular. Isn’t the point to get it out of the air and into the ground?” They’re like, “Well yes, but think of it this way.

What we’d be doing is decarbonizing the internal combustion engine.” So, the idea is we can keep on using all these trucks and all these planes and cars that have internal combustion engines, but we would actually have net zero emissions or as low as possible emissions. But, it’s a leap of faith.

Do you have any faith that this is going anywhere?

The only faith I have is the faith that comes from seeing things like solar succeed. One of the reasons why solar got so good is governments gave some subsidies and that took leadership, and that was good. And then that incentivized a marketplace of solar creators to go, “Hey, we can make money with this!”

I definitely feel gloomy all the time because of the lack of political urgency amongst the folks who run things. I also know that sometimes things can be working better than we imagine in different pockets of innovation and marketplaces and policies. But I don’t hold out great hope.

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By: Lizzie O’Leary

Lizzie O’Leary is the host of What Next: TBD, Slate’s show about technology, power, and the future. Previously, she created and hosted Marketplace Weekend. She has reported for CNN, Bloomberg News, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She is also a contributing writer at the Atlantic.

Source: Can carbon capture solve the climate crisis?

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The Rare Spots of Good News on Climate Change

The deadly consequences of climate change only grew clearer this year, as record-shattering heat waves, floods, and wildfires killed thousands and strained the limits of our disaster responders.

In the closing days of 2021, scientists warned that the eastern ledge of a Florida-size glacier is about to snap off of Antarctica and US legislators found they may have flubbed their best chance in a decade to enact sweeping climate policies.

But amid these stark signs, there were also indications that momentum is beginning to build behind climate action. Indeed, there’s good reason now to believe that the world could at least sidestep the worst dangers of global warming.

Princeton energy researcher Jesse Jenkins accurately, and colorfully, pinpointed the weird moment we’ve arrived at in a recent tweet: “We’re no longer totally f$%@ed. But we’re also far from totally unf$@%*ed!”

To be sure, the limited progress isn’t nearly enough. We’ve taken far too long to begin making real changes. World events and politics could still slow or reverse the trends. And we can’t allow a tiny bit of progress in the face of a generational challenge to ease the pressures for greater action.

But it’s worth highlighting and reflecting on the advances the world has made, because it demonstrates that it can be done—and could provide a template for achieving more.

Momentum

So what are the signs of progress amid the climate gloom?

The grimmest scenarios that many fretted about just a few years ago look increasingly unlikely. That includes the 4 or 5 °C of warming this century that I and others previously highlighted as a possibility.

The UN climate panel’s earlier high-end emissions scenario, known as RCP 8.5, had found that global temperatures could rise more than 5 °C by 2100. Those assumptions have been frequently included in studies assessing the risks of climate change, delivering the eye-catching top-end results often cited in the press. (Guilty.)

Some argue that it wasn’t all that plausible in the first place. And the scenario seems increasingly far-fetched given the rapid shift away from coal-fired power plants, initially to lower-emitting natural gas but increasingly toward carbon-free wind and solar.

Global emissions may have already flattened when taking into account recent revisions to land-use changes, meaning updated tallies of the forests, farmlands, and grasslands the world is gaining and losing.

Today, if you layer in all the climate policies already in place around the world, we’re now on track for 2.7 °C of warming this century as a middle estimate, according to Climate Action Tracker. (Similarly, the UN’s latest report found that the planet is likely to warm between 2.1 and 3.5 °C under its “intermediate” emissions scenario.)

If you assume that nations will meet their emissions pledges under the Paris agreement, including the new commitments timed around the recent UN summit in Glasgow, the figure goes down to 2.4 °C. And if every country pulls off its net-zero emissions targets by around the middle of the century, it drops to 1.8 °C.

Given the increasingly strict climate policies and the plummeting costs of solar and wind, we’re about to witness an absolute boom in renewables development. The International Energy Agency, well known for underestimating the growth of renewables in the past, now says that global capacity will rise more than 60% by 2026. At that point, solar, wind, hydroelectric dams, and other renewables facilities will rival the worldwide capacity of fossil-fuel and nuclear plants.

Sales of new electric vehicles, bumping along in the low single digits for years, are also taking off. They’ll reach around 5.6 million this year, leaping more than 80% over 2020 figures, as automakers release more models and governments enact increasingly aggressive policies, according to BloombergNEF.

Electric vehicles climbed from 2.8% of new sales in the first half of 2019 to 7% during the first half of 2021, with particularly large gains in China and Europe. Zero-emissions vehicles will make up nearly 30% of all new purchases by 2030, the research firm projects.

Progress

Meanwhile, there are plenty of signs of technological progress. Researchers and companies are figuring out ways to produce carbon-free steel and cement. Plant-based meat alternatives are getting tastier and more popular faster than anyone expected. Businesses are building increasingly large plants to suck carbon dioxide out of the air. Venture capital investments into climate and clean-tech startups have risen to levels never before seen, totaling more than $30 billion through the third quarter, according to PitchBook.

And here’s an important and counterintuitive finding: While dangerous, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common or severe, the world seems to be getting a lot better at keeping people safer from them. The average number of deaths from natural disasters has generally dropped sharply in recent decades.

“We have better technologies to predict storms, wildfires, and floods; infrastructure to protect ourselves; and networks to cooperate and recover when a disaster does strike,” noted Hannah Ritchie, head of research at Our World of Data, in an recent Wired UK essay, citing her own research.

This provides additional hope that with the right investments into climate adaption measures like seawalls and community cooling centers, we’ll be able to manage some of the increased risks we’ll face. Rich nations that have emitted the most greenhouse gases, however, must provide financial assistance to help poor countries bolster their defenses.

A realistic baseline

Some folks have seized on these improving signs to argue that climate change isn’t going to be all that bad. That’s nonsense. The world is, by any measure, still dramatically underreacting to the rising risks.

A planet that’s nearly 3 °C hotter would be a far more dangerous and unpredictable place. Those temperatures threaten to wipe out coral reefs, sink major parts of our coastal cities and low-lying islands, and subject millions of people to far greater risks of extreme heat waves, droughts, famines, and floods.

In addition, we could still be underestimating how sensitive the atmosphere is to greenhouse gases, as well as the spiraling impacts of climate tipping points and the dangers that these higher temperatures bring. And there’s no guarantee that nations won’t backtrack on their policies and commitments amid economic shocks, conflicts, and other unpredictable events.

But to be sure, a 3 °C warmer world is a much more livable place than a 5 °C warmer one, and a far more promising starting line for getting to 2 °C.

“The point isn’t to say that that’s a good outcome,” says Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute. “The point is, that’s the baseline we’re working with now. And it’s easier to imagine much more rapid declines from there.”

In some ways, it’s especially notable that the world has made this much progress without sweeping climate policies in many nations, and despite all the poisoned, partisan politics surrounding climate change.

The shifts to natural gas, then solar and wind, and increasingly EVs were all aided by government support, including loans, subsidies, and other policies that pushed the underlying technologies into the marketplace. And the business-driven scale-up process rapidly cut the costs of those technologies, helping them become ever more attractive.

Increasingly competitive and business-friendly clean alternatives promise to simplify the politics of further climate action. If more and more nations enact increasingly aggressive policies—carbon taxes, clean-energy standards, or far more funding for research and demonstration projects—we’ll drive down emissions ever faster.

The world isn’t ending

There are other reasons to take note of the modest progress we are making.

Progressive US politicians now casually repeat the claim that climate change is an “existential threat,” suggesting it will wipe out all of humanity. After a 2018 UN report noted that global warming could reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052, climate activists and media outlets contorted that finding into versions of “We have 12 years to save the planet!”

If so, it would now be down to nine. But 1.5 °C isn’t some scientifically determined threshold of societal collapse. Though the world will miss that goal, it remains crucial to fight for every additional half-degree of warming beyond it, each of which brings steadily higher risks.

Meanwhile, climate research does not suggest that the 3 °C of warming we’re now roughly on target for would transform the entire planet into some uninhabitable hellscape.

So no, climate change is not an existential threat.

But that sentiment has certainly taken hold. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Bath surveyed 10,000 young people, aged 16 to 25, in 10 countries to assess the levels of “climate anxiety.” More than half, 56%, agreed with the statement “Humanity is doomed.”

It’s standard stuff for politicians and activists to overstate dangers and demands, in the hopes of pushing toward some compromise solution. And the growing climate fears and the increasingly influential climate activist movement have undoubtedly put greater pressures on politicians and business to take these issues more seriously, helping to drive some the policy changes we’ve seen. They deserve real credit for that.

But insisting that the world is at the edge of collapse, when it’s not, is a terrible message for young people and carries some real risks as well. It clearly undermines credibility. It could lead some people to simply lose hope. And it could compel others to demand extreme and often counterproductive responses.

“It’s time to stop telling our children that they’re going to die from climate change,” Ritchie wrote. “It’s not only cruel, it might actually make it more likely to come true.”

When people don’t see a “reasonable path forward,” they begin to rationalize unreasonable ones.

Among those I hear with surprising frequency: We must shut down all fossil-fuel infrastructure, and end oil and gas extraction now. We must fix everything with today’s technologies and reject the “predatory delay” tactic of continued investment in clean-energy innovation. We have to halt consumption, construction, and economic development. Or even: We must smash the global capitalist system that caused all the problems!

Balancing the trade-offs

None of that strikes me as somehow more politically feasible than fixing our energy systems.

We do have to shut down fossil-fuel plants, replace vehicles, and switch to new methods of producing food, cement, steel, and other goods—and relatively quickly. But we have to do it by developing alternatives that don’t pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If we adjust the goalpost back to 2 °C, which is regrettable but only realistic at this point, we have several decades yet to carry out the transformation required. Under a modest emissions scenario, the world won’t exceed that threshold until around 2052 as a middle estimate, Hausfather’s analysis of latest UN climate report suggests.

What we can’t do is just shut down the infrastructure that drives the global economy—not without massive damage to jobs, food, health care, and safety. We’d sacrifice the economic resources we need to develop a more sustainable economy, as well as to make our communities more resilient to the coming climate dangers.

Those in rich countries, especially, have no business telling poor countries that they must halt development, perpetually locking billions of people in economic and energy poverty.

If we’re worried about climate change because of the suffering it will impose on people, then we have to care about the human trade-offs entailed in how we address it as well. Weighting those properly requires dealing honestly what with the science does and doesn’t say, recognizing the limited progress we are making, and not resorting to hyperbole simply because we think it will spur the actions we hope to see.

It’s a cruel and dangerous fantasy that we’ll ever halt climate change by counting on or forcing people to live impoverished lives, forgoing food, medicine, heating, or air conditioning in an increasingly erratic and menacing world.

We need more activist pressure and more aggressive climate policies to confront the threats of climate change. But ultimately, we must invent and build our way out of the problem. And the rare bright spot of good news is that we’re beginning to see evidence that we can.

I am the senior editor for energy at MIT Technology Review. I’m focused on renewable energy and the use of technology to combat climate change. Previously, I was a senior director at the Verge, deputy managing editor at Recode, and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. When I’m not writing about energy and climate change, I’m often hiking with my dog or shooting video of California landscapes.

Source: The rare spots of good news on climate change | MIT Technology Review

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Antarctica’s Fossil Rainforest Is a Warning About Climate Change

The coldest continent on Earth used to be as warm as Italy. Here’s how we know. Not far from the South Pole, more than half a mile below the ocean in a region that was once covered by ice, a layer of ancient fossils tells a surprising story about the coldest continent on Earth.

Today, the South Pole records average winter temperatures of 78 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. But roughly 90 million years ago, the fossils suggest, Antarctica was as warm as Italy and covered by a green expanse of rainforest.

“That was an exciting time for Antarctica,” Johann P. Klages, a marine geologist who helped unearth the fossils, told Vox. “It was basically the last time the whole continent was covered by vegetation and probably also wildlife — dinosaurs, and all that.”

Intrepid polar scientists like Klages, who works at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, are revealing new sides of the Antarctica we know today. In the April 2020 issue of the journal Nature, he and 39 colleagues described networks of fossilized tree roots that they pulled up from the seafloor in 2017. They’re a sign of just how much the polar climate has changed since the “supergreenhouse” of the Cretaceous period — and perhaps how much the climate could change again.

Even since that paper, the Antarctic surprises have kept coming. In October, a Brazilian research team announced that it found 75-million-year-old pieces of charcoal on James Ross Island, hundreds of miles south of South America. In the journal Polar Research, the researchers concluded that “paleofires,” which were common in the rest of the prehistoric world, also scorched the Antarctic Peninsula. “That’s exciting work,” Klages said. “It’s the first evidence for these wildfires.”

As climate change warms Antarctica and shrinks its enormous ice sheet, many scientists are wondering whether history could repeat itself. But relatively few research teams have the tools to work in a place where Titanic-sized icebergs pepper the ocean. I sat down with Klages at the Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin to talk about how his team conducted research from the RV Polarstern, a research icebreaker that translates “North Star” and regularly carries around 50 scientists and 50 crew members to the Arctic and Antarctic.

He told me about the place where his team drilled into the seafloor — an area where geology somehow brought layers of 90-million-year-old sediment, or “strata,” within reach of their enormous and powerful drill. The layers, he said, are like the pages in a book. “You walk along the pages; you walk along history,” he said. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

This particular cruise was exciting because we tried this special seafloor drill rig for the first time. It’s huge. It’s almost 10 tons. It needs seven 20-foot containers of equipment to be shipped. There are only two of them available on the planet right now. They were developed and built in Bremen, Germany, at the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM).

For this drill rig, you need special conditions. It sits on the seafloor and it’s connected with a long cable, in this case about 1,000 meters, for power supply and a glass fiber cable that ensures the communication. We have [eight] HD cameras that are observing each step. We the scientists are standing behind the technicians, because they are the specialists, in the communication container with all the screens that show you what’s going on.

Daniel Gross

It must look like a cockpit of an airplane.

Johann Klages

Yeah, or like in Houston when rockets go up. It’s very exciting. We know, when we drill, that no one has seen this material before.

It’s also extremely exciting because sea ice drifting toward the ship would be the end of the cable. Canceling the drill takes five to six hours. Therefore, we have a joint collaboration with the German aerospace center, and every day we get high-resolution imagery of the particular location where we drill. Then we have two helicopters on board. We fly around the ship to make sure there is no sea ice.

You need around 30 to 50 hours of operation time on one particular location. So for this time window, you have to make sure that everything runs relatively smoothly.

We had to drill through 25 meters [82 feet] of sandstone, which is always the worst to drill, especially when there’s water involved, because it crumbles and falls apart. It’s really annoying. The drilling crew wanted to cancel the drill because of the sandstone and because ice was coming. We had to decide. I think the ice was eight or nine hours away.

Daniel Gross

Can you tell me a little bit about the 2017 voyage itself?

Johann Klages

All Antarctic expeditions I’ve been a part of are extremely exciting because everywhere you go, usually, it’s for the first time. It’s like this white spot on the map. Every time we go there we discover new things.

Polarstern is one of the largest research icebreakers in the world — it can break through thick ice. That makes it possible to reach locations that are usually not reachable for other ships. In the Northern Hemisphere summer, it’s usually in the Arctic, and in the Southern Hemisphere summer, it’s usually in the Antarctic.

Daniel Gross

Why did you drill there?

Johann Klages

Because during past expeditions, with geophysical methods looking deep into the seafloor, we saw that the geological strata were kind of tilted.

Daniel Gross

And that signals just how old it is.

Johann Klages

Exactly. If you have tilted strata, some kind of bigger tectonic process brought it up. Then the ice eroded into it, so that these strata are so close to the surface — just a few meters below the surface.

Daniel Gross

Is the drill sort of like a straw, in that it holds the sediment in place as it drills down?

Johann Klages

Yeah, you have an inner and outer barrel. At the bottom, you have a diamond drill head.

The seafloor drill rig has two magazines in it — one with empty barrels and one with filled barrels. You pull out the inner barrel every 3.5 meters. We then go and get the material from the technicians. That was the first moment we realized we have something very special because it had a color that we never saw before in Antarctica. Very dark brown, and very fine-grained.

At the surface, every once in a while, you could see these black spots. We were all wondering, what are these black spots about? Must be something organic.

We decided to drill one more section, which means 3.5 meters, and then go away. And in those 3.5 meters, there were those exciting strata. If we hadn’t, there would have been nothing exciting, really. That made the difference.

It’s always a combination of knowledge and good conditions, but then there are two more things: luck and intuition. If you don’t follow them, you shouldn’t go there in the first place.

We came home. The cores came home a couple of weeks later, shipped home on Polarstern. Then we decided to go to a hospital we have a collaboration with that has these human computed tomography (CT) scanners. When we first saw the CT data, that was the moment we realized we have something very special. It was this interconnected network of fossil roots.

Daniel Gross

Was there evidence of plant life in Antartica before you came along?

Johann Klages

Yes, but all of that evidence is 1,000 to 1,500 kilometers [about 600 to 900 miles] farther north. There was no evidence from near the South Pole. We reconstructed this environment only 900 kilometers away from the South Pole.

No one really knew what the climate was like during the “supergreenhouse” period near the South Pole. But this is actually what you need when you want to know the severity of a particular climate in Earth’s past. [The poles are currently warming much more quickly than the rest of the planet, and as polar ice melts, global warming accelerates.] This is what we could reveal with this study.

The problem in Antarctica is, right now, is the ice sheet. The particular site where we drilled was covered by grounded ice for millions of years, but since we are in an interglacial period right now, the ice retreated to a point that it just made it possible to get to it and drill into it.

Daniel Gross

Could you describe what was happening in the atmosphere at the time that could have created these conditions?

Johann Klages

That was the final question we asked ourselves. Such a diverse environment with such mild temperatures — temperatures that today you have in northern Italy, for example. What is necessary to maintain that for a long stretch of time 90 million years ago?

Therefore, we invited some climate modelers into our team. They came up with [a carbon dioxide concentration of] at least 1,100 parts per million CO2, which is four times preindustrial [the CO2 concentration before the Industrial Revolution]. This was needed, at least, to meet the conditions we reconstructed.

We knew this period was the warmest in the last 145 million years. Now we had much better numbers on the CO2 content.

The model still has a problem: It can’t really simulate well enough the gradient between lower latitudes and high latitudes. We now know that the gradient was very shallow.

Daniel Gross

So it’s likely that the climate was hotter but more even at the time.

Johann Klages

Yeah! This is something that models can’t do right now properly — to simulate this gradient. So there is a bug with the modeling.

This is now what brings it to the significance for the future of the climate, if we drift into a high-CO2 future. We are doing that right now. We are 420 parts per million CO2, something around that. If we go to this high-CO2 future, we know that models struggle. This is a chance to use moments in Earth’s past to calibrate those models, to improve their predictive capabilities for tomorrow.

Daniel Gross

And the predictions your colleagues are starting to make suggest that it’s very concerning — but the presence of the ice sheet itself could protect us?

Johann Klages

Yes. We are quite lucky now that we have ice, and that two big areas of our planet are covered by permanent ice mass: Greenland and Antarctica. You have this self-cooling process. You have a gigantic mirror that sends short-wave radiation that comes in, back into space. If this is gone, this is transformed into heat.

This is something that we should not take for granted. Ice is vanishing. Every year we go there, we see. [We think] “Oh my gosh — it’s really going quickly now.” The rapid changes going on are unprecedented, as far as we know so far from the geological past.

We are doing a big experiment right now. We take fossil fuels from the Earth’s crust that were deposited over millions of years, and usually would have been released back to the atmosphere over millions of years — but we did it within 150 years. Boom. That has never happened before. That has a massive impact.

This is something we need to incorporate when we talk about the future — to start learning what the planet already went through in its history. It’s the only chance we have. It’s not about environmental protection — it’s about human protection. It’s about us.

Daniel Gross

When you set out to become a marine geologist, did you ever think you’d end up researching something so pressing — the future of our climate?

Johann Klages

No. You drift into things. I was just fascinated by the planet and by its history. We are lucky to be part of it. But this particular discovery — if someone would have told me the story like three years ago, I would have laughed. I never thought it would have such an impact.

Correction, December 6, 11:30 am: Klages told Vox after publication that his team used eight HD cameras to monitor the drill rig on the RV Polarstern, not 20.

Correction, December 7, 10:30 am: A previous version of this story misnamed the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences.

Daniel A. Gross

Source: Antarctica’s fossil rainforest is a warning about climate change – Vox

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More contents:

 “The Public and Climate Change: The Summer of 1988”, “News reporters gave only a little attention …”.NASA.

“The Causes of Climate Change”World Resources Institute, 8 December 2019

“Hurricanes and Climate Change”IPCC SROCC Ch5 2019, p. 510;

“Climate Change and Harmful Algal BloomsLester, Richard K. (2018).

“The Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep2019).

“Nuclear energy too slow, too expensive to save climate: report”

“Measuring the success of climate change adaptation and mitigation in terrestrial ecosystems

Cross-sectoral interactions of adaptation and mitigation Sharifi, Ayyoob (2020).

“Trade-offs and conflicts between urban climate change mitigation and adaptation measures: A literature review”on 6 July 2017,

Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

“Scientists Reach 100% Consensus on Anthropogenic Global WarmingConnolly, Kate (29 April 2021).

Historic’ German ruling says climate goals not tough enough”Foote, Eunice (November 1856).

Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s RaysWeart

“Suspicions of a Human-Caused Greenhouse (1956–1969)”

How Are Developing Countries Spending Climate Financing Money?

Over the past decade, rich nations and private enterprises have raised at least $500 billion to help developing countries cope with climate change. This financing plan, hatched in 2009, was supposed to build to an annual mobilization of $100 billion by 2020, and was designed to offset the unfairness of climate change—of poor countries suffering because rich countries had already emitted their way to wealth.

Developed countries, as we’re finding out now, have missed that $100 billion target. Just as importantly, though, it turns out that no one—no individual, no government, no multilateral agency—knows precisely how all this climate funding is being spent, or even if it’s being spent at all. Even the best such database, maintained by OECD, is a broad-brush one and has many gaps—not least in the details of private financing. The very term “climate financing,” in fact, has often proved to be slippery and malleable, defined by parties according to their own need or convenience.

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, scheduled to end on Nov. 12, ever-bigger climate financing numbers are being proposed: $130 trillion from a private sector consortium, an annual $1 trillion demanded by India, an annual $1.3 trillion demanded by African nations. But without a way to track how this money is used, these larger numbers “feel like greenwashing,” said Liane Schalatek, associate director of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, a policy think tank headquartered in Berlin. “It isn’t just, ‘Tell me the number,’ it should also be, ‘Show me how the number is computed,’ otherwise it’s a fig leaf.”

Insofar as some funds are more important than others, these climate financing funds are among the most important quantities of money in the world; human civilization itself hinges on whether these funds are raised in full and spent well. The absence of a detailed, publicly available account of this financing, said Schalatek, risks all sorts of omissions: donors mislabelling their funding, or money being misspent, or an under-estimation of the true volume of money required. Which, in turn, risks leaving the world far less prepared for climate change than it needs to be.

How much money are countries raising to fight climate change?

In 2019, the last year for which the OECD has published full data, rich countries raised nearly $80 billion as part of their climate financing pledge. Most of this was either in the form of bilateral funds—loans or grants from one government to another—or multilateral public funds, whereby developed countries channeled their money through international banks or climate funds. The money is intended to help developing countries both mitigate the effects of climate change—including investing in cleaner energy sources—as well as adapt to a harsher climate.

                                           

The data available on these funds, Schalatek said, resembles an onion. At the core are projects for which the most details are available: those financed through multilateral agencies. Schalatek’s team tracks a portion of these, “covering the most important multilateral climate funds,” she said, “although we don’t know what fraction it is of the overall multilateral funding.” In the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung database, for instance, grants can be found:

  • from the Global Environment Facility, in 2014, of $2.78 million to Argentina to introduce biogas technologies into the national waste management program
  • from the Green Climate Fund, in 2019, of $9.68 million to Bangladesh to build plinths that raise the land of high-risk villages above any potential climate-related floods
  • from the Adaptation for Smallholder Agricultural Programme, in 2015, of $4.56 million to Liberia to improve the climate resilience of its cocoa and coffee crops

Moving outward through the other layers of the onion, though, the details get less granular, Schalatek said. “Lots of bilateral initiatives, for instance, don’t give you a project-by-project breakdown.” A report by the non-profit Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), analyzing climate financing initiatives in 2019 and 2020, found, for instance, that “finance for buildings with high energy and thermal insulation  performances—green buildings—is growing fast but lacks transparency.” Even many multilateral funding efforts can only be slotted into broad categories: agricultural development, for example, or disaster risk reduction. As a result, Schalatek said, “there’s less data accuracy, more guesswork.”

Are rich countries greenwashing their climate funding pledges?

Another source of doubt has to do with how rich countries label the money they’re disbursing. Under the OECD system, countries attach a so-called “Rio marker” to any funds they claim to be pledging under the climate assistance rubric. The marker can either be a “2,” to signal that the money’s main purpose is climate-related, or a “1,” to signal that a significant part of the money’s purpose is climate-related.

But Schalatek pointed out that no standards exist for what the term “significant” might mean. Each country merely decides this for itself. “That makes the ‘significant’ tag very, very fishy,” she said. “There’s a risk that countries will overuse the ‘significant’ marker and inflate the overall amount of money they’re giving. There has been a lot of mislabelling—or uplabelling, you could call it—going on.”

Indeed, a study of the OECD database reveals projects that sound like traditional forms of assistance but that have been described as climate-related. Finland, for instance, gave Ethiopia a grant of $4.47 million to develop its water supply and sanitation systems, and labeled the money with a “1.” But water aid projects have existed for decades, and it is arguable whether the purpose of this grant—at least as described in the OECD database—has “significant” relation to climate change.

Some examples are even more egregious. Baysa Naran, a senior analyst who co-authored the CPI report, pointed out that her team had to regularly leave out projects that were tagged as climate financing but that were nothing of the sort: “energy-efficient coal, for instance.”

At Glasgow, developing countries called for tighter definitions of climate financing, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is attempting to bring more transparency to the funding initiatives. There are so many undefined areas, Naran said. “Which sectors do you count for mitigation, and which for adaptation? Do you count loans, or should only the equivalents of grants be considered climate finance?

Some countries channel a lot of money through multilateral institutions, which then channel money to climate finance. In those situations, how do you account for each country’s contribution?”

Measuring what countries are ponying up thus becomes very tricky, Naran noted. “There’s no third party that reviews and audits and makes independent conclusions about this financing,” she said. “It’s going to be a very difficult topic to reach a united agreement on.”

Samanth Subramanian

By Samanth Subramanian

Source: How are developing countries spending climate financing money? — Quartz

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