Archive for the Climate Change Category

For you to be right, then the following national science academies, peak scientific bodies and research institutes have to be wrong:

All of these groups agree that:

1) the world is warming
2) largely because of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases by human beings
3) with potentially dangerous consequences.

Please note, that this is not an illegitimate argument from authority. I’m not saying that just because a large number of smart people and groups with relevant expertise and first-hand research experience agree, then it must be true.

What I am saying is that if you are sure that any of 1 – 3 above are incorrect, then the evidence you base your certainty on really needs to be overwhelming. Say, the kind of evidence that could convince a large number of smart people and groups with relevant expertise and first-hand research experience.

(The list comes from here.)

Note 1: Melting glaciers and catastrophic floods

Around two months ago, a glacial lake in Humla District in the Midwestern mountains of Nepal, burst its moraine dam, causing flash flooding downstream, destroying homes and productive farmland.

Recent studies have shown that increasing temperatures have caused most Himalayan glaciers to melt at an accelerating rate and the resulting glacial lakes (pdf) are expanding rapidly. The occurrence of glacial lake outburst floods (pdf), as they are known, seems to have been accelerating in the last few decades.

The farmers of Halji village have virtually no responsibility for the additional heat-trapping greenhouse gases human beings are pumping into the atmosphere at increasing rates. But they are reaping the whirlwind that others have sown.

Note 2: Increased uncertainty making hard lives even harder

Farmer in Doti, Far Western Nepal

A while ago, we spoke with farmers from Doti, a hill district in Nepal’s Far West about their experiences of the weather and climate. One farmer, Dal Bahadur Balayer, described how a piece of traditional knowledge that had once underpinned livelihoods in his village had been rendered useless by a changing climate.

A local tree, the paiyu (a kind of jungle cherry) was known for blossoming in autumn. Farmers in the area had relied on this signal, as an indicator of the imminent arrival of winter rains, to plant the wheat crop. In recent years, the paiyu, in response to changing temperatures, has begun blossoming earlier and earlier. Farmers now have no way of knowing when to plant the wheat, as it can be more than a month between the paiyu’s flowering and the rain.

Rainfall has never been certain. But with one less tool for managing risk taken away, hard lives have been made even harder. For subsistence farmers in Doti, there is little room to manoeuvre, no way to hedge their bets, and no fall-back option to buy food if crops fail.

Another group of vulnerable people being rendered more vulnerable by the choices of others.

If you are not already reading Byron Smith’s blog, then do.

And then go and read this gem in Eternity magazine by John Cook, committed Christian and author of the completely brilliant skeptical science.

For the church to turn a blind eye to the injustice of climate change is to turn our back on God’s heart for the poor.

Cutting down our fossil fuel pollution has become part of the mandate to love our neighbours. We must pray and campaign for justice in a changing climate. We need to support action on climate change and look to reduce our carbon footprint.

I chanced upon my physician as I was walking along the way. He proceeded to upbraid me and spoke exceedingly boldly,

“You really must give up fast food, you know. It’s terribly bad for your health and you’re storing up worse health problems for the future the longer you keep eating it.”

“My fine doctor,” I replied, in good humour, “I will most assuredly reduce my consumption of these foods of swiftness just as soon as all others have done so.”

“Sooner is better than later,” he remonstrated. “The food you eat today will contribute to health problems you may develop in coming months. And it could take years of abstinence and exercise to bring you back to good health.”

O’ercome with wrath, I thundered, “Do you mean to say, sir, that nothing I do will make the slightest bit of difference for years?

And, cursing him for a fool and a blaggard and a supporter of godless political philosophies, I made my way to the nearest local outlet of a certain Scottish eatery.

I was extremely glad to be able to vote online, even from Nepal. ivote is brilliant and made me wonder why I had to spend 3 hours at the Australian Embassy voting for a hung parliament before the Federal Election last year.

While I normally love the festival atmosphere of elections, and take great delight in teasing the how-to-vote-card distributors by making as if to accept their offerings, only to snatch my hand away at the last minute, this election seems much more like a divorce, or an execution, or the regrettable putting down of a terminally ill animal, than any kind of political contest.

But the most annoying thing about the NSW Labor Party – I know, I know, how do you choose? – is that thanks to their utter repugnance to the voting public, the Liberal Party will be able to spend the next four years claiming whatever policy they like as part of their “mandate”. The most egregious example being Barry O’Farrell’s campaign against the federal move to implement a price on carbon emissions. (And this despite the fact that a majority of voters support the move when it’s clear that there will be compensation for low and middle income earners.)

But the truth of the matter is the Coalition will not be elected for any particular policy – I’m sure most people would be hard-pressed to name any specific policy they have put forward. They are not, in fact, being elected with a mandate to do any particular thing, whatever they might say.

They are being elected specifically and only to not be the NSW Labor Party.

The Royal Society has just published a collection of papers exploring the likelihood, and likely impacts of the world warming by 4°C above pre-industrial average temperatures by the end of the century.

The papers are available for free browsing and download here.

They are, as you can no doubt imagine, sobering reading. Critical take-home messages are:

1) The continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions and lack of commitment of most governments to make serious and sustained reductions in emissions means that there is very little likelihood of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C above the pre-industrial average. On current trends, our children and grandchildren will be living in a world that is, at best, 3° or 4°C hotter than that (and higher temperatures can’t be ruled out).

Despite high-level statements to the contrary, there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2° C. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2° C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2° C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change.

2) There is an enormous gap between what would seem to be any rational response to the risks involved, and the commitments made by most governments. Simply put, on current policy commitments (and these are merely pledges, not concrete action) we face a 50:50 chance of exceeding a 3.5°C temperature rise before the end of the century.

3) The longer we delay significant and sustained cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the more likely that higher temperature rises will be unavoidable. Earlier reductions are more effective for limiting likely temperature increases than later and even more drastic cuts.

4) Adapting to a warmer world will not simply be a matter of adjusting to slightly warmer weather – drinking a bit more and staying out of the sun. There will be significant shifts in rainfall patterns, sea level rise, impacts on agricultural viability and sustainability of fresh water supply that will negatively affect and even fundamentally transform or undermine aspects of our societies and economies.

The potential severity of impacts and the behavioural, institutional, societal and economic challenges involved in coping with these impacts argue for renewed efforts to reduce emissions, using all available mechanisms, to minimize the chances of high-end climate change.

It would be great to see these renewed efforts, and all available mechanisms being put to the task, but when the politicians I elect are indifferent or hostile to meaningful action, when my own actions demonstrate my fundamental lack of concern, I wonder what answer I’Il be able to give to my children, to the world’s vulnerable poor, and to the Creator, when I’m asked, “How did you let this happen?”

To coincide with the UN General Assembly gathering to assess and (hopefully) accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals, the Guardian newspaper has created a new Global Development site, which is jam-packed with MDG discussion, dissection, analysis and argument. Including a very useful clearing-house of the most recent MDG reports.

The site is co-sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – which seems to be finding good ways to voluntarily redistribute some of Bill’s wealth. Nice to see a billionaire’s cash being spent in a big way in the fight against poverty.

However, I suspect it means that you won’t read any articles on the site questioning whether major sector-specific donors and global funds (like the Gates Foundation) distort global poverty spending and development priorities or undermine national health systems and integrated whole-of-government approaches to tackling poverty.

ODI has a new site up as well – Development Progress. The site aims to document national success stories in development and poverty reduction, so I’ve bookmarked it to read when I need encouragement and inspiration.

Having the littlest guy waking between 4:30 and 5:30 most mornings mean that sometimes I’m up, but without enough brainpower for anything particularly taxing.

So, I’ve updated some broken links, deleted a few non-actives, and added a couple of new ones.

If I’ve mistakenly removed an active blog, or you know of a blog-or-website-of-goodness I have overlooked, please drop me a line.

A highlight from my morning’s reading came from the new security beat, discussing what we know and don’t know about the interrelationship of climate change and conflict:

1) Economic deprivation almost certainly heightens the risk of internal war.
2) Economic shocks, as a form of deprivation, almost certainly heighten the risk of internal war.
3) Sharp declines in rainfall, compared to average, almost certainly generate economic shocks and deprivation.
4) Therefore, we are almost certain that sharp declines in rainfall raise the risk of internal war.

To understand how climate change might affect future conflict, we need to know much more. We need to understand how changing climate patterns interact with year-to-year variability to affect deprivation and shocks. We need to construct plausible socioeconomic scenarios of change to enable us to explore how the dynamics of climate, economics, demography, and politics will interact and unfold to shape conflict risk.

Byron Smith is writing a 3 part blog series on Ecology and the Gospel. Reviewing the catalogue of contemporary environmental horrors – Climate change. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction. Resource depletion. Desertification. Overfishing. Ocean acidification… – he asks:

Is concern about such matters a distraction from the gospel or even a dangerous false agenda proposed by pantheist environmentalists?

The whole thing is worth reading, but I particularly liked Byron’s way of articulating part of every generation’s “greatest moral question” as,

whether we will love our neighbour as ourselves, or love ourselves to the harm of our neighbour.

I think that pretty much sums up for me the profound connection between our ecological and inter-personal ethics. Greenhouse gas emissions from our carbon-intensive economies and lifestyles are crowding the shared sky of our global village and warming the Earth, doing measurable harm to our poorest global neighbours.

A few years ago I fronted a DVD – Climate of Change – produced by TEAR Australia, looking at the impacts of climate change on Bangladesh, and also at the extraordinary community development work of HEED Bangladesh that is helping build community capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. And right now in my work with United Mission to Nepal, we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Nepal and working with poor communities to help them adapt.

Indifference, ignorance, and indulgence should not be options for Christians, but – sadly – they seem to be the default options for most of us most of the time. Our lifestyles, our worship, and our political discourse bear very little evidence that we take creation, new creation, and an other-centred ecological ethic seriously.

Or do you have, and are you part of, a story of change and hope?

This amazing comparative photography shows the extent of glacial melt and loss of snow cover in the Himalayas.


This is Everest’s (or Sagarmatha’s) main Rongbuk glacier as photographed by George Mallory in 1921. On the Rivers of Ice site, you can scroll across the photo to reveal the same scene photographed in 2007, which looks like this:


You can see clearly that the glacier’s ice has vastly decreased in height, width and length. You can also clearly see the reduced snow cover on Everest and surrounding mountains. The site tells us that the 2007 photo “reveals a loss of 320 vertical feet in ice mass since George Mallory took the same photograph in 1921.”

That’s over 100 vertical metres of ice melted away in less than a century.

Why does this matter? Well, first, you might only have heard that the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change made a mistake about Himalayan glaciers and you might have come to the conclusion that they’re basically fine. Their mistake was quoting a non-scientific paper that suggested they could completely disappear by 2035. Yes, they’ll still be here then, but the glaciers are clearly not fine.

Apart from that (admitted and corrected) error, the IPCC’s conclusions about the Himalayan glaciers are, as far as I know,  scientifically uncontested. And uncontestedly bad news for the whole population of Nepal and the region – particularly the poor. The Summary for Policy Makers (pdf.) notes,

Glacier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding, and rock avalanches from destabilised slopes, and to affect water resources within the next two to three decades. This will be followed by decreased river flows as the glaciers recede.”

And the Synthesis Report (.pdf) says:

Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes)”

Increased flooding, followed by reduced water availability, hydropower potential and changes to the seasonal water flows from the most significant rivers in South Asia. Cause for concern?