Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cape Town is running out of water, whose next?



                                                  Comments due March 2, 2018

It sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Day Zero” is coming to Cape Town this April. Everyone, be warned. The government cautions that the Day Zero threat will surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept. 11 attacks. Talks are underway with South Africa’s police because “normal policing will be entirely inadequate.” Residents, their nerves increasingly frayed, speak in whispers of impending chaos. The reason for the alarm is simple: The city’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry. If water levels keep falling, Cape Town will declare Day Zero in less than three months. Taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points. The city is bracing for the impact on public health and social order. “When Day Zero comes, they’ll have to call in the army,” said Phaldie Ranqueste, who was filling his white S.U.V. with big containers of water at a natural spring where people waited in a long, anxious line. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Cape Town. This city is known for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water in an increasingly dry corner of the world. But after a three-year drought, considered the worst in over a century, South African officials say Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses. Hospitals, schools and other vital institutions will still get water, officials say, but the scale of the shut-off will be severe. Cape Town’s problems embody one of the big dangers of climate change: the growing risk of powerful, recurrent droughts. In Africa, a continent particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, those problems serve as a potent warning to other governments, which typically don’t have this city’s resources and have done little to adapt. For now, political leaders here talk of coming together to “defeat Day Zero.” As water levels in the dams supplying the city continue to drop, the city is scrambling to finish desalination plants and increase groundwater production. Starting in February, residents will face harsher fines if they exceed their new daily limit, which will go down to 50 liters (13.2 gallons) a day per person from 87 liters now. Just a couple of years ago, the situation could not have looked more different here. In 2014, the dams stood full after years of good rain. The following year,  a collection of cities focused on climate change worldwide, awarded Cape Town its “adaptation implementation” prize for its management of water. Cape Town was described as one of the world’s top “green” cities, and the Democratic Alliance — the opposition party that has controlled Cape Town since 2006 — took pride in its emphasis on sustainability and the environment. The accolades recognized the city’s success in conserving water. Though the city’s population had swelled by 30 percent since the early 2000s, overall water consumption had remained flat. Many of the new arrivals settled in the city’s poor areas, which consume less water, and actually helped bring down per capita use. The city’s water conservation measures — fixing leaks and old pipes; installing meters and adjusting tariffs — had a powerful impact. Maybe too powerful. The city conserved so much water that it postponed looking for new sources. For years, Cape Town had been warned that it needed to increase and diversify its water supply. Almost all of its water still comes from six dams dependent on rainfall, a risky situation in an arid region with a changing climate. The dams, which were full only a few years ago, are now down to about 26 percent of capacity, officials say. Cape Town has grown warmer in recent years and a bit drier over the last century, according to Piotr Wolski, a hydrologist at the University of Cape Town who has measured average rainfall from the turn of the 20th century to the present. Climate models show that Cape Town is destined to face a drier future, with rains becoming more unpredictable in the coming decades. “The drier years are expected to be drier than they were, and the wetter years will not be as wet,” Mr. Wolski said. As far back as 2007, South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs warned that the city needed to consider increasing its supply with groundwater, desalination and other sources, citing the potential impact of climate change. Mike Muller, who served as the department’s director between 1997 and 2005, said that the city’s water conservation strategy, without finding new sources, has been “a major contributor to Cape Town’s troubles.” “Nature isn’t particularly willing to compromise,” he added. “There will be severe droughts. And if you haven’t prepared for it, you’ll get hammered.” Ian Neilson, the deputy mayor, said that new water supplies have been part of the city’s plans but “it was not envisaged that it would be required so soon.” Cities elsewhere have faced serious water shortages. Millions of Brazilians have endured rationing because of prolonged droughts. Brasília, the capital, declared a state of emergency a year ago. Experts say the water shortages in Brazil, which have affected more than 800 municipalities across the country, stem from climate change, the rapid expansion of agriculture, bad infrastructure and poor planning. Here in Cape Town, the water shortages have strained political divisions, especially because much of the responsibility for building water infrastructure lies with the national government led by the African National Congress. “The national government has dragged its feet,” said David Olivier, who studies climate change at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute. The national government controls the water supply to Cape Town, other municipalities and the province’s agricultural sector, including the large wine industry east of Cape Town. In the first two years of the drought, experts say, the national government failed to limit water supplies to farmers, intensifying the problem. But the city made mistakes, too. Last year, instead of focusing on “low hanging fruit” like tapping into local aquifers, the city concentrated on building temporary desalination units, said Kevin Winter, a water expert at the University of Cape Town’s Future Water Institute. “It takes a lot of time to build desalination modules, three to five years, and at considerable cost,” Mr. Winter said. “They’re even costlier to build during a crisis.” Mr. Neilson, the deputy mayor, acknowledged that “some time was lost.” The city, he said, had now “shifted our efforts dramatically.” The city is stepping up its efforts to cut consumption. With water and time running out, Mr. Neilson said he was “acutely aware” of needing to scare people into changing their behavior without causing them to panic, adding, “I don’t think we quite got that right yet.” So far, only 55 percent of Cape Town residents have met the target of 87 liters per day. Helen Zille, the premier of Western Cape Province, which includes Cape Town, wrote in The Daily Maverick last week that she considers a shut-off inevitable. The question now, she said, is, “When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?” Cutting back is a difficult message to convey in one of the world’s most unequal societies, where access to water reflects Cape Town’s deep divisions. In squatter camps, people share communal taps and carry water in buckets to their shacks. In other parts of the city, millionaires live in mansions with glistening pools. In vast townships like Mitchells Plain, residents without cars wondered how they could even carry water containers home from a collection point. Faried Cassiem, who works as a cleaner but does not have a car, said his wife would have to fetch water for his household of eight. “There are so many guys just standing around, with no jobs, so I’ll just give them two Rands to carry the water,” he said, referring to the equivalent of about 17 cents. As Day Zero looms, some were stocking up on water at two natural springs in the city. Others were buying cases of water at Makro, a warehouse-style store. In Constantia, a suburb with large houses on gated properties with pools, some residents were installing water tanks in their yards. At one house, Leigh De Decker and Mark Bleloch said they had reduced their total water consumption from the city to 20 liters a day, down from 500 liters a day before the drought. Instead, they now draw from two 10,000-liter tanks of treated well water, and were waiting for two additional tanks to be delivered. Several weeks before Day Zero, their use of city water should come down to zero, they said, estimating that it will cost them about $4,200 to become completely self-sufficient. “It allows you to have a certain lifestyle without drawing on resources that other people need,” Ms. De Decker said. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Could Lab Grown Meat & Fish Feed the World Sustainably?


                                  Comments due by Feb. 23, 2018

Finless Food (is) a company growing fish flesh in their laboratory, aiming to feed the 5,000 and then some without needing to kill a single animal. It was founded in 2016 by university buddies Mike Selden and Brian Wyrwas, bright-eyed biochemists in their mid-20s who are on a mission to save the oceans and bring affordable, contaminant-free fish to the masses.
Finless Foods is the first firm to enter the race to take cellular agriculture – meat grown outside of animals – to market with marine, as opposed to land animals. In 2013, the godfather of what is also known as cultured or in-vitro meat, Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University, unveiled the first ever cultured beefburger- no livestock required. It was dry and anaemic, but, says Post, “it showed it could be done.” Three years later, San Francisco startup Memphis Meats delivered a succulent beef meatball, following up this year with fried chicken and duck a l’orange. Meanwhile, Hampton Creek foods (also in San Francisco) are boldly promising they will be selling cultured poultry as soon as the end of next year.
Selden and Wyrwas’s lab was only established in March 2017, and as Selden says, “Fish cell culture was really not a thing. Human cell cultures - we do that all the time and there’s all sorts of papers on animal culture, but for fish, Brian had to invent a protocol to do that.” Yet by the end of our first conversation I am invited to taste their first prototype. “We’re small but we’re moving very quickly, and so are the investors,” says Selden, with the robotic urgency of someone who dedicates every waking hour to their vocation.
 He bristles at the phrases “Frankenmeat” and “lab-grown meat”, insisting that “they’re not fair or accurate”. He makes his point by comparing the process of culturing meat cells to another passion of his: brewing beer. That hallowed, ancient process tends to happen in giant, sterile, sealed fermenters, which are not unlike the bioreactors that will be used for culturing meat in industrial quantities. Trusty beer, he points out, “is often prototyped in a facility that looks like a laboratory: it’s white, everyone’s wearing lab coats and gloves, and is using lab equipment. So if we’re lab-grown meat, then beer is lab-grown beer. We’re not going to have armies of scientists sitting over petri dishes forever.”
The technology for culturing animal cells was originally developed for medical use; in fact Post, whose early burger attempt was funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, had a background in repairing heart tissue. An early attempt by academics to culture fish (the results of which were published in 2002) tested the processes as a potential renewable protein source for astronauts embarking on a four-year schlep to Mars…https://video.unrulymedia.com/native/opt-out-icon2.png
The principle for culturing cells is relatively straightforward. Animal cells can be obtained harmlessly by biopsy from a living beast, or in the case of Finless, says Selden, “We have an agreement with the aquarium at the bay that whenever a fish dies, they call me and I jump in a car, pick up the fish, bring it back and Brian cultures it up.” By “culturing up” he means feeding the cells in a solution of salts, carbohydrates and proteins. “Typical division time for most animals is about 24 hours,” he says. Whether you’ve got two cells or two tonnes, you’ll have double a day later, although this may get faster.
The greatest challenge lies in making the process affordable enough to scale-up production and be competitively priced. An alternative needs to be found for the animal serum – commonly foetal bovine serum – that’s currently used to kick-start cell division. “It’s about $500 a litre, and it’s totally against the mission of our company,” says Selden. “We’re trying to make food that doesn’t harm animals and it’s kind of doing the opposite. Also, animal serum is variable from batch to batch.”
I visit Finless Foods’ lab ahead of the prototype tasting. They’re moving to new bespoke quarters later this year, but in the meantime share a workspace with various young companies developing biotech solutions to the world’s problems. We pass Clara Foods, which has created the world’s first animal-free egg, and a centrifuge whizzing around something to do with regenerating “the nipple-areolar complex” for women after mastectomies. Senior scientist at Finless, Jihyun Kim, proudly invites me to peer through her microscope at fish cells developing in a beaker of clear, pink liquid resembling the run-off from defrosting pork. A pattern has formed on the bottom of the beaker – the slightest sliver of fish. It doesn’t look appetising, but neither do the contents of an abattoir.
Selden, Post and the other cultured meat startups exude confidence aboutsolving the serum puzzle: with venture capitalists to keep sweet, and stiff competition, a certain swagger must be displayed at all times. The serum provides proteins called growth factors. “We’re trying to find which growth factors are most important for fish cell growth,” says Selden, “and we’re making those ourselves in-house.”
They produce them in a similar way to how human insulin is made for peoplewith diabetes. Up until 1978, medical insulin was extracted from ground pig or cow pancreases. These days we can genetically modify yeast or bacteria to produce human insulin. Similarly, the serum alternative will involve putting fish DNA inside yeasts, “which then act as little protein factories”. Selden assures GMO haters that this doesn’t mean the meat cells are GM, “but they used proteins produced by a GMO to signal them into dividing and growing.”
At Finless Foods they say they’ll have a blue-fin tuna product ready for market in late 2019. Post is more conservative; he says he is happy with his product, but is at least three years from selling one. As well as working on his own serum alternative, he is seeking to replace the bovine collagen he uses “so the cells can find each other and form a fibre.”
Hi-tech, plant-based protein alternatives, meanwhile, are starting to give meat a run for its money. Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat makes chicken strips largely from a protein in peas, and beefburgers that bleed beetroot juice. After Bill Gates tried a Beyond Chicken taco, he blogged about being fooled into thinking it was the real thing. Meanwhile the Impossible burger exploded out of Silicon Valley and is available in restaurants across the US. It is uncannily beef-like, oozing cholesterol-free fat and pink through the middle. Impossible’s not-so-secret ingredient is heme, a compound that is abundant in meat but can be sourced from plants. According to Impossible’s blurb, heme is what makes “meat sizzle, bleed and taste gloriously meaty.”
But in the eyes of the cultured meat trailblazers, fancy vegetarian food will never have mass appeal. Demand for meat, and fish, is only going one way. “The question is, which product can satisfy the craving of the population for meat?” posits Post. “At the moment it’s there and it’s increasing ... culturing is going to cover the entire gamut of meats that are out there. It will be much more difficult to achieve that goal with vegetable-based proteins.” This is a sentiment the Chinese government has got behind, announcing a $300m investment in cultured meat produced in Israel. The US may be among the world’s most carnivorous nations, but as China’s economy swells, the planet’s most populous country is catching up.
When you tell people about growing animal muscle and fat cells in factories, the initial reaction is invariably revulsion. But after you point out the ethical and health benefits, they warm to the prospect. Cultured meat doesn’t involve intensively farming and slaughtering animals, nor the associated environmental and animal-cruelty costs, not to mention the risks of human contamination with disease, antibiotics, pesticides and – in the oceans – mercury and plastics. Fish farming, which accounts for over half of global fish consumption, increasingly relies on pesticides, fungicides and antibiotics, which pollute open water surrounding the captive fish. Aquaculture also employs inhumane methods to physically detach parasites from the fish. Farmed fish are not even immune to absorbing mercury and toxic industrial byproducts such as PCBs and dioxins, although being in shallower water reduces their exposure.
This is why companies such as Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats are referring to their produce as “clean meat”, and it’s catching on: clean meat, clean conscience…
Without a brain, cultured meat can indeed be thought of as almost plantlike. “If you look under a microscope, you see the same cell structures as you would meat from an animal,” says Koert Van Mensvoort, director of the Next Nature Network, a non-profit organisation in Amsterdam that investigates how technology transforms our relationship with nature. “But there’s a different story there that forces us to reevaluate our positions.” Which is partly why he thinks the new culinary possibilities created by cultured meat should be explored, rather than seeing it as replacing the sausages and burgers we’re so familiar with…
How a clean-meat revolution could affect the landscape and environment is riddled with ifs and buts, not helped by the secrecy among the startups. Hanna Tuomisto, a specialist in the environmental impacts of food production at the University of Helsinki, started investigating the implications at Oxford University in 2008. Feeding the cells is one thing, but to convert a mush of them into muscle-like structures adds a second layer of energy burn, and she can only guess at the expenditure involved. “When we estimate energy consumption,” she says, “it’s at the same level as beef or higher now, but there is lots of uncertainty in bioreactor design and the scales we are looking at now are quite small.” Culturing fish cells will probably use less energy than land animal cells, because fish cells will merrily reproduce at room temperature.
However, if the land freed up by moving from intensive farming to cultured meat was used to grow bioenergy crops (a big if), this could mitigate the carbon generated by culturing. Post, meanwhile, thinks enterprising farmers might switch to crops that could provide the nutrients for cultured meat factories. Either way, converting the grassland we use for grazing would have serious drawbacks. Grassland has higher biodiversity than arable land, and converting grassland to arable land would release, Tuomisto says, “a lot of carbon from the soil.”…
The world’s first cultured fish tasting takes place on an afternoon in early September, as the mist rolls over San Francisco from the bay. Silicon Valley chef Laurine Wickett will be preparing the fish at her gleaming catering kitchens. Before she fries the five bite-sized, cultured-carp croquettes she has made, she describes the raw paste of harvested cells within them as having a delicate flavour of the sea, a little like the water in an oyster shell. As I suppress thoughts of beakers of pink liquid and taste my perfectly-cooked croquette, I find it both delicious and disappointing. It’s only 25% fish and the subtle carp flavour is eclipsed by the potato. I just about detect a pleasant aftertaste of the sea, though not fish as such. But then, far from a polished product from a development kitchen, this is a first prototype  a benchmark of scientific progress. Selden and Wyrwas only tasted their fish for the first time a few days before.
Despite the stingy fish-to-potato ratio, each tiny croquette had cost $200 (£150), working out at about $19,000 (£14,380)-per-pound of fish. But such is the speed of technological advance that they’ve already slashed that by more than half.
Afterwards, Selden and Wywras are flushed with the raw elation of having given birth to something important, and they talk frenetically about strategies for developing a more mature fishy flavour, expansion into fresh premises and the structural wonders their newly recruited tissue engineer will create. Next stop: cultured sashimi.
(edited from an article by Amy Fleming for the Guardian)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sustainable Development Goals 2030

Read the following and comment on whether you think that these goals are compatible with an ecologically healthy environment and whether these goals are achievable from within our current dominant paradigm. (If we believe in these goals are we willing to do what it takes to reach them?)


                               Comments due by February 16, 2018



Image of the Envision Disability in 2030 visual identity

Imagine the world in 2030, fully inclusive of persons with disabilities

In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.
Visual identity of the SDGs that shows each individual goal in colour boxes
The SDGs also explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 times. Disability is referenced in multiple parts of the SDGs, specifically in the parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs.
Although, the word “disability” is not cited directly in all goals, the goals are indeed relevant to ensure the inclusion and development of persons with disabilities.
Inforgraphic that shows where disability is explicitly included in the 17 SDGs
The newly implemented 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds a deep promise for persons with disabilities everywhere.
The year 2016 marks the first year of the implementation of the SDGs. At this critical point,  #Envision2030 will work to promote the mainstreaming of disability and the implementation of the SDGs throughout its 15-year lifespan with objectives to:
  • Raise awareness of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the SDGs for persons with disabilities;
  • Promote an active dialogue among stakeholders on the SDGs with a view to create a better world for persons with disabilities; and
  • Establish an ongoing live web resource on each SDG and disability.

The campaign invites all interested parties in sharing their vision of the world in 2030 to be inclusive of persons with disabilities.
Please forward your comments, suggestions, references and/or new information on the SDGs and persons with disabilities to enable@un.org or follow us @UNEnable on Facebook and Twitter and use hashtag #Envision2030 to join the global conversation and help create a world in 2030 that is fully inclusive of persons with disabilities.

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Rambling Through Time




                                                             Comments Due February 9, 2018

There’s a seafloor in Central Park. It crops out from under fallen ginkgo leaves, in black hunks sparkling with muscovite. This familiar rock was laid down as deep-sea muck half a billion years ago in a strange ocean haunted by alien exoskeletons, and gelatinous things that pulsed and squirmed. But you can’t find fossils in this Central Park seabed — they were all cooked to schist tens of millions of years later in titanic continental collisions that pushed snowcapped mountains into tropical New England skies. As you can imagine, this was all a very long time ago — but then again, you can’t imagine it. This is the central insight of geology. The world is old beyond comprehension, and our story on it is short. The conceit of the Anthropocene, the supposed new epoch we’re living in, is that humanity can already make claims to its geological legacy. But if we’re to endure as a civilization, or even as a species, for anything more than what might amount to a thin layer of odd rock in some windswept canyon of the far future, some humility is in order about our, thus far, infinitesimal part in the history of the planet. Astronomy gets much of the credit for decentralizing the role of humans in the story of the cosmos, but just as Edwin Hubble placed our island universe in deep space, the geologist James Hutton placed us in deep time, gawking in awe in 1788 at the chasms of history that confronted him in the rocks at Siccar Point on the east coast of Scotland. To grasp the extent of this abyss, the present-day geologist Robert Hazen proposes going for a walk, with each step representing a century back in time. Let’s walk 500 million years back, roughly to the strange age of the Central Park seafloor. With a nod to the space folks, we’ll start out at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium on the Upper West Side and head west. We can’t even get to the sidewalk before all of recorded history — all of the empires, the holy books, agriculture, the architecture, all of it — is behind us. But since it is geological time, not human history that we’re after, we keep walking down city streets in a world now populated by woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths. We walk past Broadway to Riverside Park, eventually hitting the Hudson River. We’ve already put more than a thousand centuries behind us, but we’ve got a long way to go. So we march up the West Side Highway and cross the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey. Despite our sore feet, and having covered untold millenniums over several miles, we’re stupefied to learn that we’ve scarcely gone back a million years — an all but insignificant amount to geologists. In fact, we haven’t even emerged from the pulsating ice age that has waxed and waned for the past 2.6 million years. The scale of the task dimly dawning on us, we push on, trudging along the rumble strip of Interstate 80 in New Jersey, battered by gusts of passing tractortrailers. After walking for more than 24 hours we make it clear across the state, stumbling into Pennsylvania. Morale now collapsing, we’re further gutted to learn that walking as the crow flies 300 miles across the Keystone State won’t even bring us back to the age of dinosaurs. That august period begins in Ohio and, though all of human civilization lasted only those first few dozen footsteps out of the museum, the age of dinosaurs will continue through the rest of the state. Then Indiana. Then Illinois. Then Iowa. It’s not until we reach the middle of the Triassic somewhere in Nebraska (and some 235 million years ago) that the first humble dinosaurs appear. But we’re still nowhere near that ancient sea world entombed in the Manhattan schist. So we keep going, across prairies, over the Rocky Mountains, through Utah’s Martian wastes, then Nevada’s bleak Basin and Range, as untold millions of years slip past. Finally, scrambling over the Sierras and across the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco, we arrive at the edge of the continent, more than 100 miles, and tens of millions of years, short of the Cambrian world revealed in Central Park. Having reached the Pacific Ocean, we have covered 10 percent of earth’s history. It has been cynically observed by some politicians that over this vast scope of time, “Earth’s climate is always changing.” Indeed, in our transcontinental walk through earth history, it’s true. The planet’s climate in those first few miles of our walk, through the freeze-thaw seesaw of the recent ice ages, is, in fact, far different from the carbon-dioxide infused wasteland inferno of the early Triassic, more than a thousand miles later. Over the grand sweep of earth history our planet has been many different worlds — a snowball earth colonized by sponges, a supercontinental broiler ruled by crocodile kin. But during the brief window of the past few thousand years in which all of civilization has emerged — those first few steps in our journey — we’ve enjoyed an almost miraculously equable interglacial climate, the most stable of the past several hundred thousand years. It’s these pleasant few footsteps that allowed complex societies to blossom. But in the next few footsteps, we’re projected to return to climates last seen hundreds, if not thousands of miles in our past. In this century alone, a time scale so laughably brief as to effectively not exist to geologists, we could send the planet back to a climate system not seen for many millions of years. One study recently estimated that humanity has the capacity in the next few centuries to make the planet warmer than it has been in at least 420 million years. The story of life on earth so far isn’t one of a tidy march of progress, culminating in humanity’s “end of history.” Other alien worlds have claimed this planet for unimaginably longer spans, relinquishing their place only under the duress of mindbending episodes of chaos, like asteroid hits And contrary to some accounts of our current moment, we’re not even the first, or only, organism to threaten the planet with mass extinction. At the end of the Ediacaran period, 540 million years ago, burrowing animals and filter feeders might have wiped out vast swathes of exotic life clinging to the seafloor. Almost 200 million years later at the end of the Devonian period, the evolution of trees might have driven such convulsions in climate and ocean chemistry that 97 percent of the world’s vertebrates died. In the next few decades we will decide whether humanity’s legacy will be a sliver of clay in the limestone strata — a geological embarrassment accessible only in remote outcrops to eagle-eyed geologists of the far future — or an enduring new epoch like the reign of dinosaurs. But even if it’s the former, and we collapse almost as soon, in geologic time, as we got started, the record in the rocks of the extinctions we caused will remain, as eternal as the schist in Central Park.( Peter Brannen NYT)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Environmentalism

Listen to the audio clip under week 1 of BB and write a comment. Due date is February 2, 2018.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Key Moment for California Climate Policy


                                                      Comments due by Dec4, 2016
The past year has been a crucial time in international climate negotiations.  In December, 2015, in Paris, negotiators established an agreement on the next round of targets and actions to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 and will effectively close down in 2020.  In Paris, negotiators set up a new and meaningful agreement for multinational action through individual country “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs).  The Paris round was crucial, because it expanded the coalition of contributionsfrom countries responsible for 14% of global emissions under Kyoto (Europe and New Zealand) to 187 countries responsible for 96% of emissions under the Paris Agreement.
California’s Role in Global Climate Change Policy
California sent a delegation to the Paris talks. While not officially a party to the negotiations, California government officials attended to show support for broad and meaningful action.  For many years, spurring action beyond California’s borders has been the key rationale for developing a California-based climate policy.  This began with Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.  Initially, the focus was on encouraging action within the United States, including federal legislation, state-level actions, and multi-state compacts, but subsequent domestic action turned out to be much less than originally anticipated. As a result, California’s focus shifted to the international domain.
This is a good time to consider how the State can best demonstrate leadership on this global stage.  Action by all key countries, including the large emerging economies – China, India, Brazil, Korea, and South Africa – will be necessary to meaningfully address the climate problem.  Significant multinational contributions will be necessary to avoid having California’s aggressive in-state actions be for naught.  Absent such multilateral action, ambitious California policies do little or nothing to address the real problem.
But California can play a very important role by showing leadership – in two key ways.  One is to demonstrate a commitment to meaningful reductions in (greenhouse gas) GHG emissions.  In this regard, California has more than met the bar, with policies that are as aggressive as – if not more aggressive than – those of most countries.
The other way is to show leadership regarding how reductions of GHG emissions can best be accomplished – that is, in regard to progressive policy design.  California has a sophisticated GHG cap-and-trade system in place, which while not perfect, has many excellent design elements.  Countries around the world are now planning or implementing cap-and-trade systems, including in EuropeChina, and Korea.  These countries are carefully watching decisions made in California, with particular attention to the design and implementation of its cap-and-trade system.  California’s system, possibly with a few improvements, could eventually be a model for even larger systems in other countries.
Can California Provide a Good Model of Progressive Policy?
Unfortunately, California’s climate policy has not relied heavily on its cap-and-trade system to achieve state targets.  Furthermore, rather than increasing reliance on this innovative market-based climate policy over time, recent proposals have doubled-down on the use of less efficient conventional policies to achieve GHG reductions. While some of these so-called “complementary policies” can be valuable under particular circumstances, they can also create severe problems.
One example of this is the attempt to employ aggressive sector-based targets through technology-driven policies, such as the Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS).  In the presence of a binding cap-and-trade regime, the LCFS has the perverse effect of relocating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to other sectors but not reducing net emissions, while driving up statewide abatement costs, and suppressing allowance prices in the cap-and-trade market, thereby reducing incentives for technological change.  That is bad news all around.  These perverse outcomes render such policies of little interest or value to other regions of the world.
The magnitude of the economic distortion is illustrated by the fact that allowances in the California cap-and-trade market have recently been trading in the range of $12 to $13 per ton of CO2, while LCFS credits have traded this summer for about $80 per ton of CO2.
While reduction in transportation sector GHG emissions is clearly an important long-run objective of an effective climate policy, if the approach taken to achieving such reductions is unnecessarily costly, it will be of little use to most of the world, which has much less financial wealth than California and the United States, and will therefore be much less inclined to follow the lead on such costly policies.
The Path Ahead
With China now the largest emitter in the world, and India and other large developing countries not very far behind, California policies that achieve emission reductions through excessively costly means will fail to encourage other countries to follow, or even recognize, California’s leadership.  On the other hand, by increasing reliance on its progressive market-based system, California can succeed at home and be influential around the world.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Steven Hawkings' prediction

                             
                                      Comments due on or before Nov. 27, 2016

Stephen Hawking thinks humanity has only 1,000 years left of survival on Earth and that our species needs to colonize other planets.
The famed physicist made the statement in a speech at Oxford University Union, in which he promoted the goal of searching for and colonizing Earth-like exoplanets. Developing the technology to allow humans to travel to and live on faraway alien worlds is a challenge, to say the least. But is Hawking right that humanity has only 1,000 years to figure it out?
The dangers Hawking cited — from climate change, to nuclear weapons, to genetically engineered viruses — could indeed pose existential threats to our species, experts say, but predicting a millennium into the future is a murky business.
"While I respect Stephen Hawking enormously, speculating on how long Homo sapiens will survive before extinction is foolish," said John Sterman, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. "Whether we survive and thrive or descend into chaos is not something to predict or lay odds on, but a choice to be made." [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]
If climate change continues apace, it will likely lead to a great deal of friction for the human species.
"There may be incredible amounts of food and water stress in some regions; combined with sea-level rise, this will lead to massive numbers of environmental refugees — enough to make the Syrian diaspora seem simple to absorb," said Shawn Marshall, a professor of geography and a climate change researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada.
Humanity is surviving now only by depleting the planet's natural resources and poisoning its environment, Sterman told Live Science. The nonprofit Global Footprint Network estimates that humanity uses up the resources of 1.5 Earths each year, essentially overdrawing from the planet's natural bank account. The problems of sustainability can't wait 1,000 years, Sterman said.
"Whether we can prevent damaging climate change, and the broader issue of whether we can learn to live within the limits of our finite world, will likely be determined this century," he said.
Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California, Merced and founder of the outreach organization Climate Feedback, echoed the call to make sustainable decisions now.
"It is important to remind [people] that one cannot predict whether a catastrophic event will wipe out humans within the next thousand years," Vincent told Live Science. "What Hawking is doing here is speculating on the risk that this will happen, and he estimates that the probability of extinction is high. While I agree that this is possible, I would like to emphasize that this primarily depends on how we manage to prevent such catastrophic outcome as a society." [7 Iconic Animals Humans Are Driving to Extinction]
This doesn't mean humans will necessarily go extinct if we make poor choices. Climate-wise, the planet is currently about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than preindustrial averages, Marshall said. (The past year has set multiple modern heat records.)
In comparison, temperatures during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were about 10 degrees C (18 F) warmer than preindustrial averages, or about 25 degrees C (45 F) compared with today's 16 degrees C (29 F), Marshall said. Yet life was quite abundant at that time, he told Live Science.
"It would be a habitable but rather different world," he said. "We'll run out of fossil fuels before we evaporate the oceans away."  
So humans probably won't manage to actually bake themselves in an oven made of greenhouse gases, though tropical areas may become too hot for habitation, Vincent said. The real question is whether humans would be able to handle the upheaval that climate change would bring as coastlines vanish, diseases spread and weather patterns change.
"On its own, I don't see how climate change would lead to human extinction," Marshall said. "It would have to be through the social unrest triggering nuclear warfare, or some other societal implosion as a result of the environmental degradation."
Already, there are warning signs beyond warming temperatures. About half of global wildlife has been wiped out over the past 50 years, Vincent said. The situation is serious enough that many scientists believe the planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction.
"Anyone who thinks we can solve these problems by colonizing other worlds has been watching too much 'Star Trek,'" Sterman said. "We must learn to live sustainably here, on the one planet we have, and there is no time to lose."
(Sustainable Living)