Arquivo mensal: setembro 2014

Firelight talk of the Kalahari Bushmen (University of Utah)

22-Sep-2014

Lee J. Siegel

Did tales told over fires aid our social and cultural evolution?

IMAGE: A !Kung Bushman, sporting a Calvin Klein hat, tells stories at a firelight gathering in Africa’s Kalahari Desert. University of Utah anthropologist Polly Wiessner has published a new study of…

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SALT LAKE CITY, Sept. 22, 2014 – After human ancestors controlled fire 400,000 to 1 million years ago, flames not only let them cook food and fend off predators, but also extended their day.

A University of Utah study of Africa’s Kalahari Bushmen suggests that stories told over firelight helped human culture and thought evolve by reinforcing social traditions, promoting harmony and equality, and sparking the imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world.

Researchers previously studied how cooking affected diets and anatomy, but “little is known about how important the extended day was for igniting the embers of culture and society,” anthropology professor Polly Wiessner writes in a study published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It’s intimate,” says Wiessner, who has studied the Bushmen for 40 years. “Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions.”

Wiessner’s study, which she calls “exploratory,” analyzed scores of daytime and firelight conversations among !Kung Bushmen – also known as Ju/’hoansi Bushmen – some 4,000 of which now live in the Kalahari Desert of northeast Namibia and northwest Botswana. (The exclamation, slash and apostrophe symbols represent click sounds in their language.) They are among several groups of Kalahari Bushmen.

Why study the campfire tales of Bushmen?

“We can’t tell about the past from the Bushmen,” Wiessner says. “But these people live from hunting and gathering. For 99 percent of our evolution, this is how our ancestors lived. What transpires during the firelit night hours by hunter-gatherers? It helps answer the question of what firelit space contributes to human life.”

She writes: “Stories are told in virtually all hunter-gatherer societies; together with gifts, they were the original social media.”

IMAGE: !Kung Kalahari Bushmen in Africa sit in camp. A University of Utah study of nighttime gatherings around fires by these hunter-gatherers suggests that human cultural development was advanced when human…

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From the Workaday World to Nights of Bonding and Wonder

In her study, “Embers of Society: Firelight Talk among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen,” Wiessner says archaeological evidence indicates human ancestors had sporadic control of fire 1 million or more years ago, and regularly used it after 400,000 years ago.

“Fire altered our circadian rhythms, the light allowed us to stay awake, and the question is what happened in the fire-lit space? What did it do for human development?” asks Wiessner, who earlier this year was among three University of Utah researchers elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Wiessner says !Kung Bushmen hold firelight gatherings most nights in groups of up to 15 people. A camp has hearths for each family, but at night people often converge at a single hearth. She analyzed only conversations involving five or more people.

Firelight stories deal with topics such as past hunts, fights over meat, marriage, premarital customs, murder, bush fires, birth, getting lost, interactions with other groups, truck breakdowns, being chased by animals, disputes and extramarital affairs. And there also are traditional myths.

For her study, Wiessner analyzed two sets of data:

  • Notes she took in 1974 (initially for another purpose) of 174 daytime and nighttime conversations at two !Kung camps in northwest Botswana. Each conversation lasted more than 20 to 30 minutes and involved five to 15 people.
  • Digital recordings, transcribed by educated Bushmen, of 68 firelight stories Wiessner originally heard in the 1970s but came back to have retold and recorded during three visits in 2011-2013 to !Kung villages in Botswana and Namibia.

Wiessner found daytime conversations differed much from firelight discussions. Of daytime conversations, 34 percent were complaints, criticism and gossip to regulate social relationships; 31 percent were economic matters, such as hunting for dinner; 16 percent were jokes; only 6 percent were stories and the rest were other topics

But at night, 81 percent of the conversations involved stories, and only 7 percent were complaints, criticism and gossip and 4 percent were economic.

IMAGE: A group of !Kung Bushmen in Africa’s Kalahari Desert work together to transcribe and translate a recorded firelight conversation into a written text. Such translations were used by University of…

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Bonding with People Near and Far – and with the Supernatural

Wiessner found how conversations reinforced major !Kung social institutions and values: arranged marriages, the kinship system, a social structure based on equality, the sharing of food during times of hardship, land rights, trance healing and xaro, a system of exchange that involved pledges of mutual assistance, including housing and food, in troubled times.

“What I found was a big difference between day and night conversation, the kinds of information transmitted and the use of imaginary thought,” Wiessner says.

“Day conversation has a lot to do with economic activities – working, getting food, what resources are where,” she says. “It has a lot to do with social issues and controls: criticism, complaints and gripes.”

“At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups.”

Healers dance and go into trances, “travel to god’s village and communicate with the spirits of deceased loved ones who are trying to take sick people away,” Wiessner says.

She says nonhuman primates don’t maintain mutually supportive ties outside their group: “We are really unique. We create far-flung ties outside our groups.”

Such extended communities allowed humans “to colonize our planet because they had networks of mutual support, which you see expressed today in our capacity for social networking” she adds. “Humans form communities that are not together in space, but are in our heads – virtual communities. They are communities in our heads. For the Bushmen, they may be up to 120 miles away.”

Wiessner suggests that firelight stories, conversations, ceremonies and celebrations sparked human imagination and “cognitive capacities to form these imagined communities, whether it’s our social networks, all of our relatives on Earth or communities that link us to the spirit world.” She says they also bolstered the human ability to “read” what others are thinking – not just their thoughts or intentions, but their views toward other people.

What Has Electricity Done to Us?

Examining how firelight extended the day prompted Wiessner to wonder about modern society, asking, “What happens when economically unproductive firelit time is turned to productive time by artificial lighting?”

Parents read stories or show videos to their children, but now, “work spills into the night. We now sit on laptops in our homes. When you are able to work at night, you suddenly have a conflict: ‘I have only 15 minutes to tell my kids a bedtime story. I don’t have time to sit around and talk.’ Artificial light turned potential social time into potential work time. What happens to social relations?”

Her research raises that question, but doesn’t answer it.

Força-tarefa internacional fará diagnóstico sobre polinização no mundo (Fapesp)

23 de setembro de 2014

Por Elton Alisson

Primeira avaliação da Plataforma Intergovernamental de Biodiversidade e Serviços Ecossistêmicos será sobre polinizadores, polinização e produção de alimentos. Trabalho é coordenado por pesquisador inglês e por brasileira (foto: Wikimedia)

Agência FAPESP – Um grupo de 75 pesquisadores de diversos países-membros da Plataforma Intergovernamental de Biodiversidade e Serviços Ecossistêmicos (IPBES, na sigla em inglês), que reúne 119 nações de todas as regiões do mundo, fará uma avaliação global sobre polinizadores, polinização e produção de alimentos.

O escopo do projeto foi apresentado na última quarta-feira (17/09) em São Paulo, no auditório da FAPESP, em um encontro de integrantes do organismo intergovernamental independente, voltado a organizar o conhecimento sobre a biodiversidade no mundo e os serviços ecossistêmicos.

“A ideia do trabalho é avaliar todo o conhecimento existente sobre polinização no mundo e identificar estudos necessários na área para auxiliar os tomadores de decisão dos países a formular políticas públicas para a preservação desse e de outros serviços ecossistêmicos prestados pelos animais polinizadores”, disse Vera Imperatriz Fonseca, do Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e do Instituto Tecnológico Vale Desenvolvimento Sustentável (ITVDS), à Agência FAPESP.

“Já estamos conhecendo melhor o problema [da crise da polinização no mundo]. Agora, precisamos identificar soluções”, disse a pesquisadora, que coordena a avaliação ao lado de Simon Potts, professor da University of Reading, do Reino Unido.

De acordo com Fonseca, há mais de 100 mil espécies de animais invertebrados polinizadores no mundo, dos quais 20 mil são abelhas. Além de insetos polinizadores – que serão o foco do relatório –, há também cerca de 1,2 mil espécies de animais vertebrados, tais como pássaros, morcegos e outros mamíferos, além de répteis, que atuam como polinizadores.

Estima-se que 75% dos cultivos mundiais e entre 78% e 94% das flores silvestres do planeta dependam da polinização por animais, apontou a pesquisadora.

“Há cerca de 300 mil espécies de flores silvestres que dependem da polinização por insetos”, disse Fonseca. “O valor anual estimado desse serviço ecossistêmico prestado por insetos na agricultura é de US$ 361 bilhões. Mas, para a manutenção da biodiversidade, é incalculável”, afirmou.

Nos últimos anos registrou-se uma perda de espécies nativas de insetos polinizadores no mundo, causada por, entre outros fatores, desmatamento de áreas naturais próximas às lavouras, uso de pesticidas e surgimento de patógenos.

Se o declínio de espécies de insetos polinizadores se tornar tendência, pode colocar em risco a produtividade agrícola e, consequentemente, a segurança alimentar nas próximas décadas, disse a pesquisadora.

“A população mundial aumentará muito até 2050 e será preciso produzir uma grande quantidade de alimentos com maior rendimento agrícola, em um cenário agravado pelas mudanças climáticas. A polinização por insetos pode contribuir para solucionar esse problema”, afirmou Fonseca.

Segundo um estudo internacional, publicado na revista Current Biology, estima-se que o manejo de colmeias de abelhas utilizadas pelos agricultores para polinização – como as abelhas domésticas Apis mellifera L, amplamente criadas no mundo todo – tenha aumentado em cerca de 45% entre 1950 e 2000.

As áreas agrícolas dependentes de polinização, no entanto, também cresceram em mais de 300% no mesmo período, apontam os autores da pesquisa.

“Apesar de ter aumentado o manejo de espécies de abelhas polinizadoras, precisamos muito mais do que o que temos no momento para atender às necessidades da agricultura”, avaliou Fonseca.

O declínio das espécies de polinizadores no mundo estimula a polinização manual em muitos países. Na China, por exemplo, é comum o comércio de pólen para essa finalidade, afirmou a pesquisadora.

“Na ausência de animais para fazer a polinização, tem sido feita a polinização manual de lavouras de culturas importantes, como o dendê e a maçã. No Brasil se faz a polinização manual de maracujá , tomate e de outras culturas”, disse.

Falta de dados

Segundo Fonseca, já há dados sobre o declínio de espécies de abelhas, moscas-das-flores (sirfídeos) e de borboletas na Europa, nos Estados Unidos, no Oriente Médio e no Japão.

Um estudo internacional, publicado no Journal of Apicultural Research, apontou perdas de aproximadamente 30% de colônias de Apis mellifera L em decorrência da infestação pelo ácaro Varroa destructor, que diminui a vida das abelhas e, consequentemente, sua atividade de polinização nas flores, em especial nos países do hemisfério Norte.

Na Europa, as perdas de colônias de abelhas em decorrência do ácaro podem chegar a 53% e, no Oriente Médio, a 85%, indicam os autores do estudo. No entanto, ainda não há estimativas sobre a perda de colônias e de espécies em continentes como a América do Sul, África e Oceania.

“Não temos dados sobre esses continentes. Precisamos de informações objetivas para preenchermos uma base de dados sobre polinização em nível mundial a fim de definir estratégias de conservação em cada país”, avaliou Fonseca. “Também é preciso avaliar os efeitos de pesticidas no desaparecimento das abelhas em áreas agrícolas, que têm sido objeto de estudos e atuação dos órgãos regulatórios no Brasil.”

Outra grande lacuna a ser preenchida é a de estudos sobre interações entre espécies de abelhas polinizadoras nativas com as espécies criadas para polinização, como as Apis mellifera L.

Um estudo internacional publicado em 2013 indicou que, quando as Apis mellifera L e as abelhas solitárias atuam em uma mesma cultura, a taxa de polinização aumenta significativamente, pois elas se evitam nas flores e mudam mais frequentemente de local de coleta de alimento, explicou Fonseca.

De acordo com a pesquisadora, uma solução para a polinização em áreas agrícolas extensas tem sido o uso de colônias de polinizadores provenientes da produção de colônias em massa, como de abelhas Bombus terrestris, criadas em larga escala e inclusive exportadas.

Em 2004, foi produzido 1 milhão de colônias dessa abelha para uso na agricultura.

Na América do Sul, o Chile foi o primeiro país a introduzir essas abelhas para polinização de frutas e verduras. Em algumas áreas onde foi introduzida, entretanto, essa espécie exótica de abelha mostrou ser invasora e ter grande capacidade de ocupar novos territórios.

“É preciso estudar mais a interação entre as espécies para identificar onde elas convivem, qual a contribuição de cada uma delas na polinização e se essa interação é positiva ou negativa”, indicou Fonseca.

“Além disso, a propagação de doenças para as espécies nativas de abelhas causa preocupação e deve ser um foco da pesquisa nos próximos anos”, indicou.

Problema global

De acordo com Fonseca, a avaliação intitulada Polinizadores, polinização e produção de alimentos, do IPBES, está em fase de redação e deverá ser concluída no fim de 2015.

Além de um relatório técnico, com seis capítulos de 30 páginas cada, a avaliação também deverá apresentar um texto destinado aos formuladores de políticas públicas sobre o tema, contou.

“A avaliação sobre polinização deverá contribuir para aumentar os esforços de combate ao problema do desaparecimento de espécies de polinizadores no mundo, que é urgente e tem uma relevância política e econômica muito grande, porque afeta a produção de alimentos”, afirmou.

A avaliação será o primeiro diagnóstico temático realizado pelo IPBES e deverá ser disponibilizada para o público em geral em dezembro de 2015. O painel planeja produzir nos próximos anos outros levantamentos semelhantes sobre outros temas como espécies invasoras, restauração de habitats e cenários de biodiversidade no futuro.

Uma estratégia adotada para tornar os diagnósticos temáticos mais integrados foi a criação de forças-tarefa – voltadas à promoção da capacitação profissional e institucional, ao aprimoramento do processo de gerenciamento de dados e informações científicas e à integração do conhecimento tradicional indígena e das pesquisas locais aos processos científicos –, que deverão auxiliar na produção do texto final.

“O IPBES trabalha em parceria com a FAO [Organização das Nações Unidas para a Alimentação e a Agricultura], Unep [Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente], CBD [Convention on Biological Diversity], Unesco [Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, a Ciência e a Cultura] e todos os esforços anteriores que trataram do tema de polinização”, afirmou Fonseca.

A polinização foi o primeiro tópico a ser escolhido pelos países-membros da plataforma intergovernamental, entre outras razões, por ser um problema global e já existir um grande número de estudos sobre o assunto, contou Carlos Joly, coordenador do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisas em Caracterização, Conservação, Restauração e Uso Sustentável da Biodiversidade (BIOTA-FAPESP) e membro do Painel Multidisciplinar de Especialistas do IPBES.

“Como já há um arcabouço muito grande de dados sobre esse tema, achamos que seria possível elaborar rapidamente uma síntese. Além disso, o tema tem um impacto global muito grande, principalmente por estar associado à produção de alimentos”, avaliou Joly.

Os 75 pesquisadores participantes do projeto foram indicados pelo Painel Multidisciplinar de Especialistas do IPBES, que se baseou nas indicações recebidas dos países-membros e observadores da plataforma intergovernamental.

Dois do grupo são escolhidos para coordenar o trabalho, sendo um de um país desenvolvido e outro de uma nação em desenvolvimento.

“O convite e a seleção da professora Vera Imperatriz Fonseca como coordenadora da avaliação é reflexo da qualidade da ciência desenvolvida nessa área no Brasil e da experiência dela em trabalhar com diagnósticos nacionais”, avaliou Joly. “Gostaríamos de ter mais pesquisadores brasileiros envolvidos na elaboração dos diagnósticos do IPBES.”

Leia mais sobre a reunião do IPBES na sede da FAPESP em  http://agencia.fapesp.br/painel_intergovernamental_discute_capacitacao_para_pesquisas_em_biodiversidade/19840/

California water witches see big business as the drought drags on (The Guardian)

Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures

Mary Catherine O’Connor

Monday 15 September 2014 07.00 BST

VIDEO:

Sharron Hope has been a dowser since 1997. Markedly cheaper than hiring a hydrogeologist – which can cost as much as $50,000 – Hope OFFERS her services for around $500 a consultation. Video: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Outside of a farmhouse on a 1,800-acre organic dairy farm near Oroville, California, Sharron Hope bends over a printout of a Google Earth map, holding a small jade Buddha pendant. The map shows a small section of the farm to the east, and Hope is hunting for water. As the pendant swings, she notes a subtle change in motion that, she says, indicates she has found some.

Is there any significance to the jade? No, she says, I just like it. Plus, she adds, “I figure Buddha’s gotta know.”

Hope is a water dowser, or someone who uses intuition, energy VIBRATIONS and divining rods or pendulums to mark the best spots for wells.

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

1Sharron Hope, a water dowser in California, uses a jade pendant to locate underground water on a map. Photograph: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser, such as Hope.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

“I’ve gotten far more calls this year from farmers looking for a water dowser than in most years,” says Sacramento-based Donna Alhers, who heads the Sierra Dowsers, a chapter of the American Society of Dowsers.

Water dowsers from around the state are also seeing a spike in demand. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people whose wells have run dry,” Hope says.

Where did dowsing come from?

The exact origins of dowsing are murky, but its roots can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages. The practice, sometimes used by miners and fortune seekers, was reportedly condemned in the 16th century as the work of the devil.

Today, dowsers hail from one of two camps. Some have agrarian backgrounds, and learned the practice from ancestors who used it to locate good sites for wells on their own or their neighbors’ farms. The second group hails from the New Age movement and tend to be devotees of a wide range of mystical practices and “energy work”.

Traditionally, dowsing has been used not just to find groundwater, but also minerals and natural gas. Many dowsers claim they can dowse anything, from lost items or pets to criminals on the lam. You name it, they say they can divine it.

Hope began dowsing for water in 1977 after learning about the practice from Walter Woods, a science teacher at Butte College, where she was a STUDENT. Woods had learned dowsing from his father, a farmer, and eventually became a well-known authority on dowsing. He authored a widely read dowsing primer, Letter to Robin, and served as president of the American Society of Dowsers.

Woods taught Hope to scan for signs of groundwater by observing the landscape and looking for signs like deer trails. “Deer have magnetite in their pineal gland [an endocrine gland in the brain]. As water moves underground, electrons are stripped out and move to the surface,” Hope says. “Deer can sense it and tend to walk along that vein of underground water toward a spring.” Dowsing is based on the premise that humans can tap into that energy, too, using instruments such as branches and pendulums.

Energy marks the spot

After Hope finishes with the map, she heads out to the spots she has marked, walking the land and searching for very faint energy markings over the landscape, which she’ll use more talismans to locate.

She begins a general scan of the area with a forked pine branch, holding the ends in her hands and sweeping it through the air. Despite scientific evidence, Hope believes that the branch she holds channels the energy emitted by submerged water. Once she homes in on the most promising region (which matches, as it turns out, the area she had marked on the map) she TRADES the branch for what are known in the dowsing world as “L-rods”, two long metal bars with a short handle and long extension, forming an L.

2Sharron Hope works as a dowser in California’s CENTRAL VALLEY. Here she uses a pine branch to lead her to to a potential well site. Photograph: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Hope holds these in front of her, with her elbows at 90 degrees, and walks slowly up – and then laterally along – the rise. As the long ends of the bars begin to fall away from each other, she stops.

The energy moving up from the groundwater, she says, creates a field that L-rods respond to. This, she says, marks the edge of the underground stream. She then traverses the hillside, down slope, and stops again when the bars cross in front of her. This, she explains, marks the spot where two veins of groundwater cross over each other, making it a potentially very productive well site.

“I have goosebumps,” Hope says with a smile. “I feel the energy moving up from the ground.”

Although Hope and other dowsers often refer to underground veins and streams, USGS hydrologist Ralph Health, in a highly cited report on groundwater basics, says the vast majority of groundwater is found in relatively still aquifers. Swiftly moving streams are quite rare.

Water, water everywhere

Out in the field, Hope locates three possible well sites in roughly 30 minutes. She decides that the third is the best option, even though she doesn’t think it has the strongest flow rate, because it is relatively shallow at 200 feet (about 61 meters) below ground and is the most accessible and FLAT option. Daley stakes the spot and the dowsing is done. Daley is now awaiting drilling permits, and once those come through, she’ll call in a local driller.

“I have about 90% accuracy,” Hope claims, meaning that 90% of the sites she recommends produce water.

This actually isn’t that surprising, hydrogeologists say. “Dowsers may seem convincing, but when [their practice is] exposed to scientific review, groundwater is very prevalent, so it’s hard to miss it when you drill a well,” says Ted Johnson, chief hydrogeologist for the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and president of the board of the Groundwater Resources Association of California. “When you use science to site a well, you can test for quality, depth and how long [the flow] will last.”

To site a well, hydrogeologists will review driller well logs from the Department of Water Resources and geologic maps that show areas of alluvial soils, under which groundwater is most likely to accumulate. To really zero in on well sites, they drill a test well, which produces cuttings of the various strata. They then test for each layer’s ability to transport water. It’s a time-consuming and expensive process.

Because a landowner is unlikely to hire both a dowser and a hydrogeologist to see who finds the best-producing well (though that could make for some mildly entertaining reality television), the two groups coexist and generally ignore each other, aside from tossing verbal jabs.

“I’m a scientist and I’ve been trained on scientific principles, and that’s what I use [to locate groundwater],” says Tim Parker, a hydrogeologist and independent consultant based in Sacramento. “There’s no scientific evidence that dowsing is more effective than random chance.”

Of cash and crops

So why are so many farmers turning to dowsers instead of hydrologists? Part of it’s probably the money: dowsers might charge $1,000 (Hope charges most of her clients around $500, and less for a small residential well), while a big consulting firm costs $10,000 to $50,000, Johnson says. “All a farmer cares about is getting the groundwater,” he says.

But Cynthia Daley, who hired Sharron Hope to dowse for a well on her dairy farm, says it’s not about costs. “Dowsing is based on energy and it is something that the scientific community has not embraced, but I’m not arrogant enough to think science knows everything – and I am a scientist; I have a PhD,” she says.

Whether farmers and vintners are using dowsers merely as a result of their relative affordability or out of a strong belief in the practice is hard to, well, divine. What is clear is that the popularity of dowsing is growing, not just in the CENTRAL VALLEY, but throughout the state.

Daley, who has degrees in animal science with a doctorate in endocrinology, is a professor in the College of Agriculture at nearby California State University at Chico, where she runs an organic dairy program. She is developing an organic dairy operation on her property, which is why she’s drilling wells. “Everyone I know who has had wells put in around here has used dowsers.”

Many more wells are springing up. State agencies from counties around California are issuing twice – and sometimes three times as many – well drilling permits this summer than last summer, according to the Associated Press.

Keeping Marc Mondavi busy

Marc Mondavi, grandson of Napa Valley WINE pioneer Cesare Mondavi and a longtime dowser, says that he can’t keep up with the demand: “I’m doing anywhere from two to four projects a week and I’m backlogged, and drillers around here are backlogged for three to five months.”

Mondavi uses dowsing not only as a revenue stream, but also as a means of marketing his own brand, The Divining Rod. He doesn’t shy away from the name “water witch”, a term other dowsers consider pejorative. His daughter Alycia Mondavi even made a short promo VIDEO CALLED “My Dad is a Witch.”

He acknowledges it’s hard not to strike groundwater, but says that using his intuitive dowsing skills allows him to find the best spots, especially as the drought depletes the water table. “No matter where you drill, you might hit [a flow of] four gallons per minute,” he says. “In those areas maybe I can find eight to 10 gallons per minute.”

The dowsing divide might persist for decades to come, but there is plenty of indisputable evidence that groundwater is being overtaxed as the drought drags on. Amplifying the problem of groundwater scarcity, policy experts say, is a lack of regulation. That looks likely to change. Governor Brown is expected to sign one of three separate groundwater regulation bills currently sitting on his desk.

Some agriculture groups, including the Agriculture Council of California and Blue Diamond Growers, have rallied against the bills, saying they will drive up costs for already cash-strapped farmers and deny long-held water rights.

But Daley says groundwater is too important to remain unchecked. “We have to regulate it. It’s a very important resource.”

Until that happens, however, sun-baked farmers will keep digging for rain.

Mary Catherine O’Connor is an independent reporter and co-founder of Climate Confidential.

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5 razões para assistir à Cúpula do Clima de Nova York (Portal do Meio Ambiente)

PUBLICADO 18 SETEMBRO 2014

9393

por Jennifer Morgan*

No próximo dia 23 de setembro, chefes de estado e líderes do sistema financeiro, de empresas e da sociedade civil se reunirão em Nova York na Cúpula do Clima das Nações Unidas de 2014. A reunião será um marco importante no caminho de enfrentamento da crise climática. O Secretário-geral da ONU, Ban Ki-moon, convocou a Cúpula de alto nível para reengajar os líderes mundiais e estimular a ação pelo clima nos níveis nacionais e internacional.

Dezenas de milhares de cidadãos interessados estão aproveitando a oportunidade para organizar a maior marcha pelo clima da história. Durante a semana da Cúpula centenas de organizações organizarão palestras, exibições de cinema documental e outros encontros para apresentar evidências esmagadoras das consequências das alterações climáticas e soluções custo-efetivas para resolver o problema. Novos estudos científicos como a Avaliação Nacional do Clima dos EUA e os últimos relatórios do IPCC iluminaram os riscos de poluição da atmosfera pelo carbono, enquanto novas análises econômicas, incluindo próximo relatório Nova Economia do Clima, do World Resources Institute, devem dissipar a noção de que a ação pelo clima desacelerará o crescimento econômico.

No entanto, esta não é a primeira vez que os governos são convocados para combater as mudanças climáticas. Então, por que vale a pena assistir a esta Cúpula? Aqui estão os porquês:

1) É a primeira vez em cinco anos na qual chefes de estado se reunirão para enfrentar a mudança climática

Esta será a primeira vez em cinco anos – desde as negociações de Copenhague de 2009 – que tantos líderes mundiais se reunirão para discutir a mudança climática. O Secretário-Geral Ban Ki-moon chamou a Cúpula para dar o pontapé inicial de um período de 15 meses de intenso engajamento e negociação pelo clima como tentativa de obter um acordo global em dezembro de 2015. Criar uma boa dinâmica em Nova York será extremamente importante para alcançar esse objetivo.

2) Obama e Xi estarão lá**

Tanto o presidente dos EUA, Barack Obama quanto o presidente chinês, Xi Jinping, líderes dos dois países que mais emitem gases de efeito estufa, participarão da cúpula. Se medidas substantivas de redução das emissões devem ser implantadas, tanto os EUA quanto a China deverão se envolver completamente. É encorajador que os dois países já estejam colaborando em projetos de energia limpa nos níveis de pesquisa, de governo e empresarial por meio de iniciativas como os Centro de Pesquisa de Energia Limpa EUA-China (CERC). Em julho os dois países revelaram oito novos acordos de parceria climática. A presença desses chefes de estado na Cúpula oferece uma oportunidade de continuidade da cooperação.

3) Novas vozes que clamam por maior ação

A maioria dos atuais líderes ainda não estava no poder em 2009, quando da Cúpula de Copenhague. Muitos destes falam abertamente sobre a ameaça que a mudança climática representa para seus países, bem como sobre as oportunidades econômicas que se abrem com a perspectiva de economia de baixo carbono. Estas novas vozes vêm de países de renda média como Chile, Colômbia, Costa Rica e Indonésia onde os governos estão implantando políticas climáticas ambiciosas ou manifestam vontade de fazê-lo. Suas novas visões devem moldar as discussões da cúpula de alto nível.

Também se espera que os países mais pobres apresentem seus desafios e suas contribuições para a solução do problema.

4) Novos compromissos de países, cidades e do setor privado

A Cúpula de um dia será um fórum para a troca de iniciativas entre os países. Durante a manhã acontecerão três sessões simultâneas nas quais os países devem anunciar suas medidas de combate às mudanças climáticas. Os anúncios provavelmente variarão de compromissos de capitalização do Fundo Verde para o Clima, como a contribuição de US$ 1 bilhão feita recentemente pela Alemanha como ajuda aos demais países para sua preparação para os impactos do clima e busca de caminhos de baixo carbono, até ações internas como de alteração de matrizes energéticas desde o carvão às energias renováveis de grande escala.

Os líderes mundiais também podem usar a reunião para se comprometerem a apresentar um rascunho de seus planos climáticos pós-2020 até o mês de março de 2015 (processo conhecido no jargão das negociações como “contribuições intencionais nacionais determinadas” ou INDCs na sigla em inglês) – de modo a incentivar seus colegas a também fazê-lo. O respeito a esse prazo dará aos ‘stakeholders’ nacionais e internacionais a oportunidade de responder e sugerir melhorias antes dos países apresentarem suas propostas definitivas nove meses depois, em Paris.

Finalmente, o encontro oferece uma plataforma para a apresentação de novas e significativas ideias pelos líderes do setor privado e das cidades. Prepare-se para conhecer novos esforços privados e/ou públicos em matéria de energia, cidades de baixo carbono, restauração florestal, transporte, agricultura, finanças e resiliência. Estas novas iniciativas complementarão as ações nacionais envolvendo todos os níveis da sociedade no esforço global para o enfrentamento do problema.

5) A transição global para a energia limpa está remodelando a paisagem da política

A rápida adoção de energias renováveis nos últimos anos mudou o que era considerado viável há apenas cinco anos. Os custos de produção da energia solar caíram 80% e a energia eólica nunca foi tão acessível. Em outubro passado, a Dinamarca produziu mais energia a partir dos ventos do que o total consumido pelo país. A China estabeleceu metas agressivas para energias renováveis para os anos de 2015, 2017 e 2020. Mais e mais empresas elétricas norte americanas estão descobrindo que o vento e o Sol oferecem a forma mais barata para adicionar capacidade de geração adicional. E cerca de 100 países em desenvolvimento têm agora estabelecidas políticas para energia renováveis. O panorama energético em mudança e os fortes benefícios sociais e econômicos da transição para a energia limpa dão argumentos fortes aos líderes dos países e das empresas pela liderança climática.

Uma chance para que os líderes mundiais se comprometam pela ação climática

A Cúpula será um prenúncio para o compromisso dos chefes de estado quanto ao enfrentamento da crise climática no período que leva a Paris e além. Fortes e claros compromissos elevariam a mudança climática na agenda global e preparariam o terreno para o progresso nacional e internacional.

Durante uma reunião de alto nível em Abu Dhabi em maio deste ano, Ban Ki-moon exortou os participantes a “capacitar e motivar os seus líderes nacionais para que tragam anúncios ousados à Cúpula do Clima de setembro… A corrida começou. É hora de liderar”. Em poucas semanas veremos se os líderes estão à altura do desafio.


* Artigo publicado em no dia 5 de setembro passado em http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/09/5-reasons-watch-nyc-climate-summit e traduzido por Délcio Rodrigues.

**Nota do editor: Depois da publicação deste post soubemos que o presidente chinês Xi Jinping não deve participar da Cúpula do Clima da ONU em Nova York. É esperado que o presidente Xi envie um outro político sênior em seu lugar.

The ‘Wall Street Journal’ Parade of Climate Lies (Huff Post)

Posted: 09/06/2014 8:21 am EDT Updated: 09/07/2014 10:59 pm EDT

RUPERT MURDOCH

That Rupert Murdoch governs over a criminal media empire has been made clear enough in the UK courts in recent years. That the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, the latest victim of Murdoch’s lawless greed, are little more than naked propaganda is perhaps less appreciated. The Journal runs one absurd op-ed after another purporting to unmask climate change science, but only succeeds in unmasking the crudeness and ignorance of Murdoch’s henchmen. Yesterday’s (September 5) op-edby Matt Ridley is a case in point.

Ridley’s “smoking gun” is a paper last week in Science Magazine by two scientists Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung, which Ridley somehow believes refutes all previous climate science. Ridley quotes a sentence fragment from the press release suggesting that roughly half of the global warming in the last three decades of the past century (1970-2000) was due to global warming and half to a natural Atlantic Ocean cycle. He then states that “the man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether,” and “That to put the icing on the case of good news, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung think the Atlantic Ocean may continue to prevent any warming for the next two decades.”

The Wall Street Journal editors don’t give a hoot about the nonsense they publish if it serves their cause of fighting measures to limit human-induced climate change. If they had simply gone online to read the actual paper, they would have found that the paper’s conclusions are the very opposite of Ridley’s.

First, the paper makes perfectly clear that the Earth is warming in line with standard climate science, and that the Earth’s warming is unabated in recent years. In the scientific lingo of the paper (it’s very first line, so Ridley didn’t have far to read!), “Increasing anthropogenic greenhouse-gas-emissions perturb Earth’s radiative equilibrium, leading to a persistent imbalance at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) despite some long-wave radiative adjustment.” In short, we humans are filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use, and we are warming the planet.

Second, the total warming is distributed between the land and ocean surface on the one hand and the ocean deep water on the other. The total rise of ocean heat content has continued unabated, while the proportion of heat absorbed at the surface and in the deeper ocean varies over time. Again, in the scientific lingo of the paper, “[T]his forced total OHC [ocean heat content] should be increasing monotonically over longer periods even through the current period of slowed warming. In fact, that expectation is verified by observation …”. In other words, the ocean has continued to warm in line with predictions of just such a phenomenon seen in climate models.

Third, it is the “vertical distribution” of the warming, between the surface and deep water, which affects the warming observed on land and at the sea surface. The point of the paper is that the allocation of the warming vertically varies over time, sometimes warming the surface rapidly, other times warming the deeper ocean to a great extent and the surface water less rapidly. According to the paper, the period of the late 20th century was a period in which the surface was warmed relative to the deeper ocean. The period since 2000 is the opposite, with more warming of the deeper ocean. How do the scientists know? They measure the ocean temperature at varying depths with a sophisticated system of “Argo profiling floats,” which periodically dive into the ocean depths to take temperature readings and resurface to transmit them to the data centers.

So, what is Ridley’s “smoking gun” when you strip away his absurd version of the paper? It goes like this. The Earth is continuing to warm just as greenhouse gas theory holds. The warming heats the land and the ocean. The ocean distributes some of the warming to the surface waters and some to the deeper waters, depending on the complex circulation of ocean waters. The shares of warming of the surface and deeper ocean vary over time, in fluctuations that can last a few years or a few decades.

If the surface warming is somewhat less in recent years than in the last part of the 20th century, is that reason for complacency? Hardly. The warming is continuing, and the consequences of our current trajectory will be devastating unless greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide) are stopped during this century. As Chen and Tung conclude in their Science paper, “When the internal variability [of the ocean] that is responsible for the current hiatus [in warming] switches sign, as it inevitably will, another episode of accelerated global warming should ensue.”

Mr. Murdoch, and the Wall Street Journal, can it be any clearer than this?

*   *   *

The Wall Street Journal downplays global warming risks once again (The Guardian)

Monday 22 September 2014 14.00 BST

The periodical follows the Murdoch media pattern of sowing doubt about climate change threats

A photograph of the front page of the edition of the Wall Street Journal reporting on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp purchase of Dow Jones & Co.

A photograph of the front page of the edition of the Wall Street Journal reporting on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp purchase of Dow Jones & Co. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

As has become the norm for media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, just before a half million people participated in the People’s Climate Marcharound the world, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece downplaying the risks and threats posed by human-caused global warming. The editorial was written by Steven Koonin, a respected computational physicist who claims to have engaged in “Detailed technical discussions during the past year with leading climate scientists,” but who is himself not a climate scientist.

Koonin did admit that the climate is changing and humans are largely responsible, and noted,

There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures.

This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, Koonin’s editorial focused almost exclusively on the remaining uncertainties in climate science. Ironically, he stated,

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.

But Koonin himself got the certainties wrong. For example, we know that humans are the main cause of the current climate change, responsible for about 100% of the global warming since 1950. However, Koonin’s editorial claimed,

The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

This is simply incorrect. As climate scientist Michael Mann told Climate Science Watch in their thorough response to Koonin’s piece,

The fact is that the actual peer-reviewed scientific research shows that (a) the rate of warming over the past century is unprecedented as far back as the 20,000 years paleoclimate scientists are able to extend the record and (b) that warming can ONLY be explained by human influences.

Indeed, it is the RATE of warming that presents such risk to human civilization and our environment.

Climate scientists Michael Oppenheimer and Kevin Trenberth also took issue with Koonin’s assertion about the impact of human activity, saying,

Warming is well beyond natural climate variability and projected rates of change are potentially faster than ecosystems, farmers and societies can adapt to without major disruptions. Many details remain to be settled, and weather and natural variability will always mask some effects, especially regionally. But economic analysis of these risks supports substantial action beyond “no regrets” strategies. To argue otherwise as Koonin does is to ignore decades of research results.

Koonin primarily focused on the uncertainty in the specific impacts of continued rapid global warming. However, he glossed over the fact that those uncertainties range from generally bad impacts to potentially catastrophic impacts. Even in a best case scenario, climate science research indicates that we anticipate experiencing widespread coral mortality, hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased water stress, more damage from droughts and heat waves and floods, up to 30% of global species at risk for extinction, and declined global food production, for example.

Those are the anticipated impacts if we limit global warming to not much above 2°C warming as compared to pre-industrial levels. Accomplishing that would require intensive efforts to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions, and if we fail, the consequence will be far worse.

The good news is that slowing global warming can be accomplished with minimal economic impact. In fact, economic research consistently shows that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if done right, is far cheaper than paying for the damages caused by unabated climate change. For example, a revenue-neutral carbon tax could create jobs and grow the economy. Two recent studies by the New Climate Economy Project and the International Monetary Fund likewise found that reducing carbon pollution could grow the economy, as summarized by The Guardian.

As Koonin noted in his piece, risk management is key in determining how to respond to the threats posed by climate change. On the one hand, we have a threat to the entire global climate on which every species on Earth relies, which humans are in the process of destabilizing at a rate more rapid than many species can adapt.

On the other hand, we have concerns about the impacts of climate policy on the economy. However, numerous studies have found that if done right, those policies can grow the economy, and will certainly be cheaper than paying for the damages of unabated climate change.

While uncertainties remain about whether the impacts of climate change will be bad, catastrophic, or somewhere in between, that’s precisely the kind of scenario in which uncertainty is not our friend. When faced with a risk to something so important, humans are usually smart enough to take action to manage that risk. For example, we buy home insurance, we wear seat belts, and fewer people now smoke than in previous generations who were unaware of the associated risks.

The climate contrarian guide to managing risk.  Created by John Cook.
The climate contrarian guide to managing risk. Created by John Cook. Photograph: Skeptical Science

It’s critical to grasp not just that there are uncertainties about the impacts of climate change, but what those uncertainties tell us about the range of potential outcomes. It’s easy to simply say “the impacts are uncertain,” but when those uncertainties range from bad to catastrophic, taking action to mitigate the threat is a no-brainer. Additionally, larger uncertainty means that we can’t rule out the most catastrophic potential impacts, and actually makes the case for taking action stronger, as a study published earlier this year showed.

The bottom line is that while there are and always will be uncertainties in climate science that require further research, it’s already been several decades since we’ve understood climate change well enough to justify taking serious action to solve the problem. The longer we wait, the costlier those actions become, and the worse the impacts of human-caused global warming will be. The hundreds of thousands of people who marched yesterday understand that, but the Murdoch media hasn’t caught up yet.

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola (Slate)

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesSuspected Ebola patient Finda “Zanabo” prays over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014, near Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has spiraled out of control, affecting thousands of Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans, and threatening thousands more, the world’s reaction has been glacially, lethally slow. Only in the past few weeks have heads of state begun to take serious notice. To date, the virus has killed more than 2,600 people. This is a comparatively small number when measured against much more established diseases such as malaria,HIV/AIDS, influenza, and so on, but several factors about this outbreak have some of the world’s top health professionals gravely concerned:

  • Its kill rate: In this particular outbreak, a running tabulation suggests that 54 percent of the infected die, though adjusted numbers suggest that the rate is much higher.
  • Its exponential growth: At this point, the number of people infected is doubling approximately every three weeks, leading some epidemiologists to projectbetween 77,000 and 277,000 cases by the end of 2014.
  • The gruesomeness with which it kills: by hijacking cells and migrating throughout the body to affect all organs, causing victims to bleed profusely.
  • The ease with which it is transmitted: through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat, tears, saliva, blood, urine, semen, etc., including objects that have come in contact with bodily fluids (such as bed sheets, clothing, and needles) and corpses.
  • The threat of mutation: Prominent figures have expressed serious concerns that this disease will go airborne, and there are many other mechanisms through which mutation might make it much more transmissible.

Terrifying as these factors are, it is not clear to me that any of them capture what is truly, horribly tragic about this disease.

The most striking thing about the virus is the way in which it propagates. True, through bodily fluids, but to suggest as much is to ignore the conditions under which bodily contact occurs. Instead, the mechanism Ebola exploits is far more insidious. This virus preys on care and love, piggybacking on the deepest, most distinctively human virtues. Affected parties are almost all medical professionals and family members, snared by Ebola while in the business of caring for their fellow humans. More strikingly, 75 percent of Ebola victims are women, people who do much of the care work throughout Africa and the rest of the world. In short, Ebola parasitizes our humanity.

More than most other pandemic diseases (malaria, cholera, plague, etc.) and more than airborne diseases (influenza, swine flu, H5N1, etc.) that are transmitted indiscriminately through the air, this disease is passed through very minute amounts of bodily fluid. Just a slip of contact with the infected party and the caregiver herself can be stricken.

The images coming from Africa are chilling. Little boys, left alone in the street without parents, shivering and sick, untouchable by the throngs of people around them. Grown men, writhing at the door to a hospital, hoping for care as their parents stand helplessly, wondering how to help. Mothers and fathers, fighting weakness and exhaustion to move to the edge of a tent in order to catch a distant, final glimpse of a get-well video that their children have made for them.

If Ebola is not stopped, this disease can destroy whole families within a month, relatives of those families shortly thereafter, friends of those relatives after that, and on and on. As it takes hold (and it is taking hold fast), it cuts out the heart of family and civilization. More than the profuse bleeding and high kill rate, this is why the disease is terrifying. Ebola sunders the bonds that make us human.

Aid providers are now working fastidiously to sever these ties themselves, fighting hopelessly against the natural inclinations that people have to love and care for the ill. They have launched aggressive public information campaigns, distributedupdates widely, called for more equipment and gear, summoned the military, tried to rein in the hysteria, and so on. Yet no sheet of plastic or latex can disrupt these human inclinations.

Such heroic efforts are the appropriate medical response to a virulent public health catastrophe. The public health community is doing an incredible job, facing unbelievable risks, relying on extremely limited resources. Yet these efforts can only do half of the work. Infected parties—not all, to be sure, but some (enough)—cannot abide by the rules of disease isolation. Some will act without donning protective clothing. Some will assist without taking proper measures. And still others will refuse to enter isolation units because doing so means leaving their families and their loved ones behind, abandoning their humanity, and subjecting themselves to the terror of dying a sterile, lonely death.

It is tempting, at these times, to focus on the absurd and senseless actions of a few. One of the primary vectors in Sierra Leone is believed to have been a traditional healer who had been telling people that she could cure Ebola. In Monrovia a few weeks back, angry citizens stormed a clinic and removed patients from their care. “There is no Ebola!” they are reported to have been shouting. More recently, the largest newspaper in Liberia published an article suggesting that Ebola is a conspiracy of the United States, aimed to undermine Africa. And, perhaps even more sadly, a team of health workers and journalists was just brutally murdered in Guinea. It is easy, in other words, to blame the spread on stupidity, or illiteracy, or ritualism, or conspiracy theories, or any number of other irrational factors.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA man checks on a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on Aug. 19, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

But imagine: You are a parent whose child has suddenly come ill with a fever. Do you cast your child away and refuse to touch him? Do you cover your face and your arms? Stay back! Unclean! Or do you comfort your child when he asks for you, arms outstretched, to make the pain go away?

Imagine: You live in a home with five other family members. Your sister falls ill, ostensibly from Ebola, but possibly from malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, or the flu. You are aware of the danger to yourself and your other family members, but you have no simple means to move her, and she is too weak to move herself. What do you do?

Imagine: You are a child of 5 years old. Your mother is sick. She implores you to back away. But you are scared. What you need, more than anything, is a hug and a cry.

Who can blame a person for this? It is a terrible, awful predicament. A moral predicament. To stay, comfort, and give love and care to those who are in desperate need, or to shuttle them off into an isolation ward, perhaps never to see them again? What an inhumane decision this is.

What makes the Ebola virus so terrifying is not its kill rate, its exponential growth, the gruesome way in which it kills, the ease of transmission, or the threat of mutation, but rather that people who care can do almost nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch.

* * *

Many have asked whether Ebola could come here, come West. (The implication, in its way, is crass—as if to suggest that we need not be concerned about a tragedy unless it poses a threat to us.) We have been reassured that it will never spread widely here, because our public health networks are too strong, our hospitals too well-stocked. The naysayers may be right about this. But they are not right that it does not pose a threat to us.

For starters, despite the pretense, the West is not immune from absurd, unscientific thinking. We have our fair share of scientific illiteracy, skepticism, ritualism, and foolishness. But beyond this, it is our similarities, not our differences, that make us vulnerable to this plague. We are human. Every mechanism we have for caring—touching, holding, feeding, playing, warming, comforting, caressing—every mechanism that we use to bind us to our families and our neighbors, is preyed upon by Ebola. We cannot seal each other into hyperbaric chambers and expect that once we emerge, the carnage will be over. We are humans, and we will care about our children and our families even if it means that we may die in doing so.

The lesson here is a vital one: People do not give up on humanity so very easily. Even if we persuade all of the population to forgo rituals like washing the dead, we will not easily persuade parents to keep from holding their sick children, children from clinging to their ailing parents, or children from playing and wrestling and slobbering all over one another. We tried to alter such behaviors with HIV/AIDS. A seemingly simple edict—“just lay off the sex with infected parties”—would seem all that is required to halt that disease. But we have learned over the decades that people do not give up sex so readily.

If you think curtailing sex is hard, love and compassion will be that much harder. Humans will never give this up—we cannot give this up, for it is fundamental to who we are. The more that medical personnel require this of people without also giving them methods to manifest care, the more care and compassion will manifest in pockets outside of quarantine. And the more humanity that manifests unchecked, the more space this virus has to grow. Unchecked humanity will seep through the cracks and barriers that we build to keep our families safe, and if left to find its own way, will carry a lethal payload.

The problem is double-edged. Ebola threatens humanity by preying on humanity. The seemingly simple solution is to destroy humanity ourselves—to seal everything off and let the disease burn out on its own. But doing so means destroying ourselves in order to save ourselves, which is no solution at all.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA medical worker in a protective suit works near Ebola patients in a Doctors Without Borders hospital on Sept. 7, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

We must find a method of caring without touching, of contacting without making contact. The physiological barriers are, for the time being, necessary. But we cannot stop people from caring about one another, so we must create, for the time being, mechanisms for caring. Since we will never be able to beat back humanity, we must coordinate humanity, at the family level, the local level, and the global level.

The only one way to battle a disease that affixes itself parasitically to our humanity is to overwhelm it with greater, stronger humanity. To immunize Africa and the rest of the world with a blast of humanity so powerful that the disease can no longer take root. What it will take to beat this virus is to turn its most powerful vehicle, our most powerful weapon, against it.

Here are some things we can do:

Donate to the great organizations that are working tirelessly to bring this disease under control. They need volunteers, medical supplies, facilities, transportation, food, etc. Share information about Ebola, so people will learn about it, know about it, and know how to address it when it comes. And inform and help others. It is natural at a time of crisis to call for sealing the borders, to build fences and walls that separate us further from outside threats. But a disease that infects humanity cannot easily be walled off in this way. Walling off just creates unprotected pockets of humanity, divisions between us and them: my family, your family; that village, this village; inside, outside.

* * *

One final thing.

When Prince Prospero, ill-fated protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” locked himself in his castle to avoid a contagion that was sweeping his country—a disease that caused “profuse bleeding at the pores”—he assumed mistakenly that the only reasonable solution to his problem was to remove himself from the scene. For months he lived lavishly, surrounded by courtiers, improvisatori, buffoons, musicians, and wine, removed from danger while the pestilence wrought havoc outside.

As with much of Poe’s writing, Prospero’s tale does not end well. For six months, all was calm. He and his courtiers enjoyed their lives, secure and isolated from the plague laying waste to the countryside. Then, one night during a masquerade ball, the Red Death snuck into the castle, hidden behind a mask and a cloak, to afflict Prospero and his revelers, dropping them one by one in the “blood-bedewed halls.” Prospero’s security was a façade, leaving darkness and decay to hold “illimitable dominion over all.” The eventual intrusion that would be his undoing foretells of a danger in believing that we can keep the world’s ills at bay by keeping our distance.

If we seek safety by shutting out the rest of the world, we are in for a brutally ugly awakening. Nature is a cruel mistress, but Ebola is her cruelest, most devious trick yet.

Benjamin Hale is associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder. He is vice president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics and co-editor of the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment.

Saving Native Languages and Culture in Mexico With Computer Games (Indian Country)

Thinkstock

9/21/14

Indigenous children in Mexico can now learn their mother tongues with specialized computer games, helping to prevent the further loss of those languages across the country.

“Three years ago, before we employed these materials, we were on the verge of seeing our children lose our Native languages,” asserted Matilde Hernandez, a teacher in Zitacuaro, Michoacan.

“Now they are speaking and singing in Mazahua as if that had never happened,” Hernandez said, referring to computer software that provides games and lessons in most of the linguistic families of the country including Mazahua, Chinanteco, Nahuatl of Puebla, Tzeltal, Mixteco, Zapateco, Chatino and others.

The new software was created by scientists and educators in two research institutions in Mexico: the Victor Franco Language and Culture Lab (VFLCL) of the Center for Investigations and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIHSSA); and the Computer Center of the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (NIAOE).

According to reports released this summer, the software was developed as a tool to help counteract the educational lag in indigenous communities and to employ these educational technologies so that the children may learn various subjects in an entertaining manner while reinforcing their Native language and culture.

“This software – divided into three methodologies for three different groups of applications – was made by dedicated researchers who have experience with Indigenous Peoples,” said Dr. Frida Villavicencio, Coordinator of the VLFCL’s Language Lab.

“We must have an impact on the children,” she continued, “offering them better methodologies for learning their mother tongues, as well as for learning Spanish and for supporting their basic education in a fun way.”

Villavicencio pointed out that the games and programs were not translated from the Spanish but were developed in the Native languages with the help of Native speakers. She added that studies from Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous Languages (NIIL) show that the main reason why indigenous languages disappear, or are in danger of doing so, is because in each generation fewer and fewer of the children speak those languages.

“We need bilingual children only in that way can we preserve their languages,” she added.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/21/saving-native-languages-and-culture-mexico-computer-games-156961

Vira-latas sob controle (Fapesp)

22 de setembro de 2014

Por Yuri Vasconcelos

Software estima a população de cães e gatos abandonados e simula estratégias que beneficiam a saúde animal e humana (foto: Wikimedia)

Revista Pesquisa FAPESP – Ninguém conhece ao certo o tamanho das populações canina ou felina no Brasil, sejam elas de animais supervisionados – que têm dono e vivem em domicílios – ou de rua.

A caracterização demográfica de cães e gatos é um passo importante para definir estratégias de manejo populacional desses animais, além de contribuir para o controle de zoonoses como a raiva e a leishmaniose visceral, que causam 55 mil mortes e 500 mil casos no mundo, respectivamente.

Para lidar melhor com esse problema, um grupo de pesquisadores da Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária (FMVZ) da Universidade de São Paulo (USP), na capital paulista, criou um software capaz de estimar com elevado índice de precisão quantos cães e gatos domiciliados vivem nas cidades brasileiras. Em breve, esse programa poderá ser acessado livremente por órgãos do Ministério da Saúde e prefeituras.

“Conhecer a população de rua é essencial. Ela é resultado do abandono de animais”, diz o médico veterinário Fernando Ferreira, professor e coordenador do programa de pós-graduação da FMVZ.

O Brasil lidera a incidência de leishmaniose visceral na América Latina com cerca de 3 mil infectados por ano, o que representa 90% do total do continente. A raiva, apesar de poder ser controlada com vacinação, ainda tem casos no país. Em 1990, foram 50 casos em humanos, situação que variou de zero a dois casos entre 2007 e 2013.

Animais abandonados representam um problema de saúde pública, porque são os principais reservatórios e transmissores dessas enfermidades. Ao mesmo tempo, esses animais são vítimas de atropelamentos, abusos e crueldade.

A técnica mais confiável para dimensionar e classificar a população canina de rua foi criada pelo Instituto Pasteur em 2002 e indica que esses animais representam cerca de 5% dos indivíduos que têm dono.

“Assim, sabendo quantos cães supervisionados vivem numa determinada região, é possível estimar quantos existem nas ruas desse mesmo lugar”, diz Ferreira. “Já que existe uma relação direta entre essas duas populações, as estratégias de controle de cães abandonados passam pelo controle reprodutivo dos animais domiciliados”, explica o pesquisador, que contou no projeto com a colaboração do professor Marcos Amaku, também da FMVZ.

Batizado com a sigla capm – iniciais em inglês de companion animal population management ou manejo populacional de cães e gatos –, o software foi desenvolvido pelo doutorando Oswaldo Santos Baquero, bolsista da FAPESP.

“No meu estudo, avalio a validade de um desenho amostral complexo para estimar o tamanho populacional de cães domiciliados em municípios brasileiros. Também elaborei um modelo matemático de dinâmica populacional para simular cenários e definir prioridades de intervenção”, conta Baquero.

Para ele, a partir da modelagem matemática é possível, por exemplo, compreender com mais facilidade que o principal efeito esperado da esterilização é o aumento da população infértil e não a diminuição do tamanho de uma população inteira.

“Modelos matemáticos da transmissão da raiva na China sugerem que a melhor forma de controlar a doença é reduzir a taxa de natalidade canina e aumentar a imunização. Essas duas ações combinadas mostraram-se mais efetivas do que o sacrifício de animais.”

Leia a reportagem completa em: http://revistapesquisa.fapesp.br/2014/09/16/vira-latas-sob-controle

Dogs can be pessimists, too (Science Daily)

Date: September 18, 2014

Source: University of Sydney

Summary: Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, new research shows.

English bulldog puppies. Some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows. Credit: © B.Stefanov / Fotolia

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.

In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows.

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes,” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science. Her PhD research findings are published in PLOS One today.

“Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare.”

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs have learnt the discrimination task, they are presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.

If dogs respond after ambiguous tones, it shows that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called optimistic. They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.

“Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population,” said Dr Starling.

However it does mean that both individuals and institutions (kennels, dog minders) can have a much more accurate insight into the emotional make-up of their dogs.

According to the research a dog with an optimistic personality expects more good things to happen, and less bad things. She will take risks and gain access to rewards. She is a dog that picks herself up when things don’t go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don’t bother her.

If your dog has a pessimistic personality, he expects less good things to happen and more bad things. This may make him cautious and risk averse. He may readily give up when things don’t go his way, because minor setbacks distress him. He may not be unhappy per se, but he is likely to be most content with the status quo and need some encouragement to try new things.

“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia, a charity organisation that provides service and companion dogs to people with disabilities, to investigate whether an optimism measure could aid in selecting suitable candidates for training.

The research not only suggests how personality may affect the way dogs see the world and how they behave but how positive or negative their current mood is.

“This research has the potential to completely remodel how animal welfare is assessed. If we know how optimistic or pessimistic an animal usually is, it’s possible to track changes in that optimism that will indicate when it is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual,” said Dr Starling.

“The remarkable power of this is the opportunity to essentially ask a dog ‘How are you feeling?’ and get an answer. It could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Melissa J. Starling, Nicholas Branson, Denis Cody, Timothy R. Starling, Paul D. McGreevy. Canine Sense and Sensibility: Tipping Points and Response Latency Variability as an Optimism Index in a Canine Judgement Bias Assessment. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e107794 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0107794

Certain gut bacteria may induce metabolic changes following exposure to artificial sweeteners (Science Daily)

Date: September 17, 2014

Source: Weizmann Institute of Science

Summary: Artificial sweeteners have long been promoted as diet and health aids. But breaking research shows that these products may be leading to the very diseases they were said to help prevent: scientists have discovered that, after exposure to artificial sweeteners, our gut bacteria may be triggering harmful metabolic changes.


This image depicts gut microbiota. Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Artificial sweeteners — promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention — could actually hasten the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease, and they do so in a surprising way: by changing the composition and function of the gut microbiota — the substantial population of bacteria residing in our intestines. These findings, the results of experiments in mice and humans, were published September 17 in Nature. Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Immunology, who led this research together with Prof. Eran Segal of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, says that the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food, among other things, may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.

For years, researchers have been puzzling over the fact that non-caloric artificial sweeteners do not seem to assist in weight loss, with some studies suggesting that they may even have an opposite effect. Graduate student Jotham Suez in Dr. Elinav’s lab, who led the study, collaborated with lab member Gili Zilberman-Shapira and graduate students Tal Korem and David Zeevi in Prof. Segal’s lab to discover that artificial sweeteners, even though they do not contain sugar, nonetheless have a direct effect on the body’s ability to utilize glucose. Glucose intolerance — generally thought to occur when the body cannot cope with large amounts of sugar in the diet — is the first step on the path to metabolic syndrome and adult-onset diabetes.

The scientists gave mice water laced with the three most commonly used artificial sweeteners, in amounts equivalent to those permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These mice developed glucose intolerance, as compared to mice that drank water, or even sugar water. Repeating the experiment with different types of mice and different doses of the artificial sweeteners produced the same results — these substances were somehow inducing glucose intolerance.

Next, the researchers investigated a hypothesis that the gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. They thought the bacteria might do this by reacting to new substances like artificial sweeteners, which the body itself may not recognize as “food.” Indeed, artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, but in passing through they encounter trillions of the bacteria in the gut microbiota.

The researchers treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria; this resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners’ effects on glucose metabolism. Next, they transferred the microbiota from mice that consumed artificial sweeteners to “germ-free,” or sterile, mice — resulting in a complete transmission of the glucose intolerance into the recipient mice. This, in itself, was conclusive proof that changes to the gut bacteria are directly responsible for the harmful effects to their host’s metabolism. The group even found that incubating the microbiota outside the body, together with artificial sweeteners, was sufficient to induce glucose intolerance in the sterile mice. A detailed characterization of the microbiota in these mice revealed profound changes to their bacterial populations, including new microbial functions that are known to infer a propensity to obesity, diabetes, and complications of these problems in both mice and humans.

Does the human microbiome function in the same way? Dr. Elinav and Prof. Segal had a means to test this as well. As a first step, they looked at data collected from their Personalized Nutrition Project (www.personalnutrition.org), the largest human trial to date to look at the connection between nutrition and microbiota. Here, they uncovered a significant association between self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, personal configurations of gut bacteria, and the propensity for glucose intolerance. They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of volunteers who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week, and then undergo tests of their glucose levels and gut microbiota compositions.

The findings showed that many — but not all — of the volunteers had begun to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of artificial sweetener consumption. The composition of their gut microbiota explained the difference: the researchers discovered two different populations of human gut bacteria — one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, and one that had no effect either way. Dr. Elinav believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body’s ability to utilize sugar.

Prof. Segal states, “The results of our experiments highlight the importance of personalized medicine and nutrition to our overall health. We believe that an integrated analysis of individualized ‘big data’ from our genome, microbiome, and dietary habits could transform our ability to understand how foods and nutritional supplements affect a person’s health and risk of disease.”

According to Dr. Elinav, “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners — through the bacteria in our guts — to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jotham Suez, Tal Korem, David Zeevi, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Christoph A. Thaiss, Ori Maza, David Israeli, Niv Zmora, Shlomit Gilad, Adina Weinberger, Yael Kuperman, Alon Harmelin, Ilana Kolodkin-Gal, Hagit Shapiro, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13793

Nature of war: Chimps inherently violent; Study disproves theory that ‘chimpanzee wars’ are sparked by human influence (Science Daily)

Date: September 17, 2014

Source: Lincoln Park Zoo

Summary: Of all of the world’s species, humans and chimpanzees are some of the only species to coordinate attacks on their own members. Since Jane Goodall introduced lethal inter-community killings, primatologists have debated the concept of warfare in this genus. New research from an international coalition of ape researchers has shed new light on the subject, suggesting that human encroachment and interference is not, as previous researchers have claimed, an influential predictor of chimp-on-chimp aggression.


The Ngogo males have just killed a male from a neighboring group. After the male is dead, one of the Ngogo males leaps on the body of the dead animal. Credit: Image courtesy of John Mitani 

Of all of the world’s species, humans and chimpanzees are some of the only to engage in coordinated attacks on other members of their same species. Jane Goodall was among the first to introduce the occurrence of lethal inter-community killings and since then primatologists and anthropologists have long debated the concept of warfare in this genus. Research theories have pointed to increased gains and benefits of killing off competitors and opening up increased access to key resources such as food or mates. In contrast, others have argued that warfare is a result of human impact on chimpanzees, such as habitat destruction or food provisioning, rather than adaptive strategies.

New research from an international coalition of ape researchers, published September 18 in the journalNature, has shed new light on the subject, suggesting that human encroachment and interference is not, as previous researchers have claimed, an influential predictor of chimp-on-chimp aggression.

The study began as a response to a growing number of commentators claiming that chimpanzee violence was caused by human impacts. “This is an important question to get right. If we are using chimpanzees as a model for understanding human violence, we need to know what really causes chimpanzees to be violent,” said University of Minnesota researcher Michael L. Wilson, lead author on the study.

“Humans have long impacted African tropical forests and chimpanzees, and one of the long-standing questions is if human disturbance is an underlying factor causing the lethal aggression observed,” explained co-author David Morgan, PhD, research fellow with the Lester E Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Morgan has studied chimpanzees deep in the forests of Republic of Congo for 14 years. “A key take-away from this research is that human influence does not spur increased aggression within or between chimpanzee communities.”

A team of 30 ape researchers assembled extensive data sets spanning five decades of research gathered from 18 chimpanzee communities experiencing varying degrees of human influence. In all, data included pattern analysis of 152 killings by chimpanzees. The key findings indicate that a majority of violent attackers and victims of attack are male chimpanzees, and the information is consistent with the theory that these acts of violence are driven by adaptive fitness benefits rather than human impacts.

“Wild chimpanzee communities are often divided into two broad categories depending on whether they exist in pristine or human disturbed environments,” explained Morgan. “In reality, however, human disturbance can occur along a continuum and study sites included in this investigation spanned the spectrum. We found human impact did not predict the rate of killing among communities.

“The more we learn about chimpanzee aggression and factors that trigger lethal attacks among chimpanzees, the more prepared park managers and government officials will be in addressing and mitigating risks to populations particularly with changing land use by humans in chimpanzee habitat,” explained Morgan.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michael L. Wilson, Christophe Boesch, Barbara Fruth, Takeshi Furuichi, Ian C. Gilby, Chie Hashimoto, Catherine L. Hobaiter, Gottfried Hohmann, Noriko Itoh, Kathelijne Koops, Julia N. Lloyd, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, John C. Mitani, Deus C. Mjungu, David Morgan, Martin N. Muller, Roger Mundry, Michio Nakamura, Jill Pruetz, Anne E. Pusey, Julia Riedel, Crickette Sanz, Anne M. Schel, Nicole Simmons, Michel Waller, David P. Watts, Frances White, Roman M. Wittig, Klaus Zuberbühler, Richard W. Wrangham. Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature, 2014; 513 (7518): 414 DOI: 10.1038/nature13727

Pajés Caiapó Kukrit e Mati-í fazem pajelança e terminam incêncio de mais de dois meses em Roraima, em 1998

“No dia 30 de março, quando o incêndio completava 63 dias, chegam a Roraima, levados pela Fundação Nacional do Indio-FUNAI, os pajés Caiapó Kukrit e Mati-í, determinados a realizar uma pajelança para atrair chuva para Roraima. Na noite do dia 30, os pajés dirigiram-se à beira do rio Curupira, que banha Boa Vista, e fizeram um ritual de chuva. Retornaram ao hotel, afirmando que no dia seguinte choveria “muito”. De madrugada choveu muito, apagando 95% dos focos de incêndio.

A partir desse fato a imprensa debruçou-se sobre o tema durante vários dias, mudando o rumo da discussão pública sobre o incêndio, concentrando-a na participação dos pajés nos esforços para debelar o incêndio. Antropólogos discutiram a eficácia dos rituais indígenas . José Jorge de Carvalho, da Universidade de Brasília, contemporizou: “Nem toda vez que você faz ritual para chover, chove. Como nem toda vez que você vai ao médico, o médico te cura.” Júlio Cezar Melatti, também da UnB: “Depende da fé de cada um. Fazer chover, eu acho que é coincidência”. Marcos Terena, organizador do I Encontro Nacional de Pajés (que se realizaria de 15 a 18 do mesmo mês, em Brasília): “Quem manda é o criador, a natureza. A gente pede. Não é uma coisa mágica”. Terena acredita que os rituais dão certo por causa da “relação íntima do índio com a natureza”.

O sociólogo Eurico Gonzalez, da UnB deu outra interpretação: “as crendices são fruto do fracasso da razão. Ou seja, da incapacidade do homem de resolver seus próprios problemas. O nosso projeto de sociedade moderna nunca funcionou direito. E isso abre espaço para que crenças mágicas ocupem o lugar das soluções.”

O temporal da madrugada do dia 31 de março alagou ruas e derrubou árvores em Boa Vista. Segundo relatório do Núcleo de Monitoramento Ambiental da Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária-Embrapa, chegou a chover mais de 30 mm em algumas regiões do Estado. O documento diz: “A principal e mais espetacular consequência das chuvas foi uma redução quase completa (em mais de 95%) dos pontos de incêndios e queimadas no Estado”. A avaliação foi feita a partir de imagens obtidas do satélite NOAA 14.”

Trecho do relatório da comissão especial do Senado Federal para acompanhar o caso, disponível em http://www.senado.leg.br/atividade/materia/getPDF.asp?t=79112&tp=1.

Agradeço a B. Esteves pela indicação do material.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math (Rolling Stone)

Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is

reckoning illo
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez
BY | July 19, 2012

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world’s nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn’t even attend. It was “a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago,” the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls “once thronged by multitudes.” Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.

The First Number: 2° Celsius

If the movie had ended in Hollywood fashion, the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 would have marked the culmination of the global fight to slow a changing climate. The world’s nations had gathered in the December gloom of the Danish capital for what a leading climate economist, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called the “most important gathering since the Second World War, given what is at stake.” As Danish energy minister Connie Hedegaard, who presided over the conference, declared at the time: “This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one. If ever.”

In the event, of course, we missed it. Copenhagen failed spectacularly. Neither China nor the United States, which between them are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, was prepared to offer dramatic concessions, and so the conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders jetted in for the final day. Amid considerable chaos, President Obama took the lead in drafting a face-saving “Copenhagen Accord” that fooled very few. Its purely voluntary agreements committed no one to anything, and even if countries signaled their intentions to cut carbon emissions, there was no enforcement mechanism. “Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight,” an angry Greenpeace official declared, “with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.” Headline writers were equally brutal: COPENHAGEN: THE MUNICH OF OUR TIMES? asked one.

The accord did contain one important number, however. In Paragraph 1, it formally recognized “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.” And in the very next paragraph, it declared that “we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius.” By insisting on two degrees – about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – the accord ratified positions taken earlier in 2009 by the G8, and the so-called Major Economies Forum. It was as conventional as conventional wisdom gets. The number first gained prominence, in fact, at a 1995 climate conference chaired by Angela Merkel, then the German minister of the environment and now the center-right chancellor of the nation.

Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” writes Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.” At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: “Some countries will flat-out disappear.” When delegates from developing nations were warned that two degrees would represent a “suicide pact” for drought-stricken Africa, many of them started chanting, “One degree, one Africa.”

Despite such well-founded misgivings, political realism bested scientific data, and the world settled on the two-degree target – indeed, it’s fair to say that it’s the only thing about climate change the world has settled on. All told, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, endorsing the two-degree target. Only a few dozen countries have rejected it, including Kuwait, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, signed on. The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.

The Second Number: 565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

This idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago, as scientists began to calculate how much oil, coal and gas could still safely be burned. Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.

How good are these numbers? No one is insisting that they’re exact, but few dispute that they’re generally right. The 565-gigaton figure was derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades. And the number is being further confirmed by the latest climate-simulation models currently being finalized in advance of the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Looking at them as they come in, they hardly differ at all,” says Tom Wigley, an Australian climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “There’s maybe 40 models in the data set now, compared with 20 before. But so far the numbers are pretty much the same. We’re just fine-tuning things. I don’t think much has changed over the last decade.” William Collins, a senior climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agrees. “I think the results of this round of simulations will be quite similar,” he says. “We’re not getting any free lunch from additional understanding of the climate system.”

We’re not getting any free lunch from the world’s economies, either. With only a single year’s lull in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis, we’ve continued to pour record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, year after year. In late May, the International Energy Agency published its latest figures – CO2 emissions last year rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before. America had a warm winter and converted more coal-fired power plants to natural gas, so its emissions fell slightly; China kept booming, so its carbon output (which recently surpassed the U.S.) rose 9.3 percent; the Japanese shut down their fleet of nukes post-Fukushima, so their emissions edged up 2.4 percent. “There have been efforts to use more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who runs England’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “But what this shows is that so far the effects have been marginal.” In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.” That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

So, new data in hand, everyone at the Rio conference renewed their ritual calls for serious international action to move us back to a two-degree trajectory. The charade will continue in November, when the next Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change convenes in Qatar. This will be COP 18 – COP 1 was held in Berlin in 1995, and since then the process has accomplished essentially nothing. Even scientists, who are notoriously reluctant to speak out, are slowly overcoming their natural preference to simply provide data. “The message has been consistent for close to 30 years now,” Collins says with a wry laugh, “and we have the instrumentation and the computer power required to present the evidence in detail. If we choose to continue on our present course of action, it should be done with a full evaluation of the evidence the scientific community has presented.” He pauses, suddenly conscious of being on the record. “I should say, a fuller evaluation of the evidence.”

So far, though, such calls have had little effect. We’re in the same position we’ve been in for a quarter-century: scientific warning followed by political inaction. Among scientists speaking off the record, disgusted candor is the rule. One senior scientist told me, “You know those new cigarette packs, where governments make them put a picture of someone with a hole in their throats? Gas pumps should have something like that.”

The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons

This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative – led by James Leaton, an environmentalist who served as an adviser at the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – combed through proprietary databases to figure out how much oil, gas and coal the world’s major energy companies hold in reserve. The numbers aren’t perfect – they don’t fully reflect the recent surge in unconventional energy sources like shale gas, and they don’t accurately reflect coal reserves, which are subject to less stringent reporting requirements than oil and gas. But for the biggest companies, the figures are quite exact: If you burned everything in the inventories of Russia’s Lukoil and America’s ExxonMobil, for instance, which lead the list of oil and gas companies, each would release more than 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Which is exactly why this new number, 2,795 gigatons, is such a big deal. Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

So far, as I said at the start, environmental efforts to tackle global warming have failed. The planet’s emissions of carbon dioxide continue to soar, especially as developing countries emulate (and supplant) the industries of the West. Even in rich countries, small reductions in emissions offer no sign of the real break with the status quo we’d need to upend the iron logic of these three numbers. Germany is one of the only big countries that has actually tried hard to change its energy mix; on one sunny Saturday in late May, that northern-latitude nation generated nearly half its power from solar panels within its borders. That’s a small miracle – and it demonstrates that we have the technology to solve our problems. But we lack the will. So far, Germany’s the exception; the rule is ever more carbon.

This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don’t work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs. Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2; by 2010, a poll found that “while recycling is widespread in America and 73 percent of those polled are paying bills online in order to save paper,” only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.

A more efficient method, of course, would be to work through the political system, and environmentalists have tried that, too, with the same limited success. They’ve patiently lobbied leaders, trying to convince them of our peril and assuming that politicians would heed the warnings. Sometimes it has seemed to work. Barack Obama, for instance, campaigned more aggressively about climate change than any president before him – the night he won the nomination, he told supporters that his election would mark the moment “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” And he has achieved one significant change: a steady increase in the fuel efficiency mandated for automobiles. It’s the kind of measure, adopted a quarter-century ago, that would have helped enormously. But in light of the numbers I’ve just described, it’s obviously a very small start indeed.

At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned. And there the president, apparently haunted by the still-echoing cry of “Drill, baby, drill,” has gone out of his way to frack and mine. His secretary of interior, for instance, opened up a huge swath of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming for coal extraction: The total basin contains some 67.5 gigatons worth of carbon (or more than 10 percent of the available atmospheric space). He’s doing the same thing with Arctic and offshore drilling; in fact, as he explained on the stump in March, “You have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can… That’s a commitment that I make.” The next day, in a yard full of oil pipe in Cushing, Oklahoma, the president promised to work on wind and solar energy but, at the same time, to speed up fossil-fuel development: “Producing more oil and gas here at home has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy.” That is, he’s committed to finding even more stock to add to the 2,795-gigaton inventory of unburned carbon.

Sometimes the irony is almost Borat-scale obvious: In early June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled on a Norwegian research trawler to see firsthand the growing damage from climate change. “Many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data,” she said, describing the sight as “sobering.” But the discussions she traveled to Scandinavia to have with other foreign ministers were mostly about how to make sure Western nations get their share of the estimated $9 trillion in oil (that’s more than 90 billion barrels, or 37 gigatons of carbon) that will become accessible as the Arctic ice melts. Last month, the Obama administration indicated that it would give Shell permission to start drilling in sections of the Arctic.

Almost every government with deposits of hydrocarbons straddles the same divide. Canada, for instance, is a liberal democracy renowned for its internationalism – no wonder, then, that it signed on to the Kyoto treaty, promising to cut its carbon emissions substantially by 2012. But the rising price of oil suddenly made the tar sands of Alberta economically attractive – and since, as NASA climatologist James Hansen pointed out in May, they contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon (or almost half of the available space if we take the 565 limit seriously), that meant Canada’s commitment to Kyoto was nonsense. In December, the Canadian government withdrew from the treaty before it faced fines for failing to meet its commitments.

The same kind of hypocrisy applies across the ideological board: In his speech to the Copenhagen conference, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez quoted Rosa Luxemburg, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and “Christ the Redeemer,” insisting that “climate change is undoubtedly the most devastating environmental problem of this century.” But the next spring, in the Simon Bolivar Hall of the state-run oil company, he signed an agreement with a consortium of international players to develop the vast Orinoco tar sands as “the most significant engine for a comprehensive development of the entire territory and Venezuelan population.” The Orinoco deposits are larger than Alberta’s – taken together, they’d fill up the whole available atmospheric space.

So: the paths we have tried to tackle global warming have so far produced only gradual, halting shifts. A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.” And enemies are what climate change has lacked.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

According to the Carbon Tracker report, if Exxon burns its current reserves, it would use up more than seven percent of the available atmospheric space between us and the risk of two degrees. BP is just behind, followed by the Russian firm Gazprom, then Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, each of which would fill between three and four percent. Taken together, just these six firms, of the 200 listed in the Carbon Tracker report, would use up more than a quarter of the remaining two-degree budget. Severstal, the Russian mining giant, leads the list of coal companies, followed by firms like BHP Billiton and Peabody. The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.

They’re clearly cognizant of global warming – they employ some of the world’s best scientists, after all, and they’re bidding on all those oil leases made possible by the staggering melt of Arctic ice. And yet they relentlessly search for more hydrocarbons – in early March, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas.

There’s not a more reckless man on the planet than Tillerson. Late last month, on the same day the Colorado fires reached their height, he told a New York audience that global warming is real, but dismissed it as an “engineering problem” that has “engineering solutions.” Such as? “Changes to weather patterns that move crop-production areas around – we’ll adapt to that.” This in a week when Kentucky farmers were reporting that corn kernels were “aborting” in record heat, threatening a spike in global food prices. “The fear factor that people want to throw out there to say, ‘We just have to stop this,’ I do not accept,” Tillerson said. Of course not – if he did accept it, he’d have to keep his reserves in the ground. Which would cost him money. It’s not an engineering problem, in other words – it’s a greed problem.

You could argue that this is simply in the nature of these companies – that having found a profitable vein, they’re compelled to keep mining it, more like efficient automatons than people with free will. But as the Supreme Court has made clear, they are people of a sort. In fact, thanks to the size of its bankroll, the fossil-fuel industry has far more free will than the rest of us. These companies don’t simply exist in a world whose hungers they fulfill – they help create the boundaries of that world.

Left to our own devices, citizens might decide to regulate carbon and stop short of the brink; according to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement that cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050. But we aren’t left to our own devices. The Koch brothers, for instance, have a combined wealth of $50 billion, meaning they trail only Bill Gates on the list of richest Americans. They’ve made most of their money in hydrocarbons, they know any system to regulate carbon would cut those profits, and they reportedly plan to lavish as much as $200 million on this year’s elections. In 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surpassed both the Republican and Democratic National Committees on political spending; the following year, more than 90 percent of the Chamber’s cash went to GOP candidates, many of whom deny the existence of global warming. Not long ago, the Chamber even filed a brief with the EPA urging the agency not to regulate carbon – should the world’s scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up, the Chamber advised, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.” As radical goes, demanding that we change our physiology seems right up there.

Environmentalists, understandably, have been loath to make the fossil-fuel industry their enemy, respecting its political power and hoping instead to convince these giants that they should turn away from coal, oil and gas and transform themselves more broadly into “energy companies.” Sometimes that strategy appeared to be working – emphasis on appeared. Around the turn of the century, for instance, BP made a brief attempt to restyle itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” adapting a logo that looked like the sun and sticking solar panels on some of its gas stations. But its investments in alternative energy were never more than a tiny fraction of its budget for hydrocarbon exploration, and after a few years, many of those were wound down as new CEOs insisted on returning to the company’s “core business.” In December, BP finally closed its solar division. Shell shut down its solar and wind efforts in 2009. The five biggest oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the millennium – there’s simply too much money to be made on oil and gas and coal to go chasing after zephyrs and sunbeams.

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

There’s only one problem: Putting a price on carbon would reduce the profitability of the fossil-fuel industry. After all, the answer to the question “How high should the price of carbon be?” is “High enough to keep those carbon reserves that would take us past two degrees safely in the ground.” The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless. The fight, in the end, is about whether the industry will succeed in its fight to keep its special pollution break alive past the point of climate catastrophe, or whether, in the economists’ parlance, we’ll make them internalize those externalities.

It’s not clear, of course, that the power of the fossil-fuel industry can be broken. The U.K. analysts who wrote the Carbon Tracker report and drew attention to these numbers had a relatively modest goal – they simply wanted to remind investors that climate change poses a very real risk to the stock prices of energy companies. Say something so big finally happens (a giant hurricane swamps Manhattan, a megadrought wipes out Midwest agriculture) that even the political power of the industry is inadequate to restrain legislators, who manage to regulate carbon. Suddenly those Chevron reserves would be a lot less valuable, and the stock would tank. Given that risk, the Carbon Tracker report warned investors to lessen their exposure, hedge it with some big plays in alternative energy.

“The regular process of economic evolution is that businesses are left with stranded assets all the time,” says Nick Robins, who runs HSBC’s Climate Change Centre. “Think of film cameras, or typewriters. The question is not whether this will happen. It will. Pension systems have been hit by the dot-com and credit crunch. They’ll be hit by this.” Still, it hasn’t been easy to convince investors, who have shared in the oil industry’s record profits. “The reason you get bubbles,” sighs Leaton, “is that everyone thinks they’re the best analyst – that they’ll go to the edge of the cliff and then jump back when everyone else goes over.”

So pure self-interest probably won’t spark a transformative challenge to fossil fuel. But moral outrage just might – and that’s the real meaning of this new math. It could, plausibly, give rise to a real movement.

Once, in recent corporate history, anger forced an industry to make basic changes. That was the campaign in the 1980s demanding divestment from companies doing business in South Africa. It rose first on college campuses and then spread to municipal and state governments; 155 campuses eventually divested, and by the end of the decade, more than 80 cities, 25 states and 19 counties had taken some form of binding economic action against companies connected to the apartheid regime. “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure,” especially from “the divestment movement of the 1980s.”

The fossil-fuel industry is obviously a tougher opponent, and even if you could force the hand of particular companies, you’d still have to figure out a strategy for dealing with all the sovereign nations that, in effect, act as fossil-fuel companies. But the link for college students is even more obvious in this case. If their college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree. (The same logic applies to the world’s largest investors, pension funds, which are also theoretically interested in the future – that’s when their members will “enjoy their retirement.”) “Given the severity of the climate crisis, a comparable demand that our institutions dump stock from companies that are destroying the planet would not only be appropriate but effective,” says Bob Massie, a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Investor Network on Climate Risk. “The message is simple: We have had enough. We must sever the ties with those who profit from climate change – now.”

Movements rarely have predictable outcomes. But any campaign that weakens the fossil-fuel industry’s political standing clearly increases the chances of retiring its special breaks. Consider President Obama’s signal achievement in the climate fight, the large increase he won in mileage requirements for cars. Scientists, environmentalists and engineers had advocated such policies for decades, but until Detroit came under severe financial pressure, it was politically powerful enough to fend them off. If people come to understand the cold, mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet’s physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-and-dividend solution; they might even decide to become true energy companies, this time for real.

Even if such a campaign is possible, however, we may have waited too long to start it. To make a real difference – to keep us under a temperature increase of two degrees – you’d need to change carbon pricing in Washington, and then use that victory to leverage similar shifts around the world. At this point, what happens in the U.S. is most important for how it will influence China and India, where emissions are growing fastest. (In early June, researchers concluded that China has probably under-reported its emissions by up to 20 percent.) The three numbers I’ve described are daunting – they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.

Meanwhile the tide of numbers continues. The week after the Rio conference limped to its conclusion, Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level ever recorded for that date. Last month, on a single weekend, Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Florida – the earliest the season’s fourth-named cyclone has ever arrived. At the same time, the largest fire in New Mexico history burned on, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s annals claimed 346 homes in Colorado Springs – breaking a record set the week before in Fort Collins. This month, scientists issued a new study concluding that global warming has dramatically increased the likelihood of severe heat and drought – days after a heat wave across the Plains and Midwest broke records that had stood since the Dust Bowl, threatening this year’s harvest. You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

This story is from the August 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz3DcnjPUtj
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Filmmakers Propose Online “Swarm Offensive” Against Climate Change (Yes!)

Open source software brought us Linux and Wikipedia. Can it help us tackle the challenge of climate change?

by

Coalition Of The Willing from coalitionfilm on Vimeo.

This beautifully animated short video argues that grassroots efforts to deal with climate change can be more effective if they adopt the tactics of open source technology, using databases and social networks to “tap into our collective genius” to tackle the toughest of global challenges.

The art featured in the film was crafted by a group of 24 artists from around the world.

The film characterizes the counterculture of the 1960s as a highly networked and decentralized movement that challenged capitalism—and calls for a similar but more technologically savvy attack on climate change.

And then there’s the scene in which Ronald Reagan literally snorts hippies like cocaine through a twenty-dollar bill.

“Coalition of the Willing” was produced and directed by the British animator Simon Robson—better known as Knife Party—and written by author Tim Rayner. The art featured in the film was crafted by a group of 24 artists from around the world, including leaders in digital animation such as Decoy, World Leaders, and Parasol Island.

What’s the Beef? (Slate)

No, “Meatless Monday” is not an evil vegetarian plot to deprive our children of precious steak, pork, and chicken.

Photo by Debbi Morello/Getty Images

First-grader Christina Muse, pictured on Oct. 15, 2002, at North Hampton School in New Hampshire, taunts the meat industry by eating cheese pizza. Photo by Debbi Morello/Getty Images

The meat industry has a serious case of the Mondays. A growing number of school districts, including ones in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami, are committing to keep meat off the menu for one day a week to combat childhood obesity. These “Meatless Monday” initiatives have drawn the ire of America’s beef, poultry, and pork interests, which see them as the first, flesh-free volley in a war against America’s meat peddlers. The less-meat movement has also proved to be a flashpoint for elected officials, namely those from farm states, who seem to be placing the economic interests of their home-state industries above the health and wellbeing of their states’ populaces.

This story played out somewhat quietly on the national stage several years ago, when a few grandstanding politicians caught wind of an interoffice newsletter at the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggesting employees consider eating less meat. Now, it’s getting more attention at the local level. This week Todd Staples, the head of Texas’ Agriculture Department, unleashed a blistering—if largely fact-free—jeremiad against the Meatless Monday movement after learning that it had been enacted by elementary schools in Dripping Springs, an Austin suburb. (He was apparently unaware that several schools in Houston have been experimenting with the idea for some time.) “Restricting children’s meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible and has no place in our schools,” Staples wrote inan op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman. “This activist movement called ‘Meatless Monday’ is a carefully orchestrated campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ diets seven days a week—starting with Mondays.” Dun dun DUN!

An elected official like Staples can, of course, stake out a position that aligns with a particular industry without simply being a mouthpiece for it. But the agriculture commissioner’s overblown rhetoric echoes the official company line of the meat industry, which has filled his campaign coffers with at least $116,000 since 2010, according to public records. It’s hard to fault meat producers for wanting people to eat more meat. It’s a different story, though, when someone like Staples spouts such talking points at a time when the nation is battling both an obesity epidemic and a global climate crisis—two problems driven, at least in part, by resource-intensive meat production.

In some corners of the country, neither of those concerns is seen as much of a reason to impose mandates from above. The irony here is that the Dripping Springs initiative is a local one—the very type of decision that small-government advocates say is under attack from the national school-lunch standards championed by Michelle Obama. “Are we having a war on meat in Dripping Springs? Definitely not,” John Crowley, the head of nutrition services for the school district, told a local CBS affiliate this week. “We’re trying to think outside the box, and we serve a lot of Texas beef on our menus. We’ve had requests for more vegetarian options, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I give it a try and see how it’s received by kids?’ ”

This is a message that kids should be receiving. According to the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly one-third of American kids are either overweight or obese, a classification linked to Type 2 diabetes and myriad other health problems. The meat industry, meanwhile, is one of the top contributors to climate change, with the United Nations estimating that it directly or indirectly produces about 14.5 percent of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Everyone from the American Heart Association to the Norwegian military has touted the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat.

Such endorsements mean little to Staples and his meat-minded allies, who either downplay or downright deny the benefits of curbing meat consumption. But their dire warnings of The End of Meat aside, their argument also fails on a smaller scale. Opponents routinely overlook the fact that meatless meals are not by definition protein-free, a claim at the heart of Staples’ op-ed. “It is important to remember that for many underprivileged children the meals they eat at school often represents their best meals of the day,” the Republican commissioner wrote. “To deprive them of a meat-based protein during school lunch is most likely depriving them of their only source of protein for the day.”

That makes no sense given that Meatless Monday menus include items like bean-and-cheese burritos and cheese pizza, meals that come with a hefty serving of protein—and, thanks to dairy, animal protein at that. Meanwhile, the national school lunch program requires schools to offer a weekly menu that meets a minimum threshold for protein, so a Dripping Springs student who goes meatless on Monday is in little danger of being protein-deprived come Friday. Kids who want a ham sandwich, meanwhile, are still welcome to bring one from home—and there are obviously no restrictions on what a child can eat outside school. The participating cafeterias, meanwhile, continue to serve up a variety of meats the rest of the week.

Following Staples’ logic will take you to an absurd place. If a lunch menu is an edict from on high as he suggests, then when a cafeteria serves a hamburger but not a hot dog, it is “forcing” kids to eat beef while “denying” them pork—or any number of food items not on that particular day’s menu, for that matter, be it chicken, fish, or atarragon shallot egg salad sandwich with a side of butternut squash soup with chestnuts.

As commissioner, Staples oversees the agency that administers the school lunch programs in his state. There appears to be little he can do, at least formally, to stop the cafeterias’ Meatless Mondays from spreading their steak-free sentiments across the rest of Texas. “As long as [the schools] follow the requirements of the National School Lunch Program, they can serve anything they want,” says Humane Society of the United States food policy director Eddie Garza, who worked with the Dripping Springs cafeterias to implement the program. “Staples doesn’t have any real weight on this other than writing op-eds.”

While Staples’ formal power may be limited, his industry allies have managed to score meaty victories in the past. Last summer they managed to squash a small-scale Meatless Monday program in Capitol Hill cafeterias in a matter of days by branding it “an acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production.”

One of their more notable wins came in 2012, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture published that interoffice newsletter. It read, in part: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.” The backlash from the industry—and the backtracking from the agency that followed—was strong and instantaneous. Almost immediately after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association publicly voiced its anger, farm-state lawmakers like Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Steve King scrambled to fall in line. Sen. Grassley tweeted, “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation [about] a meatless Monday.” Rep. King was even more specific with his plan, promising to stage his own “double rib-eye Mondays” in protest. “With extreme drought conditions plaguing much of the United States, the USDA should be more concerned about helping drought-stricken producers rather than demonizing an industry reeling from the lack of rain,” Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statementthat appeared all the more short-sighted given the realities of climate change.

Before the day was out, the newsletter was taken offline, and the USDA issued a statement saying that it “does not endorse Meatless Monday.” The newsletter—which also offered a variety of other small-scale energy-efficiency tips for agency employees—“was posted without proper clearance,” according to the department.

Unwilling to forgive and forget, Staples chimed in by calling for the employee who wrote the newsletter to be fired, calling the very suggestion that people eat less meat “treasonous.” “Last I checked,” Staples said then, “USDA had a very specific duty to promote and champion American agriculture. Imagine Ford or Chevy discouraging the purchase of their pickup trucks. Anyone else see the absurdity? How about the betrayal?”

That type of twisted logic only works in a world where agriculture officials serve the food industry and not the American public. Unfortunately, that feels like it’s the case all too often.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet (Rolling Stone)

If the world’s biggest polluter doesn’t radically reduce the amount of coal it burns, nothing anyone does to stabilize the climate will matter. Inside the slow, frustrating — and maybe even hopeful — struggle to find a new way forward

 By | September 15, 2014

As the sun rises in mid-july over andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry climbs quickly – he’s positively bouncing – up the carpeted stairs of his blue-and-white government­issue 757. Kerry is heading to Beijing to talk with Chinese leaders about, among other things, one of President Obama’s top priorities in the waning days of his second term: the urgent need to reduce carbon pollution and limit the damage from climate change. But the rest of the world isn’t cutting Kerry any slack right now – there’s trouble with the elections in Afghanistan, rising conflict in the Middle East and upcoming negotiations with Iran on nuclear weapons. As he ducks into the plane, Kerry is already talking intensely on his cellphone, deeply wired into the global chaos. An aide shoulders his bags as well as a large black case that contains his acoustic guitar, which he takes with him everywhere and often plays late at night when he’s alone in his hotel room.

For nearly a decade, the U.S. and China, the two most powerful nations on the planet, have met every year to talk about how to run the world together. When the talks began in 2006, they focused on issues like currency-exchange rates, trade barriers and China’s never-ending disputes with Taiwan. In 2009, shortly after Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. pushed to add climate change to the mix, hoping that a better understanding between the U.S. and China would lead to a better deal at the Copenhagen climate summit that year. (It didn’t help – mistrust between the countries was a large part of the reason why the talks imploded.)

This year’s U.S. delegation includes many of the administration’s most influential climate hawks – Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, top climate negotiator Todd Stern and John Podesta, counselor to Obama, who has become the administration’s de facto point man for climate policy. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a full-court press. In the past couple of years, Obama has made some important moves, including investing billions in clean energy, jacking up vehicle-efficiency standards and proposing rules to limit pollution from U.S. coal plants. But climate change is a global issue. Unless the West can persuade other countries to take climate action seriously, nothing any single nation does is going to matter much when it comes to solving the problem.

Except, that is, for China. The blunt truth is that what China decides to do in the next decade will likely determine whether or not mankind can halt – or at least ameliorate – global warming. The view among a number of prominent climate scientists is that if China’s emissions peak around 2025, we may – just barely – have a shot at stabilizing the climate before all hell breaks loose. But the Chinese have resisted international pressure to curb their emissions. For years, they have used the argument that they are poor, the West is rich, and that the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere were caused by America’s and Europe’s 200-year-long fossil­fuel binge. Climate change is your problem, they argued – you deal with it. But that logic doesn’t hold anymore. China is set to become the largest economy in the world this year, and in 2006, it passed the U.S. as the planet’s largest carbon polluter. China now dumps 10 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. That number is expected to grow to 15 billion tons by 2030, dwarfing the pollution of the rest of the world. If that happens, then the chances that the world will cut carbon pollution quickly enough to avert dangerous climate change is, according to Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the U.K., “virtually zero.”

John Kerry knows this. He also knows that when the nations of the world gather in Paris next December to try to hammer out a global climate agreement, it may be the last best chance to address this problem before the Years of Living Dangerously begin. Like other climate negotiations held under the banner of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris meeting is likely to be warped by 25-year-old grudges and a profound sense of distrust. “But right now, Paris is the only game we have,” one member of the State Department’s climate team told me. “If it fails, there is no Plan B.”

In Beijing, one of Kerry’s goals will be to find out all he can about China’s strategy for Paris – what kind of commitment the Chinese might make, how sincere they are, what tactics they will use. But for Kerry, this is anything but a straightforward conversation, because it’s twisted up in the shadow play of U.S.-China relations, which are marked by suspicion, paranoia and saber rattling on both sides as the U.S. adjusts to China’s rising power in the world. “What we are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance,” historian Niall Ferguson has written. The issue is not whether China will challenge America’s dominance, but when and how.

Secretary of State Kerry met with China's Preisent Xi

Secretary of State Kerry met with China’s Preisent Xi in Beijin in July. (Photo: © Jim Bourg/Reuters/Corbis)

Shortly before takeoff, Kerry wanders down the aisle to chat. He talks idly about his July 4th celebration and the recent storm damages to his house on Nantucket. But when asked about his expectations for the Beijing summit, he looks grave: “Frankly, we’re not sure where this is all going.” He remembers what happened in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, when the U.S. was mocked for signing an agreement that the Senate would never ratify, and in Copenhagen in 2009, when Obama arrived at a conference that was supposed to save the world but ended up being gridlocked by squabbles over money and emissions targets. Kerry is determined not to let that happen again.

After 25 years of failed climate negotiations, it’s easy to be cynical about the upcoming talks in Paris. But there are at least three factors that make a meaningful agreement next year possible.

The first is that climate change is no longer a hypothetical problem – it’s happening in real time all around us. Droughts, floods, more destructive storms, weird weather of all sorts – just look out your window. In the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s top scientists called the fact that the Earth is warming “unequivocal” and stated that humans are the cause of it. Without dramatic action, the planet could warm up as much as 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 F) by the end of the century, which would be catastrophic. As Kerry said of a report last September, “The response must be all hands on deck. It’s not about one country making a demand of another. It’s the science itself demanding action from all of us.”

The second factor is that until now, the biggest obstacle to an international agreement to reduce carbon pollution has been the United States. But that’s starting to change. Thanks to Obama’s recent crackdown on pollution, as well as the boom in cheap natural gas, which has displaced dirty coal, carbon emissions in the U.S. are on the decline. “What the president has done is very important,” says Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. “It allows the U.S. to look at other countries and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?'”

The final reason for hope, paradoxically, is China’s relentless demand for energy. China is in the midst of a profound economic and social transformation, trying to reinvent itself from an economy based on selling cheap goods overseas to an economy based on selling quality consumer goods at home, while keeping growth rates high and cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Energy demand is expected to double by 2030, and at that pace, there is not enough oil, coal and gas in the world to keep their economy humming. So China’s ongoing energy security depends on the nation developing alternative energy sources in a big way. “We need more of everything,” says Peggy Liu, a sustainability leader who works across China. “Wind, solar, a modernized grid. We need to leapfrog over the past and into a clean-energy future.”

China’s leaders are also waking up to the fact that recent decades of hypergrowth, most of it fired by coal, have exacted a steep price. Air pollution in China’s big cities is among the worst in the world; one recent report found that poor air quality contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. As Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury and longtime China observer, has put it, “What is another point of GDP worth, if dirty air is killing people?” Earlier this year, a riot broke out in Zhongtai, a town in eastern China, when protests against a new waste incinerator turned violent, leaving police vehicles torched and at least 39 people injured; in southern China, protests erupted over the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Similar clashes are increasingly frequent in China as pollution-related illnesses rise.

And it’s not just the air that’s a problem in China. More than 20 percent of the country’s farmland is polluted. Sixty percent of its groundwater supply is unfit for human consumption. Rivers are industrial sewers. Last year, 16,000 swollen and rotting dead pigs were found dumped in the Huangpu River near Shanghai.

What looks to be the impacts of climate change are starting to register too. Droughts have become longer and more frequent, forcing China to import ever-increasing amounts of staples like wheat and soy. By one count, 28,000 rivers in China have vanished. China’s southern provinces have the opposite problem: devastating floods as a result of intense rainfall. In addition, much of the coastline, including cities like Shanghai, are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise.

Chinese leaders know this trajectory is unsustainable – economically and politically. Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang “declared war” on pollution. Party leaders in China now routinely talk about the importance of “rebalancing the economy” and creating an “ecological civilization.” China Daily, the Communist Party house organ, regularly runs stories about air pollution and toxic waste. While I was in Beijing, I asked U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus why the Chinese were now willing to talk so openly about environmental issues. “The fragility of their government,” he said bluntly. “They will have a social revolt on their hands if they don’t come up with a way of dealing with this.”

Pollution from coal plants

Pollution from coal plants has helped make China the larges carbon-emitter on the planet. (Photo: © Imaginechina/Corbis)

So a big push for clean energy makes a lot of sense. In fact, you could easily argue that China has already done far more than the U.S. to transform its energy supply: Including hydropower, renewables now make up 20 percent of the energy mix (compared to 13 percent in the U.S.), a share targeted to double by 2030. China is the largest producer of wind and solar power on the planet. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of new-power generation was renewable. They also have 28 new nuclear plants under construction, more than any other country. Policywise, Chinese leaders have also been innovative. In the U.S., neither a carbon tax nor a cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon pollution is under serious consideration; in contrast, China’s carbon-trading program, which includes more than 2,000 pollution sources, is the second-largest trading system in the world (after the EU’s). “If China is successful in using market forces to cap carbon and transform its economy, that may be the best shot we have to limit climate change,” says Dan Dudek, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The problem for China, in a word, is coal: About 70 percent of the country’s electrical power comes from burning dirty rocks. The Chinese consumed nearly 4 billion tons in 2012, almost as much as the rest of the world combined. Like the oil industry in the U.S., the coal industry has enormous sway in China, making it all the more difficult to kick the habit. But as the rising power of the 21st century, China is under enormous political pressure to behave responsibly, lest it be seen as a pariah like Russia. “The choices that Chinese leaders make in the next decade will be absolutely pivotal to solving the climate crisis,” says former Vice President Al Gore. And for China’s economic and social stability, the consequences couldn’t be higher. “Politically, it’s very difficult to be fingered as the one most responsible for a looming catastrophe,” Gore continues. Or, as Harvard’s Stavins says, “If it’s your century, you don’t obstruct – you lead.”

In the decade or so after 9/11, when U.S. foreign policy revolved around hunting down and killing Islamic terrorists, we didn’t make China a priority. Then in 2011, the Obama administration announced an “Asia pivot” in U.S. foreign policy to counter China’s rising influence. Among other things, the U.S. increased its military presence and surveillance missions in the region, stoking suspicion in China that one of the goals of U.S. foreign policy is to “contain” China – both economically and militarily (if it were, the U.S. was certainly not going to admit it).

China’s response only seemed to play into our fears. China had been investing in new long-range missiles, upgrading its navy, and began using its new muscle­ to claim disputed territory in the South China Sea. China has been playing more subtle games, too: blocking access to Google and The New York Times, and having hackers raid computers at a number of U.S. corporations, stealing trade secrets. Foreign-policy journals openly speculate about the possibility of war with China, a suggestion that U.S. officials dismiss as absurd. “If there is a war between the U.S. and China,” argues Cheng Li, director of the China program at the Brookings Institution, “it will not be over economics or security, it will be because of misjudgment and misunderstanding.”

Of course, even the most rabid warmongers realize that a war between the U.S. and China would be disastrous. That’s one reason why leaders on both sides are looking for common ground – and two of the biggest shared interests are climate and energy. “In a relationship fraught with tension, these are places where we can do business,” says Obama’s adviser Podesta.

On the flight to Beijing, there is a lot of talk about what that common ground between the U.S. and China might look like. Granted, climate catastrophe is bad for everyone. But what leverage does the U.S. really have over China? On a practical level, the Chinese would like access to American technology. (“The deal here is that the U.S. will let you buy lots of energy equipment at exorbitant prices,” jokes one journalist on the flight.) But the Chinese also understand that, given the GOP-held Congress, Obama doesn’t have the power to make any big future commitments to cut carbon pollution – and so why should they?

On a more human level, there’s also a lot of nervousness about China’s notorious difficulty as a negotiating partner. “China has a very top-down culture – you have to speak to people right at the top,” one of Kerry’s top advisers tells me. “And they are very motivated on climate, due to air-pollution issues. But it’s hard to get China to do hard things, in part because, unlike other Asian countries, doing things for the greater good is not a big motivation for them.”

The mismatch between the urgency of taking action and the self-destructive diddling of diplomacy is frightening to witness. A few weeks before heading to China with Kerry, I attended a UNFCCC climate conference in Bonn, Germany. The two-week-long meeting, one of several designed to begin mapping out an agreement for Paris next year, was held in the gray, bureaucratic-feeling Maritim Hotel near the banks of the Rhine and attended by nearly 2,000 delegates from more than 180 countries. But neither John Kerry nor Todd Stern was anywhere to be found; the U.S. delegation was headed by Trigg Talley, an affable white-haired man who is one of Stern’s deputies. If Bonn was a preview of how things will go next year in Paris, then you can kiss human civilization goodbye. Because nothing will get done. And if it appears that something might get done, you can be sure that somebody – most likely the Saudis, who are infamous for their ability to throw a monkey wrench into negotiations at the last minute – will do everything they can to derail it.

The sheer tedium of the discussions is difficult to capture, but let me try: During the plenary session on the final day, which was held in a conference room the size of a football field and was supposed to be where important breakthroughs were announced, I listened for hours to delegates from Singapore discuss the kind of formatting that should be used on the proposal and to delegates from Bolivia argue that bullet points should be used, not paragraph breaks. I never heard the words “carbon” or “greenhouse gas” in the entire session (although “adaptation” got tossed around a lot). The most memorable words were spoken by a delegate from South Africa: “We are sheep in need of herding.”

In Bonn, the stench of nearly 25 years of broken promises and failed agreements was palpable. The U.S. was viewed with particular skepticism and disdain, not just because the U.S. signed but then failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but because until this administration, American presidents and congressional leaders never did anything intentional to substantively curb carbon pollution, despite the obvious impacts it would have on poorer nations. “You talk a lot, but you are not sincere,” one Turkish delegate sniffed to me. Trust in U.S. negotiators had been further undermined when documents made public by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. had been spying on negotiators from other countries before and during Copenhagen, trying to gain intelligence on their positions. The revelations were particularly damning given the good-faith nature of climate negotiations. “After almost 30 years of this kind of thing,” one longtime participant in these talks puts it, “what measure of trust can possibly exist? How do you strike a deal on issues that are central to your country’s survival with someone you think is out to screw you?”

Issues of trust aside, several things are immediately apparent to me in Bonn about the content and design of the agreement that is likely to emerge in Paris next year. One is that it is going to disappoint and anger a lot of people, particularly those who think the job of a climate treaty is to force big polluters to change their ways. The Paris agreement will largely be a “bottom up” treaty, in which each country will put forward a “contribution” for what each is willing to do to reduce carbon pollution. Those contributions will then be reviewed in the future – exactly how and by whom isn’t clear – to make sure each nation is keeping its promise. There will be no legally binding caps on emissions, no mandated “targets” that countries need to reach. In fact, it will not be a treaty at all (a treaty would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, which everyone knows will never happen). It will likely be an agreement “with legal force,” which means, basically, that some parts of the agreement might be legally binding in some countries.

However toothless this approach might seem, there is logic behind it. Since Kyoto, international climate efforts have largely failed because they were too prescriptive. Few nations were willing to bow to the demands of an international carbon police. And beyond that, there was no way to enforce carbon limits.

But even if the talks succeed in creating a sustainable basis for international cooperation, whatever emerges from Paris next year is extremely unlikely to put the world on a path that would limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F), which was enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord as the threshold for dangerous climate change. For that to happen, says the Tyndall Centre’s Kevin Anderson, “global emissions from energy need to reach a peak by around 2020, and then rapidly reduce to zero by 2050 at the latest.” “I’m not giving up hope,” Kerry told me. “Physically, it’s possible. But politically, it will be very difficult.” Podesta is even more blunt. “If we wait until we have a binding international agreement that actually puts us on track for 2 C,” he says, “we’ll hit 2 C before we get an agreement. But we have to get started if we hope to get to the destination.”

The second revelation is that the Paris agreement is likely to be more about money than about carbon. That is not inappropriate: Climate change is, at its base, an environmental-justice issue, in which the rich nations of the world are inflicting damage on the poor ones. One question that has always haunted climate agreements is, how should the victims be compensated? In past U.N. agreements, developed countries have promised aid to poorer nations. But in translating these general commitments into hard numbers, says Elliot Diringer, a climate-policy expert at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, “the cash flows really have never been enough.”

In Paris, they will try again. The delivery vehicle of choice is called the Green Climate Fund, which was one of the few concrete accomplishments to come out of Copenhagen. The idea is simple: Rich countries pay into the fund, the fund’s 24-member board examines proposals from developing countries for clean-energy and climate-adaptation projects, and then it awards funds to those it finds worthy.

The Green Climate Fund was born in the closing days of the Copenhagen negotiations, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to lure China and other developing nations into a deal by promising that, in exchange for agreeing to a binding cap on carbon pollution as well as outside monitoring and verification of pollution rates, rich nations like the U.S. would pledge a combined $100 billion a year to help poor nations. Many negotiators thought it was a clever (or not so clever) ploy by the U.S. to make China take the fall for the collapse of the Copenhagen deal, since it was clear that China considers emissions data a state secret and would never allow outsiders to pore through the books. But regardless of the intentions, the deal fell apart. The $100 billion promise lingered, however, and was codified in later agreements. (Although $100 billion sounds like a lot, it’s a small part of the $1 trillion a year that will be necessary to transform the energy system.)

Right now, developed nations have a long way to go to live up to Clinton’s promise. The Green Climate Fund has taken four years to get up and running, and still nobody knows if it will primarily make loans or grants. So far, only Germany has come through with a meaningful pledge, offering $1 billion over the next nine years. Stern says the U.S. is putting “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” into getting the fund set up right, and that the $100 billion a year will come from a variety of sources, including private investment. But if the point of the fund is to demonstrate the commitment of rich nations to help the poor, it will need them to make real financial commitments. “Big new public funds are not viable,” says David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This could be a train wreck of false expectations.”

In Bonn, the biggest question on many negotiator’s minds was, “Will China step up?” Despite the fact that China is the biggest carbon emitter on the planet, with the most dynamic economy in the world, the Chinese remain wedded to a 25-year-old idea that China is still a developing country, in the same category as, say, Uganda, and therefore not responsible for taking action. At least, not until the U.S. and the EU – which, with their cumulative emissions, have essentially caused the problem of global warming – take the first step. Among negotiators, China’s stance is widely viewed as a negotiating tactic to lower expectations for action and to allow it to play moral defender for other developing nations, some of whom fear that if China makes a big move, it will increase the pressure on them to do the same.

I got a preview of the kind of arguments U.S. negotiators will face when I bumped into Zou Ji, the deputy director general for the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation and a key member of the Chinese negotiating team, in the lobby of the Maritim Hotel. I asked him if the recent action by Obama to limit pollution from power plants and increase fuel-efficiency standards had changed the dynamics in the negotiations. “It is a good thing,” Ji told me. “But now, America says to us, ‘Your turn to step up.’ Well, we welcome what you have done, but we want to see more action from the U.S. first. It is very clear that Congress is a big constraint for you; Obama can only do what he can do.” Ji argues, accurately, that the U.S. is still the far richer country, and while China’s carbon emissions are enormous, if you break it down to per-capita emissions, the average American is responsible for dumping almost three times as much CO2 into the atmosphere every year as the average Chinese.

I point out to him that this is true, but that cumulative emissions in China will soon dwarf those in the United States.

“China needs to do its part, but right now the U.S. still has huge potential to do more,” he says forcefully. “I have lived in the U.S., where everyone has a clothes dryer and an air conditioner and a big refrigerator and a big house and a big car. In the EU and Japan, they also live well, but people there only consume half the energy Americans do. You do have the capacity to live at the same standard and consume far less – if you choose.”

When Kerry’s plane lands in Beijing, we immediately jump into a line of SUVs and are whisked away to the Great Wall just north of the city for what one State Department staffer calls “a little cultural sightseeing.” When I visited the wall a few years ago, the air pollution was so bad, I could hardly see 15 feet in front of me; today, it’s clear enough to see the Xishan Mountains, which are 12 miles away at the western edge of the city. Kerry strolls along the wall with Chinese dignitaries, then we motorcade to the Marriott hotel in central Beijing, where the U.S. government has taken over two floors. Security is high: The entrance to the hotel is blocked, and armed agents are everywhere. The biggest concern seems to be Chinese spies; on an earlier trip to China, five members of Todd Stern’s team received spoof e-mails that contained a bot that could have given a hacker control of their computers, and shortly after I check into my hotel, I am told that I can assume my room is bugged and my e-mail is read. Across the street from the hotel is an Apple Store, Gucci, Hermès and, strangely, a coal-fired power plant with clouds and a blue sky painted on the sides, as if to disguise the dirty black rocks burning within.

The next morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping opens the talks at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, an elegant retreat in western Beijing. His address to 500 or so American and Chinese dignitaries isn’t exactly a rousing call to action on climate change. Instead, he talks about the importance of keeping the Chinese economy humming, declaring that China needs a peaceful and stable environment “more than ever.” Xi is a tough-looking guy with a Tony Soprano vibe, and his speech leaves no doubt that he sees China as the rising power. “It is natural that China and the U.S. may have different views, and even frictions, on certain issues,” he says. Then he adds, “Confrontation between China and the United States would definitely spell disaster for the two countries and for the wider world.” Xi only mentions climate change once, in a passing reference to it as a significant challenge that both nations face.

Protestors take to the streets in China

Protestors take to the streets to fight construction of a chemical factory in May 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Xi, who came to power in 2013, is “a very strong leader for China,” says Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution. Li contrasts him with other recent Chinese leaders, most of whom tended to be pale figures who dutifully rose through the ranks of the Communist Party. Xi, who is 61, rules with authority and efficiency. He grew up the son of a deputy prime minister and revolutionary who was known as an architect of China’s special economic zones, which were important drivers in the liberalization of China. As president, Xi has cracked down on corruption and is a fierce defender of Chinese interests in disputed territories like the South China Sea. He has also toughened up China’s internal security forces (China spends more on domestic security than it does on national defense). But U.S. officials who have had close contact with Xi are impressed by his directness. One White House staffer pointed to a recent agreement to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas, that Xi worked out with Obama last year. “Xi rolled the Chinese bureaucracy to get that done,” the staffer says. Kerry also sees him as an effective leader. “I had long conversations with Xi while I was chair of the Foreign Relations Committee,” he tells me. “The kind of action we’ve seen in China recently doesn’t happen without his personal commitment.”

When Kerry takes the podium after Xi steps down, he is conciliatory. He reassures Xi and other Chinese leaders in the room that the U.S. does not seek to “contain” China, and that it welcomes the emergence of “a peaceful, prosperous China that . . . chooses to play a responsible role in world affairs.” He, too, talks a lot about economic growth and how “the true measure of our success will not be just whether our countries grow, but how our countries grow.” Kerry continues, “Step by step, we are shifting our focus . . . to the inescapable reality of a clean-energy future.”

When Kerry travels to countries where the U.S. might be perceived to have the upper hand, he can be very blunt about the potential ravages of climate change. A few months ago, in a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, he called it the “world’s most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction. But Kerry doesn’t say a word here about melting ice caps, rising seas or weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he talks about how clean energy is “the biggest market the world has ever seen.” He talks investment flows, technology sharing and pollution-free prosperity. “Our goal,” Podesta tells me, “is to create a virtuous circle in the Pacific, where they match our ambition, and then we match theirs.”

For the U.S., pushing for action is imperative: If China makes an aggressive move on carbon, it kills a favorite political talking point from climate deniers in Congress. “I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where the subject of ‘What is China doing?’ comes up,” says Podesta. “For us, it’s important that we take that objection off the table.”

For the Chinese, beyond the obvious motivation to clean up the air, the question is what they want from the U.S. in return. As Kerry put it to me later, “The Chinese have a lot of stuff they want from us. We have natural gas. We have coal. We have clean-energy technology.” How this bargaining works out is the heart of the negotiations and gets into complex areas like protection of intellectual property rights. In the past, the Chinese simply wanted to buy our technology, copy it and manufacture it more cheaply than anyone else. “But that dynamic has changed,” says one Department of Energy official. “Now the deals are much more about joint ventures and shared investment.”

Later in the day, top members of the U.S. and China delegations meet in a conference room on the second floor for the Joint Session on Climate Change and Clean Energy. It is a stiffly formal scene, with Kerry, Podesta, Stern, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz and science adviser John Holdren on one side of a long mahogany table, and Chinese leaders, including Vice Premier Wang Yang and lead climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua, on the other side. In this more intimate group, the Chinese are much blunter and more forthright about the risks of climate change. But it isn’t clear if this is because they feel more relaxed or because they are more willing to say what the U.S. wants to hear. State Councilor Yang, who opens the discussion, calls climate change “a common and grave challenge to mankind.” He talks about actions the Chinese government has taken to promote clean energy and efficiency, and he underscores China’s support of the UNFCCC climate negotiations. “We have also maintained close dialogue in consultation on [the U.S.’s and China’s] respective climate-change policies,” he says.

Kerry nods politely and then reads from prepared remarks: “Every one of us in this room is well aware that the climate crisis is one that respects no border. It’s transboundary. It affects the planet.”

The Chinese leaders listen carefully, just as the American team listened carefully to Yang’s remarks, attuned to nuances and gestures that gain trust or lose it, that show respect or haughtiness. And yet, I get the strong sense at this meeting, and at every other one I’ve attended, that 15 levels of chess are being played, that the motives and impulses of each side remain unknowable to the other, and that both sides are making calculations that will shape their careers, their economies and the future of the planet. And always the fear – expressed in the glint of an eye, a moment of hesitation – that each is being played. The Chinese worry that the U.S. won’t keep their word or has a secret plan to thwart their economic growth; the Americans worry that the Chinese are using shady data, and that they are only in it for the money.

Sometimes, the enormous gap between how the Chinese run their country and how the Americans run theirs reveals itself. One of those moments occurs on the second day of the talks in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, which is China’s parliamentary chamber. Kerry and Yang appear at a press conference to bestow six “EcoPartnership” awards to American and Chinese organizations that are collaborating on clean-energy and climate solutions. In the context of the talks, it is a small-bore event, with a handful of dignitaries and some Chinese press.

But maybe because of this, Kerry’s remarks at the event are looser and less diplomatic than anything I’ve heard him say earlier. They are also more dangerous politically, because he talks about the one thing the Chinese leadership is most afraid of: the power of social activism. He describes how, in 1970, after 20 million Americans attended Earth Day rallies, public outrage led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the passage of the Clean Air Act and, later, the Clean Water Act. “So I have seen the power of grassroots action, of local efforts becoming magnified and ultimately creating action at a larger, federal level,” Kerry says, his voice rising. “And I see that same kind of drive, that same kernel of innovation, and of demand for a difference, right here [in China], today.”

Kerry’s larger point is undoubtedly true – there is a rising consciousness of environmental issues in China, a sense that civilized societies don’t let their rivers catch fire. But as Kerry knows very well, there will be no organized demonstrations of millions of people marching on the streets in China, demanding change. If they tried, they would likely be tear-gassed or thrown in jail. Activism, such as it is in China, is either well-behaved and sanctioned by the state, or it is deemed reckless and dangerous and quickly shut down.

After his remarks at the Great Hall of the People, Kerry gets polite applause and then sits down to listen to a boilerplate speech from Yang. If anyone noticed that the secretary of state of the United States had just suggested that a populist movement in the People’s Republic of China could challenge the status quo, it wasn’t apparent.

One person who understands the dangers of social activism as well as anyone is Shuo Li, 27, a climate-policy officer for Greenpeace East Asia. Shortly after Kerry’s talk, I visited Li at Greenpeace’s office in Beijing. A year earlier, Greenpeace had published an investigation into the development of a coal-to-liquids plant in Inner Mongolia. Transforming coal into liquid fuels like diesel (or, in a similar process, natural gas) is expensive and, more importantly, an environmental disaster. Compared with typical refining processes, coal liquefaction produces 14 times the amount of carbon dioxide.

What’s interesting about Greenpeace’s investigation is that it targeted the owner of the plant, Shenhua Group, which is China’s biggest coal producer and a political powerhouse. (“Shenhua is the monster,” Li says.) In the U.S., enviros go after big companies all the time. But in China, this kind of action is unprecedented. As was its effectiveness. Li says the company called in Greenpeace, and Shenhua agreed to quit pumping out groundwater for use in the plant.

I ask Li if this is a sign that Chinese leaders are becoming more tolerant of environmental activism?

“Maybe a little,” Li says. He explains that unlike, say, publicly celebrating the Dalai Lama or arguing for the ethical treatment of the Uighur minority in China, it’s OK to raise questions about environmental problems. “But you have to do it the right way. You can go after local officials or individual power plants.” But, as he points out, there is no clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. “That is something everyone has to discover for themselves,” he says. He adds with a sly smile: “For the government, it is more effective that way.”

But Li knows he’s treading dangerous ground. In 2012, a 65-year-old former forestry official was threatened with five years in prison for publishing and distributing books that questioned the overdevelopment of Hainan Island in southern China. (He received a three-year suspended sentence and a fine.) Two years earlier, one of Beijing’s most respected science reporters, Fang Xuanchang, who earned a reputation for calling bullshit on many government-funded research projects, was brutally beaten on his way home from work. His assailants were never found. The message, as one journalist wrote in Foreign Policy, was clear: “Don’t go there, or you could be next.”

I asked about the rising number of protests around the country against industrial plants found to be dumping chemicals­ into rivers, or protesters throwing bricks at police to halt the construction of a new power plant. “Individual NIMBY actions are acceptable,” Li says. “But when you try to mobilize people on a larger scale, that is when you get in trouble.”

“Trouble, how?”

“You don’t even want to think about it,” Li answers, fear flashing in his eyes.

The rise of China, which was driven by the biggest and fastest industrial revolution the world has ever seen, was fueled almost entirely by coal. And its continued success – not to mention, in many ways, the fate of human civilization – depends on how quickly it can wean itself off this cheap, dirty, abundant fossil fuel. “The big question,” Moniz told me in Beijing, “is how fast they can bend down the curve of coal.”

“Bending down the curve of coal” is geek-speak for reducing dependency on coal. Because coal – by far the most carbon­intensive fossil fuel – will most likely be replaced by cleaner energy sources; in that case, the moment China’s coal consumption plateaus will also be the moment their greenhouse-gas pollution plateaus. And that could be the moment the world begins a transition toward a stable climate.

But the question is: When will that moment occur? In China, this question will not be answered by the invisible hand of the market but, ultimately, by the strong hand of President Xi and other party leaders. Xi and his advisers will make a complex economic and political calculation about how far they want to push clean energy – and whether they want to encourage a shift away from coal by, say, expanding the existing carbon-trading market, passing a straightforward tax on carbon, or simply issuing a dictum that caps the amount of coal the nation can consume. A few weeks before my conversation with Moniz, a respected Chinese academic had speculated that China would cap coal consumption by 2030. “That would be a big step in the right direction,” Gore told me. But as Gore well knows, unless that cap is followed by a radical and almost unimaginable global shift toward zero-carbon energy, it’s not a big enough step to avert climate chaos in the coming decades.

China has already taken a number of measures to move away from coal. It is reportedly closing down 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces and has essentially stopped building new coal plants in big eastern cities like Beijing and Shanghai. In 2020, burning coal will be banned in Beijing. But given the enormity of China’s coal addiction, these are just baby steps compared to what is needed.

And that’s one reason why the Chinese are very interested in natural gas. Natural gas has about half the carbon of coal, and burning it creates much less air pollution. China has the biggest shale-gas reserves in the world and would dearly like to unleash an American-style fracking boom (which is its own kind of environmental nightmare, of course). But the technology used to extract the gas from shale, which was invented in the U.S., is complex and not easy to replicate. In addition, shale gas in China is more deeply buried than in the U.S., and the soil is less porous, making the gas more difficult to extract. And thanks to methane leaks during fracking operations (methane, the principal component of natural gas, is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas), the climate benefits of natural gas are questionable.

Imagining a fracked-out China is not pretty, but it might beat the alternative – making natural gas out of coal. The process is similar to the coal-to-liquids plant in Inner Mongolia that Greenpeace singled out, and like that process, it is both water- and carbon-intensive. China already has two coal-to-gas plants in operation, with as many as 48 more on the drawing board. Most of them are slated to be built in western China, far from population centers, where Chinese leaders are eager to spur development and provide jobs. But the cost to the atmosphere will be enormous. If all of these plants get built, they will collectively emit more than a billion tons of CO2 each year – more than the entire nation of Germany emitted last year.

Moniz calls coal-to-gas plants in western China “a major issue” for Chinese and U.S. negotiators. “Burning natural gas may help them solve the problem of air pollution,” says Moniz. “But if they get it by manufacturing it from coal, they will be creating another, much larger problem.” And it’s one that impacts everyone on the planet.

The talks ended on a hot, humid afternoon in the Zhongnanhai compound in central Beijing, which houses offices for the Politburo’s most senior members. The compound, which is heavily guarded and closed to the public, is a reminder of China’s Imperial era, with a collection of traditional pavilions scattered around three lovely lakes. Kerry met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the Purple Light Pavilion, a brightly painted pagoda-style building with small porcelain animals on the corners of the roof. Li has none of the bluster – or power – of President Xi, and after exchanging greetings and thank-yous, Kerry seemed eager to hit the road. They spoke in private for a half-hour, then Kerry climbed back into his SUV, and we motorcaded back to the Marriott for a final press conference.

Within minutes, the State Department was e-mailing a list of accomplishments to reporters, including joint U.S.-China demonstration projects on smart grids, technology to capture carbon from coal plants, and new initiatives on forestry and industrial boilers. It was all both important and unimportant, small steps in a long, long march. Later, Kerry would tell me he was impressed by what he’d seen from the Chinese on climate during the trip – “There was no backsliding,” he says. Others on the U.S. team described their sense that key Chinese leaders they’d met were “extraordinarily forward-leaning.”

But huge questions still loom about how far the U.S. and China and every other big polluter on the planet will go to cut emissions. For negotiators who are pushing for a tough agreement with meaningful reductions and clear financial accounting, the biggest fear is not that the U.S. and China won’t agree on key issues, but that they will agree on too much: “We are afraid that the U.S. and China will strike a bargain that makes them both comfortable, but does little or nothing to reduce the risk of climate change,” says Mohamed Adow, senior adviser for Christian Aid, a U.K.-based relief agency that works in many developing nations. “Then the rest of the world will have to decide if they want to go along, or fight for a stronger agreement.”

A few hours later, Kerry and his team jet off to Afghanistan. The world is a big, complicated place, and everyone – even the most committed climate warriors like Kerry – has a lot of other things to think about beyond how much carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere. And that, in a way, is always the problem: There is always something more urgent, more immediately catastrophic to seize the attention of policymakers – and in the coming years, many of the crises that will distract us from dealing with the realities of climate change will largely have been caused by climate change. Through all these short-term emergencies, the Earth will keep warming, the droughts will get worse, food will grow scarce, ice will vanish, the seas will rise, and starting around 2030, climate change will emerge from the background and eventually become the only thing we talk about. It will be the story of the century.

When we get to the Marriott, I walk across the sleek marble lobby with Podesta, who looks uncharacteristically somber. Just before we step into Kerry’s press conference – where he will again underscore the importance of taking action on climate change – I ask Podesta if two days of talks with the Chinese have made him feel more hopeful about Paris next year.

“Yes,” he says. “But it’s going to be a hard road.”

From The Archives Issue 1218: September 25, 2014

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/china-the-climate-and-the-fate-of-the-planet-20140915#ixzz3Dckfhurq
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The silence on climate change is deafening. It’s time for us to get loud (The Guardian)

In Dr Seuss’s parable, it take all of Whoville to make enough noise to save their planet. How much will it take to save ours?

theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 16.43 BST

horton hears a who

If Horton could hear a Who, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t hear the warnings about climate change. Photograph: c. 20th Century Fox / Everett / Rex Features

All of Dr Seuss’s children’s books – or, at least, the best ones – are sly, radical humanitarian and environmental parables. That’s why, for example, The Lorax was banned in some Pacific Northwest districts where logging was the chief economy.

Or there’s Horton Hears a Who: if you weren’t a child (or reading to a child) recently, it’s about an elephant with acute hearing who hears a cry from a dust speck. He comes to realize the dust speck is a planet in need of protection, and does his best for it.

Of course, all the other creatures mock – and then threaten – Horton for raising an alarm over something they can’t see. (Dissent is an easy way to get yourself ostracized or worse, as any feminist receiving online death threats can remind you.) And though Seuss was reportedly inspired by the situation in post-war Japan when he wrote the book, but its parable is flexible enough for our time.

You could call the scientists and the climate activists of our present moment our Hortons. They heard the cry a long time ago, and they’ve been trying to get the rest of the world to listen. They’ve had to endure attacks, mockery, and lip service … but mostly just obliviousness to what they’re saying and what it demands of us.

Recent polling data suggests most of us do want to see things change. “Two in three Americans (66%) support the Congress and president passing laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels,” reports the US Climate Action Network. But I hear firsthand from people who aren’t particularly informed and still tell me that they are avoiding thinking about climate because it’s too late.

It is nearly too late, because we’ve know about climate change for 25 years, but the most informed scientists think that we do have a chance and some choices, if we make them now.

To listen to such scientists is an amazing and sometimes terrifying thing: they fully comprehend what systemic collapse means and where we are in that process. They – and others who pay attention to the data – see how terrible the possibilities are, but they also see the possibilities for averting the worst.

Seuss’s Horton was alone. Climate activists in the United States are a minority, but there are vast numbers of people across the world who know how serious the situation is, who are facing it and who are listening and asking for action. Some of them will be with us when the biggest climate march in history takes place on Sunday in New York City – starting on the southern edge one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, Central Park, running around Times Square and then moving west to the Hudson River – to demand that the UN get serious with this attempt to hammer out a climate change treaty at its summit next week.

A whole lot more people are going to come together to demand that our political leaders do something about climate than have done so before. In a symbolic action, at 12:58pm local time, they will observe a collective couple of minutes of silence dedicated to the past. Wherever you are on Sunday, you can join us in observing that silence and remembering the millions displaced last year by the kinds of floods and storms that climate change augments, or the residents of island nations whose homes are simply disappearing under the waves; the small shellfish whose shells are dissolving or the species that have died out altogether; the elderly and inform who have died in our longer, hotter heatwaves or the people who died in New York’s Hurricane Sandy not quite two years ago.

At 1pm local time, we will face the future, and demand that our leaders face the music. The marchers will make two minutes of noise, and every pot-banger, church-bell-ringer, hornblower and drummer on earth is invited to join in. Churches are invited to ring their bells; synagogues to blow their shofars; mosques to use their loudspeakers; secular humanists to get their brass bands on. Get your own pots and pans, or your trumpets and whistles.

We needed someone to ring the alarm all these decades of inaction. On Sunday don’t wait to hear it from someone else: make some noise yourself. It’s time to start making the future we hope for instead of waiting for the one we fear.

I wish that I could write a pat ending for the story of how we saved the earth, but that is, so to speak, all up in the air right now.

But at the end of Horton Hears a Who, the small people of Whoville decide to make a huge roar so that everyone else could hear them: they all roar and bang and blast, but it takes a boy named Jojo (playing with his yoyo) to add his yapping voice to the roar for them to become audible.

This is our planet: our little blue sphere in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy, with the beautifully elaborate systems of birds and insects and weather and flowering plants all working together – or that used to work together, and which are now falling apart. And it’s your voice that’s needed, so raise it on Sunday. Join the roar, so that everyone who wasn’t listening finally has to hear.

• This article was updated on 17 September 2014 to reflect that the the New York City Police Department only granted the People’s Climate March permission to march to Sixth Avenue, and not all the way to the United Nations building on First Avenue.

How learning to talk is in the genes (Science Daily)

Date: September 16, 2014

Source: University of Bristol

Summary: Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy. Scientists discovered a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.


Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy. Credit: © witthaya / Fotolia

Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol worked with colleagues around the world to discover a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.

Children produce words at about 10 to 15 months of age and our range of vocabulary expands as we grow — from around 50 words at 15 to 18 months, 200 words at 18 to 30 months, 14,000 words at six-years-old and then over 50,000 words by the time we leave secondary school.

The researchers found the genetic link during the ages of 15 to 18 months when toddlers typically communicate with single words only before their linguistic skills advance to two-word combinations and more complex grammatical structures.

The results, published in Nature Communications today [16 Sept], shed further light on a specific genetic region on chromosome 3, which has been previously implicated in dyslexia and speech-related disorders.

The ROBO2 gene contains the instructions for making the ROBO2 protein. This protein directs chemicals in brain cells and other neuronal cell formations that may help infants to develop language but also to produce sounds.

The ROBO2 protein also closely interacts with other ROBO proteins that have previously been linked to problems with reading and the storage of speech sounds.

Dr Beate St Pourcain, who jointly led the research with Professor Davey Smith at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, said: “This research helps us to better understand the genetic factors which may be involved in the early language development in healthy children, particularly at a time when children speak with single words only, and strengthens the link between ROBO proteins and a variety of linguistic skills in humans.”

Dr Claire Haworth, one of the lead authors, based at the University of Warwick, commented: “In this study we found that results using DNA confirm those we get from twin studies about the importance of genetic influences for language development. This is good news as it means that current DNA-based investigations can be used to detect most of the genetic factors that contribute to these early language skills.”

The study was carried out by an international team of scientists from the EArly Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology Consortium (EAGLE) and involved data from over 10,000 children.

Journal Reference:
  1. Beate St Pourcain, Rolieke A.M. Cents, Andrew J.O. Whitehouse, Claire M.A. Haworth, Oliver S.P. Davis, Paul F. O’Reilly, Susan Roulstone, Yvonne Wren, Qi W. Ang, Fleur P. Velders, David M. Evans, John P. Kemp, Nicole M. Warrington, Laura Miller, Nicholas J. Timpson, Susan M. Ring, Frank C. Verhulst, Albert Hofman, Fernando Rivadeneira, Emma L. Meaburn, Thomas S. Price, Philip S. Dale, Demetris Pillas, Anneli Yliherva, Alina Rodriguez, Jean Golding, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin, Robert Plomin, Craig E. Pennell, Henning Tiemeier, George Davey Smith. Common variation near ROBO2 is associated with expressive vocabulary in infancy. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4831 DOI:10.1038/ncomms5831

New math and quantum mechanics: Fluid mechanics suggests alternative to quantum orthodoxy (Science Daily)

Date: September 12, 2014

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary: The central mystery of quantum mechanics is that small chunks of matter sometimes seem to behave like particles, sometimes like waves. For most of the past century, the prevailing explanation of this conundrum has been what’s called the “Copenhagen interpretation” — which holds that, in some sense, a single particle really is a wave, smeared out across the universe, that collapses into a determinate location only when observed. But some founders of quantum physics — notably Louis de Broglie — championed an alternative interpretation, known as “pilot-wave theory,” which posits that quantum particles are borne along on some type of wave. According to pilot-wave theory, the particles have definite trajectories, but because of the pilot wave’s influence, they still exhibit wavelike statistics. Now a professor of applied mathematics believes that pilot-wave theory deserves a second look.


Close-ups of an experiment conducted by John Bush and his student Daniel Harris, in which a bouncing droplet of fluid was propelled across a fluid bath by waves it generated. Credit: Dan Harris

The central mystery of quantum mechanics is that small chunks of matter sometimes seem to behave like particles, sometimes like waves. For most of the past century, the prevailing explanation of this conundrum has been what’s called the “Copenhagen interpretation” — which holds that, in some sense, a single particle really is a wave, smeared out across the universe, that collapses into a determinate location only when observed.

But some founders of quantum physics — notably Louis de Broglie — championed an alternative interpretation, known as “pilot-wave theory,” which posits that quantum particles are borne along on some type of wave. According to pilot-wave theory, the particles have definite trajectories, but because of the pilot wave’s influence, they still exhibit wavelike statistics.

John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, believes that pilot-wave theory deserves a second look. That’s because Yves Couder, Emmanuel Fort, and colleagues at the University of Paris Diderot have recently discovered a macroscopic pilot-wave system whose statistical behavior, in certain circumstances, recalls that of quantum systems.

Couder and Fort’s system consists of a bath of fluid vibrating at a rate just below the threshold at which waves would start to form on its surface. A droplet of the same fluid is released above the bath; where it strikes the surface, it causes waves to radiate outward. The droplet then begins moving across the bath, propelled by the very waves it creates.

“This system is undoubtedly quantitatively different from quantum mechanics,” Bush says. “It’s also qualitatively different: There are some features of quantum mechanics that we can’t capture, some features of this system that we know aren’t present in quantum mechanics. But are they philosophically distinct?”

Tracking trajectories

Bush believes that the Copenhagen interpretation sidesteps the technical challenge of calculating particles’ trajectories by denying that they exist. “The key question is whether a real quantum dynamics, of the general form suggested by de Broglie and the walking drops, might underlie quantum statistics,” he says. “While undoubtedly complex, it would replace the philosophical vagaries of quantum mechanics with a concrete dynamical theory.”

Last year, Bush and one of his students — Jan Molacek, now at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization — did for their system what the quantum pioneers couldn’t do for theirs: They derived an equation relating the dynamics of the pilot waves to the particles’ trajectories.

In their work, Bush and Molacek had two advantages over the quantum pioneers, Bush says. First, in the fluidic system, both the bouncing droplet and its guiding wave are plainly visible. If the droplet passes through a slit in a barrier — as it does in the re-creation of a canonical quantum experiment — the researchers can accurately determine its location. The only way to perform a measurement on an atomic-scale particle is to strike it with another particle, which changes its velocity.

The second advantage is the relatively recent development of chaos theory. Pioneered by MIT’s Edward Lorenz in the 1960s, chaos theory holds that many macroscopic physical systems are so sensitive to initial conditions that, even though they can be described by a deterministic theory, they evolve in unpredictable ways. A weather-system model, for instance, might yield entirely different results if the wind speed at a particular location at a particular time is 10.01 mph or 10.02 mph.

The fluidic pilot-wave system is also chaotic. It’s impossible to measure a bouncing droplet’s position accurately enough to predict its trajectory very far into the future. But in a recent series of papers, Bush, MIT professor of applied mathematics Ruben Rosales, and graduate students Anand Oza and Dan Harris applied their pilot-wave theory to show how chaotic pilot-wave dynamics leads to the quantumlike statistics observed in their experiments.

What’s real?

In a review article appearing in the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, Bush explores the connection between Couder’s fluidic system and the quantum pilot-wave theories proposed by de Broglie and others.

The Copenhagen interpretation is essentially the assertion that in the quantum realm, there is no description deeper than the statistical one. When a measurement is made on a quantum particle, and the wave form collapses, the determinate state that the particle assumes is totally random. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, the statistics don’t just describe the reality; they are the reality.

But despite the ascendancy of the Copenhagen interpretation, the intuition that physical objects, no matter how small, can be in only one location at a time has been difficult for physicists to shake. Albert Einstein, who famously doubted that God plays dice with the universe, worked for a time on what he called a “ghost wave” theory of quantum mechanics, thought to be an elaboration of de Broglie’s theory. In his 1976 Nobel Prize lecture, Murray Gell-Mann declared that Niels Bohr, the chief exponent of the Copenhagen interpretation, “brainwashed an entire generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved.” John Bell, the Irish physicist whose famous theorem is often mistakenly taken to repudiate all “hidden-variable” accounts of quantum mechanics, was, in fact, himself a proponent of pilot-wave theory. “It is a great mystery to me that it was so soundly ignored,” he said.

Then there’s David Griffiths, a physicist whose “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics” is standard in the field. In that book’s afterword, Griffiths says that the Copenhagen interpretation “has stood the test of time and emerged unscathed from every experimental challenge.” Nonetheless, he concludes, “It is entirely possible that future generations will look back, from the vantage point of a more sophisticated theory, and wonder how we could have been so gullible.”

“The work of Yves Couder and the related work of John Bush … provides the possibility of understanding previously incomprehensible quantum phenomena, involving ‘wave-particle duality,’ in purely classical terms,” says Keith Moffatt, a professor emeritus of mathematical physics at Cambridge University. “I think the work is brilliant, one of the most exciting developments in fluid mechanics of the current century.”

Journal Reference:

  1. John W.M. Bush. Pilot-Wave Hydrodynamics. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 2014 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-fluid-010814-014506

Number-crunching could lead to unethical choices, says new study (Science Daily)

Date: September 15, 2014

Source: University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Summary: Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences.


Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences, including social and moral transgressions, says new study co-authored by a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Based on several experiments, researchers concluded that people in a “calculative mindset” as a result of number-crunching are more likely to analyze non-numerical problems mathematically and not take into account social, moral or interpersonal factors.

“Performing calculations, whether related to money or not, seemed to encourage people to engage in unethical behaviors to better themselves,” says Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Rotman School, who co-authored the study with Long Wang of City University of Hong Kong and J. Keith Murnighan from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Participants in a set of experiments displayed significantly more selfish behavior in games where they could opt to promote their self-interest over a stranger’s after exposure to a lesson on a calculative economics concept. Participants who were instead given a history lesson on the industrial revolution were less likely to behave selfishly in the subsequent games. A similar but lesser effect was found when participants were first asked to solve math problems instead of verbal problems before playing the games. Furthermore, the effect could potentially be reduced by making non-numerical values more prominent. The study showed less self-interested behavior when participants were shown pictures of families after calculations.

The results may provide further insight into why economics students have shown more self-interested behavior in previous studies examining whether business or economics education contributes to unethical corporate activity, the researchers wrote.

The study was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Long Wang, Chen-Bo Zhong, J. Keith Murnighan. The social and ethical consequences of a calculative mindset. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2014; 125 (1): 39 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.05.004

Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products? (Science Daily)

Date: September 16, 2014

Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.

Summary: What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.


What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.

“Advocates of ethical consumerism suggest that consumers should consider the environmental and human costs of the products they choose, but unfortunately only a small number of people in North America consume ethically on a regular basis while most consumers just look for good deals and ignore the social impact of the products they buy. Why are some consumers willing to spend time, money, and energy on making more responsible choices?” writes author Ahir Gopaldas (Fordham University).

After analyzing dozens of websites of advocacy groups and companies driven by ethical mission statements, and conducting at-home interviews with people who identify as ethical consumers, the author identified three common emotions driving ethical behavior — contempt, concern, and celebration.

Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations.Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.

Advocates of ethical consumerism should consider the role of emotions in motivating consumers to make more responsible decisions. For example, anger can motivate consumers to reject unethical products and concern can encourage consumers to increase charitable donations, while joy and hope can lead consumers to cultivate ethical habits such as participating in recycling programs.

“This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices. It is simply not enough to change people’s minds. To change society, one must also change people’s hearts. Sentiments ignite passion, fuel commitment, and literally move people to action,” the author concludes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ahir Gopaldas. Marketplace Sentiments. Journal of Consumer Research, 2014; 000 DOI: 10.1086/678034

Brasil precisa ter sistema de monitoramento a longo prazo sobre mudanças climáticas, diz secretário (MCTI)

quarta-feira, 17 de setembro de 2014

Para Carlos Nobre, é central o país ter um conhecimento muito apurado do impacto das mudanças climáticas sobre a economia, a sociedade e o ambiente 

O secretário de Políticas e Programas de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação (Seped/MCTI), Carlos Nobre, abriu nesta terça-feira (16) o workshop internacional Desafios para o Monitoramento e a Observação dos Impactos de Mudanças Climáticas, na Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (Capes), em Brasília.

Ação do projeto Diálogos Setoriais entre Brasil e União Europeia, com organização do MCTI e apoio da Embaixada Britânica, o encontro segue até amanhã (17), em busca de identificar desafios e elaborar recomendações para observar impactos de mudanças climáticas, além de induzir a formação de uma rede de pesquisadores e gestores que possa compartilhar conhecimento e contribuir para a estruturação de um sistema brasileiro de monitoramento.

“Consideramos central para o planejamento e as estratégias de desenvolvimento sustentável do Brasil nós termos um conhecimento muito apurado sobre como as mudanças climáticas estão impactando e irão impactar a economia, a sociedade e o ambiente, com ênfase na nossa imensa biodiversidade”, afirmou Nobre. “Nesse sentido, o MCTI, já há alguns anos, começou um projeto, com fundos brasileiros, para desenvolver um conceito, uma ideia, um programa, para monitorar e observar esses impactos”.

Antecipação

Na visão do secretário, estruturar um sistema seria o passo seguinte a iniciativas como a Rede Brasileira de Pesquisas sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (Rede Clima), estabelecida em 2008, após a publicação do 4º Relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC, na sigla em inglês).

“A Rede Clima tem produzido uma série de resultados, muitos deles na direção de entender impactos”, disse Nobre. “A decorrência desse incipiente e novo conhecimento é ensejar o desenho de um sistema de longo prazo, de décadas de monitoramento, que nos permita nos anteciparmos, para que a sociedade não seja tomada de surpresa quando impactos de fato estiverem ocorrendo.”

O secretário lembrou que o 4º Relatório do IPCC apontou concentração na Europa, nos Estados Unidos e no Japão dos sítios observacionais com estudos de impactos das mudanças climáticas, com raros exemplos na América Latina.

“A situação mudou um pouco para melhor no 5º Relatório, divulgado neste ano, mas nenhum dos sítios apresentados localiza-se no Brasil”, comparou. “Isso já chamou a atenção, porque não temos observações sistêmicas de longo período sobre os impactos nos mais diversos setores de atividades econômicas”.

Para atingir o objetivo de contribuir para o futuro sistema, segundo Nobre, o workshop trouxe especialistas brasileiros e estrangeiros de diversos setores, como agricultura, biodiversidade, ecologia, energia, recursos hídricos, oceanos, saúde e zonas costeiras: “A discussão é muito relevante para o Brasil, porque grande parte do produto econômico do país tem a ver com recursos naturais”.

Origem

Nobre associou a complexidade do sistema à existência de vários motivos desencadeadores de mudanças climáticas. Ele citou três exemplos aplicados ao cenário nacional, divididos por origem antropogênica, local e global.

O primeiro caso diz respeito às savanas tropicais do Brasil Central, onde tradicionalmente há aumento considerável de incêndios de vegetação por ação humana de agosto a outubro, período de seca nessas regiões.

“Isso perturba muito o ambiente biológico do Cerrado, ou seja, os impactos são muito grandes na biodiversidade, mas a fumaça das queimadas também gera um grande problema de saúde pública”, alertou.

De acordo com o secretário, as chuvas na cidade de São Paulo estão entre 30% a 35% maiores, mais volumosas e mais intensas do que 100 anos atrás. “Essa é, principalmente, uma mudança climática de origem local, uma ilha urbana de calor, um impacto da urbanização”, explicou. “O atual cenário agrava a questão dos desastres naturais em uma região por onde transitam 20 milhões de pessoas”.

Acerca da origem global, Nobre cita o 5º Relatório do IPCC, publicado em 2013 e 2014. “O documento sugere, com forte embasamento científico, que a alternância de secas e inundações na Amazônia na última década já seria um resultado das mudanças climáticas globais”, disse. “Particularmente na região da floresta, nós já estamos vendo como detectar, medir e enxergar impactos, como desenhar sistemas que possam de forma precursora sinalizar grandes alterações, de modo que se permita ao setor público, e também aos setores econômicos, se precaverem e adotarem políticas de adaptação”.

Intercâmbio

Presente na abertura do workshop, a secretária de Gestão Pública do Ministério do Planejamento, Orçamento e Gestão (MPOG), Ana Lúcia Amorim, abordou o projeto Diálogos Setoriais, gerido pela pasta, que apoia a realização de estudos nas mais diversas áreas temáticas.

O diplomata português Rui Ludovino, diretor da Delegação da União Europeia no Brasil, lembrou que, desde 2007, o país é parceiro estratégico da Europa. “Temos um acordo de cooperação assinado entre as duas partes que engloba inúmeras áreas, da econômica à tecnológica, da ambiental à social”, observou.

Na opinião da diretora de Ciência e Inovação da Embaixada Britânica, Caroline Cowan, o Brasil inova ao propor a criação de uma rede de monitoramento e observação. “Até agora, não temos no mundo um sistema assim. Vamos ver como podemos trabalhar juntos para estabelecê-lo. Em adaptação a mudanças climáticas, já atuamos bastante com a União Europeia e o Brasil”.

Os debates do workshop devem gerar um documento de recomendações. Entre os palestrantes, estão pesquisadores dos institutos nacionais de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe/MCTI) e de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Inpa/MCTI), do Centro de Tecnologia da Informação Renato Archer (CTI/MCTI) e do Centro Comum de Pesquisa da Comissão Europeia (JRC, na sigla em inglês).

Cúpula do Clima da ONU: só teatro ou fatos concretos? (IPS)

17/9/2014 – 01h38

por Thalif Deen, da IPS

cumbreclima Cúpula do Clima da ONU: só teatro ou fatos concretos?

Nações Unidas, 17/9/2014 – A tão comentada Cúpula do Clima, que acontecerá no final deste mês, é apresentada como um dos grandes acontecimentos político-ambientais da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) para 2014. Seu secretário-geral, Ban Ki-moon, pediu aos mais de 120 governantes e empresários que participarão da cúpula de um único dia, 23 de setembro, que anunciem iniciativas significativas e substanciais, com promessas de fundos incluídas, “para ajudar o mundo a avançar por um caminho que limite o aquecimento global”.

Segundo a ONU, a cúpula será a primeira ocasião em cinco anos em que os líderes do mundo se reunirão para discutir o que se classifica de desastre ecológico: a mudança climática. Entre as repercussões negativas do aquecimento global estão a elevação do nível do mar, padrões climáticos extremos, acidificação dos oceanos, derretimento de geleiras, extinção de espécies da biodiversidade e ameaças à segurança alimentar mundial, alerta a organização.

Mas o que se pode esperar realmente da conferência deste mês, que provavelmente não durará mais do que 12 horas?

“Um acontecimento de um dia não poderá nunca resolver tudo o que se relaciona com a mudança climática, mas pode ser um ponto de inflexão para demonstrar renovada vontade política de agir”, opinou Timothy Gore, diretor de políticas e pesquisa da campanha Crecede Oxfam International. Alguns líderes políticos aproveitarão a ocasião para fazer isso, mas muitos “parecem decididos a se manterem afastados dos compromissos transformadores necessários”, acrescentou.

Segundo Gore, a cúpula foi pensada como uma plataforma para os novos compromissos de ação em matéria climática, mas existe o risco real de estes não serem grande coisa. “O enfoque colocado nas iniciativas voluntárias em lugar dos resultados negociados significa que não há garantias de que os anúncios que forem feitos na cúpula serão suficientemente sólidos”, acrescentou.

Espera-se que o Fundo Verde para o Clima mobilize cerca de US$ 100 bilhões anuais no Sul em desenvolvimento até 2020, segundo a ONU, mas este ainda não recebeu os fundos que serão entregues aos países em desenvolvimento para que possam implantar suas ações climáticas.

“No dia 23 de setembro veremos como os líderes mundiais não estão à altura do que necessitamos para lidar com a perigosa mudança climática”, apontou à IPS Dipti Bhatnagar, da Amigos da Terra Internacional e da Justiça Ambiental, de Moçambique. As “promessas” que os governos e as empresas farão na Cúpula do Clima serão extremamente insuficientes para abordar a catástrofe climática, ressaltou a ativista.

“A ideia de os governantes assumirem compromissos voluntários e não vinculantes é um insulto para centenas de milhares de pessoas que morrem a cada ano pelos impactos da mudança climática”, afirmou Bhatnagar. “Necessitamos que os países industrializados assumam objetivos de redução de emissões equitativos, ambiciosos e vinculantes, não um desfile de governantes que querem causar boa impressão. Mas este desfile falso é só o que vamos ver nesta cúpula de um dia”, opinou.

No dia 21, dois dias antes da cúpula, centenas de milhares de pessoas farão uma manifestação contra a mudança climática em cidades de todo o mundo. “Nesse dia, estaremos nas ruas de Nova York como parte da maior marcha climática na história, que enviará uma mensagem forte e clara para que os líderes mundiais ajam agora”, explicou Martin Kaiser, líder do projeto Política Climática Mundial, do Greenpeace.

Kaiser sugeriu que as empresas devem anunciar datas concretas a partir das quais operarão com 100% de energia renovável. Além disso, “os governos devem se comprometer a eliminar gradualmente os combustíveis fósseis até 2050 e tomar medidas concretas, como acabar com o financiamento das centrais elétricas movidas a carvão”, destacou. “Também esperamos que os governos anunciem dinheiro novo e adicional para o Fundo Verde para o Clima, a fim de ajudar os países vulneráveis a se adaptarem aos desastres climáticos”, afirmou.

“Precisamos que o Norte industrial entregue fundos públicos seguros, previsíveis e obrigatórios ao Sul em desenvolvimento por intermédio do sistema da ONU”, disse Bhatnagar, da Amigos da Terra Internacional. Os líderes dos países industrializados estão descuidando de sua responsabilidade para evitar as catástrofes climáticas, impulsionados pelos estreitos interesses econômicos e financeiros das elites ricas, da indústria dos combustíveis fósseis e das corporações transnacionais, acrescentou.

“O que se necessita para deter a mudança climática são objetivos de redução de emissões equitativos, ambiciosos e vinculantes dos países desenvolvidos, junto com a transferência de fundos e tecnologia aos países em desenvolvimento. Também precisamos de uma completa transformação de nossos sistemas de energia e alimentos”, enfatizou Bhatnagar.

Nesse sentido, é preciso maior transparência para decidir se os anúncios feitos são coerentes com as últimas conclusões científicas sobre o clima e se protegem os interesses dos mais vulneráveis diante dos impactos climáticos, detalhou Gore. Com relação ao papel do setor privado, “precisamos que os empresários combatem a mudança climática, e estão surgindo bons exemplos de empresas que estão à altura da ocasião”, acrescentou .

No setor de alimentos e bebidas, por exemplo, a Oxfam trabalhou com companhias como Kellogg e General Mills para que estas assumam compromissos de redução das emissões de suas cadeias de fornecimento agrícola, extremamente contaminantes. “Mas, em geral, essa cúpula mostra que há muitas partes do setor privado que ainda não estão à altura, já que as iniciativas que serão apresentadas não cumprem com a  transformação que precisamos”, destacou Gore.

“Isso serve para recordarmos a importância fundamental que tem a forte liderança governamental na mudança climática. As iniciativas voluntárias de baixo para cima não são um substituto da ação real do governo”, afirmou Gore. Envolverde/IPS

(IPS)

Climate Change News – September 16, 2014 (DISCCRS)

NEWS

UN says CO2 pollution levels at annual record high – Associated Press – September 9, 2014 – http://bigstory.ap.org/article/un-says-co2-pollution-levels-annual-record-high

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Sees Fastest Rise – ClimateWire (via Scientific American) – September 9, 2014 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/greenhouse-gas-pollution-sees-fastest-rise/

NASA Ranks This August as Warmest on Record – Climate Central – September 15, 2014 – http://www.climatecentral.org/news/nasa-globe-warmest-august-18031

Study finds warming Atlantic temperatures could increase range of invasive species – NOAA Press Release (via AAAS EurekAlert) – September 15, 2014 – http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/nh-sfw091214.php

Has the great climate change migration already begun? – Vital Signs (Guardian) – September 15, 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2014/sep/15/climate-change-refugees-un-storms-natural-disasters-sea-levels-environment

Grassroots pressure needed to beat climate change and poverty – experts – Thomson Reuters Foundation – September 12, 2014 – http://www.trust.org/item/20140912161513-2y17m/?source=fiOtherNews3

Princeton University launches NSF-funded initiative to study Southern Ocean’s role in global systems – NSF Press Release 14-117 – September 9, 2014 – http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132638&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

Warmer air caused ice shelf collapse off Antarctica – Reuters – September 11, 2014 – http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/11/us-climatechange-antarctica-idUSKBN0H625T20140911

Illegal deforestation is growing problem for climate – Climate News Network – September 12, 2014 – http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2014/09/illegal-deforestation-is-growing-problem-for-climate/

Brazil confirms Amazon deforestation sped up in 2013 – Reuters – September 10, 2014 – http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/10/us-brazil-deforestation-rise-idUSKBN0H528V20140910

Climate Change Threatens Half of North America?s Birds – Climate Central – September 13, 2014 – http://www.climatecentral.org/news/north-americas-birds-climate-change-18023

Ozone Layer on Track to Recovery – United Nations Environment Programme/World Meteorological Organization Press Release – September 10, 2014 – http://montreal-protocol.org/Assessment_Panels/SAP/SAP2014_ADM_Press_Release_10-Sept-2014.pdf

FORUM

Water management in Iran: what is causing the looming crisis? – Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (via Springer) – August 23, 2014 – By Kaveh Madani – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13412-014-0182-z

Moral Collapse in a Warming World – Ethics & International Affairs, 28, no. 3 (2014), pp. 335-342 – By Clive Hamilton – http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FEIA%2FEIA28_03%2FS0892679414000409a.pdf&code=f0a65c732192dd3bbb451e4f5abcf862

The 97% v the 3% ? just how much global warming are humans causing? – Climate Consensus – the 97% blog (Guardian) – September 15, 2014 – By Dana Nuccitelli – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/sep/15/97-vs-3-how-much-global-warming-are-humans-causing

UN Climate Summit must show climate change action is in everyone’s interests – Guardian Professional – September 11, 2014 – By Simon Zadek and Nick Robins – http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/11/un-climate-summit-climate-change-interests-business-governments-finance

The Guardian view on the unchanging message from climate scientists – Guardian Editorial – September 14, 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/14/guardian-view-unchanging-message-climate-scientists

Can Humans Get Used to Having a Two-Way Relationship with Earth?s Climate? – Dot Earth blog (New York Times) – September 10, 2014 – By Andrew Revkin – http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/can-humans-get-used-to-having-a-two-way-relationship-with-earths-climate/?_php=true

Naomi Klein: ?We tried it your way and we don?t have another decade to waste? – Guardian – September 14, 2014 – By Suzanne Goldenberg – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/14/naomi-klein-interview-capitalism-vs-the-climate