Arquivo mensal: agosto 2015

The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here (Rolling Stone)

The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected

BY  August 5, 2015


Walruses, like these in Alaska, are being forced ashore in record numbers. Corey Accardo/NOAA/AP 

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren’t cut, “We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Eric Rignot, a climate scientist at NASA and the University of California-Irvine and a co-author on Hansen’s study, said their new research doesn’t necessarily change the worst-case scenario on sea-level rise, it just makes it much more pressing to think about and discuss, especially among world leaders. In particular, says Rignot, the new research shows a two-degree Celsius rise in global temperature — the previously agreed upon “safe” level of climate change — “would be a catastrophe for sea-level rise.”

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

And yet, these aren’t even the most disturbing changes happening to the Earth’s biosphere that climate scientists are discovering this year. For that, you have to look not at the rising sea levels but to what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.

Water temperatures this year in the North Pacific have never been this high for this long over such a large area — and it is already having a profound effect on marine life.

Eighty-year-old Roger Thomas runs whale-watching trips out of San Francisco. On an excursion earlier this year, Thomas spotted 25 humpbacks and three blue whales. During a survey on July 4th, federal officials spotted 115 whales in a single hour near the Farallon Islands — enough to issue a boating warning. Humpbacks are occasionally seen offshore in California, but rarely so close to the coast or in such numbers. Why are they coming so close to shore? Exceptionally warm water has concentrated the krill and anchovies they feed on into a narrow band of relatively cool coastal water. The whales are having a heyday. “It’s unbelievable,” Thomas told a local paper. “Whales are all over
the place.”

Last fall, in northern Alaska, in the same part of the Arctic where Shell is planning to drill for oil, federal scientists discovered 35,000 walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever documented “haul out” of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find.

Marine life is moving north, adapting in real time to the warming ocean. Great white sharks have been sighted breeding near Monterey Bay, California, the farthest north that’s ever been known to occur. A blue marlin was caught last summer near Catalina Island — 1,000 miles north of its typical range. Across California, there have been sightings of non-native animals moving north, such as Mexican red crabs.


Salmon on the brink of dying out. Michael Quinton/Newscom

No species may be as uniquely endangered as the one most associated with the Pacific Northwest, the salmon. Every two weeks, Bill Peterson, an oceanographer and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Oregon, takes to the sea to collect data he uses to forecast the return of salmon. What he’s been seeing this year is deeply troubling.

Salmon are crucial to their coastal ecosystem like perhaps few other species on the planet. A significant portion of the nitrogen in West Coast forests has been traced back to salmon, which can travel hundreds of miles upstream to lay their eggs. The largest trees on Earth simply wouldn’t exist without salmon.

But their situation is precarious. This year, officials in California are bringing salmon downstream in convoys of trucks, because river levels are too low and the temperatures too warm for them to have a reasonable chance of surviving. One species, the winter-run Chinook salmon, is at a particularly increased risk of decline in the next few years, should the warm water persist offshore.

“You talk to fishermen, and they all say: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before,’ ” says Peterson. “So when you have no experience with something like this, it gets like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ ”

Atmospheric scientists increasingly believe that the exceptionally warm waters over the past months are the early indications of a phase shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a cyclical warming of the North Pacific that happens a few times each century. Positive phases of the PDO have been known to last for 15 to 20 years, during which global warming can increase at double the rate as during negative phases of the PDO. It also makes big El Niños, like this year’s, more likely. The nature of PDO phase shifts is unpredictable — climate scientists simply haven’t yet figured out precisely what’s behind them and why they happen when they do. It’s not a permanent change — the ocean’s temperature will likely drop from these record highs, at least temporarily, some time over the next few years — but the impact on marine species will be lasting, and scientists have pointed to the PDO as a global-warming preview.

“The climate [change] models predict this gentle, slow increase in temperature,” says Peterson, “but the main problem we’ve had for the last few years is the variability is so high. As scientists, we can’t keep up with it, and neither can the animals.” Peterson likens it to a boxer getting pummeled round after round: “At some point, you knock them down, and the fight is over.”


Pavement-melting heat waves in India. Harish Tyagi/EPA/Corbis

Attendant with this weird wildlife behavior is a stunning drop in the number of plankton — the basis of the ocean’s food chain. In July, another major study concluded that acidifying oceans are likely to have a “quite traumatic” impact on plankton diversity, with some species dying out while others flourish. As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it’s converted into carbonic acid — and the pH of seawater declines. According to lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT, that trend means “the whole food chain is going to be different.”

The Hansen study may have gotten more attention, but the Dutkiewicz study, and others like it, could have even more dire implications for our future. The rapid changes Dutkiewicz and her colleagues are observing have shocked some of their fellow scientists into thinking that yes, actually, we’re heading toward the worst-case scenario. Unlike a prediction of massive sea-level rise just decades away, the warming and acidifying oceans represent a problem that seems to have kick-started a mass extinction on the same time scale.

Jacquelyn Gill is a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. She knows a lot about extinction, and her work is more relevant than ever. Essentially, she’s trying to save the species that are alive right now by learning more about what killed off the ones that aren’t. The ancient data she studies shows “really compelling evidence that there can be events of abrupt climate change that can happen well within human life spans. We’re talking less than a decade.”

For the past year or two, a persistent change in winds over the North Pacific has given rise to what meteorologists and oceanographers are calling “the blob” — a highly anomalous patch of warm water between Hawaii, Alaska and Baja California that’s thrown the marine ecosystem into a tailspin. Amid warmer temperatures, plankton numbers have plummeted, and the myriad species that depend on them have migrated or seen their own numbers dwindle.

Significant northward surges of warm water have happened before, even frequently. El Niño, for example, does this on a predictable basis. But what’s happening this year appears to be something new. Some climate scientists think that the wind shift is linked to the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice over the past few years, which separate research has shown makes weather patterns more likely to get stuck.

A similar shift in the behavior of the jet stream has also contributed to the California drought and severe polar vortex winters in the Northeast over the past two years. An amplified jet-stream pattern has produced an unusual doldrum off the West Coast that’s persisted for most of the past 18 months. Daniel Swain, a Stanford University meteorologist, has called it the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” — weather patterns just aren’t supposed to last this long.

What’s increasingly uncontroversial among scientists is that in many ecosystems, the impacts of the current off-the-charts temperatures in the North Pacific will linger for years, or longer. The largest ocean on Earth, the Pacific is exhibiting cyclical variability to greater extremes than other ocean basins. While the North Pacific is currently the most dramatic area of change in the world’s oceans, it’s not alone: Globally, 2014 was a record-setting year for ocean temperatures, and 2015 is on pace to beat it soundly, boosted by the El Niño in the Pacific. Six percent of the world’s reefs could disappear before the end of the decade, perhaps permanently, thanks to warming waters.

Since warmer oceans expand in volume, it’s also leading to a surge in sea-level rise. One recent study showed a slowdown in Atlantic Ocean currents, perhaps linked to glacial melt from Greenland, that caused a four-inch rise in sea levels along the Northeast coast in just two years, from 2009 to 2010. To be sure, it seems like this sudden and unpredicted surge was only temporary, but scientists who studied the surge estimated it to be a 1-in-850-year event, and it’s been blamed on accelerated beach erosion “almost as significant as some hurricane events.”


Biblical floods in Turkey. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Possibly worse than rising ocean temperatures is the acidification of the waters. Acidification has a direct effect on mollusks and other marine animals with hard outer bodies: A striking study last year showed that, along the West Coast, the shells of tiny snails are already dissolving, with as-yet-unknown consequences on the ecosystem. One of the study’s authors, Nina Bednaršek, told Science magazine that the snails’ shells, pitted by the acidifying ocean, resembled “cauliflower” or “sandpaper.” A similarly striking study by more than a dozen of the world’s top ocean scientists this July said that the current pace of increasing carbon emissions would force an “effectively irreversible” change on ocean ecosystems during this century. In as little as a decade, the study suggested, chemical changes will rise significantly above background levels in nearly half of the world’s oceans.

“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” James Barry of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California told the Seattle Times in 2013. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous.”

Thanks to the pressure we’re putting on the planet’s ecosystem — warming, acidification and good old-fashioned pollution — the oceans are set up for several decades of rapid change. Here’s what could happen next.

The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. The appearance of low-oxygen regions has doubled in frequency every 10 years since 1960 and should continue to grow over the coming decades at an even greater rate.

So far, dead zones have remained mostly close to the coasts, but in the 21st century, deep-ocean dead zones could become common. These low-oxygen regions could gradually expand in size — potentially thousands of miles across — which would force fish, whales, pretty much everything upward. If this were to occur, large sections of the temperate deep oceans would suffer should the oxygen-free layer grow so pronounced that it stratifies, pushing surface ocean warming into overdrive and hindering upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich deeper water.

Enhanced evaporation from the warmer oceans will create heavier downpours, perhaps destabilizing the root systems of forests, and accelerated runoff will pour more excess nutrients into coastal areas, further enhancing dead zones. In the past year, downpours have broken records in Long Island, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and Pensacola, Florida.

Evidence for the above scenario comes in large part from our best understanding of what happened 250 million years ago, during the “Great Dying,” when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished after a pulse of carbon dioxide and methane from land-based sources began a period of profound climate change. The conditions that triggered “Great Dying” took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. But humans have been emitting carbon dioxide at a much quicker rate, so the current mass extinction only took 100 years or so to kick-start.

With all these stressors working against it, a hypoxic feedback loop could wind up destroying some of the oceans’ most species-rich ecosystems within our lifetime. A recent study by Sarah Moffitt of the University of California-Davis said it could take the ocean thousands of years to recover. “Looking forward for my kid, people in the future are not going to have the same ocean that I have today,” Moffitt said.

As you might expect, having tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe is taking an increasingly emotional toll on scientists, and in some cases pushing them toward advocacy. Of the two dozen or so scientists I interviewed for this piece, virtually all drifted into apocalyptic language at some point.

For Simone Alin, an oceanographer focusing on ocean acidification at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, the changes she’s seeing hit close to home. The Puget Sound is a natural laboratory for the coming decades of rapid change because its waters are naturally more acidified than most of the world’s marine ecosystems.

The local oyster industry here is already seeing serious impacts from acidifying waters and is going to great lengths to avoid a total collapse. Alin calls oysters, which are non-native, the canary in the coal mine for the Puget Sound: “A canary is also not native to a coal mine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good indicator of change.”

Though she works on fundamental oceanic changes every day, the Dutkiewicz study on the impending large-scale changes to plankton caught her off-guard: “This was alarming to me because if the basis of the food web changes, then . . . everything could change, right?”

Alin’s frank discussion of the looming oceanic apocalypse is perhaps a product of studying unfathomable change every day. But four years ago, the birth of her twins “heightened the whole issue,” she says. “I was worried enough about these problems before having kids that I maybe wondered whether it was a good idea. Now, it just makes me feel crushed.”

Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe speaks about climate change to students and faculty at Wayland Baptist University in 2011. Geoffrey McAllister/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, moved from Canada to Texas with her husband, a pastor, precisely because of its vulnerability to climate change. There, she engages with the evangelical community on science — almost as a missionary would. But she’s already planning her exit strategy: “If we continue on our current pathway, Canada will be home for us long term. But the majority of people don’t have an exit strategy. . . . So that’s who I’m here trying to help.”

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That’s because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that’s also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children’s Trust, a legal advocacy organization that’s filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn’t just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it’s also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Even if these novel challenges succeed, it will take years before a bend in the curve is noticeable. But maybe that’s enough. When all feels lost, saving a few species will feel like a triumph.

From The Archives Issue 1241: August 13, 2015

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What Concepts and Emotions Are (and Aren’t) (Knowledge Ecology)

August 1, 2015

Adam Robbert

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an interesting piece up in yesterday’s New York Times that I think is worth some attention here. Barrett is the director of the The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, where she studies the nature of emotional experience. Here is the key part of the article, describing her latest findings:

The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory (which I direct) collectively analyzed brain-imaging studies published from 1990 to 2011 that examined fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness. We divided the human brain virtually into tiny cubes, like 3-D pixels, and computed the probability that studies of each emotion found an increase in activation in each cube.

Overall, we found that no brain region was dedicated to any single emotion. We also found that every alleged “emotion” region of the brain increased its activity during nonemotional thoughts and perceptions as well . . .

Emotion words like “anger,” “happiness” and “fear” each name a population of diverse biological states that vary depending on the context. When you’re angry with your co-worker, sometimes your heart rate will increase, other times it will decrease and still other times it will stay the same. You might scowl, or you might smile as you plot your revenge. You might shout or be silent. Variation is the norm.

This highly distributed, variable, and contextual description of emotions matches up quite well with what scientists have found to be true of conceptualization—namely, that it is a situated process drawn from a plurality of bodily forces. For instance, compare Barrett’s findings above to what I wrote about concepts in my paper on concepts and capacities from June (footnote references are in the paper):

In short, concepts are flexible and distributed modes of bodily organization grounded in modality-specific regions of the brain;[1] they comprise semantic knowledge embodied in perception and action;[2] and they underwrite the organization of sensory experience and guide action within an environment.[3] Concepts are tools for constructing in the mind new pathways of relationship and discrimination, for shaping the body, and for attuning it to contrast. Such pathways are recruited in an ecologically specific way as part of the dynamic bringing-to-apprehension of phenomena.

I think the parallel is clear enough, and we would do well to adopt this more ecological view of emotions and concepts into our thinking. The empirical data is giving us a strong argument for talking about the ecological basis of emotion and conceptuality, a basis that continues to grow stronger by the day.

Playing Along: Fieldwork, Emotional Labor and Self-Care (The Geek Anthropologist)

July 24, 2015

By Emma Louise Backe

For any practicing or aspiring anthropologist, fieldwork is the defining, almost qualifying practice of the discipline. As an undergraduate studying sociocultural anthropology, we read the seminal journals of Bronislaw Malinowski, followed by foundational ethnographic research from around the world. Even though the field has ostensibly moved beyond the “exotic”—no longer wholly consumed with discovering new indigenous communities or uncovering a culture untouched by capitalism and globalization—students are still encouraged to conduct their fieldwork in remote, isolated, and, yes, tacitly exotic locations. As my professor lectured during my Anthropology Senior Seminar at Vassar College, you have to conduct your first fieldwork abroad if you want to be taken seriously as an anthropologist. The implication was that if you don’t go somewhere distant and strange, you won’t experience the same level of cultural difference, linguistic estrangement, physical hardship, and existential negotiation that molds the student into a consummate ethnographer. Fieldwork, rather than being a praxis for cultural research, has rather become the test for one’s anthropological training and credentials. Yet, throughout my undergraduate degree, we never discussed the emotional or physical challenges of fieldwork—it was always framed as this transformative, clarifying experience during which the theory we worked so assiduously to grasp could finally be applied. It was understood that everyanthropologist inherently falls in love with their site, integrates into their chosen community, and concludes their fieldwork with a sense of kinship and satisfaction at the rich ethnographic data and knowledge they have been able to accumulate. This silence surrounding the very real personal challenges of fieldwork can, however, be detrimental to a student’s first foray into fieldwork.

After graduating from college, I almost immediately joined the Peace Corps as a community health volunteer in Fiji. I felt certain that my anthropological training had adequately prepared me for my service in the South Pacific, where I was expected to learn the language, integrate into the community, and develop programs based off of local needs-assessments and desire. After spending my Pre-Service Training at a home stay in a remote, mountainous fishing village, I moved to my site in an equally remote town on the Eastern Coast of Viti Levu, one of the bigger islands the country consists of. Throughout my service, in an attempt to adapt to the culture and be accepted into my community, I found myself emptying out my identity to make space for a new “Fijian” version of myself. I struggled with how to translate my personality into my adopted social space, while simultaneously struggling with health issues from the moment of my arrival. Because of my anthropological training, and the ideologies that undergird Peace Corps, I took responsibility for any programmatic failures or difficulties I had connecting with my local partners. If I wasn’t able to befriend a neighbor, I felt that it was my fault—I wasn’t being sensitive or reflexive or open enough, there must be a flaw in my personality. I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to members of the Peace Corps staff, for fear that my struggles would reflect poorly on me as a volunteer. Similarly, I was anxious to contact my anthropological mentors, afraid that my seeming challenges to connect with my Fijian counterparts meant that despite all my education and devotion to the discipline, I was not personally adept at cultural integration. This concern was perhaps the most devastating and depressing aspect of my service.

Conducting a health screening at a local secondary school

These anxieties, frustrations and feelings of guilt are ones that anthropologists share. As Amy Pollard has written for Anthropology Matters, many of the anthropology students she interviewed about field work experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation, stress, stress, regret, feelings of powerlessness or captivity to your site, disappointment, fear, frustration, guilt, depression coupled with self-hate for feeling depressed during fieldwork, and embarrassment at perceptions of poor success or lack of productivity. Despite these struggles, “Some students reported feeling they should not talk about how difficult they had found fieldwork because other people would perceive them as weak” (Pollard 2009). This feeling of weakness stems from the misapprehension that anthropological training inures you to feelings of culture shock or the other mental health crises others might experience during prolonged periods of time in new cultural habitats. Indeed, as Rachel Irwin writes,

For multiple reasons, researchers admitting to fear or depression during fieldwork may be ridiculed or dismissed as ‘cowardly anthropologists’. I was once strongly encouraged to conduct fieldwork in a remote village rather than a larger town, so that I could be a ‘courageous anthropologist’. Chiefly, I would argue that this is closely linked to a sense of academic bravado and competitive virility. I was given the idea that there is something inherent about studying anthropology that protects one against ‘culture shock,’ and that anthropologists are naturally better at negotiating unfamiliar situations than other sojourners. As such, anthropologists can feel a certain ‘culture shock’ within their own academic community, because their experiences of culture shock ‘in the field remain unacknowledged, and they are feeling something that they believe they ought not feel. (2007)

When anthropologists actively avoid discussing the feelings of anxiety, depression and desperation associated with their fieldwork, they do a disservice to the next generation of aspiring anthropologists. Even though ethnography relies upon qualitative research methods, anthropologists inevitably enter their field site with certain expectations about the questions they want answered, the traditions they intend to explore, the in-depth interviews they hope to conduct. If, for any number of mitigating and complicating reasons and factors, you aren’t able to accomplish these goals, it precipitates yet another watershed of shame and regret that you simply weren’t good enough. Because anthropologists are participant observers, their bodies and identities are essentially the very tools of their practice. Therefore, personality clashes or the development of stress or fear under certain situations place the onus of culpability on the researcher. As an anthropologist, a “failure of fieldwork” is essentially conflated with a failure of yourself. In so doing, “A large number of students felt profound shame over their sense of failure in the field […] For some, going home early was a source of great shame” (Pollard 2009). When I left my Peace Corps service early, after months of illness and the impending signs of depression, it felt like I was abandoning the aspirations I had to become an anthropologist, despite the fact that the majority of my fellow volunteers were struggling with similar programmatic and personal issues. After spending so many years planning my trajectory toward becoming an anthropologist, this belief that my emotional struggles somehow disqualified me as an anthropologist only further tangled the crisis of identity I had undergone during my service. And I didn’t know how to talk about it because I felt completely alone.

Upon returning to the United States, I was covered in scars from persistent skin infections and stress hives, my hair had fallen out, and my mood was ragged. I experienced many of the symptoms of depression, including sleeplessness and moodiness; sometimes interactions or objects would trigger uncontrollable feelings of sadness or anger. I had difficulty being around people and I walked everywhere draped in a cloak of self-loathing. For my friends and family members who haven’t traveled widely or spent long periods abroad, they couldn’t understand why I believed that my difficulties in Fiji were solely my fault. When I sought out therapists to talk through my lingering misgivings, they praised me for my strength and courage, when what I wanted was not to be coddled, but to understand why I hadn’t “worked” in my community, when it felt like I had spent all my energy trying to integrate. Many friends and acquaintances also did not want to hear that I hadn’t had a positive experience—in their minds, Fiji was nothing more than a tropical paradise and it seemed feckless to explain my humanitarian, existential misgivings about it. This was not reverse culture shock per se, yet I was at a loss about how to recuperate and heal, mentally as well as physically, let alone negotiate my anthropological path moving forward. I was simply afraid that I wasn’t cut out to do fieldwork.

During this period of uncertainty, I turned to video games. In the past, I’ve also used video games as a coping mechanism. After suffering from a traumatic brain injury my freshman year, I suffered from sometimes crippling dissociation and self-doubt about my cognitive abilities. My neurologist was unhelpful, and the only option I was offered to heal was to sit and wait for my brain to stop bleeding. Brain injuries are unique in that they often invoke crises of identity. With so much forthcoming research on the connection between the frontal lobe and personality, I experienced an acute crisis of self after my brain contusion. Offered with no other recourse or resilience methods, video games helped coax me back to a space of equilibrium. In both cases, playing video games provided a viable alternative to being social. If I felt disconnected from the world around me, or anxious about having to explain why I had come home early, I could retreat to RPG’s. Video games can put you in touch with a wide online community, thereby facilitating social contact for those who might otherwise feel stress or anxiety at the prospect of socializing with strangers. For me, I felt powerless to help myself—video games were an active way to use my time and process my emotions. Rather than passively consuming other forms of media, such as movies or television shows, video games provide you with tangible goals, objectives that, when achieved, provide players with a sense of success and achievement. As Romeo Vitelli wrote for Psychology Today, “By setting specific tasks and allowing young people to work through obstacles to achieve those tasks, video games can help boost self-esteem and help children learn the value of persistence. By providing immediate feedback as video game players solve problems and achieve greater expertise, players can learn to see themselves as having skills and intelligence they might not otherwise realize they possess” (2014). During a period of such acute self-doubt, it was extremely satisfying to be posed with challenges and obstacles that at first seemed insurmountable, but that could be accomplished through patience, creativity and skill-building.

Video games became a refuge for my cultural concerns as well. Games like BioShock: Infinite (2013) and Dishonored (2012) were dystopian alternatives to human history, new life worlds I could explore and inhabit through a sense of play and constant discovery. I was particularly drawn to games with robust storytelling mechanics, where the developers and programmers had clearly invested a lot of time and attention to the minutia of the world, encouraging players to interact with minor characters, read books and notes scattered around the stages, and learn about the internal mythologies, politics and social dynamics that informed the action of the game. I no longer felt powerless, but had a degree of agency to determine the kind of player I wanted to be. In Dishonored, like other games such as Infamous (2009), your actions as a player determine the internal stability of the virtual play space. Even though I had spent months working on community health empowerment, with few visible signs that my efforts were making any difference, I could immediately see how acts of benevolence positively impacted the city of Dunwall. In recent games, many of the avatars that players inhabit are also saddled with their own traumatic experiences which are explored throughout the game. Booker DeWitt of Bioshock: Infinite has a dark past, and other characters, like Bruce Wayne’s Batman throughout Arkham Asylum, City and Origins, are constantly battling their own demons, whether invented or embodied as supervillains. To a certain extent, I was able to project my internal monsters onto the villains in the games, channeling my anger and frustration in a way that felt both productive and cathartic. I could go to bed at night feeling as though I had accomplished something, and had something in the morning I could look forward to. In the absence of other motivations, and paralyzed by fear about the future, this sense of purpose saved me.

There's always a lighthouse, BioShock: Infinite,

New literature has begun to indicate the salutary psychological effects of video games. Studiessuggest that video games may have beneficial effects on cognition, motivation, emotion and sociality; some psychologists have even begun to recommend video games as a form of therapyfor patients with mental health issues, including depression. Contemporaneously, programmers and developers are working on video games as tools to cope with mental health issues. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (made famous due to its involvement in the #Gamergate controversy) was created to explore what life was like living with depression; other forms of e-literature build interactive stories around the expression of grief and mourning. Whereas several years ago, critics and concerned parents worried that video games like Grand Theft Auto were producing violent, unempathetic adolescents, practitioners are beginning to understand that the process of play may actually serve a positive psychological function. On a related note, The Mary Sue recently published “Coping With Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015), a poignant piece outlining the ways in which Guardians of the Galaxy’s character development and musical composition helped the writer overcome anxiety attacks and obtain a sense of emotional stability. Marie-Pierre wrote about rewatching episodes of Star Trek to maintain her equilibrium during fieldwork and Peter Olthoff remarked on the therapeutic efficacy of geek culture. Whether it’s a space opera, a society ravaged by an infection of zombies, or a fantastical universe populated by dragons, elves and other mythological beings, video games help transport you to another world, not necessarily as a form of escapism, but rather as a creative space to process your own lived reality.

As it turned out, the rediscovery of video games upon my return led me back to anthropology. I read about ground-breaking games like The Last of Us (2013) and its place within the larger resurgence in zombie-lore. Through my research, I discovered the work of Louise Krasniewicz, a UPenn Anthropology professor who built a class around The Walking Dead. I was lucky enough to sit down for coffee with Dr. Krasniewicz to discuss her approach to geek anthropology, but after running through our recent favorite shows and theories about monstrosity, we inevitably turned to the topic of fieldwork. Emboldened by our conversation, I opened up to her about my experience in Fiji, my doubts as an anthropologist, and my misgivings about the negative consequences of prolonged sojourns in new cultural territory. Expecting reproach or judgement, my story was instead met by a laugh from her. “Welcome to your first time doing fieldwork! It’s horrible for everyone!” she replied. She then went on to recount her own experience conducting fieldwork in upstate New York—hardly the “exotic” destination one would expect for an Ivy League professor—and how difficult the process was emotionally. Even within her native country, where she spoke the language and shared similar cultural assumptions, she struggled to find a community and sense of connection with her interlocutors. Yet, despite her ethnographic challenges, she went on to become a successful anthropology professor. She did not interpret the issues with immersion as her failure as a practitioner, as I had during my experience in Fiji. While many anthropologists have written about the role of emotion during ethnography, such as James Davies and Dimitrina Spencer’s book Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience (2010), and phenomenological anthropologists encourage attention to the ways we physically and emotionally react to our surroundings, I don’t believe that there has been enough discussion about the emotional labor of fieldwork, both to prepare students and acknowledge that the anthropologist is not wholly culpable for “failure” in the field.

In professional fields that deal with emotionally draining issues, such as gender-based violence, there is a heavy emphasis on self-care for activists. An advocate may experience vicarious trauma if they work with survivors of sexual violence day after day, sometimes leading to emotional fatigue and burn-out. For humanitarian researchers conducting interviews with refugees, internally displaced populations, or war-torn communities still reeling from horrific acts of violence, program managers ensure that the interviewers have sufficient support and counselling mechanisms to decompress and work through the emotional labor of their work. The same practices can and should be applied to anthropology. Indeed, as Amy Pollard points out, “Students reported finding it difficult to let go of the traumas of fieldwork, because the writing-up process meant they were continually having to relive them” (2009); their recuperation process may be only further stymied by the culture of silence that pervades discussions about what occurs in the field. Students of anthropology recognize and perhaps relish in the hardships they will encounter during ethnographic research, but if they are given no inkling of the possibility that they won’t always jive with their chosen community or culture, they will have no coping mechanisms or strategies for resilience. Larissa Begley writes of her experience in Rwanda, “As anthropologists, we are part of the narrative we create. Our fieldwork does not exist detached from our own emotions and our lives. We impact on those we study and they impact on us. It is because of this dialectical relationship we have with the ‘field’ that we must recognize the impact that fieldwork can have emotionally, psychologically and physically on us” (2009). Just because we are academically prepared to live in a different culture, doesn’t mean we have the emotional methodologies to succeed.

How do you translate your personality into a new cultural space while also being sensitive and flexible? Rachel Irwin writes that, “Depression, in the form of culture shock, occurs when the firm grounding in one’s own symbolic world is lost” (2007)—this symbolic world and one’s own identity is thrown into flux when you enter and attempt to become a part of a new cultural space. There are bound to be growing pains and types of people you don’t always get along with. I realize now that I didn’t have to suppress my identity in the process of incorporating into Fijian culture. I wish I had read Jessika Tremblay’s post on “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork” before my service, especially her recommendations on not taking things so personally and “harnessing the power of your introversion” (2014). I know that there were nights in Fiji I retreated to my house to decompress and write, but felt guilty if I was skipping one of the nightly kava sessions held on my compound. If anthropology is to continue to grow as a discipline, we need to ensure that students are prepared for fieldwork, equipped to be both emotionally vulnerable while mentally sustainable. A vital part of self-care is an institutional support system, one that the anthropological community can strive to cultivate. If we are concerned with cross-cultural psychiatry, we should be equally in tune with the mental health of our comrades. You can never predict how fieldwork will change you, and it’s important to maintain a disposition of self-reflexivity, yet the process of discovery should not necessarily come at the cost of self. We need to turn, yet again, within our own community to analyze our professional and personal predispositions, and clarify how we can support one another through the process.

Audre Lorde,

Works Cited

Backe, Emma Louise (2014). “Geeking Out With Louise Krasniewicz.” The Geek Anthropologist.

Begley, Larissa R. (2009). “The other side of fieldwork: experiences and challenges of conducting research in the border area of Rwanda/eastern Congo.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2.

BioShock Infinite (2013). Irrational Games.

“Coping with Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015). The Mary Sue.

Davies, James & Dimitrina Spencer (2010). Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience . Stanford University Press.

Dishonored (2012). Arkane Studios.

Granic, Isabela et al. (2014). “The Benefits of Playing Video Games.’ American Psychologist, Vo. 69, No. 1, pp. 66-78.

Infamous (2009). Sucker Punch Productions.

Irwin, Rachel (2007). “Culture Shock: Negotiating Feelings in the Field.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 9, No. 1.

Olthoff, Peter (2015). “The Many Roles of Popular Culture in Therapy.” The Geek Anthropologist.

Petronzio, Matt (2014). “Your Next Psychologist May Prescribe ‘Legend of Zelda’.” Mashable.

Pollard, Amy (2009). “Field of Screams: Difficulty and Ethnographic Fieldwork.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2.

Renaud, Marie-Pierre (2015). “Note From the Field: Go Home To A Starship.” The Geek Anthropologist.

The Last of Us (2013). Naughty Dog.

Tremblay, Jessika (2014). “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork.” Netnographic Encounters.

Quinn, Zoe (2014). Depression Quest.

Vitelli, Romeo (2014). “Are There Benefits to Playing Video Games?” Psychology Today

Climate change seen as greatest threat by global population (The Guardian)

Environment damage followed by worldwide economic instability and Isis in list of concerns, according to survey by Pew Research Center

Climate change

Climate change was the highest concern in almost half of all countries polled, with the issue particularly feared in Latin America and Africa. Photograph: Daniel Reinhardt/EPA

Climate change is what the world’s population perceives as the top global threat, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, with countries in Latin America and Africa particularly concerned about the issue.

It is followed by global economic instability and the Islamic State militant group.

The survey, conducted in 40 countries and taking in the views of more than 45,000 respondents, attempts to measure perceptions of global threats. In 19 of the 40 countries polled, climate change was found to be the issue of highest concern.

A median average of 61% of Latin Americans said they were very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region. In Brazil and Peru, 75% of respondents said they were very concerned about the issue. Burkina Faso had the highest share of any country, with 79% expressing the highest level of concern.

Isis was viewed as the biggest threat for people in Lebanon with 84% saying they were very concerned – understandable given the region’s close proximity to the group’s activities. However, Isis was also viewed as the top threat a lot further away in the US (68%), Australia (69%) and the UK (66%).

Global economic instability is another major worry. It was found to be the top concern in a number of countries, including Venezuela – which has been undergoing a severe financial crisis – as well as Senegal and Tanzania. It was also found to be the second biggest concern in half of all those surveyed.

Pew found that major worries about Iran’s nuclear programme were limited to a few nations, with the US, Spain and Israel (the only country to cite Iran as the highest threat) the most concerned.

Tensions between Russia and its neighbours, and territorial disputes between China and surrounding countries, “remain regional concerns”, said Pew – 62% of respondents in Ukraine and 44% in Poland said they were very concerned about tensions with Moscow. However, 44% of US respondents were also very concerned about this issue, closely followed by France (41%), the UK (41%) and Germany (40%).

Cyber-attacks are also viewed as a considerable threat in the US, with 59% of Americans saying they were very concerned. The survey was conducted after the hack and leak of Sony Pictures emails, which the US government blamed on North Korea. In South Korea, cyber-attacks were the second highest concern (55%) after Isis (75%).

The report focuses on those who say they are “very concerned” about each issue and surveyed respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015.

Climate change: world’s wealthiest understand, but only half see it as threat (The Guardian)

In every South American country, along with Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco, concern over climate change is above 90%

Waves break into anti-tsunami barriers

A typhoon breaks near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan is one of the few rich states whose population is as concerned about climate change as poorer countries. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS

People living in the world’s wealthiest nations generally understand what climate change is but in many countries just half perceive it to be a threat, new research has found.

The analysis of perceptions in 119 countries found living standards and relative wealth are “poor predictors” of whether someone considers climate change to be a severe risk.

While more than 75% of people in Australia, the US, UK and most of the rest of Europe were aware of climate change, far fewer considered it to be detrimental to themselves or their families.

In Australia – recently cited as being a world leader in climate science denialism – as well as the US, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, climate change was perceived to be a threat by just over half of those polled.

In Russia, despite widespread understanding of climate change, less than 50% of people thought it was a risk to them.

The risks of climate change are more widely believed by people in France and Spain, but the greatest concern about its impacts are held elsewhere.

In every South American country, concern over climate change is above the 90% mark, with this level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco. Japan is one of the few highly advanced economies in the world to have a population as concerned about the risks of climate change.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, found different factors drove awareness and risk perceptions of climate change. Education levels and understanding the human influence upon the climate was the greatest factor in Europe, while perception of changing temperatures is the key influence in many African and Asian countries.

Authors of the paper, who come from a selection of US universities, say the results show “the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations. The results suggest that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

The paper analysed the results of Gallup polls taken in 119 countries, where respondents were asked how much they know about climate change and whether they consider it a threat to them.

Dr Debbie Hopkins, an expert at the social understandings of climate change at the University of Otago, said many people still see climate change as a remote issue.

“People can be aware of it but they see it as a distant risk and don’t engage with it much,” she said. “This disjunction can negate the feeling that we need to act on climate change.

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.

“We also talk about global averages and that’s a difficult term for many people because two degrees doesn’t seem like a lot. That risk seems diminished whereas if you’re living somewhere with extreme variability and extreme weather events, two degrees can seem like a lot.”

Hopkins said accurate media reporting of climate change and more engaged conversations with people on the issue at a local level would help illustrate the threat posed by changes such as rising sea levels and increased heat waves.

Climate change is already having its biggest impact upon the world’s most vulnerable, according to the UN, which voiced concern last year that rising temperatures will fuel conflict, war and migration.

The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was around three times higher than in the 1980s, the UN said.

Stop burning fossil fuels now: there is no CO2 ‘technofix’, scientists warn (The Guardian)

Researchers have demonstrated that even if a geoengineering solution to CO2 emissions could be found, it wouldn’t be enough to save the oceans

“The chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollutiuon will reverberate for thousands of years,” said the report’s co-author, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

“The chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollutiuon will reverberate for thousands of years,” said the report’s co-author, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber Photograph: Doug Perrine/Design Pics/Corbis

German researchers have demonstrated once again that the best way to limit climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels now.

In a “thought experiment” they tried another option: the future dramatic removal of huge volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This would, they concluded, return the atmosphere to the greenhouse gas concentrations that existed for most of human history – but it wouldn’t save the oceans.

That is, the oceans would stay warmer, and more acidic, for thousands of years, and the consequences for marine life could be catastrophic.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change today delivers yet another demonstration that there is so far no feasible “technofix” that would allow humans to go on mining and drilling for coal, oil and gas (known as the “business as usual” scenario), and then geoengineer a solution when climate change becomes calamitous.

Sabine Mathesius (of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and colleagues decided to model what could be done with an as-yet-unproven technology called carbon dioxide removal. One example would be to grow huge numbers of trees, burn them, trap the carbon dioxide, compress it and bury it somewhere. Nobody knows if this can be done, but Dr Mathesius and her fellow scientists didn’t worry about that.

They calculated that it might plausibly be possible to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the rate of 90 billion tons a year. This is twice what is spilled into the air from factory chimneys and motor exhausts right now.

The scientists hypothesised a world that went on burning fossil fuels at an accelerating rate – and then adopted an as-yet-unproven high technology carbon dioxide removal technique.

“Interestingly, it turns out that after ‘business as usual’ until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn’t help the deep ocean that much – after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere,” said a co-author, Ken Caldeira, who is normally based at the Carnegie Institution in the US.

The oceans cover 70% of the globe. By 2500, ocean surface temperatures would have increased by 5C (41F) and the chemistry of the ocean waters would have shifted towards levels of acidity that would make it difficult for fish and shellfish to flourish. Warmer waters hold less dissolved oxygen. Ocean currents, too, would probably change.

But while change happens in the atmosphere over tens of years, change in the ocean surface takes centuries, and in the deep oceans, millennia. So even if atmospheric temperatures were restored to pre-Industrial Revolution levels, the oceans would continue to experience climatic catastrophe.

“In the deep ocean, the chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollution will reverberate for thousands of years,” said co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who directs the Potsdam Institute. “If we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2C (35.6F) target in time, we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it.”

Do the world’s ‘uncontacted’ tribes deserve to be left alone? (Washington Post)

 July 23, 2015

Members of the Mashco Piro tribe observe a group of travelers from across the Alto Madre de Dios river in the Manu National Park in the Amazon basin of southeastern Peru, as photographed through a bird scope in this file picture from Oct. 21, 2011.  (REUTERS/Jean-Paul Van Belle)

For the first time, anthropologists working for the Peruvian government will attempt to make contact with members of a remote tribe living in the Amazon jungle. The move follows growing concerns about the behavior of the Mascho Piro people, which has included attacks and raids on neighboring communities.

South America, and in particular the vast Amazon region, is home to some of the world’s last remaining “uncontacted” tribes — indigenous communities that, for whatever reason, have managed to exist almost entirely outside the purview of the nation-states in which they technically live. Experts fear a whole slew of risks that may follow should these tribes come into full contact with the outside world, from exploitation by rapacious mining and logging companies to the devastating transfer of pathogens to which they have no immunity.

In recent decades, some governments have taken a protective stance, working to shield these communities from outside contact mostly because of the health risks involved. After all, some estimates suggest contact with outside diseases killed up to 100 million indigenous people following the European arrival in the Americas.

Peru bars contact with about a dozen “uncontacted” Amazonian tribes living within its borders, a positive departure from an earlier time when the government would not even recognize their existence. Brazil has its own federal agency responsible for indigenous peoples. In 2011, it allowed cameras to document unprecedented aerial footage of its observations over the jungle.

Rights groups and activists have long campaigned in the defense and protection of indigenous lands in the Amazon, fighting against the predatory interests of oil companies as well as a tragic history of violence that saw tribal peoples victim to generations of settlers, loggers, and traffickers.

Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of tribal and indigenous communities worldwide, says that Peru and Brazil are not doing enough to safeguard these “uncontacted” tribes. Last year, the organization warned against tourists carrying out “human safaris” near Mascho Piro land.

Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine’s science editor, recently recounted a study in Science magazine that detailed the challenges and ethics of how to treat “uncontacted” tribes. This included this chilling anecdote of how vulnerable some of these tribes are to outside contact:

Goods that go from body to body should be entirely off-limits. [Journalist Andrew] Lawler spoke to Peruvian villager Marcel Pinedo Cecilio, 69, who was born in the forest but later emerged. Cecilio recalls his first contact with an outsider—thought to have been an ethnographer and photographer—who left the villagers with a gift of a fishbone necklace. Shortly thereafter, much of the tribe came down with a sore throat and fever and 200 of them died. In the 1980s, up to 400 Peruvian villagers died from passing contact with crews of Shell oil company workers.

As a result, the current investigation into the Mashco Piro tribe in Peru has earned its concerned critics.

“Authorities should restrict boat transit and keep people from approaching,” Klaus Quicque, president of FENAMAD, a regional indigenous federation in Peru, told Reuters.

The urgency of the contact was spurred by an incident in May, when some members of the tribe attacked another local community, killing  a young man with an arrow. The officials enlisted to make contact will engage the tribe through interpreters who speak the Yine language, which they believe shares similarities to the tongue spoken by the Mashco Piro people.

In 2013, the Mashco Piro earned global attention when dozens of members of the tribe appeared on the banks of Amazonian tributary near a small Yine town, and demanded rope, machetes and bananas. FENAMAD rangers stationed there dissuaded them from crossing the river, but the standoff was tense, with some of the men from the tribe carrying bows and long wooden lances.

Nearby villagers, Christian missionaries and the occasional tourist have all reported meeting Mashco Piro people.

“We can no longer pretend they aren’t trying to make some sort of contact,” Luis Felipe Torres, a Peruvian official working on state tribal affairs, told Reuters. “They have a right to that, too.”

Experts say the phrase “uncontacted” is something of a misnomer, given that all communities on the planet are aware of their neighbors and have some sense of the wider world outside their homes.

“People have this romanticized view that isolated tribes have chosen to keep away from the modern, evil world,” said Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, in an interview with the BBC last year. But that’s rarely the case.

“There is no such thing as a group that remains in isolation because they think it’s cool to not have contact with anyone else on the planet,” said Hill.

Writing in Science magazine last month, Hill and colleague Robert Walker reiterated this point, suggesting that many of South America’s “uncontacted” communities had “chosen isolation out of fear of being killed or enslaved” and that, like most human beings living in constrained circumstances, “they also wanted outside goods and innovations and positive social interactions with neighbors.”

The academics suggested the best path forward is a policy of “controlled contact” with these communities, carefully managed to avoid the spread of disease, but also enable the building of trust and providing aid and medical help if needed. The current Peruvian mission may serve a test case for this sort of endeavor.

 VIDEO: Peru’s Amazon evacuated due to threat of attack (1:24) – Communities from Peruvian Amazon are evacuated amid fears of attacks from isolated indigenous tribes. (Reuters)

Da crise emergirá o pós-capitalismo? (Outras Palavras)


Jornalista britânico que cobriu levantes pós-2011 em todo o mundo aposta: sistema não suportará sociedade conectada em rede que ajudou a criar


Entrevista a Jonathan Derbyshire, em Prospect | Tradução: Gabriela Leite Inês Castilho | Imagem: Banksy

Ao cobrir, para a TV britânica, a fase mais recente da crise na Grécia, o jornalista Paul Mason alcançou quase-onipresença em seu país: Mason falando com Alexis Tsipras e outros membros do Syriza; Mason em mangas de camisa diante da câmera, diante do banco central da Grécia; Mason desviando de bombas em outro confronto entre anarquistas e a polícia — isso forma parte da iconografia da crise grega para muitos britânicos.

Agora, enquanto a Grécia e o resto da Europa recuperam seu fôlego, Mason retornou para a Inglaterra para lançar seu novo livro: “Post-Capitalism: a guide to our future” [“Pós-capitalismo: um guia para nosso futuro”]. Não é um trabalho de reportagem, mas uma ampla análise histórica e econômica. Inspirada pela análise de Marx sore relações sociais capitalistas, ela vai, no entanto, além disso — de uma maneira que, reconhece o autor, talvez não agrade alguns de seus amigos na extrema esquerda. O livro é uma análise do “neoliberalismo” — o capitalismo altamente financeirizado que dominou a maior parte do mundo desenvolvido nos últimos 30 anos — e, ao mesmo tempo, uma tentativa de imaginar o que poderia substituí-lo.

“Pós-Capitalismo: Um Guia para Nosso Futuro”, de Paul Mason, foi publicado por Allen Lane.

O capitalismo, escreve Mason, é um sistema altamente adaptativo: “Nos grandes momentos de encruzilhada, ele se transforma e muda, em resposta ao perigo”. Seu instinto mais básico de sobrevivência, ele argumenta, “é impulsionar mudanças tecnológicas”. Mas o autor acredita que as tecnologias de informação que o capitalismo desenvolveu nos últimos vinte anos ou mais não são, apesar das aparências, compatíveis com o capitalismo — não em sua forma presente, e talvez nem em qualquer outra forma. “Quando o capitalismo não puder mais se adaptar à mudança tecnológica, o pós-capitalismo irá se tornar necessário”.

Mason não está sozinho ao acreditar que a humanidade está à beira de uma profunda revolução tecnológica, é claro. Ouve-se isso de outras vozes: que falam, por exemplo, sobre a “Segunda Era da Máquina” e a promessa (assim como a ameaça) de máquinas inteligentes e da “internet das coisas”. O que torna singular a análise de Mason é, no entanto, a maneira pela qual ele funde um balanço das mutações tecnológicas do que costumava ser chamado de “capitalismo tardio” com uma tentativa de identificar o que Engels chamou, no final do século XIX, de a “parteira da sociedade”, a classe capaz de liderar a transformação social. Segundo o livro, não será a velha classe trabalhadora, como Marx e Engels pensaram, mas o que Mason chama de “rede”. Ao colocar em contato permanente milhões de pessoas, Mason escreve, “o capitalismo da informação criou um novo agente de mudança na história: o ser humano bem formado e conectado”.

Encontrei-me com Mason em Londres e comecei a entrevista pedindo a ele:

Paul Mason: para ele, "indivíduos em rede"  são um novo sujeito histórico, que substituíram a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, e se converteram no que Engels chamava de "parteiros da história"

Descreva, por favor, o modelo “neoliberal”, que segundo você chegou a um ponto de ruptura

O neoliberalismo é tanto uma ideologia quanto um modelo econômico. O capitalismo precisa ser compreendido em seu conjunto em cada fase de sua existência. Vivemos o que podemos chamar de capitalismo neoliberal. Este sistema que funciona com um núcleo que opera de acordo com valores neoliberais e uma periferia que não opera. Argumento que o neoliberalismo, como sistema funcional, está em crise porque sua mola central — o amplo consumo financeirizado, combinado com baixo crescimento dos salários — é uma máquina para produzir bolhas e seu estouro. No livro, sustento que uma eventual saída para o sistema (rumar para um info-capitalismo bem sucedido) pode ser viável em certas circunstâncias, mas esta transição é improvável.

Lado a lado com o que você identifica como as características negativas do neoliberalismo (financeirização excessiva e desestabilizadora), também há a revolução tecnológica.

O neoliberalismo foi a forma econômica na qual ocorreram os avanços mais dramáticos da técnica humana sobre a natureza. Em segundo lugar, foi o período no qual países como China e Índia desenvolveram-se de modo surpreendente, um fenômeno que ainda precisa ser compreendido em sua totalidade. Argumento, porém, que esta forma econômica não é mais capaz de conter os níveis do dinamismo tecnológico que conseguiu liberar. Não acredito que o próprio neoliberalismo, eu seus próprios valores neoliberais, seja o condutor da mudança tecnológica. A economista Mariana Mazzicato prova esse ponto: não são apenas o Vale do Silício, o empreendedorismo e o dinheiro dos fundos de hedge que produzem o iPhone — é a Nasa, são as grandes universidades como Stamford.

O que estamos vendo hoje é que a rapidez da inovação não está sendo combinada com implementação de políticas ou evolução de modelos de negócios. Isso impõe uma questão: até que ponto o poder de transformação destas novas tecnologias resultará numa terceira revolução industrial? Eu não vejo isso acontecer sob paradigma neoliberal.

Mas, como você mesmo aponta, a nova tecnologia também foi possibilitadora do neoliberalismo, por ter aprimorado a capacidade de explorar o que é chamado algumas vezes de “capital humano”.

A era Keynesiana produziu a última geração de indivíduos hierarquizados, coletivizados. Eu fui produzido por ela e sei que este mundo acabou. Uma das virtudes de se ter 55 anos é ter visto o novo mundo nascer. Hoje, como Foucault afirma, somos empreendedores do self. A internet permitiu que as massas fossem parte do laboratório social do self. Ela nos permite fazê-lo de uma maneira que nem começamos a entender. Ela criou um novo sujeito humano.

A divergência entre eu e os apoiadores do neoliberalismo é em torno de uma questão: o sujeito humano vai transcender o sistema atual, romper com ele e reformar a sociedade humana? Todas as visões de transformação social têm, a partir de agora, de enxergar o que eu chamo de “indivíduo em rede”. Acredito que as revoltas que narrei em meu livro anterior, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere (“Por que está começando em todo lugar”, em tradução livre), são revoltas destas pessoas. Se elas são um novo sujeito histórico, que substitui a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, essa é uma grande coisa. É uma grande novidade que devemos buscar compreender.

Você lamenta o mundo que perdemos? O mundo keynesiano de coletividades e solidariedades? Poucas partes de seu livro têm tom de elegia. A nota dominante é mais de excitação com as possibilidades econômicas e políticas que as novas tecnologias e novos modos de subjetividade humana oferecem.

Eu lamento, sim. Escrevi em meu primeiro livro, Live Working or Die Fighting (Viva trabalhando ou morra lutando”, em tradução livre), que o que estamos lamentando, e o que ficou para trás, foi uma anomalia na história do movimento dos trabalhadores. Foi um movimento de trabalhadores socialmente estável, que construiu um caminho de coexistência pacífica com o capital. O que fiz foi cavar na história e descobrir que a indisciplinada história do trabalho foi a de pessoas que foram, elas mesmas e de sua própria maneira, empreendedoras de si mesmas. E tiveram um nível de quase total oposição ao mundo que viveram, coisa que a geração do meu pai, a da era keynesiana, não teve.

De que tradições você está falando, especificamente?

Anarquismo na comuna de Paris. Anarco-sindicalismo nos EUA — os Wobblies. O que o comunismo acrescentou a essas histórias foi a coletividade. Mas se você esquecer as histórias oficiais marxistas sobre a Comuna ou os Wobblies, descobrirá que é uma história de indivíduos rebeldes. Quando comecei a mergulhar nessa história, percebi que a era Keynesiana, apesar do nosso luto, foi uma anomalia.

Também foi uma anomalia na história do capitalismo, não? Não é essa uma das mensagens do livro de Thomas Pikkety, O Capital no Século XXI?

É uma anomalia na história do capitalismo. Também é uma anomalia da história da classe trabalhadora.

Vamos nos voltar ao aspecto econômico de sua argumentação no livro. Sua afirmação é que o capitalismo não consegue “capturar o ‘valor’ gerado pela nova tecnologia.” Você pode desenvolver isso um pouco?

Assim que soubemos que estávamos em uma economia da informação, ficou óbvio que a categoria das coisas chamadas pelos economistas de “externalidades” seriam importantes. O teorista do capital cognitivo, Yann Moulier-Boutang, coloca desta maneira (e eu concordo): toda a questão do capitalismo do século XXI é saber quem captura as externalidades. Devem ser as empresas, que vão ter posse delas e utilizá-las, como faz o Google? A externalidade positiva para o Google é que ele pode ver o que estamos buscando, mas nós não conseguimos ver o que nós mesmo estamos. Então ele pode, agora, construir um modelo de negócio monopolizado, com base nos segredos revelados por sua mineração de dados.

Você quer dizer que, sob os atuais arranjos, o capitalismo só pode capturar o valor gerado pelas novas tecnologias por meio do monopólio? Google, Apple e outros estão ganhando muito dinheiro com isso.

Eles estão ganhando dinheiro. Criaram um monopólio da informação. E, especialmente no que diz respeito aos bens de informação, têm conseguido suprimir o mecanismo de formação de preços. Ele iria, em condições naturais, reduzir o preço da informação que estão vendendo a zero. Eu digo no livro que a declaração da missão da Apple deveria ser, na verdade: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância de música!” Ou, do Google: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância do autoconhecimento das pessoas sobre o que elas fazem na internet”.

Existem dois problemas com isso. Primeiro, é lógico sugerir que nenhum desse monopólios pode sobreviver. Certamente, seu valor de mercado não reflete sua capacidade para continuar monopolizando o que fazem. Segundo: portanto, você não pode ter a completa utilização da informação. A próxima questão é: Existe um meio termo? Haverá algum espaço, que possamos explorar, entre o monopólio e a liberdade? Acredito realmente que sim. Não estou dizendo que tudo deve ser de graça. Estou dizendo que deve haver múltiplos modelos de negócio entre o monopólio e a liberdade.

Você não está dizendo, então, que os mercados vão desaparecer em um futuro pós-capitalista? Afinal, mercados e capitalismo não são a mesma coisa. Mercados são apenas mecanismos para alocar recursos.

É natural — e está acontecendo — que a natureza social da informação leve a formas de atividade de não-mercado. A Wikipédia é uma forma de atividade não mercantil — é um buraco de 3 milhões de dólares no mundo da propaganda.

Você escreve, em certo ponto, que os membros “mais perspicazes” da elite global já são lúcidos a ponto de abordar algumas das questões com as quais você lida no livro — por exemplo, a desigualdade, seu impacto sobre o crescimento, a “estagnação secular” e o papel da negociação coletiva na garantia de salários maiores. O antigo secretário do Tesouro dos EUA, Larry Summers, escreveu vastamente sobre todos estes três problemas, oferecendo diagnósticos não tão diferentes dos seus.

Há pessoas na elite global que se permitiram entender o que estamos passando. Uma das coisas que compreendem é que a desigualdade vai ser desfuncional. Não apenas não querem ser linchados em suas camas, mas também entendem que o dinamismo das economias capitalistas só será retomado se houver um aumento dos salários. Também compreenderam a chamada questão do limite de juro zero — a ideia de que, em uma economia onde as taxas de juros reais estão constantemente zeradas, será constantemente necessário adotar políticas monetárias não-ortodoxas. Políticas monetária não-ortodoxas são arenosas. Qualquer um que entendeu a crítica de Keynes nos anos 1920 e começo dos 1930 vai entender o problema da “viscosidade”. Nos anos trinta, os salários eram pegajosos — eles não iriam cair o suficiente. Agora, é a política monetária que é pegajosa. O problema é: de onde o novo dinamismo da economia virá? Larry Summers entende isso. E pessoas nos mercados de títulos também.

O passo final é que eles olham aos choques exógenos e isso os aterroriza. Isso me aterroriza também. As pessoas no poder, nos ministérios da Fazenda, não vão se autorizar a quantificar a gravidade dos choques que estão a caminho. Se 60% dos títulos emitidos pelos Tesouros nacionais tornarem-se insolventes devido aos custos relacionados com o envelhecimento das populações, algo que as agências de risco consideram provável; se a imigração acontecer na escala que se espera; se tivermos nove bilhões de pessoas clamando para entrar no mundo desenvolvido…

Se o neoliberalismo fosse um sistema funcional, como era nos idos de 2001, e não tivesse deixado esta condição, você provavelmente poderia dizer: “Droga, as coisas vão ficar realmente difíceis, mas provavelmente será possível resolver.” Mas esse capitalismo eclerosado, estagnado e fibrilado sob o qual vivemos desde 2008, não tem chance alguma de sobreviver às tormentas. E mesmo que eu esteja errado sobre a transição que vejo e desejo, seus defensores teriam de aparecer e dizer o que um info-capitalismo dinâmico, o que uma terceira revolução industrial poderia ser.

Mas me parece que Summers ou alguém como o economista Robert Gordon teriam que aceitar a parte de diagnóstico de sua análise…

Certo. Mas a razão pela qual não atravessei o caminho até o território do Robert Gordon é que lá está a produtividade potencial. Sua visão da produtividade potencial inerente à tecnologia da informação transbordando para o mundo real … Acho que é maior do que ele aceita ser.

Por que você pensa que ele subestima isso?

É porque pessoas como Gordon não estão preparadas para entrar nesse mundo inferior, entre valor de uso e valor de troca, que as externalidades representam. Não acho que lendo meu livro a maioria das pessoas aceitarão que a transição, potencialmente, se dá em direção ao  mundo não-mercantil, centralizado na informação, de baixa intensidade de trabalho, pós-capitalista. Mas se pensam que estamos indo em direção a uma forma de info-capitalismo com uma terceira revolução industrial, eles precisam contar para nós qual é a síntese de alto-valor. Que cara terá essa era eduardiana da terceira revolução industrial?

Haverá sinais desse futuro na chamada economia do compartilhamento? Em empreendimentos como Airbnb e Uber?

Meu palpite é que eles são o AltaVista da economia de partilha. O teórico social francês André Gorz explorou isso. Disse que é perfeitamente possível imaginar o capitalismo colonizando as relações interpessoais. O Uber é isso – a questão não são os motoristas de taxi, mas as pessoas darem carona umas às outras. Gorz prevê que nos tornaríamos provedores mútuos de microsserviços. Mas disse: “Essa não pode ser uma economia de alto-valor”. Esse é o problema. Você não pode construir um negócio garimpando a reserva da capacidade automobilística de todos, sua capacidade para fazer massagem Reiki, a meia hora sobressalente de cada eletricista. Você pode fazê-lo, e a economia da partilha é a maneira perfeita para fazê-lo, mas isso simplesmente não resulta na era eduardiana, na Belle Epoque. A Belle Epoque será o sequenciamento de genes e a possibilidade de gastar metade do dia jogando squash.

A maioria dos marxistas detestará esta hipótese. Significa dizer, contra Marx, que a humanidade se liberta por si própria, que as pessoas podem descobrir, dentro do capitalismo, recursos mentais para imaginar um novo futuro e ir direto a ele de um modo que, de 1844 em diante, Marx pensou ser impossível.

Você toma emprestada a ideia de “ciclo longo” do economista soviético Nikolai Kondratieff. Ele argumentava que a história do capitalismo pode ser entendida como uma sucessão de ciclos, cada um deles com uma ascensão turbinada por inovação tecnológica com duração de aproximadamente 25 anos, seguida de uma queda com aproximadamente a mesma duração e que geralmente acaba numa depressão. Esses longos ciclos são muito mais longos que os ciclos de negócio identificados com a economia convencional. Por que você considera proveitosa a abordagem de Kondratieff?

Penso que necessitamos de teorias maiores que os ciclos de negócio e menores que a destruição completa do sistema. Quando você aplica a teoria de Kondratieff ao período pós 1945, percebe o sistema funcionando perfeitamente até 1973. E então ele desmorona. O neoliberalismo vem junto e resolve o problema destruindo o poder de barganha do trabalho. Olhar para as coisas através das lentes de Kondratieff força você a colocar a questão: será o neoliberalismo a forma bem sucedida do novo capitalismo ou o fim da linha que prolongou o ciclo por tempo demais? Escolho a segunda alternativa.

Em que parte do ciclo nos encontramos agora?

Estamos bem no fim de um quarto longo ciclo muito prolongado. Estamos na fase de depressão do quarto longo ciclo, que coincidiu com a ascensão tecnológica do quinto. De modo que acredito que os longos ciclos podem sobrepor-se. Penso que estamos numa posição incomum, do ponto de vista histórico. Claramente, a revolução da informação está ai e as bases de um tipo de capitalismo completamente novo podem estar emergindo. O que aconteceu é que as velhas relações sociais da metade passada da onda anterior não irão adiante. Não há Keynes, apenas o reminiscente do velho. Se você olha para Mark Zuckerberg, do Facebook, ou Jeff Bezos, da Amazon, verá que são pessoas agnósticas sobre o futuro de todo o sistema. Eles veem apenas o futuro de sua própria corporação.

Meu uso de Kondratieff é para tentar responder a pergunta sobre onde estamos. As outras periodicidades – o ciclo de negócio de dez anos e a época, de 500 anos – não são suficientes. Não há uma cadeira de Estudos Pós Capitalistas na Universidade de Wolverhampton! Eles estão na infância.

Você mencionou André Gorz. No livro, você cita um trecho em que ele diz, em 1980, que a classe trabalhadora está morta. Se estava certo, quem será o agente de mudança social?

O fato terrível e desafiante pode ser que, se o capitalismo tem um início, um meio e um fim, então o movimento dos trabalhadores também. Em outras palavras, o declínio da luta trabalhista organizada, com base no trabalho manual, especializado, branco e masculino, parece-me partedo que está acontecendo ao capitalismo. Sou alguém que veio deste background e viveu mergulhado nele. Mas argumento que o sujeito histórico que trará o pós-capitalismo já existe e é o indivíduo em rede. A noção de Antonio Negri de “fábrica social” era arrogante nos anos 1970s, porque era muito cedo. Mas me parece ser justa agora – todos nós participamos na criação de marcas, no estabelecimento de escolhas de consumo, estamos alimentando o capitalismo financeiro por meio do nosso uso das finanças. Por isso, consigo comprar a ideia de que existe uma fábrica social. Se quiser desligá-la, deve fazer como William Benbow sugeriu na década de 1820, parando a “grande festa”. Agora, duvido que isso vá acontecer. Portanto, a maneira menos utópica de fazer isso é lutando pelos interesses dos indivíduos em rede, para que eles não tenham suas informações roubadas, arbitrariamente acessadas pelo Estado, para seus estilos de vida poderem florescer, para que eles tenham escolhas.

São tantos os levantes que cobri – Turquia e Brasil são bons exemplos. São assalariados em rede que não aguentam os níveis de corrupção e intromissão em suas vidas – o islamismo na Turquia, corrupção no Brasil. Que tipo de revolução é essa? Há uma discussão entre aqueles que se envolveram com meu livro: se este é o agente, é “por si” ou “em si”, como diria Marx. Seriam essas pessoas capazes de adquirir um nível espontâneo de entendimento da situação que os levasse a tomar algumas das medidas políticas insinuadas neste livro como um caminho a seguir? Neste momento eles ainda não chegaram lá, claramente. O que são é muito hábeis em construir seu espaço pessoal. Podemos zombar disso, por ser em pequena escala. Mas, ao construir um espaço que é simultaneamente econômico e pessoal, penso que esta geração está fazendo algo muito significativo.

Será que os impregno com a mesma inevitabilidade e teleologia com que o marxismo impregnou a classe trabalhadora? Não. No livro, gasto muito tempo desmontando a compreensão marxista de classe trabalhadora. Sempre senti, como alguém que tem essa bagagem, que o kit de ferramentas que o marxismo tinha para descrever a classe trabalhadora era dos menos convincentes – sobretudo para a própria classe trabalhadora.

A certa altura, você altura escreve que o marxismo é uma grande “teoria da história”, porm se equivoca como “teoria da crise”. O que quer dizer com isso?

Quero dizer que é uma grande teoria para analisar a sociedade de classes. Por exemplo, durante a revolução do Egito em 2011, tendo lido O 18 Brumário de Luis Bonaparte, de Marx, eu poderia dizer aos radicais egípcios que, quando o caos se instalasse, as mesmas pessoas que estavam ao lado deles dariam as boas vindas à ditadura. É provável que o capitalismo evocasse algo novo, capaz de impor ordem. O que impôs desordem foi a Irmandade Muçulmana. Ver as mesmas pessoas que tinham apoiado a revolução chamando o general Sisi para derrubar a Irmandade faz sentido, se você leu O 18 Brumário.

Eu perguntei a Alexis Tsipras antes de o Syriza ser eleito: “Quais seriam as ameaças para um governo de esquerda, se você conquistasse o poder?” Contei a ele: “Você se lembra que [Salvador] Allende nomeou [Augusto] Pinochet [no Chile]? Allende nomeou o general para deter um golpe militar. Nós rimos. A questão, você poderia argumentar, é que o governo da Grécia está sendo colonizado pelas mesmas forças que ele imaginou estar ali para combater. Neste momento, a elite empresarial está pensando: “Apenas Tsipras pode governar a Grécia.” Eles prefeririam que ele governasse a Grécia sem a extrema esquerda do próprio partido. Sempre encontro capitalistas gregos que me dizem: “Se Tsipras nos escutasse, a Grécia seria um grande país.”

O marxismo força você a fazer perguntas que não são feitas pelos jornalistas mainstream. Neste momento, a questão mais importante para os gregos é: o que está acontecendo com as massas? As massas não estão derrotadas. Elas não acreditam que Tsipras é Luis Bonaparte. Muitos fazem objeção ao que ele fez, mas não acreditam que ele seja uma força da reação. Eles acreditam no que está dizendo – que está fazendo algo contra a própria vontade e que irá compensar isso com um ataque à oligarquia. Esperam que esse ataque à oligarquia aconteça. Minha observação é de que houve uma grande radicalização, na Grécia. Quando o verão terminar, veremos uma renovação real tanto das lutas de base como do radicalismo do governo.

O foco naquilo que as pessoas estão dizendo nos pubs é algo que interessa muito a dois tipos de pessoas: às forças da polícia secreta e aos marxistas! Eu gasto o maior tempo possível ouvindo as pessoas.

Qual é o desafio jornalístico para ventilar esse tipo de questão? Trabalhar para uma rede de TV como o Channel Four impõe certamente certas restrições ao modo como você opera.

Um bom jornalista de assuntos sociais, que é o que penso ser, irá, na Grécia por exemplo, conversar com primeiros-ministros, ministros de Estado, mas irá também atrás dos estivadores, dos anarquistas. Ainda por cima, você tem somente dois minutos e trinta segundos. Essa é a razão por que gastei os últimos seis meses buscando recursos e realizando um grande documentário que virá a público, espero, no final deste ano, e que conta a história do Syriza desde as bases, a partir das ruas. Queria fazer isso porque no meu trabalho diário nunca poderia contar essa história. É simplesmente impossível.

E sobre a acusação, frequentemente dirigida a você (e feita várias vezes, durante os últimos meses na Grécia) de que, ao operar dessa forma, você excede os limites da propriedade jornalística ou da isenção?

Penso que todos estão errados! A realidade é que o mundo é governado por uma elite dedicada a reforçar, de modo às vezes completamente aberto, a desigualdade e tudo o que a acompanha. Na Grécia, a “austeridade” é uma forma de coerção. Fico feliz de dizer isso porque essa é a minha análise da realidade. Muita gente no Financial Times ou no Wall Street Journal não compartilha dessa minha visão. Mas estou muito feliz, e meus patrões estão permanentemente felizes com o modo como pratico o jornalismo. As pessoas que não gostam devem simplesmente acostumar-se a ele.

Com ideias como as que estão neste livro, a razão de divulgar uma ideia radical é que você não espera que Andy Burnham ou Tim Farron, [dirigentes do Partido Trabalhista britânico] irão telefonar e dizer, “gosto disso, Paul. Vamos incluir na política do partido.” A questão é ser um pouco do contra. Há pensamento único demais. Meu desejo com esse livro é fazer como num workshop de teatro – levar as pessoas a uma experiência fora do corpo, a ficar largadas no chão, na piscina das próprias lágrimas. Então, quando elas voltarem à segurança do grupo, talvez possam fazer alguma coisa mais honesta.

Obama is paving the way for success in Paris (Grist)

President Obama deserves major props for laying the groundwork for successful climate change negotiations in Paris this December. The effort, much of which has happened behind the scenes, doesn’t have the simple sex appeal of rejecting Keystone XL, but it will have a much greater global impact.

Over the last year, the Obama administration has wrung groundbreaking climate commitments from China and Brazil, and started making progress with India. The China and Brazil deals exceeded what informed observers had realistically hoped for — they have moved the needle on what’s politically possible and they are building momentum for U.N. talks in Paris. Most importantly, the fact that these countries are working with the U.S. on climate change and pledging to curb their emissions at all means we have crossed the crucial threshold to getting a climate agreement.

First, a quick overview of where things stand with China, India, and Brazil, which are the first, second, and fifth largest countries by population and the first, fourth, and seventh in total greenhouse gas emissions.

  • On June 30, the U.S. and Brazil jointly announced a set of climate and clean-energy goals. Both will ramp up non-hydro renewable energy sources to 20 percent of their electricity-generation portfolio by 2030. That would double the renewable share in Brazil and triple it in the U.S. Brazil also pledged to reforest 30 million acres of the Amazon and crack down on illegal deforestation. Just as important, the two nations promised to work together in Paris for a strong global accord.
  • Also on June 30, China released the formal pledge it will be taking to the Paris talks, known as an “intended nationally determined contribution,” or INDC. Back in November, in a game-changing breakthrough, China and the U.S. jointly announced new climate goals. While the U.S. pledged to cut carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, China promised to make its emissions peak by 2030 and aim for an approximately 20 percent clean energy portfolio by that same year. (That triggered some predictable carping from Republicans that China got the better of the deal, but their analysis conveniently ignores the fact that the U.S. is far richer and a far bigger cumulative climate polluter than China.) And now China’s INDC goes a little further with a new goal for lowering its carbon intensity — the amount of greenhouse gas pollution generated for each dollar of economic output — by 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The country is also planning a major reforestation campaign and a national cap-and-trade system.
  • India is the laggard here, in that it hasn’t submitted an INDC or even detailed plans the way Brazil has. But in January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama announced cooperation on expanding clean energy investment in India. The two also pledged to cooperate closely in the runup to Paris, which in itself marks progress. Expert observers say that India’s INDC, when it does come out, will likely contain ambitious wind and solar energy targets.

A year ago, a pessimist like me would not have predicted we would be here today. For two decades, large developing countries have refused to curb their emissions, arguing that they can’t be constrained as they try to lift their populations out of poverty, and that rich countries have been responsible for most of the historic climate pollution. In 2009, at the last big U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the major developing countries made much less ambitious pledges than they have this time around, merely promising to reduce carbon intensity or slow emissions growth compared to business-as-usual scenarios.

As recently as last September, at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York, this dynamic persisted. Leaders of large developing nations such as Brazil and Indiapointedly insisted on their right to develop economically without having to sacrifice their country’s well-being to clean up a mess rich nations created. Speaking at the summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said her country did not intend to despoil the environment in pursuit of economic development, but also forcefully said, “We will not relinquish the need to reduce inequalities and raise the living standards of our people.” China, meanwhile, was coy. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said the country would announce goals for reductions in carbon intensity and renewable energy deployment “as soon as we can.”

But now, thanks in large part to aggressive diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration, what once seemed impossible is happening: Developing nations are getting on board to curb their emissions and participate fully in a comprehensive global climate change agreement. Getting that initial buy-in from these big developing players is a necessary precondition to getting any agreement to substantially reduce emissions. Until now, it has proven elusive because of a problem every college freshman studying game theory could understand: It only makes sense to cut your emissions if everyone else does too. Building the trust that everyone will step up is essential. American conservatives have long argued against climate action by saying that China isn’t doing anything, so the U.S. shouldn’t either. With remarkable speed, that talking point has been knocked down.

“Three years ago, if you had said, ‘China will commit to peak its emissions,’ people would have thrown you out of the room,” says Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program.

The Obama administration has been able to convince developing nations to work with us on climate change because the president’s Climate Action Plan — particularly its largest component, the Clean Power Plan to regulate emissions from power plants — demonstrates that we’ll uphold our end of the bargain. “The No. 1 question we get from Chinese officials is, ‘What is the U.S. doing to reduce its own emissions?’” says Schmidt. The Climate Action Plan, announced in June 2013, showed other countries exactly what the Obama administration would do under executive authority. Says Schmidt: “The more the plan was implemented, the more that showed the Chinese that this is something the U.S. isn’t just talking about, it’s something the U.S. is going to do.” And the plan paved the way for the U.S.’s INDC, submitted in March, which reiterates the goal of cutting carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and lays out plans to achieve that, such as new emissions standards on heavy-duty vehicles.

The breakthrough with China last fall has had a cascading effect: Now that the biggest developing nation has shown that it’s willing to coordinate with the U.S. on climate policy, other developing nations are more comfortable doing so too.

Brazil’s Rousseff may have been especially interested in showing global climate leadership, and partnering with Obama, because she has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that has damaged her popularity back home. “Everything we’ve heard from Brazilian experts is that Dilma has been forced to talk about and focus on climate change because Obama has raised it with her, starting with the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April,” says Schmidt. “If you’re Dilma, standing next to the leader of the world’s largest economy and still the world superpower, that’s a good platform.” In her remarks with Obama after that meeting, Rousseff singled out climate change as “a much-needed area for joint initiatives,” and two and half months later the two leaders made their joint climate announcement.

Few major steps forward are unaccompanied by a caveat. In this case, that would be the fact that the pledges made thus far would not cut emissions to the extent needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels — the widely agreed-upon goal of international climate negotiations. Every news article on the Brazil-U.S. announcement was sure to note that. In fact, no matter what pledges emerge as part of a Paris agreement, there’s little chance of staying below 2C. As David Roberts recently explained, that would require both massive emissions cuts across the globe and a huge program of carbon capture and sequestration.

But rather than getting discouraged by what the Paris pledges leave to be desired, climate hawks should be enthused by the promise they hold. “The first step is always the hardest,” says Schmidt. “As [countries] implement their INDCs, they’ll find it’s easier to go much farther and faster than they could imagine in 2015 because, lo and behold, it doesn’t blow up your economy. And the cost of wind and solar becomes much cheaper over time, and then the politics of going more aggressive becomes much easier. Paris and these commitments is not the end of the story.” That’s why pragmatic climate action groups like Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project are talking about “Paris and Beyond.”

Even though major scientific bodies have generally settled on staying below 2C of warming as the way to avert catastrophic climate change, it is not a magic threshold. Climate change is not controlled by an on or off switch located right at exactly 2 degrees. It is a continuum, albeit one with a steep curve. We’ve already damaged the Earth’s atmosphere, and we’ll damage it a lot more even if we stop at 1.9 degrees of warming. Some feedback loops and other cataclysmic effects are expected to kick in around 2 degrees, but 2.1 degrees of warming would be better than 2.5. Global warming of 3 degrees would be vastly worse, but still far less bad than 4 or 5 degrees. As Vox’s Brad Plumer writes, “Climate change isn’t an issue with a single point of ‘success’ or a single point of ‘failure.’”

We can’t stop all the bad effects of climate change, but now that major developing countries are playing ball, we have a better chance at stopping some of them. That’s cause to applaud progress so far — and cause to push for as much more as we can get.

New evidence of cultural diversification between neighboring chimpanzee communities (University of Cambridge)



For centuries it has been thought that culture is what distinguishes humans from other animals, but over the past decade this idea has been repeatedly called into question. Cultural variation has been identified in a growing number of species in recent years, ranging from primates to cetaceans. Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, show the most diverse cultures aside from humans, most notably, in their use of a wide variety of tools.

The method traditionally used to establish the presence of culture in wild animals compares behavioural variation across populations and excludes all behavioural patterns that can be explained by genetic or environmental differences across sites. Nevertheless, it is impossible to conclusively rule out the influence of genetics and environmental conditions in geographically distant populations.

To circumnavigate this problem, researchers, led by Dr. Kathelijne Koops, took a new approach. “We compared neighbouring chimpanzee groups living under similar environmental conditions, which allows for the investigation of fine scale cultural differences, whilst keeping genetics constant,” said Koops.

She and colleagues from Kyoto University and Freie Universität Berlin compared the length of tools used for ‘ant-dipping’ between two neighbouring chimpanzee communities, M-group and S-group, in the Kalinzu Forest, Uganda. Dipping for army ants is one of the hallmark examples of culture in chimpanzees and involves the use of a stick to extract the highly aggressive army ants from their underground nests.

Previous research has shown that ant-dipping tool length varied across chimpanzee study sites in relation to the army ant species (Dorylus spp.) that were present. So Koops compared the availability of the different species of army ants and the length of dipping tools used in the two adjacent chimpanzee communities.

The researchers found that M-group tools were significantly longer than S-group tools, despite identical army ant species availability. Considering the lack of ecological differences between the two communities, the tool length difference was concluded to be cultural. “Our findings highlight how cultural knowledge can generate small-scale cultural diversification in neighbouring groups,” said Koops.

“Given the close evolutionary relationship between chimpanzees and humans, insights into what drives cultural diversification in our closest living relatives will in turn shed light on how cultural differences emerge and are maintained between adjacent groups in human societies,” said Koops, who conducted the work at Cambridge University’s Division of Biological Anthropology and at Zurich University’s Anthropological Institute and Museum.

The research is published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Why so many Republicans can’t resist climate denial (Grist)

Despite the large number of major Republican presidential candidates — now 15, following Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s entry into the presidential race last week — they do not represent the full spectrum of their party’s beliefs on climate change. This is the unfortunate byproduct of the particular fusion of social conservatives and big business interests that came together to form the modern GOP. They don’t always have the same priorities, and so when an issue like opposition to climate action binds them together, it’s particularly sticky among Republican politicians.

Pew polls find that between a quarter and half of Republican voters accept the basics of climate science, depending on how you phrase the question. And roughly half of Republicans support the EPA setting limits on carbon emissions from power plants. You might think that one of the establishment candidates would see a political advantage in being the only contender to embrace a more moderate position — one that would also play better in the general election — as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have done on immigration.

But none of the 15 Republican candidates for president supports EPA’s carbon regulations. With the exception of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (who is polling at 0.6 percent), they oppose regulating climate pollution at all. Walker, for example, pledged never to back a carbon tax. Bush, Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul have all sneered at climate science.

That’s because accepting climate science threatens the very foundations of any GOP presidential aspirant’s base.

For the religious right, climate science is anathema for both doctrinal and cultural reasons. Accepting climate science means accepting Earth science and what it shows us about how the Earth is billions of years old rather than a few thousand. So Christian fundamentalists and all those who interpret the Bible literally or subscribe to “Young Earth Creationism” cannot accept the foundations upon which climate science is built. More broadly, issues like evolution that set up the same tension between the religious right’s medieval belief system and modern science make social conservatives unwilling to accept any evidence that God is not, in fact, personally micromanaging the Earth’s affairs.

For the business wing of the Republican Party, climate science is anathema for both ideological and financial reasons. Ideologically, real acceptance of the science would mean acceptance that greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed, and the most straightforward way to do that would be more government regulation. For the average Tea Party activist or Ayn Rand fan, government regulation is presumed to be bad, and working backward from that climate science must therefore be bogus. Financially, regulation of greenhouse gases could hurt fossil fuel companies and related interests like the Koch brothers’ industrial empire, but also other big businesses. That’s why the corporations that control the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have set the business lobby against regulating carbon pollution.

The two camps’ reasons are different, but together they make an overwhelming case for Republican politicians to keep denying climate science.

Add in tribal identity and the case for cowardice becomes completely irresistible. Politics is not just about positions, after all, it’s about identity. Climate denial is one way a Republican politician can intimate to the anti-modernity wing of the GOP that he or she is one of them and doesn’t trust professors or the mainstream media.

So intransigence on climate change becomes an appealing way of pulling together the disparate strands of the Republican Party. It keeps heartland social conservatives and corporate bosses on the same team. It’s sort of like the inverse of Democrats’ efforts to connect clean energy with economic populism.

This is notably different from the situation with another hot issue, immigration, on which the GOP is split. Many rank-and-file Republican voters harbor anti-immigrant views, but big business wants immigration reform that would bring more potential workers into the U.S. That’s why we’ve seen some top Republican presidential candidates, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, embrace immigration reform, while there’s not yet any evidence of such a shift on climate change.

The significance of an issue to business interests is key. Compare immigration to abortion or Republican warmongering in the Middle East: because the business wing of the party does not have a financial stake in moderating on those issues, Republican pols just pander to the conservative base on them, despite divided opinion among their more moderate voters. Twenty-seven percent of Republican voters support abortion rights, according to a Gallup poll from last year, but none of their presidential candidates do except for former New York Gov. George Pataki, who currently polls at an average of 0.2 percent. Thirty-one percent of Republicans support making a deal with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, but all the Republican presidential candidates oppose it.

In fact, the prospects for GOP moderation on climate change are in some ways even worse than on abortion. While the Wall Street Journal editorial page might make a show of opposing abortion rights, there is no reason to think that if, say, John McCain had chosen a pro-choice running mate like Joe Lieberman they would have refused to back the ticket. Selfish rich white men who live on the East Coast don’t actually care about protecting fetuses, it’s just a trade they’ve made with the yokels in exchange for keeping the capital-gains tax rate low. But imagine how they, or an executive from ExxonMobil, might respond to a climate hawk on the GOP ticket.

That’s why none of the GOP’s top-polling contenders have clearly accepted climate science. The only Republican candidates to even partially acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change are ones with little to no chance of winning the party’s nomination — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Graham, and Pataki. According to the Huffington Post polling average, Christie is the only one of those who averages (barely) above 2 percent, and he is the only one who is (barely) placing in the top 10, necessary to qualify for the CNN and Fox News debates. (In 2008, Mike Huckabee, who Huff Po has in seventh place, accepted climate science and supported emissions caps, but he has long since flip-flopped.)

This disconnect between Republican politicians and voters on climate change is not limited to the presidential candidates. In June, 239 House Republicans votedfor (and only four voted against) a bill that would delay EPA from regulating power plants’ carbon emissions until all legal challenges are settled and would allow states to opt out of the rules, thus rendering them worthless.

Major conservative media figures such as talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson of RedState and Fox News enforce this trend. They behave like political strategists rather than truth-seeking journalists and unleash fury on candidates who deviate from the orthodox party line.

Is there any hope of breaking this logjam? Currently, Republican politicians get away with denying climate science because the moderate wing of their party shrugs it off. Moderate voters may accept climate science and support carbon regulation, but they don’t care enough about it to vote on it.

What Democrats and climate hawks must do, then, is turn backwardness on climate change into a symbol of backwardness writ large, as I argued in a recent post. They must make Republican moderates embarrassed to vote for a candidate who does not accept climate science and embrace climate action, in the same way it would embarrass them to vote for a candidate who says that women cannot get pregnant when raped. Because the one thing Republican politicians care about more than anything else is winning.

Myth of pristine Amazon rainforest busted as old cities reappear (New Scientist)

23 July 2015

Myth of pristine Amazon rainforest busted as old cities reappear

Dreamscape: the Amazon was once lined with fields and plazas (Image: Mario Tama/Getty)

The first Europeans to penetrate the Amazon rainforests reported cities, roads and fertile fields along the banks of its major rivers. “There was one town that stretched for 15 miles without any space from house to house, which was a marvellous thing to behold,” wrote Gaspar de Carvajal, chronicler of explorer and conquistador Francisco de Orellana in 1542. “The land is as fertile and as normal in appearance as our Spain.”

Such tales were long dismissed as fantasies, not least because teeming cities were never seen or talked about again. But it now seems the chroniclers were right all along. It is our modern vision of a pristine rainforest wilderness that turns out to be the dream.

What is today one of the largest tracts of rainforest in the world was, until little more than 500 years ago, a landscape dominated by human activity, according to a review of the evidence by Charles Clement of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, and his colleagues.

After Europeans showed up, the inhabitants were decimated by disease and superior weaponry, and retreated into the bush, while the jungle reclaimed their fields and plazas. But, thanks to a combination of deforestation and remote sensing, what’s left of their civilisation is now re-emerging.

They reveal an anthropogenically modified Amazonia before the European conquest. “Few if any pristine landscapes remained in 1492,” says Clement. “Many present Amazon forests, while seemingly natural, are domesticated.”

Amazon domesticity

The evidence for this radical rethink has been stacking up for some time. Archaeologists have uncovered dense urban centres that would have been home to up to 10,000 inhabitants along riverbanks, with fields and cultivated orchards of Brazil nuts, palm and fruit trees stretching for tens of kilometres. Remote sensing has revealed extensive earthworks, including cities, causeways, canals, graveyards and huge areas of ridged fields that kept crops like manioc, maize and squash clear of floods and frosts.

Meanwhile, agriculturalists have discovered that many forest soils have been mulched and composted with waste. These fertile “dark earths”, or terra preta, may cover 150,000 square kilometres, much of it now reclaimed by rainforests. Before the arrival of Europeans, the region’s population may have reached 50 million.

The remains date back 3000 years or more, say the authors, who include geographer William Denevan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and anthropologist Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida at Gainesville – both pioneers of the idea that the Amazon has long been modified by humans.

Not everyone agrees. Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama recently argued that “recent investigations of soils in parts of the western Amazon… found little vegetation disturbance“.

Clement and his co-authors agree that “the idea of a domesticated Amazonia… contrasts strongly with reports of empty forests, which continue to captivate scientific and popular media”.

But the idea of a domesticated Amazon complements research in other rainforest regions, including the Congo basin and South-East Asia, that also suggest that much of what seems pristine is actually regrowth after dense human occupation. Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, says such evidence suggests that we should be dating the start of the Anthropocene – the era of human domination of the planet – to thousands of years ago rather than in the middle of 20th century.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0813

Climate Seer James Hansen Issues His Direst Forecast Yet (The Daily Beast) + other sources, and repercussions

A polar bear walks in the snow near the Hudson Bay waiting for the bay to freeze, 13 November 2007, outside Churchill, Mantioba, Canada. Polar bears return to Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world, to hunt for seals on the icepack every year at this time and remain on the icepack feeding on seals until the spring thaw.   AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty

Mark Hertsgaard 

07.20.151:00 AM ET

James Hansen’s new study explodes conventional goals of climate diplomacy and warns of 10 feet of sea level rise before 2100. The good news is, we can fix it.

James Hansen, the former NASA scientist whose congressional testimony put global warming on the world’s agenda a quarter-century ago, is now warning that humanity could confront “sea level rise of several meters” before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed much faster than currently contemplated.This roughly 10 feet of sea level rise—well beyond previous estimates—would render coastal cities such as New York, London, and Shanghai uninhabitable.  “Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water,” Hansen says, “but you couldn’t live there.”

James Hanson

Columbia University

This apocalyptic scenario illustrates why the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is not the safe “guardrail” most politicians and media coverage imply it is, argue Hansen and 16 colleagues in a blockbuster study they are publishing this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. On the contrary, a 2 C future would be “highly dangerous.”

If Hansen is right—and he has been right, sooner, about the big issues in climate science longer than anyone—the implications are vast and profound.

Physically, Hansen’s findings mean that Earth’s ice is melting and its seas are rising much faster than expected. Other scientists have offered less extreme findings; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected closer to 3 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, an amount experts say will be difficult enough to cope with. (Three feet of sea level rise would put runways of all three New York City-area airports underwater unless protective barriers were erected. The same holds for airports in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

Worldwide, approximately $3 trillion worth infrastructure vital to civilization such as water treatment plants, power stations, and highways are located at or below 3 feet of sea level, according to the Stern Review, a comprehensive analysis published by the British government.

Hansen’s track record commands respect. From the time the soft-spoken Iowan told the U.S. Senate in 1988 that man-made global warming was no longer a theory but had in fact begun and threatened unparalleled disaster, he has consistently been ahead of the scientific curve.

Hansen has long suspected that computer models underestimated how sensitive Earth’s ice sheets were to rising temperatures. Indeed, the IPCC excluded ice sheet melt altogether from its calculations of sea level rise. For their study, Hansen and his colleagues combined ancient paleo-climate data with new satellite readings and an improved model of the climate system to demonstrate that ice sheets can melt at a “non-linear” rate: rather than an incremental melting as Earth’s poles inexorably warm, ice sheets might melt at exponential rates, shedding dangerous amounts of mass in a matter of decades, not millennia. In fact, current observations indicate that some ice sheets already are melting this rapidly.

“Prior to this paper I suspected that to be the case,” Hansen told The Daily Beast. “Now we have evidence to make that statement based on much more than suspicion.”

The Nature Climate Change study and Hansen’s new paper give credence to the many developing nations and climate justice advocates who have called for more ambitious action.

Politically, Hansen’s new projections amount to a huge headache for diplomats, activists, and anyone else hoping that a much-anticipated global climate summit the United Nations is convening in Paris in December will put the world on a safe path. President Barack Obama and other world leaders must now reckon with the possibility that the 2 degrees goal they affirmed at the Copenhagen summit in 2009 is actually a recipe for catastrophe. In effect, Hansen’s study explodes what has long been the goal of conventional climate diplomacy.

More troubling, honoring even the conventional 2 degrees C target has so far proven extremely challenging on political and economic grounds. Current emission trajectories put the world on track towards a staggering 4 degrees of warming before the end of the century, an amount almost certainly beyond civilization’s coping capacity. In preparation for the Paris summit, governments have begun announcing commitments to reduce emissions, but to date these commitments are falling well short of satisfying the 2 degrees goal. Now, factor in the possibility that even 2 degrees is too much and many negotiators may be tempted to throw up their hands in despair.

They shouldn’t. New climate science brings good news as well as bad.  Humanity can limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C if it so chooses, according to a little-noticed study by experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts (now perhaps the world’s foremost climate research center) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published in Nature Climate Change in May.

“Actions for returning global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 are in many ways similar to those limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the study. “However … emission reductions need to scale up swiftly in the next decades.” And there’s a significant catch: Even this relatively optimistic study concludes that it’s too late to prevent global temperature rising by 2 degrees C. But this overshoot of the 2 C target can be made temporary, the study argues; the total increase can be brought back down to 1.5 C later in the century.

Besides the faster emissions reductions Rogelj referenced, two additional tools are essential, the study outlines. Energy efficiency—shifting to less wasteful lighting, appliances, vehicles, building materials and the like—is already the cheapest, fastest way to reduce emissions. Improved efficiency has made great progress in recent years but will have to accelerate, especially in emerging economies such as China and India.

Also necessary will be breakthroughs in so-called “carbon negative” technologies. Call it the photosynthesis option: because plants inhale carbon dioxide and store it in their roots, stems, and leaves, one can remove carbon from the atmosphere by growing trees, planting cover crops, burying charred plant materials underground, and other kindred methods. In effect, carbon negative technologies can turn back the clock on global warming, making the aforementioned descent from the 2 C overshoot to the 1.5 C goal later in this century theoretically possible. Carbon-negative technologies thus far remain unproven at the scale needed, however; more research and deployment is required, according to the study.

Together, the Nature Climate Change study and Hansen’s new paper give credence to the many developing nations and climate justice advocates who have called for more ambitious action. The authors of the Nature Climate Changestudy point out that the 1.5 degrees goal “is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change.” In May, the governments of 20 of those countries, including the Philippines, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Bangladesh, declared the 2 degrees target “inadequate” and called for governments to “reconsider” it in Paris.

Hansen too is confident that the world “could actually come in well under 2 degrees, if we make the price of fossil fuels honest.”

That means making the market price of gasoline and other products derived from fossil fuels reflect the enormous costs that burning those fuels currently externalizes onto society as a whole. Economists from left to right have advocated achieving this by putting a rising fee or tax on fossil fuels. This would give businesses, governments, and other consumers an incentive to shift to non-carbon fuels such as solar, wind, nuclear, and, best of all, increased energy efficiency. (The cheapest and cleanest fuel is the fuel you don’t burn in the first place.)

But putting a fee on fossil fuels will raise their price to consumers, threatening individual budgets and broader economic prospects, as opponents will surely point out. Nevertheless, higher prices for carbon-based fuels need not have injurious economic effects if the fees driving those higher prices are returned to the public to spend as it wishes. It’s been done that way for years with great success in Alaska, where all residents receive an annual check in compensation for the impact the Alaskan oil pipeline has on the state.

“Tax Pollution, Pay People” is the bumper sticker summary coined by activists at the Citizens Climate Lobby. Legislation to this effect has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile, there are also a host of other reasons to believe it’s not too late to preserve a livable climate for young people and future generations.

The transition away from fossil fuels has begun and is gaining speed and legitimacy. In 2014, global greenhouse gas emissions remained flat even as the world economy grew—a first. There has been a spectacular boom in wind and solar energy, including in developing countries, as their prices plummet. These technologies now qualify as a “disruptive” economic force that promises further breakthroughs, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

Coal, the most carbon-intensive conventional fossil fuel, is in a death spiral, partly thanks to another piece of encouraging news: the historic climate agreement the U.S. and China reached last November, which envisions both nations slashing coal consumption (as China is already doing). Hammering another nail into coal’s coffin, the leaders of Great Britain’s three main political parties pledged to phase out coal, no matter who won the general elections last May.

“If you look at the long-term [for coal], it’s not getting any better,” said Standard & Poor’s Aneesh Prabhu when S&P downgraded coal company bonds to junk status. “It’s a secular decline,” not a mere cyclical downturn.

Last but not least, a vibrant mass movement has arisen to fight climate change, most visibly manifested when hundreds of thousands of people thronged the streets of New York City last September, demanding action from global leaders gathered at the UN. The rally was impressive enough that it led oil and gas giant ExxonMobil to increase its internal estimate of how likely the U.S. government is to take strong action. “That many people marching is clearly going to put pressure on government to do something,” an ExxonMobil spokesman told Bloomberg Businessweek.

The climate challenge has long amounted to a race between the imperatives of science and the contingencies of politics. With Hansen’s paper, the science has gotten harsher, even as the Nature Climate Change study affirms that humanity can still choose life, if it will. The question now is how the politics will respond—now, at Paris in December, and beyond.

Mark Hertsgaard has reported on politics, culture, and the environment from more than 20 countries and written six books, including “HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.”

*   *   *

Experts make dire prediction about sea levels (CBS)


In the future, there could be major flooding along every coast. So says a new study that warns the world’s seas are rising.

Ever-warming oceans that are melting polar ice could raise sea levels 15 feet in the next 50 to 100 years, NASA’s former climate chief now says. That’s five times higher than previous predictions.

“This is the biggest threat the planet faces,” said James Hansen, the co-author of the new journal article raising that alarm scenario.

“If we get sea level rise of several meters, all coastal cities become dysfunctional,” he said. “The implications of this are just incalculable.”

If ocean levels rise just 10 feet, areas like Miami, Boston, Seattle and New York City would face flooding.

The melting ice would cool ocean surfaces at the poles even more. While the overall climate continues to warm. The temperature difference would fuel even more volatile weather.

“As the atmosphere gets warmer and there’s more water vapor, that’s going to drive stronger thunderstorms, stronger hurricanes, stronger tornadoes, because they all get their energy from the water vapor,” said Hansen.

Nearly a decade ago, Hansen told “60 Minutes” we had 10 years to get global warming under control, or we would reach “tipping point.”

“It will be a situation that is out of our control,” he said. “We’re essentially at the edge of that. That’s why this year is a critical year.”

Critical because of a United Nations meeting in Paris that is designed to reach legally binding agreements on carbons emissions, those greenhouse gases that create global warming.

*   *   *

Sea Levels Could Rise Much Faster than Thought (Climate Denial Crock of the Week)

with Peter SinclairJuly 21, 2015

Washington Post:

James Hansen has often been out ahead of his scientific colleagues.

With his 1988 congressional testimony, the then-NASA scientist is credited with putting the global warming issue on the map by saying that a warming trend had already begun. “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” Hansen famously testified.

Now Hansen — who retired in 2013 from his NASA post, and is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute — is publishing what he says may be his most important paper. Along with 16 other researchers — including leading experts on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets — he has authored a lengthy study outlining an scenario of potentially rapid sea level rise combined with more intense storm systems.

It’s an alarming picture of where the planet could be headed — and hard to ignore, given its author. But it may also meet with considerable skepticism in the broader scientific community, given that its scenarios of sea level rise occur more rapidly than those ratified by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest assessment of the state of climate science, published in 2013.

In the new study, Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the “doubling time” for ice loss from West Antarctica — the time period over which the amount of loss could double — could be as short as 10 years. In other words, a non-linear process could be at work, triggering major sea level rise in a time frame of 50 to 200 years. By contrast, Hansen and colleagues note, the IPCC assumed more of a linear process, suggesting only around 1 meter of sea level rise, at most, by 2100.

Here, a clip from our extended interview with Eric Rignot in December of 2014.  Rignot is one of the co-authors of the new study.


The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

The science of ice melt rates is advancing so fast, scientists have generally been reluctant to put a number to what is essentially an unpredictable, non-linear response of ice sheets to a steadily warming ocean. With Hansen’s new study, that changes in a dramatic way. One of the study’s co-authors is Eric Rignot, whose own study last year found that glacial melt from West Antarctica now appears to be “unstoppable.” Chris Mooney, writing for Mother Jonescalled that study a “holy shit” moment for the climate.

Daily Beast:

New climate science brings good news as well as bad.  Humanity can limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C if it so chooses, according to a little-noticed study by experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts (now perhaps the world’s foremost climate research center) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published in Nature Climate Changein May.


“Actions for returning global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 are in many ways similar to those limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the study. “However … emission reductions need to scale up swiftly in the next decades.” And there’s a significant catch: Even this relatively optimistic study concludes that it’s too late to prevent global temperature rising by 2 degrees C. But this overshoot of the 2 C target can be made temporary, the study argues; the total increase can be brought back down to 1.5 C later in the century.

Besides the faster emissions reductions Rogelj referenced, two additional tools are essential, the study outlines. Energy efficiency—shifting to less wasteful lighting, appliances, vehicles, building materials and the like—is already the cheapest, fastest way to reduce emissions. Improved efficiency has made great progress in recent years but will have to accelerate, especially in emerging economies such as China and India.

Also necessary will be breakthroughs in so-called “carbon negative” technologies. Call it the photosynthesis option: because plants inhale carbon dioxide and store it in their roots, stems, and leaves, one can remove carbon from the atmosphere by growing trees, planting cover crops, burying charred plant materials underground, and other kindred methods. In effect, carbon negative technologies can turn back the clock on global warming, making the aforementioned descent from the 2 C overshoot to the 1.5 C goal later in this century theoretically possible. Carbon-negative technologies thus far remain unproven at the scale needed, however; more research and deployment is required, according to the study.

*   *   *

Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning (Slate)


Monday’s new study greatly increases the potential for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.

The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

To come to their findings, the authors used a mixture of paleoclimate records, computer models, and observations of current rates of sea level rise, but “the real world is moving somewhat faster than the model,” Hansen says.

Hansen’s study does not attempt to predict the precise timing of the feedback loop, only that it is “likely” to occur this century. The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left. That dire prediction, in Hansen’s view, requires “emergency cooperation among nations.”

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

The science of ice melt rates is advancing so fast, scientists have generally been reluctant to put a number to what is essentially an unpredictable, nonlinear response of ice sheets to a steadily warming ocean. With Hansen’s new study, that changes in a dramatic way. One of the study’s co-authors is Eric Rignot, whose own study last year found that glacial melt from West Antarctica now appears to be “unstoppable.” Chris Mooney, writing for Mother Jonescalled that study a “holy shit” moment for the climate.

One necessary note of caution: Hansen’s study comes via a nontraditional publishing decision by its authors. The study will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open-access “discussion” journal, and will not have formal peer review prior to its appearance online later this week. [Update, July 23: The paper is now available.] The complete discussion draft circulated to journalists was 66 pages long, and included more than 300 references. The peer review will take place in real time, with responses to the work by other scientists also published online. Hansen said this publishing timeline was necessary to make the work public as soon as possible before global negotiators meet in Paris later this year. Still, the lack of traditional peer review and the fact that this study’s results go far beyond what’s been previously published will likely bring increased scrutiny. On Twitter, Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist whose work focuses on Greenland and the Arctic, was skeptical of such enormous rates of near-term sea level rise, though she defended Hansen’s decision to publish in a nontraditional way.

In 2013, Hansen left his post at NASA to become a climate activist because, in his words, “as a government employee, you can’t testify against the government.” In a wide-ranging December 2013 study, conducted to support Our Children’s Trust, a group advancing legal challenges to lax greenhouse gas emissions policies on behalf of minors, Hansen called for a “human tipping point”—essentially, a social revolution—as one of the most effective ways of combating climate change, though he still favors a bilateral carbon tax agreed upon by the United States and China as the best near-term climate policy. In the new study, Hansen writes, “there is no morally defensible excuse to delay phase-out of fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible.”

Asked whether Hansen has plans to personally present the new research to world leaders, he said: “Yes, but I can’t talk about that today.” What’s still uncertain is whether, like with so many previous dire warnings, world leaders will be willing to listen.

*   *   *

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms (Climate Sciences, Awareness and Solutions / Earth Institute, Columbia University)

23 July 2015

James Hansen

The paper “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2°C global warming is highly dangerous” has been published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion and is freely available here.

The paper draws on a large body of work by the research community, as indicated by the 300 references. No doubt we missed some important relevant contributions, which we may be able to rectify in the final version of the paper. I thank all the researchers who provided data or information, many of whom I may have failed to include in the acknowledgments, as the work for the paper occurred over a several year period.

I am especially grateful to the Durst family for a generous grant that allowed me to work full time this year on finishing the paper, as well as the other supporters of our program Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at the Columbia University Earth Institute.

In the conceivable event that you do not read the full paper plus supplement, I include the Acknowledgments here:

Acknowledgments. Completion of this study was made possible by a generous gift from The Durst Family to the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at the Columbia University Earth Institute. That program was initiated in 2013 primarily via support from the Grantham Foundation for Protection of the Environment, Jim and Krisann Miller, and Gerry Lenfest and sustained via their continuing support. Other substantial support has been provided by the Flora Family Foundation, Dennis Pence, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, Alexander Totic and Hugh Perrine. We thank Anders Carlson, Elsa Cortijo, Nil Irvali, Kurt Lambeck, Scott Lehman, and Ulysses Ninnemann for their kind provision of data and related information. Support for climate simulations was provided by the NASA High-End Computing (HEC) Program through the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Climate models are even more accurate than you thought (The Guardian)

The difference between modeled and observed global surface temperature changes is 38% smaller than previously thought

Looking across the frozen sea of Ullsfjord in Norway.  Melting Arctic sea ice is one complicating factor in comparing modeled and observed surface temperatures.

Looking across the frozen sea of Ullsfjord in Norway. Melting Arctic sea ice is one complicating factor in comparing modeled and observed surface temperatures. Photograph: Neale Clark/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

Global climate models aren’t given nearly enough credit for their accurate global temperature change projections. As the 2014 IPCC report showed, observed global surface temperature changes have been within the range of climate model simulations.

Now a new study shows that the models were even more accurate than previously thought. In previous evaluations like the one done by the IPCC, climate model simulations of global surface air temperature were compared to global surface temperature observational records like HadCRUT4. However, over the oceans, HadCRUT4 uses sea surface temperatures rather than air temperatures.

A depiction of how global temperatures calculated from models use air temperatures above the ocean surface (right frame), while observations are based on the water temperature in the top few metres (left frame). Created by Kevin Cowtan.

A depiction of how global temperatures calculated from models use air temperatures above the ocean surface (right frame), while observations are based on the water temperature in the top few metres (left frame). Created by Kevin Cowtan.

Thus looking at modeled air temperatures and HadCRUT4 observations isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison for the oceans. As it turns out, sea surface temperatures haven’t been warming fast as marine air temperatures, so this comparison introduces a bias that makes the observations look cooler than the model simulations. In reality, the comparisons weren’t quite correct. As lead author Kevin Cowtan told me,

We have highlighted the fact that the planet does not warm uniformly. Air temperatures warm faster than the oceans, air temperatures over land warm faster than global air temperatures. When you put a number on global warming, that number always depends on what you are measuring. And when you do a comparison, you need to ensure you are comparing the same things.

The model projections have generally reported global air temperatures. That’s quite helpful, because we generally live in the air rather than the water. The observations, by mixing air and water temperatures, are expected to slightly underestimate the warming of the atmosphere.

The new study addresses this problem by instead blending the modeled air temperatures over land with the modeled sea surface temperatures to allow for an apples-to-apples comparison. The authors also identified another challenging issue for these model-data comparisons in the Arctic. Over sea ice, surface air temperature measurements are used, but for open ocean, sea surface temperatures are used. As co-author Michael Mann notes, as Arctic sea ice continues to melt away, this is another factor that accurate model-data comparisons must account for.

One key complication that arises is that the observations typically extrapolate land temperatures over sea ice covered regions since the sea surface temperature is not accessible in that case. But the distribution of sea ice changes seasonally, and there is a long-term trend toward decreasing sea ice in many regions. So the observations actually represent a moving target.

A depiction of how as sea ice retreats, some grid cells change from taking air temperatures to taking water temperatures. If the two are not on the same scale, this introduces a bias.  Created by Kevin Cowtan.

A depiction of how as sea ice retreats, some grid cells change from taking air temperatures to taking water temperatures. If the two are not on the same scale, this introduces a bias. Created by Kevin Cowtan.

When accounting for these factors, the study finds that the difference between observed and modeled temperatures since 1975 is smaller than previously believed. The models had projected a 0.226°C per decade global surface air warming trend for 1975–2014 (and 0.212°C per decade over the geographic area covered by the HadCRUT4 record). However, when matching the HadCRUT4 methods for measuring sea surface temperatures, the modeled trend is reduced to 0.196°C per decade. The observed HadCRUT4 trend is 0.170°C per decade.

So when doing an apples-to-apples comparison, the difference between modeled global temperature simulations and observations is 38% smaller than previous estimates. Additionally, as noted in a 2014 paper led by NASA GISS director Gavin Schmidt, less energy from the sun has reached the Earth’s surface than anticipated in these model simulations, both because solar activity declined more than expected, and volcanic activity was higher than expected. Ed Hawkins, another co-author of this study, wrote about this effect.

Combined, the apparent discrepancy between observations and simulations of global temperature over the past 15 years can be partly explained by the way the comparison is done (about a third), by the incorrect radiative forcings (about a third) and the rest is either due to climate variability or because the models are slightly over sensitive on average. But, the room for the latter effect is now much smaller.

Comparison of 84 climate model simulations (using RCP8.5) against HadCRUT4 observations (black), using either air temperatures (red line and shading) or blended temperatures using the HadCRUT4 method (blue line and shading). The upper panel shows anomalies derived from the unmodified climate model results, the lower shows the results adjusted to include the effect of updated forcings from Schmidt et al. (2014).

Comparison of 84 climate model simulations (using RCP8.5) against HadCRUT4 observations (black), using either air temperatures (red line and shading) or blended temperatures using the HadCRUT4 method (blue line and shading). The upper panel shows anomalies derived from the unmodified climate model results, the lower shows the results adjusted to include the effect of updated forcings from Schmidt et al. (2014).

As Hawkins notes, the remaining discrepancy between modeled and observed temperatures may come down to climate variability; namely the fact that there has been a preponderance of La Niña events over the past decade, which have a short-term cooling influence on global surface temperatures. When there are more La Niñas, we expect temperatures to fall below the average model projection, and when there are more El Niños, we expect temperatures to be above the projection, as may be the case when 2015 breaks the temperature record.

We can’t predict changes in solar activity, volcanic eruptions, or natural ocean cycles ahead of time. If we want to evaluate the accuracy of long-term global warming model projections, we have to account for the difference between the simulated and observed changes in these factors. When the authors of this study did so, they found that climate models have very accurately projected the observed global surface warming trend.

In other words, as I discussed in my book and Denial101x lecture, climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes. In fact, even more reliable than I realized.

Denial101x climate science success stories lecture by Dana Nuccitelli.

There’s a common myth that models are unreliable, often based on apples-to-oranges comparisons, like looking at satellite estimates of temperatures higher in the atmosphere versus modeled surface air temperatures. Or, some contrarians like John Christy will only consider the temperature high in the atmosphere, where satellite estimates are less reliable, and where people don’t live.

This new study has shown that when we do an apples-to-apples comparison, climate models have done a good job projecting the observed temperatures where humans live. And those models predict that unless we take serious and immediate action to reduce human carbon pollution, global warming will continue to accelerate into dangerous territory.