Pontifical Workshop

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 24, 2014 at 11:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility

Joint Workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 2-6 May 2014

What is the status of the Human Person in a world where science predominates? How should we perceive Nature and what is a good relationship between Humanity and Nature? Should one expect the global economic growth that has been experienced over the past six decades to continue for the foreseeable future? Should we be confident that knowledge and skills will increase in such ways as to lessen Humanity's reliance on Nature despite our increasing economic activity and growing numbers? Is the growing gap between the world's rich and world's poor in their reliance on natural resources a consequence of those growths?

Contemporary discussions on the questions are now several decades old. If they have remained alive and are frequently shrill, it is because two opposing empirical perspectives shape them. On the one hand, if we look at specific examples of what one may call natural capital, there is convincing evidence that at the rates at which we currently exploit them, they are very likely to change character dramatically with little advance notice. The melting of glaciers and sea-ice are recent symptoms. On the other hand, if we study trends in food consumption, life expectancy, and recorded incomes in regions that are currently rich and in those that are on the way to becoming rich, resource scarcities wouldn't appear to have bitten so far.

"Environmental problems" and "future prospects" present themselves in different ways to different people. Some identify environmental problems with population growth, while others identify them with wrong sorts of economic growth. There are those who see environmental problems as urban pollution in emerging economies, while others view them through the spectacle of poverty in the world's poorest countries. Some allude to "sustainable development" only when considering economic development in the global economy, while others see it in terms of the development prospects of villages in sub-Saharan Africa. Each of the visions is correct. We know that what begins as urban pollution becomes layers of atmospheric brown clouds (ABCs), containing black carbon particles and ozone, that annually destroy some 2 million lives and over 100 million tons of crops, disrupts the Monsoon circulation and contribute to the melting of arctic ice and the Himalayan snow. There is no single environmental problem, there is a large collection of interrelated problems. Some are presenting themselves today, while others are threats to the future. Although growth in industrial and agricultural pollutants has accompanied economic development, neither preventive nor curative measures have kept pace with their production in industrialized countries. That neglect is now prominent in the rapidly growing regions in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). Moreover, the scale of the human enterprise has so stretched the capabilities of ecosystems, that Humanity is today Earth's dominant species. During the 20th century world population grew by a factor of four (to more than 6 billion) and world output by 14, industrial output increased by a multiple of 40 and the use of energy by 16, methane-producing cattle population grew in pace with human population, fish catch increased by a multiple of 35, and carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 10. It is not without cause that our current era has been named the Anthropocene.

On the other hand, economic growth has brought with it improvements in the quality of a number of environmental resources. The large-scale availability of potable water and the increased protection of human populations against both water- and air-borne diseases in advanced industrial countries have come allied to the economic growth those countries have enjoyed over the past 200 years. Increases in scientific knowledge, investment in public infrastructure, and universal education in advanced industrial countries have meant that citizens there have far greater knowledge of environmental hazards than their counterparts in poor regions. They also have resources to avoid them.

Many people are convinced that scientific and technological advances, the accumulation of reproducible capital, growth in human capital, and improvements in the economy's institutions can overcome diminutions in natural capital. Otherwise it is hard to explain why so much of the social sciences in the 20th century has been detached from the environmental sciences. Nature is all too often seen as a backdrop from which resources and services can be drawn in isolation. Macroeconomic forecasts routinely exclude natural capital. Accounting for Nature, if it comes into the calculus at all, is usually an afterthought. The rhetoric has been so successful, that if someone exclaims, "Economic growth!", one does not need to ask, "Growth in what?" – we all know they mean growth in gross domestic product (GDP). The rogue word in GDP is "gross". GDP, being the market value of all final goods and services, ignores the degradation of natural capital. If fish harvests rise, GDP increases even if the stock declines. If logging intensifies, GDP increases even if the forests are denuded. And so on. The moral is significant though banal: GDP is impervious to Nature's constraints. There should be no question that Humanity needs urgently to redirect our relationship with Nature so as to promote a sustainable pattern of economic and social development.A Proposal

Rio+20 Summit on biodiversity preservation was convened to provide a resolution to the problems Humanity faces in our interchanges with Nature. In practical terms though, it is widely acknowledged to have been a failure.

Looking through its programme it is hard to detect an overarching intellectual framework that was used to identify Nature's constraints. The lacuna was inevitable. There was no collective endeavour among natural and social scientists. That is why we are proposing a joint PAS-PASS workshop on Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature.

Our idea is not to catalogue environmental problems. We propose instead to view Humanity's interchanges with Nature through a triplet of fundamental, but inter-related Human needs – Food, Health, and Energy – and ask our respective Academies to work together to invite experts from the natural and the social sciences to speak of the various pathways that both serve those needs and reveal constraints on Nature's ability to meet them.

P.S. Dasgupta, V. Ramanathan, R. Minnerath

ParticipantsWerner Arber

Margaret S. Archer

Scott Barrett

Antonio Battro

Enrico Berti

Joachim von Braun

Edith Brown Weiss

Yves Coppens

Paul J. Crutzen

Gretchen Daily

Partha S. Dasgupta

Pierpaolo Donati

Gérard-François Dumont

Mary Ann Glendon

Juan Grabois

Daniel Kammen

Charles Kennel

Nancy Knowlton

Anil Kulkarni

Yuan Tse Lee

Pierre Léna

Juan J. Llach

Jane Lubchenco

Karl-Goran Maler

Source: Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences - http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/accademia/en/events/2014/sustainable.html

Pope: Destroying the Earth is a Sin

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 24, 2014 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Jane C. Timm, MNSBC, 22 May 2014

Pope Francis made the biblical case for mitigating the effects of climate change, speaking to a massive crowd in Rome.


In his brief speech, Francis issued a dire warning about the effects of climate change.


“Safeguard Creation,” he said, according to Think Progress, “because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”


“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,” Francis said.


In the address, the Pope said destroying the Earth is a sin.


“But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”


The remarks come at the end of a six-day conference on climate change and sustainability at the Vatican, where scientists, economists, philosophers, and legal scholars met to discuss what the Church could do to address the issues caused by climate change. The Catholic Church has a long history of activism on behalf of the environment and Francis appears to be upping those efforts.


The remarks are the latest in a stream of liberal statements by Francis, who famously said “who am I to judge?” about a gay priest and recently argued for wealth redistribution.

UN�??s Green Climate Fund �??ready�?? to start work

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 22, 2014 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

by Ed King, rrtc.org, 22 May 2014

Board agree eight essential requirements, meaning GCF is now ready to start accepting funds from donors

The UN’s flagship climate fund could start investing in clean energy projects as early as 2015 after its board agreed how it will operate and who it will work with.

Four intense days of discussion in Songdo, South Korea ended in agreement by the 24-strong board on eight ‘essential requirements’ for the fund to come online.


These included safeguards to ensure it makes socially and environmentally sound investments, together with guidelines on who can distribute money from the GCF, and how much control countries will have over projects it backs.


Speaking from Songdo, Marcela Jamarillo, a climate finance expert from the London-based E3G thinktank, said the meeting had broadly been a success.


“The fund is ready – it has the basic elements. There is a lot of work to do in the details ahead of the next board meeting in October, but I think it is ready for those pledges to start coming in,” she said.


The focus will now turn to how the GCF will get any money.


Branded “too big to fail” by Denmark’s National Bank Governor Per Callesen, a board member, currently it has no reserves to invest in ‘green’ projects, and is relying on donor countries to hand it billions of dollars.


Leading climate change economist Lord Stern recently told RTCC trillions of dollars are needed to invest in low carbon infrastructure in the developing world.


Who the pledges will come from and when they will be delivered is likely to be the subject of future fierce arguments.


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Doubling of Antarctic ice loss revealed by European satellite

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 20, 2014 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Continent shedding 160 billion tonnes a year, CryoSat-2 shows, just days after warning over western ice sheet's collapse

Damian Carrington

theguardian.com, Tuesday 20 May 2014 02.08 AEST

Antarctica is shedding 160 billion tonnes a year of ice into the ocean, twice the amount of a few years ago, according to new satellite observations. The ice loss is adding to the rising sea levels driven by climate change and even east Antarctica is now losing ice.

The new revelations follows the announcement last week that the collapse of the western Antarctica ice sheet has already begun and is unstoppable, although it may take many centuries to complete.

Serbia floods threaten country's biggest power plant

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 19, 2014 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Sandbags stacked around Nikola Tesla plant 20 miles outside Belgrade as thousands of people are evacuated in Bosnia

Reuters in Obrenovac, theguardian.com, Monday 19 May 2014 20.22 AEST

Soldiers and energy workers have stacked thousands of sandbags to protect Serbia's biggest power plant from flood waters, which are expected to keep rising after the heaviest rains in the Balkans in more than a century killed dozens of people.


On Monday, Bosnian state radio reported that the swollen Sava river, which has wreaked havoc in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, had again overwhelmed flood defences late on Sunday and flooded parts of the northern town of Orasje. Read More

Global warming: it's a point of no return in West Antarctica

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 18, 2014 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Last week saw a 'holy shit' moment in climate change science. A landmark report revealed that the collapse of a large part of Antarctica is now unstoppable

Eric Rignot

The Observer, Sunday 18 May 2014 05.30 AEST

Last Monday, we hosted a Nasa conference on the state of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which, it could be said, provoked something of a reaction. "This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like," ran a headline in Mother Jones magazine.


We announced that we had collected enough observations to conclude that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica was unstoppable, with major consequences – it will mean that sea levels will rise one metre worldwide. What's more, its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres. Such an event will displace millions of people worldwide. Read More

Global warming behind loss in area of glaciers in Himalayas

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 16, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)


KATHMANDU: The area coverage of the glaciers in the Nepal Himalayas has decreased by nearly 1,266 km due to global warming, raising serious concern for the environmental balance of the region, a study released here said today.


The area coverage has been reduced to 3,902 km in 2010 from 5,168 km (RPT) 5,168 km in 1980 due to shrinkage and fragmentation as a result of global warming.



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Climate change: what are the worst impacts facing America?

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 7, 2014 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (0)

A government report has found the US is already experiencing the effects of climate change. Karl Mathiesen, with your help, investigates where it will cut deepest. Guardian

Welcome to the eco audit

Climate change is already causing devastation and disruption across the US, says the most comprehensive scientific paper on climate change the country has ever published.


The National Climate Assessment (NCA) has told of a litany of devastating events and subtle creeping degradation that are the result of warming accelerated by industrial pollution.


The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reports that 300 researchers found "climate change has moved from the corners of the earth into the American backyard".


“I think maybe this report will be the turning point when people finally realise that this is about them,” Susan Hassol, the chief science writer on the report, told the Guardian. “It's about them and their lives … Earlier, they had seen it as a distant threat – distant in time, distance in space, this is about poles, this is about island nations. They haven't seen it as a threat in their own backyard.”


The language of the report was deliberately straightforward. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved into the present,” the report begins. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter … winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours.”


Today I will be going through the report and listening to the reaction to discover which effects of climate change will be the most disruptive to life in America.


Join in today’s discussion by contributing in the comments below, tweet me or email me. If you are quoting figures or studies, please provide a link to the original source. Follow me on @karlmathiesen for updates throughout the day and later I will return with my own verdict.

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Climate change wreaking havoc in America's backyard, scientists warn

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 6, 2014 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian

• Scientists hope to spur US to action with dire warning

• Obama plans push to amplify findings of definitive report


• What are the worst impacts facing America?


Climate change has moved from the corners of the earth into the American backyard, the country's leading scientists warned on Tuesday, releasing a landmark report they hoped would spur action on climate change.


The 840-page National Climate Assessment was seen as the definitive account of the effects of climate change on America, and of the country's efforts to deal with climate change.


The findings were immediately embraced by the White House as “actionable science” which would guide Barack Obama as he moves to cut carbon emissions from power plants next month and for the remaining two years of his presidency.

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Barack Obama's emissions plan comes under new line of attack

Posted by colin.hargreaves@aoc.org.au on May 5, 2014 at 6:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Documents reveal co-ordinated campaign by influential lobbyists working to block the regulation of power plant emissions

by Suzanne Goldberg

The central pillar of Barack Obama's climate change agenda has come under a new line of co-ordinated attack from influential lobbying networks involving Republican politicians and big business.


The Guardian has learned that the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a free market group of state legislators funded in part by coal and oil companies such as Peabody Energy and Koch Industries, launched a much broader style of campaigning in 2014 to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.


Documents obtained by the Guardian offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Alec as the organisation tried to drum up opposition from coal, oil and electricity industry groups and state officials.


The documents showed Alec adopting a new tactic of encouraging state attorney generals to bring lawsuits against the new EPA regulations – and so sink the emissions controls before they come into effect. Alec also encouraged legislators to lobby attorney generals and governors in other states on the EPA rules, the documents showed.


Meanwhile, Alec legislators introduced about a dozen anti-EPA bills in states including Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.


Alec is expected to reassess its strategy against the EPA rules on 2 May during a meeting of its energy and environment taskforce in Kansas city. Alec also organised a field trip to a coal-fired power plant during the meeting, according to the agenda posted on the Alec website.


The current campaign emerged on the sidelines of Alec's annual meeting in Washington DC last December when the energy, environment and agriculture taskforce met behind closed doors to discuss how to mobilise state attorney generals, pro-industry groups and power companies to block the EPA.


The strategy was a departure for Alec, which has a reputation for crafting and promoting pro-industry legislation in the states, but has not generally been involved in broader campaigning.


Alec followed up on the roundtable by hosting a briefing from Nebraska's attorney general, Jon Bruning, author of a legal brief challenging the EPA's authority to cut greenhouse gas emissions.


Bruning, who is also running for governor of Nebraska, has led opposition from attorney generals to the EPA regulations – 17 of whom signed on to his brief.


In the conference call, Alec members discussed reaching out to attorney generals and other officials to consolidate opposition to the EPA regulations.

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