Governing the Anthropocene: Federal Globalization?

(Source: Financial Times)

A previous blog defined the Anthropocene as “the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.” The same blog stated that the widely agreed starting point of the Anthropocene will be the start of the nuclear age. My last blog identified climate change and the military use of nuclear weapons as the two leading environmental impacts that represent existential threats. I also suggested that since both threats are global, we need to find ways to globalize governing to effectively minimize the threats.

Globalization is not a new issue but it has become contentious in almost any political setting. I am not an expert on this issue, so in this blog, I will go through the various relevant entries in Wikipedia, which will hopefully give us a consistent picture to work with.

Let’s start with some definitions:

Globalization:

In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified four basic aspects of globalization: trade and transactionscapital and investment movements, migration and movement of people, and the dissemination of knowledge.[10] Globalizing processes affect and are affected by business and work organization, economics, sociocultural resources, and the natural environment. Academic literature commonly divides globalization into three major areas: economic globalizationcultural globalization, and political globalization.[11]

Our emphasis on trying to minimize existential threats means that we are focusing on political globalization:

Political globalization is the growth of the worldwide political system, both in size and complexity. That system includes national governments, their governmental and intergovernmental organizations as well as government-independent elements of global civil society such as international non-governmental organizations and social movement organizations. One of the key aspects of the political globalization is the declining importance of the nation-state and the rise of other actors on the political scene. The creation and existence of the United Nations is called one of the classic examples of political globalization.

In last week’s blog, I stated that the only “stable” social structure that could act as an example of an “Anti-Snyder” form of time-independent social accretion would need to be global; that global structure doesn’t exist. I want to emphasize here that Prof. Timothy Snyder has nothing to do with the concept of an “Anti-Snyder” social structure. The concept is all mine, but it came as a result of listening (electronically) to Prof. Snyder’s course on “The making of Modern Ukraine.” As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Prof. Snyder emphasized that one does not discuss a nation by taking a fixed piece of land that corresponds to the present sovereign boundaries, populated with people similar to present people, with the same speaking language, and go back as far as you can and call this the “history” of the country (or nation). The only social structure that fits such an analysis is our global society.

Last Wednesday was the start of our spring semester. I started my cosmology course with a question to my students about the logistics of James Cameron filming his film, Avatar, on-site. The movie is about humans:

“colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the valuable mineral unobtanium.[a]

Alpha Centauri is the collection of three stars that are nearest to our sun. Their distance to the sun is approximately 4.2 Light-Years, or approximately 40 trillion km (for comparison, the circumference of the Earth is around 40,000 km). Using some assumptions about the availability of the current best technology, we were able to calculate that it would take the filming crew 80,000 years to get to their target moon. The conclusion was that unless we find some completely new technology we are stuck on this planet, for better or worse. Therefore, we’d better learn how to protect it. Governing the Anthropocene means finding the tools to protect our home. We will be able to do so only if we extend the concept of sovereignty to the global scale. Going back to Wikipedia, sovereignty is a central topic in Political Science:

In international law, sovereignty is the exercise of power by a state

The following paragraph from the site emphasizes some details about the complexity of the concept:

In 2005, the revision of the concept of sovereignty was made explicit with the Responsibility to Protect agreement endorsed by all member states of the United Nations. If a state fails this responsibility either by perpetrating massive injustice or being incapable of protecting its citizens, then outsiders may assume that responsibility despite prior norms forbidding such interference in a nation’s sovereignty.[27]

In my understanding, two main issues stand out in such a transition to global governance. One of the issues is probably not very controversial – global governance must be federal, based on sovereign states. Below is a short description of what is needed:

Federalism is a combined/compound mode of government that combines a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (provincialstatecantonalterritorial, or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system, dividing the powers between the two. Federalism in the modern era was first adopted in the unions of states during the Old Swiss Confederacy.

The second issue is probably much more controversial. There are prerequisites for people in governing the Anthropocene. They have to have some understanding of science, economy, and social science as they relate to the environment that we will be facing. In this sense, there is a similarity to the medical profession, making international institutions such as the WHO (World Health Organization), or national institutions such as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in the US, good starting points.

Fortunately, the infrastructure for global governance exists in the form of the United Nations, which was created after World War II. The UN defines its global mandates quite broadly:

As the world’s only truly universal global organization, the United Nations has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone. Taking a global view reveals some interesting facts.
Did you know:

  • that most of the world’s people live no more than 200 miles from the sea?

  • that decolonization changed the face of the planet, creating more than 80 nations?

  • that women in the labour market still earn on average a quarter less than men globally?

The UN has specific websites for the various issues below:

The charter of the UN was drafted at the end of WWII and is worth revisiting. Here, I will only cite Article 1, in which I have emphasized a few key points:

Article 1

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

All of this means that an institute such as the United Nations has the mandate to lead the world in the Anthropocene. However, to be responsible for global governance, The UN has to have well-defined, limited sovereignty and the ability to enforce decisions. This is a problematic issue that will be revisited in the future.

It helps that the UN members are voted in by representatives of the people that they govern and that the UN’s charter clearly states its mandate. Presently, the UN charter specifies non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. However, the definition of such internal affairs is not well defined and there is often a contradiction between global human rights and the internal preservation of human rights in member states.

The only UN institution with quasi-execution power is the Security Council. Below is a short description of its structure and functionality. Again, a full description can be found in the UN charter.

  1. The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote. Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.
  2. The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The five permanent members have veto power on all UN decisions. Four out of those five permanent members with veto power constitute the main winners of WWII. This structure prevents effective UN action in cases such as Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine.

Extensive work needs to be done to make the UN an effective governing tool in the Anthropocene.

Posted in UN | Leave a comment

Governance in the Anthropocene

(Source: Vecteezy)

In last week’s blog, I returned to the definition of the Anthropocene, the name for our proposed new epoch. The dominant proposal for Anthropocene is an “epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystem.” This definition concurs with that in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.”

I described the dominant proposal to start the new epoch as coinciding with the start of the nuclear age in an older blog titled, “My Anthropocene” (October 30, 2018). This proposal is based on the fact that almost any nuclear experiment leaves detectable residues for future generations to observe. The timing of large-scale nuclear weapon use started with the experimental explosion of an atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Most of the current use of the concept is focused on the human role in climate change. We derive most of our energy needs from fossil fuels, whose burning results in the release of carbon dioxide, a stable greenhouse gas that triggers changes in the energy balance with the sun, making it the main cause of global climate change.

However, the proposed definition of the Anthropocene goes beyond human-caused environmental impact. In a sense, starting with my first blog (April 22, 2012) and continuing throughout the 11 years that I’ve been posting this blog, I have tried to connect the likely future impact of the business-as-usual scenario of climate change with the outcome of a global nuclear war. I have repeatedly used the term “self-inflicted genocide.” As I mentioned in an earlier blog (November 15, 2016), in the context of Kristallnacht, which preceded the Holocaust, genocide was an expression coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, which came to be defined in the dictionary as, “the deliberate and systematic destruction of racial, political or cultural groups.”

The nuclear age and the major acceleration of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere started at approximately the same time, making me part of the first generation that grew up in the proposed Anthropocene and the last generation that grew up during the Holocaust (see the first blog for my background). I lived through the consequences of the Holocaust and there is a good chance that my grandchildren will live through some major consequences of the Anthropocene. All of this combined with my educational background were the main reasons I started this blog. This brings me to the present.

Last weekend I had dinner with friends. They were familiar with my background and one of them mentioned a site in which Prof. Timothy Snyder from Yale University is giving a class called “The Making of Modern Ukraine.” I read a few of Prof. Snyder’s books (On Tyranny, Black Earth, and Bloodlands) and I was interested. As I mentioned before, we are just ending a semester break, during which I had time to explore. My reading fully convinced me that he is uniquely qualified to address President Putin’s claim that Ukraine is not a country and that the Russian invasion aims to save Ukrainians from themselves:

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin claims that “Ukraine is not a real country” and that Ukrainians are really Russians. His invasion is to protect Russian speakers in Donbas from “Nazification”.

The site constitutes a full semester’s worth of classes (23), in which Prof. Snyder took a very broad perspective on the Ukrainian nationality, which in some respects preceded Russian nationality (under different names). The essence of his approach is that nations (at least European ones) are relatively modern phenomena. One does not take a fixed piece of land that corresponds to the present sovereign boundaries, populated with people similar to present people, with the same speaking language, and go back as far as you can and call this the “history” of the country (or nation). The history of nations is not defined by the history of their present territory; it depends on context and the documented interactions with those outside of the territory (formation and destruction of empires etc…). I see historians as those who analyze history based on written records, as opposed to archaeologists and anthropologists.

Throughout history, nations have been active aggregates of people that assembled and agreed (or were forced to agree) to a common government. In many aspects (at least for people with my background) it more resembles cosmological accretion in which attractive forces balance dispersive forces to create relatively stable social structures.

In a sense, only a “stable” global social structure would act as an example of an “Anti-Snyder” form of time-independent social accretion—and that global structure doesn’t exist. The next blog will try to make the somewhat controversial case that the Anthropocene requires us to develop such a global structure to ensure human existence.

However, President Putin’s actions count as genocide according to Lemkin’s definition. He is taking destructive military steps to destroy Ukraine based on his “hypothesis” that it is not a “real” country. This is not only verbal genocide. A major target that the Russian army is trying to obliterate is the Ukrainian civilian population. Since the present borders of Ukraine coincide with much of the area that bore much of the weight of Hitler’s genocide, the association is not only verbal.

The Kremlin’s announcement that “the sooner Ukraine accepted Russia’s demands, the sooner the conflict there could end” is a call to dismantle the state through “agreement” (coercion):

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would achieve its goals “one way or another” and Kyiv would be better off accepting Russia’s position and settling at the negotiating table.

Moscow has said it is fighting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and protect Russian-speakers in the country’s east. Kyiv and the West reject these claims as a baseless pretext for a colonial-style land grab by Moscow.

More than that: Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of current President Vladimir Putin, warned NATO on Thursday that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war:

“The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war,” former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who serves as deputy chairman of Putin’s powerful security council, said in a post on Telegram.

“Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends,” said Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012.

Such a declaration makes the case that the present nuclear powers (see the March 22, 2022 blog for a list of known nuclear powers and their arsenals) can do whatever they want with no fear of reprisals. The obvious next step would be for almost every country to acquire the technology; the technology itself is not a high enough barrier to stop countries who are trying to join this club. Aside from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945, there has been no recorded military use of such weapons. Not many people are willing to bet that we can keep the military use of such weapons local, though.

Climate change and nuclear Armageddon are not the only global threats of the Anthropocene. The decreasing birth rate has resulted in a change in demographics and we have seen the global spread of pandemics as a result of increased global density and travel with better physical communication. Collectively, we are starting to build governance that can deal with such threats. A recent example of such a step came as an American envoy announced at Davos that environmental impacts will start to be recognized in the Biden administration’s balance sheets:

Forests that keep hillsides from eroding and clean the air. Wetlands that protect coastal real estate from storm surges. Rivers and deep snows that attract tourists and create jobs in rural areas. All of those are natural assets of perhaps obvious value — but none are accounted for by traditional measurements of economic activity.

On Thursday, the Biden administration unveiled an effort to change that by creating a system for assessing the worth of healthy ecosystems to humanity. The results could inform governmental decisions like which industries to support, which natural resources to preserve and which regulations to pass.

The next blog will focus on the challenges of governance in a globalized world.

Posted in Anthropocene, Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Anthropocene Leads Us Back to the Copernican Revolution

The last day of 2022 was a rainy day in New York City. We were looking forward to the fireworks celebrations without much hope. However, as midnight approached the weather started to clear. We decided to look for the best location in our neighborhood to watch fireworks and give it a try. I took some photographs that later I posted on my personal Facebook feed, including the one above. A clock on one of the skyscrapers is visible, showing it to be a few minutes past midnight. Looking at the post-storm city post-midnight made me realize that I have been missing the main point of our global transformation that is now under the final first stages of discussion of being officially labeled as the Anthropocene. Last week’s blog started with a quote from a recent article in the New York Times that brought me back to the discussion. The last few quoted paragraphs from the article emphasized that the renaming of the geological period is far from being unanimous. Below is a repeat of some of the objections:

… Still, the knives are out for the Anthropocene, even though, or maybe because, we all have such firsthand familiarity with it.

Stanley C. Finney, the secretary general of the International Union of Geological Sciences, fears the Anthropocene has become a way for geologists to make a “political statement.”

Within the vast expanse of geologic time, he notes, the Anthropocene would be a blip of a blip of a blip. Other geologic time units are useful because they orient scientists in stretches of deep time that left no written records and sparse scientific observations. The Anthropocene, by contrast, would be a time in Earth’s history that humans have already been documenting extensively. “For the human transformation, we don’t need those terminologies — we have exact years,” said Dr. Finney, whose committee would be the last to vote on the working group’s proposal if it gets that far.

The opening figure of the last blog shows that if the proposal is approved, the widely agreed starting point of the Anthropocene will be the start of the nuclear age: a dot on the timeline. I described this dot in an earlier blog (October 30, 2018): I was a small kid who had already experienced significant historic events (like the Holocaust) when this dot took place. None of the other eons, eras, periods, epochs, or ages—as designated by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, fits this description and such a designation will be regarded as a major departure. The question remains—regarded by whom??

In many aspects, this whole blog (567 posts since April 2012) is focused on the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is often defined (see the January 17, 2017 blog) as an “Epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystem.” However, almost all of my writings, and almost everybody else’s, are targeted attempts to prevent accelerating climate change from causing human extinction. A few relevant old blogs that might be useful to read (or reread) are: “Educating for the Anthropocene” (May 24, 2016), “Two Anthropocenes” (October 23, 2018), and the blog that I mentioned earlier, “My Anthropocene” (October 30, 2018). Looking back at the photograph posted at the start of this blog, I am realizing that most of us miss something central to the Anthropocene when we consider it – that we are all part of it. This sounds trivial, but it is not. As the final decision about formalizing the concept is approaching it will be useful to generalize the concept. As I see it, the impact of the change might turn out to be equivalent in scale to the Copernican Revolution.

This is a big claim, and it will obviously require a few blogs to try to justify it. So, I will start with the photograph. It was taken just after midnight at the tail-end of a storm. The near neighborhood is sharp and clear. Much of the far neighborhood is buried in low-lying clouds with some of the skyscrapers, including the one with the clock (Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower) emerging from the clouds amid glowing lights.

I am fortunate that my background allows me to teach both cosmology and climate change. Since both classes fall under the category of science, I am starting both with a short history of the scientific revolution.  After a short description of the science that prevailed before Copernicus (1473-1543), I progress through the Copernican Revolution. One of the best ways to get acquainted with the Copernican Revolution is to go through some of the original writings. Probably the most convenient way to do so is to scan through a book titled On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy (Running Press 2002). The book was edited, with commentaries, by Stephen Hawking. The bulk of the book (1264 pages) comprises original manuscripts by Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. The book by Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, is credited with triggering what we now label as the Copernican Revolution.

In a bit more technical terms, the Copernican Revolution moved us from the geocentric model, in which all the heavenly bodies that are visible to us circle Earth, to a heliocentric model, in which we—and the other planets that we can see—circle the sun. Copernicus’ argument was based on detailed calculations that basically show that it is much simpler to account for all our observations if we assume that we are not special (everything circling around us would make us very special).

In the next few blogs, I will start discussing my perspectives on how to live, die, govern, and educate in an Anthropocene that hosts all of us.

The first prerequisite to successfully conducting all these activities is to be guided by proven methodologies to quantifiably understand our new environment. It took all the way to Isaac Newton (1643-1727), almost 200 years, for the Heliocentric model to become the ruling guiding model. The Catholic Church was the leading opponent because the new model directly infringed on its dominance. Many believers before Newton were tried, convicted, and in a few cases executed, for their belief in the new model. Perhaps the most famous case is that of Galileo Galilei, whose retraction did not appease the Church:

Galileo took back his statement, but still lived under house arrest for the rest of his life. It took 359 years and the leadership of Pope John Paul II (left) to recognize the wrong. On October 31, 1992, he formally apologized for the “Galileo Case” in the first of many famous apologies during his papacy.

I don’t believe that people will be executed for believing in the Anthropocene, but I do believe that the social tension overall will be as, or more, intense because the transformation will have a direct impact on all our lives.

Going back to Isaac Newton, by almost all accounts, he was able to put much of the controversy to rest by integrating mathematics into the parts of metaphysics that dealt with the physical environment. Thus, he was instrumental in the formation of two cultures: science and the rest of the academic disciplines. We are now in the process of removing the boundaries between these two cultures (see the July 31, 2012 blog) by integrating databases and some advanced mathematics into our understanding of social sciences. Future blogs will try to summarize how we are doing on this.

Going back to the picture at the beginning of the blog, finding a spot to photograph aspects of what is happening from a distance might help us understand the new reality. We now have the technology to photograph aspects of the universe going back to the initial star formation, now thought to take place more than 12 billion years ago. We are certainly in the process of developing the tools to objectively observe our own planet.

Posted in Anthropocene | Leave a comment

 Happy New Year and Back to the Anthropocene

Timeline of epochs

Source: Economic World Forum

The Anthropocene is back in the news:

“For Planet Earth, This Might Be the Start of a New Age” by Raymond Zhong

The official timeline of Earth’s history — from the oldest rocks to the‌ dinosaurs to the rise of primates, from the Paleozoic to the Jurassic and all points before and since — could soon include the age of nuclear weapons, human-caused climate change and the proliferation of plastics, garbage and concrete across the planet. In short, the present.

The working group’s members on Saturday completed the first in a series of internal votes on details including when exactly they believe the Anthropocene began. Once these votes are finished, which could be by spring, the panel will submit its final proposal to three other committees of geologists whose votes will either make the Anthropocene official or reject it.

Sixty percent of each committee will need to approve the group’s proposal for it to advance to the next. If it fails in any of them, the Anthropocene might not have another chance to be ratified for years.

… Still, the knives are out for the Anthropocene, even though, or maybe because, we all have such firsthand familiarity with it.

Stanley C. Finney, the secretary general of the International Union of Geological Sciences, fears the Anthropocene has become a way for geologists to make a “political statement.”

Within the vast expanse of geologic time, he notes, the Anthropocene would be a blip of a blip of a blip. Other geologic time units are useful because they orient scientists in stretches of deep time that left no written records and sparse scientific observations. The Anthropocene, by contrast, would be a time in Earth’s history that humans have already been documenting extensively.

“For the human transformation, we don’t need those terminologies — we have exact years,” said Dr. Finney, whose committee would be the last to vote on the working group’s proposal if it gets that far.

Put “Anthropocene” into the search box above to see earlier entries. The last two related entries were in 2018 (October 23rd and 30th). In 2023, I will follow any new developments. When my Fall 2022 semester ended, it opened a month without teaching for me and gave me time to consider the ramifications of the human-centric reality of the physical world, beyond the change to the name Anthropocene. For me, the academic environment is a convenient place to start.

My teaching in the Fall 2022 semester all focused on climate change on various levels. One course in particular focused on the various changes that our campuses have been making in the last few years and how we can productively incorporate these changes into the curriculum of various courses. This effort reflects the idea of a “Campus as a Lab,” which I discussed in multiple blogs that spanned the second half of 2022. Students in that course were asked to go over the specific courses that are being offered and suggest ways to incorporate campus-required changes in the curriculum. Their results are summarized on this website. I tried to distribute their work among other faculty and administrators and ask for help to assess the incorporation of the effort on a broader scale.

It is starting to be clear (at least to me) that if the world is entering the period of the Anthropocene in which humans control reality, academic disciplines have to follow. This is urgently needed in my own areas of expertise in the sciences (physics and chemistry), that for generations tended to exclude humans from the physical world. The mirror image of this exclusion can be found in some social studies that focused only on the studies of human behavior. This “two society” jargon (with and without humans) became a cornerstone of human knowledge that got reflected in the structure of academic institutions. A sense of the debate can be found in publications such as this Boston University paper.

Historically, probably the most focused part of the debate can be viewed in terms of historical changes in the field of philosophy. Since I had a month free of teaching and no travel plans, I had some time to read and think. I browsed through my own books and noticed that I had Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick, one of the most celebrated American philosophers. I don’t remember how I got the book (maybe through my wife), but I decided that going through it might be a good way to start. The book starts with two chapters that focus on metaphysics; one chapter discusses “the identity of self” while the second chapter discusses “Why is there Something Rather than Nothing.” The chapters, which reflect the two extremes of the “two societies,” are a good place to start. This next semester I am scheduled to teach cosmology on an introductory level (part of our General Education program). Since the chapter “Why is there Something Rather than Nothing” deals with the start of the universe (known in physics as the “Big Bang”) I have some prerequisites for understanding it (see the blogs from January 26, and July 26, 2022). I tried to find Einstein’s or Hubble’s names in the chapter, but I failed. It was obvious to me that physics and philosophy have different perspectives about the origin of our universe. Physicists and philosophers have weighed in on the matter: Stephen Hawking and Ludwig Wittgenstein both declared that philosophy is dead. An interesting discussion about the issue can be found in an article in the Times Higher Education. Considering that in earlier times we referred to almost every “academic” as a “philosopher,” the change is stunning. Now, in almost every academic institution, philosophy is part of the humanities, completely separate from the sciences. The timing of the separation was gradual. A Quora post by Joshua Engel explains:

The way I see it, science is still “natural philosophy,” and it’s an error on the part of both scientists and philosophers to see their fields of study as separate disciplines.

They began to separate in the 19th century, when the term science was coined, and over the course of the 19th century, it replaced “natural philosopher.” The two had begun to branch out earlier than that with the development of the hypothetico-deductive model, which locks science into a particular epistemology, beginning with Galileo and really becoming formalized by Descartes in 1637.

There are, of course, a great many other names, and it was a long, slow process. But I’d say that the split really began in the 16th century and was largely complete by the 19th. People identified a particular mode of acquiring knowledge by forming hypotheses and testing them against experiments, replacing earlier philosophical modes of trying to explain the world in terms of introspective models and references to sacred texts.

Newton, Descartes, and Galileo are all names associated with the introduction of math to describe physical reality. Not accidentally, when I teach either cosmology or climate change within the concept of teaching science, I start with a short “reminder” about the history of science, starting with Aristotle and Ptolemy, and immediately jump to Copernicus and Galileo. The main jump is quantification through mathematics and the exclusion of the unique role that man plays in the process.

Now the Anthropocene completes the circle. Man is back in.

Stay tuned.

Posted in Anthropocene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Blog: Loss & Damage Funds and the Developing Indian Subcontinent

Happy New Year everyone! This week, guest blogger Muhammad Siddiqui is taking over the Climate Change Fork blog. Under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., I’m a graduate student at Brooklyn College, CUNY, class of 2022. This blog addresses three more developing countries (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), as promised in an earlier blog (Nov 20, 2022), and attempts to answer what the loss and damage fund might mean to them.

Loss and damage fund

Loss and damage funds are getting a lot of attention from the international community lately, due to their contribution to mitigating climate change’s effects on poor countries.

The establishment of the climate reparations fund was the culmination of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) and decades of pressure from climate-vulnerable developing countries. The fund aims to provide financial support to the countries that are most vulnerable and affected by climate change. While it’s a historic milestone, success depends on how quickly this fund gets off the ground.

The Indian subcontinent is home to 1.8 billion people; it includes three populous countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It was home to several ancient civilizations and is bounded by the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH). According to the German Global Climate Risk Index, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been among the most vulnerable countries for the last several years. World Risk Index 2022 ranks these developing countries among the top 10. Examples of climate change-related extreme weather phenomena of different forms and magnitudes have been well observed during the past years, across the region. These include Bangladesh’s worst flood in 2021 and the 2022 heat wave in India and Pakistan. Pakistan is suffering from climate change adversities such as an extensive drought followed by a devastating flood due to higher glacial melt and historic rain in 2022. Robert Raikes (1910) and Wales (1989) hypothesized the extinction of the Indus Valley civilization (IVC) could be traced to extreme glacial and rain flooding caused by climatic changes.

map of the Indian subcontinentFigure 1  – map of the Indian subcontinent

Table 1  2022 national debts and ratio to respective GDP

India is on its way to being the biggest population in the world and is in the middle of an energy pivot. It is trying to mitigate climate change but is prioritizing energy security and need. Some new coal mining projects launched this past year, even though the quality of the local coal is lower than that of imported coal. GHG emission control orders are not being met by coal-fired power plants.

The New York Times: India Chases Clean Energy, but Economic Goals Put Coal First

“I will not compromise on the availability of power,” India’s energy minister has declared in defense of fossil fuel use, which is heavily subsidized.

… “The way coal is priced, subsidies are leading to higher air pollution from power plant emissions,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

… “We went into the transition, green, sustainability thing with a degree of passion that was almost religious fervor. But you’ve got to survive the present to be able to make a realistic transition,” Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s petroleum and natural gas minister, said in an interview.5

The Daily Star: Bangladesh has been awarded the Local Adaptation Champions Awards at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt along with three other countries.

“Our winners show that community-centric and locally led solutions to the climate crisis exist, but they require support and recognition to be scaled up and to achieve the most impact,” said Professor Patrick Verkooijen, chief executive Officer of the Global Center on Adaptation, explaining what the award signifies. 8

As part of the GCA awards, these countries are recognized for their efforts to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change; these have been divided into four categories: financial governance, inclusive leadership, capacity and knowledge, and innovation in local communities. Among the 170 countries to receive the award are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Kenya. Each winner will receive €15,000 in funds to further the work they are doing in the spirit of the locally-led adaptation principles. They will also have access to a global network of changemakers. 8

The environmental Kuznets curve, Gini coefficient, and global hunger indices are optimal for exploring data about economic inequality in the region.

Environmental Kuznets Curve

Simon Kuznets proposed a hypothesis stating that as economic development occurs, there is a spike in environmental degradation.

graph of Kusnets curve

Figure 2 – Graphical representation of the relationship between a nation’s GDP per capita and its respective level of environmental degradation.

Graph of Indian GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissionsFigure 3 – Graph of Indian GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissions

Graph of Pakistani GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissionsFigure 4 – Graph of Pakistani GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissions

Graph of Bangladesh’s GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissionsFigure 5 – Graph of Bangladesh’s GDP in relation to per capita carbon dioxide emissions

India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are still in the pre-industrial phase of the Kuznets curve and have not met the Kuznets turning point yet. The modified curves for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh clearly depict that their economies are still on the developing side. Bangladesh is showing better performance, in terms of steady growth, than India and Pakistan, which are both uneven in their growth. Carbon emissions and GDP growth have a strong relationship in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as indicated by higher of 0.96, 0.99, and 0.83, respectively. This is an affirmation that CO2 would reach further heights to correlate with expected GDP growth.

Gini Coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a ratio with a value between 0 (0%) and 1 (100%) that we can get from the Lorenz Curve. A Gini coefficient of 0 would describe an economy with a perfectly equal distribution of income. Alternatively, in an economy in which one citizen collected the entirety of the income, the Gini coefficient would have a value of 1.

Graph expressing the Gini indices and respective trends for India, Pakistan, and BangladeshFigure 6 – Graph expressing the Gini indices and respective trends for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh from 1977 – 2019

Both India and Bangladesh have higher wealth inequality than Pakistan, but the current catastrophic flooding may change the demography in Pakistan. Bangladesh is growing economically, and it shows a trend towards a higher inequality of wealth. In comparison with India and Bangladesh, Pakistan’s economic performance was not so stellar, as shown in the EKC above, but was trending towards a lower Gini index.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool used to measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and national levels. It was developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and is published annually. The GHI is based on four indicators: the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the proportion of children under the age of five who are underweight, the mortality rate of children under the age of five, and the prevalence of wasting (low weight for height) in children under the age of five. The GHI scores countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst. Higher GHI scores indicate higher levels of hunger and undernutrition. The GHI is intended to be used as a tool for policymakers and others to help identify areas where action is needed to address hunger and malnutrition.

Global Hunger Indices for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and respective changes over the yearsTable 2  Global Hunger Indices for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and respective changes over the years

India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are leaning towards decreasing poverty but there is a significant change expected due to current floods and their aftermath in Pakistan. Both Pakistan and India are at GHI’s serious level , while Bangladesh is at the moderate level. India (107th) and Pakistan (99th) are among the bottom three countries in South Asia, while Bangladesh went up the list (76th).20 An increase in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) indicates that the level of hunger in a particular country or region has increased, which can be caused by a variety of factors, including natural disasters, conflict, economic instability, and poor governance. It can also be caused by a lack of access to nutritious food or inadequate health care. The overall pattern for these three countries is fluctuating. If no solid measures are taken, the recent climate disasters may push both of India’s neighbors into the same range as India.

 

Pakistan: recovery from loss & damage, infrastructure development, and adaptation

Pakistan has been using ”nature-based solutions” and ”ecosystem-based adaptation”6 in its national efforts to build climate resilience. The National Adaptation Plan process will be looking to build on these existing nature-based approaches, which include the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami Program, the Ecosystem Restoration Fund, and the Recharge Pakistan initiative.7

The government faces a difficult policy challenge in supporting relief and recovery while maintaining progress towards macroeconomic stabilization. The flood caused US$40 billion of damage and economic losses.11

OCHA Relief Web:

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres shared that “the people of Pakistan face the unrelenting impact of heavy rains and flooding – worst in decades”. UNSG added that “the Government of Pakistan’s response has been swift. It has released national funds, including in the form of immediate cash relief. But the scale of needs is rising like the flood waters. It requires the world’s collective and prioritized attention.” 12

The Guardian:

“We are on the frontline and intend to keep loss and damage and adapting to climate catastrophes at the core of our arguments and negotiations. There will be no moving away from that,” Sherry Rehman said, who is leading the developing countries from COP27.13

Al Jazeera:

Retired Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, the former chief of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, discusses the government strategy of focusing more on infrastructure development. “The government needs to focus on people first,” he said. “We must invest foreign aid into people-centric projects and use our own resources for infrastructure development. People need to be rehabilitated today whereas major development projects will take time.” 14

OCHA Relief Web:

The 2022 Pakistan Floods Response Plan (FRP) was jointly launched today by Government of Pakistan and the United Nations, simultaneously in Islamabad and Geneva. The FRP focuses on the needs of people, with life-saving response activities amounting to US$160.3 million focusing food security, assistance for agriculture and livestock, shelter and non-food items, nutrition programs, primary health services, protection, water and sanitation, women’s health, and education support, as well as shelter for displaced people. 15

The Guardian:

Chief negotiator, Nabeel Munir, a career diplomat at COP27 said: “Loss and damage is not charity, it’s about climate justice.” Estimated needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction in a resilient way are at least USD 16.3 billion. 13

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), report on Pakistan Flood Response Plan 2022 shows that it is facing a deficit of US$260.9m (55.2%) of requirements.

Daily News Egypt:

[The country’s Minister,] Ahsan Iqbal said “the government was also planning to elevate the 20 most backward districts of Pakistan through sustainable development. He said in Pakistan, each project needed to be at par with the environmental standards.” 16

India: food security and mitigation

India is trying to mitigate as “We were trying to ensure food security for the families first,” says Patil. “The women grow food on the farm to feed their families, and do it in organic, water-efficient, and low-cost ways.”

“Growing [cash] crops create a dependence on expensive chemical fertilizers, pesticides and market-bought hybrid seeds for the farmers, steeply increasing the cost of cultivation,” explains Patil. Receiving the Award in the capacity and knowledge category, the women-led initiative now supports farmers to transition from cash crops to food crops, and from chemical to bio inputs, supporting the conservation of soil and water while promoting more diversified and resilient livelihoods and businesses. 17

But India must balance its loss and damage fund claim and the increasing fossil fuel energy projects.

Bangladesh: from a Climate Victim to the Climate Leader

Through its National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA), Climate Change Trust Fund, Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan,19 Bangladesh is involving women and locals in vulnerability assessment activities resulting in the creation of local resilience plans. Tackling a complex issue through policies and coalitions. Bangladesh is also involving women and locals in vulnerability assessment activities, resulting in the creation of local resilience plans. The GCA Local Adaptation Champions Awards for capacity and knowledge support women who switch crops for environmental and income sustainability. 8

The Helvetas Panii Jibon project in coastal Bangladesh:

After an analysis of the results, the project is fostering discussions on climate-induced migration and future livelihood options before disasters hit. Another important project pillar is offering skills development opportunities for particularly vulnerable households. Panii Jibon combines these two goals: “Fifty-eight women and youth started entrepreneurial activities, dropping their decision on migration,” says Barua. “A number of them even created skills development opportunities for other local youth!” The strategic use of remittances for climate-resilient economic or livelihood activities has also been part of Panii Jibon’s activities. “Around 10,000 women learned how to better use their remittances and have invested their money to create income and jobs for others.” 18

Since India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are already low-income inequality countries (Figure 6), further lowering inequality would increase carbon emissions. These countries need more climate change-based policies to address all aspects of the social fabric. Being developing nations, however, means that economic growth results in rises in carbon emissions—something which needs to be mitigated right now. Loss and damage funds are critical for the countries who are the worst victims of climate change and have the least resources for mitigation. Here, poverty is meeting climate change; it is vital to take brave adaptation steps and incorporate mutual stability, adaptation, and harmony. Countries continue to fight over resources (and even existence, sometimes) and their budgets do not necessarily prioritize the wellbeing of their citizens over causes such as defense. Loss & damage funds and international support  for survival can help avoid catastrophes like the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization.

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/531619/national-debt-of-india/
  2. https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/GGXWDG_NGDP@WEO/PAK/BGD/IND
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/531850/national-debt-of-pakistan/
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/438425/national-debt-of-bangladesh/
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/07/business/energy-environment/india-energy-subsidies.html
  6. https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/climate-action/what-we-do/climate-adaptation/ecosystem-based-adaptation
  7. https://www.nation.com.pk/11-Dec-2020/recharge-pakistan-launched-to-enhance-climate-resilience-and-water-security
  8. https://www.thedailystar.net/environment/climate-change/news/rangamati-hill-district-council-initiative-wins-cop27-award-3168291
  9. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI?end=2021&start=2021&view=bar
  10. https://www.globalhungerindex.org/download/all.html
  11. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/roundtable-after-cop27-whats-the-path-to-climate-resilience-for-pakistan/
  12. https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/joint-launch-2022-pakistan-floods-response-plan-government-pakistan-and-united-nations
  13. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/20/loss-and-damage-pakistan-flooding-climate-justice-cop27
  14. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/21/economic-woes-shifting-ties-complicate-pakistan-flood-recovery
  15. https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/joint-launch-2022-pakistan-floods-response-plan-government-pakistan-and-united-nations
  16. https://dailynewsegypt.com/2022/11/17/pakistan-prioritise-green-investment-to-mitigate-climate-change-impacts-ahsan-iqbal/
  17. https://gca.org/building-a-women-led-movement-for-change-at-scale-in-india/
  18. https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/how-climate-change-accelerates-migration
  19. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/361111013_Bangladesh_From_a_Climate_Victim_to_the_Climate_Leader
  20. https://www.tbsnews.net/bangladesh/bangladesh-ranks-84th-global-hunger-index-513006
Posted in Climate Change, COP, Guest Blog, UN | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Blog: The Correlation and Effect of Wildfires and Climate Change

Hello, this week’s guest blog is from Mohdhar Yafai, Ariel Rukhlis, and Safiyah Mumin. We are all physics majors at Brooklyn College. As a previous blog (October 25, 2022), describes, wildfires are often large and rapidly spreading fires affecting forests, shrub areas, and/or grasslands. They occur in many areas of the world, especially those with extensive forests and grasslands. While most wildfires are started by lightning, a substantial number are started by humans, especially near populated areas. Our blog talks about the relationship between wildfires and climate change. We are using California as an example.

Wildfire activity in California and the western U.S. has greatly increased in recent years. California, like much of the West, gets most of its moisture in the fall and winter. Its vegetation then spends much of the summer slowly drying out due to a lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures. That vegetation then serves as kindling for fires. Population may also have an effect on wildfires–people are increasingly moving into areas near forests, insinuating and hinting at a potential increase in wildfires due to humans.

Population

As such, one aspect we looked into was the potential effect of population on wildfires. Our claims upon this were that the larger the population, the more the chances of initiation of fires increase. This corresponds with the fact that people have begun to move closer to forests. We looked into the population in California and noted the general increase in population over time. Considering the fact that there is an increase in wildfires as well, this suggests a positive correlation between California’s population and the increase in wildfires. The results of our findings, however, suggest that population is not specifically the reason for initiation, but it definitely increases the damages due to wildfires. A quick look within Zillow, a site that shows properties for sale, shows properties closer to the waterfront range within the millions, between $700k to as great as $7M. However, when looking into properties for sale near forests, the price range tends to be lower than $700k, even as low as $70k. When comparing the figure of population density to the properties for sale, there is a great density in Los Angeles, which is not within a forest region but closer to the waterfront, but there is also a great density within Sacramento, a more rural area with more trees in comparison. These rural areas are where fires can begin due to human causes, from overhead wire cables to public picnics to arson to cigarettes.

Figure 1: population density of California       

 Figure 2: Properties for sale in California (Zillow)

What is the principal cause for wildfires in California?

To determine the principal cause of wildfires in California we decided to compare California to two geographic locations that also contain forests. We decided to reference a location with a higher temperature. The mean annual temperature in California is approximately 15.3 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, the average annual temperature in Guyana is 31 degrees Celsius. Guyana is also home to one of the largest forests in the world, which provides plenty of wildfire fuel. It also has a steady increase in population, just like California.

Figure 3: Population growth in Guyana from 2013 to 2021

Figure 4: Number of wildfires in Guyana from 2013-2021

Based on the figure above, however, the number of wildfires in Guyana stays relatively constant and has not been increasing steadily as in the case of California. This seemingly eliminates population growth and temperature as the principal causes of wildfires.

Our second location of reference was Siberia, with a similar ecology but a lower population and a much lower temperature. The population of Siberia is approximately 36 million and declining. The ecosystem of California consists of many different forest types, among them coniferous forests. Siberia also has many coniferous forests. Depending on the part of Siberia, temperatures can range from -10° to -45°C or 0° to 20°F. Siberia also has some of the largest wildfires in the world. Why? Historic drought. Climate change causes arid or dry conditions, which seem to be the defining characteristics for wildfires rather than temperature and population growth.

The effect of Rainfall on Wildfires in California

Wetting rain is described as “a widespread rain that over an extended period of time significantly reduces fire danger. One-tenth of an inch may be sufficient to reduce fire danger in grass fuel models. One half inch may be necessary for timber fuels under closed canopies” (National Wildfire Coordinating Group). As we experience fewer “wetting rain” days, we can see a sharp increase in the area burned by wildfires. Why is that? Rain plays an important factor in preventing small fires from growing into larger fires, and more importantly preventing the arid conditions that encourage a wildfire to grow. We have therefore concluded that wildfires in California are closely associated with arid conditions associated with drought. Droughts and the dry conditions in California are part of a much more sophisticated problem involving climate change.

Figure 5: Wetting rain days by year compared to area burned by year

What are the impacts of wildfires on the climate? The cycle continues.

Wildfire Emissions

Let’s talk about wildfire emissions. Wildfires themselves are considered combustion reactions. Such reactions release CO2, greenhouse gasses, and particles such as black carbon. These emissions have a number of effects on both the environment and human population. This section will focus primarily on black carbon, a subcategory of aerosol particles. Black carbon (soot, <PM 2.5), one of the primary particles released during wildfire combustion, has the effect of absorbing light. Typical black carbon particles have an average diameter between 0.1 and 0.8 um. The phrase, <PM 2.5 refers to particles under the size of 2.5 um. Large-scale combustion refers to wildfires and all other non-listed industrial forms of combustion.

In regards to the environment, black carbon does contribute to the increase in global temperature. These particles have on average a 460-1,500 times stronger effect on warming of the environment than CO2 emissions (ccacoalition, 2011). However, CO2 emissions are far greater in volume than black carbon. Both CO2 and black carbon’s impacts on the environment can be measured in energy per volume, specifically, watts/m2. According to a 2013 study by State of the Planet, black carbon absorbs 1.1 watts per square meter, while CO2 has an impact of 1.56 watts per square meter. While wildfire black carbon emissions are small relative to other sources, the danger of black carbon even in low doses make it a particle worth mentioning.

Other impacts include less predictable cloud formation and changes in the hydrological balance of an environment (precipitation patterns). Change in precipitation is particularly damaging for agricultural systems. Black carbon levels can be measured from both the ground and air. Black carbon has a number of adverse health effects on humans. Particles with a size of under 10 um are inhalable by the lungs, and therefore, can pose a threat to health. This particle has been linked to human mortality, particularly in deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung disease, and lung cancer, with an estimated 7 million premature deaths per year. The particle has also been linked to chronic respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and aggravated asthma (Climate and Clean Coalition, 2015).

Two studies, one by researchers in southern California and one from the School of Forestry and Environment Studies at Yale University, demonstrate that black carbon particles from wildfires may be of greater toxicity than other sources. The California researchers conducted a study on two groups of people. Both would be exposed to a 10 ug increase in black carbon particles relative to the environment average in California. One group would be exposed to PM 2.5 particles from wildfires, and others from non-related sources. For the wildfire group, a 1.3 to 10% increase in hospitalizations was found relative to the natural environment average. For the other group, a 0.67 to 1.3% increase in hospitalizations was found. There is a large discrepancy in the findings. The group sizes and other sources of black carbon were undisclosed. In our personal opinions, more such studies must be conducted to ensure accurate and consistent results to prove the claim of higher PM 2.5 toxicity from wildfire sources, relative to other sources. Figure 6 below graphically represents the findings of the California researchers’ study.

Figure 6: percent hospitalization increase due to PM <2.5 (black carbon) dose increase from wildfires vs. other sources

In conclusion, we can see population does not have a great effect on number of wildfires, but we can also conclude it plays a role in increasing the damages. We also compared this to two other regional locations with some similarities to California, such as Guyana with many forests but not seeing such an increase in wildfires yet also having a trend in increasing population, and Siberia with a lower population but also lower temperatures. Through this part of the study, we determined that climate change-caused arid or dry conditions seemed to be a defining characteristic for wildfires, and not temperature or population growth, eliminating both as causes for wildfires.

 

References

Gabbert, B. (2019, April 29). Analysis of how precipitation affects wildfire occurrence. Wildfire Today. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://wildfiretoday.com/2019/04/29/analysis-of-how-precipitation-affects-wildfire-occurrence/

Westerling, A.L., Hidalgo, H.G., Cayan, D.R., & Swetnam, T.W. (2006)/ Increases in Western US forest wildfire associated with warming and advances in the timing of spring. Science 313:940–943

Westerling, A.L., Bryant, B.P. Climate change and wildfire in California. Climatic Change 87 (Suppl 1), 231–249 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-007-9363-z

Posted in Anthropogenic, Climate Change, Guest Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Energy Intensity

My recent blogs have focused on COP27 and its main decision of creating a mechanism for developed countries to transfer resources to developing countries to help them adapt to the damage that climate change inflicts. The best way for everybody to minimize such damage is, obviously, to minimize climate change itself by minimizing the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The best way to accomplish that objective is to minimize the use of fossil fuels through a transition to non-carbon sources. This topic has come up repeatedly throughout the more than 10 years I’ve been writing this blog. Just put the title of this blog in the search box and see what you get.

Russian attempts to weaponize Europe’s dependence on its energy supply to try to minimize military aid to Ukraine (February 8, 2022 blog), have suddenly made energy resilience one of the most important considerations. Partly as a result of these pressures, the world found itself accelerating the transition to sustainable energy sources.

Last week’s blog showed that globally we are fast approaching the conditions in which our use of sustainable energy sources will surpass our use of fossil fuels. In the European Union, this landmark has already been reached.

Last week’s blog focused on this transition. One can say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine helped to put energy resilience in phase with climate change mitigation. It highlighted the need to replace fossil fuels as quickly as possible with sustainable energy sources.

The identity that can quantify the transition is the IPAT identity. Put IPAT into the search box and you will get many entries. A relevant entry for the present topic is the January 24, 2017 blog, “Searching for Limits – Stability for a Distant Future.” The general form of the identity is shown in Equation 1:

 

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology                                             (1)

 

Population and affluence (expressed as GDP/Capita) are self-explanatory. The technology term for energy emission of carbon dioxide is shown in equation 2:

 

Technology = (Energy/GDP)x(Fossil/Energy)x(CO2/Fossil)                       (2)

 

With population and affluence growing, the way to reduce climate change impact is to reduce the technology term of the IPAT identity. The earlier blog summarized the challenge in the following way:

Almost all of the future scenarios for climate change make separate estimates of the indicators in this equation. The difference factor of 15 in GDP/Person (measure of affluence), between the average Chinese and average American makes it clear that the Chinese and the rest of the developing world will do everything they can to try to “even the score” with the developed world. The global challenge is how to do this while at the same time minimizing the environmental impact.

Last week’s blog emphasized the last two terms in equation (2), which deals with the nature of energy sources. It did not deal with the increase in energy efficiency which is expressed in the form of energy intensity: Energy/GDP. One reason for that is that the global energy intensity has been decreasing during the last 25 years, as is shown in Figure 1 and the summary paragraph in the Energy Information Administration (EIA) report shown below:

Worldwide energy intensity, measured as energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), decreased by nearly one-third between 1990 and 2015. Energy intensity has decreased in nearly all regions of the world, with reductions in energy intensity occurring both in the more developed economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and in the emerging nations of the non-OECD.

Differences in energy intensity across countries and regions correspond to underlying factors such as economic structure, climate, and geography. Manufacturing-focused economies tend to use more energy per dollar of GDP than service-focused economies. Countries and regions with wider temperature variations tend to use more energy for heating and cooling. The distances between urban areas—and the infrastructure within them—can influence the amount of energy used to move goods and passengers.

Historically, energy intensity levels in non-OECD countries have been higher than levels in OECD countries. In many non-OECD countries, economies have been industrializing and rely on more energy-intensive forms of energy use. In contrast, many OECD countries have transitioned from relying on energy-intensive manufacturing to using more services-based economic activities that are less energy intensive. Based on 2015 estimates, OECD countries used on average 12% less energy per dollar of GDP than non-OECD countries.

Figure 1 – Global Energy intensity (Source: EIA)

The decrease in energy intensity over this time span applies to the global average as well as OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. OECD countries roughly correspond to developed countries. The graph shows that the rate of decline of the energy intensity in the developing countries is a bit faster than that of the rich countries.

Figure 2, taken from the same EIA source as Figure 1, shows the value of the energy intensity in one selected year (2015) and it shows that the differences are not necessarily anchored on the wealth of the countries (China in the more energy-intensive group and Japan in the less energy-intensive group).

 

Figure 2 – Energy Intensity by region and country (Source: EIA)

Figure 3, also taken from the same EIA source, shows the changes in energy productivity (more productive is equivalent to smaller energy intensity) between 1990 and 2015. It also shows no obvious trend between the rich and the poor countries.

All these data show that the decrease in energy intensity is now a long-term trend, common for rich and poor countries. It shows that short-term changes such as COVID and the Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be easily separated from long-term trends.

It is still not clear to me what drives the long-term decline in energy intensity. Popular explanations such as Environmental Kuznets Curves (see the May 14, 2019) in which one assigns the cause as the transition from an energy-intensive heavy industry development phase to a service-based phase do not agree with the data. Whatever the cause, the trend supports trends toward decreasing the energy impact on climate change. It’s another reason for our children to be thankful.

Figure 3 – Recent changes in energy intensity in selected regions and countries (Source: EIA)

The sudden impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s desire to untie itself from the weaponized Russian natural gas dependence can be seen in Figure 4, which measures a month’s change in the use of natural gas in the OECD countries. Europe is trying to liberate itself.

Stay tuned.

Figure 4 – Changes in the use of natural gas in OECD countries (Source: IEA monthly gas statistics)

Posted in Climate Change | 1 Comment

Will Our Children and Grandchildren be Grateful and Think Well of Us??

The title of this blog doesn’t set any time frame. My grandchildren and my students are approximately the same age. However, it strongly indicates that something good is now happening. This good thing is happening as a result of the accumulation of trying times that most of us are experiencing now.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s strong dependence on the Russian gas supply are a strong reminder that an energy shift away from fossil fuels is urgently needed now—not just to mitigate climate change but as a national security step so we don’t find ourselves short of energy because of geopolitical conflicts. Resilience in our energy supply is urgently needed, and the best solution is to shift to sources under our control. Fortunately, the need for resiliency and the shift to non-carbon energy sources have the same solution.

It is not easy to see that the world is adapting to such a solution but strong signals are now emerging that the response to Russia’s disruption in its energy supply may lead us to the promised land of acting to mitigate climate change.

New data from the International Energy Administration (IEA) now show that globally, renewables are now replacing gas, not coal:

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has raised its global forecast for renewables growth in what it calls its “largest ever upward revision” for the sector. The latest revision means the agency now forecasts 76% more growth than it did just two years ago, Carbon Brief analysis shows. This means extra wind, solar and other renewable technologies equivalent to the entire electricity system of India being built by 2026, on top of last year’s projections. The agency says this year’s forecast accounts for a wave of new policies introduced largely in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and soaring fossil fuel prices. The IEA’s latest annual report on the status of renewables notes that the global energy crisis is “pushing the accelerator on renewable energy expansion”, particularly in the EU, US, China and India. It says utility-scale solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest options for new generation in “a significant majority of countries worldwide”. The influential Paris-based agency now expects renewables to surpass coal as the largest source of electricity generation by “early 2025”, reaching 38% of the power mix by 2027. The installed capacity of solar power alone is set to overtake that of coal in 2027. But, despite this increase in global ambition, the IEA says countries are still not on track to achieve a net-zero emissions energy system by 2050. It highlights how addressing regulatory and financial barriers could “significantly narrow the gap” to achieving this target.

Extra capacity In its 2020 renewables report, the IEA forecast an additional 1,092 gigawatts (GW) of global capacity would be built between 2022 and 2026. It raised this to 1,496GW last year. For the main scenario in its latest report, the agency estimates that an extra 424GW of renewables capacity will now be built over this five-year period, roughly equivalent to the entire power capacity of India. This is a 28% increase on the previous estimate and up 76% from two years ago.

 

Figure 1Cumulative power capacity, gigawatts (GW), by technology, 2010-2027 (Source: IEA Renewables 2022)

Figure 2 shows an alternative presentation of the same IEA data. Both figures make it clear that globally, renewable energy sources (solar and wind) are on their way to replacing fossil fuels.

Figure 2 – The same data from Figure 1 plotted as a percentage of the power capacity (Source: Renewables Now)

Figure 3 shows that the replacement in Europe is already underway.

Figure 3 – Regionally, the replacement trend (renewables to fossil fuels) is most pronounced in the EU (Source: Ember)

One result of the trend is the relative rise of the stocks of renewable companies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February 2022, as seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4 – European stock prices of renewables (Source: Bloomberg)

Replacing carbon-emitting fossil fuels with sustainable energy is not the only way to reduce carbon footprints and thus mitigate climate change. Reducing energy intensity through increased energy efficiency, is another (see the May 31, 2022 blog on Electric Utilities through the Lens of the IPAT identity). I will return to this issue in future blogs, as we accumulate some more data.

Posted in Climate Change | 5 Comments

Adaptation and Affordability: Developed Countries

The last few blogs have been dedicated to COP27 and its central achievement of clinching a unanimous decision to create a fiscal mechanism for the rich countries to transfer resources to the developing countries for adaptation to climate change. It was necessary for the rich countries to agree because without such help the developing countries refuse to cooperate with mitigation efforts and the situation becomes worse for everybody. The mechanism for how this financial transfer will actually operate is under discussion, to be ready a year from now and finalized at COP28.

In the last few blogs, I also tried to raise two important questions: (1) Suppose the mechanism becomes operational and the developing countries can get the money for adaptation; what kind of projects are those countries interested in pursuing (see last week’s blog)? And (2) While we are focusing mostly on adaptation in developing countries, adaptations are specific to localities; given that many developed countries also suffer from a sharp disparity in financial resources, what is to be done with underdeveloped areas in developed countries? This blog tries to address the second question with a focus on the US.

My discussion starts with three vulnerability findings in a study reported by Matt Burdett, presented in the following three figures:

Map of US: Variation of the economic cost of climate change: predicted damage, 2080 – 2099

Figure 1 – Variation of the economic cost of climate change: predicted damage, 2080 – 2099

Map of US: percentage change in population 1970 – 2008

Figure 2 – Percentage change in population 1970 – 2008

Figure 3 – Rising temperature damage as a percentage of county income in the US

I discussed the irrationality of people’s mass movement to the most vulnerable locations in the US in an earlier blog (November 1, 2022), with Arizona as an example. Figure 1 shows the most vulnerable areas of the country and Figure 2 shows the migration trends. Figure 3 shows the effects of income disparity within the US.

Georgetown Climate Center’s State Adaptation Progress Trackerdiscusses which states are already implementing adaptation policies and which ones are “considering” such policies:

States and communities around the country have begun to prepare for the climate changes that are already underway.  This planning process typically results in a document called an adaptation plan.

Below is a map that highlights the status of state adaptation efforts. Click on a state to view a summary of its progress to date and to access its full profile page. State profile pages include a detailed breakdown of each state’s adaptation work and links to local adaptation plans and resources. Please move the map to view Alaska and Hawaii.

The conflict of whether to pay for damage or pay for adaptation is discussed in howmuch.net based on work discussed in Science magazine. A summary of the Science magazine findings is given below:

Estimates of climate change damage are central to the design of climate policies. Here, we develop a flexible architecture for computing damages that integrates climate science, econometric analyses, and process models. We use this approach to construct spatially explicit, probabilistic, and empirically derived estimates of economic damage in the United States from climate change. The combined value of market and nonmarket damage across analyzed sectors—agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy, human mortality, and labor—increases quadratically in global mean temperature, costing roughly 1.2% of gross domestic product per +1°C on average. Importantly, risk is distributed unequally across locations, generating a large transfer of value northward and westward that increases economic inequality. By the late 21st century, the poorest third of counties are projected to experience damages between 2 and 20% of county income (90% chance) under business-as-usual emissions (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5).

A special IPCC report, “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,” which enumerates the management of extreme events and disasters adaptation to climate change was published a few years ago.

An estimate of how much such efforts can cost the US can be found in this Scientific American piece.

Two recent examples of such payments can be found below:

U. S. to Pay Millions to Move Tribes Threatened by Climate Change

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will give three Native tribes $75 million to move away from coastal areas or rivers, one of the nation’s largest efforts to date to relocate communities that are facing an urgent threat from climate change.

The three communities — two in Alaska, and one in Washington State — will each get $25 million to move their key buildings onto higher ground and away from rising waters, with the expectation that homes will follow. The federal government will give eight more tribes $5 million each to plan for relocation.

Climate-Proof Towns Are Popping Up Across the U.S. But Not Everyone Can Afford To Live There

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida’s southwest coast on Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm, all eyes turned to one town. Just a few miles from places like Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, and Arcadia, where buildings were torn open or flooded, Babcock Ranch emerged virtually unscathed. Its 4,600 residents never lost power or internet access during the storm. And they were able to offer up their homes and school as shelter for less fortunate communities nearby.

The reason for Babcock Ranch’s unusual resilience? Planning. The town, which sold its first home in 2018, is part of a growing group of new master-planned communities in the U.S. designed with the increasingly severe impacts of the climate crisis in mind. Developers chose the location for Babcock Ranch, 20 miles inland and 30 feet above sea level, to escape storm surges. They buried power lines underground to shield them from wind. They designed drainage systems to complement the natural flow of rainwater over the landscape, with native vegetation soaking up water along roadways. And, they installed a large solar farm and battery infrastructure to keep the lights on even when the regional grid is struggling.

None of these enumerations include the expenses (social and monetary), of individual immigration (internal and external) of people seeking safety as environmental refugees (see April 3, 2018 blog).

Meanwhile, the World Bank provides estimates that include concrete numbers about the cost of extreme weather events globally, including values of damage in dollars:

Disasters, whether from natural hazards or man-made, cost lives and livelihoods. The immediate spending needed for response and reconstruction is compounded by a weakened economy, damaged infrastructure, destroyed businesses, reduced tax revenues and a rise in poverty levels.

  • According to the latest data from insurer Munich Re, losses from natural catastrophes in 2020 rose to $210 billion globally, from $166 billion in 2019.
  • Of all of deaths from weather, climate, and water hazards, 91% occurred in developing economies, according to the United Nations country classification from 1970 through 2019. The proportion remains similar for the World Bank country classification, according to which 82% of deaths occurred in low and lower-middle-income countries.
  • Since 1980, more than 2.4 million people and over $3.7 trillion have been lost to disasters caused by natural hazards globally, with total damages increasing by more than 800%, from $18 billion a year in the 1980s to $167 billion a year in the last decade.

I’ve mentioned before that implementation of the new mechanism agreed upon in COP27 to help developing countries adapt to the damage that is now growing because of the accelerating climate change, will have to wait for COP28 after a year-long discussion. Now is a trying time for such discussions.

As a recent NYT article emphasizes, many developing countries are already heavily in debt and in danger of catastrophic default, as summarized below:

WASHINGTON — Developing nations are facing a catastrophic debt crisis in the coming months as rapid inflation, slowing growth, rising interest rates and a strengthening dollar coalesce into a perfect storm that could set off a wave of messy defaults and inflict economic pain on the world’s most vulnerable people.

Poor countries owe, by some calculations, as much as $200 billion to wealthy nations, multilateral development banks and private creditors. Rising interest rates have increased the value of the dollar, making it harder for foreign borrowers with debt denominated in U.S. currency to repay their loans.

It will be difficult to agree to separate the new transfer of money proposals from the urgent need to restructure the present financial obligations.  Stay tuned.

Posted in IPCC, UN, US | 1 Comment

Adaptation and Affordability: Developing Countries

Last week’s blog ended with documentation of the COP27’s late unanimous agreement to generate a special fund to help developing countries to cope with adaptation to damage that climate change inflicts. Below is the exact language that the UNFCCC is using to describe the nature of the agreement:

UN Climate Change News, 20 November 2022 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 closed today with a breakthrough agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters.

“This outcome moves us forward,” said Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary. “We have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change.”

Creating a specific fund for loss and damage marked an important point of progress, with the issue added to the official agenda and adopted for the first time at COP27.

Governments took the ground-breaking decision to establish new funding arrangements, as well as a dedicated fund, to assist developing countries in responding to loss and damage. Governments also agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on how to operationalize both the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year. The first meeting of the transitional committee is expected to take place before the end of March 2023.

Parties also agreed on the institutional arrangements to operationalize the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, to catalyze technical assistance to developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

As is described here, the all-important implementation of this agreement has been deferred until COP28, with the meeting of an established “transitional committee” to happen no later than March 2023. We obviously will return to this issue.

As promised, this blog will address the question of what the developing countries propose to do in case the funds are made available to them. Next week I will focus on the same issue from the perspective of the developed countries involved.

This blog will focus on a few examples of actual actions of some developing countries and on the related question of whether money from developed countries should be the only source of financing available to confront these issues.

An earlier blog (May 14, 2019), written by my students, addresses the contributions of two important parameters of global carbon emissions: the environmental Kuznets curve, which determines a country’s stage in its economic development (strongly energy-dependent heavy industry or relatively energy-light services) and the income distribution measured through the Gini coefficient. I suggest that you go back to that blog for a refresher on what these two parameters mean. The Gini coefficient is an income distribution parameter that ranges between 0 and 1 (or in percent, between 0 and 100%). 0 indicates perfect income distribution while Gini = 1 indicates all the income is concentrated in the hands of a single person). Putting this in less extreme terms, a small Gini indicates a relatively broad income distribution while a relatively large coefficient indicates that fewer hands hold most of the income. Figure 1 shows a global map of the distribution of the Gini coefficients with the darker colors indicating a more unequal distribution. For more detailed, recent values of the Gini coefficient, one can go to the original World Bank publication. The most recent values from the World Bank are available under the Gini index section of the World Bank website..

Figure 1 – Map of global Gini coefficients reported by the World Bank (Source: ResearchGate)

One can see from Figure 1 that uneven income distribution is less of a problem in richer countries. Many of the rich countries such as most of Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan enjoy relatively broad income distribution. A handful of very poor countries such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia also enjoy a “healthy” distribution, meaning that most people there are poor.

A high Gini coefficient is seen in the southern parts of Africa and South and Central America. One can deduce from such maps that more effective taxation of higher income brackets might be an effective way to increase these countries’ resources to fight ecological disasters. I will return to this issue in the following blog when I deal with the role of rich countries in fighting the climate change crisis.

I will now shift to a few cases of relatively poor countries that have already found the resources to make major progress in shifting their development to a more sustainable landscape. I have also asked one of my students to write a guest blog that will include other examples of what countries that currently lack the resources to fight climate change intend to do once such resources become available.

The efforts below represent major steps to enhance sustainability. First, we look at two small developing countries: Belize and Nepal. Meanwhile, so far, an agreement about the joint environmental impacts between three large developing countries (Brazil, Indonesia, and Congo) that host more than half of the global forests has no source of funding. Finally, there’s an agreement between a group of developed countries to help Indonesia in its transition away from coal:

Belize cut its debt by fighting global warming:

TURNEFFE ATOLL, Belize — Belize faced an economic meltdown. The pandemic had sent it into its worst ever recession, putting the government on the brink of bankruptcy.

A solution came from unexpected quarters. A local marine biologist offered Prime Minister Johnny Briceño a novel proposal: Her nonprofit would lend the country money to pay its creditors if his government agreed to spend part of the savings this deal would generate to preserve its marine resources.

For Belize, that meant its oceans, endangered mangroves and vulnerable coral reefs.

Nepal grew back its forests:

“You see that? They were barren mounds of red mud 15 years ago,” said the man, Khadga Bahadur Karki, 70, tears of pride fogging up his glasses. “These trees are more than my children.”

This transformation is visible across Nepal, thanks to a radical policy adopted by the government more than 40 years ago. Large swaths of national forest land were handed to local communities, and millions of volunteers like Mr. Karki were recruited to protect and renew their local forests, an effort that has earned praise from environmentalists around the world. But the success has been accompanied by new challenges — among them addressing the increase in potentially dangerous confrontations between people and wildlife.

Community-managed forests now account for more than a third of Nepal’s forest cover, which has grown by about 22 percent since 1988, according to government data. Independent studies also confirm that greenery in Nepal haas sprung back, with forests now covering 45 percent of the country’s land.

Brazil, Indonesia, and Congo signed a rainforest protection pact:

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt — The three countries that are home to more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests — Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo — are pledging to work together to establish a “funding mechanism” that could help preserve the forests, which help regulate the Earth’s climate and sustain a variety of animals, plants, birds and insects.

The agreement, announced on Monday and signed by ministers from the three countries, said they would cooperate on sustainable management and conservation, restoration of critical ecosystems and creation of economies that would ensure the health of both the people and the forests.

The plan has no financial backing of its own and was more of a call to action than a strategy for how to achieve its goals.

US, Japan, and partners mobilized $20 billion to help Indonesia to transition away from coal

NUSA DUA, Indonesia/SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 15 (Reuters) – A coalition of countries will mobilise $20 billion of public and private finance to help Indonesia shut coal power plants and bring forward the sector’s peak emissions date by seven years to 2030, the United States, Japan and partners said on Tuesday.

The Indonesia Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), more than a year in the making, “is probably the single largest climate finance transaction or partnership ever”, a U.S. Treasury official told reporters.

The Indonesia JETP is based on last year’s $8.5 billion initiative to help South Africa more quickly decarbonise its power sector that was launched at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow by the United States, Britain and European Union.

To access the programme’s $20 billion worth of grants and concessional loans over a three- to five-year period, Indonesia has committed to capping power sector emissions at 290 million tonnes by 2030, with a peak that year. The public and private sectors have pledged about half of the funds each.

As I’ve mentioned before, great inequalities are major impediments to addressing climate change on both global and local levels. The next blog will try to address the issues on the rich countries’ level.

Posted in Climate Change | 3 Comments