Sunday, June 29, 2014

1467. To Address Climate Change, Nothing Substitutes for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By Science Daily, June 27, 2014

The politically expedient way to mitigate climate change is essentially no way at all, according to a comprehensive new study by University of Chicago climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Among the climate pollutants humans put into the atmosphere in significant quantities, the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the longest-lived, with effects on climate that extend thousands of years after emissions cease. But finding the political consensus to act on reducing CO2 emissions has been nearly impossible. So there has been a movement to make up for that inaction by reducing emissions of other, shorter-lived gasses, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide, and particulates such as soot and black carbon, all of which contribute to warming as well.

Pierrehumbert 's study shows that effort to be, as he puts it, a delusion. "Until we do something about CO2, nothing we do about methane or these other things is going to matter much for climate," he said.

Pierrehumbert is the Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences at UChicago, and holder of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Chair in Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University for 2014-2015. His study, published in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, brings together findings from the scientific literature with new research and analysis. Its conclusions are clear.

"Ray convincingly shows the benefit and importance of doing everything we can to lower CO2 emissions, and as soon as possible," said Katherine H. Freeman, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. "We should lower short-lived pollutants like methane too. But, as he makes clear, we should not let them distract us from the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels."

The basic physics of climate pollutants has been well known for a long time. The warming effect of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants disappears quite quickly after the pollutants are removed from the atmosphere. When you remove them, you get a one-time-only, lump-sum benefit. CO2, on the other hand, lingers in the atmosphere. And if you are still emitting CO2 while you are reducing methane and its fellows, that additional CO2 continues to affect the climate for thousands of years.

Perhaps as a result of wishful thinking, the policy implications of those facts had become confused, said Pierrehumbert. Part of the problem is that the statistical tool used to compare the climate effect of gasses is badly flawed. The measure, called Global Warming Potential (GWP), predicts the effect on climate by comparing the emission rate of carbon dioxide with the emission rate of methane. But a one-ton-per-year reduction in the amount of methane emitted translates into a single lowering of the global thermostat, while a one-ton-per-year reduction in CO2 yields a climate benefit that increases over time. That's because each extra ton of CO2 that would have been emitted would have irreversibly ratcheted up the global thermostat by an additional increment.

Despite its well-known defects, GWP has been used since 1990 and was incorporated into the Kyoto Protocols in the climate-trading schemes implemented by Europe. Pierrehumbert proposes a different metric, which looks at the climate effect of reducing CO2 emission by a fixed number of tons and then finds the rate by which you have to reduce methane emissions to get the same effect.

Pierrehumbert's study doesn't propose a single "right" policy on climate change, said Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State. "But it is a very useful analysis that will be viewed carefully by people who are interested in making good policies, and the main conclusions will help inform those policies."

Pierrehumbert himself hopes that his work will help lead policymakers to abandon Kyoto-style multi-gas trading schemes, which treat the gasses equivalently, and put the emphasis on CO2 for the next 50 years or so. "I see puncturing the excessive enthusiasm about short-lived climate pollution control as a step in the right direction," he said, "because it takes away one of the grounds for procrastination on CO2. If you're serious about protecting climate, it's the CO2 you've got to deal with first."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. The original article was written by Carla Reiter. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. R.T. Pierrehumbert. Short-Lived Climate Pollution. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 2014; 42 (1): 341 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-earth-060313-054843

1466. Is Human's Tendency to See Winning or Losing Streaks in Random Events Cultural or Biological?

By Science Daily, June 27, 2014  
Benjamin Hayden and his group study decision making in Rhesus
monkeys at the  University of Rochester and at a field site in Puerto Rico,
where this photo was taken.  Photo: Benjamin Hayden, University of Rochester

Humans have a well-documented tendency to see winning and losing streaks in situations that, in fact, are random. But scientists disagree about whether the "hot-hand bias" is a cultural artifact picked up in childhood or a predisposition deeply ingrained in the structure of our cognitive architecture.

Now in the first study in non-human primates of this systematic error in decision making, researchers find that monkeys also share our unfounded belief in winning and losing streaks. The results suggests that the penchant to see patterns that actually don't exist may be inherited -- an evolutionary adaptation that may have provided our ancestors a selective advantage when foraging for food in the wild, according to lead author Tommy Blanchard, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

The cognitive bias may be difficult to override even in situations that are truly random. This inborn tendency to feel that we are on a roll or in a slump may help explain why gambling can be so alluring and why the stock market is so prone to wild swings, said coauthor Benjamin Hayden, assistant professor brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

Hayden, Blanchard, and Andreas Wilke, an assistant professor of psychology at Clarkson University, reported their findings in the July issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

To measure whether monkeys actually believe in winning streaks, the researchers had to create a computerized game that was so captivating monkeys would want to play for hours. "Luckily, monkeys love to gamble," said Blanchard. So the team devised a fast-paced task in which each monkey could choose right or left and receive a reward when they guessed correctly.

The researchers created three types of play, two with clear patterns (the correct answer tended to repeat on one side or to alternate from side to side) and a third in which the lucky pick was completely random. Where clear patterns existed, the three rhesus monkeys in the study quickly guessed the correct sequence. But in the random scenarios, the monkeys continued to make choices as if they expected a "streak." In other words, even when rewards were random, the monkeys favored one side.

The monkeys showed the hot-hand bias consistently over weeks of play and an average of 1,244 trials per condition. "They had lots and lots of opportunities to get over this bias, to learn and change, and yet they continued to show the same tendency," said Blanchard.

So why do monkeys and humans share this false belief in a run of luck even when faced over and over with evidence that the results are random? The authors speculate that the distribution of food in the wild, which is not random, may be the culprit. "If you find a nice juicy beetle on the underside of a log, this is pretty good evidence that there might be a beetle in a similar location nearby, because beetles, like most food sources, tend to live near each other," explained Hayden.

Evolution has also primed our brains to look for patterns, added Hayden. "We have this incredible drive to see patterns in the world, and we also have this incredible drive to learn. I think it's very related to why we like music, and why we like to do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and things like that. If there's a pattern there, we're on top of it. And if there may or may not be a pattern there, that's even more interesting."

Understanding the hot-hand bias could inform treatment for gambling addiction and provide insights for investors, said Hayden. "If a belief in winning streaks is hardwired, then we may want to look for more rigorous retaining for individuals who cannot control their gambling. And investors should keep in mind that humans have an inherited bias to believe that if a stock goes up one day, it will continue to go up."

The results also could provide nuance to our understanding of free will, said Blanchard, who was drawn to the study of decision making during prior graduate training in philosophy. "Biases in our decision-making mechanisms, like this bias towards belief in winning and losing streaks, say something really deep about what sorts of creatures we are. We often like to think we make decisions based only on the information we're conscious of. But we're not always aware of why we make certain decisions or believe certain things.

"We're a complex mix of biases and heuristics and statistical reasoning. When you put it all together, that's how you get sophisticated behavior. We don't know where a lot of these biases come from, but this study -- and others like it -- suggest many of them are due to cognitive mechanisms we share with our primate relatives," said Blanchard.

This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to Hayden.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Rochester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. Tommy C. Blanchard, Andreas Wilke, Benjamin Y. Hayden. Hot-hand bias in rhesus monkeys.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 2014; 40 (3): 280 DOI: 10.1037/xan0000033

1465. Interview: A Conversation with John P. Clark About the Revolutionary Eco-Anarchism of Elisée Reclus

By Alyce Santoro, Truthout, March 4, 2014

Social geography is the study of how landscape, climate, and other features of a place shape the livelihoods, values, and cultural traditions of its inhabitants (and vice versa). Frenchman Elisée Reclus (1830 – 1905), a progenitor of the discipline, believed strongly in the rights and abilities of people to manage themselves in relation to their local bioregion, free from rule by a remote, centralized government. His approach to anarchy was unique in its emphasis on the environment – Reclus understood that a mindset that encourages one person or people’s domination over another must, in the race to profit from natural “resources”, also foster domination over nature. Like the social ecologists who have succeeded him, Reclus believed that solutions to ecological crises must involve restoring balance, equality, and a sense of interrelationship between humans and other humans, and between humans and the biosphere.

The first half of the recently-published Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus, edited and translated by John Clark and Camille Martin, forms a comprehensive critical survey of Reclus’ philosophy and political theory,including biographical information and historical context. The “modern” manifestations of oppression (including the concentration of wealth and power, surveillance, racism, sexism, and ecological degradation) that concerned Reclus in late-1800s Europe, the United States, and Central and South America are indeed still strikingly – infuriatingly – present. The second half of the book consists of translations of several pieces from Reclus’ extensive oeuvre, some of which have never before appeared in English translation.

AS: Can you describe how anarchy – specifically the kind based in mutual aid and environmental responsibility in service to a greater good illuminated here by Reclus, and by you in your book The Impossible Community, differs from other conceptions (or misconceptions) of anarchy, and how it might (as contrasted with other ideologies) be useful to us now?

John P. Clark: The world is rife with misconceptions about anarchism.

The most historically and theoretically grounded definition – the one that goes back to classical figures like Elisée Reclus – is quite simple: anarchy consists of the critique of all systems of domination and the struggle to abolish those systems, in concert with the practice of free, non-dominating community, which is the real alternative to these systems. Anarchy is the entire sphere of human life that takes place outside the boundaries of arche, or domination, in all its forms – statism, nationalism, capitalism, patriarchy, racial oppression, heterosexism, technological domination, the domination of nature, etc. It rejects the hegemony of the centralized state, the capitalist market, and any hybrid of the two, and seeks to create a society free of all systematic forms of domination of humanity and nature. It envisions a society in which power remains decentralized at the base, decision-making is carried out through voluntary association and participatory democracy, and larger social purposes are pursued through the free federation of communities, affinity groups, and associations.

Anarchism is not merely about a transformation of social institutional structures, however. As further discussed in my book The Impossible Community, it also encompasses a fundamental transformation of the social imaginary, the social ideology, and the social ethos. Communitarian anarchism assumes that social transformation, to be successful, must encompass all major spheres of social determination. It recognizes that there are ontological, ethical, aesthetic, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of anarchy or non-domination. According to Reclus and other communitarian anarchists, these are not just vague ideals to be achieved in some future utopia; rather, such a transformation is immediately realized here and nowwherever love and solidarity are embodied in existing human relationships and social practice. Anarchism is strongly committed to “prefigurative” forms of association, and to the idea of “creating the new society within the shell of the old.” In fact, the communities of liberation that we create here and now do more than “prefigure” the ultimate goal; they are actual “figurations” of our ideals, actually giving a form, or a face, to them in the present.

By demonstrating that the most deeply rooted social order arises not out of coercion, oppression, and domination, but out of mutual aid and cooperation, communitarian anarchism is a truly revolutionary project. In working to regenerate community at the most fundamental level, it seeks to reverse the course of thousands of years of history in which relations of solidarity have been progressively replaced by market relations, commodity relations, bureaucratic relations, technical relations, instrumental relations, and relations of coercion and domination. The ecocidal and genocidal effects of such relations compel us to consider whether we will remain on history’s present catastrophic course, or seize the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the flourishing of both humanity and the whole of life in the biospheric community. In the work of Reclus we find universally accessible, immediately implementable alternatives.

Reclus cites some of the anarchic forms of human community that have made up much of world history, and remarks that “the names of the Spanish comuñeros, of the French communes, of the English yeomen, of the free cities in Germany, of the Republic of Novgorod and of the marvelous communities of Italy must be, with us Anarchists, household words: never was civilized humanity nearer to real Anarchy than it was in certain phases of the communal history of Florence and Nürnberg.” Today we can add the names of many movements that span the century since Reclus: the collectives in the Spanish Revolution; the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement; the global cooperative movement; the rich history of libertarian intentional communities; the Zapatista Movement; radical indigenous movements throughout the world; the global justice movement; and recently, the “horizontalist” practice of the Occupy Movement.

AS: In his 1898 essay “Evolution, Revolution, and the Anarchist Ideal” Reclus reflects on “the spirit of the strike” and various kinds of cooperative associations (such as bartering of goods and services, collaborative communities, and consumers’ associations) as effective ways to build solidarity. He claims that it is “in struggling for a common cause” together that we form the bonds necessary for the ongoing project of social revolution. In an 1895 letter to Clara Koettlitz he advises the aspiring anarchist to “work to free himself personally from all preconceived or imposed ideas, and gradually gather around himself friends who live and act in the same way. It is step by step, through small, loving, and intelligent associations that the great fraternal society will be formed.” Can you speak on the transformative power of the process itself? Can you recommend some constructive immediate steps for today’s revolutionaries?

JPC: The spirit of the strike, which means essentially the spirit of active and creative resistance, has enormous significance in the everyday life of any person who is committed to liberatory social transformation. In our present epoch of looming ecocidal and genocidal catastrophe, each person must make a basic decision. It is a “living, forced, momentous option,” to use William James's famous terms. Each must answer the question, “Am I a resister or am I collaborator?” This is as true for us today as it was for anyone living in Vichy France in the early 40s. We must decide either for solidarity with humanity and nature or for betrayal of both in the struggle against domination. For this reason we might say that authentic anarchists are not merely an-archists but anti-archists. To be an “an-archist,” one who is “not an archist,” might imply something like “domination just isn’t my thing,” or “I’m not comfortable with domination.”  But the true spirit of anarchism, that is, anti-archism, implies that “domination is an intolerable thing,” that “when I see domination in any form I become indignant.”

I agree with Reclus’ contention that “small, loving and intelligent associations” are thekey to breaking out of the cycle of social determination and regenerating free community on the larger social level. Such micro-communities are “small” in the sense that they are the locus of primary, intimate, face-to-face relationships, they are “loving” in that they are founded on the practice of solidarity, mutual aid, compassion, and cooperation, and they are “intelligent” in that they are self-consciously transformative, awakened to their own meaning and purpose, the primary social space in which theory and practice converge. As primary communities of solidarity they are the only basis on which a solidarity economy and a larger solidarity society can be created. Reclus believed that these “small, loving and intelligent associations” should not isolate themselves, but on the contrary should develop their lives together in close relationship to their larger communities, always considering their role in the evolution of the whole society toward “the great fraternal society” of the future.

While ambivalent towards, and even skeptical of, the role of small cooperatives and intentional "communes" or "colonies" separate from the local community, Reclus believed that an indispensable part of the process of social transformation is the creation of institutions that embody a growing spirit and practice of solidarity at the most basic levels of society.He stressed the importance of the development of a “spirit of full association” in which local communities collectively take on many cooperative projects. He looked to already-existing practices of mutual aid and cooperation as a kind of material basis on which further developments could be grounded.The Reclus family’s life, which was pervaded by love and cooperation, was described by Elisée’s nephew and biographer Paul Reclus as “putting communism into practice.” Thus, Reclus’ own family was in effect a libertarian communist or communitarian anarchist affinity group, his most immediate evidence of what is possible in a future society. 

In The Impossible Community, I refer to “communities of liberation and solidarity,” but these have gone under many names, notably, the “affinity group” in the anarchist movement, the “base community” in Latin American social justice movements, and the “ashram” in the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement. In all of these cases, the fact that they have been integral parts of transformative social movements has helped protect them from the pitfalls of self-obsession and self-marginalization that Reclus saw in some intentional communities. Rather than one-sidedly turning inward, they turn both inward and outward simultaneously, and act as the foundation for larger federative activity. We might call them the material and spiritual base for social evolution and social revolution.

Reclus’ insights into the “spirit of full association” are desperately needed by today’s anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and all those who are concerned with liberatory social transformation.  On the one hand, many of those who have the most far-reaching visions of social change remain trapped in marginal projects and relatively isolated subcultures. On the other hand, almost all those who are most actively engaged with local communities are in the end co-opted into single-issue politics and innocuous reformism. Reclus urges activists, (who must be, he says, at once “evolutionists” and “revolutionists”) to become deeply engaged in the struggles of actually-existing communities, focusing on the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, while at the same time helping to create new expressions of communal solidarity that are a revolutionary challenge to the existing system of domination.

AS: The caption to an illustration of the globe being held up by two hands that appears in the preface to Reclus’ 3,500-page masterwork L’Homme et la Terre (reproduced in this edition of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity) contains one of his best-known maxims: “L’homme est la nature prenant conscience d’elle-même” – translated here as “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious.” Do you think (or might Reclus have thought) that humans are the only biological creature that is an artifact of nature becoming conscious of itself?

JPC: Human beings are certainly not the only form of nature’s consciousness. Of course, all consciousness is nature’s consciousness, and since the objects of this consciousness are also nature, there is a sense in which all consciousness is nature’s self-consciousness, as I’m sure Reclus would agree. But the idea that humans are self-conscious nature in a strong sense means that not only do we possess consciousness,we are capable of knowing that we have this quality and guiding our actions accordingly. There is a degree of self-consciousness that makes possible a sense of wonder at the natural world and a sense of responsibility concerning it. It is this self-consciousness that makes possible a narrative understanding of our place in the natural world. 

We are only now beginning to see the way in which Reclus’ thought made a major contribution to the dawning awareness of humanity’s place within a larger story of the earth. His conviction that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” belongs to certain wide-ranging tendencies in Nineteenth Century thought. On the one hand, German idealist philosophy (Hegel, Schelling) and Romantic literature (Wordsworth, the transcendentalists) reinterpreted all of reality as aspects of a Universal Spirit that encompasses humanity and nature, and was becoming conscious of itself in history. But these insights stayed largely on an idealist and aesthetic level, and Spirit remained largely divorced from scientific and material realities. Marx’s historical materialism contributed much of what was lacking in such idealist accounts, in that it interpreted history as the story of the alienation of humanity from its own life activity and productive processes, and of the overcoming of this split and the ideologies that mystify it. This account was in many ways a great advance, in that it was grounded in material reality and took seriously the insights of modern science. Yet it tended toward a reductionism that ignored many of the dimensions of nature and spirit that idealism and Romanticism uncovered. Reclus’ thought was the first attempt at a real synthesis and transcendence of these two perspectives. In his work, Hegel’s story of “Spirit” and Marx’s story of “Man” are raised up (aufgehoben) to the level of the “Earth Story”, a narrative in which humanity is seen as developing in dialectical relation to nature, and in which the opposition between spirit and matter is overcome...or, minimally, that the project of overcoming it is posed seriously.

Prior to the late twentieth century,broad, encompassing, synthesizing conceptions of the global and of “globalization” had not pervaded the general consciousness. Yet, well before the end of the Nineteenth Century, Reclus had already begun developing a theoretically sophisticated historical and geographical conception of globalization, one that encompasses the geological, geographical, ecological, political, economic, and cultural spheres. Reclus is thus a crucial figure in the emergence of a conception of globalization that remains more advanced than the ones that predominate even today. He urged us, long before this language even existed, to overcome the “centrisms” that have doomed us. He attacked the egocentrism that raises one individual above others and the anthropocentrism that subordinates the natural world to humanity. But not least of all he challenged his age to overcome Eurocentrism and adopt a truly global perspective. He asks, “Hasn’t it become obvious to members of the great human family that the center of civilization is already everywhere?” [AGM, p.  222]. In the end, Reclus is a visionary and prophet of earth-consciousness and world-consciousness in their deepest senses, senses that are still only beginning to dawn on humanity.

Reclus summarizes his project in his two great works, The New Universal Geography and Humanity and the Earth (which together run to nearly 20,000 pages) as “the attempt to follow the evolution of humanity in relation to forms of life on earth, and the evolution of forms of life on earth in relation to humanity.” [Élisée Reclus, Leçon d’ouverture du cours de Géographie comparée dans l’espace et dans le temps. Extrait de la REVUE UNIVERSITAIRE, Bruxelles, 1894, p. 5, my translation]. It is for this reason that he deserves recognition as a founder not only of social geography but also of social ecology. In fact, his rich, detailed development of social ecological analysis makes most of what has gone under that rubric since his time seem amateurish in comparison. We need to reinvigorate social ecology today with the kind of scientific and historical grounding found in Reclus but with a theoretical rigor that goes far beyond his efforts.

Reclus’ announcement that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” is a quite momentous one, and is certain to become even more fateful as global climate catastrophe accelerates and as we move more deeply into the Sixth Mass Extinction of life on Earth.We need to ponder what is at stake today in the question of whether humanity can actively assume its role as self-conscious nature. Reclus was confident that it would succeed in doing so, and in the process demonstrate that another world is possible beyond the limits of domination. Today, in our much less optimistic age, it is much more difficult for many to believe that such an “other world” is at all possible, despite the fact there are ever stronger indications that the present one is becoming less possible day by day. This world’s ultimate impossibility, even if it is inevitable, remains implausible. For its productive powers, imaginary powers and ideological powers are all seeming testimony to its insuperable reality, and these powerscontinue to expand.  In reality, we have good reason to ask whether, if another world does not rapidly become possible, any world at all will remain actual. The impossible community, the Reclusian community of love and solidarity, is a practical and dialectical answer to this more than theoretical, more than rhetorical question. In the midst of a world-destroying epoch, the impossible community presents itself as a world-making and world-preserving community. In the midst of egocentric cynicism and moral paralysis, it is a charismatic community of gifts and of the gift. It is an ethos that inspires and reawakens the person, sweeping him or her into a new realm of deeper reality and more compelling truth. It is our ultimate hope for the world.

1464. Natural Resources Worth More Than US $40 Trillion Must Be Accounted For

By Science Daily, June 25, 2014

New research published in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that although some companies like Kering, a group which includes Puma and Gucci, are leading the way, more needs to be done to foster a sustainable green economy.

Researchers say that while the economic value of lost natural resources can be difficult to quantify, much more must be done to make sure that it is.

Lead author Matthew Agarwala from UEA's School of Environmental Sciences, said: "When we talk about 'natural capital', what we mean is the elements of nature that produce value to people -- such as ecosystems, plant and animal species, freshwater, land minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes such as climate regulation.

"The value of this natural capital is largely excluded from both GDP and corporate accounting. It is assumed that these natural resources are 'free' -- but using them has an impact on the natural world and future living standards.

"This impact is too vast to be left off the balance sheets.

"The World Bank has estimated the value of natural capital to be at least US$40.2 trillion. That's around half of gross world product, 1.6 times the combined assets of the world's 10 biggest banks, and would have paid for the Apollo Space Programme more than 300 times.

"Companies and governments around the world need to account for their economic dependence and impact on the natural world to promote sustainability and combat climate change.”

The report calls for public and private sectors to work together to develop Natural Capital Accounts (NCAs) -- a metric to show vital information about economic dependence and impact on the natural world. These NCAs could then be integrated into national statistics such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounts to provide early warning signs of emerging risks and vulnerabilities in the face of changing climate and land use.

"A good starting point would be to improve corporate carbon accounts and rapidly expand to include impacts on water and other elements of natural capital," said Agarwala.

The paper argues that focusing on carbon alone could lead to unintended consequences.
"Some private sector companies such as Kering, a group which includes Puma and Gucci, have started to publish environmental profit and loss accounts. This is a big step forward, and I hope that more firms will examine their natural capital impacts and dependencies throughout their supply chains.

"Natural capital is the foundation of all human wellbeing, yet its degradation is largely unreported and important public and private sector decisions are routinely made without regard for its value. Government and industry must join efforts to disclose both their own dependence on, and also their impact on natural capital."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of East Anglia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. Matthew Agarwala, Giles Atkinson, Christopher Baldock, Barry Gardiner. Natural capital accounting and climate change. Nature Climate Change, 2014; 4 (7): 520 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2257

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1463. The Coming Climate Crash: Lessons for Climate Change in the 2008 Recession

By Ron Paulson, The New York Times, June 22, 2014
Carbon dioxide emissions like those from coal-fired power plants should be taxed to spur energy innovation.   Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
THERE is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage.
For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.
We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.
This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.
We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.
The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax. Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.
It’s true that the United States can’t solve this problem alone. But we’re not going to be able to persuade other big carbon polluters to take the urgent action that’s needed if we’re not doing everything we can do to slow our carbon emissions and mitigate our risks.
I was secretary of the Treasury when the credit bubble burst, so I think it’s fair to say that I know a little bit about risk, assessing outcomes and problem-solving. Looking back at the dark days of the financial crisis in 2008, it is easy to see the similarities between the financial crisis and the climate challenge we now face.
We are building up excesses (debt in 2008, greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat now). Our government policies are flawed (incentivizing us to borrow too much to finance homes then, and encouraging the overuse of carbon-based fuels now). Our experts (financial experts then, climate scientists now) try to understand what they see and to model possible futures. And the outsize risks have the potential to be tremendously damaging (to a globalized economy then, and the global climate now).
Back then, we narrowly avoided an economic catastrophe at the last minute by rescuing a collapsing financial system through government action. But climate change is a more intractable problem. The carbon dioxide we’re sending into the atmosphere remains there for centuries, heating up the planet.
That means the decisions we’re making today — to continue along a path that’s almost entirely carbon-dependent — are locking us in for long-term consequences that we will not be able to change but only adapt to, at enormous cost. To protect New York City from rising seas and storm surges is expected to cost at least $20 billion initially, and eventually far more. And that’s just one coastal city.
New York can reasonably predict those obvious risks. When I worry about risks, I worry about the biggest ones, particularly those that are difficult to predict — the ones I call small but deep holes. While odds are you will avoid them, if you do fall in one, it’s a long way down and nearly impossible to claw your way out.
Scientists have identified a number of these holes — potential thresholds that, once crossed, could cause sweeping, irreversible changes. They don’t know exactly when we would reach them. But they know we should do everything we can to avoid them.
Already, observations are catching up with years of scientific models, and the trends are not in our favor.
Fewer than 10 years ago, the best analysis projected that melting Arctic sea ice would mean nearly ice-free summers by the end of the 21st century. Now the ice is melting so rapidly that virtually ice-free Arctic summers could be here in the next decade or two. The lack of reflective ice will mean that more of the sun’s heat will be absorbed by the oceans, accelerating warming of both the oceans and the atmosphere, and ultimately raising sea levels.
Even worse, in May, two separate studies discovered that one of the biggest thresholds has already been reached. The West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to melt, a process that scientists estimate may take centuries but that could eventually raise sea levels by as much as 14 feet. Now that this process has begun, there is nothing we can do to undo the underlying dynamics, which scientists say are “baked in.” And 10 years from now, will other thresholds be crossed that scientists are only now contemplating?
It is true that there is uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of these risks and many others. But those who claim the science is unsettled or action is too costly are simply trying to ignore the problem. We must see the bigger picture.
The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability. And as we all witnessed during the financial crisis, a chain reaction of cascading failures ensued from one intertwined part of the system to the next. It’s easy to see a single part in motion. It’s not so easy to calculate the resulting domino effect. That sort of contagion nearly took down the global financial system.
With that experience indelibly affecting my perspective, viewing climate change in terms of risk assessment and risk management makes clear to me that taking a cautiously conservative stance — that is, waiting for more information before acting — is actually taking a very radical risk. We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now.
I’m a businessman, not a climatologist. But I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with climate scientists and economists who have devoted their careers to this issue. There is virtually no debate among them that the planet is warming and that the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible.
Farseeing business leaders are already involved in this issue. It’s time for more to weigh in. To add reliable financial data to the science, I’ve joined with the former mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg, and the retired hedge fund manager Tom Steyer on an economic analysis of the costs of inaction across key regions and economic sectors. Our goal for the Risky Business project — starting with a new study that will be released this week — is to influence business and investor decision making worldwide.
We need to craft national policy that uses market forces to provide incentives for the technological advances required to address climate change. As I’ve said, we can do this by placing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Many respected economists, of all ideological persuasions, support this approach. We can debate the appropriate pricing and policy design and how to use the money generated. But a price on carbon would change the behavior of both individuals and businesses. At the same time, all fossil fuel — and renewable energy — subsidies should be phased out. Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for.
Some members of my political party worry that pricing carbon is a “big government” intervention. In fact, it will reduce the role of government, which, on our present course, increasingly will be called on to help communities and regions affected by climate-related disasters like floods, drought-related crop failures and extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent storms. We’ll all be paying those costs. Not once, but many times over.
This is already happening, with taxpayer dollars rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes. This is a proper role of government. But our failure to act on the underlying problem is deeply misguided, financially and logically.
In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.
This is short-termism. There is a tendency, particularly in government and politics, to avoid focusing on difficult problems until they balloon into crisis. We would be fools to wait for that to happen to our climate.
When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as is preserving our natural environment for future generations. We are, after all, the party of Teddy Roosevelt.
THIS problem can’t be solved without strong leadership from the developing world. The key is cooperation between the United States and China — the two biggest economies, the two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and the two biggest consumers of energy.
When it comes to developing new technologies, no country can innovate like America. And no country can test new technologies and roll them out at scale quicker than China.
The two nations must come together on climate. The Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago, a “think-and-do tank” I founded to help strengthen the economic and environmental relationship between these two countries, is focused on bridging this gap.
We already have a head start on the technologies we need. The costs of the policies necessary to make the transition to an economy powered by clean energy are real, but modest relative to the risks.
A tax on carbon emissions will unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure. This would strengthen national security by reducing the world’s dependence on governments like Russia and Iran.
Climate change is the challenge of our time. Each of us must recognize that the risks are personal. We’ve seen and felt the costs of underestimating the financial bubble. Let’s not ignore the climate bubble.

Henry M. Paulson Jr. is the chairman of the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago and served as secretary of the Treasury from July 2006 to January 2009.

1462. The "Debate" on Climate Change Action Begins in the Capitalist Circles

By Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, June 24, 2014
Low-laying developments in Miami Beach will be under water by 2100
Climate change is not an event in your children’s future. It is bearing down upon you now. And there is nothing you — or anyone else — can do to prevent the hit.
Over the next quarter-century, heat-related death rates will probably double in the southeastern states. Crop losses that used to happen only once every 20 years because of cataclysmic weather will occur five times as often.
This is our future even if every person on the planet abruptly stopped burning coal, gas, oil, wood or anything else containing carbon today and we hooked the world economy onto the wind and the sun tomorrow. The change is baked in, caused by CO2 spewed into the air long ago.
This stark future is rendered vividly in a comprehensive report released on Tuesday by the Risky Business Project, a coalition of political and business luminaries representing widely different political views — including the former Treasury secretaries George P. Shultz, Robert E. Rubin and Henry M. Paulson Jr. — that is intended to raise awareness about the impending perils of a changing climate.
The report is aimed squarely at corporate America, offering the kind of risk modeling a financial firm might make to assess the probable impact of a changing climate on an investment portfolio whose “assets” included farming, housing, labor productivity and crime.
Together with the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported in April, last month’s National Climate Assessment and the new rules proposed by the Obama administration to combat carbon pollution from power plants, it contributes to a new picture of climate change. And it is not pretty, puncturing the hopes held by some of the most uncompromising environmentalists and the most compromising politicians that humanity can still prevent climactic upheaval if we only start replacing fossil fuels today.
For starters, it seems clear by now that the world’s temperature will almost certainly rise more than two degrees Celsius — or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above the average of the late 19th century, a ceiling that the world’s leaders have repeatedly promised never to breach and a point at which climate-related risks rise even more sharply.
One prominent energy economist told me, speaking anonymously to avoid looking too gloomy, that the world would be “extraordinarily unlikely” to stay below the two-degree ceiling. Every country would need to decarbonize at the same pace that France did during its nuclear renaissance in the 1980s and keep up the pace for decades. Then we would have to start taking CO2 out of the air.
Second, despite the rising awareness of the risks caused by our unrestrained consumption of fossil fuels, there is no evidence that we plan to break the habit and leave a substantial portion of the Earth’s oil, gas and coal in the ground.
“We are swinging to fossil fuels in ways that couldn’t have been imagined a few years ago,” said Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’ve made substantial progress in renewables, but there’s been even more innovation in fossil fuels. Incentives to invest in low-carbon energy are going down.”
As the Risky Business report lays out in detail, climate change over the next few decades is already a done deal. Whether we continue emitting CO2 at the current pace or somehow manage to buckle our belts and shift our economies onto something else, temperatures will increase by about the same amount.
“The economic benefits of mitigation do not start to be felt until midcentury and are most obvious in the second half of the century,” notes the report. Under the most pessimistic forecast — in which we do nothing to burn fewer fossil fuels — the average global temperature rises up to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next five to 25 years. Under the most optimistic, it rises about 1.6 degrees.
Reducing carbon emissions now is about helping prevent even more serious damage 50, 75 and 100 years from today. To address the more immediate risks, notes Trevor Houser, who heads the energy practice at the Rhodium Group, the economic modeling firm that performed the risk analysis for the Risky Business report, the best we can do is “invest in adaptation.”
What to do with this awareness? Homeowners in New York’s Red Hook and Coney Island neighborhoods should probably consider waterproofing, as both will fall into the one-in-100-year flood area over the next 25 years. Hospitals in the Southeast might want to staff up. The federal government may want to consider what will happen to the budget when it is left to reconstruct every city that gets pounded by a hurricane, not to mention the higher costs of heavily subsidized crop and flood insurance.
But there is more to be gained. A more realistic, detailed and nuanced assessment of both the damages that await us might allow for a more effective response.
Two degrees or bust not only commits the world to a probably unattainable goal, it promotes despondency once it becomes obvious we won’t meet it.
By contrast, the Risky Business analysis, which dispassionately lays out damages to specific places and economic sectors along a probability curve as the temperature rises well past two degrees, allows for the kind of cost-benefit assessment that could mobilize effective action.
By 2100, up to $507 billion worth of coastal property will be underwater if we continue emitting CO2 at the same pace as we have over recent decades. New York will face a one-in-100 chance of seeing the sea rise almost seven feet. Crop yields in the Southwest, Midwest and the lower Great Plains could fall up to 70 percent as extreme heat spreads throughout the middle of the country.
By the final decades of the century, Nebraska will face a one-in-20 chance that climate change will reduce its agricultural production by almost $2,000 for each man, woman and child in the state. North Dakota will face a one-in-20 chance that declining productivity will cost the state $1,600 per person, as workers stay indoors out of the sun. Arizona will face one-in-20 odds that energy costs will rise by $800 per person.
These odds are easier to understand than the panel on climate change’s abstract, abstruse estimate that keeping the temperature from increasing more than two degrees Celsius above the preindustrial era will cost up to 11 percent of consumption by 2100, in a world economy that would be three to nine times as large as today’s.
The question, for corporate chieftains, business leaders and voters remains: What is it worth to prevent these costs?
Perhaps our new understanding — detailed and specific — of their magnitude and timing will compel us to act. Mr. Paulson laid out an action plan in The New York Times on Sunday, centered on a tax on carbon emissions. Professor Greenstone supports a tax coupled with a major expansion of investment in research to develop cost-competitive technologies, which the United States could also make available to the big polluters of the future: China and India.

But don’t hold your breath.

1461. Cancer 'As Old As Multi-Cellular Life on Earth': Researchers Discover a Primordial Cancer in a Primitive Animal

By Science Daily, June 24, 2014
Tumour-bearing Hydra-Polyp (right) next to a healthy animal (left). Photo/copyright: Klimovich/ CAU

Every year millions of people around the world are diagnosed with cancer. Each one of them dreams of a victory in the battle against it. But can cancer ever be completely defeated? Researchers at Kiel University (CAU) in Germany have now reached a sobering conclusion: "cancer is as old as multi-cellular life on earth and will probably never be completely eradicated," says Professor Thomas Bosch in his latest research results.
The study by an international team led by Bosch was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The so-called cancer genes are ancient
The causes of tumors are the so-called cancer genes. As from when evolution started producing tumors is an issue that the scientists Tomislav Domazet-Lošo and Diethard Tautz from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön have been investigating for several years, using bio-informational methods and databases that they have developed in-house. "During the search for the origin of the cancer gene, we unexpectedly made a discovery in the ancient group of animals," explains Domazet-Lošo. He is one of the authors of the present study and is currently working at the Ruder Bošković Institute and the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb. "Our data predicted that the first multi-cellular animals already had most of the genes which can cause cancer in humans." What was missing until now was, on the one hand, evidence that these animals can actually suffer from tumors and, on the other, the molecular understanding of the mechanisms of tumor formation in these simple animals.

Cause of tumors: error in the programming of cell death

The research team led by the evolutionary biologist Professor Thomas Bosch from the Zoological Institute of Kiel University have now achieved an impressive understanding of the roots of cancer. Bosch has been investigating stem cells and the regulation of tissue growth in Hydra, a phylogenetic old polyp, for many years. "Now we have discovered tumor-bearing polyps in two different species of Hydra, an organism very similar to corals," emphasises Bosch regarding the first result of the new study. This provides proof that tumors indeed exist in primitive and evolutionary old animals.

The team also tracked down the cellular cause of the tumors along the entire body axis. For the first time they were able to show that the stem cells, which are programmed for sex differentiation, accumulate in large quantities and are not removed naturally by programmed cell death. Interestingly, these tumors affect only female Hydra polyps and resemble ovarian cancers in humans.

"When undertaking more detailed molecular analyses of the tumors we found a gene that becomes active dramatically in tumor tissue and that normally prevents the programmed cell death," explains Alexander Klimovich, a scholarship student at the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation at the Zoological Institute of Kiel University and co-lead author of the current study regarding the second finding of the study. "As a non-functioning cell death mechanism is also made responsible for the growth and spread of tumors in many types of human cancer, striking similarities appear here to cancer in humans," continues Klimovich.

The third finding of the scientists was to show that tumor cells are invasive. This means that if tumor cells are introduced into a healthy organism, they can trigger tumor growth there. Therefore Bosch reaches the following conclusion from his research into Hydra species: "The invasive characteristic of cancer cells is also an evolutionary old feature.”

Tumors have deep roots in evolution
The funds that are being deployed throughout the world in the campaign against cancer are enormous. It was estimated that in the US alone, more than 500 billion dollars were invested in cancer research by 2012. The worldwide research has led to improved preventative, diagnostic and treatment methods, which can definitely record successes. However it is precisely as far as some frequent tumors are concerned where only slow progress has been achieved. Every second person affected by cancer still succumbs to the disease today. In Germany alone every fourth person dies of cancer and this trend is rising. (World Cancer Report 2014) These figures were an incentive for the National Institute of Health in the US to launch a network of Physical Science-Oncology Centers, a new initiative that seeks to bridge intellectual barriers between diverse scientific disciplines. Paul Davies, a well-known theoretical physicist and popular science writer who now leads one such center in Phoenix, Arizona, recently concluded: "Clearly, we will fully understand cancer only in the context of biological history." (The Guardian, 2012)

According to the research team led by Bosch, the findings of primordial tumors in Hydra are a breakthrough step in that direction: "Our research reconfirms that primordial animals such as Hydra polyps provide an enormous amount of information to help us understand such complex problems as 'cancer'. Our study also makes it unlikely that the 'War on Cancer' proclaimed in the 1970s can ever be won. However, knowing your enemy from it origins is the best way to fight it, and win many battles," says Bosch.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Kiel University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. Tomislav Domazet-Lošo, Alexander Klimovich, Boris Anokhin, Friederike Anton-Erxleben, Mailin J. Hamm, Christina Lange, Thomas C.G. Bosch. Naturally occurring tumours in the basal metazoan Hydra. Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5222