To watch the interview and discussion video, click hereon the KQED website.
Fighting Climate Change Amid Wildfires, Extreme Weather and Presidential DenialOn Monday, during a trip to California, President Trump refused to acknowledge the role climate change has played in generating wildfires that have burned more than 3 million acres and killed at least 26 people, including one firefighter battling the El Dorado Fire east of Los Angeles. Trump asserted that poor forest management was to blame and that the weather would get cooler. But Trump’s denial of climate change is at odds with public opinion. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, more than 70% of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and nearly 60% believe that it is mostly due to human activities. Meanwhile, California remains a leader on fighting greenhouse gas emissions, with more than 30% of its energy coming from renewables like solar and wind, a figure that is mandated to double in a decade. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would accelerate its climate change strategies, including a goal to get to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.
A panel of UC Berkeley experts discussed Monday what effect COVID-19 is having on the environment. (UC Berkeley video)
Ever so slowly, communities around the globe are cautiously easing shelter-in-place orders, and people are heading back to work — bringing with them damaging behaviors that hurt the environment and impact climate change, such as increased reliance on single-use plastic grocery bags.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, say four UC Berkeley environmental and energy experts. Instead, they say, the current COVID-19 pandemic offers lessons in how shared global solutions can help beat back the continued threat of climate change.
“We can restart the economy and put people back to work, and we have to do so in a way that we’re taking advantage of where renewable energy is today — then there’s a really positive opportunity,” said Dan Kammen, professor and chair of the Energy Resources Group and professor of public policy and nuclear engineering. “We have to put people back to work in a way that’s equitable and green.”
Disposable plastic bags have made a comeback as people have grown leery of being too close to other people and their possessions. In a number of cities and states, including San Francisco, new bans on plastic bags have been delayed or existing bans have been temporarily halted and customers ordered not to bring into shops their own bags, mugs or reusable items from home.
Kammen, along with colleagues David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources, Kate O’Neill, professor of environmental science, policy and management, and Valeri Vasquez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Energy and Resources Group, were part of a Berkeley Conversations panel that examined on Monday how the pandemic has caused seismic shifts in how we produce and consume goods and could also open a path to a more sustainable future.
“Right before the outbreak, we were actually starting to feel like we could make a real difference in terms of getting rid of single-use plastics and solving a lot of the issues with global waste streams,” O’Neill said. “But for any of us who’ve been in the Berkeley Bowl parking lot recently, one of the first things we might have noticed is a lot more litter. Plastic bags, rubber gloves, masks. This is something we’re going to have to push back on and really question. The main problem coming up is going to be reinstating zero waste policies once (the pandemic) is over.”
Vasquez underscored how the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing deep societal inequities and also demonstrating the interconnectedness of health, climate and sustainability issues.
“The public health and climate debates are really inextricably linked,” she said. “In our highly connected world, a disease that originated 3,000 or 6,000 miles away can be at our doorsteps in a day or less. So, the way that we mobilize against COVID-19 needs to be reflected in the way that we mobilize against that other big global affliction called climate change.”
Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19, are a series of live, online events featuring faculty experts from across the UC Berkeley campus who are sharing what they know, and what they are learning, about the pandemic. All conversations are recorded and available for viewing at any time on the Berkeley Conversations website.
Click here for conference details: April 26.
Many in the ML community wish to take action on climate change, yet feel their skills are inapplicable. This workshop aims to show that in fact the opposite is true: while no silver bullet, ML can be an invaluable tool both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in helping society adapt to the effects of climate change. Climate change is a complex problem, for which action takes many forms - from designing smart electrical grids to tracking deforestation in satellite imagery. Many of these actions represent high-impact opportunities for real-world change, as well as being interesting problems for ML research.
As the nation shifts abruptly into the fight against coronavirus, a question arises: could social isolation help reduce an individual’s production of greenhouse gases and end up having unexpected consequences for climate change?
The biggest sources of carbon emissions caused by our lifestyles come from three activities, said Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden: “Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that’s a substantial climate savings.” Many people trying to avoid the coronavirus are already two-thirds of the way there.
Dr. Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” Having said that, he added that many of the actions people are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak could have a benefit of a reduced carbon footprint — though others would have little effect or could even expand it.
Robert Frank will visit GSPP on Monday, Jan. 27, from 3-5 pm in the Living Room to discuss his upcoming book, Under the Influence. The book will officially be for sale on Tuesday, Jan. 28 in stores.
“After more than three decades, the public is finally beginning to grasp what a serious threat global warming poses. What’s missing from the climate conversation now is a plausible narrative about how we might parry this threat. Drawing on ideas from his recently published book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work, Robert Frank explains why our ability to tap the prodigious power of behavioral contagion may make the path forward less daunting than many think.”
Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. For more than a decade, his "Economic View" column appeared monthly in The New York Times. He received his BS in mathematics from Georgia Tech and then taught math and science for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Nepal. He holds an MA in statistics and a Ph.D. in economics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. His papers have appeared in the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and other leading professional journals.
His books have been translated into 23 languages, including Choosing the Right Pond, Passions Within Reason, Microeconomics and Behavior, Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke), Luxury Fever, What Price the Moral High Ground?, Falling Behind, The Economic Naturalist, The Darwin Economy, and Success and Luck.
Please join us for light refreshments after the discussion at 4:30 pm.
Event website: click here.
The climate apocalypse is coming and there's nothing we can do to stop it.
At least that's the thesis of writer Jonathan Franzen, whose recent essay in The New Yorker, titled "What if We Stopped Pretending?," tapped into a fear about a climate apocalypse that many people are grappling with.
But in the wake of Franzen's piece, published on the magazine's website Sunday, climate scientists, advocates and journalists quickly took to social media to pick apart his interpretation of the current scientific outlook, and his framing of the world's goal of reducing carbon emissions to the point of staving off global catastrophe, as practically impossible.
The goal has been clear for thirty years, and despite earnest efforts we’ve made essentially no progress toward reaching it. Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.
Critics of the piece were quick to assert that Franzen's argument is based upon misreading reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and prominent scientific journals like Nature.
A particular sticking point for some was Franzen's assertion that roughly two degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels represents a tipping point that will push the Earth past the point of no return.
Sean Hecht is the co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law School:
Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley climate physicist and co-author of previous IPCC reports, who also served as science envoy for the U.S. Department of State under President Obama, says the reality is not that black and white. "No one has a precise year, has a precise number, that if you exceed this all hope is lost," he said. "That is just not the scientific fact."
"It's just really unfortunate because it doesn't reflect any of the current science. It's as if he ignored the comments of the IPCC. reports," Kammen said. "This piece clearly got no fact checking."
Franzen argues that in order to collectively make a go at averting all-out disaster, "The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy." He adds: "Call me a pessimist or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon."
But, Kammen says, it's far from a given that one-and-a-half or two-degrees of warming is unpreventable.
"While the U.S. is ignoring this, the rest of the world is proceeding," Kammen said. And within the U.S., he pointed out, California, New York and New Mexico are making significant progress in reducing greenhouse gases.
With advances in electric vehicles, solar and wind power, and energy storage, Kammen said, "the technology base to make it happen is there."
Franzen's essay does make a case for the benefits of reducing the world's carbon footprint.
"Even if we can no longer hope to be saved from two degrees of warming," he wrote, "there’s still a strong practical and ethical case for reducing carbon emissions."
Postponing what may be inevitable and mitigating the fallout of climate collapse are worthwhile pursuits, he says. As are investing in communities, local farming and conservation. But he also argues against putting all of our collective eggs (i.e., precious resources and hope) in a long-shot war against carbon when other, more addressable problems, such as water depletion and the overuse of pesticides, merit attention.
Franzen writes that, "a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful." Personal initiatives like biking to work and voting green, he says, may lure the public into a state of "complacency." Instead, he argues, we should be preparing for life in a radically different -- and hotter -- future, where wildfires and floods persist and the threat of destabilization looms over civilization.
Doom and Gloom
Some of Franzen's critics say the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric he employs can be dangerous.
"All the discussions of doom and gloom have not led to change we need," said Rob Jackson, chair of Stanford University's Earth Systems Science Department. "It almost relieves us of responsibility. If an apocalypse is inevitable, why should I do anything to stave it off, to minimize it's effects? It reduces actions, rather than enhancing action."
While Jackson says he thinks Franzen is correct to point out that we need to better prepare for a changing world, "We are not locked into a Mad Max world.”
The fallout from climate change is on a continuum, he says, and "Every tenth of a degree matters. Every tenth of a degree increases the chances of runaway permafrost melt and methane release. Every tenth of a degree will increase the amount of ice melt and sea level rise we face over the next millennium."
"We don't know where all the tipping points are. A two degree threshold is an arbitrary threshold. The farther we go, the more likely we make it that catastrophic things will happen."
But Franzen is right that climate is an existential thread, Jackson said, "so we should vote and act like it."
Not everyone thought Frazen's arguments were so off base. In an article published Monday by Mother Jones, Kevin Drum points out that while the use of renewable energy sources is on the rise — up from 19 to 22 percent of the world's energy capacity since 1990 — so is our dependence on fossil fuels.
"All told, our reliance on fossil fuels has increased from 62 percent to 65 percent," Drum wrote. "We haven’t even managed to stabilize carbon emissions, let alone reduce them."
But Drum continues:
Franzen’s prescription is wrong: we shouldn’t give up hope. Success is still possible, even if it’s hardly certain. However, his assessment of human nature is something to be taken seriously and it should illuminate the way we approach climate change. Working with human nature is far more likely to produce results than fighting it, and that means finding new ways to make green energy cheap and plentiful instead of fruitlessly pleading with people to use less of it.
\Teresa Wiltz, USA Today, for the original, click here.
Last year, right before Hurricane Florence hit New Bern, a small riverfront city along the North Carolina coast, Martin Blaney rushed to the public housing complex he runs, banging on doors, yelling: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate!”
When the winds settled and the rains ended in New Bern, Blaney’s nearby offices were under 6 feet of water. Even worse: Nearly half of New Bern’s public housing stock – 108 buildings, all in a flood zone, out of 218 – was under water, too. Twelve buildings were damaged beyond repair. (A nearby public housing complex for seniors, located above the flood zones, was unscathed.)
“We didn’t know the destructive force of deep water,” said Blaney, the executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of New Bern. “It blew us away.
“All of a sudden, you’ve got 108 households that need to have a roof over their head.”
Hurricane season in full swing
Hurricane season is underway – and storms that make landfall might further exacerbate the nation’s shortage of affordable housing, housing experts say. A new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies said finding enough money to make housing sturdier and fix the damage done by increasingly frequent and severe storms is “an urgent housing challenge for the nation.”
KQED Newsroom, May 10, 2019
Go to the 17:45 mark to watch the climate change segment: click here.
Or, here is the link: