Policymakers on Capitol Hill got a dire warning that climate change threatens food production, safety and affordability.
That stark message came in a briefing by the American Meteorological Society to congressional staff members, climate scientists and federal regulators that linked climate change to a host of troubling scenarios involving worldwide food availability.
Wednesday's briefing drew on a peer-reviewed study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture released during the Paris Climate Conference last month. That report, "Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System," concluded that the effects of climate change on food will strike urban and rural populations in wealthy and poor nations alike.
While the threat depends on many factors, its impact will increase by mid-century, according to the report. Under the least-optimistic scenario––based on high carbon emissions and low international cooperation to combat climate change––agricultural yields could fall by as much as 15 percent, and food prices could rise more than 30 percent by 2050.
"Climate change puts the world's food security at risk through both direct and indirect factors," said Margaret Walsh, an ecologist in USDA's Climate Change Program Office and one of the authors the report.
Widespread drought caused by climate change could decrease crop production, Walsh told InsideClimate News. At the same time, sea level rise could impact cargo ships' access to docks for importing and exporting food.
"There are many, complex factors that have to be considered when assessing the threat to food security," Walsh said.
David H. Koch, a philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to the American Museum of Natural History in New York but whose businesses in energy and other industries have drawn criticism from climate scientists and environmental groups, has left the museum’s board after serving on it for 23 years.
A museum spokeswoman, Anne Canty, said Mr. Koch’s last day on the board of trustees was Dec. 9 and that his departure was not related to the criticism, but simply because his term was ending.
Mr. Koch, who served on the board since 1992, has donated some $23 million to the museum and his name adorns its dinosaur wing.
More than nine months ago, dozens of members of the scientific community signed a letter that called for museums of science and natural history to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like Mr. Koch, who also sits on the advisory board of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. A separate petition by environmental activists urged the museums to remove him from their respective boards.
The letter expressed deep concern about “the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science.” The letter was the project of the Natural History Museum, a mobile museum “that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature,” according to its co-founder and director, Beka Economopoulos.
But Cristyne Nicholas, a spokeswoman in New York for Mr. Koch, said that the letter and petition had nothing to do with Mr. Koch’s departure. “He was not swayed by that at all and it absolutely did not factor into his decision,” Ms. Nicholas said.
She noted that Mr. Koch is on about 20 different boards around the country and that he is cutting that number back while he focuses more time on cancer research. Last year, Mr. Koch, 75, who was once diagnosed with prostate cancer, donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital and $150 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help researchers develop a cure for prostate cancer.
Ms. Nicholas said that Mr. Koch had missed board meetings at the natural history museum and other institutions because of scheduling conflicts. “He remains supportive of the museum,” she said. “It is just that he does not have time to attend the board meetings.”
Ms. Canty said that Mr. Koch had served as an at-large trustee. These types of board members are up for re-election every year, she said.
"A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.” The Koch network, they conclude, acts like a “force field,” pulling Republican candidates and office-holders further to the right. Last week, the Times reported that funds from the Koch network are fuelling both ongoing rebellions against government control of Western land and the legal challenge to labor unions that is before the Supreme Court."
“With this red line laid down across Crestwood’s driveway, we declare that its plans to store fracked gases in abandoned salt caverns on Seneca Lake constitutes an emergency,” said Colleen Boland, who recently returned from the Paris climate talks. “We declare that these plans threaten our water, our children, and our climate.”
The red line motif emerged at the end of the Paris climate talks last Saturday, as 15,000 people marched in the streets of Paris. It signifies a commitment to holding society to the lines that cannot be crossed in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Eighty percent of fossil fuels must be left in the ground in order to curb climate change.
The red line motif also was prominent last weekend as 300 residents in Porter Ranch, CA demanded closure of the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. The Southern California Gas Co. field has spewed natural gas into the atmosphere since Oct. 23. It currently contributes a full one-quarter of California’s daily methane emissions. There have been hundreds of complaints from the surrounding community of headaches, nosebleeds, stomachaches, rashes, and respiratory illness from exposure to the gas and its additives. 1,000 families have evacuated. The company estimates it will take 3 months to plug the leak.
“Aliso Canyon is a clear warning to us of what can go wrong with underground gas storage,” said Tony Del Plato, 67, of Covert, “and how willing the companies are to ignore the plight of the communities around them, and the impact on the climate.”
Schuyler County deputies arrested the nine shortly before 10 a.m. as they blocked a Crestwood tanker truck from leaving the facility.
The nine protesters were transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department, charged with disorderly conduct, and released. The total number of arrests in the civil disobedience campaign over the past year now stands at 441.
In a key moment on the road to the much anticipated Paris climate meeting this December — and one underscoring just how difficult solving the climate problem will be — the United Nations has released a “synthesis” report assessing all of the emissions cutting pledges made by countries in advance of the meeting. And the upshot is both that countries have raised their climate ambitions greatly, but also that even by 2025 or 2030, global emissions are expected to still be rising despite of their efforts.
One hundred forty-six countries made pledges by Oct. 1 of this year, accounting for 86 percent of all of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These pledges, or “INDCs” (intended nationally determined contributions), have been a major factor in raising hopes that Paris will succeed where Copenhagen failed in 2009.
In the run-up to Copenhagen, just 27 countries announced pledges that contained “concrete mitigation targets” for cutting greenhouse gases, according to Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute. But this time around, more than 100 countries have made pledges, including many developing nations, she said.
It’s “a real evolution in terms of how countries are appreciating the need to firmly reduce emissions, and seeing it as something that could be compatible with development,” Fransen said in a conference call with the media on Thursday.
However, the United Nations’ assessment is sobering. If all of the INDCs are implemented, then global emissions will stand at roughly 55 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually by 2025, and 57 gigatons by 2030, the report states. That’s an increase from current levels of about 48 gigatons in 2010.
A gigaton is a billion metric tons, and as of 2011, the world only had about 1,000 left to emit in order to ensure a two-thirds or better chance of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius of warming, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Thus, by 2030 in this scenario, the new report finds that about 750 of those remaining gigatons will have been emitted. Another five years, with 57 gigatons of emissions per year, and the 2 degree threshold would then be breached.
Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day.
The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, urged world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.
Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.
In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments.
Major fossil fuel companies face the risk that significant parts of their reserves will become worthless, with Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Exxaro owning huge coal reserves and Lukoil, Exxon Mobil, BP, Gazprom and Chevron owning massive oil and gas reserves.
If the world’s nations keep their pledge to combat climate change, the analysis finds the prospects are bleakest for coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels. Globally, 82% of today’s reserves must be left underground. In major coal producing nations like the US, Australia and Russia, more than 90% of coal reserves are unused in meeting the 2C pledge. In China and India, both heavy and growing coal users, 66% of reserves are unburnable.
While the prospects for gas are better, the study still found 50% of global reserves must remain unburned. But there are stark regional variations, with the giant gas producers in the Middle East and Russia having to leave huge quantities underground, while the US and Europe can exploit 90% or more of their reserves to replace coal and provide local power to their large cities. Some fracking for shale gas is consistent with the 2C target, according to the study, but is dominated by the existing industry in the US, with China, India, Africa and the Middle East needing to leave 80% of their potential shale gas unburned.
Oil has the lowest proportion of unburnable fuel, with a third left unused. However, the Middle East is still required to leave 260bn barrels of oil in the ground, an amount equivalent to Saudi Arabia’s entire oil reserve. The study’s conclusion on the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands is blunt, finding production must fall to “negligible” levels after 2020 if the 2C scenario is to be fulfilled. The research also finds no climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas is drilled in the Arctic.
The number of drilling rigs working in the Eagle Ford dropped by half in the past year, from 203 to 93. Across the country, more than 1,000 drilling rigs have been stacked.
McMullen County pumped 2.7 million barrels of oil in June, down from 3.6 million barrels the same month last year.
DeWitt County’s total property value, much of it based on oil and gas wealth, fell by $1.15 billion this year, down 16 percent.
The Eagle Ford’s biggest oil producers have issued a series of gloomy announcements. Houston-based EOG Resources made just $5.3 million in the second quarter, down 99 percent from the same period last year. ConocoPhillips last week said it would lay off 10 percent of its workforce. Marathon Oil Corp. posted a $386 million net income loss for the second quarter.
Dennis Elam, associate professor of accounting at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said the smaller, more overleveraged shale companies are drilling wells just to pay debt. “They’re chasing the water right down the drain,” he said.
South Texans track other economic measures — traffic jams on rural roads or the advertised prices for hotel rooms in the region, now as low as $40.
A few years ago, DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky lost seven employees in three weeks to the oil field. The police academy in Victoria had to cancel classes because everyone was going to work in the oil field instead. “We’ve got great benefits,” Zavesky said. “But a young guy can’t buy diapers on great health insurance.”
Now, Zavesky has hired some of his old deputies back and said the police academy has seen a bump in enrollment.
He’s also seen an uptick in oil field crime — the theft of tools from work sites and people stripping copper from the drilling rigs parked along the side of the road.
Joy Tipton, who owns the Little White House Country Store in Fowlerton, judges the oil market by what time she starts to hear traffic rumbling down Texas 97. The noise used to start around 5 a.m., with trucks hauling sand, water and oil flowing past her place like a mechanical river. In August, it stayed quiet until around 9 a.m.
Blink-and-miss-it Fowlerton, with 62 residents the last time the Census Bureau bothered to count in 2000, hugs the La Salle-McMullen county lines. In recent months, a small restaurant and oil field supply company closed their doors.
That left Tipton as the only one to give unsolicited advice to oil field workers who stop to buy a soft drink or after-work beer: “Don’t speed. Don’t eat your dessert before you eat that sandwich. There’s a police officer down there.”
“A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change . . . is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale,” the report said. Sea level rise, for example, “will continue for many centuries beyond 2100” because of ice-sheet melting that is underway and other causes.
Scientists and policymakers have set a goal of restraining the average global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, on grounds that a higher increase would change the climate so dramatically that neither humans nor natural ecosystems could easily adapt. That would probably require keeping concentrations of key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to under 450 parts per million by 2100, the panel said. Concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 2013.
Even with a rapid shift to renewable energy, the task of achieving such drastic reductions is daunting, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in a speech last week as panel members began final revisions to the report.
“May I humbly suggest that policymakers avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change,” Pachauri said. “It is not hopeless. This is not to say it will be easy.”