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Last Week was Crucial for Climate Science, Not So for Climate Politics

This past week was, in the continually escalating climate change war, one of great disconnect, confusion and uncertainty.

While there is no doubt that humankind finds itself in the middle of a much-needed transition away from the business-as-usual model of burning fossil fuels, powerful and manipulative forces continue to resist a growing movement to use greener, cleaner energy.

Many of those sinister forces are headquartered, or operate in, the United States which boasts the world’s greatest economy while being the second worst emitter of greenhouse gasses after China.

So it came as a shock to many mainstream media outlets this week when the third U.S. National Climate Assessment report said Tuesday that climate change is already negatively affecting the United States and the future looks even more dismal if coordinated mitigation and adaptation efforts are not immediately pursued.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” notes the massive NCA report.

Looking at impacts on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems across the country’s eight major regions, the report painted a bleak picture for the U.S. and the rest of the world if governments don’t quickly agree to aggressively fight climate change at the domestic and international level.

After all, the saying goes, an atmosphere overheated and polluted by emissions from oil, coal and gas doesn’t respect national borders. This is one fight we all share and the chickens are coming home to roost.

An urgency to act did not escape the eye of The New York Times editorial board which, after reading the NCA report, zeroed in on just three regional climate change catastrophes in the making.

Singling out the “the climate-change deniers in Congress and industry allies” for contributing to climate change, the editorial noted the southwestern part of the country is expected to get drier, see increased wildfires and reduced agricultural harvests. The eastern seaboard, meanwhile, will have more destructive storms and higher sea levels. And forests will die in Alaska while more permafrost melts, speeding up the release of greenhouse gasses such as methane.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Observers were saying the report may give President Barack Obama more power to deal with climate change, the environment and energy issues through administrative amendments during his last 2.5 years in office. Indeed, the White House issued a media release saying the report underscores “the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids.”

Two days later, the Carbon Tracker Initiative said investors could lose more than $1.1 trillion worth of investments to potentially unburnable fossil fuel deposits if governments act to fight climate change by agreeing the deposits need to stay in the ground.

The report identifies oil reserves in the Arctic, oilsands and in deepwater deposits at the high end of the carbon/capital cost curve. Projects in this category “make neither economic nor climate sense” and won’t fit into a carbon-constrained world looking to limit oil-related emissions, Carbon Tracker stated in a press release.

In addition, the report emphasized the high risk of Alberta oilsands investment, noting the reserves “remain the prime candidate for avoiding high cost projects” due to the region’s landlocked position and limited access to market.

“Our analysis also shows that if demand for oil is not substantially reduced we are clearly heading for a level of warming far in excess of 2°C,” the report said, “which reveals that there is no free lunch here for investors.

“Either policy and technological tipping points will reduce demand in line with our analysis or we will face levels of warming described as catastrophic by many.”

Speaking of potential catastrophes, Queensland on Thursday approved what would become the largest coal mine in Australia despite fears that an accompanying port could damage the Great Barrier Reef which is already seeing corals dying from climate change developments.

If that approval — which still needs to be given the go-ahead by the national government before the $16-billion mine can be built — seems strange, it’s also worth knowing that almost 80 per cent of Queensland is now dealing with a prolonged drought that some are linking to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance company, now wants insurers to incorporate future climate change scenarios into their business models since damage from extreme weather-related events have cost a reported $200 billion over the past 10 years.

On Thursday, Lloyd’s released a report saying that extreme weather cost the insurance industry more than $127 billion in 2011 alone, making it the record year for natural catastrophe.

Trevor Maynard, leader of Lloyd’s exposure management and reinsurance team, said climate change is expected to continue to happen even if strong action is taken to cut greenhouse gases.

“The urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions remains as critical now as before,” Maynard added.

Image Credit: Tim J Keegan via Flickr

Chris Rose is a journalist and communications consultant. Born in Vancouver, his interests include politics, history, demographics, the economy, the…

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