Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Guardian: Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse

Four decades after the book was published, Limit to Growth’s forecasts have been vindicated by new Australian research. Expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon

by Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander, The Guardian, September 2, 2014

Piles of crushed cars at a metal recycling site in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Piles of crushed cars at a metal recycling site in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Alamy
The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history.”
It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.
Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge. 
The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution. They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario.
The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.
So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.
The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios.
These graphs show real-world data (first from the MIT work, then from our research), plotted in a solid line. The dotted line shows the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario out to 2100. Up to 2010, the data is strikingly similar to the book’s forecasts.
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, and research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied
As the MIT researchers explained in 1972, under the scenario, growing population and demands for material wealth would lead to more industrial output and pollution. The graphs show this is indeed happening. Resources are being used up at a rapid rate, pollution is rising, industrial output and food per capita is rising. The population is rising quickly.
So far, Limits to Growth checks out with reality. So what happens next?
According to the book, to feed the continued growth in industrial output there must be ever-increasing use of resources. But resources become more expensive to obtain as they are used up. As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015.
As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.
It’s essentially resource constraints that bring about global collapse in the book. However, Limits to Growth does factor in the fallout from increasing pollution, including climate change. The book warned carbon dioxide emissions would have a “climatological effect” via “warming the atmosphere.”
As the graphs show, the University of Melbourne research has not found proof of collapse as of 2010 (although growth has already stalled in some areas). But in Limits to Growth those effects only start to bite around 2015-2030.
The first stages of decline may already have started. The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 and ongoing economic malaise may be a harbinger of the fallout from resource constraints. The pursuit of material wealth contributed to unsustainable levels of debt, with suddenly higher prices for food and oil contributing to defaults - and the GFC.
The issue of peak oil is critical. Many independent researchers conclude that “easy” conventional oil production has already peaked. Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned about peak oil.
Peak oil could be the catalyst for global collapse. Some see new fossil fuel sources like shale oil, tar sands and coal seam gas as saviours, but the issue is how fast these resources can be extracted, for how long, and at what cost. If they soak up too much capital to extract the fallout would be widespread.
Our research does not indicate that collapse of the world economy, environment and population is a certainty. Nor do we claim the future will unfold exactly as the MIT researchers predicted back in 1972. Wars could break out; so could genuine global environmental leadership. Either could dramatically affect the trajectory.
But our findings should sound an alarm bell. It seems unlikely that the quest for ever-increasing growth can continue unchecked to 2100 without causing serious negative effects – and those effects might come sooner than we think.
It may be too late to convince the world’s politicians and wealthy elites to chart a different course. So to the rest of us, maybe it’s time to think about how we protect ourselves as we head into an uncertain future.
As Limits to Growth concluded in 1972:
If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.
So far, there’s little to indicate they got that wrong.

The Guardian: Two secret funders of Nigel Lawson’s climate sceptic organisation revealed

Neil Record and Nigel Vinson confirm their donations, and are both linked to think tank IEA that took funds from oil companies

by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, September 2, 2014

Lord Nigel Lawson, ex-Chancellor, during an interview at the London Stock Exchange
Lord Lawson, former chancellor, is the chairman of Global Warming Policy Foundation.Photograph: Micha Theiner/Rex Features
Two secret funders of Nigel Lawson’s climate sceptic organisation have been revealed. This is the first time anyone financing the group has confirmed their contributions. Both are linked to a free-market thinkt ank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which has admitted taking funding from fossil fuel companies and has also argued against climate change mitigation.
Lord Lawson has steadfastly refused to name the funders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation since its inception in 2009, stating only that none have significant fossil fuel interests. The GWPF has become the most prominent climate sceptic group in the UK, but critics of the GWPF argue that funders’ names should be made public in the interest of transparency.
The names were uncovered by the investigative blog Desmog UK. Neil Record, the founding chairman of a currency management company Record and an IEA trustee, confirmed he has given money to the GWPF but said the amount was a “private matter.” Record gave the IEA £36,000 to support a seminar featuring Lawson in November 2009 and on the same day Lawson launched the GWPF. Record told The Guardian: “I personally regard the continuing contribution of the GWPF to the climate change debate as very positive in assisting balance and rationality in this contentious area.”
Lord Nigel Vinson, a wealthy industrialist and life vice-president of the IEA, has given the GWPF £15,000 according to Charity Commission records. “I am very proud to fund [the GWPF],” he told The Guardian. “You have to put a question mark over climate change if over the last 14 years the world has not got any hotter.” Scientists argue this “pause” in air temperatures is an illusion, based on cherry-picked data and ignoring the fact that over 90% of trapped heat enters the oceans.
Record and Vinson are the first GWPF funders to confirm their donations. Sir Michael Hintze, a major Conservative donor and hedge fund tycoon, was named by The Guardian in 2012 as a GWPF funder but has not confirmed or denied his GWPF link. Like Record, Hintze is an IEA trustee.
“Lawson has stubbornly refused to name his donors even though such secrecy must undermine the trust the public has in his climate denial think tank,” said Brendan Montague, editor of DeSmog UK. “But now we might begin to understand why. The evidence suggests many of Lawson’s funders are associated with the radically neoliberal IEA, which has a long history of attacking climate science and regulations while accepting money from oil companies.”
Bob Ward, policy director at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said: “It is not surprising to find such strong links with a right-wing lobby group, the IEA, which also promotes climate change denial. It is now crystal clear that the campaign by the GWPF against the UK government’s climate change policies is driven by right-wing ideological zeal rather than evidence-based reason.”
Lawson did not respond to a request for comment. In October 2012, he said his fundraising for the GWPF had started with his friends: “They tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person; that’s why they can see the flaws in the conventional wisdom.”
The GWPF, which is registered as an educational charity, launched a new campaigning arm on Monday which will not be restricted by Charity Commission rules on political campaigning. The Global Warming Policy Forum will, like the GWPF, be chaired by Lawson, and Record is one of three board members.
“The new organisation will be able to conduct campaigns and activities which do not fall squarely within the foundation’s remit as an educational charity,” said a GWPF statement. In the statement, Lawson said: “This reorganisation will enable us to build on the progress of the past five years and make substantial further progress over the next five years which may well be decisive in the evolution of climate change policy.” The world’s nations have set a deadline of December 2015 for a global UN deal to tackle climate change.

DeSmog UK: Exposed: Lawson’s Climate Denial Donors’ Links to Tobacco and Oil Backed Think Tank

by Brendan Montague, DeSmog UK, September 2, 2014

Nigel Lawson and Neil Record
Launch of new Global Warming Policy Forum mired by new revelations linking former chancellor to oil and tobacco-funded climate denial think tank
Lord Lawson faces increasing scepticism about the independence of his climate denial charity as the names of two of his anonymous donors with links to the tobacco- and oil-funded Institute of Economic Affairs are disclosed for the first time.
The Tory grandee launched the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPForum)* yesterday. There had been complaints from the public to the Charity Commission alleging his Global Warming Policy Foundation was acting politically.
The former chancellor, who retains considerable influence over his successor George Osborne, has successfully kept the identities of almost all his financial backers a closely guarded secret five years after the foundation was first launched, despite the consternation of MPs and climate campaigners alike.
On the Record
But now Neil Record, the founding chairman of his own specialist currency management company, and trustee of the free market Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, has been named for the first time as a financial backer. 
Asked how much he gave to Lawson’s charity, he replied this was “a private matter on which I am not prepared to comment further.” DeSmog UK estimates the donations to be higher than £100,000. 
Lord Vinson, who was instrumental in the rise to power of the late Margaret Thatcher, has also been named as a GWPF funder for the first time. The industrialist and peer was made “Life Vice-President” of the IEA, having worked closely with its first director general, Sir Ralph Harris.
Vinson also set up the Centre for Policy Studies with fellow free market zealots Keith Joseph and Thatcher in 1974 supported by the IEA. The CPS, funded by both the tobacco and oil industries, secured Thatcher's rise to power. 
Vinson has donated £15,000 to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the first five years through his own charity, according to documents submitted to the Charity Commission. “I think they are a very admirable institution,” he told me. 
A third GWPF funder, Michael Hintze, has previously been named by The Guardian, although the city investor has refused to confirm the report and disclose the true extent of his largess. Hintze runs the £5 billion hedge fund CQS and is a generous donor to the Conservative party. 
All three men named have worked closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Westminster-based think tank which has for decades accepted funding from cigarette and petrol multinationals while attacking both the science of tobacco cancer and climate change.
Speaking Fees
An investigation by the newly launched climate website DeSmog UK has established that Record privately donated £36,000 to the IEA to fund a seminar starring Lawson on the same day in November 2009 that the one-time chancellor launched the GWPF in the House of Commons. Lawson’s speaking fees are up to £12,000 per engagement.
Record has told how his confidence in climate science was first called into question when he attended an earlier talk by the American scientist Dr S. Fred Singer also attended by Lawson. Singer has a long history of promoting climate denial and has been accused of misleading the public about his own financial support from major oil companies, including ExxonMobil. 
Record is also named as a board member of the new Global Warming Policy Forum. When asked about his donation to the foundation, Record said he has “never had any involvement with the energy sector in any capacity” adding his donation was “paid for with my personal money, not with corporate funds.” 
Record said in a letter: “The organisers (i.e., the IEA) invited both Lord Lawson and myself to a dinner after the debate…and there I learned about the Global Warming Policy Foundation, of which I had not heard before. 
[Lawson] invited me to meet his staff, and as a result of that, I decided the best way in which I could be of some use in furthering sensible debate in the whole climate change arena was to become a supporter (i.e., donor) to the GWPF.”
Undermining Science
The IEA established its industry-funded Environment Unit in the early 1990s and published the first reports in the UK aimed at undermining the then burgeoning science of climate change. 
The institute was also instrumental in establishing the Covent Garden-based International Policy Network, which during its lifetime accepted funding from ExxonMobil while attending major conferences around the world to raise fears about the policy implications of climate change.
Mark Littlewood, the current director general of the IEA, personally introduced Record to Lawson after the climate event in November 2009. He said he only “vaguely” knew Lawson but that he was not active in the climate debate because the GWPF took this role. 
He also confirmed last year that the IEA continues to receive funding from the oil company BP. He added: “…we jealously guard our editorial independence and no industry group can commission research from us - but if that's understood I'll bank a cheque from the tobacco industry without a single problem.”
Lord Vinson donated £5,000 to the GWPF in 2011 and then doubled his grant to £10,000 last year. This second grant was recorded alongside a donation to the Prince’s Countryside Fund under the category, “For the advancement of environmental protection or improvement”. Vinson has been a long time funder of the IEA, as well as its once-influential climate denying offshoot the IPN
The author of this article has been quoted in The Guardian this morning saying: Lawson has stubbornly refused to name his donors even though such secrecy must undermine the trust the public has in his climate denial think tank,” said Brendan Montague, editor of DeSmog UK. “But now we might begin to understand why.
“The evidence suggests many of Lawson’s funders are associated with the radically neoliberal IEA, which has a long history of attacking climate science and regulations while accepting money from oil companies.” 
Bob Ward, policy director at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, told the newspaper: “It is not surprising to find such strong links with a right-wing lobby group, the IEA, which also promotes climate change denial. It is now crystal clear that the campaign by the GWPF against the UK government’s climate change policies is driven by right-wing ideological zeal rather than evidence-based reason.”
DeSmog UK intends to publish the names of further Global Warming Policy Foundation funders ahead of the Conservative Party conference held in Birmingham from Sunday, September 28. The investigations website has invited Lawson to publish the full list in order to regain control of the agenda, without success.
*PLEASE NOTE: All references to the Global Warming Policy Forum on DeSmog UK and DeSmogBlog will have the abbreviation GWPForum. GWPF will only refer to the charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Monday, September 1, 2014

NewScientist: No more pause: Global warming will be non-stop from now on

by Michael Slezak, NewScientist, August 31, 2014

Enjoy the pause in global warming while it lasts, because it's probably the last one we will get this century. Once temperatures start rising again, it looks like they will keep going up without a break for the rest of the century, unless we cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
The slowdown in global warming since 1997 seems to be driven by unusually powerful winds over the Pacific Ocean, which are burying heat in the water. But even if that happens again, or a volcanic eruption spews cooling particles into the air, we are unlikely to see a similar hiatus, according to two independent studies.
Masahiro Watanabe of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues have found that, over the past three decades, the natural ups and downs in temperature have had less influence on the planet's overall warmth. In the 1980s, natural variability accounted for almost half of the temperature changes seen. That fell to 38% in the 1990s and just 27% in the 2000s.
Instead, human-induced warming is accounting for more and more of the changes from year to year, says Watanabe. With ever-faster warming, small natural variations have less impact and are unlikely to override the human-induced warming.
"The implication is that we will get fewer hiatus periods, or hiatus periods that last for a shorter period," says Wenju Cai at the CSIRO in Melbourne, Australia, who wasn't involved in the work.

Stop it

According to another recent study, the current hiatus may be our last for a while. Matthew England and his colleagues at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, tried to quantify the chance of another pause. "It's looking to us that it's probably going to be the last one that we'll see in the foreseeable future," says England.
Using 31 climate models, they showed that if emissions keep rising, the chance of a hiatus – a 10-year period with no significant warming – drops to virtually zero after 2030. The current hiatus will probably be followed by rapid warming as the heat trapped in the ocean escapes back into the atmosphere, so we are unlikely to get another decade of no warming before 2030. England believes it could be another century or more before the next hiatus.
But that could change if we slow greenhouse gas emissions now. If we can reach peak global emissions by 2040, the temperature rise will slow by the end of the century, and hiatus periods will become more likely.
Hiatuses can also be triggered by volcanic eruptions that spew particles into the air, reflecting sunlight away from Earth, as happened after the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption. But even if a volcano erupts, it will make little difference. "After 2030, the rate of global warming is likely to be so fast that even large volcanic eruptions on the scale of Krakatoa are unlikely to drive a hiatus decade," says team member Nicola Maher.

MUST READ: Nigel Lawson: An Honourable Man [yeah, right] (1st installment in a series on the Climate Denial Machine in the UK)

by Brendan Montague, DeSmog UK, September 1, 2014

The once chancellor to Thatcher and father of Nigella Lawson stages a remarkable political resurrection by making climate denial his personal crusade. The first of three parts in our inaugural series, "An Honourable Man." 

Nigel Lawson is an honourable man. The one-time British chancellor interrupted his idyllic retirement in the South of France to take part in what he described as a “distinctly surreal” debate on global warming held by the Institute of Economic Affairs in London on the evening of Monday, November 23, 2009. It would turn out to be portentous day in the history of British and American climate denial.
The 82-year-old was sporting dyed-black hair and a crooked salmon-pink tie. He spoke off-the-cuff. “There are huge benefits from a warming planet,” he assured his audience. “What is important is that you will be able to pocket all the benefits.”  

The shrewd rhetorician admitted that he was “not competent to pronounce on the science” and that he simply did not know whether climate change was taking place: “Within these four walls,” he said, “I have to confess to this ignorance.”

But he was certain climate science “lacked integrity” and thought that even if climate change was indeed happening, the assumption that we should try to prevent it was a “great delusion.”

He accused the government of producing “mendacious” propaganda to “frighten the public,” before presenting a harrowing picture of how any limits to economic growth from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels would impact the world's poor.  

Possibly Immoral 

“If you slow down the rate at which these countries can develop, what you are doing is condemning tens of millions of people in the developing world to unnecessary poverty, unnecessary malnutrition, unnecessary premature death and unnecessary diseases,” he concluded. “I think that's possibly immoral.” 

Dr. S. Fred Singer spoke alongside the seasoned politician that night. The silver-haired US-based scientist was among the first to question the emerging science of global warming. Singer sang from the same hymn-sheet. “I'm not worried about climate change. Not at all. We know how to adapt to climate change better than our ancestors: we don't have to live in caves any more,” he smiled.

“What worries me -- the only thing I'm scared of -- are politicians: when the zeal to control the climate, to save the climate, will introduce policies that will ruin the economy.” 

The politician and the scientist were warmly applauded by the assembly of blazer-wearing pensioners that filled the small room.

This presentation took place at the Institute of Directors' imposing classical building on London's prestigious Pall Mall during a perfect storm that would severely damage the public's trust in climate science. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, Barack Obama, the American President, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, and the rest of the world's most powerful leaders were preparing for the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), taking place that December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The gathering was being hyped by environmentalists as the last real chance to prevent runaway catastrophic global warming and therefore save humanity from itself. 

The climate deniers in Britain and America, on the other hand, were at this time marginalised from the debate after their leading proponents had become tainted with the lingering, acrid smell of oil and tobacco money. 

A Miracle Just Happened

But shortly before Lawson’s talk a comment was posted on a popular sceptic blog: “A miracle just happened,” it said.

The cryptic message linked to a file on a Russian server which contained hundreds of thousands of private emails between professors Michael Mann, Phil Jones and dozens of the world's leading climate scientists which had been hacked and stolen from the servers of a British university. 

The hack was quickly dubbed “Climategate” by James Delingpole, an eccentric denier then blogging for The Telegraph, and newspapers and broadcasters from London to New York published the sensational claim that these emails contained “smoking gun” proof that global warming was in fact an elaborate hoax. 

The farce threatened to undermine the public's trust in climate science just when the world's governments were about to introduce legally binding restrictions on carbon emissions. Lawson appeared in The Times demanding a “high-level, independent inquiry” into Jones and his work.

“The integrity of the scientific evidence” on which “far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions” are based “has been called into question,” he wrote, “and the reputation of British science seriously tarnished.” The article hit the streets as he travelled to Committee Room G of the House of Commons to launch his charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), before an invited audience of Conservative MPs, lobbyists and well-wishers.

Currency Speculation

Lawson's remarkable luck would continue late into the evening. After the formal proceedings at Pall Mall drew to a close, Mark Littlewood, the chain-smoking director general of the IEA, invited the speakers to dinner. They were joined by a third man, who had made millions in currency speculation, and had given the IEA a generous £36,000 to host the discussion -- Lawson commands a speaking fee of up to £12,000. 

During the meal, the third man discussed Lawson’s recent book An Appeal to Reason, A Cool Look at Global Warming with the author himself and accepted an invitation to pay a visit to his small charity. Some time after, he turned up at the GWPF offices just off Trafalgar Square where he met Dr Benny Peiser, the social anthropologist who somehow has become Lawson's indispensable side-kick. The multi-millionaire was seemingly impressed and agreed to donate a large sum to Lawson's foundation.

This was the beginning of a new offensive against climate science, and the end of a political consensus in Britain supporting policies to reduce emissions to prevent the worst horrors of runaway global warming.

Tomorrow: part two of our three-part prologue and introduction to the first definitive, unauthorised history of climate denial in Britain and the United States. Share on Twitter and Facebook so your friends are not forced to play catch-up!

Brazil Vows Water Supply Is Under Control as Basins Dry

by Vanessa Dezem, Bloomberg, August 28, 2014

Dry, cracked earth is seen where water usually stands at the Jaguari Dam, managed by Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, known as Sabesp, near Santa Isabel, in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photographer: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg

The state of Sao Paulo is facing its worst drought in eight decades, threatening the water supplies for 20 million people -- but you wouldn’t know that by asking Brazil’s elected officials.
Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who is seeking re-election in October, has been minimizing the crisis for the region, which includes South America’s largest city. The reaction is a far cry from the response in drought-stricken California, where Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and residents are being fined for watering their lawns.
Sao Paulo state is already rationing water for more than 2 million people in 18 cities. The capital city’s main reservoir is now at only 12 percent of capacity, according to the water utility Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, known as Sabesp. While the utility received a warning at the end of July that it risks running out of drinking water in 100 days, officials vow the situation is under control.
“Sao Paulo is denying this crisis because we are in the middle of the political campaign,” said Joao Simanke, a hydrogeologist consultant who worked for Sabesp for more than two decades. “The crisis is already in place and it is getting worse, but until now it has been possible to mask it.”

Source: WWAP, prepared with data from FAO AQUASTAT (aggregate data for all countries except Andorra and Serbia, external data) (website accessed Oct 2013), and using UN-Water category thresholds.

Blaming unusual weather in a city traditionally known as “drizzly Sao Paulo,” Alckmin denied last week he was slow to respond to the drop in the city’s main reservoir, which began in May 2013, because of the political cost of rationing.
“The situation in Sao Paulo is serious, but it is under control,” Mauro Arce, water resources secretary for the state, said in a telephone interview.

Reduced Flow

While Brazil’s largest city isn’t rationing water, thousands of residents are already complaining of reduced flow from their taps in the past two months.
In February, Sabesp began offering 30% discounts to customers who cut consumption by at least 20% of their 12-month average. The utility is spending money on special equipment to pull water known as “dead volume” from the very bottom of the Cantareira reservoir and to get supplies from other reservoirs.
In California, an estimated 82% of the state is experiencing extreme drought. Most of its major reservoirs are at less than half of capacity, state records show, as residents face restrictions on car washes and restaurants only serve water to customers who request it.

Spring Rains

Relief may be slow to come before more Sao Paulo residents have to contend with water limits. According to weather forecaster Climatempo, the spring season that starts in September will bring rains at or below historical averages -- not enough to refill basins. The drenching El Nino rains that caused floods in southern Brazil won’t travel far enough north to help refill reservoirs in Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo's water situation is “scary,” given the historical humid weather condition of the region, said Benedito Braga, president of World Water Council, an international organization that promotes awareness of water issues.
“Sao Paulo’s situation is not devastating such as the California’s situation, because the American state has experienced droughts many times,” he said. “We have never seen anything similar in Sao Paulo, so we are in an uncomfortable situation.”
Sao Paulo should be already adopting more measures in an attempt to reduce water usage, such as a progressive water rate in which consumers pay more for exceeding a certain level of water consumption, said Braga, who was on the board of Brazil’s national water agency from 2001 to 2009.

‘Serious’ Situation

Sao Paulo’s water resources secretary said there’s no need to adopt more measures to reduce demand and pressure on the city’s water reservoirs. The government isn’t minimizing the crisis and it’s reaching out to increase awareness of the issue, Arce said. Irrigation in the upper reaches of rivers is already being limited, he said.
“The situation is serious and we are dealing with it with the seriousness it deserves,” Arce said. Sabesp says its voluntary demand reduction programs are working and some, including Gesner Oliveira, a consultant who served as Sabesp’s president from 2007 to 2010, agree.
“The set of measures adopted were correct to manage the situation of water scarcity,” said Oliveira.
But reductions in demand haven’t held steady. In July, water consumption in Sao Paulo rose as tourists filled the city for the World Cup soccer tournament and fewer people joined the consumption reduction program, Sabesp executives said on an Aug. 19 conference call.
Water Fines?
“The water saving campaign is not enough to avoid a bigger problem, and people don’t exactly know what is going on,” said Samuel Barreto, a coordinator with the Nature Conservancy. “The government must better inform the population.”
Sao Paulo’s governor press office didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Marco Antonio Barros, superintendent of water production of Sabesp, downplayed the possibility the company would fine customers for excessive water use, saying such penalties took a long time to be established in California. Limiting secondary uses of water, for washing cars and other non-drinking consumption, is possible, he said.
According to a July report by Citigroup Inc., if the water flow remains below average for the remainder of the year, the Cantareira reservoir “will dry up by December in spite of the use of dead-storage volume.”
Sabesp expects to be able to supply water until the rainy season ends in March and says the chance of rationing in the capital by the end of the year is zero. Recovery of its reservoirs in the first months of the next season is unlikely “even if it rains a lot,” Sabesp Chief Financial Officer Rui Affonso said on the conference call. “The constancy of the rains is what matters.”

DeSmog-UK Launches to Combat Climate Denial in Europe Ahead of Paris Climate Talks

by Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog UK, September 1, 2014

A welcome message from DeSmogBlog executive director Brendan DeMelle.

We’re pleased to introduce DeSmog UK, a brand new investigative journalism and research outlet dedicated to clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science and exposing the individuals and organizations attacking solutions to global warming.
The newest addition to the international DeSmog network, DeSmog UK seeks to expose the same fossil fuel industry funded attacks on science and democracy that its colleagues at DeSmogBlog and DeSmog Canada investigate every day. 
DeSmog UK has appointed as Editor the intrepid British journalist Brendan Montague, who has spent the past three years examining climate denial and the origins of the think tanks and front groups that have waged war on climate science and policy solutions to global warming.
A small number of individuals and organizations have crafted a polluter-friendly echo chamber to confuse the public about the scientific consensus on global warming.
They hope to gain an outsized amount of influence over public policy debates on a range of environmental and public health priorities, most notably climate change and energy policy.
Their goal is simple: to delay action to curb global warming pollution and foster a clean energy future by creating doubt in the minds of the public. They use the same tactics — and many of the same PR firms and individuals — deployed by the tobacco industry in its decades-long campaign to protect cigarette profits and avoid accountability for killing millions of people.
Wherever the climate deniers and anti-science disinformers go, DeSmog will be right on their heels working to expose their spin and holding them accountable.
Although the UK government used to be respected for understanding the urgency of identifying policy solutions to combat global warming, the country’s leadership has shifted in recent years to an anti-science position that is leading Britain and much of Europe in the wrong direction on climate and energy policy.
Through original investigative journalism and crowd-powered deep research, DeSmog UK will expose the individuals and organizations responsible for delaying action on climate change in the UK.

With the international climate negotiations process stalled in dire straits, and the critical COP 21 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change coming up in Paris in December 2015, there is an urgent need to clear up the denial campaign that has hindered progress toward climate policy solutions around the world.
The science is clear, the clock is ticking and yet the public debate on solutions remains polluted by industry-funded misinformation and propaganda.
DeSmog UK seeks to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks on science and democracy, clearing the way for informed public discourse and political action to avert runaway climate change.
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Image credit: Kris Krug

Sunday, August 31, 2014

xkcd's latest book "What If?" reviewed by Peter Gleick

'What If? - A Review of Randall Munroe's New Book

by Peter H. Gleick, Huffington Post, August 31, 2014

One night, years ago, when I was complaining (again) at dinner about having to spend so much time on the inter-tubes responding to trolls disputing the science of climate change, one of my sons wordlessly got up from the table, walked out of the room, and a couple of minutes later returned with a piece of paper with a cartoon on it. That cartoon was my introduction to xkcd and the work of Randall Munroe.It was taped to my office door the next morning and I've been a fan ever since.2

Munroe self-describes as a former NASA roboticist with a degree in physics. His regular cartoons are brilliant, insightful, enlightening, funny, and tackle subjects that range from "omg" to "I won't even attempt to describe it." A couple of years ago, Munroe began a parallel effort called his "What if?" blog, providing "serious scientific answers" (accompanied by his trademark stick figures drawings) to "absurd hypothetical questions" posed by his readers. Many of these questions and his answers have now been compiled in a brand new book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York, due for release September 2nd. Here is a picture I took of him, since the one on the book's dust jacket is no good (it's just a head shot):
For some reason, his publisher thought I was worthy enough to receive an advanced copy.3 I've just finished reading it, cover to cover, and it has solved my annual birthday-present and holiday-gift dilemmas for a large group of people.
I say the questions Munroe tackles are bizarre, but actually most of them are pretty cool:
  • If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn't the common cold be wiped out?
  • What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?
  • How much physical space does the Internet take up?
  • What if everyone who took the SAT guessed on every multiple-choice question? How many perfect scores would there be?4
  • What would happen if you were to gather a mole (unit of measurement) of moles (the small furry critter) in one place?
  • What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?
  • What if a glass of water was, all of sudden, literally half empty?
  • Assuming a zero-gravity environment with an atmosphere identical to Earth's, how long would it take the friction of air to stop an arrow fired from a bow? Would it eventually come to a standstill and hover in midair?
Munroe must get thousands of questions submitted by readers. He answers a modest subset of those that not only pique his interest but are amusing and offer the potential to use real science to explore concepts, the world around us, and day-to-day mysteries of life and the universe.
What makes Munroe's work so fantastic is a combination of two elements: his commitment to trying to answer even the weirdest question with solid science, and his undeniable sense of humor.
I love back-of-the-envelope calculations; they were a major (and most important) part of my undergraduate and graduate science education. Anyone can pull an equation out of a textbook to solve a basic physics or engineering question, but most of the world's (and literally out-of-this-world) interesting questions can't be answered just with textbook equations. They require guesstimates, simplifying assumptions, and cross-disciplinary science skills (from physics to biology to chemistry to engineering). Munroe combines all of these with the ability to explore different paths to answers that enlighten, amuse, and inform, all together.
He also obviously gets piles of questions that he can't or won't answer. These fall into his category of "Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox" -- a selection of which he includes in the book along with hysterically funny comments in the form of his stick figures.5
So, here's a "What If?" from me: If everyone on the planet simultaneously bought a copy of this book, stopped what they were doing and read it cover to cover, would modern civilization and our global economy collapse? It's worth trying the experiment.6
Peter Gleick7
1. It was also an early introduction into the fact that my children had somehow become wiser and more internet savvy than I would ever be. "Digital natives" my (also wiser) wife calls them, as opposed to "digital immigrants."
2. Just to admit how old I am, that cartoon is taped on my door next to The New Yorker cartoon by Robert Mankoff  "No, Thursday's out. How about never - is never good for you?" And I cut that one out of the magazine myself.
3. Making me feel pretty special, though perhaps they published 7 billion of them and sent one to everyone on the planet. If so, I don't want to know.
4. Admit it, you wondered about this right around the time the proctor said "Begin now." 
5. Interestingly, all of the creepiest were all submitted by the same person: someone named Anonymous.
6. No disclaimer from me. But read the disclaimer in the book right before his Introduction.
7. And yes, read every one of his footnotes, too.