Editorial | Why Spy Agencies Say the Future Is Bleak – The New York Times

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; Photograph, via Getty Images

“Every four years, at the start of a new administration, American intelligence agencies put out “Global Trends,” a weighty assessment of where the world seems headed over the next two decades. In 2008, for example, the report warned about the potential emergence of a pandemic originating in East Asia and spreading rapidly around the world.

The latest report, Global Trends 2040, released last week by the National Intelligence Council, finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not schadenfreude. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.

The world envisioned in the 144-page report, ominously subtitled “A More Contested World,” is rent by a changing climate, aging populations, disease, financial crises and technologies that divide more than they unite, all straining societies and generating “shocks that could be catastrophic.” The gap between the challenges and the institutions meant to deal with them continues to grow, so that “politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ideology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers.” At the international level, it will be a world increasingly “shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system,” with a greater risk of conflict.

Here’s how agencies charged with watching the world see things:

  • “Large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs. People are gravitating to familiar and like-minded groups for community and security, including ethnic, religious, and cultural identities as well as groupings around interests and causes, such as environmentalism.”

  • “At the same time that populations are increasingly empowered and demanding more, governments are coming under greater pressure from new challenges and more limited resources. This widening gap portends more political volatility, erosion of democracy, and expanding roles for alternative providers of governance.”

  • “Accelerating shifts in military power, demographics, economic growth, environmental conditions, and technology, as well as hardening divisions over governance models, are likely to further ratchet up competition between China and a Western coalition led by the United States.”

  • “At the state level, the relationships between societies and their governments in every region are likely to face persistent strains and tensions because of a growing mismatch between what publics need and expect and what governments can and will deliver.”

Experts in Washington who have read these reports said they do not recall a gloomier one. In past years, the future situations offered have tilted toward good ones; this year, the headings for how 2040 may look tell a different story: “Competitive Coexistence,” “Separate Silos,” “Tragedy and Mobilization” or “A World Adrift,” in which “the international system is directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored by major powers like China, regional players and non-state actors.    . . . ”

Opinion | Every Country Has Its Own Climate Risks. What’s Yours? – The New York Times

“President Biden has wasted no time in moving to repudiate his predecessor’s regressive climate policies. That’s good news. This map shows which areas could be at high risk unless greenhouse-gas emissions are cut drastically.

We’ve colored the map to identify the top risks across the globe, using a model by Four Twenty Seven, a company that analyzes climate risks. Accumulated emissions in the atmosphere are causing accelerating risks for a number of climate hazards.”

Incidentally, the first hyperlink introduced me to an organization called 427 in California. I went to their site to learn: “The name Four Twenty Seven is a reference to California’s previous 2020 emissions target, 427 million tonnes of carbon.” I found through google that CA did meet its emissions targets for 2020.

Roy Scranton | I’ve Said Goodbye to ‘Normal.’ You Should, Too. – The New York Times

“. . .  I put on my mask. I want our normal lives back.

But what does normal even mean anymore?

It’s easy to forget that 2020 gave us not just the pandemic, but also the West Coast’s worst fire season, as well as the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. And, while we were otherwise distracted, 2020 also offered up near-record lows in Arctic sea icepossible evidence of significant methane release from Arctic permafrost and the Arctic Ocean, huge wildfires in both the Amazon and the Arcticshattered heat records (2020 rivaled 2016 for the hottest year on record)bleached coral reefs, the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic, and increasing odds that the global climate system has passed the point where feedback dynamics take over and the window of possibility for preventing catastrophe closes.

President Biden has recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement, which is great except that it doesn’t really mean much, since that agreement’s commitments are voluntary. And it might not even matter whether signatories meet their commitments, since their pledges weren’t rigorous enough to keep global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels to begin with. According to Climate Action Tracker, a collaborative analysis from independent science nonprofits, only Morocco and Gambia have made commitments compatible with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the commitments made by several major emitters, including China, Russia, Japan and the United States, are “highly insufficient” or “critically insufficient.” “

Opinion | Watching Earth Burn – By Michael Benson – The New York Times

Mr. Benson, an author and artist, has special interests in planetary imagery and climate change.

“I have a pastime, one that used to give me considerable pleasure, but lately it has morphed into a source of anxiety, even horror: earth-watching.

Let me explain.

The earth from space is an incomparably lovely sight. I mean the whole planet, pole to pole, waxing and waning and rotating in that time-generating way it has, and not the views from the International Space Station, which is in a low orbit about 200 miles up and gives us only part of the whole.

My earth-watching, made possible by NOAA and Colorado State University websites, originates in three geostationary weather satellites parked in exceedingly high orbits above the Equator. Despite their seemingly static positions, GOES-16 and 17, two American satellites, and Himawari-8, a Japanese one, are actually whizzing through space at 6,876 miles per hour. They do so to remain suspended imperturbably over the Ecuadorean-Colombian border, the Eastern Pacific and the Western Pacific respectively. At 22,236 miles above sea level, they are in effect falling around earth at the exact pace it turns.

ImageWaning gibbous Earth taken by the GOES-16 satellite on Sept. 11 this year. Smoke from fires in the Amazon and Pantanal of Brazil dominates South America. A vast vector of smoke expands across North America and the Pacific from West Coast wildfires.
Credit…Michael Benson/CIRA/NOAA”

UNHCR – Climate change and disaster displacement

“. . . . In 2018, extreme weather events such as severe drought in Afghanistan, Tropical Cyclone Gita in Samoa, and flooding in the Philippines, resulted in acute humanitarian needs. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements recorded in 2017. Most disaster displacement linked to natural hazards and the impacts of climate change is internal, with those affected remaining within their national borders. However, displacement across borders also occurs, and may be interrelated with situations of conflict or violence.

In all cases, people displaced by disasters have needs and vulnerabilities that must be addressed. People already displaced for reasons other than disasters linked to natural hazards – including refugees, stateless people, and the internally displaced – often reside in climate change ‘hotspots’ and may be exposed to secondary displacement. Moreover, similar impacts on their home areas can inhibit their ability to safely return.” . . . .

Source: UNHCR – Climate change and disaster displacement

Opinion | There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It. – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.”

Humans Wiped Out Two-Thirds of the World’s Wildlife in 50 Years | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

 Keeping you current

Threats to global biodiversity are also threats to humans, experts warn

A cloud of smoke rises on the right over a rainforest treetops, with one tall tree illuminated from behind by the sun, and smoke. Hints of blue sky to the left
Smoke rises from a fire in the Amazon rainforest, south of Novo Progresso in the Para state, Brazil. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / Getty Images)
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM
“Two major reports released this month paint a grim portrait of the future for our planet’s wildlife. First, the Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), published last week, found that in half a century, human activity has decimated global wildlife populations by an average of 68 percent.

The study analyzed population sizes of 4,392 monitored species of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians from 1970 to 2016, reports Karin Brulliard for the Washington Post. It found that populations in Latin America and the Caribbean fared the worst, with a staggering 94 percent decline in population. All told, the drastic species decline tracked in this study “signal a fundamentally broken relationship between humans and the natural world,” the WWF notes in a release.

Source: Humans Wiped Out Two-Thirds of the World’s Wildlife in 50 Years | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

It’s Not Just California. These Places Are Also on Fire. – By Veronica Penney – The New York Times

By 

“Wildfires are devastating the American West, but the United States isn’t the only place on Earth that’s burning. This year, other countries have also experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history.

In each case, the contributing factors are different, but an underlying theme runs through the story: Hotter, drier seasons, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, have made the world more prone to erupt in flames.

“We don’t have a fire problem; we have many fire problems,” said Stephen J. Pyne, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies wildfires and their history. “One, obviously, is a deep one. It has to do with fossil fuels and climate.” “

The Arctic Is Shifting to a New Climate Because of Global Warming – By Henry Fountain – The New York Times

 

“The effects of global warming in the Arctic are so severe that the region is shifting to a different climate, one characterized less by ice and snow and more by open water and rain, scientists said Monday.

Already, they said, sea ice in the Arctic has declined so much that even an extremely cold year would not result in as much ice as was typical decades ago. Two other characteristics of the region’s climate, seasonal air temperatures and the number of days of rain instead of snow, are shifting in the same way, the researchers said.

The Arctic is among the parts of the world most influenced by climate change, with sharply rising temperatures, thawing permafrost and other effects in addition to shrinking sea ice. The study, by Lara Landrum and Marika M. Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is an effort to put what is occurring in the region in context.

“Everybody knows the Arctic is changing,” said Dr. Landrum, a climate scientist and the lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “We really wanted to quantify if is this a new climate.”

In other words, she said, “has the Arctic changed so much and so fast that the new climate cannot be predicted from the recent past?”

Using years of observational data from the region and computer models, the researchers found that sea ice is already in a new climate, in effect: The extent of ice in recent years is consistently less than what would be expected in even the worst year for ice in the mid-20th century.

Arctic sea ice has declined by about 12 percent per decade since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the 13 lowest sea-ice years have all occurred since 2007. This year is expected to be a record or near-record low for ice extent, which will be determined by the end of this month as the summer melt period ends.”

A Quarter of Bangladesh Is Flooded. Millions Have Lost Everything. – By Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik – The New York Times

By Somini Sengupta and 

“Torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh, washing away the few things that count as assets for some of the world’s poorest people — their goats and chickens, houses of mud and tin, sacks of rice stored for the lean season.

It is the latest calamity to strike the delta nation of 165 million people. Only two months ago, a cyclone pummeled the country’s southwest. Along the coast, a rising sea has swallowed entire villages. And while it’s too soon to ascertain what role climate change has played in these latest floods, Bangladesh is already witnessing a pattern of more severe and more frequent river flooding than in the past along the mighty Brahmaputra River, scientists say, and that is projected to worsen in the years ahead as climate change intensifies the rains.

“The suffering will go up,” said Sajedul Hasan, the humanitarian director of BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh that is distributing food, cash and liquid soap to displaced people.”

“This is one of the most striking inequities of the modern era. Those who are least responsible for polluting Earth’s atmosphere are among those most hurt by its consequences. The average American is responsible for 33 times more planet-warming carbon dioxide than the average Bangladeshi.

This chasm has bedeviled diplomacy for a generation, and it is once again in stark relief as the coronavirus pandemic upends the global economy and threatens to push the world’s most vulnerable people deeper into ruin.

An estimated 24 to 37 percent of the country’s landmass is submerged, according to government estimates and satellite data By Tuesday, according to the most recent figures available, nearly a million homes were inundated and 4.7 million people were affected. At least 54 have died, most of them children.

The current floods, which are a result of intense rains upstream on the Brahmaputra, could last through the middle of August. Until then, Taijul Islam, a 30-year-old sharecropper whose house has washed away, will have to camp out in a makeshift bamboo shelter on slightly higher ground. At least he was able to salvage the tin sheet that was once the roof of his house. Without it, he said, his extended family of nine would be exposed to the elements.

Mr. Islam’s predicament is multiplied by the millions among those on the front lines of climate change. Vanuatu is literally sinking into the Pacific. Pastoralists in the Horn of Africa are being pushed to the edge of survival by back-to-back droughts. In the megacity of Mumbai, the rains come in terrifying cloudbursts.”

Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, in late July. The damage from this year’s flooding has been compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic.

David Lindsay:

Bravo.  Here is one of many good comments:

AT

Idaho

July 30

Here we go again. The US with 5% of the worlds population uses 25% of its resources. The US is number one in co2 emissions per capita and is only exceeded by China, with 4x our population in total emissions. This, however, is not the whole story. In 1970 when Bangladesh became a country it had a population of ~65 million. It is now ~165 million. While they do not contribute individually or collectively anywhere near as much as a western person or country to climate change that kind of growth in one lifetime has disastrous effects on the local environment and how people live. More land is needed for food production, housing, clothing and on and on, and people spread out to previously uninhabited areas, (the environment always pays for human numbers and activity) increasing the damage when things like flooding happen. In the US a similar effect is found. In 1970 the US had ~205 million people with a per capita co2 emissions of ~23 tons each. In 2020 the US has ~330 million people with co2 emissions of ~16 tons each (a 25% reduction). Population growth has completely wiped out all the gains of reducing our per capita co2 emissions. The point of this? Without addressing population growth both in the west and in every other country, nothing will be achieved. The effect of humans on the environment is simple. Number of people x lifestyle = effects. Both sides of the equation have to be addressed everywhere to have any lasting effect.

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