Indonesia is releasing a gigantic amount of trapped CO2

The latest:

A catastrophic milestone has been reached. The carbon-dioxide-rich peat bogs (and tropical forests) being set ablaze in Indonesia to clear land for farming are now producing repeated single-day spikes of emissions exceeding the daily output of the entire U.S. economy, according to the World Resources Institute.

Background information:

79% of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions result from the destruction of its carbon-rich tropical forests and peat bogs for conversion into palm oil plantations, other agricultural uses, or development – according to the World Resources Institute.

This is a critical problem because Indonesia, which only has the world’s 16th-largest economy, is now the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Indonesia also has the third largest tropical forest cover by area. (And lots of marshy peatlands.) Still, this forest cover has rapidly declined in recent decades. For example, the large Indonesian island of Sumatra went from 50% forested to 25% forested between 1985 and 2008.

Troublingly, many of the uses for which this newly cleared land is being diverted (such as palm oil production) could actually be located on other sites with previously degraded or clear-cut land.

Additionally, Indonesia’s September 2015 climate action plan only promises emissions reductions against project 2020 levels, although it does include more pledges to limit deforestation.

This post produced in conjunction with The Globalist Research Center.

Why did Hillary Clinton bring up the big climate talks failure?

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

first-democratic-2016-presidential-debate

I reacted very negatively to Secretary Clinton’s bizarre debate anecdote about the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, but I couldn’t quite remember all the details, other than my generalized and deep disappointment about the results of those talks at the time. This post filled my memory gap in…

“Hillary Clinton Is Living in a Climate Change Fantasy World” – Slate.com

About midway through the [first 2016 Democratic presidential] debate, Clinton staked her climate record on what’s widely perceived to have been one of the biggest diplomatic failures in recent history — the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. After years of anticipation, the meeting of world leaders ended in disarray, with Obama and his aides famously wandering around the convention center, looking for the leaders of China, India, Brazil, and other key nations. The toothless deal struck at the last minute was called a “grudging accord” by the New York Times the next day. Yes, Obama—and Clinton, then his secretary of state—were instrumental to that deal, but it’s hardly something Hillary should be proud of.

So it was pretty strange to hear her comments on Tuesday night. In her first answer on climate change, Clinton said, “I have been on the forefront of dealing with climate change starting in 2009 when President Obama and I crashed a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they’d ever joined.”

In reality, the sour legacy of Copenhagen has haunted international climate negotiations ever since. It’s now widely believed that the U.S. never wanted a legally binding climate deal in Copenhagen at all—even though the Democrats controlled the Congress at the time and may have been able to successfully ratify the treaty—opting instead for a mostly empty pledge of billions of dollars in aid to developing nations. Among environmentalists, Clinton has retained only a mediocre reputation on climate change as a result.

Her Copenhagen comment wasn’t just a poor choice of wording, because she brought it up again later in the debate.
[…]
In her expanded version of the story, Clinton and Obama were roaming Copenhagen “literally … hunting for the Chinese.” Once they found them, she said, “We marched up, broke in, and said, ‘We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and come up with what we need to do.’” That all sounds very Jason Bourne, but it’s not a good substitute for effective climate policy.

 

In Brazil, native militias form to protect forests

amazon-rainforest

Here’s another story along the lines of the First Nations resistance in British Columbia, Canada, to oil pipeline construction on traditional lands… “Amazon residents resort to militias to keep out illegal loggers” – Washington Post:

A beat-up sign on the edge of this Amazon reserve warns strangers not to enter. For years, loggers ignored it and barreled straight into the protected indigenous territory, cutting tracks ever deeper into the diminishing forest.

But on a recent day, visitors approaching Juçaral village, just inside the reserve, encountered an improvised checkpoint operated by a militia called the Guardians. Wearing disheveled uniforms and face paint, members of the 48-man militia sauntered out, shotguns in hand, to check every arriving vehicle.

The Guardians are one of two indigenous groups on this eastern fringe of the Amazon that have taken radical action to reduce illegal logging. They have tied up loggers, torched their trucks and tractors, and kicked them off the reserves.

As a result, such logging has sharply declined in these territories. But the indigenous groups have faced reprisal attacks and death threats for their actions, raising fears of more violence in an area known for its lawlessness.

The clashes highlight the continuing grave threat to the Amazon, the world’s biggest remaining rain forest, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the world’s climate and biodiversity. From 2005 to 2012, deforestation plunged in Brazil, as the government increased its conservation efforts and cracked down on illegal loggers. But since then, the numbers have begun to creep up again. In 2014 alone, almost 2,000 square miles of Amazon rain forest were cleared by farmers, loggers and others.

Indigenous groups play an important role in preserving Brazil’s Amazon rain forest; their reserves make up roughly one-fifth of its area. Silvio da Silva, a village chief from Arariboia and an employee of the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, said that a year ago as many as 130 logging trucks left the southern end of this reserve a day. Thanks to the Guardians, that has fallen to around 10 to 15 trucks a day.

In a rare visit to the reserves permitted by the indigenous tribes, Washington Post journalists found that many residents support the militias. But others are uneasy about relying on informal armed groups to resolve a problem that should fall to the Brazilian government.

Continue reading this feature…

In many cases, they have used mild force to restrain loggers and block their activities. This has, of course, been met with violent reprisals and assassinations of indigenous leaders and activists.

 
18% of the pre-1970 Brazilian Amazon had been cut down as of 2013. Massive clear-cutting began in 1970 and has played a crucial role in Brazil becoming the world’s seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The Amazon rainforest is being cleared for timber, mining, soybean farming, sugar plantations and cattle grazing, as well as to assert legal claims to property by showing “development” on the land.

Brazil’s government has taken steps to make significant reductions in yearly deforestation, but these efforts will need to be sustained consistently and more deeply — and thus far they have not been. Brazil’s climate action plan released in September 2015 is a continuation of its recent strong emissions cuts, but its deforestation pledge only tackles illegal logging, not vast legal timber harvests. And even the illegal logging clearly isn’t close to under control as the Washington Post feature quoted above proves.

Study on Syria finds concrete link between drought, climate, the war

A new study found that prolonged drought conditions (directly associated with warming of the global climate) in Syria for several years preceding the war pushed over a million people to migrate from the northern countryside to cities in the 2007-2011 period, fostering substantially more unrest and instability than usual by the time the Arab Spring sparked protests and an uprising that became the Syrian civil war. While many factors caused the war, this seems to have exacerbated or accelerated it.

“There are various things going on, but you’re talking about 1.5 million people migrating from the rural north to the cities,” said climate scientist Richard Seager at Columbia, a co-author of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”

 
These results are among some of the most definitive so far in proving not just a general environmental/resource stress factor in civil unrest but stress factors specifically connected to global warming.

The study in Syria is also not the first link identified between global warming-related droughts and the upheaval of the Arab Spring. Previously, drought conditions in Ukrainian and Russian export breadbaskets in the summer of 2010 — also thought to be a result of global warming — have been tied to skyrocketing wheat and bread prices in Egypt, which was a major contributing factor in the January 2011 revolution.

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Climate policy: Disengage “stakeholders”?

Perhaps there has been too much engaging of certain uncooperative and undermining stakeholders in the climate change policy discussions. As one of the world’s largest climate action protests ever unfolded this weekend, Anna Lappé makes that case in a new Al Jazeera America op-ed entitled “What climate activists can learn from the fight against Big Tobacco”:

Progress has been stalled in part because the biggest polluters in the world — those oil and gas companies responsible for the lion’s share of emissions, for example — have been given a seat at the negotiating table, treated as partners and stakeholders at the annual global meetings called the Conference of Parties, or COP. Over the years, these COPs have featured industry-sponsored pavilions, dinners and breakaway meetings. And companies have been granted official observer status through their industry trade associations, which are considered nongovernmental organizations under current climate meeting rules. Some have even attended as official members of country delegations. (For instance, a representative from Shell joined the Nigerian delegation to COP16 in 2010 and Brazil’s to COP14 in 2008.)

As climate activists call for governments to take real action on climate, the decades-long fight against Big Tobacco — specifically, how public health advocates successfully kept companies away from the negotiating table — holds powerful lessons for the role industries should have in these key talks.

 
It would be one thing if the oil and gas companies were actively interested in pursuing new energy strategies or diversifying their future plans into new and cleaner areas, but as she notes they are spending a lot of money trying to undermine the case that new regulations or laws are even needed in the first place. And in that regard they are probably forfeiting their right to have a seat at the table as stakeholders.

Incidentally, that mention of the Shell rep serving on the delegation from Nigeria in 2008 and 2010 is very unsurprising. As I explored in an article in January 2011, entitled “The Nigerian Republic of Royal Dutch Shell”, on the Nigeria-specific revelations from the leaked diplomatic cables a few years ago:

Royal Dutch Shell has essentially become, according to the company itself, the industrial octopus inside Nigeria’s government, even in the “democratic” era…

The ambassador reported: “She [Ann Pickard, then Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa] said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.”

 
Until now, most of the discussions have included oil and gas lobby folks on the theory that their “buy-in” would be critical to producing actionable plans for dealing with climate change. But what if they just refuse to buy-in? It should be clear after more than two decades of efforts that they aren’t really interested in taking the transformative steps necessary to bring their businesses into the future. At this point, they have too much influence at the table, rather than not enough. The fight against Big Tobacco is probably a useful analogy.

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with BP, local residents and other federal agencies, conducted the burn to help prevent the spread of oil following the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling unit. (Credit: US Navy via Wikimedia)

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with BP, local residents and other federal agencies, conducted the burn to help prevent the spread of oil following the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling unit. (Credit: US Navy via Wikimedia)

Recommended reading on Louisiana’s receding coastline

Here’s a fantastic piece of long-form journalism by Brett Anderson with tons of incredible graphics and maps (and discussions of inaccuracies of maps) on the shape of Louisiana’s coastline and trying to keep track of it. This coast is continuing to shift quickly — as it has done for millennia — only now people live there, and the land is receding sharply, not re-arranging laterally or extending outward.

According to the U.S.G.S., the state lost just under 1,900 square miles of land between 1932 and 2000. This is the rough equivalent of the entire state of Delaware dropping into the Gulf of Mexico, and the disappearing act has no closing date. […] An area approximately the size of a football field continues to slip away every hour.

 
One problem is falling sediment levels to replenish the Delta’s land, a result of levees and other river construction projects that artificially constrain the Mississippi River’s course and its flood plain patterns. Another is rising sea levels, due to man-made global warming. Between the two (plus recurring factors like Gulf hurricanes), the state’s distinctive “boot” shape is more and more a historic relic that keeps appearing on maps but doesn’t exist on the ground.

Map: 4,600 years of the Mississippi River Delta moving around the Louisiana coastline due to erosion/direction changes.

Map: 4,600 years of the Mississippi River Delta moving around the Louisiana coastline due to erosion/direction changes.