The ongoing drought in the U.S. Southwest is the worst drought the region has experienced since record keeping began in 1895, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Drought Task Force.
The 20 months from January 2020 through August 2021 saw the lowest total precipitation and the third-highest daily average temperatures ever recorded in the Southwest (which encompasses Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah), resulting in an "unyielding, unprecedented and costly" crisis, the report said.
While the drought punctuates a two-decades-long period of declining precipitation in the Southwest that is "presumably natural," human-induced climate change exacerbated the current drought significantly by driving up average temperatures to scorching highs, the report found. Together, the low precipitation and searing temperatures reduced the area's mountain snowpack and increased water evaporation in Southwestern soil, leading to the severe and persistent drought.
Given fall rainfall predictions, the drought is likely to last well into 2022, the report found, and drought could last considerably longer if low regional precipitation continues. However, even if rainfall naturally increases over the coming years, man-made climate change will still heighten the risk of extreme heat and wildfires, increasing both the likelihood and severity of future droughts, the researchers said.
"The warm temperatures that helped to make this drought so intense and widespread will continue (and increase) until stringent climate mitigation is pursued and regional warming trends are reversed," the team wrote in their report. "While 2020–21 was an exceptional period of low precipitation, the drought that has emerged is a harbinger of a future that the U.S. Southwest must take steps to manage now."
Meanwhile, the drought will continue to take a tremendous toll on the Southwest's more than 60 million residents, and the countless millions of others who depend on goods and services from the region, the report said.
"Economic losses associated with the drought for 2020 alone are approximately between $515 million and $1.3 billion, not including losses from associated wildfires," the report said. Add in wildfires, and the costs of this crisis rise to between $11.4 and $23 billion — for six states, for one year.
FARMINGTON — American Indian tribes may be disproportionately affected by climate changes as compared to the general population, a National Wildlife Federation study found.
The study, released this month, found that American Indians and Alaska Natives in North America are more vulnerable to climate changes because they are more heavily dependent on natural resources and live closer to the land than does the general population.
“Extreme weather events can be very destructive for tribes, many of whom are already suffering from lack of resources to begin with,” said Amanda Staudt, a senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Heat waves and droughts can exacerbate plant and wildlife mortality, heighten the risk of wildfires and habitat loss and compromise tribal lands.”
Tribes depend on the land and natural resources to sustain economic, cultural and spiritual practices. They also face a relative lack of financial and technical resources needed to recover from extreme weather events, the study found.
“High rates of poverty and unemployment on reservations mean that tribes have limited resources to help their populations deal with weather and climate extremes, much less to adapt to a changing climate over the long term,” the study states. “Because tribes are restricted by reservation boundaries, their attachment to the land and off-reservation treaty rights, moving to new areas to accommodate climate shifts is not a viable option.”
Climate changes are defined as ecological shifts that can lead to weather extremes like severe drought and heat waves, wildfires and heavier rainfall and snowfall.
Locally, climate and weather changes have adversely affected individual residents on the Navajo Nation, and the population as a whole.
Ranchers who work a total of 350,000 acres of Navajo ranch land, located in New Mexico and Arizona, are struggling with drought conditions they say have stretched since 1978.
Ranchers across the Four Corners area are forced to sell their livestock earlier than usual this year because of the lack of precipitation, which ultimately means they are buying supplemental feed or losing money by selling scrawnier animals.
Although all ranchers in the Southwest are affected by one of the driest seasons in recent history, those on the Navajo Nation may be hit the hardest, said Vicki Atkinson, a brand inspector for the New Mexico Livestock Board. The reasons for that are limited resources and the isolated locations where ranchers are raising livestock.
“It’s pretty normal to see livestock coming from the reservation that don’t look good,” said Atkinson, who is on hand every Monday at the Cow House in Kirtland, where she inspects livestock before they go to auction.
As many as 80 or 90 percent of all livestock that go through the Cow House come from ranchers on the various local American Indian reservations, Atkinson said. Ranchers have struggled with drought since 1995, she said.
“This year is especially bad,” she said. “We have horses, cattle that are in critical condition, so people are selling earlier before they get too bad.”
The Navajo Nation also experiences emergency weather conditions nearly every year when heavy snowfall in the winter or muddy conditions in the early spring mean residents in the most remote areas are stranded at home without passable roads or the resources to call for help.
“Power disruptions from storms, long dry spells and heavy floods can be difficult to recover from, especially for people who live close to the land and have limited economic resources,” Garrit Voggesser, senior manager for the National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Program, said during a teleconference with journalists Aug. 3.
“Extreme weather events are destructive and recovery costs are great, which will further burden Indian tribes more than others due to their lack of infrastructure, capacity and financial support to address these challenges,” he said.
Yet tribes exhibit significant resiliency and strength to meet those challenges, the study found.
“Indian tribes have an opportunity to build on their close connection to (the) land, traditions of sustainability and resilience to navigate a way for the changes of the coming decades,” Voggesser said.
The National Wildlife Federation released the study in collaboration with the Tribal Lands Program, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, National Congress of American Indians, Native American Fish & Wildlife Society, National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund and the University of Colorado Law School.
Since the turn of the millennium, 13 countries, including China and Algeria, have declared victory in the war against malaria, joining more than 100 states certified malaria-free by the World Health Organization.
The WHO aims to add at least 25 more countries to the list by 2025. But the arc of progress could yet be thrown off course by climate change.
“There’s cause for celebration and concern,” says Wakgari Deressa, professor of public health at Addis Ababa University, who has advised the Ethiopian government on malaria prevention.
Ethiopia is one of only half a dozen African nations on course to meet the WHO target of a 90 per cent reduction in malaria case incidence by 2030, compared with 2015 levels. Malaria still kills more than 400,000 people a year worldwide, mostly children under the age of five in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria accounted for 10,400 deaths in Ethiopia at its peak in 2000. Now, yearly deaths from the disease are less than half that figure. Infection rates among the at-risk population have fallen from 219 cases per 1,000 in 2004 to 32 cases in 2018.
“Mosquito nets and better treatments have reduced malaria prevalence and morbidity in Ethiopia,” explains Deressa. “But, simultaneously, temperature changes and different rainfall patterns mean malaria is emerging in highland communities previously protected from the disease.” He says climate change has made elimination “a distant hope”.
The ideal conditions for malaria transmission are an average temperature of 20-30 degrees Celsius, monthly precipitation in excess of 80mm, and relative humidity greater than 60 per cent. Changes in Ethiopia’s climate have brought more regions into this malaria ‘sweet spot’.
The same trend is being seen globally: while better public health has contained the risks of malaria, climate change has made the effort “more of an uphill struggle”, says Rachel Lowe, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
A research team, of which Lowe was a part, estimated that climate change could lead to at least an additional 3.6bn people being at risk from malaria by 2071, relative to the at-risk population in 1970-99. Lowe fears complacency may creep into the fight against malaria and heighten the risk of re-emergence.
The upshot may be that countries pushing towards elimination never achieve the goal and those declared free of the disease risk the return of malaria, alongside other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, says Lowe.
Even parts of Europe, where the disease was officially eliminated in 2015, could see malaria return in the next few decades, warns Alexander More, associate professor of environmental health at Long Island University in New York.
“The pathogen itself is not in the environment in the quantity needed for an outbreak yet,” he says. “But [Europe’s] proximity to places where the disease is endemic means this is always a possibility from trade and human migration.”
Malaria-free areas may also face a higher degree of morbidity if the disease is reintroduced because of a lack of natural immunity, according to Andy Morse, professor of climate impacts at the University of Liverpool. “The problem is when it gets introduced to a new area or introduced back, that population is totally susceptible,” he says. “In Africa, it’s generally killing children, not breadwinners. But when it moves into a new area, it can be fatal across the whole age range because there’s no resistance.”
Morse thinks Europe may stave off the worst of malaria transmission unless there is “a drastic breakdown in the primary care infrastructure”.
However, Lowe points out that the Covid-19 pandemic proves that even well-funded healthcare systems in richer nations can end up at the point of near-collapse.
“It’s very much about not just waiting for it to happen and dealing with it when it arrives — it’s about doing everything that is possible to prevent that introduction and emergent spread,” she says.
More speculates that the world could end up in “a footrace” between climate change raising the risk of transmission and the development of better treatments and prevention methods.
A study, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which followed 6,800 children aged between five and 17 months for three years, found that combining seasonal malaria vaccinations and prevention drugs reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 70 per cent.
Similarly, a University of Oxford team found that their malaria mRNA vaccine was 77 per cent effective in early-stage trials.
More says these results are “welcome”, but are unlikely to be a “silver bullet”. Instead, scientists think concerns over increased malaria transmission should focus government’s attention on the need to stop fossil fuel use and halt global warming.
“Policymakers need to put this issue front and centre because it’s the easiest way to sell the radical changes that need to happen for us to address climate change because everybody cares about their own health in the end,” More says.
“It’s good policy and it’s good science, or it’s good science and it’s good policy — depending on what your priority is.”
There are many reports based on scientific research that talk about the long-term impacts of climate change — such as rising levels of greenhouse gases, temperatures and sea levels — by the year 2100. The Paris Agreement, for example, requires us to limit warming to under 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
Every few years since 1990, we have evaluated our progress through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) scientific assessment reports and related special reports. IPCC reports assess existing research to show us where we are and what we need to do before 2100 to meet our goals, and what could happen if we don’t.
The recently published United Nations assessment of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) warns that current promises from governments set us up for a very dangerous 2.7 degrees Celsius warming by 2100: this means unprecedented fires, storms, droughts, floods and heat, and profound land and aquatic ecosystem change.
While some climate projections do look past 2100, these longer-term projections aren’t being factored into mainstream climate adaptation and environmental decision-making today. This is surprising because people born now will only be in their 70s by 2100. What will the world look like for their children and grandchildren?
To grasp, plan for and communicate the full spatial and temporal scope of climate impacts under any scenario, even those meeting the Paris Agreement, researchers and policymakers must look well beyond the 2100 horizon.
In 2100, will the climate stop warming? If not, what does this mean for humans now and in the future? In our recent open-access article in Global Change Biology, we begin to answer these questions.
We ran global climate model projections based on Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP), which are “time-dependent projections of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.” Our projections modelled low (RCP6.0), medium (RCP4.5) and high mitigation scenarios (RCP2.6, which corresponds to the “well-below 2 degrees Celsius” Paris Agreement goal) up to the year 2500.
We also modelled vegetation distribution, heat stress and growing conditions for our current major crop plants, to get a sense of the kind of environmental challenges today’s children and their descendants might have to adapt to from the 22nd century onward.
In our model, we found that global average temperatures keep increasing beyond 2100 under RCP4.5 and 6.0. Under those scenarios, vegetation and the best crop-growing areas move towards the poles, and the area suitable for some crops is reduced. Places with long histories of cultural and ecosystem richness, like the Amazon Basin, may become barren.
Further, we found heat stress may reach fatal levels for humans in tropical regions which are currently highly populated. Such areas might become uninhabitable. Even under high-mitigation scenarios, we found that sea level keeps rising due to expanding and mixing water in warming oceans.
Although our findings are based on one climate model, they fall within the range of projections from others, and help to reveal the potential magnitude of climate upheaval on longer time scales.
To really portray what a low-mitigation/high-heat world could look like compared to what we’ve experienced until now, we used our projections and diverse research expertise to inform a series of nine paintings covering a thousand years (1500, 2020, and 2500 CE) in three major regional landscapes (the Amazon, the Midwest United States and the Indian subcontinent). The images for the year 2500 centre on the RCP6.0 projections, and include slightly advanced but recognizable versions of today’s technologies.
An alien future?
Between 1500 and today, we have witnessed colonization and the Industrial Revolution, the birth of modern states, identities and institutions, the mass combustion of fossil fuels and the associated rise in global temperatures. If we fail to halt climate warming, the next 500 years and beyond will change the Earth in ways that challenge our ability to maintain many essentials for survival — particularly in the historically and geographically rooted cultures that give us meaning and identity.
The Earth of our high-end projections is alien to humans. The choice we face is to urgently reduce emissions, while continuing to adapt to the warming we cannot escape as a result of emissions up to now, or begin to consider life on an Earth very different to this one.
1. How we define and measure ‘progress’ determines our behavior and what kind of world we are leaving our grandchildren and other species.
2. Hoping for perpetual progress via techno-fix ‘solutions’ fosters complacency instead of responsible, pro-future actions.
3. Problems caused by economic growth and development will not be solved by more of the same; indeed, our predicament will worsen.
4. Understanding ecology, energy, and history undermines expectations that human ingenuity, technology, or the market can save industrial civilization.
ZSL (Zoological Society London) and Bangor University have revealed fundamental links between the global climate crisis and plastic pollution, including extreme weather worsening the distribution of microplastics into pristine and remote areas.
The ocean, its ecosystems and species are commonly the focus of plastic pollution research or climate change research; however, the compounding impact of how they act together is often overlooked.
In a paper published today in Science of the Total Environment, an interdisciplinary team of scientists have for the first time, collated evidence that the global issues of marine plastic pollution and climate change exacerbate one another, creating a dangerous cycle, and are urging governments and policy makers to tackle the two issues in unison.
Connecting plastic pollution and climate change
The team identified three significant ways that the climate crisis and plastic pollution—a significant driver of marine biodiversity loss—are connected, with the first being how plastic contributes to global greenhouse gases (GHGs) throughout its life cycle, from production through to disposal. The second demonstrates how extreme weather, like floods and typhoons associated with climate change will disperse and worsen plastic pollution. With plastic pollution and the effects of climate change being major issues for our ocean, seas, and rivers, the third point examines the marine species and ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable to both.
Credit: Heather Koldewey
Plastic pollution is having a devastating impact on marine biodiversity—from individual animals mistakenly ingesting plastic bags to entire habitats polluted with microplastics. Mainly sourced from fossil fuels, and with global demand set to rise, the production of plastic is predicted to emit more than 56 billion Mt of carbon dioxide in GHGs between 2015–2020, which is 10–13% of the entire remaining carbon budget.
Climate change is already causing more extreme weather events including storms and flooding which increases the dispersal of mismanaged waste between land and sea. In addition, sea ice is a major trap for microplastics which will be released into the ocean as the ice melts due to warming.
Public awareness and media coverage of both issues has risen exponentially over the years, but studies show that they are often approached as separate, even competing issues. Professor Heather Koldewey, Senior Technical Specialist at ZSL and the senior author on the paper says that integrated solutions to mitigate against both crises are possible and must be considered.
Professor Koldewey said: "Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most critical global threats of our time. Plastic pollution is also having a global impact; from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest parts of our ocean. Both are having a detrimental effect on ocean biodiversity; with climate change heating ocean temperatures and bleaching coral reefs, to plastic damaging habitats and causing fatalities among marine species. The compounding impact of both crises just exacerbates the problem. It's not a case of debating which issue is most important, it's recognizing that the two crises are interconnected and require joint solutions."
The study demonstrates how vulnerable species and habitats which are impacted by, and can have an impact on climate change, are also threatened by plastic pollution, such as sea turtles and corals. It says that further research is needed to determine these links, their roles in our natural environment, and how both issues interact to negatively impact ecosystems.
Credit: Dan Bayley
Professor Koldewey added: "The biggest shift will be moving away from wasteful single-use plastic and from a linear to circular economy that reduces the demand for damaging fossil fuels."
Helen Ford, Ph.D. researcher at Bangor University who led the study said: "As coral reefs are the focus of my research, I am reminded daily of how vulnerable these marine ecosystems are to climate change. I have seen how even the most remote coral reefs are experiencing widespread coral death through global warming-caused mass bleaching. Plastic pollution is yet another threat to these stressed ecosystems.
"Our study shows that changes are already occurring from both plastic pollution and climate change that are affecting marine organisms across marine ecosystems and food webs, from the smallest plankton to the largest whale. We need to understand how these threats to ocean life will interact as they build and encourage policy-makers to act to address these global threats."
The recognition that global environmental crises are intrinsically linked is increasing. A recent ZSL-led study which was also co-authored by Professor Koldewey, stressed that both the climate change and biodiversity crises must be tackled in unison to avoid falling short on solutions, and suggests ways in which several nature-based solutions could address both.
There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible. The categories the human brain creates to make sense of its surroundings are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing-in-itself”. They describe artefacts of our perceptions rather than the world.
Nature recognises no such divisions. As Earth systems are assaulted by everything at once, each source of stress compounds the others.
Take the situation of the North Atlantic right whale, whose population recovered a little when whaling ceased, but is now slumping again: fewer than 95 females of breeding age remain. The immediate reasons for this decline are mostly deaths and injuries caused when whales are hit by ships or tangled in fishing gear. But they’ve become more vulnerable to these impacts because they’ve had to shift along the eastern seaboard of North America into busy waters.
Their main prey, a small swimming crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, is moving north at a rate of 8km a year, because the sea is heating. At the same time, a commercial fishing industry has developed, exploiting Calanus for the fish oil supplements falsely believed to be beneficial to our health. There’s been no attempt to assess the likely impacts of fishing Calanus. We also have no idea what the impact of ocean acidification – also caused by rising carbon dioxide levels – might be on this and many other crucial species.
As the death rate of North Atlantic right whales rises, their birthrate falls. Why? Perhaps because of the pollutants accumulating in their bodies, some of which are likely to reduce fertility. Or because of ocean noise from boat engines, sonar, and oil and gas exploration, which may stress them and disrupt their communication. So you could call the decline of the North Atlantic right whale a shipping crisis, or a fishing crisis, or a climate crisis, or an acidification crisis, or a pollution crisis, or a noise crisis. But it is in fact all of these things: a general crisis caused by human activity.
Or look at moths in the UK. We know they are being harmed by pesticides. But the impact of these toxins on moths has been researched, as far as I can discover, only individually. Studies of bees show that when pesticides are combined, their effects are synergistic: in other words, the damage they each cause isn’t added, but multiplied. When pesticides are combined with fungicides and herbicides, the effects are multiplied again.
Simultaneously, moth caterpillars are losing their food plants, thanks to fertilisers and habitat destruction. Climate chaos has also knocked their reproductive cycle out of sync with the opening of the flowers on which the adults depend. Now we discover that light pollution has devastating effects on their breeding success. The switch from orange sodium streetlights to white LEDs saves energy, but their wider colour spectrum turns out to be disastrous for insects. Light pollution is spreading rapidly, even around protected areas, affecting animals almost everywhere.
Combined impacts are laying waste to entire living systems. When coral reefs are weakened by the fishing industry, pollution and the bleaching caused by global heating, they are less able to withstand the extreme climate events, such as tropical cyclones, which our fossil fuel emissions have also intensified. When rainforests are fragmented by timber cutting and cattle ranching, and ravaged by imported tree diseases, they become more vulnerable to the droughts and fires caused by climate breakdown.
What would we see if we broke down our conceptual barriers? We would see a full-spectrum assault on the living world. Scarcely anywhere is now safe from this sustained assault. A recent scientific paper estimates that only 3% of the Earth’s land surface should now be considered “ecologically intact”.
The various impacts have a common cause: the sheer volume of economic activity. We are doing too much of almost everything, and the world’s living systems cannot bear it. But our failure to see the whole ensures that we fail to address this crisis systemically and effectively.
When we box up this predicament, our efforts to solve one aspect of the crisis exacerbate another. For example, if we were to build sufficient direct air capture machines to make a major difference to atmospheric carbon concentrations, this would demand a massive new wave of mining and processing for the steel and concrete. The impact of such construction pulses travels around the world. To take just one component, the mining of sand to make concrete is trashing hundreds of precious habitats. It’s especially devastating to rivers, whose sand is highly sought in construction. Rivers are already being hit by drought, the disappearance of mountain ice and snow, our extraction of water, and pollution from farming, sewage and industry. Sand dredging, on top of these assaults, could be a final, fatal blow.
Or look at the materials required for the electronics revolution that will, apparently, save us from climate breakdown. Already, mining and processing the minerals required for magnets and batteries is laying waste to habitats and causing new pollution crises. Now, as Jonathan Watts’s terrifying article in the Guardian this week shows, companies are using the climate crisis as justification for extracting minerals from the deep ocean floor, long before we have any idea of what the impacts might be.
This isn’t, in itself, an argument against direct air capture machines or other “green” technologies. But if they have to keep pace with an ever-growing volume of economic activity, and if the growth of this activity is justified by the existence of those machines, the net result will be ever greater harm to the living world.
Everywhere, governments seek to ramp up the economic load, talking of “unleashing our potential” and “supercharging our economy”. Boris Johnson insists that “a global recovery from the pandemic must be rooted in green growth”. But there is no such thing as green growth. Growth is wiping the green from the Earth.
We have no hope of emerging from this full-spectrum crisis unless we dramatically reduce economic activity. Wealth must be distributed – a constrained world cannot afford the rich – but it must also be reduced. Sustaining our life-support systems means doing less of almost everything. But this notion – that should be central to a new, environmental ethics – is secular blasphemy.
In this essay I will attempt to provide a clear depiction of the role of capitalism in causing the geological changes associated with the Anthropocene, allowing for an understanding of the systematic and institutional structures that are causing these changes. This essay will begin by providing a clear descriptive account of the capitalist system and model, focusing on the push for profit, production, and consumption. I will then explore the structures and systems within the capitalist system which promote and fuel consumption and enable the acceleration of production, specifically, the role of advertising and public relations. The meat industry will be utilised as a case study which will work to provide a clear picture of how the structures and systems described function within a particular industry, followed by outlining the environmental damages that are being caused to the Earth as a result, the same damages and problems associated with the Anthropocene concept. The meat industry case study will serve to provide a single example within our modern world which will help argue the point that a deeper understanding of capitalism and the mechanisms which function within it is required in order to form an understanding of the processes and damages caused to the Earth, showing that capitalism provides us with the best explanation for the geological changes being associated with the Anthropocene. Finally, this essay will argue that this analysis allows us to comprehend the fact that a significant structural and systemic change is required, including with regards to how we live our daily lives. I will argue that this also empowers the individual to take responsibility for their choices and actions, even within the capitalist system we currently inhabit.
Defining Modern Capitalism and its Relationship with the Natural Environment
In order to argue the impact that capitalism is having in forming a new geological epoch, it is vital to form a clear and deep understanding of what modern capitalism is, what it looks like and its relationship with the Earth’s geography and natural environment. Capitalism can be understood as the “drive for capital accumulation”, where there is the use of “money to make more money” (Harvey, 1992; 121). The nature of capitalism is more complex than this, however. As David Harvey (1992) points out, “capitalism is always about growth, no matter what the ecological, social or geopolitical consequences” (p. 121). Harvey (1992) argues that an awareness of the mechanisms involved in capital accumulation is vital in the understanding of “why our history and our geography take the forms they do” (p. 122). It is important to understand that this drive for continued growth in capital and the constant push for profit is what has resulted in the innovation and technological advancements that define the modern world.
Harvey (1992) further argues that we can look at how some of the basic activities that people undertake in order to bring about joy and pleasure to their lives — what he refers to as ‘culture’ have been overtaken by capitalism in an attempt to make more profit (p. 125). A perfect example which highlights this is sports, where one of the most pure forms of physical exertion, skill and competition which sees participation from people of all walks of life has been turned into a means for corporations to increase their wealth through broadcasting deals, advertising, marketing and the sales of merchandise. This is a clear example of how an activity that can be played in the backyard by young children has been transformed into a means of making profit and accumulating further capital. When we consider cases such as these, we can begin to understand the true form that capitalism takes and how it functions in modern society.
Another component of capitalism that must be outlined here is its push towards a global market which has resulted in “the exploration of the earth in all directions in order to discover new, useful qualities of things” which can then be traded throughout the globe (Harvey, 1984; p. 110).
Capitalism as described here has significantly altered the geography of the earth, resulting in global ecological challenges. The role of production and consumption under capitalism in creating and exacerbating these problems will be examined later in the essay. Prior to that, however, it is important to understand some of the other structures and systems within capitalism which create the production and consumption patterns that have resulted in the ecological problems facing the earth.
How Capitalism Creates Needs and Desires for Consumption
One of the key components of capitalism is how it is able to use certain mechanisms and structures to create desires and needs among people and society. One of the most influential critics of capitalism, Karl Marx, believed that “needs are not purely biological; they are also socially and culturally determined (Harvey, 1974; 61). So how can this be done? Edward Bernays (1947) provides insight into how capitalism is able to “engineer consent” in order to create needs and desires. He highlights how the various forms of media should be seen as “not only as a highly organized mechanical web but as a potent force for social good or possible evil” (Bernays, 1947; p. 113). He further states that in order to manufacture consent it is vital to generate news that can not only influence people’s attitudes and how they behave, but also cause disruptions to the normal routine that people are accustomed to (Bernays, 1947; p. 119).
Bernays not only outlined this weapon of capitalism in theory, he implemented it in reality with outstanding success. This takes me to the next stage of my argument, where the meat industry case study will be utilised in order to show these mechanisms at work. Bernays is responsible for the adoption of ‘the hearty breakfast’ which sees bacon and eggs as its staples. In an interview, he openly outlines how he was able to manufacture a new cultural shift, one which saw people take up bacon and eggs as part of their daily breakfast, at the behest of the pork industry in order to increase the sales of pork. He states:
“Our client was the Beech-Net Packing Company. We made a research and found out that the American public ate very light breakfast of coffee, maybe a roll, and orange juice. We thereupon decided that the only way to meet the situation was as follows: we went to our physician, found that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. We asked the physician, after telling him why we were talking to him, would he be willing, at no cost, to write to five thousand physicians and ask them whether their judgement was the same as his, confirmed his judgement. He said he would be glad to do it. We carried out a letter to five thousand physicians, obviously all of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. That was publicized in the newspapers. Newspapers throughout the country has headlines saying: ‘forty-five hundred physicians urge heavy breakfast in order to improve health of American people’. Many of them stated that bacon and eggs should be embodied with the breakfast and as a result the sale of bacon went up”
E. Bernays, Interview from NPR article, published April 22, 2005
This is a clear example of how capitalism, through the use of public relations, marketing and advertising, is able to create new social and cultural norms, resulting in the development of new needs and desires for people. We can now begin to see how capitalism, with its focus on profits and capital accumulation, is able to use its systems and mechanisms in order to grow its production and accelerate the consumption of its products. We must now take a deeper look at the meat industry and how it functions within the capitalist model, and what impact it is having on the earth and its geography, and how it is causing the geological changes being observed.
The Meat Industry
So far, this essay has outlined a descriptive account of capitalism and its mechanisms, and how it is able to use those mechanisms to fuel production and consumption. As highlighted in the above section, it is evident how capitalism is able to manufacture cultural norms in order to increase the sale of its products and generate further profits. Now that we have seen how capitalist mechanisms can be used to generate demand for meat products, demand that is still part of our breakfast culture today, it is important to examine the meat industry itself and the impact it is having on the earth. To begin with, the production of livestock consumes about one third of the earth’s total land mass (McGregor & Houston, 2017; p. 4; Swain et al., 2018; p. 1207). The meat industry is responsible for 14% of the greenhouse gas emissions that are attributed to human activity (McGregor & Houston, 2017; p. 4; Swain et al., 2018; p. 1207). Furthermore, agriculture practices at the mass scale that is seen within capitalism results in the degradation of the land, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, scarcity of water supplies as well as being a significant contributor to climate change (McGregor & Houston, 2017; p. 4). All of the mentioned challenges facing the earth as a result of the meat industry are currently attributed to the concept of the Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2002). We can begin to understand how capitalism is directly influencing the earth and its geography and causing geological changes.
What I have shown thus far is that capitalism has turned one of the most basic human needs for survival, that of eating, into a commodity that it can manipulate and manufacture in whatever way it pleases, through the use of its many mechanisms. It is evident that through the use of public relations and marketing capitalism was able to put the consumption of bacon and eggs into the collective psyche of western cultures, creating a cultural norm for its daily consumption. What is more, as Steinfeld et al. (2006) outline, “the developed countries and Asia together account for over 95 percent of the world’s industrial pork production” (p. 54). This highlights two key components of the capitalist model. First, it showcases the creation and implementation of a global market that capitalism desires and relies on, and second, capitalisms focus on cutting costs and increasing profits. By allowing pork production to take place in counties with low labour costs, capitalism is able to maintain its push for capital accumulation and profit generation, with no regard for any of the environmental damages it is causing the earth.
A deeper understanding of the capitalist model and greed can actually be seen when we examine one of the potential ‘solutions’ put forth in an attempt to diminish the meat industry’s environmental impact. Intensive Livestock Systems is one of these so-called solutions which looks at exerting higher control and intensifying the production process in order to make more efficient the feeding, breeding and cultivation of livestock (Swain et al. 2018; p. 1208). This is an attempt by the industry to “generate fewer environmental impacts per kilogram of meat” (Swain et al., 2018; 1208). While there are numerous problems associated with this system, such as animal welfare, health and many other extremely important issues, the focus here is on the capitalist model and its constant desire to maintain profits and capital accumulation. What the intensive livestock systems highlight is capitalisms way of ensuring that the same capitalist system can be maintained and that production and consumption can continue to grow. It is a way of ensuring that the capitalist system survives and continues to profit under the guise of caring for the environment. I believe this clearly highlights the lengths that capitalism will go to in order to ensure it can maintain profits and capital accumulation, even as pressure mounts on the industry to find solutions that can help minimise the environmental damage caused by it. I believe the power and influence of capitalism is clearly shown and an understanding of its true impact on the earth can be comprehended.
One of the key features associated with the Anthropocene is the fact that human activity will leave behind a geological imprint on the earth which defines it as a new epoch (Crutzen, 2002). Therefore, in order to convincingly argue the significant impact of capitalism on the Anthropocene it is integral to show that capitalism will leave behind a geological imprint. This is where the meat industry provides us with further evidence. Bennett et al. (2018) highlights the impact of human food consumption on the biosphere of the earth, resulting in identifiable changes. They state that “the broiler chicken is therefore likely to leave a widespread and distinctive biostratigraphic signal in the sedimentary record, as a key fossil index taxon of the Anthropocene” (Bennett et al., 2018; p. 8). I believe what has been outlined throughout this essay provides ample evidence for the argument that capitalism and its many mechanisms and structures are responsible for the geological imprint outlined above. Since a key component of the Anthropocene is the geological identification of a new epoch, the evidence outlined thus far highlights the significant role of capitalism in the formation of this geological shift.
Benefits of Understanding the Role of Capitalism on the Environment
For the final section of this project I would like to touch on some key benefits, I believe, that can come from the understanding of the impact of capitalism on the environment. I believe this essay has successfully outlined how capitalism functions and in what way it is able to manipulate and influence not just human life, but the earth and its biosphere. My final argument is that we can use this understanding in several beneficial ways. First, it shows that there is an immediate need to educate ourselves, as a species, on capitalism and begin to understand that a significant change is required to the entire system. Once we can understand how the system itself functions and the mechanisms involved, going about enacting change can become a much more approachable and attainable endeavor. For example, once we become consciously aware of how marketing, advertising and the media are shaping and forming our needs and desires we can begin to question them critically instead of blindly following the norms created for us by these mechanisms. Furthermore, a deep understanding of capitalism can help humans, as a species, question the way that they are currently living and how sustainable this way of life is. Currently, from childhood we are taught certain norms and values that are not questioned, a lot of which fuel the capitalist system. For example, the education systems’ goal is to prepare students for employment and get them ready to engage with the labour market when they reach adulthood, all of which directly feeds capitalism. Furthermore, the majority of westerners consume meat and other animal products without any real conscious thought into the processes and mechanisms that make this possible. I believe an understanding of capitalism forces an engagement with these issues and allows people to question the very things that they take for granted without much conscious thought.
Another benefit is that it allows people to take individual responsibility for their actions within the capitalist system. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important features of such an understanding due to the fact that it may be impossible to ever move away from the capitalist system. If people are empowered with knowledge and understanding of how the system works, it allows them to take responsibility for their consumption and to think critically about their consumption choices. I argue that such insights allow us to understand capitalism as a form of ‘democracy’ where capital and money are seen as votes. The more you consume a particular product, the more votes you are giving the institution responsible for its production and the more power it will have. If people can become aware of this and become empowered to change the way they think about consumption, we may be able to start seeing a shift towards progress within the capitalist system by using our money and capital to vote for what we believe is right and how things ought to be. As this paper has showed, capital accumulation and profit forms the language of capitalism, so by forming a deeper understanding of capitalism we can use capitalisms own language to enact change in the world. Change for the better and towards a brighter future for the earth and all its inhabitants.
Scientists say they have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast, the Guardian can reveal.
High levels of the potent greenhouse gas have been detected down to a depth of 350 metres in the Laptev Sea near Russia, prompting concern among researchers that the discovery could have “serious climate consequences”.
The slope sediments in the Arctic contain a huge quantity of frozen methane and other gases – known as hydrates. Methane has a warming effect 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years. The United States Geological Survey has previously listed Arctic hydrate destabilisation as one of four most serious scenarios for abrupt climate change.
The international team onboard the Russian research ship R/V Akademik Keldysh said most of the bubbles were currently dissolving in the water but methane levels at the surface were four to eight times what would normally be expected and this was venting into the atmosphere.
“At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered. This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing,” said the Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsson, of Stockholm University, in a satellite call from the vessel.
The scientists – who are part of a multi-year International Shelf Study Expedition – stressed their findings were preliminary. Methane seeps detected in the past were found to be historic, but the expedition believes these are new based on an earlier study showing movement of the subsea permafrost between the early 1980s and 2015. The scale of methane releases will not be confirmed until they return, analyse the data and have their studies published in a peer-reviewed journal.
But the discovery of potentially destabilised slope frozen methane raises concerns about the potential impact on the speed of global heating.
The Arctic is considered ground zero in the debate about the vulnerability of frozen methane deposits – which have been called the “sleeping giants of the carbon cycle” - in the ocean, and if releases were to exceed a tipping point it could increase the speed of global heating.
With the Arctic temperature now rising more than twice as fast as the global average, the question of when – or even whether – they will be released into the atmosphere has been a matter of considerable uncertainty in climate computer models.
The 60-member team on the Akademik Keldysh believe they are the first to observationally confirm the methane release is already under way across a wide area of the slope about 600km offshore.
At six monitoring points over a slope area 150km in length and 10km wide, they saw clouds of bubbles released from sediment.
At one location on the Laptev Sea slope at a depth of about 300 metres they found methane concentrations of up to 1,600 nanomoles per litre, which is 400 times higher than would be expected if the sea and the atmosphere were in equilibrium.
Igor Semiletov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who is the chief scientist onboard, said the discharges were “significantly larger” than anything found before. “The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now,” he said. “This is a new page. Potentially they can have serious climate consequences, but we need more study before we can confirm that.”
The most likely cause of the instability is an intrusion of warm Atlantic currents into the east Arctic. This “Atlantification” is driven by human-induced climate disruption.
The latest discovery potentially marks the third source of methane emissions from the region. Semiletov, who has been studying this area for two decades, has previously reported the gas is being released from the shelf of the Arctic – the biggest of any sea.
For the second year in a row, his team have found crater-like pockmarks in the shallower parts of the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea that are discharging bubble jets of methane, which is reaching the sea surface at levels tens to hundreds of times higher than normal. This is similar to the craters and sinkholes reported from inland Siberian tundra earlier this autumn.
Temperatures in Siberia were 5C higher than average from January to June this year, an anomaly that was made at least 600 times more likely by human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. Last winter’s sea ice melted unusually early. This winter’s freeze has yet to begin, already a later start than at any time on record.
This article was amended on 4 and 17 November 2020 to further emphasise the preliminary nature and context of the findings, and to attribute concerns about the possible consequences of the observations. The reference to a tipping point was revised to better convey the nature of this concern.
Concrete and asphalt as well as scarce vegetation in urban areas lead to higher temperatures, study shows
Exposure to deadly urban heat has tripled since the 1980s, and now affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population, a study has found.
Scientists put the worrying trend down to the combination of rising temperatures and growing numbers of people living in urban areas, and warned of its potentially fatal impact.
In recent decades, hundreds of millions of people have moved from rural areas to cities, which are now home to more than half the world’s population. Amid surfaces such as concrete and asphalt, which trap and concentrate heat, and little vegetation, temperatures are generally higher in urban areas.
“This has broad effects,” said Cascade Tuholske, the lead author of the study published in the journal PNAS and a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “It increases morbidity and mortality. It impacts people’s ability to work, and results in lower economic output. It exacerbates pre-existing health conditions.”
The study used infrared satellite imagery and maximum daily heat and humidity readings from more than 13,000 cities from 1983 to 2016 to determine the number of people exposed to the days a year that exceeded 30C (86F) on the wet-bulb globe temperature scale (which takes into account the multiplier effect of high humidity) in an area. They matched the findings with the cities’ populations over the same period.
The study found that the number of person-days (the cumulative population exposed to cumulative heat in a given year for a particular place) soared from 40bn a year in 1983 to 119bn in 2016, representing a threefold increase. In 2016, 1.7 billion people were subjected to extreme heat conditions on multiple days.
Although it varied between cities and regions, scientists attributed two-thirds of the overall rise in exposure to increased urban populations and a third of it to global heating.
The worst affected city was Dhaka. Between 1983 and 2016, during which time the city’s population rose dramatically, Bangladesh’s capital experienced an increase of 575 million person-days of extreme heat. Other cities that underwent rapid population growth include Shanghai and Guangzhou in China, Yangon in Myanmar, Bangkok in Thailand and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Cities that had at least half of their heat exposure caused by global heating include Baghdad in Iraq, Cairo in Egypt and Mumbai in India.
Of the cities studied, 17% experienced an additional month of extreme-heat days during the period, which spanned just over three decades.
Tuholske said: “A lot of these cities show the pattern of how human civilization has evolved over the past 15,000 years. The Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Ganges … there is a pattern to the places where we wanted to be. Now, those areas may become uninhabitable. Are people really going to want to live there?”
Meanwhile in the US about 40 large cities have had rapidly growing exposure to heat, including Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin in Texas, Pensacola in Florida, Las Vegas in Nevada, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles in Louisiana and Providence in Rhode Island.
The PNAS paper is one of a number of newly published studies examining the impact of extreme heat.
A Brazilian study analysing the impact of forest loss on human health found that by 2100 as many as 12 million Brazilians could be exposed to extreme risk of heat stress as a result of large-scale deforestation of the Amazon and climate change.
The research, published in the Communications Earth & Environment journal on Friday, found there was a deforestation threshold in the Amazon that could threaten human survival if breached.
Meanwhile, a European study released on Monday predicts the economic costs of heatwaves could increase by nearly five times by 2060.
Scientists from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and other institutions estimate that recent heatwaves have led to an annual loss of 0.3-0.5% of European gross domestic product, losses they project will grow steadily over the next 40 years.
By the 2060s, they predict heatwaves will increase to an annual average of 1.14% and southern European countries will face the highest economic losses.
Hoover Dam was a great human achievement, but you might say it was built on the false foundation that big dams are the long-term solution to water problems. One fact of these big dams on a muddy river like the Colorado is that the sediment gets trapped behind the dam. It gradually builds up until it covers the power generator, so they don't produce power. Eventually the dam is not only not useful, but also actually a danger. This is in the future of all these big dams. It's probably several hundred years away, and we have more immediate and different problems right now. But big dams are not a long-term solution to people's power needs or their flood protection.
If you just do the back of the envelope arithmetic, you see that it’s completely impossible to dredge these dams. If you wanted to dredge Lake Powell, just to keep up with the incoming silts, not even to get at what's already there, you'd have to have one of the greatest and most massive human engineering and soil transportation operations ever. It's just not feasible to do anything about it. These dams are going to silt up. Once that happens, you would not want to be downstream. They’re engineered to hold back a certain amount of water when the reservoir is full. But if instead of water it’s wet, muddy soil, you're talking about a hugely greater weight pressing against that dam. They're not meant to withstand that.
I hate to sound doom and gloom, but I'm a scientist. I'm supposed to speak truth to power and interviewers and your audience. If we go back into the early part of the 20th century, there was a worldwide movement toward building these big dams. Every country in the world has done it. There’s a century's worth of construction, and all of these dams are going to silt up at some point. Not all at once, but sequentially, serially. Then people of the future are going to have a huge problem on their hands. Floyd Dominy, the former commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation and the man responsible for the building of Glen Canyon Dam, once said, "Well, we're going to let the people of the future worry about that." The trouble is that he didn't suggest any solutions.
Across Turkey’s sprawling breadbasket, the Konya Basin, wheat withered and fields lay parched this year under the stress of the lowest rainfall in decades. In July, thousands of baby flamingos perished for lack of drinkable water, their corpses entombed in the dried, cracked mud.
This summer, Turkey endured a blistering heat wave with the fiercest temperatures in 60 years. Wildfires raged for nearly two months along its southwestern coast, known to tourists as the Turkish Riviera for its turquoise waters and unspoiled beaches. Market towns and villages emptied as more than 2,000 fires scorched five times more land than usual — close to 200,000 hectares (770 square miles). At least eight lives were lost and delicate pine forests decimated, taking a tragic toll on natural life, including the ecosystem of the unique pine honey bees.
At the center of Turkey’s woes are severe drought conditions and diminished groundwater levels — caused by a combination of climate change and water management policies — that have taxed water supplies as never before. Power plant reservoirs, freshwater sources, and potable water supplies dwindled to all-time lows this summer, threatening the drinking water supplies of major cities. Meanwhile, on the country’s northern borders, flash flooding near the Black Sea claimed nearly 100 lives.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 60 percent of Turkey’s land area is prone to desertification. Continuing climate and land-use changes could wipe away its soils and turn it into “a terrain not dissimilar from Badlands National Park in South Dakota,” says Karim Elgendy, a sustainability expert concentrating on the Mediterranean at Chatham House, a London-based policy institute.
Despite the ongoing crisis, experts say, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, remains focused on development at the expense of the environment. “Turkey’s main focus remains economic growth and attracting foreign investment,” says Elgendy. “It encourages population growth and large-scale building construction. Its adaptation measures remain well below what’s needed to address the climate risks it faces.”
Turkey is one of just six countries that hasn’t yet ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits signatories to take steps to limit global warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Earlier this month, Erdogan signaled his intention to complete ratification in time for the UN climate conference in Glasgow in November. But he shows no signs of rethinking Turkey’s economic policies, which since 2000 have catapulted it near the upper echelons of Europe’s economies. President Erdoğan has encouraged investment in intensive agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism to provide jobs, and massive coal and hydroelectric projects to supply power. Population growth and movement to cities has created vast, unchecked urban sprawl, where grasslands and wetlands have been sealed with concrete.
While some cities and ministries within Turkey are fighting back against the federal focus with their own programs to protect the environment and address water shortages, experts say it’s too little too late.
The latest UN climate report singles out the Mediterranean Basin as one of the world’s climate hotspots that will bear a disproportionate brunt of global warming. The Mediterranean, it states, will most likely become “progressively drier and drastically warmer at higher levels of global warming.”
This summer, on the Italian island of Sicily, a swelting temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit shattered European records. To combat blazing wildfires, the European Union dispatched firefighters and water-dropping planes to Italy, Greece, and Albania. Drought scoured Spain for yet another year, advancing desertification that affects a fifth of its territory. The chronically water-stressed eastern Mediterranean fared no better: In Syria and Lebanon, many crops failed due to rising temperatures and drought conditions that have escalated over two decades.
But even within this hotspot region of warming, Turkey stands out. “Already temperatures in Turkey are 1.5 degrees [Celsius] higher than 50 years ago,” says Barış Karapinar, an associate professor of climate change policy and lead author of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. He claims that temperatures in Turkey could jump as much as 7 degrees Celsius over 1950 levels by 2100 — a terrifying prospect that egregiously overshoots the Paris Agreement’s global upper limit. This worst-case scenario, says Karapinar, would turn parts of the Mediterranean region into “hell,” making much of it uninhabitable. “Everything about daily life will change for the worse,” he warns.
Nowhere does the collision course of Turkey’s industrial growth and climate change come to a head more strikingly than in agriculture. Since the 1980s, policies have supported lucrative cash crops, transforming Turkey into the world’s seventh-largest agricultural producer and a top exporter of crops ranging from cereals and fruit to tobacco and tea. The sector is a workhorse for the economy. As Turkey’s largest employer, it supplies jobs to nearly a fifth of the workforce and has risen to account for 6 percent of the country’s economic activity. Damningly, it also now accounts for almost 75 percent of the country’s freshwater use — a figure that experts warn is not sustainable.
The switch to more water-intensive cash crops has dramatically depleted groundwater aquifers and dried out whole river systems. Sugar beets, corn, and cotton typically thrive in climes with three to four times as much rainfall as Turkey receives. “In just a decade our water use has gone up by a third,” says Doğanay Tolunay, a land-use specialist at Istanbul University.
This, Tolunay continues, has forced many farmers to drill illegal wells that tap already-low groundwater. When groundwater reserves can no longer replenish lakes, rivers, and wetlands, farmers then have even less surface water for irrigation, and everyone has less drinking water.
Agriculture‘s staggering water consumption is also due to the ages-old irrigation techniques of Turkey’s farmers: open channels and raised canals that deliver water to crops overland. According to Turkish officials, these systems suffer water losses of 35 to 60 percent through evaporation, seepage, and leakage.
The strain is easy to see: For the second straight year, farmers in the central province of Konya, the northwestern province of Edirne, and coastal İzmir, reported below-average harvests of wheat and other crops, forcing Turkey to increase grain imports.
Likewise, Turkey’s widespread use of hydroelectric power is sapping water supplies. The world’s ninth-largest hydroelectric power producer has dammed just about every river in the country, including the iconic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While hydropower is a renewable energy source, it dries out aquifers and creates water scarcity downstream of the dam.
Moreover, Turkey’s urban and agricultural expansion has come at the cost of grasslands and wetlands, ecosystems that help to absorb carbon, buffer the impacts of intense rain or drought, and filter groundwater. Since 1950, the country has lost between 1.3 and 2 million hectares of wetlands to farmland, highway projects, airports, hydropower reservoirs, factories, and urban neighborhoods. “These losses, which continue today, greatly reduce the ecosystem’s potential for adaptation and resilience,” says Karapinar.
As Turkey gets drier, forest fires are becoming a more pressing concern. Since the 1970s, the country has focused on the planting of sprawling commercial monoculture forests of pine, a tree that burns easily and creates fodder for wildfires. “Forest fires are nothing new around here,” says Karapinar. ”But by planting pine trees rather than trees more resistant to fire, you have much larger wildfires.”
To fight desertification and regrow forests lost to fires, Turkey’s environment ministry launched an initiative in 2003 with the goal of planting 7 billion trees by 2023. Among the varieties are pines but also cedar, birch, walnut, mulberry, and ash trees, which require less water.
Holding out hope that the situation is dire but not futile, experts say Turkey must devote significant budget resources to adaptation measures. Most importantly, says Tolunay, “Turkey has to have a water management policy that is more than just words on paper.”
Agricultural subsidies, for example, must be rechanneled to encourage farmers to grow less water-intensive crops, such as barely and lentils. And farmers must be helped to adopt closed irrigation systems, such as drip and sprinkler networks, which are much more efficient than the open systems. Rainwater harvesting and strategic re-use of gray water could cut water consumption by 40 percent, say experts.
In Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, environmentally-minded locals are working together with the EU and Turkey’s environment ministry to increase the region’s resilience. The city has a “green action plan,” and this spring, eleven Turkish mayors — including Izmir’s — signed an Alternative Water Management Manifesto that calls for managing water demand by regulating usage in agriculture and industry, as well as encouraging gray water and rainwater harvesting for household use.
But these well-intentioned initiatives pale in contrast to the enormity of the task at hand, experts say. “The current system is unviable, and tweaking it won’t fix it,” says Trine Christiansen, who focuses on water assessments at the European Environment Agency. “We need to change the way we produce food and energy. If we don’t tackle the systemic logic of ever-increasing efficiency, ever-more output, we’ll not see any great progress toward environmental improvement.”
To ward off the worst, Turkey has to rethink its full-speed-ahead growth strategies, says Christiansen. Otherwise, Turkey and its neighbors must acknowledge that vast swaths of their territory will soon be unfit for life.
Rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost has the potential to release radioactive waste from cold war nuclear submarines and reactors, antibiotic resistant bacteria and potentially undiscovered viruses, an Aberystwyth University researcher has jointly found.
Writing in Nature Climate Change, Dr Arwyn Edwards, from the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences, co-authored the newly published research paper with academics from universities in the United States and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Permafrost, or permanently frozen land, covers around nine million square miles. The majority of Arctic permafrost dates up to around one million years ago and typically the deeper its level, the older a period it originates from.
In addition to microbes, it has housed a diverse range of chemical compounds over millennia whether through natural processes, accidents or deliberate storage. However, up to two thirds of the Arctic's near-surface permafrost could be lost by 2100 due to climate change - the area is warming at as much as three times the average global rate.
Thawing permafrost has widely been seen as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as massive stores of Arctic soil carbon are released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as causing abrupt changes to the landscape. However, the research found the implications of Arctic change are much more widespread and less understood – with potential for the release of nuclear waste and radiation, unknown viruses and other chemicals of concern.
This has implications for the potential release of radioactive material as the legacies of the cold war thaw in a warming Arctic. Between 1955 and 1990, the Soviet Union conducted 130 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere and near surface ocean of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago off the coast of north-west Russia. The tests used 224 separate explosive devices, releasing around 265 megatons of nuclear energy. More than 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines were scuttled in the nearby Kara and Barents seas.
While the Russian government has since launched a strategic clean-up plan, the review notes that the area has tested highly for the radioactive substances caesium and plutonium, between undersea sediment, vegetation and ice sheets.
The United States' Camp Century nuclear-powered under-ice research facility in Greenland also produced considerable nuclear and diesel waste. When it was decommissioned in 1967, waste was left in the accumulating ice, which faces a longer term threat from changes to the Greenland Ice Sheet. The 1968 Thule bomber crash in the same country also dispersed huge amounts of plutonium on the Greenland ice sheet.
Dr Arwyn Edwards, Reader in Biology at Aberystwyth University, said:
“Changes in the Arctic’s climate and ecology will influence every part of the planet as it feeds carbon back to the atmosphere and raises sea levels. This review identifies how other risks can arise from the warming Arctic. It has long been a deep-freezer for a range of harmful things, not just greenhouse gases. We need to understand more about the fate of these harmful microbes and pollutants and nuclear materials to properly understand the threats they may pose.
“These are new implications in addition to what we knew what would happen if permafrost continued to melt. It is imperative demonstrable action is taken at next month’s COP26 summit as these findings should concern anybody. As well as fulfilling the targets of the Paris Agreement and reducing the increase in the global climate temperature to 1.5 Celsius, there needs to be a strong and immediate commitment to funding research in this area. What should worry us is how much we have still yet to learn about the Arctic, how important it is to all of our futures and why it is worth protecting.”
Deep permafrost of more than three metres is one of the few environments on Earth that has not been exposed to modern antibiotics. More than 100 diverse microorganisms in Siberian deep permafrost have been found to be antibiotic resistant. As permafrost thaws, there is potential for these bacteria to mix with meltwater and create new antibiotic-resistant strains of existing viruses.
Climate change increases the risk of these being exposed through so-called abrupt thaw, where the layers of permafrost are exposed suddenly and haphazardly, increasing the opportunity for the release of multiple years of species simultaneously.
Another risk concerns by-products of fossil fuels, which have been introduced into permafrost environments since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Arctic also contained natural metal deposits, including arsenic, mercury and nickel, which have been mined for decades and have caused huge contamination from waste material across tens of millions of hectares.
High concentration pollutants and chemicals previously stored within permafrost, including DDT, are at risk of re-permeating the atmosphere as it melts. Increased water flows mean it can disperse widely, damaging animal and bird species as well as entering the human food chain. While existing risk assessments suggest the potential for human consumption of these chemicals with exposure and time, the risk is likely underestimated.
There is also greater scope for transportation of pollutant, viruses and bacteria. More than 1,000 settlements, whether resource extraction, military and scientific projects, have been created on permafrost during the last 70 years. That, coupled with the local populace, increases the likelihood of accidental contact or release.
Despite the findings of today’s report, it says the risks from emergent microorganisms and chemicals within permafrost are poorly understood and largely unquantified. It says that further in-depth research in the area is vital to gain further insight into the risks and to develop mitigation strategies.
The review’s lead author, Dr Kimberley Miner, Earth and Climate Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, added:
“It’s important to understand the secondary and tertiary impacts of these large-scale Earth changes such as permafrost thaw. While some of the hazards associated with the thaw of up to a million years of material have been captured, we are a long way from being able to model and predict exactly when and where they will happen. This research is critical.”
A natural gas shortage across Europe has created supply-chain shocks, as seen in the food industry, where problems continue to worsen. European natgas prices are at insane levels, triggering a domino effect of output reduction or closures of fertilizer plants on the continent.
Last month, two of the U.K.'s largest fertilizer factories producing 45% of domestic demand closed, and one shortly reopened with government aid. By late month, Austrian fertilizer producer Borealis AG slashed ammonia output after the cost natgas compressed margins in an industry facing tight supplies.
As the dominos fall, SKW Piesteritz, Germany's largest ammonia producer, announced a 20% reduction in ammonia production due to the record-high natgas prices on Tuesday.
"The level that has now been reached no longer enables economically sensible production, so that we are forced to take this step," the company told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.
"Without government action, there is a risk of production being halted shortly," the statement continued.
We've seen this story play out when U.K.'s C.F. Industries shuttered two plants last month because of soaring natgas prices and caused an immediate disruption to the food industry. Then the government swooped in with emergency orders to restart at least one of the plants.
As a refresher, natgas is used to synthesize ammonia for nitrogen fertilizers for the farm industry, and a byproduct is CO2, used heavily in the food industry, for food packaging to stunning animals at slaughterhouses to bubbly soda pop.
Bloomberg's Mike Dennis created an infographic of European natgas prices and the events surrounded by rising prices.
The main reason behind the natgas price surge is the dramatic reduction in gas flows from Russia. Europe's top supplier, Russia, into Germany's Mallnow via the Yamal-Europe pipeline, plunged 28% Y/Y as of Sept.
Meanwhile, European politicians have been trying to pin the cause of Europe's energy crisis on the Kremlin and Gazprom in hopes of deflecting from their woeful mismanagement of the continent's energy grid. Russia announced this week that the Nord Stream 2 natgas pipeline has begun filling with gas in the first line while awaiting approval from Germany regulators, which could take months while the continent's natgas stockpiles dwindle below seasonal averages ahead of winter.
This means that the shortage of basic chemical materials can increase food inflation, just as the global economy could be stumbling into a stagflationary period.
MADRID, Oct 7 (Reuters) - A vicious cycle linking the depletion of natural resources with violent conflict may have gone past the point of no return in parts of the world and is likely to be exacerbated by climate change, a report said on Thursday.
Food insecurity, lack of water and the impact of natural disasters, combined with high population growth, are stoking conflict and displacing people in vulnerable areas, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank said.
IEP uses data from the United Nations and other sources to predict the countries and regions most at risk in its "Ecological Threat Register".
Serge Stroobants, IEP director for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa said the report identified 30 "hotspot" countries - home to 1.26 billion people - as facing most risks.
This is based on three criteria relating to scarcity of resources, and five focusing on disasters including floods, droughts and rising temperatures.
"We don't even need climate change to see potential system collapse, just the impact of those eight ecological threats can lead to this - of course climate change is reinforcing it," Stroobants said.
Afghanistan gets the worst score on the report, which says its ongoing conflict has damaged its ability to cope with risks to water and food supplies, climate change, and alternating floods and droughts.
Conflict in turn leads to further resource degradation, according to the findings.
Six seminars including governments, military institutions and development groups last year returned the message that "it is unlikely that the international community will reverse the vicious cycles in some parts of the world", IEP said.
This is particularly the case in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, which has seen more and worsening conflicts over the last decade, it said.
"With tensions already escalating, it can only be expected that climate change will have an amplifying effect on many of these issues," the report said.
Whenever there’s a leak of documents from the remote islands and obscure jurisdictions where rich people hide their money, such as this week’s release of the Pandora papers, we ask ourselves how such things could happen. How did we end up with a global system that enables great wealth to be transferred offshore, untaxed and hidden from public view? Politicians condemn it as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. But it’s not. It is the face of capitalism.
Capitalism was arguably born on a remote island. A few decades after the Portuguese colonised Madeira in 1420, they developed a system that differed in some respects from anything that had gone before. By felling the forests after which they named the island (madeira is Portuguese for wood), they created, in this uninhabited sphere, a blank slate – a terra nullius – in which a new economy could be built. Financed by bankers in Genoa and Flanders, they transported enslaved people from Africa to plant and process sugar. They developed an economy in which land, labour and money lost their previous social meaning and became tradable commodities.
As the geographer Jason Moore points out in the journal Review, a small amount of capital could be used, in these circumstances, to grab a vast amount of natural wealth. On Madeira’s rich soil, using the abundant wood as fuel, slave labour achieved a previously unimaginable productivity. In the 1470s, this tiny island became the world’s biggest producer of sugar.
Madeira’s economy also had another characteristic that distinguished it from what had gone before: the astonishing speed at which it worked through the island’s natural wealth. Sugar production peaked in 1506. By 1525 it had fallen by almost 80%. The major reason, Moore believes, was the exhaustion of accessible supplies of wood: Madeira ran out of madeira.
It took 60kg of wood to refine 1kg of sugar. As wood had to be cut from ever steeper and more remote parts of the island, more slave labour was needed to produce the same amount of sugar. In other words, the productivity of labour collapsed, falling roughly fourfold in 20 years. At about the same time, the forest clearing drove several endemic species to extinction.
In what was to become the classic boom-bust-quit cycle of capitalism, the Portuguese shifted their capital to new frontiers, establishing sugar plantations first on São Tomé, then in Brazil, then in the Caribbean, in each case depleting resources before moving on. As Moore says, the seizure, exhaustion and partial abandonment of new geographical frontiers is central to the model of accumulation that we call capitalism. Ecological and productivity crises like Madeira’s are not perverse outcomes of the system. They are the system.
Madeira soon moved on to other commodities, principally wine. It should come as no surprise that the island is now accused of functioning as a tax haven, and was mentioned in this week’s reporting of the Pandora papers. What else is an ecologically exhausted island, whose economy depended on looting, to do?
In Jane Eyre, published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë attempts to decontaminate Jane’s unexpected fortune. She inherited the money from her uncle, “Mr Eyre of Madeira”; but, St John Rivers informs her, it is now vested in “English funds”. This also has the effect of distancing her capital from Edward Rochester’s, tainted by its association with another depleted sugar island, Jamaica.
But what were, and are, English funds? England, in 1847, was at the centre of an empire whose capitalist endeavours had long eclipsed those of the Portuguese. For three centuries, it had systematically looted other nations: seizing people from Africa and forcing them to work in the Caribbean and North America, draining astonishing wealth from India, and extracting the materials it needed to power its Industrial Revolution through an indentured labour system often scarcely distinguishable from outright slavery. When Jane Eyre was published, Britain had recently concluded its first opium war against China.
Financing this system of world theft required new banking networks. These laid the foundations for the offshore financial system whose gruesome realities were again exposed this week. “English funds” were simply a destination for money made by the world-consuming colonial economy called capitalism.
In the onshoring of Jane’s money, we see the gulf between the reality of the system and the way it presents itself. Almost from the beginning of capitalism, attempts were made to sanitise it. Madeira’s early colonists created an origin myth, which claimed that the island was consumed by a wild fire, lasting for seven years, that cleared much of the forest. But there was no such natural disaster. The fires were set by people. The fire front we call capitalism burned across Madeira before the sparks jumped and set light to other parts of the world.
Capitalism’s fake history was formalised in 1689 by John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government. “In the beginning all the world was America,” he tells us, a blank slate without people whose wealth was just sitting there, ready to be taken. But unlike Madeira, America was inhabited, and the indigenous people had to be killed or enslaved to create his terra nullius. The right to the world, he claimed, was established through hard work: when a man has “mixed his labour” with natural wealth, he “thereby makes it his property”. But those who laid claim to large amounts of natural wealth did not mix their own labour with it, but that of their slaves. The justifying fairytale capitalism tells about itself – you become rich through hard work and enterprise, adding value to natural wealth – is the greatest propaganda coup in human history.
As Laleh Khalili explains in the London Review of Books, the extractive colonial economy never ended. It continues through commodity traders working with kleptocrats and oligarchs, grabbing poor nations’ resources without payment with the help of clever instruments such as “transfer pricing”. It persists through the use of offshore tax havens and secrecy regimes by corrupt elites, who drain their nation’s wealth then channel it into “English funds”, whose true ownership is hidden by shell companies.
The fire front still rages across the world, burning through people and ecologies. Though the money that ignites it may be hidden, you can see it incinerating every territory that still possesses unexploited natural wealth: the Amazon, west Africa, West Papua. As capital runs out of planet to burn, it turns its attention to the deep ocean floor and starts speculating about shifting into space.
The local ecological disasters that began in Madeira are coalescing into a global one. We are recruited as both consumers and consumed, burning through our life support systems on behalf of oligarchs who keep their money and morality offshore.
When we see the same things happening in places thousands of miles apart, we should stop treating them as isolated phenomena, and recognise the pattern. All the talk of “taming” capitalism and “reforming” capitalism hinges on a mistaken idea of what it is. Capitalism is what we see in the Pandora papers.