Tag Archives: IPCC

The terrifying truth about the two degrees climate target

The terrifying truth about the two degrees climate target
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 May 2015

Earlier this month the International Energy Agency released its annual flagship energy technology report, explaining “clean energy progress is falling well short of the levels needed to limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 2 degrees C.” The inadequacy of the world’s response to climate change was further confirmed by a study led by Lord Nicholas Stern, which also noted the commitments made by nations to cut carbon emissions by 2030 fall about half short of the reductions needed to restrict warming to a two degrees celsius increase on pre-industrial levels.

As many readers will know, two degrees celsius is the global temperature increase world leaders in the West agree we cannot exceed if we wish to stop dangerous climate change.

Contrast this with statements recent made by the top climate scientist Professor James Hansen. “It’s crazy to think that 2 degrees celsius is a safe limit”, Hansen told ABC Radio in Australia, noting it was “prescription for disaster” which would lock in several metres of sea level rise by 2050. “The consequences are almost unthinkable”, Hansen explained. “It would mean that all coastal cities would become dysfunctional.”

The inescapable, terrifying conclusion is this: the climate target that Western governments have agreed on is not even close to being achieved. And even worse – the agreed target that we are failing to reach is not in itself strong enough to stop dangerous climate change.

Other recent dispatches from the environmental frontline are equally disturbing. “A team of scientists, in a ground-breaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them”, the New York Times noted in January 2015. Similarly, last year the generally conservative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”.

So what has been the British media’s response to the growing climate crisis that threatens humanity and the planet?

Research conducted by Vicky Dando from the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies has found there was a five-fold decrease in press reporting of climate change between 2007 and 2012. Richard Thomas, from Cardiff Business School, has completed (soon to be published) research that shows a similar reduction. Comparing the 10pm weekday flagship news bulletins on ITV and BBC in 2007 and 2014, Thomas has found environmental issues had almost disappeared from our screens by 2014. In 2007 the percentage of news time devoted to environmental issues was 2.5% on ITV and 1.6% on the BBC. By 2014 this had dropped to just 0.3% on the BBC and 0.2% on ITV.

“In 2007, the Madeleine McCann story, on its own, commanded as much attention as the total number of environmental stories broadcast that year”, notes Professor Justin Lewis from the Cardiff School of Journalism, summarising Thomas’s research. “Remarkably, seven years on – well after the Madeleine McCann story has faded from the news agenda – this comparison holds up. By 2014 there were still as many broadcast news stories about Madeleine McCann as there were on the range of environmental issues.”

Has there ever been a more shocking example of how the media has failed the British public and their future children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? When will our supposedly stroppy and independent fourth estate wake up and realise it’s not just Rome burning but the whole planet?

Depressingly, the media blackout has been mirrored in the General Election campaign. “The future of all nations is irrevocably and immediately threatened”, explained Peter Wadhams, a Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, in a letter to The Independent in April 2015. “Yet we see little or no discussion of this by any of the main political parties during this general election campaign.” Other than a brief mention by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, climate change was completely absent from the televised leader debates.

In 2013 Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said that to avoid an increased in temperature above 2oC the world would require a “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”

A good place to start this revolutionary change would be our corporate-owned, advertising-dependent, growth-obsessed, power-friendly media.

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Breaking the silence: Meat and climate change

Breaking the silence: Meat and climate change
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 December 2014

It’s an unusual departure for a think-tank used to discussing regional conflict and international diplomacy but Chatham House’s new report on livestock farming and climate change is hugely important.

The research paper notes that the consumption of meat and dairy produce is a major driver of climate change. With the global livestock industry producing more carbon emissions than all planes, trains, automobiles and ships combined “curbing the world’s appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change”, The Guardian summarised.

The study comes on the back of a plethora of recent research and expert testimony linking meat-eating, especially beef, with the on-going climate crisis, including the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Nature science journal and the Sustainable Consumption Institute at Manchester University. “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases”, explained Lord Stern, the author of the seminal Stern Report on climate change, in 2009. “It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

Taking Stern’s advice and moving towards a vegetarian or, better still, a vegan diet, is what might be called a win-win-win situation – as well as helping the climate it would improve human health and mean less animals are slaughtered with all the horror this brings. “Diets high in animal products are associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer”, notes Chatham House. Since 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund has recommended that people do not eat any processed meat because of the link with a number of cancers.

Quoting a recent review of the academic literature, Chatham House goes on to explain that mostly plant-based diets with little processed foods are “decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention”. For example, research from Loma Linda University in California tracking 73,000 thousand people for almost six years found vegetarians tended to live longer than meat-eaters and were less likely to get heart disease. Compiling data from 18 academic papers, the Nature journal article also notes that relative to conventional omnivorous diets, a vegetarian diet was linked to a 20 percent reduction in heart disease, as well as a 41 percent reduction in Type 2 diabetes.

Considering all this evidence, governments have had very little to say about the issue. Chatham House argues they may be concerned about the public backlash that might come from attempts to interfere in people’s diets and home lives. Frustratingly, the green movement has also been relatively quiet about linking diet and climate change, with little attempt to promote vegetarianism or veganism as viable responses. “I think they focussed grouped it and it’s a political loser”, the US food journalist Michael Pollan, speaking in the new documentary Cowspiracy, says about environmental NGOs. “They’re membership organisations… they are looking to maximise the number of people making contributions and if they get identified as being anti-meat or challenging people on their everyday habits, something that is so dear to people, it will hurt with their fundraising.” Corporate power is also a powerful block on radical change. In a 2010 lecture Samuel Jutzi, Director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), warned: “I have now been 20 years in a multilateral organisation which tries to develop guidance and codes for good agricultural practice, but the real, true issues are not being addressed by the political process because of the influence of lobbyists, of the true powerful entities”. Speaking about the publication of the major 2006 FAO report on livestock’s responsibility for nearly one-third of global emissions, he told the audience “You wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”.

While governments and the green movement have been acquiescing there has been a large increase in global meat consumption – especially in countries such as China and Brazil. But we shouldn’t be downhearted. Change is possible, with studies showing many people in the West have been reducing their consumption of meat, and red meat specifically, for both health and environmental reasons. Indeed, food is the one issue that we get to vote on every day. Three times a day, in fact.

With the IPCC recently warning climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” unless emissions are cut rapidly and sharply, it is imperative that we start talking about food right now. Because if you care about the wellbeing of the planet and everyone and everything on it then you need to ask whether your diet is part of the solution, or part of the problem.

Can in-vitro meat save the world?

Can in-vitro meat save the world?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 September 2013

“£200,000 test-tube burger marks milestone in future meat-eating”, proclaimed The Guardian. “Could in-vitro meat save the world?”, asked Bioedge, a website dedicated to bioethical issues. The answer could well be yes, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who said “It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer.”

The August launch of lab-bred ‘meat’ in London was, according to Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London, “a masterly act of timing, theatre, and media management.”

“Considerable scepticism is required”, Lang warned.

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and author of 1975’s seminal Animal Liberation, clearly didn’t get the memo. Writing in the Guardian, Singer lauded the first public tasting of Dr Mark Post’s in-vitro beefburger as an “historic event” which, although he hadn’t eaten meat for 40 years, had convinced him to try in-vitro meat should it become commercially available. Singer’s decision was based on two reasons: To reduce animal suffering and to help the environment. “Using meat from animals, especially ruminants, is heating the planet and contributing to a future in which hundreds of millions of people become climate refugees”, Singer said. In contrast “In vitro meat won’t belch or fart methane. Nor will it defecate, and as a result, the vast cesspools that intensive farms require to handle manure will become unnecessary.”

Two inconvenient facts suggest Singer’s enthusiasm is pie-in-the-sky thinking. Firstly, production costs for the test tube beefburger are currently running at over £200,000 – funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, as it happens. This astronomical cost means it will likely take years to produce it on a commercially viable level – up to 20 years according to Post, a timeline the Associate Editor for environment and energy at Scientific American magazine calls “optimistic”.

The problem is we simply haven’t got 20 years to save the planet from climate catastrophe. Rather the New Economics Foundation stated in 2008 we had just 100 months to stop “runaway climate change.” Organisations as diverse as the World Bank, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the International Energy Agency have all confirmed the prognosis is dire and requires immediate, radical action. So, to be clear, in terms of helping to combat climate change in-vitro meat will likely be of no help during the period when action is needed most – within the next five years.

Even worse than Singer’s support of a technological fix to what is an acute political problem for which solutions already exist, his salivating over beefburgers arguably perpetuates, rather than questions, our cultural obsession with meat. As one of my university lecturers, Professor Sarah Churchwell, once noted in a seminar “representation without criticism equals endorsement”. Apologies, Sarah, if I’ve misquoted you. By so publicly championing in-vitro meat Singer’s article reinforces the popular idea that meat, especially beef, is intrinsically desirable – a high-value luxury food that represents wealth and social advancement.

By buying into the dominant cultural-historic ideology that makes meat eating so attractive to so many, Singer’s PR-like article is arguably damaging in two ways: in terms of individual health and the relationship between meat and climate change – the very reason he says he supports in-vitro meat.

On the first point, Singer, and all of the coverage of in-vitro meat that I have seen, ignores the negative health impacts of eating red and processed meat. As Denis Campbell, the Guardian’s Health Correspondent, noted in March 2013 “The evidence implicating processed and/or red meat… in illness has been building up in recent years” with the World Cancer Research Fund recommending “shunning processed meat completely” since 2007. Campbell concluded his article making the startling claim that “Privately, some experts and health campaigners admit that only the fear of being seen as completely out of touch prevents them from agreeing publicly with the WCRF… they preach moderation, not abstinence, for pragmatic reasons.” As I argue above, even if in-vitro meat is able to be produced without the cancer-causing properties of red meat – and that’s an important if – its championing and production still reinforces the idea that meat is a desirable, high-value food – and thus does nothing to challenge the high-level of consumption of red and processed meat and its attendant negative health effects.

Secondly, as Singer mentioned in his article, meat-eating is a significant contributor to climate change. In 2006 the UN Food and Agricultural Organization named livestock as a “major player” in affecting climate change, estimating it generated 18 percent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally. To reduce this impact experts such as Lord Nicholas Stern and the Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra Pachauri recommend a reduction in meat consumption and dairy products – a vegan or nearly vegetarian diet, basically.

This reduction would also give us a good chance of meeting the nutrition requirements of the earth’s increasing population and be effective in addressing the looming water crisis. On the former, it is important to remember the well-known truism that there is already enough food to feed the world’s population. One in eight people around the globe does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life because of many factors including war, natural disasters, poverty, agricultural infrastructure, environmental degradation and economics factors such as supply, access and affordability, not because they can’t buy a test-tube beefburger.

The Guardian’s coverage of the launch agreed “The best way to prevent this environmental damage… would be if everyone could be persuaded to eat less meat”. However, it went on to assert that “no one thinks that will happen – the desire to eat meat is ingrained deep in our evolution, according to Harvard University primatologist Prof Richard Wrangham.”

The Guardian’s conservative framing is both unrealistic and unhelpful. Because while it is unlikely that everyone will be persuaded to eat less meat anytime soon, studies show many people in the West have been reducing their consumption of meat and red meat specifically – for both health and environmental reasons. So it can be done. And again the question must be asked: Does the focus on in-vitro meat help or hinder the move to significantly reduce meat consumption and move to the vegetarian or vegan diet the world so desperately needs?

The media circus that surrounded the first public tasting of in-vitro meat clouds the fact it is, at best, irrelevant to combating the interconnected problems of climate change and the global food and water crises. At worst it is a red herring that makes it more difficult for us to see our problems clearly and act in an appropriate and timely manner. Like with GM foods, fracking and nuclear power we are being encouraged to look to and support a technological fix to a problem that we already have the technology to overcome. I’m not, I should note, against continuing research and development of in-vitro meat. One day it may well play a positive dietary role. What I am is sceptical of is a corporate-funded technology which makes big claims about saving the world when possible solutions already exist.

What is missing from the media hoopla, of course, is the kind of political analysis that understands fixing problems of this scale requires political will, otherwise known as popular pressure, and political solutions – a process that in-vitro meat will be largely irrelevant to.

Why Do Left-Wing Commentators Ignore Climate Change?

Why Do Left-Wing Commentators Ignore Climate Change?
By Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 May 2014

Question. What do Seumas Milne, Owen Jones, Mehdi Hasan, Laurie Penny, Julie Bindel and Richard Seymour all have in common? All are, of course, prominent left-wing commentators who write for mainstream newspapers like the Guardian. And all do brilliant work drawing attention to lots of important issues. But they also have one other thing in common – all have had relatively little to say about man-made climate change.

Perhaps their relative lack of concern is because the health of our climate is not that important or particularly pressing? After all, what could be more important or pressing than issues such as war and peace, the Government’s austerity agenda, the next election, poverty, inequality, homophobia, racism or feminism?

The basic facts on climate change point to a different reality. As early as 2009 the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, highlighted how climate change was responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affecting 300 million people. And with the scientific consensus estimating the world is currently heading for a minimum temperature increase of 4°C on 1990 levels by 2100 (and perhaps even earlier), the future is looking very bleak indeed.

The World Bank summarised what this future will look like in its 2012 report ‘Turn Down The Heat: Why A 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided’. “The 4°C scenarios are devastating”, the report’s foreword explains. “The inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.” Let’s go into a couple of these areas in a little more detail. According to a 2009 Guardian report new research by climate scientists show sea levels may rise by a metre or more by 2100, affecting “ten percent of the world’s population – about 600 million people” who live in vulnerable areas. Regarding the effect of climate change on our oceans, the former making the latter more acidic, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean summarised the situation last year as follows: “This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Not frightening enough for you? Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, argues a 4°C world will likely be “incompatible with organised global community.” Three of the academic co-authors of the health chapter of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report recently wrote that “human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to wellbeing, health and perhaps even to human survival.”

It gets worse. Last year the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said the world is currently on course for not 4°C but 6°C of warming by 2100 – a figure also predicted by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 31 scientists from seven countries led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, now the Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Climate specialist Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, argues a 6°C increase by 2100 would mean “we are going to face nothing less than a global wipeout.”

With the situation as grave as this, the aforementioned journalists relative silence on the topic seems downright reckless. If you are interested in the wellbeing of those who live in the Global South, or issues such as poverty, women’s rights, migration, hunger and war then you also have to grapple with climate change. “It is climate change that speaks to me most loudly. Partly because it is so overarching”, the American nonviolent activist George Lakey told me in 2012. “If we don’t solve that one there is a whole lot else we won’t get much space to work with. We will be on such a survival level. It will be very, very tough.”

To be clear, I’m not taking the moral high ground. As a writer I recognise that I too need to focus more of my time and energy on climate change. In fact all of the Left needs to raise its game and exert more pressure on this issue. Because when the World Bank has a greater understanding about, and concern for, the dangers climate change poses to the world than many of our top left-wing commentators, something is very wrong indeed.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair