Food security threatened by extreme flooding, farmers warn

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Record-breaking rain over the past few months has left fields of crops under water and livestock’s health at risk, adding to pressures on food producers.

The flooding and extreme weather linked to climate change will undermine UK food production unless farmers get more help, the National Farmers Union said.

The NFU is calling on the government to do more to compensate flooded farmers and support domestic food production.

The government said it was looking to expand a new compensation scheme.

The NFU has warned of “substantially reduced output” and “potential hits” to the quality of crops in this year’s harvest thanks to weeks of rain since the autumn.

NFU vice president Rachel Hallos said UK farmers were “on the front line of climate change – one of the biggest threats to UK food security”.

“These extremes could soon become the norm,” she told the BBC. “We need a clear plan from government to prepare, adapt and recover from our changing climate in the short and long term so that we can continue to produce food and care for the countryside.”

Dead lambs and ‘decimated crops’ on rain-soaked farms

“We’ve been underwater for coming up to six months”

Continue ReadingFood security threatened by extreme flooding, farmers warn

Record hot March caps warmest 12 months on record — report

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Since June 2023, every month has been the “hottest ever” on record. Image: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance.

The past 10 months have all been the hottest on record. The average global temperature in March was 1.68 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average.

Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said on Tuesday that March 2024 was the warmest on record, making it the tenth consecutive month to break heat records.

Last month was 0.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous March, and 1.68 degrees Celsius hotter than an average March between the years 1850-1900, the reference period for the pre-industrial era.

Above-average temperatures were recorded in parts of Africa, South America, Greenland and Antarctica.  Sea surface temperatures also hit a “shocking new high,” the report said.

Hottest 12-month period

The average temperature for the 12-month period ending in March was 1.58 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average, making it the warmest 12-month period on record.

This record warmth does not necessarily mean that global temperatures have broken the 1.5-degree limit set by world leaders in Paris in 2015 as such measurements are taken in decades rather than individual years, but it does show a general trend in that direction.

“It’s the long-term trend with exceptional records that has us very concerned,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S told Reuters news agency.

“Seeing records like this — month in, month out — really shows us that our climate is changing, is changing rapidly,” she added.

Climate change and its effects have been seen across the globe. This year itself, Venezuela saw a record number of wildfires, and southern Africa has faced drought conditions. Warm waters in the southern hemisphere are causing a mass coral bleaching event.

Continue ReadingRecord hot March caps warmest 12 months on record — report

Big Oil Clouded the Science on Extreme Weather. Now It Faces a Reckoning.

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Original article by Emily Sanders, ExxonKnews republished from DeSmog.

As more communities sue oil majors following climate disasters, a collection of evidence reveals the industry’s efforts to deny the link between extreme weather and climate change.

Illustration by Tess Abbot

This story was originally published by ExxonKnews.

When Bucks County, Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit last week against major oil and gas companies for climate damages, Commissioner Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia pointed to “unprecedented weather events here in Bucks County that have repeatedly put residents and first responders in harm’s way, damaged public and private property and placed undue strain on our infrastructure.” The county argues oil companies’ “campaigns to deceive and mislead the public about the damaging nature of their fossil fuel products” delayed climate action for decades, robbing communities of precious time to mitigate the climate-driven disasters they now face.

One of those disasters occurred last year, when a rainstorm in Bucks County caused deadly flash flooding that swallowed vehicles and killed 7 people, including two children. Scientists said the deluge and its aftermath — not the county’s first “100-year flood” in recent years — are a harbinger of the intense and dangerous rainstorms that a warming climate is making more likely.

As the science connecting climate change to more frequent and severe weather events becomes clearer, there is mounting evidence that members of the fossil fuel industry coordinated to downplay that link — evidence that could be valuable to lawsuits seeking accountability. 

Bucks County is just one in a growing list of communities taking legal action against fossil fuel companies in the wake of deadly extreme weather events. Multnomah County, Oregon sued oil, gas, and coal majors after a 2021 heat dome that killed nearly 70 people. On the 10 year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey’s attorney general took Exxon, Chevron, and other oil giants to court, citing the billions of dollars in damage and deaths the hurricane caused in the state. In the first-ever racketeering lawsuit against Big Oil companies, Puerto Rico municipalities are seeking to recover costs incurred by Hurricane Maria. 

Fossil fuel majors, these cases argue, should help communities pay for the costs of adapting to and recovering from climate disasters given the industry’s early research into — and subsequent denial of — their products’ harm. “We’re already seeing the human and financial tolls of climate change beginning to mount,” said Commissioner Ellis Marseglia. “If the oil companies’ own data is to be believed, the trend will continue.”

It’s a trend that the fossil fuel industry worked to obscure for decades. collection of evidence just published to reveals the extent to which oil companies and their trade associations sought to deny and downplay the relationship between climate change and extreme weather. 

Nicky Sundt, a climate expert and former communications director for the U.S. Global Change Research Program during the George W. Bush administration, said she tried to publicly communicate the science behind that link, but was “stymied over and over again” by industry interests inside and outside the White House — an experience she has discussed with The Guardian and PBS Frontline.

“By interfering with the communications of climate science to the public, [the fossil fuel industry] knew that the public was less likely to become agitated and do something about it,” Sundt said. “The consequence was to slow efforts to reduce our emissions, and to leave us more unprepared for the impacts of climate change. The longer you wait, the more expensive it is to deal with all of these issues, and they’ve eaten up incredibly important time we needed.”

“A new norm”

In 1997, fossil fuel interests successfully convinced prominent United States officials to oppose U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol — an international climate agreement that would have limited greenhouse gas emissions decades ago. 

A year later, the American Petroleum Institute (API) — the largest oil and gas trade association in the U.S. — bluntly outlined a plan to keep drumming up opposition to the Kyoto Protocol as negotiations continued. According to a newly uncovered February 1998 internal strategy proposal reviewed by ExxonKnews, API would “develop and implement a campaign-style ‘rapid response’ team… to respond to op-eds that make exaggerated claims about climate science… and to media events staged by government officials and/or environmental organizations seeking to tie extreme weather events to possible human impacts on global climate.” 

Long before that campaign began, internal industry memos and promotional materials show, major oil companies knew about the role that climate change would play in intensifying hurricanes, floods, droughts, heatwaves, precipitation patterns, and other extreme weather events.

One 1979 memo distributed to Exxon management, about a report conducted by Steve Knisley of Exxon’s Research and Engineering Department, accurately predicted the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by 2010 and referenced the “ecological consequences of increased CO2 levels.” Those consequences were listed in detail, including global temperature increases, water shortages in the U.S. southwest, increased rainfall, and “violent storms.”

In a 1991 film production by Shell, called “Climate of Concern,” a narrator warns that “if the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” and that “what is now considered abnormal weather could become a new norm.”

Another film produced that year by BP, called “This Earth – What Makes Weather?”, alludes to the ways climate change would increase the frequency and damage caused by extreme weather events like storms, flooding, and drought. “From warmer seas, more water would evaporate — making storms and the havoc they cause more frequent,” the narrator predicts. “Catastrophic floods could become commonplace and low-lying countries like Bangladesh would be defenseless against them.”

But around the same time, the industry began to worry about how public understanding of those phenomena could affect their core business. A 1989 presentation by Duane LeVine, a senior executive at Exxon, expressed concern that an extreme heat and drought event the year before had “drawn much attention to the potential problems and we’re starting to hear the inevitable call for action. Exactly what happens now is not clear… but this critical event has energized the greenhouse effort and raised public concern over PEG [potential enhanced greenhouse].”

Under the cover of trade associations and front groups, through PR campaigns and funded academic research, the industry developed a strategy to undermine the link between climate change and weather-related disasters — and discredit those who sought to communicate that science to the public.

A Campaign to Turn the Tide

One ad from a PR campaign by the “Information Council on the Environment,” funded by fossil fuel and electric utility interests. Minnesota is now suing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute for climate fraud.

One key player was the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) — an international industry lobbying group that was instrumental in early efforts to deny climate change and generate opposition to policy action to reduce emissions. In 1994, the GCC hired weather forecasting service AccuWeather Inc. to produce a report minimizing the impact of global warming on extreme weather, which the GCC would cite in a pamphlet distributed at the United Nations climate convention the following year. 

“No convincing, observational evidence exists that hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme temperature and precipitation events are on the rise because of the recent slight increase in the Earth’s surface temperature,” the report states. 

A report that AccuWeather produced minimizing the impact of global warming on extreme weather in 1994.

In response to ExxonKnews’ requests for comment on the report, a spokesperson for AccuWeather said that “AccuWeather and the other leading consulting meteorologists involved had been engaged to produce an analysis based upon the available data at that time. There was much debate and uncertainty in the scientific community over the causes and effects of global warming during that time period, and a new generation of computer modeling studies was just beginning to emerge that would create an important shift in scientific judgment.” 

“As an organization rooted in science, AccuWeather’s view on global warming and extreme weather has evolved over the past three decades, as has the view of many other scientific organizations,” they said, noting that data now shows a “marked increase in billion-dollar disasters due to extreme weather events.” Today, the spokesperson added, AccuWeather has signed the “Global Climate Science-Media Action Pledge”, and is committed to communicating the impacts of climate change on extreme weather to the public.

The GCC also hired academics to further their cause. Internal meeting notes from July 1997 show that the GCC commissioned a research paper from Robert E. Davis, a University of Virginia climatologist, explicitly denying the climate and extreme weather connection. 

Excerpt from Global Climate Coalition meeting notes in 1997.

“A belief commonly held is that global warming will produce more extreme weather,” the published paper read. “While this thinking serves as convenient fuel for sensationalist headlines linking what only a decade ago would have been viewed as the normal vagaries of weather to some approaching climatic apocalypse, it is not based on sound science.”

From a folder handed out by the GCC at the UN climate negotiations in 1999.

In 1999, in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, Frank Maisano, then a spokesman for the GCC, faxed a memo to “Communicators Interested in Global Climate Issues.” “As millions of people flee Hurricane Floyd, many climate activists have again suggested — despite the facts — that hurricanes and global warming are connected,” the memo stated.

In response to questions about the memo and the GCC’s positions, Maisano told ExxonKnews that “Any fair review of the debate over any link between climate and severe weather has always been the subject of significant discussion between the experts themselves, especially with regard to hurricanes.”

“Importantly,” Maisano said, “GCC’s main focus at the time was on the economic impacts, sovereignty and effectiveness of any policy proposed to address climate change.”

Maisano now runs a strategic communications practice for Bracewell LLP, whose separate law practice provides services for oil and gas companies including Eni (currently being sued for climate deception in Italy) and Phillips 66 (which is a defendant in many U.S. climate lawsuits, including those filed by Bucks County and the state of New Jersey). Since 2005, the group has also advocated for renewables, Maisano said.

The industry’s campaign stretched on for years. In 2006, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the DCI Group — a lobbying and campaign contractor with ties to Exxon — produced and sent VHS tapes of videos designed to look like a national news broadcast to Gulf of Mexico area news stations. The tape featured Dr. William Gray, a (now deceased) hurricane scientist at Colorado State University and climate change denier, stating that in the past 20 years, scientists had seen “no significant change in the frequency and intensity of major hurricanes around the globe…. This is the way nature sometimes works.” (Scientists have since concluded that climate-driven warming contributed to the increased rainfall and severity of storm surge during Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people.) 

According to Sundt, after Hurricane Katrina hit, the communications arm of the U.S. Global Change Research department proposed hosting a session on the implications for preparing for climate change on the Gulf Coast. “We had a well developed proposal, and it was just killed [by the White House] without explanation,” she said.

“A more resilient world”

Today, the steady growth of attribution science — or research investigating the role of climate change in altering or intensifying extreme weather events — has put a dent in Big Oil’s designs. The field of study has developed to even be able to tie the emissions of specific corporate actors to climate-worsened disasters — opening up more possibilities for those companies to be held liable for climate damages in court.

One such study, from researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the University of California, Merced, found that nearly 40% of all forests burned in the Western U.S. and Canada since 1986 can be tied to emissions from just 88 of the world’s largest fossil fuel and cement manufacturers. That research was cited in Multnomah County’s lawsuit against oil and gas majors for climate damages last year.

Delta Merner, lead scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate litigation hub and a co-author of the study, pointed out that many of the same companies that fought regulation of climate-warming emissions adapted their own fossil fuel infrastructure to account for rising seas, warming temperatures, and worsening storms decades ago. 

“As you look through the oil industry’s own reactions to their knowledge about climate change, they were able to build better infrastructure to be resilient,” Merner said. “We would have a more resilient world, we would not be facing the realities of climate change that we’re seeing today if it wasn’t for the lies the industry propped up for so long.”

At least one oil major anticipated legal action decades ago. In a planning scenario from 1998, Shell made an eerie prediction: “In 2010, a series of violent storms causes extensive damage to the eastern coast of the U.S. … Following the storms, a coalition of environmental NGOs brings a class-action suit against the US government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done.”

Shell was ahead of its time. Between the increased frequency, severity, and costs of extreme weather events, the advancing science connecting them to polluters, and mounting legal theories, Merner said she expects more communities to file suit. Even as she sees the industry’s deception evolving in content and sophistication — like companies trying to shift the blame for emissions onto consumers to avoid responsibility — Merner believes attribution research is evolving faster.

“It’s a testament to the power of science that climate litigation has been able to withstand an additional onslaught of disinformation from the fossil fuel industry and is now a key part in the fight for climate justice,” she said. 

Note: Additional individuals mentioned here were asked to provide comment. The piece will be updated if they respond.

CLARIFICATION 4/3/24: This story has been updated to clarify the difference between Bracewell LLP’s strategic communication practice and its law practice.

Original article by Emily Sanders, ExxonKnews republished from DeSmog.

Continue ReadingBig Oil Clouded the Science on Extreme Weather. Now It Faces a Reckoning.

(Part of) Wildfires 101: Everything You Need to Know

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Canadian wildfire 2023
Canadian wildfire 2023

Wildfires, also commonly called forest fires or bushfires, are unplanned and uncontrolled fires burning in a vegetated landscape, such as a forest or grasslands. Many wildfires are sparked by human activity, such as campfires, or natural causes, like lightning. Dry conditions and prolonged droughts, which are becoming more frequent with climate change, exacerbate the risks of wildfires. Droughts, high winds, and other extreme weather are also making wildfires more common and more powerful, with larger blazes that burn for longer and expand across more land.

From 1998 to 2017, over 2,400 human deaths were attributed to both wildfires and volcanoes. Even when people can evacuate an affected area, they may lose their homes or businesses to the fires. Wildfires can also kill wildlife in the habitats that catch fire. Further, wildfires feed back into a loop, worsening climate change by releasing more carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter into the air.

Climate change brings increasing temperatures and drier conditions that can fuel wildfires around the world. Researchers expect significant increases in wildfire risks in the U.S., South America, central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa and Australia from 2070 to 2100. [Don’t we already have that?]

Even in the UK, typically considered a colder locale, experts are telling citizens to expect more wildfires in the near future as extreme heatwaves grip the nation. 

The expected increase in wildfires will bring with it more emissions and more forest loss, according to a recent study. As fire seasons become longer and more severe, forest loss due to wildfires is steadily increasing, with the highest losses occurring in boreal forests, which span Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. 

You can track ongoing fires through NASA’s Global Fire Tracking tool.

Wildfires are worsening in many countries globally, including the U.S., and are expected to become more of an issue in places they weren’t previously, like in the UK. Australia is particularly vulnerable to increasing blazes, as are regions of boreal forests.

As a part of nature, wildfires do play an essential part in promoting biodiversity, but only when they occur at a natural rate. Human activity and climate change are spurring more intense and more frequent fires that contribute more emissions, feeding into a loop that worsens climate change. 

Air pollutants from wildfires worsen air quality, putting the health of wildlife and humans at risk and costing countries billions of dollars per year to contain the blazes and pay for damages. Wildfires can also kill off vulnerable wildlife, as is the case for endangered koalas in Australia that recently lost tens of thousands from the already low population, and injure and/or displace thousands more animals.

Ultimately, the goal is not to end wildfires. They are an essential part of many ecosystems, but the fact that they are getting bigger and are happening more frequently does more harm than good. Thankfully, it’s not too late to minimize the number of wildfires.

We can reduce the number of human-made wildfires by staying aware of ongoing weather conditions. When conditions are dry, hot, and windy, avoid any activities that could create a spark or spread smoke and flames. Even driving your car or mowing the lawn can start a fire, so be mindful during high fire risk conditions.

Human-caused or not, wildfires can be destructive. If you live in an area prone to fires, make sure you have a safety plan in place, with supplies ready to go if you need to evacuate or are left without power for long periods of time.

Wildfires are another part of our world, and they are only expected to worsen as the world grows hotter. While we can mitigate personal risks, working collectively with governments and corporations to slow climate change is the best way to minimize wildfire risks worldwide.

Continue Reading(Part of) Wildfires 101: Everything You Need to Know

On a climate rollercoaster: how Australia’s environment fared in the world’s hottest year

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An endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby. Joshua Bergmark

Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University; Shoshana Rapley, Australian National University, and Tayla Lawrie, The University of Queensland

Global climate records were shattered in 2023, from air and sea temperatures to sea-level rise and sea-ice extent. Scores of countries recorded their hottest year and numerous weather disasters occurred as climate change reared its head.

How did Australia’s environment fare against this onslaught? In short, 2023 was a year of opposites.

For the past nine years, we have trawled through huge volumes of data collected by satellites, measurement stations and surveys by individuals and agencies. We include data on global change, oceans, people, weather, water, soils, vegetation, fire and biodiversity.

Each year, we analyse those data, summarising them in an annual report that includes an overall Environmental Condition Score and regional scorecards. These scores provide a relative measure of conditions for agriculture and ecosystems. Scores declined across the country, except in the Northern Territory, but were still relatively good.

However, the updated Threatened Species Index shows the abundance of listed bird, mammal and plant species has continued to decline at a rate of about 3% a year since the turn of the century.

Environmental condition indicators for 2023, showing the changes from 2000–2022 average values. Such differences can be part of a long-term trend or within normal variability.
Australia’s Environment 2023 Report.

Riding a climate rollercoaster in 2023

Worldwide, 77 countries broke temperature records. Australia was not one of them. Our annual average temperature was 0.53°C below the horror year 2019. Temperatures in the seas around us were below the records of 2022.

Even so, 2023 was among Australia’s eight warmest years in both cases. All eight came after 2005.

However, those numbers are averaged over the year. Dig a bit deeper and it becomes clear 2023 was a climate rollercoaster.

The year started as wet as the previous year ended, but dry and unseasonably warm weather set in from May to October. Soils and wetlands across much of the country started drying rapidly. In the eastern states, the fire season started as early as August.

Nonetheless, there was generally still enough water to support good vegetation growth throughout the unusually warm and sunny winter months.

Fears of a severe fire season were not realised as El Niño’s influence waned in November and rainfall returned, in part due to the warm oceans. Combined with relatively high temperatures, it made for a hot and humid summer. A tropical cyclone and several severe storms caused flooding in Queensland and Victoria in December.

As always, there were regional differences. Northern Australia experienced the best rainfall and growth conditions in several years. This contributed to more grass fires than average during the dry season. On the other hand, the rain did not return to Western Australia and Tasmania, which ended the year dry.

So how did scores change?

Every year we calculate an Environmental Condition Score that combines weather, water and vegetation data.

The national score was 7.5 (out of 10). That was 1.2 points lower than for 2022, but still the second-highest score since 2011.

Scores declined across the country except for the Northern Territory, which chalked up a score of 8.8 thanks to a strong monsoon season. With signs of drought developing in parts of Western Australia, it had the lowest score of 5.5.

The Environmental Condition Score reflects environmental conditions, but does not measure the long-term health of natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

Firstly, it relates only to the land and not our oceans. Marine heatwaves damaged ecosystems along the eastern coast. Surveys in the first half of 2023 suggested the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef plateaued.

However, a cyclone and rising ocean temperatures occurred later in the year. In early 2024, another mass coral bleaching event developed.

Secondly, the score does not capture important processes affecting our many threatened species. Among the greatest dangers are invasive pests and diseases, habitat destruction and damage from severe weather events such as heatwaves and megafires.

Threatened species’ declines continued

The Threatened Species Index captures data from long-term threatened species monitoring. The index is updated annually with a three-year lag, largely due to delays in data processing and sharing. This means the 2023 index includes data up to 2020.

The index showed an unrelenting decline of about 3% in the abundance of Australia’s threatened bird, mammal and plant species each year. This amounts to an overall decline of 61% from 2000 to 2020.

Line graph of Threatened Species Index
Threatened Species Index showing the abundance of different categories of species listed under the EPBC Act relative to 2000.
Australia’s Environment 2023 Report

The index for birds in 2023 revealed declines were most severe for terrestrial birds (62%), followed by migratory shorebirds (47%) and marine birds (24%).

A record 130 species were added to Australia’s threatened species lists in 2023. That’s many more than the annual average of 29 species over previous years. The 2019–2020 Black Summer bushfires had direct impacts on half the newly listed species.

Population boom adds to pressures

Australia’s population passed 27 million in 2023, a stunning increase of 8 million, or 41%, since 2000. Those extra people all needed living space, food, electricity and transport.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 18% since 2000. Despite small declines in the previous four years, emissions increased again in 2023, mostly due to air travel rebounding after COVID-19.

Our emissions per person are the tenth-highest in the world and more than three times those of the average global citizen. The main reasons are our coal-fired power stations, inefficient road vehicles and large cattle herd.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be optimistic. Many other countries have dramatically reduced emissions without compromising economic growth or quality of life. All we have to do is to finally follow their lead.

Our governments have an obvious role to play, but we can do a lot as individuals. We can even save money, by switching to renewable energy and electric vehicles and by eating less beef.

Changing our behaviour will not stop climate change in its tracks, but will slow it down over the next decades and ultimately reverse it. We cannot reverse or even stop all damage to our environment, but we can certainly do much better.The Conversation

Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University; Shoshana Rapley, Research Assistant, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University, and Tayla Lawrie, Project Manager, Threatened Species Index, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingOn a climate rollercoaster: how Australia’s environment fared in the world’s hottest year