The scariest things about climate change are what we don't know

Some argue that, when it comes to climate change, we should play down our uncertainties -- because climate-change deniers will just seize on those unknowns as an excuse for inaction.

Clinging to survival

Clinging to survival

But in a brief, highly topical essay just published today, TESS director Bill Laurance argues that scientists have to be entirely frank about uncertainty -- and that many of the scariest things about climate change are in fact the things we don't know.

Read the essay here

In just three minutes you can get a sense of what we we know, what we don't know -- and what we don't know we don't know about climate change.

 

The world's two most dangerous environmental trends

What are the two biggest direct threats to our natural world?  One could debate this question endlessly but here are my personal candidates for two recent developments that are especially environmentally perilous:

Growing perils for nature...

Growing perils for nature...

1) The G20's stunning plans for infrastructure expansion

Believe it or not, the leaders of the G20 nations -- the world's 20 largest economies -- committed during their recent global summit in Brisbane, Australia to spend an astonishing 60-70 trillion U.S. dollars on new infrastructure projects by the year 2030

This staggering sum will come from a variety of sources, such as public-private partnerships, pension funds, bilateral aid, and the major development banks.  This will be the single biggest financial transaction in human history -- and the environmental impacts will be Earth-shaking

Expect massive increases in roads, hydroelectric dams, mining projects, gas lines, and power lines, all across the planet.  Such projects will open up many of the world's last surviving wild areas and lead to an avalanche of new development pressures.

2) The rise of the Chinese and Brazilian development banks

An equally alarming trend is that the nature of infrastructure funding is changing. 

Large funding bodies such as the World Bank and the African, Asian, and Inter-American Development banks -- which, after many years of bearing criticism, have worked to develop and implement some environmental safeguards -- are increasingly being supplanted by the heavily funded and far more aggressive Chinese (AIIB) and Brazilian (BNDES) development banks. 

We've previously critiqued BNDES, but the Chinese-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is, arguably, even worse.

The Chinese and Brazilian banks are funding massive numbers of developments worldwide, and generally place a much lower priority on environmental concerns than do many other infrastructure funders and donors.      

Conservationists and scientists will have to redouble their efforts to meet the challenges posed by these two landmark -- and alarming -- trends.

-Bill Laurance

 

ALERT confronts US Ambassador about roads

U.S. Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn loves roads.  He sees them as the salvation for many of the world's ills.

If only we had more roads, he argues in a recent essay in National Geographic Online, then rural communities worldwide would be happier, healthier, and wealthier -- and even less likely to be harassed by extremist groups that prey on isolated communities.

In truth, Ambassador Quinn has a point -- but he is only telling half of the story.  Roads are often good for people but can also be devastating for the environment.  The trick is to decide when roads are environmentally 'good' or 'bad'.

ALERT director Bill Laurance has written an opposing essay in National Geographic Online -- one that tries to bring a bit more balance to the issue of roads.  It's worth two minutes to read this rebuttal.

Laurance argues that roads should generally be avoided in wilderness areas, parks and other protected areas, and places with concentrations of endangered or locally endemic species.

Sadly, roads are expanding explosively today, and far too many roads are 'bad' -- opening a Pandora's Box of environmental problems, such as poaching, illegal deforestation and forest burning, illicit gold mining, and predatory land speculation.

We are living in the most dramatic era of road expansion in human history.  It is estimated that, by 2050, we will have another 25 million kilometers of roads -- enough to encircle the Earth more than 600 times.  Nearly every surviving wilderness area on Earth -- from the Amazon to Siberia, and New Guinea to the Congo Basin -- is under assault from roads. 

From an environmental perspective, we are blazing along a road to ruin

Let's hope that road enthusiasts like Ambassador Quinn start to get the message.  Roads are, at best, a double-edged sword. 

And far too often, the sharp edge of the sword is pointed at nature's throat.

Climate change could threaten our beer

OK, now it's getting serious.

Enough is enough!

Enough is enough!

We all know that climate change is threatening our environment.  And our economies.  And our livelihoods. 

But now it appears that climate change could imperil the very foundations of our society.

Our beer.

That's right -- in a recent meeting with Australian Green Party Leader, Senator Christine Milne, researcher Peter Gous emphasized the likely impacts of global warming on beer production.

"It only takes one hot day" to destroy a crop of grain, said Gous.

This is a frightening prospect given that state-of-the-art climate models project up to a 1.5-degree Centigrade (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average temperature by 2030. 

Add that on top of your average heat-wave, and you could get a serious crop-killer.

This is just one example of the complex -- and often highly disturbing -- ways that climate change could affect our future.

A forthcoming book, Climate Peril, by author John J. Berger, attempts to tease out many of these potentially alarming effects -- on nature, the economy, human health, society, and national security.

According to Berger, we're missing the boat by failing to consider critical interrelationships among effects such as drought, fire, disease, water shortages, habitat destruction, endangered species, resource collapse, energy production, and the economy.

Although a top-flight scientist and energy expert, Berger's book is remarkably easy to read. 

He argues at the outset that there's almost no way we're going to limit global warming to a 2-degree Centigrade (3.6-degree Fahrenheit) increase in average temperature, as many have hoped.

He then shows, again and again, how climate change is likely to provoke cascades of destabilizing changes.

To select just one from a wealth of examples: a strong drought can destroy crops and livestock, which in turn impacts on food processors, farm-equipment suppliers, and labor markets. 

This in turn can grind down local and regional economies, depressing real-estate values.

And this can then force economically stressed people to migrate elsewhere, weakening the social fabric of a community, harming mental and physical health, and promoting domestic violence.

Berger's book is one of the very best I've seen on climate change -- on understanding how it could impact on virtually every facet of our life, society, economy, and environment.

There's a lot more at stake here than just our beer.