Monthly Archives: January 2016

Climate Debt vs. Ecological Debt

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 10.26.49 AM Which countries are in ecological debt? Should leading industrialized nations recognize their global carbon footprint and come to terms with their climate debt to impacted nations?

And what is the difference between ecological debt and climate debt?

In a recent essay, World Ocean Observatory director Peter Neill looked at the history of the debate over an ecological debt:

In 1992, the term “ecological debt” emerged into the international conversation among ecologists and conservationists, first mentioned in a paper presented by the Instituto de Ecología Política in Santiago, Chile, wherein the production of greenhouse gases by the developed nations of the north, particularly from resources extracted from the less developed nations of the south, was seen as an inequitable balance that had imposed climactic and social changes not included in the calculations of international debt. It was a rich versus poor argument, asserting that the impact colonial and commercial exploitation of finite natural resources from these nations had not been fully “compensated” by price, royalties or licensing fees, or even the loans made otherwise to these countries by bankers in the north. There was in fact talk of reparations to be paid as compensation for this unequal transactional system.

Since then, several international forums have made climate debt part of global negotiations, including debt benchmarks proposed by Bolivia in 2009. Check out this Al Jazeera report:

Prior to the COP21 climate summit in Paris last December, a Bangladeshi religious leader called “on rich countries to live up to their duty to cut emissions and provide climate finance. This in keeping with the agreement of 2009 at the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit, namely to provide $100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries tackle climate change, which now they must deliver.”

Pope Francis, among others, also addressed ecological debt: “Greater justice, the pope said, means addressing “ecological debt,” that is, the debt richer countries owe poorer countries because of the huge trade imbalances and “disproportionate use” of natural resources wealthier countries have created.”

Neill cites the research of the Global Footprint Network to examine our global ecological “overshoot,” which he says “is another way of saying ecological debt.”

The Network’s principal tool is a complex analysis and calculation of each nation’s “ecological footprint,” a determination of the point in time each year when we have exceeded the capacity of land and sea to supply adequate resources for survival as well as absorb the damage of pollutants, greenhouse gases, resource depletion, and other outcomes of unabated consumption. The Network asserts:

“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.”

“Overshoot” is another way of saying “ecological debt;” and we are already out of the green and into the red, we are already dangerously underwater. The Network concludes:

“Individuals and institutions worldwide must begin to recognize ecological limits. We must begin to make ecological limits central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live, within the Earth’s bounds. This means investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource-constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers to participate.”

Food Foolish: Waste and Climate Change

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 5.05.28 PM The Food Tank blog has an interesting interview with author John M. Mandyck, whose latest book–Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change -looks at the carbon emissions, methane release and climate impact of our American food chain.

Here’s a clip:

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you and [your co-author] Eric B. Schultz to write Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change? What can we expect from the book?

John Mandyck (JM): In the book, we outline the enormous impact of food waste on hunger, climate change, natural resources, and food security. More than 1 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted, never making it from the farm to our fork. To put that into perspective, imagine 1.3 billion healthy elephants standing on top of each other in one pile. That is what we are losing from the food supply chain each year. Meanwhile, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry – a population equivalent to the United States (U.S.) and the European Union combined. Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment, from its greenhouse gas emissions to the water wasted to grow the food we never eat. The embodied carbon dioxide emissions alone represent 3.3 billion metric tons. That is all the energy that goes to produce the food we never eat, including fuel for tractors, electricity for water pumps, the power for packaging facilities, and more. In fact, if food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S. The water associated with food waste is equally concerning. The water we use to grow the food we throw away is greater than the water used by any single nation on the planet.

We believe that the scale and consequence of food waste must be elevated and examined globally. That is why we wrote Food Foolish; to call attention to the extraordinary social and environmental opportunities created by wasting less food. We wanted to format the data and the implication of food waste in a way that could be readily accessible to anybody. We hope this book can help connect the global dialogue on an issue many think is essential to the sustainability of the planet.

Read the full interview here:

2015: Hottest Year on Record

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 11.52.58 AM “The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2015 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880. During the final month, the December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was the highest on record for any month in the 136-year record.” That’s the conclusion of a joint NASA and NOAA examination of climate records, which were released on Wednesday.

Here are some global highlights: Calendar Year 2015

During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 136 years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C) and marking the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century. This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken. Ten months had record high temperatures for their respective months during the year. The five highest monthly departures from average for any month on record all occurred during 2015.

Record warmth was broadly spread around the world, including Central America, the northern half of South America, parts of northern, southern, and eastern Europe stretching into western Asia, a large section of east central Siberia, regions of eastern and southern Africa, large parts of the northeastern and equatorial Pacific, a large swath of the western North Atlantic, most of the Indian Ocean, and parts of the Arctic Ocean.

During 2015, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.39°F (1.33°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2007 by 0.45°F (0.25°C). This is the largest margin by which the annual global land temperature has been broken.

During 2015, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.33°F (0.74°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record of last year by 0.20°F (0.11°C).

Looking above Earth’s surface at certain layers of the atmosphere, several different analyses examined NOAA satellite-based data records for the lower and middle troposphere and the lower stratosphere.

The 2015 temperature for the lower troposphere (roughly the lowest five miles of the atmosphere) was third highest in the 1979-2015 record, at 0.65°F (0.36°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). It was also third highest on record, at 0.47°F (0.26°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS). Record warmth was observed during the September–November seasonal period as well as December.

The 2015 temperature for the mid-troposphere (roughly two miles to six miles above the surface) was third highest in the 1979–2015 record, at 0.49°F (0.27°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and fourth highest on record, at 0.40°F (0.22°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS. A routine University of Washington post-analysis found the UAH and RSS values to be 0.65°F (0.36°C) and 0.54°F (0.30°C), respectively, above the 1981–2010 average, both ranking third highest. Record warmth was observed during the September–November seasonal period as well as December.

An independent assessment of the mid-troposphere, derived from weather balloons, found the mid-troposphere departure to be 0.92°F (0.51°C) above the 1981–2010 average, the highest in the 58-year period of record. Record warmth was observed during the September–November seasonal period as well as December.

The temperature for the lower stratosphere (roughly 10 miles to 13 miles above the surface) was 13th lowest in the 1979–2015 record, at 0.56°F (0.31°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and 14th lowest on record, at 0.40°F (0.22°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS. The stratospheric temperature is decreasing on average while the lower and middle troposphere temperatures are increasing on average, consistent with expectations in a greenhouse-warmed world.

According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average annual Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during 2015 was 9.5 million square miles. This was the 11th smallest annual snow cover extent since records began in 1968 and smallest since 2008. The first half of 2015 saw generally below-normal snow cover extent, with above-average coverage later in the year.

Recent polar sea ice extent trends continued in 2015. The average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was 4.25 million square miles, the sixth smallest annual value of the 37-year period of record. The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was the third largest on record, at 4.92 million square miles, behind 2013 and 2014.