It's 209 miles from the parking lot of a Chili's in Barstow, California, where we are, to the parking lot of a Carl's Jr. in Kingman, Arizona, where we need to go. I'm in a rented Tesla Model S, a sleek, battery-powered electric vehicle, with a travel companion. We're just about fully charged, and the car estimates it can travel 247 miles before we need more juice. That's a buffer of 38 miles, which should be more than enough to reach Kingman. We'll soon realize it isn't.
To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.
Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.
It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.
Yet for the first time, the IPCC is offering a glimmer of hope. It acknowledges that some of the changes will be beneficial – including higher crop yields in places like Canada, Europe and Central Asia – and that in others cases, people will be able to adapt to them.
“The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” said Dr Chris Field, the global ecology director at the Carnegie Institution in Washington and a co-chairman of the report. “We have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it. We just need to be smart about it.
“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried,” said Field. “Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation. This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”
The time has come: the new IPCC report is here! After several years of work by over 800 scientists from around the world, and after days of extensive discussion at the IPCC plenary meeting in Stockholm, the Summary for Policymakers was formally adopted at 5 o’clock this morning. Congratulations to all the colleagues who were there and worked night shifts. The full text of the report will be available online beginning of next week.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. And it’s the 40-hour workweek that keeps us that way.
Last week New Jersey started enforcing a ban on direct sales by Tesla Motors of its path-breaking model S. Tesla’s direct sales have also run into hot water in a number of other states: Ohio lawmakers are debating a ban on Tesla’s direct sales and Texas, Arizona, and Virginia are also opposed. Proponents of a ban on direct sales claim that they are acting in the interest of customers. But is it the interests of customers they’re following or rather the bidding of the powerful car dealership lobby?
That same prince later described an area outside the southern city of Shiraz where hundreds of men hunted day and night. “The mountain is so rich in wildlife,” he wrote in his memoirs, “that if the numbers of hunters were ten times over, there would still be enough game animals for everybody. We stayed here for two months and when we were leaving, the number of animals was still the same.”
“Statements like these,” Kahrom told his audiences, “prove that the Qajar hunters never set out to eradicate entire species of wild animals. In fact, they hoped to hunt forever. They considered natural resources such as wildlife and forests to be renewable resources that simply could not be exterminated by man. But all the species they prized are now rare, or threatened, or extinct: the mighty lion, the Caspian tiger, the Iranian wild ass, gazelles, big-horned mountain sheep, leopards, and the cheetah.”
“Yes, the cheetah,” he says, passing a plate of figs. The walls of his home near Tehran’s Islamic Azad University, where he teaches, are trimmed with ornate molding and hung with brass wall sconces and chandeliers. Small Persian rugs cover the hardwood floors. The brick fireplace is flanked by paintings of migrating cranes and the endangered red- breasted goose that winters in Miankaleh. Above the mantle, a nineteenth-century Tabriz tapestry declares in graceful Farsi calligraphy that God is the greatest protector of all.
The most important thing to know about the global food system is also one of the least appreciated: there is enough food for everyone on the planet to live a healthy and nutritious life. In fact, the UN tells us that there is about 2,800 kcal per person per day available. But, the global food system is deeply inequitable. There are about 842 million people hungry on the planet, while at the same time there are about 1.5 billion who are overweight or obese.
2. Price volatility
The price of food is wildly volatile. In 2008, the United Nations Food Price Index almost doubled in less than a year before crashing in 2009. Prices then shot up again in 2010 and 2011. Despite this volatility, our supply of food stayed stable throughout this period. This suggests that the price of food is not determined by our ability to produce food at a global level.
3. One third of food is wasted
Approximately one third of the world's food is wasted before it is consumed (pdf). In the developed world most of the waste happens at the consumer end, when food spoils in grocery stores or in refrigerators. Most of the waste in the developing world happens on the farm as a consequence of inefficient storage and processing facilities.
4. Food for fuel
Not all food grown on our planet is being used as food. For instance, about 40% of the corn grown in the US is being turned into first-generation biofuels (pdf), such as ethanol. However, creating bioethanol only uses the sugar in the corn. This leaves a protein rich byproduct called dried distillers grain that can be fed to livestock.
5. Land buy ups
The landscape of who owns our food system is changing. Since 2008, more than 56m hectares of land (the size of France) has been purchased in the global south by international companies. Some believe that this represents meaningful foreign direct investment in places such as rural Africa. Others are worried that the companies are exploiting the land and labour of Africa to make rich countries to grow richer.
6. Corporate control
A very small number of corporations control the vast majority of the world's food trade: four companies produce more than 58% of the world's seeds; four global firms account for 97% of poultry genetics research and development; yet another four produce more than 60% of the agrochemicals farmers use.
7. Impact of agricultural policy
While we all know that people are eating more junk food, dairy and meat, we don't always appreciate that one of the causes of this rise is US governmental farm policy. In the early 1970s, the US started paying maize farmers to produce grain, resulting in overproduction. Between 1995 and 2012 maize subsidies totalled more than $84bn (£49.8bn). Enterprising farmers learned they could feed this extra to cows, pigs and chickens. This drove down the price of these produces and created the conditions for intensive livestock production. It was also discovered around this time that the sugars from corn could be removed and turned into high-fructose corn syrup. This has given rise to the junk food industry.
8. Environmental impact
The way we're producing our food is impacting our environment. Agriculture is responsible for 75% of deforestation worldwide, and is the largest contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. We're also rapidly losing marine food sources. In 2010, 53% of fisheries were fully exploited (pdf), 28% were overexploited, 3% were depleted, and 1% were recovering from depletion.
9. Adapting to climate change
While there may be enough food for everyone on the planet today, this may not be the case in the future. Recently published scientific work suggests that climate change may reduce crop yields by 2% per decade over the next 100 years. These reductions won't be the same everywhere. The poorest regions of the world are expected to be the worst hit. Whether these crop reductions happen, however, depends a lot on if farmers are able to use the tools they need to adapt to changing weather conditions.
10. Increased demand
Recent studies suggest that the farmers of this world will have to produce 50% more food by 2050 in order to meet global population growth. This will have to be done against a backdrop of rising energy prices and climate change that is set to make food harder and more expensive to produce.
More than 97 per cent of the water on Earth is saline. Wouldn’t it be cruel if nature had locked up the vast bulk of the planet’s vital fluids in a form that no plant could drink? Well, as it happens nature is not quite that cruel. Of the 400,000 flowering plant species around the world, 2,600 do drink seawater. They are halophytes, meaning ‘salt-plant’, and they might just be the answer to a question surprisingly few governments have yet asked: namely, how can we put our planet’s practically infinite volumes of saltwater to good use?
It might not be immediately obvious why such a question is worth our time. But consider: between sea-level rise and the increase in droughts and floods, the acreage available for conventional, freshwater agriculture is shrinking rapidly. Freshwater aquifers are becoming increasingly salty: among them, the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers a quarter of the irrigated land in the US. And so one of the world’s most important breadbaskets is under threat. Elsewhere, one-sixth of the world’s population relies on Eurasian rivers that trace back to Himalayan glaciers, which are themselves disappearing because of climate change.
While the global supply of arable land is shrinking, demand keeps rising.
The United Nations has calculated that, if we are to feed the 9 billion people on Earth by the middle of this century, we will have to increase agricultural productivity by as much as 70 per cent. How on earth are we going to do that? Perhaps we’ll discover some ultra-productive new crops or farming techniques; we’ve been lucky before. But even if we manage that, our crops will still have to withstand the projected spike in extreme weather caused by climate change.
Can we trust smart cities? In part one of our Digital Communities quarterly report, we look at making cities smarter through the use of sensor technology: tiny electronic devices that can measure and track just about anything that goes on in a city.
A growing body of evidence shows that light pollution exacerbates, and might directly cause, cancer, obesity, and depression, the troublesome triumvirate of industrialised society. One of the first people to notice this correlation, at least as it applies to cancer, is Richard Stevens, a professor at the University of Connecticut, respected cancer epidemiologist, and mild insomniac. In the early 1980s, Stevens and other researchers were beginning to realise there was little or no connection between diet and rising rates of breast cancer, contrary to what had been suspected. As Stevens puts it, it was like a light bulb going on when he realised that, in fact, a light bulb going on might be a culprit.
The world is not ready for climate change, which poses a number of serious risks, says the planet’s leading body of climate scientists.
On Monday morning in Yokohama, Japan, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report on the impacts of climate change, with the goal of spurring world leaders to act more decisively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report warns of serious impacts from changing climate on agriculture and human civilization and argues that governments are ill prepared for its effects.
The hundreds of scientists who wrote the report argue that world leaders have only a few years left to reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming. At the same time, governments must step up efforts to protect vulnerable communities from increased natural hazards associated with climate change.
"Observed impacts of climate change are widespread and consequential," the scientists of the IPCC write in the report.
The new report show that "today's choices are going to significantly affect the risk that climate change will pose for the rest of the century," says Kelly Levin, a scientist who studies the impacts of climate change at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.
The polar icecaps are melting faster than we thought they would; seas are rising faster than we thought they would; extreme weather events are increasing. Have a nice day! That’s a less than scientifically rigorous summary of the findings of the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this morning in Stockholm.
Appearing exhausted after a nearly two sleepless days fine-tuning the language of the report, co-chair Thomas Stocker called climate change “the greatest challenge of our time," adding that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the past,” and that this trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.
The impacts of global warming are likely to be "severe, pervasive and irreversible", a major report by the UN has warned.
Scientists and officials meeting in Japan say the document is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.
Some impacts of climate change include a higher risk of flooding and changes to crop yields and water availability.
Humans may be able to adapt to some of these changes, but only within limits.
An example of an adaptation strategy would be the construction of sea walls and levees to protect against flooding. Another might be introducing more efficient irrigation for farmers in areas where water is scarce.
Natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of climatic changes, but a growing impact on humans is feared.
It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:
"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."
People in coastal regions of Asia, particularly those living in cities, could face some of the worst effects of global warming, climate experts will warn this week. Hundreds of millions of people are likely to lose their homes as flooding, famine and rising sea levels sweep the region, one of the most vulnerable on Earth to the impact of global warming, the UN states.
The report – Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – makes it clear that for the first half of this century countries such as the UK will avoid the worst impacts of climate change, triggered by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. By contrast, people living in developing countries in low latitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia, will suffer the most, especially those living in crowded cities.
A final draft of the report, seen by the Observer, will be debated by a panel of scientists set up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week at a meeting in Yokohama, Japan, and will form a key part of the IPCC's fifth assessment report on global warming, whose other sections will be published later this year.
The first and most striking way Tesla kills the dealer service department cash cow is downloads. As part of its sales pitch, Tesla says you should think of its Model S sedan as “an app on four wheels.” That may sound like vacuous Silicon Valley marketing copy, but the company isn’t just being metaphorical. Software is at the heart of what keeps Teslas running. These internet-connected cars are designed to self-diagnose their problems. The vehicles can also download software fixes or updates — even new features — much like an iPhone when Apple puts out a new version of iOS. When fixes happen over the air, there’s no need for a shop in the first place.
The ability to repair a car via software is especially important when the vehicle itself consists of so much new technology that traditional mechanics don’t know how to fix. The flip side is that without an internal combustion engine, there’s not as much to fix. I’ve written before that a Tesla without its outer shell looks like acell phone on wheels. It’s basically just a big battery. That means no spark plugs, no air filters, no fuel pumps, no timing belts. In short, Teslas don’t have any of the parts that force you to take your car in for “regularly scheduled maintenance” — services that can cost dearly at the dealer. But it’s hard to charge for an oil change when there’s no oil to be changed.
To be fair, Tesla isn’t doing away entirely with bringing your car in. The company recommends an inspection once a year or every 12,500 miles. Its service plans start at $600 per year* or less if you buy multiple years at once. The plans include replacement of standard parts like brake pads and windshield wipers. The company will monitor your car remotely and tell you when there are problems, such as faulty batteries. In theory, there are pitfalls in an arrangement where the company that makes your car is the only one that can fix it. But Tesla would seem to alleviate that concern with its flat-rate plans, rather than fee-for-service gouging for every fix. What’s more, the company says your warranty is still valid regardless of whether you get your car serviced at all.