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2/21/2016 A modern ark | The Economist Special report: Climate change Biodiversity A modern ark To save endangered species, move them to more...

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2/21/2016 A modern ark | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678964/print 1/3 Special report: Climate change Biodiversity A modern ark To save endangered species, move them to more congenial places Nov 28th 2015 | From the print edition ALONG THE BANKS of the Apalachicola river, near the border between Florida and Georgia, lives a rare tree called a stinking cedar. Once common, Torreya taxifolia seems to have got stuck in this tiny pocket as the continent warmed after the last ice age. It cannot migrate northward because the surrounding soils are too poor. Attacked by fungi, just a few hundred stinking cedars remain along the river. Rising temperatures now threaten to kill them off entirely. Spying a looming extinction, a group of people is engaged in a kind of ecological vigilantism. The self-styled “Torreya Guardians” collect thousands of seeds a year and plant them in likely places across the eastern United States. Stinking cedar turns out to thrive in North Carolina. The Torreya Guardians are now trying to plant it in colder states like Ohio and Michigan as well. By the time the trees are fully grown, they reason, temperatures might be ideal there. Some are dubious. The Torreya Guardians were at first seen as “eco-terrorists spreading an invasive species”, remembers Connie Barlow, the group’s chief propagandist. She rejects that charge, pointing out that she is only moving the tree within America. She also thinks that drastic action of this kind will soon be widespread: “We are the radical edge of what is going to become a mainstream action.” Conservation is nearly always backward-looking. It aims to keep plants and animals not just where they are but where they were before humans meddled. The only real debate is over how
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2/21/2016 A modern ark | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678964/print 2/3 far to turn back the clock. Scotland and Wales have been heavily grazed for centuries, giving them a bald beauty. Should they now be reforested, or “rewilded”, as the trendy term has it? Should wolves be encouraged to reclaim their ancient territory in America’s Rocky Mountains? In a rapidly warming world, this attitude is becoming outdated. No part of the Earth can be returned to a natural state that prevailed before human interference, because humans are so rapidly changing the climate. Conservation, as traditionally practised, is being overtaken by fast- moving reality. In future the question will no longer be how to preserve species in particular places but how to move them around to ensure their survival. A cool move Global warming has already set off mass migrations. Having crossed the Baltic Sea, purple emperor butterflies (pictured above) are fluttering northward through Scandinavia in search of cooler temperatures. Trees and animals are climbing mountains. The most spectacular migrations have taken place in the oceans, says Elvira Poloczanska of CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. Many sea creatures can move quickly, which is just as well: in the oceans it is generally necessary to travel farther than on land to find lower temperatures. Phytoplankton populations are moving by up to 400km a decade. Not all plants and animals can make it to new homes, though. Some will be hemmed in by farmland, cities or coasts. Animals that live in one mountain range might be unable to cross a hot plain to reach higher mountains. And many will find that the species they eat move at a different speed from their own: carnivorous mammals can migrate more quickly than rodents, which in turn migrate faster than trees. The creatures that already inhabit the poles and the highest mountains cannot move to cooler climes and might be done for. It is not clear that climate change has yet driven any species to extinction. Frogs native to Central and South America have been wiped out by a fungus to which they may or may not have become more vulnerable as a result of changing temperatures. Yet the speed at which species’ habitats are shifting suggests they are already under great pressure—which will only increase in the next few decades. Chris Thomas, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York in England, has estimated that by 2050 between 18% and 35% of species could be on the path to extinction. A few years ago Mr Thomas helped transport hundreds of butterflies—marbled whites and small skippers—to Durham, at least 50km north of their usual range, and released them into the cooler air. The butterflies fared well. These days he thinks bigger. Why not move creatures farther, he suggests, to places where they have never lived?
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2/21/2016 Groupthink | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678952/print 1/3 Special report: Climate change Public opinion Groupthink People’s views on climate change go hand in hand with their politics Nov 28th 2015 | From the print edition FOR ALL THE torrent of scientific reports, books and television documentaries on the subject, climate change commands a good deal less public attention than Kim Kardashian, a reality-TV star. Early in 2007 Google searches for Ms Kardashian’s name overtook searches for “climate change”. She has never fallen behind since. Even Bangladeshis Google her more than they do the forces that threaten their country—in English, at least. The rich are more concerned about climate change than the poor, who have many other things to worry about. A giant opinion-gathering exercise carried out by the United Nations finds that people in highly developed countries view climate change as the tenth most important issue out of a list of 16 that includes health care, phone and internet access, jobs, political freedom and reliable energy. In poor countries—and indeed in the world as a whole—climate change comes 16th out of 16. Even in the rich world, interest flagged for a few years following the financial crisis of 2007. It is now recovering a little. But in America, another psephological trend is plain: attitudes to climate change have become sharply polarised along political lines (see chart). “The partisan divide started in 1997,” says Jon Krosnick of Stanford University. That was when a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, threw his weight behind the UN effort to introduce mandatory caps for greenhouse-gas emissions. It has since widened. YouGov, a pollster, found in
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2/21/2016 Groupthink | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678952/print 2/3 2013 that 70% of Democratic voters saw evidence of man-made climate change in recent weather patterns, whereas only 19% of Republican voters did. A similar, though smaller, divide was found in Britain. It is not that conservatives are ignorant. Knowledge of science makes little difference to people’s beliefs about climate change, except that it makes them more certain about what they believe. Republicans with a good knowledge of science are more sceptical about global warming than less knowledgeable Republicans. The best explanation for the gap is that people’s beliefs about climate change have become determined by feelings of identification with cultural and political groups. When people are
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2/21/2016 Hot and bothered | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678951/print 1/5 Special report: Climate change Climate change Hot and bothered Not much has come of efforts to prevent climate change so far. Mankind will have to get better at tackling it—but must also learn to live with it, says Joel Budd Nov 28th 2015 | From the print edition LOOKING BACK FROM the early 24th century, Charlotte Shortback suggests, half-jokingly, that modern human history can be split into distinct periods. The most exciting was the Accelerando, from about 2160 to 2200, when human lifespans were greatly extended and the terraforming of Mars was completed. That was followed by the Ritard, when the people of Mars lapsed into isolationism. Long before, though, came a strange spell, from 2005 to 2060, when people understood the science of climate change but did little to prevent it; nor did they try to colonise other planets. She dubs it the Dithering. Charlotte Shortback is a character in “2312”, a science-fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson— one of an oddly small band of authors who have written imaginatively and precisely about climate change. In his fictional future, global warming has turned the Earth into a wet, jungle- like planet. New York City is 11 metres under water. In other places, desperate efforts are under way to hold glaciers in place with liquid nitrogen and dams. Will the world really turn out this way? Almost certainly not: strict accuracy is neither the strength nor the purpose of science fiction. But Mr Robinson is right about the present. What is happening today might not seem like dithering. In a few days world leaders will gather
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2/21/2016 Hot and bothered | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678951/print 2/5 in Paris for a grand conference on climate change, the 21st such get-together since the United Nations began to grapple with the issue. A torrent of pronouncements and promises has already issued forth—from Pope Francis, Xi Jinping, Barack Obama and many others. The IMF warns that human fortunes will “evaporate like water under a relentless sun” if climate change is not checked soon. Especially in western Europe, but increasingly in America and China too, wind turbines and fields full of solar photovoltaic panels are becoming familiar features of the landscape. If you buy a car or a house in Europe, or even book a hotel room, you may well be told about its cost in carbon. Many companies, including The Economist Group, monitor their carbon-dioxide emissions and often set targets to reduce them. There is gleeful talk of coal, oil and gas falling from favour so quickly that energy firms will be left sitting on heaps of stranded assets. None of this, however, amounts to much. At the time of the first UN climate-change conference in 1995, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was 361 parts per million. Last year it reached 399 parts per million. Between 2000 and 2010 the rise in greenhouse-gas emissions was even faster than in the 1980s or 1990s. The hottest year since records began was 2014; average surface air temperatures so far this decade are about 0.9°C higher than they were in the 1880s. Dieter Helm, an energy expert at Oxford University, points to “a quarter of a century of nothing of substance being achieved”. The International Energy Agency, a think-tank, estimates that 13.5% of the world’s primary energy supply was produced from renewable sources in 2013. That sounds like a decent slice, but almost three-quarters of this renewable energy came from what are euphemistically known as “biofuels”. This mostly means burning wood, dung and charcoal in poor countries. Hydro-electric power, which has fallen from favour in the West because of its often ruinous effect on river ecosystems, was the world’s second most important source of renewable energy. Nuclear power, which is green but not renewable, supplied 5% of energy needs, and falling. Wind turbines, solar farms, tidal barriers, geothermal power stations and the like produced just 1.3% between them. The global effort to tackle climate change by imposing caps on countries’ greenhouse-gas emissions, which until recently was described as essential for saving the planet, is over. The UN’s boldest attempt to bind countries, the Kyoto protocol of 1997, expired in 2012. It had achieved little and become unworkable; its passing was not much lamented. No ambitious global deal will be signed in Paris, although whatever document emerges from the conference will no doubt be
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2/21/2016 If all else fails | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678963/print 1/5 Special report: Climate change Geoengineering If all else fails Man­made global cooling is scary, but may become necessary Nov 28th 2015 | From the print edition THE SUM OF human tinkering with the climate since the beginning of the industrial era is sometimes likened to a planetary science experiment. That captures the magnitude of what is happening and the unpredictability of its results, yet it is also misleading. Global warming is not an experiment, because it is not intentional. Greenhouse-gas emissions are the unfortunate side effects of useful things like modern agriculture, electricity generation and convenient transport. Mankind has not really started experimenting with the climate yet. But perhaps, given the slow progress in keeping down emissions, it should. A small, underfinanced and somewhat obsessive group of scientists is working on ways of “geoengineering” the Earth to reverse global warming. Some of their proposals are absurdly costly; others are exceedingly dangerous. Still, geoengineering deserves much more serious consideration than it has so far received. Since climate change is mostly caused by greenhouse gases, the obvious way of reversing it is to remove those gases from the atmosphere. Removing carbon dioxide from the air would also help marine creatures: the oceans are becoming less alkaline as a result of dissolved carbon, which seems to be harming corals. Some scientists are exploring ways of speeding up the natural processes that already do this. Carbon-absorbing minerals like olivine, which is in abundant supply, could be mined, crushed and spread out. Lime or limestone could be tipped into the ocean to react with dissolved carbon dioxide to create bicarbonate ions, allowing the water to
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2/21/2016 If all else fails | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678963/print 2/5 absorb more carbon dioxide from the air. Iron and other nutrients could be added to the water to stimulate the growth of algae, which feed on carbon dioxide. Plants could be grown and then burnt in power stations capable of capturing the carbon that the plants had removed from the air; the gas could then be compressed and buried under the ocean. Carbon dioxide could be filtered out of the smoke that rises from factories and power stations, or even just out of the air. A Canadian firm, Carbon Engineering, has just opened a pilot plant that will do this. All methods of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are even more challenging than they might seem at first sight. That is because the ocean and the land currently absorb about half of human emissions. If atmospheric concentrations were brought down, some carbon dioxide would naturally “outgas” from the seas and the land, adding to the amount that would have to be removed. And two fundamental (though contradictory) criticisms are levelled at the carbon-suckers. First, their methods are so costly that they could not possibly be deployed on the scale required to alleviate climate change. And second, if those methods could be made to work, they might introduce moral hazard. If greenhouse gases could magically be removed from the atmosphere tomorrow, why bother with cutting emissions today? The first objection is a good one. Carbon-removal techniques are indeed extraordinarily costly, and not just in a financial sense. Tim Kruger of the Oxford Martin School estimates that in order to remove just one gigatonne of carbon (roughly one-tenth of current annual emissions) from the atmosphere, 4.5 gigatonnes of lime would have to be dumped into the ocean. That would require 6.5 gigatonnes of limestone, or almost one tonne for every man, woman and child on Earth, and 4,500 factories to make it into lime. Alternatively, growing plants and then capturing their carbon would require enormous quantities of agricultural land to make much difference to the climate. Still, many of these technologies deserve to be tried out. The costs of some carbon-removal methods might come down in time, though others might turn out to be even more expensive than their proponents think. And at some point in the future one of them, or a combination, will have to be deployed if climate change is to be arrested. It will be impossible to prevent all greenhouse-gas emissions. There will always be individual national holdouts, and there will always be niche uses for gas and oil, such as powering passenger aeroplanes. The second objection to carbon removal, that it encourages recklessness, would be persuasive only if it could be done cheaply. At the moment it looks so costly and so tricky that it cannot be used to justify putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Indeed, it would be good to
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2/21/2016 If you can’t stand the heat | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678962/print 1/5 Special report: Climate change Adaptation If you can’t stand the heat How farmers in poor countries are responding to climate change Nov 28th 2015 | From the print edition IN THE BRACKISH coastal districts of southern Bangladesh, weather can be measured in centimetres. Women in Bujbunia, 140km (about 90 miles) south of Dhaka, hold their hands at knee height to show how deeply the village flooded during the most recent big cyclonic storm. Aila swept northward through the Bay of Bengal and hit Bangladesh in May 2009. The country had seen much bigger weather events; in 1991 a huge cyclone killed about 140,000 people. Still, Aila’s storm surge brought enough seawater to inundate villages and wipe out rice crops. The inhabitants of Bujbunia still wince when they recall how hungry they were afterwards. Few countries of any size are more gravely threatened by climate change than Bangladesh (which has more than 110m people). Sarder Shafiqul Alam of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka checks off the many hazards. North-west Bangladesh seems to be turning drier. In the north-east and central parts of the country, flooding is a growing danger. The south and east are vulnerable to cyclones, which will probably intensify as the planet heats up (the higher the temperature, the more energy in the weather system). The south is also becoming saltier, partly because the sea is rising and partly because many farmers are inundating their fields with seawater so they can grow shrimp. To counter the most spectacular threat to human life, Bangladesh’s government has built several thousand cyclone shelters—at best, sturdy buildings sitting atop pillars of reinforced concrete, which in normal times are often used as schools. One new shelter a few kilometres from
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2/21/2016 If you can’t stand the heat | The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21678962/print 2/5 Bujbunia could accommodate more than 1,000 people if they were to press closely together, and might even hold a few hundred cows on the ground floor. Women and children will rush there if a big cyclone threatens; men will head for the nearest brick-built mosque. Farmers are also preparing for storm surges in a humbler way. Scooping up greyish mud, they build plinths up to a metre high. Levelled and packed down, these become the floors of their homes; walls and roofs are made of palm fronds, bamboo and corrugated iron. The aim is to build the plinth higher than the flood waters will reach, to prevent the family’s food and possessions being swept away. Even stoves would be destroyed; they are only made of earth. Whereas the global attempt to avert global warming by cutting emissions is not exactly racing forward, adaptation to climate change is well under way. Between 1993 and 2009 the proportion of American households with air-conditioning rose from 68% to 87%. Californian cities are coping with an epic four-year drought, which may have been exacerbated by climate change, by buying water rights from farmers and recycling more waste water. San Diego is building an expensive desalination plant. In sub-Saharan Africa many farmers are diversifying from growing wheat to sorghum and other crops. Few of the people making such adjustments are thinking explicitly about global warming; they are simply trying to make themselves more comfortable and secure. Yet their actions add up to the most profound and intelligent response to climate change so far.
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