In 2005, flooding caused $6 billion worth of damage globally. By 2050, we could be hit with 10 times that much in losses -- and that’s only if the world’s biggest coastal cities make significant investments to mitigate risk. If we do nothing, costs could soar to $1 trillion.
These sobering statistics come from a new study in Nature Climate Change which identifies the 20 coastal metropolises that stand to lose the most when (not if) major flooding occurs in the future. Sea-level rise, subsidence (the land sinking), and increasingly strong storms -- all related to climate change -- increase the risk of flooding. But much of the growing price tag of future flood losses is thanks to the growing numbers of people crowding along the world’s coasts.
Over the years I've been asked many times about how to get into environmental journalism, or, alternately, how to save environmental journalism. The answer is always: I have no f'ing idea.
For one thing, as I mentioned the other day, my path into professional journalism was highly idiosyncratic and probably not replicable. I remain blissfully unaware of the career mechanics that other journalists are forced to deal with (bless their hearts).
For another thing: What is environmental journalism anyway? For those concerned about the interlocking problems of our age -- sustainability, energy poverty, peak everything -- I'm not sure it matters.
The field has traditionally been represented by the Society of Environmental Journalists, composed of reporters assigned by newspapers and magazines to the environmental beat -- pollution, deforestation, ecosystem stuff. For the most part, environmental journalism has been a subdivision of the science desk.
Now SEJ, like everyone else, is struggling to deal with two trends.
Ever since May, when a state-controlled Chinese company agreed to buy U.S. pork giant Smithfield, reportedly with an eye toward ramping up U.S. pork imports to China, I've been looking into the simultaneously impressive and vexed state of China's food production system. In short, I've found that in the process of emerging as the globe's manufacturing center -- the place that provides us with everything from the simplest of brooms to the smartest of phones -- China has severely damaged its land and water resources, compromising its ability to increase food production even as its economy thunders along, its population grows (albeit slowly), and its people gain wealth, move up the food chain, and demand ever-more meat.
Now, none of that should detract from the food miracle that China has enacted since it began its transformation into an industrial powerhouse in the late 1970s. This 2013 report from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) brims with data on this feat. The nation slashed its hunger rate -- from 20 percent of its population in 1990 to 12 percent today -- by quietly turbocharging its farms. China's total farm output, a broad measure of food churned out, has tripled since 1978. The ramp-up in livestock production in particular is even more dizzying -- it rose by a factor of five. Overall, China's food system represents a magnificent achievement: It feeds nearly a quarter of the globe's people on just 7 percent of its arable land.
But now, 35 years since it began reforming its state-dominated economy along market lines, China's spectacular run as provider of its own food is looking severely strained. Its citizens' appetite for meat is rising along with incomes, and mass-producing steaks and chops for 1.2 billion people requires tremendous amounts of land and water. Meanwhile, its manufacturing miracle -- the very thing that financed its food miracle -- has largely fouled up or just plain swallowed those very resources.
In this post from a few weeks ago, I told the story of the dire state of China's water resources, which are being increasingly diverted to, and fouled by, the country's insatiable demand for coal to power the manufacturing sector.
Then there's land. Here are just a few of the findings of recent investigations into the state of Chinese farms:
Like many of you, I imagine, I loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I was a kid. That caterpillar ate his way through all sort of delicious things. Strawberries! Plums! Cheese! Pickles! And then he turned into a butterfly! For a child, it was like a beautiful dream of just eating pickles until you're gorgeous.
Well, this caterpillar is also very hungry. But he is not gorgeous. Not every remotely. I would go with "vaguely terrifying and going to give you nightmares." Because, as io9 puts it:
THESE CATERPILLARS EAT LIVING FLESH.
According to io9, there are about 20 different species of these carnivorous caterpillars, and they all live in Hawaii, where I'm never going again:
By Lester R. Brown Agriculture as it exists today developed over 11,000 years of rather remarkable climate stability. It has evolved to maximize production within that climate system. Now, suddenly, the climate is changing. With each passing year, the agricultural system is becoming more out of sync with the climate system. In generations past, when there was an extreme weather event, such as a monsoon failure in India, a severe drought in Russia, or an intense heat wave in the U.S. Corn Belt, we knew that things would shortly return to normal. But today there is no “normal” to return …
When California’s S.B. 375 was passed in 2008, there were many skeptics. The law aimed to get metropolitan regions around the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions through changes to development form and transportation. (If it were a country, California would rank somewhere between the world's 10th and 12th largest economy, so its effect could be significant.)
In 2011, the California Air Resources Board set GHG emissions reduction targets by metro region for passenger vehicles (passenger vehicles account for almost a third of GHGs in the state). Eighteen Metropolitan Planning Organizations were then to develop "sustainable community strategies," wherein integrated transportation, housing, and community development, working together, could help achieve those specific objectives.
The idea was that smart, sustainable community design, coordinated with transportation systems that integrated walkability, bicycles, and next generation public transit, could really make a difference. It's honestly much too soon to tell whether this will work. But here's a quick look at three prominent metropolitan regions and their responses to this mandate.
You know that domestic oil-and-gas boom that’s been sweeping the country for the past few years, turning places like Williston, N.D., into Sin City? Well, the party’s winding down -- or maybe it was never that ragin’ in the first place. Oil and gas shale assets, possibly overvalued to begin with, are plunging in price thanks to an oversaturated market and wells whose production hasn’t always lived up to expectations.
The deal-making slump, which may last for years, threatens to slow oil and gas production growth as companies that built up debt during the rush for shale acreage can’t depend on asset sales to fund drilling programs. The decline has pushed acquisitions of North American energy assets in the first-half of the year to the lowest since 2004. …
North American oil and gas deals, including shale assets, plunged 52 percent to $26 billion in the first six months from $54 billion in the year-ago period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. During the drilling frenzy of 2009 through 2012, energy companies spent more than $461 billion buying North American oil and gas properties, the data show.
Filed under: grasslands, NBI, biocarbon, carbon, natural systems Do frightened grasshoppers increase carbon storage in grasslands? It appears the answer is yes, according to Yale Forestry School research that shows grasslands where grasshoppers are afraid of being eaten by spiders retain more carbon. But the reason for this phenomenon might not be what you think. The Yale team examined carbon storage in controlled settings where grasshoppers were alone, and others in which they had to contend with spiders. The researchers reported in a recent Proceedings of the National Academies of Science article that “up to 1.4-fold more carbon is retained in …
Going solar keeps getting cheaper, but most of the cost savings have come from less expensive solar panels. “Soft costs,” like permitting and inspections, are a rising share of the cost of a solar installation. Several years ago, these permits could increase the cost of a residential solar project (then around $8.00 per Watt) by 5-10% , highlighted in a 2010 study by Sunrun. But as solar gets cheaper, permitting is going to be a much bigger problem. A recent analysis by Lawrence Berkeley Labs [pdf] illustrates the benefits of streamlining solar permitting rules: it can cut the cost of …
Solar is not like other energy sources. Photovoltaic cells are a transformative technology, Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic's senior technology editor, argues in the short video above. The faster the price of solar energy falls, the more viable it becomes as a source of clean power -- and the sooner we'll see it on roofs across America. Animated by Lindsey Testolin, this clip is part of a six-part video series in The User's Guide to Energyspecial report. For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out Kyle Thetford's "Charting the Fall of Solar Prices."