The scale of the climate challenges we face today and in the future is clear. The adverse effects of climate change are already being felt around the world and particularly in Sudan. Sudan is indeed among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Increased frequency of droughts and high rainfall variability over the past few years have already put stress on the rainfed agriculture and pastoralist systems, which are the main livelihoods in the rural areas of Sudan. Moreover, reduction of rainfall, in combination with increased water demand and land use change, has contributed to desertification of millions of hectares and depletion of water sources, especially in North Darfur. Thus, climate change will undermine both the development gains made over many decades and the prospects for achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

The Paris Agreement on climate change – the landmark global agreement adopted by almost 200 countries in 2015 – sets out an action plan to put the world on track to avoid such dangerous evolutions. It has set the direction for the global transition to low-emission, climate-resilient economies and societies.

However, we already know that the emissions reduction targets put forward in Paris will not be enough to reach our common objective of limiting global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, let alone 1.5°C. The upcoming special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will unfortunately show us that the window to stay within these limits is closing very fast. This is why we must continue to raise our collective ambition and speed up the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

This year, governments and stakeholders from round the world are getting together to assess how far we have come since Paris and to look at solutions. Taking place throughout 2018, this facilitative process called the “Talanoa Dialogue”– inspired by the Pacific tradition of ‘talanoa’, an open and inclusive dialogue – is the first opportunity since Paris to look at our collective efforts so far, as well as opportunities to increase our ambitions.

 The EU sees the Talanoa Dialogue as a key moment to focus on the solutions and potential associated with the low-carbon transformation. It also sets the tone for the EU’s annual Climate Diplomacy week which will be celebrated in the Republic of Sudan from the 8th to the 10th of July 2018. On this occasion, the EU will organise two events with the Government of Sudan to engage with a broad range of stakeholders. The first event will be the launching of the EU Financed project “Strengthening Local Communities Resilience to Climate Change in Sudan”, which will take place on the 8th of July at Salam Rotana Hotel. During this event, the EU and partners will introduce the objectives, scope and activities of the Programme as well as provide opportunities for feedback, discussions and suggestions as a starting point for active participation of stakeholders.

The second event will be a discussion panel on the 10th of July 2018 at the University of Khartoum, bringing together a diverse group of participants and panelists for discussing youth and climate change. The event will highlight the need to include technology and innovation, enterprise development opportunities and introducing the green economy concept as a means by which to address climate change and the identification of youth led solutions to the issue.

It will also be an occasion to stress on the importance of adopting the Paris Agreement work programme and governance rules for putting the agreement into practice.

The EU is well-advanced in putting in place its domestic legislative framework for delivering its target of cutting domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

In parallel, we are looking beyond 2030. In March 2018, EU leaders asked the European Commission to present, within 12 months, a proposal for a strategy for long-term EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The Commission will make its proposal ahead of COP24 to provide a solid foundation for an EU-wide debate.

Simultaneously, the EU is stepping up international cooperation and support to partners outside the EU, for example through policy dialogues, capacity-building projects and climate finance. In Sudan, the EU is providing technical support to local authorities to strengthen their capacity to apply sustainable long-term approaches to natural resource management and climate change and to reduce the need of short-term emergency responses.

The EU, its Member States and the European Investment Bank contributed EUR 20.2 billion in public climate finance towards developing countries in 2016. This represents a 50% increase from 2012, as well as roughly half of global public climate finance. The EU remains committed to the collective goal of mobilising USD 100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020. A clear example of this is the EU commitment of EUR 35.6 million in 2016, under the EU Trust Fund and the Global Climate Change Alliance+ (GCCA+), to finance actions that address climate change in the Sudan. EU financed Projects in this sector aim at improving access to water, strengthening the sustainable management of the natural resources, combating desertification to strengthen communities’ resilience to climate change and mitigating the impact of Elnino. Targeted states are Kassala, Red Sea, River Nile, White Nile and Darfur region.

While the Paris Agreement sets the direction, the journey has only just begun. Going forward, all countries will need to foster the right environment to enable this transformation to continue, supporting a long-term structural change in energy systems worldwide and shifting and scaling up investments that contribute to it.

Low-emissions and climate-resilient growth is possible for all countries. It brings multiple and tangible benefits for people, the economy and the environment. The EU is committed to work with all partners, in Sudan as in Africa and all over the world, to continue this journey together.

How Climate Change Impacts Soil Health – 2018

How climate change can affect soil conditions

The Earth’s topsoil contain approximately 2,500 gigatons of carbon, which is more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and about four times the amount of carbon stored in all living animals and plants. However, thousands of years of deforestation, erosion and ploughing have damaged the aforementioned topsoil, causing it to emit large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change (global warming), as well as ocean acidification, which is harmful to marine life. At this point, it is worth noting that a recent study found that the world’s cultivated soils have lost more than half of their original carbon stocks. Fortunately, practices such as composting, carefully planned grazing, increasing plant diversity and keeping soils covered with vegetation can not only help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and put it back in the soil, but also promote soil healthy. With that in mind, here is some more information on this topic.

How Soils Store Carbon

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In general, plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through a chemical process called photosynthesis. During this photosynthesis process, plants use sunlight and water to turn carbon into roots, stems, leaves and seeds. At the same time, plants release some CO2 into the atmosphere and secrete some carbon through their roots to feed soil microbes including nematodes, protozoa, fungi and bacteria. Of course, because plants are living things, they eventually die. When they die, the aforementioned microbes break down the plant’s carbon compounds through a process called microbial decomposition and in the process, release some carbon into the atmosphere. To prevent soil from losing carbon this way, it needs to be protected from microbial activity. This is where microbes such as the mycorrhizal fungi come in handy. More specifically, the mycorrhizal fungi produce a sticky compound that binds tiny soil particles together, allowing soil to retain more carbon. Moreover, soil aggregation is important for healthy plant growth. At this point, it is worth noting that, depending on its composition, carbon can remain in the soil anywhere from a few days to centuries.

How Soils Lose Carbon

The amount of carbon in soils typically varies from one location to another and it is generally depends on land management practices, such as tilling and deforestation. Such practices also determine how long soils can retain carbon. Because nearly half of the arable land in the world has been converted to rangelands, pastures and croplands, soils across the world have lost anywhere from 50 to 70% of their initial carbon content, contributing to nearly 25% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions globally. Some of the agriculture practices that cause soils to lose carbon include excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, tilling, monocropping, over-grazing, and removing crop residue. Additionally, practices such as thawing permafrost, draining of peatlands and deforestation can also cause soils to lose carbon.

How Soils can Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels

According to the state of the plant at Columbia University on Climate Change, removing the excess amount of carbon from the atmosphere can help prevent the negative effects of global warming. One of the most effective ways of achieving this goal is sequestering carbon in soils using the soil-plant system. During photosynthesis, plants use the CO2 in the atmosphere to produce carbohydrates, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, as plants die and decompose, soil microbes help to incorporate some of their tissues into the soil. This means that, under the right conditions, soils can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is worth noting that, in the recent past, carbon sequestration by soils has attracted a significant amount of research interest because of the soil-plant system’s ability to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere. For instance, a 2017 study found that with better soil management practices, global croplands can potentially store an additional 1.85 gigatons carbon annually, which is equivalent to the amount of carbon the global transportation sectors emits every year.

With the right soil management practices, researchers believe that soils could sequester carbon for up to 40 years before they become saturated. Such practices that can help put more carbon in the soil include planting cover crops such as legumes and clover or leaving crop residue in the ground after harvest. Similarly, minimizing tillage, practicing proper crop rotation and rotational grazing can help add carbon in the soil. What’s more, the use of compost and manure adds carbon in the soil, improving soil health and productivity. In fact, a study by the Marin Caron Project found that compost can increase the soil’s carbon content continually, at a rate equivalent to removing about 1.5 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually.

Climate Change and Soil Processes

According to researchers, climate change will likely alter the soil system in various ways. For instance, changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, temperatures, and precipitation patterns and amounts will determine decomposition rates, modifying the soil-plant system. In turn, this will have an impact on the amount of organic carbon levels in soils. This is particularly important because organic carbon determines important soil qualities, such as soil fertility, structure and microbial population in soils.

Secondly, precipitation and temperature typically affect the amount of carbon in soils as well as the distribution of organic matter in soils. For instance, studies have found that soils heated 5 to 20 cm deep tend to release 9 to 12% more CO2 than normal, whereas soils 100 cm deep release as much as 37% more CO2 than normal when they experience a 4˚ C temperature increase. This is because soils in the deeper levels contain more than 50% of the global soil carbon. More specifically, worldwide, the first meter of soil stores about 1420 gigatons (Pg) of carbon, while the above-below ground vegetation and dead organic matter store about 460 Pg of carbon.

The Relationship between Soil and Water

Because climate change also impacts precipitation, it is important to understand the relationship between soil and water. It is important to note that soils play a vital role in the water cycle. This is because soils store more than 60% of precipitation, making it available for plants. Throughout the water cycle, water passes through the soil. This means that if the soil is contaminated, it will contaminate the water, too. In general, plants grown in higher-quality soil typically need less water to grow. In other words, healthy soils help boost food production.

Conclusion

Although climate change can be overwhelming, proper soil management practices can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, preventing the adverse effects of climate change. To put it another way, healthy soil can be a major sink for carbon. This is because healthy soils cause plants to grow at a robust rate, meaning more photosynthesis. This is important because during the photosynthesis process, plants convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, removing CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, healthy soils sequester and hold carbon dioxide, preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere. The organic matter in soils plays a vital role in sequestering soils. On the other hand, soil degradation through practices such as deforestation, excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, monocropping, erosion and frequent tillage cause soils to emit carbon into the atmosphere, leading to climate change.

By: Kelly Fenn – Updated: 23 Oct 2017

The onset of climate change has come about following over 200 years’ worth of unchecked manmade activity that’s had a negative impact on the world around us – from deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels to driving cars or throwing away perfectly useable materials.

Now, we’re beginning to feel the effects of climate change around the globe. Scientists estimate that by the end of the 21st century, temperatures in the summer of over 40 degrees Celsius could be commonplace in the UK.

While we can’t undo the damage caused to the environment, we can help decelerate the rate of change – and long-term, change the fate of the planet altogether. Half the problem for us as individuals, however, is the knowing where to start.

To help you get to grips with climate change, we’ve identified several key areas we should all be addressing in our day to day lives to help you get started. We hope you’ll find that becoming more environmentally friendly isn’t as difficult as you might think!

Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Our homes contribute a large proportion of the UK’s overall carbon emissions – and it’s down to individuals to make a change to reduce their property’s environmental impact. Here are a few quick tips to reduce your home’s CO2 emissions, as well as lowering your energy bills:

  • Invest in double glazing in your home
  • Turn off all appliances (from the socket) when not in use
  • Replace domestic and electrical equipment with energy efficient recommended models
  • Insulate your home: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, and simple draught excluders

More recently, Home Information Packs have been introduced in England and Wales, and within them, an energy performance certificate which gives your home an energy rating between A to H. This should make energy efficiency a more important factor to take into consideration when buying a home.

Make Your Lifestyle Greener

Everything we do in our day to day lives emits CO2 into the atmosphere. That means that even making small changes in what we do, or how we do it, can have a positive impact in preventing the onset of climate change. Collectively we can make a difference. Here are a few tips:

  • Holidays: don’t fly, take a train or alternative transport method
  • Shopping: minimise the number of shopping trips you take by planning ahead and writing a list
  • Nightlife: walk to your local facilities rather than taking the car
  • Sport: try cycling, walking or running to get from A to B

Change Your Habits At Work

Don’t leave your good environmental habits at home – take them into the office too. Take public transport to work or walk rather than take your car, or share car journeys with colleagues. Turn off appliances, equipment and lights off when you’ve finished using them, and, importantly, shut down your computer rather than just logging off. And for the things you can’t change – speak to the person who can to see if your employers have a green and environmental policy in place.

Eat less meat

According to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. The release of methane and nitrous oxide (from manure, and urine from farmed animals) into the atmosphere are both contributory factors. Therefore, one of the most effective steps we can take is help combat climate change is to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Educate Future Generations

Preventing climate change in the future is down to the actions and opinions of future generations – meaning now is the time to start educating our children about climate change and its effects. This can be done at school, by parents and every simply through leading by example. If you have children, get them involved in making your lives greener. Give them the responsibility to make sure lights and plugs are turned off in their rooms each time, get them involved in recycling and other green initiatives, rewarding them for their good work.

Get Involved In The Fight Against Climate Change

If you want to take your green ambitions to the next level, find out about climate change events, at a local and a national stage, which you’re interested in. There are plenty of fundraising and awareness-raising events you can get involved with, or simply sign your name on one of the many environmentally themed Downing Street petitions

Deforestation, and especially the destruction of rainforests, is a hugely significant contributor to climate change. Scientists estimate that forest loss and other changes to the use of land account for around 23% of current man-made CO2 emissions – which equates to 17% of the 100-year warming impact of all current greenhouse-gas emissions.

As children are taught at school, trees and other plants absorb CO2 from the air as they grow. Using energy from the sun, they turn the carbon captured from the CO2 molecules into building blocks for their trunks, branches and foliage. This is all part of the carbon cycle.

A mature forest doesn’t necessarily absorb much more CO2 that it releases, however, because when each tree dies and either rots down or is burned, much of its stored carbon is released once again. In other words, in the context of climate change, the most important thing about mature forests is not that they reduce the amount of CO2 in the air but that they are huge reservoirs of stored carbon. If such a forest is burned or cleared then much of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere, adding to atmospheric CO2 levels.

Of course, the same process also works in reverse. If trees are planted where previously there weren’t any, they will on soak up CO2 as they grow, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It is thought that trees, plants and other land-based “carbon sinks” currently soak up more than a quarter of all the CO2 that humans add to the air each year – though that figure could change as the planet warms.

Unsurprisingly, the relationship between trees and local and global temperature is more complicated than the simple question of the greenhouse gases they absorb and emit. Forests have a major impact on local weather systems and can also affect the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet: a new area of trees in a snowy region may create more warming than cooling overall by darkening the land surface and reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back to space.

Forests play an important an important role in climate change. The destruction and degradation of forests contributes to the problem through the release of CO2. But the planting of new forests can help mitigate against climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Combined with the sun’s energy, the captured carbon is converted into trunks, branches, roots and leaves via the process of photosynthesis. It is stored in this “biomass” until being returned back into the atmosphere, whether through natural processes or human interference, thus completing the carbon cycle.

Tree planting and plantation forestry are well established both in the private and public sectors. The most recent data released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that plantation forests comprised an estimated 7% of global forest area in 2010. Most of these forests were established in areas that were previously not under forest cover, at least in recent years. Trees are also planted as part of efforts to restore natural forests as well as in agroforestry, which involves increasing tree cover on agricultural land and pastures.

Under certain conditions plantations can grow relatively fast, thus absorbing CO2 at higher rates than natural forests. In the absence of major disturbances, newly planted or regenerating forests can continue to absorb carbon for 20–50 years or more. In comparison to preventing the loss of natural forests, however, tree planting has the potential to make only a limited contribution to reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. In 2000, the IPCC gathered the available evidence for a special report which concluded that tree-planting could sequester (remove from the atmosphere) around 1.1–1.6 GT of CO2 per year. That compares to total global greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 50 GT of CO2 in 2004.

Unlike measures to reduce deforestation, tree planting and reforestation were included as activities eligible for finance under the Kyoto protocol. Kyoto’s rules and procedures, however, restricted the scale and scope of these activities. As a result, projects have struggled to get off the ground and the carbon sequestered has been almost negligible. Outside of Kyoto, some tree-planting projects established to absorb CO2 have turned out to be nonviable due to the cost of acquiring inputs or protecting young trees from fire, drought, pests or diseases. The cost of land is another barrier to widespread tree-planting, especially where there is competition with other land uses such as food or biofuel production.

As negotiations over the future of Kyoto continue, the extent of the possible role of tree planting in a future climate change framework remains unclear. Tree planting is, however, unlikely to be implemented on a scale to reach even the relatively modest potential contribution outlined by the IPPC – especially in the absence of a high carbon price.

Six ways the Green Climate Fund is investing in adaptation

Sponsored content: Senegal, Pakistan, Gambia, Maldives and Bangladesh are among countries where the GCF is working to build climate resilience

Sunset over the Atlantic off Senegal, where the GCF is investing in flood prevention and desalination schemes (Pic: Pixabay)

By Climate Home

The $10 billion Green Climate Fund is one of the key funding mechanisms for the Paris climate agreement, charged with helping developing countries tackle a warming world.

Since coming online in late 2015, the board has allocated $1.2 billion for 27 projects across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Pacific.

It’s the start of what green finance experts hope will mark a radical shift in climate investment flows, with poorer nations empowered to access fast and effective funding.

And while the GCF’s first foray has been small compared to global climate finance flows – $367 billion in 2014 according to the Climate Policy Initiative – it is significant.

That’s because this is a fund set up specifically for poor countries, and one that in time should allow governments across the Global South realise their ambitious climate goals.

Below we detail six of the GCF’s first projects exclusively targeted at climate resilience and adaptation, which the fund hopes to see delivered through 2017.


1 – Wetlands protection and restoration in Peru

Tonnes of carbon dioxide (Co2e) avoided: 2.6 million
Investments: $9.1m, $6.2m from the GCF
Project manager: Peruvian Trust Fund for National Parks and Protected Areas

The swamps of Datem del Marañón hold a total carbon stock estimated at around 3.78 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq.). The project will avoid deforestation of an estimated 4,861 hectares of palm swamp and terra firma forests over a 10-year period and enhance resilience and conservation of 343,000 ha of peatlands and forest.

The project will facilitate better land-use planning and management of the region’s wetlands, while strengthening sustainable, commercial bio-businesses of non-timber forest products. It will entrust indigenous communities with the management of resources, improve their livelihoods, and empower women in the decision-making processes.

2 – Climate resilience infrastructure in Bangladesh 

People impacted: 10.5 million
Investments: $80 million, $40m from the GCF
Project manager: Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW)

Providing cyclone shelters and safeguarding critical road access to protect lives in a rural coastal region of Bangladesh. Developing urban infrastructure and safeguarding vulnerable city-dwellers from climate risk. Establishing a national centre of excellence for climate resilience infrastructure, to inform and guide future infrastructure development throughout the country.

The project establishes a national centre of excellence to gather, develop, and share climate resilience infrastructure knowledge. Rural infrastructure development will be supported by constructing 45 new cyclone shelters and renovating 20 existing shelters.

The shelters built under this project will be used as primary schools in normal times, providing 45 additional schools and helping educate 18,590 children. The improvement of 80 km of critical access roads to the rural shelters will also be undertaken, to safeguard access during extreme weather and enhance the adaptive capacities of local communities.

3 – Climate resilience and water management in Maldives 

People impacted: 295,000
Investments: $28.2 million, $23.6m from the GCF
Project Manager: UN Development Programme (UNDP)

The project will scale up an integrated water supply system based on rainwater, groundwater, and desalinated water into a low-cost delivery system for vulnerable households. This will provide uninterrupted supply to 49 islands that currently rely on emergency water deliveries for three months of each year. Decentralised and cost-effective dry season water supply systems will also be introduced.

Water desalination production plants will be built on four larger islands that will contribute to this improved dry season water distribution network to outer atolls and local supply systems. Increased capacity of local and central government authorities will strengthen the management and efficiency of these systems.

Groundwater quality will be improved for long-term resilience. Groundwater recharge systems and improved water resource management capacity will contribute to improved groundwater quality.

4 – Forest restoration in the Gambia 

People impacted: 57,800
Investments: $25.5 million, $20.5m from the GCF
Project manager: UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Restoring degraded forests and agricultural landscapes in The Gambia with climate-resilient plants, establishing natural resource-based businesses, and strengthening capacity and policies to implement eco-based adaptation systems.

Implementing Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is a significant part of this strategy, and its implementation will be enabled through the GCF investment. EbA will both protect the environment and facilitate the development of the sustainable, natural resource-based economy to the benefit of local communities.

EbA will be integrated into planning at national, district and village levels. Agricultural landscapes and degraded ecosystems including forests, mangroves and savannahs will be restored using climate-resilient tree and shrub species across an area of at least 10,000 hectares. This will be complemented by the establishment of natural resource-based businesses managed by local communities.

5 – Glacial lake reinforcement in Pakistan 

People impacted: 29.2 million
Investments: $37.5 million, $37m from GCF
Project Manager: UN Development Programme (UNDP)

Rising temperatures have melted glaciers, creating glacial lakes in Northern Pakistan. These carry the risk of outburst flooding events, threatening over 7 million people. Early warning systems, engineering structures and disaster management policies will reduce risk, protecting local communities and providing early warning of devastating flood events.

The melting of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayan glaciers in Northern Pakistan due to rising temperatures have created 3,044 glacial lakes in the federally-administered territory of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

It is estimated that 33 of these glacial lakes are hazardous and likely to result in glacial lake outburst floods. Such flooding releases millions of cubic metres of water and debris in just a few hours, resulting in the loss of lives, destruction of property and infrastructure, and severe damage to livelihoods in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan.

The project will build 250 engineering structures including damns, ponds, spill ways, tree plantation and drainage to reduce risk. At the same time, the development of disaster management policies and the introduction of weather monitoring stations, flood gauges, hydrological modelling and early warning systems will increase the ability to respond rapidly to flood scenarios.

6 – Urban flood management in Senegal

People impacted: 2 million
Investments: $79.2 million, $16.7m from GCF
Project manager: Agence Française de Developpement (AFD)

Senegal has a rapidly urbanising population which is at increasing risk from flood disaster events. The capital city, Dakar, hosts 25% of the country’s population in an area representing less than 1% of the country’s territory. Climate change is expected to lead to more frequent intense rainfalls, risking heavy damages to the most vulnerable areas and population.

Dakar and other cities have experienced frequent flooding in recent years, with major social and economic consequences. Flood management is a major part of the Senegalese government’s Disaster Risk Reduction framework, and building resistance to flooding is a top priority within the country’s INDC submission.

GCF financing will focus on soft measures. Flood risk mapping will also be undertaken, and assessments carried out on how to increase the resilience of urban areas. Future risk will be reduced through hazard monitoring, and protocols developed for managing extreme rain events.

These actions will be complemented by AFD financing towards hard investments in drainage and sanitation infrastructure in one of the most vulnerable areas of the capital city (Pikine Irrégulier Sud). This approach of strengthening infrastructure and governance will put Senegal at the cutting edge of flood-management policy in West Africa.

This content is sponsored by the Green Climate Fund

Choose your fate, embrace an ecology ethic, or die

Choose your fate, embrace an ecology ethic, or die

Given long-predicted and self-evident abrupt climate change and ecosystem collapse, and resultant perma-war and rise of fascism, despite decades of scientific warnings which went unheeded; will you now listen to science, embrace an ecology ethic, and act to avoid biosphere collapse and the end of being before it is too late?

“One last time swords must be beaten into plowshares (and restored ecosystems)… Simply, pollution of land, air, and water must end or we all needlessly die” – Dr. Glen Barry

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Deep ecology essays by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet

Essentially every warning from ecological and climate scientists regarding the limits to growth have come to pass. Climate models have been amazingly accurate, if anything under-predicting the magnitude of the climate apocalypse dramatically playing out in Polar Regions and radiating heat globally. Water, farmland, soil, wetlands, oceans, old-growth forests, and the atmosphere are, as forecasted, in precipitous decline.

Whole regions are collapsing ecologically and are on track to being uninhabitable and will have to be abandoned. Yet demands for inequitable consumption placed upon nature by seven billion top predators continue to grow exponentially (as a billion live in opulent splendor, another billion face abject soul-sucking poverty, and a handful enjoy half of Earth’s wealth).

There are few naturally evolved large ecosystems remaining to cut, burn, and otherwise plunder for short-term ill-gotten gains as the biosphere and society bear the unpriced external costs. Those natural ecosystems that remain are under threat as the oil oligarchy consolidates its power in order to access and burn every last drop of oil and chunk of coal, destroying our atmosphere and last natural ecosystems in the process.

The global ecological system – our one shared biosphere that makes Earth habitable – is collapsing and dying as human industrial growth overruns natural ecosystems and the climate.

Resource scarcity resulting from ecosystem loss, albeit delayed through the advent of information technology, nonetheless underlies the surge in uncontrolled mass migration and diminished economic prospects for the formerly affluent Western middle classes. Landscapes ravaged by industrial capitalism in the developing countries in particular are barren wastelands unable to support indigenous and other local self-reliant lifestyles that provided for quality lives for millennium.

As foreseen by this author, authoritarian fascism has arisen to exploit both environmental decline and surging inequity between the super-rich and multitudinous have-nots. A state of perma-war and institutionalized war murders masked as a clash between cultures are more accurately depicted as a scramble for dwindling resources upon which to base overly consumptive and clearly unsustainable lifestyles for the privileged few for a while more.

Fascist demagogues have arisen that spout charlatan alternative facts as they stifle voices of ecological and other truths.

Environmental and climate crises long perceived as distant or affecting others, but not you, are increasingly impacting average people in their daily lives, particularly in the over-developed world. Food and water systems are failing and prices rising, as regular patterns of seasonality are lost. Jobs based upon ravaging natural ecosystems are a thing of the past, as they are exhausted, and are not coming back. Foreigners from hard scrabble over-populated countries will work far harder for much less and increasingly take even domestic high-tech positions excluding locals.

Our present state of environmental collapse, driven by inequitable over-population and ecosystem loss, fomenting precipitous social and economic decline, was foreseen by ecological scientists. Numerous warnings from a host of ecological visionaries sought to highlight the problems and the course of action required to move towards not only sustainable, but also just and equitable, development.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the preceding work of Malthus, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and others went mainstream as the self-evident need to protect land, air, and water led to bipartisan efforts.  The ground-breaking Limits to Growth publications highlighted once again the irrefutable fact that exponential growth can only lead to collapse. The advent of micro-processors has pushed back some limits, as other global ecological limits (sometimes called Planetary Boundaries) like the absorptive capacity of the atmosphere have clearly been breached. Yet even small, reformist environmental protections have proven inadequate and unable to be maintained.

It has been two years since I proposed a 10th Planetary Boundary in my peer-reviewed scientific journal article entitled Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapseregarding how many natural ecosystems can be lost before the biosphere collapses. Noting how smaller ecosystems, indeed anything from which portions are cut, fragment and fall apart at around 40% loss; I proposed a threshold of 66% natural and semi-natural terrestrial ecosystem retention as being required to avoid biosphere collapse.

Despite my pioneering findings being subsequently validated in other studies by scientific luminaries, precisely nothing is being done by world governments and even leading environmental NGOS to begin the process of ending natural ecosystem loss and beginning an age of ecological restoration.

With about 50% of natural ecosystems having been destroyed already there can be no other outcome (after unknown lag times) than biosphere collapse and the end of being.

It is not through lack of effort by others and me that deep ecology has not caught on. Indoctrination into a nationalistic, consumptive worldview is pervasive and all-encompassing. Very few are able to escape the religious, racist, nationalistic, and economic lies forced upon them in youth.

Much of humanity has forgotten that it is possible to live in peace and within the bounds of nature. Social cohesion has dangerously frayed. Poorly educated folks falling from middle class lifestyles, as well as the well-off feasting upon the last ill-gotten fruits of nature, are unable and/or unwilling to grok causal connections between declining natural systems and limited economic prospects, and that such growth can only end in collapse.

Our fatally flawed education system fails to provide the necessary cognitive skills to grasp basic truths – like nothing grows forever, ecosystems make life possible, and water is required for life – upon which our existence depends.

Again, nothing grows exponentially forever, it is a physically impossible.

To deny Malthus, indigenous wisdom, and all subsequent iterations upon ecological knowledge and intuition found in science is sheer utter madness.

The truth of the matter is that while ecological trends are clear, the breaking point of ecosystems and societies is not known with certainty. There may be sources of ecological resiliency of which we are unaware, and lag times for fully realizing the impacts ecosystem collapse (including 2nd order) are uncertain. Yet, given the drive for self-survival of a species can be found in all genetic code, including the hairless ape with the amazing opposable thumb, it would be incautious, indeed ludicrous, to give up.

But we need to quickly change our ways personally and societally to embrace an ecology ethic. We need to listen to ecological and other scientific experts and dramatically reduce industrial and population growth, as well as inequitable over-consumption, or we are faced with ecological apocalypse and biosphere collapse.

One last time swords must be beaten into plowshares (and restored ecosystems).

It is known with certainty that human prospects depend upon functioning natural ecosystems. And the personal and societal changes required to maintain such systems are known with surety as well.

Simply, pollution of land, air, and water must end or we all needlessly die.

To sustain local ecological patterns and processes globally upon which all life depends, old-growth forest logging and industrial scale marine fisheries MUST cease immediately, and massive investments in natural ecosystem restoration be made. Decentralized renewable energy grids and nega-watts from energy conservation must be embraced with utmost urgency as fossil fuel burning ends. Massive investments in women’s education, birth control, and tax incentives for small families must be made worldwide to slow growth and then reduce human population. Genetic modifications and oil intensive agriculture must end as we return to family farming embracing organic permaculture. And all sources of sacred water must be protected whatever the cost.

Fascism and the threats posed by both large governments and corporations must be eliminated. A guaranteed minimum income must be established worldwide. Armies must be demobilized and international institutions strengthened to pay the price for our continued existence, while ending systematic war murders. Liberty, justice, and equity for all members of the human and all species’ family must be ensured.

This course of action is based upon scientific truths, and further ignoring of ecological limits is a willful death wish.

Humanity heeds the warnings of its sage elders and embraces such an ecology ethic now in all haste, or we face intensified abject human misery prior to biosphere collapse and an imminent end to being. Let’s come together now to give Earth and her humanity a chance.

Never Forget “Western Civilization” Based upon Murderous Ecocidal Evil

Native peoples are strong and their movements are gettinggetting stronger

Native peoples are strong and their movements are getting stronger. Picture from Hawai’i.

Journalist: What do you think of Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

“Take it from this old rich white man. Cross-cultural communication that seeks truthful expression of how to live within nature and with others who are different is vital. No one culture has all the answers, but together we almost certainly do, to such pressing matters that threaten our shared existence as perma-war, injustice, inequity, and ecological collapse. We need to listen to each other and seek a synthesis of the Western and non-Western, that reflects an ecology and humanity ethic truly worthy of the moniker “Universal Civilization”. — Dr. Glen Barry

Earth Meanders, Deep Ecology Essays by Dr. Glen Barry

WESTERN CIVILIZATION IS A MYTH

If ever a society was conceived in original sin, it is the Western democracies, Europe and North America in particular. Dominance of Western Civilization is based upon centuries of murder and enslavement of indigenous peoples and nature that continue to this day.

Some 500 years ago European tribes spilled forth into the world in a wave of ecological colonialism. Thus began an ongoing onslaught of murderous genocide, enslavement, rape, and ecocide in the name of christianity, capitalism, and country. Characterized by a pernicious greed and certainty in their own superiority; European cultures built a mysterious worldview that justified their callous mistreatment of others and destruction of the natural world.

Key among the sinister Eurocentric worldview was the mistaken notion that natural ecosystems, non-European people, and other sentient life existed solely to be exploited for their profit. Millions of plant and animal species, thousands of ancient cultures and their knowledge, and innumerable other human beings with different appearances and worldviews existed only to serve Europeans and their colonies, and if they refused, their massacre was justified. Indeed, given their less than fully human nature, eradication through murder of other cultures was the civilized thing to do.

Not unlike a cancerous mutation, at a global scale a deeply flawed ecocidal and genocidal worldview radiated forth that pursued material comfort at the expense of other people, life forms, and the environment.

And the invading murderers had the gall to call themselves Western Civilization.

European and American exceptionalist rhetoric does not align with the history of settlers’ colonialist expansion. Or the continued ramifications upon the Earth, indigenous peoples, and plants and animals arrayed into ecosystems, of this miserable worldview being nearly universally accepted. Such a brutal and evil worldview has metastasized into our current over-populated, inequitable, unjust, and war-torn world; and threatens, after having destroyed nature and other more biocentric cultures, to topple the biosphere and end being.

But not before much more dramatic suffering and pain, of the sort first inflicted upon native peoples by Western civilization.

KNOW YOUR HISTORY

In the Americas alone around 100 million people – about 90% of the original population of  indigenous peoples – died from Western disease – including smallpox, measles, and cholera; or were murdered and/or violently displaced including through rape, warfare, and genocide by settlers.

Firsthand accounts of the slaughter are replete with tales of entire tribes being massacred, as children were pulled from their parents and impaled, women were raped and enslaved, as men fighting to protect their families and land were wantonly murdered.

Why? Because they were savages and would not surrender their land. And Europeans were the chosen ones.

An estimated 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and shipped to the Americas with some 10.7 million surviving the journey, of which about 1/3 of a million were tortured and enslaved in North America. The brutal savagery of slavery is difficult to comprehend, yet was similarly justified by claims of superiority of white christian capitalist culture.

Granted, slavery, mass migration, and warfare existed for a long time and were practiced by many cultures. But none so ruthlessly and at such scale as the genocide wrought by Western civilization’s expansion. Such savagery has continued into world wars, carpet bombing of civilians, militarism to steal resources such as oil, and the final clearance of natural ecosystems that make life possible.

Over 80% of Earth’s naturally evolved old-growth forests have been mowed, around half of the world’s land mass is under some form of cultivation, oceans are dying as they are scraped of life, water and fertile soil are increasingly scarce, and our very climate is spinning out of control. The biosphere is dying.

Such is the history of western civilization.

It is not my intention to downplay advances such as personal liberty, material comfort, and relative democracy associated with western civilization. But it has come at a heavy price, leaving traumatized societies and brutalized natural systems and animals, placing at risk the well-being of future generations and the very habitability of our Earthly home. And given the rise of fascism in Western democracies, such advances appear to be fragile and impermanent.

Western civilization has certainly not been civilized given any objective measure. The marvels found in entire cities such as Amsterdam, Venice, and New York City have been built upon plunder and murder.

Western abuses of indigenous peoples continue unabated to this day, as indigenous land and peoples are routinely violated. Genocide continues to be waged on native peoples as industrial capitalism seeks to access and liquidate every last natural ecosystem. Out of such an abominable worldview has come an over-populated world that has wantonly destroyed its environment, is in a state of perma-war, as the biosphere nears final collapse. And now in a last wave of outrage, indigenous and other non-Western peoples are the most impacted upon by abrupt climate change and other impacts of collapsing natural ecosystems.

The author has been blessed to play a small supporting role in many successful indigenous campaigns including We Are Mauna Kea, Standing Rock, and many others

The author has been blessed to play a small supporting role in many successful indigenous campaigns including We Are Mauna Kea (pictured), Standing Rock, and many others

EMBRACING NATIVE KNOWLEDGE

There are innumerable worldviews regarding humanity’s place in the cosmos and understanding of right-living. Important knowledge exists such as the use of plant materials, how to sustain yourself from an ecosystem without degrading or destroying it, and how to minimize conflict. Native knowledge encapsulated in ritual has kept water, oceans, land, and fields largely intact for millennia. Along with natural ecosystems, this indigenous knowledge has been nearly wiped from the surface of the Earth by Western settlers.

It is not my intent to over-romanticize non-Western cultures. Many were warlike and locally over-exploited environments. But never has a culture matched Western imperialism’s grim need to proselytize, force their worldview upon others, and murder all those that resisted; including global claims of European sovereignty to non-Western land and resources. Huge amounts of knowledge have been lost regarding how to sustainably live at peace with Earth and each other. Sadly, many indigenous peoples have embraced the expansionist ecocidal behaviors of their colonizers.

Much native knowledge regarding justice and truth as known by indigenous peoples continues to exist, and is present in contemporary movements ranging from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock, and millions of active and empowered local native communities. Globally indigenous, non-Western peoples are leading in demonstrating ways of being that do not kill others including destroying our shared natural ecosystems.

Daily the ill-gotten progeny of colonizing settlers are being being shown (if we care enough to notice), that there are other ways of being that do not depend upon systematic murder and ecocide to fuel economic growth for some (and misery and death for the rest). In Western democracies there is much discussion of rights. But rarely does this include the rights of the native people  whose lands were stolen, or of natural ecosystems and their wildlife to continue to exist.

Native cultures and their peoples are strong, and their movements getting stronger. With the humility of a reformed settler, seek to understand and support social movements based upon indigenous sentiments. Join together to end fossil fuels, protect and restore old-growth forests, grant opportunity for self-reliance to all peoples, and resist continued human rights abuses upon those first peoples who have suffered enough.

THE WAY TO OUR SHARED HOME

Globally 370 million indigenous peoples from about 5,000 groups continue to live in their natural locales, yet their rights continue to be suppressed due to the legacy of colonialism, and ongoing authoritarian nationalism. It is estimated these cultures continue to control lands (however precariously in the face of industrial expansion) that hold 80% of Earth’s remaining biological heritage, and some of the last large functioning ecosystems that make Earth habitable.

Around the world indigenous based and other non-Western social movements are flourishing. Yet sadly, intersectionality shows us that numerous systems of oppression and domination continue to lead to discrimination against all who are not rich white males. Systematic racism continues to exist and pernicious attacks upon natural systems and their rightful occupants continue to be the rule.

Nonetheless, take it from this old rich white man. Cross-cultural communication that seeks truthful expression of how to live within nature and with others who are different is vital. No one culture has all the answers, but together we almost certainly do, to such pressing matters that threaten our shared existence as perma-war, injustice, inequity, and ecological collapse.

We need to listen to each other and seek a synthesis of the Western and non-Western, that reflects an ecology and humanity ethic truly worthy of the moniker “Universal Civilization”. Imagine and build a world that protects and renatures water and soil, forests and wetlands, oceans and cultures; based upon the combined knowledge and experience of the thousands of cosmological worldviews which have evolved as Homo sapiens peered from the forests to the stars.

Technology, commerce, and governance will all have a role in the coming Universal Civilization; as the rights of those that are smart and work hard to have more are protected. But the personal accumulation of wealth – the bedrock of western thought – will no longer come at the expense of unmet basic human needs or a living Earth that can essentially last forever. Small government and business will serve bioregional communities, as all have the opportunity to live well ensconced within natural life-giving ecosystems.

Salvation for the human family and all species requires atoning for the wrongs wrought by Western lack of civilization. Reparations must be made both to indigenous peoples and the natural world. There is much de-colonizing and ecosystem regeneration yet to occur; as all knowledge possessed by Western thought AND indigenous cultures regarding justice, equity, peace, and ecology is truly embraced. Let’s come together to make amends for the West’s uncivilized past, as we once again embrace indigenous thought more attuned to nature.

President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US intends to withdraw from the Paris climate accord has focused a wide array of government and business interests on meeting the goals of the agreement — with or without involvement of the current administration. At last count, mayors of nearly 300 US cities and more than a dozen states — representing 40% of the US economy — have said they will continue to work toward reducing fossil fuel emissions. The 2015 accord signed by 195 countries seeks to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Business is taking a leadership role. Amazon, Apple, Target and other large companies are pledging to work toward the metrics established by the Paris agreement. Can state and local government fill the void left at the federal level? Or is this a job best left to business?

It’s not an either/or proposition, says Eric W. Orts, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics and faculty director of the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. He notes that even before Trump decided to make a statement with respect to the Paris agreement, the answer to this question has been known for some time: “Both business and government have to play a role in addressing climate change — which is probably the most complex and challenging question of our time, with the possible exception of reducing the proliferation and risk of use of nuclear weapons,” says Orts. “The Paris agreement in fact contemplates a need for business and consumers, as well as government and citizens, to step up to the plate and contribute solutions. In the last few decades — in a trend that culminated in the Paris agreement — experts have been increasingly accepting of the view that government alone cannot solve the problem of climate change. The problem is simply too large, and the forces of government — and particularly international law — are too weak.”

The Trump administration’s intention to withdraw means that a greater share of responsibility now falls on businesses, says Brian Berkey, a Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics. “The statements that many have released express a commitment to the moral leadership that is necessary,” he says. “But what really matters is whether they act on the commitments that the statements express over the coming years. Businesses have an opportunity to take the lead on this important issue, and they should.”

Orts points out that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to the United Nations on behalf of mayors, governors, university presidents and business leaders to be a party to the Paris accord would not be a case of substituting for government. “It is that forward-thinking and science-believing businesses will partner with state and local governments, as well as other organizations such as environmental groups, to coordinate actions so that the US can meet its targets expressed by the Obama administration. In other words, the idea is to do an end-run around Washington and the Trump administration. A large majority of Americans believe that climate change is real — and that we’ve got to do something about it.”

A silver lining to Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris “may be that he helped to galvanize a broad-scale social movement that is necessary for long-term progress in any event,” says Orts.

TOWARD A MORAL IMPERATIVE

The need for government involvement in climate change is critical, many argue, and other parts of government are indeed stepping into the void left by the Trump administration. Hawaii became the first state to pass a law committing to the goals of the accord, and at least 12 states and Puerto Rico have so far joined the US Climate Alliance, a coalition that pledges to adhere to the accord.

But there is much at stake for the federal government, too. The US military is concerned about global climate change, since “climate change is likely to carry significant and destabilizing geopolitical impacts, contributing to poverty and food and water scarcity, and thereby increasing the likelihood of armed confrontations between nations over access to resources,” writes Sarah E. Light, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics in “The Military-Environmental Complex,” published in the Boston College Law Review. “The exceptional alignment between the military mission and the need to conserve energy, address climate change, and develop renewables, brings equally exceptional potential: for stimulating the development of new technologies, providing large-scale commercial support for existing technologies, and helping to drive behavioral changes on a grand scale.”

Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics Robert Hughes points out that in their Business & Professional Ethics journal article titled “Business, Ethics and Global Climate Change,” Denis G. Arnold and Keith Bustos “have made a compelling argument that when governments fail to regulate emissions adequately, firms have a moral responsibility to limit their emissions voluntarily. Emitting greenhouse gases affects everyone,” says Hughes. “For many people, including many of the world’s poor today and many people who will live in the future, the harms of climate change resulting from high emission levels greatly outweigh the benefits of economic production methods that produce high levels of emissions.”

The economic preferences of people currently living in the US and other rich countries do not justify large net harms to future people and to the world’s poor, Hughes notes. “How much firms are morally required to limit their emissions is a difficult question that is a topic of debate in environmental ethics,” he adds. “One aspect of the debate: Do firms with a long history of producing greenhouse gases have a greater responsibility than other firms to limit emissions going forward?”

Government regulations, in fact, have not offered easy solutions to many of today’s most challenging environmental problems, write Light and Orts in “Parallels in Public and Private Environmental Governance,” published in the Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law. They argue that climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, loss of arable land, nitrogen over-fertilization, destruction of the ocean’s fisheries, and fresh water shortages require multi-faceted legal approaches that combine local, regional, national and international public law. “Recognizing the parallel forms of public and private governance is important in the quest for solutions to global environmental problems because they represent a diverse set of tools, the contemplation of which may lead to new and even surprising approaches. These tools include such options as private emissions trading systems, private carbon fees, private supply chain management, and private insurance, as well as their corollaries in public law.”

Orts argues that dreams of a comprehensive centralized policy solution to climate change are too utopian. In “Climate Contracts,” published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal, he writes: “The dynamic complexity of the climate change problem suggests that the best solutions will leverage broad-based social movements favoring the production and maintenance of many kinds of legal, economic, and political agreements involving many institutions — not just nation-states negotiating international treaties, but also other agreements involving regional and municipal governments, non-profit organizations (including educational, religious, and environmentalist groups), business firms, and consumer groups.”

Still, he says: “It’s true that the path toward meeting U.S. Paris targets without the help of the federal government makes the going much more difficult.”

NEEDED: MORE THAN JUST GREAT PUBLIC RELATIONS

Is it already too late? Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped to shape the Paris accord, says that with the participation of businesses, states and cities, the US will achieve the goals set forth in the accord, despite Trump’s announcement. “We will meet the Paris standards, I believe, in the United States,” he said in Oslo recently. “So, I want people not to be dismayed.”

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a helpful reminder — of both what can be achieved with a strong government-business response to a seemingly insurmountable problem, as well as the resiliency of Earth. In 1987, alarmed that the ozone layer was becoming depleted, nearly every country in the world signed onto the protocol, which banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons, the source of atmospheric chlorine eating away at the ozone layer. It worked. A team of MIT scientists recently found that the Antarctic ozone hole has shrunk by more than 4 million square kilometers since 2000, when ozone depletion was at its worst.

“Science was helpful in showing the path, diplomats and countries and industry were incredibly able in charting a pathway out of these molecules, and now we’ve actually seen the planet starting to get better. It’s a wonderful thing,” lead scientist Susan Solomon told MIT News.

What matters now on global warming, says Berkey, is action. “The response from much of the business community is, at least to some extent, encouraging,” he says. “A number of companies have released fairly strong statements opposing the administration’s decision and announcing their commitment to working to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

If firms can reduce their own emissions, or those deriving from their supply chains, they should be doing that — even if doing so would cut into profits somewhat, says Berkey. “They also ought to support government efforts to implement policies that would contribute to addressing the threat of climate change, where these efforts exist. At the very least they ought to refrain from lobbying against such efforts.”

In some cases, big money from big business is getting behind ideas to combat climate change. Bill Gates and a group of more than two dozen billionaires have banded together to form the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in research on new energy technologies. The group — which includes Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan — has pledged billions of dollars, and will work with Mission Innovation, a consortium of 22 countries, including the US plus the European Union, that will increase spending to $30 billion a year on clean energy R&D by 2021.

In other cases, though, the corporate responses may not be much more than PR moves, he notes. Public support for the Paris agreement is high and opposition relatively low. Expressing support for the agreement, without committing to doing anything in particular, is costless for many companies, given public sentiments. “Some of the companies that have expressed support for the Paris agreement, however, continue to oppose regulations that would also help to address the threat of climate change, such as stricter emissions standards for vehicles,” Berkey points out.

Others, like Exxon, have strong reasons to appear friendly toward addressing the threat of climate change, given that the company is currently under investigation in New York on climate change-related matters, he notes. “It will be very interesting to see what all of the companies that have released statements supporting the agreement do over the next few years,” Berkey says. “Some have clear economic interests that align with efforts to mitigate climate change, but others may be faced with decisions that require prioritizing either greater profits or reduced emissions. If the administration’s actions make it more appealing for companies to forego efforts to reduce their contributions to climate change, then at least some business leaders will face challenging moral choices, and their actions will indicate how committed they are to the support that many have expressed recently to working to fight climate change.”

Many scientists and other experts believed that the Paris agreement was too lax to begin with, and that the world should commit to even more rigorous targets for transitioning away from fossils fuels to a low-carbon economy, says Orts. “I don’t think that the overall consensus about the severity of the climate change problem will change,” he says. “The US will be seen as an outlier.”

Orts believes that President Trump’s position on Paris will be seen as a minor aberration in the long run. “The Paris agreement will go forward, and the US will eventually rejoin it. As for whether it is too late? Perhaps. But we learn from Penn Professor Martin Seligman that it pays to be optimistic and to work as best we can for a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. And the way forward in the US right now on climate change is to look to states, cities and businesses — as well as environmental nonprofits — for leadership.”

Spring and summer 2017 have been among the wettest on record in eastern North America, including southern Ontario.

Rainfall amounts in the spring broke records in places like Toronto, where 44.6 millimetres of rain fell in 24 hours.

The relentless downpours caused the stormwater infrastructure in Canada’s biggest city to overflow, leading to flooding of busy downtown streets.

Urbanization in cities like Toronto has led to a rapid loss of permeable surfaces where water can freely drain. Coupled with the growing downtown core population in Toronto, this means that the stormwater and sewer systems in place must manage more water than in previous decades.

Furthermore, global temperature increases have been linked to the rise in extreme weather events worldwide, a trend that could worsen if global warming is not brought under control.

Cities like Toronto are ill-equipped to deal with these unprecedented amounts of precipitation due to their insufficient and outdated stormwater infrastructure.


A tow truck driver walks through flood waters after hooking up a car on the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto after a major rainstorm in July 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Twenty three per cent of Toronto’s downtown sewers are combined, meaning that both the city’s stormwater and wastewater flow together within one pipe to a water treatment plant. In periods of heavy rainfall, the amount of stormwater in the sewer can reach capacity and overflow onto Toronto’s streets and into its lake and rivers.

That means to prevent flooding in downtown areas, sewage is released — untreated — into bodies of water that permit swimming and other recreational sports.

With rainfall amounts on the rise globally, it’s a crucial time to examine how cities like Toronto can retrofit their existing building infrastructure to alleviate flood damage and deal with stormwater in a more sustainable manner.

Green infrastructure technologies, such as permeable pavements, bioswales, cisterns and green roofs, are now commonly recommended to confront extreme weather events.

Green roofs for stormwater management

Green roofs are a green infrastructure (GI) option that can be applied to virtually any rooftop given weight load capacity. The benefits of green roofs extend far beyond their obvious aesthetic appeal.

A study done by University of Toronto civil engineer Jenny Hill and co-researchers at the school’s Green Roof Innovation Testing Lab (GRIT Lab) showed that green roofs have the capacity to capture an average of 70 per cent of rainfall over a given time, relieving underground stormwater systems and releasing the rain water back into the atmosphere.


University of Toronto’s GRIT Lab

The study examined four green roof design variables that represent the most common industry practices: Planting type (succulents or grasses and herbaceous flowering plants), soil substitute (mineral, wood compost), planting depth (10 centimetres or 15 centimetres) and irrigation schedule (none, daily or sensor-activated), and how these four factors influenced water capture.

The watering schedule was shown to have the greatest effect, with retention capacity increasing from 50 per cent with daily irrigation to 70 per cent with sensor-activated or no irrigation. In other words, roofs that have not been watered, or are only watered when their soil reaches a predetermined moisture level, have a greater capacity to absorb stormwater.

Furthermore, the study calculated a new peak runoff coefficient — a constant value used to calculate the capacity of a green roof to hold water — for green roofs to be around 0.1-0.15, an 85 to 90 per cent reduction compared to an impermeable surface.

Designers and engineers routinely use a figure of 0.5 (50 per cent reduction) to assess green roof performance. This discrepancy between industry practice and regional evidence-based findings highlights the need for further research.


Rooftop succulents and flowering plants on the GRIT lab’s green roof. University of Toronto’s GRIT Lab

The second most significant variable for stormwater retention was the soil substitute. The most widely used green roof planting material is based on guidelines from the German Landscape Research, Development and Construction Society (FLL).

The FLL recommended a mineral aggregate because it’s thought to be longer-lasting and hardier than biological soil substitutes. But this recommendation has been challenged by research today.

Hill and her team compared the mineral growing material to wood compost. The compost outperformed the mineral by 10 per cent (70 per cent versus 60 per cent rainfall retained) in beds with no irrigation, and had minimal compression or break-down over time.

Another key finding in Hill’s study demonstrated that when already damp, either from watering or rain, the planting material had the biggest influence on water retention. The compost outperformed the mineral soil substitute by as much as three times when fully saturated (83 per cent rainfall retained versus 29 per cent).

Compost a better soil substitute

That means that the compost not only performed better in every season, but it performed a great deal better in rainy seasons and during back-to-back storms.

Planting depth (10 centimetres versus 15 centimetres) and the plant family (succulents versus grass and herbaceous flowering plants) were both shown to have scant impact on stormwater retention compared to the planting material and watering schedule.

And so without compromising stormwater management, plant selection can meet aesthetic goals and environmental benchmarks such as biodiversity and species habitat.


A bee hovers around a flowering plant at the U of T’s GRIT Lab rooftop garden. U of T GRIT Lab

One of the constraints for green roof construction is weight loading, particularly in buildings that were not originally constructed to accommodate the weight of a saturated green roof. Thus, a 10 centimetre planting depth as opposed to 15 would mean more roofs could be eligible for retrofit.

Nonetheless, even though a biodiverse plant palette including grasses and herbaceous plants would be a more aesthetically and ecologically rich green roof option, those plants do require watering in order to survive in cities like Toronto. Since irrigation has a negative effect on stormwater retention, green roof designers can consider drought-resistant succulent plants like sedum.

However, when herbaceous plants are planted in compost rather than mineral planting materials, the decrease in stormwater retention capacity could be prevented.

On-demand irrigation activated by a soil moisture sensor can balance water management with water availability for plant growth. Furthermore, compost weighs significantly less than mineral planting material, opening up more potential for retrofits.

And so Hill and her team’s research into four distinct green roof variables allows us to understand the benefits and limitations of each, and how they can be combined.

Green roofs: Optimal green infrastructure

In our opinion as researchers at the GRIT Lab, green roofs are the optimal urban green infrastructure due to their multi-functionality: They can be retrofitted onto existing buildings, they provide biodiverse space for urban wildlife and they can be enriching public spaces for city-dwellers to enjoy. Additionally, green roofs can make previously inhospitable places pleasant, and provide new outdoor space for office workers.


A butterfly flutters around flowers at the GRIT Lab green roof. U of T GRIT Lab

These recent findings clearly show the potential of green roofs. But thorough scientific studies on green roofs, like those undertaken at the GRIT Lab, are necessary in order to determine the best green roof composition for optimal performance.

For example, though planting type had little effect on stormwater retention, the herbaceous mix of native plants has been shown to be more attractive for native bees and is arguably more attractive. This information is critical; although succulents are currently the industry standard, planting only succulents on roofs could potentially have a negative impact on urban ecology in various regions.

An additional variable to consider when designing a green roof is its location. GRIT Lab researcher Scott MacIvor and co-researchers found that building height matters: There are far fewer bee hives when green roofs are too high, and so designing a roof aimed at helping bees higher than eight storeys would be futile.

As storm events become more frequent and severe for municipalities, cities with aging stormwater infrastructure like Toronto are struggling to find ways to alleviate the impact. Green roofs can be a part of this solution, but all green roofs are not created equal. The proper research and knowledge is essential.