Climate Change

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Tweet for Climate Truth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 3:14am in

Students are still skipping school to protest outside government buildings. They’re still making their demands known to politicians. And on September 25, they’re calling for another global show of action – a mix of physical and virtual actions to show that they’re still here. Continue reading

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Sorry, Wrong Number

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 2:37am in

Last night’s tax story earned Trump’s predictable angry tweets. But there was a thundering silence from Republicans about the tax story, while Democrats expressed alarm at the dangers of a president exposed to more than $300 million in debt. Continue reading

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Morrison’s gas plans designed to paint climate action as a threat to jobs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 9:23pm in

In a series of energy announcements, the Morrison government has doubled down on its climate denialism and thrown its support behind a “gas-fired recovery”.

Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor travelled to the Hunter Valley to announce government support for developing new gas fields and pipelines, and threatened to build a new 1000 MW gas-fired power station there using government-owned energy company Snowy Hydro, if private companies did not.

The government says this is needed to keep energy prices down when the Liddell power plant closes in 2022-2023.

Two separate government reports have said this is not necessary. AGL already intends to build a small gas peaking plant in the Hunter Valley as part of a package of measures to replace Liddell.

Days later Morrison wound back his claim to say that only 250MW would be necessary.

After a summer of deadly fires, there is strong public support for action on climate change.

Instead, Morrison has rejected the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 agreed at international climate talks and included in the Paris Agreement.

Gas is largely composed of methane, a potent greenhouse gas when released directly into the atmosphere during mining, which also releases carbon dioxide when burnt.

The decision to target the Hunter Valley coal region is no accident. Morrison and Taylor are intent on continuing the campaign that proved successful around the Adani coal mine at last year’s election: pretending to support jobs and workers in fossil fuel industries, and giving fossil fuel companies a green light for ongoing expansion.

Labor has responded by again attempting to have a bet each way: saying it supports the role of gas while also wanting to boost the use of renewable energy.

A few days later Morrison and Taylor went to the Port Kembla steelworks to announce that funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency would continue, but with a changed mandate allowing it to fund carbon capture and storage, hydrogen technologies and programs to reduce businesses’ energy bills.

Carbon capture and storage has been promised for years as a way to allow continued use of fossil fuels. But it can only take place in areas with the right geology—mainly those where gas extraction is already taking place such as northwest Australia and the Bass Strait. So it is mainly a way to prolong gas extraction while claiming it is low-emissions.


These announcements all fed into the government’s first “Low Emissions Technology Statement,” part of its Technology Roadmap.

The statement declares that wind and solar are already “mature technologies” with no need for public funding or support. Instead it will focus on hydrogen (including hydrogen produced from gas and coal), energy storage, low emissions steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon.

Instead of targets for emissions reduction, its targets are for delivering these technologies at a competitive market price.

The $18 billion of funding over ten years announced with the Roadmap rolled in many of the previous energy announcements, including funding for ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The Roadmap has at least backed away from supporting nuclear power, which was included the earlier consultation draft, and is being spruiked by One Nation, sections of the Liberals and Nationals, and the AWU and the Victorian branch of the CFMEU Mining and Energy division.

The Electrical Trades Union have declared the Roadmap to be “hot air” that delivers little to support clean energy, far less renewable energy jobs, cheaper power or lower emissions. They say the priority should have been upgrading and maintaining the electricity grid so it can accommodate a shift towards wind, solar and hydrogen power.

Concrete planning and coordinated public investment in the electricity system is urgently needed to achieve a transition.

While the Australian Energy Market Operator has developed a plan for a renewables-based energy grid, it is based on a range of possibilities for future climate action, not clear emissions reduction targets or timelines. The plan prioritises minimising cost, and doesn’t include any consideration of a just transition.And the actual management and operation of the grid is so fragmented that it is unclear who can actually deliver the plans they are making.

Planning and support are also necessary to ensure a just transition where workers’ jobs, wages and conditions are protected.

This is the only way to counter Morrison’s efforts to present a climate transition as a threat to fossil fuel-dependent communities.

It is critical for the union and climate movement to break the idea that a climate transition is a threat to jobs, and win the argument for massive investment in public renewable energy and climate jobs.

By Penny Howard

The post Morrison’s gas plans designed to paint climate action as a threat to jobs appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Guardian/Vice Poll Finds Most US 2020 Voters Strongly Favor Climate Action

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 2:14am in

Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the US to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years. Continue reading

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‘Our House is Burning’: Student Climate Protesters Urge Their Universities to Go Carbon Neutral

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 5:15am in

Although student activists often direct their ire toward school administrations, their greatest antagonist may simply be a ticking clock. Undergraduates generally only get a four-year window on campus to make a difference, and they’ve lost precious time because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has in some ways pulled focus from climate issues. Continue reading

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Why it would be wrong to ignore a carbon price

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 3:00am in

While we recognise the scale of the climate crisis engulfing the planet, views on solutions are still mixed. Yet it is crucial that the Left adopt carbon pricing as part of any vision of the future.

A carbon price is an intervention in the exchange value of any commodity whose production involves any emissions of carbon, to make exchange value more closely resemble the use value to society. 

Something is needed to ensure that, when everyday decisions are being made, the interests of the environment are strongly accounted for. Nature cannot organise collectively. The flowers and koalas and the air cannot strategically withdraw. Environmental groups cannot get involved on their behalf in every decision. 

The only way that environmental issues, especially climate change, can be taken into account in all decisions is through carbon pricing. It is the silent weapon of the environment in all decisions affecting it. 

Exploitation of the environment and of labour are fundamentally different. Under capitalism, as per Marx, value is extracted from (and only from) the exercise of labour power. Some part is handed back to labour as necessary for its reproduction, and the rest becomes surplus value.

This does not operate in an equivalent fashion for the environment. A quite different approach is needed to analyse capitalist expropriation of nature versus capitalist exploitation of labour. The capitalist does not need to allocate some portion of exchange value to maintaining the reproduction or integrity of the resource he or she is using, unless the state or politics requires it. 

All capitalists have an economic interest in preventing labour from increasing its share of value. But there are fundamental differences between different parts of capital as to how they relate to nature. 

In some places coal can be extracted and used without any need for remediation. The monetary and health costs are imposed on others. Those costs might be greater than the profit. Solar energy, by contrast, really is a ‘free gift of nature’ over the next several billion years. There is no need to allocate any amount of subsequent exchange value to reproduce the resource itself.

So capitalist interests may conflict. For ‘brown’ capitalists, their variable capital costs are lowered, and hence profit is raised (for any given exchange value) by their ability to pollute and minimise remediation. For some other (‘blue’) capitalists, their variable capital costs and maybe constant capital costs are raised by the ability of the brown capitalists to pollute.

The discrepancy between exchange value and use value also means that resources are misdirected to ‘brown’ capital because its profitability is artificially raised.

Opposition to carbon pricing

Opposition to carbon pricing often arises because it is seen as a neoliberal policy response. But a price does not constitute a neoliberal market. Every economic system has had prices. In every conceivable pathway over the next half century there would be prices. In a move to a low-carbon economy, some exchanges might simply be prohibited (for example, new brown-coal mines), and in those cases no intervention in exchange value will be necessary. But for everything else, the exchange value needs to reflect the use value to society. The climate crisis will be resolved, one way or another, long before exchange value has ceased to exist.

Some object to carbon pricing because of the corruption of emissions trading markets by financiers and speculators. But that is a question of implementation, not principle.  Setting a fixed price (and letting quantity vary) might be administratively cleaner than setting a fixed quantity (and letting price vary). The key thing is that a price exists, and that it is large enough to change behaviour.

Other objectors to carbon pricing see it as diluting state intervention. But the use of a carbon price does not preclude and is not inconsistent with a range of other interventions, including, as mentioned, prohibitions. 

On many issues, altering prices will not bring about the needed changes fast enough. The state would likely still need to actively subsidise certain forms of renewable energy or recycling, or finance structural adjustment for workers. Still, charging a price for carbon is probably the single most important thing that can be done to reduce carbon usage.

Some others oppose carbon pricing because any sort of pricing is seen as part of the malaise of the existing capitalist system that leads to overproduction and degradation.   By this view, rather than pricing, we should be moving to a system based on different forms of exchange—perhaps a circular economy with zero or negative growth.

But again, how do we ensure that all decisions affecting the environment and carbon emissions reflect the priority of saving the planet? Government cannot regulate every aspect of life. That comes down, in the end, to individuals behaving responsibly, by recycling, composting, using public transport or electric cars and wasting nothing. 

And that, it turns out, is exactly the approach that the most egregious emitters of carbon wish us to emphasise. They promote individual action, rather than state intervention, because it enables them to continue profiting as before. Companies such as BP were long ago promoting reusing, recycling and composting, even while digging up and selling oil.  Wearing the mask of being green, while actually being very brown, helps profits.

Sure, changing our mental conception of the world is important. Individual action, however, is beset by the free-rider problem. In the end only the ideologically committed engage in environmentally sustaining activities, and the rest don’t bother.

State regulation can get us part of the way there. But could it regulate to deal correctly with every motor vehicle, farm, workplace and household? The best way to make sure that every decision takes account of the environment is to ensure that the environment is priced into it.

I have been to environmental conferences where some new form of currency is seen as the solution—move away from the dollar, and we take a step away from the alienation of ‘fiat’ currencies from nature. But changing the currency does not change the processes of production and exchange. Any currency—or even bartering—still means that exchanges occur and these all involve a price. 

Alternative currencies disguise, rather than help solve, the problem of capitalism and the climate. The ‘cryptocurrencies’ put forward as part of the solution are often part of the problem. Just one, Bitcoin, uses almost as much electricity each year as the whole of Ireland.

Reconciling the Left

Perhaps the biggest problem the Left faces is reconciling the conflict between the desire of some to create employment, and others’ desire for negative growth, to avoid further degradation. The latter approach would undoubtedly lead to substantially higher unemployment, and the political consequences would destroy the chance of support for major environmental action.

The only way to reconcile these competing views is through a major fall in the carbon intensity of economic activity—that is, achieving a large reduction in carbon emissions without large reductions in economic activity. 

This can only be achieved with a high carbon price. 

In the end, carbon pricing is how large enough cuts in carbon emissions can be achieved in the near to medium term while maintaining sustainably high rates of employment. It is a necessary element in implementing any Green New Deal.   

That doesn’t mean that carbon pricing would usher in a new, progressive post-capitalist society—far from it. But if it does not happen, there will not be any post-capitalist society.

Climate Change Is Pass Fail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 4:18pm in

Although Joe Biden’s website hat-tips the Green New Deal, he is opposed to it. Instead, he wants to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The problem is, scientists project the end of human civilization by 2050. So it’s a moot point. The environment is pass-fail. Incrementalism is doomed.

Top 1% Responsible for Double the Carbon Emissions of Bottom Half: Oxfam

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 4:18am in

A new report published today by international charity Oxfam lays bare the massive disparities in carbon dioxide emissions between the world’s wealthy elite and the rest of society. Titled “Confronting Carbon Inequality,” the study found that over the previous 25 years, the globe’s richest one percent are responsible for 15 percent of all carbon emissions — more than double that of the bottom 50 percent (over three billion people).

The other nine percent of the population who make up the richest decile used up 37 percent of humanity’s CO2 output, meaning that the top 10 percent — mostly located in Europe and North America — are responsible for the majority of the problem. The middle 40 percent used up the remaining 41 percent. This means that the wealthiest one percent use over 100 times the carbon dioxide as someone in the bottom half of humanity.

The current system, the report warns, is completely unsustainable if humanity is to avoid catastrophic global warming that will challenge organized human society. If the planet is to avoid a temperature increase of over 1.5 degrees Celsius — the target set by the Paris Agreement — then we will have to radically reduce our collective carbon footprint. Unfortunately, Oxfam notes, the rich have been blowing through our remaining carbon budget at a perilously fast rate; the per capita carbon usage of the world’s rich being 35 times higher than the targets for 2030 set by the Paris Agreement.

While energy consumption has dropped during the COVID-related lockdown this year, if the wealthiest ten percent of society continues to live as they do, the world’s entire carbon budget will be blown by 2033, even if all other emissions from the bottom 90 percent drop to zero.

“The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth,” said Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam.

While many in the West brush off any moves towards radical action on climate change by by pointing to growing populations in the Global South, calling for population control rather than limits on emissions, the reality is that the United States has around 160 times the per capita emissions of Malawi or Uganda, two of the fastest growing populations in the world, meaning that life in Africa is vastly more sustainable than in the U.S.

From wildfires in Australia and the Western United States to tornadoes in the midwest, climate catastrophes have been headline news in 2020, along with the COVID-19 pandemic. The causal link between man made climate change and extreme weather events is well established. Yet both the media and politicians continue to shy away from discussing the problem. If inequality is a driver of climate change as the report states, then 2020 is not good news. The world’s billionaire class has added nearly $1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic, with multinational companies with robust supply chains and delivery services prospering. On the other hand, small businesses are failing en masse. Data from Yelp shows that 60 percent of American businesses that shut their doors during lockdown are now permanently closed.

By far the largest share of emissions from high earners comes from travel, in particular flights, meaning that the jet set elite bear the brunt of the responsibility. Gore suggested that it was possible and necessary to tackle both the climate and inequality crises together. “Governments must curb the emissions of the wealthy through taxes and bans on luxury carbon such as SUVs and frequent flights. Revenues should be invested in public services and low carbon sectors to create jobs, and help end poverty,” he said.

The report also suggested ending airline companies’ right to buy fuel tax free and a huge investment in public infrastructure projects, such as public transportation networks, that would allow individuals to travel in a more sustainable manner. It even suggested a ban on advertising to reduce the consumption of unnecessary items.

Ultimately, the report demonstrates that the income and wealth gap between the world’s rich and everybody else is inherently unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. The question now is whether we change it or simply watch the world burn.

Feature photo | People tour a private jet at Flexjet’s Richmond Heights, OH headquarters on June 27, 2019. Michael Mcelroy | AP via Flexjet

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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The environmental clock is still ticking onwards

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 5:25am in
We need a sustainable vision for the future and the political will to deliver it like never before


Orange sky over town in California duing 2020 wildfiresView from the top of the Humboldt County Courthouse with smoke from inland and Oregon fires covering the county. National Weather Service, Public Domain


“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


Next month will be the anniversary of the launch of GIMMS and the first MMT Lens blog. In that blog, we covered the Economics of Climate Change following the comprehensive report published by the IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which warned that we only had 12 years left to half the worst effects of climate change.

Two years on, the battle to save our planet and ourselves continues, as the loss of biodiversity and human degradation persists. This week has been a depressing reminder that the clock is still ticking whilst many of our leaders still have their heads firmly stuck in the sinking sand.

This year we have witnessed devastating fires across the world. In states across Australia and its territories, the fire season has been unprecedented with an estimated 18 million hectares of fire destroying vast tracts of bush, an area greater than that of the average European country and over five times the size of blazes in the Amazon.

During the first seven months of 2020, more than 13,000 sq. km of Brazilian Amazon has been destroyed according to satellite data analysis. Fires in recent weeks of human origin in the race to expand meat production through vast deforestation have been exacerbated by the worst drought in 50 years.

And in the last few weeks, we have seen the on-going death and destruction wrought by the fires in California, Oregon and Washington states. The weather and warming climate with record temperatures, heatwaves and drought have played an important role in that devastation, as has human behaviour through poor land management and badly planned housing construction.

The consequences for a global environment under huge pressure and human health around the world will be, over time, devastating and has been made much worse by the incipient challenge presented by the Covid-19 pandemic which has both revealed how our behaviour has influenced viral threats and put real resources under severe pressure.

Alessandra Guató, a tribal leader in the Amazon wetlands, said of the destruction in her own backyard:

‘We are part of this nature we live with her day by day and it was all devastated.’

And yet her comment applies not just to the disaster that has befallen the Guató tribe which has left them without food and threatened their livelihoods it is also a warning to us all which we ignore at our peril.

This week, David Attenborough spelt out our potential fate in a sobering programme aired on the BBC ‘Extinction: The Facts’ which follows on from last year’s documentary ‘Climate Change: The Facts’. It focused, in an extremely hard-hitting way, on the existential threat posed by the loss of biodiversity. It showed clearly what that loss and extinction means, not just for the planet, but for the human species. And it demonstrated with icy clarity that human activity is driving that extinction and that we are at a critical point in our history.

David Attenborough’s documentary coincided with the fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook Report which noted the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change and long-term food security. It concluded that action to protect it is essential to prevent future pandemics. Elizabeth Mrema, The Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity said:

As nature degrades… new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.’

This is maybe our final wake-up call.

And yet, according to analysis by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the UK has failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

Whilst the government claims a better record, Kate Jennings, at the RSPB commented that the government’s assessment was a rose-tinted interpretation with lots of positive rhetoric that was not borne out by action. The report suggested that the UK has gone backwards, and the government’s significant failures include insufficient funding for nature conservation. Jennings said ‘‘we’re fundamentally dependent on nature so God help the lot of us if we don’t make serious headway in the next decade … past performance doesn’t inspire confidence’.

In 2016, the WWF’s Living Planet Report warned that overall global vertebrate populations were on course to decline by an average of 67% from 1970s levels by the end of the decade unless urgent action was taken to reduce humanity’s impacts on species and ecosystems. It called on governments to fast-track action on conservation, climate change and sustainable development. Now, at the end of that decade, little seems to have been achieved despite the political rhetoric. In the words of Mike Davis in an article in the Red Flag, ‘our imaginations can barely encompass the speed or scale of the catastrophe.’ While we stand by and watch in horror, we should remember the dire warning that Mike Barrett from the WWF talking about the 2016 report when he said:

‘Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.’

This week has been an opportunity to reappraise where we are. To examine our behaviour as a human species and to understand the stark reality that saving nature is about saving ourselves. We coexist with nature not apart from it.

It was, therefore, all the more surprising to hear a Cambridge Environmental Economist claim in an interview this week whilst discussing the environmental and biodiversity challenges we face that the reality was that governments were strapped for cash, as if somehow that was an impediment to action.

At the same time, David Cameron, in an updated foreword to his memoirs, suggested in a Daily Mirror article that austerity had ‘fixed the roof when the sun was shining’ adding that ‘Covid-19 was the rainy day we have been saving for’ and that their actions ‘meant that the next but one administration was able to offer an unprecedented package of measures to prop up the economy.’ This seems as usual to be the Tories re-writing history in the face of on-going disaster.

For anyone who knows something about how government really spends, this would be a moment to fall off one’s chair in astonishment, given that the consequences of cutting public spending have been disastrous in terms of the economy, people’s lives and the public and social infrastructure. It has left it barely able to manage the on-going challenges of Covid-19 and is now revealing serious fractures in society caused by economic decline, lack of investment in public infrastructure, low wages, hunger, destitution, and homelessness.

This is not the work of a government whose role should be to serve its nation with sound policies aimed at improving lives and addressing climate change for the benefit of future generations.

The same old tropes about how government action is constrained by lack of cash or the need to balance its public accounts should now be consigned to the dustbin of history. We have watched as the government has found no money shortage to deal with the crisis we are currently going through. We have watched as it has spent like there is no tomorrow on giving contracts to all and sundry with no checks or accountability. Remembering at the same time the same lack of scarcity when the banks needed bailing out in 2008.

At the same time as a means of exercising economic control, it has cynically put the fear of God into the mind of the public that there will be a future price to pay. That in itself should be our wakeup call that government spending is not dictated by the contents of the public purse but by government choice and the need to respond to both the economic, environmental and health threats we are facing.

With that in mind, it is sad to note that a Cambridge environmental economist who ought to know better is not acting as a good advert for his environmental concerns by suggesting that there is nothing to be done because the government is strapped for cash.

It isn’t!

A tweet from 2018 by Stephanie Kelton puts it simply in a few words.

How I imagine the conversation between the last two people on Earth.

“There were plans to save humanity, but they didn’t cost it out’

They should have learned #MMT’.

While we continue to think that cost is more important than saving the planet, we remain stuck in an economic paradigm which puts balancing the public accounts as being more important than a future for our children.

At the same time, with such arguments, we place similar constraints on our ability to ensure that our young people have the education and vital skills to challenge the existing narrative of ‘there is no alternative’ to create a better and more sustainable future and be in themselves a channel for the change we need.

According to the IFS in its 2020 report, state schools have suffered the biggest fall in funding since the 1980s and the promised additional expenditure by the government will not be able to reverse the cuts by 2023 leaving school spending 1% lower than in 2009/10.

This is absurdly the same IFS that whilst reporting on the dire state of our schools due to funding cuts at the same time bemoans the state of our public finances and worries about how government can pay for its huge round of public spending. A clear contradiction in terms.

As Mary Bousted, the joint secretary of the National Education Union, noted ‘It is a historic failure of the nation’s children’. All at a time when the government should be pulling out all the monetary stops to avoid the ensuing catastrophe both environmental and economic in terms of addressing climate change and levelling up society by dealing with the poverty and inequality. It is a bleak reminder of how government choices influence detrimentally the choices of others.

Our politicians, academics, unions and the public are caught in the glare of a toxic ideology which if not swept away will constrain the ability of the human race to build a better, more sustainable future for all.

The government has the means to manage these crises. It has the monetary tools to address climate change, unemployment poverty and inequality within the context of available real resources. It has the tools to implement a just transition towards a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable planet.

As the Reverend Delman Coates observed recently:

‘We must learn to see our government as a tool of empowerment for our communities, and demand it be deployed accordingly.’

It’s up to us to make that change happen.



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The post The environmental clock is still ticking onwards appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The Year of Fire.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 5:05am in

Wildfires in the western states of the American Union have received considerable attention in Australian media, perhaps because the story looks a lot like what we witnessed here a few months back and because Australian firefighters were sent there to help in the effort to contain the fires.

Much less coverage has been given to fires in the Pantanal in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul currently affected by a drought. The Pantanal (a Portuguese word whose literal translation is “swamp”), as Brazilians call that area, is a wetland, thus, the numerous pictures of carbonised “jacarés” (i.e. alligators). Readers may remember that last year forest fires had already visited the Amazon rainforest, a little to the north/northeast of the Pantanal.

But it is the wildfires in Siberia (also for the second year in a row) which have received next to no mention in Australian media.

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted? LuYago/Shutterstock Christopher J White, University of Strathclyde

It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June.

CO2 emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO2 between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon.

The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world?

Sooner than predicted?

Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started.

Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for events like wildfires, such as high temperatures and strong winds.

Read more: Siberia heatwave: why the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the world

And these climate model projections show that the kind of extreme summer temperatures we’ve seen in the Arctic in 2020 weren’t likely to occur until the mid-21st century, exceeding predictions by decades.

So even though an increasing trend of high temperatures and conditions suitable for wildfires are predicted in climate models, it’s alarming that these fires are so severe, have occurred in the same region two years in a row, and were caused by conditions which weren’t expected until further in the future.

Fire burns the understory of a boreal woodland. The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the global average. Yelantsevv/Shutterstock Climate feedback loops

So what is causing this rapid change? Over recent decades, temperatures in the most northerly reaches of Earth have been increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the world, with the polar region heating at more than twice the rate of the global average.

The fires caused by these hot, dry conditions are occurring in remote and sparsely populated forests, tundra and peat bogs, where there is ample fuel.

But these extreme events are also providing worrying evidence of climate “feedback loops”, which were predicted to happen as the climate warms. This is where increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to further warming by promoting events – like wildfires – which release even more greenhouse gas, creating a self-perpetuating process that accelerates climate change.

Read more: Arctic breakdown: what climate change in the far north means for the rest of us

Record CO2 emissions released from burning Arctic forests during the summer of 2020 will make future conditions even warmer. But ash and other particulates from the wildfires will eventually settle on the ice and snow, making them darker and accelerating their melting by reducing how easily their surface reflects sunlight.

Climate change is not the direct cause of this summer’s fires, but it is helping to create the right conditions for them. The extreme temperatures and wildfires seen throughout the Arctic in 2020 would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change – and they are feeding themselves.

Ice surface with black stain from soot. Soot-stained ice absorbs more of the sun’s heat and melts more quickly. Trifonov Aleksey/Shutterstock What about the rest of the world?

When we think of the Arctic, we don’t tend to picture wildfires and heatwaves – we think of snow and ice and long, brutal winters. Yet the region is changing before our eyes. It’s too early to say whether the last two summers represent a permanent step-change, or new “fire regime”, for the Arctic. Only observations over a much longer timescale could confirm this.

But these record-breaking events in the Arctic are being fuelled by human influences that are changing our world’s climate sooner than many expected. With climate models predicting a future where already hot and fire-prone areas are likely to become more so, 2020’s record temperatures paint a worrying trend towards more of the same.

The Arctic is at the frontline of climate change. What we are witnessing here first are some of the most rapid and intense effects of climate change. While the impact is devastating – record CO2 emissions, damaged forests and soils, melting permafrost – these events may prove to be a portent of things to come for the rest of the world.The Conversation

Christopher J White, Senior Lecturer in Water & Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.