Monday, July 28, 2014

Climate variability and vulnerability

One major challenge right now is to understand how to tackle the uncertainty around projecting variability and changes. This needs to be overcome, while strengthening the confidence in projecting climate extreme events and their magnitude. The fact that this is a highly complex and challenging area, with a lot of uncertainty, is likely the reason to why research hasn’t really progressed.

What do we know and what are we still searching for? 

“What we still need to know is, how will changes in climate variability play out, i.e. will annual rainfall amounts become increasingly erratic, or will there be more extreme heat stress days? And the second is, how will increasingly erratic rainfall or more heat stress days affect crops and livestock? We know little about the first, and through physiology and modelling a few things about the second and not much if anything about how these things interact with each other,” says Philip Thornton. 

”One major and immediate challenge is to use the information we do have, about climate variability and its impacts, to help us better understand extreme events. Our recent work for the IPCC identified extreme events as a major risk factor for agriculture under climate change," says Andy Challinor co-author of the review, as well as co-author to the chapter “Food Security and Food Production Systems”, included in the recently released IPCC report “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”.
The “Climate variability and vulnerability to climate changereview, also put together by Polly Ericksen, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Mario Herrero, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), gives a solid overview of some of the current insights on climate variability’s potential impacts on food and biological as well as human systems while outlining where more research is needed.
The authors mention that we do know that shifts between new extreme high and low temperatures, could impact how crops grow and under what timeframe. Earlier flowering and maturity of several crops have been documented in recent decades, often associated with higher temperature.
Also, increases in maximum temperatures can lead to severe yield reductions and reproductive failure in many crops, further affecting billions of people depending on farming as their main livelihood and food source.
For example each degree-day maize spend above 30°C can reduce yields by 1.7 percent under drought conditions, and rice yields could be reduced by 90% with night temperatures of 32 compared with 27 °C. But exactly how such changes in variability will affect global crop production in the future is still unknown. Crop response to changes in temperature and photo period (length of day and night) at supra-optimal temperatures is not well understood either.
Climate variability and extreme events can also be important for yield quality. Protein content of wheat grain has been shown to respond to changes in the mean and variability of temperature and rainfall, specifically, high-temperature extremes during grain-filling can affect the protein content of wheat grain.
There is still much to be learned related to how crop quality might change as it is affected by new extreme temperature changes. Not taking quality into account could negatively impact human and livestock nutrition and health.
Unruly precipitation could have huge negative impacts
As precipitation may become more intense but less frequent and in some places bring about longer dry spells, flash floods and runoff are more likely to increase, which might result in increased soil erosion and diminish soil moisture, both impacting food production and livelihoods.
Changed precipitation might also impact spread and incidence of malaria, cholera and dengue fever, directly affecting millions of people in tropical regions. The linkages between variability in precipitation and its effects on biological system need to be further investigated.
Changes in climate variability and in the frequency of extreme events may have substantial impacts on the prevalence and distribution of pests, weeds, and crop and livestock diseases, including livestock productivity and growth, but how the effects of future changes in climate variability impact these areas are not well understood. 

Even if we don’t have all the answers, putting off adaptation is not an option any longer! 

Even if we have limited information and data as well as predictive capability, we cannot let that hinder us from adapting to climate change. Putting off adaptation for the future is not an option any longer. In the light of this regret-free approach towards climate adaptation, the review includes five areas that need increased attention if we are to successfully address the above-mentioned environmental, health and food security challenges:
·         Through a re-prioritized research agenda, ensure that the knowledge and data gaps around the effects of climate variability and extreme events on biological systems are addressed. 

·         Improve available impact models, especially on crops and livestock, at all scales. 

·          Improve the monitoring of local conditions, to improve our understanding and models that will help guide effective adaptation. Improved models would also help feed in important data to yield early-warning systems and locally appropriate indices for weather-based crop and livestock insurance schemes. 

·         Strengthen efforts being made to adapting biological and food systems to the increasingly variable climate and to increasingly frequent extreme events. 

·         Generate synergies and improve the communication between scientists and decision makers, as well as between natural and social scientists. There is a great deal that can be done on the co-generation of information and its communication in appropriate ways, and in engaging meaningfully with decision makers at local and national policy levels. 

Download article: Thornton P, Ericksen PJ, Herrero M, Challinor AJ. 2014. Climate variability and vulnerability to climate change: a review. Global Change Biology·       

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Rich Grow Richer

Published on Monday, June 16, 2014 by Common Dreams

Fomenting a Revolution: Extreme Acts of Greed Against the American People


Examples of extreme inequality are becoming easier to find. Progressive leaders have us thinking about revolution. If a revolution is to take place, Americans — especially young Americans— need to know the facts, and they need to know how they're getting cheated, and they need to get angry. The following should help.

1. $1,000,000,000,000,000 in Sales. Not One Cent for Sales Tax

The trading volume on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) reached an incomprehensible $1 quadrillion in notional value in 2012. That's a thousand trillion dollars. In comparison, the entire U.S. GDP is $17 trillion.

On that quadrillion dollars of sales CME imposes transfer fees, contract fees, brokerage fees, Globex fees, clearing fees, and contract surcharges, many of them on both the buyer's and seller's side. As a result, the company had a profit margin higher than any of the top 100 companies in the nation from 2008 to 2010, and it's gotten even higher since then.

But not a penny in sales tax for the taxpayers who provide publicly-funded infrastructure, technology, systems of law, and security to help them process billions of financial transactions.

Instead — incredibly — CME complained that its taxes were too high, and they demanded and received an $85 million tax break from the State of Illinois.

2. A Single Tax-Avoider Made More Money in 2013 Than ALL the Emergency Responders in the U.S.

Warren Buffett watched his net worth grow by $12 billion in one year, much more than the $8.3 billion our country spends on almost a quarter-million Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics.

Meanwhile, his company, Berkshire Hathaway, hasn't been paying its taxes. According to theNew York Post, "the company openly admits that it owes back taxes since as long ago as 2002." A review of Berkshire Hathaway's annual report confirms that despite profits of almost $29 billion in 2013, a $395 million refund was claimed, while $57 billion in federal taxes remain deferred on the company's balance sheet.

Berkshire Hathaway does report an income tax expense. But all of it, in the company's own words, is hypothetical.

3. Walmart: $13,000 per U.S. Employee Taken in Profits, $4,000 per U.S. Employee Taken from Taxpayers

It gets worse. In addition to Walmart's $19 billion in U.S. profits last year, the four Walton siblings together made about $29 billion from their personal investments. That's over $33,000 per U.S. employee in profits and family stock gains. Yet they pay their 1.4 million American employees so little that the average Walmart worker depends on about $4,000 per year in taxpayer assistance, for food stamps and other safety net programs.

How does Walmart spend its profits? Instead of providing a living wage for its workers, company management spent $7.6 billion, or about $5,000 per U.S. employee, on stock buybacks, in order to further boost the value of their stock holdings.

4. U.S. Wealth Grew by $25 Trillion in the Recovery, but 90 Percent of Us Got NONE of It

U.S. wealth grew from $47 trillion to $72 trillion in the four years after the recession, largely as a reflection of continued American productivity. In other words, a full one-third of the total wealth in the U.S. in 2013 was generated since 2009. But the richest 10% took all of it.

That's $6 trillion per year in new wealth for the rich. In contrast, the total annual cost of 'entitlements' and the safety net is less than $2 trillion.

One consequence of this redistribution of wealth is that more money has been transferred from minorities to prosperous white Americans. The richest 1% took 95 percent of the gain.Less than two out of every hundred individuals in the richest 1% are black.

5. Extreme Fees: Nickeled and Dimed until the Retirement Fund is Almost Gone

The one- to two-percent fees don't seem like much, but savvy financial minds know better. It has been estimated that the average underserved household spends $2,412 each year just on interest and fees for alternative financial services. Food stamp recipients have to paycompanies like JP Morgan to process their benefits. The unemployed are getting their benefits through banks who issue fee-laden debit cards instead of cash. And it's not just low-income households paying the fees. A two-earner household with median incomes will pay an average of over $150,000 in 401(k) fees over their lifetimes.

The fees are not only draining us individually, but also at the levels of local and state government. Los Angeles last year spent more on Wall Street fees than it did on its streets. In Detroit, financial expenses might approach a half billion dollars, in a city where homeowners can barely afford the water services. Chicago may end up paying Morgan Stanley $9.58 billion for a $1.15 billion parking meter deal. And in Rhode Island, it has been projected that the state will pay $2.1 billion in fees to hedge funds, private-equity funds and venture-capital funds over twenty years, the same amount the state will be taking from workers by freezing their cost of living adjustments.


All these issues have solutions: a wealth tax for (1) and (4) above; a minimum wage increase for (2); a speculation tax for (3); public banks and Post Office banks for (5).
But the best solution may be another American Revolution.
[Photo: Light Brigading's Flickr page.] 

Paul BuchheitThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at