5 under-reported climate change stories of 2016

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      This is the time of year when some people talk about the news stories that didn't receive the attention they merited over the past year.

      But with the threat of runaway climate change greater than ever before and a denier elected to the U.S. presidency, it seems appropriate to narrow the field to this area alone in 2016.

      Here are my five picks for under-reported climate-change stories of the year.

      1. Loss of global sea ice

      Recent news has been bleak from the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center.

      The extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reached record lows this year for the month of November, each tracking two standard deviations from the norm for that time of year.

      On December 22, the Washington Post reported that a weather buoy near the North Pole hit the melting point because of far warmer than expected weather.

      "The entire Arctic north of 80 degrees, roughly the size of the Lower 48 states, has witnessed a sharp temperature spike reaching levels 30-35 degrees (nearly 20 Celsius) above normal. In reviewing historical records back to 1958, one cannot find a more intense anomaly – except following a similar spike just five weeks ago," wrote the Washington Post's Jason Samenow.

      Donald Trump has named a climate-change denier, former Texas governor Rick Perry, as his secretary of energy.
      Michael Vadon

      2. Republican Party's threat to humanity

      Earlier this year in an interview with Truthout, U.S. linguist Noam Chomsky called the Republican Party "the most dangerous organization" in world history. That's due to the party's denial of human beings' impact on the climate and eagerness to burn fossil fuels. 

      According to Chomsky, the Republicans are "dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life".

      President-elect Donald Trump has promised to "cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs". He's also pledged to rescind the Obama climate action plan, which aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels.

      Despite Trump's radical plans to reverse course, only 82 seconds in three U.S. presidential debates were focused on climate change. This issue simply wasn't a priority for the U.S. mainstream media during the election campaign.

      In light of this, it shouldn't come as a surprise that his nominee for energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, is a hard-core climate-change denier from an oil-producing state. And Trump's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, is the CEO of ExxonMobil.

      The price of solar power has fallen sharply, making it much more viable than ever before.

      3. Generating all electricity via renewable energy

      In an April interview with the Georgia Straight, Harvard science historian Noami Oreskes offered a blueprint for how North America could generate all electricity from renewable sources. And it wasn't that complicated.

      She said that researchers have already demonstrated this could happen if governments focused on three major areas: integration of electricity grids, feed-in tariffs, and demand-response pricing.

      If grids were better integrated from Mexico to Canada, it would become easier to make use of solar power, which has seen sharply falling prices.

      Feed-in tariffs offer payments to people who generate their own renewable electricity and feed it back into the grid.

      And demand-response pricing involves adjusting the cost of electricity during peak and slow periods of consumption to flatten the load.

      “They’ve done the modelling to show that there is enough power between hydro, wind, and solar to fully power North America so long as you have grid integration to solve the intermittency problem," Oreskes said. "That’s actually a very exciting result, because this technology already exists.”

      The City of Vancouver's goal is to become 100 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2050.


      4. Keep It in the Ground movement

      Organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org routinely speak about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. But the reasons for this are rarely articulated in the mainstream media.

      A 2015 study published in Nature pointed out that if 80 percent of proven reserves of fossil fuels were actually burned, it would lead to average global temperatures reaching 2° C above the level before the Industrial Revolution.

      This would sharply increase the risk of runaway climate change.

      The Keep It in the Ground movement is devoted to blocking every attempt to free up new fossil fuel reserves to be burned. It's manifested in the intense opposition to new North American pipeline projects, coal-export facilities, the divestment groups on university campuses, and in the fracking of natural gas.

      This movement serves as a constant reminder that financial analysts are playing a game of charades by continuing to pretend that companies like ExxonMobil or Chevron are as valuable as their CEOs claim. The reality is that their proven assets on their balance sheets can never be burned.

      Once that realization hits home, thanks in large part to the Keep It in the Ground movement, it could have serious implications on the stock market.

      Watch the trailer for the 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.

      5. Impact of eating meat on the climate

      According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more greenhouse gases are emitted through livestock production than through transportation. Methane, which is a byproduct of livestock production, is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide for trapping heat in the atmosphere.

      A study published several years ago showed that major changes in diet could have a huge impact on mitigating climate change. This could come not only from reduced consumption of meat but also from the amount of land that could be reclaimed from grazing. Despite this, the positive climate impact of curbing meat consumption was rarely covered in the mainstream media in 2016.

      In 2014, filmmakers Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn completed a documentary called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which exposed the impacts of modern agricultural production on climate change and other environmental crises. The filmmakers also pointed out that major environmental organizations have not given this topic anywhere near the attention it deserves.

      Cowspiracy came under criticism from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which disputed the film's claim from a Worldwatch Institute report that 51 percent of greenhouse gases are generated through animal agriculture. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the scientific consensus is that approximately 15 percent of greenhouse gases can be linked to animal agriculture, which is still a significant amount.

      One journalist who's repeatedly blown the whistle on the links between meat eating and the climate is Chris Hedges. Below, you can watch an interview he conducted earlier this year with Anderson and Kuhn.

      Journalist Chris Hedges discusses the impact of agriculture on the climate with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, codirectors of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.