Two articles about the French presidential campaign caught my eye this morning.
The first was entitled "How Russia hacked the French election", which was a short opinion piece by Laura Daniels on the Politico website.
Right wing candidate François Fillon and far right candidate Marine Le Pen both reportedly want closer ties with Russia. And Russia has been linked to thousands of computer-hacking incidents in France during the presidential campaign.
Daniels, a fellow at the Paris-based Institut Français des Relations Internationales, noted that the candidate most critical of Russia, Emmanuel Macron, "has faced the bulk of cyber and propaganda attacks".
The second article, "French election 2017: Where the candidates stand on energy and climate change", was on the Carbon Brief website.
Writer Jocelyn Timperley listed a series of climate-related topics, including the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Signed by 195 countries, it calls for all industrialized nations to transition from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Developing nations would have to do the same over the following three decades.
Fillon and Le Pen make no mention of the Paris agreement in their environmental programs, according to Timperley.
She also pointed out that Le Pen's National Front has previously opposed pursuing international climate-change agreements. In addition, Le Pen has called the Paris accord "flawed".
Macron, on the other hand, has said that his party "will make implementation of the Paris Agreement a priority of our international action".
Moreover, one of Macron's earlier versions of his environmental program called upon the European Union to "impose sanctions on countries pulling out of the Paris accord".
That would take aim at the Trump administration if the U.S. president were to keep his promise to withdraw from the treaty.
"However, this appears to have now been softened to apply only to the environmental clauses of trade treaties," Timperley noted.
Macron is strongest of the three on climate
Macron's campaign pledges also include doubling France's solar-power and wind-power capacity by 2022, banning exploration of shale gas in France, closing all coal power stations in five years, and reducing the mix of nuclear power from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025.
It's clear that the 39-year-old former cabinet minister takes climate change extremely seriously.
According to Timperley, Fillon opposes subsidies to stimulate production of renewable energy and favours market methods for combatting climate change.
It's worth noting that environmentalists, including Vancouver's David Suzuki, don't think the Paris agreement goes far enough to stave off a climate-induced calamity.
"Many experts believe that even if all countries that signed the agreement meet their stated targets on time, global average temperatures will rise by 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius (4.8 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit)—which scientists agree would be catastrophic for humans and numerous other species," Suzuki and coauthor Ian Hanington wrote in their new book, Just Cool It: A Post-Paris Agreement Game Plan.
If Suzuki and Hanington are right, we can expect more extreme weather events and rising numbers of climate refugees.
That would increase international pressure for tougher action against fossil-fuel use.
However, if Russian president Vladimir Putin can help engineer the election of climate-change deniers, such as U.S. president Donald Trump, he can delay this from happening.
Russia's economy depends on oil and gas
Since December 2015, 143 countries have ratified the Paris agreement.
The largest emitter that still hasn't ratified the deal is the Russian Federation. It's responsible for about 7.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, ranking third in the world behind China and the United States.
Russia's gross domestic product is smaller than Italy's, but because Russia is a huge oil and gas producer, it's a huge emitter. And its economy would be savaged if industrialized countries in Europe phased out fossil fuels, given how much oil and natural gas Russia sells there.
According to a World Bank report, oil and gas revenues will account for 37.7 percent of Russian government income this year. That's more than a third!
If Macron were elected president of France and pushed for EU sanctions against countries pulling out of the Paris accord, it would put Russia in the cross hairs.
The Climate Action Tracker website already says that Russia's greenhouse gas emission target for 2030 is "one of the weakest put forward by any government anywhere".
Putin has gotten away with this mainly because Russian emissions fell so sharply following the collapse of the economy after 1990, which is the accord's base measurement year.
"This means that Russia’s emissions may increase significantly in the future, contrary to what is needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal," the Climate Action Tracker website says.
Some commentators brush off reports of interference
It's becoming fashionable for progressives to suggest media hoopla over Putin's election meddling is grossly overstated.
They point to a far from convincing public report by U.S. intelligence agencies. It mostly cited activities conducted in public by Russian websites to shape U.S. public opinion.
One of Putin's foremost critics, New York-based Russian-American author Masha Gessen, told CBC's Wendy Mesley that regardless of the degree of hacking, it was Americans, not Putin, who elected Trump.
Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi has gone much further. He characterized the U.S. media's obsession with Russian election meddling as "mass hysteria" in an article entitled "Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives".
Taibbi's earlier pieces, "Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for the Democrats and the Media" and "Something About This Russia Story Stinks", reinforced his contrarian credentials and set him apart from the mainstream pack.
Meanwhile on the Intercept site, Aaron Maté has raised the prospect of media coverage of this issue "goading Trump into becoming more bellicose with Russia". And indeed, this appears to be happening.
Maté, who was born and raised in Vancouver, focused much of his article on the extent of anti-Russian coverage by MSNBC's left-wing host, Rachel Maddow. Maté maintained that there's a "danger of hyperbole".
Among these skeptical reports on Russian election meddling, there's never any suggestion that Putin's primary motive might be to sabotage any coordinated international action to address climate change. This wasn't mentioned in the U.S. intelligence agencies' public report, either.
It strikes me as rather naive.
Any serious effort to stabilize greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere will invariaby inflict a great deal of pain to the Russian economy. This could spell the end of Putin's rule.
Putin's pattern is clear
Which U.S. political party was most likely to pull out of the Paris climate agreement? The Republicans.
Which candidate did Putin support? Donald Trump.
Which major U.S. party candidate was most likely to uphold the Paris climate agreement? Hillary Clinton.
Which major U.S. party candidate was most damaged by Russian cyberhacking? Hillary Clinton.
Which French presidential candidate is most lukewarm to the Paris climate agreement? Marine Le Pen.
Which candidate does Putin support? Marine Le Pen.
Who else is Putin ready to accept as France's next president? François Fillon, who makes no mention of the Paris climate agreement in his environmental program.
Which candidate in the French election is most likely to push for sanctions against Russia if it pulls out of the Paris accord? Emmanuel Macron.
Which French presidential candidate has been targeted most vigorously by Russian cyberhackers? Emmanuel Macron.
Recently, there have been suggestions by British parliamentarians that foreign powers, including Russia, may have hacked a voter-registration website in advance of the Brexit vote.
Who benefits from a weaker European Union? Putin and Russia, because any EU sanctions would have far less bite without Britain's membership.
Famine increases with rising temperatures
Why should any of this matter to Canadians?
During a March visit to Vancouver, international-affairs commentator Gwynne Dyer explained why scientists are so worried about the two-degree threshold so often mentioned in media reports.
In a public lecture at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward's, Dyer cited an unpublished World Bank-commissioned study several years ago. It concluded that Chinese food production would fall by about 38 percent if the average global temperature rose by two degrees Celsius.
There would be nearly as calamitous, though not quite so dramatic, reductions in India.
Temperature rises linked to global warming would cause widespread famine, leading to massive social unrest and political turmoil.
"As we move into the higher degrees of warming, we are going to lose an awful lot of food production," Dyer cautioned. "We are going to fall way beyond what is needed to sustain the planet with the current number of people, let alone what is expected in the future."
He explained that mass-production food crops grown in the tropics and sub tropics, including rice, were initially farmed in the temperate zone. Only later were they transplanted farther south.
"Rice was domesticated in central China, which is approximately the same latitude as Pennsylvania," Dyer said. "If you take it down to the tropics, you're very near the top of its temperature tolerance range."
The problem, according to Dyer, is that if the temperature reaches 35 degrees for even one day in the two-week period when grains are forming on rice plants, the crop is lost.
"The plant doesn't die, but there are no grains of rice on it," he said. "And corn and maize is even more susceptible to heat. The one that survives the best at 35 degrees is wheat, but even that, at 35 degrees, is pretty bad."
Wheat also requires a great deal of water.
With 70 percent of the world's population living in the tropics and subtropics, Dyer said the loss of these crops will lead to waves of refugees. They'll want to move to temperate zones because that's where food production won't be as seriously impaired.
Another concern is storm surges that result from extreme weather events like cyclones and hurricanes.
As the Straight has previously reported, rice in the seedling stage is especially vulnerable to salinity.
UBC geographer Simon Donner said in 2013 that higher storm surges make groundwater near coastal areas saltier and saltier. And these storm surges are higher and cause more havoc because sea levels have risen as a result of climate change.
Most of the rice in the Philippines, which has a population in excess of 100 million, is grown close to the ocean.
Storm surges in a country like that, or Vietnam, are going to gradually degrade the agricultural industry.
What happens past two degrees?
In his lecture at SFU Woodward's, Dyer also explained why scientists are so terrified by Earth's average temperature rising two degrees Celsius above the pre-Industrial Revolution level.
That's because this is when feedback loops seriously take effect.
"It's a fuzzy number," he noted. "It could be 1.8 [or] 2.2, and it's not a trigger that goes off instantly. But it's a very rapid progression in the vicinity of two [degrees].
"We lose control," Dyer continued. "Up till then, we are in complete control, if we choose to be, of the emissions we put into the atmosphere and the warming that they cause."
So what causes human beings to lose control over the climate?
1. Loss of Arctic Sea Ice
Dyer said that in the late summer melt period, the Arctic Ocean's ice cover is sometimes about half of what it was 20 years ago.
"Once you've lost the Arctic Sea ice cover and the water beneath it starts to warm, eventually you will reach a point where it won't even freeze over in the winter," he stated.
Arctic ice reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere, making it a global cooling mechanism.
Dyer pointed out that if that ice is lost, the Arctic Ocean will absorb more heat, becoming "a planetary warming mechanism that you can't turn off".
2. Melting of the permafrost
Dyer described permafrost as a "ring of frozen ground, frozen down anywhere from 10 to 40 metres deep, around the Arctic Ocean".
It has locked in dead vegetation with enough stored carbon dioxide equivalents to double the amount in the atmosphere if it ever escaped.
This vegetation contains not only carbon dioxide, but also large amounts of methane. This potent greenhouse gas has 85 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.
The melting of the permafrost has begun and according to Dyer, as the global temperature rises, this melting will accelerate.
More warming results in more melting of the permafrost, and so on. It's a feedback loop that could have stunning implications.
3. Warming of global oceans
About a third of all greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by oceans, which cover about 70 percent of the planet.
"It is, of course, making the oceans more acidic," Dyer said. "Carbon dioxide in the ocean turns into carbonic acid."
This interferes with creatures at the bottom of the food chain being able to form shells. And that's causing great concern for marine biologists.
As the oceans continue to warm, Dyer said, they won't be able to contain as much dissolved carbon dioxide.
Dyer likened it to a glass of beer that's left on a table for a while. It goes flat and all the bubbles vanish.
"The carbon dioxide has come out of the beer because it warmed up to room temperature," he stated. "That will happen with the oceans as well and all of the carbon dioxide they've absorbed in past years will be put back into the atmosphere as they warm."
He said these three feedback loops will put the Earth on a "one-way escalator taking you up to four, five, six degrees higher average global temperature, and there's no way off".
It's a scary prospect.
Back to those elections
If Putin succeeds in electing one French president or one American president for one term who isn't overly concerned about the climate, it may not make or break the future of humanity on Earth.
China's leaders already understand the scope of the problem. There are growing signs that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has finally woken up to what it will mean for people living in his country.
But what if Putin's hackers succeed in electing a German chancellor who opposes international cooperation to address the climate? What if they then do the same in Latin America and other parts of the world? Then we're all in for very big trouble.
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen and Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi might not think that Putin's efforts to influence the U.S. election is a very big deal.
After all, the Americans have been playing similar games in Eastern Europe ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But the Americans' meddling didn't have the end game of allowing a free-for-all on greenhouse gas emissions, threatening the future of humanity on Earth.
Given what we've seen to date, we can't be sure that this isn't the case with Russia.
It's time the left woke up to the magnitude of the problem.