CIWARS CCI News covers climate change, conflict, and infrastructure news focus on water, food, extreme weather, sea level rise, migrants/refugees and destabilizing conflicts. Center for Infrastructural Warfare Studies including cyber infrastructure
The Chinese navy has held fresh exercises in the South China Sea, which has been at the center of a long-running territorial dispute between Beijing and its neighbors.
In a statement on its website released on Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Defense said ships from the country's northern, eastern and southern fleets participated in Friday's drills in waters adjacent to the Hainan and Xisha Islands.
The maneuvers focused on air control, surface operations and anti-submarine warfare, among other training exercises, the statement added.
The exercises came ahead of a ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on a case, which was brought by the Philippines, disputing some of China's territory claims in the South China Sea.
On Thursday, Abraham Denmark, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, called on both parties to comply with the ruling due on July 12.
However, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated on Friday Beijing's opposition to the ruling.
"The arbitration was unilaterally initiated by the Aquino administration and distorts the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), challenges the dignity of the international law and undermines the rule of law in essence," Hong said.
China's Xinhua news agency also said in a commentary on Saturday that the country "adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation with states directly concerned," adding, "This has always been China's policy, and it will never change."
Beijing claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The contested waters are believed to be rich in oil and gas.
China accuses the US of interfering in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea. Washington accuses Beijing of carrying out "a land reclamation program" in the disputed territory.
Recently, US destroyers — Spruance, Momsen and Stethem — sailed close to Chinese-held reefs and islands in the South China Sea. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned US Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington should not do anything that would harm China's "sovereignty and security interests."
Israeli firms have teamed up with militants in Sudan, operating gold and uranium mines in the South Kordofan state and smuggling the reserves to the occupied Palestinian lands, a report says.
Hassan Abdallah Dudu, a local chief, said the Israelis are tapping mineral reserves in the areas controlled by Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the Sudanese Media Center (SMC) reported on Thursday.
They are smuggling them, which also include other minerals, across the border into South Sudan to be transported to Israel, he said.
The report said Israeli companies are also conducting drilling operations in the strategic Umm Sardaba district in the South Kordofan state.
In December 2014, SMC reported that SPLM-N militants were smuggling gold and using the proceeds to finance their militancy and attacks on the Sudanese government.
The news agency published pictures purportedly showing senior SPLM-N commanders trading large quantities of gold with officials of the Sudanese opposition Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Bank of South Sudan in Juba.
Since 2011, the SPLM-N has been fighting against the Sudanese government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states which they claim are politically and economically marginalized.
Khartoum accuses neighboring South Sudan, which seceded from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, of supporting anti-government militants.
People flee fighting to UN base in western South Sudan
Some 200 people have been forced to seek refuge at a United Nations (UN) compound in South Sudan following the eruption of armed violence among various groups in the area.
Heavy mortar and machine gun fire was heard south of the UN base in the western town of Wau on Thursday morning, according to Shantal Persaud, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
She said sporadic shooting was going on for at least one hour, but it was not clear what caused the fighting or which groups were involved.
"After the shooting started, some 200-250 civilians arrived at… the UNMISS Wau base," she said.
The UN base is home to some 19,000 residents, who are displaced by fighting in the country.
In June, fighting forced some 88,000 to flee their homes, with almost 20,000 seeking shelter beside the UN base in the town of Wau.
Earlier this month, the UN aid chief for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, paid a visit to Wau. He expressed "shock and outrage" over the suffering that civilians have endured as a result of violence.
In a separate incident in the capital, Juba, gunfire prompted military forces to block some roads on Thursday evening, witnesses told Reuters.
"I heard a sound of gunshots and people were running everywhere," said a Juba resident.
"The military put their cars in the middle of the road coming from Gudele… the whole area is (in) lockdown by the government military," said another witness.
The county has become the scene of renewed fighting between government forces and armed groups in recent days.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than two million forced to flee their homes in the war that started in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar only two years after the country seceded from Sudan.
The two sides eventually signed an agreement in August last year to bring the conflict to an end. As part of the deal, Machar returned to Juba in April to take up the post of vice president in a national unity government.
Africa's youngest country now prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of its independence on Saturday.
Meanwhile, nearly five million people are in need of food to survive a famine.
230,000 evacuates as weakened Typhoon Nepartak hits China
Chinese authorities have evacuated hundreds of thousands of residents as weakened Typhoon Nepartak battered China's eastern coastline with powerful winds and heavy rains.
The water resources department of Fujian Province announced on Saturday that local authorities evacuated nearly 230,000 people living in risky areas and also ordered 33,200 fishing boats to head back to port.
According to reports, Typhoon Nepartak has weakened into a strong tropical storm, bringing in plenty of rainfall along with strong winds. Nepartak made its first landfall as a super typhoon near Taitung City in southeastern Taiwan in the early hours of Friday.
China's meteorological center stated that the storm system made landfall at about 1:45 p.m. in the Quanzhou municipality, packing winds of 90 kilometers per hour.
Local news outlets further reported that the storm generated four- to five-meter-high waves.
The super typhoon slammed into the east coast of Taiwan Friday morning, overturning cars, forcing thousands from their homes and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
According to local reports, the storm left two people dead and 72 others wounded in Taiwan with most of the victims suffering from injuries to their heads or limbs caused by falling glass.
Moreover, at least one person was reported to have drowned on Thursday as heavy rainfalls struck the area before the typhoon's landfall. The spokesperson for Taiwan's central emergency operations center Li Wei-sen also stated that 270,000 homes were left with no electricity.
As China braced for Nepartak's arrival, as senior Communist Party official warned that the country "should be on high alert for river floods and disasters including mountain torrents and landslides."
Are Europe's cities prepared for the impacts of climate change?
European Environment Agency calls for more collaborative work and policy support for cities to adapt to climate change consequences
Many of the world's cities boast histories stretching back millennia, adapting and surviving through conflicts, disasters, and huge social and economic upheaval.
London, for instance, has lived through Roman empires, disease epidemics, the Great Fire, industrial revolution, and mass bombing, to name just a few of the challenges the capital has faced through the ages. And it was thanks to the multitude of social, political and physical changes in Germany's capital during the early 20th century that author DBC Pierre described Berlin as having "nothing to learn from anyone".
But the modern threats to Europe's cities as a result of climate change are far different and perhaps greater than anything they have faced before, and will likely require cooperation, information sharing and yes - learning - between policymakers and urban planners across the continent's cities in order to adapt and become more resilient. That is the central conclusion of a major new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) published this week, which argues the continent's climate resilience is in urgent need of a boost.
According to the EEA, cities are set to become increasingly susceptible to climate change, with extreme events such as heatwaves, flooding, water scarcity and droughts expected to increase in frequency and intensity as average world temperature edge closer to the 2C threshold.
Meanwhile, socio-economic and demographic developments - economic growth, populations changes, ageing and migration, for example - could make cities more vulnerable, with knock-on effects from climate change having profound impacts on city functions, infrastructure and core services, such as energy, transport and water.
The combination of both these direct and indirect climate impacts create a "systemic challenge" for cities, the EEA report argues, meaning that adaptation solutions focusing solely on coping with short-term, direct consequences - such as responding to and recovering from disaster damage - may "not be enough by themselves".
An example quoted by the report is that of Vac in Hungary, a city which successfully protected against flooding of the Danube river with sandbags in 2002 and 2013. However, the 2013 floods were higher than in 2002, and there are question marks as to whether the current planned level of protection will remain effective in future. Instead, greater work on river retention upstream, the EEA argues, might be more effective.
The Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016 report therefore calls for a "broader and systemic approach" to address the root causes of climate change impacts, arguing currently many cities in Europe are not investing sufficiently in enhanced climate resilience.
"This includes better urban planning, with more green areas that can retain excess rainwater or cool built-up city cores in the summer, or by preventing the construction of houses in flood-prone areas," according to the report. "This approach can transform cities into much more attractive, climate-resilient and sustainable places."
Indeed, EEA points out that more climate resilient building design and urban planning can be a challenge but also an opportunity that allows a city to function better and boost residents' quality of life, presenting a positive economic argument for climate adaptation.
And, if cities make a persuasive economic case for adaptation, the report argues it will "help create better knowledge and thus raise awareness and finally support decision making on what adaptation measures to plan and implement".
As well as boosting collaboration on climate adaptation between cities, the report urges governments at regional, national and EU level to develop systems which support cities and reduces obstacles to improving climate resilience. "For urban adaptation to be successful, multiple stakeholders need to interact and collaborate coherently across different sectors and levels of government," the report states.
Nevertheless, some work on climate adaptation in the EU is already underway with more than 6,700 urban areas having committed to mitigation efforts as part of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative and a number of cities developing plans and strategies. Furthermore, the report highlights the more top-down approach of the EU Adaptation Strategy for boosting climate resilience.
So the challenge now for Europe is to find ways to close the gap between the few frontrunner cities and the many cities which have just, or perhaps not at all, begun planning for climate adaptation. After all, according to the EEA, transforming cities enables the whole of Europe "to become a more attractive and climate resilient place".
To this end, the report highlights Bilbao in Spain, Efderdingen in Austria and several other cities which have taken "transformative steps" in climate resilient design and regeneration from which others can learn.
So perhaps, when it comes to climate adaptation at least, Berlin and Europe's other historic cities do have much to learn from others.
"Urban adaptation is a learning process," the report concludes. "Exchanging knowledge and experience is key for climate-resilient and attractive cities and for Europe as a whole - for both beginner and frontrunner cities and for all other stakeholders."
Nymphs questing through the forest. The phrase conjures up images of a scene from Game of Thrones. But encountering a real nymph on its quest offers a potentially harmful brush with climate change.
Immature deer ticks are called questing nymphs. They now inhabit a wide swath of North American forests, but they didn't always. During early summer, their quest is for blood. The season now starts earlier and lasts longer than it did in the past, which is good for the ticks. But it's bad for humans, because these ticks carry the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, deer tick encephalitis, and babesiosis.
I have collected thousands of nymphs as part of my dissertation research on the invasion of Lyme disease across North America. I've witnessed along the way that where these ticks thrive has been heavily influenced by humans.
Deer tick invasion
Encounters with ticks didn't always cast a dark shadow over North American summers. Cases of Lyme disease first appeared in 1976 in the woodsy suburb of Lyme, Connecticut. At that time, deer ticks were found only in a hotbed encircling Long Island Sound, along with a small area in Wisconsin.
Since the 1970s, deer ticks have rapidly extended their reach north, west, and south. The most recent map shows that deer ticks now roam throughout the eastern coastal states, from Maine to Florida, and across the Midwest. They are now established in 45 percent of U.S. counties. That means the deer tick has more than doubled its reach in the 20 years since the previous map was published.
The spread of Lyme disease has closely followed the spread of the forest nymphs. Lyme disease is now the most common disease transmitted by a vector — a mosquito, tick, or other bug — in the United States. More than 30,000 cases are reported each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 times as many Americans develop the disease.
In part, ticks are following the spread of one of their favorite sources of blood: deer. As deer populations exploded over the last 60 years, thanks to strict hunting laws and the largely predator-free and deer-friendly landscapes in New England and the Midwest, deer ticks followed. However, the steady crawl of ticks north into Canada can't be explained by deer alone.
Ticks spend the majority of their lives on the forest floor. They are vulnerable to changing local climates and death by freezing, drowning, or desiccation. Warmer winters and longer summers let more ticks survive and thrive further north each year. Warmer temperatures quicken the tick life cycle, too. Tick eggs hatch sooner and ticks spend more time questing for blood, and so are increasingly likely to feast on a human and pass on a disease-causing pathogen. Because more ticks survive and mature more quickly, diseases can be transmitted faster.
Species that thrive under climate change
The barriers we have created — the heated, cooled, and (somewhat) bug-free spaces we inhabit — give us an artificial sense of immunity to the disturbances shaking our fragile ecosystems. Nymphs don't respect the barriers of urbanization and wealth that protect many Americans from vector-borne diseases. Window screens, socks, and our skin don't stop the invasion of nymphs, reminding us of our vulnerability to ecological changes brought about by climate change, habitat fragmentation, and deforestation.
As we worry about the ability of some species to run from climate change and escape extinction, ticks, mosquitoes, kissing bugs, and the parasites they carry may thrive under climate change. Where will these crawling and flying disease carriers move? And who will be at risk for what were once called tropical diseases?
The consequences of climate change will vary dramatically across the globe and are difficult to predict. The yellow fever mosquito (which also carries dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses), for instance, is predicted to spread rapidly in some areas, including eastern North America and large parts of southeast Asia, and become less common in others areas, like much of Australia.
A changing climate will affect mosquito-borne diseases in subtler ways, too. In a warmer climate, the dengue virus matures more quickly (up to a certain temperature). That means an infected mosquito can more swiftly spread the virus.
The consequences of climate change will be felt most profoundly by people living in or near areas where diseases carried by mosquitoes and other vectors are already common, and where poverty makes it difficult to stamp out these diseases.
A forest nymph brushing against a hiker doesn't begin to drink blood immediately. She crawls across the skin, searching for a comfortable dinner spot. She grips her prey with spindly legs and uses knife-like mouthparts to slice into human skin. She secretes cement around the wound, binding herself to her host, and then begins to imbibe. Once attached, this offspring of a changing climate can't be simply brushed off.
This story was produced by STAT, a national publication covering health, medicine, and life science. Read more and sign up for their free morning newsletter at statnews.com. You can also follow STAT on Twitter and like them on Facebook.
Millions of Americans could be drinking contaminated water — and not even know it.
At least 18 million Americans are drinking tap water from water systems that have violated federal rules for lead safety, government figures show, due to widespread failures in the testing, monitoring, and enforcement of federal drinking water standards. For many other people, the system isn't working well enough for us to do much more than guess whether their water is safe to drink, an NRDC analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records has found.
That means replacing aging water system pipes made of lead, strengthening protections for safe drinking water, and giving the people we count on to enforce those standards the tools they need to do their job.
It starts with each of us standing up to hold our elected officials to account for this stunning breach of the public trust and then speaking out to demand better for ourselves and all Americans.
We found out how much this matters earlier this year, when we learned that thousands of children in the city of Flint, Michigan, had been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water due to slipshod monitoring and lax enforcement of safe water standards. Those problems were aggravated by the callous disregard some state and local officials showed for the complaints of the largely African American and low-income residents there.
Flint, it turns out, is just the tip of the spigot. Last year, spread across the nation, there were more than 8,000 instances in which 5,363 tap water supplies weren't properly monitored, tested, or treated for lead as required by federal law. Violations in recent years have occurred in places ranging from Texas and South Carolina to Connecticut and Wisconsin, plaguing thousands of systems that serve millions of people.
Separately, in 1,110 communities serving 3.9 million people from Portland, Oregon, to Passaic, New Jersey, elevated lead levels were found in the water of more than 10 percent of the houses tested.
Some overlap in the numbers is possible, due to the way the data were collected. And, astonishingly, these figures don't include Flint, because the violations there have yet to be reported in the national database that tracks such violations. We don't know how many other communities have experienced similar failings that weren't detected or reported.
It's not certain whether all of these people were exposed to lead in their drinking water. That's not how sampling works. The problem is, we don't know for sure they weren't.
That's why we put safeguards in place to ensure that everyone is protected against lead. In too many locations, the system isn't working. We know that between 15 million and 22 million Americans drink water that comes into their homes through a lead pipe that connects their residence to the water main in the street — and those lead pipes can be a significant source of lead in tap water.
The bottom line: Untold millions of Americans across the country could have lead in their drinking water and not even know it. How is that even possible?
It's not as if we're just now figuring out the dangers of exposure to lead. Ancient Romans knew lead caused madness and even death. It was so widely used as a poison that medieval French monarchs darkly referred to it as poudre de la succession — succession powder. And we know from modern medicine and science that lead is a powerful toxin that, even at low levels, can impair brain development in babies, infants, and young children. It can reduce intelligence, limit learning ability, and contribute to hearing problems, anemia, hyperactivity, and difficulty in controlling impulses.
This kind of damage can set someone back for life. That's why Congress generally banned the use of lead pipes and fittings in our water systems three decades ago. Many homes built before that, though, get their water through aging lead service lines — more than six million nationwide — that connect individual homes to a main water pipe, serving, as mentioned above, between 15 million and 22 million people. Water can come through the water main clean, in other words, and pick up lead from the service line during the final feet it travels into a home.
To protect us from that hazard, in 1991 the EPA added the Lead and Copper Rule to help implement the Safe Drinking Water Act. The rule is meant to ensure the safety of water that some 150,000 public water systems provide to more than 300 million Americans. The Lead and Copper Rule requires these providers to conduct periodic tests for lead in household drinking water. The results must be made public. And if lead is detected in water at levels above 15 parts per billion in 10 percent or more of the samples, specific action is required by law. Water providers must, for example, treat water to deter or prevent the leaching of lead from service lines, begin replacing those lines with pipes that don't contain lead, and in some cases step up monitoring efforts.
What NRDC found, though, in its review of data maintained in the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Information System, is that tests are often sloppy, follow-up action is inconsistent, and violators of the Lead and Copper Rule are seldom held to account.
Nearly 90 percent of last year's violations triggered no formal enforcement action from state authorities responsible for upholding the law. Informal calls or letters were the norm, and only 3 percent of the violators faced penalties. The message: Comply if you can; otherwise you might get an e-mail.
We have to do better — and there's a role for us all.
Let the Obama administration know it's important for the EPA to finish its work to strengthen the Lead and Copper Rule — and demand that your state authorities enforce it. Congress needs to increase funding to better implement this rule and to help water service providers replace lead service pipes and other water infrastructure, especially in low-income areas and communities of color.
We need to ask our water authorities to step up their tap water testing, especially in schools, day care centers, and aging homes. People in older homes should contact their water providers directly, asking them to test their tap water for lead and to replace lead service lines.
No one anywhere in America should drink lead when he or she wants a drink of water. We know how to fix this. Let's get it done.
June swoon: US breaks another monthly temperature record
The US experienced its warmest ever June last month, with a scorching summer set to compound a string of climate-related disasters that have already claimed dozens of lives and cost billions of dollars in damage this year.
Worldwide, heat records have been broken for 13 months in a row, an unprecedented streak of warmth that has stunned climate scientists and heightened concerns over the future livability of parts of the planet.
The average temperature for the contiguous US was 71.8F (22.1C) in June – a full 3.3F (1.8C) above the 20th-century average and breaking a record set in 1933. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), the first six months of 2016 have been the third warmest on record in the US.
Drought conditions "remain entrenched across much of California" according to Noaa, with 16% of the contiguous US in drought – up 3.5% compared to May.
The US has already suffered a number of climate- and weather-related calamities in 2016, with Noaa recording eight events that have each cost at least $1bn in damages. More than 30 lives have been lost in disasters including flooding in Texas, tornadoes across the south-east and wildfires in the west.
"How much more record heat and how many more unprecedented extreme weather disasters must be witnessed before we all recognize this simple fact: climate change is real, it is human-caused, and it is already posing an extreme risk to us and the planet," Michael Mann, a leading climatologist at Penn State University, told the Guardian. "The good news is that there is still time to act to avert the most dangerous impacts. But not a whole lot of time."
Much of the US is currently sweltering in a heatwave, with New York, Connecticut and Virginia set to experience at least three consecutive days over 90F (32C). Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have already experienced temperatures above 90F, with southern states basking in temperatures significantly above average. Heat warnings have been issued in cities including New Orleans and Macon, Georgia.
This year is almost certain to be the warmest on record globally, beating a mark set in 2014 and then again in 2015. The chances of three record-breaking years of heat without climate change induced through the burning of fossil fuels is about one in a million, according to Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and colleagues.
More and more we are hearing stories about "climaterefugees." U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell used the term to describe the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, a community which this year became the first to receive federal funding to relocate in its entirety from their sinking island home on the Louisiana coast.
Yet climate change-induced migration and displacement actually "falls outside of the more traditional protection regimes like the refugee treaty," says Maxine Burkett, a public policy fellow with the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program, in this week's podcast.
"Most of the migration that's going to happen as a result of climate change happens internally within countries," Burkett says. Managing such movement is clearly the purview of national governments.
The harder question is how to deal with those who move across international borders. The UN Refugee Convention was agreed to by states in 1951 and establishes clear protections and specific circumstances under which those protections can be invoked, namely political persecution and the threat of violence.
Climate change – which researchers are finding can play a role in displacement, migration, and vulnerability, though not always as a clear, primary driver – cannot currently be invoked by asylum seekers in search of refugee status in another country. And since the legal definition isn't codified, descriptive labels such as climate refugee do not bind states to any responsibilities.
This is "a yawning gap in our conversation," Burkett says. "What are we asking the others to do in order to meet our rights?"
"Without the right name or legal nomenclature, the rights of those within country and especially those in foreign countries – their status rights – are uncertain...The importance of nomenclature in the advancing of human rights is significant."
The Nansen Initiative, established by Switzerland and Norway in October 2012, was created in response to the lack of legal frameworks for climate change-induced cross-border migration and displacement. It began with the aim of creating protections for those displaced by climate change, but pivoted to address all disasters. Its successor is now simply the Platform on Disaster Displacement. "What is paramount, I think they would argue, is to meet the needs of those who are migrating by assigning and allowing them to exercise their rights," Burkett says. "Nevermind why they had to move."
Yet doing so has costs. Combining climate change-induced problems with other environmental issues, despite the difficulty in parsing causes, "scrubs" the downstream discussion of "significant rights language that would be more reparative than simply accommodating," she says.
"Climate change is not a random, thoughtless act of God, but something other," Burkett says. The systems of rights and reciprocations we agree on in response should reflect this.
In the meantime, the initial inequity of anthropogenic climate change – that those who are most vulnerable are by and large the least responsible for creating the problem – is perpetuated as, at best, the displaced can only hope that someone lets them in.
Drought, weak pound push cocoa prices to 6-year high
TOKYO -- The price of cocoa has topped 2,500 pounds ($3,247) per ton for the first time in six years, reflecting supply constraints and the rapid fall in Britain's currency.
Near-month cocoa futures traded in London closed at 2,525 pounds a ton Wednesday, up 1.6% from the day before and one-fifth higher than the near-term low hit in mid-May. Cocoa continued to trade above 2,500 pounds Thursday morning.
Cocoa prices had not surpassed that level since July 2010, when falling supplies from Africa coincided with rising emerging-market demand.
A drought in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and other parts of West Africa where cacao trees are predominantly grown has resulted in smaller harvests of the bean used to make chocolate. Meanwhile, cocoa consumption is edging up, mostly in the U.S., Europe and emerging economies.
Global cocoa production of 4.03 million tons is forecast for the year ending in September, down 4.6% from the preceding 12 months, said the International Cocoa Organization, which estimates a 180,000-ton supply shortage.
A falling pound has accelerated the gains in sterling-denominated cocoa futures. Sterling has weakened by nearly 14% against the dollar since June 24, the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
"Against a backdrop of supply shortages, speculative money may be flowing into [cocoa] as a commodity with upside potential," according to Confitera, a Tokyo-based cocoa importer.
The yen's gains against the pound have virtually canceled out any effect on Japan from the rise in sterling-denominated cocoa prices. Japanese confectioner Meiji, part of Meiji Holdings, reports no major impact on the prices it pays for cocoa.
The weather in West Africa has turned relatively stable, raising hopes that the cocoa harvest will recover in the growing year starting in October. But with the world dependent on West Africa for 70% of cocoa production, "there is always instability in the supply structure," a major trading house said.
Raul Castro Says Venezuela's Crisis Hurting Island Economy
HAVANA — President Raul Castro acknowledged on Friday that the crisis in Venezuela, Cuba's key ally and main trade partner, is having a negative spillover effect on the island's economy, days after officials began ordering energy-saving measures for the coming months.
According to a transcript of Castro's speech to members of parliament posted by the official website Cubadebate, the Cuban leader said the economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the year, half of what the government had planned for.
The economic performance was "conditioned by the intensification of external financial restrictions caused by the failure to meet (targets for) export earnings, together with the limitations faced by some of our principal commercial partners due to the fall in oil prices," Castro said.
"To that you add a certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela, despite the firm will of (Venezuelan) President Nicolas Maduro and his government to fulfill them," Castro added. "Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy."
Venezuela, which relies heavily on oil-export income, has been rocked by a deepening political and economic crisis with shortages of basic goods and rampant inflation. Although Castro mentioned the crisis in general terms in December, it was the first time he referred to it specifically or said that Cuba is getting less fuel from the South American nation under preferential terms hammered out over a decade ago by then-presidents Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.
Continue reading the main story
Venezuela has been sending Cuba a little under 100,000 barrels a day, accounting for about half the island's energy needs. Castro did not give figures on how much less Cuba is now getting, nor did he specify whether the hit was to fuel that the island consumes or extra volumes on top of what the agreement calls for.
Cuba also says its economy is hurt by the U.S. embargo on the island, despite a diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington in the last year and a half and measures by the Obama administration to ease some of its restrictions.
International media were not allowed access to Friday's plenary session in a Havana convention center, one of the National Assembly's twice-annual gatherings.
Cuban officials warned this week that the falling prices of exports and other economic problems mean Cuba is short of cash and needs to adopt power- and fuel-saving measures in the second half of 2016. So far those measures have included reduced bus services for workers, cutting back on air conditioning at public offices, reduced work days at some state buildings and slashing fuel allotments for government vehicles by half.
Cubadebate reported earlier that vice president and economic czar Marino Murillo said the energy restrictions aim to reduce electricity consumption by 6 percent without affecting residential supply, which is responsible for about 60 percent of power consumption. Vital services and key revenue-generating sectors such as tourism, nickel production and other prioritized areas will not see cuts.
"We are going to face limitations in the second semester," Murillo was quoted as saying.
The 506-member National Assembly also approved an economic roadmap for the coming years that was produced by a Communist Party congress in the spring, although there were no new economic reforms announced. Under Raul Castro, Cuba has made reforms allowing a smattering of private-sector activity, although the state still controls crucial areas of the economy.
Cuba's is not a professional parliament. Instead, members keep their normal jobs and gather twice a year to approve laws.
Also Friday, a government notice published in Communist Party newspaper Granma said Abel Prieto, a well-known writer, professor and intellectual, has been reappointed as the country's minister of culture.
Prieto held the same post from 1997 until 2012, when he was replaced and named a special adviser to the president and the Council of State. He replaces current Culture Minister Julian Gonzalez Toledo.
Continue reading the main story
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed.
The Future of Tea Looks Bleak, Thanks to Climate Change
Taiwanese farmer Alfredo Lin, a relatively new tea producer, would agree. He planted his first tea farm four years ago in Nantou County, in central Taiwan, and confirms that his crops have already experienced the effects of climate change.
"The extreme rain last year really overwhelmed my plants," he says. "It never used to be this serious. The rain is threatening the root systems."
Although Lin is new to the tea game, he's not short of experience. Lin's family has been growing oolong tea in central Taiwan for decades. His aunt and uncle are oolong tea producers, and his own mother works full-time as a tea picker, rising daily at 6 a.m. during the harvest season to pluck tender tea buds underneath the increasingly harsh sun. Lin calls his mother and her friends, adoringly, "mother pluckers." They are all Taiwanese women over the age of 60, and they wear long protective layers and a thick hat to prevent themselves from heatstroke in the fields.
"Young people don't want to do this job anymore," Lin's mother says. "It's too much hard work. It's getting too hot."
A tea farm in Taiwan. [All photos by Clarissa Wei]
Lin's crop of choice is Ruby Red #18—a highly oxidized black tea cultivar bred by the government-sponsored Tea Research and Extension Station, whose sole purpose is to improve tea plantations in Taiwan. Scientists there created Ruby Red #18 by crossing a Taiwan native variety with an Assam cultivar from Burma. The result: a wonderful brew distinguished by its cinnamon and malt sugar undertones.
"The average yield for Ruby Red tea is around 500 kilograms," explains Lin. "I only brought in 125 kilograms and 80 kilograms during my two harvests this year." Lin admits he is also afraid that the intense scorching summer heat this year will damage his plants' buds.
"The taste of tea is changing—and generally for the worse."
"In Taiwan this spring, it was cold for a long time, and all of sudden it was hot. This decreased yields," explains David Tsay, a tea teacher who specializes in organic farming and travels around China and Taiwan giving lectures at universities. "We're also currently waiting for the typhoon season, which is delayed this year."
These observations are not uncommon. All over the world, tea farmers are dealing with irregular precipitation and higher temperatures. In the last 15 years, global surface temperatures have been increasing; 2015 was the hottest year on record.
Too Much Rain Is Dulling the Flavor of Tea
Global warming has brought unseasonally high levels of rainfall in parts of the world. Because the atmosphere's water-holding limit increases by about 4 percent for every one degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, extreme precipitation is more likely when a storm passes through a warmer atmosphere holding more water. These places include major tea producing areas like Japan, China's Yunnan province, and Assam and Darjeeling in India. Tea plants can only take a certain threshold of rain, and in all of these areas, plants are being pushed past their precipitation limits.
"For tea, when there's too much rain, there's a dilution effect of the secondary metabolites," Ahmed explains, referencing the compounds that tea drinkers value—like flavor, antioxidant properties, and caffeine levels.
"Mother pluckers" in Nantou County, Taiwan.
"Those are basically the aromatic compounds that give tea all of its flavors and really distinguishes one tea from another tea," she adds. "When it's really wet, the plant doesn't have the ecological cue to make these compounds, and they also get diluted."
And so while size and the weight of the tea leaves may nearly double because of the rain, the plant's major phytochemicals will decrease to about half.
Farmers Are Hiding Lower-Quality Tea
Generally speaking, all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. But it's the processing method a farmer follows that differentiates teas—white, black, oolong, pu'erh, red, green, yellow—from one another.
For producers of high grade green pu'erh tea in Yunnan, the quality of leaves has decreased so severely during monsoon seasons that farmers are forced to diversify their processing mechanisms so consumers won't notice the drop in tea quality. If they don't, the prices of the tea will sink.
"It never used to be this serious."
So, that means, instead of making green pu'erh, these producers are opting for oolong and black teas during the monsoon season instead. Oolong and black tea require heavy processing methods and undergo more fermentation than green pu'erh. The fermentation process covers up some of the aromatic imperfections of the raw leaf. "With green pu'erh, it's hard to hide the decrease in quality," Ahmed says. "With oolong or black tea, you can sort of cover up some of the issues in the growing conditions in the ecosystem itself."
Temperature Fluctuations May Mean Less Tea
Beyond rainfall, in places like Zhejiang and Fujian in eastern China and Taiwan, the biggest hurdle tea producers must overcome is temperature variability.
This spring in Zhejiang, where the famous Longjing green tea (Longjing, or Dragon Well, refers to the area in Hangzhou—the capital of Zhejiang—where, arguably, the best green tea in China is produced, also a favorite of the Qianlong Emperor) grows, the weather was warm enough to cause an early bud burst. It was followed up by frost, which ended up damaging some plants. Although this didn't affect tea quality, it did impact yield. Zhejiang tea farmers weren't able to harvest as much tea compared to previous years.
"The early budding also impacted the harvest schedule," Ahmed says. "It was difficult getting laborers to harvest the tea last-minute this year."
How to Save Tea
Ahmed offers several suggestions on how farmers can best protect their tea plants from climate change, but first and foremost, she believes that plants which grow in a diversified ecosystem have the best chance to withstand weather changes and produce high quality leaves. Right now, the majority of tea farms around the world exist as monocultures, which makes them more susceptible to unpredictable weather patterns.
"Traditionally in southwestern China, tea plants were grown in a forest ecosystem," Ahmed explains. "This multistoried structure, or agroforest, helped manage pests and diseases." Agroforests are also more resilient to weather changes and erratic rainfall.
Next, she notes that organic farming yields higher quality plants compared to conventional farming. "We studied quality from organic farms at sites in Fujian and Zhejiang," she says. "Organic teas have higher phytochemicals." Simply put: organic teas taste better. This is most likely because organic tea plants live under greater stress than conventional tea plants since farm managers don't apply the same amount of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals to protect them. Under stress, organic plants produce more phyochemicals. Additionally, strong pesticides used in conventional farming strip the soil and shortens the lifespan of a tea bush to a couple of years versus a couple of decades.
A snow-covered tea farm in Zhejiang, China.
And finally, for sites that are susceptible to erosion from heavy rainfall, Ahmed advises farmers to plant their crops from seed. "The plants grown from seeds or seedlings have stronger roots," she says. Clonal propagules, or trees planted from cuttings, aren't able to dig as deep and absorb nutrients from the soil and water.
While the future of tea may seem bleak, on the contrary, some parts of the world may actually be benefitting, and even producing higher quality tea, as a result of climate change.
"A little bit of drought is actually good for tea quality," admits Ahmed. "It creates complex flavored teas, but if it's too extreme, this is detrimental to the tea plant." She notes that there was a drought in southwest China in 2012 and 2013. In Yunnan, pu'erh producers were able to charge higher prices for their drought-ridden product—which had a more full-bodied and intense taste.
Tea as a Case Study
It's difficult to pinpoint flavor subtleties in crops like wheat and rice. But tea, with its hundreds of compounds, is sensitive and complex enough to reflect minute changes in temperature and precipitation.
In the last 15 years, global surface temperatures have been increasing; 2015 was the hottest year on record.
Although weather fluctuations are normal in any ecosystem, these variables have been especially unpredictable in the last 15 years. What's taking place with tea is a sobering microcosm for what's happening to agricultural products around the world. "Tea is really an indicator species for climate change," Ahmed says. "It has all of these variables and makes for a really good case study."
Master tea connoisseurs, she points out, are able to drink a cup and relay the different environmental conditions in which a leaf was grown. Tsay, the tea teacher in Taiwan, is one of those people. He works with farmers across Taiwan and the greater China region to transition to organic farming. He's a staunch advocate for the preservation of wild tea trees and agroforests in Yunnan.
"You can immediately notice the difference in taste when people cut corners," he states. "When farms blindly pursue yield, quality is at risk."
That, it seems, is the entire crux of the climate change conversation. While yields may decrease based on factors like temperature fluctuations, for tea enthusiasts, the quality of the tea is the most important component. And quality, according to Ahmed and her team, can best be maintained by diversifying planting systems.
"We need to think about ways of having our agricultural system like a naturally functioning ecosystem," Ahmed adds. "More consumers these days are aware of organic and sustainable food systems. The next step is developing a climate smart system."
The great tide: is Britain really equipped to cope with global warming?
On the day that London drowned, 16-year-old Shirley Orchard was serving customers bars of chocolate and packets of cigarettes at her father's shop on Canvey Island. The town, which sits on the underbelly of Essex, where the North Sea becomes the River Thames, had been teased by bursts of showers and sunshine throughout the day. By dusk the clouds had squeezed themselves dry. Orchard served her last customer of the day: a woman who, after seven years of trying for a baby, had recently given birth. After Orchard had closed up the shop, she began to walk home, her stride stretched by a chasing breeze.
The wind had been whipped to life two days earlier by a depression off the south-west coast of Iceland. From there, it began its journey towards Scotland. Soon after first light, on 31 January 1953, the captain of the ferry Princess Victoria ignored a storm warning and set sail from the Scottish port of Stranraer. As the ship – heavy with cargo, crew and passengers – cleared the mouth of the sheltered Loch Ryan, huge waves butted and then breached its stern doors. At 2pm, the order came to abandon ship. One-hundred-and-thirty-two people died, including the deputy prime minister of Northern Ireland and every woman and child aboard.
At first, the storm appeared to be heading on towards Denmark. Then, unexpectedly, the North Sea winds aligned with a rising spring tide and, instead, shooed the squall down England's east coast. When surge water breached the Wash, the square-mouthed bay in East Anglia, authorities in Lincolnshire attempted to issue a flood warning to caution cities likely to be affected. The message never left the county where now, in patchwork fields and under scribbles of wire, telephone poles lay toppled. The storm battered unwitting coastal towns in Suffolk, Essex and Kent. Fifteen people drowned in King's Lynn, Norfolk, when a six-foot wave burst through the town centre.In the nearby seaside town of Hunstanton, a train was forced to stop because of bungalows on the line.
Further south, in Canvey Island, Shirley Orchard awoke to screams from the houseboats moored in the creek at the end of her road. Canvey Island had long been considered flood-ready. But after centuries of reinforcement, its protective walls failed – 141 million gallons of water, backed by shrieking winds, mounted the blockade.
Residents who attempted to flee were struck by shoulder high seawater, timber, dustbins and other debris. Orchard and her family sheltered upstairs. Those staying in nearby bungalows were trapped. Some punched holes through the ceilings of their buildings and climbed on to the roofs, pulling their children after them to escape the torrent. Fists bloodied, they then huddled for warmth, and waited to be rescued.
At an event held to mark the 60th anniversary of the flood, Orchard recalled how she fled Canvey Island in the middle of the night on the back of an army truck during an evacuation of 13,000 residents. Elsie Foster, the mother that Orchard had served just a few hours earlier in the shop, and Foster's husband, Ernie had died in each other's arms. Their eight-week-old baby, Linda, was found alive in her bobbing pram.
The storm tide hastened towards the capital. At midnight, the BBC broadcast a message from the police, warning of an "exceptionally high tide" in the Thames. Cars equipped with loudspeakers were dispatched from New Scotland Yard to issue flood warnings in the streets, followed by reserve motorcyclists who blew whistles to alert people to the danger.
At London Bridge, in the early hours of the morning, the water reached its highest level ever recorded, six feet higher than anyone had predicted. Higher than the surge that flooded the Tate gallery and drowned 14 in 1928. Higher than the 1809 flood, when the central arches of Wallingford Bridge collapsed. Higher than the December flood of 1663, in which, according to Samuel Pepys, "all Whitehall … drowned". Higher than the flood of 1236, when people were seen rowing in boats through the palace of Westminster.
The water reached the top of the parapet that runs along the Victoria embankment, where tourists now photograph one another beneath the spokes of the London Eye. Then, unexpectedly, the wind turned and the surge began to retreat. At 4.36am, New Scotland Yard issued a new instruction: "Danger of flooding now past, notify public accordingly; withdraw watchers and loudspeaker cars." By morning, across Britain more than 40,000 people were left homeless and 160,000 acres of agricultural land had been ruined by saltwater; 9,000 sheep had been killed, along with 34,000 poultry, 2,600 pigs, 1,100 cattle, and 70 horses; 531 people were dead.
In the aftermath of the storm,which came to be known as "The Great Tide", lavish measures, such as the £534m Thames Barrier, were implemented to protect London and its surrounding counties. We slept easier. The storm faded from the nation's collective memory. Few Londoners today know that the capital was the site of a natural disaster of such magnitude. Seven decades on, however, government commissions, scientists, futurologists and people once considered wild-eyed scaremongers are converging on the view that floods of 1953 levels of severity are likely to become commonplace.
The global temperature has risen by 1C in the past century. Fourteen of the hottest years on record occurred in the past 15 years. And 2015 was the hottest since records began in 1880. Individual countries will feel the effects of the change in individual ways. Saudi Arabia will have to contend with stronger and more frequent heatwaves. Bangladesh risks being wiped off the map by rising sea levels. The sea that surrounds Britain is expected to rise by up to 50cm in the next century, a change that poses obvious risks for an island. But perhaps the biggest worry is that it will get a lot wetter.
This seems counterintuitive. Why, as the world grows warmer, would Britain grow wetter? As temperatures rise, ice caps melt and the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere increases, so too does the risk of "intense precipitation events", the scientific jargon for heavy rain. The latest government figures state that the likelihood of floods in the UK has almost doubled in the last century.
We do not need to take their word for it. In 2007, flooding in Britain affected 55,000 homes and killed 13 people. In December 2015, floods caused by the amiably named storms Desmond and Eva caused £175m worth of damage to homes and businesses in Cumbria. The public bill for fixing the infrastructural wreckage – the broken bridges and ruptured roads – is currently estimated at £250m. Dredging rivers, deforestation and unchecked housing development in floodplains may have exacerbated the human cost of Britain's floods, but climate change is responsible for the rise in extreme flooding events. Worse is to come.
Lord Krebs is a chairman within the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a group commissioned by the government to, in part, evaluate the environmental risks we now face. Krebs is so assured of the UK's unpreparedness for disaster, that, in an interview on Radio 4 in December, he issued an urgent warning. "The biggest single risk from climate change for this country is the increased likelihood of flooding," he said. "The government needs to rethink its whole strategy of managing flood risk. Our money should be going into flood protections and doing everything to protect the vulnerable land beneath sea level. There is so much of it."
On 12 July, Krebs's team will publish a crucial report – one that will surely struggle for attention thanks to the prospect of more immediate disasters – which outlines the most urgent risks that Britain faces from climate change. The risk assessment report draws upon three years of research and analysis, involving hundreds of academics and scientists. Some of the research seen by the Guardian puts the current cost of UK residential flood damage at £340m per year, a figure that will rise to £428m as the average global temperature rises by 2C, the limit that numerous world leaders agreed upon in December at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Paris. The experts consulted by Krebs's team claim that 180,000 more British homes will be at risk of flooding by 2050.
According to this research, around 20% of the total length of coastal defences in England, which protect around 2m homes at risk from sea flooding, could be vulnerable to failure if sea levels rise by just half a metre. A one-metre sea level rise around the British coast will place 2,000 square kilometres of the UK – an area roughly the size of Herefordshire – at risk of flooding during a storm surge. Even if "all worthwhile flood-defence schemes were to be built," a spokeswoman for the CCC told me, "more people and properties [will be] exposed to high levels of flood risk by mid-century".
Individuals and businesses are, increasingly, having to bear the cost. In some areas of Cumbria, after three major floods in a decade, insurance excesses now reach £25,000. The Association of British Insurers predicts that a major flooding event in London could have economic consequences comparable to the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
For years the UK government has debated whether or not to replace the Trident nuclear programme. Its renewal will cost a minimum of £205bn. The most likely threat to the defence of the realm may not be a nuclear strike, however, but the waves that our deterrent lurks beneath. Following storms Desmond and Eva, the UK government pledged to spend a further £700m on flood defences, bringing the total to £3bn – 1/68th of the cost of Trident. Will it be enough?
Scientists – many of whom worked on the CCC report – have devised models to predict what is likely to happen when a storm of the magnitude of The Great Tide of 1953 hits us. Unlike the fault lines that menace Tokyo and the Californian coast, Britain's pending catastrophe will not be caused by a single set of forces. Rather the threat comes from a complex set of conditions and possibilities: surge tides, fat seas, rivers swollen with rainwater, and debilitated infrastructure. The groundwork of these researchers and modellers, as well as the known weaknesses of our current infrastructure, produce a snapshot of a possible future. We cannot know for certain what will happen, but using this research, we can imagine the Great Tide of 2026.
Scotland will be first hit. A gale pushes the rising tide into the mouth of the Firth of Forth. Unhampered by any storm barrier – plans for which were rejected by the Scottish government in 2007, due to the impact it would have on shipping – the five-metre tide will batter the oil and gas facilities, food distribution depots and power station that line the estuary. The nearby petrochemical complex at Grangemouth, which handles 40% of UK oil supplies, will be flooded. Swaths of Scotland will be left without power, while broken bridges and choked roads leave much of the country without fuel. Food shortages will continue for months.
In Yorkshire, as the storm moves south, homes as far as 10 miles inland will be flooded. Many people, unable to afford their insurance excesses, will be left homeless. As the tide continues its rampage south, in the Norfolk village of Happisburgh, those houses not already claimed by the sea over the previous decade will be demolished by waves. In the following months, residents of coastal towns, villages and cities up and down the country will probably head towards higher land. The housing market in coastal areas will collapse, while house prices further inland will continue to rise steeply.
As the Great Tide rounds on Essex and begins its rush toward the capital, Canvey Island's fortified defences will this time hold strong. London, however, may prove less resolute. If the storm strikes after a period of heavy rain, which will have swollen tributaries in west London, the Thames Barrier will not be able to cope. The fatal conjunction of coastal, river and surface water flooding will break the Thames' banks for the first time in 70 years.
If that happens, water will stream into hundreds of new houses built in Thurrock – which lies on London's flood plains – to ease the housing crisis of the early 21st century. In keeping with a stark warning issued by the Environment Agency in 2012, many of the city's best known monuments and institutions, including the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Canary Wharf, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, along with 500,000 Greater London homes, will be flooded.
More than 50 tube stations, including Waterloo, King's Cross and London Bridge, will be filled with water. Major electricity grid sites around the capital will be taken offline, as the already strained healthcare system struggles to cope with the influx of the sick and injured. The following week, the London FTSE will collapse to new lows. Russian oligarchs will watch news footage of the water lapping at their property investments in dismay.
The 1953 flood inspired drastic action to avoid just such a scenario. A report led by Sir Hermann Bondi, professor of mathematics at King's College, London claimed that another surge tide could fill the underground system with seawater, ruin telephone exchanges, disrupt gas and electric services and paralyse London for as long as six months. The cost of such damage stretched into billions – a bill that, as one government official said at the time, "would not count human misery and loss of life". Today, the estimate has risen to an incomprehensible £200bn.
It was 17 years before a solution was settled upon by the Greater London Council. The idea was proposed by Charles Draper, an engineer from Rendel, Palmer & Tritton, one of scores of companies that, following the 1953 flood, hoped to find a solution to the question of how to keep London safe from a repeat attack. Every December, Draper would convert his garage in Horsham into an impromptu bar, and invite friends around for a celebration. One year, Draper was fiddling with a gas tap prior to one of these parties, when inspiration struck. He saw in the simple design of the tap, which swivels in its casing to open and close the air flow, a principle that could be scaled up, even to a size that could tame a river. Draper's design – six gas-tap style gates under stainless steel shells that span the river in a phalanx – was chosen from many.
On 8 May 1984, not long after Draper's death from cancer, the Queen officially opened the Thames Barrier. At the time of the barrier's construction, it was estimated that it would provide London with protection from surge tide floods from the sea until 2030, but a study by the Environment Agency, published in 2009 claimed the barrier, if properly maintained, could in fact provide sufficient protection till 2070.
The estimates may have been correct – although there is some disagreement among experts – but unforeseen demands are being made on the Thames Barrier today. In 2013-14, it was closed no fewer than 50 times, the maximum recommended number of annual operations to avoid the risk of mechanical failure. Previously, the barrier had closed only 124 times in total since it began operating in 1982.
The steep rise in closures is because the barrier is now being used to manage flooding in ways for which it was not designed. Fewer than 10 of last year's closures were a result of surge tides, such as the 1953 flood. The remainder were to deal with fluvial flooding, when an excess of rainwater causes a river to swell over its banks. To deal with this problem, the barrier closes at low tide. This creates a reservoir upstream into which rain-heavy tributaries pour and, finally, offload into the English Channel. "The barrier is there to protect London from a surge from the sea," says Dick Tappin, an engineer who worked alongside Draper on the construction of the Thames Barrier. "It is not there to protect London from heavy rainwater."
As the events of 1953 demonstrate, the consequences of a flood from the sea are far greater than the consequences of river flooding. Nevertheless, a combination of the two would test the system in unprecedented ways. "If London would receive the comparable amount of rainfall that caused floods in England in 2007, the consequences are expected to be much more significant," says Dr Ana Mijic from the department of civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College London. Mijic believes there could be "in the tens of billions of pounds in property and infrastructure damage, and high probability of severe impact on human health and lives".
Lord Krebs, a gaunt man with a brush of thick grey hair, is accustomed to bucking expectations. His father, Hans Krebs, who won the Nobel prize in physiology a few months after the 1953 flood, expected his son to follow his example by going into the medical profession. Midway through Krebs's interview to study medicine at Trinity College, Oxford, where his father was a fellow, he revealed that he wanted to study zoology instead.
In 2001, after a distinguished career as a lecturer in zoology at Oxford and abroad, Krebs, chairman of the newly formed Food Standards Agency, clashed with the government. He claimed that the authorities had not adequately understood the risks posed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak. Krebs was proven appallingly right – the epidemic would result in the slaughter of 10 million sheep and cattle. In 2003, Krebs caused further controversy when he stated that so-called organic food has no benefits compared with food grown on conventional farms.
In 2007, Krebs became an independent crossbench peer in the House of Lords. Now, as a chairman of the CCC, Krebs, who is also president of the British Science Association, is proving unpopular with government ministers across the political spectrum. "The government and the public don't understand what exactly is meant by risk of flooding," he told me when we met earlier this year. "We talk about a one-in-a-hundred-year risk of catastrophic flooding. But if a hundred places in the country carry that risk, the likelihood is that one of them will flood every year. It may not be you this year, but it will be someone, somewhere."
Last winter's floods have resulted in some action, Krebs concedes. The government has instigated two reviews, one looking at short-term measures to protect major cities from floods, and another taking a longer-term perspective, asking how we can manage water catchment, ensuring it disperses into rivers, dams and groundwater systems. It is crucial work. "Current defences are being overtopped with devastating effects," he said.
Despite these efforts, Krebs believes that we are missing crucial opportunities to better prepare the country for the effects of climate change. For example, he believes that developers should retain some liability for flood damage when they build new homes in flood plains (where so many of the UK's towns and cities are located). "Right now, a developer can build 20 houses and walk away, while the hapless person who buys the house must carry all of the cost when it's flooded," said Krebs.
Krebs also worries that because last winter's floods occurred in the north, there may be less momentum to act than if they had hit the south-east. "There may be a south-centric view that, if these things happen in the north it's less significant," he said. "It's often the case that it takes a crisis to create a change of mindset." Until London ceases to be safe and dry, in other words, action may remain sluggish.
While Mori polls show that 70% of UK residents who live in areas of flooding are aware of the risk to their homes, an increasing number of people are unwilling to wait for disaster before they take action. Lincoln Miles, 22, runs the UK's only survivalist store, Preppers Shop UK, in Bedford, which opened its doors in July 2014. "I think we are a few years away from a major social breakdown and not too far away from a major climate breakdown," Miles told me recently. "We're teetering on a social knife edge and at some point soon something is going to snap."
Preppers stocks a wide range of supplies, many of which are intended to help a person survive in the event of extreme flooding. In some corners of the shop, it looks a bit like a DIY store, complete with shovels, saws, high-visibility jackets and inflatable dinghies. Elsewhere, it is closer to a post-apocalyptic bunker, with gas masks, crossbows, hunting knives and industrial-sized tins of beans. According to Miles, his customers, most of whom wish to remain anonymous, range from ex-military servicemen and bushcraft enthusiasts to lawyers, teachers and pilots. "Everyone can be a prepper, and preppers come from all walks of life," he said. "We are currently growing at an exponential rate."
Miles, whose style could be described as lumberjack chic – sumptuous beard, plaid shirt with the top three buttons undone, black bandana – became interested in the survivalist community in 2013, after reading an article about prepping in America. "I became obsessed with prepping," he said. "I was constantly reading Facebook pages and forums." As Miles began to assemble his own bug-out bag – a rucksack filled with basic items for survival such as water-purification tablets and first-aid kits – he grew frustrated that there was no one-stop shop for the items he needed. Later that month he launched Preppers UK online.
Prepping, an idea imported from America, has been viewed by many in the UK as the hobby of cranks and weirdos. But Miles, who claims to be "fully prepared" for a variety of disaster scenarios, is unmoved by the sceptics. "These days people are realising that the world is vulnerable," he said. "The emergency services aren't always there to protect us. People are increasingly taking the future into their own hands."
In that respect at least, Lord Krebs shares Miles's view. He believes that preparedness for disaster is not the sole responsibility of the state. "There are measures that can be taken to reduce vulnerability," Krebs told me. Even if you're not quite ready to order a bug-out bag, everyone, Krebs believes, should consider the water resistance of flooring materials. "Everyone," he added, "could raise their electrics off the skirting board."
While it is relatively easy for individuals to prepare for a week or two without electricity, buttressing national infrastructure against the threat of floods takes much longer and requires not only money, but political will. As the authors of a 2004 government report into flooding state: "If we want to alter land use in flood plains and alongside rivers within cities, it could take decades for changes in planning policies to take effect." Knowing exactly when, where and how to spend money in order to prepare a country for drastic change requires input from scientists with a certain talent for predicting the future.
Professor Richard Betts, a Met Office Fellow and chair in climate impacts at the University of Exeter, is one such scientist. His predictions are relatively conservative. "Wheat yields may tend to increase in the north of the UK, possibly by up to 30%," he says, of the effects upon the UK of a 2C rise in average global temperature, "while yields in the south may decline by the same amount". Betts agrees that, in the long term, the "most significant and observable" effect of climate change on Britain will probably be coastal flooding. The value of housing under threat of inundation will drop, he says, while insurance premiums will rise.
The sweltering summer of 2003, when roads melted, train lines buckled, the London Eye closed and a record temperature of 38.5C was recorded in Brogdale in Kent, will become "a regular occurrence under a two-degree world," he says. (The Met Office estimates that "summers as hot as 2003 could happen every other year by 2050, as a result of climate change due to human activities".) Health services will need to adapt accordingly.
Krebs is less conservative in his estimations. He is, in fact, concerned that the disaster models do not go far enough. Even if fully implemented, he believes that the international agreements made in Paris last year to halt the global rise in temperature, will, in reality, only take us somewhere closer to a 3C rise by 2050. The higher the temperature rises, the greater the effect on the sea level. "We need to ask some difficult questions," Krebs told me. "Most of the assumptions are based on a 2C rise in average global temperature. I think we should be looking at four."
Even as ice melts, seas surge, coastlines retreat, insurance premiums rise and the rain falls and falls and falls, we have grown numb to the dread statistics: 2C or 4C – who cares? It's all catastrophic. Today, the baby-boomer's vision of future skies busy with flying cars seems appallingly naive. Not because technology has fallen short of those optimistic expectations, but because many people do not envision a future of progress. Instead, the future we imagine is one of decline, or, at the least, perilous change.
There may, however, be hope. At 96 years old, James Lovelock is perhaps the best known of all apocalyptic scientists. His 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, states that we are in the midst of "a global decline into a chaotic world ruled by brutal warlords on a devastated earth". Nevertheless, Lovelock remains sceptical about our ability to predict the future accurately. "I just don't think that mathematical models are able to predict the future that well," he said. "All sorts of things could happen. There could be a big volcano, something totally unexpected, that cools the whole darned lot off. It can happen."
Then again, we may not be so lucky. "We live 70 yards from the sea," Lovelock told me from his home on England's south coast. "It's rising but you wouldn't notice it yet. And even if it rose by two or three metres, all it would do is take the road at the end of our garden away." He paused. "Oh, and London and New York too, of course."
Main photograph: Seaham harbour, County Durham in 2013. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA
This article was amended on 7 July to make clear that Lord Krebs is just one of the chairmen involved with the Climate Change Committee. An earlier version of the piece also incorrectly referred to the "Forth of Firth", rather than the Firth of Forth. We have removed a reference to Longannet coal power station that closed earlier this year.
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