Climate Is A Living Thing

Are you in climate despair? While big government fails, cities are going renewable all over the world. Rana Adib with some good news. Then eminent Chilean ecologist Pablo Marquet on the marriage of climate and the species.

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Do you feel despair about your government’s lack of action to protect our climate? World demand for crude oil was up in 2018 and expected to increase in 2020. Natural gas use ballooned 4.6% in 2018. Even coal consumption went up 1% in 2018, compared to 2017.

But if Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord has you depressed, at least it spurred cities to action! While big government stalls and fails, cities around the world are stepping up. There is a wave of cities switching to renewable energy.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century keeps track of all this. They just released their Renewables in Cities 2019 Global Status Report. For the latest, we reached Rana Adib, Executive Secretary of REN21 at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris.

Just Launched: Our Renewables in Cities 2019 Global Status Report

Listen to or download this 27 minute interview with Rana Adib in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

You can read the transcript of the Rana Adib interview here. Please Pass this transcript on to others who want cleaner air and sustainable cities.


We discuss renewable developments in 3 major regions: the United States (surprising good news there!), the UK (city leaders with great idea for all) and Latin America.

Here are some facts we discuss, quoted from the REN21 fact sheet:

Cities occupy only two percent of the world’s landmass but consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 75% of global CO2 emissions.

The UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2019 documents that over 65% of all CO2 emissions are from fossil fuel-based energy use.

By November 2019, almost 1,200 jurisdictions and local governments in 23 countries had declared a state of climate emergency.

Many countries still expect that the implementation of 100% renewable energy systems will take several decades. Yet, there are plenty of cities in the world that already today source 100% of their electricity from renewables.

Almost 10,000 jurisdictions have already adopted carbon emission reduction targets, many of which linked to renewable energy.

Many cities in developing countries are leaders in renewable expansion and some have committed to 100% renewable energy by as early as 2020.

One of the most powerful motivations is air pollution and their presence above urban skies is responsible for millions of premature deaths and costs billions.”

You can find out more about renewable energy in cities from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) here.

The Age of Fossil Fuels has culminated in extreme concentration of wealth. But as the saying goes, no one owns the sun and the wind. Renewable cities could also mean a redistribution of natural wealth and power to citizens. Is there a fundamental social and economic change beneath this energy revolution?



“Biology must become central to climate change science and policy formulation. The planet does not work just as a physical system; that reality needs to become fundamental to the way we pursue the science and derive policy recommendations.”

—Thomas E. Lovejoy

For a dozen years I have been interviewing scientists about two major crisis: climate change and disappearing species. Only recently have guests like Thomas Crowther tied the two together, both as problems and solutions.

When it comes to preparing for the future here on Earth, physics is key, chemistry and geology too. But if we forget this is a living planet we will not get it right. The prestigious journal Science Advances brings it all home with an editorial on the marriage of life, life sciences and climate change. It introduces a Special Collection of papers, just in time for the Twenty Fifth Conference of the Parties, COP25 in Madrid.

To sum it up, we reached a lead author in the editorial titled “Navigating transformation of biodiversity and climate”. Dr. Pablo A. Marquet is a Professor at Catholic University of Chile, and Principal Investigator for the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity.

Dr. Pablo Marquet, Chile

Listen to or download this interview with Pablo Marquet in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


There is not yet a catalog of endangered species in Chile. Dr. Marquet is not optimistic about preserving them. One of the problems is fresh water. There has been a drought condition for the past 10 years. Chile is one of the few countries on Earth which allows commercial fresh water collection and sales – most of which is dominated by large foreign companies. So when they need to guarantee water for local species, they cannot, because the water is short in supply and already sold.

The freshwater is full of exotic species that have decimated local fauna” Marquet tells us. (likely including escaped farm salmon)


In addition to a report from Chile, where COP25 was intended but moved due to social unrest, in this interview we ran through a lot of science.

Dr. Marquet gave us a top guide to the most important papers from Science Advances that show how biodiversity and climate change are not two isolated problems. There are one, on one planet. It is time to link the two movements together.

I found Pablo’s selection so helpful for my own look at the big picture – I created a list of these papers and where to find them for you this week. Find my guide and links to the papers we discussed at the end (bottom) of this blog.

Pablo is also engaged in big picture thinking for what is next for this socio-ecological system with the Complex Systems Institute in Santa Fe New Mexico – the Santa Fe Institute (he is affiliated there, and there is a branch in San Pariso Chile.) And now Pablo Marquet is on the Editorial Board for Sciences Advances.



The delegates at the COP25 meetings in Madrid in early December are not working on our last chance to avoid climate change. It’s too late for that. We are in it now. But they can try to face the climate emergency and help us all handle it better, and live to avoid even worse.

There have been some climate protests in Europe, but North American governments seem asleep to the danger. The Americans have probably been directed by Trump not to bother. But as we hear on the streets, and in city council offices, people around the world are starting to suffer. We are starting to demand climate action. Now we need to understand that a mass extinction is the not-so-hidden partner of heating a planet rapidly. We need to protect all living things in this complex web of life, if we want to survive ourselves.

This isn’t easy radio. Thank you for your patience, listening to the sources, working out reality rather than an advertising dream or political slogan. Reality is the key. We get there by participating in the world, and listening with two ears: science and wisdom.

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Thank you for listening, hang in there, and keep on caring about our world.



These are in the order they appear in our interview.

FIRST: “Unprecedented climate events: Historical changes, aspirational targets, and national commitments
Science Advances February 2018

From the Abstract:

We find that humans have already increased the probability of historically unprecedented hot, warm, wet, and dry extremes, including over 50 to 90% of North America, Europe, and East Asia. Emissions consistent with national commitments are likely to cause substantial and widespread additional increases, including more than fivefold for warmest night over ~50% of Europe and >25% of East Asia and more than threefold for wettest days over >35% of North America, Europe, and East Asia. In contrast, meeting aspirational targets to keep global warming below 2°C reduces the area experiencing more than threefold increases to 90% of North America, Europe, East Asia, and much of the tropics—still exhibit sizable increases in the probability of record-setting hot, wet, and/or dry events.”


SECOND: “Climate warming drives local extinction: Evidence from observation and experimentation
Anne Marie Panetta1,, Maureen L. Stanton and John Harte Science Advances 21 Feb 2018


Despite increasing concern about elevated extinction risk as global temperatures rise, it is difficult to confirm causal links between climate change and extinction. By coupling 25 years of in situ climate manipulation with experimental seed introductions and both historical and current plant surveys, we identify causal, mechanistic links between climate change and the local extinction of a widespread mountain plant (Androsace septentrionalis). Climate warming causes precipitous declines in population size by reducing fecundity and survival across multiple life stages. Climate warming also purges below ground seed banks, limiting the potential for the future recovery of at-risk populations under ameliorated conditions. Bolstered by previous reports of plant community shifts in this experiment and in other habitats, our findings not only support the hypothesis that climate change can drive local extinction but also foreshadow potentially widespread species losses in subalpine meadows as climate warming continues.”


THIRD: a paper on managing marine protected areas, and moving them if needed due to climate change – a “provocative paper”. This is a new paper published November 27 in Science Advances.

Integrating climate adaptation and biodiversity conservation in the global ocean
Derek P. Tittensor et al


FOUR: implication of climate change for fisheries

Escaping the perfect storm of simultaneous climate change impacts on agriculture and marine fisheries
Lauric Thiault, Camilo Mora et al Science Advances 27 Nov 2019


Climate change can alter conditions that sustain food production and availability, with cascading consequences for food security and global economies. Here, we evaluate the vulnerability of societies to the simultaneous impacts of climate change on agriculture and marine fisheries at a global scale. Under a “business-as-usual” emission scenario, ~90% of the world’s population—most of whom live in the most sensitive and least developed countries—are projected to be exposed to losses of food production in both sectors, while less than 3% would live in regions experiencing simultaneous productivity gains by 2100. Under a strong mitigation scenario comparable to achieving the Paris Agreement, most countries—including the most vulnerable and many of the largest CO2 producers—would experience concomitant net gains in agriculture and fisheries production….


FIVE a new paper on plants by Brian Enquist and Pablo Marquet

The commonness of rarity: Global and future distribution of rarity across land plants
Brian J. Enquist et al (many co-authors including Marquet) Science Advances 27 Nov 2019


A key feature of life’s diversity is that some species are common but many more are rare. Nonetheless, at global scales, we do not know what fraction of biodiversity consists of rare species. Here, we present the largest compilation of global plant diversity to quantify the fraction of Earth’s plant biodiversity that are rare. A large fraction, ~36.5% of Earth’s ~435,000 plant species, are exceedingly rare. Sampling biases and prominent models, such as neutral theory and the k-niche model, cannot account for the observed prevalence of rarity. Our results indicate that (i) climatically more stable regions have harbored rare species and hence a large fraction of Earth’s plant species via reduced extinction risk but that (ii) climate change and human land use are now disproportionately impacting rare species. Estimates of global species abundance distributions have important implications for risk assessments and conservation planning in this era of rapid global change.

[Marquet says most of the hot spots for rare species will experience accelerated climate change in the future]


SIX: Natural climate solutions for the United States
Joseph E. Fargione et al Science Advances 14 Nov 2018

from the Abstract:

…We quantified the potential of natural climate solutions (NCS)—21 conservation, restoration, and improved land management interventions on natural and agricultural lands—to increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. We found a maximum potential of 1.2 (0.9 to 1.6) Pg CO2e year?1, the equivalent of 21% of current net annual emissions of the United States….


SEVEN Eric Dinerstein’s Global Deal for Nature. My interview Dr. Dinerstein on this paper will appear on Radio Ecoshock soon.

A Global Deal For Nature: Guiding principles, milestones, and targets
E. Dinerstein at al (including Thomas Lovejoy) Science Advances 19 Apr 2019


The Global Deal for Nature (GDN) is a time-bound, science-driven plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Pairing the GDN and the Paris Climate Agreement would avoid catastrophic climate change, conserve species, and secure essential ecosystem services. New findings give urgency to this union: Less than half of the terrestrial realm is intact, yet conserving all native ecosystems—coupled with energy transition measures—will be required to remain below a 1.5°C rise in average global temperature. The GDN targets 30% of Earth to be formally protected and an additional 20% designated as climate stabilization areas, by 2030, to stay below 1.5°C. We highlight the 67% of terrestrial ecoregions that can meet 30% protection, thereby reducing extinction threats and carbon emissions from natural reservoirs. Freshwater and marine targets included here extend the GDN to all realms and provide a pathway to ensuring a more livable biosphere.


My interview with Thomas Crowther, from ETH Zurich, who is leading the movement to draw down carbon by massive planting of billions of trees. It can work, and is the least harmful form of geoengineering.

Hot Soil, Methane, Hot Science

My interview with Dr.Thomas Lovejoy, one of the great biologists and conservationist of our age.

Living on The Edge