Newsdesk – January 20

Climate change was at the top of the list of priorities at the World Economic Forum even before the bushfires broke out in Australia. Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Climate Change Takes Center Stage in Davos. Even before catastrophic fires broke out in Australia in late fall, climate change was at the top of the list of priorities at the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. And Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, said: “These issues are becoming more real, more salient every day, whether you are talking about Venice or California or Australia or Jakarta. ”Financial institutions see the future coming, and they are changing the way they invest,” Mr. Bremmer said. The number of people who are talking about fossil fuels as a real concern “has increased dramatically over the last 12 to 24 months,” said Jeff McDermott, chief executive of Greentech Capital, an investment bank focused on low-carbon technologies. The conference organizers are also pushing an environmental agenda that supports an ecologist’s notion of persuading the world to plant a trillion trees to soak up carbon dioxide and prodding companies to announce ambitious targets for lowering their emissions. The world’s major oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco, who are expected to attend, especially those based in Europe, have been responding to the concerns of investors and other constituents with commitments to reduce their emissions or make investments in other environmentally friendly technology. A group of about 20 large chemical companies is working on low-carbon technologies, like making chemicals from carbon dioxide and biomass. In 2006, Nicholas Stern was the chief author of a seminal study for the British government that set out the case for acting on climate change. He said that the costs of wind and solar technology had fallen much more rapidly than anticipated. Electric vehicles, he said, were also making more rapid progress than expected, with most automakers talking about the end of the era of the internal combustion engine. Such advances, he said, are opening attractive opportunities for investors and creating jobs – The New York Times

  • EU’s $1 Trillion Plan To Make Whole Continent Carbon Neutral – Forbes
  • 21 kids sued the government over climate change. A federal court dismissed the case – Vox
  • Climate change won’t result in a new normal but in constant, horrifying new disasters – Fast Company
  • Watching the Beach Town of My Childhood Burn – The New York Times
  • These Young Colorado Farmers Are Changing the Future of Agriculture – 5280
  • The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees – The New Yorker
  • Bricks Alive! Scientists Create Living Concrete – The New York Times
Visual: Philippe Lejeanvre / Getty Images

Blowing in the Wind: Why the Netherlands Is Sinking. The windmills were used for centuries to drain peatland for cattle grazing and agriculture at large, and that draining — these days done by pumping stations — is causing the land in some places to sink at an average rate of 8 millimeters per year, or about one-third of an inch. What’s worse, the sinking may actually be contributing to climate change: A drop in the peat soil of just one centimeter results in the emission of about 9 tons of carbon dioxide per acre. Older houses are especially vulnerable. Many buildings constructed before 1975 were built on wooden pilings beneath their brick foundations. If those pilings become exposed to air, they rot. “Many houses, especially those in city centers, were even built before 1800,” says Hilde Niezen, an alderman in Gouda, a city of 70,000 people in the center of the country that is facing one of the worst sinking rates. The Netherlands used to be mostly soft peatland, with higher grounds as the only habitable places. Around 500 B.C., inhabitants began constructing artificial hills, called terpen, which allowed the population to grow and settlements to become more permanent. Since about one-third of the country is below sea level, the Dutch soon began to construct dikes, or low walls, to protect crops from flooding. The dikes eventually grew larger and more elaborate, and were increasingly used to push back the sea. By 1250, the country had created a connected system of sea and river dikes. The Dutch aren’t the only ones suffering from the effects of subsidence: New Orleans, for example, faces similar problems, but large scale building only began there around 300 years ago. “The Netherlands has been building here for 1,000 years,” says Niezen – Undark

A makeshift donation center in Conjola Park, New South Wales. Credit: Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Donations Are Pouring Into Australia. Now What? Since September, the fires have incinerated an area about the size of West Virginia and at least 25 people have died. Ecologists have estimated that a billion animals have perished, with some species threatened to the point of extinction. At least 3,000 homes have been ravaged in dozens of towns, and the economic damage from the fires could be as much as $3.5 billion. As people around the world respond to the fire crisis, organizations find themselves trying to efficiently distribute tens of millions of dollars. Australian comedian Celeste Barber has amassed $34 million, or 51 million Australian dollars. ”Fire brigades have received money from Nicole Kidman and her husband, Keith Urban, as well as from Metallica and Kylie Jenner. Leonardo DiCaprio donated to wildlife organizations. Writers are auctioning off signed books, musicians are hosting concerts, and athletes like Serena Williams have pledged to direct their winnings to bush-fire relief. It is the largest fund-raiser ever. “This is a seminal moment in Australia when it comes to philanthropy and giving,” said Krystian Seibert, a fellow at the Center for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. Since September, the fires have incinerated an area about the size of West Virginia and at least 25 people have died. Australians affected by the fires said they were heartened to know that people at home and abroad had been moved to help. Over the past decade, Australians have been the fourth-most generous givers in the world,  In recent weeks, Australians have flooded fire stations, town governments and nonprofit organizations with contributions of food, clothes and other goods. The groups are now imploring people not to send any more.  The donations received so far could be enough to fund state-supported fire services in New South Wales for decades. As the funds have swelled to 1,700 times the original target, questions have been raised about whether the more than one million individual donors knew that they were contributing to a single state’s fire service – The New York Times