71 Global Warming News Articles
for October of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
Trump is a clear and present danger
to the United States and to the Planet!
10-31-17 Emissions gap remains 'alarmingly high' says UN
In its annual review, the UN says the gap between carbon cutting plans and the reductions required to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius is "alarmingly high". Pledges made so far cover only one-third of the cuts needed by 2030 to keep below that goal, the review warns. Even if all the promises are kept, temperatures might still rise by 3 degrees by 2100. However, cost-effective options are available that can close the gap. The UN has published an annual analysis of emissions every year since 2010. This year's instalment re-iterates the point that current pledges are insufficient to keep within the temperature limits agreed in the Paris climate pact. Emissions from human activities involving burning fossil fuels have stalled since 2014, caused by a reduction in coal use in China and the US, as well as the rapid rise of renewable energy sources. Despite this slowdown, the World Meteorological Organization warned on Monday that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were at a record high. The new emissions gap report finds that global greenhouse emissions by 2020 "are likely to be at the high end of the range" inconsistent with keeping temperature rises below 2 degrees or 1.5C. By 2030 the UN says that the global scale of emissions needed to keep within the 2-degree path should not exceed 42 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent. Based on the promises made, this report projects a gap of 11 to 13 gigatonnes, while for the 1.5-degree target, the gap is 16 to 19 gigatonnes. "The Paris agreement boosted climate action, but momentum is clearly faltering," said Dr Edgar E Gutiérrez-Espeleta, Costa Rica's minister for environment and president of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly. "We face a stark choice: up our ambition, or suffer the consequences."
10-31-17 UK's Halley Antarctic base set for second closure
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will once again close its Halley station at the end of the coming Southern Hemisphere summer. The base sits on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf, which is currently being incised by two large developing cracks. BAS withdrew its staff from Halley this past winter because of uncertainty over how these fissures would evolve. The survey has now confirmed it will do the same again when the approaching summer season comes to an end. "What we are witnessing is the power and unpredictability of nature," said BAS director Prof Dame Jane Francis. "The safety of our staff is our priority in these circumstances. Our Antarctic summer research operation will continue as planned, and we are confident of mounting a fast uplift of personnel should fracturing of the ice shelf occur. "However, because access to the station by ship or aircraft is extremely difficult during the winter months of 24-hour darkness, extremely low temperatures and the frozen sea, we will once again take the precaution of shutting down the station before the 2018 Antarctic winter (March - November) begins." BAS staff will fly into Halley this week to open it up. One of their key tasks in the next few months will be to install automated experiments that can run in winter temperatures of -50C, and cope with snow and high winds. The UK has had a permanent presence on the Brunt Ice Shelf since 1956.
10-30-17 We have four years fewer to slash carbon emissions than thought
Soils in cold regions may release far more carbon than expected as world warms, and that means our carbon budget is smaller than we thought it is. There’s more bad news on the climate front: soils in cold climates could release far more carbon than expected as the world warms. For every half a degree Celsius of warming, this extra carbon could be roughly equivalent to roughly one year’s emissions from all human sources. That makes the task of limiting warming to 2°C even harder, because we have four fewer years to slash emissions. At present, half of all the extra carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere is being soaked up by the land and sea. Some goes into soils, which are estimated to contain three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Any change in how much carbon is taken up or lost from soils can therefore have a big impact on global warming. As the world warms, decomposition will speed up, accelerating carbon loss. But higher temperatures and CO2 levels will speed up plant growth, increasing carbon take-up. At present, the soil models used to inform climate models suggest that in high latitudes the growth effect will win out, and carbon storage will increase. But they are wrong, according to a study by Charles Koven of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and colleagues. “Our work shows a net loss instead,” says Koven. “A quite large one.” Checking soil model predictions is tricky. Scientists cannot travel forward in time, but they can compare cool climes where the soil is sometimes frozen with tropical rainforests.
10-30-17 Climate change will kill millions but you knew that already
It’s no surprise, but an analysis has predicted deadly heatwaves, more deaths from starvation, and a boom in mosquito-borne diseases thanks to climate change. We’ll pay a huge price in lost lives and ill health if we fail to tackle climate change. That’s the warning from a consortium of experts who have forecasted how the changing climate is likely to affect our health. “This is the major health threat in the 21st century around the world, and there’s an urgent need for us to address it,” says Hugh Montgomery of University College London, co-chair of the consortium that produced the report, called The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. But if we work harder to switch to clean energy sources, we’ll likely see huge health improvements, the report says. If things carry on as they are, the biggest effect will be hunger, especially in poorer countries, as rising temperatures drive down farming productivity. For every 1 degree rise in average global temperature, wheat and rice yields are expected to decline by 6 and 10 per cent, respectively. Earlier this year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that for the first time in almost two decades, the number of undernourished people has begun to rise, climbing to 422 million people in Africa and southern Asia, up from 398 million back in 1990. Worse will follow, warns the new report, if the temperature keeps rising. Rising heat will also directly take a toll on health. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by 125 million. A record 175 million people endured heatwaves in 2015 alone, and the report forecasts a billion additional “heatwave exposures” by 2050. Periods of high heat can be particularly deadly for babies, young children and older people. Climate change is also likely to spread diseases into new areas. Rising temperatures will enable tropical mosquitoes to spread viruses causing dengue and other fevers into new areas. Up to 100 million people get dengue every year, but this is set soar higher as the geographical range of mosquitoes expands. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are the two main species of dengue-transmitting mosquitoes. The report estimates that the number of these two species the Earth can support have increased by 9 and 11 per cent, respectively, since the 1950s. “Cases have been doubling every decade since 1990,” says Montgomery.
10-30-17 Record surge in atmospheric CO2 seen in 2016
Concentrations of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Last year's increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years. Researchers say a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years. Scientists say this risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable. his year's greenhouse gas bulletin produced by the WMO, is based on measurements taken in 51 countries. Research stations dotted around the globe measure concentrations of warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The figures published by the WMO are what's left in the atmosphere after significant amounts are absorbed by the Earth's "sinks", which include the oceans and the biosphere. 2016 saw average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million, up from 400ppm in 2015. "It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network," Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO's global atmosphere watch programme, told BBC News. "The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998 and it was 2.7ppm and now it is 3.3ppm, it is also 50% higher than the average of the last ten years."
10-29-17 Puerto Rico governor: Scrap Whitefish energy grid deal
Puerto Rico's governor has called for a contract given to a tiny Montana firm to help reconstruct the island's power grid to be cancelled, his office said. An official with Ricardo Rosselló's office told the BBC that the governor would ask the Puerto Rican authorities to scrap the deal. The contract was given to Whitefish Energy, which has little experience of work on such a scale, without a public bid process. Several probes are under way. The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) distanced themselves from the deal last week. The company is headquartered in the town of Whitefish, the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Mr Zinke has denied any involvement or wrongdoing. Whitefish has said that it secured the $300m (£228m) deal in a legitimate manner. The company did not immediately return BBC News' request for comment on the governor's statement. Some 75% of Puerto Ricans have no power five weeks after Hurricane Maria. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has denied claims by The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (Prepa), the US territory's main utility, that it reviewed the deal. The contract states that "Prepa hereby represents and warrants that Fema has reviewed and approved of this Contract". In a statement on Thursday, Fema said: "Any language in any contract between Prepa and Whitefish that states Fema approved that contract is inaccurate." (Webmaster's comment: Whitefish was a big contributor to Trump's campaign.)
10-27-17 Joining climate deal
Joining climate deal
Nicaragua, one of only two countries that didn’t sign the Paris climate accord, announced this week it will join the pact. When the deal was reached, in December 2015, the Central American country condemned the plan—which calls on all member nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions—as insufficiently ambitious. Nicaragua’s chief climate negotiator, Paul Oquist, said the deal wouldn’t prevent a potential temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius. But Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega now says his country will join the deal to signal support for global efforts to curb climate change. The only holdouts are Syria, which is locked in a devastating civil war, and the U.S., which President Trump said would withdraw from the accord.
10-27-17 Environmental protection
Environmental protection, after the EPA abruptly canceled an appearance by three agency scientists at a climate-change conference in Rhode Island. Conference chair John King called it “a blatant example of the kind of scientific censorship we all suspected.”
10-27-17 Pollution in all its forms
Pollution in all its forms
Pollution in all its forms killed 9 million people globally in 2015 and led to $4.6 trillion in damage, according to researchers at the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.
10-26-17 Climate change may threaten these bamboo-eating lemurs
Climate change may threaten these bamboo-eating lemurs
Madagascar’s history holds warning for the already critically endangered species. A greater bamboo lemur, the only mammal besides the giant panda to depend on nutrient-poor, yellowing bamboo stems during dry seasons, could suffer more as the climate changes. More nutritious, tender bamboo can feed even a baby lemur. The only lemurs so dependent on bamboo that they gnaw on hardened, nutrient-poor stems during the dry season might dwindle away as those seasons grow longer. Reconstructing the history of the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) in Madagascar suggests that drier areas over thousands of years already have lost their populations. As the region dries further due to climate change and the bad-bamboo months in the last holdouts lengthen, remaining populations of these critically endangered lemurs might go hungry and fade away too, an international research team warns online October 26 in Current Biology. Other animals, even another lemur species, will eat lots of bamboo shoots and leaves. But the greater bamboo lemur is the only mammal besides the giant panda that sticks with bamboo during the dry season. That’s when the plants stop sprouting and offer only culm, the tough, old, yellowing stems poor in nutrients. Culm hasn’t reached the hard stage of bamboo that’s used as a building material. “Nobody wants to eat that,” says study coauthor Alistair Evans, an evolutionary morphologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
10-26-17 As ice retreats, frozen mosses emerge to tell climate change tale
As ice retreats, frozen mosses emerge to tell climate change tale
Dating of plants suggests summer’s hotter now than it’s been in at least 45,000 years, if not longer. Some mosses in the eastern Canadian Arctic, long entombed in ice, are now emerging into the sunlight. And the radiocarbon ages of those plants suggest that summertime temperatures in the region are the warmest they’ve been in tens of thousands of years. As the planet warms and the ice retreats on Canada’s Baffin Island, the change is revealing plants long buried beneath the ice. And in some locations, the emerging plants last saw the sun at least 45,000 years ago — and possibly as much as 115,000 years ago. Paleoclimatologist Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder reported the finding October 22 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. “We were stunned,” Miller said. Miller’s team has collected an impressive number of samples and their findings are very compelling, said geomorphologist Lee Corbett of the University of Vermont in Burlington, who was not involved in the study. “It truly is an indication that humans are pushing the climate into a new regime, one that modern, agriculture-based civilizations have never witnessed.” To track the growth and retreat of ice cover in the region, Miller and colleagues have been hunting for remnants of scraggly mosses along the edges of the island’s retreating ice sheets. Radiocarbon dates of the emerging plants correspond to when the mosses were last exposed to the atmosphere and were photosynthetically active.
10-25-17 La Niña forecast may mean even worse Atlantic hurricanes in 2018
La Niña forecast may mean even worse Atlantic hurricanes in 2018
The Pacific Ocean is likely to enter a La Niña state in the next few months, which could mean a more active Atlantic hurricane season next year. Following a barrage of storms – such as Harvey, Irma and Maria – it seems like this year’s hurricane season may be one for the record books. But the Atlantic Ocean may be roiling even more strongly next year, if the La Niña that looks likely to arrive in the coming months persists into next summer. There is a 55 to 65 per cent chance that La Niña will make an appearance before the US winter sets in, according to the winter outlook released last week by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. La Niña is one of two phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a repeating change in surface ocean temperatures near the equatorial Pacific that affects climate patterns from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The two ENSO phases act like a seesaw between the two oceans, intensifying hurricane activity in one while weakening it in the other. La Niña conditions tend to enhance such activity in the Atlantic and reduce it in the central and eastern Pacific, whereas El Niño does the opposite. These effects occur as a result of different wind patterns. During an El Niño, a subtropical jet stream creates high-speed westerly winds that can cleave a developing Atlantic hurricane in two, or even prevent it from forming, says climatologist Kristina Dahl at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Oakland, California. This does not happen during La Niñas. La Niña conditions typically last about 9 to 12 months, and some cycles can persist for up to two years. That means Florida, Texas and the Caribbean may be staring down the barrel of another severe hurricane season.
10-25-17 We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes
We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes
Long-term economic effects of global warming could be far greater than thought, making many countries poorer and hurting even those of us spared direct impacts. IT IS hard to keep up. First, Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston, then Irma left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean and Florida, followed by Maria. All the while, wildfires have been raging in California and elsewhere. Things got even more extraordinary when Ophelia turned into a major hurricane further east in the Atlantic than any other storm on record has. As it hit Ireland, it blew smoke from wildfires in Portugal over the UK, turning the skies apocalyptic red. And while these events dominated Western media, there is plenty going on elsewhere. In August, unprecedented flooding in India and Bangladesh affected 40 million people. “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” says Michael Mann of Penn State University. “The last month and a half has been an exclamation point.” These disasters are causing much suffering and misery. They are also hurting countries’ economies, which has an indirect effect on everyone, even those outside the disaster paths. Almost every nation agrees that we can’t afford not to limit further warming. That’s why they signed up to the Paris climate agreement. But just how bad will the effect on the global economy be, and how much should countries spend now to limit the economic fallout? Some recent studies suggest we are wildly underestimating the long-term damage – perhaps by a factor of 100. The headline figures are bad enough. It is estimated that hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could cost the US alone over $400 billion.
10-25-17 UN climate events are a wasted opportunity for public engagement
UN climate events are a wasted opportunity for public engagement
Even in green Germany, the UN Paris climate conference failed to catalyse greater concern among citizens. Smarter strategies are required, says Adam Corner. The 23rd meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) begins soon in Bonn, Germany (6-17 November). If this information fails to set your pulse racing, you’re probably not alone. Which is a problem, given that these are the blockbuster events dedicated to the global problem of climate change. What’s worse is that they may in fact be creating a more relaxed attitude among the public when it comes to taking action on the issue. This outcome is indicated by the recent results of a three-part survey conducted in Germany before, during and after the Paris UN conference in 2015 (COP21). It found that rather than catalysing concern, the “historic” event left citizens less inclined to push for a leading role for Germany in climate politics. And despite plenty of material on the Paris summit reaching readers of newspapers and other media – their main way of learning about it – Germans were, for example, no more likely to say they wanted to cut their own carbon use after the summit. Overall, the authors say it had an “appeasement” effect. As to the reason, the researchers point to a lack of “context” in a lot of the coverage, arguing that it typically does not provide much analysis of the wider meaning and significance of such conferences. Because of this, Germans reading about the Paris meeting probably assumed that the important work on climate change was being taken care of, with no obvious role for themselves.
10-25-17 BBC wrong to not challenge climate sceptic Lord Lawson
BBC wrong to not challenge climate sceptic Lord Lawson
The BBC should have challenged the views of climate sceptic Lord Lawson in an interview in August, the complaints unit for the corporation has ruled. The ex-chancellor claimed in an interview with the Today programme that "official figures" showed average world temperatures had "slightly declined". This view, shown to be false by the Met Office, was not challenged on air. The BBC admitted it had breached its "guidelines on accuracy and impartiality". Conservative peer Lord Lawson's appearance on Radio 4's flagship Today programme sparked a number of complaints from listeners. He had been invited on to discuss the latest film on climate change by former US Vice President Al Gore. During the interview, Lord Lawson said "official figures" showed that "during this past 10 years, if anything... average world temperature has slightly declined". He also claimed the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had confirmed there had not been an increase in extreme weather events for the last 10 years. Dr Peter Stott, of the Met Office, came on the programme the following day to confirm that Lord Lawson's statistics, which he did not cite at the time, were incorrect. Dr Stott also said the IPCC has clearly indicated an increase in extreme weather events across the globe were linked to human use of fossil fuels. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, a campaign group chaired by Lord Lawson, later confirmed his statistics were "erroneous". (Webmaster's comment: Don't give science charlatans like this a public forum! Give them a soap box. They can go rant and rave and tell lies on a street corner!)
10-25-17 Wildlife colonises man-made rockpools
Wildlife colonises man-made rockpools
Mini rock pools are being created by scientists trying to protect sea life from the boom in manmade sea defences. Aberystwyth University researchers have drilled holes the size of a family baked bean can into a breakwater made of smooth granite blocks. The blocks had attracted few intertidal creatures. But the new holes were swiftly colonised by fish, anemones and important reef-building honeycomb worms. The scientists hope that the thousands of miles of manmade sea walls under construction to hold back sea levels will incorporate wildlife-friendly features like this. They have also designed an experimental form of concrete, dubbed Reefcrete. The hope is that this material will attract creatures to colonise sea walls. Conventional sea walls are often inhospitable for sea life because they are smooth; they don't trap water at low tide (unlike a normal rocky shore). They are often also too alkaline. The Reefcrete is made with less cement than usual. It is held together by hemp fibres which act in a similar way to steel re-enforcing bars in buildings. Tests so far have shown that Reefcrete encourages more seaweed to grow than regular sea walls. The seaweed provides a home for a greater variety of animals. Research is continuing to see how the hemp fibres stand up to the test of time. Another form of Reefcrete uses waste shells from a local seafood shelling factory. Discarded shell are classed as waste and must be disposed of in landfill or burned. The scientific team suggests they could be incorporated into sea walls as a binding material instead. The shells would create a rougher surface more suitable for sea life.
10-25-17 Tesla solar power arrives in Puerto Rico
Tesla solar power arrives in Puerto Rico
Entrepreneur Elon Musk has followed through on his plan to boost power resources in Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Mr Musk's firm, Tesla, has set up solar panels and energy storage batteries at Hospital del Nino, a children's hospital in San Juan. The batteries will provide energy from the panels when sunlight is scarce. Tesla said on Twitter this was the "first of many" such projects going live. Mr Musk has also donated $250,000 (£190,000) of his own money to support humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, where many people are still without electricity. Earlier this month, Tesla's co-founder offered - via Twitter - to help rebuild energy infrastructure. The US territory's governor, Ricardo Rossello, responded: "Let's talk." Mr Rossello has since thanked Tesla for its work at the hospital - also on Twitter (in Spanish). A $300m contract to repair the power grid was recently awarded to a small, two-year-old US firm with just two employees. Following criticism from US lawmakers, Mr Rossello defended the deal this week. He said the company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, was the only one that met Puerto Rico's requirements at a low enough cost. Tesla is known for its electric cars, such as the Model S, but the company is expanding into the renewable energy sector. It is installing a 100 megawatt set of its Powerpack batteries in Australia - the largest lithium ion battery storage project in the world. And last week, it won a $160m contract with wind turbine maker Vestas to place batteries at a new wind farm, also in Australia. The wind farm will feature solar panels as well as wind turbines and has been designed to provide power for more than 35,000 homes.
10-24-17 Paris accord: US and Syria alone as Nicaragua signs
Paris accord: US and Syria alone as Nicaragua signs
Nicaragua has signed the Paris climate agreement, meaning that the US and Syria are the only two countries not to be giving the accord their support. The deal unites the world's nations in tackling climate change. Nicaragua refused to sign it last year, arguing that it did not go far enough to tackle the problem. In June President Donald Trump said the US would withdraw from the deal, but the rules of the agreement state that this cannot be done until 2020. The president said it was part of his "solemn duty to protect America" and he would seek a new deal that would not disadvantage US businesses. Scientists point out that work to implement the Paris accord must be stepped up if it is to have any chance of success. The agreement commits the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega indicated last week that he would sign the accord. "It is time for Nicaragua to sign the Paris Agreement," Mr Ortega said on the official July 19 website. "Scientists from more developed countries, scientists working at Nasa, European scientists, everyone agrees that we must stop the process that is leading to the destruction of the planet," he said. Mr Ortega's government had previously argued that the accord did not put sufficient onus on wealthy countries to tackle climate change and was not ambitious enough in its objectives. Nicaragua has no oil and vigorously pursues green energy policies - more than 50% of its electricity is produced by geothermic, wind, solar, biomass and wave power. It is a country that is believed to be especially at risk from climate change.
10-24-17 Could this 10-year-old fix Pakistan's waste problem?
Could this 10-year-old fix Pakistan's waste problem?
"If people just thought for a moment before dumping their rubbish then maybe they wouldn't do it as it harms our environment." Zymal Umer, 10, sighs as she takes in the view of a makeshift rubbish dump on the outskirts of her hometown Sargodha in Punjab, Pakistan. But could the girl dubbed the country's "youngest social entrepreneur" by many have a solution? For now, there are colourful piles of plastic bags, metal and general waste as far as the eye can see. Wafts of smoke fill the air with a putrid and toxic stench as much of the refuse is set on fire. What's in front of Zymal is just the tip of the iceberg that is Pakistan's problem with waste. According to the country's environment protection department, 20m tonnes of solid waste is generated a year and the figure is growing by 2.4% annually. "This is a situation you can find across all of Pakistan - these bags are not biodegradable and people carelessly discard them. They don't really think about recycling," Zymal says. Proper solid waste management has never been practiced in the country; only half of the rubbish generated is collected by the government and there is a severe lack of adequate landfill sites. Dumping and burning remain the most common methods of disposal and much of the uncollected waste poses serious risks to public health. Zeebags is Zymal's bid to try to reduce pollution and increase awareness about the environment. The schoolgirl turns old newspapers into bright and beautifully decorated gift bags which are then sold to family and friends and most of the profits distributed to various local charities. In the space of just three years she has gone from selling a few bags to selling hundreds - worth $4-5,000.
10-23-17 New York should prepare for 15-metre storm surges by 2300
New York should prepare for 15-metre storm surges by 2300
Due to rapidly rising seas, floods that once struck New York City every 500 years will soon hit every five years. There’s good news and catastrophically bad news for New York City. The good news is that hurricanes might become more likely to miss the city over the next three centuries. This means that, relative to whatever the local sea level is in the future, the risk of huge storm surges could be lower than it is today. However, the catastrophically bad news is that if we don’t slash greenhouse gas emissions, local sea level will rise by a huge 13 metres or more. With this added in, New York could be facing storm surges of more than 15 metres above the current sea level by 2300. “Sea level rise itself is a very big hazard, before you start to look at tropical cyclones,” says Andra Garner of Rutgers University, New Jersey, part of a team behind the study. The scary number is not a forecast. Rather, the study looks at a range of possible future scenarios, says Garner, including the business-as-usual emissions path we are still on. The 15-metre storm surge heights would occur on average once every 500 years in this scenario. If emissions are significantly cut, a 1-in-500-year event would produce only a 5-metre surge. Garner and her team used climate models to simulate the paths of future hurricanes and what size storm surges they will produce. These were combined with the latest sea level rise estimates. They conclude that 2.3-metre floods, which happened in New York on average once in 500 years before 1800, struck roughly every 25 years from 1970 to 2005, and will typically happen every five years by 2030 to 2045. If we don’t slash emissions, local sea level could permanently exceed 2.3 metres before the end of the century.
10-23-17 More acidic oceans 'will affect all sea life'
More acidic oceans 'will affect all sea life'
All sea life will be affected because carbon dioxide emissions from modern society are making the oceans more acidic, a major new report will say. The eight-year study from more than 250 scientists finds that infant sea creatures will be especially harmed. This means the number of baby cod growing to adulthood could fall to a quarter or even a 12th of today's numbers, the researchers suggest. The assessment comes from the BIOACID project, which is led from Germany. A brochure summarising the main outcomes will be presented to climate negotiators at their annual meeting, which this year is taking place in Bonn in November. The Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification report authors say some creatures may benefit directly from the chemical changes - but even these could still be adversely affected indirectly by shifts in the whole food web. What is more, the research shows that changes through acidification will be made worse by climate change, pollution, coastal development, over-fishing and agricultural fertilisers. Ocean acidification is happening because as CO2 from fossil fuels dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid and this lowers the pH of the water. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average pH of global ocean surface waters have fallen from pH 8.2 to 8.1. This represents an increase in acidity of about 26%.
10-22-17 ‘Killer Hurricanes’ reconstructs the past to predict storms of the future
‘Killer Hurricanes’ reconstructs the past to predict storms of the future
Historical, geologic records offer clues to tropical cyclones. In 1780, a powerful hurricane swept across the islands of the Caribbean, killing an estimated 22,000 people; 5,000 more died of starvation and disease in the aftermath. “Our planet is capable of unleashing extreme chaos,” begins the new NOVA documentary “Killer Hurricanes,” set to air November 1 on PBS. To describe the human impact of such powerful tropical cyclones, the documentary primarily focuses on two storms: the Great Hurricane of 1780 and Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that slammed into Haiti and Cuba last October. Before the devastating 2017 Atlantic hurricane season (SN Online: 9/21/17), Matthew was considered the biggest Atlantic storm of the last decade. Still, the film’s larger message remains timely: Studying the hurricanes of the past can offer insights into storms of the future — and, hopefully, help coastal and island communities prepare for such events.
10-20-17 Pollution killed 9 million people in 2015
Pollution killed 9 million people in 2015
First global look finds that dirty air, water and soil are to blame for one in six premature deaths. About one in every six premature deaths worldwide is linked to dirty air, water and soil. Most of those deaths are concentrated among the world’s poorest populations, according to a study published online October 19 in the Lancet that documents the health and economic toll of pollution in 2015. In the most severely polluted countries, 25 percent of premature deaths could be attributed to pollution, especially in the air. More than half of the global deaths from air pollution in 2015 occurred in India and China. Previous reports have documented the health cost of environmental damage according to individual types of pollutants. But this report, by the Lancet Commission on pollution and health, “is the first time that it has all been brought together under one umbrella,” said study coauthor Richard Fuller, president of the nonprofit Pure Earth. An estimated 9 million people died from pollution exposure in 2015, the commission reports. That’s “three times as many deaths as [from] AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined and 15 times as many deaths as [from] war and all forms of violence,” the report says. About 90 percent of the world’s urban population lives in cities in which air quality does not meet World Health Organization standards. Air pollution affects more than the lungs — evidence suggests it contributes to deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes and may be a contributor to cognitive decline (SN: 9/30/17, p. 18).
10-20-17 Dimming the sun could save corals from bleaching and hurricanes
Dimming the sun could save corals from bleaching and hurricanes
Climate change will harm corals by overheating them and unleashing more violent hurricanes, but cooling the planet by geoengineering could reverse those effects. Time for artificial planet coolers? A cooling “sunshade” for the planet could reduce harmful coral bleaching and the number of hurricanes, which damage reefs. With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly apparent, the idea of squirting a cloud of sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere is being investigated by several groups of scientists. This would scatter some of the sun’s rays back into space, reducing the rate at which the Earth is warming. Now a study by James Crabbe at the University of Bedfordshire, UK, and his colleagues examines what this form of geoengineering would do to the Caribbean region and its fragile reefs. “Corals are the rainforests of the sea, and if you lose them the impacts on ecosystems and people would be complex and far-reaching,” says Crabbe. The team used computer models to simulate both the changing climate and rising seas between 2020 and 2069. They then modelled what would happen if solar radiation was artificially reduced. “We show very convincingly that, by injecting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere, sea surface temperatures would decrease significantly by 2069,” says Crabbe. (Webmaster's comment: This is a very stupid, dangerous idea. It will have unintended consequences for all the life on the planet beyond our ability to predict. Reduce CO2 emmissions to pre-industrial levels and the planet will naturally recover without negative consequences! It will simply return to what it was before.)
10-20-17 Even a 'minor' nuclear war would be a global ecological catastrophe
Even a 'minor' nuclear war would be a global ecological catastrophe
Crops would die, the sun would go dark, and many would starve. The greatest concern derives from relatively new research which has modeled the indirect effects of nuclear detonations on the environment and climate. The most-studied scenario is a limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, involving 100 Hiroshima-sized warheads (small by modern standards) detonated mostly over urban areas. Many analysts suggest that this is a plausible scenario in the event of an all-out war between the two states, whose combined arsenals amount to more than 220 nuclear warheads. In this event, an estimated 20 million people could die within a week from the direct effects of the explosions, fire, and local radiation. That alone is catastrophic — more deaths than in the entire of World War I. But nuclear explosions are also extremely likely to ignite fires over a large area, which coalesce and inject large volumes of soot and debris into the stratosphere. In the India-Pakistan scenario, up to 6.5 million tons of soot could be thrown up into the upper atmosphere, blocking out the sun and causing a significant drop in average surface temperature and precipitation across the globe, with effects that could last for more than a decade. This ecological disruption would, in turn, badly affect global food production. According to one study, maize production in the U.S. (the world's largest producer) would decline by an average by 12 percent over 10 years in our given scenario. In China, middle season rice would fall by 17 percent over a decade, maize by 16 percent, and winter wheat by 31 percent. With total world grain reserves amounting to less than 100 days of global consumption, such effects would place an estimated 2 billion people at risk of famine.
10-19-17 A brief history of the Earth's CO2
A brief history of the Earth's CO2
Climate change has been described as one of the biggest problems faced by humankind. Carbon dioxide is is the primary driver of global warming. Prof Joanna Haigh from Imperial College London explains why this gas has played a crucial role in shaping the Earth's climate. Carbon dioxide (CO2) has been present in the atmosphere since the Earth condensed from a ball of hot gases following its formation from the explosion of a huge star about five billion years ago. At that time the atmosphere was mainly composed of nitrogen, CO2 and water vapour, which seeped through cracks in the solid surface. A very similar composition emerges from volcanic eruptions today. As the planet cooled further some of the water vapour condensed out to form oceans and they dissolved a portion of the CO2 but it was still present in the atmosphere in large amounts. The first life forms to evolve on Earth were microbes which could survive in this primordial atmosphere but about 2.5 billion years ago, plants developed the ability to photosynthesise, creating glucose and oxygen from CO2 and water in the presence of light from the Sun. This had a transformative impact on the atmosphere: as life developed, CO2 was consumed so that by around 20 million years ago its concentration was down to below 300 molecules in every one million molecules of air (or 300 parts per million - ppm). Life on Earth has evolved under these conditions - note that humans did not appear until about 200,000 years ago - and atmospheric CO2 has not exceed that concentration until the industrial revolution brought with it massive emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels: coal and oil.
10-18-17 America the polluted
America the polluted
In the 1970s, the newly formed EPA ambitiously documented the contaminated state of the environment. Before the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, environmental disasters were the norm. Rivers regularly caught on fire, major cities were blanketed in a choking smog, and oil clogged the nation's waterways. While the regularity of such catastrophes numbed many Americans into acceptance, several significant events in the 1960s began to shake the public out of its stupor. In 1962 marine biologist and author Rachel Carson published her quietly shocking book Silent Spring, a compendium of her six-year analysis of the myriad ways man was indiscriminately poisoning the air, water, and soil. It became an instant bestseller. On Jan. 28, 1969, an oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, exploded, sending three million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Newspaper photos and televised reports of blackened beaches, oil-stained water, and thousands of tar-covered birds, fish, and marine mammals haunted the public. Just six months later, three Americans landed on the moon, offering the Earth-bound their first glimpse at the delicate blue marble they called home. By the end of the decade, the drumbeat of environmental activism was deafening. Grassroots environmental groups, with the help of Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), organized the first Earth Day — a national, and now global, demonstration in support of environmental reform. The presence of 20 million people marching for the Earth's protection helped spur the government to action. On Dec. 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established under President Richard Nixon. "Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions," the Republican said in his 1970 State of the Union address. "It has become a common cause of all the people of this country."
10-17-17 America's climate idiocy
America's climate idiocy
It's been another month of climate disasters. Puerto Rico remains in ruins, three weeks after being hit by the worst hurricane since 1928. Forty people and counting have died in the most deadly series of wildfires in California history — which is especially unusual for the northern part of the state. And on Monday, Ireland, of all places, was thrashed by a severe tropical storm. Against that backdrop, the American government isn't just failing to address the most immediate problems arising from its domestic disasters, it's actually taking steps to make things worse. And it's not just Trump. A huge bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives (including every single Democrat) voted for a $36.5 billion disaster relief package containing $16 billion in debt cancellation for the broken national flood insurance program — but $5 billion in loans for Puerto Rico, thus adding to the island's already preposterously unpayable $74 billion debt load. Now, that's not all that is in the disaster relief bill. There is also $13.6 billion in disaster relief to be shared between Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, plus a $1.3 billion food stamp grant for the island. That's certainly better than nothing. But at a conservative estimate, that disaster relief total will not be remotely sufficient for either Texas or Puerto Rico, the two places hit worst out of the three. It's also maybe only a tenth (or less) of what is needed for a structural overhaul of Puerto Rico, both to rebuild it and to put it on sound economic footing. As for the flood insurance program, it's not a bad idea in itself. It's reasonable for government to help homeowners hit by unusual floods. However, the administration and payout structure of the program is nuts and has been for decades. It uses badly outdated flood maps and funds rebuilding far more than relocation. As a result, it has paid for many homes to be rebuilt again and again and again. This small minority of total membership accounts for a large portion of the overall payouts. Indeed, it's not really a home insurance program, as revealed by the $16 billion debt cancellation. What it amounts to, in many cases, is a subsidy for people to build homes in flood-prone areas.
10-17-17 Ophelia shows many hurricanes could reach Europe in the future
Ophelia shows many hurricanes could reach Europe in the future
Tropical cyclones often get to Europe but normally they have weakened by the time they get there. Not any more, thanks to climate change. The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia have struck the British Isles, causing widespread disruption and damage on Ireland. The cyclone, now downgraded to an extratropical storm, has reportedly led to three deaths. It is unusual for a hurricane to reach western Europe while still at or near hurricane strength. The last comparable event was Hurricane Gordon in 2006, which had also weakened to a storm before it struck. “The historical record only shows one hurricane reaching Ireland whilst still at hurricane strength: Debbie in 1961,” says Julian Heming of the UK Met Office. But in that case the data are sparse. “It is possible that, like Ophelia, Debbie transformed into an ‘extratropical cyclone’ some hours before it struck Ireland.” However, hurricanes could be a big part of Britain and Europe’s future. “There is evidence that hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, like Ophelia, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change,” says Dann Mitchell at the University of Bristol, UK.
10-16-17 The indiscriminate fury of California's wildfires
The indiscriminate fury of California's wildfires
After more than a week of blazing fires, much of Northern California lies in smoldering ruins. The California wildfires have raged for more than a week, killing 40 people, destroying thousands of structures, and reducing hundreds of thousands of acres to smoldering rubble. Encouraged by gusty winds, more than 20 separate blazes have wiped businesses, homes, wineries, and entire neighborhoods out of existence. While the worst damage has come in the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay Area, the devastation is hardly limited to this area. The Canyon 2 Fire in Anaheim — marked by an ominous glow around Disneyland — burned at least a dozen structures in Orange County and forced thousands from their homes. As officials comb the blackened ruins of the hardest-hit areas of Northern California, they face a new grim reality: "We may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said during a press conference. "When you're cremated, you can't get an ID." Officials warn that recovery will be extensive and costly. And while the region's wine business could take years to recuperate, the personal toll is what's truly immeasurable. "We're going to be a long time recovering from this incident," Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said. "[We've] suffered a serious blow."
10-15-17 California wildfires: Death toll rises as blazes continue
California wildfires: Death toll rises as blazes continue
Forty people have died and hundreds are still missing in California after six days of wildfires that have devastated swathes of countryside and destroyed thousands of homes. California's governor said it was "one of the greatest tragedies" the state had ever faced. More than 10,000 firefighters are battling 16 remaining blazes. Winds of up to 70 km/h (45mph) brought them to new towns, forcing many more people to evacuate. One of the worst-affected areas is the city of Santa Rosa, in the Sonoma wine region, where 3,000 people were evacuated on Saturday. "The devastation is just unbelievable," Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to the city. "It is a horror that no one could have imagined." It is the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state's history. More than 100,000 people have been displaced, and whole neighbourhoods have been reduced to ash. Firefighters had made some headway on Friday, clearing dry vegetation and other combustible fuel around populated areas on the fires' southern flank. But the return of strong winds combined with high temperatures and dry air spread the fires further.
10-14-17 California wildfires: High winds threaten to revive deadly blazes
California wildfires: High winds threaten to revive deadly blazes
California's fire protection chief has warned that devastating wildfires could worsen again over the weekend due to dry air and strengthening winds. Ken Pimlott said several thousand extra firefighters deployed on Friday were fighting 17 separate blazes. Northern California is suffering the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state's history, with 35 people dead and more than 90,000 evacuated. The blazes have raged since Sunday, destroying an estimated 5,700 homes. Firefighters had made some headway on Friday, clearing dry vegetation and other combustible fuels around populated areas on the fires' southern flank. But high temperatures and strong winds were forecast to return on Saturday, with gusts of up to 55 mph (90 kph) and 10% humidity. "If new fires start they could spread extremely rapidly," warned Brooke Bingaman, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento, California. "Those fuels are super dry right now. This also could cause problems for the current wildfires and the firefighters who are trying to suppress them."
10-13-17 When the Larsen C ice shelf broke, it exposed a hidden world
When the Larsen C ice shelf broke, it exposed a hidden world
Science teams are racing to Antarctica to assess ice, seafloor ecosystems. In February, an expedition led by the British Antarctic Survey will journey to Antarctica on the RRS James Clark Ross to study a mysterious ecosystem exposed in July by the calving of the Larsen C iceberg.Teams of scientists are gearing up to race to the Antarctic Peninsula to find out what happens in the immediate aftermath of a massive ice calving event. In July, a Delaware-sized iceberg broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6). Now, several research groups aim to assess the stability of the remaining ice shelf, map the region’s seafloor and study a newly exposed ecosystem that’s been hidden from the sun for up to 120,000 years. First on the scene in November will be a team of scientists led by geophysicist Adam Booth of the University of Leeds in England and the U.K.-based Project MIDAS, which tracked the progress of the rifting from 2014 until the final break (SN: 7/25/15, p. 8). The researchers will conduct ground-penetrating radar and passive seismic surveys of the still-intact ice shelf, looking for shifts in the subsurface ice. They will also use GPS to monitor movements of the ice shelf. The goal is to track the dynamic response of the ice to the calving event, both short-term and long-term. Computer simulations suggest that the central part of the shelf will speed up, now that a piece of its buttress has been removed, says glaciologist Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in Wales, who will analyze satellite data as part of the effort. “What we need to keep tabs on now is whether the speedup will in any way destabilize what’s left. It might take many months to play out.”
10-13-17 Seven darkly funny cartoons about the EPA's war on the planet
Seven darkly funny cartoons about the EPA's war on the planet
Get the best political cartoons delivered to your inbox with The Week's free daily cartoon newsletter.
10-13-17 California wildfires: Death toll climbs to 31
California wildfires: Death toll climbs to 31
The number of people confirmed dead in wildfires sweeping northern California has climbed to 31, as officials warned that conditions would worsen. Hundreds of people remain missing as at least 22 fires rampaged across the state's famous wine country. More than 8,000 firefighters are now battling the flames. The wildfires have destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and homes, scorching over 170,000 acres (68,800 hectares) and displacing about 25,000 people. Seventeen people are now confirmed killed in Sonoma County, with another eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County, officials said. The updated casualty figures mean the wildfires are the deadliest in California since 1933, when 29 people died in fires at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Strong winds that have fanned the flames eased in recent days, but forecasters warned they were set to pick up again on Friday night. "We are not even close to being out of this emergency," Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, told reporters. State fire chief Ken Pimlott warned of "erratic, shifting winds all weekend". Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said recovery teams with cadaver dogs were searching the smouldering ruins of homes.
10-13-17 Hurricane season is the most active
Hurricane season is the most active
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is the most active since 2005, the year of Katrina. The 2005 season blew away records with 28 named storms, of which 15 were hurricanes. So far, 2017 has spawned 15 named storms, nine of which were hurricanes, including the latest, Hurricane Nate. The hurricane season extends to November 30.
10-13-17 Clean Power Plan scrapped
Clean Power Plan scrapped
The Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to repeal former President Obama’s flagship environmental policy, designed to fight climate change by curbing emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a formal notice that the agency will repeal the Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce U.S. power plant emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan, which was finalized in 2015 but has never gone into effect because of legal challenges, would have required states to meet emissions targets at individual plants and add cleaner energy sources to their power grids. But the Trump administration contended the rule unfairly punished coal and other fossil-fuel producers. The past administration tried “to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity,” said Pruitt this week, announcing the repeal to a group of coal miners in eastern Kentucky. “And that’s wrong.”
10-13-17 UK-Dutch-built Sentinel launches to track air quality
UK-Dutch-built Sentinel launches to track air quality
A UK-assembled satellite has launched from Russia on a mission to monitor air quality around the globe. Its Dutch-designed instrument will make 20 million observations daily, building maps of polluting gases and particles known to be harmful to health. Called Sentinel-5P, the spacecraft is a contribution to the EU's Copernicus Earth-monitoring programme. S5P rode to orbit on a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile called a Rockot. The vehicle left the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 12:27 local time (10:27 BST; 09:27 GMT). Controllers knew they had a functioning satellite in position above the planet when they received the first radio communication from S5P. This was picked up up 93 min after the Rockot as the satellite passed over the Kiruna station in Sweden. The EU, with the help of the European Space Agency (Esa), is developing a constellation of satellites as part of its Copernicus programme. Five of the platforms are already up; many more will follow in the next few years. All called Sentinels, they are tasked with taking the pulse of the planet and gathering data that can inform the policies of member states - everything from fisheries management to urban planning.
10-13-17 Nasa carbon space observatory 'watches Earth breathe'
Nasa carbon space observatory 'watches Earth breathe'
A Nasa satellite has provided remarkable new insights on how CO2 is moved through the Earth's atmosphere. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) tracked the behaviour of the gas in 2015/2016 - a period when the planet experienced a major El Niño event. This climate phenomenon boosts the amount of CO2 in the air. The US space agency's OCO satellite was able to show how that increase was controlled by the response of tropical forests to heat and drought. The forests' ability to draw down carbon dioxide, some of it produced by human activity, was severely curtailed. The science has significant implications because the kind of conditions associated with El Niños are expected to become much more common under global warming. "If future climate is more like this recent El Niño, the trouble is the Earth may actually lose some of the carbon removal services we get from these tropical forests, and then CO2 will increase even faster in the atmosphere," explained Scott Denning, an OCO science team member from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. That would amplify warming, he told reporters. Technical papers describing OCO's work have just been published in Science Magazine.
10-13-17 Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
All but two Adelie penguin chicks have starved to death in their east Antarctic colony, in a breeding season described as "catastrophic" by experts. It was caused by unusually high amounts of ice late in the season, meaning adults had to travel further for food. It is the second bad season in five years after no chicks survived in 2015. Conservation groups are calling for urgent action on a new marine protection area in the east Antarctic to protect the colony of about 36,000. WWF says a ban on krill fishing in the area would eliminate their competition and help to secure the survival of Antarctic species, including the Adelie penguins. WWF have been supporting research with French scientists in the region monitoring penguin numbers since 2010. The protection proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Monday of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Commission is made up of the 25 members and the European Union. "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins," Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF, said. "The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. "So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off east Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins." (Webmaster's comment: "The Great Die Off" caused by global warming is now truly underway!)
10-12-17 During El Niño, the tropics emit more carbon dioxide
During El Niño, the tropics emit more carbon dioxide
The phenomenon creates warmer, drier conditions in some tropical regions that mimic future climate change. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 launched in 2014 and is giving scientists an unprecedented peek into how carbon moves between land, atmosphere, and oceans on Earth. The tropics of Asia, Africa and South America all puffed out more carbon dioxide during the strong 2015–2016 El Niño than during the 2011 La Niña, new satellite data show. Because El Niño’s warmer, drier conditions in tropical regions mimic the effects of climate change expected by the end of the century, those observations may be a sobering harbinger of the tropics’ diminishing role as a buffer for fossil fuel emissions (SN Online: 9/28/17). The new findings come from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, which launched in 2014. Five papers in the Oct. 13 Science describe some of the first data collected by the satellite, which is giving scientists an unprecedented peek into how carbon moves between land, atmosphere and oceans. Atmospheric scientist Junjie Liu of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and her colleagues report that the tropics of Asia, Africa and South America together released about 2.5 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere in 2015 than they did in 2011, a cooler and wetter La Niña year. For comparison, the United States released 6.59 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere in 2015.
10-12-17 California wildfires: Calistoga evacuated amid blazes
California wildfires: Calistoga evacuated amid blazes
California officials have ordered an entire city to evacuate as "conditions have worsened" in the wildfires that have killed 23 people. All residents of Calistoga were directed to leave the area on Wednesday evening, Napa County officials said. About 60 prison inmates have joined hard-pressed firefighters in battling the fast-moving blazes, the state fire chief says. Among the areas scorched by the 22 blazes are marijuana farms. In Wednesday evening's evacuation of Calistoga, in Napa County, all 5,000 residents were told to leave and police blocked traffic from approaching the area. And traffic quickly clogged the exits from Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County as that community was also told to evacuate the advancing wall of flame. "It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," state fire Chief Ken Pimlott said. He warned that the death toll could rise further. "We are still impacted by five years of drought. These fires were driven by the critically dry fuel bed. We are literally looking at explosive vegetation," he added. The devastating wildfires, which brought wind gusts of up to 45mph (72km/h), have destroyed at least 3,500 buildings and homes.
10-12-17 Air pollution blamed for 500,000 early deaths in Europe in 2014
Air pollution blamed for 500,000 early deaths in Europe in 2014
The biggest source of harm was particulate matter from domestic stoves, but nitrogen dioxide from cars is also linked to many premature deaths. Filthy air killed half a million people in Europe prematurely in 2014. So says a report on air quality from the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe,” says the EEA. By far the biggest killer was PM2.5, the soup of tiny particles measuring 2.5 micrometres across or less. These claimed an estimated 428,000 premature deaths across the 41 European countries tracked in 2014. The main source, contributing 57 per cent of PM2.5 emissions in 2015, was domestic wood burning, especially in eastern Europe. Nitrogen dioxide, mostly from vehicle exhausts, cut short an estimated 78,000 lives across the same 41 countries. Ground-level ozone was the other major killer, claiming an estimated 14,400 lives prematurely. “Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributable to air pollution, and are responsible for 80 per cent of cases,” the report says. Air pollution also contributes to other respiratory diseases and cancer, and has non-lethal impacts on diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, pregnancy and brain development in children. The two worst hotspots for PM2.5 pollution were Poland and northern Italy, where dozens of cities exceeded the EU’s annual mean limit of 25 micrograms of particles per cubic metre of air. “Poland and the Po valley have very bad pollution,” says Alberto González Ortiz, the report’s lead author.
10-12-17 Ozone layer recovery could be delayed by 30 years
Ozone layer recovery could be delayed by 30 years
Rising global emissions of some chlorine-containing chemicals could slow the progress made in healing the ozone layer. A study found the substances, widely used for paint stripping and in the manufacture of PVC, are increasing much faster than previously thought. Mainly produced in China, these compounds are not currently regulated. Experts say their continued use could set back the closing of the ozone hole by up to 30 years. Scientists reported last year that they had detected the first clear evidence that the thinning of the protective ozone layer was diminishing. The Montreal Protocol, which was signed 30 years ago, was the key to this progress. It has progressively helped governments phase out the chlorofluorocarbons and the hydrochlorofluorocarbons that were causing the problem. However, concern has been growing over the past few years about a number of chemicals, dubbed "very short-lived substances". Dichloromethane is one of these chemicals, and is used as an industrial solvent and a paint remover. Levels in the atmosphere have increased by 60% over the past decade. Another compound highlighted in this new report is dichloroethane. It's used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a light plastic widely used in construction, agriculture and elsewhere. For a long time, scientists believed that both these compounds would decay before getting up as far as the ozone layer. However, air samples analysed in this new study suggest this view may be mistaken and these destructive elements are getting there quicker and doing more damage than thought. (Webmaster's comment: It took worldwide GOVERNMENT ACTION to even begin to fix this problem. All the "positive thinking" in the world would have made no difference. The manufacturers would just have kept making and using hydrochlorofluorocarbons in their products!)
10-11-17 Is positive thinking the way to save the planet?
Is positive thinking the way to save the planet?
Move over doom and gloom, there is a new environmental movement in town. Earth optimists say focusing on small successes is the way forward. “MARTIN LUTHER KING did not say, ‘I have a problem’,” says Andrew Balmford. The conservation biologist is part of a new environmental movement, and if you’re exhausted by the perennial doom and gloom, Earth Optimism might be just the ticket. Its mantras? Forests are growing back, renewable energy is beating coal, the ozone layer is recovering and although the fate of polar bears is still iffy, at least the giant panda is no longer on the brink of extinction. Sure, there’s plenty to be concerned about, but for the first time in a long time, say the optimists, there are reasons to be hopeful about the fate of the planet. The question is whether they have just forgotten to take off their rose-tinted spectacles. And even if they are right and the tide is turning, are positive messages really the best way to galvanise further action? The Earth Optimism movement began 10 years ago as a series of lectures by Nancy Knowlton, a coral biologist now at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. At the time, Knowlton was running a master’s programme in oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. She soon came to the conclusion that the course was, as she puts it, “training our students to write ever more refined obituaries for the planet”. This didn’t feel like the most inspiring way to create future conservationists, so she launched Beyond the Obituaries, a symposium that focused on success stories in conservation. Its popularity led to a Twitter campaign called #OceanOptimism, which in the past few years has expanded into Earth Optimism. (Webmaster's comment: I'm sorry but you're not going to save a planet from the results of 200 years of massive abuses with little personal actions. To much damage has already been done and continues to be done!)
10-11-17 Early farmers may have polluted the sea 4000 years ago
Early farmers may have polluted the sea 4000 years ago
HUMANS have been polluting the environment for at least 4000 years. So says a team that has analysed sediment from the South China Sea – but not everyone is convinced. Several civilisations hit a crisis point 4000 years ago. The global climate cooled, and this has been linked to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia and the end of the Indus valley civilisation of South Asia. Cooling was also felt on Hainan island off China’s south coast, say Fangjian Xu at the China University of Petroleum, Qingdao, and his team. There was also a rise in heavy metal pollution in the South China Sea. The group looked at two sediment cores from south-east of Hainan, and calculated “enrichment factors” for several metals. A value of 1 or below is no enrichment, while values between 1 and 3 suggest “minor enrichment”. The enrichment factors of cadmium and lead hovered around 1 before 4000 years ago, then rose to about 1.5 (The Holocene, doi.org/cdxm). The group suggests the change was linked to the global cooling at the time, when Hainan would have cooled and dried. Lower monsoon activity would have triggered a drop in coastal upwelling, cutting marine productivity and encouraging Hainan’s inhabitants to focus on farming instead of fishing. Run-off from farms would have included heavy metals, which built up in soil because of metal tool use. Samuel Toucanne at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea in Plouzané was involved in a 2015 analysis of South China Sea sediment from further west. There, evidence of pollution from lead and arsenic began only 1800 years ago.
10-11-17 The next supercontinent: Four ways Earth could reshape itself
The next supercontinent: Four ways Earth could reshape itself
Plate tectonics is a slow-grind drama with some dramatic plot twists – these scenarios show how Earth might look in 250 million AD. ASIA is torn in two. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans are swallowed. Where once there were beaches, great mountain ranges judder into the skies, fusing together a scatter of separate land masses into one mighty new supercontinent. Call it… Aurica. That’s what João Duarte calls it, anyway. A geoscientist at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, he has his own distinct vision of how Earth may look 250 million years from now. He joins a band of fortune tellers gazing into the distant future, all with different ideas about how and where the next supercontinent will form, and what cataclysms might strike along the way. The answer will determine Earth’s future climate and prospects for sustaining life. But getting it right requires grappling with a machine whose workings we still understand only imperfectly: that of plate tectonics. Earth’s surface is clad in rigid rock plates – together called the lithosphere – formed of surface crustal rock laminated on to hard cold mantle rocks. Given their rigidity, it is surprising that these plates don’t simply lock together, unmoving. And indeed, until about 50 years ago geologists thought that Earth’s land masses were fixed, despite German geophysicist Alfred Wegener having proposed the idea of continental drift in 1915. The creation and destruction of ocean basins makes plate motion possible. Plates move apart at mid-ocean ridges, where molten rock rises and cools to form hard, dense basalt. They move together at subduction zones, where old ocean lithosphere plunges under a neighbouring plate. As it penetrates the warmer, softer mantle beneath, it causes earthquakes and feeds volcanoes. Magnetic signals recorded in sea-floor rocks, and chemical traces from the roots of ancient mountain ranges, tell us how continental drift has changed the face of Earth. They point clearly to a time 180 million years ago when all today’s continents were stuck together in one vast land mass centred roughly where present-day Africa is: the supercontinent Pangaea, from the Ancient Greek for “all of Earth”.
10-11-17 California’s wildfires powered by perfect storm of fire hazards
California’s wildfires powered by perfect storm of fire hazards
Low humidity, parched vegetation and warm winds have led to fires that have killed at least 17, left over 150 people missing and destroyed over 2000 homes. Fire has devastated large areas of northern California, killing at least 17, with 155 people missing, and destroying at least 2000 homes. Wildfires have torched almost 30,000 hectares, mostly in the wine-growing regions of Napa and Sonoma counties, including the area around Santa Rosa. The US National Weather Service (NWS) issued a red-flag warning on Tuesday, blaming near-perfect fire conditions. Warm offshore winds gusting at up to 50 kilometres per hour served as bellows, spreading fire in conditions of low humidity and parched vegetation. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” warned the NWS. “Shifting winds may push ongoing fires in new directions.” The Californian fires are the latest in a year that has seen abnormally high wildfire activity in the US. On 1 October, the US National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho predicted that northern California was at especially grave risk. “Weather patterns along the West Coast allowed fuels to dry and become receptive to fire,” it warned. The NWS said conditions could ease in northern California by midweek, but the south would still be at risk. “Winds and the fire weather threat will decrease Tuesday in the north, but a threat will remain in southern California,” it said. There is evidence that the warm winds fanning wildfires in northern parts of the state are being exacerbated by rising temperatures triggered by climate change.
10-11-17 California fires: Scores missing as death toll rises to 17
California fires: Scores missing as death toll rises to 17
More than 150 people are missing in wildfires that have ravaged northern California's wine region, police say. At least 17 people are now confirmed dead and more than 2,000 buildings have been destroyed by the fires which broke out on Sunday. Eleven of the deaths have been in Sonoma County. One of the worst affected towns there is Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, where entire districts have been destroyed. The Sonoma County sheriff's office said 155 people were still unaccounted for, although that could be due to the chaotic pace of the evacuations. In neighbouring Napa County, victims included 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife, Sarah, police said. The fires are among the deadliest in California's history and have sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (100km) away. California fire chief Ken Pimlott told the BBC on Tuesday that more than 17 fires had burned about 115,000 acres (26,000ha) in the past 24 hours. He said his officers were trying to track down those unaccounted for but he feared the death toll could rise. "We're very hopeful that they're just staying with family or friends or left town to get away and we just haven't been able to make that contact," he said. "But these fires move so quickly - there are just hundreds and thousands of acres out there that we haven't had a chance to pour through and adjudicate."
10-11-17 Satellites spy Antarctic 'upside-down ice canyon'
Satellites spy Antarctic 'upside-down ice canyon'
An Antarctic ice shelf is shown to have a deep gorge cut in its underside by warm ocean water. Scientists have identified a way in which the effects of Antarctic melting can be enhanced. Their new satellite observations of the Dotson Ice Shelf show its losses, far from being even, are actually focused on a long, narrow sector. In places, this has cut an inverted canyon through more than half the thickness of the shelf structure. If the melting continued unabated, it would break Dotson in 40-50 years, not the 200 years currently projected. "That is unlikely to happen because the ice will respond in some way to the imbalance," said Noel Gourmelen, from the University of Edinburgh, UK. "It's possible the area of thinning could widen or the flow of ice could change. Both would affect the rate at which the channel forms. "But the important point here is that Dotson is not a flat slab and it can be much thinner in places than we think it is and much closer to a stage where it might experience major change." Dr Gourmelen's new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, uses the European Space Agency's Cryosat and Sentinel-1 spacecraft to make a detailed examination of the thickness and movement of Dotson. The 70km by 40km ice shelf is the floating projection of two glaciers, Kohler and Smith. As they stream off the west of Antarctica, their fronts lift up and join together, pushing out over the Amundsen Sea. The shelf acts as a buttress to the ice behind. If Dotson were not present, Kohler and Smith would flow much faster, dumping more of their mass in the ocean, contributing to sea-level rise. (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line is that the Antarctic, and Greenland, glaciers are going to collapse much faster than predicted. And oceans will rise much faster than predicted. Move inland now before the price goes up!)
10-11-17 Obama's Clean Power Plan is dead. Time to get serious on climate change.
Obama's Clean Power Plan is dead. Time to get serious on climate change.
In 10,000 years, if there are still human beings around, it's pretty likely that most things about President Trump will have been long forgotten. The fading, gold-plated letters will all have fallen from Trump's Manhattan skyscrapers. His gaudy, bankrupt hotels will have crumbled to dust. With any luck, even the history books will barely mention his name. But there is one big exception: Even 10,000 years from now, Trump's effects on the climate of our planet will still be felt. This week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt carried out one of the most consequential actions of any administration in history, when he obeyed Trump's order to cancel former President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which set national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. This is crazy. We are living through an absolutely critical moment for climate policy. In a sane world, rich countries would be ratcheting down emissions at something like 10 percent per year. Four years of an unhinged climate denier in the White House could not have come at a worse time. Humans will feel the effects of this for millennia to come. However, we must also acknowledge that the Clean Power Plan, while positive, was not itself remotely sufficient to get emissions down fast enough to save humanity. When Trump is out of office, the most aggressive possible climate policy must become an urgent national priority. It's unclear exactly what will happen with the Clean Power Plan. Certainly, there will be a firestorm of litigation. It's just hard to tell where it will end up. The EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide somehow, according to a 2007 Supreme Court case, but Pruitt — a stooge for the oil, gas, and coal industries if there ever was one — has considerable bureaucratic tools at his disposal to delay things. If I had to guess, I would say the Clean Power Plan will be halted but not completely killed off, and the EPA will be tied up in litigation for the remainder of Trump's presidency.
10-10-17 Trump team kicks the Clean Power Plan into the long grass
Trump team kicks the Clean Power Plan into the long grass
In California and the western US, wildfires made more likely by climate change, continue to rage in the vineyards and forests. In President Trump's Washington, a bonfire of climate regulations is also burning brightly. "The war on coal is over," EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told an audience in Kentucky yesterday, as he announced his intention to sign a rule rolling back the Clean Power Plan (CPP). So is this just another angry white man, lashing out at the "global climate conspiracy", determined to turn the clock back to the golden age of anthracite? Mr Pruitt would robustly deny it. Along with many other republican attorneys general, and several industry bodies, he sees the CPP as a significant over-reach by the Federal government. Rather than just requiring coal fired power plants to improve the efficiency of their operations, critics say it put the onus on them to go further and invest in renewables such as wind and solar power. "The past administration was using every bit of power and authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country," Mr Pruitt said. "That's wrong." "The core of the Trump support truly doubts the need to act on climate change, and really sees it as an attempted government over reach," said Tim Profeta. "The reason President Trump is our president is because of the real cry of pain from the mid-west and our manufacturing belt that feels left behind both economically and culturally." (Webmaster's comment: So let's ignore all the evidence and create more global warming. Does that make sense? Or should we retrain the coal workers to build green energy plants. Now that makes sense!)
10-10-17 California fires: Deadly wildfires sweep through wine country
California fires: Deadly wildfires sweep through wine country
Fifteen fires were burning across eight Californian counties. Parts of California's wine region are being ravaged by fast-spreading fires that have killed at least 11 people. A state of emergency was declared in northern areas after mass evacuations, with 1,500 properties destroyed. About 20,000 people fled from Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties in response to some the state's worst-ever wildfires. Such fires are more common in southern California but a combination of dry weather and strong winds has fuelled the destruction in the north. "These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents," Governor Jerry Brown said, declaring the emergency. There is little sign the weather in the coming days will bring relief to firefighters, BBC Weather says. More tinder dry conditions are forecast, with no rain expected. Meanwhile, in southern California, a separate wildfire burnt 24 homes or other buildings in the wealthy Anaheim Hills area of Orange County, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.
10-10-17 'Sooty birds' reveal hidden US air pollution
'Sooty birds' reveal hidden US air pollution
Soot trapped in the feathers of songbirds over the past 100 years is causing scientists to revise their records of air pollution. US researchers measured the black carbon found on 1,300 larks, woodpeckers and sparrows over the past century. They've produced the most complete picture to date of historic air quality over industrial parts of the US. The study also boosts our understanding of historic climate change. Black carbon, a major component of soot, is created through the incomplete burning of fossil fuels such as coal. The dirty air generated as a result became a major problem as industrialisation expanded across Europe and the US at the end of the 19th century. Cities were soon coated in sooty air thanks to the unregulated burning of coal in homes and factories. While the huge impact of black carbon on the health of people living in urban centres has been recognised for decades, it is only in recent years that scientists have understood the role it plays climate change. When it is suspended in the air, the substance absorbs sunlight and increases warming in the atmosphere. When it hits the ground it increases melting of snow and ice, and has been linked to the loss of ice in the Arctic region. (Webmaster's comment: And Trump's elimination of pollution rules will bring the soot back. Anything for a rich man's buck!)
10-9-17 Trump administration to roll back Obama clean power rule
Trump administration to roll back Obama clean power rule
The Trump administration has confirmed plans to repeal an Obama administration rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has voiced doubt of climate change, called the Clean Power Plan an overreach. President Donald Trump ordered the EPA to rewrite the rule in March. The Clean Power Plan requires states to meet carbon emission reduction targets based on their energy consumption. Mr Pruitt said he would sign the proposed rule to begin withdrawing from the plan on Tuesday. "The war on coal is over," he told a crowd in Hazard, Kentucky, on Monday. He continued: "That rule really was about picking winners and losers. "Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers." Mr Pruitt has previously argued that the Clean Power Plan would force states to favour renewable energy in the electricity-generation market. As Oklahoma's attorney general, he took part in a lawsuit by 27 US states against the rule. A Supreme Court ruling in February 2016 left the regulation in limbo. The EPA under President Barack Obama said the Clean Power Plan could prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and 6,600 premature deaths. But according to US media, a leaked draft of the repeal proposal disputes the health benefits touted by the previous administration. The draft also reportedly argues the country would save $33bn (£25bn) by dropping the regulation. The Clean Power Plan required states to devise a way to cut planet-warming emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.
10-9-17 Light-filtering paint cools your home when exposed to hot sun
Light-filtering paint cools your home when exposed to hot sun
Laser cooling has been applied to paint, which could mitigate urban heat islands and solve the problem of how to cool objects in space. The sun itself could soon become a low-cost air conditioner. A high-tech paint that actually cools when exposed to sunlight can provide a better way to chill buildings – and perhaps even solve the long-standing problem of cooling things in space. In hot weather, electricity consumption soars as people turn on the air conditioning, pushing the grid to its limits and raising energy bills. Now Yaron Shenhav and his colleagues from SolCold, a firm based in Herzliya, Israel, have come up with an alternative that doesn’t require electricity. “It’s like putting a layer of ice on your rooftop which is thicker when there is more sun,” he says. The technology is based on the counterintuitive principle of laser cooling, in which hitting specially designed materials with a laser can cool them by up to 150°C. It works because molecules in these materials absorb photons whose light is of one frequency while spontaneously re-emitting higher-frequency photons, which also carry more energy. Since energy is lost, the temperature of the material is reduced in the process. Mounting lasers on your roof wouldn’t be very practical, though, so Shenhav wanted to see if he could tweak the technique to make it work with sunlight instead. “Heat from a building could be absorbed and re-emitted as light,” he says. “As long as the sun is shining on it, it would be continuously cooled.”
10-9-17 British mission to giant A-68 berg approved
British mission to giant A-68 berg approved
UK scientists will lead an international expedition to the huge new iceberg that recently calved in the Antarctic. A-68, which covers an area of almost 6,000 sq km, broke away in August. Researchers are keen to investigate the seafloor uncovered by the trillion-tonne block of ice. Previous such ventures have discovered new species. The British Antarctic Survey has won funding to visit the berg and its calving zone in February next year. It will use the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross. BAS cautions, however, that the final green-light will depend on the berg's position at the time and the state of sea-ice in the area. A-68 will need to be well clear of the Larsen Ice Shelf from which it calved, and any marine floes on top of the water will have to be sufficiently thin to allow the JCR access. (Webmaster's comment: 6,000 sq km is 2,300 sq miles.)
10-8-17 Is evaporating water the future of renewable energy?
Is evaporating water the future of renewable energy?
Forget the sun and wind — evaporating water could be the next big source of renewable energy, said James Temple at Technology Review?. So-called evaporation-driven engines "generate power from the motion of bacterial spores that expand and contract as they absorb and release air moisture." Evaporation continues 24/7, so the engines, which sit on the water's surface, could provide power nonstop — unlike solar panels. The technology is still in a prototype phase, but a new study in the journal Nature Communications notes that the power available from natural evaporation in lakes and reservoirs in the continental U.S. could meet 70 percent of the nation's needs. If even a small amount of that energy were tapped, says study co-author Ozgur Sahin of Columbia University, evaporation-driven engines "could make a significant contribution to clean-energy and climate goals." (Webmaster's comment: Unfortunately water vapor is a green house gas. Increasing the amount in the atmosphere only further warms the planet. Bad Idea!)
10-8-17 In pictures: Solar challenge race begins in Australia
In pictures: Solar challenge race begins in Australia
Teams from around the world are competing on solar cars in an epic transcontinental race. Solar-powered cars from more than 30 countries around the world have begun a biannual 3,000km (1,865-mile) race from Darwin to Adelaide, north to south across the centre of Australia. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the competition. Teams in the World Solar Challenge are made up of students who have built their vehicles with their own hands.
10-7-17 Storm Nate: Hurricane heads to New Orleans
Storm Nate: Hurricane heads to New Orleans
US states in the Gulf of Mexico are again on a state of alert as Hurricane Nate heads towards them. Parts of the city of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago, are being evacuated. Nate killed at least 23 people as it passed through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras as a tropical storm. It has since strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane which, though not as strong as last month's Maria and Irma, will still bring strong winds and surges. A hurricane warning has been issued for parts of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama, amid warnings of life-threatening storm surge flooding. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency ahead of the hurricane, which is due to make landfall on Saturday night local time. He said more than 1,000 National Guard troops had been mobilised with a number sent to New Orleans to monitor the drainage pumps there. "Anyone in low-lying areas... we are urging them to prepare now," he said. A mandatory curfew from 18:00 (23:00 GMT) is in place in New Orleans. "Our greatest threat... is not necessarily rain, but strong winds and storm surge," the city's Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. (Webmaster's comment: Are all these hurricanes normal for one year?)
10-6-17 Another iceberg breakaway
Another iceberg breakaway
An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan broke away from a glacier in Western Antarctica last month, permanently altering the continent’s coastline and increasing concerns about rising sea levels. The 100-square-mile chunk of ice calved from the Pine Island Glacier, which accounts for about 45 billion tons of ice flow into the ocean each year. Scientists monitoring the glacier via satellite say the newly formed iceberg is unstable and has already broken apart into smaller pieces as it drifts out to sea. Though massive, the berg is dwarfed by the Delaware-sized block of ice that split from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this year, reports CBSNews.com. The new breakaway won’t directly affect global sea levels, because that portion of Pine Island is already floating, but it may diminish the glacier’s function as a plug that holds back ice streams from the West Antarctic ice shelf. Scientists are also concerned that these calving events are becoming more frequent—and that they’re forming in the center of the glacier, as warmer ocean water weakens it from below. “If new rifts continue to form progressively inland,” says Ian Howat, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, “the significance to ice shelf retreat would be high.”
10-6-17 Autos: GM and Ford shift to an electric future
Autos: GM and Ford shift to an electric future
General Motors “outlined a fundamental shift in its vision” for the future of the auto industry this week, announcing a plan to vastly increase its fleet of all-electric vehicles, said Bill Vlasic in The New York Times. America’s largest automaker said it plans to build 20 new all-electric models by 2023, including two in the next 18 months. Although electric vehicles are currently just 1 percent of the U.S. car market, China and several European countries have announced that they will eventually ban gasoline-powered cars, which has “set off a scramble by the world’s car companies to embrace electric vehicles.” GM’s rival Ford also announced plans this week to develop electric vehicles—13 new models over the next several years, said Phil LeBeau in CNBC.com. Alongside that push, Ford will shift its focus away from passenger cars and sedans to its more profitable and popular SUVs and pickup trucks, which this year composed 76 percent of Ford’s sales in the U.S. Balancing that dual focus—electric cars of the future and the big vehicles of today—could prove challenging. “The decision to change is not easy,” said new CEO Jim Hackett. But past approaches “are really no guarantee of future success” as the car industry transforms.
10-6-17 Elon Musk says he can rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid with solar
Elon Musk says he can rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid with solar
Renewable energy entrepreneur Elon Musk says he could rebuild Puerto Rico's shattered electrical infrastructure with his solar energy technology. The vast majority of the island territory remains without power, weeks after it was hit by Hurricane Maria. On Twitter, Mr Musk said his technology, which powers several smaller islands, could be scaled up to work for Puerto Rico. The island's governor responded to Mr Musk with the message: "Let's talk". "Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your Tesla technologies? Puerto Rico could be that flagship project," the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, said. Mr Musk's Tesla company is best known for its electric cars, but it also incorporates SolarCity - a solar panel firm which specialises in efficiently storing large amounts of electricity in power banks. The company says it has powered small islands, such as Ta'u in American Samoa. There, it installed a solar grid which can power the entire island and store enough electricity for three days without any sun. "The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico, too," Mr Musk tweeted.
10-5-17 The perilous future of Earth's parasites
The perilous future of Earth's parasites
atever little attention the mass extinction crisis gets tends to focus on the large and charismatic species that are on the verge of disappearing from Earth forever. Smaller creatures — microbes, mollusks, and other invertebrates — hardly register at all on the human agenda. Their existential plight is pretty much ignored by politicians, press, and the American public alike. Recently, however, a team of scientists managed to shove this neglected topic into the spotlight when they released a paper on parasite extinction that ricocheted around the internet and racked up quite a bit of coverage in the mainstream media. Published in Science Advances and written by a University of California–Berkeley graduate student and fellow researchers, the study offers a disturbing look at the enormous and unintended consequences of human activity on the planet's ecosystems. It finds that climate change threatens to decimate parasite species across the planet, with dangerous implications for wildlife survival and human health. After analyzing data on more than 457 parasite species, the authors report that "conservative model projections suggest that 5 to 10 percent of these species are committed to extinction by 2070 from climate-driven habitat loss alone." This mass die-off could be exacerbated, moreover, if the host species that parasites rely on to survive also go extinct in the face of climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances. Indeed, under worst-case scenarios, as many as one in three parasite species could be wiped out.
10-5-17 Food and farming policies 'need total rethink'
Food and farming policies 'need total rethink'
Can farming and food production be made less damaging to the planet? A big meeting in London will look at how reforms could help halt species extinction, meet climate goals, limit the spread of antibiotic resistance and improve animal welfare. The organisers of the Extinction and Livestock Conference say diverse interests will be represented. They include multinational food corporations, native breed farmers, neurologists and naturalists. McDonalds, Tesco and Compass will be rubbing shoulders with those from the Sustainable Food Trust, Quorn and WWF. The 500 delegates come from more than 30 countries. Their wide interests illustrate the complex and difficult issues arising from global livestock production.
10-4-17 I want to show the courts who’s to blame for climate change
I want to show the courts who’s to blame for climate change
Climate modelling allows us to link extreme weather, climate change and emissions so we can use the law to hit big oil where it hurts, says Myles Allen. MYLES ALLEN takes no prisoners. Few lay into the sluggishness of politicians or the self-serving pronouncements of big-oil CEOs with more vigour than the chief climate modeller at the University of Oxford. That’s just as well, since he is fighting science’s corner in two vital areas: the scientific attribution of extreme weather to climate change, and the attribution of climate change to corporate emissions. He wants to join the dots and show the world – and particularly the courts – where the culpability lies for global warming. I catch Allen in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The evidence is clear, he says, that “climate change increases the risk of such intense, short-duration rainfall events”. As a result, he wants the contribution of climate change to be pointed out in every weather report. “It’s time meteorologists put our estimates of the impact of climate change into their weather forecasts.” Allen is frustrated by the scientific and political caution that prevents this happening. Climate scientists should be more direct, he says – asking and answering the questions that get to the heart of the issue. “I spent the first 15 years of my career as a climate modeller pointing out how complicated things were, and then the next 10 years atoning for that [by stressing how] it’s really very simple.” Yes, the uncertainties in climate science should be acknowledged, he says, but amid the caution, “people miss the fact that our best estimate of the human contribution to global warming is actually: all of it”.
10-4-17 Sydney and Melbourne could face 50C days 'within decades'
Sydney and Melbourne could face 50C days 'within decades'
Australia's two biggest cities could swelter through 50C (122F) days within a few decades, a study has found. Sydney and Melbourne are likely to endure such summers even if global warming is contained to the Paris accord limit of a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, scientists said. Limiting warming to below that would make 50C days less likely, they said. Sydney reached a record 45.8C in 2013 while Melbourne hit 46.4C in 2009, the nation's Bureau of Meteorology said. The study examined only forecasts for Victoria and New South Wales, but researchers said the rest of Australia could also expect rises. "One of the hottest years on record globally - in 2015 - could be an average year by 2025," said lead researcher Dr Sophie Lewis from the Australian National University. The research, also involving the University of Melbourne and published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, drew on observational data and climate modelling to predict future temperatures. Dr Lewis said the cities could experience 50C days between 2040 and 2050, a forecast based on global temperatures being at 2C above pre-industrial times. Australia's most recent summer broke 205 weather records while its winter was the warmest on record, according to the nation's independent Climate Council. Last month, Australians were warned to prepare for a dangerous bushfire season in 2017-18.
10-4-17 Why some want the giant trash pile in the Pacific to get country status
Why some want the giant trash pile in the Pacific to get country status
You can already apply for citizenship. A blob of floating trash in the north Pacific Ocean has grown to rival the size of a not-so-small country. Now some activists are making the case the heap should be recognized as one. Plastic Oceans Foundation, an environmental charity, and LADbible, a news and entertainment group, have teamed up to petition the United Nations to recognize the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a.k.a. Trash Isles — as an official nation, Quartz reported. Al Gore was designated the first official citizen of Trash Isles, and more than 110,000 people have signed a petition to sign up for citizenship (and put pressure on the U.N. to take the trash heap more seriously), and designer Mario Kerkstra created a passport, flag, stamps, and currency for Trash Isles. The organizers are hoping that, should their campaign succeed, other member nations of the U.N. would be inspired to help clean up the mess. As a recognized country, Trash Isles would be protected under the U.N.'s Environmental Charter, the activists say, which states: "All members shall co-operate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the earth's ecosystem." The campaign is also meant to raise awareness on an individual level about the growing problem of plastics in our oceans, and to encourage Trash Isles citizens to cut down on their own plastic use. The Trash Isles campaign is the latest in a long list of creative ideas meant to get people to care about their footprint on Earth. In the September/October 2015 issue of Pacific Standard, Brooke Jarvis documented the efforts of the photographer Chris Jordan, who "spent years trying to visually represent the baffling scale on which we produce and scrap the materials of consumer society." Jordan began with photographs of man-made junk at ports or scrap yards, according to Jarvis, "and later began creating digital composites to illustrate statistics too vast for the human brain to compute: a forest made from the cigarette butts thrown out every 15 seconds in the United States; a swirl of hundreds of thousands of cell phones, the discards of a single American day."
10-3-17 Grass-fed beef is bad for the planet and causes climate change
Grass-fed beef is bad for the planet and causes climate change
Supporters like Prince Charles say raising cattle on pastures can be good for the environment, but the sums have been done and their claims don’t add up. Prince Charles is wrong to support grass-fed beef. The idea that beef from cows raised on bucolic pastures is good for the environment, and that we can therefore eat as much meat as we want, doesn’t add up. New calculations suggest cattle pastures contribute to climate change. “Sadly, though it would be nice if the pro-grazers were right, they aren’t,” says lead author Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network. “The truth is, we cannot eat as much meat as we like and save the planet.” Many meat eaters have long felt guilty that the beef steaks they love are bringing environmental disaster. A key problem is that microorganisms in the guts of cattle emit millions of tonnes of methane every year. A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about a billion of them. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, this exacerbates global warming. Meanwhile, feeding the beasts destroys forests by taking land for pasture or to grow feed – and this deforestation also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. But a counter-view has gained currency. First popularised by Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer Allan Savory, and supported by organic farmers like Prince Charles, it argues that grazing cattle on pastures is actually good for the climate. The idea is that plants on pastures capture carbon from the air, especially when fertilised by manure. Pastures should also reduce our need for food crops grown on land that releases carbon when ploughed.
10-2-17 Kids suing nations over climate change wildfire links are right
Kids suing nations over climate change wildfire links are right
A group of children is aiming to take 47 nations to court over links between climate change and forest fires. Science is on their side, says Richard Schiffman. Can countries that foul our atmosphere with gases that warm the world be held legally accountable for the consequences? Yes, say six schoolchildren from Leiria in Portugal. They are planning to take dozens of European nations to court to answer for forest fires that hit their region in June, one of which resulted in 64 deaths. The youngsters – aged 5 to 14 – say lack of action on global warming makes these disasters more likely. They are poised to launch a crowdfunded legal suit in the European Court of Human Rights, a body whose rulings are binding on 47 countries including the UK. The children want those nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and commit to keeping most of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground. “It’s not just David versus Goliath,” reads their appeal for funds. “It’s David versus many Goliaths,” since the plaintiffs will have to confront the arguments of multiple nations. Other climate suits are being brought on behalf of young people in the US, India, France, Ukraine, Belgium and other countries. More broadly, litigation by citizens and environmental groups is booming worldwide. The lion’s share is in the US, where more than 600 climate-related cases have been filed in recent decades. But such claims pose unique legal – as well as scientific – challenges. For example, how exactly do you prove in a court of law that climate change is culpable for events such as the Portuguese wildfires?
10-2-17 Plate tectonics: When we discovered how the Earth really works
Plate tectonics: When we discovered how the Earth really works
What would you put on your list of the great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century? General relativity? Quantum mechanics? Something to do with genetics, perhaps? One discovery that ought to be on everyone's rundown is plate tectonics - the description of how the rigid outer shell of our planet (its lithosphere) moves and is recycled. The theory celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and some of the key players who put the framework together are currently in London to mark the occasion with a special conference at The Geological Society. The truly great ideas in science not only seem brilliantly simple and intuitive when they come into focus, they also then have this extraordinary power to answer so many other questions in Nature. Plate tectonics is a perfect example of this. It tells us why the Himalayas are so tall; why Mexico experiences damaging earthquakes; why the monkeys in South America look different from the ones in Africa; and why Antarctica went into a deep freeze. But when you're on the inside of the bubble, trying to make all the pieces of evidence fit into a coherent narrative - the solution seems very far from obvious. "We had no idea what were the cause of earthquakes and volcanoes and things like that," recalls Dan McKenzie. "It's extraordinarily difficult now to put yourself back into the state of mind that we had when I was an undergraduate. And of course, the ideas I came up with are now taught in primary school." In 1967, he published a paper in the journal Nature called "The North Pacific: An Example of Tectonics on a Sphere" with Robert Parker, another Cambridge University graduate. (Webmaster's comment: Plate Tectonics is not a theory, it is a FACT!)