62 Global Warming News Articles
for May of 2018
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5-30-18 Treating roads with oil and gas wastewater may spread harmful pollution
Thirteen states allow the practice to help with deicing, dust control and road maintenance. Each year, finding and extracting oil and gas for energy produces hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater in the United States. When recycled and spread on roads, the wastewater can leak its contaminants, including salt, radioactive elements and chemicals that interfere with hormones, into groundwater and surface water, researchers report May 30 in Environmental Science and Technology. Currently, 13 states permit this wastewater to be used on streets for road maintenance, as a cheap deicing fluid or to keep down dust on unpaved roads. It’s a particularly common practice in rural communities with low budgets for keeping roads in shape. Spills from oil and gas wastewater treatment plants have sparked concern about contaminants such as radium (which naturally occurs in oil and natural gas deposits) that could affect human and environmental health. But the water’s use on roads might be a bigger problem, the study shows. For example, in Pennsylvania, the amount of radium that leached from wastewater spread on roads from 2008 to 2014 is about four times as high as what was discharged from wastewater treatment facilities during the same period, the researchers calculated using existing data. And it was about 200 times as high as the amount leached during wastewater spills. The new research could lead to policy interventions, such as requiring the wastewater to be tested for radium before being used on roads. And it also suggests a need for affordable deicing alternatives, the team suggests.
5-30-18 Hotter years 'mean lower exam results'
In years with hotter weather pupils are likely to perform less well in exams, says a major study from researchers at Harvard and other US universities.. There is a "significant" link between higher temperatures and lower school achievement, say economic researchers. An analysis of test scores of 10 million US secondary school students over 13 years shows hot weather has a negative impact on results. The study says a practical response could be to use more air conditioning. Students taking exams in a summer heat wave might have always complained that they were hampered by the sweltering weather. But this study, from academics at Harvard, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Georgia State University, claims to have produced the first clear evidence showing that when temperatures go up, school performance goes down. Researchers have tracked how secondary school students performed in tests in different years, between 2001 and 2014, across the different climates and weather patterns within the US. The study, published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, found that students were more likely to have lower scores in years with higher temperatures and better results in cooler years. This applied across the many different types of climate - whether in cooler northern US states or in the southern states where temperatures are typically much higher. The study, Heat and Learning, suggested that hotter weather made it harder to study in lessons in school and to concentrate on homework out of school. Researchers calculated that for every 0.55C increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1% fall in learning. Colder days did not seem to damage achievement - but the negative impact began to be measurable as temperatures rose above 21C. The reduction in learning accelerated once temperatures rose above 32C and even more so above 38C.
5-28-18 Bacteria teach us how to make green fuel from carbon dioxide
We’ve found bacteria that turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons useful for fuel and plastic, and now we’ve mimicked their enzymes to do it even better. Bacteria have inspired artificial enzymes that can convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons, which could be used to make fuel or plastics. Azotobacter vinelandii is a harmless soil bacterium found everywhere on the planet while Methanosarcina acetivorans survives in marine sediments. They both contain nitrogenase enzymes which have been shown to turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons – including methane, propane, butane and ethylene. Now Yilin Hu at the University of California at Irvine, and her team, have developed synthetic versions of these naturally-occurring enzymes. When they bubbled carbon dioxide through water containing colonies of bacteria with this enzyme, or the artificial one, both versions converted the gas into a mixture of hydrocarbons. “Some, such as methane, propane and butane, could be used as fuel sources and others, such as ethylene, could be used to generate polymers such as polyethylene and other plastics,” says Hu. Currently, these hydrocarbons – many used to make plastics – are manufactured through an energy-hungry, industrial-scale procedure. At temperatures up to 300°C and pressures tens of times higher than atmospheric pressure, it scrunches carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases together to create the liquid hydrocarbons. By contrast, the nitrogenase enzymes make the hydrocarbons at room temperature and without extra pressure. The artificial version worked even better than the natural versions, producing yields up to fourfold higher.
5-28-18 The Great Barrier Reef has died 5 times in the last 30,000 years
The Great Barrier Reef has resurrected itself five times in the last 30,000 years after being wiped out by dramatic environmental shifts. The Great Barrier Reef is a master at cheating death. It has resurrected itself five times in the last 30,000 years after being wiped out by dramatic environmental shifts. Jody Webster at the University of Sydney and his colleagues studied samples collected from today’s reef. They collected 30- to 40-metre-long cores taken from 16 different sites, which revealed how the reef has changed over the last 30 millennia. The researchers found evidence of five mass reef deaths triggered by sudden changes in sea level. Two of these deaths occurred between 30,000 and 22,000 years ago as Earth’s climate headed towards the last glacial maximum. As the climate cooled, more water became bound up in ice sheets and the sea level dropped by about 120 metres. “The retreating shoreline would have exposed the reef and caused it to die,” says Webster. Nevertheless, both times the reef managed to re-establish itself over the next several thousand years by moving further out to sea. Tiny amounts of surviving coral may have been able to replenish the new sites with larvae, says Webster. As the planet began to warm again, the reef encountered new problems. Melting ice sheets caused sea levels to rise, leaving coral too deeply submerged to get enough sunshine. Associated coastal flooding would also have released massive amounts of sediments that could have harmed the coral, says Webster.
5-28-18 EU proposes ban on straws and other single-use plastics
The European Union is proposing a ban on single-use plastics to help protect marine life. The proposals are aimed at outlawing many commonplace plastic items including straws, cotton buds, cutlery, balloon sticks and drink stirrers. The governing body also wants almost all plastic bottles to be collected for recycling by 2025. The plan will need to be approved by the 28 member states and the European Parliament before it can be passed. "Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem," EU First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. "Today's proposals will reduce single-use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. "We will ban some of these items and substitute them with cleaner alternatives, so people can still use their favourite products." The EU's proposals are targeting disposable food containers and dining ware, from plastic plates and cups, to packaging for food products such as fast-food. The plan does not set a deadline for a total ban on single-use plastic items such as cotton buds, plates and straws. If it is approved, member states will need to make an active effort to reduce the number of single-use plastic food containers and cups available for sale in supermarkets.
The EU estimates that the ban will help:
- Avoid 3.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions
- Prevent damage to the environment that would cost the equivalent of €22bn (£19.2bn) by 2030
- Save consumers €6.5bn.
5-25-18 Plastic pollution: Images of a global problem
In its June issue, National Geographic magazine has published a selection of startling photos highlighting the vast amounts of discarded plastic choking the world's oceans, shorelines and rivers. Wildlife, particularly marine animals, are at risk when they become entangled in plastic waste, or ingest it. Trapped in a plastic bag at a landfill in Spain, this stork has a lucky escape - the photographer later freed it. One bag can kill more than once: carcasses decay, but the plastic lasts. This loggerhead turtle has become entangled in an old plastic fishing net in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain. The turtle could stretch its neck above water to breathe but would have died had the photographer not freed it. Derelict fishing gear poses a major threat to large marine animals such as turtles. On Okinawa, Japan, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen. Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, leaving their rubbish behind. The magazine has devoted much of its issue to the problem; the plastic pollution we can see at the surface is probably just a small proportion of what's in the ocean. Plastic waste can break down into tiny particles, which are less visible, but may still affect marine life. After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a woman spreads them out to dry. She turns them regularly, while also tending to her son. The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than one-fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the US it's less than 10%.
5-24-18 Asteroid that killed the dinosaurs caused massive global warming
The asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago caused dramatic climate change, which could mean we are underestimating how much the planet will warm in the coming centuries. The asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs caused temperatures to rise by 5°C. Earth stayed that hot for 100,000 years. That’s much hotter than expected, which could mean we are underestimating how much the planet will warm in the next few centuries. “The implication is that the amount of warming that we are likely to see is greater than current predictions,” says Ken MacLeod of the University of Missouri in Columbia. The asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago slammed into rocks rich in carbonates, releasing immense quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It also triggered vast wildfires, releasing even more C02. So it has long been thought that after a few years of an “impact winter” caused by dust blocking sunlight, there was rapid global warming much like what is happening today. There have been countless other times in Earth’s history when rising CO2 levels warmed the planet, but it has usually happened over many thousands of years. “The warming would likely have happened even faster than warming today,” says MacLeod. “It’s a much closer natural experiment to what we are doing today.” But how much did the planet warm? For decades, researchers have been hunting for direct evidence. MacLeod’s team finally found it in rocks in Tunisia.
5-24-18 The Chicxulub asteroid impact might have set off 100,000 years of global warming
The hit caused the release of carbon dioxide, driving temperatures to rise, researchers say. After a giant asteroid hit Earth about 66 million years ago, the planet’s climate went on a roller coaster ride. The space rock’s impact set off tsunamis and wildfires before climate-chilling clouds of sulfur gas engulfed the planet for decades, wiping out most life (SN: 11/25/17, p. 14). As these clouds dissipated, billions of tons of carbon dioxide, which spewed into the atmosphere when the asteroid hit, fueled roughly 100,000 years of global warming, new data suggest. Analyzing fossilized fish bits hints that the influx of the greenhouse gas raised the temperature of the ocean on average by 5 degrees Celsius, scientists report online May 24 in Science. It’s not surprising that the climate heated up after the collision, which left a 200-kilometer-wide crater centered around what’s now Chicxulub, Mexico, says Johan Vellekoop, a geologist at KU Leuven in Belgium. But finding evidence to back up the warming claim has been challenging. A common way to estimate past temperatures on Earth is to measure the proportion of heavier to lighter forms of oxygen in the carbonate shells left behind by dead invertebrates. Animals incorporate different oxygen forms into shells, teeth and bones at different rates depending on temperature. But carbonate fossils from around the time of the impact aren’t well enough preserved to be a reliable thermometer.
5-24-18 Mystery ozone-destroying gases linked to badly recycled fridges
Last week we learned a chemical that harms the ozone layer is being emitted in Asia – and now it seems sloppy recycling might be partly to blame. That was quick. Just a week after an alarming report that a banned ozone-depleting chemical is being pumped into the air from somewhere in Asia, researchers claim to have found where some of it is coming from. The substance in question is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) called CFC-11, which was once used in refrigerators. Production of CFC-11 was banned in 2006 under the Montreal Protocol, which regulates chemicals that damage the ozone layer. However, on 16 May Stephen Montzka at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado and his colleagues revealed that the rate of decline in CFC-11 levels had unexpectedly halved since 2012 (Nature, doi.org/cp5g). This suggested someone was making CFC-11, Montzka argued, probably in east Asia. “We just don’t know what is causing this emissions increase,” says Montzka. However, a research paper quietly posted on 7 May, over a week before, may hold some answers. Rather than all of the emissions being due to new and illicit CFC-11 production, some could be coming from the careless recycling of discarded refrigerators in China.
5-23-18 As CO2 increases, rice loses B vitamins and other nutrients
Nations most dependent on rice could see nutrient shortfalls by 2100. By the end of this century, rice may not deliver the same B vitamin levels that it does today. Protein and certain minerals will dwindle, too, new data suggest. Testing higher carbon dioxide concentrations in experimental rice paddies in China predicts losses in four vitamins — B1, B2, B5 and B9 — an international team reports May 23 in Science Advances. Adding results from similar experiments in Japan, the researchers also note an average 10.3 percent decline in protein, an 8 percent fall in iron and a 5.1 percent fall in zinc, supporting previous studies of rice and other crops. (SN: 4/1/17, p. 28). Two bright spots: Vitamin B6 levels remained unchanged and vitamin E increased. In experimental setups nicknamed FACE (free-air CO2 enrichment) in China’s Yangtze River delta and near the Japanese city of Tsukuba, researchers grew a total of 18 varieties of rice. Piping exposed the rice to CO2 concentrations elevated to 568 to 590 parts per million — higher than the current level of 410 ppm, but in line with the current trend toward 570 ppm in this century. The nine rice varieties from China, from three years’ crops and analyzed in their unrefined brown form, differed in degree of vitamin loss. On average, B1 levels (thiamine) declined 17.1 percent; B2 levels (riboflavin), 16.6 percent; B5 (pantothenic acid), 12.7 percent; and B9 (folate), 30.3 percent.
5-22-18 Why the UK’s plan to tackle air pollution is mostly hot air
A ban on using polluting wet wood isn’t nearly enough to halt the rise in dangerous particulates from trendy wood burners. The UK government has today announced plans to tackle sources of air pollution, including trendy wood-burning stoves, but its Clean Air Strategy fails to address the real problem. While pollution from wood-burning stoves is a relatively new problem for the UK – they became fashionable a few years ago – it has long been a major source of air pollution in countries such as Canada and New Zealand. And the take-home message from their efforts to control the release of harmful particulates in the air is simple: ban wood burning. “There does not seem to be a limit below which there is no impact on health,” says Gary Fuller of King’s College London, whose team has shown that wood burning is now the source of a third of particulate pollution in cities in the UK. As New Scientist reported last year, families with wood burners are likely to be exposed to the highest levels of pollution, as even the best stoves can produce very high levels of indoor pollution. Their neighbours are next in the firing line, given that the particulates produced are not confined to one home. Despite this, the UK government isn’t planning a ban. Instead, it wants “to prohibit sale of the most polluting fuels”, such as wet wood. But even dry wood is highly polluting. What’s more, lots of people with wood burners don’t buy their wood from shops. Instead, they scrounge it from wherever they can, with skips of building waste being one popular source. This is a disaster in pollution terms, as treated or painted wood can release extremely toxic chemicals when burned.
5-18-18 Grape skins and stems can be turned into a greener plastic
Someday you might buy wine in a plastic bottle made from the same grapes. Their skins, stems, and seeds can be used to make plastic that lasts longer. Wine production doesn’t use every part of the fruit. It leaves behind a pile of skins, stems, and seeds called grape marc – but we may be able to use that detritus to help produce durable plastics. Grapes are full of a chemical compound called polyphenols, which often act as antioxidants, preventing chemical reactions in which a molecule loses its electrons and a material degrades. In the human body, these reactions can damage cells; they can also make plastics brittle when they’re exposed to light and air for a long time. Most plastics forestall these reactions through stabilisers that contain antioxidant compounds. Audrey Diouf-Lewis at the University of Clermont Auvergne in France, and her colleagues used a polyphenol cocktail extracted from grape marc to stabilise plastics and make them last longer. First, they placed the raw grape marc from Pinot noir grapes into a microwave for 20 minutes and freeze-dried the resulting liquid into a light brown powder full of polyphenols. Then they incorporated the powder into the molecular matrix of melted polypropylene, a plastic used widely in packaging and reusable containers.
5-18-18 Turning carbon dioxide into rock - forever
Nested in the snow-covered mountains of western Iceland, a maze of turbines and pipes belches thick billows of steam. This mammoth structure is responsible for providing power to a country where 100% of the electricity comes from renewable sources. The Hellisheidi power station, 25km (15 miles) outside Reykjavik, is Iceland's main geothermal plant, and is one of the largest in the world. "Do you feel the vibrations beneath us?", says Edda Sif Aradottir, the plant's manager, splashing snow as she stomps her boot on the ground. "It's the steam coming into the turbines". "This is a volcanic area. We harness the volcano's internal heat to generate electricity and provide hot water for the city's heating system, our swimming pools and showers. We Icelanders like our showers really hot!" Hellisheidi is not just an accomplished provider of green energy. It is also the site for a scientific breakthrough; an experiment to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) and turn it into stone - forever. Thus keeping this greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and putting a dent in global warming. "Mankind has been burning fossil fuels since the industrial revolution and we have already reached the tipping point for CO2 levels", says Dr Aradottir. "This is one of the solutions that can be applied to reverse that". Called CarbFix, the project is pioneered by an international consortium led by Reykjavík Energy, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of Iceland and Columbia University. Since experiments began in 2014, it's been scaled up from a pilot project to a permanent solution, cleaning up a third of the plant's carbon emissions. "More importantly, we are a testing ground for a method that can be applied elsewhere, be that a power plant, heavy industries or any other CO2 emitting source", says Dr Aradottir. With rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2, scientists have been testing "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) solutions since the 1970s. CarbFix, however, stands out among CCS experiments because the capture of carbon is said to be permanent - and fast.
5-17-18 Carbon dioxide levels hit historic high
The level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is now at its highest level in human history and is closing in on concentrations that climatologists say could have catastrophic consequences for life on the planet. CO2 levels topped 410 parts per million throughout April—the highest concentration in 800,000 years—according to observations from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Prior to the late 18th century, levels of carbon dioxide averaged about 280 ppm. But since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels has pumped ever more CO2—a greenhouse gas that traps heat and drives climate change—into the atmosphere. At the current rate of increase, “we’ll hit 450 ppm in a mere 16 years, and 500 ppm 20 years after that,” Ralph Keeling, head of the CO2 program at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, tells CNN.com. “That’s well within dangerous territory for the climate system.” The last time CO2 levels were this high was in the mid-Pliocene epoch, more than 3 million years ago—long before Homo sapiens evolved. During the mid-Pliocene, the atmosphere began to warm, ice sheets to melt, and sea levels to rise to more than 60 feet higher than they are today. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said the new CO2 findings show that “we are continuing full speed ahead with an unprecedented experiment with our planet.’’
5-17-18 Keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C helps most species hold their ground
Just a half-degree beyond that would at least double the range loss for plants and animals. Limiting global warming this century to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures would be a boon to the planet’s biodiversity. This lower warming threshold, compared with warming of 2 degrees C, will preserve much larger swaths of the geographic ranges of tens of thousands of land-based species of plants, vertebrates and insects living on the planet, a new study suggests. Using a combination of climate simulations and data on the distribution of more than 115,000 terrestrial species worldwide, scientists saw distinct differences in future biodiversity depending on how much warming the planet experiences. At 2 degrees C of warming by 2100, 18 percent of insect species, 16 percent of plant species and 8 percent of vertebrate species saw their geographic ranges shrink by more than half. Under 1.5 degrees C of warming, those numbers fell to 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants and 4 percent of vertebrates, the team reports in the May 18 Science. “Losing half the range is a pretty big impact, because that means [the organisms] stop contributing as much to the ecosystem,” says study coauthor Rachel Warren, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia in Britain. These ecosystem contributions include air and water purification, plant pollination and nutrient cycling. Until a few years ago, 2 degrees was the magic number. If the planet’s nations could limit global warming to just 2 degrees C , scientists thought, the world would be relatively “safe” — with little change to sea levels, species habitats or climate conditions. But over time, concerns began to arise that that target would still incur too great a cost, Warren says.
5-17-18 White House blocks chemical pollution study
The White House and Environmental Protection Agency squelched a federal water pollution study after a Trump aide warned that its publication would be a “public relations nightmare,” Politico.com reported this week. The Department of Health and Human Services report found that industrial chemicals called PFOA and PFOS have contaminated water supplies near manufacturing plants, military bases, and other sites and are dangerous at far lower levels than the EPA previously called safe. The chemicals have been linked to thyroid defects, pregnancy problems, and some cancers. In January, a White House aide wrote that the reaction to the study was “going to be extremely painful” for the administration. The report remains unpublished.
5-17-18 'Shocking' human impact reported on world's protected areas
One third of the world's protected lands are being degraded by human activities and are not fit for purpose, according to a new study. Six million sq km of forests, parks and conservation areas are under "intense human pressure" from mining, logging and farming. Countries rich and poor, are quick to designate protected areas but fail to follow up with funding and enforcement. This is why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, the authors say. Global efforts to care for our natural heritage by creating protected zones have, in general, been a huge conservation success story. Since the Convention on Biological Diversity was ratified in 1992, the areas under protection have doubled in size and now amount to almost 15% of the lands and 8% of the oceans. But researchers now say that many of these protected areas are in reality "paper parks", where activities, such as building roads, installing power lines, even building cities, continue without restrictions. "What we have shown is that six million sq km have this level of human influence that is harmful to the species they are trying to protect," the study's senior author, Prof James Watson from the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the BBC's Science in Action programme. "It is not passive, it's not agnostic; it is harmful and that is quite shocking." "What was scary was that the patterns were consistent everywhere. No nation was behaving very well. All nations were allowing heavy industry inside their protected areas, including very rich nations."That's probably the saddest part of our study - that nations like Australia and the US, which have the resources and have this incredible biodiversity to protect, are not safeguarding those protected areas.
5-17-18 A third of ‘protected’ nature zones are quietly being ruined
The world’s nations have set up 200,000 protected areas in which nature is supposed to flourish, but in many cases the protection is pretty much theoretical. Roads, farmers, loggers and house-builders are ruining at least one third of the world’s 200,000 protected areas, where nature is supposed to be flourishing. The largest survey to date of human incursion into protected areas found that 32.8 per cent of protected land is under “intense human pressure”. The threatened protected areas cover 6 million square kilometres, an area twice that of Alaska. “Governments are claiming these places are protected for the sake of nature, when in reality they aren’t,” says lead author James Watson of the University of Queensland in St Lucia and the Wildlife Conservation Society. “It is a major reason why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, despite more and more land being ‘protected’.” Under the “Aichi targets” set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, launched at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, countries must turn 17 per cent of their land surface into protected areas by 2020. However, of 111 nations claiming to have done this, Watson found 74 have not. Those countries had allowed their protected areas to be heavily degraded through human incursion. “Once the actual condition of the protected area was considered, most nations don’t come close,” says Watson. Watson and his colleagues examined the human “footprint” on each protected area. Their data divides protected areas into squares 1 kilometre on the side, and within each square measures eight ways humans affect nature, such as roads, intensive farming and street lighting. For each square, they calculate an overall human footprint.
5-17-18 Someone is wrecking the ozone layer again. They must be stopped
For the health of our planet, and ourselves, we must find and foil those who breach crucial environmental treaties, says Lesley Evans Ogden. Last year marked 30 years since the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement signed by 197 countries aimed at healing the ozone layer. Heralded as a landmark environmental treaty – the first in UN history to achieve universal ratification – its effectiveness has been a beacon for international progress on so-called ‘wicked’ problems. But there has been a surprising rise in emissions of one of the most damaging ozone-depleting chemicals banned by the treaty, a new study has found. Its apparent source: east Asia. A gaseous shield in the stratosphere, the ozone layer protects us from harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet-B radiation, including skin cancer, cataracts and a compromised immune system. Since global bans were introduced, levels of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) in the atmosphere have been steadily declining. Air concentrations of this chemical, sampled with high precision at 12 remote sites around the globe, fell at a constant rate between 2002 and 2012. But now a sudden slowdown of that decline – by as much as 50 per cent – has been detected. “This is the most surprising and unexpected finding of my career”, says Stephen Montzka at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who led the study. For 27 years, Montzka has been monitoring multiple atmospheric measurements taken every day. (Webmaster's comment: It's Back!)
5-17-18 UK referred to Europe's top court over air pollution
The UK is being taken to court by the European Commission over its long-standing failure to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and Hungary have also been referred to the court for breaching pollution levels. The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said the EU "owed it to its citizens," to take legal action. The UK has promised a comprehensive air pollution package shortly. But Britain could face fines totalling millions of pounds, on-going until the problem is solved. The government has already lost a series of battles in the UK courts on air pollution. Commissioner Vella said it was the Commission's responsibility to ensure people could breathe clean air. He said the member states being taken to court had been repeatedly warned to clean up pollution as soon as possible. "We can't possibly wait any longer. It's high time to intensify efforts and end exceedances (of pollution levels)." Environmentalists say by taking the UK to the European Court of Justice, the EU has demonstrated what will be lost after Brexit. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, previously promised that governance of the environment would not be diluted when the UK leaves the EU. But he revealed last week that the UK environmental watchdog he proposes after Brexit would not have the automatic power to take the government to court. The Green MEP Keith Taylor welcomed the EC's decision. He said: "The Commission is being forced to take legal action against the UK because the government remains steadfastly apathetic in the face of a public health crisis that is linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year."
5-17-18 Nanoparticles could help rescue malnourished crops
Normally used to fight cancer, these teeny liposomes deliver plant nutrients efficiently. Synthetic nanoparticles used to fight cancer could also heal sickly plants. The particles, called liposomes, are nanosized, spherical pouches that can deliver drugs to specific parts of the body (SN: 12/16/06, p. 398). Now, researchers have filled these tiny care packages with fertilizing nutrients. The new liposomes, described online May 17 in Scientific Reports, soak into plant leaves more easily than naked nutrients. That allows the nanoparticles to give malnourished crops a more potent pick-me-up than the free-floating molecules in ordinary nutrient spray. Each liposome is a hollow sphere about 100 nanometers across, and is made of fatty molecules extracted from soybean plants. Once a plant leaf absorbs these nanoparticles, the liposomes spread to cells in the plant’s other leaves and its roots, where the fatty envelopes break down and release their molecular cargo. Researchers first exposed tomato plants to either liposomes packed with a rare earth metal called europium, or free-floating europium molecules. Europium doesn’t naturally exist in plants or soil, so it’s easy to trace how much of this element plants soaked up after treatment. Three days after exposure, plants treated with liposomes had absorbed up to 33 percent of the nanoparticles. Plants exposed to free-floating europium took in less than 0.1 percent of the molecules
5-16-18 Plastic waste is a problem – but some solutions are even worse
Plastics have done wonders for hygiene and human health. We need to fix the waste problem – but don’t throw out the baby with the bath tub. AS LEARNED commissions debate whether to declare a new human-dominated era of geological time – the Anthropocene – we are already making facts on and under the ground. Since plastics were widely introduced in the 1950s, we have dumped an estimated 4.9 billion tonnes into the environment. Most goes to landfill for future generations to unearth. But it is marine waste that has spurred public desire for action. Images from the BBC documentary Blue Planet II of marine wildlife snared by plastics are a visceral indictment of our throwaway culture. Claims that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, made at the World Economic Forum in 2016, have great power to shock. The new focus is to be welcomed. It has caused many companies and individuals to reconsider their use of plastics, and empowered many to think that they can make a positive difference to the planet. But we should be sober in adopting solutions (see “Fixing planet plastic: How we’ll really solve our waste problem”). Climate change and the loss of biodiversity remain our top environmental concerns, and we cannot afford to adopt plastic alternatives that increase, not decrease, our impact on the planet. A cotton tote bag or steel water bottle may generate higher carbon emissions over its lifetime. A rush to bio-derived plastics may, as with biofuels, increase land cleared for crops. Plastics that degrade faster risk increasing the scourge of microplastic in the environment if not partnered with better waste management.
5-16-18 Biodegradable plastic: Waste that eats itself
Plastics that degrade on disposal already exist, and are getting better. But they won't solve the plastic trash problem on their own – and here's why. Can we simply magic plastics away? That’s the promise of biodegradable plastics – and they are at least part of the plastic waste solution, says Kevin O’Connor of University College Dublin, Ireland. Perhaps the best-known biodegradable plastic is polylactic acid, or PLA. Made from maize starch or sugar cane, it has uses ranging from medical implants to packaging. O’Connor is working on fermenting sugars or plant oils, or even breaking down waste PET, to make polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a family of plastics that can be used to make bottles, films and glues. The most popular biodegradable plastic on the market is probably Mater-Bi, a thermoplastic starch made by the Italian company Novamont from sugar, plant oils and even thistles. The hope is that wood chips and other biomass waste could eventually be used as feedstocks for biodegradable plastics. Existing biodegradables generally need industrial conditions to break down, for example up to 12 weeks at 57°C for compostable plastics that decompose with food waste. Recycling firms don’t like them, complaining that they further contaminate waste streams, while industrial food composters fear that people will get confused and put conventional plastic in food waste collection bins as well, rendering the resulting fertiliser worthless.
5-16-18 Fixing planet plastic: How we’ll really solve our waste problem
From bag bans to bacterial mulchers, many solutions are touted for the plastic waste crisis. Find out which work – and which don't – in our definitive guide. BY NOW, it is just a question of which heart-rending image you choose. There is the hawksbill turtle struggling to free itself from a plastic bag. The sea of polystyrene trash floating over a Caribbean nature reserve. Or the sperm whale washed ashore in Spain, its stomach filled with plastic waste. Since the introduction of mass-produced plastics in the early 20th century, humanity has produced an estimated 8300 million tonnes of the stuff. Around three-quarters has been thrown away, and 80 per cent of that has drifted into the environment or gone into landfill. Eight million tonnes a year end up in the ocean – 5 trillion pieces and counting. It is an environmental catastrophe and a human one, too, as some people in parts of the developing world live ankle-deep in filthy, non-biodegrading plastic trash. The long-term health implications for all of us remain uncertain, as ingested plastic works its way up the food chain. Everyone agrees something must be done. From banning plastic straws to rebooting recycling systems to harnessing plastic-munching bacteria, there is no shortage of touted solutions. It is less clear what would work best. But fixing the plastic waste crisis is going to take some seriously joined-up thinking. If we make the wrong decisions now, we risk making the problem worse.
5-16-18 Canada protects largest coniferous forest in the world
Canada will soon have the largest protected boreal forest - an area twice the size of Belgium - on the planet. Some 1.6m hectares of remote land in the province of Alberta are being made into new or extended provincial parks. A 6.7m hectare conservation zone will now be protected and free from logging or oil and gas exploration. Boreal (or coniferous) forests occur in northern climes with long, cold winters and short summers. They are among the world's densest forests. Canada's boreal zone is home to threatened wood bison, peregrine falcon and woodland caribou populations. The region makes up about a third of a band of green that extends across northern North America and into Asia. It is also a nursery for billions of songbirds that migrate north in the summer from wintering grounds in the US and beyond. "It's not just forest, it's really the matrix of forest and wetlands and waters - and we can protect those at a scale that is an opportunity lost in the rest of the world," said Dan Kraus, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Some of the largest intact forest left in the world is in Canada and Mr Kraus said it is the "one thing we can really share with the world, and give to the world in terms of conservation".
5-16-18 Switzerland to vote on pesticide ban 'in 3 years'
Swiss citizens will get the chance to vote on a complete ban on the use of synthetic pesticides after campaigners secured enough signatures to force a referendum. More than 100,000 Swiss signed the call for a ban that would apply to all farmers, industries and imported foods. If the vote is passed, Switzerland would become only the second country after Bhutan to implement a full ban. But it could be at least three years before voters go to the poll. Over the past 12 months, the future use of pesticides has been a hotly debated topic across Europe. After months of deadlock, the EU re-approved the widely used weedkiller, glyphosate, for five years. France though says it aims to ban the chemical in the country within three years. Just a few weeks ago, the EU agreed a near total ban on the use of neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. The Swiss initiative would go much further than the handful of towns and regions around the world that have already banned all synthetic pesticides. It would also be of greater global significance than the ban imposed by Bhutan in 2013, as Switzerland is the home of the world's biggest pesticide manufacturer, Syngenta. The formal petition will be presented to the Federal Chancellery in Bern on 25 May. (Webmaster's comment: We have to learn to live within our means, and that means we must stop poisoning the Earth!)
5-15-18 Fertiliser feeds us but trashes the climate – now there’s a fix
The way we make ammonia for fertilizer was developed a century ago and produces more than 1 per cent of all carbon emissions. Now we may have a replacement. Feeding billions of people around the globe takes a lot of energy. Much of the carbon cost of this effort comes down to making ammonia, the key ingredient in many fertilisers. To do this, we rely on the Haber-Bosch process, invented a century ago by German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. No one has yet come up with anything that can compete with it on massive scales without breaking the bank. Until now. Xiaofeng Feng and his colleagues at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, created a process that can take water, nitrogen from the air, electricity and a very special catalyst to help turn the ingredients into ammonia, the key ingredient of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. It works at room temperature, with no need for high pressure. This is a far cry from the current Haber-Bosch process, which crams nitrogen and hydrogen together to make ammonia at temperatures of around 550°C and 350 times atmospheric pressure. It gobbles up around 2 per cent of all global energy and generates more than 1 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global warming. The new process needs so little power that it could be driven by solar or wind energy. “No energy is needed for heating and compressing,” says Feng. The secret is a palladium catalyst. Feng coats nanoparticles of palladium onto a carbon electrode, then dunks it into a water electrolyte solution. When he passes electricity and nitrogen gas through the system, the palladium particles sponge up hydrogen atoms from the water and transfers them to nitrogen molecules, which then break apart to form ammonia molecules.
5-15-18 'Feel good' factor not CO2 boosts global forest expansion
Forests are increasing around the world because of rising incomes and an improved sense of national wellbeing say researchers. The authors refute the idea that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are the key cause of the spread of trees. As countries become better off, farmers focus on good quality soils and abandon marginal lands, the authors say. As a result, trees are able to rapidly reforest these deserted areas. The study highlights the fact that between 1990 and 2015 forest growing stock increased annually by 1.31% in high income countries and by 0.5% in middle income nations, while falling by 0.72% in 22 low income countries. Several global climate models have attributed this change to what's termed CO2 fertilisation - where higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere boost the growing abilities of plants and trees. But the authors say that this greening process has been going on since the 1800s in Western Europe when CO2 in the atmosphere was just starting to rise. "When people are feeling good, it benefits forests," Prof Pekka Kauppi from the University of Helsinki, the paper's co-author, told BBC News. "It is not just income. When a society works properly then deforestation automatically seems to disappear, and society reaches a sort of a balance with the forests. Once a country has a decent life, they do not deplete forests they want to protect them. When livelihoods come from other sources not subsistence farming then marginal lands are abandoned and people just leave the forests to grow back." Other parts of the world have started to increase forest cover in relation to their development and not just levels of CO2 the professor says. Europe, the US, Japan and New Zealand have all increased cover over the past century while over the past 50 years China and Chile have also seen forests increase. Between 1990 and 2015 some 13 tropical countries have transitioned from places with net forest losses to net forest gains.
5-14-18 Rich nations restore their own forests but trash those elsewhere
As countries get richer, they start replanting their forests – but this is not a big environmental gain because they “export” the deforestation to poor countries Don’t be too proud if your country is busy replanting its lost forests. While it’s true that many rich countries are restoring their own forests, they are also indirectly responsible for deforestation elsewhere. A new study finds that richer nations grow their forests, while poorer nations lose them. Since ever more nations are becoming wealthy, in theory this could drive global reforestation. The authors say that more developed countries intensify agriculture on the best farmland, and give the rest back to nature. This trend is helped by farmers abandoning their plots to work in cities, and by a reduced need for firewood. That suggests that poor rural folks are – inadvertently – the bad guys. But it is not that simple. When nations get rich, their well-off inhabitants have enough money to buy food and other commodities grown by deforesting other countries. Rich countries don’t stop deforesting; they export it. And Europeans, who turned from net forest destroyers to forest nurturers as long ago as the mid-19th century, may be the prime example. Pekka Kauppi at the University of Helsinki, Finland and his colleagues studied trends in economic development and forest cover around the world.
5-14-18 Worst-case climate change scenario is even worse than we thought
A possible future that climatologists treat as the worst of the worst, because it would produce huge greenhouse gas emissions, might lead to even more emissions than believed. The phrase “worse than we thought” is a cliché when it comes to climate change. There are lots of studies suggesting we’re in for more warming and worse consequences than thought, and few saying it won’t be as bad. But guess what: it’s worse than we thought. A study of the future global economy has concluded that the standard worst-case scenario used by climate scientists is actually not the worst case. How much the climate will change depends on how much greenhouse gas we emit, which in turn depends on the choices we make as a society – including how the global economy behaves. To handle this, climatologists use four scenarios called RCPs, each of which describes a different possible future. The RCP8.5 scenario is the worst for the climate. It assumes rapid, unfettered economic growth and rampant burning of fossil fuels. It now seems RCP8.5 may have underestimated the emissions that would result if we follow the economic path it describes. “Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that year 2100 emissions concentrations will exceed those given by RCP8.5,” says Peter Christensen of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
5-14-18 We messed up our figures on how much carbon dioxide is too much
Climatologists have tried to set a “carbon budget” that tells us how much greenhouse gas we can emit and stay below 2°C, but their efforts have only caused confusion. What would we have to do to limit global warming to 2°C, or better still to 1.5°C? For the past decade or so, climate scientists have answered this vital question in terms of the total amount of carbon dioxide we can pump into the air. If we emit more than a certain total, temperatures will rise by more than 2°C, greatly increasing extreme weather and further accelerating the melting of ice sheets. But the whole idea of a “carbon budget”, as this idea is known, has become embroiled in controversy and confusion. Now one prominent researcher says we should essentially abandon the idea. The basic concept is correct, says Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate Research in Norway. But it has proved impossibly confusing. Far from narrowing down what we need to do, recent studies have produced a huge range of estimates. The remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C could be 800 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, giving us a couple of decades at current emission rates. Or it could be -100Gt CO2, meaning we have already emitted too much. This is because different studies use different methods, assumptions, temperature records and even different definitions. That makes them virtually impossible to compare, Peters argues. “The real power of the concept is to say emissions have to go to zero,” says Peters. Once our budget is used up, we cannot safely emit more. “I don’t know that people really get that.”
5-11-18 Global Warming Age Gap: Younger Americans Most Worried
Public concern about global warming is evident across all age groups in the U.S., with majorities of younger and older Americans saying they worry about the problem a great deal or fair amount. However, the extent to which Americans take global warming seriously and worry about it differs markedly by age, with adults under age 35 typically much more engaged with the problem than those 55 and older. The biggest generational gap is visible in the belief that global warming will pose a serious threat in one's own lifetime. This clearly reflects the different timeframes involved for each age group; the older one gets, the less time in one's lifetime for global warming's effects to be realized. The second-largest age gap comes with the belief that global warming is caused by human activities. Younger adults are also significantly more likely to think news reports on global warming underestimate the problem. They are more likely to worry about the problem and to believe there is a scientific consensus that global warming is occurring. Younger and older Americans come closest in agreement in their views that the effects of global warming have already begun, and in self-reports of understanding global warming.
- 70% of Americans age 18 to 34 worry about global warming
- This compares with 62% of those 35 to 54 and 56% who are 55 or older
5-10-18 Trump White House axes Nasa research into greenhouse gas cuts
President Donald Trump's administration has ended US space agency Nasa's monitoring system into greenhouse gases, a US journal has revealed. The Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10m (£7m)-a-year project which remotely tracks the world's flow of carbon dioxide, is to lose funding. Science magazine reports that its loss jeopardises the ability to measure national emission cuts - as agreed to by nations in the Paris climate deal. The US plans to withdraw from the deal. However, until a pullout is formalised in 2020, the US continues to be part of the international climate accord. US officials are currently in Germany as part of talks to outline a detailed rule book for the 2015 Paris agreement. They are reportedly insisting on strong rules for reporting and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. The country's environmental policy has shifted under a Trump administration, which wants to bolster the US's fossil fuel industry. Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened Nasa's earth science budget and other climate missions. In March, a spending deal signed in Congress omitted mention of CMS, effectively killing future US research into verifying greenhouse gas emission cuts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," energy and environment professor Kelly Sims Gallagher told the journal. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and to the Planet!)
5-10-18 UN puts brave face as climate talks get stuck
UN talks have been officially suspended as countries failed to resolve differences about implementing the Paris climate agreement. The negotiations will resume in Bangkok in September where an extra week's meeting has now been scheduled. Delegates struggled with the complexity of agreeing a rulebook for the Paris climate pact that will come into force in 2020. Rows between rich and poor re-emerged over finance and cutting carbon. Overall progress at this meeting has been very slow, with some countries such as China looking to re-negotiate aspects of the Paris deal. UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa was putting a brave face on the talks. "We face, I would say, a satisfactory outcome for this session but we have to be very, very clear that we have a lot of work in the months ahead," she said. "We have to improve the pace of progress in order to be able to achieve a good outcome in Katowice in December," she said, referring to the end of year Conference of the Parties where the rulebook is due to be completed and agreed. China and some other countries, perhaps frustrated by the slow pace, have sought in this Bonn meeting to go back to the position that existed before the 2015 deal, where only developed countries had to undertake to reduce their emissions. However, many developing countries were strongly opposed to turning the clock back. "Nations always give reasons to veer away from decarbonisation," the Philippines' Senator Loren Legarda, who's attending these talks, told BBC News. "But in the end we don't exist in isolation of each other, and negotiators, leaders of these nations, whether industrialised or developing, small island or least developed, should all realise that we're in one planet together."
5-10-18 Emissions suit
A coalition of 17 states, led by California, sued the Trump administration this week over its plan to weaken Obama-era auto emissions standards, threatening a long legal fight over the White House’s aggressive effort to roll back environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan would scrap rules requiring automakers to roughly double the average fuel economy for new vehicles by 2025. The states’ lawsuit argues that such a move violates the federal Clean Air Act and doesn’t follow the EPA’s own regulations. California is allowed to set its own fuel standards under the Clean Air Act, but it agreed to match its rules to the federal standard as part of a 2012 agreement that the Trump administration is now pulling away from. Some automakers that lobbied heavily against the new rules now fear that the White House may have gone too far, and that the administration’s actions threaten to split the country into two auto markets adhering by different rules.
5-10-18 Air pollution worsening in U.S. cities
More than 40 percent of Americans are breathing heavily polluted air, increasing their risk for lung cancer, asthma, heart problems, and other health issues. That’s the worrisome conclusion of the American Lung Association’s latest annual “State of the Air” report, which has been tracking air quality across the U.S. for 19 years. The report concluded that 133.9 million Americans lived in areas that get an F for air pollution in 2016, up from 125 million in 2015. Researchers focused on the two most common outdoor air pollutants: ozone and particles. Ozone is an odorless toxic gas that occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere, but it can also form at ground level when industrial pollutants react with heat and sunlight. Particle pollution includes dust, fumes, soot, smoke, and aerosols. The report found that although particle pollution levels are still falling—a long-term trend attributed to the 1970 Clean Air Act—ozone levels are increasing, likely thanks to rising temperatures. In 2016, the second-hottest year on record, there was a sharp spike in the number of days with high ozone levels, reports CSMonitor.com. “Even with the continued improvements [in particle levels],” says the ALA’s Janice Nolen, “we’re seeing the evidence of the challenge of climate change.” Ozone exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular damage, asthma attacks, and developmental harm. Los Angeles has the highest ozone levels in the country; other cities with high levels include Sacramento, Phoenix, and New York City.
5-10-18 UN climate stalemate sees extra week of talks added
UN negotiations in Bonn are set to end in stalemate today as delegates have become bogged down in technical arguments about the Paris climate pact. Poorer nations say they are fed up with foot dragging by richer countries on finance and carbon cutting commitments. Some countries, led by China are now seeking to renegotiate key aspects of the Paris agreement. An extra week of talks in September has been scheduled to try and get the process back on track. The signing of the Paris climate agreement in 2015 was seen as a momentous achievement, but in retrospect doing the deal might have been the easy part. In the intervening two and a half years, UN delegates have become increasingly stuck as they work through a welter of technical and accounting rules that will make the Paris pact operational in 2020. Poorer countries have become frustrated by what they see as the cavalier attitude of the rich to the urgency of the problem of rising seas and devastating floods and storms. "The developed world has to lead," Amjad Abdulla, the lead negotiator for the Maldives told BBC News. "We have a huge void - the action (by rich countries) on cutting carbon before 2020 we haven't really fulfilled that - and we are already embarking on rules for post 2020, that's unfair." Climate finance is almost always the root of some of the biggest arguments in this process. Here in Bonn the developing world have pressed hard to get commitments from the richer nations about a timetable for the monies to be delivered into the future.
5-9-18 California becomes first US state to mandate solar on homes
California has become the first US state to mandate solar panels on new homes and apartment buildings built after 1 January, 2020. The California Energy Commission unanimously approved the plan, making it the state's next big step towards ending greenhouse gas emissions. State law already requires that 50% of all electricity comes from non carbon-emitting sources by 2030. The mandate still requires approval from the Building Standards Commission. Critics have been quick to note that the solar panel mandate will add between $8,000 (£5,900) and $12,000 to a home's cost. The Energy Commission estimates, however, that homeowners will only see an additional $40 to monthly mortgage payments. At the same time, the commission said they will save $80 on heating, cooling and lighting costs per month. The new mandate does offer exceptions where solar power is not feasible or cost effective, such as homes located entirely under shade. Builders will have the option of adding solar panels to individual homes, or building shared power systems for a group of homes. Current homeowners would not be required to add solar to existing homes, though many in the state have done so using government rebate programmes. California has invested over $42m in solar energy to date, and the mandate will likely give a further boost to the solar industry statewide. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) already ranks California as the top state in the US when it comes to solar energy. Nearly 16% of the state's electricity last year came from solar.
5-9-18 Treeconomics: How to put a fair price tag on urban forests
We can now calculate the exact value of a tree, from shade to beauty. Doing so could be the best way to protect them – and plan the forests of the future. THE Broad Walk is one of London’s leafiest avenues, stretching between two corners of Hyde Park. On a cold but sunny spring day, it is a welcome escape from Park Lane’s noisy traffic, luxury hotels and car showrooms. I’m taking a walk with Ian Rodger, who manages trees for the city’s Royal Parks. “These were planted in about 1860,” says Rodger, gazing up at the giant London planes on either side of the path. Their canopies spread out high above him and fuzzy fruits fall occasionally from clusters in the branches. The Victorians planted thousands of these trees because they thrive in any soil and their flaking bark and glossy leaves made them impervious to the soot and smoke of the industrial revolution. But as we have learned to our cost, their roots can spread widely, disrupting roads, pavements and buildings. “What the Victorians didn’t know was how bloody big they get,” says Rodger. Nor could they have appreciated the true value of the trees, beyond their hardiness and handsomeness. In fact, that is something we are only just coming to fully appreciate. Recently, a band of “treeconomists” have begun to put a fair price tag on trees, accounting for the services they provide, from keeping our buildings cool to preventing skin cancer. The results are sometimes startlingly large – and can help people like Rodger plead the case for our cities’ trees. (Webmaster's comment: Their greatest value is that they remove CO2 from the air and replace it with Oxygen for us to breath.)
5-9-18 China is building a huge weather-control machine – will it work?
Water shortages are a huge problem for Chinese agriculture, so the country has just begun the world's largest ever weather control experiment. CHINA is trying to modify the weather on a grand scale. The nation’s scientists want to increase snowfall over an area three times the size of Spain, leading to enough extra meltwater to fight drought and bolster agriculture. The project could have a massive impact – if it works. The idea is to prompt clouds to release their moisture by seeding them with silver iodide particles. Burner devices placed at the base of ridges on the Tibetan Plateau are designed to produce a powerful updraft of hot air that lofts the particles into the clouds, where they should encourage ice crystals to form and fall as snow. The researchers estimate this could boost the flow of meltwater to rivers in the region by up to 10 trillion litres a year. This would greatly benefit food production – poor water management caused by water shortage results in droughts and floods, and currently reduces harvests by 20 million tonnes annually. The scale of the project is far larger than any previous attempt at controlling the weather. A report in the South China Morning Post says 500 burners have already been deployed, at a cost of $8000 each, but the total number deployed could eventually reach tens of thousands. China has tried cloud seeding before, but it was always on a more local level, delivering the particles via mobile rocket launchers mounted on trucks in response to a specific crisis, like a drought, hailstorm or fog, or to ensure favourable conditions at national events like the Beijing Olympics. “The cloud-seeding scheme could create up to an extra 10 trillion litres of water a year” (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese are thinking big again!)
5-8-18 Indonesian study into health risks of microplastics
Indonesian scientists have launched the largest ever study into whether tiny plastic particles can affect human health. They are investigating the presence of plastic in seafood while also tracking the diets of 2,000 people. There is no evidence yet that ingesting small pieces of plastic is harmful but potential impacts cannot be ruled out. Plastic pollution has become so severe in Indonesia that the army has been called in to help. While public attention is focused on larger items like bags and bottles choking rivers and canals, there is emerging scientific concern over the long-term implications of smaller and less visible pieces known as microplastics. The project is being undertaken in Semarang, an industrial port city of 1.7 million people, on the north coast of the Indonesian island of Java. Led by food technologist Inneke Hantoro, the aim is understand how much plastic is contained in seafood, how much of it people eat and whether a safe level of consumption can be devised. Her initiative is a response to US plastics researcher Jenna Jambeck and colleagues concluding that Indonesia was the world's second largest contributor of plastic waste to the oceans after China. Ms Hantoro, of Soegijapranata Catholic University, says the lack of evidence about microplastics causing harm is not a reason to delay investigating the risks. She told BBC News: "With the uncertain conditions right now, where the toxicological data is still limited, we cannot let the situation run as usual because we know consumers are starting to be aware of the presence of plastics – it will make them worry, so we need to do something."
5-8-18 Towing icebergs to Cape Town is a poor way to halt water crisis
Hauling chunks of polar ice to dry regions to provide fresh water sounds tempting but there are many reasons to reject it, says Olive Heffernan. In an unconventional solution to Cape Town’s water crisis, a marine salvage expert is suggesting towing a giant iceberg to the city and melting it down as drinking water. In drought since 2015, Cape Town was due to reach Day Zero about now, the point at which the city’s taps would be turned off, forcing locals to queue for water at guarded standpoints. For now, this doomsday scenario has been pushed back to 2019. But Nick Sloane, who led the refloating of Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia in 2014, says that Antarctic icebergs could soon quench the city’s thirst. First reported by Reuters, Sloane’s scheme would cost $130 million and could provide 150 million litres of water each day for a year, meeting 30 per cent of the city’s needs. A meeting to promote the idea is imminent. This may appear to be a welcome fix to an impending catastrophe. But far from being a novel proposition, it is simply the latest incarnation of an inane idea that refuses to die. The notion was around in the mid-1800s. One author in 1825, for example, wrote about moving icebergs into the Southern Ocean “for the purpose of equalising the temperature of the earth”.
5-8-18 Colombia’s peace deal unwittingly unleashed hell on the Amazon
Ever since Colombia signed a historic peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, farmers and criminal gangs have been burning its portion of the Amazon rainforest. AS RAIN lashes down on San José del Guaviare, Angélica Rojas Moncada of the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” she says. “There are already three fires burning today. Hopefully this does the trick.” Guaviare province is on the boundary between Colombia’s plains and the Amazon rainforest. But over the past century, the forest has been pushed back by a series of economic booms. From rubber to marijuana and coca, new opportunities have eaten into the Colombian Amazon, with fires clearing the way each time. Now, the forest faces a new threat: peace. In late 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace deal with Marxist guerrillas called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It ended a 52-year conflict that left over 200,000 dead and 7 million displaced. It could save many lives and push the nation into a new era of prosperity. But so far it hasn’t been good news for Colombia’s portion of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is home to about 400 indigenous groups, as well as many unique species. Colombia’s share spans a third of the country. It hosts many of the 849 Colombian species identified by the IUCN Red List as at risk, such as pink river dolphins, jaguars, giant otters and spider monkeys.
5-8-18 The battle of the gas-sucking mega giants is set to begin
Off the coast of Western Australia, a battle between mega giants is unfolding. The combatants involve the world's biggest semi-submersible platform, the longest sub-sea pipeline in the southern hemisphere, and the largest floating facility ever built. They're all there for the same reason: natural gas - and they're hoping to start drawing it up this month. As several countries begin to move away from coal as an energy resource, this alternative fossil fuel, which produces 50% less carbon dioxide for every unit of energy generated, is increasingly in demand in our energy hungry world. Consumption is forecast to rise to 177 trillion cubic feet (tcf) or 5,012 billion cubic metres by 2040, up from 124tcf in 2015, says the US Energy Information Administration. That's why Shell's gigantic Prelude platform - which is 488m (1,600ft) long and displaces roughly as much water as six aircraft carriers - is competing with Japanese firm Inpex for access to gas in the Browse Basin. Although they are working on separate gas fields, those fields are connected. Shell and Inpex are essentially vying for the same resource. "The way I describe it - I have a slide I present to clients and I have a picture of two people drinking out of the same milkshake," says Saul Kavonic, an analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. Prelude is a true behemoth. It has been designed not only to collect gas from sub-sea well heads, but also liquefy it on board at temperatures of -162C. As a liquid, the gas takes up significantly less space, making it easier to transport around the world on ships. This liquefaction would usually be done after piping the gas onshore, but Prelude can do the job herself - something never achieved on such a scale before.
5-7-18 Tourism is four times worse for the climate than we thought
Tourism is being blamed for 8 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and it emits more every year – making it harder to stop dangerous climate change. To help stop global warming, cancel that round-the-world holiday. Tourism has expanded so rapidly that it now accounts for 8 per cent of the greenhouse gases we belch into the air. That is up to four times previous estimates. Arunima Malik of the University of Sydney, Australia and her colleagues estimated the annual greenhouse gas emissions of tourism in 160 countries. They say the industry emits around 4.5 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. Previous estimates varied from 1 to 2 Gt per year. The team’s new estimates are higher because, as well as direct emissions from air transit, they also included indirect emissions. These include emissions from food production for tourists eating lavishly while on holiday, hotel upkeep and maintenance, and souvenirs. In 2013 this added an extra 1 to 2 gigatonnes. What’s more, tourism’s annual carbon footprint has grown rapidly, from 3.9 Gt in 2009 to 4.5Gt in 2013. That looks set to continue. “We estimate that a business-as-usual scenario will increase the carbon footprint from tourism to 6.5 gigatonnes by 2025,” says Malik. Tourism is growing as people get richer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US is the biggest source of tourism emissions, due to both its own citizens travelling elsewhere and people from elsewhere visiting the US. But other nations are catching up fast. “[The] strongest growth was seen in emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, as wealthy citizens seek to travel to exotic destinations,” says Malik.
5-7-18 Globetrotting tourists are leaving a giant carbon footprint on the Earth
It’s not just the getting there. Shopping, dining, hotel hopping all add to the tally. Global tourism contributes about 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, researchers report May 7 in Nature Climate Change. That carbon footprint is about three times as large as tourism-related emissions estimated by previous studies. The jump is largely because the new study doesn’t just tally up emissions from the traveling itself, like hopping a flight, going on a road trip or taking a cruise. It also looks at the impact of the goods and services that tourists enjoy, from food to shopping to hotel stays. Who has the biggest carbon footprint? The United States topped the list, as both a top destination for tourists and a source of tourists. Other prosperous nations, such as Canada and Germany, also have a big footprint, and increasingly wealthy nations, such as China and Mexico, are catching up in this amazing race.The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that came from tourism in 2013: 4.5 GIGATONS.
5-7-18 Tourism's carbon impact three times larger than estimated
A new study says global tourism accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, around three times greater than previous estimates. The new assessment is bigger because it includes emissions from travel, plus the full life-cycle of carbon in tourists' food, hotels and shopping. Driving the increase are visitors from affluent countries who travel to other wealthy destinations. The US tops the rankings followed by China, Germany and India. Tourism is a huge and booming global industry worth over $7 trillion, and employs one in ten workers around the world. It's growing at around 4% per annum. Previous estimates of the impact of all this travel on carbon suggested that tourism accounted for 2.5-3% of emissions. However in what is claimed to be the most comprehensive assessment to date, this new study examines the global carbon flows between 160 countries between 2009 and 2013. It shows that the total is closer to 8% of the global figure. As well as air travel, the authors say they have included an analysis of the energy needed to support the tourism system, including all the food, beverage, infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as the retail services that tourists enjoy. "It definitely is eye opening," Dr Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney, who's the lead author of the study, told BBC News. "We looked at really detailed information about tourism expenditure, including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs. We looked at the trade between different countries and also at greenhouse gas emissions data to come up with a comprehensive figure for the global carbon footprint for tourism." The researchers also looked at the impacts in both the countries where tourists came from and where they travelled. They found that the most important element was relatively well off people from affluent countries travelling to other well to do destinations. In the leading countries, US, China, Germany and India, much of the travel was domestic. Travellers from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark exert a much higher carbon footprint elsewhere than in their own countries.
5-5-18 How VW tried to cover up the emissions scandal
It was an "appalling" fraud that went to the very top of the company. That is the striking allegation made by US prosecutors looking into the emissions-cheating scandal at the Volkswagen Group. The indictment unsealed on Thursday claims that former CEO Martin Winterkorn was not only fully briefed about what his engineers were up to, he also authorised a continuing cover-up. These allegations have yet to be tested in a court of law. But if true, they paint a picture of extraordinary executive wrongdoing at one of the titans of German industry. Dr Winterkorn himself is unlikely ever to face trial in the US. But he remains under investigation in Germany on suspicion of deceiving investors. The Volkswagen scandal erupted in September 2015, when the company admitted that nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US were fitted with "defeat devices" designed to circumvent emissions tests. Shortly afterwards the then head of its US operations, Michael Horn, told a congressional committee that the deception was the work of "a couple of software engineers". We know that was far from the truth. Volkswagen has already admitted as much in an agreed "statement of facts" published last year as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice. That document set out how Volkswagen engineers struggled to make a diesel engine which would both perform well and be capable of meeting stringent US emissions standards. It explained how instead they designed a system to switch on emissions controls when the cars were being tested, and turn them off during normal driving. It also described how managers repeatedly sanctioned the use of this system despite objections from some employees, and encouraged engineers to hide what they were up to. (Webmaster's comment: The same as done at many corporations. Profits come first, being legal second, being safe third.)
5-5-18 Will this new satellite make power plants a lot greener?
Methane leaks from oil and gas facilities are "set to be spotted from space," said Damian Carrington at The Guardian. The Environmental Defense Fund plans to launch MethaneSAT, a satellite equipped to "scan the globe and make major leaks public," by 2021. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for roughly a fifth of human-caused climate change. The EDF says that though the oil and gas industry is responsible for about a third of emissions, which can come from leaky pipelines and fracking sites, just 3 percent of energy firms currently report their leaks. The satellite will play an important role in detecting where emissions are coming from. Although some government-run satellites can detect methane, they can't pinpoint its source. MethaneSAT should provide "a new level of precision" in monitoring about 50 major oil and gas regions, covering 80 percent of global production.
5-3-18 Atlantic current slowing
The Gulf Stream, the Atlantic Ocean current that transports warm, salty water from the tropics to Western Europe and America’s East Coast like a giant conveyor belt, is circulating at its slowest rate in 1,600 years. The likely culprit: climate change. A team of scientists analyzed sediment samples and fossil records from the ocean floor to determine how deep currents and ocean temperatures have changed over time. A separate group of researchers directly measured ocean temperatures dating back to the late 19th century. Both teams found that the Gulf Stream, or Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), has weakened by 15 to 20 percent over the last 150 years. Normally, AMOC releases heat into the atmosphere and warms Western Europe as it moves north. Once in the North Atlantic, the water cools, sinks, and circulates back south. This powerful current is gradually ebbing as melting glaciers reduce the salinity and density of the water, reports TheGuardian.com. If global warming continues to escalate, the disruption of the current could reach “a tipping point,” says study co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist. “This is uncharted territory,” he warns. A collapse of the Gulf Stream could result in rapid sea-level rise on the U.S. East Coast and extreme winters in Europe, and may have a major impact on fisheries and ocean ecosystems.
5-4-18 Extreme weather 'potentially catastrophic' for bats
Extreme weather appears to be disrupting the life cycle of Europe's bats. Scientists were alarmed to find that some bats in Portugal skipped winter hibernation altogether this year while others gave birth early. The findings add to growing fears that rising temperatures are having unpredictable effects on bats, birds and other wildlife. Bats born early in the year may suffer due to lack of insect food. "It's a phenological mismatch," said Dr Hugo Rebelo of the University of Porto, who is studying the impact of climate change on several Mediterranean bat species. "What this means is that the bat birth is more or less synchronised with the time of emergence of insects so that when bats give birth there are plenty of resources to feed on and then to feed their own pups. "With these chaotic weather patterns we are having now in winter and spring we don't know if everything is being mixed up." Rare bat species have been routinely monitored in Portugal at their underground roosts since the 1980s. In order to survive the winter months, bats must hibernate as there are not enough insects flying around in the winter to meet their energy demands. Dr Luísa Rodrigues, a biologist at The Institute of Conservation of Nature and Forests in Lisbon, said that for the first time in Portugal they found bats that had been born very early. "In January and February I visited 20 caves and mines and this happened only in one of them," she said. "It was a rare situation and even in the colony where we found this there were 500 bats and we found only two babies."
5-4-18 Kilauea: Hawaii emergency declared over volcano eruption
Kilauea volcano has erupted near a residential area on Hawaii's largest island, prompting a local state of emergency and the mandatory evacuation of 1,700 residents. Streams of lava have been seen running through woods and bubbling on to roads. Extreme levels of dangerous sulphur dioxide gas have been detected in the area, the Civil Defense Agency said. Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes and the eruption follows a series of recent earthquakes. "It sounds like a jet engine. It's going hard," resident Ikaika Marzo told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Community centres have been opened to provide shelter for evacuees. Officials had been warning residents all week they should be prepared to evacuate as an eruption would give little warning. A volcanic crater vent - known as Puu Oo - collapsed earlier this week, sending lava down the mountain's slopes towards populated areas. Talmadge Mango, the civil defence administrator for Hawaii County, told the BBC that power lines had melted off their poles in one area. "Seismic activity is still extremely high, so we feel that this might just be the beginning of things," he said.
5-3-18 Energy: Why oil is getting more expensive
“Donald Trump is not happy about the price of oil,” said Jordan Weissman in Slate.com. The president recently chided the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, suggesting the cartel was manipulating global oil supplies in order to drive up prices, which this week briefly topped $75 a barrel, the highest in more than three years. “Looks like OPEC is at it again,” Trump tweeted. “Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” The cost of oil is up roughly 46 percent over last year, and with demand climbing, drivers have seen prices at the pump also soar to three-year highs. The last time oil was north of $70 a barrel, prices “were in the middle of a steep collapse,” said Stephanie Yang and Alison Sider in The Wall Street Journal. It was 2014, and the U.S. shale boom and the resumption of drilling in Libya had resulted in a global glut of crude, causing oil prices to crater, eventually to just $26 a barrel. For two years, OPEC countries responded by pumping frantically, hoping to drive U.S. shale operators out of business. But in 2016, they “reversed course” and enlisted other petrostates, such as Russia, to agree to major production cuts. Over time, the cartel successfully rolled back production by more than 1.5 million barrels a day, eliminating the global glut that had kept prices low.
5-4-18 New climate 'feedback loop' discovered in freshwater lakes
Methane emissions from lakes in the northern hemisphere could almost double over the next 50 years because of a novel "feedback loop" say scientists. Climate change is boosting the proportion of cattail plants growing in and around freshwater lakes they say. But when debris from these reed beds falls in the water it triggers a major increase in the amount of methane produced. The gas is at least 25 times more warming than CO2 in the atmosphere. Freshwater lakes play an important but relatively unrecognised role in the global carbon cycle, contributing around 16% of the Earth's natural emissions of methane - compared to just 1% from all the world's oceans. The gas is produced by microbes in the sediment at the bottom of lakes who consume organic matter that falls into the water from plants and trees that live close to the shore. The amount of methane generated according to this study, varies considerably depending on what enters the lake. The research team carried out tests in the laboratory that compared the impact of coniferous and deciduous trees with debris from cattails (often known in the UK as bulrushes). Incubated in the lab for 150 days the scientists found that cattails produced over 400 times the level of methane compared to conifers. The researchers believe that chemicals in both coniferous and deciduous trees restrict the ability of the microbes to produce the gas. "The cattails don't have the same chemicals and so they are no longer inhibiting the microbes from producing methane," senior author Dr Andrew Tanentzap, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC News,
5-3-18 Hawaii to ban certain sunscreens harmful to coral reefs
Hawaii has become the first US state to pass a bill banning the sale of any sunscreens that have chemicals known to harm coral reefs. The bill bars the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which some scientists say contribute to coral bleaching. The chemicals are used in over 3,500 of the most popular sunscreen products. The bill, which would take effect in 2021, now awaits the signature of Democratic Governor David Ige. Democratic Senator Mike Gabbard introduced the bill, which proposes to end the sale of any non-prescription sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, statewide. Mr Gabbard told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that if the governor signs the bill, it would become "a first-in-the-world law". "Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens," Mr Gabbard said. "This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health." The bill states that the chemicals kill developing coral, increase coral bleaching and cause "genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms". Craig Downs, one of the co-authors of the main study showing the adverse effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on reefs, told the Washington Post in 2015 that "any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers".
5-3-18 Alan Turing inspired a faster way to make seawater drinkable
Computer pioneer Alan Turing’s only chemistry paper has inspired a new material that can remove salt from seawater five times faster than traditional filters. More than 300 million people around the world depend on drinking water extracted from the sea, but turning saltwater into freshwater isn’t always efficient. Computer pioneer Alan Turing had an idea more than 50 years ago that is just now being put to use to improve the process. Two basic desalination methods exist: boil sea water and collect the evaporated pure water, or pump sea water through membranes that extract the salt. This process, called reverse osmosis, is favoured everywhere except in the Middle East, where boiling is cheaper. But with existing membranes there is always a trade-off between the speed the water flows through and how much salt they capture. Now, inspired by mathematician Alan Turing’s only paper on chemistry published in 1952, Lin Zhang at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China and his colleagues have overcome this trade-off to make filtration membranes that allow water through much faster without sacrificing salt retention. Although made from a conventional plastic called polyamide, the membranes have unusual surface patterns called Turing structures that the legendary codebreaker theorised in 1952. Some of the new membranes are covered with tiny welts or bubbles. Others have longer, ridge-shaped welts that give a stripy appearance when magnified from above. These nanoscale bumps are made by simultaneously accelerating and decelerating a chemical reaction. In this case, during the process that creates polyamide plastic from long chains of monomeric building blocks. Zhang and his team add one extra substance that activates polymerisation and another that blocks it. Crucially, one diffuses through the reaction mixture faster than the other, so polymers form in some zones but are blocked in others, resulting in the surface welts or ridges, depending which reaction conditions are chosen.
5-3-18 Are we deluding ourselves when we shop for eco-friendly stuff?
A highly critical new report questions the worth of the sustainability logos that appear on many products. Are they still a force for good, wonders Fred Pearce. When picking goods off supermarket shelves or rummaging the racks in clothing stores, do you check for a logo showing that the product was not made at the expense of the environment? And if so, do you believe it? In an imperfect world – and one in which we also check the price tag – we know there are shades of greenness. But most of us think green is good: if not perfect, then at least a cut above the rest. And although we know that our purchase won’t save the world, we hope it will help lift industry standards. We may be deluding ourselves, according to a stern new analysis by the Changing Markets Foundation in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which suggests that that sustainability certificates are little more than corporate greenwash. Its report, “The False Promise of Certification”, says the benchmarks are often set far too low, and that the certifiers are too intertwined with those they police. The analysis argues that rather than catalysing change, certification is “standing in the way” of progress on sustainability. Green labels encourage us to consume by salving our consciences. And by giving kudos in questionable circumstances, they actively undermine truly green-minded products. Debate about the value of green labels has raged since they first appeared over a quarter of a century ago. Puritans line up against pragmatists: is it glass half full or half empty? I have wavered. But if the charge is now that some labels may do more harm than good, then it is time to take a closer look.
5-2-18 The real palm oil problem: it’s not just in your food
Soaring demand for palm oil is being driven by its use as biofuel, which is increasing carbon emissions as well as destroying forests and biodiversity. PALM oil has become a byword for environmental destruction. Found in food and cosmetics, its growing use is destroying rainforests and endangering species like orangutans. In an effort to turn things around, UK supermarket Iceland pledged last month to halt the use of palm oil in its own-brand products. But the real problem isn’t in your kitchen cupboard or bathroom cabinet – it is in your car. Half of all the palm oil imported by Europe is turned into biodiesel and blended into conventional fuel to power cars and trucks. This misguided attempt to “green” fuels is actually tripling carbon emissions, not reducing them. What’s more, the practice is subsidised by the European Union. In other words, taxpayers are paying to destroy rainforests and accelerate climate change. “People don’t know that they have palm oil in their fuel tanks,” says Laura Buffet of Transport & Environment in Brussels, Belgium, which campaigns for cleaner transport in Europe. And yet, while palm oil has acquired a reputation as a villain, the plant itself, called oil palm, is something of a hero. It is up to nine times as productive per hectare as other sources of vegetable oils such as rapeseed (canola) and soybeans, meaning it requires less land. Palm oil is also very versatile. It can be turned into liquid oils or solid butter-like blocks used in everything from ice cream and biscuits to soap and shampoo. As such, it is found in around half of all supermarket products.
5-2-18 Bull sharks and bottlenose dolphins are moving north as the ocean warms
The migration of marine predators could alter food webs in their newly adopted ecosystems. Far from their usual tropical waters, some 200 bottlenose dolphins and about 70 false killer whales have been spotted off the western coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Over on the Atlantic coast, bull sharks have turned a North Carolina estuary into a nursery — a sight more familiar in Florida, until now. Two new studies highlight the unusual northern sightings of these three ocean predators.“Alone, these sightings could be seen as accidental, or vagrancies,” says marine ecologist Luke Halpin of Halpin Wildlife Research in Vancouver and part of the team tracking the dolphins sighting. “But we're seeing a lot of warm-water species ranging into historically cold North Pacific waters.” Those include dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima), pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps) and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) documented by other researchers. The results suggest that these marine species will increasingly migrate outside of their typical range as climate change increases ocean temperatures, researchers say. In just the last century, average sea temperatures have risen every decade by 0.07 degrees Celsius, though temperature changes can vary widely by location. The eastern North Pacific Ocean had experienced a three-year period of warming from 2013 to 2016, and by July 2017, water temperatures about 180 kilometers offshore of Vancouver Island hit 16.5° C. That’s smack in the middle of the range that common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) prefer and at the low end for false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens).
5-2-18 India cities dominate world air pollution list
Fourteen Indian cities are among the world's 20 most polluted, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. BBC analysis of the study shows the northern city of Kanpur tops the list of world cities with the highest PM2.5 levels in 2016. PM2.5 are tiny but deadly air particles, which can increase the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution caused 4.2 million deaths globally in 2016, the study said. Kanpur's average PM2.5 level in the same year was 173, which is 17 times higher than the WHO's safe limit. India's capital, Delhi, is in sixth spot with average PM2.5 levels recorded at 143. The study added that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. Around 3.8 million people died in 2016 due to pollution "from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies", it said. "It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people - most of them women and children - are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don't take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.
5-1-18 Rising levels of 'frustration' at UN climate stalemate
Old divisions between rich and poor over money and ambition are again threatening to limit progress in UN climate negotiations. Discussions between negotiators from nearly 200 countries have resumed in Germany, aiming to flesh out the rules on the Paris climate pact. But developing countries say they are "frustrated" with the lack of leadership from the developed world. Commitments to cut carbon are still "woefully inadequate" they said. 2018 marks a critical stage in the global climate negotiations process. By the end of this year, governments will meet in Poland to finalise the so-called "rulebook" of the Paris deal, agreed in the French capital in December 2015. This is seen as a key test. The rules will define the ways in which every country reports on their emissions and on their carbon-cutting actions and, importantly, how they will increase these actions in the years ahead. But while rich and poor countries united in Paris to push through the deal, significant ruptures have re-appeared in wrangles over key technical details. The developed nations want almost all countries to share the same set of rules on how carbon emissions are measured, reported and verified. This issue, called "transparency" in the negotiations, has run into difficulties with many emerging economies arguing for more "flexibility". According to some observers, the richer countries believe that some in the talks are trying to turn the clock back to the time when only wealthier countries had any commitments to cut carbon, while developing countries including India and China had no obligations. (Webmaster's comment: China is currently investing more in renewable energy than any other country. It produces 2/3 of the world's solar panels and 1/2 of the world's wind turbines.)
5-1-18 The people fighting pollution with plastic-free periods
Talking about periods openly can be difficult, and discussing menstrual waste can be even harder. While the fight against single-use plastics like straws and shopping bags has become a mainstream issue, activists and environmental groups say disposable menstrual products are part of the problem too. How many women actually know their tampons and pads may have plastic in them? Unlike food products, there is no legal compulsion to list ingredients on their packaging, although most of this information is available online. Pads, the product favoured around the world, can in some cases be made up of about 90% plastic - containing as much as four supermarket bags. Tampons are predominantly cotton and rayon but have components made up of polyester materials. Many come individually wrapped with plastic applicators. The average woman is estimated to use, and throw away, in excess of 10,000 of these in her menstrual lifetime. During its annual clean-up weekend in 2017, the Marine Conservation Society found a large increase in sewage-related debris on British beaches - including hundreds of menstrual pads, tampons and applicators. The problem inspired City to Sea, a group fighting ocean pollution, to start a #PlasticFreePeriod campaign. Despite warnings on packaging that products like wipes and tampons aren't flushable, women continue to dispose of them this way, forcing water companies to spend huge amounts of money clearing blockages. In countries without stringent disposal systems in place, these products can be found in the streets or on rubbish dumps being hand-sorted, leaving poor workers at huge health risk. But through woman-to-woman advocacy and word of mouth, reusable products like cups, sponges and absorbable pants are growing in popularity around the world. Once a fringe choice, these environmentally friendlier options are being popularised by the internet.