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52 Global Warming News Articles
for July of 2018
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7-17-18 ‘The Poisoned City’ chronicles Flint’s water crisis
Journalist Anna Clark weaves together history and science to explain the public health disaster. America is built on lead. Networks of aging pipes made from the bluish-gray metal bring water into millions of U.S. homes. But when lead, a poison to the nervous system, gets into drinking water — as happened in Flint, Mich. — the heavy metal can cause irreparable harm (SN: 3/19/16, p. 8). In The Poisoned City, journalist Anna Clark provides a thorough, nuanced account of the public health disaster in Flint — one that, she argues, was magnified by government malfeasance and decades of systemic racism. Trouble first began in April 2014. To save the cash-strapped city some money, Flint’s emergency manager switched the city’s source of water from Detroit’s water system, which drew from Lake Huron, to one that tapped the Flint River. But the city’s water treatment program didn’t include corrosion control, which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said wasn’t necessary — a violation of federal law. The result: Corroded pipes leached lead into drinking water. Residents, forced to use the brown, smelly tap water, developed rashes and lost clumps of hair. Twelve people died from Legionella bacteria, which the corrosive water dislodged from pipes, and dozens more were sickened. Despite residents’ complaints, as well as an independent analysis that found higher-than-allowable lead levels, state officials insisted that the water was safe, even when their own internal records showed it was not. “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax,” said one spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. That’s when one of the book’s heroes, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, enters Clark’s story. About 18 months after Flint switched to its new water source, the percentage of children under age 5 with high blood-lead levels nearly doubled from 2.1 to 4 percent, Hanna-Attisha discovered after taking a close look at Flint kids’ medical records. (Hanna-Attisha’s own account of her experiences, What the Eyes Don’t See, was published in June.)

7-17-18 Weird ‘wind drought’ means Britain’s turbines are at a standstill
Britain is experiencing a prolonged “wind drought” that has slowed or halted the blades on turbines around the country. Britain is experiencing a “wind drought” that has slowed or halted the blades on turbines around the country. July’s wind energy output so far is down 40 per cent when compared to the same period last year – despite more wind turbines having been installed in the interim, according to new figures. “We’ve been typically doing between 2 to 3 gigawatts of wind [generation],” says Rob Gross of Imperial College London, which complied the data, “At a windier time of the year we might be doing 9 or 10.” An unusually prolonged period of high pressure is to blame for the drought, says Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the UK Met Office. The jet stream has remained further north, meaning an area of dense, high pressure air over the UK hasn’t budged. “It’s like a lid, it keeps everything still,” says Madge. “From the forecast looking out over the next couple of weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any significant change on the way.” The price of natural gas, which is being burned more to compensate for the lack of wind, has ticked up slightly. Ireland is facing similar problems with a lack of wind while falling water levels in rivers have also curtailed hydroelectric power generation in July. Climate change might mean that less wind is available for energy production in general during the coming decades. One projection, published in Nature Geoscience in December, suggested that wind power would decrease in the northern hemisphere but increase in the southern hemisphere. This might mean a loss of as much as 18 per cent of wind over the central US by the year 2100, according to the study.

7-16-18 Wildfires are making extreme air pollution even worse in the northwest U.S.
Smoke from blazes ravaging western states is counteracting clean air improvements. The northwestern United States has become an air pollution hot spot — literally. Air quality in states from Nevada to Montana is worse than it was 30 years ago on the days with the most extreme air pollution. Bigger and more frequent wildfires that spew plumes of fine particulate matter into the sky are largely to blame, researchers report July 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By contrast, the rest of the country has seen decreasing trends in similar smog and haze over the last three decades. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, which mandates air quality standards and the regulation of vehicle and factory emissions of particulate matter, is making a difference, says study coauthor Daniel Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell. But the increase in lung-clogging particulate matter from wildfires shows how the effects of climate change — which is, in part, driving the worsening fires — can counteract those gains, Jaffe says. Wildfire smoke is filled with fine particulates, minuscule solids or droplets that can be inhaled into the lungs, exacerbating breathing problems. Children, the elderly and people with asthma are most at risk, but communities near wildfires can temporarily experience levels of pollutants so high that it’s unsafe for anyone to be outside for very long. “When we start to think about people’s health, episodic events matter a lot,” says Gannet Hallar, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who wasn’t part of the study.

7-15-18 What's the most effective way to talk about climate change?
All this gloom and doom might not be helping. Frightening stories about climate change seem to come in a never-ending wave these days. In just the past few months, we've learned that Antarctica is melting three times faster than it was a decade ago, rising seas might flood more than 300,000 U.S. homes twice a month within decades, and that India is facing the worst water crisis in its history. How do our brains respond to this onslaught of negative news? Not well. "Climate change has all the hallmarks of an issue which is difficult for people to engage with psychologically," says Lorraine Whitmarsh, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Cardiff in Wales. People perceive the risks of climate change "as both considerably uncertain and also as being mostly in the future and geographically distant, all factors that lead people to discount them," according to a 2009 American Psychological Association report on the topic. In other words, the worst impacts of climate change feel far away — in both time and place — to many Americans. So while it will increasingly impact all of us, every day, it's hard for us to get worked up about it. So do news stories with frightening projections about the future prod us to action, or make us stick our heads in the sand? It's a debated topic in psychology, and some recent research suggests there's not enough evidence to empirically say whether or not "arousing fear" is an effective way to communicate the risks of climate change. But other psychologists argue we know enough to say scare tactics don't work when it comes to engaging the public. "What we know from psychological studies is that if you overuse fear-inducing imagery, what you get is fear and guilt in people, and this makes people more passive, which counteracts engagement," said Norwegian psychologist and author of What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming. So what does work in effectively communicating the risks of climate change?

7-14-18 Five places that have just broken heat records
Parts of the world are sweltering in record temperatures - and it's not a problem confined only to summer in the northern hemisphere. Records are being broken across the globe - so where have things been particularly bad? And why is this happening?

  1. Eastern Canada: Cities across the region suffered a deadly heat wave last week, with at least 70 deaths attributed to the record hot spell in Quebec province alone. In Canada's capital Ottawa, in Ontario, the humidity index - the method used there to measure the combined humidity level and temperature - hit 47C (116.6F) on 2 July.
  2. The Caucasus region: The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, hit an all-time high of 40.5C (104.9F) on 4 July, but the heat has put a significant strain on (often ageing) power grids in other countries nearby.
  3. Southern California: Record after record fell in southern parts of California last week. Chino, outside LA, saw its hottest-ever temperature - 48.9C (120F).
  4. Sydney, Australia: Bear in mind that it is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere - but despite this, it is scorching in some places. Last week, the temperature in Sydney topped 24.7C (76.5F) over two days in July for the first time since records began.
  5. Algeria (maybe): Now, there are grounds to believe Africa's hottest reliable record temperature was registered in Ouargla, northern Algeria, on 5 July: 51.3C (124.3F).

7-14-18 Huge iceberg threatens Greenland village
A huge iceberg has drifted close to a village in western Greenland, prompting a partial evacuation in case it splits and the resulting wave swamps homes. The iceberg is looming over houses on a promontory in the Innaarsuit village but is grounded and did not move overnight, local media say. Local officials say they have never seen such a big iceberg before. Last summer, four people died after waves swamped houses in northwestern Greenland after an earthquake. Those of Inaarsuit's 169 residents living nearest the iceberg have been moved, Danish news agency Ritzau said. "There are cracks and holes that make us fear it can calve anytime," village council member Susanne Eliassen told the local newspaper Sermitsiaq. The village's power station and fuel tanks are close to the shore, she said. Some experts have warned that extreme iceberg events risk becoming more frequent because of climate change. This in turn increases the risk from tsunamis. In June New York University scientists released video footage of a massive iceberg breaking away from a glacier in eastern Greenland.

7-14-18 Earth’s coldest place
Scientists have found out just how cold the coldest place on Earth can get: a truly chilly minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit, NationalGeographic.com reports. That freezing temperature was recorded on an ice sheet deep in Antarctica during the polar winter. The measurement shatters the previous known coldest air temperature: minus 128.6, recorded at Russia’s Vostok weather station, near the South Pole, in 1983. Inhaling air that cold can cause your lungs to hemorrhage after a few breaths, so Russian researchers wore masks that warmed the air when they went outside to check on instruments. A team at the University of Colorado speculated that the temperature was likely even colder at a nearby spot, where the domed East Antarctic ice sheet reaches its apex. The team used satellite measurements to map surface temperatures there and found that the air at human head height was about minus 137, dropping to minus 144 at ground level. “It’s a place where Earth is so close to its limit, it’s almost like another planet,” study leader Ted Scambos says. With Antarctica warming because of climate change, this might be the coldest air temperature scientists will ever record on Earth.

7-13-18 Phoenix is one of the fastest-warming cities
A record 155 people died from heat-related causes in the Phoenix area last year, when there were more than 100 days when temperatures rose above 100 degrees. Phoenix is one of the fastest-warming cities in the U.S., because of climate change and the “urban heat island effect” created by an expanding sprawl of roads, dense development, air-conditioner exhaust, and cars.

7-13-18 Pruitt: The EPA and the damage done
Pruitt leaves behind a devastating environmental legacy, said Umair Irfan in Vox.com. Openly hostile to the EPA’s regulatory mission, he ignored scientific recommendations to ban toxic pesticides and other chemicals, lifted industrial air- and water-pollution controls, purged advisory panels of scientists, and widened loopholes for “heavy polluter” diesel trucks. He even scrubbed the phrase “climate change” from the EPA website. Pruitt obviously had to go, said John Fund in FoxNews.com, but scaling back “the bureaucratic blob that is the EPA” is very much in line with the president’s deregulation agenda. That agenda will be taken up by deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist. Now free from the scandals surrounding Pruitt, “Trump has unburdened himself of a political liability.”

7-13-18 Still making CFCs
Chinese companies are illegally producing a banned chlorofluorocarbon, which can destroy the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from solar ultraviolet radiation, an environmental group said this week. The chemical, CFC-11, has been banned worldwide since 2010, but scientists recently detected a surge in emissions of the outlawed gas in East Asia. Researchers with the U.K.-based Environmental Investigative Agency contacted 21 Chinese factories that make plastic insulation foam and found that 18 routinely used CFC-11 in production—because it is cheaper and more effective than alternatives—and were fully aware of the ban. China said it is investigating the report.

7-13-18 Wittenoom: Tourists urged to stay away from asbestos town
It is the ghost town in Western Australia that was built on an asbestos mine. Now authorities are concerned that curious tourists and thrill-seekers are returning to the outback town of Wittenoom, which was shut down in the 1970s. Local officials issued a notice this week warning people against visiting Wittenoom, located 1,100km (680 miles) north of Perth. The former mining town is officially classified as a contaminated site. Thousands of its former residents and visitors have died from asbestos exposure. The state government has referred to Wittenoom as "the greatest occupational health and safety tragedy in Australia - comparable to the Chernobyl and Bhopal catastrophes." Road signs warn people against visiting the town, which still retains a handful of residents. However, a steady stream of videos and online blog posts in recent years show travellers are not heeding the safety warnings. Earlier this month Ashley White, who is from Western Australia, ventured into the town while travelling through the rugged Pilbara region with his girlfriend. Wittenoom is located on the way to Karijini National Park, a popular attraction known for its gorges and waterfalls. Mr White told the BBC that he had researched the town's asbestos dangers prior to his visit, and that he had read the area's warning signs. However none of it stopped him from exploring the derelict buildings and going up to one of the old mine shafts. "From what I could find, it is the fibres in the air that cause the problems," he said. "There was no wind when we went so I was under the impression that a short visit won't hurt." (Webmaster's comment: Human stupidity will never end.)

7-13-18 Rain forests under threat
The world lost 39 million acres of tropical forest last year, about 40 football fields of trees every minute, according to a new report from the nonprofit Global Forest Watch. That makes 2017 the second-worst year for tropical forests, after 2016, since researchers first began collecting data in 2001. One-third of those losses occurred in Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rain forest, where farmers and ranchers routinely set forest fires to clear land for agriculture. Colombia lost 1 million acres of forest in 2017, 46 percent more than the previous year, as a peace deal between the government and leftist rebels opened the country’s once war-torn Amazon region to a rush of logging, farming, and mining. Forests can help mitigate climate change—trees capture and store atmospheric carbon in their wood and in the soil—but only $1 billion a year is spent on forest conservation. In comparison, $777 billion has been spent since 2010 financing agriculture and other land uses that put forests at risk. This report should be “a wake-up call,” said Mikaela Weisse, an analyst at Global Forest Watch. “What we are doing right now isn’t enough.”

7-13-18 Deadly deluge
Record-shattering rainfall across southwestern Japan forced some 2 million people to evacuate their homes last week. At least 176 were killed as mudslides buried houses and rushing floodwaters swept away cars and people. More than 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. “Many people are still missing,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Others are isolated and waiting for rescue. It’s a battle against time; 54,000 rescue forces are working.” Helicopters and boat crews were rushing to save people stranded on rooftops, including patients at one hospital near a river.

7-13-18 The bottom line
Starbucks is eliminating plastic straws from all of its stores by 2020 to reduce environmental waste. The coffee chain currently uses 1 billion plastic straws annually. The move means the company will also eliminate dome lids from all its beverages, with the exception of Frappuccinos, replacing them with plastic sip lids.

7-13-18 Will Ireland’s vote to divest from fossil fuels make a difference?
Ireland is set to become the first country to sell off all its investments in fossil fuels, but efforts to limit global warming must go much further. On 12 July, Ireland’s parliament voted for a bill that requires the country’s €8 billion investment fund to sell off all coal, oil and gas investments over the next five years. The bill has to be reviewed by a financial committee but is likely to become law soon. Norway announced in 2015 that its massive $5 billion fund would divest, but only from coal. Ireland is set to become the first country to divest from all fossil fuels. The news has been greeted with joy by climate change campaigners. “Ireland’s decision to divest from fossil fuels staggers me. It’s one of the landmark moments in what has become the largest campaign of its kind in history. Such thanks to all who fought,” tweeted Bill McKibben of 350.org, one of the first organisations to campaign for divestment from fossils. Will it actually make a difference in the battle to limit global warming? Naysayers argue that if universities, pension funds and countries sell off their fossil fuel investments, these stocks will just be snapped up cheaply by other investors with no effect on the companies concerned. Divestment just makes less ethical investors richer, they claim. But that is not what happened to those who invested in coal in recent years. Instead, the world’s biggest private coal company, Peabody Energy Holdings, went bust. The sector would be in even worse shape were it not for US president Donald Trump’s efforts to prop up coal. Earlier this year a study found that, in Canada at least, funds that divested have been more profitable.

7-13-18 Brexit 'could damage UK environment'
The environment is still at risk of damage after Brexit, according to a cross-party group of 74 MPs and peers. They say personal reassurances by Environment Secretary Michael Gove are of no value without new legislation. Mr Gove has promised that the environment will be maintained or enhanced after the UK leaves the EU. The group of 74 want a new Clean Air Act. They say they fear that, following Brexit, the government will pass the buck on pollution to councils. They have outlined their concerns in a letter, which has been organised by Geraint Davies, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution. He told BBC News: “Mr Gove talks the talk very impressively. But assurances are worth nothing until they are enacted. “If there’s no deal, then the UK will be on a cliff edge in March. The government failed to meet existing standards, but it will no longer be able to be taken to court. “It could easily pass the buck to local councils to transfer responsibility to them for tackling illegal air pollution." Mr Davies also re-iterated a demand from a joint committee of MPs reporting on air pollution. They said motor manufacturers who have cheated emissions tests should be forced to pay into a clean air fund. “VW were fined heavily in the USA,” he said. “But here, Michael Gove is saying it's better for them to invest the money designing better engines. That doesn’t wash with us.”

7-12-18 Survey: Half of young people want electric cars
Half of young people in the UK would like to own an electric car – compared with just a quarter of their parents, a survey suggests. The research comes from motoring group the AA, which says myths about electric vehicles are putting off many drivers. This matters because cleaning up air pollution and tackling climate change both depend on mass acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs). Young people seem to be more accepting of the technology than older people. But too many still hold needless fears, the AA says. It comes as the government has announced a target for 50% of all new vehicle sales to be in the ultra-low emissions category by 2030. The opinions were revealed in an AA/Populus poll of 10,293 drivers.

  1. 85% of people overall in the survey said that there aren’t enough public charging points for EVs. There are 16,000 charging points at 5,800 locations and 340 points added monthly. Most drivers will charge their car at home.
  2. 76% said EVs can’t go far enough on a single charge. Range is improving all the time. Several models have a 250-mile-plus range. Some 95% of car journeys are under 25 miles.
  3. 76% think EVs are too expensive. Costs are coming down. Grants up to £4,500 are available and EVs are much cheaper to run - at 2p per mile.
  4. 67% think EVs take too long to charge. Rapid chargers which could charge an EV to around 80% range in around 30 minutes are on the way – ideal for "filling stations".
  5. 67% think there isn’t enough choice of models. There are 38 cars eligible for plug-in grants from a Renault Zoe to Jaguar I-PACE and more on the horizon, such as the Tesla Model 3.

7-12-18 England’s marshes may start to retreat and disappear in just 20 years
Marshlands in the south east of England could start to disappear in a little over 20 years due to rapid rises in sea levels, scientists have warned. Marshlands in the south east of England could start to disappear in a little over 20 years due to rapid rises in sea levels, scientists have warned. Studying samples from sediments, sea levels over the past 10,000 years were tracked to study how changes have affected salt marshes. Ian Shennan at Durham University and colleagues estimate that marshes in the south east of England could start to disappear from the year 2040, and across all of Great Britain by 2100. The lasting effect of ice removal since the end of the last Ice Age means most of Scotland is rising and southern England is subsiding, which explains the difference in timescales. The study shows that rising sea levels over the last 10,000 years has led to increased water-logging of the salt marshes, killing vegetation that protects them from erosion and resulting in the marshes retreating landwards. Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained by salt water brought in by the tides and can be found along the British coast.

7-11-18 Thought plastic was bad enough? Here’s another reason to worry
We knew marine plastic strangles birds and poisons fish. But it can also pick up some deadly hitch-hikers – with even more profound consequences. JOLEAH LAMB was scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, with a dazzling palette of colours spread out beneath her. Admittedly, a few of those were pieces of plastic. That was a shame, but she didn’t give it much thought during the long hours she spent cataloguing the reef’s health. Then her research took her to the waters around Indonesia. There, the plastic problem was far worse, and she started logging it wherever she found it. “Sometimes a fishing line was so entwined in the coral you would cut yourself or hurt the coral if you tried to get rid of it,” says Lamb. Once her notes read: “diaper, gross!”. It was only later, back in her lab at Cornell University in New York, that she noticed there was a strange connection between the plastic she recorded and patches of diseased coral. Besides strangling seabirds and poisoning fish, plastic may have another surreptitious way of harming the oceans – and perhaps our health too. Now the race is on to find out exactly how this connection works, in the hope that we can sever it. Reefs face many threats these days, not least bleaching, which occurs when stresses like heat cause corals to expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Coral can recover, though, if the algae recolonise. More deadly are a collection of diseases known as white syndrome. They are some of the most serious to have plagued coral recently and they nearly always kill, stripping the coral’s tissue to leave bare skeletons.

7-11-18 Record temperatures mean ancient forts become visible in fields
When the ground is baked by days of sun, markings that indicate the location of ancient settlements begin to emerge in the parched terrain. FOR archaeologists, the UK’s current heatwave is more than just an excuse to kick back and soak up some rays. When the ground is baked by days of sun, markings that indicate the location of ancient settlements begin to emerge in the parched terrain. The outlines of a medieval hilltop fort known as Castell Llwyn Gwinau are clearly visible in a field near the town of Tregaron in Wales. The green circles and lines are created because ancient peoples dug deep trenches to fortify their settlements. Although now filled in, these still act as moisture traps and, in dry conditions, the crops above them become lusher and greener than the surrounding area. The shapes of such forts and farming settlements, some from the Roman and Iron Age periods, are then revealed from the air. Much of the northern hemisphere has been roasting in sustained high temperatures, with records tumbling around the world (see “Record heatwaves are here to stay – welcome to our warming world” for more on why it is happening).

7-11-18 Major sewage pollution incidents increase
Water companies are still not doing enough to protect streams and rivers, the Environment Agency reports. It says whilst general water quality is higher than it's been for 100 years, the number of the worst pollution incidents has actually grown. Most of these involved raw or partly treated sewage flowing into watercourses. The industry body, Water UK, says its members will have invested around £25bn by 2020 to protect the environment. Pollution incidents have continued, though, and often in the past wealthy water utilities appeared to shrug off relatively small pollution fines. Now, after an appeal by the agency, sentencing has been revised and last year fines for pollution totalled £21m. The agency's new report says urgent improvement is especially needed from South West Water. It also says Northumbrian Water hasn't properly controlled pollution from industries in its area. The report says there is no firm pattern among the pollution incidents. The main factors are inadequate monitoring and management, and shortcomings in risk assessment, operational practice and the attitude of staff. Emma Howard Boyd, the agency's chair, told BBC News: "Pollution events cause distress to local communities, blight our rivers and beaches and damage the reputation of the industry. The continuing poor performance of South West Water is unacceptable." Thames Water, meanwhile, was the one company that failed to meet the security of supply measure. This is partly down to on-going failure to plug leaks. The government's infrastructure advisers have warned that more must be done to protect people in the south east from drought as the population grows and the climate warms. Ms Howard Boyd says all firms need to improve their planning for climate change in anticipation of more droughts and more floods through the year.

7-11-18 On board the flying lab testing UK wildfire smoke
Scientists are flying a lab-on-an-aeroplane through the smoke of wildfires in the north of England, testing the air as they go. Fires like the one on Saddleworth Moor are predicted to be more common than usual across the UK and Europe this summer, raising concerns about pollution.

7-11-18 Japan flood: At least 179 dead after worst weather in decades
Japan is still reeling from one of its worst flooding disasters in decades, which has killed at least 179 people and left 70 missing. Torrential rains triggered landslides and floods in central and western areas. More than 8 million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes. The rain has relented but the country is still struggling to deal with the extensive damage left in its wake. This is the highest death toll caused by rainfall in Japan since 1982. Some 270,000 households across the country have had their water supplies cut, and thousands of other homes remain without electricity. The prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi were the hardest hit, with pictures showing extensive damage especially in Okayama. "People believe Okayama is very safe, nobody thought that [a disaster] would happen to this city," Yusuke Fujii, who lives in Osaka but travelled to Okayama to visit his grandmother, told the BBC. "Food is in short supply. We have to eat instant ramen because the supermarkets don't have much food. We can't get much information about flooded roads, evacuation centre and where to get food," said the 24-year-old, who is still in Okayama. Some 8.63m people across 23 prefectures have been ordered to evacuate. Thousands are currently living in temporary shelter in school halls and gymnasiums.

7-10-18 Bloodflowers’ risk to monarchs could multiply as climate changes
Heat and CO2 scenarios suggest a milkweed species becomes toxic or useless to caterpillars. Climate change could make a showy invasive milkweed called a bloodflower even more of a menace for monarch butterflies than it already is. Monarch caterpillars, which feed on plants in the milkweed family, readily feast on Asclepias curassavica. Gardeners in the southern United States plant it for its showy orange blooms, yet the species “is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare,” says Mark Hunter of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) migrating south to Mexico in the fall come across bloodflower bonanzas and don’t bother to keep on flying. Full migration normally prevents a harmful Ophryocistis parasite from building up in the insect population. Cutting the cycle short lets infection flourish. In experiments, bloodflowers grown in outdoor enclosures under high carbon dioxide concentrations, around 760 parts per million, don’t make as much medicinal cardenolide as normal, Hunter and colleagues report July 9 in Ecology Letters. Caterpillars need these compounds to help fight parasites. Levels of two particularly potent forms of cardenolide stayed low. Parasites were more damaging to caterpillars chewing through these futuristic flowers than to those caterpillars fattening on plants grown under current atmospheric conditions.

7-10-18 Japan floods: 155 killed after torrential rain and landslides
At least 155 people have died in floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain in western Japan, says the government. It is the highest death toll caused by rainfall that Japan has seen in more than three decades. Rescuers are now digging through mud and rubble in a race to find survivors, as dozens are still missing. About two million people have been evacuated from the region after rivers burst their banks. Authorities have opened up school halls and gymnasiums to those who have been displaced by the rainfall. There remains a risk of landslides, with rain-sodden hilltops liable to collapse. "I have asked my family to prepare for the worst," 38-year-old Kosuke Kiyohara, who has not heard from his sister and her two sons, told AFP. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cancelled an overseas trip to deal with the flood crisis. More than 70,000 rescue workers, including the fire service and the army, are involved in the relief effort. Flood warnings are still in effect for some of the worst hit areas, including the Okayama prefecture in the southern part of Japan. But more settled weather is expected over the next few days which is likely to help with rescue efforts. "We are checking every single house to see if there are people still trapped inside them. We know it's a race against time, we are trying as hard as we can," an official with the prefecture's government told AFP.

7-9-18 Six pollution policies gutted by Scott Pruitt – and what happens next
Scott Pruitt resigned from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and his successor is likely to continue gutting regulations that limit air and water pollution. He’s finally gone. After a series of scandals, Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resigned last week. But while he may be leaving, he has already managed to gut many of the regulations that are aimed at curbing air and water pollution. What will his successor do differently? And how many of these can be reversed? Over nearly 17 months at the helm, Pruitt oversaw the following actions at the EPA:

  1. Clean Power Plan repeal. The Clean Power Plan aimed to cut carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030, and limit toxic pollutants like mercury.
  2. Clean water regulation suspended. The suspension lasts two years, during which time Pruitt has said the EPA will write new regulations.
  3. Clean Air Act cuts. Under Pruitt, the EPA eliminated part of the Clean Air Act that limits cancer-causing air pollutants produced in chemical manufacturing and mining operations.
  4. Lowering fuel efficiency standards. In April, Pruitt declared his intent to roll back limits on air pollution produced by cars, and has put fuel efficiency standards under review, effectively suspending them.
  5. Suspension of chemical facility safety rules. After a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in Texas killed 15 people, the Obama administration put into place requirements for such plants to declare the types and quantities of chemicals they store.
  6. Refusal to ban pesticides. Under Pruitt, the EPA has reversed a plan to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used widely on US crops, which has been shown to harm brain and nervous system development in young children.

These changes are in various places along the spectrum from proposal to implementation, so they could still be altered. But they will have wide effects that may start now, while enforcement of previous rules is on hold. Health experts have said that the combination of air and water pollution resulting from these and other regulatory roll-backs under the Trump administration is likely to lead to the deaths of 80,000 US residents per decade and lead to respiratory problems for more than 1 million people.

7-9-18 Air pollution is triggering diabetes in 3.2 million people each year
New study quantifies the link between smoggy air and diabetes. Air pollution caused 3.2 million new cases of diabetes worldwide in 2016, according to a new estimate. Fine particulate matter, belched out by cars and factories and generated through chemical reactions in the atmosphere, hang around as haze and make air hard to breathe. Air pollution has been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes (SN: 9/30/17, p. 18), but this study is one of the first attempts to quantify the connection for diabetes. Researchers tracked 1.7 million U.S. veterans for almost a decade to assess their risk of developing diabetes. They also used data from global studies on diabetes risk, as well as air quality data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, to create equations that analyzed the connection between air pollution exposure and diabetes globally. The new estimate, reported in July in The Lancet Planetary Health, holds air pollution responsible for about 14 percent of new cases of diabetes worldwide. Factors such as genetics, weight, activity level and diet also influence the risk of the disease, which is on the rise globally. (The World Health Organization estimates that 422 million people now live with type 2 diabetes — up from 108 million in 1980.)

7-9-18 Starbucks to ban plastics straws in all stores by 2020
Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws from its stores worldwide by 2020 to reduce environmental plastic pollution, the company says. The coffee retailer will phase out single-use straws from its more than 28,000 locations, cutting out an estimated 1bn straws each year. Customers will instead be given plastic lids designed for use without a straw or with non-plastic straws. The use of plastic lids has been criticised by some consumers. The decision was motivated by requests from partners and customers, said Colleen Chapman, vice-president of Starbucks' global social impact in a statement. "Not using a straw is the best thing we can do for the environment." Starbucks' announcement included statements of support from organisations such as the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas programme and the World Wildlife Fund, praising the company for its straw ban. Nicholas Mallos, of the Ocean Conservancy, said the ban was "a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic". The announcement comes just one week after Seattle, Washington - home to Starbucks' headquarters - became the first major US city to ban single-use plastic straws and cutlery in bars and restaurants.

7-9-18 Ozone hole mystery: China insulating chemical said to be source of rise
Cut-price Chinese home insulation is being blamed for a massive rise in emissions of a gas, highly damaging to the Earth's protective ozone layer. The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) found widespread use of CFC-11 in China, even though the chemical was fully banned back in 2010. Scientists have been extremely puzzled by the mysterious rise in emissions. But this report suggests the key source is China's home construction industry. Just two months ago, researchers published a study showing that the expected decline in the use of CFC-11 after it was completely banned eight years ago had slowed to a crawl. There were suspicions among researchers that new supplies were being made somewhere in East Asia. Rumours were rife as to the source. There was a concern among some experts that the chemical was being used to secretly enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons. The reality it seems is more about insulation than proliferation. CFC-11 makes a very efficient "blowing agent" for polyurethane foam, helping it to expand into rigid thermal insulation that's used in houses to cut energy bills and reduce carbon emissions. Researchers from the EIA, a green campaign group, contacted foam manufacturing factories in 10 different provinces across China. From their detailed discussions with executives in 18 companies, the investigators concluded that the chemical is used in the majority of the polyurethane insulation the firms produce. One seller of CFC-11 estimated that 70% of China's domestic sales used the illegal gas. The reason is quite simple - CFC-11 is better quality and much cheaper than the alternatives.

7-9-18 More than 100 dead as floods and landslides devastate south-west Japan
At least 100 people are dead or presumed dead after flooding and mudslides hit south-west Japan. Rescuers were hard at work searching for the more than 60 residents who are still unaccounted for, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area. The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides since late last week. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades. Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have taken people to safety. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that 87 people were confirmed dead and 13 others were without vital signs when they were found. Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe said the government has expended the search and rescue effort, dispatching 73,000 troops and emergency workers. In large parts of Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud over the weekend. The Japan Meteorological Agency said three hours of rainfall in one area in Kochi prefecture reached an accumulated 26.3cm, the highest since such records started in 1976.

7-9-18 Japan floods: At least 100 dead after record rainfall
At least 100 people are thought to have died after record rainfall caused flooding and landslides in western Japan, a government spokesman says. Dozens more are reported to be missing and electricity supplies have been hit. Since Thursday, parts of western Japan have received three times the usual rainfall for the whole of July. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate as rivers burst their banks. "We've never experienced this kind of rain before," a weather official said. Rescuers restarted their search through the mud for any survivors or the bodies of those killed on Monday morning. An official in Okayama prefecture told AFP news agency that water levels were gradually receding and that emergency teams may be able to access the worst-hit areas on foot. The heavy rains began with a typhoon last week that was followed by days of record-breaking torrential rain. In the town of Motoyama, on Shikoku island, 583mm (23in) of rain fell between Friday morning and Saturday morning. Many buildings have collapsed and vast areas have been covered in debris and thick mud.

7-9-18 The 'monster' iceberg: What happened next?
It was a wow! moment. The world's biggest berg, a block of ice a quarter the size of Wales, fell off the Antarctic exactly a year ago. But what then? We've gone back to find out. Weighing a trillion tonnes and covering an area of nearly 6,000 sq km, the colossus dubbed A-68 has kind of spent the past 12 months shuffling on the spot - rather like grandpa trying to get himself out of a tight parking spot at the supermarket. Occasionally, the berg head-butted the floating shelf of ice from which it calved, but made only limited progress in moving north - its expected path out of the Antarctic's Weddell Sea towards the Atlantic Ocean. "An iceberg as massive as A-68 is sluggish, and thus needs time to accelerate," explains Thomas Rackow from Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute. "Compared to much smaller icebergs, A-68 is also less sensitive to offshore winds that could potentially drive the iceberg away from the continent. In fact, since the calving event in early July last year, we could see the iceberg going back and forth due to the prevailing winds." Dr Rackow says the frozen ocean surface probably also played some role in constraining the berg's movement, and wonders if the underside of the berg was catching on the seafloor. It's a thought shared by Suzanne Bevan at Swansea University, UK. "We know so little about the bathymetry (depth) in that area of the Weddell Sea," she told BBC news. Given time, though, A-68 should pick up the pace as the currents grab hold of it. Two largish chunks have detached, one of them sufficiently big to get its own designation (A-68b) in the list of giant bergs kept by the US National Ice Center. The American agency has officially now put A-68 at number six in its all-time ranking.

7-9-18 Can Wyoming's wind be harnessed ... to power California?
Wyoming's economy is dominated by coal, other fossil fuels, and mineral extraction. The formula here has worked — residents in Wyoming enjoy among the highest per capita GDP in the nation. So naturally, there's been some hostility toward new sources of energy that could threaten that. "It's a complicated history with wind," says Jeremiah Rieman, director of economic diversification strategy for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R). "I think you're seeing a change. And certainly we're hearing the message loud and clear, as we go through this economic diversification strategy effort, that wind and renewables need to be a part of that." The push toward wind is playing out in a high-rise office building 100 miles south of Wyoming's capital in Denver. There, TransWest Express is laying out plans to build a 730-mile transmission line across the American West. CEO Bill Miller points to a map and the start of the project — 1,000 wind turbines to be built on a ranch in south-central Wyoming. "It starts there and runs a little bit west and then due south into northwest Colorado," says Miller, tracing a line through Utah and then down south of Las Vegas. If all goes according to plan, in three years Miller says the winds of low-population Wyoming will be bringing electricity to where it's needed in California. "To my knowledge, this is the largest transmission line development that has occurred in this country in probably 50 years." TransWest Express, which is part of the Anschutz Corporation owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz, is looking to harness Wyoming's wind because, well, it's super windy. The winds howl in southeast Wyoming because they're rising at the continental divide, then pushing through a gap in the Rocky Mountains. "So, if you remember your high school physics class there's this thing called the Venturi effect where you narrow something and that naturally speeds up an air flow. And that's really what we have here," says economist Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

7-9-18 Electric cars: Charge points could be requirement in new build homes
New homes in suburban England would need to be fitted with electric car charging points under a government proposal to cut emissions. Ministers also want new street lights to come with charge points wherever there's on-street parking. Details of a sales ban on new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040 are also expected to be set out. The strategy comes at a time when the government is facing criticism for failing to reduce carbon emissions. The government's target is to reduce the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The proposals, announced by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, aim to make it easier to recharge an electric car rather than refuel petrol or diesel vehicles. Mr Grayling said the proposed measures would mean the UK having "one of the most comprehensive support packages for zero-emission vehicles in the world". "The prize is not just a cleaner and healthier environment but a UK economy fit for the future and the chance to win a substantial slice of a market estimated to be worth up to £7.6 trillion by 2050," he said. (Webmaster's comment: Other nations are doing their bit while United States is in the energy dark ages!)

7-8-18 Japan floods: 'Extreme danger' amid record rainfall
Parts of western Japan hit by deadly floods and landslides are facing unprecedented danger as more downpours are expected, officials warn. "We've never experienced this kind of rain before," a weather official said. More than 60 people are dead and dozens missing after record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks in Hiroshima and other areas. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate. PM Shinzo Abe said rescuers were "working against time". "There are still many people missing and others in need of help," the prime minister told reporters on Sunday. Since Thursday parts of western Japan have received three times the usual rainfall for the whole of July, setting off floods and landslides. Most of the deaths have occurred in Hiroshima prefecture. In the town of Motoyama, 583mm (23in) of rain fell between Friday morning and Saturday morning. Further rain warnings are in effect, with more than 250mm (10 in) predicted to fall in some areas by Monday. An official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency told a news conference: "This is a situation of extreme danger."

7-6-18 Up to 54 deaths linked to southern Quebec heat wave
A heat wave in the southern part of the Canadian province of Quebec has been linked to 54 deaths, officials say. The sweltering weather began last Friday with temperatures hitting 35C (95F), high humidity and, on the last day, a smog advisory. The death toll climbed every day this week, with most of the victims between the ages of 50 to 85. This summer's heat wave was among worst the province has seen in decades, officials say. It lasted two days longer than a similar five-day period of extreme heat in 2010, but heat warnings were lifted overnight on Friday as temperatures began to cool. Temperatures are expected to be seasonal and stay at 30C or below over the next few days, with no humidity. Public health officials said on Friday that coroner investigations will be completed to confirm that the reported fatalities are all heat related. Health officials in Quebec this week urged people to drink plenty of water, reduce physical activity, seek out air conditioning, and stay in the shade. They also asked people to check on elderly or infirm friends and neighbours who may have been vulnerable. The neighbouring province of Ontario was also under heat warnings over the last few days and may too have seen a rise in heat-related fatalities. But Ontario does not track heat related deaths in the same way as Quebec and does not report on potential causes of death without a coroner's investigation. The 2010 heat wave was one of the hottest on record in over 60 years and was linked to some 280 deaths over a period in July. Europe and the US have also experienced the fatal effects of heat in the past. In a lengthy 2003 heat wave, between 20,000 and 35,000 deaths across eight European countries were linked to the extreme weather conditions. In California in 2006, a 10-day heat wave was linked to 140 deaths.

7-6-18 Record heatwaves are here to stay – welcome to our warming world
There’s nothing strange or unexpected about the extreme heat in many parts of the northern hemisphere - it’s exactly what’s expected on a warming planet. Why are we seeing record heat across the northern hemisphere? Because the planet is getting hotter. And we ain’t seen nothing yet – it’s going to get a lot hotter still. Scotland hit 33.2°C on 28 June, for instance, passing the previous record of 32.9°C set in August 2003 – though the Met Office says this reading may actually be due to heat from the engine of a nearby vehicle. And in Oman on 26 June, the temperature never dropped below 42.6°C, even at night. That’s the highest minimum temperature ever recorded. More heat records tumbling is exactly what we expect to see on a warming planet. By contrast, in an unchanging climate, there should be fewer and fewer records broken over time. However, talk of a heatwave across the entire northern hemisphere is misleading, as parts of the hemisphere are cooler than the recent average for this time of year. You can see this for yourself by looking at temperature anomalies on the Climate Reanalyser website. There you will also see that some of the biggest recent heat anomalies have been in parts of Antarctica, where it’s the middle of winter and well below freezing – but much less below freezing than normal. The thing is, average temperatures are much higher than they used to be. Global average surface temperatures have risen by more than 1°C since preindustrial times and have shot up particularly fast in the last five years or so.

7-6-18 Foam pollution kills fish in River Great Ouse
More than 2,000 fish have died after pollution left a river looking like a bubble bath. The foam was first spotted in the River Great Ouse in Brackley, Northamptonshire on Friday, 29 June and travelled onto Buckingham. The Environment Agency said the unidentified substance has now "sufficiently diluted" and is no longer "causing any issues". One Buckingham resident described it as like a "washing machine has exploded". Agency officers have provided the casualty figure, but believe the number of dead fish could be higher as the "pollution has severely impacted the river's ecosystem". They said it may take "years" for the river to recover. The Environment Agency is investigating the incident, and a spokesman said they were waiting for sample results to confirm the pollutants, which may contain detergents. He said: "We believe that the pollutant has now passed through Stony Stratford and into Milton Keynes with no immediate adverse impacts on aquatic life past Thornton, Buckinghamshire." They do not believe there is a risk to humans or animals, but as a precaution are asking people to stay out of the river and keep pets and livestock away from the stretch between Brackley and Milton Keynes until the investigation is complete. Anglers are also being asked not to fish in the polluted areas. (Webmaster's comment: The human assault against nature and wildlife is never ending!)

7-5-18 Polluters exposed by new eye in the sky satellite
What must it be like to live in the Siberian town of Norilsk on a "bad air day"? They say the local smelting industry produces 1% of all the sulphur dioxide (SO2) going into the air globally, something close to two million tonnes a year. SO2 is particularly unpleasant if breathed in; but it also washes out of the sky as "acid rain", damaging plant-life and denuding the quality of water in streams and rivers. The extent of Norilsk's pollution problem is captured in remarkable new maps from Europe's Sentinel-5P satellite. The spacecraft was put up last year to track the gases responsible for dirty air - with SO2 being one of the prime culprits. Assembled in the UK and carrying the Dutch-led Tropomi instrument, S5P promises to be a game-changer in monitoring what's happening in our atmosphere. It has much higher resolution than its predecessors and acquires data on such a scale that its maps can be assembled very quickly. "What's very interesting about the Norilsk data is that they show you the different transport pathways," explained Dr Nicolas Theys from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB). "You can see how the emissions follow the topography, moving around the mountains. People could use this information to better assess the environmental impact in this region." The SO2 concentrations in the air over Norilsk are very large - one-hundred to a thousand times higher than what you would see anywhere in Europe, for example. The city's Norilsk Nickel company has been told to cut emissions by 75% by 2023 (compared with 2015) or face huge fines.

7-5-18 Why are oil prices so high?
Oil prices are giving observers vertigo. They had plateaued for several years, after plummeting in 2014. But for several months now, oil prices have been climbing again. They're not back to their pre-2014 level, but oil prices hit a multi-year high on Monday, just below $79 a barrel. Morgan Stanley expects international prices to hit $85 a barrel in the second half of 2018, which is $7.50 higher than their previous projection. Just what is powering oil's skyrocketing prices? It's a few different things, all of which have combined to cut global oil supplies relative to demand. There's an ongoing conflict in Libya, which has shut down major ports. That's knocked about 850,000 barrels a day out of the global oil market. Venezuela's economy is suffering an absolutely brutal crisis, which has reduced the output of one of the world's biggest oil exporters. Then there's President Trump, who took the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. That means U.S. sanctions will soon be re-imposed on Iranian exports, which could keep as much as half of the country's oil in the ground. Since a lot of oil trading is done with an eye to the future, contracts are already building the coming supply constriction into the price. Of course, there's also the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a group of nations who often take a much more state-run approach to their oil production. Many of them, like Saudi Arabia, rely on oil exports to finance their government budgets. That gives them a pretty serious policy incentive to manage the global oil price: If it gets too low, it can undermine their domestic fiscal policies. And after 2014's precipitous collapse, various OPEC countries wound back production to lower supply and drive the price back up. There's also a wild card here, namely domestic U.S. production.

7-5-18 Call to turn oil rigs into nature reserves
Marine wildlife could benefit if some de-commissioned oil rigs were left on the sea bed, a survey says. This challenges the conventional wisdom that the sea bed should be restored to its pristine state when a rig's life ends. The paper says over the 30-year lifetime of an oil rig, creatures have often colonised the structure to form a reef. It says this artificial habitat can be more valuable than the original seabed. It can also protect sea creatures from fishing. The paper from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, is based on a survey of 40 experts from academia, government and consultancies. Their focus was on the North Sea - but the authors say the principles are applicable anywhere. More than 90% of the experts surveyed said governments should abandon the principle that oil rigs should always be removed. Instead, there should be a more flexible, case-by-case approach to de-commissioning. It warns that the process of removing the rigs can be damaging to the environment in its own right. The paper drew a sceptical response from Greenpeace. Their spokesman Doug Parr told BBC News: "If companies want to propose artificial reefs for ecological benefit there are international legal processes for doing so which will need to be justified to the full range of scientific opinion. "The North Sea is not a natural environment for hard structures and leaving rigs there is a distortion of the ecosystem - a raft of plastic bottles accumulates marine life, but no-one is arguing we should create more. "We should be wary of proposals that look like a convenient way of oil companies avoiding their responsibility to clean up after themselves." But David Johns, head of the Plankton Recorder Survey at the Marine Biological Association and co-author of the paper, said it was time for a re-think.

7-5-18 'Melting road' damages cars in Australia
Melting bitumen has forced drivers in Australia to abandon their vehicles after the tyres became coated with tar. Up to 50 motorists may be entitled to compensation over the incident in Queensland on Tuesday, reports said. "I have never seen anything like it and when the reports started coming through yesterday, it was just incredible," local mayor Joe Paronella told the ABC. The incident has been blamed on a change in weather, and damage to the road after it was resealed last week. Local resident Deborah Stacey said "big globs" of tar had stuck to vehicles, amid hot weather that followed several cooler days and rain. "We had a week of cracked windscreens... then as soon as the sun came out, it started sticking," she told the Courier Mail. The tar meant tyres on several vehicles had to be replaced, and it caused damage to bumper bars and panels. (Webmaster's comment: Just foreshadowing of what's to come.)

7-4-18 Heatwaves show global warming is not just a future threat
Better climate models and fast computers are helping us see how our carbon emissions are already causing severe weather events. EUROPE was hit by a scorching heatwave in 2003. About 70,000 people, mostly very young or very old, died. Given the inexorable rise in global temperatures, suspicions naturally fell on climate change: it is well-established that as greenhouse gas emissions push the mercury up, weather extremes of all types will become more frequent. But it took more than a year for rigorous science to confirm the hunch. Climate change had made the odds of an event of that magnitude at that time at least twice as likely. For years, climate researchers toed the official line that it was impossible to attribute any specific weather event to climate change in real time. The accepted wisdom was that it took too long to do this and so an important distinction was made between statements about long-term trends such as “climate change will make extreme heatwaves more frequent” and trying to attribute any specific weather event to global warming. That approach is rapidly changing, and it needs to. This week, parts of Europe are sweltering. So is New York. And the Australian autumn was unseasonably hot. All these events are in keeping with what we expect from a warmer climate. But are they caused by climate change? Soon we should be able to answer that question quickly, thanks to a collaboration between European meteorological agencies dubbed EUPHEME. The aim is for your daily weather report to include information about how global warming influenced very recent or ongoing events. Those involved in the project say a prototype should be up and running next year. The Australian meteorological bureau is looking to develop a similar programme.

7-4-18 Missing 1.5°C warming target will cost $14 trillion in floods
The cost of rising sea levels caused by global warming could be in the trillions by 2100, unless governments make efforts to adapt. Floods caused by rising sea levels could cost as much as $14 trillion if we fail to keep global warming below 2°C. Svetlana Jevrejeva from the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton and her team predict that the annual cost of warming above 2°C could be equivalent to almost 3 per cent of global GDP by 2100. The costs are calculated based on damage to assets exposed to flooding and the costs of constructing and maintaining sea defences. The team also looked at what missing the targets will do to global sea levels. It found that warming of 1.5°C by 2100 would see a median sea level rise of 0.52m. Breaching the 2°C the target – as is likely – would see this figure jump to 0.63m. Some nations will suffer more than most, particularly China, which has a long coastline and high coastal population, the team says. Larger cities, regardless of wealth, are likely to be better-protected due to their existing infrastructure, whereas island nations and coastal communities in developing nations will suffer the brunt of the flooding. But these rises and floods will impact all coastlines, and every country will need to adapt, says Jevrejeva.

7-4-18 Smoke from moorland wildfires may hold toxic blast from the past
The UK’s largest wildfire for decades is almost under control, but peat burning below the ground risks spewing historical pollution back into the sky. THE UK’s largest wildfire for decades is almost under control after blazing for a week during the country’s longest heat wave since 1976. But with no rain forecast for at least a week, peat burning underground at Saddleworth Moor near Manchester could continue to smoulder, generating hazardous smoke. The same could happen on moorland at Winter Hill (pictured), 50 kilometres away, which burned for five days before being put out. Fire chiefs tackling the Saddleworth blaze say it has consumed up to 20 square kilometres of moor and scrubland. Although surface fires are all but out, peat below ground continues to smoulder and can only be completely extinguished with a two or three-day downpour. “Without rain, it’s very difficult to put out,” says Hugh Coe, a professor of atmospheric composition at the University of Manchester. As it continues to smoulder and burn, the peat reignites sporadic surface fires, and spews potentially hazardous smoke. “The worst hazard is the small-particulate matter, which exacerbates lung problems, asthma, allergy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder,” says Coe. Burning peat debris also gets coated with cancer-causing chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons. But because of extensive toxic fallout from factories a century ago, there could be other hazards. “There’s 100 years’ of pollution buried along with the peat as it formed,” says Coe. This could mean that toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are taking to the air in fly ash.

7-3-18 Poor will suffer more as rising CO2 makes food less nutritious
Falling levels of iron and zinc in food due to soaring carbon dioxide levels will increase the disease burden, hitting poorest countries the hardest. Rising atmospheric levels of CO2 will lead to foods that are lower in vital nutrients such as zinc and calcium. The poorest countries will be hardest hit, increasing inequalities yet further. “This is a huge problem already,” says Christopher Weyant of Stanford University in California. “Rising CO2 leads to a substantial increase in the disease burden.” For decades, biologists have been growing plants in high levels of CO2 to see how it affects them. These studies show that while higher CO2 levels can boost yields of some – but not all – crops, they also reduce the levels of some nutrients. In a high CO2 world, every serving of bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables delivers more starch and sugar but less calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein and other essential nutrients – including iron and zinc. To estimate the impact, Weyant first used data on dietary patterns from 137 countries to work out the existing disease burden from zinc and iron deficiencies. He measured this in terms of disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs. One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of “healthy” life, according to the World Health Organization. If the nutrient content of food remained unchanged, iron and zinc deficiencies would be expected to induce 1073 million DALYs globally between 2015 and 2050, his team’s model suggests. But decreasing zinc and iron level in foods due to rising CO2 will induce an extra 126 million DALYs globally over this period – a rise of 12 per cent.

7-3-18 Smart solar windows could power your home and also keep it cool
This see-through film generates electricity from sunlight and acts as a heat insulator, paving the way for windows that both harvest and save energy. A new solar cell material could create windows that produce electricity and help keep your house cool. The research involved a three-way juggling act. The new material not only had to be transparent like ordinary glass window but also harvest light to make electricity while also blocking it to keep the building cool. So Hin-Lap Yip of the South China University of Technology and his team used transparent polymer solar cells that allow visible light through but convert near-infrared wavelengths into an electric current. Layers of reflective materials were added to deflect the heat-generating portion of infrared light. In tests, the new film transmitted 25 per cent of visible light and converted up to nine per cent of the energy that reached it into electricity. This is lower than the 15 per cent rate typically seen for standard roof mounted solar panels, but the efficiency of polymer solar cells is improving all the time, says Yip. The researchers calculated that electricity bills could be halved if every window of a house was covered with the panels. Other potential uses are for cars and self-powering greenhouses.

7-3-18 Court action to save young from climate bill
An activist group hopes to sue the UK government over climate change, arguing that it is discriminating against the young by failing to cut emissions fast enough. The campaigners - known collectively as Plan B - argue that if the UK postpones emissions cuts, the next generation will be left to pick up the bill. It is seeking permission from a judge to launch formal legal action. The government has promised to review its climate commitments. A spokesperson said it was committed to tackling emissions. But Plan B believes ministers may breach the law if they don't cut emissions deeper - in line with an international agreement made in Paris at the end of 2015 to restrict global temperature rise to as close to 1.5C as possible. A hearing is set to be held on Wednesday at the High Court.The UK is currently committed to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. The government has agreed to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. Plan B says this target is too weak to comply with the global agreement made in Paris. It will argue that the UK is:

  • Failing to make a fair contribution to the global challenge of climate change
  • Acting irrationally given the severity of the threat
  • Acting in a discriminatory fashion towards the young
  • Breaching people's fundamental human rights to family life and to property

(Webmaster's comment: We should do the same in the United States!)

7-3-18 Cycling race footage highlights climate change effects on trees
Historical footage of the Tour of Flanders shows that trees have been flowering earlier since the 1980s. Ecologists have reviewed archive footage of the Tour of Flanders cycling race going back three decades to reveal the effects of climate change on trees. The Tour takes place on a 267-kilometre route along Belgian roads in early April every year. While he was watching historical clips of the race online, it occurred to Pieter De Frenne from Ghent University, Belgium, that the footage might provide a valuable record of how the timing of leafing and flowering has changed. “I noticed that that these past editions are often in very cold weather, and the trees in the landscape never have leaves,” he says. So in collaboration with the Belgian broadcaster VRT, De Frenne and his team spent several weeks watching archive footage and gathering data on the trees. “It was great fun,” he says. The data confirmed his suspicions. Before 1990, hardly any trees had grown leaves by the time the Tour took place. After that, more and more trees in the TV footage were already in full leaf, including magnolia, hawthorn, hornbeam and birch trees. “It was very remarkable. The differences we observed were more than we expected,” says De Frenne. This shift coincided with a rise in the average temperatures in the region, by about 1.5°C since 1980. Earlier leafing allows trees to grow faster, but this has knock-on effects for other species, says De Frenne. For example, flowers growing beneath the trees may not get enough sunlight to bloom, and this means less nectar is available for insects.

7-3-18 American wasteland
The almost unfathomable volume of modern Americans' wastefulness would have been astonishing to anyone in any previous civilization throughout human history. A person who lived before the middle of the last century would not have believed it possible for even a very wealthy household to possess in a lifetime what even the poorest Americans throw away in a year. We should thus applaud Seattle for officially becoming the first major U.S. city to ban plastic drinking straws. It's a small step, but one of the few inarguably wholesome public policy decisions that have been made recently by any government at any level. It will also almost certainly be the occasion for a certain amount of libertarian belly-aching, as if sipping from a polypropylene tube instead of lifting a glass to one's lips were a cherished liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the United Nations Charter. But really it ought to be uncontroversial. Similar laws have already been proposed throughout the European Union, in Vancouver, and in the private household of Queen Elizabeth. Some 70 percent of Canadians say that they are in favor of such a ban. Part of the reason there is less grumbling from the public about these things than one might expect — and even a surprising amount of willingness from major corporations to cooperate with and even preempt state and municipal regulations — is that the scale of our culture of waste is matched only by the heedlessness with which we participate in it. No one is especially invested in Styrofoam or plastic forks, but all of us use them without giving it a second thought. In the so-called developed world and increasingly in the "developing" one as well, we have become slaves to a mindless, wasteful, ugly ideal of convenience. We are so used to throwing things away by the millions — one estimate suggests that in this country alone we are burning through as many as 500 million plastic straws every day — that we cannot imagine what it would be like to live any other way.

7-2-18 'The ocean is my home - and it's being trashed'
"If you opened your curtains in the morning and found that the grass was scorched, somebody had dumped a load of rubbish in your garden and animals were eating it - you'd be appalled. But's that's what's happening in the oceans," says Sarah La Grue. "The reefs are being scorched, there's rubbish on beaches and animals are eating it and getting tangled up in it. But we don't generally see much of this because it's in the oceans. Out of sight, out of mind." Sarah is a yachtswoman who lives aboard her boat and is about to set out on a global voyage for science. She and husband, Conor, have a vision to co-ordinate other like-minded sailors into a kind of research fleet to address some of the biggest issues facing our seas. Their project - and the name of their 12m boat - is called Given Time. The idea is to build a community of vessels that can gather data and conduct simple experiments, all at the behest of scientists. Some of this information - water temperature, salinity, and turbidity - can be used to ground-truth oceanographic models and satellite observations. Other data, such as fish tissue samples, can help build a picture of animal health and the waters in which they live. Just documenting places visited would compile "baselines" from which future change can be properly assessed. Sarah's and Conor's open-source, crowd-science project will run off a website and an app. "Beta boats" are being recruited to trial the basic research programme. The intention is that these vessels would then cascade the ideas and skills to other sailors wanting to join the programme.

7-1-18 Plastic bags: Shop assistant 'grabbed by throat' as Australia ban starts
Tempers flared in Australia over the weekend as retailers implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags. One customer reportedly grabbed a shop assistant by the throat, while another called staff "money-grabbing scum". The ban on single-use bags is part of a national push to reduce waste. Retailers in four of six Australian states now face fines for using them. More than 60 countries including the UK have now introduced bans or levies on single-use bags, according to the UN. The UN environment agency estimates that up to 5 trillion single-use bags are consumed worldwide each year. Australian chain Woolworths introduced a ban on the bags on 20 June, ahead of the 1 July deadline, offering reusable bags for 15 cents (£0.08; $0.11) instead. But customer "bag rage" pushed the chain to reverse the policy and offer the reusable bags for free until 8 July. "They just want a little extra help from us to get through the transition," said Claire Peters, Woolworths managing director, in a statement. Another chain, Coles, said it would open every checkout lane on Sunday to reduce queue lengths and put on extra staff to explain the change to customers. "We are taking a proactive step," a Coles spokesperson said. A retail staff union urged customers to treat staff members with respect. "While we understand that some customers may be frustrated by this change, there is absolutely no excuse for abusive or violent behaviour towards retail staff," said Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association. The union surveyed 132 of its members and said 57 reported suffering abuse over the ban. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans each year, according to UN, which has called for single-use bags to be eliminated completely by 2022. (Webmaster's comment: But only 1/3 of the United States has done anything. So enjoy the plastic in your water and food!)

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