4-21-19 Barry Island beach rubbish cleaned up by frustrated residents
Litter including babies' nappies, sanitary towels, discarded toys and takeaway packaging are among the items being discarded on Barry Island beach, according to residents. Vale of Glamorgan council increased the number of bins, clean-ups and public announcements after an outcry last May. But residents have said people are still leaving their mess behind. And over the Easter weekend a community litter picking group was kept busy cleaning up after visitors. Swimmers have also been been helping by bringing debris to shore."It leaves you despondent. The council can only do so much," resident and council worker Joanne Cheek said. She said the beach was "immaculate" each morning as it was "picked and raked" before people arrive. "The majority of it is always plastic and food packaging. The thing I think frustrates most people the most is the wet wipes, nappies, sanitary towels, and that people bury things within the sand," she said. "We just want them to take their litter off the beach and use the bins that are provided. They are in every car park, are along the promenade. There's no reason for people not to be using a bin." (Webmaster's comment: Leave all the trash there. Let them wallow in their own filth! Then they'll learn to clean it up themselves.)
4-21-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate protesters 'making a difference'
A teenage climate change activist has told Extinction Rebellion protesters in London they are "making a difference". Greta Thunberg, 16, was greeted with chants of "we love you" as she took to the stage in front of thousands of people at the rally in Marble Arch. A protest organiser said they planned "a week of activities" including a bid to prevent MPs entering Parliament. More than 950 people have been arrested during the climate change protests and 40 people have been charged. Ms Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who is credited with inspiring an international movement to fight climate change, told the crowd "humanity is standing at a crossroads" and that protesters "will never stop fighting for this planet". Addressing the crowd at about 19:30 BST, she said: "For way too long the politicians and people in power have got away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and ecological crisis. "But we will make sure they will not get away with it any longer." As of 19:00 on Sunday, a total of 963 people had been arrested during the climate change protests.
4-22-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate change protesters at Natural History Museum
Extinction Rebellion activists took over part of the Natural History Museum as the climate change protest entered its second week. About 100 people lay down under the blue whale skeleton at about 14:15 BST. It comes as more than 1,000 people have been arrested since the protests began in central London a week ago. The climate change group are now based in Marble Arch, after police moved protesters from Oxford Street, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square. Extinction Rebellion said it hoped the protest at the museum, which it called a "die-in", would raise awareness of what they call the "sixth mass extinction". Most of the protesters finished their lie-down protest after about half an hour. But some people wearing red face paint, veils and robes remained to give a performance to classical music on the steps underneath the whale skeleton. On Sunday, teenage activist Greta Thunberg told the rally in Marble Arch that they were "making a difference". Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the protest was taking "a real toll" on London's police and businesses. "I'm extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer," he said. About 9,000 police officers have been responding to the protest since it began a week ago on 15 April. A total of 1,065 people have been arrested and 53 have been charged for various offences including breach of Section 14 Notice of the Public Order Act 1986, obstructing a highway and obstructing police. Olympic gold medallist Etienne Stott was one of the activists arrested as police moved to clear Waterloo Bridge on Sunday evening. The London 2012 canoe slalom champion was carried from the bridge by four officers as he shouted about the "ecological crisis". And Teen activist Greta Thunberg addressed a Extinction Rebellion rally. Thousands of protesters gathered at Marble Arch to hear Greta Thunberg speak on Sunday.
4-22-19 Climate Change Concerns Higher in the Northeast, West U.S.
The premise of the Green New Deal being debated in Congress is that the window to combat global warming's imminent effects on the U.S. and the world is closing. But not all Americans are equally convinced of its immediate threat. Americans living in the Northeast (67%) or the West (67%) are more likely than those living in the Midwest (60%) or the South (53%) to believe climate change is now occurring. These regional differences also bear out in how dire Americans believe the issue is. Close to seven in 10 residents in the Northeast and West versus closer to six in 10 in the Midwest and South believe that media reporting of global warming is generally accurate or even underestimates the problem.
- Southerners, Midwesterners less likely to say global warming has begun
- Worries about global warming higher in the East and West
4-21-19 Could climate change save nuclear power?
As the U.S. tries to neutralize its carbon footprint, skittishness around nuclear energy is becoming less of a priority. The Trump administration has repeatedly vowed to help revitalize the nation's nuclear power industry, which has struggled to compete with cheap renewables and natural gas in the United States since the fracking boom of the last decade. More than a year after the administration announced plans for a "complete review" to bolster the country's nuclear-energy program both at home and abroad, it has yet to deliver a formal plan to do so. But just last month, the U.S. inked a deal to build six nuclear reactors in India, which has plans to massively scale up its nuclear-power program to meet the country's growing energy demands as it reduces emissions. Though only a small deal from a climate perspective, it's a good sign for a U.S. industry that has struggled in recent years to maintain its dominance in international markets. The U.S. has been a nuclear leader since the earliest days of the atomic age. In the post-World War II era, America's national labs began churning out reactor designs. "There was a period of time when we were gung ho for nuclear power plants, especially after the 1970s energy crisis," says Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. More than 100 nuclear power plants were built across the U.S., and in the second half of the 20th century, U.S. companies exported reactor designs, parts, and safety standards all over the world. But a string of high-profile accidents at nuclear plants around the world soured public opinion of the technology in the U.S., and American developers all but gave up on building new plants in the States. While the new deal with India bodes well for U.S. developers' ability to keeping selling their technology abroad, it does not change the state of the domestic industry: At least five U.S. plants have shut down since 2013, and another nine have announced plans to go offline in the next five years. Right now, the major reason nuclear power plants are shutting down is economics. Utilities no longer want to buy into nuclear when natural gas and renewables like solar and wind are cheap. But climate change could soon change the equation. "The U.S. fleet is, by just about any measure, still pretty much considered the top performing set of plants anywhere in the world," says Michael Ford, an environmental fellow at Harvard University's Center for the Environment. Today there are 98 nuclear reactors in operation across 30 states, with an average age of nearly 40. Despite its advanced age, the average American plant has a generating capacity — a measure of the percentage of time a reactor is producing energy — of more than 90 percent. Plants abroad, meanwhile, have an average generating capacity of around 75 percent, according to Ford. "In terms of the ability to reliably [and] safely generate electricity," he says, "the U.S. fleet still sets the standard for performance." "The place that perhaps the U.S. is falling behind in is in the ability to build a new plant at schedule and at a low cost," Ford says. That can be traced back to 1979, when a partial meltdown occurred at a reactor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. The incident seriously damaged the plant's reactor, but exposed the surrounding population to less excess radiation than they would have received from a single chest X-ray, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Since 1996, only one new reactor has come online in the U.S., and the only new large-scale projects under construction are floundering.
4-19-19 Hurricane Michael upgraded to Category Five storm
A hurricane that hit Florida last year was the strongest to make landfall in the US in 26 years, new analysis shows. Hurricane Michael struck in early October, causing 59 deaths and $25bn (£19.2bn) in damage. It was initially marked as a Category Four hurricane, but data unavailable at the time showed the winds were close to 160mph (257km/h) at landfall. This makes it only the fourth Category Five storm to hit the US - the highest possible category. It is also the first Category Five storm to make landfall since Andrew in 1992. It was already one of the most powerful storms in US history when it made landfall on Florida's Gulf coast on 10 October. It had earlier struck Cuba as a Category Two hurricane. Among the worst-hit areas of Florida was the town of Mexico Beach, where a storm surge raised sea levels by more than 15ft (4.6 metres). Seafront homes in Mexico Beach, a town of 1,000, were obliterated and then-governor Rick Scott compared it to a war zone. The hurricane and associated storm surge were directly responsible for the deaths of 16 people in three states. Another 43 people died in Florida in events linked to the hurricane, including traffic accidents or medical issues compounded by the storm. It was initially reported that Michael had winds of 155mph, but a review concluded that they were in fact five miles an hour faster. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it had assessed "data and analyses that were not available in real time", including surface pressure and winds. The adjustment was "of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm", the NOAA said, but it did push the hurricane into the highest grading of storm.
4-19-19 David Attenborough climate change TV show a 'call to arms'
Sir David Attenborough's new BBC documentary on climate change has been praised by TV critics. Climate Change - The Facts, shown on BBC One on Thursday, was a "rousing call to arms", said the Guardian. In a four-star review, the Times said the veteran presenter "took a sterner tone... as though his patience was nearly spent". Sir David, 92, has called global warming "our greatest threat in thousands of years". In its review, The Arts Desk said: "Devastating footage of last year's climactic upheavals makes surreal viewing. "While Earth has survived radical climactic changes and regenerated following mass extinctions, it's not the destruction of Earth that we are facing, it's the destruction of our familiar, natural world and our uniquely rich human culture. "In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined," Sir David said in the film. "It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies." In a glowing review, the Telegraph called the title of the documentary "robust" and praised the use of Sir David in the central role. "At a time when public debate seems to be getting ever more hysterical," it said, "it's good to be presented with something you can trust. And we all trust Attenborough." "Sir David Attenborough might as well be narrating a horror film," wrote the FT. "A panoply of profs line up to explain that the science on climate change is now unequivocal." But it added: "Fortunately for our nerves the last 20 minutes focuses on what needs to be - and can be - done on an international and personal level."
4-18-19 Climate change: Sir David Attenborough warns of 'catastrophe'
Sir David Attenborough has issued his strongest statement yet on the threat posed to the world by climate change. In the BBC programme Climate Change - The Facts, the veteran broadcaster outlines the scale of the crisis facing the planet. Sir David says we face "irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies". But there is still hope, he says, if dramatic action to limit the effects is taken over the next decade. Sir David's new programme lays out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it. "In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined," Sir David states in the film. "It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies." Speaking to a range of scientists, the programme highlights that temperatures are rising quickly, with the world now around 1C warmer than before the industrial revolution. "There are dips and troughs and there are some years that are not as warm as other years," says Dr Peter Stott from the Met Office. "But what we have seen is the steady and unremitting temperature trend. Twenty of the warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 22 years." The programme shows dramatic scenes of people escaping from wildfires in the US, as a father and son narrowly escape with their lives when they drive into an inferno. Scientists say that the dry conditions that make wildfires so deadly are increasing as the planet heats up. Some of the other impacts highlighted by scientists are irreversible. "In the last year we've had a global assessment of ice losses from Antarctica and Greenland and they tell us that things are worse than we'd expected," says Prof Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds. "The Greenland ice sheet is melting, it's lost four trillion tonnes of ice and it's losing five times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago." These losses are driving up sea levels around the world. The programme highlights the threat posed by rising waters to people living on the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, forcing them from their homes. "In the US, Louisiana is on the front line of this climate crisis. It's losing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet - at the rate of of a football field every 45 minutes," says Colette Pichon Battle, a director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. "The impact on families is going to be something I don't think we could ever prepare for."
4-18-19 Warm, dry winds may be straining Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf
Autumn melting could be a warning sign. Turquoise pools of snowmelt on the Antarctic Peninsula, including on the Larsen C ice shelf, have recently been forming months after the continent’s peak summer melt. Bursts of warm, dry wind cascading over mountains that run along the peninsula are largely to blame, researchers report April 11 in Geophysical Research Letters. In this March 2016 satellite image, meltwater on part of Larsen C can be seen at the foothills of these mountains, just one case of this type of wind-induced melting. Eastward-flowing winds sweeping across the Antarctic Peninsula sometimes pick up enough speed to surmount its mountain peaks. As the air rises and chills, its moisture condenses and, in the process, reheats the air. So when the now-dry air comes coursing down the leeway mountainside, it can be a balmy 20° Celsius. Researchers “have told me they’ve been in a T-shirt” while standing in these winds, says cryospheric scientist Tri Datta of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Datta and her team compared satellite data collected from 1982 to 2017 with simulations of the peninsula’s ice sheet and atmospheric conditions during the same period. The team found that, since 2015, these winds called foehns have caused a lot of melting on the peninsula, including on Larsen C, as late as May, well into Antarctica’s autumn. Foehns likely cause 60 percent of the total snowmelt on the northeastern part of the peninsula at that time of year, Datta says. That’s a problem because meltwater can trickle into crevasses on Larsen C. The water’s own weight wedges the cracks open and may help cause the ice shelf to break off. Late melting can also prevent new snow from replenishing the ice shelf. In 2017, a giant iceberg broke from Larsen C, raising questions about the shelf’s stability and how it may contribute to rising seas (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6).
4-18-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate protests 'diverting' London police
Police are being diverted from "core local duties" that keep London safe by the Extinction Rebellion protesters, Scotland Yard has said. More than 500 people have been arrested since Monday, including three charged with gluing themselves to a train. Police rest days have been cancelled over the bank holiday, as more than 1,000 officers are deployed in London. Sajid Javid said the climate activists had "no right to cause misery" and the Met Police "must take a firm stance". Officers have also been asked to work 12-hour shifts, while the Violent Crime Task Force has had leave cancelled. "This will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime," a Met Police spokesman said. Heathrow Airport said it was "working with the authorities" following threats protesters may try to disrupt flights over the Easter weekend. The Met said "strong plans" were in place to enable a significant number of officers to be deployed to Heathrow if necessary. Police have made further arrests, but activists continue to block traffic at four sites around the capital. Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge have been occupied by protesters since Monday. Transport for London warned delays around those areas were expected "throughout the day". Met Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave has said police may need new powers to deal with non-violent protests on this scale, due to the large number of arrestees for police and courts to deal with. Oscar winning actress and writer Emma Thompson joined protesters, saying it was the "first real hopeful movement I've joined". Speaking from the blockade at Marble Arch, Ms Thompson said: "Our Planet is in deep danger, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildre "Unfortunately our governments haven't listened to us, so now we have to make them listen."
4-18-19 AI that spots inequality could monitor living conditions in cities
Social and economic inequality has no easy fix, but now a system that automatically detects signs of inequality from street images could be used to help. Esra Suel and colleagues at Imperial College London trained artificial intelligence to detect inequalities in four UK cities, using a combination of government statistics and public images taken from Google Street View. The AI was trained on 525,860 images from 156,581 postcodes across London, along with income, health, crime, housing, and living environment statistics about the areas. A fifth of the data was withheld to test how closely the algorithm’s estimation matched real distributions of inequality in London. The AI was most successful at spotting differences in quality of the living environment and mean income, scoring 0.86 for both on a statistical test of how closely its predictions matched with the real data, where a score of 1 is a complete overlap. It was least successful at predicting differences in crime rate and self-reported health, scoring 0.57 and 0.66, respectively. The team then used the AI to perform the same estimation in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, after being fine-tuned with some additional images collected in those cities. It scored 0.68, 0.71, and 0.66 respectively, compared to an overall correlation of 0.77 in London. Some features of a living environment, such as pollution and signs of disrepair, are directly linked to visual elements that the algorithm could recognise, but others are less so, says Suel. “What is usually perceived as unsafe is not necessarily correlated with actual crime rates,” she adds. Street imagery could be a helpful tool in monitoring the success of policies to reduce inequality, because they are updated more frequently than some government surveys or census data.
4-18-19 BBC Earth from Space: satellite images give new view on conservation
What can satellite imaging add to the natural history genre that we haven’t seen before? That’s the tough challenge the producers of the BBC’s new documentary series, Earth from Space, took on when creating the show. The first episode aired on BBC One on 17 April, and explored how satellite images are helping scientists to monitor the fragile health of our planet from space. The view of the earth from space is often extraordinary, and within a few minutes of the show’s opening, the superlatives in the narration start coming thick and fast. Amazing, sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon, the San Andreas fault and Uluru are sprinkled through the programme, as are stunning shots of cape fur seals, hippos in Botswana and foaling grey whales in Bahia, Mexico. Earth from Space combines satellite imagery with heavy use of nature documentary footage. The camera makes you feel as though you’ve zoomed in from space, down through the valleys of the Hengduan in the Himalayas. As spring blossoms in the mountains we see the plants, trees and even the rhododendrons on the ground burst into colour – much to the delight of the resident Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys, who feed on the nectar. And we’re rewarded with some close-ups of the monkeys, for a conventional nature documentary pay-off. Using satellite imagery affords the chance to see the challenges different species face from the air, as well as from ground level. Now researchers can see emperor penguin poo from space – a nugget revealed during the episode – conservationists have a way to track emperor penguin colonies across Antarctica. Satellites can spot the brown emperor poo patches in parts of the landscape otherwise inaccessible to humans. They’ve used satellites to find 26 new colonies, doubling the known population of the species, and to monitor the colonies as they come under threat from climate change.
4-18-19 More than a million tiny earthquakes revealed in Southern California
Abundant data on little quakes can help scientists learn more about what triggers the big ones. In between the “big ones,” millions of tiny, undetected earthquakes rumble through the ground. Now, a new study uncovers a decade’s worth of such “hidden” quakes in Southern California, increasing the number of quakes logged in the region tenfold. Such troves of quake data could shake up what’s known about how temblors are born belowground, and how they can interact and trigger one another, researchers report online April 18 in Science. The researchers used a technique called template matching to mine an existing archive of earthquakes, recorded by seismometers and other instruments in the region from 2008 to 2017. The team was searching for quakes of such small magnitude that their signals were previously too small to be separated from noise. The results boosted the number of earthquakes in the Southern California Seismic Network archive to 1.8 million. Statistical analyses using this wealth of new data could help researchers suss out information about seismic activity that wouldn’t have been possible previously. “You can’t do statistics with small numbers,” says Emily Brodsky, a seismologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who wasn’t involved in the new study. She likens the usefulness of tiny quakes to that of fruit flies: They’re like small but abundant laboratory model organisms. With large populations — whether of fruit flies or earthquakes — you can learn what’s robust and what’s a fluke; separating the two is a chronic problem in earthquake studies, Brodsky says.
4-17-19 Extinction Rebellion London activists chained to Jeremy Corbyn's home
Climate change activists glued themselves to a train and others are protesting outside Jeremy Corbyn's home in the third day of protests. Extinction Rebellion protesters have been blocking traffic at Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus since Monday. Earlier, three activists were glued to a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train at Canary Wharf, causing minor delays. Four people have now glued themselves together at the Labour leader's home. The activists, who are glued together with one chained to the Labour leader's house in north London with a bike lock, said they supported him but wanted the Labour Party to go further than declaring a "climate emergency". Jeremy Corbyn left his home but declined to meet or speak to any of the protesters. Easter eggs and flowers from the group, which had been taken into Mr Corbyn's home earlier, were later returned to the street by the Labour leader's wife Laura Alvarez. More than 300 people have been arrested this week over the protests. A campaigner who glued himself to the train's window was removed about an hour after the start of the DLR protest, at about 10:50 BST. A man and a woman who unfurled a banner and glued themselves to the top of the train's carriage were also later removed and carried off by officers. BTP said three people had been arrested for obstructing the railway. Extinction Rebellion targeted the DLR after members changed their minds about disrupting the Tube network. It came after BTP ordered Transport for London (TfL) to switch off wi-fi at Tube stations to deter protests.
4-16-19 Extinction Rebellion: What do they want and is it realistic?
Extinction Rebellion's attempts to clog the heart of London and other cities across the UK have undoubtedly driven the issue of climate change up the news agenda. But amid the die-ins - where protestors pretend to be dead - bridge swarmings and arrests, there hasn't been too much consideration of the group's actual plans to tackle rising temperatures. As a solution to the "climate breakdown and ecological collapse that threaten our existence", Extinction Rebellion is proposing three key steps. The government must, in their words, "tell the truth" about the scale of the crisis the world now faces. Secondly, the UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. The third step is the formation of a Citizens' Assembly to "oversee the changes" that will be needed to achieve this goal. Getting to net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2025 would be an extremely difficult target, given that, right now, the government is mulling a plan to commit to net zero by 2050. Consider the changes that would be needed to get to net zero in just six years. Gas boilers across the UK would have to be replaced with electricity, and you'd need to massively ramp up renewable energy, on a scale not yet seen, to meet this extra demand. Researchers at Zero Carbon Britain suggested that if the UK wanted to get to net zero by 2030, Britain would need about 130,000 extra wind turbines mostly off shore. This would take up an area twice the size of Wales. There would also have to be significant dietary changes, with people cutting back on meat and dairy. Flying would have to be restricted. Severely. "You could have an air flight every couple of years, but we can't allow the world to continue flying for hen parties in New York every couple of weeks," said Paul Allen who co-ordinates the Zero Carbon Britain research project. "The numbers don't stack up. We can't do this, we have to be honest with ourselves." (Webmaster's comment: And you need to Very Severely Penalize every corporation that profits from contributing to global warming.)
4-16-19 Extinction Rebellion London protest: Arrests top 120
More than 120 climate change activists have been arrested for blocking roads in central London, amid protests aimed at shutting down the capital. A second day of disruption is under way after Extinction Rebellion campaigners camped overnight at Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus. Police said 500,000 people had been affected by the diversion of 55 bus routes in London. The Met said 122 people had been arrested by 12:30 BST on Tuesday. All remain in custody. Most were detained on suspicion of public order offences, while five people were held on suspicion of criminal damage at Shell's HQ. Campaigners have been ordered to restrict their protests to Marble Arch after they caused widespread disruption on Monday. Ch Supt Colin Wingrove said: "Ongoing demonstrations are causing serious disruption to public transport, local businesses and Londoners who wish to go about their daily business. "At this time we have made a total of 122 arrests... 117 were on Waterloo Bridge last night and in the early hours of this morning," he added. Motorists face gridlocked traffic on a number of alternative routes, such as Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. Transport for London warned bus users that routes would remain on diversion or terminate early. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said although he "shared the passion" of the activists, he was "extremely concerned" about plans some protesters had to disrupt the London Underground on Wednesday. He said it was "absolutely crucial" to get more people to use public transport to tackle climate change. "Targeting public transport in this way would only damage the cause of all of us who want to tackle climate change, as well as risking Londoners' safety, and I'd implore anyone considering doing so to think again," he said.
4-16-19 Microplastics found in 'pristine' Pyrenees mountains
Scientists have found that a secluded region in the Pyrenees mountains - previously considered pristine wilderness - is covered with airborne microplastics. A team from Strathclyde and Toulouse universities spent five months in the area, which straddles France and Spain. They estimate that each day an average of 365 tiny plastic fragments or fibres settled on every square metre of land. The nearest major city - Toulouse - is about 75 miles away. Researchers collected samples from what they considered to be an uncontaminated area in south west France, about four miles from the nearest village. Samples from monitoring devices were analysed to identify whether the tiny plastic pieces, invisible to the naked eye and less than five millimetres long, were present in the mountain range. It is not known the distance microplastics can travel, but the paper, published in the Nature Geoscience journal, suggests fragments are regularly travelling distances of nearly 60 miles. Steve Allen, a researcher from Strathclyde University, said the research suggested microplastics were being transported by the wind. He said: "It's astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees field site. "It opens up the possibility that it's not only in the cities you are breathing this in, but it can travel quite some distance from the sources. "Plastic litter is an increasing global issue and one of the key environmental challenges we face on global scale." Mr Allen said that researchers had yet to determine the full impact of microplastics, but that other experiments had suggested they could lead to changes in feeding and mating habits in some species. Microplastics, which are completely invisible to the naked eye, have also been detected in the oceans and aquatic life. They have been found in tap water around the world and in some of the most remote places on earth, with studies showing they have even reached Antarctica.
4-16-19 Early ocean plastic litter traced to 1960s
Old-fashioned metal boxes that have been dragged around the ocean since 1931 have accidentally created a record of the history of ocean plastic. The devices - known as continuous plankton recorders (CPRs) - first ensnared a plastic bag off the coast of Ireland in 1965. This, researchers say, could be the first marine plastic litter found. The CPR record also revealed how much more plastic has been found in the ocean in recent decades. By fishing for plankton for all those decades - a key species that indicates the productivity of the ocean and so of particular interest for monitoring the health of fisheries - the machines also produced a history of plastic litter. Lead researcher Dr Clare Ostle, from Plymouth's Marine Biological Association, explained that the "fleet" of CPRs were designed and built to be towed behind ships. They capture samples of plankton from the water column - trapping them on a mesh inside. But whenever something became entangled on the recorder and had to be removed, the crew responsible for the device would record what happened, in a log. "We search through [those logs] and what we realised was that we had some really early, historic entanglement cases of plastics," Dr Ostle explained. "We can build a time series from that - so we can actually see the increase in larger plastic entanglements." One headline is that it shows what is believed to be the first recording of a plastic bag in the ocean - a bag that became ensnared on a CPR that was being towed off the coast of Ireland in 1965. Other highlights from the study include: 1. Plastic fishing line found in 1957. 2. Confirmation that there has been a significant and steady increase in ocean plastic since 1990. 3. More hopefully, the number of plastic bags found in the ocean has decreased in recent years, but it's unclear whether that's related to bans and charges being introduced around the world.
4-16-19 Why electric cars are a hot topic in Australia's forthcoming election
Electric cars have become a heated topic in the lead up to Australia’s May 18 election, despite support from both major parties. Prime minister Scott Morrison denounced the opposition party’s aim to have electric cars account for 50 per cent of new vehicles by 2030, saying it would herald the “end of the weekend”. This is because an electric car just doesn’t have the “grunt” Australians are looking for, the Liberal leader argued. “It’s not going to tow your trailer. It’s not going to tow your boat,” he said while canvassing for votes in Western Sydney earlier this month. “It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.” This fervent backlash to this push for greater electric car uptake struck a strange chord. The Liberal government has been a supporter of electric cars in recent years, trying to boost numbers by providing cheaper loans and funding for a network of ultra-fast electric vehicle recharge stations. During their time in government, the number of new electric cars bought rose by 67 per cent between 2016 and 2017. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party turned their messaging to tradies and car buffs, funding a series of Facebook advertisements that falsely claimed the opposition leader Bill Shorten was going to tax popular car brands. Australia has been one of the slowest high-income country to embrace electric vehicles, with only one in 500 new cars currently estimated to be electric. A major roadblock has been developing the recharging infrastructure for such a vast country, which echoes similar chicken and egg dilemmas faced by other countries trying to increase the uptake in the vehicles. This is where Shorten’s other goal, to make electric vehicles account for 50 per cent of the federal government fleet by 2025, could help in establishing infrastructure for the public more broadly.
4-15-19 Tiny microplastics travel far on the wind
The deposition of airborne plastic bits in far-flung, remote places may rival that of cities. Plastic pollution from Paris doesn’t necessarily stay in Paris. Tiny bits of plastic that originated in cities were carried by wind to a remote mountain location at least 95 kilometers away, a study finds. It’s the first demonstration that microplastics, tiny particles ranging from a few nanometers to 5 millimeters in size, can travel far through the atmosphere. Even more startling is how much microplastic fell from the sky in such a remote location, the researchers say. The study’s findings suggest that the rain of microplastics in some far-flung places may rival that of some large cities. “We found them somewhere they shouldn’t be,” says atmospheric and environmental scientist Deonie Allen of EcoLab in Castanet-Tolosan, France, who coauthored the study. The researchers set up two types of atmospheric deposition collectors at the Bernadouze meteorological station, in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. The scientists visited the site roughly once a month from November 2017 to March 2018 to retrieve the samples, and then analyzed the collected particles to separate, identify and count the bits of plastic. An estimated 365 microplastic particles per square meter per day, on average, were deposited at the site, the team reports April 15 in Nature Geoscience. That’s a rate that “is similar to what’s happening in Paris,” Allen says.
4-15-19 The 2018 heatwave may not have been possible without climate change
We know climate change made the heatwave that swept the northern hemisphere last year more likely, but is it possible to say that it actually caused it? In a bold claim, researchers are suggesting the extent of the event would have been impossible without the carbon dioxide humanity has pumped into the atmosphere. Global warming appears to be caught red handed. From record temperatures in Japan to wildfires in Sweden, many regions were hit by extreme heat between May and July 2018. A 5 million square kilometre area was affected by hot days over the period -– that’s 22 per cent of populated and agricultural areas in the northern hemisphere. “The area affected could not have occurred without climate change,” says Martha Vogel of ETH University, who presented the findings at the Earth Geosciences Union conference in Vienna. Other scientists have cautioned against unequivically pinning the blame on climate change. Vogel’s team modelled the extent of areas concurrently affected by heat in a world without the 1°C of warming that humanity has caused since the industrial revolution. When they compared this with the size of observed heatwave areas in the past, they found the two were largely in line. But their simulations could not replicate the size of the area affected in 2018. The highest they could reach was 20 per cent of the area. When the team added our warming impact back in, they found comparable heatwaves could happen every six years. “So it is not unlikely to have such an event like last year,” she says. Vogel’s research suggested that if temperatures rise to 2°C in the future, as they are on track to exceed, heatwaves like 2018 could occur every year.
4-15-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate protesters block roads
Climate change protesters have blocked roads across central London sparking traffic disruption. Members of campaign group Extinction Rebellion have also parked a boat at Oxford Circus, and blocked Marble Arch, as part of a global day of action. Activists smashed the glass of the revolving doors of oil company Shell's London headquarters in Waterloo. Police have advised people travelling into London to allow extra journey time. Yen Chit Chong, from Extinction Rebellion in London, said: "This is our last best shot at survival." Organisers claim protests are being held in over 80 cities across 33 countries. Extinction Rebellion said protests would continue throughout the week "escalating the creative disruption across the capital day by day". The group said it planned to "bring London to a standstill for up to two weeks", and wanted the government to take urgent action to tackle climate change. In Parliament Square, protesters unfurled banners, held up placards and waved flags as speakers took to the stage. Since its launch last year, members have shut bridges, poured buckets of fake blood outside Downing Street, blockaded the BBC and stripped semi-naked in Parliament. It has three core demands: for the government to "tell the truth about climate change", reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and create a citizens' assembly to oversee progress. Controversially, the group is trying to get as many people arrested as possible. One of the group's founders, Roger Hallam, believes that mass participation and civil disobedience maximise the chances of social change. But critics say they cause unnecessary disruption and waste police time when forces are already overstretched. By intentionally causing more than £6,000 damage at the Shell headquarters activists aim to get the case into crown court to put their case to a jury, the campaign said. Protester Chay Harwood told the BBC: "We live in a very sick society at the moment. There's a lot of social issues and social ills that need curing. "But at the moment the biggest threat we face is the threat of climate change."
4-13-19 BBC climate doc adviser: Earth is sending us really powerful messages
“It really does hammer home the message that it’s not some science-y issue, it affects you and animals,” says Chris Rapley of the BBC’s new climate change documentary: Climate Change – The facts. The former director of the Science Museum in London served as science adviser to the show, which he believes is incredibly timely after last year’s extreme weather and a drumbeat of striking climate science. “2018 has seen a big shift. The planet sending us really, really powerful strident messages, you could hardly watch evening news without seeing wildlifes, or storms, or floods. It’s gone from a taboo subject to being semi-normalised in the news.”Chris Rapley, scientific advisor on the BBC’s new climate change documentary, talks rising temperatures, hammering home the message, and David Attenborough. On the science side he cites the UN climate science panel’s report on what a 1.5C temperature rise means, as well as the increasing speed of work to attribute events such as last summer’s heatwave to climate change. Such attribution has helped to turn the issue from an abstract one into a concrete one, and therefore could shift public attitudes, he believes. “The story is penetrating consciousness and we are probably at some sort of a tipping point [in the public],” says Rapley. He advised the BBC on which experts to talk to for the documentary, “caught a few things” on the science, and tried to strike the right tone between fear and hope. “It tries to avoid the danger of over-delivering on the doom and gloom, and leaving people helpless and without any sense of agency,” he says. But it is still “pretty uncompromising” about the threat from climate change, he adds.
4-13-19 David Attenborough finally talks climate change in prime time BBC slot
Global warming will enjoy a rare moment in TV’s spotlight when the BBC airs an hour-long film on the subject on 18 April, presented by David Attenborough. “Right now, we’re facing our gravest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” says Attenborough at the start of Climate Change – The facts. The involvement of this influential star on BBC1, the corporation’s biggest channel, in a prime 9 pm slot has raised expectations that the film could significantly shift attitudes and spur action. Perhaps it could do for climate change what 2017’s Blue Planet II did for plastics. But is the documentary too little, too late from the BBC on climate change? We have known about the severity of global warming for years. Shouldn’t a show in 2019 be about actions rather than facts? The film is, however, an excellent primer on climate change, sprinting through the basics of the science, why we have failed to cut carbon emissions and how we might reduce future warming. It features a who’s who of climate academia, from Michael Mann, James Hansen and Naomi Oreskes in the US to UK figures including Peter Stott, Mark Maslin and Catherine Mitchell. Somewhat oddly, there is no one from the world’s biggest emitter, China. Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain is there though. “If the poor are suffering today, then the rich will also suffer tomorrow,” she says. Attenborough is a soothing balm, popping up as a voice of calm whenever you might be freaking out about the sheer scale of the problem. As with previous climate documentaries, such as 2007’s The 11th Hour, it occasionally drags a little due to the reliance on talking heads and generic stock visuals. But there are some memorable scenes: bats killed by extreme heat in Australia and dashcam footage of a father and son speeding through a wildfire.
4-13-19 The uneven burden of air pollution
Like many effects of climate change, air pollution hits minorities the hardest. Air pollution is a particularly covert killer. Sometimes smog burns our throats and sears our eyes, but just as often it enters the body unnoticed; a deep breath carries invisible gases and fine particles into the lungs where they hit the bloodstream and wreak havoc on our cardiovascular, circulatory, and respiratory systems. Air pollution has well-documented links to asthma, lung and heart diseases, birth defects, and a slew of other negative health outcomes. And now a new study, published last month in the European Heart Journal, has found that it also kills twice as many people as previously thought — surpassing even smoking-related deaths. The study, which combined air pollution exposure data and mortality data to model the risk of death, found that tiny particles of pollution known as PM 2.5, kicked up into the atmosphere mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and biomass, agriculture, and industrial operations, are responsible for 8.79 million early deaths every year — some 1.5 million more deaths per year than tobacco. Researchers have known for decades that exposure to air pollution — and thus its myriad health effects — is not equally distributed. In the United States and abroad, minorities and low-income communities face significantly higher levels of air pollution than white and wealthier communities. But another recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences expanded on that well-known disparity, showing that, while the consumer habits of white Americans were more responsible for causing air pollution, black and Hispanic communities were more likely to suffer the consequences. The authors quantified this inequality by tracking pollution levels, exposure rates, and sources of pollution in various regions of the country, and then looking at consumption rates and consumer spending on goods and services that drive those sources of pollution. (Though fossil fuels and industrial operations may be the primary source of harmful pollutants, those operations are driven in large part by consumer demand.) The research is just the latest addition to a mounting pile of evidence that those least responsible for — and least capable of dealing with — environmental issues and disasters are often the most affected.
- Air pollution: Research has found that race, rather than poverty levels, is the strongest predictor of exposure to toxic air pollution.
- Toxic waste: Minorities and low-income individuals are more likely to live near facilities that produce and dispose of toxic waste.
- Climate change: Every community across the U.S. will experience the effects of climate change, whether in the form of rising temperatures, heat waves, droughts, sea level rise, or more intense storms — but it will not affect every community equally.
4-12-19 Canada getting hotter faster
Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, according to a new climate change report by the country’s government. The study found that while the global average annual temperature has climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, Canada’s average land temperature has risen about 3 degrees since 1948, when its records began. In the colder north of the country, temperatures have gone up even more. The authors warn that heat waves are set to become more frequent and intense, raising the risk of drought and wildfires, and that rising sea levels will cause more coastal flooding. Canada is experiencing more extreme temperature rises than the rest of the world in part because of the retreat of its glaciers and diminishing snowfall, reports BBC.com. Snow and ice reflect large amounts of solar radiation, and without that covering, more heat is absorbed by the ground. “Climate change is real, and Canadians across the country are feeling its impacts,” says Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “The science is clear—we need to take action now.”
4-12-19 Wind power: Why Trump hates turbines
“Like another character named Don, President Donald Trump is tilting at windmills,” said Michael Biesecker in the Associated Press. In recent weeks, the president has repeatedly—like the fictional Don Quixote—mistaken a benign device for turning the wind into energy for something monstrous. At rallies and in speeches, Trump has falsely claimed that wind turbines diminish nearby property values by 75 percent, and nonsensically warned that if they’re used to generate electricity, TVs won’t work during calm weather. “Turn off the television darling, please,” he sarcastically said. “There’s no wind.” Last week, Trump claimed the noise from wind farms “causes cancer.” He also said the turbines slaughter birds—all “while spinning his arm like a turbine and making an unpleasant whirring sound.” Trump is parroting a “grab bag of debunked claims” promoted by the fossil fuel industry, said Dan Vergano in BuzzFeedNews.com. Studies have found “no conclusive evidence” that wind turbine noise causes any health problems. Wind farms do kill about 500,000 birds a year, but cars and power lines kill 600 million and cats kill more than 2 billion. And, of course, wind energy is integrated into a power grid that has other sources, so there’s no danger of a TV blackout on calm days. So why does Trump hate wind turbines? Trump’s base wishes “we could go back to the 1950s,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times, so they love it when he mocks “hippie-dippie, unmanly things like wind and solar power.” Besides, the coal-mining and oil industries lavishly donate to the GOP. The sad irony is that coal—unlike wind—fills the atmosphere with pollutants that damage the heart and lungs, and actually does cause cancer. Trump’s feud with wind farms is also personal, said Philip Bump in The Washington Post. In 2006, he bought land on the coast of Scotland to build a golf course, and became embroiled in a prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful battle against a planned wind farm off the coast that he felt “would spoil the views” for his golfers. For years, Trump embraced and tweeted “any negative information about wind turbines,” with “breathless pseudo-concern about their effects.” In a happy coincidence for him, his grudge against wind power now overlaps with “the policy agenda of the Republican Party.”
4-12-19 Can you spot ocean plastic from space?
Scientists are working on a technique to track plastic debris in the ocean from space. It's extremely challenging, especially since the individual pieces of litter are smaller than the minimum-sized objects that satellites can resolve. But the approach works by looking for plastic's reflected light signature in the water. And early trials conducted by the UK's Plymouth Marine Laboratory have been very encouraging. "You're never going to see an individual plastic bottle floating on the sea, but we can detect aggregations of this material," Dr Lauren Biermann told BBC News. The Earth observation scientist has been experimenting with the EU's Sentinel-2 satellites - a pair of orbiting multi-spectral instruments (MSI) that were launched in 2015 and 2017 and are operated by the European Space Agency (Esa). The duo's mission is primarily to make a continuously evolving map of Earth's land surfaces, but in the process they also capture a view of coastal waters. And, actually, this is the key zone of opportunity if you want to monitor plastic discharge to the ocean, because much of the eight million tonnes globally that's thought to make its way out to sea every year does so through rivers and their estuaries. In the UK, the Sentinel pair will be mapping this zone every couple of days. The difficulty for Dr Biermann is that the satellites have a best resolution of 10m, meaning any objects in an image will only be detectable if they make up a certain percentage of each pixel. But she has a couple of factors that work in her favour. The first is that floating debris tends to aggregate in the eddies, fronts and plumes that form as river water enters the sea. And although a lot of the time this will just be plant material, rubbish such as plastic will also be drawn in.
4-12-19 Asbestos Transparency Act
At least 10,000 bills submitted in state legislatures and Congress over the past eight years were almost entirely copied from so-called model legislation drafted by industry groups and other special interests. More than 2,100 of those bills eventually became law, including the Asbestos Transparency Act, which makes it harder for victims of asbestos-related diseases to claim compensation.
4-12-19 96 bags of human waste
Astronauts from NASA’s six Apollo moon missions left 96 bags of human waste on the moon. If a future moon mission discovers that any of the microorganisms in that waste were able to survive the intense temperatures and bombardment of radiation on the lunar surface, it might indicate that hardy microbes can spread life throughout the universe.
4-12-19 Even remote mountain glaciers are contaminated with microplastics
Microplastics have been found in a mountain glacier for the first time, in the latest sign of how plastics are leaving no corner of the planet untouched. The tiny pieces, which measure less than 5 millimetres in length, have shown up in places as remote as Arctic ice before. But now Roberto Sergio Azzoni at the University of Milan and colleagues have found them on a terrestrial glacier. Around 75 particles of microplastic per kilogram of sediment were found on the Forni glacier in the Italian Alps. The team looked at 4 kilograms of sediment in total, which if this is representative, could mean there are 162 million plastic particles across the whole glacier. Ironically, the plastic seems to be getting to the ice via the hikers and mountaineers who are seeking out the natural beauty of the glacier. Most of the microplastics found were fibres rather than fragments. Of the total plastic found, 39 per cent was locally-deposited polyesters, another 39 per cent unknown. The rest was polyamide, polypropylene and polyethylene. The findings imply much of the plastic is coming from outdoorwear made from plastics. Some will also have been blown in by the wind from the nearest towns and cities. That posed a conundrum for the team, as they did not want to skew the results and contaminate the samples they took by wearing clothes made from plastic materials. The answer was wearing solely clothes made from cotton, coupled with wooden clogs. “That is not so comfortable,” says Sergio Azzoni. Glaciers are not as pristine as we think, says Etienne Bertheir, of the Laboratory of Geophysical Studies and Spatial Oceanography in Touloues. “Glaciers are in fact rather dirty. In the Mont Blanc area you find crashed planes, iced bodies [corpses].”
4-11-19 Climate change made the Arctic greener. Now parts of it are turning brown.
Warming trends bring more insects, extreme weather and wildfires that wipe out plants. The Chugach people of southern Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula have picked berries for generations. Tart blueberries and sweet, raspberry-like salmonberries — an Alaska favorite — are baked into pies and boiled into jams. But in the summer of 2009, the bushes stayed brown and the berries never came. For three more years, harvests failed. “It hit the communities very hard,” says Nathan Lojewski, the forestry manager for Chugachmiut, a nonprofit tribal consortium for seven villages in the Chugach region. The berry bushes had been ravaged by caterpillars of geometrid moths — the Bruce spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) and the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata). The insects had laid their eggs in the fall, and as soon as the leaf buds began growing in the spring, the eggs hatched and the inchworms nibbled the stalks bare. Chugach elders had no traditional knowledge of an outbreak on this scale in the region, even though the insects were known in Alaska. “These berries were incredibly important. There would have been a story, something in the oral history,” Lojewski says. “As far as the tribe was concerned, this had not happened before.” At the peak of the multiyear outbreak, the caterpillars climbed from the berry bushes into trees. The pests munched through foliage from Port Graham, at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, about 300 kilometers away. In summer, thick brown-gray layers of denuded willows, alders and birches lined the mountainsides above stretches of Sitka spruce. Two summers ago, almost a decade after the first infestation, the moths returned. “We got a few berries, but not as many as we used to,” says Chugach elder Ephim Moonin Sr., whose house in the village of Nanwalek is flanked by tall salmonberry bushes. “Last year, again, there were hardly any berries.”
4-10-19 We have zero tolerance for unclean water. Air should be no different
LET’s clear the air. Air pollution isn’t getting worse, at least not in most of the developed world. But our knowledge of its long-term harms is motoring forward. Air pollution is the new smoking, but is more difficult to tackle because it is insidious and implicates us all. Anyone who runs their children to school in the car, jumps on a plane to seek the sun or even just shops in their lorry-supplied local supermarket is contributing to the problem. The good news is that air pollution’s effects are largely local, and with exceptions – notably aviation and shipping – can be tackled locally or nationally. Initiatives like London’s pioneering Ultra Low Emission Zone should be closely monitored to see if they work (see “London is cleaning up its dirty air, but will other cities follow?”). But such mechanisms are crude, and risk penalising the poorest people. True change requires individuals, companies and governments all to adjust their behaviour and put clean air at the heart of what they do. Faced with incontrovertible evidence of risk, we have long adopted a zero-tolerance approach to unclean water. Just because air is invisible, doesn’t mean it should be any different.
4-10-19 Millions of child asthma cases linked to traffic pollution every year
Four million cases of childhood asthma globally could be attributable to nitrogen dioxide from traffic pollution every year. Pollution from vehicles may damage airways, leading to inflammation and the development of asthma in children who are genetically predisposed to the condition. Although it isn’t certain which pollutant is responsible, previous research has suggested that exposure to NO2 is key – and traffic emissions can contribute up to 80 per cent of ambient NO2 in cities. Ploy Achakulwisut at George Washington University in Washington DC looked at global data on NO2 concentration and asthma rates to estimate the number of new cases in children between the ages of 1 and 18 that could be related to traffic pollution. Out of the 194 countries, they found that the UK had the 24th highest proportion of new childhood asthma cases that could be attributable to traffic pollution. This related to 23 per cent of cases in Manchester and 29 per cent in London. South Korea topped the list, with nearly one-third of new diagnoses linked to NO2 exposure. The US was in 25th position and India was 58th. The team found that 92 per cent of cases of childhood asthma attributable to exposure to traffic pollution occurred in areas with average NO2 concentrations below the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 21 parts per billion. “Our findings suggest that the WHO guideline for annual average NO2 concentrations might need to be revisited, and that traffic emissions should be a target to mitigate exposure,” says team member Susan Anenberg at George Washington University.
4-10-19 The very strong case for an asteroid defense system
No, really — this is serious. limate change is a serious threat to human society. But even the most extreme worst-case future scenario wouldn't wipe out humanity instantly. There's only one thing that might do that — a major asteroid or comet impact. Big asteroid strikes are very rare, of course, but if one were to come along, we would all be dead in a matter of months — and while a small one wouldn't be so bad, it could still cause devastating losses. It sounds a bit silly, but there is a very strong case for the American government to set up a planetary asteroid defense system. It wouldn't cost much — just a few satellites and telescopes to keep track of all potential threats, and developing some collision or gravity-based techniques to deflect them if necessary. The New Yorker recently published a fascinating profile of a paleontologist named Robert DePalma who has discovered what appears to be fossils of animals who died in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. It has been widely accepted that a big asteroid impact in Mexico probably caused the extinction, but until DePalma's discoveries in the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota, nobody had found dinosaur fossils very close to the Cretaceous-Paleogene geological boundary layer (suggesting that perhaps they died out earlier than the impact). If DePalma is right, it will be a landmark finding for the field. Pretty cool science! But the article also has a harrowing description of what happened when the Chicxulub impactor (a comet or asteroid, perhaps 11-81 kilometers wide) smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago, creating a crater 93 miles in diameter. First came fire, as the kinetic energy released by the impact scorched everything in a 1,500-mile radius, and red-hot ejecta landed all around the world. Continent-wide firestorms burned up about 70 percent of all the world's forests, and huge tsunamis tore up the Gulf of Mexico. Then it got a lot worse: The dust and soot from the impact and the conflagrations prevented all sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing the phytoplankton in the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After the fires died down, Earth plunged into a period of cold, perhaps even a deep freeze. Earth’s two essential food chains, in the sea and on land, collapsed. About 75 percent of all species went extinct. More than 99.9999 per cent of all living organisms on Earth died, and the carbon cycle came to a halt. Big land animals fared particularly poorly — virtually everything weighing more than 5 kilograms was wiped out. Mammals at that time were mostly small, so the ones that survived were able to evolve into larger species after the ecosystem began to recover. In the history of our planet, that's almost as bad as it gets (only the Permian-Triassic extinction was worse). But it's worth noting that even a small asteroid can cause enormous damage. In 2013, one only about 66-feet wide exploded in the sky near Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia, shattering windows across the city and causing about 1,500 injuries. The explosion was as powerful as a large nuclear weapon — a direct hit on a major city would have killed millions. So what do we do? The first thing is to track and record all the near-Earth objects, which is already underway with many projects across the globe and in space. Years ago, Congress required NASA to track 90 percent of objects one kilometer and over, which was accomplished as of 2011 — but smaller ones are still being racked up by the thousands. All told, nearly 20,000 near-Earth objects have been found at time of writing. Meanwhile, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has an automated system to detect which objects are a threat.
4-10-19 A four-day work week could improve our health and cut carbon emissions
Insight is your guide to the science and technology that is transforming our world, giving you everything you need to know about the issues that matter most. A GROWING movement wants to radically change how we live. The people behind it say it will make us healthier, happier and more productive. It will put a massive dent in carbon dioxide emissions and ease the pressure on nature. And it will make countries richer and more equal. But are we really ready for a four-day week? In the UK, at least, the idea is gaining ground. Some trade unions have come out in support, the Labour party and the Scottish National party are discussing the idea and a few small firms are already trying it. The Wellcome Trust, a science charity with 800 staff, is also considering it. The suggestion is that society moves away from typical working patterns of 40 hours over five days, a convention that has its roots in the 19th-century labour movement. Instead, campaigners want us to work no more than 32 hours over four days – but still get paid for all five. “We are making the case for a reduction in working time without a reduction in pay,” says Aidan Harper of the New Economics Foundation, a UK think tank that backs the 4 Day Week Campaign. A January report by the campaign lays out a huge body of evidence showing that working long hours is bad for physical and mental health. But many of those studies looked at people working 50 to 60 hours a week rather than comparing five working days to four. And there is plenty of evidence that being unemployed or having little work is bad as well.
4-9-19 Flying cars could be greener than electric ones in some circumstances
Like Marty McFly’s banana-powered DeLorean, a future generation of flying cars could upend the idea that all flying is bad for the climate. Firms such as the Rolls Royce, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace have argued that flying cars could be a green mode of transport, despite the large amounts of energy they need to get off the ground. One of the first studies into the environmental impact of such vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles suggests that their backers could be right – at least in some circumstances. Gregory Keoleian at the University of Michigan and his colleagues found that VTOLs, if they ever take to the skies, would produce 6 per cent less emissions than an electric car over a 100-kilometre journey. “The VTOL is particularly energy intensive during take-off and descent. The cruise phase of the flight, however, is much more efficient, and over long distances, makes fully loaded VTOLs competitive with ground-based vehicles,” says Keoleian. Flying cars would also have the advantage of being able to fly in a straight line, bypassing meandering routes. Don’t jump into a VTOL just yet though. The difference was only very small and there are several big catches. Number one being that flying cars don’t really exist yet – they are only at the prototype stage. The prototypes rely on electric propulsion and can land vertically like a helicopter to act as an aerial taxi, but another issue is that the study is a bit of an apples-for-oranges comparison. It assumed an average of 1.54 people per electric car, compared with three passengers and a driver for the flying car, working on the assumption that the latter would be a shared taxi service like UberPool – something that electric cars could also offer. Moreover, aerial journeys shorter than 35 kilometres would produce more emissions than electric cars, because of the energy required at take-off.
4-9-19 Climate change means nearly all glaciers in the Alps may disappear
Around 95 per cent of glaciers in the Alps will be wiped out by the end of the century if the world continues pumping out carbon emissions at the current rate. That is the stark warning from research using a more realistic way of modelling how ice will react to rising temperatures due to climate change. Such a dramatic change would pose natural hazards such as flooding, a huge reduction in hydropower output and be a blow for the region’s tourism industry, say the Swiss team behind the work. “You get what you can’t really call glaciers any more, just some ice patches,” says Harry Zekollari of ETH Zurich, who presented the research at the European Geosciences Union Conference in Vienna, Austria this week. Today there are around 3500 glaciers in the Alps, containing about 100 cubic kilometres of water. Some of those glaciers lie below the snow that thousands of people ski and snowboard across each year. The extent to which this ice will be lost hinges on how much carbon humanity emits from cars, power stations and industry in the coming years. Governments’ carbon-cutting plans under the Paris climate deal currently have the world on course for around 3°C of warming by 2100, which would cause a 94.5 per cent decline in the Alps’ glacier mass. But if tougher action limits temperature rises to no more than 1.7°C, about 37 per cent of the ice will remain by 2100. “I think there is still hope. We see the emissions decide if there are some glaciers or not,” says Zekollari. But whatever action countries take on climate change, the Alps are already doomed to lose about half of their glaciers’ ice by 2050. This is partly because of their slow motion response to rising temperatures, which means a certain amount of melting is already locked in by historical emissions.
4-9-19 Antarctica’s iceberg graveyard could reveal the ice sheet’s future
Deposited sediment from melting bergs is a window into the continent’s past. Just beyond the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula lies an iceberg graveyard. There, in the Scotia Sea, many of the icebergs escaping from Antarctica begin to melt, depositing sediment from the continent that had been trapped in the ice onto the seafloor. Now, a team of researchers has embarked on a two-month expedition to excavate the deposited debris, hoping to discover secrets from the southernmost continent’s climatic past. That hitchhiking sediment, the researchers say, can help piece together how Antarctica’s vast ice sheet has waxed and waned over millennia. And knowing how much the ice melted in some of those warmest periods, such as the Pliocene Epoch about 3 million years ago, may provide clues to the ice sheet’s future. That includes how quickly the ice may melt in today’s warming world and by how much, says paleoclimatologist Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany. Weber and Maureen Raymo, a paleoclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., are leading the expedition, which set sail on March 25. “By looking at material carried by icebergs that calved off of the continent, we should be able to infer which sectors of the ice sheet were most unstable in the past,” Raymo says. “We can correlate the age and mineralogy of the ice-rafted debris to the bedrock in the section of Antarctica from which the bergs originated.” Icebergs breaking off from the edges of Antarctica’s ice sheet tend to stay close to the continent, floating counterclockwise around the continent. But when the bergs reach the Weddell Sea, on the eastern side of the peninsula, they are shunted northward through a region known as Iceberg Alley toward warmer waters in the Scotia Sea.
4-9-19 Antarctica team to search world's oldest ice for climate change clues
A 14-person team on a €13 million European project will head to the East Antarctica ice sheet later this year, to begin drilling an ice core several kilometres deep. Researchers will use the bubbles of carbon dioxide and other gases trapped inside ice cores to provide a window into the Earth’s past climate. Details of the “Beyond EPICA” project – which hopes to find ice dating back 1.5 million years – were announced this week at the European Geosciences Union Conference in Vienna, Austria. So far, the oldest ice ever to have been drilled was a core which dates back 800,000 years, unearthed 15 years ago. But that leaves a gap in our knowledge of a key period when the Earth’s climate shifted, known as the mid-Pleistocene transition. This period saw the world shift from a rhythm of switching between warm and cold phases every 40,000 years, to a cycle every 100,000 years. There are competing theories for why this happened, and the new expedition hopes to provide the evidence to explain it. “We need to understand why we have this change 900,000 years ago, and why we live in a 100,000-year [cycle] world. Without [doing] that we cannot say we really understand our current climate systems,” says Barbara Stenni of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. The ice will also provide crucial new data to improve modelling of how our planet’s climate will evolve in the future, she adds. The team have spent the past three years using radar to look below the ice, searching for the place friendliest for drilling and most likely to yield ice that is old enough. Their work suggested a site known as Little Dome C, 40 kilometres from the Concordia station in East Antarctica. With temperatures of -50°C, drilling in such a hostile environment will be tough.
4-9-19 Climate change: European team to drill for 'oldest ice' in Antarctica
An ambitious project to retrieve a continuous record of Earth's atmosphere and climate stretching back 1.5 million years is officially "go". A European consortium will head to Antarctica in December to begin the process of drilling deep into the continent's eastern ice sheet. The group's aim is to pull up a frozen core of material almost 3km long. Scientists hope this can lead them to an explanation for why Earth's ice ages flipped in frequency in the deep past. Although it might seem at first glance to be a rather esoteric quest, researchers say it bears down directly on the question of how much the world is likely to warm in the centuries ahead. "Something happened about 900,000 years ago. The ice age cycles changed from every 40,000 years or so, to every 100,000 years; and we don't know why," Dr Catherine Ritz from the Institute of Environmental Geosciences in Grenoble, France, told BBC News. "And it's rather important, because if we want to forecast what will happen to the climate in the future, with the increase in greenhouse gases, then we will have to use models, and these models will be calibrated on what happened in the past." Dr Ritz was speaking here at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, where the site for the new drilling operation was formally announced. It will be on a high ridge about 40km southwest from the Franco-Italian research station known as Dome Concordia. Already, the spot has been dubbed "Little Dome C". Fourteen institutions from 10 countries will participate in what's referred to as the Beyond-EPICA project. It will probably take about five years to fully extract the core with at least a further year to examine the ice.
4-8-19 ULEZ: London is cleaning up its dirty air but what about other cities?
Cities beset by illegal levels of dirty air will look to London this week, as it introduces the first stage of a major anti-pollution scheme. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is designed to clean up the UK capital’s air, which research released last week suggested has caused more than 4000 hospital admissions over the past three years by aggravating Londoners’ asthma. It aims to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an invisible but toxic gas produced by some cars. About 100,000 vehicles enter central London every day. From Monday, drivers doing this will have to pay a daily fee of £12.50 if their car doesn’t meet certain emissions standards. That will typically mean any diesels older than 2015 and petrol models pre-2005. A much more significant step comes in October 2021, when the zone will be expanded to an area 28 times the size, with 1.4 million people living in it. London’s scheme is considered genuinely world-leading. “The ULEZ is the most ambitious emission control scheme in any megacity. The spotlight is on it, as hundreds of other cities struggle with the urban pollution,” says Frank Kelly at King’s College London. Authorities say the zone is about improving public health, not revenue, and admit set-up costs mean they will probably lose money in the first five years. So what will the impact be? Taken together with steps to clean up buses and taxis, the city is expected to become fully compliant with legal limits on NO2 by 2025. Research has suggested that without such measures, based on the rate of decline in NO2 levels between 2010 and 2016, that milestone would have taken 193 years to reach.
4-8-19 ULEZ: How does London's new emissions zone compare?
London's tough new Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is the latest - and one of the strongest - steps yet taken to limit emissions of pollutants from cars, vans and trucks. So how does it compare with other cities in Europe and the rest of the world? CAZ? LEZ? ULEZ? What do they all mean? These are all different ways of describing geographical areas of cities or towns that have placed restrictions on the use of vehicles, with the goal of tackling air pollution. A CAZ is a clean air zone, a LEZ is a low-emissions zone. Now we have London with the world's first ULEZ, or ultra-low emissions zone. In the UK, CAZs are areas that can decide to use charging as a means of cleaning the air, but don't have to. If they do impose some form of charging for the most polluting vehicles, they are called a LEZ. Across Europe there is less clarity about definitions, and LEZ is the term widely used to describe around 250 areas in different cities, with considerable variation. "Not all LEZs have been created equal," said Yoann Le Petit from the research group Transport & Environment. "In Brussels, in terms of coverage, it's quite a large LEZ, but in terms of ambition level, it's very low. It started last year, banning Euro 1 cars (registered before 1992). These are very old vehicles; you hardly see them on the street. "You also have a very high ambition LEZ in Madrid and the one just introduced in Stuttgart, but there is no agreed definition of what an LEZ is." Across Europe, Italy has the most low-emissions zones - some of them permanent, many of them seasonal. There are also around 80 in Germany, 14 each in the Netherlands and the UK. France has also 14 LEZs, but most of these are emergency schemes that are enforced on a daily basis when there are pollution peaks. There are initiatives under way across all continents. Some are more successful than others. In the US, San Francisco has plans to ban cars on Market Street; and Los Angeles, Denver and Charlotte are thinking about how to reduce emissions in the future. But no American city has yet banned diesel cars in any form. (Webmaster's comment: Let people get sick from emissions, we don't care.)
4-8-19 ULEZ: New pollution charge begins in London
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has come into force in central London. Drivers of older, more polluting vehicles are being charged to enter the congestion zone area at any time. Transport for London (TfL) hopes the move will reduce the number of polluting cars in the capital, and estimates about 40,000 vehicles will be affected every day. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said it was "important we make progress" in tackling the capital's toxic air. However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said many small firms were "very worried about the future of their businesses" as a result of the "additional cost burden". Most vehicles which are not compliant will have to pay £12.50 for entering the area each day, in addition to the congestion charge. Anybody who does not pay the charge will face a fine of £160, although a first offence may result in only a warning letter. (Webmaster's comment: Better yet using a high-emissions vehicle gets you a high (long) prison sentence!)
4-7-19 Green Swedes shun holiday flights for lure of the train
Alejandra Fuentes and her family decided to let the train take the strain when they went on holiday from Sweden last year to Torremolinos in southern Spain. And they are not alone. Climate change concerns have prompted tens of thousands of Swedes to join a movement via Facebook. It is so popular that 500 are joining up every day. Sweden's best-known train traveller is Greta Thunberg - the 16-year-old climate activist who travelled 32 hours to Davos in Switzerland to take her message to world leaders. But many Swedes are travelling further still. The Fuentes' journey to the sun took a few days, but Alejandra's pre-school children were full of questions about the train-ferry between Denmark and Germany, the night-life in Hamburg and the morning rush-hour in Basel. "They became aware of changes as the journey continued," she says. Anna Hamno Wickman and her family initially cut down on flying because of climate concerns, and then discovered they had a better time when travelling by train. "We can read, rest, listen to audio books, play board games and also be transported to exciting destinations," she says. Last summer they went to Brittany in north-west France and in February they took the train to Berlin and slept in a tent. The Facebook group share stories and tips and discuss group travel. Since January last year, their numbers have swelled from 4,000 to 77,000. (Webmaster's comment: And you ride in comfort and can relax. Beats being in an airline cattle car.)
4-5-19 No Global Warming?
Alaska, which had its warmest March in decades. Anchorage had 18 consecutive days above 40 degrees, and northern parts of the state reached 70 degrees—more than 40 degrees above normal. Alaska, after warm temperatures began thawing an estimated 66 tons of frozen human feces left by mountaineers on Denali, North America’s highest mountain. “We expect it to still smell bad and look bad,” said a spokesman for the National Park Service.
4-5-19 Plastic bags: The bans are spreading
A global movement to “bag plastic bags” is gathering momentum, said Joseph Curtin in The New York Times. New York state last week imposed a ban on single-use plastic bags—due to take effect March 1, 2020—joining with California and more than two dozen counties and dozens of cities across America that either prohibit them outright or charge a fee for their use. It’s about time. One estimate shows the average American throws away 10 such bags per week. In New York state, 23 billion a year are chucked—enough “when tied together, to stretch to the moon and back 13 times.” The effect of discarded bags on marine life can be staggering, said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger in an editorial. When they are dropped as litter or blow off garbage piles, they often wind up in storm drains or waterways. The bags then flow to the ocean, where sea creatures like turtles mistake them for jellyfish or some other food. Just consider the beached whale that washed up in the Philippines last month with 88 pounds of plastic in its gizzard. With humans dumping up to 13 million metric tons of plastic waste into the world’s oceans annually, how many other sea creatures are we needlessly killing? Yes, but the alternatives to plastic also have environmental costs, said Brad Plumer in The New York Times. Paper bags, which are made from pulped, cut-down trees, require “significantly more” energy to produce than plastic—and thus leave a much larger carbon footprint. In fact, Britain’s Environmental Agency has found that you have to reuse a paper bag three times and a cotton shopping bag 131 times before these options have “a smaller global warming impact” than one single-use plastic bag. Don’t forget that many plastic bags have “unseen second lives—as trash bin liners, dog poop bags, and storage receptacles,” said Rebecca Taylor in TheConversation.com. My research in California, which passed a statewide ban in 2016, found that the law did, indeed, reduce plastic carryout bag usage by 40 million pounds per year. Unfortunately, it also led to a 12 million–pound boom in trash bag sales, and perhaps an additional increase in sales of poop bags. This suggests that charging a small fee for plastic bags might be more effective than a ban, since it provides an option for those who don’t throw them away after one use. Sometimes, “bans can backfire.”
4-5-19 Eat Hardy
About 70 percent of U.S. produce has pesticide residue even after being washed, a new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found. Strawberries, spinach, and kale had the highest levels of pesticides, the advocacy group said.
4-5-19 Snowflakes are making the Arctic warm faster by acting like a blanket
Falling snowflakes in the Arctic are trapping extra heat, which could be enough to speed up the melting of sea ice. The effect could mean Arctic seas become ice-free up to 20 years earlier than expected. “It’s counter-intuitive because we think of snowflakes as being cold, but they’re slow-falling ice particles that act like blankets,” says Frank Li of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Sea ice in the Arctic tends to melt faster than forecast. So the team compared the few climate models that take snowflakes into account with the many that don’t to see if it could partly explain the difference. The group found that the extra heat trapped by snowflakes makes sea ice on average 0.3 metres thinner, making it more vulnerable to melting away in summer. Climate change is melting the Arctic sea ice, which has been shrinking for decades. In January 2017, the area of the global sea covered by ice hit its lowest level on record. The loss of the Arctic sea ice may threaten animals like polar bears, which rely on the ice to hunt, and there are also knock-on effects for weather and ecosystems elsewhere. At some point this century, the Arctic Ocean is expected to experience its first ice-free summer for three million years. The team also simulated changes in the ice until 2100, using a model that represents falling snow and assuming that we continue emitting lots of greenhouse gases. Existing models predict the first ice-free Arctic summer when carbon dioxide concentrations reach 680 parts per million, which will occur around 2072. However, the model suggested that the heating from snowflakes could bring it forward to 2052, when CO2 would only be at 550 ppm.
4-5-19 Antarctic: 'No role' for climate in Halley iceberg splitting
When a giant iceberg breaks away from near Britain's Halley research base, it won't be because of climate change. Scientists Jan De Rydt and Hilmar Gudmundsson have spent years studying the area and say the calving will be the result of natural processes only. The Antarctic station, which sits on a floating platform of ice, was moved in 2017 to get it away from a large chasm. That crack is now expected to dump a berg the size of Greater London into the Weddell Sea. It's not clear precisely when this will happen, but the breakaway looks imminent, prompting the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to withdraw its staff from Halley as a precaution. As soon as the calving does occur, though, it can be guaranteed that one of the first questions everyone will ask is: what was the influence of climate change? And the Northumbria University team believes it will be able to answer with high confidence: "There was none." Jan De Rydt and Hilmar Gudmundsson have built a model to describe the behaviour of the floating ice platform, which is known as the Brunt Ice Shelf. The Brunt is essentially an amalgam of glacier ice that's flowed off land and pushed out to sea at a rate of about 400m per year. Incorporating satellite and surface-gathered data, the team's model reveals how stress is distributed across the 150-250m-thick structure. And it predicts accurately where cracks are likely to develop and the path they will take. "It all fits together; it's a very compelling piece of work," says Prof Gudmundsson. "It shows that the chasm started to grow because of the stresses building up, and they built up because of the natural growth of the ice shelf. The ice shelf itself created this chasm." The Brunt has never been in quite so advanced a position. The famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton mapped its ice front in 1915 and the modern cliff edge is well beyond what he saw. A calving seems overdue.
4-4-19 Preference for Environment Over Economy Largest Since 2000
By the widest margin since 2000, more Americans believe environmental protection should take precedence over economic growth when the two goals conflict. Sixty-five percent now choose the environment, up eight percentage points from a year ago, while 30% choose the economy.
- By 65% to 30%, more Americans prioritize environment than economy
- Widest pro-environment margin since 2000
- Prioritizing the economy wanes as U.S. unemployment declines
4-4-19 The future of climate change refugees
What is causing the refugee crisis in Central America? One major fuel is the war on drugs, as I have previously written. But another under-discussed factor is climate change, which has devastated many farms in Central America. These climate refugees are just the first glimmerings of a problem that is going to plague the world for the foreseeable future. The PBS News Hour recently ran an excellent report on how climate problems are driving many farmers out of business in Honduras. One issue is drought — over the last decade or so, warming temperatures have created chronic rain shortfalls over much of the country, destroying whole crops and rendering traditional planting techniques impossible. Poorer farmers are even finding subsistence agriculture out of the question: Don Alfredo says, 10 years ago, he could harvest around 4,000 pounds of corn each season. Now he says he's lucky if he gets around 500. He says he's lost over 90 percent of his crop, and what was left wasn't even enough to live on. Elsewhere in the coffee business (Honduras is the fifth-largest coffee exporter in the world), high temperatures are fueling epidemics of rust fungus, or roya. If the temperature gets below 77 degrees Fahrenheit, then the fungus slows down sharply. But if it stays that hot continually, it quickly wipes out whole plantations. Incidentally, a similar process has fueled an epidemic of bark beetle infestation in the American West. It used to be that winters would regularly get cold enough to kill off most of the beetles and their eggs. But without that limiting process, beetle populations have grown exponentially. From 2000-2017 beetles destroyed some 85,000 square miles of American forest. At any rate, this also demonstrates the brutal logic driving refugee movements. The Hondurans interviewed by PBS know all about Trump, his deportation squads, and his camps. Indeed, Don Alfredo has already attempted to cross the border once and been caught and deported. But they simply have no other choice. It's take the risk, or starve.
4-4-19 Great Barrier Reef: Mass decline in 'coral babies', scientists say
The number of new corals on Australia's Great Barrier Reef has plunged by 89% since unprecedented bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, scientists say. The events, which damaged two-thirds of the world's largest reef system, are now being blamed for triggering a collapse in coral re-growth last year. "Dead corals don't make babies," said lead author Prof Terry Hughes, from Queensland's James Cook University. The scientists blame the problem on rising sea temperatures. The research, published in journal Nature on Thursday, was carried out by a group of scientists last year. It measured how many adult corals along the reef had survived following the mass bleaching events, and the number of new corals that had been produced. "Across the length of the Great Barrier Reef, there was an average 90% decline from historical [1990s] levels of recruitment," co-author Prof Andrew Baird told the BBC. The study highlights the link between coral vulnerability and rising sea temperatures resulting from sustained global warming, and recommends increased international action to reduce carbon emissions. Coral bleaching is caused by rising temperatures and occurs when corals under stress drive out the algae - known as zooxanthellae - that give them colour. If normal conditions return, the corals can recover. But it can take decades, and if the stress continues the corals can die. Prof Baird said the "pretty extraordinary" decline was unexpected. It was most likely the reef's first re-growth problem on a mass scale, he added. "Babies can travel over vast distances, and if one reef is knocked out, there are usually plenty of adults in another reef to provide juveniles," Prof Baird said. However, the bleaching in 2016 and 2017 affected a 1,500km (900 miles) stretch of the reef. "Now, the scale of mortality is such that there's nothing left to replenish the reef," Prof Baird said.
4-3-19 The Great Barrier Reef is losing its ability to recover from bleaching
Global warming is destroying the Great Barrier Reef’s ability to recover from disasters and reducing its biodiversity by changing the species that live there. Around half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef died off in 2016 and 2017 after ocean temperatures warmed enough to cause mass bleaching, where heat stresses coral to the point that it expels the colourful algae living inside it. Now a study has found that the amount of coral larvae on the reef in 2018 was down by 89 per cent on historical levels. “There’s fewer adults after the back-to-back bleaching because of the high rates of mortality, and dead coral doesn’t make babies,” says Terry Hughes of James Cook University in Australia, who led the work. Such a big number shows the impact of the bleaching was severe, says team member Joerg Wiedenmann at the University of Southampton, UK. The decline is bad news for the reef’s long-term future. It is also changing the mix of coral species that replenish the reef, which will reduce the amount of suitable habitats for marine life. For the first time, recruitment of a group of weedy corals, known as brooding pocilloporids, outstripped spawning acroporids, a type of coral that is vital for giving a reef the three-dimensional complexity that many animals rely on. Losing some of that three-dimensionality means a loss of biodiversity, in coral species and other marine life. “Instead of oaks, you’ve got brambles. They provide a lot less habitat,” says Jason Hall-Spencer at the University of Plymouth, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research. The decline in coral rebound was steepest in the north and centre of the Great Barrier Reef, which experienced the worst die-offs. The south, which largely escaped the bleaching, rebounded at higher than historical levels.
4-3-19 Climate change: Warning from 'Antarctica's last forests'
Scramble across exposed rocks in the middle of Antarctica and it's possible to find the mummified twigs of shrubs that grew on the continent some three to five million years ago. This plant material isn't much to look at, but scientists say it should serve as a warning to the world about where climate change could take us if carbon emissions go unchecked. The time period is an epoch geologists call the Pliocene, 2.6-5.3 million years ago. It was marked by temperatures that were significantly warmer than today, perhaps by 2-3 degrees globally. These were conditions that permitted plant growth even in the middle of the White Continent. Higher, too, were sea-levels. It's uncertain by how much, but possibly in the region of 10-20m above the modern ocean surface. What's really significant, though, is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was very similar to what it is today - at around 400 CO2 molecules for every million molecules of air. Indeed, the Pliocene was the last time in Earth history that the air carried this same concentration of the greenhouse gas. And it tells you where we're heading if we don't get serious about addressing the climate problem, cautions Prof Martin Siegert from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. Temperatures may currently be lower than in the Pliocene, but that's only because there is a lag in the system, he says. "If you put your oven on at home and set it to 200C, the temperature doesn't get to that level immediately; it takes a bit of time," he told reporters. "And it's the same with Earth's climate. If you ratchet up the level of CO2 at 400 parts per million (ppm), it won't suddenly get to an equilibrium overnight. It will take maybe 300 years or something. "So, the question to us is: what is the equilibrium state; what is Earth's climate going to look like with 400ppm, all things being settled?"
4-3-19 Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, report says
Canada is warming on average at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world, a new scientific report indicates. The federal government climate report also warns that changes are already evident in many parts of the country and are projected to intensify. Canada's Arctic has seen the deepest impact and will continue to warm at more than double the global rate. The report suggests that many of the effects already seen are probably irreversible. Canada's annual average temperature has warmed by an estimated 1.7C (3F) since 1948, when nationwide temperatures were first recorded. The largest temperature increases have been seen in the North, the Prairies, and in northern British Columbia. Annual average temperature in northern Canada increased by approximately 2.3C. "While both human activities and natural variations in the climate have contributed to the observed warming in Canada, the human factor is dominant," the report states. "It is likely that more than half of the observed warming in Canada is due to the influence of human activities." The report came as the government imposed carbon taxes on four of Canada's 10 provinces for failing to introduce their own plans for tackling climate change. The effects of global warming on Canada's environment include more extreme weather. Hotter temperatures could mean more heat waves and a higher risk of wildfires and droughts in some parts of the country. Oceans are expected to become more acidic and less oxygenated, which could harm marine life. Parts of Canada's Arctic Ocean are projected to have extensive ice-free periods during summer within a few decades. A rise in sea levels could also increase the risk of coastal flooding and more intense rainfall could cause problems with flooding in urban centres.
4-3-19 Climate change: 'Magic bullet' carbon solution takes big step
A technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air has received significant backing from major fossil fuel companies. British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering has shown that it can extract CO2 in a cost-effective way. It has now been boosted by $68m in new investment from Chevron, Occidental and coal giant BHP. But climate campaigners are worried that the technology will be used to extract even more oil. The quest for technology for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the air received significant scientific endorsement last year with the publication of the IPCC report on keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C this century. In their "summary for policymakers", the scientists stated that: "All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5C with limited or no overshoot project the use of CDR ...over the 21st century." Around the world, a number of companies are racing to develop the technology that can draw down carbon. Swiss company Climeworks is already capturing CO2 and using it to boost vegetable production. Carbon Engineering says that its direct air capture (DAC) process is now able to capture the gas for under $100 a tonne. With its new funding, the company plans to build its first commercial facilities. These industrial-scale DAC plants could capture up to one million tonnes of CO2 from the air each year. CO2 is a powerful warming gas but there's not a lot of it in the atmosphere - for every million particles of air, there are 410 of CO2. While the CO2 is helping to drive temperatures up around the world, the comparatively low concentrations make it difficult to design efficient machines to remove the gas. Carbon Engineering's process is all about sucking in air and exposing it to a chemical solution that concentrates the CO2. Further refinements mean the gas can be purified into a form that can be stored or utilised as a liquid fuel. (Webmaster's comment: The energy sector released 33 Billion tons of CO2 last year so that would cost 3,300 Billion dollars to capture it. So that's only $23,500 per working person in the United States per year.)
4-3-19 Paul McAuley: British environmental activist found dead in Peru
A British environmental activist and Catholic missionary has been found dead at a hostel in Peru. The body of Paul McAuley, 71, was discovered by students on Tuesday in the Amazon city of Iquitos. In a statement, the religious order that Mr McAuley belonged to said that his body had been burned. An investigation has been launched and officials are questioning six people who lived at the youth hostel, which was run by Mr McAuley. The activist, who was born in Portsmouth, had lived in the country for more than 20 years and was awarded an MBE for setting up a school in a poor community of the capital, Lima. He came to international attention in 2010 when the Peruvian government ordered his expulsion. He was accused of inciting unrest among indigenous people for protesting against environmental destruction. It led hundreds of people to demonstrate in support of him and and he eventually won the right to stay after a lengthy court battle. Environmental groups were quick to pay tribute to Mr McAuley. "It has been a privilege to meet and work with Brother Paul," Julia Urrunaga, who works for the Environmental Investigation Agency in Peru, said in a tweet. Mr McAuley first travelled to the Peruvian Amazon in 2000 to support indigenous activists. In 2010, he told the BBC that he hoped to teach Peruvians about their environmental and human rights. "Education is often accused of inciting people to understand their rights, to be capable or organising themselves to ensure their human rights," he said. "If that's a crime, then yes I'm guilty," he added. "As a member of a Catholic order, my life's been dedicated to human and Christian education." (Webmaster's comment: There are many Christian heroes and here's another!)
4-3-19 Windows made of transparent wood could help keep buildings warm
Transparent wood could one day replace glass in windows. A process for turning it see-through also gives it heat-retaining powers, which could help regulate the temperature of buildings. Céline Montanari at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden and colleagues built on previous work which created transparent wood by removing a structural component called lignin from wood, allowing light to filter through. For the next stage, the team soaked de-lignified birch wood in PEG (polyethylene glycol), a polymer that is also found in theatre smoke machines and toothpaste. When encapsulated in the wood panels, this makes it harder for heat to cross – whether you’re insulating a building against the cold outside, or trying to keep out summer heat. The PEG is solid at room temperature, but melts at 30°C, although it remains locked in the wood structure. “When we build we try to use a lot of glass, but it has a drawback of being a bad insulator, so there are large amounts of heat loss,” says Montanari. “Wood is really amazing, 10 times better at insulating, but it does not transmit light.” The composite wood isn’t quite as good an insulator as natural wood, but is around four times better than high-end double glazing. The material can also bear heavy loads and is biodegradable, making it easier to dispose of than concrete or glass. The modified wood is still not perfectly clear – when the PEG is solid, the material has a white haze similar to frosted glass. But Montanari is confident these early challenges can be overcome by tweaking the chemistry or using different species of wood. The work was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
4-2-19 Landslides have increased by 6000 per cent on an Arctic island
Satellite images are revealing how the landscape of Banks Island in the frozen north of Canada is being reshaped by land slumps triggered by global warming. The number of slumps, which normally start with landslides that then continue to move much more slowly over a period of years, has rapidly increased from 63 in 1984 to more than 4000 in 2013. “It is clear that something really dramatic is happening,” says Antoni Lewkowicz of the University of Ottawa in Canada. The local Inuvialuit people say it is becoming harder to move around the island, and they can no longer drink from many streams because they are full of mud. “If any of us had the equivalent of our backyard being eaten up and turned into a mudpit, I think we’d all be quite upset about it,” says Lewkowicz. Around the southern edges of the Arctic, the melting of permafrost is already causing huge problems as buildings tilt and roads buckle. What is worrying about the land slumps is that they are occurring even in areas in the far north, such as Banks Island, where the permafrost wasn’t thought to be at risk. Fortunately, only parts of the Arctic where the permafrost contains a lot of ice are vulnerable to this kind of land slump. A survey last year of a much bigger area of the Arctic found that slumps were “abundant but localised”. Lewkowicz first went to Banks Island in the 1980s to study retrogressive thaw slumps, as these events are known. Now his team has used satellite images from the Google Earth Engine Timelapse feature to study them from space. Despite their name, it was thought that thaw slumps are triggered by processes such as erosion by waves or rivers. But Lewkowicz found almost all the slumps first formed when particularly warm summers cause deeper thawing of the land surface than usual.
4-2-19 What does air pollution do to our bodies?
The countdown has begun to the launch of one of the world's boldest attempts to tackle air pollution. From next Monday, thousands of drivers face paying a new charge to enter central London. The aim is to deter the dirtiest vehicles in an effort to reduce diseases and premature deaths. The initiative comes as scientists say the impacts of air pollution are more serious than previously thought. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told the BBC the threat of air pollution, which is mostly invisible to the naked eye, was "a public health emergency". He added: "One of the things that has troubled me is that because we can't see the particulate matter, the nitrogen dioxide, the poison, you don't take it seriously." But over the last few decades, research has revealed how gases like nitrogen dioxide and tiny particles, known as particulate matter or PM, can reach deep into the body with the danger of causing lasting damage. The most obvious effects are on our breathing - anyone suffering from asthma, for example, is more likely to be at risk, because dirty air can cause chronic problems and also trigger an attack. "I had to stay up one night because my chest was really bad because [of] all the polluted air," 10-year-old Alfie told me. "I couldn't go to sleep and my mum had to stay awake." "All that polluted air can hurt your lungs, it can even damage you brain, it can damage nearly everything in your body," he said. A pupil at Haimo Primary School in Eltham, close to London's busy South Circular Road, Alfie is one of 300 children across the capital taking part in unique research. The project involves each child wearing an air-monitoring backpack, specially built by Dyson and fitted with instruments to measure nitrogen dioxide and the smallest particles, called PM2.5. One motivation for the work is that breathing in dirty air at an early age can have implications that last a lifetime. Research has shown that children growing up in heavily polluted streets have smaller lung capacity than those in cleaner areas - on average by 5% according to a study in London - a limitation that cannot be reversed.
4-1-19 Saving the planet: The next move
Like superheroes, their job is to save the planet and this week 180 climate scientists are meeting in Edinburgh to plan their next move. To be technical, they are Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - but clearly that doesn't sound so exciting. Six months ago, the IPCC warned the world that "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented" changes were needed if the climate crisis was to be tackled effectively. Those same scientists will this week begin the next phase of that work in Scotland's capital. The Paris Agreement, reached in 2015, committed the world's nations to keeping global temperature rises "well below" 2C and "endeavour to limit" them to 1.5C. But, after years of research, the IPCC warned in October 2018 that almost all the world's coral reefs would be destroyed if the higher temperature was reached. The work beginning in Edinburgh will assess the mitigation of climate change - that is, what can be done to slow it down. It will examine the link between greenhouse gas emissions and the way we live our lives. The role of technology, through schemes such as carbon capture and storage, will also be scrutinised. Co-chair Priyadarshi R Shukla added: "This report will provide governments with scientific information to underpin responses to climate change in the context of sustainable development." Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "The IPCC provides governments at all levels and across the world with scientific information that can, and in my view should, be used to inform our climate change priorities. "Their role is one that I am deeply respectful of and I am pleased that we have been able to support their work in this way."