8-31-19 Hurricane Dorian: Storm strengthens to category 4
A powerful storm threatening the Bahamas and south-eastern coast of the US has grown to category four, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says. Hurricane Dorian has maximum sustained winds of nearly 145mph (225km/h). It is expected to grow even stronger, its centre potentially crossing the Bahamas before skirting Florida's east coast early next week. Reports from the Bahamas described tourists scrambling to leave before the closure of the international airport. A state of emergency has been declared in Florida, where residents have been urged to stock enough food, water and medicine to last at least a week. Forecasters warn Dorian could be the region's worst storm since category five Hurricane Andrew killed 65 people and destroyed 63,000 homes in 1992. US President Donald Trump said he was monitoring Dorian, which he described as "an extremely dangerous storm" on Twitter. Hurricanes, whose strength can range from category 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, tend to get stronger as they move over warm waters like those off Florida. By the middle of next week, forecasters expect Dorian to shift eastwards, putting the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina at risk. "Dorian is anticipated to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane while it moves near the north-western Bahamas and approaches the Florida peninsula into early next week," the NHC said. The NHC warned that Dorian could cause "incredibly catastrophic damage". In an advisory on Saturday, the NHC said Dorian was not expected to make landfall in Florida but the possibility that it will cannot be ruled out. "Life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds are still possible along portions of the Florida east coast by the early to middle part of next week," the NHC said. Residents of Georgia and South Carolina have been told to keep an eye on the forecast as Dorian churns towards the US coast.
8-30-19 Thinking out of the box
Thinking out of the box, after Axios.com reported that President Trump has more than once suggested to aides that the U.S. drop nuclear bombs on approaching hurricanes to disrupt their rotation. Aides reportedly responded, “Sir, we’ll look into that.” (Webmaster's comment: Trump is Insane!)
8-30-19 The destruction of the Amazon
The "lungs of the earth" are on fire, and shrinking every day. What are the consequences for the planet?
- What’s happening? Tens of thousands of fires are burning across the vast Amazon basin, consuming 4.6 million acres of irreplaceable rain forest since the beginning of the year. Thick, black smoke, visible from space, wafts over the land, plunging Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, into daytime darkness and filling hospitals with patients in respiratory distress.
- Why is the Amazon so important? Home to 3 million species of plants and animals, the vast rain forest is the most biodiverse region on the planet. Some 400 billion trees absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year—crucial to slowing climate change—and emit about 6 percent of Earth’s oxygen. These trees also respire moisture, pulling fresh water from the ground and cycling it into the air, creating one of the atmospheric “rivers” of moisture that regulate rainfall across the planet.
- Why has it gotten so bad? Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right, pro-business former army captain, took office in January with a pledge to open the rain forest to development. “Not one centimeter” more, he vowed, would be set aside for the 1 million indigenous Brazilians who have lived in the rain forest for millennia.
- Why is he doing this? With Brazil’s economy struggling, Bolsonaro sees the Amazon as the country’s greatest exploitable resource, and he believes that environmentalists are a front for foreign “colonialists” who want to control Brazil.
- What is the international community doing? French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called the Amazon fires an “international crisis,” put the issue at the top of this week’s G-7 summit.
- What else can be done? If the fires burn out or can be put out, there is plenty that Brazilians can do to mitigate the damage. Indigenous leaders have proposed ways to open their lands to economic development without cutting down trees.
- Loss of ancestral homelands: A million indigenous people call the Amazon forest home, but Bolsonaro thinks their communities are a waste of valuable land.
Indonesia has announced an ambitious project to move its capital from Jakarta, a sprawling coastal city of 10 million with another 20 million in its suburbs, to a sparsely populated site on the island of Borneo. Relocating the government from Java will cost some $34 billion and take about 10 years. Jakarta has been sinking into the Java Sea because of overextraction of groundwater, and sea-level rise from climate change is expected to swamp it further. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that Jakarta is overstressed, as the center of government, finance, and business as well as the site of the country’s largest airport and seaport. The planned new seat of government would be surrounded by Kutai National Park, known for orangutans and rain forests.
8-30-19 Endless drought
Chile has declared a state of emergency because of drought stretching across the country, including in the capital, Santiago. Skeletal cattle are collapsing and dying on ranches, while boats have been left abandoned in dried-up marinas. The region has been suffering from drought since 2010, and scientists say it will only get worse. “We are talking about a process of desertification rather than a temporary drought or absence-of-rain problem,” Felipe Machado, director of the country’s resilience institute, told The Santiago Times. The government is developing a plan to provide water to copper mines in order to support Chile’s main export industry.
8-30-19 Microplastics in the Arctic
In the latest worrying sign of the growing ubiquity of microplastics, researchers have found “substantial” levels of the tiny plastic fragments in Arctic snow. In recent years microplastics have been discovered at the bottom of oceans and in pristine parts of the Pyrenees mountains, but this is the first study to examine concentrations in snow at the top of the world. Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany found that samples from ice floes in the remote and unpopulated Fram Strait contained as many as 14,400 particles per liter. By comparison, samples from urban sites in Germany had an average of 24,600 particles per liter. Researchers believe most of the microplastics arrived in the Arctic via the atmosphere and came down in snowfall. The findings show how far microplastics can travel in the wind and water—and add to growing fears about what effect these may be having on people. “Microplastic is in the air, and it’s not unlikely that we also inhale some of it,” study author Melanie Bergmann tells NationalGeographic.com. “For human health, we currently know very little.”
8-30-19 How to avoid pollution in traffic
- Roll up the windows: This simple move meaningfully reduces your exposure to carbon monoxide, ultrafine chemical particles, and other harmful components of vehicle exhaust. These pollutants “can cause or contribute to a wide range of health problems, from heart and lung disease to neurological and reproductive dysfunction.”
- Upgrade the cabin filter This factory-installed filter typically hides behind the car’s glove box and typically cuts particulate pollution in half. Change it annually, and to protect yourself against hydrocarbons and nitrogen dioxide, upgrade to one with “activated carbon”—i.e., charcoal.
- Hit ‘recirculate.’ By recirculating the air in the cabin, you can reduce the particulate pollutants that enter by up to 90 percent. Don’t leave that function on long, because after 15 minutes, a buildup of exhaled carbon dioxide can make passengers drowsy and nauseous.
8-30-19 Hurricane Dorian: 'Extremely dangerous' storm bears down on Florida
Hurricane Dorian is expected to strengthen into an "extremely dangerous" storm as it heads towards the US mainland, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has warned. Dorian is currently a category two hurricane but is expected to become a category three later on Friday. The storm is expected to hit somewhere between Florida and southern Georgia, possibly late on Sunday, the NHC says. By then, it could be even stronger with winds of more than 130mph (209km/h). The powerful storm is moving slowly - at just 12 mph (19 km/h) as it crawls north-west across the ocean surface. Hurricanes tend to get stronger as they move over warm water like that off the Florida coast. Dorian could make landfall on Monday, which is Labor Day - a public holiday in the US. It is widely expected to have reached category four by then, the second-highest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale and capable of causing "catastrophic damage". Some forecasters have drawn comparisons to Hurricane Andrew, a notorious 1992 category five hurricane which devastated Florida. President Donald Trump was among those making the comparison, and warned Dorian "could be an absolute monster". He cancelled a planned trip to Poland because of the storm, sending Vice-President Mike Pence instead. The NHC is warning of an "increasing likelihood of life threatening storm surge" along the Florida coast over the coming days. It has also warned that the heavy rain falling in the Bahamas "may cause life-threatening flash floods". Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for the whole of the state. He told residents it was "important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely", advising them to stock up on at least seven days' worth of food. The warnings come after the eye of the storm missed the main island of Puerto Rico, sparing it significant damage, as it headed north-west on Thursday.
8-30-19 Great Barrier Reef outlook very poor, Australia says
The Great Barrier Reef's outlook has been officially downgraded from poor to very poor due to climate change. Rising sea temperatures thanks to human-driven global warming remain the biggest threat to the reef, a five-year Australian government report says. Actions to save it "have never been more time critical", the report reads. Stretching over 2,300km (1,400 miles), the reef was designated a World Heritage site in 1981 for its "enormous scientific and intrinsic importance". But in recent years the reef has been increasingly damaged by warmer seas which have killed off coral and affected its long-term health. Unesco's World Heritage Committee is due to consider adding the reef to its list of sites that are "in danger". The massive report documents the condition of the reef and its outlook for the future. Under Australian law, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) must produce a report on the state of the World Heritage site every five years. In the first report in 2009 scientists said the reef was "at a crossroads between a positive, well-managed future and a less certain one". The second report in 2014 ranked it as "an icon under pressure" with efforts needed to fight key threats. "Since then, the region has further deteriorated and, in 2019, Australia is caring for a changed and less resilient reef," the most recent report states. Rising sea temperatures caused "mass bleaching events" in 2016 and 2017 that wiped out coral and destroyed habitats for other sea life. While some habitats remain in a good state, the condition of the site as a whole is worsening. "Threats to the reef are multiple, cumulative and increasing," the report says. "The window of opportunity to improve the Reef's long-term future is now." Scientists say the number of new corals plummeted by 89% on the reef thanks to recent bleaching events, which affected a 1,500km stretch.
8-29-19 It's officially now the worst ever August for Amazon deforestation
New figures show the amount of the Amazon rainforest being cleared in Brazil this month has hit a record high. Preliminary data from the Brazilian space agency, INPE, reveals that 1145 square kilometres of the world’s greatest rainforest has been cleared in August so far. That marks the highest level in the past five years. The worst hit region is the northern state of Pará, where almost half of the clearances (513 sq km) have taken place. Deforestation, which is often carried out by dragging strong chains between powerful tractors, is typically a prelude to drying out vegetation before fires are deliberately started to clear land for ranching. A decree by Bolsonaro, expected to be officially published today, will ban the setting of fires for 60 days with some exceptions for forestry and agriculture. The move will come just after Brazil accepted Chile’s offer of firefighting aircraft but rejected $22 million of aid offered by the G7. The international fallout from the fires has spread beyond politics to business too. VF, the company that owns the Vans, Timberland and North Face brands, said in a statement yesterday that it would no longer source leather and hides from Brazil “until we have the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country”. Greenpeace UK said it was unsurprising the brands did not want to be associated with Bolsonaro’s policies. But Bolsonaro took to social media to say that there had been no such suspension and leather exports were occurring as normal. The Brazilian president has said in recent days that NGOs were the “biggest suspects” for starting the fires, which are releasing huge amounts of carbon and creating smoke hazes across South America.
8-29-19 Climate change: Big lifestyle changes 'needed to cut emissions'
People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government's chief environment scientist has warned. Prof Sir Ian Boyd said the public had little idea of the scale of the challenge from the so-called Net Zero emissions target. However, he said technology would help. The conundrum facing the UK - and elsewhere - was how we shift ourselves away from consuming, he added. In an interview with BBC News, Sir Ian warned that persuasive political leadership was needed to carry the public through the challenge. Asked whether Boris Johnson would deliver that leadership, he declined to comment. Mr Johnson has already been accused by environmentalists of talking up electric cars whilst reputedly planning a cut in driving taxes that would increase emissions and undermine the electric car market. Sir Ian said polluting activities should incur more tax. He believes the Treasury should reform taxation policy to reward people with low-carbon lifestyles and nudge heavy consumers into more frugal patterns of behaviour. It was vital, he said, for the changes to be fair to all parts of society. He also believes Net Zero won't happen unless the government creates a Net Zero ministry to vet the policies of all government departments in the way the Brexit ministry vets Brexit-related decisions. Emissions won't be reduced to Net Zero while ministers are fixed on economic growth measured by GDP, instead of other measures such as environmental security and a relatively stable climate, he argued.Asked why the UK should take the lead when China's emissions are so high, he answered that the Chinese government was very worried about the climate and was taking it very seriously. (Webmaster's comment: China appears on track to reach its carbon goals up to nine years earlier than planned under the Paris agreement, in a potential huge boost for efforts to tackle climate change. China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early)
8-29-19 Hurricane Dorian: 'Extremely dangerous' storm bears down on Florida
Hurricane Dorian is expected to strengthen into an "extremely dangerous" storm as it heads towards the US mainland, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has warned. Dorian is currently a category one hurricane, but could be at least category three by the time it reaches the mainland, news agency AP reports. The storm is expected to hit somewhere between Florida and southern Georgia. Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency. He told residents it was "important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely", advising them to stock up on at least seven days worth of food. The eye of the storm missed the main island of Puerto Rico, sparing it significant damage, as it headed north-west on Thursday. As of Thursday morning, the storm is packing winds of 85mph (140 km/h) and could bring up to 12in (30cm) of rain when it reaches land. It is currently some 220 miles (355km) north of Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. Dorian grazed the edge of the main island but the US territory's smaller islands, Vieques and Culetra, have been battered by heavy rain and high winds. On Wednesday, wind gusts of 111mph (178 km/h) were reported close to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, just east of Puerto Rico. The NHC expects Dorian - which is travelling in a north-westerly direction at about 13mph - to reach major hurricane status by Friday. According to the latest update, it should pass "well east" of south-eastern and central Bahamas on Friday, before moving over or near parts of north-western Bahamas on Sunday. Forecasters have warned of life-threatening flash flooding and rip-current conditions as the storm moves across the region. According to Reuters news agency, winds could reach speeds of more than 111mph when it reaches the US mainland on Monday.
8-29-19 Amazon fires: Brazil bans land clearance blazes for 60 days
Brazil has banned setting fires to clear land for 60 days in response to a massive increase in the number of fires in the Amazon rainforest. The decree was signed by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has faced intense criticism at home and abroad for failing to protect the rainforest. A leading Brazilian environmentalist warned on Wednesday that the "worst of the fire is yet to come". South American countries will meet next week to discuss the crisis. It remains unclear what impact the ban will have, as environmentalists say the overwhelming majority of forest clearance in the Brazilian Amazon is already illegal and enforcement is lax. The Amazon - a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming - has seen more than 80,000 fires break out so far this year - a 77% rise on the same period in 2018. Environmentalists say the increase is due in part to policies enacted by Mr Bolsonaro's administration. Writing in O Globo newspaper, Tasso Azevedo - who runs the deforestation monitoring group Mapbiomas - said those clearing the forest would cut down trees and vegetation before leaving it for a few weeks until it is drier and easier to set fire to. The current fires were the result of forest clearing in April, May and June, he wrote, but the rate of clearing in July and August jumped sharply, suggesting that there was a lot of combustible fuel on the ground waiting to be ignited. Mr Azevedo called for a ban on the use of fire in the Amazon region until the end of the dry season in November. He also called for urgent action to end deforestation, which he said was largely illegal and linked to criminal groups involved in timber theft, gold mining and land grabbing. "What we are experiencing is a real crisis, which can turn into a tragedy that will feature fires much larger than the current ones if not stopped immediately," he said.
8-29-19 America's own rainforest tragedy
Opening up Alaska's temperate rainforests to logging would be unforgivable. ou will hear the rain before you feel it. It is a soft, whispery sound, one that could almost be mistaken for wind if not for the occasional percussive plinks that give it away. By the end of the year, the precipitation will total 14 feet, but visiting the forest's understory, you wouldn't know it; the thick Douglas fir canopy shields the ground from most of the downpour. If you closed your eyes, you'd have the distinct sensation of being inside a cloud, except you don't: everything is so vividly green and so wildly alive that just looking at it can break your heart. Having grown up only a four-hour drive from the Hoh Rainforest on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, I never took such experiences for granted. There is undeniably something powerful and ancient and, yes, even magical about walking beneath trees 500 years older than Christopher Columbus' claim on finding America. But more than even that, I know how quickly an old growth landscape can be taken away: The drive to Olympic National Park requires first passing through tracts of forest that aren't protected. The open wounds of clear cuts scar the hills around the rainforest a muddy-brown. Bare-limbed snags, left behind by the loggers, jut out of the cuts at random angles and intervals, like shards of mangled bone. Earlier this week, President Trump instructed his agriculture secretary to look into opening up Alaska's Tongass National Forest to such a fate. It absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. Washington's Hoh Rainforest is part of a much larger rainforest ecoregion, one that stretches from the northern California coast all the way up through British Columbia and then into the Tongass, in southeast Alaska. It is one of seven temperate rainforest systems in the world, and by far the largest. "There is a great wealth in this district, and that is its timber," Lieutenant Joseph O'Neil told Congress after scouting the Olympic Peninsula in 1890. He added optimistically, "It seems to be inexhaustible." We know now, crushingly, that it isn't. The Tongass — that 17-million acre northern cousin of the Hoh — is a particularly upsetting testament to the fragility of America's rainforests. At its peak, the Tongass offered up 500 million board feet of lumber a year and employed some 4,000 Alaskans with timber jobs, Christian Science Monitor reports. It wasn't sustainable. Over the past century, more than half the Tongass' virgin forests were ripped out in the pursuit of lumber. "Six decades of predatory logging has imperiled the ecosystem," Larry Edwards, the president of Alaska Rainforest Defenders, told The Guardian in 2018. "The forest can't take any more."
8-28-19 Greta Thunberg arrives in New York City for UN Climate Summits
Greta Thunberg arrives in New York City after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for 15 days. She will be participating in climate summits at the United Nations.
8-28-19 Greta Thunberg: Why are young climate activists facing so much hate?
From the first protest by a single student, the school climate strike movement has been a lightning rod for criticism. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired the now-global movement, has become a primary target. On Wednesday, the 16-year-old arrived in New York after completing her voyage across the Atlantic aboard an environmentally friendly yacht. She faced a barrage of attacks on the way. "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August," Arron Banks, a businessman and prominent Brexit campaigner, tweeted. While Mr Banks said the tweet was a joke, many were outraged. Ms Thunberg is not the only eco-activist under fire, though. Four young climate campaigners told the BBC of the abuse they have been subjected to. One was compared to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels while another said she had been racially abused. These environmentalists have asked difficult questions of politicians, and been ruthlessly derided for doing so. With hostility heightening, why are young climate activists facing so much hate? Since Ms Thunberg's first solo vigil outside Sweden's parliament in August 2018 media attention and criticism have gone hand-in-hand. At first, they were told to stay in school. These students were not on strike, one British Conservative MP tweeted, they were truants. Then there were claims that young climate activists were merely the puppets of adults. In February a far-right Dutch lawmaker said students were being influenced by teachers with a political agenda. When Ms Thunberg travelled to the UK in April, several right-wing media outlets wrote polemics against the teen. One of them, an editorial by the website Spiked, mocked the "apocalyptic dread in her eyes". There were sustained attacks by Germany's far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party ahead of the EU elections in May. Posts about Ms Thunberg and climate change spiked on the party's Facebook page, an investigation, led by Greenpeace Unearthed, found. Weeks later, before her address to the French parliament in July, some far-right and conservative MPs hurled insults at the teen, calling her the "Justin Bieber of ecology" and a "prophetess in shorts". Those who have resorted to personal attacks on the activist appear to be "retreating into various forms of denial", Nigel Thomas, professor of childhood and youth at the University of Lancashire, says. Given the seriousness of scientists' climate warnings, some "may feel threatened by a teenager who has clearly understood and faced up to the trouble we are all in". So far, she has shown restraint, staying mostly above the fray. Her tweeted response to Australian political blogger Andrew Bolt, who described her as "deeply disturbed", was an exception. Instead, Ms Thunberg tends to focus her ire on political leaders. Her brand of environmentalism, however, does not appeal to everyone. In particular, those who "don't like being told what to do" and feel children "don't have the right to say these things", Richard Black, the director of the environmental think tank the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, said. (Webmaster's comment: She has more courage and more truth in her little finger than all the ignorant people attacking her! Having no answer to her arguments these total imbeciles are exposed for what they really are! Those who would rule by bullying and force, not by logic and reason!)
8-28-19 Sea level rises mean some towns must now decide to abandon or defend
JANE HAMILTON stands next to a model of Dunwich in Suffolk, UK, the “lost city” that was once one of England’s largest ports, but has been largely swallowed by the sea after storms in the 13th and 14th century and years of erosion. She accepts that people will have to retreat in the face of a warming world and rising seas. “It’s natural. It’s like people dying, it does happen,” she says. As a resident of the remaining village, that doesn’t mean she wants to stand back and let it happen. “It’s human nature to preserve your community,” says Hamilton. “I don’t accept: ‘That’s fine, it’s all going to fall in the sea, we’ll all move inland.’” Dunwich, once the capital of East Anglia, now a small hamlet as the harbour and most of the town have fallen into the sea. The local museum with Jane Hamilton included a map of the long lost coastline. Dunwich is one of several communities in East Anglia, an area on England’s east coast, that must decide whether to promote a “managed retreat” inland or to hold the line. In a recent article in Science, researchers argued that adaptation to climate change means, in some places, “the question is no longer if retreat will occur but how, where, and why”. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts warming will bring a sea level rise of up to a metre by 2100, and more if the Antarctic ice sheet begins its collapse this century. In England, the Environment Agency (EA) has said sea level rise can’t be fought with “limitlessly high walls and barriers” alone. Juliet Blaxland, who lives a few kilometres up the coast from Dunwich near the crumbling cliffs of Easton Bavents, recognises the need to adapt. “In nature, the most successful animals are not necessarily the biggest and fastest, but the most adaptable to change,” she says. Historically, around a metre of coast was lost each year here, but recently, it has been around 3 metres annually, she says.
8-28-19 Arctic and Amazon climate tipping points put our future in doubt
The Amazon and the Arctic are on fire. What we do now will have a massive impact on the future of the planet – and us. YOU rock your chair back, confident you are still in control and can restore equilibrium. Before you know it, you are on the floor, struck by an irreversible change you can’t swing back from. That’s the dangerous thing about tipping points: you don’t know you have reached one until it is too late. Earth’s climate could now be facing at least two. Reports from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research suggest that wildfires in the Amazon are occurring in unusually high numbers (see “Record Amazon rainforest fires spark row between Brazil and France“). They haven’t yet been confirmed as record-breaking, but many see them as evidence that the anti-environment, pro-agriculture policies of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, are driving illegal burning of the rainforest. This is disastrous for the people and wildlife living there, and for the planet. The Amazon is a region of extraordinary cultural and biological diversity, and a huge global sink of carbon dioxide. We need it to have a chance of keeping global warming to a manageable level. Fewer trees means less water vapour being pumped into the atmosphere. Intact regions of forest start to suffer. At some point, the whole may reach a tipping point where the untouched forest dies and the Amazon flips to become a non-forest ecosystem. We don’t know where that point is. Some studies indicate that we could get there if a fifth of the rainforest is lost. Others suggest a tipping point could be reached as soon as 2030. Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of fires are ripping through the Arctic (see “The pyrocene has begun: How to tackle a world of raging wildfires“). There, the tipping point is of a different nature: a sea-ice-free Arctic creating positive feedbacks that accelerate warming. That risk is now so dire that some researchers say we should investigate local geoengineering options to prevent it (see “Refreezing the Arctic: How to bring the ice back with geoengineering“).
8-28-19 Refreezing the Arctic: How to bring the ice back with geoengineering
The Arctic is heating up faster than anywhere else on Earth and the only way to save the ice may be to intervene directly. We look at the three ambitious projects that aim to do just that. THE Arctic is in a death spiral. The top of our world is heating up faster than anywhere else on the planet, setting new records for the speed and area of ice melt. We are on track this year to have one of the lowest summer sea ice coverages so far. It is a huge problem, because what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. What’s more, the Greenland ice sheet, which alone contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 6 metres, is disappearing. The frozen Arctic soil and sediment, or permafrost, is melting, releasing more and more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This year, vast wildfires in the peatlands of Siberia have blazed for more than a month, and the Arctic warming is playing havoc with weather systems in the northern hemisphere too. But if you prefer to think simply in terms of money, the economic impact of unmitigated Arctic warming by the end of this century was recently estimated to be $67 trillion. As US congressman Jerry McNerney says: “When it comes to the Arctic, we’re in deep shit.” You’ve heard the slogans: we are living in a time of climate emergency. But it is no good declaring an emergency without summoning help. So here it is: let’s refreeze the Arctic. There are several imaginative ideas to manipulate its climate system to get the ice back. They won’t be cheap or easy, but some researchers argue that the crisis in the north is too serious not to at least investigate ways to engineer the return of the ice. Climate intervention in the Arctic might be more necessary than it first appears because the region’s death spiral is a feedback loop. As the shiny ice melts, models and satellite images suggest we could get a sea ice-free summer any year now.
8-28-19 Greta Thunberg: Climate change activist sails into New York City
Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has landed in New York after a 15-day journey across the Atlantic by boat. She will be participating in UN climate summits in New York City and Chile. The 16-year-old Swede sailed from Plymouth in the UK on a solar-powered yacht in order to minimise the carbon footprint of her travel. On Wednesday morning, she anchored at Coney Island and expects to come ashore this afternoon. Greta was expected to arrive sooner, but rough seas slowed her progress. She will be attending the UN Climate Action summit next month. As she departed the UK two weeks ago, she told the BBC that travelling by boat sends a signal that "the climate change crisis is a real thing". The teenager has made headlines for her "school strikes" which have inspired a worldwide climate change protest movement. Greta travelled on the Malizia II, a high-speed, 60ft (18m) racing yacht with underwater turbines and no carbon emissions. She made the journey with her father, captain Boris Herrmann, Monaco royal family member Pierre Casiraghi and a Swedish documentary maker, Nathan Grossman. She will be present at the UN climate summit on 23 September and the COP25 climate conference in Chile in December. The teenager was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year.
8-28-19 The pyrocene has begun: How to tackle a world of raging wildfires
Thousands of hectares of Arctic forest is on fire and the effects on human health and the climate could be terrible. Why did this happen and how can we respond? DEVASTATING wildfires across the world have made front-page news in recent times, from last year’s deadly blazes in Greece to the widespread property destruction in Canada three years ago. One place you might not expect to be burning, however, is the Arctic. Yet as New Scientist went to press, millions of hectares of land in the Arctic were ablaze. Fire is a natural part of the ecology of the vast boreal forests that girdle Earth in northern latitudes. But the amount of vegetation that has been on fire across Alaska, Canada and Russia since June is highly unusual. Even Greenland, four-fifths of which is covered in ice, has seen fires. The impacts on human health and the environment are coming into focus – and they are worrying. Is there anything we can do? This year has already seen striking fires around the world, including in places not usually known for them, such as the UK (see “Fires in February”). In Indonesia, where fires are often started to clear areas for oil-palm plantations, the fire season may prove to be as bad as that of 2015, when blazes there created a plume of smoke that extended halfway around the planet. Brazil’s space agency has reported more than 75,000 fires in the Amazon this year, a record number. A surprising number of crop fires have hit the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg, says Cathelijne Stoof at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The fires in the north, however, are exceptional. “This year has been unprecedented for wildfires in the Arctic,” says Carly Phillips at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts. About 173 megatonnes of CO2 have been emitted from Arctic fires so far this year, according to CAMS, which is a record amount. Russia has been hit hardest, with more than 13 million hectares affected and smoke hazes reported in cities.
8-28-19 Amazon fires: Forest loss challenges Paris climate ambition
The kind of flaring fires seen in the Amazon forest this year would make the Paris climate target more difficult to achieve, scientists have warned. The treaty aims to limit global temperature rise to well below 2C above pre-industrial times to avoid dangerous impacts. Tree cover loss from tropical forests is estimated to account for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions. While trees are also said to provide more than 20% of climate solutions. They not only absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they then lock that carbon away. The world is currently on track for a temperature rise this century of 3C or more, posing a significant challenge to the Paris ambition, according to the World Meteorological Organization. A study last year by Global Forest Watch showed if tropical tree cover loss continued at the rate it was then it would be nearly impossible to keep warming below the pledged 2C. "The fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year certainly pose a challenge for the climate target we have set for ourselves," said Doug Boucher, Tropical Forests & Climate Initiative scientific advisor with Union of Concerned Scientists. "The concern is also because Brazil's basic policy of forestry has been turned on its head by the new administration and it might undo the significant progress the country saw in recent years." The US space agency (Nasa) satellites have confirmed an uptick in fires in the Brazilian Amazon, making 2019 the most active fire year in that region since 2010. Brazil's space agency calculates an 85% rise in fires this year.
8-28-19 Amazon fires: Brazil governors push Bolsonaro to accept aid
The governors of the nine Brazilian states most affected by a record number of fires since 2010 have urged President Jair Bolsonaro to accept foreign aid to fight the blazes. Mr Bolsonaro had earlier refused a G7 offer of $22m (£18m) following a spat with French President Emmanuel Macron. But following a meeting between the governors and Mr Bolsonaro, the government shifted its position on aid. It said it would accept it as long as it had control of what to spend it on. A record number of fires are burning in Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region. The Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. President Bolsonaro said last week that his government lacked the resources to fight the fires. As international concern over the fires spread, leaders of the seven leading industrial nations meeting in France offered $22m to help fight the fires. President Macron, who was hosting the summit, said the funds would be made available immediately - primarily to pay for more firefighting planes. But President Bolsonaro rejected the offer arguing that the G7 countries were treating Brazil like "a colony or a no-man's land". (Webmaster's comment: Mr Bolsonaro's only interest is to get more land for crops and grazing cattle. So in his mind "let it burn!")
8-28-19 Marine life is still struggling after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
It wasn’t just the coastline and the ocean surface that was drenched in oil after the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. Life in the deep sea took a hit, too, and many species in the region are still drastically reduced in number.“The health of our overall oceans also requires a healthy deep sea, as the deep oceans serve vital roles in carbon cycling, marine food webs, and overall ocean function,” says Craig McClain at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. He and his colleagues used remotely operated underwater vehicles to survey the Gulf of Mexico around the site of the disaster. They did the survey in June of 2017 and compared their findings to surveys done in the two months directly following the oil spill. While the number of animals has increased, the diversity was lower. McClain says he and his team noticed an absence of sea cucumbers, fly-trap anemones, Venus flower basket sponges, and giant isopods – crustaceans that look like large woodlice. There has also been a change in which animals inhabit the area. The communities seen in 2010 and 2017 were less than 20 per cent similar in composition. Surprisingly, they found an abundance of arthropods, including the red shrimp Nematocarcinus, a white caridean Glyphocrangon shrimp, and the Atlantic deep sea red crab. McClain says they may be attracted to the site because the hydrocarbons that break down in the wake of an oil spill can mimic the chemicals in sex hormones that they use to find mates. “This seems to be common in some other oil spills. A historic oil spill in Buzzards Bay in New England attracted the American Lobster in droves,” he says. “We believe the hydrocarbons are serving as an attractant and creating a La Brea Tarpit scenario, where healthy individuals are attracted but are trapped, and may eventually die, at the site.”
8-27-19 Tropical Storm Dorian: Puerto Rico braces for possible hurricane
The US territory of Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency as it braces to be hit by a tropical storm churning through the Caribbean. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has issued a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico. Forecasters expect Tropical Storm Dorian to develop into a hurricane within the next 24 hours. The storm was 25km (15 miles) northwest of the island of St Lucia by Tuesday morning, according to the NHC. The governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez Garced, who declared the state of emergency for the US territory on Monday, has called on its citizens to prepare. "I urge citizens to activate their emergency plan with caution and peace of mind," Ms Vázquez said on Twitter. Around 360 shelters will be open across the island, the governor said. The storm is expected to pass southwest of Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday night, before making landfall in the Dominican Republic on Thursday. A tropical storm warning was also in effect for Martinique, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, the NHC said in its latest advisory.
8-27-19 Ocean acidification could weaken diatoms’ glass houses
More carbon dioxide in seawater slows the tiny algae’s ability to build silica cell walls. Ocean acidification doesn’t just erode calcium carbonate shells. It can also slow the rate at which tiny algae called diatoms build their beautiful, intricate silica cell walls. Thinner walls mean lighter diatoms — making the algae less able to transport carbon to the deep ocean, scientists report August 26 in Nature Climate Change. Vast diatom blooms act as a biological pump in the ocean, adding oxygen to the atmosphere and drawing carbon dioxide out of it. To protect themselves from predators, diatoms also build houses of glass — strong cell walls of silica. When diatoms die, the walls act as ballast, causing the creatures to sink and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. But as oceans absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (SN: 6/8/19, p. 24), their waters become more acidic. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current track, the average ocean pH will drop from about 8.1 to about 7.8 by 2100, says marine biologist Katherina Petrou of the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. What that would mean for diatoms isn’t clear. Previous research suggests more CO2 could increase diatoms’ productivity, helping the algae to grow faster. But Petrou and her colleagues suspected that a lower pH might also affect how well the algae build their glass houses. The team filled six 650-liter tanks with Antarctic seawater containing about 35 diatom species. Each tank’s seawater was saturated with different amounts of CO2, resulting in pH values ranging from 8.1 to 7.45.
8-27-19 Plant-based fire retardants may offer a less toxic way to tame flames
Scientists have converted acids found in tea leaves and buckwheat into fire-resistant chemicals. Flame retardants are going green. Using compounds from plants, researchers are concocting a new generation of flame retardants, which one day could replace the fire-quenching chemicals added by manufacturers to furniture, electronics and other consumer products. Many traditional synthetic flame retardants have come under fire for being linked to health problems like thyroid disruption and cancer (SN: 3/16/19, p. 14). And flame retardants that leach out of trash in landfills can persist in the environment for a long time (SN: 4/24/10, p. 12). The scientists have not yet performed toxicity tests on the new plant-based creations. But “in general, things derived from plants are much less toxic … they’re usually degradable,” says Bob Howell, an organic chemist and polymer scientist at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Howell’s team presented the work August 26 in San Diego at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting. The raw ingredients for these plant-based flame retardants were gallic acid — found in nuts and tea leaves — and a substance in buckwheat called 3,5-Dihydroxybenzoic acid. Treating these compounds with a chemical called phosphoryl chloride converted them into flame-retardant chemicals named phosphorus esters. Since these plant-based ingredients are common, and the chemical treatment process is straightforward, it should be relatively easy to manufacture these flame retardants on a large scale, Howell says.
8-26-19 Amazon fires: G7 to release funds for fire-fighting planes
International leaders at the G7 summit have agreed to provide logistical and financial support to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest. French President Emmanuel Macron said G7 countries would release $22m (£18m). However, President Jair Bolsonaro said Mr Macron's plan of an "alliance" to "save" the Amazon treated Brazil "as if we were a colony or no man's land". A record number of fires is burning in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon, according to the country's space research agency. The funding pledge was announced as the leaders of the G7 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US - continue to meet in Biarritz, France. Mr Macron said the funds would be made available "immediately" - primarily to pay for more fire-fighting planes - and that France would also "offer concrete support with military in the region within the next few hours". However, Mr Bolsonaro - who has been engaged in a public row with Mr Macron in recent weeks - accused the French leader of launching "unreasonable and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon region", and "hiding his intentions behind the idea of an 'alliance' of G7 countries". He wrote on Twitter that Brazil's sovereignty should be respected - and said he had discussed with Colombia's president the need for "a joint plan" from the countries that actually made up the Amazon region. Despite Mr Bolsonaro's comments, his environment minister, Ricardo Salles, told reporters that the funding was welcome, Reuters news agency reports. President Macron last week described the fires as an "international crisis" and pushed for them to be prioritised at the G7 summit which his country is hosting. G7 leaders also intend to discuss plans to reforest the Amazon, at the United Nations general assembly meeting in September. The severity of the fires, and the response by Brazil's government, has prompted a global outcry and protests.
8-26-19 Amazon fires: Angola and DR Congo 'have more blazes'
The severity of fires in the Amazon has prompted a global outcry. But, amid the protest, some are questioning how this compares with the rest of the world, with surprising results. The issue has got people checking out Nasa's maps of fires around the world. When you look at the map from Sunday, it clearly shows more fires burning in central Africa. Over a period of two days last week Angola had roughly three times more fires than Brazil, according to data Bloomberg news agency obtained from Weather Source. The data said there were 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, compared with just 2,127 fires in Brazil. This has shocked many on Twitter. A Brazilian tweeter hit out at French President Emmanuel Macron, who described the fires in the Amazon as an "international crisis", accusing him of ignoring blazes in Africa. The vital bits of information these maps from Nasa do not show is whether they are grassland or forest fires and how big the fires are. Observers point to similar fires two years ago which, Nasa said, appeared to have been started on purpose. The suggestion is that farmers have cut down some of the vegetation and set fire to the rest in order to clear the land to plant crops. The farming technique, known as slash and burn, is controversial as environmentalists warn it can lead to deforestation, soil erosion and a loss of biodiversity. But it is the cheapest way to clear land, has the advantage of killing disease and the ash provides nutrients for future crops. So burning fields remains popular among farmers. It happens every year ahead of the rainy season, which is expected to start in Angola and DR Congo in the next month or so. This could go some way to explaining why the fires have not attracted much attention.
8-26-19 Greece wildfires: Blaze forces evacuations on island of Samos
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from hotels and beaches in Greece as firefighters tackle dozens of wildfires across the country. About 700 firefighters were deployed over the weekend as the fires spread, fanned by strong winds and hot, dry conditions, officials said. One of the worst fires, on the island of Samos, forced authorities to transfer people from several hotels. Wildfires often occur in Greece as temperatures rise in dry summer months. On Sunday, Greece's head of civil protection warned of a "high risk" of fires breaking out in several areas, including the southern Peloponnese region and on Crete. The fire on Samos over the weekend led to the evacuation of about 1,000 tourists and residents from popular beaches on the east of the island, Greek news agency ANA reports. Coastguard vessels collected bathers from the beaches of Glykoriza and Proteas, who were then taken to an indoor sports stadium in the nearby town of Pythagoreio, ANA said. Images posted on social media showed clouds of smoke sweeping across the island as people were taken away by boat. The blaze had largely been brought under control on Monday, the fire department said. Separately, two people in their forties were arrested in the Peloponnese for deliberately starting fires, the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports. One is alleged to be responsible for a forest fire in the region, while the other is believed to have started three different fires. Earlier this month, fires ripped through a "unique, untouched pine forest" on the Greek island of Evia in what was described as a "huge ecological disaster". Hundreds of people were evacuated from nearby villages as the blaze ravaged the dense forest.
8-26-19 Water scarcity: Five ways to avert a water crisis
By 2025, nearly two billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity according to the United Nations. Many countries now face decisions over how to provide water to their citizens.Reality Check takes a look at five potential solutions.
8-25-19 Amazon fires: The devastation seen from above
Swathes of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are burning at a record rate. The BBC's Will Grant flew over northern Rondonia state to get a sense of the scale of the damage, which he describes as "disturbing".
8-24-19 Amazon fires: Fines for environmental crimes drop under Bolsonaro
The record number of fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has coincided with a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations, BBC analysis has found. Official data from Brazil's environment agency shows fines from January to 23 August dropped almost a third compared with the same period last year. At the same time, the number of fires burning in Brazil has increased by 84%. It is not known how many of these fires have been set deliberately, but critics have accused President Jair Bolsonaro's administration of "green lighting" the destruction of the rainforest through a culture of impunity. Mr Bolsonaro has sent in the military to help put out the fires after coming under pressure from the international community, saying he wanted to "help protect" the Amazon. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is known as the "lungs of the world" and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. Analysis by BBC Brasil shows the number of fines handed out by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) for environmental violations has dropped significantly since Mr Bolsonaro took office on 1 January. Neither Ibama nor the ministry of the environment answered the BBC's queries about the figures. Mariangélica de Almeida, a professor of environmental law who has defended clients over unfair fines, suggested to BBC Brasil that the figures for previous years could have reflected a culture of over-fining, in order to meet goals. However, others have pointed the finger directly at Mr Bolsonaro, who has scorned environmental activists and declared his support for clearing areas of the Amazon for agriculture and mining. Elisabeth Uema, who retired from Ibama last year, said it was clear even before Mr Bolsonaro was elected that he did not like Ibama. During his campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency. (Webmaster's comment: Another Trump is born!)
8-24-19 Amazon fires: Brazil sends army to help tackle blazes
Brazil's leader has ordered the armed forces to fight record forest fires in the Amazon, amid international outrage over rising deforestation. President Jair Bolsonaro deployed soldiers in nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas beset by fires. The move is an apparent reversal from Mr Bolsonaro, who has been accused of emboldening miners and loggers. Other countries had threatened to target Brazil's economy if the nation did not act to stop the fires. France and Ireland have said they will not ratify a large trade deal with South American nations and Finland's finance minister has called on the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports. In a televised address to the nation on Friday, Mr Bolsonaro said forest fires "exist in the whole world" and "cannot serve as a pretext for possible international sanctions". Many of the fires are thought to have been started deliberately, with suspicion falling on farmers who may benefit by having more available land. Mr Bolsonaro has scorned environmental activists and declared staunch support for the clearing of areas of the Amazon for agriculture and mining. Experts and campaigners say his administration has given a green light to rainforest destruction. Environmental groups held protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to demand action to combat the fires, and protesters gathered outside the Brazilian embassies around the world. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is known as the "lungs of the world" and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. In his televised address, Mr Bolsonaro confirmed that he had authorised the armed forces to help fight the fires. "I've learned as a military man to love the Amazon forest and I want to help protect it," he said.
8-24-19 Brazil’s Amazon has burned this badly before. This year’s fires are still bad
An environmental scientist discusses possible impacts from the fires. The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is being ravaged by fire. More than 74,000 fires have burned in the country since January, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research — with 9,500 new forest fires igniting since just last week, the result of the natural dry season and fires intentionally ignited to clear forest. Black smoke billows from treetops, spreading across parts of South America and even shrouding the coastal city of São Paulo in near darkness. The fires, along with concerns about biodiversity and climate change, have triggered global alarm. French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on August 23 urged other leaders in the Group of Seven major industrialized nations to discuss what Macron called an “international crisis” at their summit beginning August 24 in France. “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted. Brazil’s government complained in response that it was being targeted in a smear campaign against the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected last year amid controversy over what many see as anti-environment policies that support slash-and-burn deforestation practices in the Amazon. To learn more about the fires and what’s at stake, Science News spoke with environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, who is based in San Francisco and leads Project Drawdown, a worldwide network of scientists, advocates and others proposing solutions to global warming. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
8-24-19 Amazon Fires: Why the rainforest helps fight climate change
The fires in the Amazon rainforest have serious implications - not just for people who call the basin home; or for the millions of species of plants and animals that live there. The Amazon rainforest is one of the world's greatest, natural assets when it comes to tackling the problem of climate change.
8-24-19 Why indigenous land rights are key to slowing climate change
Forest regions managed by Colombia's Indigenous and Afro-descent populations have more biodiversity. he U.N.'s top climate science body says land tenure of Indigenous and traditional landholders is key to slowing the climate crisis — but those groups in Colombia warn they can't protect the forests if they can't protect themselves. Worldwide, traditional landholders including Indigenous and Afro-descendent populations manage or have land rights over at least 38 million square kilometers (14.67 million square miles), equivalent to at least 40 percent of all protected and ecologically intact land, according to the Center for International Forestry Research. Critically, 22 percent of the world's tropical forest carbon is stored in territory belonging to those groups. Earlier this month, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the key role of traditional landholders and how important it is for governments to recognize the land rights of those groups over the territory they inhabit and manage. José Absalón Suárez Solís, an activist for Colombia's Proceso de ComU.N.idades Negras de Colombia (PCN), who specializes in environmental and land rights issues, said from Buenaventura, Colombia, that he'd seen firsthand how forest regions managed by Colombia's Indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are in better shape. "They have the lowest rates of deforestation; there's more flora and faU.N.a in the ecosystem and there is more biodiversity," he said. Recognized traditional landholder territory in Colombia spans just over 32 million hectares (79.4 million acres), 93 percent of which is still in its U.N.spoiled natural state, according to 2017 statistics from Colombia's National Planning Department.
8-23-19 Smoke-cloaked city
São Paulo, the Western Hemisphere’s largest city, was plunged into daytime darkness this week because of a freak weather phenomenon that brought a dense cloud of smoke from wildfires burning thousands of miles away. By 3 p.m., the sky was almost pitch-black and cars crept along with their headlights on. On social media, many people tweeted—some only half-jokingly—about the impending Apocalypse, while others speculated that Brazil had entered “the Upside-Down” dimension from the Netflix drama Stranger Things. In fact, the smoke came from fires raging in the Amazon in the northwestern state of Rondonia and neighboring Bolivia. Much of the Amazon was once considered fireproof, but human activity and droughts related to climate change have made large areas of the rain forest vulnerable to blazes.
8-23-19 Air pollution as bad as smoking
Long-term exposure to elevated levels of air pollution can cause the same damage to lungs as a heavy smoking habit. That’s the conclusion of a new study that looked at the effects of breathing in a range of pollutants, including ground-level ozone—the main component of smog—which forms when pollutants from tailpipes and smokestacks react with sunlight. The researchers examined some 7,000 adults across six U.S. cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. By giving the participants regular CT scans and measuring the levels of pollutants in their neighborhoods, the scientists were able to draw a link between higher concentrations of ground-level ozone and faster progress in emphysema, a lung disease that causes shortness of breath and is typically associated with smokers. “An increase of about 3 parts per billion [of ground-level ozone] outside your home was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years,” study co-author Joel Kaufman, from the University of Washington, told NPR.org. Study participants were typically exposed to average annual concentrations of 10 to 25 parts per billion. Smog spikes on hot days, so the problem will get worse, says co-author R. Graham Barr, from Columbia University. “As temperatures rise with climate change,” he explains, “ground-level ozone will continue to increase, unless steps are taken to reduce this pollutant.”
8-23-19 Climate change has arrived
“Global warming is already here,” said The Washington Post, and it’s disrupting life in the U.S. That’s the conclusion of an exhaustive Post investigation in which our reporters crunched temperature records throughout the country. We found that more than 10 percent of Americans, or 34 million people, live in regions that already have heated up by 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—the mark that a United Nations scientific panel has warned will usher in severe and perhaps irreversible effects. Among the areas heating up faster than average are Southern California, much of the Northeast, Phoenix, portions of the Rocky Mountains, and Alaska. The impacts are not subtle: Toxic algae blooms are ruining lakes that no longer freeze solid in winter. The lobster catch off Rhode Island has plunged 75 percent because of warmer waters. Pine beetles are invading and decimating northern forests. The number of 100-degree days is growing. As our tailpipes and smokestacks belch vast amounts of carbon dioxide, “the warming will continue,” and the consequences will grow more severe. Yet “President Trump continues to deny and ignore reality,” and his administration’s policy is to encourage more emissions. “It is beyond unforgivable.”
8-23-19 Why turbulence is worsening
Climate change is making transatlantic flights a far bumpier ride, a new study suggests. The number of passengers and crew seriously injured worldwide from turbulence has more than doubled over the past four decades, to about 8,000 a year. Turbulence is caused by wind shear, which occurs when winds rapidly change direction or speed at different altitudes. Researchers calculated that the shear high up in the air current known as the North Atlantic jet stream, which is powered by the collision of cold air from the Arctic and warm air from the tropics, has increased by 15 percent since 1979. While Arctic warming has at ground level reduced the temperature difference that drives the jet stream, it has increased the difference at 34,000 feet—the typical airplane cruising altitude. This has created a push and pull effect between altitudes, increasing the jet stream’s wind shear. Turbulence will likely worsen as global temperatures continue to rise, lead author Simon H. Lee, from Reading University in the U.K., tells The Washington Post. Still, fliers shouldn’t worry about the safety implications. “The chances of your plane going down due to turbulence,” Lee says, “are really nil.”
8-23-19 Goodbye, glacier
Iceland is mourning the passing of a 700-year-old glacier that has now melted away. Icelandic leaders and scientists this week unveiled a bronze memorial plaque on the soggy former site of Okjokull—now just called Ok, because “jokull,” which means glacier, has been dropped—that reads, in part: “In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.” The loss of ice will hurt tourism in Iceland, where glaciers cover 11 percent of the land and attract travelers for ice climbing, hiking, and cave tours. Writing in The New York Times, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said the world must fight climate change “to prevent future farewells to all the world’s glaciers.”
8-23-19 The Amazon in Brazil is on fire - how bad is it?
Thousands of fires are ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil - the most intense blazes for almost a decade. The northern states of Roraima, Acre, Rondônia and Amazonas have been particularly badly affected. However, images purported to be of the fires - including some shared under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia - have been shown to be decades old or not even in Brazil. So what's actually happening and how bad are the fires? Brazil has seen a record number of fires in 2019, Brazilian space agency data suggests. The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) says its satellite data shows an 85% increase on the same period in 2018. The official figures show more than 75,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year - the highest number since 2013. That compares with 40,000 in the same period in 2018. Forest fires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October. They can be caused by naturally occurring events, such as by lightning strikes, but also by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing. Activists say the anti-environment rhetoric of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged such tree-clearing activities. In response, Mr Bolsonaro, a long-time climate change sceptic, accused non-governmental organisations of starting the fires themselves to damage his government's image. He later said the government lacked the resources to fight the flames. Most of the worst-affected regions are in the north of the country. Roraima, Acre, Rondônia and Amazonas all saw a large percentage increase in fires when compared with the average across the last four years (2015-2018). Roraima saw a 141% increase, Acre 138%, Rondônia 115% and Amazonas 81%. Mato Grosso do Sul, further south, saw a 114% increase. Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil, has declared a state of emergency.
8-23-19 Record Amazon rainforest fires spark row between Brazil and France
Record numbers of fires are burning across the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, igniting an international row between France and Brazil over the need for action. The Brazilian space agency, INPE, this week reported more than 75,000 fires across the Brazilian part of the world’s greatest rainforest. This is an increase of 84 per cent on last year. Among the worst hit areas are the northern states, including Rondônia and Amazonas. In the latter state, the EU’s Atmosphere Monitoring Service says the carbon dioxide released by the blazes in August is the highest for the month since 2003. The fires have also been releasing elevated levels of carbon monoxide, and thick smoke hazes have affected cities such as Sao Paolo, thousands of miles away. The Amazon is a vital store of carbon dioxide and acts as a natural brake on human-caused global warming, as well as being home to 400 groups of indigenous people and a rich variety of species. The escalation this week moved French president Emmanual Macron, who has championed action on climate change, to call for the G7 summit to discuss the “international crisis” tomorrow. “Our house is burning. Literally,” he tweeted. The comments sparked a strong response from the Brazilian president, whose rhetoric has been blamed for accelerating illegal deforestation, which lays the ground for fires. Jair Bolsonaro said he regretted Macron’s intervention, and accused him of evoking an “inappropriate colonial mentality” and using fake photos, without substantiating the claim. The president also said this week that NGOs are the “biggest suspects” for the fires, without providing evidence. Erika Berenguer at Oxford University says: “We can show evidence deforestation is increasing. There is evidence of fires increasing. The evidence is there. I’d love to see the evidence that fires are being started across hundreds of kilometres by NGOs.” Berenguer says she expects the fires to continue until November.
8-23-19 'I will give my last drop of blood for this forest'
Members of Brazil's indigenous Mura tribe have vowed to defend their land, as wildfires rage in the Amazon rainforest. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.
8-23-19 In pictures: Wildfires ignite across Indonesia
As fires rage in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, the south-east Asian nation of Indonesia is witnessing a similarly devastating ecological tragedy unfold. The dry season has arrived in Indonesia - home to some of the world's oldest tropical forests - bringing with it its worst annual fire season since 2015. Close to 700 hotspots have been identified in fire-prone regions in Sumatra, Kalimantan and the Riau islands. They are often considered to be the planet's most bio-diverse places but large swathes are being destroyed in the name of large-scale commercial efforts. Forests provide food and shelter and are critical to sustaining biodiversity. Millions of hectares have been lost to fire in recent decades, having been cleared by commercial or agricultural interests. Trees are important to the world as stores of carbon dioxide. They play a key and irreplaceable role in regulating global climate change. Prevailing winds carrying smokes and dust particles have picked up, blowing towards Malaysia and Singapore. Military planes, ready with water jets, comb the skies above Kalimantan and Sumatra in search of impending fire. Whether or not the situation can be contained will become clear in the coming weeks.
8-23-19 Russia floating nuclear power station sets sail across Arctic
Russia has launched a pioneering floating nuclear power station, which will sail 5,000km (3,000 miles) from the Arctic port of Murmansk to Chukotka in the far east. The nuclear agency Rosenergoatom says the Akademik Lomonosov's mobility will boost the power supply to remote areas. One of its targets is to power the Chaun-Bilibin mining complex in Chukotka, which includes gold mines. Greenpeace sees the project as high-risk, in a harsh weather environment. Critics including Greenpeace point to previous Russian and Soviet nuclear accidents and warn that the Akademik Lomonosov's mission increases the risk of polluting the Arctic - a remote, sparsely-populated region with no big clean-up facilities. The launch comes just two weeks after a nuclear-powered engine blew up on a Russian naval test range in the Arctic, killing five nuclear engineers and releasing radiation, though the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was far worse. The floating power station's highly radioactive spent fuel will be stored on board. Others of similar design will follow to serve remote areas. The Akademik Lomonosov is also destined to supply electricity to offshore oil rigs in Russia's Arctic. Another idea is to hook it up to a desalination plant, to produce fresh water, and in future island states could benefit from such power stations. The Northern Sea Route connecting European Russia with far eastern ports is becoming navigable for longer periods because global warming is reducing pack ice. Three tugs will tow the facility to Pevek, where it is expected to dock in late September. In good weather conditions it will sail at 4-5 knots (7-9km/h). The Lomonosov was built in St Petersburg and has two nuclear reactors of the type used in Russian icebreakers. They are KLT-40S reactors with a combined capacity of 80 megawatts, and are reported to be tsunami-proof. Russia's Vesti news programme says the facility will have enough power to illuminate and heat a town of about 100,000 inhabitants. The crew on board is expected to be about 70-strong. It is 140m (459ft) long, 30m (98ft) wide and is expected to operate for 40 years.
8-23-19 ‘End Times’ explores the catastrophic events that could kill us all
A new book looks at how to prevent asteroid strikes, climate change and other threats. Imagine if an asteroid as long as Central Park struck New York City. The impact would wipe out the city’s population, and the effects of the energy released — thousands of times more energy than was unleashed by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan — would be felt globally. Thermal radiation would start fires around the world, boiling the oceans and kicking off a rapid change in climate that would probably kill off hundreds of species, humans included (SN: 4/27/19, p. 10). That might sound like the setup for a Hollywood disaster movie, but it’s not total fiction. A similar scenario played out about 66 million years ago when an asteroid is believed to have hit the Yucatán Peninsula and devastated the dinosaurs. The probability of such a big asteroid hitting Earth in any given year is a very small 0.000005 percent. But that’s no reason not to take the threat seriously, given the catastrophic consequences, science journalist Bryan Walsh persuasively argues in his new book, End Times. Walsh believes an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, human-caused climate change, disease epidemics and bioengineered pathogens are among the greatest risks facing the future of humankind. These existential threats, he writes, are “the disasters that could end the human story in midsentence.” But we could eliminate or minimize those threats now, he argues. In each chapter, Walsh investigates a different risk. He visits scientists in their labs, reviews research studies and pulls from his reporting experiences as a writer and editor at Time magazine to put each threat in context, including what scientists are doing to combat the danger.
8-22-19 Ditch cars to meet climate change targets, say MPs
People will have to get out of their cars if the UK is to meet its climate change targets, MPs say. The Science and Technology Select Committee says technology alone cannot solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. It says the government cannot achieve sufficient emissions cuts by swapping existing vehicles for cleaner versions. The government said it would consider the committee's findings. In its report, the committee said: “In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.” It echoes a report from an Oxford-based group of academics who warned that even electric cars produce pollution through their tyres and brakes. The AA said the committee had underestimated the power of new technology to solve pollution in cars. But the MPs are demanding improvements in public transport, walking and cycling, which benefit health as well as the climate. They also criticise the government’s recent policies on the costs of transport. They point out that most of the increase in average new car emissions in 2017 was caused by consumers choosing more polluting models because financial incentives to buy cleaner cars are insufficient. A government strategy should aim to reduce the overall number of vehicles required, the report says. This would be achieved by: 1. Promoting and improving public transport. 2. Reducing the cost of public transport relative to driving. 3. Encouraging vehicle usership in place of ownership (car sharing, car hire and taxis). 4. And boosting walking and cycling. Ministers have held down fuel duty increases in recent years following lobbying from motoring groups. But the MPs say they should ensure that the annual increase in fuel duty is never lower than the average increase in rail or bus fares. For driver But there’s a warning that more research is needed on the environmental impact of the batteries of electric vehicles.
8-22-19 Rivers used as 'open sewers', says WWF charity
Targets for 75% of rivers to be healthy by 2027 are "very unlikely" to be met in England, a charity has warned. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says rivers are "used as open sewers". The Environment Agency predicts 75% of rivers in England and along the Scottish and Welsh borders will meet EU expectations by 2027, compared with just 14% now. It is planning an autumn consultation on "challenges and choices" faced in cleaning up water. The agency said it would review the target based on "what can realistically be achieved". Dr Andrew Singer, senior scientist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "There is no river in the UK that is safe to be swimming in. "We have so many sewage works that are on a river that even if you treated it perfectly, you would still have enough pathogens coming out of a well-operated sewage works that you wouldn't want to swim in the river." Melissa Compton was taken to hospital after "swallowing sewage" during a 220-mile swimming challenge in the River Severn. The 39-year-old was taken ill in Gloucester in June, having already suffered hypothermia and fatigue while swimming to raise money for charity. "It was grey, it was very murky, there was a lot of debris in the water and then you could see evidence on the side of what looked like toilet roll," said the nurse, who works in Shrewsbury. "You could taste it and see the debris on the surface." She believes the government should put more funding into cleaning up rivers and waterways. "It's 2019, we should be able to clean up all of the waste that we produce." The European Union (EU) asked nations to grade rivers between poor, moderate, good and high. Governments should aim for rivers to be "good" - meaning relatively unaffected by human activity. "High" refers to upland streams in sparsely-populated areas. Under its Water Framework Directive the EU set a target for all rivers to be "good" by 2027 but exceptions were allowed if the cost of doing so would be too high.
8-22-19 Amazon fires: Bolsonaro says Brazil cannot fight them
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his government lacks the resources to fight the record number of fires in the Amazon. And he again suggested that non-governmental organisations had started fires in the rainforest, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim. He added that his government was investigating the fires. Earlier, Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was heckled at a meeting on climate change. Conservationists have blamed Brazil's government for the Amazon's plight. They say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged the clearing of land by loggers and farmers, thereby speeding up the deforestation of the rainforest. Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space research (Inpe) shows an increase of 85% this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. Answering questions from reporters on Thursday, Mr Bolsonaro said the government couldn't simply get the ministry of the interior to send 40 men to fight a fire. "Forty men to fight a fire? There aren't the resources. This chaos has arrived," he said. On Wednesday, the president had suggested that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could have started fires as revenge for his government slashing their funding. Asked on Thursday who was responsible for starting the fires, he responded: "The Indians, do you want me to blame the Indians? Do you want me to blame the Martians?... Everyone is a suspect, but the biggest suspects are NGOs." Asked if there was any proof of this, he replied: "Did I accuse NGOs directly? I just said I suspect them." President Bolsonaro has further angered those concerned over the spike in fires by brushing off the latest data. He argued that it was the season of the "queimada", when farmers burn land to clear it before planting but Inpe has noted that the number of fires is not in line with those normally reported during the dry season. It is not the first time Mr Bolsonaro has cast doubt on figures suggesting that the Amazon is deteriorating rapidly.
8-22-19 Climate change may make El Niño and La Niña less predictable
It could be harder to prep for some droughts, floods and other extreme weather in the future. Climate change may make it harder to predict the most severe of the El Niño and La Niña weather disturbances in the Pacific Ocean. That’s because these events will become less connected with what happens halfway around the world in the Atlantic, researchers report online August 21 in Science Advances. In today’s climate, cooling in the waters of the equatorial Atlantic, called an Atlantic Niña, can lead to especially warm water in the equatorial Pacific, or El Niño (SN: 5/28/16, p. 13). Meanwhile, warmer Atlantic Niño waters tend to give rise to the cooler waters of La Niña in the Pacific. That call-and-response relationship, which involves air being swept into the atmosphere from over the Atlantic and settling down over the Pacific, can give forecasters an edge in anticipating destructive El Niño and La Niña events. But as the atmosphere gets warmer, that gas exchange is expected to become more sluggish, weakening the Atlantic’s sway over the Pacific. Future El Niños and La Niñas may not follow the Atlantic events as reliably as in the past, new simulations suggest. That could make it harder to prepare for especially disruptive El Niño and La Niña episodes, which can incite flooding in some regions while drying up others or making hurricanes stronger (SN Online: 11/10/16). Researchers gauged just how reliably Atlantic Niñas and Niños have been bellwethers for El Niños and La Niñas in the past by comparing the patterns of these events over the last several decades. The team found that the strongest El Niños and La Niñas — including the 1998 La Niña that caused floods in China and hurricanes in the Caribbean, killing tens of thousands of people — were almost always preceded by Atlantic events.
8-22-19 Evidence suggests microplastics in water pose ‘minimal health risk’
Microplastics in drinking water do not appear to pose a health risk at current levels, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In its first report on the issue, the WHO found that larger particles, and most smaller ones, pass through the body without being absorbed. But it said the findings were based on "limited information" as it called for greater research on the issue. "We urgently need to know more", the United Nations body said. The WHO's Dr Bruce Gordon committed to launching the review while speaking to BBC News last year, after Orb Media found plastic particles in many major brands of bottled water. Microplastics, defined as small (less than 5mm in length) pieces of any kind of plastic debris, have been found in rivers, lakes, drinking water supplies, and in bottled water. So what does that mean for human health? In its first ever report on the issue, the WHO says microplastics do not appear to pose a health risk at current levels, but adds that much more research is needed. Proper studies into plastics in water only really began in the last couple of years, so the evidence available so far is, the WHO admits, limited. What is more, the studies undertaken were not standardised, with different researchers using different filters to assess the number of plastic particles present in different water sources. "To say one source of water has 1000 microparticles per litre and another has only one, could simply be dependent on the filter size used," explained Dr Gordon. "We're basically at a point where the study methods were quite weak." Nevertheless Dr Gordon does say the available research should be "pretty reassuring" for human consumers. The WHO says the evidence suggests that all larger plastic particles, and most of the smaller ones, simply pass through the body without being absorbed at all.
8-21-19 Former Farc rebels become eco-warriors to stop deforestation in the Amazon
Former Farc rebels in Colombia, who spent decades fighting the government over land and power, have reinvented themselves as eco-warriors protecting the Amazon rainforest from illegal logging. According to the government, deforestation in the Colombian Amazon rose by 60% between 2015 and 2018. The rainforest had been a no-go area during the conflict, but illegal logging has soared since a peace deal in 2016.
8-21-19 G7 summit: Inside the climate activist training camp
Climate activists are gathering in Biarritz, France, ahead of the G7 summit this weekend - and they are likely to know what they're doing. The campaign groups ANV, Alternatiba and Friends of the Earth have held a joint training camp for more than 1,000 activists to share effective tactics for non-violent protest.
8-21-19 Tesla sued by Walmart over solar panel fires
US supermarket chain Walmart is suing Tesla's energy division, after solar panels on seven of its stores caught fire. It alleges that the firm was negligent in how it installed the panels on the roofs of the stores. Court documents describe a string of fires that occurred between 2012 and 2018 at Walmart locations in Ohio, Maryland and California. Tesla has not yet responded to the claims. The lawsuit alleges that the first fire occurred at a Walmart store in Long Beach, California in 2012. Another in Beavercreek, Ohio, in March 2018 saw customers evacuated and the store closed for eight days. Walmart is asking Tesla to remove solar panels from all its stores and to pay damages. It alleged that Tesla deployed individuals to inspect the solar systems who "lacked basic solar training and knowledge". "To state the obvious, properly designed, installed, inspected and maintained solar systems do not spontaneously combust," the court documents claim. Tesla and Walmart have partnered on several clean energy initiatives, and more than 240 stores have been fitted with solar panels from the firm. Walmart has also pre-ordered at least 45 Tesla electric trucks to add to its vehicle fleet. In 2016, Tesla spent $2.6bn (£2.1bn) on clean energy firm SolarCity, which was founded by Elon Musk's cousins but, since then, installations have dropped by more than 85% and Tesla has cut its sales force and ended a distribution deal with US store Home Depot. Mr Musk's firm is also facing investigations from the US National Transportation Safety Board regarding fires in several Tesla cars.
8-21-19 Volcano behind huge eruption that kick-started mini ice age identified
In the middle of the 6th century, a mini ice age that lasted 125 years and an outbreak of plague plunged the world into chaos. One of the key events that helped to kick it all off was the massive eruption of a volcano somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Now we may know when and where it happened. Huge volcanic eruptions fling so much ash and debris into the atmosphere that sunlight is partially blocked out, which can cool Earth and encourage more ice to form at the poles. That reflects more sunlight, further cooling the planet. It’s long been thought that the coincidental eruption of multiple volcanoes between AD 536 and 547 kick-started what’s known as the Late Antique Mini Ice Age. Antarctic ice core data suggest two very big eruptions at the time: one around AD 536 and one around AD 540. Robert Dull at California Lutheran University and colleagues have now used tree trunks to show that the latter eruption appears to have occurred at the Ilopango volcano in El Salvador. The team found the remains of three trees that “witnessed” the eruption. Two of them were killed by the event. Radiocarbon dating on multiple tree rings inside the trunks revealed their age – the trees died between AD 503 and AD 545. Evidence from ash deposits in nearby soil also helped to confirm that a gigantic eruption happened around this time, most likely in late AD 539 or AD 540. Researchers still haven’t identified which volcano was behind the 536 eruption, but it too is thought to have been in the northern hemisphere. The cooling effects of the Ilopango eruption could easily have lasted a decade and perhaps longer, says Dull.
8-20-19 Is air pollution causing mental health conditions like depression?
A study published today adds to evidence that air pollution may be linked to mental health conditions. But it’s not clear yet how – and if – pollution may be affecting our brains. What has this new study discovered? Analysing data from 151 million people in the US and 1.4 million people in Denmark, researchers have found that there is a strong correlation between poor air quality and higher rates of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders and major depression. This suggests there is a link, but not necessarily that pollution is causing these conditions. How strong is the link between pollution and these conditions? When the team looked at health insurance claims in the US, they found that the strongest predictor of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder – after ethnicity – was air quality. Previous studies have unearthed a correlation in the UK between polluted areas and teenagers reporting psychotic experiences and local air pollution and psychiatric disorders in Swedish children. How good is the evidence for these? “We don’t really know very much overall. We’ve only got a handful of studies and most have methodological problems,” says Helen Fisher of King’s College London, who worked on the UK teenager study. One problem is a lack of data on what an individual’s true exposure to air pollution has been, with some research looking at city-wide air quality measurements rather than specific addresses. That’s a big weakness given we know air pollution exposure can vary significantly from one street to an adjacent one. In the new study, exposure in the US was mapped at a county level, some of which are thousands of square miles in area.
8-20-19 Cities are using walls of moss to tackle air pollution from traffic
Walls covered in moss are popping up in major cities, along with promises that they can help reduce air pollution – but can a few square metres of plant matter really tackle the smog? Berlin-based firm Green City Solutions believes so. Its moss walls, called CityTrees, are roughly 4 square metres in size. It says they can filter up to 80 per cent of pollution particles out of the air, including the tiny ones linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The walls collect rainwater, which is pumped through an irrigation system to water it, and solar panels that power fans to increase airflow through the plants. As a result, the firm says its product filters 3500 cubic metres of air an hour, which is the equivalent of the breathing air of 7000 people. Around 50 CityTrees have been installed in European cities in bus stops and busy streets where people are exposed to harmful particles emitted from passing traffic – one of the biggest sources of air pollution. The European Commission is interested in the idea and so is funding a dozen moss walls in Berlin over the next year. Each CityTree costs around US$60,000. Alison Haynes at the University of Wollongong in Australia and her colleagues recently looked at how effective moss and trees are at absorbing pollution. They found that moss was up to four times better at trapping particles than the Australian native tree, Pittosporum undulatum.“Mosses are like a ragged carpet, so there are lots of little spots where little particles can get caught and trapped,” says Haynes. Because moss has no roots, it gets minerals through its leaves, absorbing them from the air, meaning it also traps pollution particles, such as heavy metals, in its tissue.
8-20-19 Is air pollution causing mental health conditions like depression?
A study published today adds to evidence that air pollution may be linked to mental health conditions. But it’s not clear yet how – and if – pollution may be affecting our brains. What has this new study discovered? Analysing data from 151 million people in the US and 1.4 million people in Denmark, researchers have found that there is a strong correlation between poor air quality and higher rates of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders and major depression. This suggests there is a link, but not necessarily that pollution is causing these conditions. How strong is the link between pollution and these conditions? When the team looked at health insurance claims in the US, they found that the strongest predictor of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder – after ethnicity – was air quality. Previous studies have unearthed a correlation in the UK between polluted areas and teenagers reporting psychotic experiences and local air pollution and psychiatric disorders in Swedish children. How good is the evidence for these? “We don’t really know very much overall. We’ve only got a handful of studies and most have methodological problems,” says Helen Fisher of King’s College London, who worked on the UK teenager study. One problem is a lack of data on what an individual’s true exposure to air pollution has been, with some research looking at city-wide air quality measurements rather than specific addresses. That’s a big weakness given we know air pollution exposure can vary significantly from one street to an adjacent one. In the new study, exposure in the US was mapped at a county level, some of which are thousands of square miles in area.
8-19-19 Climate change will drive longer extreme heatwaves in summer
Summer extremes of heat and rain are likely to last longer in Europe, North America and Asia if the world warms by more than 2°C, with serious effects for agriculture and human health. Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense extreme weather events. But how persistent those episodes will be, such as the European summer heatwave in 2018, is not so well understood. Carl-Friedrich Schleussner at Climate Analytics in Germany and his colleagues modelled the persistence of extreme events across the northern hemisphere if temperatures rise by more than 2°C, the upper limit governments are targeting. They found that countries across the northern hemisphere in summer will, on average, face a 26 per cent greater probability of heavy rainfall lasting for at least a week. That much rain in summer can lead to devastating floods, such as those that hit France and Germany in 2016. “The main message is that basically we will not just get more warming, but… [we] are changing the weather. It is relevant for farmers, ecosystems, how we build cities,” says Schleussner. Heatwaves and floods have hit US states throughout the summer of 2019, and temperatures in India and China have broken records in 2018 and 2019, reaching 50°C in India in June 2019 and killing dozens of people. The northern hemisphere faces the prospect of more persistent heatwaves, with the probability of fortnight-long warm periods increasing by 4 per cent on average. The weakening jet stream, driven by a warming Arctic, is one factor behind the increased persistence. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute says looking at persistence is useful because “society is much more vulnerable to extended periods of extremes.”
8-19-19 Canada election: Charities warned against climate change ads
Canada's election watchdog has warned environmentalists that saying climate change is real could break the law. The issue arose because one party running in October's election denies climate change is a threat. That has led Elections Canada to warn groups that running paid advertisements about climate change could be considered partisan activity. Advocates called the guidance "ludicrous" and say it will dampen urgent climate discussions. The UN has called for decisive political action by 2020 to put an end to climate change. "The guidance is extremely troubling," Stephen Cornish, the CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental charity, told the BBC. "We would have to bury the scientific consensus around climate change when we should be ramping up our activities." Canada has strict regulations on partisan advertising during the election period, whether they be from candidates, parties or third-party organisations. Individuals or organisations that take out "issue" advertisements that cost C$500 ($375, £309) or more during the election period have to register with Elections Canada as a third party. "Issue" advertisements are paid media campaigns that take positions on issues related to parties' platforms but do not explicitly address a particular candidate or party. The election period will begin when the writ is dropped sometime in September, before Canadians head to the polls on 21 October. Keith Brooks, programme director for advocacy group Environmental Defence, says Elections Canada told him that because one candidate denies that climate change is an issue, any ad urging action on climate change, or calling climate change an emergency, could be considered partisan. Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People's Party of Canada, has said numerous times that he does not believe climate change is a crisis.
8-19-19 Climate misinformation may be thriving on YouTube, a social scientist warns
Of 200 analyzed videos, a majority support views not upheld by science. Beware what you view about climate change on YouTube. Conspiracy theorists have hijacked some climate-related terms to spread misinformation on the online video-sharing website, a social scientist warns. He urges his colleagues to respond by getting accurate information about their work to science communicators on YouTube. While Facebook and Twitter get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to concerns about fake news, Joachim Allgaier of RWTH Aachen University in Germany says YouTube is equally, if not more insidious, given its huge popularity. Allgaier, who focuses on how science is communicated online, initially researched science-themed music videos on the site. He found several on Darwin’s theory of evolution, one song about the periodic table by the band They Might Be Giants and a parody by an Alzheimer’s research team contorting the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to sing about being “caught in a bad project.” “I was amazed by the creativity,” Allgaier says. But he was also disturbed by music videos attacking established science. Those science skeptics questioned the fact that human activities are driving climate change, the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer and the safety of vaccines. So Allgaier decided to investigate what kind of YouTube videos he found when he searched the site using 10 different climate-related terms, including “climate change,” “global warming” and “climate science.” He also searched for “climate manipulation” and “geoengineering,” terms that refer to emerging large-scale technologies to cool the Earth and offset global warming, such as adding tiny, sunlight-blocking particles high in the stratosphere (SN: 11/28/15, p. 26). To prevent earlier searches from shaping the results of later searches, Allgaier obscured his IP address, location and search history.
8-19-19 Paros - the Greek paradise island that wants to ditch plastic
The sun dips towards the sea on Xifara beach as Stella Cervello walks along, picking up handfuls of plastic waste. There are shredded plastic bags, a glowstick from a rave on nearby Mykonos and even a food carton from Turkey. "Look, you can see all the microplastics," she says, pointing at a mass of coloured dots bobbing on the waves. Like many islands in Greece's Cycladic region, waste production on the island of Paros explodes in summer when over 400,000 tourists join a local population of just 13,000. Paros is now at the centre of a drive to turn itself into the world's first island that is truly free of plastic waste. It looks like quite a challenge. In high season, the white-and-blue painted cafes that line the picturesque streets get through 1,000 plastic takeaway cups a day. Thousands of plastic bottles of water are shipped in daily, because many believe the tap water is undrinkable, although the water company insists that is wrong. "You are really exposed to the reality of the situation when you live by the sea," says campaigner Zana Kontamanoli. The Greek waste management system suffered heavy cuts during the country's financial crisis, meaning recycling is often not separated and many landfill sites are not up to EU standards. A shocking 95% of waste in the Mediterranean is plastic. But within three years this may change.
8-19-19 American cities need to phase out cars
Cars are both inefficient and incredibly dangerous. On August 12, a man named Umar Baig was driving illegally in Brooklyn — speeding his Dodge Charger down Coney Island Avenue far, far above the speed limit of 25 miles per hour. At the intersection with Avenue L, he ran a red light, and smashed directly into the side of a Honda SUV. The collision was so violent that Baig's car lifted the Honda completely off the ground for a split second in the process of flinging it at high speed across the oncoming lanes of Coney Island Avenue — where the SUV crushed a cyclist named Jose Alzorriz, who had just pulled up to wait for the red light Baig blew through. Bystanders lifted the car off him, but Alzorriz later died of his injuries. (A pedestrian and the Honda's driver were also injured, but not fatally). This was the 19thcyclist killed by a car in New York City so far in 2019, in addition to 69 pedestrians — as compared to 10 and 107 respectively in the whole of 2018. For reasons of safety and basic urban functionality, it's time to start banning private automobiles from America's urban cores. The basic problem with cars in a dense urban setting like New York is that they go too fast and take up too much space. Dense cities are enormously more energy efficient than sprawling suburbs or exurbs because apartment buildings and row houses are far more efficient to heat and cool than single-family homes (due to shared walls), larger enterprises can take advantage of efficiencies of scale, and because lots of people packed into a small area enables highly-efficient mass transit. New Yorkers emit only about 2.3 tons of carbon dioxide per person, as compared to 45 tons from residents of Flagstaff, Arizona. A car-centered transportation system is simply at odds with the logic of a dense city. For commuters, cars take up a huge volume of space being parked at home and at work. On the road, a lane of highway traffic can transport about 3,000 people per hour under perfect conditions, while a subway can easily manage 10 times that — and many do even better. And while subways can be delayed, conditions are rarely ideal on the highway — on the contrary, every day at rush hour most are jammed to a crawl with too many cars, or slowed by some gruesome accident. What's more, the terrible toll of injuries and deaths inflicted on New York's cyclists and pedestrians this year is simply what happens when one allows cars to roam free in cities. It is highly risky to allow huge, heavy steel cages capable of high speeds to be flying around crowds of delicate human bodies. It takes only a slight error or moment of inattention to get someone brutally killed.
8-18-19 Five ways UK farmers are tackling climate change
Farmers are on the front line of climate change - vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall, as well as increasingly frequent extreme weather events. They also face criticism, in particular over greenhouse gas emissions from the meat and dairy industry, with calls for a move to a more plant-based diet. Agriculture is currently responsible for about 9% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from methane. The National Farmers' Union (NFU), which represents 55,000 UK farmers, has set a target of net-zero emissions in British farming by 2040. That is not enough for some environmentalists, who say a comprehensive overhaul of farming practices and a move to less intensive production is long overdue. But some new and surprising changes are happening on the UK's farms.
- Sending in robots: Scientists in Wiltshire are part of a growing group of experts around the world developing small battery-powered robots that could drastically cut tractor use. Tractors use diesel, a major source of carbon emissions in farming.
- Using drones to map fields: Drones and tractor-mounted sensors are also being used to help farmers work out the exact patterns of moisture, weeds and pests. The data is fed to precision machinery to target areas that need work - and leave the rest undisturbed.
- Planting more trees: Like Becky, many environmental campaigners also believe applying new technology without fundamental change to intensive farming practices is not enough. Nick Rau, of Friends of the Earth, says: "New technology is helpful - but simple, low-tech solutions, looking at whole farms over a number of seasons have been grossly neglected."
- Keeping livestock outside for longer: Farmers who keep their animals outdoors for longer in the UK can help to cut emissions thousands of miles away. When animals are taken indoors, they are sometimes fed on soya imported from Latin America. Soya is often cultivated on land that was previously rainforest, so the demand for animal feed in the UK is, critics say, exporting deforestation.
- Cutting methane emissions: Cows and sheep produce methane in their digestive systems. Methane produces 21 times as much warming in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
8-18-19 Greta Thunberg: Teenage climate change activist has set sail on zero-carbon journey aboard Malizia II
Teen activist Greta Thunberg is now five days into her boat journey across the Atlantic ocean. She will be attending two big climate change conferences in the US. The journey will take around two weeks on a high speed yacht, called the Malizia II. Greta seems to be settling into her journey to the US. The teen posted earlier today: "Day 5. Pos 42° 55' N 022° 12' W. A sunny day with nice winds." Greta uploaded another picture to social media, sharing her current position with followers. The caption read: "Day 4. Pos 46° 20' N 015° 46' W. Eating and sleeping well and no sea sickness so far. Life on Malizia II is like camping on a roller coaster!" Greta has been keeping the public up-to-date with her journey through social media. The 16-year-old shared a picture on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, along with the caption: "School strike week 52. Pos 47 degrees 17 minutes north and 13 degrees 17 minutes west." She is part of a movement of students who have taken part in demonstrations against climate change and hasn't attended school for the past year. Greta experienced her first night on the boat with an unexpected surprise! She posed on social media: "Day 2. 100 nautical miles west of Cape Finisterre. A very bumpy night but I slept surprisingly well. Some dolphins showed up and swam along the boat last night!" Greta is currently on a high speed yacht called the Malizia II. But, it doesn't have a toilet, a kitchen, a shower or any privacy! Electricity on the boat will come from wind turbines and solar panels, meaning her journey has a zero carbon footprint. (Webmaster's comment: I wish I would have had her courage and awareness at the age of 16, 60 years ago.)
8-18-19 Can big investors save the world?
While young people throng the streets demanding action on man-made climate change, an older, more sober group of activists is fighting a green campaign: big investors. The men and women who control trillions of dollars' worth of assets are flexing their muscles. And as shareholders they are in a position to put pressure on companies to do the right thing. Climate Action 100+ is a group of more than 360 investors with more than $34tn (£28tn) in assets under management. They are worried not just about damage to the planet, but about the long-term viability of their investments. In short, irreversible harm to the environment would reduce or even wipe out the value of those investments. This group, which includes influential institutional investors such as the Church of England Commissioners, aims to engage with "systemically important emitters" in which they hold shares to curb greenhouse gas emissions and improve governance. One of those firms is the oil giant BP, which recently had its annual general meeting. Climate Action 100+ put forward a shareholder resolution to get BP to demonstrate that its strategy was consistent with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the international plan to limit global warming to 1.5C. The resolution, which was supported by the BP board was approved and is now legally binding. Various institutional investors were behind the BP resolution including Hermes, HSBC, Legal and General, and Aviva Investors. "The economic and financial risks associated with climate change are very real," says Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors. "We only have the next five to 10 years to deal with the risks associated with climate change and make sure they don't become real." If there is no action taken, the risks "will become real in the next 20 to 30 to 40 years," and in the "very long term, a potentially catastrophic issue".
8-18-19 Iceland's Okjokull glacier commemorated with plaque
Mourners have gathered in Iceland to commemorate the loss of Okjokull, which has died at the age of about 700. The glacier was officially declared dead in 2014 when it was no longer thick enough to move. What once was glacier has been reduced to a small patch of ice atop a volcano. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson and former Irish President Mary Robinson were due to attend the ceremony. After opening remarks by Ms Jakobsdottir, mourners were set to walk up the volcano northeast of the capital Reykjavik to lay a plaque which carries a letter to the future. "Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier," it reads. "In the next 200 years all our main glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. "Only you know if we did it." The dedication, written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason, ends with the date of the ceremony and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air globally - 415 parts per million (ppm). "You think in a different time scale when you're writing in copper rather than in paper," Mr Magnason told the BBC. "You start to think that someone actually is coming there in 300 years reading it. "This is a big symbolic moment," he said. "Climate change doesn't have a beginning or end and I think the philosophy behind this plaque is to place this warning sign to remind ourselves that historical events are happening, and we should not normalise them. We should put our feet down and say, okay, this is gone, this is significant." Oddur Sigurdsson is the glaciologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office who pronounced Okjokull's death in 2014. He has been taking photographs of the country's glaciers for the past 50 years, and noticed in 2003 that snow was melting before it could accumulate on Okjokull.
8-17-19 The solar storage energy revolution
Solar panels may be the eco-friendly solution to energy, especially in places where the electric grid can be unreliable. In Kenya, the electric grid is notoriously unreliable. It goes out a lot. "At least once a day," says Colin le Duc, a partner at Generation Investment Management, a London-based firm co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore that finances companies pushing towards sustainable solutions. "If you're watching a Champions League soccer game and the grid goes down in the middle of the game, that's not a good outcome." Le Duc's firm is trying to avoid that outcome by investing in the Kenyan company M-Kopa, which installs solar panels coupled with lithium-ion batteries. And they're not just targeting customers who lose power during soccer matches. "There are obviously areas of Kenya where there is no grid at all. And you have the opportunity to leapfrog directly to a distributed model of clean energy and thereby basically negate the need to build centralized grid systems," says Le Duc. To combat climate change, solutions like this help countries to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and replace them with renewables, like solar and wind. Both have made tremendous leaps in recent years — think of all the solar panels you now see on people's roofs versus decades ago. But there remains a major hang-up with solar panels: They only work when then the sun is shining. But the field of solar-powered battery storage is booming. Back in Kenya, there remains another big problem: affordability. To overcome this, Le Duc says M-Kopa leases its solar systems for the same cost as a daily supply of kerosene or wood: "So 50 cents a day for the solar system. And what typically happens, is [customers] will pay that for about a year, and by that stage they would have paid off the solar system."
8-16-19 Greenland’s fast-melting ice sheet
The heat wave that sent temperatures to record highs in northern Europe in July is now turning much of Greenland’s ice sheet to slush, in yet another troubling sign of climate change. An astonishing 12.5 billion tons of the island’s surface ice melted into the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 1, according to satellite and other data, the highest single-day loss since records began in 1950. The summer heat surge has caused temperatures in Greenland to increase by up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average. At the island’s Summit Station, which is located 10,551 feet above sea level and rarely experiences temperatures above freezing, the mercury briefly exceeded that mark. In July—the hottest month ever observed worldwide—Greenland’s ice sheet lost some 197 billion tons of ice. The melt in July was about 36 percent more than scientists expect in the entirety of an average year and enough to raise sea levels globally by 0.02 inches. Even small sea-level rises can heighten the risk of coastal flooding and extreme storms across the world. “These are records we don’t want to see broken,” Ruth Mottram, a polar scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, tells NationalGeographic.com. This summer’s melt is on course to match or surpass the most extreme season recorded, in 2012, when 97 percent of Greenland’s surface ice experienced some sort of melt. Such events typically occur about every 250 years.
8-16-19 Why fires in Siberia are so huge
We can’t blame only climate change for the wildfires raging across Siberia, said Alexey Polovnikov. Since the beginning of this year, fires have consumed some 32 million acres—an area larger than Greece—including forests within the Arctic Circle. Those blazes have only intensified in the summer months. The federal government has blamed illegal loggers for setting fires to cover up their misdeeds, but that doesn’t explain why the blazes were allowed to grow to such a massive size. The answer, says Russian historian Darya Mitina, lies in President Vladimir Putin’s “de-bureaucratization” reforms, under which firefighting was removed from the responsibility of the federal Ministry of Emergencies and transferred to the regions. The problem is that regions such as Irkutsk, where many of the worst fires are raging, don’t have the money or the infrastructure to fight fires. They lack not only aircraft to drop water but also trained firefighters on the ground. The situation has become “so catastrophic that even foreign countries are drawing attention to it.” The smoke wafted over to Alaska a few weeks ago, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer Putin firefighting assistance in a terrible “blow to Russia’s international image.” Putin has now called out the army, but returning firefighting to the federal government is the only long-term solution.
Eco-constipation, after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended Amazon deforestation by saying that if people want to help the environment, they should “poop every other day” instead of daily. “That would be better for the whole world,” he added.
8-16-19 Tiny magnets could help rid the ocean of harmful microplastics
An army of tiny magnetic coils could dissolve microplastics from water, and possibly help us clean up waterways and oceans. Microplastics are used in all sorts of cosmetics and household products, and they have spread into the ocean. Once there, they they can damage the environment. For instance, they can be ingested by marine life. Some people have suggested ways of getting plastic out of the ocean, including a team for the Netherlands that wants to use a string of sausage-shaped floats to trap substantial pieces of plastic that float. But microplastic is so small that it is much more difficult to tackle. Now lab tests have demonstrated a way to dissolve microplastic and turn it into carbon dioxide and water. This would release greenhouse gas, so it is far from perfect. But it would help avoid some of the damage plastic does to the environment. The method involves putting microscopic metal coils into water along with a chemical called peroxymonosulfate. A chemical reaction between the two creates compounds called radicals, which then break down the plastic. The fact that the coils are magnetic doesn’t help the reaction work. However, it means they can be easily removed from the water – just wave over a larger magnet. “They can be used multiple times without significantly losing their reactability,” says Xiaoguang Duan at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who led the work. In their tests, Duan and his team put 80 ml of water containing microplastics from cosmetic products in a pressurised container along with the coils and peroxymonosulfate. Then they heated the water to 120 degrees Celsius. After 8 hours, the mass of microplastics had decreased by half.
8-15-19 Greta Thunberg: Caroline Lucas reports Arron Banks to Twitter
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has complained to Twitter over a tweet by Brexit campaigner Arron Banks aimed at climate change activist Greta Thunberg. On Wednesday, Mr Banks referred to Ms Thunberg's sea voyage across the Atlantic and tweeted: "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August..." Ms Thunberg, who chooses not to fly, is sailing from the UK to attend UN climate summits in New York and Chile. Ms Lucas said she reported his comment, while Mr Banks said it was a joke. "Arron Banks' vile tweet about @GretaThunberg makes me sick to the stomach," Ms Lucas wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning. "I have made a formal complaint to Twitter." A spokeswoman from Twitter said: "We don't comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons. "We take threats of violence very seriously and take action on accounts if and when the Twitter rules are violated." A Twitter source told the BBC the content did not violate its rules. Ms Thunberg set sail from Plymouth on Wednesday at the start of her two-week journey to New York and Chile. The 16-year-old refuses to travel by air because of its environmental impact, so has chosen a carbon-neutral racing yacht. Shortly after she departed, Mr Banks, an insurance tycoon who founded Leave.EU, shared a tweet from Ms Lucas that wished Ms Thunberg "bon voyage". His tweet faced widespread criticism, with Mr Banks later responding, saying it was "a joke" and accusing his critics of having "no sense of humour". Mr Banks later added: "Obviously I don't hope she encounters a freak yachting accident! "I just enjoy watching the ludicrous tweeter mob following the next outrage." Among those who condemned his post was actress Amanda Abbington, who tweeted: "You're wishing a potentially fatal accident onto a sixteen year old girl, why..?" Others called his tweet "disgraceful" while Labour MP Paula Sherriff said he was "utterly vile". The novelist Philip Pullman said: "That's how you'll be remembered, Banks. That's the measure of you."
8-14-19 White nationalists are perverting environmentalism to smear migrants
Right-wing figures blame environmental destruction on immigration and overpopulation. The political mainstream needs to confront this threat before it’s too late, says Graham Lawton. THE mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month was widely reported as a racially motivated attack by a white supremacist. That is almost certainly what it was: shortly before it happened, a manifesto railing against the “Hispanic invasion” of the US appeared online, and the police believe it was posted by the shooter. As has become depressingly familiar, the document contained numerous references to alt-right conspiracy theories such as the “great replacement”, which claims that white Christian civilisation is being swamped by black and Asian people, and Muslims. But buried in it was another, rarer trope that appears to be rising up the white nationalist agenda. The manifesto also cited environmental destruction of the US as a motivation, and blamed this on immigrants. According to Peter Beinart, a journalism professor at the City University of New York (to whom I am indebted for bringing this issue to my attention in a piece in The Atlantic), the unexpected fusion of white nationalism and environmentalism is a growing phenomenon. White nationalists, he says, are increasingly hijacking environmental issues and hitching them to their own wagon. The right-wing extremist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March also cited environmental damage among his justifications. In his manifesto, he said that non-Europeans are the main cause of overpopulation. The ravings of xenophobic murderers are one thing, but, according to Beinart, these views are now finding their way into mainstream political discourse. The right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, for example, has argued that immigrants threaten the US environment because they don’t have the same love of nature (never mind that Coulter’s beloved Republican party is the world’s most powerful promoter of climate change denial). In Europe, far-right leaders such as Marine Le Pen in France have started talking about love of nature as a national virtue and blaming environmental destruction on immigrants. The emergence of this bastard ideology took me completely by surprise. Like many progressive environmentalists, I have long hoped that conservative politics will eventually embrace environmentalism – after all, what could be more conservative than conservation? But there is no reason to celebrate this adoption.
8-14-19 Microplastics in the Arctic and the Alps may have blown in on the wind
Tiny particles of plastic have been found in high concentrations in snow samples from the Swiss Alps, parts of Germany and the Arctic, even places as remote as the island of Svalbard and in snow on drifting ice floes. These microplastics may have drifted there on wind currents. “It’s readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air,” says Melanie Bergmann at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. She says that this raises questions about how much plastic humans are inhaling. The team melted samples of snow and poured them through a filter, then examined the trapped residue with an infrared microscope. Depending on the type of plastic, different wavelengths of infrared light are absorbed and reflected. They found the highest concentrations of these plastics in samples near a rural road in Bavaria, which contained various types of rubber used in things like car tyres. In the Arctic, they primarily found nitrile rubber, acrylates and paint. These microplastics are about the same size as grains of pollen, which can be transported by air from places near the equator to the Arctic. Bergmann and her colleagues say a major portion of the microplastic in Europe, and even more in the Arctic, comes from the atmosphere and snow. This additional transport route could also explain the high amounts of microplastic that we have found in Arctic sea ice and the deep sea in previous studies, she says.
8-14-19 Why is there microplastic in Arctic snow?
A team of German-Swiss researchers has found that microscopic particles of plastic are falling out of the sky with snow in the Arctic. Researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard islands using a low-tech method - a dessert spoon and a flask. They found more than 10,000 of them per litre of melted snow. The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin has been looking in to what causes it.
8-14-19 Plant growth has declined drastically around the world due to dry air
A lack of water vapour in the atmosphere has caused a global decline in plant growth over the past two decades, resulting in a decline in growth rates in 59 per cent of vegetated areas worldwide. Studying four global climate datasets, Wenping Yuan at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China and his colleagues found that the decline is correlated with a vapour pressure deficit in the atmosphere, which has increased sharply over more than 53 percent of vegetated areas since the late 1990s. Vapour pressure deficit (VPD) is the difference between the pressure that would be exerted by water vapour when the air is fully saturated and the pressure it actually exerts. When this deficit increases, the pores on the surface of leaves that facilitate gas exchange close up, resulting in lower photosynthesis rates. The complex dynamics of climate change may be responsible, says Yuan. There has been a decrease in wind speeds over the oceans, which means water vapour doesn’t blow over land as readily, and can lead to this deficit over vegetated areas. The warming planet also plays a role. At a given temperature, the atmosphere can only hold a certain amount of water vapour. As temperatures on land increase, the upper limit on the amount of water vapour the atmosphere can hold increases, so the deficit gets larger, he says. The team analysed satellite images and found a corresponding drop in the growth rates of global vegetation and leaf coverage, which had previously increased between 1982 and 1998. They also looked at the width of tree rings, which is commonly used as a measure of growth. After 1998, there was a decrease in average ring width at more than 100 of 171 sites around the world.
8-14-19 Fracking boom could explain the puzzling rise in global methane levels
The dramatic rise in fracking for shale gas in the US and Canada has been blamed for the puzzling surge in concentrations of a powerful greenhouse gas over the past decade. Methane is a shorter-lived but more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Levels of the gas in the atmosphere have been climbing since 2008, but researchers have been unsure why. Some studies in 2016 suggested the culprit could be ‘natural’ sources such as wetlands releasing more methane as the world warms, rather than fossil fuels. Now a new study proposes that the boom in shale gas, which is largely composed of methane, is to blame. It also warns that if the shale gas extraction continues to rise, it will endanger the goals of the Paris climate change agreement. Robert Howarth at Cornell University in New York state says that taking into account methane leaks from wells and the carbon released when the shale gas is burned, fracking in North America was responsible for more than half of the increase in global fossil fuel emissions in the past decade. The finding could reframe the view in some quarters that shale gas is useful for climate action, because it has edged out coal in US electricity generation. Howarth’s work looked at studies of the chemical signature of methane in the atmosphere and from shale gas operations. Natural gas obtained by conventional methods contains more of a heavy sort of carbon atom called carbon-13 than methane obtained through fracking. Howarth saw that since 2008, the composition of atmospheric methane has become lighter, meaning it has less carbon-13. This points towards more of the methane coming from fracking. “Those papers from three years ago said their results were surprising,” says Howarth. “They were surprising – but wrong. They missed this one subtle aspect.”
8-14-19 Military-grade jet fuel made cheaply from plant waste instead of coal
A powerful military jet fuel normally made from coal tar can now be made more cheaply from plants. Researchers at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China have come up with a way of producing the superfuel – known as JP-10 – from a chemical called furfuryl alcohol that is extracted from plant waste like sugar cane residue, cotton stalks, and forestry off-cuts. The six-step process converts furfuryl alcohol to the superfuel using a series of catalysts and temperatures of up to 250 degrees Celsius. JP-10 is a sought-after fuel because it has good thermal stability, a low freezing point, and a high density that means a small volume can propel aircraft a long way. But it costs $7000 per tonne, which is more than 10 times pricier than ordinary jet fuel used in commercial planes. This has limited its uses to missiles and speciality military aircraft like hypersonic jets. The new way of making JP-10 from green waste brings the cost down to $5000 per tonne. The price could soon drop further to $2500 per tonne as new technologies make it easier to extract furfuryl alcohol from plant matter, the researchers write. This would still make it about 4 times more expensive than commercial jet fuel, but the reduced cost could expand its military uses, they say. Making JP-10 from green waste should be more environmentally-friendly than the usual way of making it from coal tar, says Ian O’Hara at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “Fuels from bio-based sources tend to have significant greenhouse gas reductions compared to conventional fossil fuels,” he says. There is increasing interest in using plant-based biofuels to cut the carbon footprint of aviation, says O’Hara. In contrast to cars, it’s hard to make planes electric, he says. “In aviation, there are very few alternatives to liquid fuel,” he says.
8-14-19 Greece wildfires leave blackened forests in their wake
Fires have been raging through a "unique, untouched pine forest" on the Greek island of Evia as authorities fight to keep the flames under control. Hundreds of people were evacuated from nearby villages as the fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday and ravaged through the dense forest. "It's a huge ecological disaster," acting regional governor Kostas Bakoyannis told AFP. More than 200 firefighters are helping to combat the blaze along with 75 fire engines, nine helicopters and seven planes, the news agency reports. Italy and Spain have offered additional aircraft to help dump water on the forests in an attempt to douse the flames burning through Greece's second-largest island. Other wildfires broke out on the island of Thassos as well as in the central region of Viotia and the Peloponnese. There was also a fire reported in Peania, a suburb of Athens. Smoke has blanketed the Greek capital of Athens, 110 km (70 miles) away from the island. The fire broke out after a weekend that saw temperatures soaring near 40C (104F) with strong winds.
8-14-19 Deforestation: What’s wrong with planting new forests?
Forest area has been increasing in some parts of the world, but deforestation is continuing at speed in others. Can the trees we are planting make up for those that are being cut down?
8-13-19 Greta Thunberg's zero carbon journey: 'I might feel a bit sea sick'
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg will spend two weeks travelling across the North Atlantic on a boat with no toilets, kitchens or privacy. Greta, 16, has stopped flying due to environmental reasons, but is due to attend a crucial climate change conference in New York. She told the BBC that travelling by boat sends a signal that "the climate change crisis is a real thing". Electricity on the boat will solely come from wind turbines and solar panels, meaning the journey has a zero carbon footprint.
8-13-19 We could put enough wind turbines on European land to power the world
There is enough land available in Europe for millions of wind turbines that could power the entire world, an analysis has found. While the falling price and rapid deployment of offshore windfarms has captured attention in recent years, windfarms on land make up the bulk of Europe’s installed wind power and are much cheaper. Building far more of them is still seen as key for meeting the EU’s long-term climate targets. Luckily, there appears to be plenty of room. An international team found 4.9 million square kilometres, or 46 per cent of European land, could have windfarms built on. The remainder was considered off-limits because of regulated distances from homes and infrastructure, protected landscapes, inappropriate terrain such as mountains, plus other restrictions The available space could host 11.6 million wind turbines, which would have a capacity of 52.5 terawatts. That is three times the estimates of potential made a decade ago. Such scale would supply more than a hundred times the electricity that Europe’s windfarms do today, or enough to meet the world’s entire electricity needs in 2050. “That’s a massive number. It’s way larger than studies in the past,” says Peter Enevoldsen at Aarhus University in Denmark. One reason for the greater potential is that turbines have got more powerful. Enevoldsen and colleagues assumed an up-to-date wind turbine with 4.5MW capacity, rather than the 2-3MW assumed by older research. It also turns out developers are building turbines much closer together than was commonly assumed. To map Europe’s wind power potential, data was overlaid from the European Copernicus satellite programme, OpenStreetMap and wind speed atlases, factoring in rules from national and regional databases on how close turbines could be built from buildings and infrastructure. The researchers say the mapping is more detailed than earlier efforts. “Luckily it turns out being more precise allows more wind turbines,” says Enevoldsen.
8-12-19 Is this the world's most sustainable building?
The UK government is not doing enough to encourage companies to be more sustainable, the business lobby group CBI has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme. What can be learned from the world's most sustainable industrial building in the Netherlands? Climbing out of a triple-glazed window onto the roof of an enormous logistics warehouse in the Dutch city of Tilburg, you are met with an ocean of solar panels - over 13,000 of them to be exact. The building is owned by the Dutch arm of Rhenus, a multi-billion pound logistics firm with 660 buildings and 31,000 employees worldwide. The site produces not only enough energy to power its own production, but also feeds back into the country's general supply lines - powering approximately 750 households on an annual basis, according to its senior vice-president Alphons van Erven. In May this year, it received the highest-ever rating for an industrial building from British sustainability assessors BREEAM, which has analysed the design and concept of more than 500,000 buildings in over 70 countries to look at green credentials. The building is completely airtight, meaning no heat escapes in the winter. The roof also houses two large pumps that draw heat from the air outside and use it to keep the inside of the building warm. There are electric boilers for exceptionally-cold days, which the company estimates are only used on ten days each year. Along the side, and at either end, are huge glass windows, allowing light to flood into the building. Not only is it thought to improve the wellbeing and productivity of workers, by making it a nicer environment, but it means they used 70% less electricity in lighting the premises. Sustainability measures even extend to the toilets, which use rainwater collected on the roof while flushing. Mr van Erven says he is "quite convinced" that companies who are not already taking such measures should be forced to by governments. "There is a discussion here in the Netherlands that companies with big carbon footprints will have to pay a penalty on the amount of C02 they are exposing to the air," he said. "We have an advantage because we don't have any C02 pollution anymore, so in the future it will pay off in itself." (Webmaster's comment: American's attitude is burn everything and let our children and grandchildren worry about it!)
8-11-19 Is America running out of groundwater?
Some areas are drilling deeper, but this requires more energy and leads to a decline in water quality. In the United States, some 120 million Americans — and nearly all Americans in rural areas — rely on underground aquifers for drinking water. Farmers tap into groundwater stores to irrigate their crops, and the industrial sector uses underground water during the manufacturing process. But the U.S. has been pumping its groundwater stores faster than its aquifers can be naturally replenished. Groundwater may be a hugely important resource for every sector of society, but it's much harder to track and manage than freshwater on the surface. A recent study published in Nature Sustainability looked at more than half a century of well depth trends to gain new insights into the management of the critical resource. "We actually don't know that much about how much groundwater is being used and where groundwater wells are located," says Debra Perrone, an assistant professor at the University of California–Santa Barbara, and lead author on the study. "Groundwater is often referred to as an invisible resource. Groundwater wells are small, they're distributed, they're often lost among the landscape." The team realized that the number and depth of those wells could provide critical insights for water managers on the state of the underground reservoirs. But until now, there was no centralized database of groundwater infrastructure. To conduct the study, the UCSB researchers compiled well-construction data from 64 state and local databases to get a better sense of well depth trends across the U.S. The researchers focused on five aquifer systems: The Central Valley aquifer in California, the High Plains aquifer in the central U.S., the Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer system, the Floridan aquifer system, and the Mississippi embayment aquifer system — all of which feed densely populated regions, agricultural hubs, or areas with heavy industrial activities. The team found that, between 1950 and 2015, across most of the country, groundwater users are drilling wells deeper and deeper. But well depths did not increase everywhere that groundwater levels are known to be falling, which means that, eventually, in some places, wells might dry up.
8-10-19 'We moved to the forest to fight climate change'
Janne Utriainen, his wife and four daughters are tackling climate change in their own way: they’ve moved to a remote location in northern Lapland where they live off the land: they fish, hunt, pick berries, keep sheep and chickens and grow some vegetables. Janne believes that climate change is caused by overconsumption - so in order to save the planet, he believes we should all consume less and waste less. The family does have electricity but they don't have running water in the house: they use water from a lake for cooking and washing clothes. Could adopting a sustainable lifestyle be a solution for climate change?
8-9-19 July was the warmest month
July was the warmest month the world has witnessed since record keeping began more than a century ago, reports the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. This July’s global average temperature was 1.01 degrees above the 1981–2010 average.
8-9-19 Unprecedented climate change
The speed and scale of man-made global warming is unlike anything our planet has experienced in at least 2,000 years, new research has found. The last two millennia have seen dramatic peaks and troughs in temperatures, including the Medieval Climate Anomaly, an unusually warm period, and the Little Ice Age (1300s to 1800s). But an analysis of 700 proxy records of temperature change—telltale geological signs in tree rings, ice cores, and sediment—from around the world showed that none of these events affected more than half the globe at any one time. The current warming, in contrast, has seen temperatures rise to record levels pretty much everywhere except Antarctica. Separate research concluded that many of the climate fluctuations from 1300 to 1800 were caused by volcanic eruptions, which threw vast quantities of ash into the atmosphere that reflected sunlight and cooled surface temperatures. Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, tells Reuters.com that the research should “finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.”
8-9-19 The realistic solution to climate change
“Pseudo-scientific hysteria is the wrong answer to climate change,” said Bjorn Lomborg. Democratic presidential candidates are sounding warnings that if the U.S. doesn’t dramatically cut carbon emissions by 2030, it will be too late and the world will become a hellish dystopia. Climate change is a real problem, but efforts to get rid of fossil fuels have largely failed. Of the 195 signatories to the 2016 Paris Agreement, just 17 are meeting their modest, self-assigned targets. Why? “Policies to cut carbon are incredibly expensive.” The annual costs of promises in the Green New Deal, for example, would total about $2 trillion, or about $6,400 for every American. Activists think the only way to sell these costs “is by scaring people silly”—but it’s not working. A new poll found that nearly seven of every 10 Americans oppose spending just $120 each a year to combat climate change. The only pragmatic way to address climate change is to pour resources into energy research, to drive down the price of existing renewables and create new energy technologies. When the alternatives become “cheaper than coal and oil, everyone will switch.” It is innovation, not hysteria, that will win this battle.
8-9-19 Amazon cover-up
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fired the head of a government agency that reported a huge increase in deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. Satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) found that some 1,814 square miles of rain forest were destroyed in the first seven months of the year, nearly 40 percent more than during the same period in 2018. Bolsonaro, who took office in January pledging to open the Amazon to industry, claimed in a press conference that the agency had used false figures with the aim of “harming the name of Brazil and its government.” Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, the respected physicist who led the INPE, was ousted the next day.
8-9-19 How climate change could fuel the far right
The conventional wisdom about the politics of climate change is dead wrong. News that climate change is poised to wreak havoc on the world's food supply, leading to widespread famines and resulting mass migrations, should raise alarms throughout the Western world — and not just because the prospect of a spike in suffering and death around the globe is deeply upsetting in itself. It should also provoke unease because a world in which tens or even hundreds of millions of people are forced to migrate in search of food is also a world in which the far right is likely to flourish. This runs contrary to conventional wisdom on the left and in the center of the political spectrum. The left tends to assume that as the effects of climate change — rising temperatures, massive floods, intensifying storms, persistent droughts leading to desertification — are more widely felt, pressure to act will build, benefitting progressive parties and politicians. Many American centrists — including an influential faction on the center-right — agree that this logic will imperil the electoral prospects of the Republican Party. With young people overwhelmingly convinced of the reality of anthropogenic climate change and strongly supportive of policies to halt and reverse it, this faction assumes the left will benefit as the consequences worsen. But this fails to account for the domestic political consequences of mass migration. Far-right parties had already begun to increase their vote share across Europe prior to the arrival in 2015 of well over a million asylum seekers, spurred on by drought, poverty, and violence, from Syria, Libya, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. But once these migrants showed up on the doorsteps of the European Union and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany would not limit the number of refugees accepted into the country (an open door that many feared would allow access to other EU member states, and encourage further waves of arrivals), the far right surged — and it hasn't abated, even though the migrant crisis has receded for now. A world in which many times the number of migrants from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are forced to flee their homes in search of food is exceedingly unlikely to produce a diametrically opposite political response. On the contrary, it's overwhelmingly likely to produce a very similar response, though on a vastly greater scale. That's because the scale of the coming migration crisis is likely to be vastly greater.
8-9-19 Climate change food calculator: What's your diet's carbon footprint?
Avoiding meat and dairy products is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact, according to recent scientific studies. Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, according to a major report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says the West's high consumption of meat and dairy is fuelling global warming. But what is the difference between beef and chicken? Does a bowl of rice produce more climate warming greenhouse gases than a plate of chips? Is wine more environmentally friendly than beer? To find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink, choose from one of the 34 items in our calculator and pick how often you have it. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to a University of Oxford study. However, the researchers found that the environmental impact of different foods varies hugely. Their findings showed that meat and other animal products are responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. Of all the products analysed in the study, beef and lamb were found to have by far the most damaging effect on the environment. The findings echo recommendations on how individuals can lessen climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When it comes to our diets, the IPCC says we need to buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter - but also eat more locally sourced seasonal food, and throw less of it away. The IPCC also recommends that we insulate homes, take trains and buses instead of planes, and use video conferencing instead of business travel. Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to the Oxford study, published in the journal Science.
8-9-19 Climate change: Marine heatwaves kill coral instantly
Increasingly frequent marine heatwaves can lead to the almost instant death of corals, scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef have found. These episodes of unusually high water temperatures are - like heatwaves on land - associated with climate change. Scientists studying coral after a heat event discovered that extreme temperature rises decayed reefs much more rapidly than previously thought. The study revealed that corals became up to 15% weaker after an extreme heat event, causing some fragments to actually break off from the reef. Dr Tracy Ainsworth, from the University of New South Wales in Australia, worked on the study. She told BBC News that her whole research team, made up of scientists who have worked on corals for more than a decade, was shocked to find them to be "really brittle". More typically, temperature rises cause something called coral bleaching - when the coral expels vital algae that lives in its tissues. In those events, the coral itself remains intact. "But what we're seeing here is that - when the coral tissue dies - it falls and breaks away from the skeleton," Dr Ainsworth explained.Commenting on the paper, Dr Laura Richardson, from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University, UK, said that the really significant discovery was "the rapidity with which the reef skeleton breaks down when you have these severe heatwaves". Dr Richardson added that the team had documented, for the first time, that severe heatwaves were causing "almost instant mortality of corals". Dr Ainsworth said the researchers referred to the resulting, heat-damaged skeletons as "ghost corals, because there was just nothing left". "Within about 10 days, those samples that had been exposed to the heatwave... were actually floating." Such damage to a living coral reef affects the entire marine ecosystem, as another member of the research team, Dr Bill Leggat from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, warned. "The scary thing is - this is a new phenomenon that's being caused by climate change. And the impacts are even more severe than we had thought," he told BBC News.
8-8-19 The worst wildfires can send smoke high enough to affect the ozone layer
Pyrocumulonimbus clouds can send soot and other damaging particles 23 kilometers high For the first time, scientists have seen exactly how towering clouds that rise from intense wildfires launch smoke high into the atmosphere, where it can linger for months and mess with the protective ozone layer. Cooler air closer to Earth’s surface normally keeps smoke from rising too high. But as dozens of fires raged in western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2017, they created their own giant storm clouds called pyrocumulonimbus, or pyroCb, clouds. Within two months, these clouds had lofted smoke 12 to 23 kilometers up into the stratosphere, researchers report in the Aug. 9 Science. Solar radiation heating soot in the smoke helped it reach those soaring heights. Using satellites, weather balloons and ground-based remote sensing, the team tracked the smoke over the Northern Hemisphere, measuring the levels of organics and black carbon, or soot. Smoke persisted in the stratosphere for about eight months, says Pengfei Yu, a climate scientist at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. Although smoke has been observed in the stratosphere before, this “mother of all pyroCbs” offered the first direct observation of a process called “self-lofting,” says coauthor Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. The observations confirmed what simulations had suggested would happen if large amounts of smoke were injected into the stratosphere via a nuclear war, the team says. “Nature did the experiment for us,” Robock says, confirming the “nuclear winter” scenario, in which smoke in the stratosphere from a city burning would have far-reaching and long-lasting climatic consequences, including blocking out sunlight and affecting ozone.
8-8-19 UN warns most plans for limiting climate change would wreck the planet
A special UN report on climate change and land use warns that a massive expansion of bioenergy would reduce biodiversity, cause desertification and water scarcity, and push up food prices. That’s bad news because just about every plan for limiting warming to 2C or less involves using bioenergy on a massive scale to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the plus side, the report says that improving our diets – such as eating less meat – would help reduce carbon emissions as well as improving public health. Here’s what you need to know about the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): It’s the UN body that assesses the evidence related to climate change. Almost all the work is done voluntarily by scientists. Because land is both a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and also soaks up a lot of the extra carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere. A quarter of all greenhouse emissions so far are a result of the ways we exploit land, and the global food system produces a third of all emissions. We currently use 12 per cent of land for growing crops and exploit 70 per cent, often in ways that damage it by causing, say, soil erosion. We need to use it in sustainable ways that soak up carbon dioxide rather than releasing it. Yes. The full title is the “special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems”. You’re welcome! Environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners have been saying for years that relying on bioenergy to remove CO2 from the atmosphere would be a disaster. Now it’s official. “At the deployment scale of several gigatonnes of CO2 per year, this increased demand for land conversion could lead to adverse side effects for adaptation, desertification, land degradation and food security,” says the report. We’d need to remove 40 Gt CO2 per year to just to balance out current emissions.
8-8-19 Plant-based diet can fight climate change - UN
Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, UN experts have said. A major report on land use and climate change says the West's high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming. But scientists and officials stopped short of explicitly calling on everyone to become vegan or vegetarian. They said that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat. The document, prepared by 107 scientists for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says that if land is used more effectively, it can store more of the carbon emitted by humans. It was finalised following discussions held here in Geneva, Switzerland. "We're not telling people to stop eating meat. In some places people have no other choice. But it's obvious that in the West we're eating far too much," said Prof Pete Smith, an environmental scientist from Aberdeen University, UK. The report calls for vigorous action to halt soil damage and desertification - both of which contribute to climate change. It also warns that plans by some governments to grow trees and burn them to generate electricity will compete with food production unless carried out on a limited scale. The Earth's land surface, and the way it is used, forms the basis for human society and the global economy. But we are re-shaping it in dramatic ways, including through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. How the land responds to human-induced climate change is a vital concern for the future.Climate change poses a threat to the security of our food supply. Rising temperatures, increased rain and more extreme weather events will all have an impact on crops and livestock. But food production also contributes to global warming. Agriculture - together with forestry - accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock rearing contributes to global warming through the methane gas the animals produce, but also via deforestation to expand pastures, for example.
8-8-19 One in 4 people live in places at high risk of running out of water
17 countries currently use more than 80 percent of their typical yearly water supply. The world is facing a water scarcity crisis, with 17 countries including India, Israel and Eritrea using more than 80 percent of their available water supplies each year, a new analysis finds. Those countries are home to a quarter of the world’s 7.7 billion people. Further population rise or dwindling water supplies could cause critical water shortages, the researchers warn. “As soon as a drought hits or something unexpected happens, major cities can find themselves in very dire situations,” says Rutger Hofste, a data scientist at the Washington, D.C.–based World Resources Institute, which released the data on August 6. “That’s something that we expect to see more and more.” To gauge countries’ risk — or “water stress,” WRI updated its online calculator with data from 1961 to 2014 on water use by households, industry and agriculture, as well as water supply data from surface sources and aquifers. Previously, the tool — called the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas — assessed water demand based a snapshot of 2010 data. People “immediately link [water woes] to climate change,” says Hofste, who is based in Amsterdam. But economic and population growth “are the biggest drivers.” Water use has increased by 250 percent, from 1,888.7 cubic kilometers in 1961 to 4,720.8 cubic kilometers in 2014, the analysis found. Twelve of the 17 countries facing extremely high risk are in the Middle East and North Africa. Also in this category are Pakistan and India, where aquifer levels are among the fastest falling in the world (SN: 7/25/15, p. 13). The United States is considered to have relatively low risk; overall, it uses less than 20 percent of its available water. However, some western states including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska typically use 40 percent or more of current water supplies each year.
8-7-19 Outshining fossil fuel: Your guide to the revolution in solar energy
Solar power is getting so cheap it is overtaking fossil fuels – and that’s without next-generation photovoltaic technology and artificial photosynthesis. “WHEN I was a student in the mid-1980s,” says Harry Atwater, “there were only a few megawatts of solar deployed worldwide. Enough to power a supermarket or something. Now, solar technology has a global output of about 500 gigawatts.” That is enough to provide Manhattan with all the electricity it needs about 50 times over. And solar power is only just getting going. Atwater, who is director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at the California Institute of Technology, has been working on photovoltaic technology for his entire career. He has seen it grow from a novelty found in only a few labs into a giant industry bigger than the flat-screen TV market. Some $131 billion was invested in solar in 2018 alone. But Atwater reckons the advances set to arrive in the next few years could leave that progress in the shade. Solar power has become so cheap that before long, it will overtake fossil fuels as the world’s preferred source of electricity. And a lot of low-cost solar power will be crucial if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. “It’s an incredibly exciting time,” says Jenny Chase, an analyst with Bloomberg NEF, which looks at the costs of clean energy. “I’ve been astonished by the progress solar has made.” Financial company Lazard releases an annual report into the “levelised” cost of different energy sources – that is, the cost once you take into account the whole life cycle of a power plant, including manufacture and disposal, and disregard government subsidies. Its 2018 report showed that large-scale solar power and onshore wind were, on average, the cheapest forms of energy. Sometimes, gas could be cheaper, but more often it wasn’t. Lazard found that between 2017 and 2018, the cost of solar energy fell from around $50 per megawatt-hour to around $43, a drop of 14 per cent in a single year. Since 1976, its cost has plummeted by about 99.9 per cent.
8-7-19 Earth's magnetic poles probably won't flip within our lifetime
We appear to be safe from a catastrophic reversal of the north and south magnetic poles, according to evidence showing that the last swap took a lot longer, and was a lot messier, than scientists thought. The magnetic field shields Earth from the sun’s harmful radiation and cosmic rays, so a sudden polarity reversal could affect our power and communications systems, as well as our health. But a new analysis of lava flows, ocean sediment and Antarctic ice cores found that the most recent magnetic field reversal took at least 22,000 years to complete. This is several times longer than previous estimates, and forces scientists to rethink the assumption that the magnetic field is fairly stable until its polarity rapidly changes. Earth’s magnetic field has been acting strangely in recent years. The magnetic north pole has unexpectedly moved away from Canada and is speeding toward Siberia. At the same time, the strength of the magnetic field seems to be weakening, prompting worries among some scientists who believe we may be on the cusp of long-overdue reversal. “There is little evidence that this current decrease in field strength, or the rapid shift in position of the north pole, reflect behaviour that portends a polarity reversal is imminent during the next 2000 years,” says Brad Singer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He and his colleagues analysed dozens of lava flows from sites in Tahiti, Chile, La Palma, Guadeloupe and Maui, which act like a ledger of the behaviour of Earth’s magnetic field. Shifts in its direction and intensity affect the electron spin in the outermost shells of iron atoms in the minerals. “The spins align with the direction of Earth’s magnetic field when the lava flow cools below about 500°C,” says Singer. He and his team used this alignment, along with the density of electron spins, to sort out how strong the magnetic field was when the lava flows cooled.
8-7-19 Plate tectonics began nearly 2 billion years before we thought
Earth and its continents may have been shifting for longer than scientists previously thought, according to a new study that suggests plate tectonics evolved over the last 2.5 billion years. This new timeline is contrary to previous studies that said it emerged only 700 million years ago, and it could impact models used to understand how Earth has changed over time. Plate tectonics is the large-scale motion of parts of Earth’s crust, and dictates how continents drift apart and come back together. It helps to explain where volcanoes and earthquakes occur, predict cycles of erosion and ocean circulation and how life on Earth has evolved. “One of the key ways to understand how Earth has evolved to become the planet that we know is plate tectonics,” says Robert Holder at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. He and his team examined a global compilation of metamorphic rocks that formed over the past three billion years at 564 sites. Metamorphic rocks have transformed into a new type of rock through the process of being buried and heated deep in the Earth’s crust. Because plate tectonics strongly influences heat flow, ancient metamorphic rocks can be used to study plate tectonics in Earth’s past. The team compiled data on the temperatures and depths at which the metamorphic rocks formed and then evaluated how these conditions have changed systematically through geological time. From this, they found that plate tectonics, as we see it today, developed gradually over the last 2.5 billion years. “The framework for much of our understanding of the world and its geological processes relies on plate tectonics,” says Holder. “Knowing when plate tectonics began and how it changed impacts that framework.”
8-7-19 Your guide to the carbon sucking tech we need to save the planet
Humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide that we must find ways of sucking it from the air. Can that be done without wrecking the environment in other ways? HUMANS have now pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the only way to meet our climate goals is to extract a stupendous amount of it. Last month, a headline-grabbing study suggested that we can do this just by planting a vast number of trees. But is it really that easy? We know that we need to employ some form of carbon negative technology for two reasons. First, with emissions still rising, planetary warming is on course to exceed 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures not long after 2050. If we can reduce CO2 levels, we stand a chance of cooling the planet back to safer temperatures. Second, there are some activities – farming, flying, cement production, steel-making – that are really hard to do without emitting lots of carbon. Even if the world got serious about reducing emissions from these processes, the technology to do it doesn’t necessarily exist. Carbon removal might allow us to keep on flying, making steel and so on, and still get to zero overall emissions. Tree planting for this purpose is a beguiling idea: trees are beautiful, cheap and effective at sucking in carbon. A longer-standing idea is to grow plants, burn them to make electricity and then filter out the carbon released and somehow store it. This is known as bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Almost all studies that claim we can limit warming to 2°C assume a massive deployment of BECCS. Yet we don’t know if it would work. No one has shown it can be done affordably on a large scale. Even if it is doable, it would require enormous swathes of land. Around a tenth of all land is already used for growing crops, and another three-quarters is exploited, for instance for grazing. There isn’t space to feed a growing, meat-hungry population, build more cities, conserve wildlife, save forests and also grow crops for bioenergy on a massive scale. Ecologists have been saying this all along, and it is expected to be acknowledged by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in an 8 August report on land use.
8-6-19 Climate change: Hungry nations add the least to global CO2
The impoverished African nation of Burundi comes top of a list of the world's most food-insecure countries says Christian Aid. The charity argues that Burundi and others are now keenly feeling the impacts of climate change on their food production systems. But Burundi's contribution to rising temperatures is marginal, say experts. In fact, the annual carbon emissions of one Briton is equal to the CO2 produced by over 200 Burundians. Scientists and government officials from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to consider how climate change impacts the land and how the lands and forests impact the climate. Their detailed report will be released on Thursday. However, researchers at development charity Christian Aid have put together a study showing how that climate change is now having a disproportionate impact on the food systems of the countries that have done least to produce the carbon emissions that are driving up temperatures. Their study says that the top 10 most food insecure countries all generate less than half a tonne of CO2 per person, and in total just 0.08% of global emissions. As well as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Yemen and Sierra Leone make up the top five countries. The rest of the top 10 includes Chad, Malawi, Haiti, Niger and Zambia. Burundians produce 0.027 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. Someone living in Saudi Arabia produces the same as 718 people in Burundi. The equivalent number for the US would be 581 and for Russia 454. The report's authors draw a clear link between rising global temperatures and increasing food security issues.
8-6-19 How the 5 riskiest U.S. cities for coastal flooding are preparing for rising tides
Of the urban areas most at risk, some are further along than others. The five U.S. cities most at risk from coastal flooding have begun to make plans for adapting to rising sea levels. Some are further along than others. Here’s where their flood resilience efforts stand:
- Miami: Florida’s flooding risk comes not just from storms and high tides but also from water seeping up through the porous limestone that underlies much of the state.
- New York City: In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City with a 3.4-meter storm tide, causing over $19 billion in damage.
- New Orleans: Louisiana is one of the most flood-prone states, thanks to a combination of rising sea level, sinking landmass and the floodprone natures of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.
- Tampa: Like much of southern Florida, the Tampa Bay region already sees regular flooding during high tides and storms.
- Boston: With neighborhood-level projections for future sea level rise in hand, the city of Boston has district-level projects completed for East Boston, Charlestown and South Boston.
8-5-19 With nowhere to hide from rising seas, Boston prepares for a wetter future
The coastal city is taking the hint from recent storms and floods. Boston dodged a disaster in 2012. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York, the superstorm hit Boston near low tide, causing minimal damage. If Sandy had arrived four hours earlier, many Bostonians would have been ankle to hip deep in seawater. Across the globe, sea levels are rising, delivering bigger storm surges and higher tides to coastal cities. In Boston, the most persistent reminder comes in the form of regular “nuisance” flooding — when seawater spills onto roads and sidewalks during high tides. Those nuisance events are harbingers of a wetter future, when extreme high tides are predicted to become a daily occurrence. “The East Coast has been riding a post-Sandy mentality of preparing and responding before the next big one,” says Robert Freudenberg, an environmental planner at the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy firm based in New York City. But a more enduring kind of threat looms. “Sea level rise is the flooding that doesn’t go away,” he says. “Not that far in the future, some of our most developed places may be permanently inundated.” And Boston, for one, is not waiting to get disastrously wet to act. In the seven years since Hurricane Sandy’s close call, the city-run Climate Ready Boston initiative has devised a comprehensive, science-driven master plan to protect infrastructure, property and people from the increasingly inevitable future of storm surges and rising seas. The famously feisty city intends to be ready for the next Sandy as well as the nuisance tides that promise to become the new normal, while other U.S. coastal cities are trying to keep up.
8-5-19 July confirmed as hottest month on record
July this year was the warmest month ever recorded worldwide, satellite data has confirmed. The assessment was carried out by researchers at the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Scientists say it's the latest sign that Earth is experiencing unprecedented warming. Scorching heatwaves saw records tumble across Europe last month, with unusually high temperatures within the Arctic Circle as well. Globally, July 2019 was marginally warmer - by 0.04 degrees Celsius (0.072 Fahrenheit) - than the previous hottest month on record, July 2016. However, it's notable that the 2016 record followed a strong El Niño weather event, which boosts average global temperatures beyond the impact of global warming alone. The new July mark follows on from a global record for June, which was confirmed by data from several different agencies. According to Copernicus, every month this year ranks among the four warmest on record for the month in question. While researchers can't directly link these new high marks to climate change, there is a wide sense among scientists that emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities are altering background temperatures and making new records more likely. (Webmaster's comment: As we predicted last month. Global Warming deniers are stupid ignorant fools!)
8-5-19 A new map is the best view yet of how fast Antarctica is shedding ice
The research could help improve projections of sea level rise. Decades of satellite observations have now provided the most detailed view yet of how Antarctica continually sheds ice accumulated from snowfall into the ocean. The new map is based on an ice-tracking technique that is 10 times as precise as methods used for previous Antarctic surveys, researchers report online July 29 in Geophysical Research Letters. That offered the first comprehensive view of how ice moves across all of Antarctica, including slow-moving ice in the middle of the continent rather than just rapidly melting ice at the coasts. Charting Antarctic ice flow so exactly could reveal the topography of the ground underneath, as well as improve forecasts for how much ice Antarctica stands to lose to the ocean in the future. Ice melting off the continent is already known to be a driver of global sea level rise (SN: 7/7/18, p. 6). Glaciologists at the University of California, Irvine, uncovered subtle movements of Antarctic ice with a kind of measurement called synthetic-aperture radar interferometric phase data. By using a satellite to bounce radar signals off a patch of ice, researchers can determine how quickly that ice is moving toward or away from the satellite. Combining observations of the same spot from different angles reveals the speed and direction of the ice’s motion along the ground.To get multiple vantage points of the same swathes of ice, researchers had to cobble together data from about half a dozen satellites launched by Canada, Europe and Japan since the early 1990s. “Each brought a little piece of the puzzle,” says study coauthor Eric Rignot.
8-5-19 McDonald's paper straws cannot be recycled
McDonald's new paper straws - described as "eco-friendly" by the US fast food giant - cannot be recycled. Last year, it axed plastic straws, even though they were recyclable, in all its UK branches as part of a green drive. But the US fast food giant says the new paper straws are not yet easy to recycle and should be put into general waste. McDonald's says the materials are recyclable, but their thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed. The firm switched from plastic straws to paper ones in its restaurants in the UK and Republic of Ireland last autumn. The straws are manufactured by Transcend Packaging, based in Ebbw Vale, south Wales. But some customers were unhappy with the new straws, saying they dissolved before a drink could be finished, with milkshakes particularly hard to drink. "As a result of customer feedback, we have strengthened our paper straws, so while the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups," a McDonald's spokesman said. The firm said it was working to find a solution, and that current advice, as first reported by The Sun, to put paper straws in general waste was therefore temporary. "This waste from our restaurants does not go to landfill, but is used to generate energy," the company added. A petition by irate McDonald's customers to bring back plastic straws has so far been signed by 51,000 people. The restaurant chain uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK, so the move to paper was a significant step in helping to reduce single-use plastic. Some single-use plastic products can take hundreds of years to decompose if not recycled.
8-5-19 Stop abusing land, scientists warn
Scientists are to deliver a stark condemnation of the damage being done to the land surface of the planet. Human activities have led to the degrading of soils, expanded deserts, felled forests, driven out wildlife, and drained peatlands, they will say. In the process, land has been turned from an asset that combats climate change into a major source of carbon. The scientists will say this land abuse must be stopped to avoid catastrophic climate heating. Uncultivated land covered with vegetation protects us from overheating because the plants absorb the warming gas CO2 from the air and fix it in the soil. But the scientists meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, will say the way we farm and grow timber often actually increases emissions of carbon dioxide. Between a quarter and a third of all greenhouse gas emissions are now estimated to come from land use. The scientists will warn of a battle for land between multiple competing demands: biofuels, plant material for plastics and fibres, timber, wildlife, paper and pulp - and food for a growing population. Their report will say we need to make hard choices about how we use the world’s soil. And it will offer another warning that our hunger for red meat is putting huge stress on the land to produce animal feed, as well as contributing to half of the world’s emissions of methane - another greenhouse gas. The document’s being finalised this week among scientists and government officials on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It will become the most authoritative report yet on the way we use and abuse the land. Scientists hope it will give the issue of land use greater prominence in negotiations on climate change. At its heart will be the paradox that the land can be a source of CO2 emissions, or a sink for CO2 emissions. The question is how we use it.
8-5-19 Decades of dumping acid suggest acid rain may make trees thirstier
Acidified soil loses calcium, which helps plants retain water. A forest watered by acid rain may be less able to slake its thirst. That’s one finding from a decades-long experiment in the Appalachian Mountains, where the U.S. Forest Service since 1989 has been dousing a 34-hectare patch of forest with an acidifying ammonium sulfate fertilizer three times a year. The chemical served as a proxy for acid rain, which is created when sulfur and nitrogen containing compounds released by industrial activities, agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels acidify raindrops. In most of the years from 1989 to 2012, the acidified forest soaked up around 5 percent more water than a neighboring, 39-hectare untreated area — and up to 10 percent more in two of the years, researchers report July 31 in Science Advances. Levels of calcium, a nutrient plants need to retain water, in the water that permeates the soil of the acidified forest also declined over the study period, which could explain the forest’s water guzzling. “We didn’t expect that plants actually will respond so strongly to acidification,” says ecohydrologist Lixin Wang of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. That may be cause for concern, he says: Thirstier plants could contribute to droughts or leave less water available for people and other animals. Scientists have previously looked at acid rain’s effects on trees and small plots, but tests of acidification on an entire watershed are rare. The team, which included a Forest Service scientist, used the agency’s data to calculate the forest’s water uptake by subtracting how much flowed out of the forest in streams from how much water fell as precipitation. The trends in water use were also reflected in soil moisture data collected during the study.
8-5-19 Space agency chief fired after revealing recent Amazon deforestation
Brazil’s controversial president Jair Bolsonaro has fired the director of the Brazilian space agency INPE, which monitors deforestation in the Amazon. The agency recently revealed the extent to which deforestation has increased since Bolsonaro took power in January, which the president took exception to. More than 3700 square kilometres of forest have been cut down so far this year, according INPE. That is more than during the same period in 2016, the year with the highest losses in the past decade. Bolsonaro recently claimed that the INPE figures are a “lie” and were released to harm Brazil’s reputation. But researchers say the INPE’s deforestation data is respected and trusted. Organisations in other countries that monitor deforestation via satellites have also reported big increases. The president’s claims led to robust responses from INPE director Ricardo Magnus Osorio Galvao, who called Bolsonaro’s attack “cowardly” and said he would not step down. On 2 August Galvao was sacked. Brazil still has laws meant to reduce deforestation but they are not being enforced as much as they were. The number of enforcement operations in the Amazon region has fallen 70 per cent this year, according environmentalist Carlos Rittl of the Climate Observatory. The forest is mainly being cleared for cattle ranching, to produce beef. Environmentalists have criticised a recent trade deal between the European Union and several South American countries including Brazil, saying it will boost exports and encourage more deforestation. The deal has not yet been ratified. (Webmaster's comment: The way to stop Deforestation, shoot the Messenger!)
8-4-19 Siberia wildfires: Russians battle to contain the blazes
The village of Podymakhino is blessed with a stunning location. The great Siberian river, the Lena, flows past here. And, stretching into the distance, is lush green forest - the taiga. It's a picture postcard kind of place. Suddenly the tranquil scene is interrupted by the sound of a helicopter. When it flies into view, I can see a giant bucket suspended on a cable. It's a hint of the drama unfolding over the hills - the battle against fire. Forest fires in Siberia are common. But this summer unusually hot weather, dry thunderstorms and strong winds have combined to spark an emergency - in Siberia wildfires have engulfed an area the size of Belgium. Reaching the blazes can be difficult. Most of the fires are in remote areas. In recent days, army planes and helicopters from the Russian emergency service have been dropping water on the flames. But often it's up to local communities to do what they can to contain the threat. In Podymakhino I meet Gennady Esin. He runs a small farm and timber business, but by necessity he's a firefighter, too, now. Gennady and his team agree to take me into the taiga to show me the situation there. We set off on a military-style off-road truck, bumping along a dirt track. Soon we're deep in the forest, surrounded by silver birch, cedar and pine trees. I spot smoke rising from the earth. The forest is smouldering. Small flames are licking at bushes and shrubs. The fire is greatest to one side of the track. "We've used a bulldozer is create a fireline, a gap, in order to stop the fire spreading," Gennady explains. "In this gap, we've removed vegetation, like dry moss, leaves and twigs, anything combustible. We have to keep monitoring the situation to make sure that sparks don't cross the fireline."
8-4-19 The Rolling Stones go green
America has a single-use plastic problem. The Stones are doing their part to change that. cross the globe, we've developed a coffee addiction, and we're not just talking about dependence on our morning pick-me-up. We've become addicted to single-use cups: 600 billion disposable cups (for all drinks) are produced and sold annually. That's nearly 80 cups for every person on the planet. But there's a growing push to cut this down. Here's the problem with disposable coffee cups: The thin, waxy, plastic coating inside makes it tricky to recycle or compost them. So, most go into a landfill. "We're filling our landfills with items that are really designed for our convenience and only used once. And maybe only used, in the case of a coffee cup, only used for maybe five minutes," says Christy Slay with The Sustainability Consortium. Single-use cups aren't just a landfill problem — it takes a lot of energy and resources to make them. "You're talking trees, you're talking about petroleum, you're talking about chemicals. And in the case of compostable cups, you're talking about corn or soy," says Slay. Starbucks and McDonald's are trying to develop a disposable coffee cup that can be both recyclable and compostable. But that's easier said than done. The coffee giants have been dangling a million dollars to anybody who can crack the code. One coffee chain in England says we can't afford to wait. The Boston Tea Party banned single-use cups at its 22 locations last summer. Owner Sam Roberts says they prevented 125,000 cups from going to the dump in 10 months. Good news, but sales of takeaway coffee also fell by 25 percent. "We felt like it was a financial loss that we had to take," says Roberts. "Someone has got to take a risk, someone's got to take a stand. We don't get a 'Planet B.'"
8-3-19 Earth is a living system and humans will decide whether it thrives
The Earth is a complex machine that works to support life – and humans have seized control of the machine, for better or worse. This was the message of a conference this week dedicated to Earth system science. The idea that life on Earth acts to preserve its own existence, by stabilising conditions on the planet, is known as the Gaia hypothesis. Formulated by independent scientist James Lovelock and popularised in the 1970s, Gaia has inspired a generation of scientists who study the Earth’s many systems, from the climate to forests. The conference at the University of Exeter was organised as a celebration of James Lovelock’s centenary. Lovelock is famously independent-minded, and his idea has attracted more than its share of eccentrics. At one point, musician Peter Horton of Gaia’s Company sang a bouncy song about how everything about us is made by and part of Gaia, from our bones to our flatulence. Sociologist Bronislaw Szerszynski of Lancaster University in the UK encouraged everyone to stand up while our consciousnesses were swapped from body to body, and asked if any of us were now extraterrestrials. However, this silliness sat alongside a serious message. Humans are now pushing the Earth system out of whack, for instance by releasing more greenhouse gases than living organisms can mop up and heating up the planet. As a result, July was the warmest month in recorded history. At the conference, Earth system scientists described the many ways humans are impacting the planet. They also discussed what it will take to repair the damage and live sustainably within the Gaia system. For the first time, Gaia has conscious beings at the controls: a situation dubbed “Gaia 2.0” by Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter and philosopher Bruno Latour of Sciences Po in Paris, France. (Webmaster's comment: "Gaia" will not survive humanity, and neither will humans.)
8-3-19 The world's ageing dams are not built for ever more extreme weather
The town of Whaley Bridge in the UK has had to be evacuated after damage to a dam built in 1831. The Toddbrook Reservoir is just one of many ageing dams worldwide not designed for ever more extreme rainfall as the planet warms. Dams are typically designed to cope with a so-called 1-in-100-year flood event. But as the world warms the odds of extreme rainfall are changing, meaning the risk of failure is far greater. Engineers have been warning for years that many old dams around the world are already unsafe and need upgrading or dismantling. “The 1-in-100-year event is perhaps happening every five years,” says Roderick Smith at Imperial College London. “I’m absolutely convinced that it is due to climate change.” What is happening at Toddbrook Reservoir, where 1500 people have had to evacuate, is very similar to what happened at the Oroville Dam in California in February 2017. Both are earthen dams where excess water flows over the top of the dam and down a concrete-lined spillway. If this concrete is damaged, the water flowing down the spillway can rapidly erode the earth underneath, and there is a risk of the entire dam wall collapsing. There is a much greater chance of this happening when extreme rainfall or melting of snow leads to very high water flows into already full dams. A 2018 study concluded that climate change exacerbated the high water flows that led to the erosion of the Oroville Dam spillway, where 190,000 people had to evacuate and repairs cost $1.1 billion. It’s not yet clear to what extent the Whaley Bridge situation is due to climate change, though politicians in the UK have already explicitly blamed it. “The collapse of the Whaley Bridge dam is unprecedented and must act as a wake-up call to the government on the urgency of preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate change,” said Labour’s shadow minister for flooding, Luke Pollard.
8-2-19 The Arctic is burning and Greenland is melting, thanks to record heat
Blazes are pumping record amounts of CO2 into the air, which could make the problem worse. The Arctic is on fire. Record-breaking temperatures and strong winds are fueling an unprecedented number of wildfires across the region this summer. In Siberia alone, hundreds of wildfires captured by satellite images July 28 spanned about 3 million hectares of land. Across Alaska, as many as 400 wildfires were burning as of mid-July. And the heat is also melting Greenland’s ice at an alarming rate. The scale and intensity of the June 2019 wildfires are unparalleled in the 16 years that the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, or CAMS, has been tracking global wildfire data. And July’s numbers “have been of similar proportions,” says CAMS senior scientist Mark Parrington. “I’ve been surprised at the duration of the fires in the Arctic Circle, in particular.” Wildfires most often occur in the Arctic in July and August, sparked by lightning strikes. But this year, unusually hot and dry conditions in the Northern Hemisphere in June exacerbated the problem and drove the fire season’s start earlier, the World Meteorological Organization reported July 12. Unusually high temperatures and low precipitation in the region were almost certainly fueling the July wildfires as well, Parrington says. In early August, CAMS will release its monthly bulletin summarizing the July data, he adds, and “I wouldn’t be surprised if the July fires correspond to [those climate] anomalies.” In Alaska, a heat record toppled July 4, with temperatures reaching as high as 32.2° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit). Average June temperatures in parts of Siberia were almost 10 degrees higher than the average temperatures from 1981 to 2010. That same month, more than 100 intense wildfires were burning within the Arctic Circle.
8-2-19 Sweltering heat
A brutal heat wave obliterated temperature records across Europe last week, with Paris hitting 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit and cities in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands all topping 105. The U.K. had its hottest day on record, with the mercury rising to 101.7 in eastern England. Because fewer than 10 percent of European households have air conditioning, there was nowhere to escape the heat, so cities set up sprinklers and mist sprayers. Tourists waded into fountains and volunteers handed out water bottles. “Everyone is at risk with these kinds of temperatures,” said French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn. The heat bubble, borne on air currents from Africa, is now headed to Greenland, where it is expected to accelerate glacier melt.
8-2-19 Greening the country
Ethiopians have smashed a world record by planting more than 350 million tree seedlings in just 12 hours. In the early 20th century, 35 percent of the country was covered in forest, but by the beginning of this century, that figure had fallen to 4 percent. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made reforestation a central goal of his government. The deep roots of native trees help combat the desertification caused by drought—a frequent occurrence in Ethiopia—by binding the soil and bringing groundwater to the surface, helping other plants with shallower root systems. The previous single-day planting record was set by India, which planted some 50 million trees in 2017.
8-2-19 Deadly fungus fueled by global warming
Climate change could be to blame for the spread of a multidrug-resistant fungus that has been deemed a “serious global health threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Candida auris can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems; about one-third of infected patients die. The superbug was first discovered a decade ago in a Japanese patient with an ear infection, and cases of C. auris have been diagnosed since around the world. But unlike a virus, which typically radiates out from one source, the fungus emerged simultaneously in multiple countries, including the U.S., India, and South Africa. Scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wondered if climate change might be responsible. Humans typically develop fungal infections on the coolest parts of their body, such as their feet and fingers; internal infections are rare because fungi can’t survive the warmer temperatures. But a gradual rise in temperatures due to climate change may have enabled C. auris—which scientists think may have originated in wetlands—to adapt to warmer environs. Tests proved that the fungus can indeed grow at higher temperatures than many of its relatives, a finding that has worrying implications for disease prevention. “If more of these organisms become temperature resistant,” co-author Arturo Casadevall tells NBCNews.com, “then we’re going to have more problems in the future.”
8-2-19 Climate change: Heatwave made up to 3C hotter by warming
The searing July heatwave that hit Europe last week was made both more likely and more intense by human-induced climate change, scientists say. A rapid attribution study says that heating added up to 3C to the intensity of the event that scorched the UK, France and the Netherlands. In France, the heatwave was made at least 10 times and up to 100 times more likely by human activities. The shorter event in the UK was made at least twice as likely, experts say. The World Weather Attribution Group has carried out a number of similar studies in recent years to work out the impact of climate change on extreme events. This new report looks at the July heatwave that saw temperatures soar above 40C in many countries including Belgium, France and the Netherlands. In Paris, the mercury smashed through a historic high of 40.4C. It beat the record by more than 2 degrees, to the new mark of 42.6C (108.7f). In the UK, the heat event only lasted 1-2 days but a new record was set at Cambridge University's botanic garden with 38.7C. Researchers combined information from both long term temperature observations and climate models to look at how the events would have unfolded with or without the human influence on the climate. So when they look at France they can say that the chances of having a heatwave like the one that struck last week were made more likely by at least a factor of 10, but could in fact have been up to 100 times. "We conclude that such an event would have had an extremely small probability to occur (less than about once every 1,000 years) without climate change in France," the study says. The picture across Europe was the same say researchers. "Every European heatwave we and others have analysed was found to be made much more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change, so it was not surprising that climate change played a role," said Dr Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
8-2-19 Hottest day records set across Europe this year will soon be broken
If you suffered during the recent record-smashing heatwave across Europe, there’s bad news. Such heatwaves are the new normal for countries like the UK, and we can expect even more extreme ones in the next few years, say climate scientists who have studied the event. “People say, oh this is historic and this will make history,” says Friederike Otto of Oxford University in the UK. “It will probably not make history because we should expect that these records will be broken in the next few years.” Otto and her colleagues have used computer models to assess how global warming has altered the odds of heatwaves like the July heatwave in Europe, during which new all-time high records were set in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Only the UK remained below 40°C. The team’s overall conclusion is that temperatures in all locations would have been between 1.5 and 3°C cooler had the event had happened in preindustrial times. It’s extremely unlikely that France and the Netherlands would have experienced such a heatwave at all without global warming. It would be expected to happen less than once in every 1000 years. “Every heatwave analysed so far in Europe in recent years was found to be made much more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change,” states the study. “The July 2019 heatwave was so extreme over continental Western Europe that the observed magnitudes would have been extremely unlikely without climate change.” For the UK and Germany, the heatwave was not quite as unlikely. It could have happened around once every 100 years in a preindustrial climate. The bad news is that in today’s warmer climate, such heatwaves are now expected to occur around once every 8 years.
8-2-19 Climate change: July 'marginally' warmest month on record
A preliminary analysis of global temperature data for July suggests it may have "marginally" become the warmest month on record. Figures from the first 29 days of a month in which many countries had heatwaves are "on a par" or slightly higher than a record set in July 2016. The assessment was carried out by researchers at the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Confirmation of a new record must await a full analysis is released on Monday. Scientists say it's the latest sign that Earth is experiencing unprecedented warming. The new data compiled by C3S incorporates observations from satellites and ground based stations. The July figures are likely to be the highest recorded in the organisation's 40-year dataset. They follow on from a global record for June, which was confirmed by data from several different agencies. According to Copernicus, every month this year ranks among the four warmest on record for the month in question.While researchers can't directly link these new high marks to climate change, there is a wide sense among scientists that emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities are altering background temperatures and making new records more likely. "This particular month has been very warm but to me this is not really the main point. The main point is that not only has this month been very warm, but last month was very warm. All months during 2019 have been very warm in terms of comparison with other years," Dr Freja Vamborg from Copernicus told BBC News. "And that trend is not likely to stop unless we do something about curbing greenhouse gas emissions."
8-1-19 Jay Inslee just wants to save the world from climate change
The second Democratic debate Wednesday evening was a bit of a boring mess. The first 45 minutes on health care were muddled and confusing, and a great deal of time was taken up with attempts by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) to land blows on former Vice President Joe Biden by attacking his past, each of which mostly failed — in large part because both have troubled histories of their own.. But one candidate stood out, not for his performance as much as his reason for being on stage: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is quite literally trying to save the world. He didn't have the wittiest put-downs or the most practiced talking points, but he is laser-focused on climate change, far and away the most important problem facing the United States. He almost certainly will not win — but he is doing his utmost to put climate policy on the national agenda, and putting in the work to develop a very strong plan the next president can take up. Inslee didn't get a whole lot of speaking time, as he barely has any support and the moderators devoted little time to climate change in any case. It was also difficult to have any sort of substantive discussion with the 2-minute time limit for questions and 30 seconds for responses. Candidates could barely squeak out a couple paragraphs before the moderators started interrupting them — not ideal for discussing complicated policy. Incidentally, this is a good reason for the Democratic Party to take the debates away from for-profit media companies. They can set them up themselves and broadcast on PBS or C-SPAN — and ideally have at least a few debates wholly given over to one or two topics, so the candidates can really dig in. At the very least, it's senseless for the party to subject its candidates to CNN's right-leaning moderators who keep trying to bait them into saying they will destroy the economy with tax hikes. At any rate, Inslee did use most of his time to hammer on the "climate crisis," as he put it in his opening statement. He noted correctly that it affects literally everything: "Climate change is not a singular issue, it is all the issues that we Democrats care about. It is health. It is national security. It is our economy," he said. And he attacked Biden's weaksauce climate plan, saying "your plan is just too late. The science says we have to get off coal in 10 years. Your plan does not do that. We have to get off of fossil fuels from our electric grid in 15. Your plan simply does not do that." Biden retorted by boasting he would "double offshore wind" — but didn't note that there are only a piddling 30 megawatts of offshore wind capacity at the moment (though more is coming online soon).
8-1-19 In pictures: Russia's massive wildfires rage on
Images from Russia, where the army has been sent in to help tackle massive wildfires raging in Siberia (all photos here from Krasnoyarsk region). (Webmaster's comment: 15,000 square miles are burning. That's like 1/5 of South Dakota being on fire. A square 122 miles on a side. It would take you 2 hours to drive along just one of it's sides.)