11-30-19 Brazil's Bolsonaro says DiCaprio gave cash 'to set Amazon on fire'
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has accused Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio of "giving money to set the Amazon on fire". The president gave no evidence but in the past has accused NGOs critical of his policies of starting fires that ravaged the rainforest this year. Several arrests have been made amid controversial and unproven allegations fires were started to obtain funding. DiCaprio, who has pledged $5m for the Amazon, denied Mr Bolsonaro's claim. The latest comments appear to arise from the arrest of four volunteer firefighters from northern Pará state on allegations they started fires to generate NGO donations. Rights groups, NGOs and critics claimed the police operation against them was politically motivated and an attempt to harass environmental groups. Fires that burned in August this year caused global concern for the "lungs of the planet". His latest accusation came during brief remarks at the presidential residence on Friday. "This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon." He gave no evidence and did not elaborate, although the statement appeared to echo a live webcast he gave on Thursday. That revolved around the environmental organisation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and allegations, denied by the WWF, that it had paid for images taken by the arrested firefighters, who have since been released. Mr Bolsonaro said: "So what did the NGO do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video. [WWF] makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000. "A part of that went to the people that were setting fires. Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon, that won't do," he said. The actor and environmental activist released a statement saying: "Although they are certainly worth supporting, we have not funded the organisations that are currently under attack. "The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to be part of the groups that protect them." (Webmaster's comment: Another lying Trump offspring!)
11-29-19 Who is Greta Thunberg, the #FridaysForFuture activist?
One day in late August 2018, Greta Thunberg took up position outside Sweden's Parliament for the first time. She held a simple sign, black letters on a white board, that said "School Strike for Climate." "It felt like I was the only one who cared about the climate and the ecological crisis," she told the BBC. The 15-year-old was by herself, but not for long. Within a year, her school strike, carried on through all weather, had inspired millions of young people around the world to take to the streets and demand action on climate change. As thousands of students again protest in major global cities, here's a look at what we know about the teenager who started it all. Ms Thunberg, the elder of two girls, was born on 3 January, 2003. She grew up in Stockholm with her mother Malena Ernman, an opera singer and former Eurovision Song Contest participant, and her actor father Svante Thunberg. Her father is a descendant of Svante Arrhenius, a scientist who came up with a model of the greenhouse effect. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903. Ms Thunberg said her parents were "as far from climate activists as possible" before she made them aware of the issue. She persuaded her parents to become vegan, and in 2016 convinced her mother to stop flying, despite her mother frequently travelling overseas for work. They have co-written a book with their daughter called Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis. It is set to be released next year. Ms Thunberg has Asperger Syndrome, a developmental disorder, and has described it as a gift and a superpower. She says she first learned about climate change when she was eight and couldn't understand why people weren't taking action. "I remember thinking it was very strange that we were capable of changing the entire face of the Earth and the precious thin layer of atmosphere that makes it our home. Because if we were capable of doing this, then why weren't we hearing about it everywhere?" she wrote in the Guardian.
11-29-19 Russia's Taymyr plan: Arctic coal for India risks pollution
Natural riches come in two conflicting types in Russia's Arctic north: valuable minerals and spectacular wildlife. But sadly for many threatened species, the decline in Arctic sea ice has created a new economic opportunity for Russia in their remote habitat. In a decree last year President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian firms to boost cargo traffic on the Northern Sea Route to an annual 80m tonnes by 2024. Ambitious energy co-operation deals were signed with India in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, in October. One centres on a big open-cast coal mining project in the Taymyr Peninsula, in the far north of central Siberia. The area is rich in high-quality coking coal (anthracite), used to make steel and aluminium. Dharmendra Pradhan, India's Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said: "We are the second largest coal importer in the world, and we intend to achieve production of 3m tonnes of steel per year by 2030, so we need to increase coal supplies." But Taymyr is a haven for wildlife. It has Russia's largest nature reserve - Bolshoi Arkticheskiy - covering 4.2m hectares (16,200 sq miles). On TV President Putin presents himself as a caring conservationist, famously relaxing in Siberia's unspoilt wilderness. But he is also championing the expansion of fossil fuel projects in that wilderness. Russia is boosting trade with China, India and other growing Asian markets hungry for raw materials. Coal is to contribute to meeting that 80m-tonne target for Arctic deliveries, which will go via Russia's far east. But such shipments pose considerable risks. Despite global warming, icebreakers still play a key role, as winter temperatures plunge below minus 20C. Remote settlements lack equipment to deal with any pollution emergency. And long voyages to India will mean more greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. The Arctic is estimated to have 72% of Russia's total gas reserves. Oil and gas mega-projects are far advanced further west, notably on the Yamal Peninsula.
11-28-19 Europe's new space budget to enable CO2 mapping
Europe will press ahead with a network of satellites to track carbon dioxide emissions across the globe. They will be developed out of a new European Space Agency (Esa) budget agreed in Seville, Spain. Research ministers on Thursday approved a package of proposals worth some €14.4bn (£12.3bn/$15.9bn) over the next five years. As well as the new CO2 monitoring system, the funds will also pave the way for missions to the Moon and Mars. "You're looking at a very happy DG," said Jan Wörner, the director general of Esa, after getting pretty much everything he wanted from the "Space19+" Ministerial Council. "It always looks so simple. But it took more than two years of preparations to get here. Unbelievable!" While there were multiple projects being considered here, it is the support given to Earth observation (EO) that catches the eye. Delegates from 22 nations had been asked to pledge €1.4bn (£1.2bn) to expand the so-called Copernicus programme, which flies a suite of Sentinel satellites to track the health of the planet. At the end of two days of discussions, the actual figure committed was €1.8bn (£1.5bn). The extra cash will enable Esa to improve the performance of the new Sentinels. The three spacecraft that will make up the carbon dioxide constellation will have their resolution increased, to be able to map grid squares across the globe of just 2km across. And their swath - the width of their vision - will be increased from 200km to nearly 300km. In addition, the satellites will be given more instruments to help tease apart the CO2 coming from natural sources from that which is being produced by humans. The enhanced capability is expected to be a potent tool in helping all nations - not just European ones - better understand their carbon footprint. Esa wants to get the new Sentinel system launched by 2025/26, to align its mapping service with the global stocktake of emissions that will be undertaken in 2028 as part of the Paris climate deal. As well as CO2-sensing satellites, the expanded Copernicus programme will develop five other systems to measure a range of Earth variables, from the extent of Arctic sea-ice to the temperature of the global land surface. The impressive backing for these new Earth observing spacecraft was driven largely by Germany, which pledged €518m (£444m) of the total €1.8bn. Its industry will now get the bulk of the R&D contracts. "Earth observation is the cornerstone of German space policy," said Thomas Jarzombek, from the nation's Economic Affairs Ministry. (Webmaster's comment: United States only wants to make a big publicity splash by landing people on other moons and planets. It has no interest in improving our knowledge of our own planet.)
11-28-19 Amazon fires intensify Andes glacier melt
Smoke from burning forests in the Amazon can intensify glacier melt, researchers say, fuelling concern about a water crisis in South America. The team found evidence that snow and ice was being "darkened", accelerating the melt rate, threatening supplies. Melting tropical glaciers provide water for millions of people in the region. Scientists modelled the movement and effect of smoke particles from fires on Andean glaciers, and checked their conclusions against satellite images. And they say the impact will be felt across the continent. Dr Newton de Magalhães Neto from Rio de Janeiro State University in Brazil, said: "Amazon deforestation and fires - events that occur mainly in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil - cannot be considered a regional issue. "They have social implications at the continental scale, [because] accelerating the loss of glaciers increases the risk of a water crisis and the vulnerability of several Andean communities in response to climate change." The first thing the study, published in Scientific Reports, set out to do was show that smoke plumes from forest fires in the Amazon could actually reach glaciers in the Andes mountains. The study, led by Dr de Magalhães Neto, focused the research on two years - 2007 and 2010 - when many more fires than usual burned in the Amazon rainforest. Atmospheric data showed that smoke from those fires - particularly particles of black carbon - were carried on wind and deposited on mountain glaciers. Dr de Magalhães Neto said: "Once deposited on the glacier, the [black carbon darkens] the snow/ice surface, which reduces its ability to reflect solar radiation - or sunlight." That darkened surface then absorbs more of the sun's energy, which amplifies melting. While the findings were significant, the researchers said they did not come as a huge surprise: the same process has been seen elsewhere in the world. "Greenland receives large amounts of black carbon from fossil-fuel origin due to North America and European industrialisation," said Dr de Magalhães Neto. "And black carbon from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass throughout the northern hemisphere has accelerated glacier melting in the Arctic."
11-28-19 Plastic waste rises as 1.5bn 'bags for life' sold, research finds
Sales of "bags for life" rose to 1.5bn last year as the amount of plastic used by supermarkets increased to 900,000 tonnes, Greenpeace research has found. Campaigners are calling for higher charges for the bags or a complete ban as the research showed households bought an average of 54 a year. In 2016, there were 2bn single-use bags sold. Bags for life must be used four times to be better for the environment. Retailers say they have reduced plastic packaging for their own-brand products. In their second annual study of plastic use by UK supermarkets, Greenpeace and campaigning charity the Environmental Investigation Agency conclude the rising sales of bags for life mean they are used as a disposable option by many customers. Many supermarkets have stopped selling 5p single-use bags altogether in favour of stronger 10p bags, which are intended to be reused. A study by the Environment Agency concluded that these plastic bags for life needed to be used at least four times to ensure they contributed less to climate change than the lighter, single-use bags. The Greenpeace and EIA research says that bag for life sales were cut by 90% in the Republic of Ireland by setting higher prices of 70 cents. The report recommends a charge of 70p or "ideally" a government ban. The research also found that overall supermarket plastic use has risen to more than 900,000 tonnes in 2018, despite pledges by retailers to cut down on packaging. The previous year, they used 886,000 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging. Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: "Supermarkets are failing on plastics and failing their customers. "We hear piecemeal supermarket announcements on plastic every other week, but in reality they are putting more plastic on the shelves than ever." The report found that supermarkets had slightly reduced the plastic from own-brand goods but that packaging from branded goods increased.
11-28-19 The Black Sea: Can Europe's most polluted sea be saved?
For decades the Black Sea has been treated as a dumping ground for agricultural and industrial waste from south eastern Europe - with things so bad that scientists considered parts of it almost entirely dead. But what has been done to turn things around and is there any prospect of an improvement?
11-27-19 The dark side of innovation: From dynamite to climate change
THE termite mounds of Australia’s Northern Territory are marvels. Often 3 metres tall, they are flat on two sides like tombstones, and oriented in the same direction. But unlike grave markers, they sustain life, moderating the harsh climate by absorbing sunlight on chilly mornings and evenings, while minimising solar exposure at midday. These mounds are a classic example of something common to many species: niche construction, or optimising living conditions by altering the environment. Yet humans stand apart at this. Through our unique capacity to persistently transform our environment, we have extended our niche globally. In Ingenious, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson attribute this to cultural evolution, the process by which shared ideas advance over time. For them: “Our ability to develop technologies, learn and communicate about them, and then redevelop them… is, effectively, human nature.” The book explores human ingenuity, and while the authors sometimes labour the obvious (yes, we know we are a technological species), they make a strong case for cultural evolution. More interestingly, they consider what happens when the change it produces accelerates beyond our ability to assimilate it, and when beneficial technologies are used for negative ends. Runaway cultural evolution may even pose serious or existential threats. Gluckman and Hanson’s most obvious example is obesity, caused by a ruinous mismatch between biology and the niche we have created. We are genetically predisposed to store calories and use them efficiently because food was scarce and hard to gather during our evolutionary history. Yet pre-packaged, high-energy foods are now widespread just as we have become increasingly sedentary. Other evolutionary mismatches include the impact of social media on our political structures, which are undermined by surveillance and hacking. Even more profound is the mismatch climate change brings, as fossil fuel-powered vehicles and cities wreck Earth. “Technology seduces us,” write Gluckman and Hanson. Unlike animals, we innovate way past survival needs – on a whim, for convenience or pleasure. And while cultural evolution helps us achieve almost anything, it is blind to consequences.
11-27-19 Australia: Arguing over climate change as bushfires rage
Even as bushfires ravage the land, Australia’s leaders continue to deny that climate change is a clear and present danger, said Ian Dunlop in The Age. Relentless high temperatures and drought have given us a catastrophic fire season that has so far burned up 4,000 square miles, incinerated hundreds of homes, and killed at least six people. And the infernos will get worse, because the fire season won’t peak until January and February. None of this has moved our conservative government and their fossil fuel industry backers, who refuse to climb out of the “massive climate denial hole” they have dug themselves over the past three decades. With Sydney cloaked in plumes of smoke, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack had the nerve to insult environmentalists who demand action as “raving inner-city lunatics” who want to destroy our economy. And instead of slashing emissions, our head-in-the-sand prime minister, Scott Morrison, is threatening to ban climate protests. He should “expect more protest, not less.” The big issue isn’t Australian emissions, it’s the carbon pollution the country sends abroad, said James Dyke in INews.co.uk. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of “climate-wrecking coal,” shipping some $50 billion worth of the stuff to China, India, and elsewhere in 2018. “Keeping Australian coal in the ground will not, by itself, ensure that we avoid dangerous climate change.” But it will massively reduce the risk. And going green doesn’t have to hurt our economy, said Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald. Given that “the sun shines on Australia more intensely than on any other continent,” cheap solar energy could transform industry here. Once our solar fields are online, all that coal-powered iron and aluminum smelting “now done in China could be done more profitably in Australia.”
11-27-19 The world isn’t coming to an end
Climate change is a real threat, said Michael Shellenberger, but “no scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization, much less the extinction of the human species.” As an environmentalist who is not a skeptic or denier, I am dismayed by activists’ apocalyptic warnings that the world will soon end if we don’t dramatically cut emissions over the next decade. That’s not what the science says, and framing the issue that way “is self-defeating, because it alienates and polarizes many people.” The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that sea levels will rise by about 2 feet by 2100—a problem, but not one that threatens civilization. As for wildfires and extreme weather, the role of warming remains murky, but thanks to economic development the global death toll from natural disasters has plunged 99.7 percent since 1931, from 3.7 million people to 11,000 in 2018. Despite the impact of warming, scientific bodies are predicting that crop yields will increase 30 percent by 2050, and the IPCC projects the global economy will be as much as 500 percent larger in 2100 than it is today. Some perspective, please. There is “plenty of middle ground between climate apocalypse and climate denial.” (Webmaster's comment: We're saying it right now. We are threatened by the collapse of civilization and even the extinction of the human species. Global warming is moving beyond our control! Billions will probably die!)
11-27-19 Hospital visits go up after days with higher levels of air pollution
Smoggy days are more dangerous than you might think. Even short exposure to fine particulate matter – solid and liquid particles small enough to pass into the bloodstream from the lungs – could lead to higher rates of illness serious enough to require a trip to hospital. “On average, the days when people are hospitalised have higher pollution than when people are not,” says Francesca Dominici at Harvard University. “What can lead to these little increases can be changes in traffic patterns, increased use of power plants, wind that brings pollution from other areas or wildfires.” To determine the effect of this pollution, Dominici and her colleagues analysed more than 95 million US hospital records that covered a 13-year period, alongside the concentrations of particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5, in a patient’s home postal code the day before their hospital visit. There were 2050 extra hospital admissions and 12,216 extra days in hospital associated with each increase in fine particulate matter by 1 microgram per cubic metre. “Really a very little amount,” says Dominici. Increases greater than this were seen on more than 120 days each year within each postal code during the study years of 2000 to 2012. Per year, each such increase in PM2.5 could lead to 634 deaths and cost $100 million in hospital fees, the team’s models showed. The increased risk of hospital admission was seen for several conditions, including bloodstream infections, kidney failure, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation and blood clots and diabetes. The hospital records were from people on Medicare, a type of US government healthcare for people over the age of 65, but Dominici says previous research has shown that PM2.5 exposure has harmful effects on younger people too.
11-27-19 Could climate tipping points lead to collapse of human civilisation?
A team of influential scientists has warned that the world faces the risk of “an existential threat to civilization” due to mounting evidence that tipping points in the climate and nature are likely to be breached. Eleven years ago the group cautioned against the dangers of critical thresholds in Earth’s systems being passed and systems tipping into a potentially dangerous state. These include the runaway collapse of ice sheets and Amazon deforestation reaching a level that leads to the drying of the area and death of the entire rainforest. “We are now a little over 10 years on. The nasty surprise for me was a lot of the things we identified as potential tipping points that many would have thought were far in the future now show evidence of already being active,” says Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, UK. In a commentary in Nature, Lenton and his colleagues say changes in the frozen parts of the world are “dangerously close” to tipping points. They point to the area around the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, where ice sheets may have begun an irreversible collapse that will lead to 3 metres of sea level rise. “That’s a big wake up call. We may have made some big long-term sea level commitments,” says Lenton. Other high-risk tipping points include fires in the Arctic and the release of greenhouse gases as frozen ground thaws. Lenton says that there is now empirical evidence that cascades have begun – where one tipping point makes another one more likely to be passed. He cites the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the influx of fresh water into the north Atlantic Ocean, which is further weakening an already slowing ocean current in the Atlantic that is key to weather patterns in Europe and Africa. Other research supports this. Ultimately, this could all add up to a global tipping point where, whatever humanity does, there is no stopping it. The group says such a doomsday scenario is possible but more research is needed.
11-27-19 Climate Change: Are we passing some key 'tipping points'?
Critical elements in the Earth’s climate may be more likely to break down than previously thought, according to a group of scientists. Their commentary in the journal Nature says there’s growing evidence that irreversible climatic changes could be triggered within a few decades. The authors claim this could lead to a “climatic emergency” in which one shift amplifies another. But other researchers say the argument is speculative. The authors specialise in what’s known as Earth Systems Science, which studies the interactions of elements of the climate system. For several years they have been promoting the theory that the climate may switch suddenly as a result of one climatic shift amplifying other changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced this idea of "tipping points" two decades ago. The commentary says that at the time these large-scale shifts were considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5C. The authors argue that information from IPCC reports over the past two years suggests that tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2C of warming. They say research has shown that the Amundsen Sea bay of West Antarctica might already have passed a tipping point where the meeting point of ice, ocean and bedrock is retreating irreversibly. One computer model suggests that when this sector collapses, it could destabilise the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet like toppling dominoes - leading to about three metres of sea-level rise on a timescale of centuries to millennia. The authors also point to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. As the elevation of the ice sheet lowers, it melts further, exposing the surface to ever-warmer air in what's known as a "positive feedback". Some models suggest that the Greenland ice sheet could be doomed to disappear relentlessly if the world warms by just 1.5C.
11-27-19 Climate change could trigger huge drops in food production by 2100
Nine in 10 people could live in countries with falling food production from farms and fisheries by the end of the century, if climate change continues unchecked. Most efforts to study the impact of global warming look at either agriculture or seafood in isolation. Lauric Thiault at the PSL Research University in Paris and his colleagues have now examined the two simultaneously using state-of-the-art climate and crop models. Using today’s national population trends as a guide to the possible global distribution of people in 2100, the researchers found that, in the worst-case climate scenario, about 90 per cent of the global population will live in a country where both sectors have falling food productivity by 2100. Less than 3 per cent of people will live in places where both are rising. “Productivity losses are very likely going to be inevitable in some places. But climate mitigation has a big impact on how big those losses are going to be,” says Thiault. Agriculture will see a 25 per cent reduction in productivity under the worst-case climate scenario. If we do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the decline in productivity could be as little as 5 per cent. For fisheries, the difference is a fall of 60 per cent versus one of 10 per cent. Likewise, less warming means more room to adapt: in scenarios with lower emissions, farmers in India could switch to more heat-tolerant crops such as cassava, for instance. Poorer countries in the tropics that have the least capacity to adapt are expected to be the worst hit, but richer countries won’t escape, as food trade will be disrupted, says Thiault. John Porter at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark says the study wrongly equates food production with food security. The last big assessment by the UN’s climate science panel says that many more socioeconomic factors play a role in whether people can get enough food and nutrition. Thiault argues productivity is still an important component of food security.
11-27-19 CO2-guzzling bacteria made in the lab could help tackle climate change
Bacteria have been rewired to live off carbon dioxide and they could be used to produce biofuels in a more sustainable way. Specific strains of Escherichia coli bacteria are often used to make biofuels and other chemicals, but they normally feed on sugar. Ron Milo at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and his colleagues have managed to make E. coli consume CO2 instead. The researchers added genes to the E. coli genome for an enzyme that converts atmospheric CO2 to biomass and deleted genes needed for sugar metabolism. They then left the bacteria for several months in the lab. After 200 days, they found that the microbes had successfully evolved to grow without needing sugar for food. Milo says he didn’t expect to be able to make such “drastic changes” to the E. coli’s natural mode of growth. Currently, the bacteria still emit more CO2 than they consume as part of the growing process, but the researchers think they may be able to reduce this in the future. Because E. coli is easily manipulated and already widely exploited for biotechnology, the possibilities of using it are “endless”, says Frank Sargent at Newcastle University, UK. The bacteria could use CO2 generated by the steel or concrete industry to make insulin, for example. “This type of directed evolution is already a Nobel prize-winning type of science and this is a terrific example of why,” says Sargent.
11-27-19 Countries urgently need to ramp up emissions cuts to meet climate targets
New U.N. report urges much deeper cuts ahead of 2020 climate talks The world is way behind on its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and nations need to act immediately if they want to stave off the worst effects of climate change, an international study finds. Humans must reduce emissions by 2.7 percent each year from 2020 to 2030 just to achieve the goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times by 2100. That’s the conclusion of the 2019 emissions gap report released by the U.N. Environment Programme, or UNEP, on November 26. The report, the 10th such annual report released by the UNEP, analyzes the gap between global greenhouse gas emissions and how much the world needs to reduce those emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a more stringent goal but one that studies show would result in fewer life-threatening climate extremes, less sea level rise and fewer species lost (SN: 10/7/18) — nations would have to reduce emissions by 7.6 percent each year during the next decade, the report finds. “Each year, the report has found that the world is not doing enough,” Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director, writes in a foreword to the 2019 report. “The size of these annual cuts may seem shocking, particularly for 1.5° C. They may also seem impossible, at least for next year. But we have to try.” This year’s report comes at a particularly significant time, as nations consider how much they will pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by December 2020, a deadline set by the Paris Agreement.
11-26-19 Most Americans now see signs of climate change where they live
A majority of people surveyed said the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to counter the trend. Amid deadly wildfires in California and increased flooding along the U.S. East Coast in 2019, most Americans say the effects of climate change are already upon us — and that the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to stop it, according to a new public opinion survey. In the nationwide poll, 62 percent of U.S. adults said climate change is affecting their local community to some extent or a great deal, bringing more flooding and unusually warm weather, altering ecosystems, driving wildfires or exacerbating drought, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., reports November 25. That’s slightly up from the 59 percent who said the same in Pew’s 2018 poll. “What it looks like is happening is a larger portion of Americans are accepting that climate change is with us and poses a hazard,” says Risa Palm, an urban geographer at Georgia State University in Atlanta not involved in the study. The results follow what many environmental activists consider a watershed year for climate change awareness, marked by student protests and a speech by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg chastising world leaders at the United Nations for ignoring climate science (SN: 3/14/19). “This study finds some familiar patterns in the public divides over climate and energy issues, but also areas where opinion among political groups has shifted,” says Cary Funk, the director of science and society research at Pew. The Pew survey — which questioned 3,627 randomly selected adults from October 1 to October 13 — also revealed how views vary between regional and demographic groups, as well as trends in what people think that action should look like. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. Here are four big takeaways.
11-26-19 UN report reveals how hard it will be to meet climate change targets
The United Nations has warned world leaders must cut greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 7.6 per cent every year for the next decade to meet the most ambitious goal of the Paris climate deal, or suffer the impacts of greater global warming. In a report on Tuesday, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) laid out the enormous scale of the challenge to meet the target of holding temperature rises to 1.5°C by the end of the century, following a decade when emissions have on average grown by 1.5 per cent a year. “We haven’t succeeded in bending the global emissions curve,” says Anne Olhoff at the Technical University of Denmark, one of the report’s lead authors. Including land use, annual emissions stand at 55.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, but by 2030 must fall by 15 gigatonnes to meet Paris’s goal of holding temperature rises to 2°C at the worst, and 32 gigatonnes to hit 1.5°C. That means hitting 1.5°C requires ongoing 7.6 per cent annual cuts in emissions, or 2.7 per cent for 2°C, says UNEP. The world’s top climate scientists last year outlined the stark impact of overshooting 1.5°C and landing at 2°C, including wiping out the planet’s coral reefs, more droughts and extreme heat days and exposing hundreds of millions of people to climate-related risks. Globally, emissions have never fallen before, though they plateaued during 2014 and 2016, and have plunged dramatically at a country level before, such as in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Despite the impossible-seeming cuts required, UNEP maintains it is still feasible to stay under 1.5°C. “How long can we keep 1.5°C alive? We haven’t killed it yet. Even if we don’t get to 1.5°C, 1.7°C is a hell of a lot better than 2.5°C, or the 3.2°C we’re looking at now. Every 0.1°C counts,” says Olhoff.
11-26-19 Climate change: 'Bleak' outlook as carbon emissions gap grows
Countries will have to increase their carbon-cutting ambitions five fold if the world is to avoid warming by more than 1.5C, the UN says. The annual emissions gap report shows that even if all current promises are met, the world will warm by more than double that amount by 2100. Richer countries have failed to cut emissions quickly enough, the authors say. Fifteen of the 20 wealthiest nations have no timeline for a net zero target. Hot on the heels of the World Meteorological Organization's report on greenhouse gas concentrations, the UN Environment Programme (Unep) has published its regular snapshot of how the world is doing in cutting levels of these pollutants. The emissions gap report looks at the difference between how much carbon needs to be cut to avoid dangerous warming - and where we are likely to end up with the promises that countries have currently committed to, in the Paris climate agreement. The UN assessment is fairly blunt. "The summary findings are bleak," it says. "Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required." The report says that emissions have gone up by 1.5% per year in the last decade. In 2018, the total reached 55 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is putting the Earth on course to experience a temperature rise of 3.2C by the end of this century. Just last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that allowing temperatures to rise more than 1.5 degrees this century would have hugely damaging effects for human, plant and animal life across the planet. This report says that to keep this target alive, the world needs to cut emissions by 7.6% every year for the next 10 years. "Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions - over 7% each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade," said Inger Andersen, Unep's executive director.
11-26-19 Future forests facing climate balancing act
Forests can cope with a warming world if - and only if - temperature rises increase in line with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Increased CO2 allows trees to develop physiological characteristics, such as greater foliage, that can cope with higher temperatures. But researchers warn that a break in the temperature-CO2 increase ratio could trigger mortality in forests. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Nobody had really considered incorporating the ability of trees, the forests, to adjust to novel conditions and to acclimate," explained co-author John Sperry from the University of Utah. "So it felt like we were bringing in two new approaches to this longstanding question of whether CO2 or warming were going to play out in the future." Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 allow trees to consume relatively less water and photosynthesise more, whereas increased temperatures result in trees consuming more water and photosynthesising less. Using a unique model that took into account the trees' physiology, Prof Sperry and his colleagues reached a rather surprising conclusion. "What's interesting is that it is not the magnitude of the CO2 increase or the magnitude of the warming, it was the ratio of the two," he told BBC News. "For example, it was interesting to see that the low emissions scenario is actually predicted to be closer to the tipping point; closer to the critical ratio than the higher emissions scenario. "That's simply because in the lower emissions scenario, the ratio of CO2 increase for warming is lower." Co-author Martin Venturas said the team did not find many differences between species in the study, which covered 20 locations across the mainland of the US, and included both deciduous and conifer species. But Dr Venturas added: "There is still a huge amount of uncertainty, despite the fact that we have reduced uncertainty related to the physiology of the forest."
11-25-19 Coal: Is this the beginning of the end?
The fuel that powered the industrial revolution may be in decline at last. This year looks set to see the largest fall in electricity production from coal on record, according to a new report. The reduction is estimated to be more than the power generated from coal in Germany, Spain and the UK combined. It is projected to drop by 3% - which is a fall of 300 terawatt hours. The report by three energy experts - published in the online journal Carbon Brief - draws on energy sector data from around the world for the first seven to 10 months of the year. The record drop raises the prospect of a slowing of global CO2 emissions growth in 2019. But the authors warn that, even with this decline, coal use and emissions remain far higher than the level required to keep the global temperature rise below 2C. Coal has been the mainstay of electricity generation for over a century and has seen decades of near-uninterrupted growth. Yet this report finds that record reductions in coal use in developed countries, including the US, European Union, and South Korea, could signal the beginning of the end of the industry. These reductions in use are not being matched by increases elsewhere. The decline suggests that coal plants will take a significant blow to revenues as average running hours look set to reach an all-time low. "It is clear that the economics of coal production no longer make sense in many parts of the world where it is simply cheaper to generate electricity from natural gas and renewables," said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics. However, he also warned that is too early to tell whether the global downturn in coal consumption in 2019 is the start of a declining trend. The report suggests that the reasons for the drop in coal-fired generation vary from country to country, but include increased electricity generation from renewables, nuclear and gas, as well as slowing or negative demand for electricity.
11-25-19 Climate change: Greenhouse gas concentrations again break records
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases once again reached new highs in 2018. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the increase in CO2 was just above the average rise recorded over the last decade. Levels of other warming gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, have also surged by above average amounts. Since 1990 there's been an increase of 43% in the warming effect on the climate of long lived greenhouse gases. The WMO report looks at concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere rather than just emissions. The difference between the two is that emissions refer to the amount of gases that go up into the atmosphere from the use of fossil fuels, such as burning coal for electricity and from deforestation. Concentrations are what's left in the air after a complex series of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans, the forests and the land. About a quarter of all carbon emissions are absorbed by the seas, and a similar amount by land and trees. Using data from monitoring stations in the Arctic and all over the world, researchers say that in 2018 concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million (ppm), up from 405.5ppm a year previously. This increase was above the average for the last 10 years and is 147% of the "pre-industrial" level in 1750. The WMO also records concentrations of other warming gases, including methane and nitrous oxide. About 40% of the methane emitted into the air comes from natural sources, such as wetlands, with 60% from human activities, including cattle farming, rice cultivation and landfill dumps. Methane is now at 259% of the pre-industrial level and the increase seen over the past year was higher than both the previous annual rate and the average over the past 10 years. Nitrous oxide is emitted from natural and human sources, including from the oceans and from fertiliser-use in farming. According to the WMO, it is now at 123% of the levels that existed in 1750. Last year's increase in concentrations of the gas, which can also harm the ozone layer, was bigger than the previous 12 months and higher than the average of the past decade. What concerns scientists is the overall warming impact of all these increasing concentrations. Known as total radiative forcing, this effect has increased by 43% since 1990, and is not showing any indication of stopping.
11-25-19 How to make cement more climate-friendly
As cities around the world expand, demand for cement to build homes and infrastructure is surging. But there's a problem because making cement releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide - up to 8% of the global total. Now the boss of one cement company in India has managed to slash its carbon emissions to 40% below the global average and aims to become carbon neutral by 2040. The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan went to meet him.
11-25-19 Floods cause chaos in France and Italy
A viaduct collapsed near the Italian city of Savona, and several rivers burst their banks in south-east France. A number of people were reported missing.
11-24-19 Harvard-Yale football game disrupted by student climate protest
Hundreds of students have disrupted the annual Harvard-Yale football game in a climate change protest. They invaded the field in New Haven, Connecticut, at half-time, demanding that the two elite US universities stop investing in fossil fuels. As officials appealed for them to leave, spectators and some players also joined the protest, US media report. About 50 people were escorted from the field by police, while others left voluntarily. The protest began when dozens of students and alumni stormed the field, linking arms and holding signs reading Yale and Harvard United for Climate Justice, the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported. Some chanted "Disclose, Divest, and Reinvest". Divestment refers to the shedding of stocks, bonds or other investments as a way to tackle climate change. The protest delayed the game by about half an hour. In a video released by the group Divest Harvard, university football team captain Wesley Osgbury said both universities were investing in industries that are "destroying our futures". "When it comes to the climate crisis, no-one wins," he said. "Harvard and Yale can't claim to truly promote knowledge while at the same time supporting the companies engaged in misleading the public, smearing academics and denying the truth. That's why we are joining together with our friends at Yale to call for change." A Yale spokeswoman said that while the university supported the right to freedom of expression it did not approve of the protesters' tactics, or the disruption of university events. Harvard said it did not believe that divestment was the best way to tackle the climate crisis. In a statement published by the Harvard Crimson, spokeswoman Rachael Dane said: "Universities like Harvard have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change and Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions."
11-24-19 The vanishing Outer Banks
On any normal late-fall day, the ferries that ply the 30 miles between Swan Quarter and this barrier island might carry vacationing retirees, sports fishermen, and residents enjoying mainland getaways after the busy summer tourist season. But two months ago, Hurricane Dorian washed away all signs of normalcy here. After buzz-cutting the Bahamas, the giant storm rolled overhead, raising a 7-foot wall of water in its wake that sloshed back through the harbor, invading century-old homes that have never before taken in water and sending islanders such as post office head Celeste Brooks and her two grandchildren scrambling into their attics. Ocracoke has been closed to visitors ever since. Island-bound ferries carry yawning container trucks to haul back the sodden detritus of destroyed homes. And O'cockers — proud descendants of the pilots and pirates who navigated these treacherous shores — are faced with a reckoning: whether this sliver of sand, crouched 3 feet above sea level between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, can survive the threats of extreme weather and rising sea levels. And if it can't, why rebuild? "That's the unspoken question. That's what nobody wants to say," said Erin Baker, the only doctor to serve this community of 1,000. "It's a question of how do we continue to have life here." Scientists have long warned that Ocracoke's days are numbered, that this treasured North Carolina island is a bellwether for vast stretches of the U.S. coast. "Virtually everyone from Virginia Beach, Virginia, south to the U.S.-Mexico border is going to be in the same situation in the next 50 years," said Michael Orbach, professor emeritus of marine affairs at Duke University. "And it's only going to get worse after that." If Ocracoke's ultimate prognosis is grim, Tom Pahl, the township's county commissioner, remains committed to its recovery. "Is this really sustainable? The answer is pretty clearly no," he said. "But what's the timeline? No one has been able to say, 'You've got 15 years, 40 years, 100 years.' The clear-eyed vision is resiliency, then retreat."
11-23-19 We may be closer than we thought to Earth's dangerous tipping points
Earth’s climate may change far more abruptly and dramatically than we thought. Regions of the planet that are thousands of kilometres apart may influence each other, causing the global climate to lurch into a new state. The climate is warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions. However, climatologists have long suspected that parts of the planet will change dramatically and irreversibly if they are warmed past a certain “tipping point”. One such place is the Greenland ice sheet. Warmer temperatures are melting the ice, so the upper surface of the ice is now at a lower altitude – where the air is warmer and more melting will occur. It isn’t clear how much the climate needs to warm to trigger irreversible melting, but one study suggested 1.6°C would be enough. That is alarming, but in recent years scientists have realised that the various tipping elements can interact: one tipping point could trigger another, like dominoes. For example, if the Greenland ice sheet passes its tipping point and starts melting irretrievably, it will dump cold water into the north Atlantic Ocean. This could collapse a vast ocean current called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), causing rapid sea level rise along the US eastern seaboard and playing havoc with the West African monsoon. Now a mathematical analysis of tipping points suggests that in some cases it could be even worse than that. Previous studies of tipping point cascades focused on what happens when one tipping element influences another. The new study takes things a step further by calculating what can happen if two elements influence each other. It turns out there is a nasty surprise: the two tipping elements don’t have to cross their thresholds in order to tip and start changing irreversibly. “There might be a possibility that certain feedbacks between tipping elements lead to earlier than expected tipping of the connected system,” says study co-author Jonathan Donges of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
11-22-19 Australia bushfires: Which animals typically fare best and worst?
Koalas yelping for help, beehives caught in the path of danger, food chains interrupted: Australia's bushfire crisis is having a destructive effect on the nation's wildlife, writes Gary Nunn in Sydney. The deadly spring blazes have burnt through almost two million hectares in New South Wales and Queensland alone. Many animals are resilient but others, unfortunately, don't survive, often because their potential escape habitats have already been destroyed by human activity. Koalas are typically slow-moving and their normal danger-avoidance strategy - curling into a ball atop a tree - has left them trapped in extreme fires. For anyone within earshot, there's one clear indicator that an animal is in trouble. "Koalas don't make noise much of the time," says Prof Chris Dickman, an ecology expert at Sydney University. "Males only make booming noises during mating season. Other than that they're quiet animals. So hearing their yelps is a pretty bad sign things are going catastrophically wrong for these animals." In fact most forest animals, with a few notable exceptions, aren't vocal, making these sounds - as seen in the upsetting video above which has been shared widely - all the more alarming. "These screams aren't part of the vocal repertoire of the forest," Prof Dickman adds. "They only happen during times of great stress or pain - such as when a possum is savaged by a dog." In the aftermath of a blaze, frogs and skinks (lizards) are among animals left vulnerable, says wildlife ecologist Prof Euan Ritchie from Deakin University. "The fire can kill their food or shelter, or both. These animals might survive the immediate effects of a fire if they can escape in time, but if it burns their habitat, they're more exposed to the introduced predators," he says. Disconnected patches of habitat left as a result of bushfires and human clearing also pose a threat to already endangered species. These include the western ground parrot, the Leadbeater's possum, the Mallee emu-wren (a bird which can't fly very far), and Gilbert's potoroo - Australia's most endangered marsupial. Beekeepers have also told of losing hives in fire-hit forests.
11-22-19 Killing the Amazon
Deforestation in the Amazon rain forest has soared 30 percent under the watch of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, according to a new Brazilian government report. Satellite data show that from August 2018 to July 2019, the forest lost 3,769 square miles of tree cover—an area about 12 times the size of New York City. Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has cut funding and personnel at government agencies responsible for enforcing environmental regulations, and has rolled back efforts to fight illegal logging and mining. “We are approaching a potential tipping point,” said Oyvind Eggen of the Rainforest Foundation Norway, “where large parts of the forest will be so damaged that it collapses.”
11-22-19 The vanishing Outer Banks
As rising seas and storms inundate the South’s barrier islands, residents face hard choices about whether to rebuild, said journalist Frances Stead Sellers in The Washington Post. Those who stay are learning to live with fear. On any normal late-fall day, the ferries that ply the 30 miles between Swan Quarter and this barrier island might carry vacationing retirees, sports fishermen, and residents enjoying mainland getaways after the busy summer tourist season. But two months ago, Hurricane Dorian washed away all signs of normalcy here. After buzz-cutting the Bahamas, the giant storm rolled overhead, raising a 7-foot wall of water in its wake that sloshed back through the harbor, invading century-old homes that have never before taken in water and sending islanders such as post office head Celeste Brooks and her two grandchildren scrambling into their attics. Ocracoke has been closed to visitors ever since. Island-bound ferries carry yawning container trucks to haul back the sodden detritus of destroyed homes. And O’cockers—proud descendants of the pilots and pirates who navigated these treacherous shores—are faced with a reckoning: whether this sliver of sand, crouched 3 feet above sea level between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, can survive the threats of extreme weather and rising sea levels. And if it can’t, why rebuild? “That’s the unspoken question. That’s what nobody wants to say,” said Erin Baker, the only doctor to serve this community of 1,000. “It’s a question of how do we continue to have life here.” Scientists have long warned that Ocracoke’s days are numbered, that this treasured North Carolina island is a bellwether for vast stretches of the U.S. coast. “Virtually everyone from Virginia Beach, Va., south to the U.S.-Mexico border is going to be in the same situation in the next 50 years,” said Michael Orbach, professor emeritus of marine affairs at Duke University. “And it’s only going to get worse after that.”
11-22-19 Killer asteroids
A giant space rock wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Could Earth be hit again?
- What’s out there? So far, NASA has classified more than 21,000 asteroids and more than 100 comets as near-Earth objects. Of that group, about 2,000 are considered “potentially hazardous,” meaning they have orbits within 4.5 million miles of Earth’s and are big enough to cause massive devastation on impact.
- Why did scientists miss it? Asteroids are tough to spot in the void of space. They do not shine!
- How often is Earth hit? The planet is under constant bombardment. About 100 tons of dust and gravel-size particles enter the planet’s atmosphere every day, burning up from friction as they crash through air molecules at more than 45,000 mph
- What about bigger asteroids? In 1908, a space rock estimated to be 160 to 260 feet wide exploded above an uninhabited part of Siberia, leveling 80 million trees and leaving hundreds of blackened reindeer carcasses across an area twice the size of Los Angeles. If the asteroid had arrived just four hours later, it could have hit and destroyed St. Petersburg. A rock that big strikes Earth once or twice every 1,000 years. The asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was even bigger, measuring 6 to 9 miles in diameter. It smashed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, triggering massive tsunamis and sending up toxic plumes of sulfur. Collisions that devastating happen about once every 100 million years.
- Could we stop an asteroid from hitting? In theory. But unlike in the movies, it would be pointless to try to blow up the approaching rock.
- How would that work? A nuclear explosion about 1,000 feet from the asteroid would probably do the trick.
- Doomsday scenarios: An impact from an asteroid that’s more than about a half-mile wide would be a global catastrophe. Even on the small end, an asteroid of that size would destroy everything within hundreds of miles of ground zero, triggering massive earthquakes and fires. The dust and smoke sent into the atmosphere would darken the skies for months, plunging the Earth into a mini ice age, causing worldwide crop failures. An asteroid similar in size to the one that doomed the dinosaurs would probably trigger mass extinctions, blot out the sun entirely for months, and kill billions of humans.
11-22-19 People only support carbon taxes if they trust their government
Support for carbon taxes isn’t linked to a nation’s belief in climate change – instead, it may depend on how much people in a country trust their government. Malcolm Fairbrother at Umeå University in Sweden and his colleagues used data from the 2016 European Social Survey to study the opinions of people in 23 countries. The data was based on face-to-face interviews conducted on more than 40,000 Europeans. The researchers analysed the participants’ responses about their views of their governments, climate change and whether they believed carbon taxes should be increased to help reduce CO2 emissions. The results threw up examples of when these elements don’t align. For example, Sweden had the highest levels of support for carbon tax increases but didn’t consider climate change to be as serious as most of the other countries studied. On the other end of the scale, Spain and France had very little climate change scepticism but low support for increasing carbon taxes, perhaps because they had far less trust in their governments. The fuel tax protests that gripped Paris last year may point to a need to change tactics when governments propose such price hikes. “A government which wants to increase fossil fuel taxes must ensure its people trust their money is being used in an effective way” says Fairbrother. He also argues that focusing on climate change scepticism isn’t important. Instead, governments should maximise transparency as to where the money is going, perhaps by spending it on visible infrastructure such as renewable energy plants. Fairbrother also points to the revenue-neutral carbon tax recently introduced in Canada, which provides rebates for citizens, meaning most Canadians actually end up with more money. Such a tax highlights the stance the government is taking on fossil fuels, while also ensuring the government can’t be accused of using the environment as an excuse for a cash grab.
11-22-19 Dubai Air Show: The challenges for us all in flying green
Sustainable, renewable, green: the buzz words of the environmentalists figured large at this week's Dubai Air Show. At the last show two years ago, such things barely registered. This time we've had airline Etihad rename a Boeing 787 Dreamliner a "greenliner" and Airbus unveiling an experiment in which aircraft follow each other to reduce drag and save fuel. It mimics bird flight. No press conference seems complete without a reference to aviation efficiency, and the president of Emirates airline even praised activist Greta Thunberg for helping focus minds on what they had to do. Trouble is, not only does aviation contribute 2% of global emissions, that figure is set to rise over the next few years. No wonder critics reject aviation's pledge to become sustainable as hollow. So, have we seen "greenwash" in Dubai or a genuine commitment to change? What are airlines doing to help tackle the climate crisis? And can the industry really wean itself off fossil fuels? The BBC's Talking Business programme went to the air show to speak to experts involved in aviation's attempt to clean up its act. Aero-engines are at the heart of the issue, of course. While critics are quick to condemn the industry's rising emissions, things would be so much worse without advances in engine technology, says Phil Curnock, chief engineer, civil future programme at Rolls-Royce (RR). "We have come a long way," he says. "Engines are some 50% more efficient than 30 years ago." That may be little consolation when airlines are still chucking more emissions into the atmosphere. But it is illustrative of the impact new technologies can make, he says. For example, the firm's new UltraFan, set for commercial use in the next decade, is one of the biggest leaps in engine technology for 50 years. "And once you've got the latest gas turbine on your aircraft, the next thing to do is look at the fuel you're burning," he says.
11-22-19 50 years ago, scientists puzzled over a slight global cooling
Sulfate pollution turned out to be the culprit. The average temperature for the entire Earth rose gradually from the 1880s until the early 1940s. At that time, a cooling trend suddenly set in which is continuing today.… The amount of dust and other particulate matter in the atmosphere has increased dramatically in recent decades, a change that could counteract the thermal effect of carbon dioxide buildup. From 1940 to about 1975, the average global surface temperature decreased by about 0.1 degrees Celsius, interrupting a decades-long warming trend even as carbon emissions continued to rise. Many scientists thought the cooling trend was possibly caused by sulfate particles from the burning of fossil fuels that can scatter sunlight and reduce atmospheric warming (SN: 11/21/09, p. 5). That hunch proved correct: When the United States and other countries began to lower sulfur emissions in the 1970s to reduce acid rain and respiratory illnesses, the cooling ended abruptly. Since 1975, the average global temperature has risen by about 0.6 degrees C. Today, the average surface temperature is 1.1 degrees C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times (SN: 9/25/19). However, ongoing sulfate emissions, particularly from China and India, may still be slowing greenhouse gas-driven warming. Removing all aerosol emissions from the world at once could add about 0.7 degrees C to global temperatures.
11-21-19 Part of a vital Antarctic glacier has unexpectedly stopped thinning
The fastest-flowing glacier in Antarctica has unexpectedly stopped thinning at its end while a neighbouring one continues to lose thickness, new analysis of satellite data shows. Pine Island glacier and Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica have been losing ice rapidly and in the long-term could collectively make a huge contribution to sea level rise. However, a UK team was surprised to find that in the past six years Pine Island glacier has virtually paused thinning at its terminus, while Thwaites has carried on. The thinning of the glaciers was tracked by data from airborne lasers and two satellites. Between 2013 and 2019, there was a decrease of 74 per cent in the rate of elevation change at the end of Pine Island glacier, compared to 2000-2010. Thinning has reduced across the length of the glacier too, but at a slower rate. Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, UK says: “Thinning at the terminus of Pine Island Glacier actually paused, which is quite a surprise and has made people wonder why. It could be something to do with the ocean in front, or the glacier could be pinned on a rough patch of rock.” Inès Otosaka, also at the University of Leeds, says one possible explanation is colder ocean temperatures in Pine Island Bay in 2011 and 2013. The terminus at neighbouring Thwaites – dubbed the world’s most deadly glacier for the keystone position it holds in supporting the whole of the West Antarctic ice sheet – saw the rate of its elevation change increase by 58 per cent between 2013 and 2019. Otosaka says the pause at Pine Island glacier’s terminus is no cause for celebration, as overall there is still thinning elsewhere on the glacier. “The thinning has stabilised [at that part], but Pine island glacier still remains one of the largest contributors to sea level rise, so I’m not sure it’s very good news.”
11-21-19 The loss of ‘eternal ice’ threatens Mongolian reindeer herders’ way of life
Newly recorded oral histories of the Tsaatan people help researchers document climate change. Patches of long-frozen snowpack and ice in the Mongolian steppes are rapidly vanishing — with dire consequences for the reindeer and herders who rely on the icy spots. About 30 families, members of the Tsaatan people (SN: 1/14/03), live within a remote part of northern Mongolia called the Ulaan Taiga Special Protected Area. Interviews with some of these families have let researchers create a never-before-recorded history of this frozen resource, and gain new insight into how quickly it is vanishing. During the summer, the Tsaatan bring their reindeer herds to a treeless, tundra valley region called Mengebulag. There, numerous large patches of snow and ice have historically persisted, regardless of season, for decades, perhaps longer. The people call these patches “eternal ice,” or munkh mus. The ice is an important source of freshwater for families, and reindeer lie on it to cool themselves and seek respite from biting insects, says William Taylor, an archaeologist at University of Colorado Boulder and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. Without the cooling and insect-suppressing ice, the herders told researchers, the animals are more vulnerable to parasite-borne illnesses, and are also increasingly heat-stressed, which reduces their immunity to disease (SN: 12/23/16). “These folks are immediately experiencing the consequences, because of the way their livelihood is tied to the animals, and tied to the water,” Taylor says. He and his colleagues recount these people’s ethnographic history, increasingly recognized as an important part of documenting ongoing climate change, in a study published online November 20 in PLOS ONE.
11-21-19 Australia pollution: How bad are bushfires for health?
Millions of people in Sydney and Adelaide are among residents across Australia who have been blanketed by bushfire smoke in recent days. Outside of immediate fire zones, should they be worried? How damaging is bushfire smoke? And can it really be worse than having a cigarette? Thursday marked the second day this week that Sydney - Australia's largest city - has been covered by acrid smoke from fires. Air quality exceeded "hazardous" levels, and paramedics responded to dozens of related calls on Tuesday alone. But bushfires are burning near populated zones across the country. In Adelaide - a city of 1.3 million - locals were being advised to stay inside on Thursday. It comes largely from natural sources - trees, leaves and other ground vegetation - and comprises small particles, gases and water vapour. The gases include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide - all are most present nearer to a fire. Bushfire smoke is not as bad as industrial pollution but it is still harmful, says Associate Prof Brian Oliver, an expert in respiratory disease from the University of Technology, Sydney. "Any smoke that is produced as the by-product of something burning is noxious and bad," he tells the BBC. In Sydney - which is receiving smoke from a blaze 150km (93 miles) inland - most danger lies in "ultrafine" particles which can travel vast distances on the wind. Fine particle matters - known and measured globally as PM2.5 - are invisible to the human eye. They are coated in chemicals such as lead and are most worrying because they penetrate deep into the lungs. Australia's clear air standard is a PM2.5 level of eight micrograms per cubic metre. By comparison, smoking a single cigarette produces 20 micrograms per cubic metre. But on Tuesday, in Sydney's north-west, the PM2.5 reading was as high as 734 micrograms - the equivalent of about 37 cigarettes.
11-21-19 Australia fires: Sea of fire races across field near Adelaide
As Australia's bushfires rage on, firefighters in South Australia are now battling flames near the city of Adelaide which are creating a smoky haze blanketing the region. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation captured this footage showing a sea of fire racing down a field at Beaufort, about 100km (60 miles) north of the city.
11-21-19 Diving to save Indonesia's coral reefs from plastic
Indonesia is the world's second largest contributor to marine waste. Seeing the beautiful coral reefs off the coast of Indonesia's capital drowning in plastic, 25 year-old Swietenia Puspa Lestari decided to take action. She leads a team of volunteer divers who clear rubbish from the reefs and recycle what they find.
11-21-19 A third of tropical African plants face extinction
A third of tropical African plants are on the path to extinction, according to a new assessment. Much of western Africa, Ethiopia, and parts of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the hardest hit regions, standing to lose more than 40% of their richness of plants. Species at risk include trees, shrubs, herbs and woody vines. Threats include deforestation, population growth and climate change, the scientists said. "Biodiversity provides countless benefits to humans and losing diversity jeopardises our future," said lead researcher Dr Thomas Couvreur of the French National Institute for Sustainable Development. Loss of biodiversity will be particularly problematic in tropical Africa, "a region of incredible diversity but with major social and political challenges and expected rapid population growth over the next decades", he added. The findings of the study, published in Science Advances, are based on a revised method for assessing extinction risk. Official assessments of extinction are recorded in The Red List of Threatened Species, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN. So far, almost nine in 10 mammals and two-thirds of birds have been assessed, but less than 8% of vascular plants (flowering plants and most other plants, excluding mosses and algae). The researchers used a similar, but more speedy, method to assess the likely extinction risk of more than 20,000 plant species. They found that 33% of the species are potentially threatened with extinction, and another third of species are likely rare, potentially becoming threatened in the near future. This is mainly due to human activities such as deforestation, land-use changes, population growth, economic development, and climate change, they said.
11-20-19 Human activities could make a third of tropical African plants extinct
A third of plants in the tropical region of Africa are potentially threatened with extinction. Human activities, including increasing deforestation and climate change, are thought to be responsible. If species do become extinct it will be a huge strain on local populations, says Thomas Couvreur at the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), as biodiversity will plunge. “There are a lot of reasons why biodiversity, not just in tropical Africa, but all around the world, is important to protect,” says Couvreur. “Regions with higher biodiversity harbour less diseases, for example.” Couvreur and his team assessed more than 22,000 plants across the region and ranked them as likely threatened with extinction, potentially threatened with extinction or potentially not threatened with extinction. They found that 32 per cent of the species are likely or potentially facing extinction. The tropical region of Africa extends south of the Sahara, but excludes southern Africa. The 10 countries with the highest proportion of threatened species are Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Uganda. This is primarily being driven by deforestation, for example to clear land for farming, says Couvreur. Couvreur hopes that assessing the conservation status of plants using a standardised system will accelerate the process by which potentially threatened species can be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Species on the list receive special protection. Plants are of vital importance to ecosystems on Earth, but less than 8 per cent of the estimated 352,000 plant species worldwide have had their conservation status assessed by the IUCN, say the researchers. This is compared with 86 per cent of mammals and 61 per cent of birds.
11-20-19 Palm oil from Colombia is more climate and wildlife friendly
Palm oil has become an environmental villain in recent years, as people have become more aware that producing it often involves clearing rainforests – but this happens less often in Colombia than in other countries that are major producers. If you buy products containing palm oil from plants grown in Colombia, there is a 60 to 70 per cent chance that it comes from plantations on former pastureland for cattle, rather than on former rainforest, says Juan Carlos Quezada at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne’s Ecological Systems Laboratory. Planting oil palm trees on pastureland in Colombia doesn’t increase carbon emissions, according to a study by Quezada and his colleagues. He says it also has much less impact on wildlife. “People should try to buy palm oil from Colombia.” Globally, growing demand for palm oil is leading to a rapid expansion of oil palm plantations. In Malaysia and Indonesia, rich rainforests are being cut down and replaced with oil palms. This is not only devastating for wildlife – including the orangutan – it also releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The main reason why palm oil demand is increasing is that huge quantities are now being turned into subsidised biofuels. More than half of the palm oil consumed in the European Union is burned in cars and trucks. As New Scientist reported in 2018, taxpayers in the EU are effectively paying for rainforests to be cut down in the name of tackling climate change.That said, oil palm produces higher yields of oil per hectare than other vegetable oil crops, and is a more efficient use of land than livestock. “Cattle ranching produces one or two animals per hectare every few years,” says Quezada. “You get three or four tonnes of palm oil per hectare every year.”
11-20-19 Climate change: China coal surge threatens Paris targets
While the rest of the world has cut coal-based electricity over the past 18 months, China has added enough to power 31 million homes. That's according to a study that says China is now in the process of building or reviving coal equivalent to the EU's entire generating capacity. China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal plants outside its borders. Researchers say the surge is a major threat to the Paris climate targets. China's reliance on coal as a key step in developing the economy led to the fabled "one coal plant a week" building programme between 2006 and 2015. But the push had many negative consequences, choking the air with pollution in many Chinese cities and leading to huge overcapacity. Many of these plants were only able to run 50% of the time. In 2015, in an attempt to curb the growth, the national government tried to clamp down on new-build coal. However, it continued to allow provincial governments the freedom to issue permits for new coal plants. That move misfired badly. Local authorities subsequently permitted up to five times more plants than in any comparable period. According to Ted Nace, from coal researchers Global Energy Monitor, it was like a "snake swallowing a goat". "This goat that the snake swallowed is still moving through the snake, and it's coming out in the form of another 20% in the Chinese coal fleet on top of a fleet that was already over-built," Mr Nace added. The researchers say that through 2018 and up to June 2019, countries outside of China cut their coal power capacity by 8.1 gigawatts (GW). In the same period, China added 43GW, enough to power around 31 million homes. The authors say that right now the amount of coal power under construction or under suspension and likely to be revived is about 147.7GW, an amount that is almost the same as the entire coal generating capacity of the European Union (150GW). Compared to the rest of the world, China is building about 50% more coal plants than are under construction in all other countries combined.
11-19-19 Australia fires: Sydney blanketed by smoke from NSW bushfires
People in Sydney woke up to a city shrouded in smoke on Tuesday, as scores of bushfires rage across the region. Strong winds overnight brought smoke from fires inland, pushing the air quality in Australia's largest city to beyond "hazardous" levels at times. On social media, locals have described hazy skies and the stench of smoke in their homes. About five million people live in the state capital of New South Wales, which has been affected for weeks by fires. Six people have died in bushfires in the state's north since October.
11-19-19 Attenborough: World 'changing habits' on plastic
The world is beginning to tackle the threat of plastic waste, according to the renowned broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. "I think we're all shifting our behaviour, I really do," Sir David said in an interview with the BBC. Describing plastic pollution as "vile" and "horrid", he said there was growing awareness of the damage it can do. "I think we are changing our habits, and the world is waking up to what we've done to the planet," he said. Sir David was speaking as he and the BBC's Natural History Unit (NHU) were announced as the winners of the prestigious Chatham House Prize for their Blue Planet II series of documentaries. Chatham House, a foreign affairs think-tank based in London, awards the prize to people or organisations making a significant contribution to improving international relations. Its director, Dr Robin Niblett, described plastic pollution as "one of the gravest challenges facing the world's oceans". He said Sir David and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit played "an instrumental role in helping to put this issue at the forefront of the public agenda". "Blue Planet II spurred a passionate global response and generated clear behavioural and policy change." The series revealed how plastic items - estimated to total more than 150 million tonnes - are drifting in the world's oceans and causing the deaths of one million birds and 100,000 sea mammals each year. In one of the most moving scenes, albatrosses were seen feeding their chicks a diet of plastic which would doom them to die. The head of the NHU, Julian Hector, said he believed the programmes had "struck a chord" with the public because they showed "the interaction of plastic and the natural world". "We're emotionally engaging the audience, giving them a connection with life histories, the behaviours, the plans that these animals have got, and how plastic in that case is getting in their way, reducing their chicks' survival."
11-18-19 It’s getting windier and that could be good news for renewable energy
An increase in wind speed in recent years is good news for renewable energy production. Average global wind speed had been dropping since 1978, but this trend has reversed over the past decade. Zhenzhong Zeng at Princeton University and his colleagues analysed data on wind speed recorded at ground weather stations across North America, Europe and Asia between 1978 and 2017. The researchers found that from 2010 to 2017, average global wind speed over land increased by 17 per cent – from 3.13 to 3.30 metres per second. Before this, from 1978 to 2010, wind speed had been falling by 0.08 metres per second – or two per cent – every decade. The reversal came as a surprise, says Zeng. Wind speed was thought to be declining because of increasing urbanisation resulting in more barriers, such as buildings, that slow down moving air. Why average global wind speed has been increasing since 2010, despite no reduction in urban development, isn’t known, says Zeng. Other factors have been blamed for the longer-term slow down and these could mean the recent speed up is a blip. Wind in mid-latitude regions, where most turbines are located, arises due to the large temperature difference between the equator and the poles. This temperature difference is getting smaller because of global warming, which is happening more quickly at the poles, and so the trend of decreasing wind speeds is likely to return, says Kristopher Karnauskas at the University of Colorado Boulder, who wasn’t involved in the study. Karnauskas says that, while there has been a longer-term trend for decreasing wind speed since 1978, it is still important to pay attention to short-term fluctuations. “The 2010 turning point – that’s an indication that these short-term fluctuations are enough to overpower the long-term trend,” says Karnauskas.
11-18-19 Renewable energy: Rise in global wind speed to boost green power
A new study suggests that global wind speeds have increased substantially since 2010 after decades of decline. Scientists say they believe that changes in the patterns of ocean and atmospheric circulation are behind the rise. The researchers say the discovery is very good news for the wind energy industry. They believe that speedier winds will see the energy produced by a single turbine grow by about 37%. From the 1980s, scientists detected a marked decrease in the speed of winds around the world. Termed "terrestrial stilling", the decline was large enough that had it continued until the end of this century, global wind speed would have declined by 21%. The authors of the study say this would have halved the amount of power available from the wind industry. Scientists were uncertain as to what was causing the decline. One theory argued that the greening of the Earth or more urbanisation was increasing surface roughness and curbing wind speeds. But this new study suggests that by itself, the roughness idea is not enough to explain the changes. By looking at data from 9,000 ground weather stations combined with statistical models, the researchers show that over the years since 2010, winds have picked up "significantly" around the globe. The rate of speed increase is in fact three times greater than the rate at which the winds were declining before 2010. The authors believe that the reason for the increase is more to do with changes in the ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns and not down to surface roughness alone. "By ocean atmospheric circulation, we mean heating of the Earth's surface which creates pressure gradients and thereby wind," said co-author Dr Adrian Chappell from the University of Cardiff, UK. "Changes in these circulations have changed wind speeds. The alternative and/or contributing cause of change in wind speed is due to change in land surface roughness. It is very unlikely that change in roughness alone has caused the change in wind speeds. It remains plausible that the combination of large-scale circulation and change in roughness has caused the change in wind speed."
11-18-19 Plans to save species from extinction are ignoring climate change
Climate change is a threat to hundreds of species of endangered animals, but conservationists aren’t taking this into account in their plans to save those at risk. That’s the finding of Aimee Delach at conservation organisation Defenders of Wildlife, based in Washington DC. She and her colleagues analysed conservation plans for 459 of the animals listed as endangered – meaning they could soon go extinct – under the US Endangered Species Act. According to the legislation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are required to come up with plans to save listed species. The act doesn’t mention global warming, but these agencies have explicitly recognised it as a threat since 2007 and do take it into account for some species. For instance, the bull trout – which is regarded as threatened rather than endangered and isn’t one of the 459 species analysed by Delach’s team – needs cold water. So when the wildlife service looked at which areas needed to be protected to save the species, it included only those where water temperatures are projected to remain cold enough for the fish to survive. “That’s a great example,” says Delach. Her team found that 458 of the 459 animals are sensitive to climate change, according to publicly available data, with the only exception being the Hawaiian goose. For instance, some animals live in seasonal pools or small streams that will dry out for much longer as it gets warmer. The team then looked through all the available government documents relating to these species, up to the end of 2018. It found that the agencies consider climate change a threat to only 64 per cent of the 459 species and have climate-related plans for only 18 per cent of them. That figure includes some plans that just say more research on the effects of climate change is needed.
11-18-19 Geologist blasts society's links with oil firms
Oil and gas firms have got one of the world's leading scientific societies in their pockets, a top geologist says. Prof Bill McGuire is furious at the links between major fossil fuel companies and the Geological Society. After more than 40 years as a member, he's resigned from the society – saying it's madness to take cash from firms causing a climate emergency. The society said geologists were playing a vital role in the transition to the zero carbon economy. But Prof McGuire told BBC News: "Geologists know more than anyone how suddenly an apparently stable climate can dramatically shift, with massive consequences. "The society shouldn't be accepting sponsorship from these firms and cosying up to them. It's madness." He pointed to the corporate sponsors page on the society's website, which features firms like Exxon Mobil that have tried to discredit climate science in the past. The society gravitates naturally towards fossil fuel firms because they provide many well-paid jobs for geologists. Prof McGuire said: "The society makes pronouncements on climate change from time to time, but doesn't mention its support from firms that are causing the problem. "The society conspires with climate change deniers. Hopefully, younger society members will ask what they are doing. There are many geology jobs in engineering or renewables." Prof McGuire is Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London. In an open letter to the society president, he refers to the sponsors list: "To anyone with even the slightest interest in the sort of world we wish to leave our children and their children, this reads like a tally from hell; a list of some of the biggest despoilers of the surface of our planet, its ecosystems and its atmosphere. "Even worse, a number of the corporations listed have worked actively to discredit climate science and to undermine efforts to tackle climate change.
11-18-19 Climate defenders: The woman helping coal miners to save the planet
The burning of coal is a huge driver of climate change but it’s also estimated that coal mining employs around six million people worldwide and is the lynch-pin of many communities. Sharan Burrow wants to find alternative livelihoods and therefore help protect our climate. It’s being called the "Just Transition". The BBC's Maryam Moshiri met Sharan, who is leading the battle to have it adopted around the world.
11-18-19 Amazon deforestation officially hits highest level in a decade
Deforestation in the Amazon over the past year hit its highest level in a decade, satellite data from the Brazilian space agency has revealed. The loss of nearly 10,000 square kilometres of forest between August 2018 to July 2019 is the first official confirmation that deforestation has soared since Jair Bolsnaro came to power in January on a promise to develop the Amazon. Logging and burning of the world’s greatest rainforest jumped by 29.5 per cent in that period compared to the year before, to 9762 square kilometres, with observers noting that the deforestation marks the biggest annual increase in more than two decades. It also brings to 10-year period of relatively stable losses. The average between 2012 and 2018 was 6727 square kilometres. The figures do not cover some of the worst deforestation, which has been detected between August and October. “Because deforestation continues to be so rampant, what are we going to see in 2020?” says Erika Berengeur at the University of Oxford. This year has been very wet and humid, so much of the trees felled by loggers this year has not yet been burned. “In 2020 we are going to see more fires than in 2019.” While the law on clearing forests has not changed in Brazil, Bolsonaro has been accused of encouraging loggers to clear and burn trees with his rhetoric and a drop in enforcement action. International attention and pressure came to bear on Brazil this year due to the number of intense fires burning across the Amazon. More than 180,000 fires have been recorded this year. Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles suggested this weekend that deforestation has been rising since 2012. Berenguer says: “Yes, it was, but it was pretty stable. It wasn’t an increase like this. That’s a misrepresentation of reality.”
11-18-19 Brazil's Amazon deforestation highest since 2008, space agency says
Deforestation of Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased by 29.5% in 12 months, the highest rate since 2008, the country's space agency reports. The rainforest lost 9,762 sq km (3,769 sq miles) of its vegetation between August 2018 and July 2019, Inpe says. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has in the past questioned the accuracy of data provided by Inpe. Scientists say the Amazon has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since Mr Bolsonaro took office in January. They say the president favours development over conservation. Mr Bolsonaro - who in July dismissed a similar Inpe report as flawed - has not commented on the latest data. As the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.Over the past decade, previous governments in Brazil had managed to reduce deforestation with concerted action by federal agencies and a system of fines. But Mr Bolsonaro and his ministers have criticised the penalties and overseen a dramatic fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes.
11-17-19 How do you fight extreme wildfires?
The sight of soaring flames, burning trees and scorched earth is becoming a familiar one for people around the world. From Brazil to Australia, and from California to Indonesia, massive wildfires have torn through vast areas of forest this year. So how do you fight them? Alexander Held, an expert in wildfires at the European Forest Institute, and Kirsten Langmaid, a firefighter from Australia, talk us through the process.
- Step one: Preparation: A top priority should be managing the amount of vegetation a fire can consume. This can be done with machinery or by grazing animals such as sheep or goats. Plus, if a wildfire runs into a pasture area then it will eventually die by itself because there won't be enough fuel.
- Step two: Spotting the smoke: Most fire-prone countries have some form of early-warning system in place. These assess the temperature, fuel level, humidity and wind speed. These give a pretty good idea of what the coming days and weeks might look like.
- Step three: First attack: We always send a rapid response team out during this first attack. These are crews who are fully kitted out with firefighting gear and water-carrying vehicles.
- Step four: Extended attack: As soon as the fire passes the first response phase we set up an incident control team. This means we have people back in the office co-ordinating the operation and thinking about the wider strategy.
- Step five: Mopping up: A fire is under control when there's a working boundary around it or we've cut off its head. In other words - when it can't spread any further.
- Step six: Aftermath: Even weeks after a fire has gone cold, we will patrol the area and make sure it's safe. We'll assess whether to open it back up to the public and remove any trees that could fall down and hurt people.
11-17-19 5 things to know about fighting climate change by planting trees
Debate breaks out over whether the climate-saving potential of tree planting was exaggerated. The idea seemed so catchy, simple and can-do. There’s room to plant enough trees, albeit many, many, many trees, to counter a big chunk of the planet-warming carbon spewed by human activities. A more realistic look at that feel-good estimate, however, might shrink it down to a useful idea, but no panacea. The proposed fabulous benefits of planting trees triggered a skeptical backlash within the climate science community. “Dangerously misleading,” warned a critique from Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematical modeler at the University of Exeter in England and four colleagues. They’re not the only ones to protest that the original estimate — that massive global tree-planting right now might eventually trap a total of some 205 metric gigatons of carbon — overestimates what’s really possible. The debate started with a study in the July 5 Science. In it, Jean-François Bastin and Tom Crowther of ETH Zurich and their colleagues estimated that Earth has as much as 0.9 billion hectares of land suitable for planting new trees to soak up some of humankind’s excess carbon dioxide and thus slow climate change (SN: 7/17/19). That area is about the size of the United States. Once mature, those trees could capture about one-third of the carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the team calculated. Extreme global tree planting could thus become a huge single stopgap for storing carbon, the researchers proposed. That scenario caught the attention of a world starved for hopeful news about climate. Among other scientists, however, concern erupted. These “overly hopeful figures” might “misguide the development of climate policy,” said one of a flurry of critiques from more than 80 scientists not involved in the original research. Their criticisms were published in the Oct. 18 Science (along with a response from Crowther’s team).
- Tree planting is not the one big solution for the climate crisis: Both the critics and authors of the original paper agree on this point. The main solution to the climate crisis is to stop releasing greenhouse gases as much and as soon as possible. “Keeping fossil carbon in its original geological storage is self-evidently a more effective solution to climate change than releasing it and capturing it later in trees,” writes forest ecologist Simon Lewis of University College London and colleagues.
- Estimates of how much carbon trees can trap might be five times too high: Capturing the estimated sum, 205 metric gigatons, “if accurate and achievable,” would be “an astounding accomplishment,” wrote Joseph Veldman, a plant ecologist at Texas A&M University in College Station and 45 other doubting coauthors. A more realistic look would shrink the 205 metric gigatons of carbon down to about a fifth of that amount, they argue.
- People will probably never choose to plant trees on all bits of “available” land: Here’s one reason the estimate is too high: More trees might in theory grow in barely treed places, such as tundra or tropical grasslands. But in some places, planting trees could be a hard sell, or even counterproductive.
- Soil carbon and some other details of the comparisons could matter: Critics also objected to specific parts of the assumptions and methods of the original analysis. Trees trap carbon by using it to build their trunks, branches, leaves and other body parts. As long as the trees stand, its structural carbon stays out of the atmosphere. Other plants and living things store carbon at least for a while in the same way, and some geological processes can likewise trap excesses.
- Planting trees could still be a good thing as long as it’s done thoughtfully: Tree planting has long been recognized as valuable, say global change geographer Alan Grainger at the University of Leeds in England, and three coauthors. Now, at least, the furor over the Crowther paper is calling fresh attention to the idea, they write.
11-17-19 The green farming revolution
It's not organic, and it's not conventional — these agronomists are finding the middle path to sustainable agriculture. Alfalfa, oats, and red clover are soaking up the sunlight in long narrow plots, breaking up the sea of maize and soybeans that dominates this landscape in the heart of the U.S. farm belt. The 18-by-85-meter sections are part of an experimental farm in Boone County, Iowa, where agronomists are testing an alternative approach to agriculture that just may be part of a greener, more bountiful farming revolution. Organic agriculture is often thought of as green and good for nature. Conventional agriculture, in contrast, is cast as big and bad. And, yes, conventional agriculture may appear more environmentally harmful at first glance, with its appetite for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, its systems devoted to one or two massive crops and not a tree or hedge in sight to nurture wildlife. As typically defined, organic agriculture is free of synthetic inputs, using only organic material such as manure to feed the soil. The organic creed calls for caring for that soil and protecting the organisms within it through methods like planting cover crops such as red clover that add nitrogen and fight erosion. But scientists bent on finding ways to produce more food globally with as little environmental impact as possible are finding that organic farming is not as green as it seems. In a simple contest of local environmental benefits, organic wins hands down. That doesn't hold true on a global scale, though, because organic farming can't match the high-yield muscle of big agriculture. A widespread shift to organic would leave billions hungry, researchers predict, unless farmers put more land to work by turning now-unfarmed habitats into food-producing fields — doing more harm than good to natural ecosystems. "Organic farming is often seen as synonymous with sustainable farming, but it is not the Holy Grail of sustainable agriculture," says Verena Seufert, an environmental geographer at VU Amsterdam who studies sustainable food systems. But the strategies being tested in those fields in Iowa, and similar methods finding their way onto hundreds of millions of acres of farmland globally, might just be. In experiments in Europe and across North America, agronomists are testing hybrid approaches that weave together the green touch of organic farming with a dash of chemical fertilizer and pesticide applied only when needed — an approach known as low-input agriculture. They hope that this cocktail of farming techniques will steer future farming to a truly sustainable footing.
11-16-19 Analysis: Large-scale tree planting 'no easy task'
We now have yet another green battleground in this election campaign: trees. After claim and counter claim about everything from a ban on fracking to improving flood defences to reducing carbon emissions, there's a flurry about forests. The Conservatives say they'll plant at least 30 million more trees every year, a pledge that is roughly in line with a recommendation from the government's official climate advisers. But that would represent a massive increase compared with earlier targets set by the government and, as the other parties are keen to point out, these have not been met. For their part, the Liberal Democrats have gone much further than the Conservatives by promising to plant 60 million trees a year - that's double the Tory number - arguing that that's needed to help fight climate change. The Labour Party says its plan for trees, when it comes, will be guided by the science. Experts in forestry say a huge programme of tree planting is needed if the UK is to have any chance of reducing its carbon emissions to effectively zero. They also say that the aim, though difficult, is feasible but will depend on careful planning - "to get the right trees in the right places", as one specialist put it to me. Finding enough land may be one of the toughest challenges. Farmers will want incentives to convert their fields to forests, not just to help with the cost of planting trees but also to compensate them for the long decades before they can earn an income from them. Prime arable fields are unlikely to be selected for this role but areas currently used for livestock may be in line, and that might force the country to make some highly sensitive choices between producing meat and growing forests. It could also mean a profound change to the look of much of the countryside, with the familiar sights of grazing cattle and sheep replaced by woodland.
11-15-19 Scientists underestimated climate change
Scientists were wrong about climate change, said Eugene Linden. It’s happening far faster, and more catastrophically, than almost anyone predicted. If in 1990 a scientist had suggested that within 25 years a single, massive heat wave would melt enough ice to measurably raise sea levels while baking Paris and Berlin with “Sahara-like temperatures,” they “would have been dismissed as alarmist.” But that’s exactly what happened this summer, when temperatures rose into the 80s above the Arctic Circle, melting 40 billion tons of the Greenland ice sheet. When global warming was first observed, decades ago, scientists assumed that major climatic changes would take a century or more. But as feedback loops kick in, many of the “worst-case scenarios” are already becoming a reality. Seas are warming rapidly, and the Antarctic ice sheets, once believed stable, are crumbling and melting—threatening to inundate coastal cities. The permafrost in northern latitudes is thawing and could release gargantuan amounts of methane and CO2. With greenhouse gas emissions still climbing, it’s possible that “the projected risks of further warming, dire as they are, might still be understated.” In the near future, “It is going to get worse. A lot worse.”
11-15-19 Climate change: Warming signal links global floods and fires
With homes under water in South Yorkshire, near record flooding in Venice, and burgeoning wildfires in Australia, many people are asking if and how climate change is connected to these extreme weather events. There are some basic physical factors that help explain the scale of the downpours that recently swamped the village of Fishlake and other locations in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. The very scientific sounding Clausius-Clapeyron equation is one key element. Clausius and Clapeyron are the surnames of the German and French meteorologists who discovered that a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. For every 1 degree C increase in temperature, the air can hold about 7% extra water vapour. When you get the sorts of storms that generate rapid cooling, you get heavier rain falling rapidly out of the clouds, as happened in parts of England last week. "As temperatures are warmer we get more intense rain, which by itself brings more floods, even if the number of storms hitting our shores don't change," said Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds. "When coupled to warmer, wetter winters generally, as expected from climate change, the ground becomes more saturated so any rainfall will give a greater chance of flooding." This is, in essence, the scenario that played out in Fishlake last week. UK scientists observe and predict a 10-20% increase in rainfall during the wettest days, so it is very possible that we will see other examples of this type of downpour across this winter. In coastal areas, the chances of flooding are made worse by the rise in sea level. However, the chances of an area flooding or not is also complicated by human factors such as farming practices, the building of houses on flood plains and the vagaries of the British weather.
11-15-19 Raging wildfires
Australian authorities ordered thousands of people to evacuate and closed hundreds of schools as more than 150 bushfires ripped through New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland this week. Since the official fire season began on Oct. 1, some 3,800 square miles have burned, more than three times the area that burned during all of last season. “They won’t have this out for days, weeks, months,” said NSW Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons. Greg Mullins, NSW’s former fire chief, blamed climate change for the unprecedented blazes. “Fires are burning in places and at intensities never before experienced,” he said, “rain forests in northern New South Wales, tropical Queensland, and the formerly wet old-growth forests in Tasmania.”
11-15-19 Smoke from Australia's bushfires has spread to South America
Smoke particles from bushfires in Australia have reached South America, in a striking illustration of the intensity of the unprecedented blazes. Satellites show atmospheric pollution created by the fires across New South Wales and Queensland has travelled more than 10,000 kilometres to Chile and Argentina. Researchers at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading, UK, found a plume of carbon monoxide and aerosols trailing across the Pacific Ocean to South America. More pollution will follow, judging from the situation in Australia, says Mark Parrington at ECMWF. “From satellite imagery there’s still thick smoke coming out of New South Wales, so more will be being pumped out, meaning a train of pollution going across the south Pacific, following the jet stream,” he says. While it is relatively unusual for pollution to travel so far, studies have shown Australia’s deadly 2009 “Black Saturday” fires released materials that travelled a similar distance. Only trace amounts of Australian pollution hitting South America have been recorded today by satellites, with Parrington reporting carbon monoxide levels of 80 to 100 parts per billion. Anything above 110ppb is considered polluted air.However, it is unlikely the pollution will affect local air quality in South America – which has experienced its own serious forest fires this year – since the material is around 5 kilometres up in the atmosphere and likely to stay there. Still, says Parrington: “If the air comes down and reaches the surface it could add an extra bit on top of local air quality issues.” Instead, the significance of the pollution reaching so far is what it tells us about the power of the fires in Australia. “It’s reflecting the sheer intensity of the fires, particularly in New South Wales,” says Parrington.
11-15-19 Flooded Venice battles new tidal surge
Flooded Venice has been hit by a new high tide of 160cm (5.3ft), giving residents no respite from a crisis costing Italy millions of euros. World-famous St Mark's Square, a magnet for tourists, has been closed, and schools are shut for a third day. The canal city's famous waterbuses - the vaporetti - are not running. The 187cm peak on Tuesday was the highest level in more than 50 years, damaging monuments, shops and homes. More than 80% of the city was flooded. The government declared a state of emergency in the Unesco world heritage site. Residents with flood-damaged homes will get up to €5,000 (£4,300; $5,500), and businesses up to €20,000 in compensation. The first flood sirens went off at dawn, an eerie sound rising over the ancient bridges and waterways of the city. Within a couple of hours, the murky green water of the Grand Canal had risen level with its bank, slapping over the paving stones as boats went past. Nearby streets quickly flooded. Tourists, shoes covered in plastic bags, carried their luggage along raised narrow trestle walkways, which the authorities have put up to keep the pedestrian traffic moving. On either side, dirty water continued to rise. At ground level, in their rubber wellies, business owners were already starting to operate small pumps. Many had raised the flood barriers across their doorways - apparently to little effect. Water was already seeping up to ankle height in the souvenir shops and cafes. "It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its commercial activities on its knees," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who visited Venice on Wednesday, wrote in a Facebook post (in Italian). The city has about 50,000 residents, but about 20m tourists visit every year. The tides have been worsened by sirocco winds blowing from Africa, and there are fears that global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of such floods.
11-15-19 A rubbish story: China's mega-dump full 25 years ahead of schedule
China's largest dump is already full - 25 years ahead of schedule. The Jiangcungou landfill in Shaanxi Province, which is the size of around 100 football fields, was designed to take 2,500 tonnes of rubbish per day. But instead it received 10,000 tonnes of waste per day - the most of any landfill site in China. China is one of the world's biggest polluters, and has been struggling for years with the rubbish its 1.4 billion citizens generate. The Jiangcungou landfill in Xi'an city was built in 1994 and was designed to last until 2044. The landfill serves over 8 million citizens. It spans an area of almost 700,000 square metres, with a depth of 150 metres and a storage capacity of more than 34 million cubic metres. Until recently, Xi'an was one of the few cities in China that solely relied on landfill to dispose of household waste - leading to capacity being reached early. Earlier this month, a new incineration plant was opened, and at least four more are expected to open by 2020. Together, they are expected to be able to process 12,750 tonnes of rubbish per day. The move is part of a national plan to reduce the number of landfills, and instead use other waste disposal methods like incineration. The landfill site in Xi'an will eventually become an "ecological park". n 2017, China collected 215 million tonnes of urban household waste, according to the country's statistical yearbook. That's up from 152 million ten years earlier. The country had 654 landfill sites and 286 incineration plants. It is not clear what China's recycling rate is, as no figures have been released. China plans to recycle 35% of waste in major cities by the end of 2020, according to one government report. This July, sorting and recycling rubbish was made mandatory in Shanghai - leading to "a sense of panic" among some residents.
11-15-19 Sentinel for sea-level rise enters testing
The next satellite tasked with maintaining the "gold standard" measurement of sea-level rise is about to enter final testing. Sentinel-6a will pick up from the long-running Jason series of spacecraft when it launches in November 2020. These missions track the height and shape of Earth's oceans with microwave altimeters. Since 1992, the orbiting instruments have observed sea level go up by an average of 3.2mm per year. This trend is accelerating, however. The most recent five-year period, from 2014 to 2019, has witnessed a 4.8mm/yr increase. Sentinel-6a marks the first time this hugely important mission series will fly under the badge of the EU's Copernicus Earth observation programme. It is still a joint venture between Europe (principally France) and the US, but the Copernicus patronage gives longterm security of financing. In the past, there was always a little uncertainty over where the funding would come from to initiate the next iteration of spacecraft. Now, not only is Sentinel-6a entering testing but its follow-on, Sentinel-6b, has all its money in place with construction due to begin in 2021. Senior space agency and industry officials gathered at the IAGB facility in Ottobrunn, near Munich, Germany, on Friday to celebrate one year to launch. The IABG company will check over the Sentinel's systems to ensure they are fit to ride to orbit on a Falcon-9 rocket. When it eventually gets up there, Sentinel-6a will spend some weeks running alongside the current operational satellite, Jason-3. This will enable scientists to cross-calibrate their "Poseidon altimeters". These instruments are used to map the various "hills" and "valleys" in the ocean surface below. Understanding the variations in elevation over time has myriad applications, both short term and long term. The data gives clues to temperature and salinity. When combined with gravity information, it will also indicate current direction and speed.
11-14-19 Australian bushfires: Why do people start fires during fires?
What would you do if your region was burning? Pack up your possessions and head for safety? Stay and help put the fires out? Or head into the bush with a packet of matches and start another fire? Amazingly, in the Australian bushfire season, some people do the latter. So the obvious question is - why? Two of the most recent studies say there are between 52,000 and 54,000 bushfires in Australia every year. Dr Paul Read, co-director of Australia's National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson, puts the figure higher, at "62,000 and increasing". Of those, 13% are started deliberately, and 37% are suspicious. That means 31,000 Australian bushfires are either arson, or suspected arson, every year. That figure does not include recklessness or accidents. So a bushfire caused by a barbecue, or a spark from a chainsaw, would be classed as "accidental". In short, up to 85 bushfires begin every day because someone leaves their house and decides to start one. Half of bushfires are started by people under the age of 21, Dr Read tells the BBC. That group includes children "playing" with fire, who then lose control, and those with developmental disorders. It also includes the "truly malicious" who are "developing towards full-blown psychopathy". But perhaps more interesting is the older group. "It used to be thought that 28-year-olds with a psycho-sexual fascination with fire were the main protagonists," says Dr Read. "But when you have a look at statistics across the world, the 28-year-olds are least likely to be setting fires. Instead there are two groups - the younger group, and those above the age of 30." It is this group, he says, who are more likely to start them on hot days - that is, when there are already bushfires raging. "The general mayhem of fighting bushfires, the evacuation of people, enables them to be furtive [attempt to avoid detection]. They know they're not likely to be identified. It's like planting a tree in a forest."
11-14-19 California landfills are belching high levels of climate-warming methane
Airborne remote sensing spots the Golden State’s biggest emitters of the gas from the sky. Landfills, pipelines or dairy farms: The largest sources of methane released to the atmosphere can now be spotted from the sky. A team of researchers used airborne remote sensing to pinpoint the exact locations of some of California’s biggest belchers of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Of those concentrated “superemitters,” landfills were the biggest sources in the Golden State, followed by dairy farms and the oil and gas industry (SN: 11/18/15). About 34 to 46 percent of California’s methane emissions comes from 564 point sources, small surface features or bits of infrastructure no more than 10 meters in diameter that still emit large amounts of the gas, the team found. Among those point sources, there were standouts: Landfills contributed 41 percent of emissions. Dairies and the oil and gas sector contributed 26 percent each, Riley Duren, an electrical engineer and research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and colleagues report November 6 in Nature. During five research campaigns consisting of flights across California from 2016 to 2018, Duren and his team used an airborne imaging spectrometer, which can see visible as well as infrared spectra, to scan more than 271,000 facilities and infrastructure for methane plumes. Data from the study, the result of a partnership between NASA, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission, are now available online.
11-14-19 Venice floods: Italy to declare state of emergency over damage
Italy is set to declare a state of emergency in Venice after the Italian city was engulfed by 1.87m (6ft) high water levels, flooding its historic basilica and cutting power to homes. More than 80% of the city, a Unesco world heritage site, was under water when tides were at their highest. Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the flooding as "a blow to the heart of our country". He said the government would now act quickly to provide funds and resources. "It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its commercial activities on its knees," Mr Conte, who visited the region late on Wednesday, wrote in a Facebook post (in Italian). He said the government would "accelerate" the building of structural defences for the lagoon city, referring specifically to the so-called Mose project - a hydraulic barrier system to shut off the lagoon in the event of rising sea levels and winter storms. The prime minister is expected to announce the emergency measures later on Thursday. It comes as Venetians woke to sirens indicating that the tide would "remain high" in the coming days, although it was not expected to exceed 130cm (50in) above average sea level, according to the Venetian authorities. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, blamed climate change for the highest water levels in more than 50 years this week, saying the impact was "huge" and would leave "a permanent mark". St Mark's Square - one of the lowest parts of the city - was one of the worst hit areas. Mr Brugnaro said the famous St Mark's Basilica had suffered "grave damage". The crypt at the historic landmark was completely flooded on Tuesday and there are fears that the basilica's columns may have been structurally damaged. "The damage will run into hundreds of millions of euros," Mr Brugnaro warned.
11-14-19 Two types of plastic pollution found in Mediterranean for first time
The discovery of two new types of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean for the first time suggests plastic contamination may be more widespread along coastlines than we realised. Plasticrust and pyroplastics were spotted on the Italian island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. It is possible that wildlife may be eating the material. Plasticrust is, as the name suggests, a layer of plastic crust. It forms on rocks when plastic in the ocean is mechanically worn down by waves rubbing it over rocky outcrops, leading to small particles getting trapped on the solid surface. Prior to being spotted in Italy, plasticrusts have also been found recently on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Pyroplastics are burned pieces of plastic that are hard to distinguish from stones, and have been found in Cornwall and Devon in the UK. Sonja Ehlers at Germany’s Federal Institute of Hydrology and independent researcher Julius Ellrich say their findings on Giglio suggest the plastic pollution isn’t a local phenomenon confined to Madeira. “The plasticrusts from Madeira were also made of polyethylene, just like the ones we found, and that is a very widespread plastic debris. I assume that it could be more widespread than is actually known right now.” Ehlers and Ellrich surveyed several sites on Giglio last month. They found blue crusts on rocks that are submerged during high tide – the plasticrusts – and grey stone-like blobs of plastic with bits of blue on a beach, the pyroplastic. Analysis using spectroscopy showed the plasticrust was polyethylene, the most common plastic we produce, and the pyroplastic was polyethylene terephthalate, used to make drink bottles. The culprit for the pyroplastic may have been a beach campfire, says Ehlers, judging from burnt charcoal found nearby, and the number of blue plastic bottles she found on Giglio.
11-14-19 Western plastics 'poisoning Indonesian food chain'
The burning of plastic waste in Indonesia, much of which has been sent there by the West, is poisoning the food chain, the BBC has learned. Environmental group IPEN found, in one East Java village, toxic dioxins in chicken eggs 70 times the level allowed by European safety standards. Long-term exposure to the chemicals is linked to cancer, damage to the immune system and developmental issues. Indonesia's government says it is sending the waste back to countries. The BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme also spoke to people with respiratory issues caused by the fumes from the burning of plastics, and filmed the open burning of plastics supposedly sent to Indonesia to be recycled. Researchers from IPEN (the International Pollutants Elimination Network) collected free-range chicken eggs at two sites near Surabaya, in East Java. Testing eggs, the researchers said, was the easiest way to check whether the chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins had made it into the food chain. The most serious reading was taken near a group of tofu factories that burn plastics for fuel, in the village of Tropodo. The tests found eating one egg would exceed the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) tolerable daily intake for chlorinated dioxins 70 times over. Researchers said this was the second-highest level of dioxins in eggs ever measured in Asia - only behind an area of Vietnam contaminated by the chemical weapon Agent Orange. The eggs also contained toxic flame-retardant chemicals, SCCPs and PBDEs, used in plastics. One resident in Tropodo said it was known as the "city of smoke". "We don't need to tell the doctor what our symptoms are... we just tell them that we are from Tropodo and they know right away." Experts believe eating a few contaminated eggs would not impact health - but long-term exposure could lead to serious problems.
11-13-19 Australia bushfires: How extreme 'firestorms' make their own weather
The bushfires ravaging Australia this week have brought warnings of "catastrophic" danger. Fortunately, no lives were lost on Tuesday - when conditions were at their worst. But experts warned that events looked set to trigger the most dangerous type of bushfire - pyrocumulonimbus, often referred to as a firestorm. These are giant, fast-moving blazes so powerful they create their own weather systems akin to thunderstorms. And due to their ferocity, they are largely impossible to fight. With certain ground and atmospheric conditions, bushfires can rip through a large area with so much energy that they generate storms above them. This is a pyrocumulonimbus. Ordinarily, bushfires are driven along by the wind but a massive blaze can carry so much power that its smoke is not pushed to the side. Instead, it forms a plume that rises up to 15km (nine miles) into the sky. Because the plume contains heat and moisture, when it hits the stratosphere it can condense and form clouds. "A pyrocumulonimbus is basically a thunderstorm within the plume of the fire," says Associate Prof Jason Sharples, an expert in extreme fires based at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). When the storm is formed, it means the fire below will be big, fast and very dangerous. "That means it's big enough to overcome any other conditions," says UNSW climate scientist Prof Jason Evans. The fire grows in danger because it will carry along the characteristics of a storm - turbulent winds that can send embers shooting off in all directions. Sometimes it can also create its own lightning, which can spark more fires. Despite being a thunderstorm there is no rain. Instead the storm sucks in more embers and flings them far ahead of the fire front "so the fire advances in big jumps", says Prof Evans.
11-13-19 Health impacts of climate change on children don't need exaggerating
A child born today faces far-reaching health impacts from living through a world 4°C warmer than humans have ever experienced, according to a major assessment released today. But the research doesn’t support claims by some climate activists that children may not grow up at all. The 2019 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, put together by doctors and researchers, warns that children are particularly vulnerable to climate change, because a warming world exposes them to more infectious diseases, malnutrition and stunted growth, and dirty air that hinders the development of their lungs. A major concern is Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that leads to diarrhoeal disease, the world’s number two killer of children under the age of 5. People are most susceptible in certain coastal areas, and the percentage of these at-risk regions has already grown almost a third in the Baltic and north-east US since the 1980s as warming changes sea surface temperatures. Elizabeth Robinson at the University of Reading, UK, one of the report’s authors, says children’s diets are also at risk, with under nutrition and malnutrition set to rise as climate change causes food production to fall. “We are a little concerned with a triple negative,” she says. Heat is already causing yields of crops to fall in some places – such as wheat in Australia – and many of the yield declines are expected in countries that are food insecure, and the productivity of farms will be hit as labourers struggle with heat. All of this means that children face a poorer diet. In some places, higher temperatures will trap more air pollution in cities, says another report author, Nicholas Watts, a medical doctor at University College London. This will have a particular impact on children. “It has lifelong effects on your lungs as they are trying to develop,” he says.
11-13-19 Steel and concrete are climate change's hard problem. Can we solve it?
Heavy industry produces more carbon dioxide than the entire US. Perfect the new technologies that could clean it up and we can score a crucial climate victory. “DANGER. No unauthorized entry. Hot rolling in progress.” If anything, the sign beneath the dirty hunk of industrial machinery underplays things. When the 11-tonne slab of metal I’ve been watching emerges from the furnace, heated to 1300°C, it glows incandescent white. Then it zips along a conveyor belt, hissing and steaming as it is cooled by water jets, before a line of rolling cylinders press it into the final product: a sheet of gleaming steel. For all that we live in the digital age, we still rely on hot and dirty processes like this to construct our cities, homes and vehicles. Walking around the steelworks in Newport, UK, I get a sense of the immense energy required – and this is only the stage at which the steel is worked. Making it from raw iron ore is even more intensive. In fact, the production of steel and that other construction staple, concrete, accounts for as much as 16 per cent of humanity’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. That is equivalent to the carbon footprint of the US. In the fight against climate change, heavy industries are the final frontier. Decarbonising transport and energy is the easy part. Steel and concrete are different beasts. It is much harder to produce them without releasing enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. And yet if we want to reach net-zero carbon targets, we can no longer ignore them. Cleaning up concrete and steel is such an immense challenge that it can seem hopeless. But researchers and forward-thinking companies are pioneering clever ways to crack the problem – perhaps pointing the way to a crucial climate win.
11-13-19 Tackling emissions from heavy industry is key to fixing climate change
Ramping up renewable energy, electrifying transport and ending energy waste is the easy stuff, the hard problem of climate change is reducing emissions from steel and concrete production. ON ONE side of the world, fires have turned Australia’s skies black and menaced the country’s largest city, Sydney (see “Worsening bushfires cause Australia to declare state of emergency“). On the other, floods in England have killed a woman and triggered emergency evacuations. While UK prime minister Boris Johnson said severe flooding was “almost certainly” happening more often because of climate change, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison refused to answer questions on global warming. Despite increasing calls from citizens for action, political will on climate change is still uneven. One bright spot came last week, when New Zealand became the latest country to pass a law to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Such goals are vital, not just because they are what the science demands for us to avoid catastrophic warming, but also because they draw into focus the need to clean up every sector of an economy, not just the obvious stuff like energy. That includes one of the dirtiest and most invisible: heavy industry. Concrete and steel are fundamental to the modern world and our hunger for them is set to grow dramatically in coming decades, but they are on a par with the US for their contribution to climate change. It is little wonder why. We use huge amounts of these materials, and the chemical processes for making them are very carbon intensive. With the steel industry in a downturn, there is little economic incentive to spend money on carbon-cutting projects.
11-13-19 Netherlands forced to slash speed limit to reduce emissions
The daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis, according to cabinet sources widely quoted by Dutch media. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a "rotten measure" but necessary. The existing limit of up to 130km/h will still be permitted at night. The new limit is set to come in next year along with several other measures. Ministers have been grappling with ways of responding to the emissions problem. "No-one likes this," Mr Rutte told a news conference. "But there's really something bigger at stake. We have to stop the Netherlands from coming to a halt and jobs being lost unnecessarily." He said it was the deepest crisis he had ever dealt with in nine years in power and the refugee crisis in 2015-16 bore no comparison. The crisis is so severe that big infrastructure projects have been put on hold. A ruling in May by the top court in the Netherlands on nitrogen oxide emissions affected thousands of plans for roads, housing and airports. The Council of State said Dutch rules for granting building and farming permits breached EU law protecting nature from emissions such as ammonia and nitrous oxide. The government wants to build 75,000 homes next year, so for the past week the cabinet has tried to find a solution to cutting the pollutants. Among the options discussed by ministers was a ban on vehicles on Sunday. Drivers will be allowed to revert to the current maximum between 19:00 and 06:00. Only 8%-10% of cars are thought to travel between those times. Even with the lower 100km/h speed limit there could still be emissions problems in areas such as the congested Randstad central-west belt, home to the biggest Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Bringing the motorway speed limit down to 100km/h will make the Netherlands the lowest in Europe, on a par with Cyprus which has far fewer motorways.
11-13-19 Arctic blast: US temperatures plummet to record lows
An Arctic air mass has brought record-breaking low temperatures to several places in the US. The Arctic blast, which began in Siberia, has brought heavy snow and ice to many areas. Daily records have been set in states including Kansas and Illinois. Forecasters say hundreds of records could be matched or broken this week. Four traffic deaths have been linked to the bad weather and more than 1,000 flights have been cancelled. Schools have also been closed in some areas. The National Weather Service (NSW) said the air mass was continuing to spread from the Plains towards the East Coast. It warned that the cold front would make it feel like "the middle of winter" rather than November for much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. Several cities in Kansas set record low temperatures on Tuesday, when compared to the same date in previous years. The lowest temperature was recorded in Garden City, where it dropped to -1F (-18C), breaking the record of 7F set last year. Chicago recorded a low of 7F, breaking the previous record of 8F set in 1986, the NWS said. The city also set a daily record for snowfall on Monday. A recording of 8F in Indianapolis marked the city's earliest recorded autumn temperature in single digits. Rare snowfall was even seen in the Texas town of Brownsville, on the US-Mexico border. NWS meteorologist Kevin Birk said the air mass was "more typical for the middle of January than mid-November." "It is pretty much about the coldest we can be this time of year [and] it could break records all over the region," he added, according to AP news agency. Numerous schools and businesses remained shuttered on Tuesday because of the unusual cold weather. The cold weather has also affected road conditions. An eight-year-old girl was killed in Kansas on Monday after a truck lost control on an icy highway, officials said. In Michigan, three people were killed in a crash thought to be caused by poor road conditions, according to the local sheriff's office.
11-13-19 Venice floods: Climate change behind highest tide in 50 years, says mayor
Severe flooding in Venice that has left much of the Italian city under water is a direct result of climate change, the mayor says. The highest water levels in the region in more than 50 years will leave "a permanent mark", Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted. "Now the government must listen," he added. "These are the effects of climate change... the costs will be high." The waters in Venice peaked at 1.87m (6ft), according to the tide monitoring centre. Only once since official records began in 1923 has the tide been higher, reaching 1.94m in 1966. Images showed popular tourist sites left completely flooded and people wading through the streets as Venice was hit by a storm. St Mark's Square - one of the lowest parts of the city - was one of the worst hit areas. St Mark's Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years, according to church records. Mr Brugnaro said the famous landmark had suffered "grave damage". The crypt was completely flooded and there are fears of structural damage to the basilica's columns. Pierpaolo Campostrini, a member of St Mark's council, said four of those floods had now occurred within the past 20 years. The city of Venice is made up of more than 100 islands inside a lagoon off the north-east coast of Italy. Two people died on the island of Pellestrina, a thin strip of land that separates the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. A man was electrocuted as he tried to start a pump in his home and a second person was found dead elsewhere. Mr Brugnaro said the damage was "huge" and that he would declare a state of disaster, warning that a project to help prevent the Venetian lagoon suffering devastating floods "must be finished soon". "The situation is dramatic. We ask the government to help us," he said on Twitter, adding that schools would remain closed until the water level subsides.
11-13-19 Australia bushfires: Fresh warnings in Queensland and New South Wales
Australian authorities have warned that massive bushfires raging in two states will continue to pose a threat, despite "catastrophic" conditions easing. About 150 fires are still burning in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, feeding off tinder-dry conditions. Fifty houses were destroyed or damaged in NSW on Tuesday but no lives were lost, officials said. At one point, fires broke out in suburbs of Sydney. On Wednesday, blazes caused fresh emergencies in Queensland. "The conditions are of concern to us," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters. The threat in NSW has been downgraded from catastrophic - the highest level - but officials urged residents to remain vigilant. "We've got the worst of the summer - the worst of the season - still ahead of us as we head into summer," said NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Australia's government has often avoided questions on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires, in a response that has drawn criticism. More than 70 bushfires are burning in the state amid forecasts of high temperatures, volatile winds and dry lightning. Residents in Noosa North Shore, on the popular Sunshine Coast, were among those to be issued emergency warnings on Wednesday. A water-bombing helicopter crashed while fighting a fire at Pechey, west of Brisbane, but the pilot survived with only minor injuries. Officials warned that no significant rain was expected, putting continuing strain on firefighters. Mr Fitzsimmons said it was a relief that no-one had died on Tuesday given "the enormity of these fire grounds". About 1.1 million hectares have been scorched in NSW since September. The worst fires dot NSW from its northern border to a national park north of Sydney. Though perimeters constantly shift, most are in populated coastal zones or further inland.
11-13-19 Greta Thunberg to sail to Spain climate summit with YouTubers
Climate activist Greta Thunberg will sail from the US to a UN climate summit in Spain by hitching a ride with two sailing YouTubers. The 16-year-old had planned to travel to Chile, but the country pulled out of hosting the COP25 climate meeting because of protests there. On Facebook, she announced: "So happy to say that I'll hopefully make it to COP25 in Madrid." She refuses to travel by air because of its environmental impact. Ms Thunberg had planned to travel slowly to Chile through the Americas. Two weeks ago, she put out a call for help on social media. But last month, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that the South American country could no longer host the event after serious anti-government protests. Ms Thunberg will now sail from Virginia in the US to Spain on the French 48ft sailing catamaran La Vagabonde. She will travel with Australian YouTubers Riley Whitlum and Elayna Carausu, as well as Briton Nikki Henderson - who is a professional yachtswoman. Their boat uses solar panels and hydro-generators for power. Spain offered to host the summit at the end of October. About 25,000 people are expected to attend.
11-13-19 Electric car future may depend on deep sea mining
The future of electric cars may depend on mining critically important metals on the ocean floor. That's the view of the engineer leading a major European investigation into new sources of key elements. Demand is soaring for the metal cobalt - an essential ingredient in batteries and abundant in rocks on the seabed. Laurens de Jonge, who's running the EU project, says the transition to electric cars means "we need those resources". He was speaking during a unique set of underwater experiments designed to assess the impact of extracting rocks from the ocean floor. In calm waters 15km off the coast of Malaga in southern Spain, a prototype mining machine was lowered to the seabed and 'driven' by remote control. Cameras attached to the Apollo II machine recorded its progress and, crucially, monitored how the aluminium tracks stirred up clouds of sand and silt as they advanced. An array of instruments was positioned nearby to measure how far these clouds were carried on the currents - the risk of seabed mining smothering marine life over a wide area is one of the biggest concerns. It's hard to visualise, but imagine opencast mining taking place at the bottom of the ocean, where huge remote-controlled machines would excavate rocks from the seabed and pump them up to the surface. The concept has been talked about for decades, but until now it's been thought too difficult to operate in the high-pressure, pitch-black conditions as much as 5km deep. Now the technology is advancing to the point where dozens of government and private ventures are weighing up the potential for mines on the ocean floor. The short answer: demand. The rocks of the seabed are far richer in valuable metals than those on land and there's a growing clamour to get at them. Billions of potato-sized rocks known as "nodules" litter the abyssal plains of the Pacific and other oceans and many are brimming with cobalt, suddenly highly sought after as the boom in the production of batteries gathers pace. At the moment, most of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo where for years there've been allegations of child labour, environmental damage and widespread corruption.
11-13-19 Could digging up the ocean floor help save the planet?
Scientists are looking at what would happen if we were to dig up the ocean floor for metals. They're particularly interested in cobalt, which is a prime ingredient of the rechargeable batteries found in phones and electric cars. As more and more of us choose to move away from fossil fuels, the demand for cobalt is even greater. But what damage could mining the seabed do to marine life?
11-13-19 Philippines: The boy diving for plastic
Thirteen-year-old Ranniel quit school to support his family. He now risks his life, diving into polluted waters to retrieve plastic waste, the result of a pay-as-you-go, single-use plastic culture that is devastating the environment. It's estimated that Filipinos dispose of 163 million single-use sachets of household products a day, according to one study. That’s enough to cover the entire area of Metropolitan Manila, one-foot-deep in plastic waste.
11-13-19 Plastics outnumber baby fish 7-to-1 in some coastal nurseries
Calm ocean surface nurseries shelter thousands of baby fish. They also attract bits of plastic. Plastics can enter the food web at an unexpected point: larval fish as small the tip of a pencil. the ocean’s surface — to feast on an abundance of prey. Prey-sized plastics also accumulate in these fish nurseries, outnumbering the fish 7-to-1 and ending up in the stomachs of many, researchers report online November 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This is perhaps the most vulnerable life stage of pelagic fish,” says Anela Choy, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., who wasn’t involved in the study. She has documented plastic accumulation in the deep sea (SN: 6/6/19), and says this new study raises important questions about the effects of plastic ingestion at such a fragile life stage. The researchers set out to study larval fish, not plastics, says Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Honolulu. After eggs hatch, tiny fish just a few millimeters in length spend their first days to weeks feeding and growing at the ocean surface before returning to their natural habitat. But “we know very little about where they go, what they eat, and how they find their way back home,” Whitney says. Previous research has suggested that ocean slicks concentrate plankton and other nutrients, and might serve as tranquil nurseries for young fish, Whitney says. He and his colleagues decided to investigate ocean slicks just off the west coast of the island of Hawaii, where fish from a variety of ecosystems — open water, deeper sea and coral reefs — converge. The researchers towed a specialized net inside and outside ocean slicks 100 times from 2016 to 2018 to sample larval fish diversity. But when the researchers inspected their hauls, they quickly realized their study wasn’t going to be just about fish.
11-12-19 Where plastic outnumbers fish by seven to one
Plastic is building up in the areas of the ocean where fish feed and grow, according to research. A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in nursery waters off Hawaii. It appears that the same ocean processes that concentrate prey for juvenile fish also accumulate floating plastics. There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear. "We don't have the data to say whether or not this has a negative effect on fish populations," Dr Gareth Williams of Bangor University, UK, told BBC News. "But the fact that they're eating these non-nutritious particles at the point when eating is so critical for their survival in those first few days, it can only be a bad thing." The researchers set out to investigate the roles of "slicks" as nursery habitats for tiny larval fish. Slicks are naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features of the oceans, which are full of plankton, an important food resource. When the researchers started surveys for plankton off the coast of Hawaii, they were surprised to find lots of plastic in the nets. "It was completely unexpected," said Dr Williams. "The fact that the plastics outnumber the larval fish was astonishing." Plastic densities in surface slicks off Hawaii were, on average, eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Inside the slicks there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish. "We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics," said Dr Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After dissecting hundreds of larval fish, the researchers discovered that many fish species ingested plastic particles. "We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic (open sea) species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish," said Dr Whitney. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which are eaten by top predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds.
11-12-19 Gaming in the US emits as much carbon dioxide as all of Sri Lanka
Whether exploring the weird world of Death Stranding or shooting their way through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, gamers in the US are collectively using more energy than all the freezers in the country’s homes. The first effort to comprehensively map the energy use of gaming in the US found that it produces carbon emissions on a par with Sri Lanka’s total annual carbon footprint, at 24 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. Better graphics, a move to 4K monitors and TVs and growth in streaming games are to blame, according to Evan Mills at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and his colleagues. The researchers looked at energy use for 26 gaming systems including all consoles released by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo over the past 15 years, as well as PCs and media-streaming devices such as the Apple TV. They asked 20 testers in California to run dozens of trials of 37 popular games, including Minecraft, Call of Duty and Skyrim, to check for differences between systems and the way people played. The team extrapolated the findings to the whole of the US, based on the country’s 134 million installed gaming systems. The results show that cloud-based gaming, of the sort Google is promising with its Stadia platform launching next week, is by far the most energy-intensive form of gaming via the internet compared with downloading games or playing them online. That is down to the electricity consumed by the networks streaming the data.Electricity costs varied hugely, from $5 a year to $1000 year, based on average US energy prices. Altogether, gaming consumes 34 terawatt-hours a year, or 2.4 per cent of electricity use by US homes. Carbon emissions varied greatly depending on the local electricity grid’s energy mix.
11-12-19 Worsening bushfires cause Australia to declare state of emergency
A state of emergency has been declared in Australia over escalating wildfires. David Elliott, the New South Wales minister for police and emergency services said the country faced what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”. So far, at least three people have died, 100 people have been injured and 150 homes and buildings have been destroyed by the blazes devastating swathes of the eastern coast. The situation looks set to worsen as hot and dry winds pick up in strength. These latest fires come after Australia’s hottest summer on record, and an unusually hot and dry winter. “In south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales, the last three years have been drier and warmer than usual,” says Richard Thornton at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. “When preceding conditions have been like this, and the bush and grass is so dry, it doesn’t take much for a fire to get going once the wind is up.” People living in and around Sydney, one of the most populous parts of the country, have been warned of “catastrophic” fire conditions for the first time since the classification was introduced in 2009. More than 100,000 homes in the area are within 100 metres of the bush and are at risk, according to consultancy firm Risk Frontiers. A week-long state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales, giving emergency services the power to shut off electricity and evacuate people from their homes. Some 600 schools have been shut down over safety concerns. Bushfires are a normal part of the Australian ecology, but experts have warned that climate change is exacerbating temperatures and lengthening droughts, prompting calls to better prepare for more extreme events to come.
11-12-19 Australia bushfires: New South Wales battles 'catastrophic' conditions
A vast area of Australia's east coast - including parts of the Sydney suburbs - is facing one of the nation's worst-ever bushfire threats. More than 85 fires are burning across the state of New South Wales (NSW), 46 of which are not contained. Authorities had predicted "catastrophic" conditions for Tuesday, amid fears a southerly wind could cause the flames to change direction. About six million people live in the region. Crews are battling a front spanning 1,000km (620 miles) along the north coast of NSW, with several blazes "exceeding 100,000 hectares alone", officials said. On Sydney's north shore, firefighting planes dropped flame retardant over trees and homes in the suburb of South Turramurra, as the bushfires came within 15km (nine miles) of the city centre. "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," resident Julia Gretton-Roberts told AFP news agency. "My daughter is pretty freaked out." Authorities said the Turramurra fire had been brought under control, but one firefighter had suffered a broken arm and suspected fractured ribs. Australia's conservative government has refused to be drawn on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires, in a response that has drawn criticism. "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday. People in vulnerable NSW communities have been urged to stay away from bushland, and to flee their homes before the fires escalate. More than 600 schools are closed across the state. Three people have died and more than 150 properties have been destroyed since the fire emergency intensified in NSW on Friday. But authorities said they were now facing what could be "the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen".
11-12-19 Australia bushfires: 'It's like fireballs exploding in the air'
Australia's bushfires are still raging out of control, sweeping into towns and prompting thousands to flee from their homes. At least five people have died this fire season and authorities are bracing for possible further tragedies. Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes in New South Wales, spoke to the BBC about the horrific scenes she witnessed as fires consumed her town.
11-12-19 How binge-watching your favourite TV show is fuelling climate change
Streaming video services like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ are on the rise - but so are their carbon emissions. ONCE, we had to wait to watch television programmes when they were broadcast. Now, video on demand is taking over. Globally, more than 600 million people subscribe to streaming services like Netflix, and so many services exist that it is hard to keep track. This month alone has seen the launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+. This is great if you are excited about Jennifer Aniston’s return to the small screen, or the prospect of a Star Wars TV show, but it isn’t so great when it comes to climate change. According to one estimate, online videos generate 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or nearly 1 per cent of global emissions, and this is forecast to soar. This puts streaming in the same league as flying, which produces around 2.5 per cent of global emissions. Can it be true? And if it is, can’t streaming be made green by using renewable energy? With broadcast TV, each transmitter uses lots of power to deliver TV signals directly to a huge number of people. But downloading or streaming video requires more equipment and energy because it is one to one, not one to many. When you hit play on the next episode of your latest binge-watch, the request goes out to a vast data centre full of computers, which sends the video file in return. The video typically goes to a Wi-Fi router in your home that may send the signal to yet another box before it reaches the TV. Or, if you are watching on a phone, the video may be sent over the cellular network. Totting up the resulting greenhouse gas emissions from all this is far from simple, but there have been a few attempts to do it. One, by Chris Preist and Daniel Schien at the University of Bristol, UK, looked at YouTube.
11-12-19 Where plastic outnumbers fish by seven to one
Plastic is building up in the areas of the ocean where fish feed and grow, according to research. A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in nursery waters off Hawaii. It appears that the same ocean processes that concentrate prey for juvenile fish also accumulate floating plastics. There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear. "We don't have the data to say whether or not this has a negative effect on fish populations," Dr Gareth Williams of Bangor University, UK, told BBC News. "But the fact that they're eating these non-nutritious particles at the point when eating is so critical for their survival in those first few days, it can only be a bad thing." The researchers set out to investigate the roles of "slicks" as nursery habitats for tiny larval fish. Slicks are naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features of the oceans are full of plankton, which is an important food resource. When the researchers started surveys for plankton off the coast of Hawaii, they were surprised to find lots of plastic in the nets. "It was completely unexpected," said Dr Williams. "The fact that the plastics outnumber the larval fish was astonishing." Plastic densities in surface slicks off Hawaii were, on average, eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Inside the slicks there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish. "We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics," said Dr Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After dissecting hundreds of larval fish, the researchers discovered that many fish species ingested plastic particles. "We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic (open sea) species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish," said Dr Whitney. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which are eaten by top predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds.
11-11-19 Ice loss causing Arctic to reflect less heat
A loss of snow and ice cover are the main reasons for a reduction in the Arctic's ability to reflect heat, not soot as had been previously thought. The capacity of the Arctic to reflect heat is determined by something known as the albedo effect. This is a measurement of how well a surface, such as snow or ice, bounces sunlight back into space. Scientists say soot is not the major contributor, as levels have dropped recently, while warming has continued. The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Arctic region has warmed significantly since the 1980s, up to three times as much as the average seen elsewhere across the globe. Much of this warming has been attributed to the reduction of the surface albedo effect. When sunlight hits a white surface such as snow and ice, more of it is reflected back into space without warming its surroundings than when light hits a darker surface. Thus, darker surfaces tend to absorb more heat. As the albedo effect in the Arctic is reduced, there is a positive feedback effect because, as the region warms, more and more ice and snow cover is lost. As a result, more dark areas are left exposed to sunlight. This results in an amplification in the cycle of warming, a phenomenon that has been described as the Arctic Amplification. The team of scientists from the US used satellite data, which stretches back to the early 1980s, to determine the level of the albedo effect in the Arctic. They found that sea-ice, snow on top of sea-ice and ice on land contributed equally to the region's albedo effect. "These three factors contributed almost equally to the reduction of the surface albedo," explained co-author Hailong Wang, an earth scientist from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US. Within the scientific community, there had been a considerable level of debate over the role of soot blowing up from urban areas to the Arctic. One view was that it played a significant role in the reduction of the albedo effect in the Arctic because the dark soot would absorb more sunlight, thus increasing warming. Dr Wang and his team considered this in their study: "We tried to quantify that impact as well," he said. "Soot absorption in snow and ice have had a minimal impact on the reduction of the albedo effect." He told BBC News that the study was able to calculate for the first time the impact of snow cover on sea ice - considered to be equal to the albedo effect of sea-ice and terrestrial ice - as a result of the study's modelling.
11-11-19 Climate change: Bigger hurricanes are now more damaging
The biggest and most damaging hurricanes are now three times more frequent than they were 100 years ago, say researchers. Using a new method of calculating the destruction, the scientists say the increase in frequency is "unequivocal". Previous attempts to isolate the impact of climate change on hurricanes have often came up with conflicting results. But the new study says the increase in damage caused by these big cyclones is linked by global warming. One of the big questions that scientists have wrestled with is how to compare storm events from different eras. Is the increase in financial damages recorded over the last century simply down to the fact there are now more people living in the paths of hurricanes, who are generally wealthier? Previous research has concluded that the rise in damages was related to wealth, and not to any statistically significant change in frequency. However this new paper challenges that view. Instead of looking at economic damage, the authors looked at the amount of land that was totally destroyed by more than 240 storms between 1900 and 2018, based on insurance industry databases. As an example, the researchers examined Hurricane Irma that hit Florida in 2017. Around 1.1 million people were living inside the 10,000 sq km closest to the storm's landfall. With the wealth per capita estimated to be $194,000, the scientists concluded that the overall wealth in this 10,000 sq km region was $215bn. As the storm caused $50bn worth of damage, this was 23% of the wealth in the region. Taking 23% of the 10,000 sq km gave an area of total destruction of 2,300 sq km. mBy working out similar figures for events across the last century, the researchers were able to make what they say are more realistic comparisons in terms of damage over the decades. The authors found that the frequency of the most damaging hurricanes had increased by a rate of 330% per century. And they believe that is mainly due to rising temperatures.
11-11-19 Climate change: Speed limits for ships can have 'massive' benefits
Cutting the speed of ships has huge benefits for humans, nature and the climate, according to a new report. A 20% reduction would cut greenhouse gases but also curb pollutants that damage human health such as black carbon and nitrogen oxides. This speed limit would cut underwater noise by 66% and reduce the chances of whale collisions by 78%. UN negotiators will meet in London this week to consider proposals to curb maritime speeds. Ships, of all sorts and sizes, transport around 80% of the world's goods by volume. However they are also responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse emissions thanks to the burning of fuel. Shipping generates roughly 3% of the global total of warming gases - that's roughly the same quantity as emitted by Germany. While shipping wasn't covered by the Paris climate agreement, last year the industry agreed to cut emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. This new study, carried out for campaign groups Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment builds on existing research that suggests that slowing down ships is a good idea if you want to curb greenhouse gases. The report though also considers a range of other impacts of a speed cut such as on air pollution and marine noise. As ships travel more slowly they burn less fuel, which means there are also savings in black carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxides. The last two in particular have serious impacts on human health, particularly in cities and coastal areas close to shipping lanes. The report found that cutting ship speed by 20% would cut sulphur and nitrogen oxides by around 24%. There are also significant reductions in black carbon, which are tiny black particles contained in the smoke from ship exhausts. Cutting black carbon helps limit climate warming in the Arctic region because when ships burn fuel in the icy northern waters, the particles often fall on snow, and restrict its ability to reflect back sunlight, which accelerates heating in the Arctic region.
11-11-19 Durwood Zaelke: How your air conditioning could help to save the planet
Durwood Zaelke’s eye for an environmental “quick fix” has arguably saved the world half a degree Celsius of warming. The environmental lawyer is the little-known driving force behind a key amendment to what's been called the most successful climate treaty ever. The BBC's Hannah Long-Higgins meets him and finds that there are deeply personal reasons driving him.
11-11-19 Is climate change to blame for Australia's bushfires?
Australia is enduring a bushfire crisis that has left three people dead, razed more than 150 homes, and prompted warnings of "catastrophic" danger. Bushfires are a regular feature in the Australian calendar, but the blazes in New South Wales and Queensland have not previously occurred on such a scale and so early in the fire season, officials say. This has led many Australians to ask how closely the fires can be linked to climate change. The science around climate change is complex - it's not the cause of bushfires but scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate would contribute to Australia's fires becoming more frequent and more intense. But the nation's political leaders are facing a backlash for batting away questions on the subject. On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to answer a question about climate change, saying: "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families." When asked the same question, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters: "Honestly, not today." Some Australians agreed, but others were furious the question was being ignored. Mr Morrison later tweeted to offer "thoughts and prayers" to those affected, but critics compared that to rhetoric used by US lawmakers who have opposed gun reforms after mass shootings. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack stoked the most anger, when on Monday he dismissed climate change as the concerns of "raving inner-city lefties" who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. "We've had fires in Australia since time began," he said. The nation's target under the Paris Agreement - the global deal to tackle rising global temperatures - is a 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030. Some have criticised that as inadequate for a G20 country. Last year, the UN reported that Australia - the world's largest coal exporter - was not on track to meet its commitment.
11-10-19 Australia bushfires: Sydney facing 'catastrophic' threat
Australia is warning of a "catastrophic" bushfire threat to its largest city Sydney and surrounding areas on Tuesday. Residents in vulnerable communities are being urged to leave and seek shelter in shopping centres. At least three people are dead and thousands have been displaced by a weekend of bushfires in Australia. On Sunday more than 100 blazes were still burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who was heckled by a climate change protester as he briefed reporters - refused to be drawn on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires. "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families," he said. Sydney is facing potentially catastrophic conditions for the first time since new fire warnings were introduced a decade ago. The Hunter region to the north is also at risk. Temperatures are expected to reach 37C in the city on Tuesday. Conditions are expected to be worse than on Friday, when the firestorms began tearing through parts of eastern Australia. "Under these conditions, these fires will spread quickly and threaten homes and lives," NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement. Schools in vulnerable areas will be closed and firefighters from New Zealand have been flown in to help as weary emergency crews prepare for a fresh onslaught. Mr Morrison says the military could also be called upon to support the 1,300 firefighters working in the two states. Hundreds of civilians have also volunteered to help in affected areas. In Queensland, thousands of people spent the night in evacuation centres while officials assessed whether it was safe for them to return home. Fire officials in NSW have confirmed that more than 150 homes have been destroyed.
11-10-19 Iran oil: New field with 53bn barrels found - Rouhani
A new oil field that would increase Iran's proven reserves by about a third has been discovered, President Hassan Rouhani has said. The field, in the south-western province of Khuzestan and about 2,400 sq km (926 sq miles) in area, contains 53 billion barrels of crude, he said. Iran has been struggling to sell oil abroad because of tough US sanctions. They were imposed after the US pulled out of a nuclear deal with world powers last year. "We have found an oil field with 53 billion barrels of oil in place, 53 billion barrels. This is in a big oil field that stretches 2,400 sq km from Bostan to Omidiyeh. The oil layer has a depth of 80m (262ft)," he said during a speech in the central city of Yazd. Iran's oil revenues will increase by $32bn (£25bn) "if extraction rate from the oil field increases only 1%", he added. "I am telling the White House that in the days when you sanctioned the sale of Iranian oil, the country's workers and engineers were able to discover 53 billion barrels of oil," he is quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. The new oil field could become Iran's second largest field after the one containing 65 billion barrels in Ahvaz, says the AP news agency. Iran is one of the world's largest oil producers, with exports worth billions of dollars each year. Its existing proven reserves are of some 150 billion barrels, Mr Rouhani said. It has the world's fourth-biggest oil reserves and second-largest gas reserves, and shares a massive offshore field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar. (Webmaster's comment: More fuel for the global warming fire.)
11-9-19 Australia bushfires: Two dead in New South Wales blazes
At least two people are dead and seven others missing in "unprecedented" bushfires in Australia. As the fire emergency continued into its second day on Saturday, officials confirmed that more than 150 homes in New South Wales had burned down. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, while bridges, schools and power lines were destroyed. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the number of casualties would continue to rise throughout the day. The two known victims were killed by a fire near Glen Innes, about 550 km (340 miles) north of Sydney. About 1,000 firefighters are attempting to tackle the blazes in New South Wales, supported by water-bombing aircraft. There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires. Gusty winds and up to 35C heat have exacerbated the fires, many of which are in drought-affected areas. In Queensland, thousands of people spent the night in evacuation centres while officials assessed whether it was safe for them to return home. And NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there would be little reprieve in fire conditions over the next week, or throughout the summer months of December, January and February. "The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months," he told Reuters news agency. At one point on Friday, 17 emergency-level fires were burning simultaneously across NSW.
11-9-19 Geology, not CO2, controlled monsoon intensity in Asia’s ancient past
Over millions of years, tectonic shifts modified the strength of the seasonal rains. Shifting tectonic plates, not atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, controlled the strength of the powerful East Asian monsoon throughout its history, scientists say. The monsoon is a seasonal system of winds that brings heavy rains to a vast swath of Asia, from India to Taiwan, each summer. The rains are a vitally important source of water for agriculture. Some previous research has suggested that past eras known to have had high atmospheric CO2 levels and warmer temperatures might also have been times of fluctuating monsoon intensity. The implication that monsoons are far more sensitive to climate change than once thought is alarming in a warming world: Dramatic change in monsoon intensity in the near future would threaten food security for over a billion people. Yet the new study offers some potentially good news on that front: Even during very warm periods in Earth’s past, such as the Eocene Epoch that lasted from 56 million to 34 million years ago, the monsoon’s intensity wasn’t much different than it is today. Alexander Farnsworth, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Bristol in England, and colleagues combined plate tectonic reconstructions with paleotemperature “proxies” that provide clues to past climatic conditions. Such proxies, found in and near the Tibetan Plateau, include ancient fossils and pollen, as well as sedimentary deposits. Using these data, the team reconstructed the evolution of the monsoon going back 150 million years. What really exerted control over changes in the monsoon’s intensity were Earth’s slowly but constantly shifting landmasses, the team reports October 30 in Science Advances.
Skeptics, after new data revealed that last month was the hottest October globally ever recorded. Temperatures were 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average from 1981 to 2010.
11-8-19 Global cities could be wiped out by rising seas
Rising seas will leave some of the world’s great cities uninhabitable by 2050 and affect three times more people than previously thought, a new study has found. Researchers at U.S. science organization Climate Central say that unless carbon emissions are significantly cut, land areas where 150 million people now live will be below the high-tide mark by the middle of the century. And if climate change and sea level rise accelerate, up to 340 million people could be threatened by tidal flooding at least once a year—more than triple previous estimates. Asia would be hit especially hard. Under the more modest prediction, southern Vietnam would all but disappear into the sea. Mumbai, India’s financial capital and home to some 20 million people, and Shanghai, one of the world’s economic engines, could be wiped out. The reason behind the sharp upward revision is that previous research used data from satellites not equipped to differentiate between the actual ground level and the tops of trees and buildings, so land elevation estimates worldwide were off by about 6½ feet. The new research used artificial intelligence to compensate for those misreadings. “We’ve had a huge blind spot as to the degree of danger,” study co-author Benjamin Strauss tells The Washington Post, “and that’s what we’ve been striving to improve.”
11-8-19 U.S. to exit Paris climate deal
The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations this week that it will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, making the U.S. the first of nearly 200 countries to leave it. The 2015 agreement outlines steps to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and the Obama administration set a target of cutting U.S. emissions 13 to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The White House gave notice on the first day that the accord’s complicated rules allow the U.S. to begin a withdrawal; it would take effect the day after the 2020 presidential election. Every Democratic presidential candidate has pledged to rejoin the accord if elected, and 24 states plus Puerto Rico said they would continue honoring the deal’s goals.
11-8-19 Toxic air
Authorities in India’s capital declared a public health emergency this week as thick smog choked residents and flights were canceled because of low visibility. Schools were shuttered and parents told to keep children indoors. Pollution in New Delhi is literally off the charts, with the air quality index at the upper limit of 999; the normal range is 0 to 50. Breathing that air has the same health effect as smoking 50 cigarettes a day, said medical experts. “Delhi has turned into a gas chamber,” said the city’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. Scientists say the haze is caused by a combination of harvest-time crop burning, car exhaust, smoke from Diwali fireworks, and stagnant weather conditions that have trapped those airborne pollutants over the city.
11-8-19 Climate change: Sea ice loss linked to spread of deadly virus
The decline in sea ice seen in the Arctic in recent decades has been linked by scientists to the spread of a deadly virus in marine mammals. Researchers found that Phocine distemper virus (PDV) had spread from animals in the North Atlantic to populations in the North Pacific. The scientists say the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice declines further. The 15-year study tracked seals, sea lions and otters via satellite. The loss of sea ice in the Arctic has been one of the most visible signs of climate change on the planet over the past four decades. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ice has been retreating by around 12% per decade between 1979 and 2018. "These sea ice changes in September are likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years. Arctic sea ice has thinned, concurrent with a transition to younger ice. Between 1979 and 2018, the real proportion of multi-year ice that is at least five years old has declined by approximately 90%," the IPCC said in their report on the oceans and the cryosphere published in September. Against this changing background, researchers have investigated the likely spread of the PDV infection, which caused a large number of deaths among harbour seals in the North Atlantic in 2002. But outbreaks of the virus had not been seen in marine creatures in the North Pacific until 2004 when PDV was found in northern sea otters in Alaska. Samples were collected from 2,500 marine mammals in a variety of locations over the course of the study. Satellite data from tagged animals recorded locations. This was correlated with data on sea ice loss. The scientists say that the record melt in August 2002 was followed by widespread exposure and infection with PDV in Steller sea lions in the North Pacific in 2003 and 2004 with over 30% of animals testing positive. PDV prevalence then declined until it peaked again in 2009, following on from the presence of open water routes in 2008.
11-8-19 Emperor penguins could go extinct by 2100 if we fail on climate change
Unchecked climate change could drive emperor penguins to extinction by the end of the century as sea ice vanishes. But if the world delivers on the toughest target of the Paris climate agreement, of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C, then numbers of the iconic species will decline by less than a third. Stephanie Jenouvrier at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts found that the future of emperor penguins hinges on international climate efforts rather than their ability to adapt and move to new homes. “Penguins are this indicator species, this canary in the coal mine, they are warning us of the future effect of climate. The big message is we need to listen to the penguins, and implement policies to meet the Paris agreement’s objective, and we need to do that now,” she says. Disappearing sea ice affects emperor penguins directly because they rely on it for their nine-month breeding season, as well as a place to moult and escape from predators. But the ice is also crucial for the species because it influences the food they rely on, including krill. Sea ice changes are already affecting emperor penguins, with breeding failures for three years in a row at their second biggest colony in the Antarctic pinned on early break-up of ice used for breeding. To examine the fate of the world’s estimated 595,000 emperors as the planet warms, Jenouvrier and her colleagues modelled future colonies and populations under three different scenarios: hitting the Paris deal’s top target of 1.5°C, its minimum goal of no more than 2°C, and what would happen if emissions keep rising as they are today. They combined a global climate model, sea ice projections and different scenarios of how the penguins might disperse, something most studies don’t look at. The result was an 81 to 86 per cent fall in population by 2100 under the business-as-usual scenario, depending on how the animals disperse to new homes.
11-8-19 Australia bushfires: Record number of emergencies in New South Wales
Australian authorities say an "unprecedented" number of emergency-level bushfires are threatening the state of New South Wales (NSW). More than 80 blazes were raging across the state on Friday. Gusty winds and up to 35C heat have exacerbated the fires, many of which are in drought-affected areas. There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires. "We are in uncharted territory," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level." At one point, 17 emergency-level fires were burning simultaneously across NSW. But fire authorities said that falling temperatures, increases in humidity and helicopter assistance were helping with efforts to tackle the blazes. Authorities have deployed more than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft to save "as many people as possible", Mr Fitzsimmons said. The Rural Fire Service tweeted on Friday that "due to the size and speed of the fires we couldn't get to everyone, even by road or helicopter". The blazes are spread across about 1,000 km (621 miles) of Australia's coast, stretching the emergency response. Some people were warned to seek shelter from fires rather than flee, as it was now too late to leave. Emergency warnings were also issued on Friday for bushfires burning in Queensland and Western Australia. In NSW, the worst-hit state, crews have fought hundreds of fires since September. Last month, two people died while trying to protect their home. Last week, one blaze burned though 2,000 hectares of bush which contained a koala sanctuary. Hundreds of the animals were feared to have died. More than half the koalas living at another sanctuary may have also been killed by wildfires, according to charity Koala Conservation Australia.
11-7-19 Does Andy Beshear's win mean Kentucky is ready to move off coal?
Tuesday's election results brought some upsets, perhaps none more dramatic than Kentucky's gubernatorial race: In that deep red state, where President Trump's commitment to defending the coal industry helped him win by 30 points in 2016, a Democrat nonetheless just eked out a win for governor. Kentuckians' understandable desire for economic prosperity, their association of that prosperity with coal, and the resulting perception that they must support Republicans to defend coal, have all formed a tightly-mortared political brick wall — one that's been nearly impossible for Democrats to break through. Tuesday's results certainly don't portend a collapse of that wall. But they do suggest some cracks are growing. First, let's set this event in its proper context, so no one gets too excited. Democrat Andy Beshear, up until now Kentucky's Attorney General, and the son of the state's last Democratic governor, appears to have won by the thinnest of margins. His opponent and the current governor, Republican Matt Bevin, has yet to concede. Bevin is known for an exceedingly abrasive style, and has won no favors in Kentucky by picking fights with everyone from state public employees to journalists to judges. In particular, Bevin got into battles with the state's teachers, a popular constituency that Beshear eagerly embraced. Basically, Bevin went out of his way to make himself toxic despite the popularity of the GOP's national brand in the state, and Beshear still just squeaked by. Nor did Beshear exactly go out of his way to yoke himself to the Democratic Party's climate warriors or the idea of a Green New Deal. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a presidential candidate and one of the GND's biggest boosters, campaigned in Kentucky, Beshear notably didn't join him. When asked about climate change and the Democrats' enthusiasm for a GND, Beshear largely ignored that specific program and responded in more general terms about the need to diversify the state's energy portfolio with "as many renewables as possible."
11-7-19 A deadly seal virus may be spreading faster due to melting Arctic ice
The spread of a deadly virus in seals may be connected to loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. The virus, called phocine distemper virus or PDV, is the seal equivalent of measles and causes a disease affecting the brain and lungs. Many harbour seals die from the disease, says Tracey Goldstein at the University of California, Davis. “In other seals we see sporadic deaths but not a large mass mortality like what we see in harbour seals,” she says. Goldstein and her team collected blood and nasal swab samples from over 2500 sea otters, sea lions and various species of seal, in the north of the Pacific Ocean between 2001 and 2016 and tested them for PDV. Using satellite images, they assessed the presence of routes through the Arctic Ocean, due to melting sea ice, over the same period. The researchers detected major peaks in virus infection in north of the Pacific Ocean otters, sea lions and seals in 2003 and 2009, which were associated with the presence of a route through melted Arctic sea ice in the preceding years. This was the first time the virus had been detected in sea otters, which, along with sea lions, can spread the infection to seals. In 2002, an outbreak in the north of the Atlantic Ocean killed 30,000 seals. A year later, the team detected PDV in the north of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That year, over 30 per cent of sea mammals they tested in the north of the Pacific Ocean were infected with PDV, suggesting the virus crossed the Arctic. James Wellahan at the University of Florida says that if we fail to tackle climate change, the spread of PDV could lead to the loss of entire species. “When you have a planet that is undergoing massive change like this, and we’re damaging their food sources with over fishing, all of this just adds up to more pressure against the species,” says Wellehan.
11-6-19 11 years remain to fight climate change – what progress have we made?
No planet B | In 2018, we were told we had 12 years to save the planet. One year on, Graham Lawton finds reasons to be hopeful, despite ever-rising carbon emission. “WE HAVE to do everything, and we have to do it immediately.” That quote, from climate scientist Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK, has haunted me ever since I wrote it down almost a year ago. I was interviewing Forster for a piece on limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Like many senior scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he remains institutionally optimistic that we can pull off a rescue. But he didn’t mince his words. That was just after an IPCC report spelled out the scale and speed of the changes needed to avoid catastrophic warming of more than 1.5°C. It was widely reported as giving us “12 years to save the planet” – not entirely accurate, but not entirely wrong either, and a useful rallying cry for action. We now have 11 years. So it’s a good time to ask, with another year over, what have we done? I put this question to another titan in the climate ecosystem, Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. I asked him what had actually happened since the 1.5°C report came out. His answer can be summarised in two words: not much. Carbon emissions and consumption of fossil fuels are still rising, he admitted. But, he said, “the mental attitude has changed… sentiment has moved in the right direction”. Really? Is that all we have? Sure, sentiment matters, but Greta Thunberg alone can’t achieve the hard yards of getting emissions down. I felt like Talaas was putting a brave face on an increasingly hopeless situation. A few weeks on from our conversation, however, my gloom has lifted a little. I’m not about to do a U-turn: we are still in deep trouble. But if you look behind the headline figures on greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, there are glimmers of light.
11-6-19 Here's how we can stop a mountain of electric car batteries piling up
More than a million electric cars were bought globally in the first half of this year, the same number sold across the whole of 2017. In the UK, sales of pure electric cars were up 151 per cent last month. Such signs of rapid growth are good news for air quality and climate change, but research out today warns of a potential sting in the tail. There is no such thing as an electric car battery waste mountain, yet. However, the number of cars set to be sold globally this year could one day lead to more than 500,000 tonnes of battery waste, five times that of all the portable batteries recycled in the European Union annually. Those lithium-ion car batteries will need to be recycled or pose an environmental and safety risk, according to Laura Driscoll at the University of Birmingham, UK, and her colleagues. Whether that translates into a challenge or opportunity depends on what carmakers and governments do next. “It’s a challenge because most current generation batteries aren’t designed for recycling,” says Driscoll. For example, Tesla’s high-end cars use packs of cylindrical battery cells, which in some cases are bonded into a battery module, making them hard to remove and recycle – though the company says it is working to improve this. Nissan’s Leaf model, by contrast, uses a pouch of rectangular cells which are easier to open and separate for recycling. There is no standardisation among car makers on battery packs, and little sign of any coming soon. “If the battery packs were more of a standard design, it would make the process at end-of-life much easier,” says Driscoll. Most electric car batteries should have a lifetime of around 15 to 20 years. While their first decade will probably be in a car, some have already gone on to a second life as Tesla Powerwall-style batteries in homes, and more will follow. Still, eventually they will need to be recycled.
11-6-19 General election 2019: Greens call for £100bn a year for climate action
The Green Party have launched their general election campaign with a call for £100bn a year to be spent on tackling the climate "emergency". Co-leader Sian Berry said: "Some things are even bigger than Brexit. This must be the climate election. The future won't get another chance." The party says it would fund the pledge by borrowing £91.2bn a year, with an extra £9bn from "tax changes". The party also set out plans to make Britain carbon neutral by 2030. The government has already committed to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a move announced by former Prime Minister Theresa May before she left office earlier this year. At the Green Party for England and Wales election campaign launch in Bristol, Ms Berry said: "Let's be honest about the situation we're in. We know these are dark times. It's easy to fear the future. "The threat of Brexit hangs over our heads, the climate emergency rages from the Amazon to the Arctic, and our fragile democracy is under attack. "But despite all this, Greens don't fear the future. "We welcome the future. Because we know that we stand at the threshold of what could be the most exciting and prosperous period of British history." The Green Party supports another EU referendum and is in talks with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru about forming a "Remain alliance" to stop Brexit. The deal would see candidates stand aside for each other to increase the chances of a Remain-supporting MP being elected. Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the alliance hoped to target "around 50 seats", telling BBC Politics Live: "The idea is to get the biggest Remain party bloc in the Parliament." He admitted some local Green Party branches were against the idea of standing aside for a Lib Dem or Plaid Cymru candidate. "Some want to, some are not so keen," he said, but he hoped a deal would "go through" and would be announced "quite soon".
11-6-19 Extinction Rebellion: High Court rules London protest ban unlawful
A police ban on Extinction Rebellion protests in London last month was unlawful, High Court judges have ruled. The Metropolitan Police imposed the ban, which prevented two or more people from the group taking part in protests, under the Public Order Act. But judges have ruled that police had no power to do this because the law did not cover "separate assemblies". Activists say the police could now face claims for false imprisonment from "potentially hundreds" of protesters. The Met said it would "carefully consider" the ruling. The protests cost £24m to police and led to 1,828 arrests, with 165 people charged with offences, the Met says. During the court hearing, the force had argued that the ban was the only way to tackle widespread disruption. Announcing their judgement, however, Lord Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled in favour of Extinction Rebellion. Lord Justice Dingemans said: "Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if co-ordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly within the meaning of... the Act. "The XR [Extinction Rebellion] autumn uprising intended to be held from October 14 to 19 was not therefore a public assembly... therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it under... the Act." The judges noted that there are powers within that act which may be used lawfully to "control future protests which are deliberately designed to 'take police resources to breaking point"'. During 10 days of climate change protests last month, activists shut down areas around Parliament and the Bank of England, and targeted London City Airport. Police had previously warned protesters to keep demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, or risk arrest - before issuing a city-wide ban on 14 October, under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
11-6-19 Why is India's pollution much worse than China's?
As India's north continues to struggle with extreme pollution levels, the story has put a fresh spotlight on air quality in cities across Asia. Beijing has long been notorious for its smog - but statistics show that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have worse air by far. So why is South Asia so much more polluted? Of the world's most polluted 30 cities, 22 are in India, according to research by IQ AirVisual, a Swiss-based group that gathers air-quality data globally, and Greenpeace. The remaining eight cities are all in Pakistan, Bangladesh and China - but the list doesn't include Beijing, which comes in at number 122. Just looking at global capitals, it's also Asian cities that top the ranking. Looking at overall countries, it's Bangladesh that has the worst air, followed by Pakistan and then India. All these rankings are based on average air quality per year. As these countries have very different densities of measuring stations and transparency of data, the statistics have to be read with a degree of caution. But they certainly indicate an overall trend. Pollution in urban areas is usually a mix of different factors - mostly traffic, fossil fuel burning power plants and heavy industries. What differentiates China from India is that in the latter, there is still a lot of burning of agricultural stubble when farmers want to clear their fields. The burning usually takes place in autumn. "In this episode, the big problem really seems to have been the agricultural burning," assistant professor Thomas Smith of the London School of Economics told the BBC. "That's one thing that China has tackled. All agricultural burning has been banned, full stop." A global overview for fires and thermal abnormalities is made available by Nasa, and allows users to track developments over past days and weeks. The area north-west of Delhi shows a highly unusual concentration of fires, Prof Smith points out.
11-6-19 Delhi air pollution 'killing our children'
Air pollution in India's capital Delhi has reached more than 20 times the World Health Organization's safe limit. It is causing respiratory illnesses in people, and children are worst affected, reports the BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan.
11-6-19 Teabags: Is there plastic in yours?
You've poured the kettle. The tea has brewed. Now how should you dispose of the teabag? The bin? The food waste? The compost heap? Other recycling? Landfill, up until recently, would have been the correct answer because teabags have traditionally been sealed with a very small amount of plastic - made from oil. That is now changing, with many companies looking to find a more eco-friendly alternative. But have some gone too far with their claims? Clipper, the UK's sixth biggest tea brand, declares its bags "plastic free". But when you look at the small print it says the company uses a bio-plastic to seal the bags - made from plant material rather than oil. When the BBC pointed out that some experts consider bio-plastic to still be a type of plastic, Clipper said it would update its website to make the information clearer. It now says the material it uses, known as PLA (polylactic acid), is "not a plastic in the way we believe people most commonly think of plastics". Clipper boxes are still labelled "plastic-free". Prof Mark Miodownik, a materials specialist at University College London, says most plastics are made from petrochemicals, but some - known as bio-plastics - are created using plant-based materials, such as corn or potato. According to him, PLA - the sealant used by Clipper - is a plastic and "in this case it is still a single-use plastic". Clipper says the material is "entirely natural, biodegradable and much more environmentally friendly". A spokeswoman added: "Although a bio-polymer could technically be described as a bio-plastic, it is very different to the oil-based plastics which people are rightly concerned about." Yorkshire Tea announced last month that it was hoping to release new renewable and biodegradable teabags by the end of November. Its first attempt last year was "a bit of a disaster" - its own words, and the view of social media - with bags falling apart in people's cups.
11-6-19 Huge amounts of abandoned fishing gear litter the world's oceans
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of lost, abandoned and discarded fishing gear litter the world’s oceans. In some areas, this gear accounts for 30 per cent of the catch, trapping turtles, seabirds and whales as well as commercially fished species. Kelsey Richardson at CSIRO, Australia’s national science research agency, and her colleagues combined 68 studies from 32 countries and territories to assess the scale of the problem. The team found that 6 per cent of nets, 9 per cent of traps and 29 per cent of lines are lost to the ocean each year from commercial fishing. While the line losses are highest in percentage terms, these were often just a section of line, whereas when a trawl net was lost this frequently meant the entire trawling gear. The researchers found that the most common causes of loss were bad weather, gear getting caught on the sea floor and “gear conflict”, where pieces of equipment get tangled up with each other. Types of nets that drag along the sea bed are the most likely to be lost. Previous studies have revealed that “ghost fishing” by abandoned gear can catch vast quantities of fish. This includes up to 5 per cent of the catch in the Baltic Sea and up to 30 per cent of Norway’s Greenland halibut. Studies tend to focus on the waters around Europe and the US and little is known about the African, Asian, South American and Oceania regions. Abandoned gear makes up much of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans, including 46 per cent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “When plastic fishing gear pollutes our global ocean, it can persist for hundreds of years. We haven’t been using synthetics long enough to see plastic fishing gear disappear or entirely break down,” says Richardson.
11-6-19 Nuclear fusion is 'a question of when, not if'
The prospects for developing nuclear fusion as a feasible source of energy have significantly improved, say experts. The UK government has recently announced an investment of £200m to deliver electricity from a fusion reactor by 2040. Private companies and governments have told the BBC they aim to have demonstration models working within five years. But huge hurdles remain, say critics. With the price of wind and solar continuing to drop, experts say these existing renewables might offer a more economical and timely method of tackling climate change and generating energy than an unproven technology like fusion. Nuclear fusion is an attempt to replicate the processes of the Sun on Earth. It differs significantly from nuclear fission, which has been our only way of getting electricity from atoms since the 1950s. Fission has proven to be hugely expensive. It generates large amounts of radioactive waste and raises serious concerns about safety and the proliferation of weapons. Fusion is the process that drives our Sun. Every single second, millions of tonnes of hydrogen atoms crash together in the tremendous temperatures and pressures of our parent star. This forces them to break their atomic bonds and fuse to make the heavier element, helium. Natural, solar fusion generates enormous quantities of heat and light. For decades, researchers have been trying to replicate this process on Earth, or "build the Sun in a box" as one physicist dubbed it. The basic idea is to take a type of hydrogen gas, heat it to more than 100 million degrees until it forms a thin, fragile cloud called a plasma, and then control it with powerful magnets until the atoms fuse and release energy. Potentially, it can generate power that is low carbon, with much smaller amounts of waste. It also comes without the danger of explosions. To deliver the fusion concept, countries have focused their energies on a major international co-operative effort called Iter.
11-5-19 Global climate pledges need to be ramped up to keep warming below 1.5C
Almost three quarters of the climate pledges countries have put forward for the Paris agreement fall short of the emissions cuts needed to stop dangerous warming. Bob Watson, a former scientific adviser to the UK government, and colleagues found countries with insufficient plans include the world’s biggest emitters, China, India and the US. The US on Monday started the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris deal. The team found only plans by seven countries, including Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine, and the EU were compatible with the goal of holding temperature rises to no more than 1.5°C. “It’s depressing,” says Watson. “What the message is here is if governments are serious about meeting the Paris targets, whether it’s 1.5°C or 2°C, they need to ratchet up their commitments.” French president Emmanuel Macron said today that countries next year will need to enhance their plans to curb emissions, ahead of a crunch UN climate summit to be held in Glasgow. “The cooperation between China and the European Union in this respect is decisive,” he said at a trade fair in Shanghai. Watson and his team looked at the 184 existing pledges put forward by countries under the Paris climate agreement, which was signed in 2016. Some countries, such as Russia, have not even submitted a plan. Of ones that have, only those that would deliver a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 were classified as sufficient.Watson says the ranking is limited by the fact it does not factor in what would be a country’s fair or equitable portion of global emission cuts, a country’s historical contribution to climate change, or poorer countries’ need to develop. In the case of the US, under former president Barack Obama’s climate initiatives, the country’s plan would have been deemed partially sufficient, but since rollbacks by Donald Trump, it is graded as insufficient. The US is off-track for its goal of cutting emissions by a quarter by 2025, but the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo claimed yesterday the country had been a leader in cutting emissions. “Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model,” he said of the US withdrawal from the Paris accord.
11-5-19 The first artificial material that follows sunlight may upgrade solar panels
As the sun moves across the sky, sunflowers continually orient themselves to soak up the most light (SN: 8/4/16). Now a type of human-made material can do that, too. This is the first artificial material capable of phototropism, researchers report November 4 in Nature Nanotechnology. Stemlike cylinders of the material, dubbed SunBOTs, can maneuver to capture about 90 percent of available sunlight, even when the sun comes in at an oblique angle, materials scientist Ximin He of UCLA and her colleagues found. The technology could someday be used to optimize solar panels, desalinate water or move robots, the researchers say. Other scientists have made artificial substances that can bend toward light, but those materials stop arbitrarily. SunBOTs can self-regulate, moving into the optimal position needed to absorb the sun’s rays, then making small adjustments to stay there as the sun shifts. That ability comes from a SunBOTs’ configuration: a stemlike polymer about 1 millimeter in diameter embedded with a nanomaterial that responds to light. The nanomaterial absorbs light and converts it into heat; the polymer shrinks in response to increased temperatures. When He and colleagues trained a beam of light on one of these artificial stems, the illuminated side heated up and contracted. That caused its top to bend toward the light. The newly shaded underside of the stem then cooled, stopping the SunBOT’s movement in a position best oriented to soak up the light. The process repeated as the angle of the light beam changed. To build their initial SunBOTs, the researchers used gold nanoparticles and a hydrogel. But tests with other materials — such as carbon black nanoparticles and liquid crystalline polymers — revealed that the components could be mixed and matched.
11-5-19 Climate change: ‘Clear and unequivocal’ emergency, say scientists
A global group of around 11,000 scientists have endorsed research that says the world is facing a climate emergency. The study, based on 40 years of data on a range of measures, says governments are failing to address the crisis. Without deep and lasting changes, the world is facing "untold human suffering" the study says. The researchers say they have a moral obligation to warn of the scale of the threat. Released on the day that satellite data shows that last month was the warmest October on record, the new study says that that simply measuring global surface temperatures is an inadequate way of capturing the real dangers of an overheating world. So the authors include a range of data which they believe represents a "suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the past 40 years". These indicators include the growth of human and animal populations, per capita meat production, global tree cover loss, as well as fossil fuel consumption. Some progress has been seen in some areas. For example, renewable energy has grown significantly, with consumption of wind and solar increasing 373% per decade - but it was still 28 times smaller than fossil fuel use in 2018. Taken together, the researchers say most of their vital signs indicators are going in the wrong direction and add up to a climate emergency. "An emergency means that if we do not act or respond to the impacts of climate change by reducing our carbon emissions, reducing our livestock production, reducing our land clearing and fossil fuel consumption, the impacts will likely be more severe than we've experienced to date," said lead author Dr Thomas Newsome, from the University of Sydney. "That could mean there are areas on Earth that are not inhabitable by people." The study echoes many of the warnings that have been reported by scientists including the IPCC. The authors set out to present a clear and simple graphical picture of a broader ranger of indicators that can drive home to the public and to governments that the threat is serious while the response has been poor.
11-5-19 Paris climate accords: US notifies UN of intention to withdraw
The US has begun the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, notifying the UN of its intention to leave, as other countries express regret and disappointment at the move. The notification begins a one-year process of exiting the global climate change accord, culminating the day after the 2020 US election. The US government says the deal puts an "unfair economic burden" on Americans. The agreement brought together 188 nations to combat climate change. There has been widespread international condemnation of the US move. The Paris accord, agreed in 2015, committed the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures below 2C above pre-industrial levels and attempting to limit them even more, to a 1.5C rise. The decision to withdraw - taken by President Donald Trump after he came to office in 2017 - made the US the world's sole non-signatory and prompted high-level efforts by the European Union to keep the agreement on track. However, hundreds of local governments, businesses and organisations in the US have joined the We Are Still In movement, pledging to cut emissions and move to renewable energy. The US issued its formal notification on the first day it was possible to do so. Mr Trump had made withdrawing from the agreement one of his election campaign pledges but UN rules had meant it was not possible for the US to start the withdrawal process until 4 November 2019. The withdrawal is still subject to the outcome of next year's US presidential election - if Mr Trump loses, the winner may decide to change course. But scientists and environmentalists fear the effect the Trump administration will have on climate protections in the meantime. A report issued in December 2018 by the Institute of International and European Affairs suggested President Trump's decision to leave had done "very real damage" to the Paris agreement, creating "moral and political cover for others to follow suit".
11-5-19 Fireworks and fires on bonfire night quadruple air pollution in the UK
This evening is bonfire night in the UK, when many people gather to light bonfires and set off fireworks – and, it turns out, create a spike in air pollution. Thousands of sensors across Newcastle and Gateshead constantly take readings of fine particulate matter, and on 5 November last year they showed that measurements quadrupled between 8pm and midnight, when celebrations take place. Levels rose from around 20 micrograms per metre cubed during the day to 80 µg/m³ just before 11pm. That figure compares with the annual average across the area of 25 µg/m³ and is eight times the World Health Organization’s recommended safe limit of 10 µg/m³. The data was collected as part of Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory, the UK’s largest urban experiment collecting data about city life, taking in around 60 studies of everything from energy use, noise, rainfall, pollution, traffic and social media use.Phil James at Newcastle University said: “The air pollution data we collected over 24 hours last bonfire night paints a really striking picture of the impact the fireworks and bonfires are having on air quality. “It’s perhaps not surprising – you can often smell the gunpowder and smoke in the air on November 5th – and the low cloud cover that night exacerbated the situation.” The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said pollution levels were not expected to remain high around bonfire night this year, with different weather conditions forecast from those experienced in 2018.
11-5-19 Could your home be net zero carbon? The radical plan to make it happen
GAS boilers make for an unlikely UK election battleground, but politicians have been competing on who will phase them out the fastest. Last week, the opposition Labour party said it would make all new homes net-zero carbon from 2022, beating the Conservative government’s plans to rule out gas boilers from new homes by 2025. The Liberal Democrats in turn said they will make new homes net zero by 2021. Whoever wins next month’s election, the flicker of gas boilers is long due for extinction. The UK’s 26 million homes are responsible for about a fifth of the country’s carbon emissions, making the greening of them a key plank of slashing net emissions to zero by 2050 – now a legal requirement. Retrofitting those buildings will be a huge undertaking. Meanwhile, some 230,000 new homes are built in the UK every year, most of them reliant on fossil fuels for heating and hot water. That will radically change with the government’s recent future homes standard, which will apply to England from 2025, and could be followed by similar rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What will new homes then look like? Ministers hope the building regulations mean an average home’s carbon emissions will be 80 per cent lower in 2025 than one built to today’s standards. To reach that goal, the government isn’t explicitly banning gas boilers, but is implicitly ending them by proposing a reduction in home CO2 emissions that would be impossible to meet with one. Crucially, a home’s source of heat will have to be low carbon. For some, such as blocks of flats, it may come via a heat network, where a central boiler pipes hot water to every property. That is still likely to involve fossil fuels in the near term, but a central system is much more efficient than a block full of individual gas boilers.
11-5-19 Lead levels in Canadian water 'exceed safe limit' in a third of cases
The amount of lead in the water supply of major Canadian cities exceeded safe levels in hundreds of thousands of homes, a major investigation has found. Some areas showed lead levels "similar" to those in the US city of Flint, Michigan, during its 2015 water crisis. Out of 12,000 samples taken from 2014 to 2018, one third exceeded the national safety guideline of 5 parts per billion (ppb). Canada has the third-largest per-capita fresh water reserve in the world. Lead contamination has been linked with low IQ in children, hypertension and heart disease. The year-long work was conducted by 120 journalists, from 10 media outlets and nine universities, in partnership with the Institute for Investigative Journalism. Investigators gathered the results of 12,000 tests carried out between 2014 and 2018 in 11 cities. While a third exceeded the safe limit of 5ppb, 18% were over the US limit of 15ppb. Among the areas studied were Montreal, the second-largest city in Canada (population 1.75m), and Oakville, an affluent part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Regina, the capital of the prairie province of Saskatchewan, and the city of Prince Rupert, in northern British Columbia, were also included. Results found in some cities were "conspicuously similar to Flint," according to the Toronto Star, based on average lead levels found using comparable testing methods. Reporters also tested the drinking water in older homes in 32 cities across the country, taking samples from residents who volunteered. Out of 260 homes sampled, about 39% exceeded the current federal guideline. "It's a little bit disturbing to see that there's that much," Andrew Keddie told the Associated Press, one of the media outlets participating in the investigation. Mr Keddie's water tested at 28ppb, more than five times the recommended limit. The biggest source of lead in Canada's drinking water is antiquated pipes and public service lines that connect people's homes to the main water supply. A government report from 2017 estimated that about 500,000 homes across the country were affected.
11-4-19 Tiny artificial sunflowers could be used to harvest solar energy
Solar panels could be made from rows of tiny artificial sunflowers, which automatically bend towards light. Each artificial sunflower, known as a SunBOT, consists of a stem made of a material that reacts to light and an energy harvesting “flower” at the top, which is made from a standard light-absorbing material commonly used in solar cells. Each SunBOT is less than 1 millimetre wide. When part of a SunBOT’s stem is exposed to light, it heats up and shrinks. This causes the stem to bend and point the artificial flower towards the light. The stem stops bending once SunBOT is aligned with the light because the bending creates a shadow that allows the material to cool down and stop shrinking. Ximin He at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues tested the stems by building a panel of SunBOTs, with and without the bendy material. The team found that the panel of bendy-stemmed SunBOTs was able to harvest up to 400 per cent more solar energy. “Almost everyone working in the field of responsive or smart materials gets inspiration from nature,” says Albert Schenning at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved with the work. This is a good proof of principle, he says.
11-4-19 Authorities do little to halt severe air pollution in northern India
A severe episode of smog blanketing large parts of northern India has forced authorities to impose traffic restrictions, cancel dozens of flights and close primary schools. Levels of tiny particulate pollution, PM2.5, spiked over the weekend to more than ten times the safety limit in the capital, Delhi. Residents took to social media to report difficulties breathing and post footage of views obscured by grey smog. Such extreme pollution events happen every year in the region, usually between October and November, driven by weakening winds, falling temperatures and the seasonal impact of farmers burning the stubble of crops. “You can almost count on something of this magnitude happening,” says Joshua Apte at the University of Texas at Austin. The current crisis is not even the worst India has suffered: in 2016, Delhi was hit by dangerous smog for almost a week. The single biggest cause of pollution in Delhi on Monday was agricultural fires – 38 per cent of the contribution – according to modelling by Indian air quality researcher Sarath Guttikunda. But Apte says it would be wrong to lay the blame primarily on farmers, because other sources – including road dust, vehicle emissions, industry, power plants and households burning wood for heat and cooking – are also a major problem and are easier to tackle. “Even on a good day the air in north India is among the most severely polluted on the planet,” he says. The scale of the problem goes far beyond Delhi, says Pallavi Pant at the Health Effects Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. “There are smaller towns and villages across the northern part of the country that are facing equally dire pollution.” In the short term, there is little to be done short of waiting for winds to shift the smog. Authorities are limiting drivers’ access to Delhi based on whether they have an odd or even number plate. But that alone is not going to solve the problem, partly because vehicles are not even the biggest source of emissions and partly because some vehicles are exempt, says Pant.
11-4-19 California fires: Trump threatens to pull federal aid
US President Donald Trump has threatened to cut federal funding for the wildfires sweeping California, in a Twitter spat with the state's governor. Nearly 100,000 acres have been destroyed by wildfires in recent weeks, and thousands have been forced from their homes. Mr Trump blamed Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, saying he had done a "terrible job of forest management". Several of this year's major wildfires have burned in unforested areas. "Every year, as the fire's (sic) rage & California burns, it is the same thing - and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. Mr Newsom, who has been highly critical of Mr Trump's environmental policies, responded: "You don't believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation." Increased temperatures due to global warming are causing huge wildfires in California, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Drier, warmer conditions lead to vegetation drying out and becoming more flammable. President Trump made a similar threat to cut federal aid in 2018, when the most deadly fire in California's history killed 86 people. In California, 57% of forested areas are managed by federal agencies such as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. In 2018, the state requested $72 million (£55.6 million) in reimbursements from the US Forest Service, with $9 million (£7 million) of that money withheld, the Los Angeles Times reports. Firefighters have contained about half of the Maria Fire, the major blaze in southern California. The fire, which broke out on Thursday, has burned more than 9,400 acres, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Sunday.
11-4-19 Stop telling Californians to leave
For all of us who call this complicated, beautiful place home, there is no outrunning climate change. It's autumn in California, and it feels like we're living in a disaster film.For the third straight year, monstrous wildfires have swept across the state, wiping out entire towns, displacing and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents. People in wealthy, manicured suburbs walk down the street wearing respirator masks, coughing through thick layers of smoke. Households huddle in the dark for days on end, lighting candles and hoarding supplies, because the power grid has been shut off — again. In California, fire has always had a season. This has been true since I was a child growing up here, and long before. But now, as the winds die down and firefighters gain the upper hand on the latest round of catastrophic blazes, the line between "season" and "climate" is irreparably blurred. Thanks to decades of utility corruption and mismanagement, urban sprawl and stratification, California's landscape has turned into kindling. Climate catastrophe is upon us. And it's only going to get worse. As my friends and loved ones commiserate, we've also been swapping stories. And one anecdote that seems to come up, again and again, is a certain type of reaction from people outside the state: "Why don't you all just leave?" "Come to the Midwest — there are no wildfires here!" "Get out and let the [expletive] burn." It's a tempting response, a cheap joke. But it exposes a nasty assumption at the base of America's attitude towards climate change: that it's someone else's problem. That the people most directly affected are suckers for staying put. That if we were really smart, we would all just pick up and move. But for all of us who call this complicated, beautiful place home, there is no outrunning climate change. To disavow California, its wildfires, and its people, is to comfort oneself with a fiction.
11-4-19 UK government rings death knell for the fracking industry
The UK government has introduced a moratorium on fracking and dropped measures to speed the development of shale gas wells, ringing the death knell for the nascent industry. The sharp reversal of support ends nearly a decade of protests, court cases and minor earthquakes without any energy being produced. The move follows a 2.9 magnitude quake in August caused by fracking near Blackpool, the largest so far after operations by shale firm Cuadrilla this summer and last autumn. A scientific analysis published last week by the UK oil and gas regulator concluded bigger future tremors could not be ruled out, which could cause unacceptable “damage and disturbance.” In a statement, business secretary Andrea Leadsom said the report had made it: “clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.” While the moratorium only applies to England, fracking is already effectively banned in Scotland and Wales, and opposition political parties have pledged to ban the method of extracting gas. The government also ditched controversial planning reforms to aid the industry.The decision follows the UK spending watchdog saying last month that fracking had cost police forces and public bodies £33 million, and the industry’s progress had been much slower than expected. Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, accused the government of an attempt to win over voters and said it would ban fracking permanently. Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the environment will be one of his top three domestic priorities, and opposition to fracking has long outstripped support in official polling. Cuadrilla’s Australian owner, AJ Lucas, said it would continue to give the company its full support, and it would continue to work with UK regulators to try to lift the moratorium. The UK imposed a moratorium in fracking in 2011 after concerns over earthquakes, but later lifted it and set new regulations.
11-3-19 Can forensics help keep endangered rosewood off the black market?
Learning the origin of a log headed to a furniture factory would be a first step against deforestation. Jian Zhong Wang’s home in the southern Chinese city of Nanning is an inviting place. Light spills in through large bay windows, which offer a stunning view of the garden of thick-stemmed banana plants and chest-high cacti. The room is packed with intricately carved furniture: a dining table flanked by eight straight-backed chairs, a coffee table and a settee, plus four armchairs, a desk, a divan and a TV stand. Each piece is made of rosewood. “Rosewood furniture is part of our great national culture with over 5,000 years of history,” says Wang, a 60-year-old retired government official who began collecting rosewood more than two decades ago. He’s not alone. The furniture is a major status symbol in China, by far the largest importer of rosewood. A canopy bed can fetch as much as $1 million, and an estimated 30,000 companies in China are involved in the rosewood industry, which generated a domestic revenue of over $22 billion in 2014. Demand for the beautiful, dark pieces comes at a price. Rosewood is the most trafficked wildlife product in the world based on market value — more than elephant ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales combined. More than one-third of illegally traded plants and animals seized between 2005 and 2014 were rosewood, according to the World Wildlife Seizures database. Rosewood is a broad term, referring to the darkest, mostly uniformly colored hardwoods that come from several genera, including Dalbergia, Pterocarpus and Millettia. The trees are found primarily in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, all areas experiencing forest loss because of logging and trafficking of the wood.
11-3-19 Colombia's growing sustainable farming movement
After working with pesticides every day for 20 years, Carlos Osorio fell ill. He decided it was time for a change. For over 20 years, Carlos Osorio, 65, was a conventional farmer outside the central Colombian village of El Carmen de Viboral — spraying pesticides every single day. But after falling gravely ill, he decided to abandon all agricultural chemicals and start using sustainable farming methods. Today, Osorio has an honorary degree in agroecology from the University of California, Berkeley, and uses his farm to train a new generation of local farmers — and bring city-slicker Colombians and foreign visitors to the farm to tell his story and reconnect them to the land. In the developed world, concerns around pesticides, herbicides, and industrial fertilizers are often framed around their impact on the environment, but for Osorio and many other farmers in Colombia, health concerns are also driving the switch to agroecology, which focuses on incorporating ecological principles into agricultural practices. According to Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, there are over 106,000 acres of agroecological farmland with product destined for international export, with an additional 197,000 acres for domestic consumption — as of 2014. That is dwarfed by the 17.5 million acres cultivated using conventional farming methods. "I've been working on the farm since I was 12," Osorio said. "And for most of my adult life, the Colombian government has been promoting the use of these chemicals." But in 1994, he started to have serious health problems, leading to months of not being able to work full time. "I had blurry vision; I had headaches all the time," he said. "The more I used pesticides — especially in the sun — the worse it got." Osorio says that after hearing about agroecological practices from a medical professional, he decided to go cold turkey on agricultural chemicals practically overnight and became a member of a collective of five families who all adopted the same principles. The families used alternative planting methods such as co-planting, differently shaped fields and eliminating the use of industrial chemicals. He says that since making the switch in 1994, his symptoms have faded away.
11-3-19 Jane Fonda: 'I worry about climate activist Greta Thunberg'
The actress and activist Jane Fonda says she "worries" about climate activist Greta Thunberg. "She understands that if she's attacked it's because she's making a difference and that scares people," says Fonda. The 81-year-old has vowed to protest every Friday until January to demand for action to be taken to address climate change. Thunberg, 16, found fame after her youth climate strike protests spread to schools around the world. "They handcuff you with plastic things, not the old good metal ones. They hurt more," Fonda says of her most recent arrest. But she says: "I don't want to go to prison. "I don't think that Jane Fonda the martyr is exactly what the movement needs right now." "The police are figuring out what to do. I was told if I keep getting arrested every week I may be put in the slammer. I may not get arrested every week because I have to start filming Grace and Frankie (her series for Netflix)." Fonda has been an active campaigner for years, being involved in Native American rights campaigns, civil rights campaigns and protesting against the Vietnam War. "I haven't been very well in my skin because I knew I wasn't doing what I can do. I was not a super happy person until I started to do this." She says she asked an "ocean scientist" taking part in her recent protest, "How do you stop from getting depressed? "He said, 'I become active. The minute you start doing something about it, the depression goes away'." Her latest action, she says, was inspired by the student protests led by Thunberg. They are "more politically savvy than we ever were at that age. They're much more sensitive of diversity. This can't be a white, elite climate action.
11-2-19 Leonardo Di Caprio: 'Greta Thunberg a leader of our time'
Leonardo DiCaprio was impressed when he met Greta Thunberg. The actor shared a picture of himself with the climate change activist on Instagram. He wrote he hoped "Greta's message is a wake-up call to world leaders everywhere" and that the "time for inaction is over." He also praised the teenager for her work and said because of her he is "optimistic about what the future holds". The image has had almost 4 million likes since it was posted 22 hours ago. Greta Thunberg has helped start an international youth movement against climate change. The Swedish teenager first staged a "School Strike for Climate" in front of the Swedish Parliament in August last year. Her strike has inspired students from around the world, leading tens of thousands of students from Germany, Japan, the UK, Australia and many more to join her #FridaysforFuture demonstrations. Leo wrote: "There are few times in human history where voices are amplified at such pivotal moments and in such transformational ways but @GretaThunberg has become a leader of our time. "History will judge us for what we do today to help guarantee that future generations can enjoy the same liveable planet that we have so clearly taken for granted." The Hollywood star has also been outspoken about environmental issues. He told Newsbeat in 2016 he thinks climate change is the biggest issue facing young people today. He has a foundation which describes itself as being dedicated to addressing climate change and environmental threats to life on Earth. His organisation recently put $5m (£4.1m) towards helping the Amazon rainforest after the recent outbreak of fires there. He said it was "an honor to spend time with Greta. She and I have made a commitment to support one another, in hopes of securing a brighter future for our planet."
11-3-19 India air pollution at 'unbearable levels', Delhi minister says
Air pollution in the north of India has "reached unbearable levels," the capital Delhi's Chief Minister Arvid Kejriwal says. Air quality in Delhi reached the "hazardous" category on Sunday. Schools have been closed, more than 30 flights diverted and construction work halted as the city sits in a thick blanket of smog. Mr Kejriwal called on the central government to provide relief and tackle the toxic pollution. Levels of dangerous particles in the air - known as PM2.5 - are far higher than recommended and about seven times higher than in the Chinese capital Beijing. An Indian health ministry official said the city's pollution monitors did not have enough digits to accurately record pollution levels, which he called a "disaster". Five million masks were handed out in schools on Friday as officials declared a public health emergency and Mr Kejriwal likened the city to a "gas chamber". Mr Kejriwal's most recent comments are unlikely to please government officials, reports the BBC's South Asia regional editor Jill McGivering. She said Indian politicians were blaming each other for the conditions. On Sunday young people in Delhi came out to protest and demand action. "You can obviously see how terrible it is and it's actually scary you can't see things in front of you," said Jaivipra. She said she wanted long-term and sustainable anti-pollution measures put in place. "We are concerned about our futures and about our health but we are also fighting this on behalf of the children and the elderly who bear the biggest brunt of the problem here," she said. A major factor behind the high pollution levels at this time of year is farmers in neighbouring states burning crop stubble to clear their fields. This creates a lethal cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide - all worsened by fireworks set off during the Hindu festival Diwali a week ago. Vehicle fumes, construction and industrial emissions have also contributed to the smog.
11-2-19 Climate change: Asia 'coal addiction' must end, UN chief warns
The chief of the United Nations has warned Asia to quit its "addiction" to coal in a bid to tackle climate change. UN Secretary General António Guterres said countries in the region were among the most vulnerable to global warming and should be on the "front line" of efforts to stop it. He cited a new study that found that Asian countries were at particular risk of climate-driven flooding. Coal is a major source of power in many Asian countries. Speaking to reporters in the Thai capital Bangkok on Saturday, Mr Guterres described climate change as the "defining issue of our time". The UN chief referenced a study published on Tuesday, which found that climate change would put millions more people at risk from coastal flooding by 2050 than previously thought. The majority of those implicated were in developing countries across Asia, the study said. Mr Gutterres said that while "people can discuss the accuracy of these figures...what is clear is that the trend is there". He said the issue was "particularly sensitive" in Asia, where a "meaningful number" of new coal power plants are planned. "We have to put a price on carbon. We need to stop subsidies for fossil fuels. And we need to stop the creation of new power plants based on coal in the future," Mr Gutterres warned. Tuesday's report by Climate Central, a US-based non-profit news organisation, said 190 million people would be living in areas that are projected to be below high-tide lines in the year 2100. It found that even with moderate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, six Asian countries (China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand), where 237 million people live today, could face annual coastal flooding threats by 2050.
11-2-19 Climate change: Thousands invited to join citizens' assembly
Letters are being sent to 30,000 households across the UK inviting people to join a citizens' assembly on climate change. Once participants are selected, the assembly will meet next year, with the outcome of their discussions reported back to Parliament. The initiative, set up by cross party MPs, will look at what members of the public can do to reduce CO2. The UK government has committed to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, one of six select committees who commissioned the climate assembly, said a clear roadmap was needed to achieve this goal. "Finding solutions which are equitable and have public support will be crucial," she said. "Parliament needs to work with the people and with government to address the challenge of climate change." The invitees to Climate Assembly UK have been selected at random from across the UK. From those who respond, 110 people will be chosen as a representative sample of the population. They will meet over four weekends from late January in Birmingham, and will discuss topics ranging from transport to household energy use. A citizens' assembly has been a key demand of the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, whose protests caused widespread disruption this year. The group said they welcomed this as a first step, but warned that the assembly should be focussing on cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 not 2050. Spokesperson Linda Doyle said: "Waiting 30 years to reach zero net carbon emissions is a death sentence to people around the world and in the UK - it gives us a higher chance of breaching irreversible tipping points as the climate breaks down and it only serves short term 'business as usual'."
11-2-19 Discovering rainforest secrets atop the Eiffel Tower of the Amazon
It was a long climb. I took almost an hour to ascend the 1500 steps of the tallest tower in Latin America, 325 metres above the floor of the pristine Amazon rainforest – a metre higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Rising out of the steamy jungle, temperatures peaked just under the canopy, but then started to drop. Above 150 metres, a stiff cool breeze blew. From the top, the trees looked tiny, like a mass of broccoli heads stretching unbroken to the horizon. I was met at the top by Meinrat Andreae, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. In 2007, he had first proposed erecting the structure to sniff the Amazon forest’s breath and examine its interactions with the atmosphere. In this remote spot, 150 kilometres north of Brazil’s jungle city of Manaus, he hoped it could provide “a window on our planet’s atmospheric chemistry before industrialisation”. Andreae got his wish – during the November to May wet season at least, when clean air from the Atlantic blows across 800 kilometres of largely intact forest. But our climb was in late September, the end of the dry season when the winds from the south cross the deforested areas of the Amazon. With forest fires in recent weeks burning faster than in the past decade, the air below us was thick with haze. And that haze was bringing trouble, even to such a distant corner of the world’s largest rainforest. Since the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory was inaugurated in late 2015, its instruments have been sampling the air above the forest hour by hour. Measurements of carbon dioxide, sulphur compounds, pollen, particulates, volatile organic compounds, methane, nitrogen oxides, and much else are all logged in makeshift labs at the tower’s base. There, researchers derive other vital data, such as rates of photosynthesis in the trees and their exchange of carbon and moisture with the atmosphere.
11-2-19 Here’s what it will take to adapt the power grid to higher wildfire risks
Solutions include building microgrids, burying power lines and adding sensors to aerial lines. Efforts to prevent wildfires, which are once again raging across California, have plunged vast parts of the state into darkness. Millions of people lost power in October in a series of deliberate blackouts intended to preempt power lines from sparking wildfires in especially dry, windy conditions. Cell towers died, leaving many without phone service. Traffic lights blinked out. Hospitals scrambled to keep lifesaving equipment running on backup generators. While disruptive, the cautionary electricity outages starting October 9 were meant to ward off something even more disastrous. In 2017 and 2018, wildfire season caused record-breaking destruction. Hundreds of fires in California in 2018 alone are thought to have been sparked by equipment run by power supply companies. Many were relatively small and easily put out, but others were more catastrophic — including the deadliest fire in California’s history, known as the Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people and leveled the town of Paradise last November. With wildfire risks increasing as climate change leaves the landscape increasingly parched (SN: 7/15/15), mass power outages could become the new normal — unless the electricity system can be made more fire-safe. Science News asked two experts in energy infrastructure how to improve the power grid so it poses less of a threat amid heightened wildfire risks. “Putting lines underground is a great solution. It’s also very pricy,” says Alexandra von Meier of the University of California, Berkeley. “Instead of a million dollars a mile, you’re looking at 10 million dollars. In places where there’s many miles of exposed or vulnerable terrain, that’s a big price tag.”
11-1-19 Scorched earth
Almost 2.5 million Californians lost power in pre-emptive blackouts this week as thousands of firefighters scrambled to contain wildfires statewide. Officials feared a catastrophic flare-up after the National Weather Service issued an unprecedented “extreme red flag” warning—forecasting 30 hours of winds with gusts up to 80 mph accompanying dangerously dry air—yet those once-in-a-decade conditions failed to materialize. Still, 4,900 firefighters battled the Kincade Fire in Northern California, which destroyed 76,000 acres plus 189 structures and forced 200,000 residents to flee. Around Los Angeles, which hasn’t seen rain in four months, the Getty Fire burned 650 acres and forced famous residents such as LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger to evacuate. The blackouts are meant to keep electrical equipment from igniting additional flames, though this year’s fires have been less severe than last year’s apocalyptic blazes.
11-1-19 When hell comes to Eden
“California was always the world’s idea of paradise,” said Bill McKibben, but large swaths of it are becoming too dangerous to inhabit. Climate change has come to Eden with a vengeance, bringing such a deep, prolonged drought over the past decade that more than 100 million trees died. The trees’ carcasses became tinder for massive wildfires that now have hundreds of thousands of Californians fleeing their homes in Sonoma County’s wine country and in Los Angeles. Amid the bone-dry forests and brush, “the state’s biggest utility, PG&E, is at this point as much an arsonist as electricity provider” and is turning off power to hundreds of thousands, lest fierce winds down transmission lines and trigger additional blazes. California is not alone in its misery. The climate crisis is making many parts of the world hostile to human life, with temperatures regularly soaring into the 120s in parts of Asia and the Middle East, island nations and coastal regions (such as Florida) being submerged with every storm or high tide, and the once frozen ground under Arctic villages turning to slush. As is so often the case, California “is going first where the rest of us will follow.”
11-1-19 Brazil wildfires: Blaze advances across Pantanal wetlands
A 50 kilometre-long (31 mile) wildfire is advancing across Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. The governor's office in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul said the fire was "bigger than anything seen before" in the region. At least 50,000 hectares of vegetation have already been destroyed. The area, located in the southern part of the country, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and a popular tourist destination. The fire began on 25 October and is said to be advancing rapidly due to the combination of high temperatures and high winds. The governor's office said in a statement that the situation was "critical". It also warned that visibility in the area is poor. The governor has announced a 30-day moratorium on using fire for land clearance. Firefighters are also using planes to tackle the fire from above. Over 8,000 fires have been recorded in the Pantanal until 30 October, up 462% on the same period last year. Brazil has had a large number of forest fires this year. Official figures show more than 167,000 forest fires were recorded from January until 30 October this year.
11-1-19 Climate change 'making mountaineering riskier'
Mountaineering in some parts of the world is becoming riskier because of climate change, climbing experts and scientists warn. They say warming in the Alps has thinned ice and snow cover, resulting into frequent rock-falls and landslides. Their concerns were voiced at a meeting of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation this week. Melting glaciers have also added challenges for mountaineers. Climbing routes have either had to be abandoned or changed because of the increased risks. In some places, climbing seasons have had to be brought forward. A study of mountaineering plans for climbers in the Mont Blanc massif showed numerous changes. Almost all climbing "itineraries" for the region had been affected since the 1970s and a few routes no longer existed. In the journal Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, Jacques Mourey from the University of Grenoble Alpes and colleagues wrote: "Moreover, periods during which these itineraries can be climbed in good conditions in summer have tended to become less predictable and periods of optimal conditions have shifted toward spring and fall, because the itineraries have become more dangerous and technically more challenging." A 2017 study of several summits in the Mont Blanc massif by a French team showed significant degradation of permafrost between 1850 and 2015. This led to the slopes becoming unstable, causing rockfalls. "Many of these routes have become extremely dangerous," Florian Ritter, from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, and colleagues wrote recently in the journal BioOne Complete. "Numerous classical ice climbs in the Eastern Alps have become heavily affected by rockfall and falling stones, as well due to rocks melting out at the ice margins... during late summer and autumn."
11-1-19 Climate policies 'will transform UK landscape'
Britain's countryside will be transformed by policies to combat climate change, the government's former chief environment scientist says. Professor Sir Ian Boyd said climate policies after Brexit will alter the landscape more than most people expect. There will be many more trees and hedges but far fewer grazing animals as people eat less red meat, he said. The farmers' union, the NFU, rejected his analysis and forecast that there may be more grazing animals, not fewer. It said the UK's well-watered pastures are ideal for producing low-carbon livestock and exporting it to places where growing conditions are less favourable. This is the first public eruption of a long-running conflict between Professor Boyd, the former adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the body that represents Britain's farmers. Sir Ian thinks the NFU has wielded far too much influence over departmental policy. The NFU believes he is out of touch with the reality of farming. The antipathy reflects deeper technical, ethical and political debates over the future of the production and consumption of animals for food. Sir Ian says the UK needs to reduce the amount of red meat it produces and eats if it is to meet the Net Zero emissions target by 2050. He told BBC News: "What I see is a farming system that's very inefficient and in need of very significant transformation. "I see a significant part of that coming from the way we farm and consume livestock. "If we want to move towards Net Zero in the UK, changing our approach to red meat consumption is an essential part of that." He points out that under international agreements, greenhouse gas emissions are measured in the country where they are created. That means China gets blamed for the CO2 it generates whilst making goods exported to the UK.