2-29-20 Coronavirus: Nasa images show China pollution clear amid slowdown
Satellite images have shown a dramatic decline in pollution levels over China, which is "at least partly" due to an economic slowdown prompted by the coronavirus, US space agency Nasa says. Nasa maps show falling levels of nitrogen dioxide this year. It comes amid record declines in China's factory activity as manufacturers stop work in a bid to contain coronavirus. China has recorded nearly 80,000 cases of the virus since the outbreak began. It has spread to more than 50 countries but the vast majority of infections and deaths are in China, where the virus originated late last year. Nasa scientists said the reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide - a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles and industrial facilities - was first apparent near the source of the outbreak in Wuhan city but then spread across the country. Nasa compared the first two months of 2019 with the same period this year. The space agency noted that the decline in air pollution levels coincided with restriction imposed on transportation and business activities, and as millions of people went into quarantine. "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. She added that she had observed a decline in nitrogen dioxide levels during the economic recession in 2008, but said that decrease was more gradual. Nasa noted that China's Lunar New Year celebrations in late January and early February have been linked to decreases in pollution levels in the past. But it said they normally increase once the celebrations are over. "This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer," Ms Liu said. "I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise spread of the virus."
2-28-20 Greta Thunberg in Bristol: 'The world is on fire'
Environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg has spoken to protesters in Bristol ahead of a march through the city, warning "those in power" she will "not be silenced when the world is on fire". The teenager was welcomed by chants of "Greta, Greta" as she addressed some 15,000 people at the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate (BYS4C) event. She accused politicians and the media of ignoring the climate emergency and "sweeping their mess under the rug".
2-28-20 The cost of banning fracking
Bernie Sanders’ proposal to ban fracking should “scare the dickens” out of Americans, said the Washington Examiner. That technique for extracting oil and natural gas from underground rock has tripled the amount the U.S. can produce, “making the country energy independent”—indeed, an energy exporter. It’s also created more than 1 million jobs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and other states Democrats hope to win in November, dramatically lowered heating prices for tens of millions of Americans, and cut utilities’ reliance on dirty coal for electricity generation by half. As a direct result of natural gas replacing coal, the U.S. is one of the few nations in the world whose carbon dioxide emissions are in decline, having fallen 14 percent since their peak in 2007. With new technology now being tested, fracking can be made cleaner still, and play a critical role in our country’s move toward zero emissions. Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced a fracking-ban bill in the House, would rather rely on Soviet-style “central planning” and put the government in charge of all energy policy—and of the economy itself. “Every historical attempt” to run economies this way has ended in failure. So would this one.
2-28-20 Binge watching TV isn't as bad for the climate as some reports suggest
Every time you search the internet or stream a video, a computer in a data centre somewhere in the world spins into action. With rising internet use, there have been fears that this is driving a big increase in energy consumption, undermining efforts to limit climate change. The good news is that, according to the most detailed study to date, the energy use of data centres has risen just 6 per cent, despite a 550 per cent increase in demand. Dramatic improvements in efficiency have almost cancelled out the big increase in use, according to Arman Shehabi at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and his colleagues. And that isn’t all. Video streaming in particular has been singled out as a major driver of rising energy use, with several media outlets reporting that the emissions generated by watching 30 minutes of Netflix are the same as driving almost 4 miles. This claim is based on figures in a 2019 report by French think tank the Shift Project. But according to an analysis by George Kamiya at the International Energy Agency published by CarbonBrief on 25 February, errors in those figures mean emissions from viewing Netflix were overestimated by a whopping 30 to 60 times. So does this mean we can stop worrying about the climate impact of internet traffic and streaming videos in particular? Not quite. The main conclusion of the Shift Project report was that the transmission and viewing of online videos generates 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year (mtCO2), or nearly 1 per cent of global emissions, as New Scientist reported (we never reported the unlikely driving claim). Kamiya thinks the Shift Project did overestimate the overall emissions from streaming video, but his analysis applies only to Netflix. “I haven’t done any estimates of the global emissions from all streaming video,” he says. “This would require quite a bit more analysis.”
2-28-20 Deadly cross-state pollution
Half the premature deaths linked to air pollution in the U.S. are caused by dirty air that blows in from other states, new research shows. The study is the first to detail the sources and effects of two major harmful airborne pollutants, ozone and fine airborne particles, in the lower 48 states. By plugging pollution data from 2005 to 2018 into computer models, researchers were able to work out exactly where and how much pollution was traveling in the atmosphere. They found that in 30 states, the majority of premature deaths linked to poor air quality were caused by out-of-state pollution. New York was the largest “net importer” of early mortality, with nearly two-thirds of premature deaths attributable to out-of-state pollution. The states whose exported pollution led to the most deaths were in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. Interestingly, the scientists found that pollution regulations have reduced the number of cross-state deaths from electricity generation and road transportation, and that residential and commercial emissions are now the leading cause of premature deaths. “Future research and future policy are going to have to bear down on these emissions,” coauthor Steven Barrett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells The New York Times.
2-28-20 Plastic waste not recycled
Over 90 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. is not recycled, and winds up in an incinerator or a landfill. Eight of the 10 most commonly polluted plastic items are currently unrecyclable, according to sponsors of a bill introduced in Congress that would make companies responsible for the waste they generate.
2-28-20 Greta Thunberg climate strike: 'The world is on fire'
Greta Thunberg has warned world leaders she will "not be silenced when the world is on fire". The teenager was welcomed by chants of "Greta, Greta" as she addressed some 15,000 people at the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate (BYS4C) event. She accused politicians of ignoring the climate emergency and "sweeping their mess under the rug". "We are the change, and change is coming whether you like it or not," the Swedish environmentalist said. Greta was speaking at the climate strike event on College Green, before leading the march through the city. "Activism works so I'm telling you to act," she said. "We are being betrayed by those in power." Wet weather failed to deter thousands of people turning out for the 17-year-old, who appeared on stage at about 11:45 GMT. "Our leaders behave like children so it falls to us to be the adults in the room. They are failing us but we will not back down," Greta told the crowds. "It should not be this way but we have to tell the uncomfortable truth. They sweep their mess under the rug and ask children to clean up for them. "This emergency is being completely ignored by the politicians, the media and those in power. "Basically, nothing is being done to halt this crisis despite all the beautiful words and promises from our elected officials. "So what did you do during this crucial time? I will not be silenced when the world is on fire." Greta walked at the front of the crowds behind a green banner reading Skolstrejk for Klimatet, which translates from Swedish as School Strike for Climate. Protesters of all ages, including youngsters dressed as the activist, waved flags, placards and banners throughout the march. Annie, a 21-year-old Bristol University student, was of the many people who turned out to hear the headline speaker and took a day off from her studies to participate. "This is probably one of the most important things that we should be focussing on right now. Showing support and that you want change will make people higher up realise that as well. "One day off school is a good enough sacrifice for what this is standing for. It's just one day, it's not going to do any harm."
2-27-20 Climate change: Pressure on big investors to act on environment
Ever wondered if your bank or insurance company is funding the coal industry? Or whether your pension fund is backing oil companies drilling new wells in the Arctic? Investors are facing scrutiny like never before about what they're doing to tackle climate change. And the Bank of England has now launched a push to engage the entire business world. The aim is to get every company, large or small, to think about global warming as a normal part of their decision-making. And the hope is this will encourage them to come up with plans to become carbon neutral or "net zero". This comes amid a flurry of climate announcements from some very big corporate names. The oil giant BP has pledged to be net zero by 2050 and the world's largest asset manager, Blackrock, has warned companies that it won't invest in them unless they try to decarbonise. There's a series of moves to involve private finance in the run-up to the crucial COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. The diplomatic focus at that event will be on whether the world's governments commit to deeper cuts in the gases that are heating the planet. But it's also seen as vital to persuade business to take action in ways that avoid the most dangerous effects of rising temperatures. One plan is to boost the number of banks, insurers and pension funds signed up to be more open about their carbon footprints and plans to improve them. Known as the TCFD - or Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures - the project already has the backing of companies with balance sheets worth a total of $135tn. Under this system, there are no obligations on business leaders to come up with plans to go net zero, but if a company is not taking much action, that fact will be exposed to public gaze. And already investors with $5tn in assets have committed to making sure their portfolios are carbon neutral by 2050.
2-27-20 China prepares 100,000 ducks to battle Pakistan's locust swarms
China is preparing to deploy 100,000 ducks to neighbouring Pakistan to help tackle swarms of crop-eating locusts. Chinese agricultural experts say a single duck can eat more than 200 locusts a day and be more effective than pesticides. Pakistan declared an emergency earlier this month saying locust numbers were the worst in more than two decades. Millions of the insects have also been devastating crops in parts of East Africa. The Chinese government announced this week it was sending a team of experts to Pakistan to develop "targeted programmes" against the locusts. Lu Lizhi, a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, described the ducks as "biological weapons". He said that while chickens could eat about 70 locusts in one day a duck could devour more than three times that number. "Ducks like to stay in a group so they are easier to manage than chickens," he told Chinese media. A trial involving the ducks will take place in China's western Xinjiang province in the coming months, Mr Lu said, according to Bloomberg news agency. After that they will be sent to Pakistan's worst-affected areas of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab provinces. In 2000, China shipped 30,000 ducks from Zhejiang province to Xinjiang to tackle an infestation of locusts. According to the UN, the current heavy infestations can be traced back to the cyclone season of 2018-19 that brought heavy rains to the Arabian Peninsula and allowed at least three generations of "unprecedented breeding" that went undetected. Swarms have since spread out into South Asia and East Africa. In January, the UN called for international help to fight swarms of desert locusts sweeping through East Africa. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all struggling with "unprecedented" and "devastating" swarms of the food-devouring insects, the UN said.
2-27-20 Tasmania snow concludes Australia's summer of extremes
Snow has fallen in mountainous parts of Tasmania, rounding out a summer of dramatic weather changes in Australia.
2-26-20 E-scooters are a disaster for cities – but we must embrace them
Electric scooters are a nightmare. Rented by the minute, they clog up pavements and are an ungainly eyesore, but we still need them, says Donna Lu BACK in Brisbane, Australia, for the Christmas break, I found myself in a public transport dead zone. Bikeless, 7 kilometres from where I was meeting friends and unwilling to get a taxi, I resorted to borrowing an electric scooter. “You’ll have such a good scoot!” a friend told me before I left, as if such a thing were possible while zooming around with the ungainliness of an overgrown child. The trip took far longer than it would have by bike, not least because of a major spill halfway there. A stray rock, hit at speed, is a terrible thing: weeks later, I still had the scabbed-up knees of a primary schooler. E-scooters have cropped up in Brisbane like a rash. In the UK, they are legal only on private land, but the Department for Transport is opening consultation on how to regulate them on public roads and pathways, with the potential for legalisation later this year. The idea of having to dodge e-scooters on streets and pavements is anathema to me. I have seen enough close calls involving pedestrians who cross roads without looking up from their phones to think that adding e-scooters to the mix will be dangerous – at least at first. Other cities that have e-scooter rental schemes have had teething problems. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo described the situation last year as close to anarchy. She has announced that the city is reducing its fleet of e-scooters to 15,000 and plans to create laws banning them from pavements. France has enacted laws limiting e-scooter speeds to 25 kilometres per hour. Similarly to dockless hire bicycles, e-scooters can clog up pavements and people toss them up trees or into rivers. Vandalism and rough handling shortens their lifespan, which is bad for both profitability and environmental impact. Analysis suggests the average e-scooter’s lifespan is just three months.
2-26-20 How everyone decided trees will save the planet – and why they won’t
Everyone seems to agree trees are a major solution to climate change, but there is a danger that mass reforestation could see us to continue pumping carbon into the atmosphere. TREE planting doesn’t usually feature in US presidents’ speeches, UK general election battles or the business pitches of oil companies. Yet in the past year, pledges to embark on reforestation efforts have become a popular way to show you are committed to fighting climate change. There are several initiatives to plant or protect a trillion trees, to add to the 3 trillion we have today. So how did we get here, with humble tree planting taking centre stage among the tools to stave off extreme warming? Can we really plant the numbers needed to lock up enough carbon to make a difference? Perhaps most importantly, is all this talk of trees just a big distraction? “Suddenly, this last year there’s been an explosion of interest,” says Fred Stolle at Global Forest Watch, a US initiative from the University of Maryland and other groups. Rising public concerns seem to be making governments and corporations realise they need to do more on climate action, or at least be seen to do more. “I think there’s massive concern about climate change now and people genuinely want to do something about it. I think they are reaching for what are easy solutions,” says Joanna House, a lead author of a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on land use published last year. Planting trees is popular, usually uncontroversial and brings benefits beyond storing carbon, from our mental well-being to habitats for wildlife. “People love trees,” says House. The spotlight on tree planting may have its roots in the 2015 Paris agreement, in which governments committed to try to hold global temperature rises to 1.5°C, rather than the 2°C many had expected.
2-26-20 Ordering from a local store can curb online shopping’s CO2 emissions
Local deliveries are associated with lower emissions than online-only and in-person shopping. Ordering items for delivery from the local store may help customers minimize their carbon footprints. Computer simulations of shopping trips and deliveries in the United Kingdom allowed researchers to estimate the carbon emissions associated with each item purchased through different means. On average, deliveries by a local shop resulted in less than half as much carbon dioxide being emitted per item as deliveries by online-only retailers, which deliver items through package distribution centers, researchers report online February 26 in Environmental Science & Technology. Local deliveries also boasted lower emissions than in-person shopping. Environmental scientist Sadegh Shahmohammadi and colleagues simulated thousands of instances of someone purchasing a cartful of items, such as personal care and houseware products, either in-person or online. To reflect real-world shopping and delivery conditions, the team factored in emissions estimates for activities such as powering storage warehouses, transporting items in different types of vehicles and walking versus driving to a store. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with local store deliveries averaged about 0.07 kilograms of CO2 per item, compared with 0.18 kilograms for orders from online retailers and 0.1 kilograms for in-person shopping. Deliveries by local shops tend to be greener than those from online retailers because people ordering from a single store usually buy a bunch of stuff at once, explains Shahmohammadi, who worked on the research while at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Online retail shoppers, on the other hand, often get items delivered piecemeal — racking up a higher carbon footprint over multiple deliveries.
2-25-20 World’s stinkiest fruit could make super-fast electric chargers
The waste parts of the world’s smelliest fruit can be recycled into energy storage devices to rapidly charge electric vehicles and gadgets. Vincent Gomes at the University of Sydney and his colleagues used leftovers from notoriously smelly durians and jackfruits, the world’s biggest tree fruit, to make superlight, hollow materials called aerogels. The aerogels make efficient component parts for energy storing devices called supercapacitors. “Durian and jackfruit offer waste inedible portions that are porous and may replace high cost supercapacitor materials, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene,” says Gomes. Supercapacitors work differently to conventional batteries and so can’t store as much energy, but they can charge much faster. They can be used to store the energy harvested from braking systems in electric vehicles, which can then be transferred to the battery or used to provide short bursts of power for quick acceleration. Biowaste products such as paper pulp, watermelon and sugar cane have been used to make aerogels for supercapacitors. But durian and jackfruit are more unusual materials. The durian fruit is an Asian delicacy that looks like a spiky pineapple and has soft lobes of fruit inside. Cutting open the shell releases a smell that has been likened to festering roadkill.Jackfruit looks like a huge, elongated, bumpy plum. The fleshy lobes have a stringy texture that makes jackfruit popular as a vegan substitute for pulled pork. To make them suitable materials for supercapacitors, Gomes’s team heated the fruits’ spongy, inedible cores with steam and then freeze-dried them. The cores were put in a furnace to make them into highly porous, ultra-light aerogels, and then used to make electrodes.
2-25-20 How scientists wrestle with grief over climate change
Those who study nature are dealing with frustration and sadness over what’s being lost. Arriving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in October 2016, Tim Gordon thought he was living a dream. As a boy growing up in the southeast African country of Malawi, he’d covered his bedroom walls with Technicolor reef posters and vowed one day to explore those underwater worlds. The marine biologist was unprepared for what he found: a silent and colorless field of submerged rubble. At Lizard Island, off the northeastern coast of Queensland, Gordon hoped to study the sounds of the reef’s creatures. “A reef should be noisy,” with crunching parrot fish, scraping sea urchins and myriad squeaks, rumbles and whoops of other marine animals, says Gordon, of the University of Exeter in England. But many of these creatures had vanished as climate change warmed the ocean, triggering widespread coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017. “Instead of documenting nature’s wonders,” he says, “I was documenting its degradation.” Scientists like Gordon are grieving over the ecological losses they’re witnessing firsthand. They are worried about the probability of more losses to come and are frustrated that warnings about the dangers of unchecked carbon emissions have gone largely unheeded. Already, climate change is altering the environment at a quickening pace. Glaciers are losing billions of tons of ice each year (SN Online: 9/25/19). Wildfires and storms are growing more intense and destructive (SN Online: 12/10/19). Permafrost, which locks carbon in the earth, is thawing, disrupting Arctic communities, releasing carbon and accelerating warming. And thanks in part to other human-caused threats, including pollution and habitat destruction, 1 million species are at risk of extinction (SN: 12/16/19, p. 5).
2-25-20 Environment Agency chief: Avoid building new homes on flood plains
Building new homes on flood plains in England should be resisted if at all possible, the head of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan has said. He said where there was no alternative, homes should be made more resilient, for example by using ground floors for garages so people stay safe upstairs. He also argued there may be a need to shift some communities out of harm's way when the risks become too great. It comes after Storms Ciara and Dennis caused widespread flooding. In Shrewsbury, river levels are set to reach their highest-ever level on Tuesday, where a severe flood warning - meaning a danger to life - is in place. Asked whether vulnerable communities could be evacuated, Sir James told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "almost all" residents can remain where they are and their flood defences improved. However, he called for a "conversation" about their sustainability and protection in the long term. "Most people would accept" that some homes should not have been built, he added, and insisted this was not about forcing people to move but about discussing realities. For years the Environment Agency - which covers England - has raised concerns about building homes on flood plains, and Sir James is set to reinforce that message in a speech later. He is expected to acknowledge that it is not realistic to ban all development in these areas because they cover so much of the country. But he says homes should only be built there if "there is no real alternative", and if they are designed to be more resilient to flooding. Examples of some techniques which could "flood-proof" homes include using the ground floor just for garages, planting trees, creating wetland habitats or restoring rivers that have been artificially straightened to their "natural curves". Sir James will also question whether it may be better for communities to move out of harm's way when the risks of flooding - either from rivers or the sea - become too great.
2-24-20 Australia bush fires burned a globally unprecedented area of forest
Australia’s recent wildfires burned an area of forest unprecedented anywhere in the world, according to the most authoritative analysis yet of the devastation. The blazes were also found to be so extreme that climate change models were unable to replicate the events. By early January, the bush fires had burned around 5.8 million hectares of forest in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Australia recorded its biggest ever forest fire, a blaze that burned more than half a million hectares near Sydney from October until mid-January. Matthias Boer at Western Sydney University and an international team found that the extreme fires burned around 21 per cent of the forest biome in eastern Australia between September 2019 and 13 January 2020. Over the past two decades, losses to fire in this region usually amounted to less than 2 per cent each year, says Boer. The losses also eclipsed the proportion burned in any other continental forest biome in the world over the same period, most of which were well below 5 per cent annually. “This percentage of burning in forests is unprecedented nationally and globally,” says Boer. “There has been a lot of talk in social media about the unprecedentedness of the fires, but this was not substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature by anyone before.” His team analysed NASA satellite data of seven forest biomes across the world and computed the percentage burned in the continental sections of those forests. A fifth of east Australia’s forest being burned is likely to be an underestimate, as the analysis doesn’t cover the entire fire season or include Tasmania, which was hit by blazes after the analysis’s cut-off date. Even though most of these forests are dominated by eucalyptus trees, which are excellent at surviving fire, the burning of such a large proportion of the forest isn’t sustainable, says Boer. Animals also face “significant consequences”, he adds, because the huge areas burned may increase the distance to food sources.
2-24-20 Australia fires were far worse than any prediction
The Australian bushfires were more catastrophic than any simulation of our changing climate predicted. This is the conclusion of researchers who described the devastation as a "fiery wake-up call for climate science". Bushfires in south-east Australia have left 33 people dead and burned an area of land the size of South Korea. "This [was] worse than anything our models simulated," climate scientist Dr Benjamin Sanderson told BBC News. Dr Sanderson, who is part of the French government's 'Make our planet great again' program, said climate science needed to "do a better job" to avoid being caught out in future by wildfires, or by other catastrophes fuelled by climate change. From his office at the European centre for research and training in high performance computing (CERFACS) in Toulouse, he explained: "The faster [the planet] warms, the more likely we are to be taken by surprise." Climate models - simulations that use all available information about what drives our planet's climate - are the primary method we have to understand what will happen as Earth warms. They are extremely good at modelling certain aspects of the climate, particularly global temperature patterns, but fire is much more complicated. It is affected by many factors, including rainfall, wind, land cover and population density - everything that increases the risk of fire, fuels and spreads it. "But even if you look at the few models that have fire in them," Dr Sanderson told BBC News, "none of them simulate anything close to the scale of what happened in Australia". Dr John Marsham, a climate scientist from the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study, said wildfire risk should be included in more of the climate models we rely on. But, he added: "We also need to consider what the full range of possible future scenarios is, rather than just focusing on the most likely one scenario. "[This is particularly crucial] where there are risks of catastrophic consequences." Dr Sanderson agreed: "Rather than running one simulation that looks as close as possible to the real world, we need to start creating thousands of different versions of the future. "Those thousands of versions should span the full space of how bad this could be."
2-24-20 We really can control the weather - but it may not be very useful
Cloud seeding works – sort of. New experiments offer the strongest evidence to date that spraying clouds with powder can cause more snow to fall. However, the problem is making it work in practice. Not every cloud can be seeded and we don’t know why. It also isn’t clear when it would be cost effective. Cloud seeding has existed as a technology since the 1940s, says Sarah Tessendorf of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In theory, it should make more rain or snow. The idea is to spray a powder, normally silver iodide, into clouds. Each particle acts as a seed for an ice crystal, which grows around it and then falls as precipitation. However, despite decades of research it has been difficult to show that cloud seeding works. Experimenters have compared what happens to clouds that are seeded with those that aren’t, but it hasn’t been possible to get a large enough sample size to control for natural changes. “The weather’s very variable, it changes all the time, and it’s very complicated,” says Tessendorf. That has now changed, thanks to a project called SNOWIE (Seeded Natural and Orographic Wintertime clouds – the Idaho Experiment). In 20 days in January 2017, Tessendorf and her colleagues seeded orographic clouds, which form when air is forced up over mountains. They sprayed silver iodide from an aeroplane, which flew in a zigzag to create a distinctive pattern in the sky. The team used radar to look for this pattern in the clouds, placing mobile radars on mountain ridges to scan for snowfall in places where normal weather radar couldn’t reach. On three days, the team found clear evidence of snowfall from clouds that had been seeded. On the ground, this amounted to a light dusting, between 0.05 and 0.3 millimetres deep.
2-24-20 A carbon-neutral airline is an oxymoron — at least for now
Delta Airlines recently said it's spending $1 billion to zero out its carbon emissions. It's not quite that easy. hen it comes to reducing humanity's carbon emissions, one particularly tough challenge is going to be air travel. And the airlines know it. Earlier this month, Delta Airlines said it would spend $1 billion over the next decade to zero-out its carbon emissions — the biggest such pledge from any airline to date. But can Delta, or any airline, actually live up to such a promise? Unfortunately, for the moment, the answer is almost certainly no. The core problem is this: It's not obvious how we can do air travel without carbon emissions. For a lot of other economic activities — driving cars and trucks, producing electricity, heating homes — the technology is here, it's ready to go, and we just have to make big one-time investments to switch society over to the new way of doing things. Hence the growing calls for a Green New Deal. But for other areas of economic activity, such as air travel and heavy industry, green technology is much less mature, and it's not certain exactly how much carbon the technology can ultimately cut. "We will continue to use jet fuel for as far as the eye can see," Delta's CEO Ed Bastian explained. "We'll be investing in technologies to reduce the impact of jet fuel. But I don't ever see a future where we eliminate jet fuel from our footprint." And that's a problem, since flying is one of the most carbon-intensive forms of travel there is. All the airplane trips we take around the world only amount to about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions right now, but global demand for air travel is also rising fast. Assuming we eliminate carbon emissions from all those other easier sectors first, air travel will quickly become a much larger chunk of all the carbon humanity can afford to release, crowding out other activities. On top of that, we need to eliminate our net carbon emissions completely by the middle of this century. Eventually, humanity will have to figure out a way to make air travel completely green, or completely offset its emissions, or just fly a whole lot less than we do now. (Webmaster's comment: Promise them anything but get the money in the till!)
2-23-20 How lake gases are powering homes in Rwanda
Lake Kivu in Rwanda contains 300 billion cubic metres of carbon dioxide and 60 billion cubic metres of methane. The gases are now being removed from the lake through the KivaWatt project with the methane being pumped to a nearby power plant. At present only 51% of Rwandans have access to electricity. By 2024, the government hopes this will rise to 100% and it is hoped an expansion of the KivaWatt project will help make that possible.
2-22-20 Study finds quarter of climate change tweets from bots
A study by researchers at Brown University has found a quarter of posts about climate change on Twitter were written by bots. Bots are computer programs that can masquerade as humans to post or send messages on social media. Researchers discovered tweets posted by bots created the impression there was a high level of climate change denial. The paper detailing the finds has not yet been published and was first reported by The Guardian newspaper. The research team analysed 6.5 million tweets from the period surrounding President Donald Trump's June 2017 announcement that he was removing the United States from the Paris climate accord. The finding showed 25% of tweets on climate change were likely posted by bots. Most of those tweets centred on denials of global warming or rejections of climate science. "These findings suggest a substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denials messages about climate change," the authors of the reporter wrote, according to The Guardian. Bots are automated to post or send messages but they must be set up by a human. The Brown University team could not identify who was behind these climate change denying bots. Researchers used a tool from Indiana University called Botometer to determine the probability that a tweet was sent by bots or by humans. Within the overarching topic of climate change, they also broke down several subcategories. Tweets about "fake science" were found to have been written by bots 38% of the time and 28% of tweets about oil company Exxon were posted by bots. Posts in support of action to protect the environment were far less likely to come from bots. Researchers found only 5% of tweets advocating such action came from this type of software. Emilio Ferrara, a research professor at the University of Southern California - who has conducted his own research on the influence of bots - explained this type of software is used to amplify a message. "Think of a bot as a megaphone," Professor Ferrara said. "Bots give the impression that there is organic support behind a movement or idea."
2-21-20 Prime giving
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged $10 billion this week to create a fund to fight climate change, the biggest act of philanthropy to date by the world’s richest man. The Bezos Earth Fund will start awarding grants this summer, he said, to scientists, activists, and organizations that are trying to combat “the biggest threat to our planet.” The climate pledge amounts to less than 8 percent of Bezos’ $130 billion estimated worth but ranks as the third-largest charitable gift ever. Bezos has faced intense pressure from employees to make Amazon greener; the company emits 44.4 million metric tons of carbon a year, more than most countries. “We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy,” Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said, “but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away.”
2-21-20 Winters are varying
Winter, with the opening in Norway—Norway!—of Sno, an indoor skiing center featuring artificial snow and painted backdrops of Scandinavian forests. “The winters are varying a bit more than one would wish,” explained director Morten Dybdahl.
2-21-20 Good week for Earthlings
Earthlings, after an asteroid larger than the tallest building on Earth whizzed by the planet at a distance of 3.6 million miles. A direct hit would have killed millions immediately, says NASA, and triggered a yearslong “nuclear winter” and “mass extinctions.”
2-21-20 JP Morgan economists warn of 'catastrophic' climate change
Human life "as we know it" could be threatened by climate change, economists at JP Morgan have warned. In a hard-hitting report to clients, the economists said that without action being taken there could be "catastrophic outcomes". The bank said the research came from a team that was "wholly independent from the company as a whole". Climate campaigners have previously criticised JP Morgan for its investments in fossil fuels. The firm's stark report was sent to clients and seen by BBC News. While JP Morgan economists have warned about unpredictability in climate change before, the language used in the new report was very forceful. "We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened," JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray said. Carbon emissions in the coming decades "will continue to affect the climate for centuries to come in a way that is likely to be irreversible," they said, adding that climate change action should be motivated "by the likelihood of extreme events". Climate change could affect economic growth, shares, health, and how long people live, they said. It could put stresses on water, cause famine, and cause people to be displaced or migrate. Climate change could also cause political stress, conflict, and it could hit biodiversity and species survival, the report warned. To mitigate climate change net carbon emissions need to be cut to zero by 2050. To do this, there needed to be a global tax on carbon, the report authors said. But they said that "this is not going to happen anytime soon". Developed countries were worried that cutting emissions would affect competitiveness and jobs, while less developed countries "see carbon intensive activity as a way of raising living standards." "It is a global problem but no global solution is in sight," the report added.
2-21-20 Economic costs of rising seas will be steeper than we thought, unless we prepare
A study estimates 4 percent in annual global GDP losses by 2100 unless coastal regions prepare. Rising seas that swamp cities and coastal infrastructure could cost the world more than 4 percent of the global economy each year by 2100 — far more than previously estimated — unless urgent action is taken both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for such impacts from climate change, a new study finds. That worst-case scenario, which assumes that large amounts of polar ice will melt, could come to trillions of dollars. That’s “not peanuts,” says Thomas Schinko, a climate economist and deputy director of the Risk and Resilience program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna. “This would lead to a completely different world.” Given the risks, it’s hard to imagine that people won’t make any effort to adapt to a world with more flooding and coastal erosion, Schinko says. So that worst-case scenario is “not a very realistic scenario.” But regardless if the 4 percent global loss actually materializes, he says, the shocking number should show policy makers what could happen if they don’t act soon. If countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but do nothing else to prepare for rising seas, costs are projected to be more than 3 percent of global gross domestic product each year by 2100, the report says. But if countries lower emissions and prepare for sea level rise, costs can be limited to about 0.4 percent of global GDP or less, Schinko and his colleagues found. The study, published January 14 in Environmental Research Communications, goes beyond previous studies that estimated about 1.3 percent of global GDP in losses from seas rising on average by up to a meter (SN: 8/15/18). But where previous studies relied on one type of economic model, the new study uses three different types of macroeconomic models to test how different energy policies and emissions scenarios might play out on the global economy — as well as in specific countries — over the next eight decades.
2-21-20 Climate change is slowly drying up the Colorado River
Average annual water flow dropped more than 11 percent over the last century due to warming. Climate change is threatening to dry up the Colorado River — jeopardizing a water supply that serves some 40 million people from Denver to Phoenix to Las Vegas and irrigates farmlands across the U.S. Southwest. Computer simulations of the Colorado River Basin indicate that, on average, a regional temperature increase of 1.4 degrees Celsius over the last century reduced the annual amount of water flowing through the river by more than 11 percent. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey in Princeton, N.J., report these results online February 20 in Science. These findings “should be a cause for serious concern,” says climate scientist Brad Udall of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. As the world continues to warm, significant changes to the Colorado River’s flow — like other snow-fed waterways around the globe — could leave many communities with severe water shortages (SN: 5/29/19). For the study, research hydrologist Paul “Chris” Milly and physical scientist Krista Dunne simulated snow accumulation and water runoff in the Colorado River Basin from 1912 to 2017, based on factors including historical data on temperatures, precipitation and snowpack. Those simulations allowed the researchers to tease out how specific variables, like air temperature, affected the river. The team found that over the 20th century, warmer weather allowed for less snow cover, exposing darker ground that absorbed more sunlight. That caused more water on the ground to evaporate before it could feed into the Colorado River, diminishing river flow. To forecast the river’s future, Milly and Dunne combined their simulations with climate models that predict temperature increases under hypothetical emissions scenarios. If fossil fuel emissions are curbed so that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations level off by midcentury, the simulations predict that annual river flow would drop 14 to 26 percent compared with the average annual flow during the last century.
2-20-20 Fossil fuel use may emit 40 percent more methane than we thought
The finding could help in targeting how and where to reduce this climate-warming gas. Using fossil fuels releases much more of the potent greenhouse gas methane than previously thought — possibly 25 to 40 percent more, new research suggests. The finding could help scientists and policy makers target how and where to reduce these climate-warming emissions, researchers report February 19 in Nature. The amount of methane released from geologic (rather than biological) sources is from 172 to 195 teragrams (trillions of grams) per year. Those geologic methane sources include not only the oil and gas industry, but also natural vents such as onshore and offshore gas seeps. Researchers previously had estimated that the natural portion of those geologic emissions released between 40 to 60 teragrams of methane each year, with the remainder coming from fossil fuels. But new analyses of over two centuries of methane preserved in ice cores suggest that natural seeps — both in the past and in modern times — send far less methane into the atmosphere than once thought. That means that modern human activities are responsible for nearly all of the current geologic emissions of methane, atmospheric chemist Benjamin Hmiel of the University of Rochester in New York and his colleagues conclude. Methane has about 80 times the atmosphere-warming potential of carbon dioxide — but only on short timescales, because methane only lingers in the atmosphere for 10 to 20 years, while CO2 can linger for hundreds of years. “So the changes we make to our [methane] emissions are going to impact the atmosphere much more quickly,” Hmiel says. Coal mining, natural gas and other fossil fuel sources pushed atmospheric methane levels upward through the 20th century. Those emissions tapered off in the first few years of the 21st century. However, beginning in 2007, atmospheric methane began to increase again, and is now at a level not seen since the 1980s.
2-20-20 Opening your windows doesn't help reduce indoor air pollution
Airing out our homes might not be as effective as we think. Chemicals released by cleaning or cooking can stick to walls, furnishings and other surfaces instead of wafting out when we open a window. “It’s quite a surprise,” says Chen Wang at the University of Toronto, Canada. “We thought that when we diluted the volume of the air in the house [these] may just get removed and mix with the outside air.” She and her colleagues studied the persistence of 18 common indoor chemicals inside a mock house. Some of these, such as carboxylic acids, appear to be released by cooking. We don’t know yet if they are harmful to human health when they accumulate in the home. These chemicals are all volatile, meaning they can evaporate into air, but the researchers wanted to see if they can linger on surfaces too. The team asked volunteers to mimic real-life activities in the house, such as cooking and cleaning, and then measured the levels of these 18 chemicals in the air. The researchers then ventilated the home by opening its windows and doors and then measured the airborne levels of the 18 chemicals again after they were closed. The team found that ventilation for 15 or even 30 minutes made little difference – the chemicals soon reached similar levels in the air as before. Wang says the airborne levels of these chemicals in our homes aren’t high enough to be concerning, but that they are likely to be higher after cooking or cleaning. “Modern houses are becoming more air-tight as we try to conserve energy,” says Frank Kelly at King’s College London. This may be bad for our air quality unless homes are built with mechanical ventilation systems, he says.
2-20-20 Australia weather: 'We’ve gone from hell to high water'
Australia's bushfire crisis drew worldwide attention, but it wasn’t the only extreme weather event to plague the nation in recent months. Drought, dust storms, fires and floods are normal during an Australian summer. But the severity and duration of these events made this season one of the worst people can remember. People around the country told the BBC what it was like to live through these events, and how they feel about this becoming their "new normal".
2-19-20 Can we quit cobalt batteries fast enough to make electric cars viable?
Electric cars are getting cheaper and their sales are on the rise, but their future success may depend on ditching a key ingredient: the heavy metal cobalt. The mineral is used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars, and demand is steadily rising. A new analysis by Elsa Olivetti at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her colleagues has found there may be cobalt shortages if we don’t start refining and recycling it more efficiently or in greater quantities. They estimate that global demand for cobalt will rise to between 235,000 and 430,000 tonnes by 2030 – an amount that is at least 1.6 times the world’s current capacity to refine the metal, as of 2016 figures. Lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars and other consumer electronics account for about half of all cobalt demand, and the demand for these batteries is projected to more than quadruple over the next decade. Cobalt is often produced as a by-product of copper or nickel mining. As such, it is affected by fluctuations in the demand and pricing of those metals. It is also expensive, costing around $33,000 per tonne. Beyond its price, extracting the metal has a human cost too. Most of the world’s supply – 60 per cent – comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mining has been linked to child labour and deaths. The new analysis suggests cobalt supply is adequate at least in the short-term, but that more mining exploration, such as in the ocean, is needed. In addition, we will need to ramp up cobalt recycling by recovering it from batteries in unused electric cars, laptops and mobile phones. Another option is to shift to batteries that use less cobalt, or none at all. Elon Musk’s car firm Tesla is in talks with battery manufacturer CATL to use entirely cobalt-free batteries in its China-made cars, according to a report this week by Reuters.
2-19-20 Why climate change is creating more female sea turtles and crocodiles
As the world gets warmer, animals whose sex is determined by temperature are finding cool ways to control their own fate. But can they adapt in time? WE HAVE all seen images of polar bears stranded at sea on chunks of ice. This charismatic species has become a poster child for the devastating effects of climate change. But as the world warms, spare a thought for another group of animals that face a unique challenge. These are the creatures whose entire reproductive future depends on how hot their environment is. The threat from climate change to animals whose sex is determined by temperature seems obvious. Higher temperatures cause them to produce offspring primarily of one sex, a skew that would appear to put them on the road to extinction. But the curious fact is, this group contains some of the most ancient lineages in the animal kingdom – from crocodiles and turtles to fish and even a reptile-like “living fossil” called the tuatara – and they have survived repeated bouts of global warming in the past. So how have they made it this far given their apparent sensitivity to temperature? To what extent does the current warming differ from events they have faced before? And should we worry about their survival? Researchers rushing to answer these questions have made some surprising discoveries, including a sexual innovation that might have helped these species survive climate change in the past. This innovation could have been key to the evolution of birds, and even explain why they are the only dinosaur descendants today. What’s more, the plight of these species may not be as far removed from us as it seems. There are now intriguing hints that global warming is having an effect on the sex ratios of newborn humans too (see “Girls like it hot”).
2-19-20 Climate change: Fertiliser could be used to power ocean-going ships
Ocean-going ships could be powered by ammonia within the decade as the shipping industry takes action to curb carbon emissions. The chemical - the key ingredient of fertilisers - can be burned in ships’ engines in place of polluting diesel. The industry hopes ammonia will help it tackle climate change, because it burns without CO2 emissions. The creation of the ammonia itself creates substantial CO2, but a report says technology can solve this problem. The challenge is huge, because shipping produces around 2% of global carbon emissions – about the same as the whole German economy. Making ammonia is also a major source of carbon. A report by the Royal Society says ammonia production currently creates 1.8% of global CO2 emissions – the most of any chemical industry. But the authors of the report say new technology can create zero carbon ammonia. One way is by trapping the CO2 emissions created when ammonia is produced, and burying the CO2 in underground rocks. Another way of making so-called "green" ammonia is to use renewable energy which doesn't create any CO2. But the big question is whether enough clean energy will be available to create ammonia at scale in the coming decades. Ammonia is an invaluable jack-of-all-trades chemical – but it is a menace in the wrong place. It is shipped in bulk as an essential base for chemicals, textiles, explosives, refrigerants and fertilisers. But when it is spread carelessly on fields it causes air and water pollution, and it can react with other chemicals to make greenhouse gases. The Royal Society report says farmers need to use ammonia much more carefully. But it notes that the near ubiquitous use of ammonia for agriculture has conveniently generated a global network of ports where the chemical is traded or stored. That means the infrastructure for storing chilled ammonia as a shipping fuel already exists. In the USA, for instance, one existing ammonia pipeline runs for 2,000 miles.
2-18-20 Locust swarms: South Sudan latest to be hit by invasion
Swarms of desert locusts that have been devouring crops and pasture in the East Africa region have spread to South Sudan, the UN food agency says. Several million South Sudanese are already facing hunger as the country struggles to emerge from a civil war. The UN has warned that a food crisis could be looming in East Africa if the outbreak is not brought under control. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pledged $8m (£6m) to help fight the invasion on his visit to Africa. Mr Pompeo was speaking after talks with Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, which along with Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, has been hit by the pests. The invasion is the worst infestation in Kenya for 70 years and the worst in Somalia and Ethiopia for 25 years. Efforts to control the locust infestation have so far not been effective. Aerial spraying of pesticides is the most effective way of fighting the swarms but countries in the region do not have the right resources. There are now fears that the locusts - already in the hundreds of billions - will multiply further. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said about 2,000 adult insects had entered South Sudan via Uganda into the southern county of Magwi. "These are deep yellow, which means that they will be here mostly looking at areas in which they will lay eggs," the AFP news agency quotes FAO South Sudan representative Meshack Malo as saying. Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo Nyikuac said the government was training people to spray. "Also we need chemicals for spraying and also sprayers. You will also need cars to move while spraying and then later if it becomes worse, we will need aircraft," he said, AFP reports. About 60% of South Sudan's population is facing food insecurity - and destruction of harvests by locusts could lead to a drop in nutrition levels in children, rights group Save the Children warns. Even without the locusts, the charity expects that more than 1.3 million children aged under five will suffer from acute malnutrition this year. The FAO says the insects, which eat their own body weight in food every day, are breeding so fast that numbers could grow 500 times by June.
2-18-20 Jeff Bezos: World's richest man pledges $10bn to fight climate change
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has pledged $10bn (£7.7bn) to help fight climate change. The world's richest man said the money would finance work by scientists, activists and other groups. He said: "I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change." Writing on his Instagram account, Mr Bezos said the fund would begin distributing money this summer. Mr Bezos has an estimated net worth of more than $130bn, so the pledge represents almost 8% of his fortune. Some Amazon employees have urged him to do more to fight climate change. There have been walkouts and some staff have spoken publicly. Also, Mr Bezos is financing the Blue Origin space programme. Compared to some multi-billionaires, Mr Bezos had done only limited philanthropy. His biggest donation before Monday's pledge is thought to have been $2bn in September 2018 to help homeless families and fund schools. He has also been criticised for not signing the Giving Pledge, under which the super-rich promise to give away half of their wealth during their lifetimes. The Seattle-based company is a neighbour of Microsoft, which in January unveiled a plan to become carbon negative by 2030. Mr Bezos's full Instagram post read: "Today, I'm thrilled to announce I am launching the Bezos Earth Fund.??? ???"Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share. This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs - any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world. "We can save Earth. It's going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organisations, and individuals. ???"I'm committing $10bn to start and will begin issuing grants this summer. Earth is the one thing we all have in common - let's protect it, together."???
2-18-20 UK government refuses request to explain cost of hitting net zero
The UK government has refused a request to explain why its estimated cost of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is tens of billions of pounds more than its independent advisers found. Last summer, shortly before the UK enshrined the net-zero target in law, a leaked letter from Phillip Hammond, the then chancellor, warned that the transition to a zero-carbon economy was likely to be “well in excess of a trillion pounds”. Hammond’s letter cited analysis by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that put the cost of meeting the 2050 goal at £70 billion a year. That was 40 per cent more than the £50 billion that the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) had arrived at. But unlike the CCC analysis, the letter supplied no evidence or methods to explain the significantly higher figure. New Scientist attempted to use freedom of information legislation to obtain the evidence supporting the bigger net-zero price tag, but BEIS declined to release the information. Following an appeal, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office last week ruled in favour of BEIS withholding the explanation. BEIS told the ICO that releasing the evidence now could harm public understanding due to a lack of context. “There is real potential to distract the public debate away from the substantive environmental issue of climate change with cost estimates that are not properly contextualised,” the department said. The refusal means Hammond’s £70 billion figure, provided without context, is the only information available to the public on the cost of the government hitting the net-zero target. The Treasury plans to publish the government’s official net-zero cost review in November, the same month that the UK is hosting a major UN climate summit in Glasgow. But it appears the ultimate cost could differ from the £70 billion figure, which Hammond had warned would mean less money being available for other areas of public spending. The ICO reported that BEIS is: “Currently completing and refining their analysis in the context of the new legislated target.”
2-17-20 German firms Bayer and BASF fight $265m US fine over weedkiller
German chemical giant Bayer is to appeal against a Missouri court's award of $265m (£203m) to a US peach grower who blamed a herbicide for crop damage. Farmer Bill Bader sued Bayer and BASF, alleging that dicamba weedkiller drifted onto his orchard from nearby fields, destroying them. It is the first ruling in some 140 US cases against dicamba, a herbicide blamed for extensive crop damage. Bayer says its herbicides pose no unreasonable risk if used correctly. The US agrochemical giant Monsanto, bought by Bayer for $63bn in 2018, sells dicamba-based herbicide and a similar, much-criticised product, Roundup. US lawsuits against Monsanto's weedkillers may cost Bayer billions of dollars in damages. It is not yet clear how Bayer and BASF may share the cost of the Missouri damages. BASF said it would "use all available legal resources" to fight Saturday's ruling by a federal district court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The firms were ordered to pay Mr Bader $15m in actual damages and $250m in fines. He argued that his 1,000-acre (405-hectare) orchard was destroyed by dicamba. In a statement on Monday, Bayer said it "clearly disagrees with the jury's verdict and is very disappointed". "We will swiftly appeal the decision. While we have great empathy for any farmer who suffers from crop losses, in the case of Mr Bader there was no competent evidence presented which showed that Monsanto's products were present on his farm and were responsible for his losses." Dicamba-based herbicides have been blamed for damage to thousands of hectares of crops in US Midwestern states. In November 2018 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposed restrictions on dicamba use, because of the farmers' concerns. Bayer insists that Monsanto herbicides are safe and "valuable tools for growers". The herbicides "do not pose any unreasonable risk of off-target movement when used according to label directions", the firm says.
2-17-20 Turning human bodies into compost works, a small trial suggests
Breaking down bodies into dirt may be an environmentally friendly alternative to burial or cremation. Human bodies make great worm food. That’s the conclusion of pilot experiments with six dead bodies that were allowed to decompose among wood chips and other organic material. The results, presented February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggest that composting, also called natural organic reduction, is a way to handle dead bodies that’s easy on the Earth. Disposing of dead human bodies can be a real environmental problem. Embalming relies on large quantities of toxic fluid, and cremation throws off lots of carbon dioxide. But composting, in which microbes break down the bodies into soil, “is a fabulous option,” says Jennifer DeBruyn, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who wasn’t involved in the study. In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize natural organic reduction as a post-life option. A Seattle-based company called Recompose expects to start accepting bodies for composting soon. In a news briefing, soil scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs of Washington State University in Pullman described a pilot experiment in which six bodies were put into vessels that contained plant material and routinely rotated to provide optimal conditions for decomposition. About four to seven weeks later, microbes in the material reduced the bodies to skeletons. Each body resulted 1.5 to 2 cubic yards of soil-like material containing bones. Commercial processes would likely use more thorough methods to process the bones, said Carpenter-Boggs, who is a research adviser to Recompose. Her analyses also have shown that the resulting soil meets safety standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for such contaminants as heavy metals.
2-17-20 Human compost funerals 'better for environment'
A US firm has given scientific details of its "human composting" process for environmentally friendly funerals. A pilot study on deceased volunteers showed that soft tissue broke down safely and completely within 30 days. The firm, Recompose, claims that its process saves more than a tonne of carbon, compared to cremation or traditional burial. It says that it will offer the world's first human composting service in Washington state from next February. Speaking exclusively to BBC News, Recompose's chief executive and founder, Katrina Spade, said that concerns about climate change had been a big factor in so many people expressing interest in the service. "So far 15,000 people have signed up to our newsletter. And the legislation to allow this in the state received bi-partisan support enabling it to pass the first time it was tabled," she said. "The project has moved forward so quickly because of the urgency of climate change and the awareness we have to put it right." Ms Spade spoke to me as results of the scientific study into the composting process, which Recompose calls natural organic reduction, was being presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. "There is a loving practicability to it," she said, in one of the few interviews she has given since announcing details of the project a year ago. She told me that she came up with the idea 13 years ago when she began to ponder her own mortality - at the ripe old age of 30! "When I die, this planet, which has protected and supported me my whole life, shouldn't I give back what I have left? "It is just logical and also beautiful." Ms Spade draws a distinction between decomposing and recomposing. The former is what happens when a body is above ground. Recomposing involves integrating it with the soil. She claims that natural organic reduction of a body prevents 1.4 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere, compared with cremation. And she believes there is a similar saving compared to traditional burial when transportation and the construction of the casket is taken into account.
2-17-20 The real potential of the electric vehicle revolution
Electric cars are the wave of the future, if you believe the marketing of the big automobile companies. Kia, Nissan, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, and of course Tesla have electric models on sale this year, as well as luxury brands Audi, Porsche, and BMW. It seems likely that in the next few decades, gas- or diesel-powered cars and trucks will be made completely obsolete.. But while electric cars would be a big improvement over the gasoline status quo, they wouldn't solve most of the biggest problems created by cars. In fact, they are far from the most promising electric vehicles on the market. That prize must go to electric variants of traditional human-powered transportation — the e-scooter, the e-skateboard, and above all the e-bike. These have a far larger potential to revolutionize congested American cities and provide an enormous increase in health and convenience for American citizens — but it will require drastic policy changes to tap that potential. The biggest logistical problem with cars is that they take up too much space. For the typical American use case (commuting to work alone, as about three-quarters of Americans do), one needs a parking space at home, a parking space at work, and a wide road to move the car between the two points. That means such parking spaces are vacant about half the time on average — and even when occupied the car itself is still sitting doing nothing. Meanwhile, a lane of car traffic is simply an inefficient way to transport people. In optimal conditions, one road lane can transport a maximum of about 1,600 people per hour in one direction, as compared to easily 10-20 times that many for a subway. And while subway capacity keeps going up to quite a high level of congestion (given a competent transit authority), highway capacity sharply decreases as it approaches peak theoretical use, because traffic jams can't be avoided with thousands of individuals all operating different machines independently. Car-dependent cities end up dedicating enormous swathes of valuable city land to lane after lane of highways and grimy oceans of parking lots (often destroying minority and working-class neighborhoods in the process), and they are still clogged with traffic every rush hour.
2-15-20 Meet the consultant helping business go zero waste
After Catherine Conway had to shut down her package-free business for financial reasons, she seized the opportunity to help others learn from her mistakes. "Most of us are here because we want to save the world," Catherine Conway tells the group of about a dozen women assembled in a co-working space in East London. "But how many of you actually have retail experience?" A few women raise their hands. Others look around sheepishly. "OK, so a couple," Conway says. "Here's the reality check — if you don't have a long-term, financially stable business, you can't help anyone." The participants — who all happen to be women — have traveled from all over the world to attend this one-day workshop with Conway. One participant flew in from the United Arab Emirates and another from Northern Ireland. They are experiencing a dose of Conway's tough love, but more importantly, they are here to learn about running a zero waste business. If you've never heard that term before, it's basically an entire store that is like the bulk section in your local market, where customers bring in their own containers and there is little to no plastic packaging. Conway, who is the founder of a consulting firm called Unpackaged, is a bit of a guru in this department. "The kind of people who want to run these businesses tend to be idealistic," she says. "I was 100 percent like that myself." Back in 2006, Conway, frustrated by the useless packaging all around her, opened a stand where you could refill dry goods and cleaning products. They expanded into a shop, then a restaurant. She was putting in long, grueling hours, but the restaurant just wasn't making money. "We struggled for a year and then we had to close down," Conway remembers. "It was awful. I lost my own money, I lost investors' money. It was really, really, really painful." After her loss, Conway took some time and eventually realized she could help other people learn from her mistakes. Now, when Conway holds workshops for people who want to start zero waste businesses, she talks to them about everything from basic business principles to identifying a customer base to specific considerations for this type of store — like how to clean bulk containers and what to do when a customer accidentally overfills their bag of oatmeal. She warns them about challenges they might not have thought about — like the fact that dealing with bulk goods is incredibly physically demanding.
2-14-20 Coastal erosion: The homes lost to the sea
As sea level rise, a senior figure in the Environment Agency says he wants the country to start "difficult conversations" about which areas should be protected and which should not. Science editor David Shukman has been investigating the dilemma of where to save and where to retreat.
2-14-20 Highest in recorded history
The temperature in Antarctica reached its highest in recorded history on Feb. 6: a springlike 65 degrees. Scientists recently announced that January was the warmest month globally in recorded history.
2-14-20 Crucial glacier under threat
Scientists have discovered unusually warm ocean water beneath a gigantic glacier in West Antarctica—a find that explains the ice shelf’s increasingly rapid melt and that raises alarms about sea-level rise around the world. The Florida-size Thwaites Glacier has lost more than 600 billion tons of ice in recent decades and is now shedding up 50 billion tons a year. To find the cause, a team of glaciologists drilled through nearly 2,000 feet of ice to the “grounding line,” the point where the glacier shifts from resting on bedrock to spreading out over the sea as an ice sheet. Water temperatures there were about 32 degrees Fahrenheit—3.6 degrees above the freezing point in that location. “That is really, really bad,” joint project leader David Holland, from New York University, tells The Washington Post. “That’s not a sustainable situation.” Thwaites is of particular concern to scientists because it has an unusually wide, 75-mile front to the ocean, and because its unstable configuration makes it more susceptible to melting. What’s more, Thwaites and a neighboring glacier are holding back ice that if it melted would raise global sea levels by about 10 feet—enough to put many coastal cities underwater.
2-14-20 Wildfire smoke may cause life-long harm
Smoke from wildfires may have long-term health effects, according to US research on juvenile monkeys. An analysis shows that their immune systems were lower than normal, 12 years after they were naturally exposed to wildfire smoke. There are also indications that the animals passed on the defect to their offspring. The findings have prompted an investigation into the impact of wildfires on the health of children. The results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle by Prof Lisa Miller from the University of California, Davis. They are particularly pertinent given the recent spate of wildfires in Australia, California and Brazil. Such fires are likely to become more common as a result of the drier conditions in many parts of the world, predicted by climate change models. Prof Miller told BBC News that she now has enough evidence from her analysis of monkeys to look into how recent wildfires may have affected the health of children in Northern California. "I believe very strongly that we now have enough evidence to move to the clinic. My plan is to look at records from paediatric populations and find evidence of increased asthma, increased respiratory, viral and bacterial infections, increased use of antibiotics and longer recovery times from illness." Prof Miller's analysis is based on a study of rhesus monkeys kept at UC Davis's outdoor National Primate Centre. In 2008 the 4,000 or so animals located there were exposed to smoke from a wildfire in Trinity and Humbolt Counties, 200 miles north of Davis - as was the city's human population. Prof Miller saw this as a unique opportunity to assess the impact of the smoke on the monkeys, especially the young animals. She took blood samples and tested their lung function over the next 12 years. She discovered that the juvenile monkeys had stiffer lungs and weaker immune systems to those not exposed to smoke. Prof Miller also found that not only did these symptoms persist for the duration of her study - but were passed down to the next generation, and transferred to the offspring of female monkeys.
2-14-20 Coastal floods warning in UK as sea levels rise
Coastal communities face "serious questions" about their long-term safety from rising seas, a senior Environment Agency official has warned. People have become used to a 'myth of protection', according to John Curtin, head of floods and coastal management. "We are in a cycle of thinking we can protect everywhere always", he told BBC News. His warning follows research suggesting polar melting is accelerating and raising the height of the oceans. And a major UN study last year said extremes of coastal flooding are set to become far more frequent. Mr Curtin is taking a long view about how climate change is set to increase the level of the sea and alter the coastline. As a leading specialist in flood defence in England, he wants to trigger a public debate about how to respond. He believes that since the 1960s, when huge concrete embankments were built along many stretches of shore, several generations have grown up taking coastal protection for granted. Now, he says, there's an urgent need for 'difficult conversations' about how to respond to the prospect of much higher seas. In some locations that will mean bigger, stronger defences but in others the conclusion may be that it's better for people to move inland. "If the seas rise by another metre, they get more stormy, there are some places that are really vulnerable. "We might need to look at where people live eventually." Mr Curtin was speaking as he guided me around a new flood scheme in Boston in Lincolnshire, a town repeatedly hit by North Sea storm surges in recent decades. Each surge was higher than the last - in 1953, in 1978 and in 2013 - and every time the response was to improve coastal defences by raising embankments. The most recent flood hit 500 homes and 300 businesses and caused £1m worth of damage to Boston's famous St Botolph's church, known locally as the Stump. It led to a massive project to defend the town with a tidal barrier, now under construction at a cost of more than £100m. A smaller version of the Thames Barrier which protects London, the scheme involves a steel wall that can be raised into position to hold back the sea if a storm surge is forecast.
2-14-20 50 years ago, protests and promises launched the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Declining oil production poses dangers to the massive structure. Nobody has ever done what the engineers designing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are faced with: the need to carry hot oil through the Arctic. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, expected to be completed in 1972, will carry 600,000 barrels of oil a day across Alaska. Despite protests by environmental activists and Native Americans, the pipeline was completed in 1977. In the mid-1980s, the pipeline moved about 25 percent of all U.S.-produced oil and could deliver more than 2 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But U.S. oil production has declined since 1988, so the flow has slowed. That allows the oil to cool en route and water to pool in the system, raising fears of corrosion, ruptures and oil spills. The 1,288-kilometer pipeline must by law be dismantled and removed if it’s shut down. But after hundreds of thousands of hectares in Alaska were auctioned off in December for oil development, and with millions more still set to be auctioned, a shutdown may not come anytime soon.
2-14-20 Antarctic island hits record temperature of 20.75C
Antarctica has exceeded 20C for the first time, after researchers logged a temperature of 20.75C (69F) on an island off the coast of the peninsula. Brazilian scientist Carlos Schaefer told AFP they had "never seen a temperature this high in Antarctica". But he warned the temperature, logged on 9 February, was just one reading and not part of a long-term data set. The continent also hit a record last week, with a temperature reading of 18.3C on the Antarctic Peninsula. This latest reading was taken at a monitoring station on Seymour Island, part of a chain of islands off the same peninsula, at the northernmost point of the continent. Although the temperature is a record high, Mr Schaefer emphasized that the reading was not part of a wider study and so, in itself, could not be used to predict a trend. "We can't use this to anticipate climatic changes in the future. It's a data point," he said. "It's simply a signal that something different is happening in that area." According to the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO), temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by almost 3C over the past 50 years, and that about 87% of the glaciers along its west coast have "retreated" in that time. Over the past 12 years, the glaciers have shown an "accelerated retreat", it adds. Last month was also Antarctica's warmest January on record. The previous record for the entire Antarctic region - which includes the continent, islands and ocean that are in the Antarctic climatic zone - was 19.8C, logged in January 1982. Last July, the Arctic region hit its own record temperature of 21C, logged by a base at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
2-13-20 Antarctic ice melt could push sea levels to rise 1.5 metres by 2100
Melting Antarctic ice could cause sea levels to rise 58 centimetres by the end of the century under a worst-case climate scenario, an increase three times bigger than the world saw in the 20th century from all sources. Adding other sources of sea level rise as the world warms, including Greenland ice melt and global water expansion, and seas could climb about 1.5 metres by 2100, according to researchers. “Antarctica is potentially the biggest contributor [to sea level rise] and 58 centimetres is so far the highest number we’ve got,” says Anders Levermann at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led an international team modelling future melting of ice shelves. “We know sea level is going to consume eventually a number of coastal cities and regions we hold dear. That will likely be in a few hundred years. What we show here is this could come earlier than we thought,” says Levermann. His team combined 16 ice sheet models – up from just three in a similar exercise six years ago – with uncertainties in how the world will warm in response to carbon emissions, and how ocean currents will transport heat to the Southern Ocean. The group found that if carbon emissions go largely unchecked and temperatures rise by almost 5°C by 2100, Antarctica would have a more than 90 per cent likelihood of causing sea level rise between 6 and 58 centimetres by the end of the century. The median was 17 centimetres. This analysis assumed ice in Antarctica retreats in a linear fashion, rather than in ways that accelerate the collapse, such as the creation of unstable ice cliffs. As such, the projections could be an underestimate. Andy Smith at the British Antarctic Survey, who wasn’t involved in the research, says the new projections seem reasonable, when considered with previous findings.
2-13-20 Ancient people tried to stop rising seas with spears or fiery boulders
The last time humans came up against rising seas due to major global warming, they tried to protect themselves by putting up physical barriers and possibly appealing to divine powers to hold back the water. Following the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago, Earth warmed by about 3 to 5°C over thousands of years, probably due to a slight change in its orbit that increased sunshine exposure. This melted ice sheets that once covered much of North America and northern Europe and raised global seas.
2-13-20 Millions of hairy tarantula skins could be used to mop up oil spills
A sea of floating, dead tarantula skins might be an arachnophobe’s nightmare, but the moults of these spiders could help mop up ocean oil spills. The skins of spider skins have “very strong” water-repelling properties, says Tomasz Machalowski at Poznan University of Technology in Poland, one of the team behind the concept. This means they could be useful for cleaning-up oil spills, as the materials used need to attract oil but also repel water.
2-13-20 The Deepwater Horizon oil spill spread much farther than once thought
Simulations show the extent of toxic oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 disaster. Nearly a decade after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, computer simulations suggest that the toxic pollution extended much farther than satellite images first indicated. Those images, taken after the spill dumped nearly 800 million liters of oil into Gulf waters, helped to determine which areas would be temporarily closed for fishing (SN: 4/3/15). Scientists’ observations since then had suggested that the oil had spread farther (SN: 7/31/14). The new analysis confirms that fact with computer simulations, which considered ocean currents, oil evaporation and other factors to map the spill’s true expanse. Satellites appear to have overlooked at least 30 percent of the hazardous pollution, says biological oceanographer Claire Paris-Limouzy of the University of Miami. The simulations uncovered vast ocean swaths where oil concentrations were high enough to endanger marine life, but dilute enough to have been overlooked by satellites, Paris-Limouzy and colleagues report online February 12 in Science Advances. Water and sediment samples from around the Gulf supported the findings. Satellite images had shown oil mostly in a northern and central patch of the Gulf. But the simulations suggest toxic levels of oil pollution cast a much wider stain on the ocean. Fishery closures covered about 94 percent of the polluted region observed by satellites, but only about 70 percent of the hazardous area identified by the new analysis — missing spots near Texas and Florida. Some of those waters remained closed to fishing for years. Computer simulations could similarly estimate toxic but invisible portions of future oil spills, providing better guidance on where to close fisheries or send cleanup crews.
2-12-20 Deepwater Horizon spill may have been a third bigger than estimated
The US’s worst ever oil spill, at a BP rig a decade ago, may have been almost a third larger than previously thought. The finding, published today, comes as the oil giant launched a new bid to burnish its environmental credentials. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 saw nearly 800 million litres of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, which satellite tracking suggested covered an estimated 149,000 square kilometres. But an analysis suggests that the real extent of the spill may have been 30 per cent greater, because much of the oil was invisible to satellites. The study also found that the oil extended much deeper than satellites had detected, with toxic concentrations 1.3 kilometres down. A US team arrived at this estimate using data from 25,000 samples of water and sediment from the area, much of it only released in recent years by BP, in addition to satellite and aerial images. It used these to model how far the oil is likely to have spread, accounting for ocean currents, temperature and the biodegradation of oil. The results suggest the spill reached as far as the West Florida shelf, Texas shores and Florida Keys. “The environmental damage extends substantially beyond what was previously estimated both in space and time,” says Claire Paris-Limouzy at the University of Miami, Florida. While these previously undetected hydrocarbons weren’t picked up by satellites, they were found at levels “potentially lethal and sublethal” to marine organisms at different depths. “The impact on marine life was, and still is, larger than expected,” says Paris-Limouzy. The spill has been linked to deaths of dolphins, lobsters and smaller animals such as sea cucumbers. While the researchers say their analysis should change perceptions of the disaster and the risk from future spills, they note that satellites are still the quickest, main way of detecting oil spills and directing clean-ups.
2-12-20 The huge problem of food waste could be twice as big as we thought
Consumers around the world could be wasting more than twice as much food as thought, according to an analysis that says previous estimates have been gross underestimates. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in 2011 that around a third of food is lost or wasted. This report is considered to have played a key role in food waste reduction becoming one of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals. But the widely cited estimate appears to be wrong when it comes to the amount of food people waste at home because it fails to account for affluence, and how much more the rich waste than poorer people. “The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up. I hope it’s a wake-up call,” says Monika van den Bos Verma at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. She and her team took an unusual approach to calculate global food waste. Due to a scarcity of comparable national data on such waste around the world, they instead inferred it. First, they compared how much food is produced – based on UN data on its availability – and how much is eaten, as calculated by the energy people need to consume and World Health Organization data on body mass from 63 countries. Finally, they used World Bank data to factor in affluence. The result: an average person wastes around 527 kilocalories (kcal) a day. That is about one-fifth of the 2500 kcals the average man needs to maintain a healthy body weight, according to the UK’s National Health Service, or a quarter of the daily recommended intake for a woman. The previous FAO estimate of food waste per person only came to 214 kcals a day. The new figures are for 2005, due to data availability and to allow a comparison to the UN research. Van den Bos Verma found that food waste starts to become a serious issue when people reach a total spending power of $6.70 a day.
2-12-20 We're worse with food waste than we think
Common estimates for global food waste are too low, according to Dutch researchers, who suggest every person in the world is wasting about 500 calories of food a day. Without waste, we could feed five people instead of four, they said. The study found food waste goes up with the increase of money in our pockets, possibly reaching more than twice the levels we thought previously. Reducing food waste is a key challenge in fighting climate change. Wasted and lost food accounts for almost 10% of all our greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Stopping food waste is a win for consumers and it's definitely a win for the planet, said Dr Monika van den Bos Verma of Wageningen University in The Netherlands. "Throwing food out in your dustbin is like throwing a five euro note out - why would you do that?" Previous estimates have put global food waste at 214 calories per day per person (214 kilocalories/day/capita - a kilocalorie is another word for what's commonly called a calorie). The researchers looked in detail at the issue of food waste, using data from the FAO, World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO). Food waste started to rise above a daily income of about seven dollars per day. And while the FAO estimated food waste to be 214 calories per day per person in the world in 2015, their model for the same year gave a figure of 527 calories. "What we estimate is that FAO's original estimate of 214 kilocalories per capita per day is actually a vast underestimate of the global food waste as we measure it, because we have a factor two larger estimate of 527 kilocalories per capita per day," said Dr Thom Achterbosch, also of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Food waste is more of a problem in richer countries than we think but it's also going to rise faster in poorer countries, he added. "From what we currently have in our kitchens we could feed five persons instead of four if we don't waste," he said.
2-12-20 Oil giant BP says it will cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050
BP has become the biggest oil and gas company to promise to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, said today that it was “no longer enough” to provide reliable and affordable energy, it had to be cleaner too. “For BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change,” he said in a statement. The company said it would need to “fundamentally transform” itself to meet its net zero ambition. However, the pledge doesn’t cover emissions produced when oil and gas is burned by the firm’s customers, which amounts to BP’s biggest contribution to climate change. The company also made no promise to rein in hydrocarbon exploration and production over the next decade, which is expected to increase significantly. It is also unclear how and when BP might transition into renewables. The company said today that the share of its $16bn-plus annual spending that goes on non-oil and gas work will rise over time, but gave no figures or dates. The company came 7th in a recent ranking of oil companies’ investments in low-carbon projects. Campaigners said key questions weren’t answered by BP. “How will they reach net zero? Will it be through offsetting? When will they stop wasting billions on drilling for new oil and gas we can’t burn?” said Charlie Kronick at Greenpeace UK, in a statement. Repsol of Spain last year became the first oil and gas company to set a net zero goal. More details on how BP will deliver its ambition are expected in September.
2-12-20 BP boss plans to 'reinvent' oil giant for green era
New BP boss Bernard Looney has said he wants the company to sharply cut net carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. Mr Looney said the 111-year-old company needed to "reinvent" itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy. BP will have to fundamentally reorganise itself to help make those changes, said Mr Looney, who took over as chief executive last week. It follows similar moves by rivals, including Royal Dutch Shell and Total. Mr Looney said: "The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero. "Trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world's energy system." "This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change - this is the right thing for the world and for BP." He outlined his plans in a keynote speech on Wednesday. "Providing the world with clean, reliable affordable energy will require nothing less than reimagining energy, and today that becomes BP's new purpose," he said. "Reimagining energy for people and our planet." On Instagram, which Mr Looney recently signed up to, he said "Rest assured - a lot of time - and listening - has gone into this." "All of the anxiety and frustration of the world at the pace of change is a big deal. I want you to know we are listening. Both as a company - and myself as an individual." In the long term, BP's plans will involve less investment in oil and gas, and more investment in low carbon businesses. However, in the short term large investment in oil and gas will continue. The company said it wanted to be "net zero" by 2050 - that is, it wants the greenhouse gas emissions from its operations, and from the oil and gas it produces, to make no addition to the amount of greenhouse gases in the world's atmosphere by that date. It also wants to halve the amount of carbon in its products by 2050.
2-12-20 Deforested parts of Amazon 'emitting more CO2 than they absorb'
Up to one fifth of the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it absorbs, new research suggests. Results from a decade-long study of greenhouse gases over the Amazon basin appear to show around 20% of the total area has become a net source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One of the main causes is deforestation. While trees are growing they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; dead trees release it again. Millions of trees have been lost to logging and fires in recent years. The results of the study, which have not yet been published, have implications for the effort to combat climate change. They suggest that the Amazon rainforest - a vital carbon store, or "sink", that slows the pace of global warming - may be turning into a carbon source faster than previously thought. Every two weeks for the past 10 years, a team of scientists led by Prof Luciana Gatti, a researcher at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), has been measuring greenhouse gases by flying aircraft fitted with sensors over different parts of the Amazon basin. What the group found was startling: while most of the rainforest still retains its ability to absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide - especially in wetter years - one portion of the forest, which is especially heavily deforested, appears to have lost that capacity. Gatti's research suggests this south-eastern part of the forest, about 20% of the total area, has become a carbon source. "Each year is worse," she told Newsnight. "We observed that this area in the south-east is an important source of carbon. And it doesn't matter whether it is a wet year or a dry year. 2017-18 was a wet year, but it didn't make any difference." A forest can become a source of carbon rather than a store, or sink, when trees die and emit carbon into the atmosphere. Areas of deforestation also contribute to the Amazon's inability to absorb carbon.
2-12-20 The U.S. power grid desperately needs upgrades to handle climate change
Reliability fears stoke calls to action. Derek Krause likes to be prepared. The 59-year-old retired fire chief used to teach courses on how to be self-sufficient in the wake of a natural disaster. So last October, when he and his wife arrived home to find their Oakland, Calif., neighborhood blacked out, Krause was ready with solar panels and battery backup. Most people weren’t so fortunate. While solar power kept Krause’s lights on and refrigerator and Wi-Fi running over the three-day outage, the neighbors drove around in search of ice and lined up to buy generators. “My wife said, ‘It’s sort of like the movie The Purge,’ ” Krause recalls. “Your security system doesn’t work, your garage doesn’t work, your phone doesn’t work, and streetlights and the traffic signals don’t work. Good luck; you’re on your own.” That October outage was part of a series of deliberate blackouts that plunged millions of Californians into darkness. Pacific Gas and Electric shut off the power to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires in dry, windy conditions (SN Online: 11/1/19). It was one of many examples of how the U.S. power grid fails to stand up against weather hazards. In July 2019 in New York, the energy company Con Edison unplugged tens of thousands of customers to avoid equipment damage due to overheating during a heat wave. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey — whose severity has been linked to human-driven climate change — ripped through Houston and cut power to more than 300,000 customers (SN: 1/20/18, p. 6). More than half of major U.S. power outages from 2000 to 2016 were caused by natural hazards like hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires, according to research reported July 2018 in Reliability Engineering & System Safety. Climate change is making such extreme weather more likely and more intense (SN Online: 12/10/19). The aging U.S. power grid is not expected to hold up well to the coming climate stresses: “Americans will likely experience longer and more frequent power interruptions,” the American Society of Civil Engineers predicted in a 2017 report.
2-12-20 Antarctica's big new iceberg: Up close with B49
A US research ship is the first vessel to encounter the giant new iceberg knocked off the edge of Antarctica. The RV Nathaniel B Palmer passed within a few kilometres of B49, as it's been designated - the largest of a group of ice fragments ejected by Pine Island Glacier (PIG) over the weekend. B49 itself covers just over 100 sq km; the other pieces total about 200 sq km. Dr Robert Larter took a picture of the big berg from the deck of the Palmer, which he then posted on Twitter. The British Antarctic Survey scientist is part of a major US-UK expedition that is investigating the nearby Thwaites Glacier. Both streams - PIG and Thwaites - move enormous amounts of ice off the west of the continent into the Amundsen Sea. The fronts of these glaciers actually float where they meet the ocean, even though they are hundreds of metres thick. And every so often, the leading edges will calve great chunks of ice. Researchers have become concerned at the speed with which the PIG and Thwaites are losing ice. Satellite records show the glaciers have speeded up in recent decades. They've also thinned and their fronts have pulled back towards land. Warm ocean water is said to be infiltrating the glaciers' undersides and melting them. In addition, the PIG appears to be calving bergs at an accelerating rate. Dr Larter said B49 and its "PIGlets" represented the seventh largest tabular iceberg calving event from Pine Island Glacier this century. A tabular berg is big, wide and flat. "The interval between them is decreasing," he wrote on Twitter. "Sequence since November 2001: 71 months, 73 months, 22 months, 25 months, 15 months, 14 months." The Palmer ship is trying to learn about the history of Thwaites Glacier on its present cruise. It's collecting seafloor sediments, which, when they're inspected in the lab, should reveal details such as the past position of the front of the glacier and the climate conditions that persisted at the time.
2-11-20 Extreme hot days and nights to soar by 2100 even in best-case scenario
Climate change may make summer nights a lot sweatier, and potentially even deadly. The number of extremely hot days followed by intensely hot nights could jump to 32 days – four times as many as there are currently – in northern hemisphere summers by 2100, even if the world acts to check global warming. In the worst-case warming scenario, which is seen as unlikely, the number leaps to 69 days, or three-quarters of summer days.
2-11-20 Sir David Attenborough to explore threat to 'perfect planet'
Sir David Attenborough is to present a new five-part series based on how natural forces - including oceans and volcanoes - allow the planet to thrive. A Perfect Planet will show how wild animals such as white wolves and bears adapt to whatever the environment throws at them. Sir David said that "to preserve our perfect planet we must ensure we become a force for good". The final episode will focus on the impact of humans on the environment. "Our planet is one in a billion, a world teeming with life. But now, a new dominant force is changing the face of Earth: humans," said Sir David. Charlotte Moore, BBC director of content, described Perfect Planet as "a breathtaking series celebrating the intricate systems that allow our planet to thrive, bringing together a unique perspective with groundbreaking camera technology". Other wildlife to feature in the series in their natural habitat include the vampire finches of the Galapagos and China's golden snub-nosed monkeys. The series will go out on BBC One later this year. Also on the horizon for the BBC is a series featuring the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The yet untitled show will follow Thunberg's "international crusade" to tackle climate change, focusing on her campaign work as well as the 17-year-old's "journey into adulthood". Thunberg will be seen meeting with scientists, politicians and business people to explore the evidence around global temperature rises. Rob Liddell, executive producer, said: "Climate change is probably the most important issue of our lives so it feels timely to make an authoritative series that explores the facts and science behind this complex subject. "To be able to do this with Greta is an extraordinary privilege, getting an inside view on what it's like being a global icon and one of the most famous faces on the planet." Transmission details for Thunberg's series have not been announced.
2-11-20 Noise pollution from ships may scare Arctic cod from feeding grounds
As shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, fish are racing to get out of the way. The noise of shipping vessels traveling through northern Canadian waters is causing Arctic cod to sacrifice much of their foraging and feeding in order to flee the area until ships move away, researchers report. The findings — the first to gauge how shipping noise could affect Arctic fish — are cause for concern as climate change increases ice melt (SN: 12/11/19), drawing more shipping traffic to the region, researchers say in the study, which will be included in the April issue of Ecological Applications. Scientists previously have reported negative effects from ship noise on marine mammals, such as porpoises (SN: 2/13/18) and beaked whales (SN: 3/25/11). “The results were staggering,” says Aaron Fisk, a biologist at the University of Windsor in Canada. Fish are known to use sound for foraging, avoiding predators, navigating and communicating (SN: 9/30/14), and noise pollution could threaten those behaviors, he says. “Hearing is more important to fish than we realize.” Fisk and his colleagues used cameras to record ship locations in August and September of 2012, while acoustic tags tracked 77 schooling Arctic cod in Resolute Bay, off Cornwallis Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The team then compared the fish location data with footage of the passing ships to determine whether the fish were moving in response to the vessels. When no ships were present, the cod stayed in one area of a 30-meter-deep depression in the bay. But when a ship passed — creating sounds as loud as 147 decibels underwater, similar to the noise from a motorcycle engine and nearly double the bay’s ambient noise — the fish abandoned their normal feeding behavior. They fled the disturbance, swimming up to 350 meters away for periods of up to 30 minutes. That means the fish were spending more energy swimming, and less time gaining calories, Fisk says.
2-11-20 Will Australia’s forests bounce back after devastating fires?
Scientists are worried about ecosystems not used to such frequent, blistering blazes. Some of the world’s most ancient rainforests lie in the north of the Australian state of New South Wales. Continually wet since the time of the dinosaurs, these forests once covered the supercontinent Gondwana. Today, vestiges harbor many endemic and evolutionarily unique plants and animals. “Normally vibrant, green and lustrous,” these forests “feed your soul,” says Mark Graham, an ecologist with the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, who is based in the region. “You step into them and breathe deeply, and you are at peace.” Typically moist, these environments don’t burn. But unprecedented fires have now ravaged more than 11 million hectares in eastern Australia, penetrating these strongholds that rarely, if ever, faced fires before. Last year was Australia’s hottest and driest year in 120 years. Made vulnerable by a record drought and heat wave, more than 50 percent of the vast area that makes up the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area has gone up in flames, Graham says. “There’s now concern about the long-term viability of these globally significant forests.” Drier types of Australian forest, which have some fire tolerance, could be taking a beating too in the wake of blazes that, as researchers report January 8 in Global Change Biology, are becoming more intense and frequent with climate change. “Most of our eucalyptus forests and woodlands have had a long history of fire,” says John Woinarski, a conservation biologist at Charles Darwin University in Darwin. But, like their wetter counterparts, “they’re burning, in many cases, not long after the last major fire in these environments.” Overall, more than 50 percent of the entire ranges of about 115 threatened plant and animal species have gone up in smoke, many in eucalypt forests in the continent’s southeast, Australian officials reported January 20. The question now is: Can these areas, especially the forests that are the foundation of so many Australian ecosystems, recover, or are they forever changed?
2-10-20 Record-breaking hot years look set to continue through the next decade
The recent streak of record-breaking hot years is set to continue throughout the next decade. It is likely that every year from 2019 to 2028 will be one of the 10 warmest on record. The recent streak of record-breaking hot years is set to continue throughout the next decade. It is likely that every year from 2019 to 2028 will be one of the 10 warmest on record. “After the last five years, we’ve really separated ourselves from the past,” says Anthony Arguez at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. “It looks pretty likely that we’re going to have a whole lot of top 10 years.”
2-9-20 Climate change: Why are US senators wearing this symbol?
Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, created a graphic that represents how the world is becoming warmer. US Democrat senators Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Van Hollen wore it as a badge at the State of the Union address.
2-8-20 Brazil's Amazon: Deforestation high in January despite rainy season
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest doubled in January compared with a year ago, reaching a five-year record for the month, officials say. Destruction at this time of the year tends to slow down as the rainy season makes access to areas more difficult. But instead of falling to the same low levels as in the past, deforestation remained high, official data showed. Critics say far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric encourage illegal activities. Deforestation in the Amazon - a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming - soared last year, the first of President Bolsonaro in office. His environmental policies have been widely condemned, but he has rejected the criticism, saying Brazil remains an example for conservation. More than 280 sq km (108 square miles) were cleared in January, an increase of 108% on January of last year, according to the space research agency Inpe - a record for the month since data started being collected in 2016. One square kilometre roughly equals 200 football pitches. Climatologist Carlos Nobre, a scientist and researcher at São Paulo University (USP), said there was a risk that deforestation this year could surpass the level recorded in 2019. At the peak of the dry season last year - between July and September - destruction was above 1,000 sq km per month. "It's very worrying the increase in January 2020. It suggests that the factors that caused the increase in deforestation in 2019 are still very active. It's time for an effective and comprehensive action to control and contain illegalities in the Amazon," he told G1 website (in Portuguese). Mr Bolsonaro has previously criticised the environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, for what he described as excessive fines, and his first year in office saw a sharp drop in financial penalties being imposed for environmental violations. At the same time, the agency remains underfunded and understaffed. One unnamed field operative for Ibama told Reuters news agency: "We see a huge difference [in deforestation]... We thought there would be a drop off because of the weather and all that, but it didn't happen."
2-8-20 Why is there less snow on Scotland's mountains this year?
inter in Scotland conjures up images of the snow-topped mountains which attract visitors in their droves every year for walking, climbing and snowsports. But enthusiasts say they have noticed a difference in recent years, with milder weather leading to less snow cover. It has snowed this year, and is expected to do so again when Storm Ciara hits Scotland in the coming days, but lots of what has fallen has melted in thaws or been stripped away by strong winds. Ben Dolphin, president of Ramblers Scotland and a winter walking enthusiast, said it wasn't unusual for conditions to vary from year to year on the hills. But he added: "I don't know any Scottish winter enthusiast who'd feel at ease with what's happened for the last two years, or who would think those winters fit into the 'normal' pattern of mild and cold winters. "It's not just the lack of snow, it's the high night-time temperatures, and the longevity and persistence of mild weather patterns." He said warm air was being drawn up from the Azores for weeks at a time. "These recent winters do feel different. I've been up here a lot over the years, always in January or February, and I've never seen it looking as snowless as this." Lee Schofield, of Highland and Islands Weather, offers free weather observations to tourists visiting the Cairngorms. He said temperatures in his home village of Carrbridge were 3.5 degrees higher last month than they were in January 2019. "That is a considerable difference and well above the normal we would expect to see," he said. "Between Christmas and New Year a very warm plume of air brushed past the north west and this set new December high temperature records for the UK." Mr Schofield added that Achfary in north west Sutherland recorded 18.7C one night - which was higher than the area's average maximum temperature in summer.
2-8-20 Lyme disease cases may rise 92 per cent in US due to climate change
Climate change could spur a 92 per cent increase in new cases of Lyme disease in the US by the end of the century, even if the world manages to limit warming to the commitments of the Paris climate deal. The number of people in the US being infected has been steadily rising in recent years, and there is no human vaccine for the disease, which can lead to lifelong health problems if not treated early. So far, the evidence for climate change’s influence on the ticks that infect humans with Lyme disease has been unclear. Now, Erin Mordecai at Stanford University in California and her colleagues have looked at past temperature and rainfall in the US to estimate their impact on Lyme disease cases in the US between 2000 and 2017. The team controlled for other possible drivers, including changes in forest cover and public awareness of tick-borne disease, as measured by online interest through Google Trends. The results were used to model what could happen in the future, and suggested that even if temperature rises are held to 1.8°C, below the 2°C goal of Paris, annual Lyme disease cases will jump by an extra 34,183 by 2100, a 92 per cent increase on levels seen in the last decade. Numbers are expected to significantly climb much earlier – 27,630 extra cases are expected by 2050. “These results indicate that substantial future increases in US Lyme disease burden are likely,” the team writes. Worryingly, the team says the results are likely to be conservative because they assume no human population growth. When that is factored in, the number of extra future cases nearly doubles. Richard Ostfeld at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, says the study largely backs up earlier research suggesting that climate change will make Lyme disease incidence worse in the US. “The methods seem credible, and the effort to control for non-climatic variables – such as public awareness, land use change – is laudable,” he says.
2-7-20 Wine grapes feel the heat
Enjoy drinking Riesling and Pinot Noir while you can, because the grapes used to make those wines and other historic varieties may soon be devastated by climate change. That’s the dispiriting conclusion of a new study that examined how rising temperatures may affect viticulture, reports USA Today. Using long-term records, international researchers built a model of where 11 of the most popular wine grapes could be grown under a range of different climate-change scenarios. They concluded that if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the postindustrial average by 2100—a rise the world is on track to surpass—more than half the world’s wine-growing land will be lost. With a 7.2-degree increase, 85 percent will be wiped out. The study says vintners can mitigate the damage by using more resilient grapes: Grenache rather than Pinot Noir in Burgundy, for example. But that would alter the distinctive flavor of wines from classic regions. Co-author Benjamin Cook, from Columbia University, says wine is “the canary in the coal mine for climate-change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive.”
2-7-20 Climate change: Loss of bumblebees driven by 'climate chaos'
"Climate chaos" has caused widespread losses of bumblebees across continents, according to scientists. A new analysis shows the likelihood of a bee being found in any given place in Europe and North America has declined by a third since the 1970s. Climbing temperatures will increasingly cause declines, which are already more severe than previously thought, said researchers. Bumblebees are key pollinators of many fruits, vegetables and wild plants. Without them, some crops could fail, reducing food for humans and countless other species. Dr Tim Newbold of University College London (UCL) said there had been some previous research showing that bumblebee distributions are moving northwards in Europe and North America, "as you'd expect with climate change". He added: "But this was the first time that we have been able to really tie local extinctions and colonisations of bumble bees to climate change, showing a really clear fingerprint of climate change in the declines that we've seen." Bumblebee declines are already more severe than previously thought, said lead researcher Peter Soroye of the University of Ottawa in Canada. "We've linked this to climate change - and more specifically to the extreme temperatures and the climate chaos that climate change is producing," he said. Bumblebees are among the most important plant pollinators. Declines in range and abundance have been documented from a range of causes, including pesticides, disease and habitat loss. In the new study, researchers looked at more than half a million records of 66 bumblebee species from 1901 to 1974 and from 2000 to 2014. They found bumblebee populations declined rapidly between 2000-2014: the likelihood of a site being occupied by bumblebees dropped by an average of over 30% compared with 1901-1974.
2-6-20 Climate change is killing off bumblebees in Europe and North America
Climate change has significantly increased the likelihood of bumblebees being driven to extinction in some areas of North America and Europe. Research five years ago showed how warming had shrunk the bees’ habitat across the two regions. However, it is difficult to separate the direct effects of climate change on the bees’ chance of local extinction from other environmental pressures, such as their habitats vanishing. To fill that gap, Tim Newbold at University College London and his colleagues analysed the temperature and rainfall records at more than 15,000 sites where at least one of 66 bumblebee species had been spotted between 2000 and 2014. They found that due to changes in climatic conditions, the probability of a site being occupied by bumblebees fell by an average of 46 per cent in North America and 17 per cent in Europe, relative to the long-term average last century. “This is the clearest signal so far of climate change already having had quite an important effect on the extinction and colonisation of bumblebee species,” says Newbold. The results were as he expected. The bees are large and furry as an adaptation to cold climates, so those in southern Europe and the south of North America, which were already at their upper temperature limits, were much more likely to go extinct and much less likely to colonise a new area. To ensure it was climate change driving the shifts, the researchers controlled for changes in land use and the fact there are far more records of bumblebees in recent years. Still, one limitation is that record-keeping is patchy in places. Losing bumblebees means losing pollinators essential to food production. Although they don’t pollinate the crops we rely on for the bulk of our calories, they provide much of the variety in our diets, pollinating nuts, berries and squashes. If climate change continues, it will drive even stronger bumblebee declines in the future, says Newbold. Warming is one of many threats to these insects, says Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex, UK. “Bumblebees also suffer from many other pressures, particularly habitat loss and exposure to pesticides, and it seems likely that a rapidly warming future climate may be the final straw for many of them.”
2-6-20 India climate activist Licypriya Kangujam on why she took a stand
She is only eight, but Licypriya Kangujam has already been campaigning for action to tackle climate change in her native India for two years. The young activist has pushed for new laws to curb India's high pollution levels and wants climate change lessons to be mandatory in schools. "I cry when I see children lose their parents or become homeless due to the dangers of disasters", she says. But, she adds: "If you call me Greta of India, you are not covering my story." Referring to Greta Thunberg, whose Fridays for Future school strike has grown into a global movement, Licypriya says that while she has much in common with the Swedish teenager, "I have my own identity, story". "I already began a movement to fight climate change before Greta started," she tells the BBC via email, adding that the two are "good friends" who "respect each other". The pair both attended the UN climate change conference, also known as COP25, in the Spanish capital Madrid in December. Residing in India's north-eastern state of Manipur, Licypriya says she was a small child when she accompanied her father on fundraising events for victims of a powerful and deadly earthquake in Nepal in 2015. But it was after attending a UN disaster conference in Mongolia with him in 2018 that she felt the need to get involved in activism. "I got lots of inspiration and new knowledge from the people giving speeches. It was a life-changing event," she says. "My heart feels sore for people who cannot help themselves when disaster strikes." In response, Licypriya set up Child Movement, a body that aims to raise awareness "to protect the planet by tackling climate change and natural disasters". Licypriya has also campaigned, often alone, for new laws to help address the issue of poor air quality across India. She has even designed what she calls her Sukifu device - a symbolic survival kit for the future she created to emphasise the need to curb air pollution in the country.
2-6-20 Climate change: Clean tech 'won't solve warming in time'
Breakthrough technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen cannot be relied on to help the UK meet its climate change targets, a report says. The government had hoped that both technologies would contribute to emissions reductions required by 2050. But the report’s authors say ministers should assume that neither carbon capture and storage (CCS) nor hydrogen will be running "at scale" by 2050. They say the government must start a debate on other, controversial steps. These actions, which they say would need to be implemented in the near-term, include cutting down on flying and eating red meat. UK law dictates that, by 2050, carbon emissions will be virtually halted, and any remaining emissions will have to be compensated for by activities such as tree planting. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has regularly expressed the belief that technology would mostly solve the problem. But the authors say that if new tech does emerge at scale by 2050, the government should treat it as a bonus, not an expectation. Both of the new technologies in question have their supporters in politics and in industry. Hydrogen technology entails generating hydrogen from natural gas, or from water. CCS entails capturing CO2 emissions from power stations or industry, and burying them in rock formations or finding uses for the CO2. Both are expensive. A few years ago, government economists predicted that gas plants equipped with CCS would be producing 30% of the UK’s clean electricity in the future. Nuclear and renewables would produce another 30% each. Tom Burke, an expert on climate change, forecast at that time that only CCS could save the climate. When I reminded him yesterday, he admitted: “I was wrong”. The equation radically changed because the nuclear renaissance didn’t happen; the government pulled funding from CCS projects; and the cost of renewables plummeted.
2-6-20 Climate change may be speeding up ocean circulation
Since the 1990s, wind speeds have picked up, making surface waters swirl faster. Winds are picking up worldwide, and that is making the surface waters of the oceans swirl a bit faster, researchers report. A new analysis of the ocean’s kinetic energy, measured by thousands of floats around the world, suggests that surface ocean circulation has been accelerating since the early 1990s. Some of that sped-up circulation may be due to naturally recurring ocean-atmosphere patterns, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, researchers report February 5 in Science Advances. But the acceleration is greater than can be attributed to natural variability alone — suggesting that global warming may also be playing a role, says a team led by oceanographer Shijian Hu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao. The connected system of massive currents that swirl between the world’s oceans, sometimes called the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, redistributes heat and nutrients around the globe and has a powerful effect on climate. Winds dominate mixing in the surface ocean: Prevailing winds in the tropics, for example, can push water masses aside, allowing deeper, nutrient-rich waters to surge upward. In the deeper ocean, differences in water density due to salt and heat content keep the currents flowing (SN: 1/4/17). For example, in the North Atlantic Ocean, surface currents carry heat north from the tropics, helping to keep northwestern Europe warm. As the waters arrive at the Labrador Sea, they cool, sink and then flow southward, keeping the conveyor belt humming along. How climate change might affect this Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, has garnered headlines, as some simulations have predicted that global warming would lead to a slowdown in which could eventually bring a deep chill to Europe. In 2018, paleoceanographer David Thornalley of University College London and colleagues reported evidence that the AMOC has weakened over the last 150 years, although the question remains uncertain (SN: 1/31/19).
2-6-20 'A turtle inspired us to tackle plastic pollution'
A couple who saw the “scary” impact of plastic pollution while travelling want to encourage others to make “simple changes”. Tommie Eaton and Rebecca Dudbridge, from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, were so shocked after seeing a turtle amid a “wave of plastic” that they started a business selling toothbrushes with recyclable bamboo handles. It’s estimated eight million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year. The couple say people should not “focus on the negatives”, but instead make “one step at a time”.
2-5-20 World's biggest iceberg makes a run for it
The world's biggest iceberg is about to enter the open ocean. A68, a colossus that broke free from the Antarctic in 2017, has pushed so far north it is now at the limit of the continent's perennial sea-ice. When it calved, the berg had an area close to 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq mi) and has lost very little of its bulk over the past two and a half years. But scientists say A68 will struggle to maintain its integrity when it reaches the Southern Ocean's rougher waters. "With a thickness to length ratio akin to five sheets of A4, I am astonished that the ocean waves haven't already made ice cubes out of A68," said Prof Adrian Luckman from Swansea University, UK. "If it survives for long as one piece when it moves beyond the edge of the sea-ice, I will be very surprised," he told BBC News. A68 split from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017. For a year, it hardly moved, its keel apparently grounded on the seafloor. But the prevailing winds and currents eventually began to push it northwards along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and during this summer season the drift has undergone a rapid acceleration. The iceberg, currently at 63 degrees South latitude, is following a very predictable course. When it pops above the tip of the peninsula, the massive block should be swept northwards towards the Atlantic - a path researchers refer to as "Iceberg Alley". Many of Antarctica's greatest bergs even make it as far - and beyond - the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia at roughly 54 degrees South. The biggest ever recorded iceberg in the modern era was the 11,000-sq-km block called B15, which calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000. One of its last remnants, now measuring "just" 200 sq km, is halfway to the South Sandwich Islands, east of South Georgia. Objects this big have to be constantly monitored because they pose a risk to shipping. Satellite images, like the ones shown on this page, are the obvious way to do this.
2-5-20 Net zero goals are galvanising action on climate change at long last
More countries are setting targets to reach net zero carbon emissions. Though it has its problems, this approach shows promising signs of sparking serious action. HERE’S a trivia question for you. What do Bhutan and Suriname have in common? If you said that they are the only countries that, in effect, add no greenhouse gases to the air, a state of grace known as net zero, then well done – though you might want to get out more. Even if you aren’t a climate obsessive, net zero is a phrase you have probably heard. Greta Thunberg talked about it last month at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Last year, the UK and France became the first major economies to legally commit to achieving it; both chose 2050 as year zero. Sweden and New Zealand have also enacted similar net zero targets. Eleven other countries have legislation in the pipeline, with Finland aiming for 2035 and Norway and Uruguay an even more ambitious 2030. Smaller political entities such as states and cities are increasingly declaring net zero targets, as are big companies. Net zero doesn’t change what we have to do, but seems to be focusing minds in a way that vague global temperature goals have failed to do. On the surface, net zero seems a good idea and a straightforward one. Wherever possible, stop emitting greenhouse gases, and have enough carbon dioxide-absorbing trees to counter any remaining emissions, or capture those emissions and bury them. Unlike temperature goals, net zero sounds unequivocal. It draws on very solid science – the concept of a carbon budget: the amount of extra CO2 (or other greenhouse gases) we can emit without cooking Earth. It is clearly a useful way of framing the challenge and aiming for solutions. Simple. But, as with all things climate-related, there is devil in the detail – and a good deal of wiggle room.
2-5-20 Hundreds of millions of locusts are forming swarms bigger than cities
The worst invasion by desert locusts in decades has hit Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The swarms are destroying crops and could cost millions of dollars to contain. THIS farmer can only watch in dismay as locusts in swarms of biblical proportions devour her crops outside Katitika village in Kenya. It is the worst invasion by desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in decades to hit Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, destroying crops in an area already facing food insecurity. Somalia has declared a national emergency. Hundreds of millions of locusts are forming swarms bigger than cities. Stopping them will require the aerial spraying of pesticides, which could cost $70 million, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It fears locust numbers could grow some 500-fold when rains arrive in March, bringing new vegetation. An adult can eat its body weight in food daily, and a Paris-sized swarm can eat as much in a day as half the population of France, according to the FAO. Desert locusts are usually solitary, but rain after drought can cause a surge in vegetation, and locust breeding. As the wingless nymphs, known as hoppers, get crowded together, the stimulus of frequent physical contact triggers changes to their colour and behaviour. Hoppers change colour as they become gregarious. Flying adults also change colour, turning pink if immature or yellow if mature. The locusts here look immature, so can’t yet produce a new generation.
2-5-20 We need nuclear power to fight climate change, but is it doomed?
The rise of renewable energy means nuclear power is on the decline, despite many people thinking it still has an important role in the fight against climate change. NUCLEAR power is meant to play a key role in holding global warming below a rise of 1.5°C, but the world’s nuclear plants are quietly starting to show their age – and some people are wondering if we should give up on them altogether. The UK has eight nuclear plants, a cornerstone of the country’s energy system, but two – Hunterston B on the west coast of Scotland and Dungeness B in south-east England – have been silent since 2018. Hunterston, which started generating electricity in 1976, has been offline because of concerns over cracks in the graphite bricks that control the nuclear reaction, although one reactor could come back online late this month. Dungeness, generating since 1983, has been down for repairs to pipes carrying steam, and isn’t due back until April at best. This picture isn’t confined to the UK. There are 415 reactors operating around the world, supplying 10 per cent of the world’s electricity supply, but that is down from a high of around 17.5 per cent in 1996, according to a report published last month. For the first time, the average reactor age passed the 30-year mark. Five reactors shut down last year, while construction started on just two new reactors. The number being built globally stood at 46 by mid-2019, a decadal low, with 10 of them in China. “To me it’s very clear now that the renewal rate of nuclear power is too small to be sustainable. So this species will die out,” says Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear consultant and a lead author of the report, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019. That has big ramifications for climate change. The UK’s growth in low-carbon electricity production stalled in 2019, after a decade of progress, thanks to the nuclear plant issues, a recent analysis by Carbon Brief found.
2-5-20 We can’t let Boris Johnson politicise crucial COP26 climate talks
Oops, he did it again. The most pressing global issue of our time has again been reduced to a tawdry political row. When Boris Johnson failed to show at a TV debate on climate change during the 2019 UK general election, the fallout wasn’t days of talk on the best ways to slash emissions, but whether Channel 4 had conspired to block the Conservative party and if the channel should lose its public funding. Yesterday, a prime ministerial speech to launch the UK-hosted COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow this November – the most important climate talks since COP21 in Paris in 2015 – was again overshadowed by political Punch and Judy. Johnson’s top adviser sacked the president of COP26, Claire O’Neill, leading to a withering broadside in which she accused Johnson of “not getting” climate change. Johnson failed to answer journalists’ questions yesterday on who would succeed her. Last night, we learned that former prime minister David Cameron has rejected the job, as has former foreign secretary William Hague, seen by veteran climate change campaigners as an ideal candidate. But to reduce this to a reshuffle politics story is to utterly miss the big picture. The world is dangerously off track from the top Paris goal of holding warming to 1.5°C. We are in for 3°C or more of warming, which would be devastating for us and the ecosystems we rely on. The Glasgow meeting is meant to elicit tougher carbon-cutting plans from the nearly 200 countries signed up to the Paris deal, to close that calamitous gap. “This is not about me, it’s not about the prime minister,” said O’Neill yesterday. “What the world needs us to do is break out of this incrementalism and start us moving forward on where we need to be, which is in a really rapid decarbonisation way.” I couldn’t agree more.
2-4-20 Petrol and diesel car sales ban brought forward to 2035
A ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest, under government plans. The change comes after experts said 2040 would be too late if the UK wants to achieve its target of emitting virtually zero carbon by 2050. Boris Johnson unveiled the policy as part of a launch event for a United Nations climate summit in November. He said 2020 would be a "defining year of climate action" for the planet. The summit, known as COP26, is being hosted in Glasgow. It is an annual UN-led gathering set up to assess progress on tackling climate change. Sir David Attenborough said at the launch event at London's Science Museum that he was looking forward to COP26 and found it "encouraging" that the UK government was launching a "year of climate action". "The longer we leave it... the worse it is going to get," he said. "So now is the moment. It is up to us to organise the nations of the world to do something about it." In a statement made ahead of the launch, Mr Johnson said the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars would come even earlier than 2035, if possible. Hybrid vehicles are also now being included in the proposals, which were originally announced in July 2017. People will only be able to buy electric or hydrogen cars and vans, once the ban comes into effect. The change in plans, which will be subject to a consultation, comes after experts warned the previous target date of 2040 would still leave old conventional cars on the roads following the clean-up date of 2050. The Scottish government does not have the power to ban new petrol and diesel cars but has already pledged to "phase out the need" for them by 2032 with measures such as an expansion of the charging network for electric cars. Mr Johnson said the 2050 pledge was necessary because the UK's "historic emissions" meant "we have a responsibility to our planet to lead in this way".
2-4-20 COP26: PM 'doesn't get' climate change, says sacked president
The prime minister admitted he "doesn't really get" climate change, the former head of this year's key summit on the issue has said. The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November - but Boris Johnson sacked president Claire O’Neill on Friday. Mrs O'Neill told the BBC there was a "huge lack of leadership and engagement" from the government. But senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said Mr Johnson was dedicated to environmental issues. Mr Gove told BBC Radio 5 Live that the prime minister described his political outlook as that of a "green Tory" when they first met 30 years ago. "Ever since then I've seen his dedication to ensuring that we fight to ensure that our Earth is handed on in a better state to the next generation," he said. But Ms O'Neill, the former Conservative minister for energy and clean growth, said people should be wary of the prime minister's promises. "My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises - whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees, or indeed family members - is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money's in the bank," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "The prime minister has made incredibly warm statements about this over the years. He's also admitted to me that he doesn't really understand it. He 'doesn't really get it', I think is what he said." She said the UK's climate efforts were at "Oxford United levels when we need to be Liverpool if we are going to do what the world actually needs us to do". In a letter to Mr Johnson after she was sacked, Mrs O'Neill accused him of promising money and people, but failing to deliver either. Mrs O'Neill wrote: "The cabinet sub-committee on climate that you promised to chair, and which I was to attend, has not met once. "In the absence of your promised leadership… departments have fought internal Whitehall battles over who is responsible and accountable for (the conference)". She said at this stage, the UK should have clear actions to communicate to the diplomatic network, an agreed plan of ministerial international engagements led by the prime minister and a roadmap for the proposed "year of action". "As of last Friday, we did not," she said.
2-4-20 Climate change: Australian TV audience boos sceptical senator
In an incident that has got Australia talking, Senator Jim Molan was booed while speaking on a panel TV discussion on the bushfire crisis. The Liberal Party politician was talking about climate change on ABC's Q&A programme, and cast doubt on whether it was caused by human activity. Mr Molan later said he wasn't "relying on science" for his views, and defended the government's climate change policy. Government critics say human-induced climate change has been a major contributing factor to the bushfires, and that action must be taken to address rising global temperatures.
2-3-20 Tackling air pollution may accidentally trigger serious health issues
Cities tackling one major air pollutant risk inadvertently making things worse by fuelling the growth of another, potentially more harmful type of pollution. Many urban areas around the world are in breach of World Health Organization guidelines on PM2.5, particulate matter with a maximum diameter of 2.5 micrometres. Vehicles are a common source of this kind of pollution. But simply reducing levels of PM2.5 pollution may not improve the safety of urban air. A Chinese-US team has found that PM2.5 plays a key role in suppressing the formation of another type of pollution in built-up areas – “ultrafine particles”. These have a diameter of under 50 nanometres, and an emerging body of work has linked them to health concerns including birth defects. The new study shines a light on how ultrafine particles form in the real world. While most previous work on the subject has been lab-based, the researchers attempted to reflect the complex chemistry of city air with tests by a Beijing road, as well as within an enclosed chamber with a car running. They found high concentrations of PM2.5 in polluted air suppress the formation of ultrafine particles. That’s because the larger particles capture the smaller ones as they form. The team also concluded the creation of the ultrafine particles is fuelled by another pollutant released by cars: volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In other words, cities need to simultaneously cut PM2.5 and VOCs from cars, or risk unintentionally making ultrafine particle pollution worse. Failure to do both at the same time could be “ineffective and can even exacerbate this problem”, the researchers say. “I’ve said before that great care is needed to avoid inadvertently worsening the situation by reducing the mass of airborne particulate matter, only to increase… the numbers and the toxicity of the ultrafine [particles] as a result,” says Barbara Maher at Lancaster University, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research.
2-3-20 Cycling through Europe's deadliest air
Cities in parts of Europe have been suffering from some of the worst air quality in the world. Winter smog has become a big issue in the Western Balkans. Serbia is the country with the highest rate of pollution-related deaths in Europe, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Jasna Cizler is a cycling campaigner in the capital Belgrade, who believes two-wheeled transport holds the key to cleaner air.
2-2-20 Somalia declares emergency over locust swarms
Somalia has declared a national emergency as large swarms of locusts spread across east Africa. The country's Ministry of Agriculture said the insects, which consume large amounts of vegetation, posed "a major threat to Somalia's fragile food security situation". There are fears that the situation may not be brought under control before the harvest begins in April. The UN says the swarms are the largest in Somalia and Ethiopia in 25 years. Meanwhile, neighbouring Kenya has not seen a locust threat as severe in 70 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, Somalia is the first country in the region to declare an emergency over the infestation. In January, the FAO called for international help in fighting the swarms in the Horn of Africa, warning that locust numbers across the region could grow 500 times by June. The swarms spread into east Africa from Yemen across the Red Sea, after heavy rainfall in late 2019 created ideal conditions for the insects to flourish. Locusts can travel up to 150km (93 miles) in a day. Each adult insect can eat its own weight in food daily. In December, a locust swarm forced a passenger plane off course in Ethiopia. Insects smashed into the engines, windshield and nose, but the aircraft was able to land safely in the capital, Addis Ababa.
2-1-20 A new roadmap shows how the U.S. could be carbon-neutral by 2050
Reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires heavy investment in technology, starting now. The United States can reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2050 — but only if the country invests swiftly and deeply in emerging technologies that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Federal funding of a range of carbon removal technologies, amounting to as much as $6 billion per year over the next 10 years, could put the U.S. on a path toward carbon neutrality by mid-century, according to a report released January 31 by the World Resources Institute, based in Washington, D.C. Being carbon-neutral means that the amount of U.S. emissions of carbon — primarily from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas— is fully offset by the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Navigating a realistic path to carbon neutrality is tricky, though, with many scientific, economic and political uncertainties surrounding the available technologies. But by combining many different strategies for carbon removal, the report envisions that the United States could ramp up to removing up to 2 metric gigatons of CO2 a year from the atmosphere by 2050. This roadmap to carbon neutrality would devote about two-thirds of that initial decade of funding, or $4 billion a year, to support tree restoration projects across the United States. Strategies to integrate trees into croplands and pasturelands, for example, are already well understood. By starting with the trees, the report suggests, the nation could ultimately remove as much as 7 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 — more than any other carbon removal pathway. Other carbon removal technologies have the potential to remove even more CO2 than tree planting, but would require significant federal investment to become commercially viable, the report notes. Depending on how mature the technology is, some of the proposed funding would go to, for example, tax credits to support emerging technologies such as direct air capture, in which CO2 is pulled directly from the ambient air using giant fans (SN: 12/17/18). This technology has been tested in pilot projects but has not yet made the leap to commercial-scale development.
2-1-20 How U.K. communities are trying to go plastic-free
Is it feasible? The quiet path runs through a small forest of lush bamboo. Birds chirp overhead. It's easy to forget that this little garden is right in the middle of Canary Wharf, one of the main financial districts in central London. Last year, Canary Wharf was labeled the first plastic-free commercial district in the world, an accreditation awarded as part of the Plastic Free Communities program, which was developed by a group of surfers in rural Cornwall. But this shopping center and other communities with this designation actually aren't quite plastic-free — yet. Martin Gettings, the head of sustainability at Canary Wharf Group, calls the area "a little green oasis in the heart of a busy city." It's one of many eco-friendly measures going on in this multibillion-dollar commercial estate — though, if you don't know where to look, you could miss them. In the mall, for example, there are seven water bottle refill stations as well as a machine where you can return bottles and cans for a voucher, which Gettings says is the first of its kind in the U.K. For the past few years, Gettings has been crafting initiatives to cut down on plastic waste in Canary Wharf. "It all culminated in World Environment Day this [past] year where we were announced as the world's first plastic-free commercial center and the first district in London to achieve this status," he says. This accreditation, given to Canary Wharf on June 5, 2019, comes from the group Surfers Against Sewage or SAS. To get it, Canary Wharf had to hit a number of targets showing their commitment to reducing plastic. Gettings considers this the start of the journey. "Achieving status and having a certificate on the wall doesn't mean anything," he says. "What's important is that the behaviors and the culture that we've created carry on."
2-1-20 Australia fires: Residents told to seek shelter in Canberra region
A bushfire near the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) grew to more than 35,000 hectares on Saturday, as officials closed a major motorway. Residents in some areas around the capital, Canberra, were warned that it was "too late to leave" and they should try to seek shelter. Six fires in the ACT and nearby parts of New South Wales (NSW) state were burning out of control, officials said. Hot and windy conditions are expected to last through the weekend. Since September, bushfires in Australia have killed at least 33 people and destroyed thousands of homes. More than 11 million hectares of land have been scorched so far. The ACT declared a state of emergency on Friday - the first in the area since deadly fires in 2003. People living in affected areas are being urged to fill up their bathtubs, buckets and sinks, so that when the fire arrives, they have access to water - to extinguish flames and to drink. "The issue we have with the fire activity is that the fire itself is generating its own weather pattern and that, combined with the wind direction, is what is driving that intensity in the fire," ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said. "The conditions will potentially become more dangerous and the fire may pose a threat to lives directly in its path," she added. Images of the Monaro Highway in the ACT, which has been closed, show the skies above it turning bright orange-red from the fire raging nearby. The ACT, a small territory located between Sydney and Melbourne, has about 400,000 residents. Fires have raged near Canberra for weeks. Last Thursday, the city's airport was shut down when a blaze threatened to breach its perimeter.
2-1-20 Fewer worms live in mud littered with lots of microplastics
Scientists tracked how animals fared in the polluted sediment for over a year. Despite growing concerns over tiny bits of plastic filling the world’s waterways, the long-term environmental effects of that debris remain murky. Now an experiment on freshwater sediment communities exposed to microplastics for over a year helps clarify how harmful this pollution can be. Researchers embedded trays of sediment littered with different amounts of polystyrene particles — ranging from 0 to 5 percent plastic — in the bottom of an outdoor canal where bugs, snails and other critters colonized the mud. After 15 months, fewer organisms were found living in the trays with 5 percent polystyrene than in trays with less plastic, largely because fewer Naididae worms lived in the most polluted mud. The trays with 0 to 0.5 percent microplastic averaged between about 500 and 800 worms per tray, while mud with 5 percent plastic averaged fewer than 300, researchers report January 31 in Science Advances. That reduction in Naididae worms suggests that severe microplastic pollution can throw freshwater ecosystems out of whack (SN: 4/5/18). This family of worms serves as prey for other freshwater animals and plays a key role in the carbon cycle by decomposing organic matter. “It’s a really important piece of work,” says Richard Thompson, who studies environmental effects of plastic pollution at the University of Plymouth in England but was not involved in the study. “Most of our understanding about the impacts of small pieces of plastic comes from laboratory studies” over several weeks. The new experiment gets closer to assessing microplastic’s long-term, real-world effects, he says. The 5 percent plastic concentration where researchers saw a major drop in the Naididae worm population is more pollution than is typically found in freshwater sediment, says study coauthor Bart Koelmans, who studies aquatic ecology at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.
2-1-20 Unusual cyclones over the last 2 years created Africa’s locust plague
Huge swarms of locusts plaguing eastern Africa are the result of extreme weather events over the last two years. Swarms of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are rampaging through several countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The locusts are devastating pastures and cropland, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in a statement that the swarms are unprecedented: “Ethiopia and Somalia have not seen desert locust swarms of this scale in 25 years, while Kenya has not faced a locust threat of this magnitude in 70 years.” “There was one [swarm] in north-east Kenya that was 40 kilometres long and 60km wide,” says Keith Cressman, the FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer in Rome, Italy. Desert locusts are a kind of grasshopper. They are normally solitary, but if food is plentiful, they breed rapidly and gather into swarms that eat everything in their path. The current swarms began when cyclones that formed in the Indian Ocean drenched the southern Arabian desert. In May 2018, Cyclone Mekunu hit the Arabian peninsula. Then in October that year, Cyclone Luban struck almost the same place. The region is “hundreds and hundreds of towering sand dunes,” says Cressman, and “there were lakes forming between the sand dunes.” The water brought vegetation, which allowed the desert locusts to feed and reproduce rapidly. By early 2019, it was drying out and the locusts left. Some went north to Iran, which saw its first swarms in 50 years, while others moved south-west into Yemen. They might have been stopped there, but Yemen had no resources to tackle them because of its ongoing civil war, says Cyril Piou of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development in Montpellier.