9-30-20 Biodiversity: Why the nature crisis matters, in five graphics
Human activities are destroying the natural world, leading to the extinction of animal and plant species at an alarming rate. Now, world leaders are promising action to tackle the problem. But will it be enough? Biodiversity is the variety of all living things on Earth, and how they fit together in the web of life, bringing oxygen, water, food and countless other benefits. Recent reports and studies have produced alarming news about the state of nature. Last year, an intergovernmental panel of scientists said one million animal and plant species were now threatened with extinction. And this month, a report found global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68%, on average, between 1970 and 2016. Scientists have warned that we are entering the sixth mass extinction, with whatever we do now likely to define the future of humanity. The other five mass extinctions include the asteroid strike that killed off the dinosaurs and many species in the sea. "We have no time to wait. Biodiversity loss, nature loss, it is at an unprecedented level in the history of mankind," says Elizabeth Mrema, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. "We're the most dangerous species in global history." Humans are pushing other species to extinction through hunting, over-fishing and cutting down forests and grasslands. We are almost entirely responsible for extinctions of mammals in past decades, according to one recent study. And predictions suggest a further 550 mammal species will be lost this century, if we continue along our current path. One of the biggest problems for the species we share the planet with, is the rate at which we're transforming the natural landscape, through building roads and cities, and taking up more land to grow food. Off land, we are putting plastic into the oceans and depleting fish stocks. Assessments suggest 75% of land and 66% of the oceans has been degraded by human activity.
9-30-20 Extinction crisis: World leaders say it is time to act
As nearly 150 global leaders lined up - virtually - to address Wednesday's UN biodiversity summit, the stakes could not have been higher. "The house is on fire and we are all locked in, because of a disease that came from our mismanagement of nature." This was how Inger Anderson, head of the UN Environment Programme, put it in a briefing the day before the event. "I think there is a realisation that if we don't take care of nature, we could end up in dire straits," she added. With the world grappling with the public health, social and economic devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders are under increasing pressure to act on their promises to reverse the decline in the natural world. This summit is primarily a high-profile forum for world leaders. Its aim is to "highlight the crisis facing humanity from the degradation of biodiversity, and the urgent need to accelerate action on biodiversity for sustainable development". But the point at which genuine commitments will be made - to take action to protect nature - will be at the biodiversity conference in 2021. That conference, postponed because of the pandemic, is where all member countries are expected to adopt a new "biodiversity framework" - essentially a global contract to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. But a UN report published just two weeks ago, revealed that none of the 20 biodiversity targets that countries signed up to back in 2011 would be fully met. Those targets were ambitious, encapsulating every aspect of how our human lives intersect with the natural world. They ranged from reducing the rate of loss of natural habitats like forests and protecting the most precious landscapes for wildlife, to more fundamentally economic shifts, such as eliminating subsidies for "activities that are harmful", including intensive, polluting farming and fishing practices.
9-30-20 World leaders pledge to protect nature – will it make a difference?
It has been a big week for talk about tackling our destruction of nature. “We need to respect nature, follow its laws and protect it,” said China’s president Xi Jinping at a virtual UN biodiversity summit today. However, he stopped short of a biodiversity equivalent of his significant climate announcement last week, pledging that the country would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. At the summit, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said “humanity is waging war on nature,” arguing governments should put nature at the centre of covid-19 recovery plans. Narendra Modi of India and Boris Johnson for the UK were among many other leaders lining up to declare the importance of protecting the natural world. The summit followed a 10-point “leaders’ pledge for nature” signed by the EU, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Kenya, New Zealand, the UK and dozens of other countries. The promises included shifting to more sustainable agriculture and, vitally, setting “transformational” new biodiversity targets. The reason for this wave of pledging and speechifying is a landmark biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, next year, called COP15, where governments are due to hash out new targets for 2030, on everything from slowing extinctions to stopping pollution. The pandemic-postponed event is the nature equivalent of the 2015 Paris climate summit. The need for far greater action has been on stark display lately. Reports this month have shown all 20 of the biodiversity targets the world set for 2020 were missed, animal populations are down 68 per cent since 1970 and 2 in 5 plant species face extinction. “By and large, we are not doing well,” said Elizabeth Mrema at the Convention on Biological Diversity on 28 September. But will this week’s warm words make a difference to species being lost and habitats being polluted? Mrema has said the sheer number of heads of state speaking today is a sign of progress.and the business community. I thought the leaders’ pledge was extremely good.”
9-30-20 'Zero emissions' hydrogen plane test was part powered by fossil fuels
The first test flight of a hydrogen passenger plane ran on fuel produced in large part by fossil fuels, the company behind the plane has admitted.f UK and US-based ZeroAvia last week flew a six-seater plane running on hydrogen instead of kerosene, saying it was the first hydrogen fuel cell flight of a commercial-size aircraft. The company hailed the test as “the first step to realising the transformational possibilities of moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen”. UK aviation minister Robert Courts said the flight was a sign of the “commitment of government of ensuring we get to net-zero” emissions and a “historic” moment for aviation. The hydrogen was produced using an electrolyser, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. However, ZeroAvia has now told New Scientist that the electricity required to do this was supplied by the UK grid, meaning the ultimate source of energy was, in large part, fossil fuels. The grid has cleaned up rapidly in recent years, but is still polluting. On average in September, 42 per cent of UK electricity supplies were from gas and coal power stations, meaning every megawatt hour generated released 185 kg of CO2, according to figures supplied by Iain Stafell at Imperial College London. Typically, “green hydrogen” is considered to be hydrogen made using an electrolyser powered by 100 per cent renewable sources. ZeroAvia’s disclosure has prompted warnings of the risk of greenwashing. Environmentalists have raised concerns in recent months that growing promotion of hydrogen as a clean fuel source has largely ignored the fact it is currently mostly produced using fossil fuels, directly or indirectly. Tara Connolly at Friends of the Earth Europe says: “This news confirms our misgivings that hydrogen is already being used today to greenwash polluting industries and more fossil fuel use. Only hydrogen produced fully from renewable energy can be called zero emissions and this type of hydrogen makes up less than 1 per cent of hydrogen produced in Europe today.”
9-30-20 Has the world started to take climate change fight seriously?
A surprise announcement at this year's UN General Assembly has transformed the politics of cutting carbon, says the BBC's chief environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt. As the meeting of the so-called "global parliament" comes to an end, he asks whether it might just signal the beginning of a global rush to decarbonise. You probably missed the most important announcement on tackling climate change in years. It was made at the UN General Assembly. It wasn't the big commitment to protect biodiversity or anything to do with the discussion about how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic - vitally important though these issues are. No, the key moment came on Tuesday last week when the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China would cut emissions to net zero by 2060. The commitment is a huge deal on its own, but I believe his promise marks something even more significant: China may have fired the starting gun on what will become a global race to eliminate fossil fuels. I'll get to that later. First off, Xi's pledge. It is fair to say environmentalists were stunned by Xi's surprise pledge. Let's be clear what it means: China, the most polluting nation on earth - responsible for around 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions - is saying it is going cut that back to virtually zero within 40 years. "Enormously important" is how Todd Stern - the man President Obama put in charge of climate negotiations - described it to me. "A massive move" and "a happy, happy surprise" was Li Yan's take: she's the head of Greenpeace in China. The commitment is so significant because China has never promised anything near as bold as this on climate before. And it comes after the European Union committed billions of euros towards a green stimulus package and - only last week - toughened up its own 2030 climate targets. It therefore raises the prospect of a carbon-cutting coalition of Europe and China covering more than a third of world emissions.
9-30-20 Nearly half of all plants could be wiped out in 'age of extinction'
Forty per cent of Earth’s plants are at risk of extinction, twice as many as previously thought, while many fungi are also under threat. “We are living in an age of extinction,” says Alexandre Antonelli at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. Kew’s latest annual report on the state of the world’s plants has found that the number one threat to plants is farming. The jump from 20 per cent of plants at risk in 2016 to 40 per cent now is not because of a rapid increase in destruction, but due to greater scientific understanding, says Eimear Nic Lughadha at Kew. Between 2017 and 2019, assessments of more than 19,000 species were added to the Red List, the gold standard for extinction risk. Among the species facing extinction are medicinal plants including the black pepper-bark tree (Warburgia salutaris), a traditional medicine for coughs and colds, and medicinal fungi such as Fomitopsis officinalis, which has antimicrobial properties. Food and bioenergy crops are also at risk. The report highlights how many species are still being found that are new to science: 1942 plants and 1886 fungi were described last year. Among those are relatives of spinach, fungi from edible families and a tree (Cedrela domatifolia) from the mahogany family that could provide a new source of timber for furniture. A new wild relative of cassava, Manihot esculenta, could provide a backup for the 800 million people who rely on cassava as a staple crop. Agriculture and aquaculture were found to be the major threat for a third of plants at risk, with climate change threatening only 4.1 per cent. “The biggest threat to terrestrial biodiversity is conversion of natural habitats, including rainforests, into agriculture,” says Antonelli. “But climate change is slowly catching up: it’s not only about increasing temperatures, but also the occurrence of extreme events including droughts and floods.”
9-30-20 Two-fifths of plants at risk of extinction, says report
Scientists say they are racing against time to name and describe new plants, before species go extinct. Plants and fungi hold promise as future medicines, fuels and foods, according to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. But opportunities are being lost to use this "treasure chest of incredible diversity" as species vanish due to habitat destruction and climate change. New estimates suggest two-fifths of the world's plants are at risk of extinction. The assessment of the State of the World's Plants and Fungi is based on research from more than 200 scientists in 42 countries. The report was released on the day of a United Nations summit, which will press for action from world leaders to address biodiversity loss. We are living in an age of extinction, said director of science at Kew, Prof Alexandre Antonelli. "It's a very worrying picture of risk and urgent need for action," he said. "We're losing the race against time because species are disappearing faster than we can find and name them. Many of them could hold important clues for solving some of the most pressing challenges of medicine and even perhaps of the emerging and current pandemics we are seeing today." The report revealed that only a small proportion of existing plant species are used as foods and biofuels. More than 7,000 edible plants hold potential for future crops, yet only a handful are used to feed a growing world population. And some 2,500 plants exist that could provide energy for millions worldwide, while only six crops - maize, sugarcane, soybean, palm oil, rapeseed and wheat - generate the vast majority of biofuels. Dr Colin Clubbe, head of conservation science at Kew, told BBC News: "We're currently utilising such a small proportion of the world's plant and fungi, be it for food or medicines or for fuel, ignoring the potential treasure chest of wild species which we now have increasing knowledge of and the techniques to investigate for the good of humanity." The scientists estimate that the extinction risk may be much higher than previously thought, with an estimated 140,000, or 39.4%, of vascular plants estimated to be threatened with extinction, compared with 21% in 2016.
9-29-20 Anger as Brazil revokes mangrove protection regulations
The Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro has revoked regulations that protect tropical mangroves and other fragile coastal ecosystems. Environmental groups have called the move a "crime". Mangroves President Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric on the environment have caused widespread alarm, and the far-right leader has been accused of encouraging illegal activity. The decision removed so-called "permanent protection zones" created in 2002 to preserve Brazil's many tropical mangroves and the sand-dune scrublands. It was taken by the National Environmental Council, led by controversial Environment Minister Ricardo Salles. Environmental groups say the removal of the regulations will allow property developers to clear large areas of natural habitats for tourism, which could lead to their destruction. "These areas are already under intense pressure from real-estate development," said Mario Mantovani, head of environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica. "The 2002 regulations at least protected them from further destruction," he told the AFP news agency, calling their repeal "a crime against society". One acre (4,000 sq m) of mangrove forest absorbs nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide as an acre of Amazon rainforest. Since Mr Bolsonaro took power in January 2019, Brazil has been hit by environmental crises including an escalation of deforestation and wildfires. This is not the first time Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has been involved in controversy since taking the job. In a leaked recording of an April cabinet meeting with the president, Mr Salles said the coronavirus pandemic was a chance to roll back environmental regulations "now that the media's only talking about Covid". "Even as we witness record environmental devastation and Brazil is in flames, Salles dedicates his time to promoting even more destruction," environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement on the new measures.
9-29-20 Rio Tinto: Mining giant accused of poisoning rivers in Papua New Guinea
Mining giant Rio Tinto is facing accusations that a mine it abandoned in Papua New Guinea two decades ago is leaking poisonous waste into rivers. More than 150 people living in Bougainville have filed a complaint with the Australian authorities. They say that waste from the copper and gold mine is causing health problems for 12,000 people living nearby. The mining firm says it is willing to speak to the current owners of the Panguna mine and the local community. It comes after Rio Tinto's boss and two other senior executives resigned earlier this month following the news that the company had destroyed sacred Aboriginal sites in Pilbara, Western Australia. "Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution," said Theonila Roka Matbob, a traditional landowner and member of the local parliament in Bougainville. The Panguna mine was one of the region's biggest for copper and gold in the 1970s and 1980s, but widespread anger among local communities over environmental damage and distribution of profits forced its closure more than two decades ago. Rio Tinto handed its stake in the mine to the government of Papua New Guinea four years ago, but many feel the company should still take responsibility for cleaning up the site. "These are not problems we can fix with our bare hands. We urgently need Rio Tinto to do what's right and deal with the disaster they have left behind," Ms Matbob said. A spokesman for the British-Australian firm told the Sydney Morning Herald that it was willing to engage with the local community. "We are aware of the deterioration of mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas, and claims of resulting adverse environmental and social, including human rights, impacts," a spokesman told the newspaper.
9-27-20 California wildfires: The inmates training to be firefighters
Brandon Smith is a former inmate firefighter and now helps former prisoners find jobs in the fire service. For decades inmates have helped battle against wildfires but some have struggled to find jobs when released. But a new bill which has just been signed in California could make the job search for inmates much easier. (Webmaster's comment: Slave laborers fighting our fires!)
9-27-20 Nuclear power: Are we too anxious about the risks of radiation?
This week, Boris Johnson restated the UK government's commitment to nuclear power. But of six sites identified for replacements for the country's ageing nuclear reactors, three have now been abandoned, two are waiting approval and just one is under construction. So is it time to reassess our attitude to nuclear power? Consider this conundrum: when you talk to climate scientists you quickly discover they are far more worried about the dangers of global warming than most of us. Some tell you privately that they have had counselling to cope with the psychological effects of knowing the world is facing an impending disaster and not enough is being done. Meanwhile, speak to experts on the effects of ionising radiation and you find they are surprisingly relaxed about the risks low-level exposure poses to human health - certainly far less so than most people. Despite the popular anxiety about this form of energy, it's hard to see how the UK government can meet its carbon reduction targets without new nuclear. Not least because decarbonising transport and home heating will involve a massive increase in electricity demand. You only have to watch HBO's stunning drama, Chernobyl, to understand people's fears. Who could watch the power station workers' bodies visibly breaking down as they lie in hospital and not be afraid of radiation? You'll be even more apprehensive if you venture down the online rabbit hole. The estimates for the number of deaths from the Chernobyl disaster that you can encounter there quickly spiral into the hundreds of thousands. Some studies claim a million people have already died because of exposure to the toxic plume that spread across Europe in the wake of the accident back in April 1986. Any idea how many deaths can actually be directly linked to Chernobyl? Brace yourself. According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), 28 plant staff and emergency workers died as a result of radiation exposure. There were also over 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer among people who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident. Fortunately, because thyroid cancer has a very good survival rate, as of 2005 only 15 cases had proved fatal. And these deaths were avoidable, according to UNSCEAR. It says these cancers were caused "almost entirely" by the Soviet authorities' failure to prevent people drinking milk contaminated with radioactive iodine. But, even if we include them, according to the UN in 2005, just 43 deaths could be directly attributed to the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. The true figure for deaths that can be directly attributed to Chernobyl will ultimately be a bit higher than that, say radiation experts, but not much.
9-25-20 Gavin Newsom's weak-sauce electric cars plan
Why banning gas-powered vehicles is a lot more show than substance. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a climate plan for cars: He would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035. Since California is the largest state in the country, its regulations often end up dictating national policy, and in theory this could lead to solely-electric car sales in 15 years. Still, Newsom will likely need a waiver from the federal government to do this, and it seems unlikely he will get one from Trump or any other Republican. This rule is better than nothing, but it's weak and unimaginative. Not only will it accomplish little or nothing in terms of getting rid of gas-powered cars, the goal itself is not even very good. Rather than replacing the energy source behind California's car-centered sprawl, the state should be remaking itself to be more dense and less dependent on cars. America needs e-bikes and public transit a lot more than it needs electric SUVs. To start with, in terms of policy mechanics, 2035 is simply too late to actually accelerate the deployment of electric cars by much. All the big automakers are already planning on roughly this timetable, for two main reasons. First, electric vehicle tech is advancing very quickly, and is objectively superior to internal combustion in every way except energy storage (where its disadvantage is fading fast). Second, much of the rest of the world has already adopted rules that are at least as aggressive as California's. China is aiming to have 25 percent of new vehicles be electric within five years. Europe is in roughly the same place — Denmark would hit California's goal by 2030, while Norway is aiming for 100 percent electric sales for passenger cars and light vans by 2025. As climate activists continue to press their case and clockwork climate disasters get worse and worse, it is very likely that these goals will be stiffened up. Newsom is going along with the crowd, not setting a new benchmark. More importantly, as I have argued before, electric cars are the least promising form of electric vehicle. They emit less greenhouse gas and pollution, to be sure, but they still require vast amounts of energy and raw materials to produce, and still present all the same hazards to drivers, occupants, pedestrians, and cyclists as normal cars. Despite considerable safety regulations, tens of thousands of people die and hundreds of thousands are injured every year thanks to America's addiction to the automobile. What's more, the classic American model of car-centered development is terrible for the climate. It means lower density, less energy-efficient housing and makes public transit more difficult. California ought to be looking to move away from cars by any means necessary — with rules and subsidies favoring density, e-bikes, and public transit. New spending will be difficult during the pandemic, but Newsom has shown little interest in the biggest problem facing construction of new public transit: cost bloat. Instead of trying to root out the infestation of incompetent consulting that ballooned the price of California's high-speed rail project, he just canceled most of it. (Even the cost of the rump line is exploding.)
9-25-20 Global warming driving California wildfire trends - study
Climate change is driving the scale and impact of recent wildfires that have raged in California, say scientists. Their analysis finds an "unequivocal and pervasive" role for global heating in boosting the conditions for fire. California now has greater exposure to fire risks than before humans started altering the climate, the authors say. Land management issues, touted by President Donald Trump as a key cause, can't by themselves explain the recent infernos. The worst wildfires in 18 years have raged across California since August. They have been responsible for more than 30 deaths and driven thousands of people from their homes. The cause of the fires have become a political football, with California Governor Gavin Newsom blaming climate change for the conflagrations. President Trump, on the other hand, has dismissed this argument, instead pointing to land management practices as the key driver. Now, a review of scientific research into the reasons for these fires suggests rising temperatures are playing a major role. Earlier this year, the same research team published a review of the origins of Australia's dramatic fires that raged in the 2019-2020 season. That study showed that climate change was behind an increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather - defined as periods of time with a higher risk of fire due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and high winds. The new review covers more than 100 studies published since 2013, and shows that extreme fires occur when natural variability in the climate is superimposed on increasingly warm and dry background conditions resulting from global warming. "In terms of the trends we're seeing, in terms of the extent of wildfires, and which have increased eight to ten-fold in the past four decades, that trend is driven by climate change," said Dr Matthew Jones from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who led the review.
9-24-20 Global warming may lead to practically irreversible Antarctic melting
A study outlines a series of temperature-related tipping points for the continent’s ice sheets. How is melting a continent-sized ice sheet like stirring milk into coffee? Both are, for all practical purposes, irreversible. In a new study published in the Sept. 24 Nature, researchers outline a series of temperature-related tipping points for the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Once each tipping point is reached, changes to the ice sheet and subsequent melting can’t be truly reversed, even if temperatures drop back down to current levels, the scientists say. The full mass of ice sitting on top of Antarctica holds enough water to create about 58 meters of sea level rise. Although the ice sheet won’t fully collapse tomorrow or even in the next century, Antarctic ice loss is accelerating (SN: 6/13/18). So scientists are keen to understand the processes by which such a collapse might occur. “What we’re really interested in is the long-term stability” of the ice, says Ricarda Winkelmann, a climate scientist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. In the new study, Winkelmann and her colleagues simulated how future temperature increases can lead to changes across Antarctica in the interplay between ice, oceans, atmosphere and land. In addition to direct melting due to warming, numerous processes linked to climate change can speed up overall melting, called positive feedbacks, or slow it down, known as negative feedbacks. For example, as the tops of the ice sheets slowly melt down to lower elevations, the air around them becomes progressively warmer, speeding up melting. Warming temperatures also soften the ice itself, so that it slides more quickly toward the sea. And ocean waters that have absorbed heat from the atmosphere can transfer that heat to the vulnerable underbellies of Antarctic glaciers jutting into the sea, eating away at the buttresses of ice that keep the glaciers from sliding into the sea (SN: 9/11/20). The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is particularly vulnerable to such ocean interactions — but warm waters are also threatening sections of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, such as Totten Glacier (SN: 11/1/17).
9-23-20 Wildfire nightmare captured in harrowing image of California burning
This image is a terrible reminder of the US wildfire crisis. Here it rages by California's Bidwell Bar Bridge, which spans Oroville Lake in Butte County. THIS is what a US wildfire looks like up close. Trees and embers burn on the other side of the Bidwell Bar Bridge, which spans California’s Lake Oroville in Butte county. These appear white in the image, while the lights to the right are from a small boat. Thick smoke from the fire is responsible for the red hues. Smoke particles filter out shorter wavelengths of light, such as blue and yellow, while allowing longer, redder wavelengths through. Its peculiar beauty is a dire warning about the power and spread of wildfires in the region. The Bear Fire in Butte County is part of a major crisis in the western US, where the most severe wildfires in two decades are destroying homes, landscapes and livelihoods. The first wildfires started in California and Colorado in August. So far, more than 10 states have been affected, including Washington and Oregon. Collectively, some 18,000 square kilometres have been scorched. The smoke could also have serious effects on health. The risk of lung infections from inhaling the smoke is made worse by the other pressing threat, covid-19. Wildfires serve as a stark reminder of climate change. Longer and drier summer seasons coupled with strong winds are largely to blame for the unprecedented size and scale of the fires.
9-23-20 Safe, extra long-life nuclear batteries could soon be a reality
An upgrade on the tech that powers spacecraft across the cosmos could soon be used to create incredibly long-lasting batteries back on Earth. THE VOYAGER probes blasted off in 1977, beginning what would prove to be the longest journeys ever taken by objects from Earth. The two spacecraft have now left the solar system and Voyager 2 is sending back measurements of interstellar space. As achievements go, it ranks among humanity’s most profound. But a crucial aspect of that success is seldom celebrated: those probes sure do have good batteries. In the day-to-day grind of life, batteries never seem to last long enough. We must juice up our phones every day, laptops seem to constantly thirst for their power cables, electric cars only go so far before they fizzle out. It is enough to make you want a new type of power supply. We may be edging closer to exactly that. The Voyager probes employ a weak nuclear power source that, being radioactive, is considered dangerous to use on Earth. But there is a closely related form of energy that packs even more of a punch and could work safely in your average car. It is a long shot. The last time this outlandish technology was seriously considered, 20 years ago, it ended in a broiling controversy. However, now the US Army has it firmly in its sights and has conducted an experiment that might just give it a new lease of life. Most of the ways we store energy involve chemistry. When we burn petrol in a car engine, we are releasing energy stored in chemical bonds. Similarly, lithium-based batteries in devices like mobile phones work by allowing charged ions to flow. But there is greater power to be had if we look beyond chemistry, inside the atom itself. Each atom consists of a nucleus made of particles called protons and neutrons orbited by a cloud of electrons. These protons and neutrons are usually melded together in the extreme temperature and pressure inside a star, and if you delve into an atom’s nucleus in the right way, you can extract some of that awesome power. The main way we do that is nuclear fission, in which a nucleus releases neutrons that can then split more atoms, causing a chain reaction that releases huge amounts of energy. That is the way the world’s 440-odd nuclear energy plants work. There is also nuclear fusion, which is potentially much more powerful, but relies on smooshing together nuclei in a controlled fashion that we haven’t yet mastered.
9-23-20 In a war on climate change, America can have solar panels and butter
During a war, it is commonly assumed that the citizenry must sacrifice so the troops can have the equipment they need. "We can't have both guns and butter," as the saying goes. However, in the case of the biggest and most expensive war mobilization in history — the Second World War — Americans actually did have both. A new paper from J.W. Mason and Andrew Bossie at the Roosevelt Institute shows that military production shot up from 1941-44, but almost none of this came at the expense of civilian consumption. Moreover, the massive surge of war spending gave jobs to virtually every single person who wanted one, and this ultra-tight labor market dramatically reduced income inequality — which particularly benefited people at the bottom of the social ladder, like poorer African-Americans. This matters not only as a piece of interesting economic history, but as a demonstration of what might be accomplished with an all-out assault on climate change. A Green New Deal would mean a similarly huge surge of spending to replace all the greenhouse gas-emitting systems with zero-carbon ones. Like just before the war, the U.S. today is far below its potential output. America could launch an all-out assault on climate change and still have a rising standard of living for most of its population. The following chart shows the basic story. During the war, American GDP exploded by 80 percent — the fastest rate of growth in history. Almost all of that came on top of civilian consumption, which declined slightly from 1940-41, but increased thereafter. Now, the economy of 1940 was somewhat unusual. It had only partly recovered from the Great Depression, thanks largely to Franklin Roosevelt foolishly turning to austerity in 1937. That meant there was a lot of economic slack, particularly in the form of mass unemployment, which could be taken up easily once war mobilization started. If the economy were at full strength, this analogy to wartime spending might not be so applicable. But the U.S. also has a great deal of economic slack today. As Mason calculated in a 2017 paper (an analysis I extended earlier this year), even before the coronavirus pandemic economic output was something like 15 percent below the pre-2008 growth trend, because there was not enough stimulus after the financial crisis. Today, of course, the economy is in a deep hole because of the pandemic, and will require another massive stimulus if it is to get back to full strength if and when a vaccine arrives. For years after the Great Recession had stopped getting worse, many elites assumed that lackluster growth was as good as could be done. Even liberals fretted about a so-called "skills gap," or lack of innovation, or other "structural" problems. But the lesson from the war is that if the economy is mired in a low-growth, low-demand sandpit, a tsunami of spending can shock it back to life. From 1940 to 1945, war-related employment increased by about 13 million — about five million from the unemployed population (which vanished), and a further eight million from increased labor force participation, particularly of women, and the final million drawn from agriculture.
9-24-20 Amid wildfires, U.S. farmworkers labor with few protections
Notoriously weak labor regulations have kept farmworkers, many of them immigrants, breathing smoke from nearby wildfires as they work all along the West Coast. Many are afraid to speak up. The smoky air was so thick in southern Oregon recently, it was like a dense fog. People up and down the West Coast stayed inside their homes as wildfires burned, spewing massive plumes of smoke and toxic ash.In hard-hit parts of Washington, Oregon, and California, the only people outside were those who had to be. That included farmworkers, tending to everything from almond orchards to cattle and vineyards. Even during the smokiest days of September, Maricela, 48, continued working her typical eight-hour shifts at a vineyard in southern Oregon. The air burned her eyes and throat, she said. Her hands worked quickly to protect the tiny grapes that would eventually become Merlot wine. But nothing would protect her from the smoke. Maricela, who migrated to Oregon from Mexico nearly a decade ago, makes $12 per hour and wires as much as she can back to Mexico to feed her children. She said she could not afford to miss work. Though Maricela normally gets along with her boss, she said she was angry that no economic safety net existed, either from her employer or government officials, to keep her from working in toxic air. She asked The World not to use her last name because she feared that speaking out could cost her job. "It's dangerous to work in this air, but the bills don't wait," Maricela said, who nearly lost her home as a fire swept through her own neighborhood. "And if I don't work, I don't get anything. My boss said he was sorry but the grapes needed picking." That reality — along with notoriously weak labor regulations — has kept farmworkers breathing smoke as they work all along the West Coast. Nearly 80 large fires have torn through Western states in recent weeks, burning more than 3.8 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that people remain indoors or limit physical exertion outside while smoke blankets the air, enforcement of its guidance and rules is lacking. In California alone, OSHA counts on about 200 field enforcement officers to inspect around 200,000 workplaces in California right now that are potentially impacted by wildfire smoke, said Doug Parker, who leads California's division of OSHA, or Cal/OSHA. And because many farmworkers are undocumented, or noncitizens, or are in the U.S. on temporary visas that are tied to their jobs, they may fear retaliation if they report unhealthy work conditions. Parker said he wishes he had stronger regulatory and enforcement tools to protect farmworkers: "A lot of advocates sought a more protective standard. And this current structure is just what the result of the regulatory process was. I think it was a balancing of interests." Those interests can include farm owners and agricultural associations, which represent the economic powerhouses of the American West. Farmworkers are particularly sensitive to smoke inhalation, said Estella Cisneros, a legal director with California Rural Legal Assistance, which represents farmworkers in legal fights related to workplace health and safety.
9-24-20 Coronavirus: Climate action cannot be another Covid victim - PM
Boris Johnson is to call on world leaders to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and secure the planet for the next generation. The prime minister will tell a meeting hosted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that climate action "cannot be another victim of coronavirus". He will urge leaders to "look ahead to how we will rebuild" after the pandemic and how to "build back better". Mr Johnson is expected to speak to leaders via video link. His speech at Thursday's UN Climate Action Roundtable is part of the preparations for a global climate conference the UK is hosting in partnership with Italy in Glasgow in November next year. The UN conference, known as COP26, is the most important round of climate talks since 2015, when the landmark Paris Agreement was secured, committing all countries to work to limit further rises in temperature. Mr Johnson will also announce that the UK is to co-host an event with the UN on 12 December to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris agreement. The aim is that world leaders will use the December event to announce ambitious new targets for carbon reduction as part of the prelude to the Glasgow conference. As part of the Paris Agreement all countries set their own targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Every five years they are supposed to announce new, more ambitious carbon reductions and set targets for when they will be able to reach what is known as "net zero emissions" - when greenhouse gas emissions are avoided completely or offset by planting trees or sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Getting nations to agree to deeper carbon cuts is essential if the Glasgow conference is to achieve the UN's aim of putting the world on track to keep global temperature rises below 2C. "Look ahead to how we will rebuild, and how we can seize the opportunity to build back better," the prime minister will say. "Let us be the leaders who secure the very health of the planet for our children, grandchildren and generations to come."
9-24-20 Sir David Attenborough joins Instagram to warn 'the world is in trouble'
Sir David Attenborough has signed up to Instagram for the first time to help spread his environmental message. "I am making this move... because, as we all know, the world is in trouble," he said in his first video message on the social media platform. "Continents are on fire. Glaciers are melting. Coral reefs are dying... The list goes on and on," he continued. Within an hour of his first post, the veteran broadcaster had already gained more than 200,000 followers. "Saving our planet is now a communications challenge," he said. Tennis player Sir Andy Murray and body coach Joe Wicks were among those to post welcome messages. Sir David said he would use the platform to share videos explaining "what the problems are and how we can deal with them". Concluding his message, the 94-year-old invited viewers to "join me - or as we used to say in those early days of radio, stay tuned." Frequent collaborators Jonnie Hughes and Colin Butfield will help manage the account and its various technical aspects. "Social media isn't David's usual habitat," they wrote in a message accompanying the naturalist's introductory video. Sir David's Instagram debut precedes the release of latest book and Netflix documentary, both titled A Life On Our Planet. The film sees him reflect on his career and the decline of the planet's environment and biodiversity he has observed first-hand. By 12:00 BST on Thursday, Britain's favourite natural world specialist had notched up more than 470,000 followers. It remains to be seen, though, if he will better the impressive debut Jennifer Aniston made on the platform last October. The actress attracted almost five million followers in 12 hours after posting a selfie with her fellow Friends cast members. Earlier this year Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was named the celebrity thought to be able to charge more than any one else for a sponsored Instagram post.
9-23-20 Device can harvest wind energy from the breeze made when you walk
A small device can harvest energy from the breeze generated as you walk and could potentially be used to power your gadgets. The apparatus, developed by Ya Yang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues, takes advantage of the triboelectric effect. This occurs when certain materials become electrically charged as they rub together. The researchers used an 8-centimetre-long tube containing two thin films, each made up of a layer of plastic on top of a layer of silver that acts as an electrode. The two films flutter in response to even a slight breeze – a wind speed as low as 1.6 metres per second. As they brush against each other they generate an electric current, which is then transmitted through the silver electrodes to drive a tiny generator in the device. In one test, Yang and his team put the device on a volunteer’s arm and found that the airflow generated by the person swinging their arm as they walked was enough to generate power. The wind speed required for most wind turbines to generate power is 3 metres per second, says Zhenzhong Zeng at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. “Any wind with speed lower than that is wasted,” says Zeng. This device would let us make use of lighter breezes, which have the potential to power small electronic devices, he says. The device can produce 2.5 milliwatts of power, enough for 100 tiny LED lights, a thermometer or a pressure sensor. It has a wind-to-energy conversion efficiency of 3.23 per cent, which is much lower than the average wind turbine, but higher than previously reported for wind scavenging devices, say the team. “Such wind energy harvesters can be used to power wireless sensors deployed in open space where breezes are available,” says Dibin Zhu at the University of Exeter, UK. Another application could be to power wireless sensors put inside heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts for air quality monitoring, he says.
9-23-20 China's 2060 carbon neutral pledge is a big deal but is it big enough?
China surprised the world yesterday when president Xi Jinping told the United Nations general assembly that the country would “achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”. Until now, 2020 has been an underwhelming year for action on climate change, with a major UN climate summit postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and only 13 countries putting forward a stronger carbon pledge, as required by 2015’s Paris agreement. China’s new promise of long-term climate ambition is a shining bright spot, and significant for two big reasons. First is sheer size. China overtook the US as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide 14 years ago, and now emits more than 10 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, meaning it accounts for about 28 per cent of global emissions. That’s more than the US and India combined, or almost twice the emissions of the European Union. Crucially, while emissions in the EU and the US are already falling, in China they are still growing. The second reason is geopolitics. The US has been largely absent from international climate negotiations for the past four years of the Donald Trump administration, emboldening other countries that are regressive on climate change. Now, China is cementing its climate leadership role and sending a signal to other governments, businesses and investors. Declaring a long-term climate goal before the US is a big deal. It shows China sees political and economic gain in leading the industries of the future, from battery manufacturing for electric vehicles, to making solar panels and wind turbines. Xi’s move also makes Trump’s attack on the same day – that China is responsible for “rampant pollution” – ring hollow. There was other notable news in Xi’s speech. One was to “aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030”, a modest tweak on its previous plans for a peak “around 2030”. That is good news but not a big ramping up of ambition: analysis last year suggested the country was already on track to peak before 2030, as its economy shifts from industry to services.
9-23-20 Climate change: China aims for 'carbon neutrality by 2060'
China will aim to hit peak emissions before 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060, President Xi Jinping has announced. Mr Xi outlined the steps when speaking via videolink to the UN General Assembly in New York. The announcement is being seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change. China is the world's biggest source of carbon dioxide, responsible for around 28% of global emissions. With global climate negotiations stalled and this year's conference of the parties (COP26) postponed until 2021, there had been little expectation of progress on the issue at the UN General Assembly. However China's president surprised the UN gathering by making a bold statement about his country's plans for tackling emissions. He called on all countries to achieve a green recovery for the world economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the official translation, Mr Xi went on to say: "We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060." Until now China has said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest, but it has avoided committing to a long-term goal. Emissions from China continued to rise in 2018 and 2019 even as much of the world began to shift away from fossil fuels. While the Covid-19 crisis this spring saw the country's emissions plunge by 25%, by June they had bounced back again as coal-fired plants, cement and other heavy industries went back to work. Observers believe that in making this statement at this time, the Chinese leader is taking advantage of US reluctance to address the climate question. "Xi Jinping's climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump's speech, is clearly a bold and well calculated move," said Li Shuo, an expert on Chinese climate policy from Greenpeace Asia. "It demonstrates Xi's consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes." Back in 2014 Mr Xi and then US-President Barack Obama came to a surprise agreement on climate change, which became a key building block of the Paris agreement signed in December 2015.
9-23-20 Siberia climate change: Behind the scenes reporting from Yakutia
The BBC Moscow Team - correspondent Steve Rosenberg, producer Will Vernon and cameraman Matthew Goddard - recently travelled to the remote Yakutia region of Siberia. Their mission: to report on the alarming effects of climate change. Along the way, they encountered bogs, impassable roads, bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the challenges of camping in a Siberian forest. Here's a behind-the-scenes glimpse at their adventure.
9-23-20 Young bats accept reality of climate change before older generations
Young male bats are the first of their species to adjust to the realities of a warming world, with older generations being slower to adapt. The noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula), a common European species, traditionally migrates more than 1500 kilometres between its northern summer roosts and its southern winter hibernation grounds. Now that is changing one generation at a time, says Kseniia Kravchenko at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. “Due to climate change, we have areas suitable for bats all year round, without the need to migrate for hibernation,” says Kravchenko. The bats have a short lifespan, averaging three years, and a high reproductive rate, leading to rapid generation turnover. That means they are able to quickly shift to shorter migration distances from one generation to the next, she says, which might indicate they will cope better with global warming than other species of bats. Colonisation of new, more northern winter hibernation areas begins with “pioneering” young males, says Kravchenko. After these young males establish new winter colonies, young females and eventually older adults join them in staying closer year-round to their northern summer homes, rather than hibernating further south. Kravchenko and her team studied nearly 3400 noctule bats in a newly colonised winter roost in Ukraine. They identified the bats’ summer locations from their fur using hydrogen isotopes, which originate in the animals’ food and water. Having followed their journeys over 12 years, the researchers determined that young males settled first in the new winter colonies further north, and that other bats joined them later. This is good news and bad news, says Kravchenko. “This bat species seems capable of adjusting rapidly to the high pace of climate change, which is good,” she says, suggesting that this shift can help ensure its survival. “But what about the other species of bats that have longer generation times and don’t migrate? Global warming might be more difficult for them to cope with.”
9-22-20 Arctic sea-ice shrinks to near record low extent
This summer's Arctic sea-ice shrank to its second lowest ever extent in the era of satellite observation. The floes withdrew to just under 3.74 million sq km (1.44 million sq miles) last week, preliminary data indicates. The only time this minimum has been beaten in the 42-year spacecraft record was 2012 when the pack ice was reduced to 3.41 million sq km. Shorter autumn days and encroaching cold mean the floes are now starting to regrow. It's normal for Arctic sea-ice to expand through the winter each year and then melt back again in the summer, but the September minima, accounting for some variability, are getting deeper and deeper as the polar north warms. The downward trend since satellites started routinely monitoring the floes is about 13% per decade, averaged across the month. Computer models project the summer sea-ice will regularly be below one million sq km later this century. That's bad news for the climate. Extensive sea-ice helps cool the Arctic and the rest of the planet. In its absence, more sunlight will be absorbed by the darker surface waters of the ocean, which will promote further warming and further loss of ice. "The way I look at it now is that we're always going to have low sea-ice; it's never going to go back to the way it was in the 1980s or 1990s," said Prof Julienne Stroeve from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at University College London (UCL), UK. "But whether or not we get a new record low from one year to the next - that really depends a lot on whatever happens in the summer weather patterns," she told BBC News. Twenty-twelve was notable for some late storms that helped break up diffuse ice going into its September low. Twenty-twenty didn't have that, but there were some very warm conditions, especially on the Siberian side of the ocean, that drove much of the early season melting.
9-21-20 Air pollution in China may have caused millions of deaths since 2000
Air pollution in China and Taiwan is estimated to have resulted in the premature deaths of 30.8 million adults since 2000. Yang Liu at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and his colleagues used satellite imagery to quantify the amount of air pollution over mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan between 2000 and 2016. The team used imagery taken by NASA satellites to estimate the concentrations of PM2.5 – particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. One measurement the satellite takes is the amount of sunlight that has been scattered or absorbed by particles in the air. Combining these readings with PM2.5 measurements from ground monitoring stations, as well as information including meteorological conditions and road networks, the researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm that was able to predict cumulative PM2.5 exposure over a 17-year period. To estimate the total mortality linked to air pollution, they then used historical data from a study of 116,821 adults in 15 Chinese provinces, which quantified the link between long-term PM2.5 exposure and non-accidental death. The team found a roughly linear relationship between PM2.5 exposure and mortality, up to a certain point. “The people who live in the most polluted regions get disproportionally harmed,” says Liu. The highest per-capita deaths due to air pollution were in the north-eastern provinces of Hebei, Henan, Shandong and Tianjin. To date, most air pollution monitoring has been done from stations on the ground. In China, these are concentrated in urban areas, which doesn’t account for some 600 million people who live in rural areas. In addition, measurements before 2013 are scarce. The advantage of using satellite imagery to determine PM2.5 levels is that it is more comprehensive and also provides an estimate of historical air pollution, says Liu.
9-21-20 Airbus looks to the future with hydrogen planes
Aerospace giant Airbus has unveiled plans for what it hailed as the first commercial zero-emission aircraft. The company said its hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes could be in service by 2035. Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said the three ZEROe concept designs marked "a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector". The use of hydrogen had "the potential to significantly reduce aviation's climate impact", he added. The concept of emissions-free aviation relies heavily on finding ways to produce large quantities of hydrogen from renewable or low-carbon sources. Most large-scale production at the moment relies on fossil fuels, particularly methane, and is not considered to be low-carbon. Analysts point out that it is not the first time that hydrogen has been touted as the saviour of modern air travel. Its use in aviation goes back to the days of airships in the early 20th Century, but the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 brought that era to an end. More recently, from 2000 to 2002, Airbus was involved in the EU-funded Cryoplane project, which studied the feasibility of a liquid hydrogen-fuelled aircraft. After that, the idea fell out of favour again - until now. Unveiling its latest blueprints, Airbus said its turbofan design could carry up to 200 passengers more than 2,000 miles, while a turboprop concept would have a 50% lower capacity and range. A third, "blended-wing body" aircraft was the most eye-catching of the three designs. All three planes would be powered by gas-turbine engines modified to burn liquid hydrogen, and through hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power. However, Airbus admitted that for the idea to work, airports would have to invest large sums of money in refuelling infrastructure. "The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem," said Mr Faury.
9-21-20 Climate Week: World split on urgency of tackling rising temperatures, poll suggests
There's growing concern among citizens all over the world about climate change, according to a new global poll. But respondents had very different attitudes to the level of urgency required to tackle the problem. Big majorities in poorer countries strongly agreed with tackling climate change with the same vigour as Covid-19. However in richer nations, the support for rapid action was far more muted. Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales has warned the climate crisis will "dwarf" the impact of coronavirus. The poll, carried out by Globescan, provides fresh evidence that people the world over remain very concerned about climate change, despite the pandemic and subsequent economic impact. Across the 27 countries surveyed, around 90% of people saw climate change as a very serious or somewhat serious problem. This finding has strengthened over the past few years. There have been big increases in this sense of urgency among people polled in Canada, France, India, Kenya, Nigeria and the US. In the US this number of people perceiving the issue as serious or very serious has increased from just over 60% in 2014, to 81% in June this year when the poll was carried out - that's despite President Trump's well known scepticism on the issue. In the same time period, serious concerns over climate change in India have risen from 70% to 93% of those polled. According to Eric Whan, from pollsters Globescan, the covid crisis has increased people's sense of the threat from rising temperatures. "This is a year of vulnerability and exacerbation of inequality and those most susceptible to disruption feel the greatest level of seriousness," he told BBC News. But when people were asked if their governments should tackle the issue with the same urgency as they've tackled the coronavirus pandemic, major differences between rich and poor started to appear. Japan, Sweden, Australia, the US and UK all have less than 45% of respondents strongly agreeing with urgent action.
9-21-20 Satellite achieves sharp-eyed view of methane
There is a powerful new satellite in the sky to monitor emissions of methane (CH4), one of the key gases driving human-induced climate change. Known as Iris, the spacecraft can map plumes of CH4 in the atmosphere down to a resolution of just 25m. This makes it possible to identify individual sources, such as specific oil and gas facilities. Iris was launched by the Montreal, Canada-based GHGSat company on 2 September. It's the pathfinder in what the firm hopes will be a 10-spacecraft constellation by the end of 2022. The image at the top of this page is Iris's "first light" - its first attempt to sense a significant emission of methane. The observation was made over Turkmenistan, in a region where large plumes from oil and gas infrastructure have been noted before. The detection, overlaid on a standard aerial image, shows the concentration of methane in the air in excess of normal background levels. "Let me tell you there was a big hurrah from the team when the data came down because we could see the spectroscopy was there, the resolution was there - everything was as it should be," recalled GHGSat CEO Stéphane Germain. "We still need to work on the calibration, which will then allow us to verify the detection threshold and the final performance of the satellite. But as a first-light image - by any standard it's phenomenal," he told BBC News. Methane's global warming potential is 30 times that of carbon dioxide, so it's imperative any unnecessary releases are constrained or curtailed. Human-produced sources are many and varied, including not only oil and gas facilities, but agriculture, landfills, coal mines and hydro-electric dams. Already, GHGSat is working with operators, regulators and other interested parties to characterise these emissions using a prototype satellite called Claire that it launched in 2016. The presence in orbit of Iris provides an additional stream of data for the company that it now intends to interpret at a brand new British analytics hub, to be set up in Edinburgh and London in the coming weeks.
9-20-20 How the oil industry made us doubt climate change
As climate change becomes a focus of the US election, energy companies stand accused of trying to downplay their contribution to global warming. In June, Minnesota's Attorney General sued ExxonMobil, among others, for launching a "campaign of deception" which deliberately tried to undermine the science supporting global warming. So what's behind these claims? And what links them to how the tobacco industry tried to dismiss the harms of smoking decades earlier? To understand what's happening today, we need to go back nearly 40 years. Marty Hoffert leaned closer to his computer screen. He couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. It was 1981, and he was working in an area of science considered niche. "We were just a group of geeks with some great computers," he says now, recalling that moment. But his findings were alarming. "I created a model that showed the Earth would be warming very significantly. And the warming would introduce climatic changes that would be unprecedented in human history. That blew my mind." Marty Hoffert was one of the first scientists to create a model which predicted the effects of man-made climate change. And he did so while working for Exxon, one of the world's largest oil companies, which would later merge with another, Mobil. At the time Exxon was spending millions of dollars on ground-breaking research. It wanted to lead the charge as scientists grappled with the emerging understanding that the warming planet could cause the climate to change in ways that could make life pretty difficult for humans. Hoffert shared his predictions with his managers, showing them what might happen if we continued burning fossil fuels in our cars, trucks and planes. But he noticed a clash between Exxon's own findings, and public statements made by company bosses, such as the then chief executive Lee Raymond, who said that "currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate". "They were saying things that were contradicting their own world-class research groups," said Hoffert. Angry, he left Exxon, and went on to become a leading academic in the field. "What they did was immoral. They spread doubt about the dangers of climate change when their own researchers were confirming how serious a threat it was."
9-19-20 Brazil's Pantanal fires: Animals 'dying of hunger and thirst'
More than 15,000 fires in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands have been causing widespread devastation this year. The basin's wildlife has paid a heavy price, suffering death and injury, hunger and thirst.
9-19-20 What we know and don’t know about wildfire smoke’s health risks
Experts weigh in on smoke’s hazards and the potential risk as fires become more common. Acrid smoke continues to pollute skies in the western United States. On some recent days, the air quality in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles has been so hazardous, it’s ranked among the worst in the world. It’s hard to predict when the smoke will fully clear. And with some parts of the West having faced a week or more of extremely polluted air, the unusual, sustained nature of the assault is increasing worries about people’s health. There’s plenty of evidence that air pollution — a broad category that includes soot, smog, and other pollutants from sources such as traffic, industry and fires — can harm health. The list of medical ailments associated with exposure to dirty air includes respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease and diabetes (SN: 9/19/17). Most of what’s known about the hazards of wildfire smoke has to do with particulate matter, the tiny bits of solids and liquids in polluted air. Wildfires are especially good at producing particles in a size range that can be dangerous to health. It isn’t clear yet if what fuels wildfire smoke — be it vegetation, a mix of trees and structures, or other human-made sources — affects the toxicity of particulate matter. A growing body of evidence points to a range of risks to health during or soon after wildfires, such as increased trips to the emergency room for chronic lung conditions. But there are many more questions than answers about the long-term risks for people struggling to cope with day upon day of polluted air, and facing longer and fiercer fire seasons each year due to climate change (SN: 8/27/20). Science News spoke with scientists about what’s in the air, the health risks and what more we need to learn.
9-18-20 California and Oregon 2020 wildfires in maps, graphics and images
Dozens of wildfires have been burning their way through swathes of the US West Coast over the last month, killing more than 30 people and forcing tens of thousands from their homes. Lightning strikes in August sparked a number of the blazes, while warm temperatures and dry conditions have fuelled additional fires. Here's a visual guide to what's happening - a month on from a state of emergency being declared in California. Wildfires are burning millions of acres in California, Oregon and other parts of the western US, devastating towns and blanketing communities in thick smoke. Scientists say the region's wildfires are the worst in 18 years and have linked their increasing prevalence and intensity to climate change. However, US President Donald Trump has blamed poor forest management for the blazes. Plumes of smoke from the fires are so large, they have crossed the US and the Atlantic Ocean, carried by the jet stream, and have reached the skies of Europe. Nasa captured the high-altitude smoke and associated aerosols - particles in the air - as they travelled east to New York City and Washington DC in the middle of last week. By the end of last week the smoke had reached Northern Europe, scientists from the European Commission's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) say. It is forecast to do so again in the coming days. The fact the fires are emitting so much pollution that can be detected thousands of miles away reflects "just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration", says Mark Parrington, a CAMS senior scientist. Data from CAMS also shows the fires are "significantly more intense" than the average for 2003-2019 and are the worst in 18 years. Nasa has described a "perfect storm of meteorological factors" contributing to the period of "extreme burning". Record-breaking temperatures, unusually dry air and fierce winds - on top of drought in some areas - have exacerbated the fires.
9-18-20 Storm Sally: Floods and destruction as weather system moves north
Storm Sally has brought heavy rain and flooding to the Carolinas and Georgia, as it continues its path of destruction north from the US Gulf Coast. It has already battered Florida and Alabama with rain and storm surges, downing power lines, turning roads into rivers and leaving homes submerged. One person was killed, and hundreds of thousands are without power. Sally has now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, but meteorologists warn that tornadoes are still possible. Besides the fatality reported in Orange Beach, Alabama, one person is also missing from the small coastal city in south-west Alabama, according to Mayor Tony Kennon. "It was an unbelievably freaky right turn of a storm that none of us ever expected," he told the Washington Post. Pensacola, Florida, 30m (48 km) east of Orange Beach, was also badly hit, with a loose barge bringing down part of the city's Bay Bridge. Downtown Pensacola was hit with up to 5ft of flooding and saw the highest storm surge on record. The storm brought "four months of rain in four hours" to the city, Pensacola fire chief Ginny Cranor told CNN. Pictures show residents wading through waist-deep water, cars stranded in flooded streets, and homes entirely swamped by Wednesday's deluge. In Gulf Shores, Alabama - near where Sally first made landfall as a hurricane on Wednesday - the storm sheared off the face of a beachside apartment complex. And 50 miles (80km) north-west in Mobile, Alabama, photos show the large steeple of El-Bethel Primitive Baptist Church toppled after the storm. Sally hit Gulf Shores, Alabama, at 04:45 local time on Wednesday, with maximum wind speeds of 105mph (169 km/h). According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Category 2 hurricanes have sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph. The NHC says a Category 2 storm's "extremely dangerous winds" usually cause damage to homes and shallowly rooted trees. As the storm moved north from the coast, some 550,000 residents in affected areas were left in the dark on Wednesday night, according to local reports.
9-18-20 Siberia landscape scarred by climate change
Scientists are warning that, across Siberia, vast swathes of ground - normally frozen all year round - are thawing - with potentially devastating consequences for the climate. As it thaws, the earth is believed to be releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases, accentuating the problem of global warming. BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg has been to the remote Yakutia region to look at how thawing permafrost is affecting not just the climate, but the landscape and livelihoods in Siberia.
9-18-20 Underwater earthquakes’ sound waves reveal changes in ocean warming
‘Seismic ocean thermometry’ could improve temperature monitoring in the vast seas. Sound waves traveling thousands of kilometers through the ocean may help scientists monitor climate change. As greenhouse gas emissions warm the planet, the ocean is absorbing vast amounts of that heat. To monitor the change, a global fleet of about 4,000 devices called Argo floats is collecting temperature data from the ocean’s upper 2,000 meters. But that data collection is scanty in some regions, including deeper reaches of the ocean and areas under sea ice. So Wenbo Wu, a seismologist at Caltech, and colleagues are resurfacing a decades-old idea: using the speed of sound in seawater to estimate ocean temperatures. In a new study, Wu’s team developed and tested a way to use earthquake-generated sound waves traveling across the East Indian Ocean to estimate temperature changes in those waters from 2005 to 2016. Comparing that data with similar information from Argo floats and computer models showed that the new results matched well. That finding suggests that the technique, dubbed seismic ocean thermometry, holds promise for tracking the impact of climate change on less well-studied ocean regions, the researchers report in the Sept. 18 Science. Sound waves are carried through water by the vibration of water molecules, and at higher temperatures, those molecules vibrate more easily. As a result, the waves travel a bit faster when the water is warmer. But those changes are so small that, to be measurable, researchers need to track the waves over very long distances. Fortunately, sound waves can travel great distances through the ocean, thanks to a curious phenomenon known as the SOFAR Channel, short for Sound Fixing and Ranging. Formed by different salinity and temperature layers within the water, the SOFAR channel is a horizontal layer that acts as a wave guide, guiding sound waves in much the same way that optical fibers guide light waves, Wu says. The waves bounce back and forth against the upper and lower boundaries of the channel, but can continue on their way, virtually unaltered, for tens of thousands of kilometers (SN: 7/16/60).
9-17-20 Climate change: Earthquake 'hack' reveals scale of ocean warming
Scientists have found a clever new way of measuring ocean warming, using sound waves from undersea earthquakes. The researchers say the "hack" works because sound travels faster in warmer water. The team looked at sonic data from the Indian Ocean emitted by tremors over a 10-year period. As the seas have warmed due to global heating, the scientists have seen the sound waves increase in speed. Their new method shows the decadal warming trend in the Indian Ocean was far higher than previous estimates. Having accurate information on the warming of our oceans is critical for climate scientists. They understand that around 90% of the energy trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the seas. But having precise temperature measurements, in multiple locations and depths, is a huge challenge. The deployment of around 4,000 autonomous devices called Argo floats that capture temperature information has helped enormously, but there are big gaps in our knowledge. This is especially true in relation to what's happening in the waters deeper than 2,000m. But now a team of researchers has developed a very different approach that exploits the fact that the speed of sound in seawater depends on temperature. The idea was first proposed and trialled in the late 1970s using sound waves generated by scientists. However, concerns over the impact of these sounds on marine mammals and rising costs saw the idea abandoned. The new approach involves using the naturally produced sound waves that occur when an underwater earthquake strikes. The scientists examined data from over 4,000 tremors that occurred in the Indian Ocean between 2004 and 2016. The team then looked for pairs of "repeaters", earthquakes with almost identical origins and power. By measuring how long these slow-moving signals took to travel across the waters from Indonesia to a monitoring station on the island of Diego Garcia, they were able to work out the changes in temperature for the whole of the ocean over the 10-year period.
9-17-20 Hurricane Sally: Deadly storm leaves 550,000 without power in US
Tropical Storm Sally has left more than half a million Americans without power as its torrential rains and storm surges lashed the US Gulf coast. Sally weakened after it made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday, but the slow-moving storm continues to batter Florida and Alabama. One person was killed and hundreds were rescued from flooded areas. Pensacola, in Florida, was badly hit, with a loose barge bringing down part of the Bay Bridge. "Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues over portions of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. The storm has brought "four months of rain in four hours" to the city, Pensacola fire chief Ginny Cranor told CNN. One person died and another was missing in the town of Orange Beach, Alabama, the mayor said without giving further details. Sally made landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama, at 04:45 local time on Wednesday, with maximum wind speeds of 105mph (169 km/h). According to the NHC, Category 2 hurricanes have sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph. The NHC says a Category 2 storm's "extremely dangerous winds" usually cause damage to homes and shallowly rooted trees. The storm later become a tropical depression with winds decreasing to 35mph, but it has been the torrents of rainfall and high storm surges that have caused most damage. As the storm moved north from the coast, some 550,000 residents in affected areas were left in the dark on Wednesday night, according to local reports. Sally is one of several storms in the Atlantic Ocean, with officials running out of letters to name the hurricanes as they near the end of their annual alphabetic list. Rainfall is being measured in feet rather than inches in some places, but 18in (45cm) has been recorded across many areas.
9-17-20 Forest fires devastate Brazil's Pantanal tropical wetlands
There have been more than 15,000 fires in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands so far this year, causing widespread devastation. That is triple the number recorded in the same period in 2019, according to data collected by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). A satellite map published by Inpe shows the fires burning in the Pantanal, collected using satellites that measure blazes larger than 30m-long by 1m-wide. The wetlands is one of the world's most bio-diverse areas. In total 15,756 fires have been detected in the region so far this year, compared with 5,109 recorded in the same period last year. Brazil's National Centre for the Prevention of Forest Fires (Prevfogo) calculates that 2.9m hectares of the Pantanal have burned so far in 2020. A state of emergency has been declared in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles says the fires have spread to "gigantic proportions". Nevertheless, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday that the criticism levelled against his government over the fires in the Pantanal and also in the Amazon region had been "disproportionate". The basin, which thrives off annual flooding following torrential rains, is home to jaguars, piranhas, capuchin monkeys, green anacondas and thousands of plant species. Forest fires often occur naturally in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started by ranchers trying to clear land for cattle. Experts say it is impossible to calculate yet how many animals have been killed by the fires, but losses are feared to be huge.
9-17-20 Why forest fires in Siberia, Russia threaten us all
Wildfires in Siberia have been releasing record amounts of greenhouse gases, scientists say, contributing to global warming. The fires, fuelled by abnormally high temperatures, have been burning as far north as the Arctic Circle.. BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg travelled to the remote Yakutia region, in northeastern Russia, to gauge the effects of climate change, both on local communities and on the planet.
9-16-20 Washing our clothes has created 5.6 million tonnes of microfibre waste
Millions of tonnes of tiny microplastics have been shed from clothing into the environment over the past seven decades or so, according to an analysis of the impact of clothes washing. Between 1950 and 2016, an estimated 5.6 million tonnes of such particles have been emitted into water and land environments – half of which has been released in the last decade. “By mass, the amount of microfibres that has been emitted to the ocean is equivalent to about 7 billion fleece jackets just being thrown into the ocean,” says Jenna Gavigan at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Similar amounts have been shed into land environments – much of it directly onto cropland. Microfibres – tiny strand-like microplastic particles – come from washed clothes, particularly synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon. Researchers are only beginning to learn what effects these particles might have on ecosystems, but they can be ingested by small marine organisms, such as plankton, for example, and work their way through the food chain. Microplastics in general are known to act as “sponges” for toxins, says Gavigan, and are able to transport a variety of chemicals into an animal’s digestive tract, some of which are likely to be harmful. The particles themselves are also thought to cause physical damage once ingested by animals. We don’t yet know how harmful these tiny plastic fibres might be to humans. To estimate how many of these particles might have been emitted into the environment, Gavigan and her colleagues collected data from various sources. The team considered the global production of clothing, as well as how people use their clothes, estimates of how fibres are shed from clothes when they are washed and how wastewater is treated. Around 360,000 tonnes of these microfibres are released into the environment every year, the team calculates. “These are very large environmental loadings of materials that will have a very long lifespan,” says Steve Ormerod at Cardiff University, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research.
9-16-20 Plastic pollution: Washed clothing's synthetic mountain of 'fluff'
When you add it up, the total amount of synthetic microfibres going into the wider environment as we wash our clothes is an astonishing number. US scientists estimate it to be 5.6 million tonnes since we first started wearing those polyester and nylon garments in a big way in the 1950s. Just over half this mass - 2.9 million tonnes - has likely ended up in our rivers and seas. That's the equivalent of seven billion fleece jackets, the researchers say. But while we fret about water pollution, and rightly so, increasingly this synthetic "fluff" issue is one that affects the land. The University of California, Santa Barbara, team which did the calculations found that emission to the terrestrial environment has now overtaken that to water bodies - some 176,500 tonnes a year versus 167,000 tonnes. The reason? Wastewater treatment works have become very good at catching the fibres lost from washing machines. What's happening is those captured fibres, along with biosolid sludge, are then being applied to cropland or simply buried in landfills. "I hear people say that the synthetic microfibre problem from apparel washing will take care of itself as wastewater treatment works become more widespread around the world and more efficient. But really what we're doing is just moving the problem from one environmental compartment to another," Roland Geyer, from UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, told BBC News. The industrial ecologist, working with a range of other experts, has previously totted up the total amount of virgin plastics ever produced (8.3 billion tonnes); and the annual flow of plastics into the oceans (roughly eight million tonnes a year). These types of calculations are fiendishly complicated, involve models and necessarily resort to quite a few assumptions to plug real-world data gaps. They can't be absolute in their descriptions of the issues, but at the very least they provide some ball-park figures on which to base serious conversations around mitigation.
9-16-20 US West Coast fires: Smoke spreads to New York and Washington
Smoke from the wildfires ravaging much of the US West Coast has spread to the east of the country, casting a haze over New York and Washington DC. The blazes have burned vast areas of land and killed at least 36 people since early August. They have also caused some of the most unhealthy air on the planet in several western states. Scientists said the smoke on the East Coast was so high that it would not impact air quality. Satellite images showed the smoke being carried to the East Coast by the jet stream - a narrow zone of high-speed winds - across the Mid-Atlantic. The National Weather Service (NWS) in New York said smoke passing over the state was 25,000ft (7,620m) high on Tuesday. "If you looked up to the sky today, you may have seen a yellow or brown tinge. You were seeing smoke from the fires", the NWS said on Twitter. There were also hazy skies in the capital, Washington DC, where the NWS said smoke was about 15,000-25,000ft about ground level. The smoke was obscuring the sun on Tuesday and meant temperatures were slightly cooler in the city than they otherwise would have been, it added. Journalist Mike Valerio shared a picture of hazy skies around the Lincoln Memorial. Dozens of wildfires have burned across vast swathes of land on the West Coast since the start of August. Strong winds and low humidity have been hampering efforts to keep the blazes under control. The states of Oregon, Washington and California are experiencing some of the most unhealthy air on the planet, according to global air quality rankings. The poor air quality has forced some businesses to close, grounded flights and suspended services like rubbish collection in some communities. "Everything is covered in ashes," California resident Twana James told the Associated Press news agency. "It's hard to breathe."
9-16-20 US wildfires: What are the health risks of smoke pollution?
Wildfires have been spreading across the western United States - sending smoke over North America. Angela Yao from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control explains the impact that wildfire smoke can have on people's health.
9-16-20 US election 2020: What is Trump's record on the environment?
As forest fires blaze in the western states and a new hurricane hits the southern coast of America, President Donald Trump has caused controversy by questioning the science around climate change. At the same time, he has called himself a "great environmentalist", touting successes in conservation, wildlife protection and the banning of some off-shore drilling. We have taken a look at what he has said and done on environmental issues. Trump: 'It'll start getting cooler. You just watch... I don't think science knows, actually.' These comments were in response to California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot, who said to the president: "We want to work with you to really recognise the changing climate." Mr Trump has received widespread criticism from scientific experts on this issue. Dr Chris Brierley, an associate professor in climate science at UCL, said the world was getting warmer and would continue to do so. "You'll have some anomalously cold years and some anomalously hot years but it is certainly going up," he said. And there is an overwhelming scientific consensus these rising temperatures are being driven by human actions. Nasa, the US space agency, says: "Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities." But the president has shown little, if any, commitment to tackling climate change and last year withdrew the US from the Paris accord, a multilateral agreement to tackle global warming. Trump: 'Right now we have the cleanest air we've ever had in this country, let's say over the last 40 years.' Over the past few decades, air quality - a measure of six major pollutants - has improved significantly in the US. From 1970 to 2019, the overall level of these pollutants fell by 77%, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And this trend has largely continued into Mr Trump's administration, with a 7% fall between 2017 and 2019, which is why the EPA says the US currently has the cleanest air on record.
9-16-20 Hurricane Sally: 'Catastrophic flooding' as storm hits US
Hurricane Sally has brought "historic and catastrophic flooding" to the southern US as it inches ashore. The storm's sluggish speed, roughly 3mph (5km/h) increases its capacity for destruction, pummelling coastal states with heavy rain. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported flooding from Tallahassee, Florida to Mobile Bay in Alabama. It also warned of a "life-threatening" storm surge and river flooding inland as far as Georgia. Hurricane Sally is one of several storms in the Atlantic Ocean, with officials running out of letters to name the hurricanes as it nears the end of its annual alphabetic list. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi have all declared states of emergency. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, whose state is still recovering from Hurricane Laura last month, tweeted on Monday to warn residents to "be smart and be safe". The latest NHC update says Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama at 0445 local time (0945 GMT). It has sustained winds of 105mph (168km/h) and is moving north-northeast at 3mph (5km/h). Sally's plodding pace may be a consequence of climate change, experts say. A 2018 study in Nature magazine found that translation speeds of all hurricanes and tropical storms had decreased by 10% between 1949 and 2016, a drop that was linked to an increase in total rainfall. Authorities warned that Sally was moving extremely slowly, which means the rains could linger. "Sally has a characteristic that isn't often seen and that's a slow forward speed and that's going to exacerbate the flooding," NHC deputy director Ed Rappaport told the Associated Press. Rain appeared to fall sideways in Alabama, which led to submerged roads as the storm inched ashore. Other areas along the coast were also affected, with beaches and highways swamped in Mississippi and low-lying properties in Louisiana covered by the rising waters. According to the website poweroutage.us, more than 200,000 homes and businesses in Alabama and Florida had reported power cuts by Wednesday morning.
9-16-20 Plug-in hybrids are a 'wolf in sheep's clothing'
Carbon dioxide emissions from plug-in hybrid cars are as much as two-and-a-half times higher than official tests suggest, according to new research. Plug-in hybrid vehicles are powered by an electric motor using a battery that is recharged by being plugged in or via an on-board petrol or diesel engine. They account for 3% of new car sales. But analysis from pressure groups Transport and Environment and Greenpeace suggest they emit an average of 120g of CO2 per km. That compares with the 44g per km in official "lab" tests. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are sold as a low-carbon alternative to traditional vehicles and conventional hybrids - which cannot be recharged from an external source - and are proving increasingly popular. The new research is published as the government considers whether to bring forward a proposed ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and conventional hybrid cars from 2035 to 2030. That's because they can offer a 20- to 40-mile range as a purely electric vehicle and are therefore potentially significantly less polluting than other vehicles. But this new analysis from Transport and Environment and Greenpeace suggests they don't offer anything like the carbon dioxide savings claimed for them by manufacturers. The official tests indicate that plug-in hybrids emit an average of 44g per km of CO2. These tests are conducted on a circuit and see vehicles driven in a way that regulators consider "normal". The real figure, however, according to the report, is more like 120g per km. The pressure groups have analysed what they say is "real-world" data on fuel efficiency collected from some 20,000 plug-in hybrid drivers around Europe. These are drivers who have chosen to record their mileage and fuel consumption for surveys or who drive company or leased vehicles whose fuel efficiency is recorded. According to this data-set the lifetime emissions of a plug-in hybrid average around 28 tonnes of CO2. By comparison, the average petrol or diesel car is estimated to emit between 39 and 41 tonnes of CO2 from fuel during its lifetime, a conventional hybrid would typically emit more like 33 tonnes.
9-15-20 US 2020 election: Climate change takes centre stage amid wildfires
On Monday, climate change took centre stage in the US presidential campaign - and the contrast between the two candidates couldn't have been more stark. While touring fire-ravaged California, Donald Trump downplayed the role a warming planet could have in the devastation, suggesting temperatures will "start getting cooler" and that the recent conflagrations was a lack of proper forest management. "I don't think science knows actually," he said when told that science didn't agree with his conclusions. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Joe Biden went on the attack, accusing Trump of ignoring a "central crisis" facing the nation. "If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?" he asked. "If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?" The environment has largely been a sideline issue in the race for the White House, getting scant attention even during the Democratic primary campaign, when questions on the topic during candidate debates were few and far between. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who made climate change the focus of his presidential bid, was one of the first to drop out of the race. Tom Steyer, a billionaire who self-funded his campaign, also made the issue a priority, but his campaign also never gained significant traction. The topic, however, is on one on which Trump and Biden have sharp and substantive disagreements. Trump has previously dismissed the notion of manmade climate change as a "hoax" perpetrated by China and, while he's backed away from such rhetoric, his comments on Monday were reflective of the lack of attention he devotes to the issue. Instead, his administration has focused on promoting US manufacturing and the energy industry, rolling back more than 70 environmental regulations - many of which deal with climate change. He eased regulation on methane produced by oil and gas wells, reduced fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and rescinded Obama-era rules on greenhouse gas emissions by electrical power plants.
9-15-20 US West Coast fires: I don't think science knows about climate, says Trump
US President Donald Trump has dismissed concerns over climate change on a visit to fire-ravaged California, telling an official "I don't think science knows" about global warming. "It'll start getting cooler, you just watch," Mr Trump said after he was urged not to "ignore the science". Blazes in several states have burned vast areas of land and killed at least 36 people since early August. Scientists say human activities have driven up global temperatures. But Mr Trump has blamed poor forest management for the fires that have burned almost 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of land in California, Oregon and Washington state. During his visit to the US West Coast, Mr Trump - who has often denied climate change - repeated his argument on forest management as he met Californian officials involved in the battle against the wildfires. Earlier on Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called Mr Trump "a climate arsonist". In 2018, the president criticised California's forest management, pointing to Finland, where he said they raked and cleared the forests to prevent fires. When asked by a reporter whether climate change was a factor in the massive wildfires, Mr Trump responded: "I think this is more of a management situation." He also claimed that other countries had not dealt with the same level of forest fires, despite major conflagrations in Australia and the Amazon rainforest in recent years that experts attributed to the changing climate. "They don't have problems like this," he said. "They have very explosive trees, but they don't have problems like this." He added: "When you get into climate change, well is India going to change its ways? And is China going to change its ways? And Russia? Is Russia going to change its ways?" Mr Trump has previously called climate change "mythical", "non-existent", or "an expensive hoax" - but has also described it as a "serious subject". He pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, which committed the US and 187 other countries to keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.
9-15-20 Trump to fire responders: 'It'll start getting cooler'
President Trump sat down with leaders in California for a briefing about the wildfires currently burning across the state. California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot urged the president to consider science and climate change as a way to improve lives for Californians. Meanwhile, his rival in the upcoming presidential election, Joe Biden, has spoken out against what he said was the president's "climate denial".
9-15-20 US West Coast fires: Is Trump right to blame forest management?
President Trump has sought to highlight forest management rather than climate change as the key factor explaining the wildfires burning across California, Oregon and Washington states. When asked during a visit to California about the role of climate change, Mr Trump said: "I think this is more of a [forest] management situation." And he pointed to other nations with forests, saying: "You go to Austria, you go Finland, you go to many different countries they don't have fires..." So is poor forest management responsible for these worsening fires? Firstly, most forest in California, Oregon and Washington isn't the responsibility of the state authorities - in fact, their share of forest land is small. In California state, the federal government owns nearly 58% of the 33 million acres of forest, according to the state governor's office. The state itself owns just three per cent, with the rest owned by private individuals or companies or Native American groups. There's a similar picture in Oregon, with significant proportions of forest land in federal rather than state hands, as well as under private ownership. And in Washington state, only 12% of forest land is in the hands of the state authorities, with 43% federally-owned and 36% in private hands. Federal agencies like the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service are responsible for the upkeep of federally-owned land, and as far as private forest land is concerned, it's up to the owners to manage these areas. State and federal agencies have programmes and regulations to encourage co-operation and best practice when it comes to managing private forested areas, including reducing the threat of wildfires. But there've also been funding cuts to federal agencies under President Trump, although the administration has given some more money for specific programmes to reduce the risk of wildfires.
9-15-20 'Massive failure': The world has missed all its biodiversity targets
The world hasn’t fully met any of the 20 biodiversity targets set by global governments a decade ago, leading conservationists to condemn nature protection efforts as a “massive failure”. A United Nations report today reveals only six of the “Aichi targets” for 2020 have been partially achieved. The other 14, such as eliminating subsidies that are driving biodiversity loss or halving the rate at which natural habitats are being lost, have been completely missed. The goals were agreed by almost 200 governments at a 2010 UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, Japan. They aimed to stem the destruction of species and habitats, which naturalist David Attenborough said this week was “deeply tragic”. But today’s analysis by the CBD shows countries have failed to address the structural problems driving nature’s destruction, such as economic growth causing forests to be converted to farmland. Richard Gregory at the RSPB, a UK-based wildlife group, says the number of missed targets means the report makes for grim reading. “This represents a massive, if not catastrophic, failure at all levels,” he says. Significantly, indicators on policies supporting biodiversity protection are positive, but those on the drivers of loss, such as land use change and the current state of biodiversity itself, mostly show worsening trends, Gregory adds. Felicia Keesing at Bard College in New York says that despite the shortcomings, the analysis shows “global coordination can make a real difference in protecting biodiversity”. The report makes clear the situation would have been even worse without conservation efforts. The number of bird and mammal extinctions would have been up to four times higher without action in the past decade, the authors estimate.
9-15-20 Extinction: Urgent change needed to save species, says UN
Humanity is at a crossroads and we have to take action now to make space for nature to recover and slow its "accelerating decline". This is according to a report by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. It sets out a bullet point list of eight major transitions that could help stop the ongoing decline in nature. "Things have to change," said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the convention's executive secretary. "If we take action, the right action - as the report proposes - we can transition to a sustainable planet." New diseases emerge in the human population probably three or four times every year. It is only when they are easily transmitted from human to human - like the coronavirus - that they have the potential to kick-start a pandemic. But increasing the chances of a new disease emerging increases the chances of that disease becoming the "next Covid". And these are not truly new diseases - they are just new to our species. The vast majority of outbreaks are the result of an animal disease spilling over into the human population. Ebola and HIV came from primates; scientists have linked cases of Ebola to consuming meat from infected animals. A bite from a rabies-infected animal is a very effective mode of disease transmission. And in the 20 years before Covid-19, SARs, MERs, swine flu, and avian flu all spilled over from animals. As we reengineer the natural world, we encroach on reservoirs of animal disease and put ourselves at risk. "More and more we are affecting wildlife populations, deforesting and causing animals to move and enter our environment," explained Prof Matthew Baylis, a veterinary epidemiologist from the University of Liverpool. "That causes [disease-causing] pathogens to be passed from one species to another. So our behaviours on a global scale are facilitating the spread of a pathogen from animals into humans."
9-14-20 US West Coast fires: Row over climate change's role as Trump visits
Democratic politicians on the US West Coast have accused President Donald Trump of being in denial about climate change's role in the huge wildfires there, before his visit to California. Blazes in California, Oregon and Washington state have burned almost 2m hectares (5m acres) of land and killed at least 35 people since early August. Washington's governor called climate change a "blowtorch over our states". Climate change sceptic Mr Trump blames the crisis on poor forest management.(Webmaster's comment: Trump, as always, does not know what he is talking about!) The president is due to be briefed on Monday by emergency crews who have been battling the fires, during a visit to McClellan Park, outside Sacramento. Authorities in California, where 24 people have died since 15 August, reported on Sunday that firefighters were working to contain 29 major wildfires across the state. They warned that the strong southerly winds and low humidity forecast for Monday could bring an elevated fire risk, and potentially have an impact on the North Complex Fire, which has scorched 106,000 hectares and is only 26% contained. The US National Weather Service also issued a "red flag warning" for other areas of the West Coast, including Jackson County, Oregon, where the Almeda Fire has destroyed hundreds of homes. The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said on Sunday that firefighters in the state were struggling to contain more than 30 active wildfires - the largest of which was more than 89km (55 miles) wide. At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon in the past week. Officials have said dozens of people are missing and warned that the death toll could rise. One person has died in Washington, where there were five large fires on Sunday. Oregon Governor Kate Brown said her state was facing "the perfect firestorm". "We saw incredible winds. We saw very cold, hot temperatures. And, of course, we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought," she told CBS on Sunday. "This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast. And this is a wake-up call for all of us that we have got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change."
9-14-20 The climate refugees are here. They're Americans.
Wildfires are forcing people from their homes in droves. Where will they go now? California, Oregon, and Washington are on fire. At least 33 people have died in recent days, and more than 5 million acres have been scorched as out-of-control blazes rage across the American West. The 2020 wildfire season in California is already the most destructive in the state's history — exceeding the record set in 2018, which in turn beat the record set in 2017. Experts agree that rising temperatures from climate change have turned much of the region into dry kindling, ready to spark in an instant. "This is a climate damn emergency," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week. Disasters like these displace people. Tens of thousands of fire survivors have been forced to flee their homes, and more than 500,000 — half a million — Oregonians have been warned they might soon be ordered to leave. In the meantime, many evacuees are sheltering "in an assortment of RVs, cars, and tents." Many do not know if their homes will still be standing when they try to return, or where they will go if those houses are indeed destroyed. The fires will eventually end, but for many residents of the region, the disaster is just beginning. The climate refugee crisis has come to America. We're not used to thinking of that crisis as an internal American problem. Publicly, at least, officials and experts have often focused on how poorer countries will deal with the migration of people fleeing drought, floods, devastating storms, and other disasters — both fast- and slow-moving — caused by rising temperatures across the globe. In 2018, a World Bank report estimated that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia would spawn more than 143 million "climate migrants" by 2050. "The developed world is still largely sheltered from climate change effects," one expert wrote in 2016. "But the world's poor feel the impacts directly." America's Pacific Northwest surely counts as part of the "developed world." So does Miami, which earlier this year was identified as "the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world" thanks to rising seas brought on by the changing climate. Same goes for Iowa, where climate-aided flooding devastated much of the state last year. In fact, climate migration was already well underway in the United States before the latest round of fires. The Urban Institute estimates more than 1.2 million Americans left their homes in 2018 for climate-related reasons — some were escaping long-term problems, but others were fleeing short-term disasters that became permanent displacements. Sea level rise could force millions more coastal residents to move in coming years. People won't keep living in places where it is impossible to live. Sooner or later they will choose — or be forced — to leave their homes and find somewhere safer. The response from the Trump administration to international refugees has been to hang a "keep out" sign at the nation's borders, all but snuffing out the torch on the Statue of Liberty. But it's impossible to do that to fellow citizens. That doesn't mean climate migration won't create domestic tensions. A U.N. human rights expert last year warned of a coming era of "climate apartheid," where "the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer."
9-14-20 Climate change: Warmth shatters section of Greenland ice shelf
A big chunk of ice has broken away from the Arctic's largest remaining ice shelf - 79N, or Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden - in north-east Greenland. The ejected section covers about 110 square km; satellite imagery shows it to have shattered into many small pieces. The loss is further evidence say scientists of the rapid climate changes taking place in Greenland. "The atmosphere in this region has warmed by about 3C since 1980," said Dr Jenny Turton. "And in 2019 and 2020, it saw record summer temperatures," the polar researcher at Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany told BBC News. Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden is roughly 80km long by 20km wide and is the floating front end of the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream - where it flows off the land into the ocean to become buoyant. At its leading edge, the 79N glacier splits in two, with a minor offshoot turning directly north. It's this offshoot, or tributary, called Spalte Glacier, that has now disintegrated. The ice feature was already heavily fractured in 2019; this summer's warmth has been its final undoing. Spalte Glacier has become a flotilla of icebergs. Look closely at the satellite pictures and the higher air temperatures recorded in the region are obvious from the large number of melt ponds that sit on top of the shelf ice. The presence of such liquid water is often problematic for ice platforms. If it fills crevasses, it can help to open them up. The water will push down on the fissures, driving them through to the base of the shelf in a process known as hydrofracturing. This will weaken an ice shelf. Oceanographers have also documented warmer sea temperatures which mean the shelf ice is almost certainly being melted from beneath as well. "79N became 'the largest remaining Arctic ice shelf' only fairly recently, after the Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland lost a lot of area in 2010 and 2012," explained Prof Jason Box from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). "What makes 79N so important is the way it's attached to the interior ice sheet, and that means that one day - if the climate warms as we expect - this region will probably become one of the major centres of action for the deglaciation of Greenland."
9-14-20 Climate change: Rising sea levels in Fiji create 'ghost towns'
There's no escaping the reality that the Earth's temperature is rising, however the effects of climate change are felt more keenly in some parts of the world. The Pacific island nation of Fiji produces less than 1% of the globe's carbon emissions, yet rising sea levels, coastal erosion and intense storm surges are having a dramatic effect on the country. Villages near the sea are becoming abandoned as creeping tides submerge homes and resources, forcing residents to move inland to higher, safer ground.
9-14-20 Google says its carbon footprint is now zero
Google says it has wiped out its entire carbon footprint by investing in "high-quality carbon offsets". It became carbon-neutral in 2007 and says it has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created. It also aimed to run all of its data centres and offices on carbon-free energy by 2030, chief executive Sundar Pichai has announced. Other large technology companies have also committed to reducing or eliminating their carbon use. In January Microsoft revealed plans to become "carbon negative" by 2030. In July, Apple announced a target of becoming carbon neutral across its entire business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030. Amazon has set a 2040 target to go carbon neutral. Mr Pichai said Google's pledge to be using only carbon-free energy by 2030 was its "biggest sustainability moonshot yet". "We'll do things like pairing wind and solar power sources together and increasing our use of battery storage," he said. "And we're working on ways to apply AI [artificial intelligence] to optimise our electricity demand and forecasting." The endeavour would create 12,000 jobs over the next five years, Mr Pichai added. Greenpeace said Google was setting "a new high-bar for the sector" with its ambition. "Today's announcement, combined with Google's promise in May to no longer create artificial intelligence solutions for upstream oil and gas exploration, shows that Google takes its role in combating climate change seriously," said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace USA.
9-13-20 Death toll rises in US as wildfires continue in West Coast states
More than 30 people have been killed by wildfires that are sweeping through US West Coast states, officials say. Dozens of people are missing in Oregon alone, with one emergency official saying the state should be preparing for a "mass fatality incident". Fires have been raging in Oregon, California and Washington for three weeks, burning millions of acres of land and destroying thousands of homes. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden warned on Saturday that "climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life" and accused President Donald Trump, a climate sceptic, of denying "that reality". Mr Trump, who is due to visit California on Monday to be briefed on the latest situation, blames the wildfires on poor forest management. The fires have now scorched an area of land the size of New Jersey, officials say. The smoke pollution from the wildfires has left Oregon's largest city, Portland, with the worst air quality in the world, followed by San Francisco and Seattle, according to IQAir.com. In Oregon, where firefighters are battling 16 large blazes, 40,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders. Oregon's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) says the fires have killed 10 people, but officials warn the final death toll could be much higher. Oregon's Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned on Saturday, shortly after he had been placed on leave amid a personnel investigation. Earlier this week, Governor Kate Brown implored householders to stay out of the fire zones despite reports of looting. "Let me assure you that we have the Oregon National Guard and Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting," she said. Beatriz Gomez Bolanos, 41, told Reuters news agency of her family's frightening drive to safety through fires burning on both sides of their car. She told her four children to close their eyes as they made their escape. "Everything is gone. We have to start again from nothing, but we are alive," she told the news agency.
9-13-20 Coronavirus: Disposable masks 'causing enormous plastic waste'
The government has been urged to do more to get people to switch from disposable masks to reusable coverings. The Liberal Democrats said single-use surgical masks caused "enormous" plastic waste and that environmentally friendly alternatives must be promoted. And the Green Party wants ministers to push the media to show them less, to stop their use becoming "normalised". Disposable masks contain plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them. The UK government said it was investigating whether personal protective equipment (PPE) could be "reused in safe ways". To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, face coverings - disposable or reusable - are now mandatory on public transport, in shops and in some other enclosed spaces in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The rule only applies on public transport in Wales, but it will be extended to shops and other indoor spaces from Monday. The latest figures for Britain from the Office for National Statistics suggested 96% of adults who had left their homes in the past week had worn a face covering. The official guidance for England is to wear a reusable, washable one where possible. It also states that used disposable face coverings - often containing the plastic polypropylene - should be put in "black bag" waste bins "or a litter bin if you're outside". It adds that people should "not put them in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities" and "take them home... if there is no litter bin - do not drop them as litter". But with the public being told to cover their faces, environmental groups say hundreds of thousands, even millions, of single-use masks are being dumped outdoors, blighting towns and the countryside. As part of its Great British Beach Clean, running from 18 to 25 September, the Marine Conservation Society is asking volunteers to record how many they pick up.
9-12-20 US wildfires fuelled by climate change, California governor says
The deadly wildfires sweeping through US West Coast states show that the debate around climate change is "over", California Governor Gavin Newsom says. "Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes," he told reporters from a charred mountainside. Fires have been raging in California, Oregon and Washington for three weeks. Fanned by winds amid record heat, the blazes have burnt millions of acres, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed at least 25 people. On Friday Oregon Governor Kate Brown said dozens were missing in her state alone. The fires have burnt a total 4.5m acres - an area larger than Connecticut and slightly smaller than Wales - in recent weeks, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The governor, a Democrat, spoke on Friday as he inspected damage from the North Complex Fire, near Oroville in Northern California. "The debate is over, around climate change," Mr Newsom told reporters. "This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it's happening." He acknowledged failings in forest management in recent decades, but added: "That's one point, but it's not the point." Highlighting the states effort to combat climate change, he said the record heat waves and unprecedented fires were the sort of problems long forecast by scientists. President Donald Trump, a climate sceptic, has stressed poor fire-control measures as the main cause of the latest blazes. "You've got to clean your forests - there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they're... so flammable," he told a rally last month. The North Complex Fire, which has been burning since 18 August, is among the deadliest in history. Ten bodies have been found so far and another 16 people are missing. California has seen at least 20 deaths in total from fires since 15 August. Tens of thousands of people are under evacuation orders as 14,800 firefighters continue to combat 28 major fires in the state.
9-12-20 Indigenous land rights could save the Brazilian Amazon from deforestation
When Daiara Tukano was growing up, she learned from her family what it meant to care for the natural world and look after the rich ecology of Indigenous peoples' traditional lands. "Indigenous peoples, in a general way, know that humankind is not the center of the universe. We learn with nature around us because we are a part of nature," said Tukano, a human rights researcher who belongs to the Tukano people of Northern Brazil. "Some people say Indigenous land isn't productive. For us, it's more than a sanctuary. It is really rich. And the way of continuing to be rich, as a territory, is being the source of an enormous diversity. And that's not just biodiversity, but cultural diversity as well." The Brazilian Amazon is constantly under threat from outside invasions. The country is seeing one of its worst years in memory when it comes to losing forests due to fires and illegal deforestation. Between one-quarter and one-third of the rainforest is federally recognized Indigenous territory, which allows communities to use the land as they see fit with greater protection against illegal activity. A recent study lends support to what many Indigenous people have often said: Lands held by Indigenous people are better protected from environmental destruction than other areas of the forest. "What we were trying to learn is whether collective property rights give Indigenous tribes the tools to curb deforestation inside their lands," said the study's co-author Kathryn Baragwanath, a PhD student at the University of California, San Diego, who focuses on the political economy of natural resources. Baragwanath's study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that deforestation was two-thirds lower within Indigenous territories compared to outside areas. "Collective rights are very effective, but only when they are fully granted," said Baragwanath, who added that property rights in Brazil are often only ensured with a lengthy legal process. That process ends with "homologation," an official decree granting the land to Indigenous people. The study found that this step was essential for protection, even of territory that is already recognized by Brazil's federal government as belonging to Indigenous people. "We think that this last stage is very important because once homologation is granted, the land is no longer open to contestations," said Baragwanath, suggesting that developers and land grabbers cannot legally get title to such lands. Homologated territories also have better access to monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to try to stop illegal clearing. Research has shown that in many cases, Indigenous lands around the world produce fewer carbon emissions, are better protected, and have higher rates of biodiversity than other areas.
9-11-20 Oregon wildfires: False Oregon fire rumours 'inundate' officers
Misinformation about wildfires raging across the US state of Oregon has been rife on social media, prompting local officials to try to dispel the rumours. Unsubstantiated online claims blamed the fires on activists from two fringe groups - antifa, short for "anti-fascist", and the nationalist Proud Boys group. Both groups have been accused by politicians, law enforcement and some commentators of encouraging and participating in violence during anti-racism protests in the US, including regular confrontations in Portland, Oregon's largest city. Dozens of posts with bogus wildfire allegations were shared across multiple social networks - the most popular were shared thousands of times. As a result, some local law enforcement agencies say they have been overwhelmed with requests based on false information. "Rumors spread just like wildfire," the sheriff's office in southern Oregon's Douglas County wrote on Facebook on Thursday. "Now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires". The sheriff's office in neighbouring Jackson County also said they were "inundated with questions" about fake stories and urged members of the public to verify information and check official sources. "Rumors make the job of protecting the community more difficult," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post. Similarly, the police department in the city of Medford in Jackson County took to social media to debunk a fake screenshot circulated online that uses its logo and a photo from an unrelated arrest. The false post suggested that five people had been arrested "in connection with a string of fires". "We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or 'Proud Boys' as we've heard throughout the day," police said, adding that "no confirmed gatherings of Antifa" had been reported in the area.
9-11-20 Oregon wildfires: Half a million people flee dozens of infernos
More than half a million people in the US state of Oregon are fleeing deadly wildfires that are raging across the Pacific Northwest, authorities say. Fanned by unusually hot, dry winds, dozens of fires are sweeping the state. At least one is being treated as suspected arson. Governor Kate Brown said the exact number of fatalities was not yet known, though at least four were confirmed. More than 100 wildfires are currently scorching 12 western US states. The worst affected are Oregon, California and Washington, where entire towns have been destroyed. Some 4.4 million acres have been razed, according to the National Interagency Fire Center - an area larger than Connecticut and slightly smaller than Wales. On Thursday evening, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management confirmed the latest evacuation figures, which amount to more than 10% of the state's 4.2 million population. Gov Brown, a Democrat, said: "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state... This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We're feeling the acute impacts of climate change." The victims in Oregon include a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, who died in a wildfire near Lyons, 70 miles (110km) south of Portland. Wyatt Tofte, his dog, and his grandmother Peggy Mosso died in the family car trying to escape the blaze. The child's mother was severely burnt. Lonnie Bertalotto, Ms Mosso's son and Wyatt's uncle, confirmed the deaths in a Facebook post. "Don't take anything in life for granted and make the best of everyday," he wrote. Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office, told Reuters news agency: "Every fire is investigated for the possibility of arson so that we can either determine it is or rule it out." One of the most destructive blazes, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the California border, is being treated as suspicious. It has been linked to at least two deaths and destroyed hundreds of homes in the towns of Phoenix and Talent. The wildfires have also prompted mass evacuations in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon's largest city.
9-11-20 Fight climate change so we don't all choke to death
Like breathing? Get rid of greenhouse gases. In the American West, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed. These deeply unsettling images are thanks to gargantuan smoke plumes erupting across the region, which blocked out all but red light. California has already had its worst year of fires on record, and the season is not even close to over. Two whole towns in Oregon were burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Climate change is deeply implicated in these wildfires, of course, but the cursed blood-red skies raise one of the most underrated reasons to attack the problem: air quality. If for no other reason, nations around the world should slash greenhouse gas emissions because the associated air pollution is killing people by the millions. It would quite literally pay for itself. As David Roberts writes at Vox, the most recent science has found a dramatically higher toll of sickness, death, and economic damage caused by air pollution. Most of this comes from carbon fuel of some kind — burning natural gas or especially coal for electricity, or oil for transportation, or biomass for home heating and cooking. The resulting smoke and smog contains all kinds of poisonous and carcinogenic compounds, plus very tiny particles can get lodged in tissues and cause a slew of different chronic diseases. Climate scientist Drew Shindell has found something like 250,000 Americans are killed by air pollution annually, and all that sickness and death adds up to a staggering economic cost of perhaps $700 billion per year. Most research on air pollution has focused on human activities, not wildfires. We know for a fact that climate change worsens wildfires in the American West by increasing temperatures, causing alternately extreme precipitation that fuels an explosion of undergrowth and severe drought that dries it out, and so on. (All that is made more dangerous to people by the constant creep of sprawl into dangerous tinderbox country.) Now, the science on wildfire smoke is as yet somewhat equivocal. Researchers are confident that it is bad for you, but as yet there is not conclusive proof that lots of people are getting sick from it now. But it basically has to be the case that enough consistent wildfire smoke exposure will cause similar health problems. It's got even more of the same toxic compounds and tiny particles as other air pollution — and after all, unlike smog, enough smoke inhalation can kill you in minutes. At any rate, an eerie red sky like something out of the Book of Revelations is not so much a presentation of a novel new danger as a gripping illustration of an existing one. Even if wildfire smoke somehow turns out to be not that bad (which it won't), it is still the case that all those other sources of air pollution are killing millions of people and giving tens of millions chronic diseases every year.
9-10-20 California wildfires: This is how mind-bogglingly huge they are
Over two million acres of land have been burned in California, compared to 118,000 acres burned during this time in 2019.
9-10-20 US West Coast wildfires: Nearly 100 fires run rampant
Western US states are battling nearly 100 wildfires that have caused at least seven deaths, displaced thousands and destroyed whole towns. California, Washington state and Oregon have been the hardest hit by the blazes, fuelled by heat waves and windy conditions. Oregon's governor said this "could be the greatest loss of human life and property" to fires in state history. Nine other states in the region are also seeing wildfires raging. Three deaths have been blamed on the wildfires in Oregon, with another three in California and one in Washington. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 96 large fires in the western US. More than 3.4m acres have burned so far, with tens of thousands of acres burned in the last day in California, Oregon and Washington. Oregon officials said several towns have burned down in the fires, as winds gusted to 45mph (72km/h). The fires are blazing across Oregon's valleys and along the coast, causing mass evacuations. One Oregon evacuee, Jody Evans, told NewsChannel 21 about her ordeal. "Fire on both sides, winds blowing, ash flying - it was like driving through hell," she said. n neighbouring Washington, Governor Jay Inslee said on Tuesday that more than double the acreage had been torched in the previous 24 hours than had been burned during all of last year in his state. California - in the middle of a 20-year mega-drought - is experiencing more than two dozen wildfires, including three of its five largest ever. The sheriff of Butte County, north-east of San Francisco, said two people had been found dead at one location and a third elsewhere. One of the three was a motorist who was apparently trying to escape the Bear Fire, police told local media. The Bear Fire has scorched more than 200,000 acres since it began in mid-August. The latest deaths mean that fires in the state have now killed at least 11 people since last month. More than 2.3m acres have been burned this year in the state. California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper told the East Bay Times that one of the fatalities discovered on Wednesday was someone who seemed to have been trying to flee the wildfire.
9-10-20 Extinction Rebellion: Nuclear power 'only option' says former spokeswoman
A former Extinction Rebellion (XR) spokeswoman left the environmental group to campaign for nuclear power because she says it is the only way to deal with the climate crisis. Zion Lights, writing in the Daily Mail, also said that she had become unable to defend some of the group's claims. XR "peddle messages of doomsday gloom that alienate" and offer "little in the way of positive solutions", she added. The group calls on governments to take immediate action on climate change. It describes itself as an international "non-violent civil disobedience activist movement" and has been involved in a number of high-profile protests since it was formed in 2018. Last week it targeted UK newspapers - which it has accused of failing to report on climate change - by blocking printing presses and delaying distribution. Ms Lights wrote articles for both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph on Thursday explaining her decision to leave behind XR and support nuclear power. She told the Mail she initially joined XR because its message was "listen to the scientists" and the role of spokesperson gave her a platform "to talk about what I truly felt mattered". However, she says she began to rethink her support for the group after an appearance on the BBC's Andrew Neil Show last October. She was asked about co-founder Roger Hallam's claim that science predicts six billion people will die this century due to climate change - a claim that he made to BBC's HARDtalk. Ms Lights said: "It's a headline-grabbing assertion - but unfortunately, it's also not true, or certainly not backed up by any evidence. As was obvious to anyone who knows me - and even to the casual viewer - I was plunged into a PR nightmare. "I could not defend the number, but as the official spokesperson nor could I be seen to condemn it. All I could do, instead, was flounder under the hot glare of the studio lights for what felt like an eternity."
9-10-20 UK citizen's assembly backs flight taxes to reduce climate emissions
Taxes on flights that increase when people fly further and more often should be introduced to help cut carbon emissions, the UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has recommended. The final report from Climate Assembly UK also supports a ban on sales of new gas boilers and new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030 to 2035 to help the UK meet its legal goal to cut emissions to “net zero” by mid-century. The recommendations for tackling climate change from the citizens’ assembly also include voluntary reductions in meat and dairy from diets, and planting and managing forests to help soak up excess carbon emissions. The group of more than 100 people from across the UK also said the shift to net zero must be fair to people, and allow for freedom and choice where possible for individuals and local areas. The assembly called for widespread education and information, government leadership and cross-party consensus on the issue. Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six parliamentary select committees and asked to examine how the country can meet its legal target to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by mid-century. The group, who are representative of the UK population including in their views on climate change, met to learn about, discuss and make informed decisions on options for meeting the net-zero goal. The assembly was forced to move online to complete its work because of the pandemic, and at its final session participants discussed the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown on the net-zero target. An interim report showed strong support for the idea that steps taken by the government to help the economy recover should be designed to help drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
9-10-20 Climate change: Tax frequent fliers and get rid of SUVs, government told
A frequent flyer tax, phasing out polluting SUVs and restricting cars in city centres are among climate change solutions suggested by members of the public. A citizens' assembly of 108 people from all walks of life published its report after weeks of debate. They proposed curbing road building and using the pandemic to cut emissions. Ps said the report offered a "unique insight", but activists Extinction Rebellion said it didn't go far enough. The report says the government must show leadership on climate change and insists climate policies must be fair to all – especially the poorest in society. Its radical conclusions may offer political cover to ministers who’re typically nervous of a public backlash against policies that affect lifestyles. The group, or citizens' assembly, was set up by six government select committees - groups of MPs who look at what the government is doing and scrutinise policy. Members of the assembly were chosen to represent a spectrum of views from all over the UK and committed 60 hours of their time to studying and debating climate change. They met over six weekends and were asked how to come up with ideas to help the UK achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Their conclusions have been published in a report that is more than 550 pages. The members said it was "imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from government” to tackle climate change. One member, Sue, from Bath, said: “Even with the country still reeling from coronavirus, it’s clear the majority of us feel prioritising net zero policy is not only important, but achievable.” Hamish, a software engineer from rural Aberdeenshire, told BBC News the government needed "to develop a long-term strategy to help us”. A key theme of the report is education. Ibrahim, a GP from Surrey, said: “The media has to take a role - schools as well. We perhaps need to look at the curriculum. “You can’t go to someone and say ‘you need to switch to the hydrogen boiler because it’s low CO2’ but they have no idea [about it]. You’re more likely to get a buy-in from people when they know about the issues.”
9-9-20 New maps show how warm water may reach Thwaites Glacier’s icy underbelly
More and deeper than expected channels could speed the glacier’s melting from below. New seafloor maps reveal the first clear view of a system of channels that may be helping to hasten the demise of West Antarctica’s vulnerable Thwaites Glacier. The channels are deeper and more complex than previously thought, and may be funneling warm ocean water all the way to the underside of the glacier, melting it from below, the researchers found. Scientists estimate that meltwater from Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier is currently responsible for about 4 percent of global sea level rise (SN: 1/7/20). A complete collapse of the glacier, which some researchers estimate could happen within the next few decades, could increase sea levels by about 65 centimeters. How and when that collapse might occur is the subject of a five-year international collaborative research effort. Glaciers like Thwaites are held back from sliding seaward both by buttressing ice shelves — tongues of floating ice that jut out into the sea — and by the shape of the seafloor itself, which can help pin the glacier’s ice in place (SN: 4/3/18). But in two new studies, published online September 9 in The Cryosphere, the researchers show how the relatively warm ocean waters may have a pathway straight to the glacier’s underbelly. From January to March 2019 researchers used a variety of airborne and ship-based methods — including radar, sonar and gravity measurements — to examine the seafloor around the glacier and two neighboring ice shelves. From those data, the team was able to estimate how the seafloor is shaped beneath the ice itself. These efforts revealed a rugged series of high ridges and deep troughs on the seafloor, varying between about 250 meters and 1,000 meters deep. In particular, one major channel, more than 800 meters deep, could be funneling warm water all the way from Pine Island Bay to the submerged edge of the glacier, the team found.
9-9-20 Thwaites: 'Doomsday Glacier' vulnerability seen in new maps
Scientists may just have identified Thwaites Glacier's Achilles heel. This Antarctic colossus is melting at a rapid rate, dumping billions of tonnes of ice in the ocean every year and pushing up global sea-levels. Now, a UK-US team has surveyed the deep seafloor channels in front of the glacier that almost certainly provide the access for warm water to infiltrate and attack Thwaites' underside. It's information that will be used to try to predict the ice stream's future. "These channels had not been mapped before in this kind of detail, and what we've discovered is that they're actually much bigger than anyone thought - up to 600m deep. Think of six football pitches back to back," said Dr Kelly Hogan from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "And because they are so deep, and so wide - this allows a lot more water to get at, and melt, Thwaites' floating front as well as its ice that rests on the seabed," she told BBC News. Flowing off the west of the Antarctic continent, Thwaites is almost as big as Great Britain. It's a majestic sight, with its buoyant front, or "ice shelf", pushing far out to sea and kicking off huge icebergs. But satellite monitoring indicates this glacier is melting at an accelerating rate. In the 1990s it was losing just over 10 billion tonnes of ice a year. Today, it's more like 80 billion tonnes. The cause of the melting is thought to be the influx of relatively warm bottom-water drawn in from the wider ocean. Currently, Thwaites' ice loss contributes approximately 4% to the annual rise in global sea-levels, with the potential to add 65cm in total should the whole glacier collapse. No-one thinks this will happen in the short-to-medium term, but Thwaites is considered particularly vulnerable in a warming world, and scientists would like to know precisely how fast any changes might occur.
9-9-20 UN report: Covid crisis does little to slow climate change
The global response to Covid-19 has barely made a dent in the causes of climate change, according to a major new report. While emissions of CO2 plummeted during lockdown, concentrations of the long-lasting gas have continued to rise in the atmosphere. The period from 2016 to 2020 will likely be the warmest five years on record, the study finds. The authors say "irreversible" climate change impacts are increasing. But this steep drop hasn't been maintained. As the world returned to work, emissions rose and by June were within 5% of the previous year. Over 2020, the expectation is that emissions will fall 4-7%. While emissions can tell us what is happening on the ground, it is the concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere that makes all the difference for global temperatures. Because CO2 can last for centuries, adding even a reduced amount to the air increases the warming potential of all the gas that has built up over decades. This new study shows that is exactly what's happened at a couple of key monitoring stations around the world. At the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, the amount of CO2 measured in air samples has increased from 411 parts per million (ppm) in July 2019 to 414ppm in July this year. Similarly, at Cape Grim monitoring station in Tasmania, concentrations were also up from 407 to 410ppm in the year to July. A full global picture on atmospheric concentrations of warming gases won't be available until later this year - but experts say the direction of travel is clear. "Greenhouse gas concentrations - which are already at their highest levels in three million years - have continued to rise," said WMO Secretary-General, Prof Petteri Taalas. "Meanwhile, large swathes of Siberia have seen a prolonged and remarkable heatwave during the first half of 2020, which would have been very unlikely without anthropogenic climate change. "And now 2016-2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated," he said.
9-9-20 Amazon: In the cross-hairs of coronavirus and forest fires
It is dry season in the Amazon and, once again, the forest is on fire. Last year, Brazil's biggest city, São Paulo, went dark because of the smoke. But while the smoke travelled far, the outrage travelled even further with European leaders criticising President Jair Bolsonaro for not doing enough to protect the rainforest. The Brazilian government this year brought in some early measures to curb the number of fires. It imposed a 120-day ban on fires and deployed the army to badly-hit areas. But, at the same time, President Bolsonaro has declared the fires a lie. His vice-president also told the BBC that the forest was not burning. The statistics of course say otherwise. According to Brazil's space agency INPE, the number of fires in the Amazon jumped 28% in July from a year ago. There is concern that August could show a similar rise. São Félix do Xingú in the state of Pará is at the heart of the inferno. The area has become a deforestation hotspot in recent years. And as a result, it has also become a focal point for fires as often illegally-cleared land is then illegally burned too. By day, the smoke drifts into the town and the smell of bonfire lingers in the air. By night, you can sometimes see the sky lit up by flames in the distance. But the fires are not just killing the rainforest. They are also choking its people. At São Félix do Xingú's health centre, the medical team is working relentlessly. When the pandemic hit, it was turned into a Covid-only clinic. The past six months have been intense for Dr Victorino Perez. He is the best chance for the town's residents, who otherwise have to travel eight hours to the nearest intensive care bed. He says that the situation is not easing here, he is still seeing new cases every day. But now it is fire season, and the team has a new problem. "Every day I have patients returning with breathing problems that are getting worse because of pollution and the fires in the area," he says. "With the virus, they just had a dry cough, an irritation, a shortness of breath. When they return, that's got worse, they're coughing more and we can see their lungs are more compromised," Dr Perez explains.
9-8-20 Rising CO2 levels mean trees increasingly live fast and die young
Trees that grow faster die younger, a study of tree rings has confirmed. Many trees worldwide are already dying more quickly as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels and temperatures. This means that existing forests will store less carbon than we thought, worsening climate change. “All the extra carbon trees are taking up will come out of the system faster,” says Roel Brienen at the University of Leeds, UK. “This effect is already happening in some places, such as the Amazon.” It has long been suspected that faster-growing trees die younger, and this has already been shown to be the case for some specific trees. Brienen’s team has now confirmed that this is widely true by analysing existing tree ring data from around the world. Exactly why fast growth leads to early death is unclear. It could be because trees that grow faster reach their maximum size sooner. “This is the most simple explanation, but we can’t conclusively say why,” says Brienen. Several studies have already found that more trees are dying in forests, including the Amazon. These new findings help explain why, though other factors such as more intense droughts are probably also playing a role, says Brienen. If CO2 levels and temperatures were stable, undisturbed forests would be in equilibrium, releasing as much CO2 as they take up. However, rising CO2 levels and temperatures have so far boosted overall growth, meaning existing forests are taking up more carbon. In fact, they are soaking up around a third of the all the extra CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere. Many models used for forecasting CO2 assume that this growth boost will continue, but simple simulations by Brienen’s team suggest that carbon uptake will decrease as more and more trees die and release carbon. A study earlier this year found that carbon uptake is already decreasing.
9-8-20 Wildfires burn through record area in California as blazes continue to spread
Wildfires have burned through a record number of acres in California this year as firefighters continue to battle several large blazes across the state. The state's department of forestry and fire protection, Cal Fire, says more than two million acres have burned, more than the size of Delaware. One fire, El Dorado, which has spread over 7,000 acres, was started by a gender reveal party, officials say. California is currently experiencing a record heatwave. Los Angeles County reported its highest ever temperature of 49.4C (121F) on Sunday. Although temperatures are expected to drop from Tuesday onwards it may bring strong winds which could fan the flames, the National Weather Service warns. More than 14,000 firefighters continue to battle 24 fires across the state, Cal Fire said. The largest blaze, known as the Creek Fire, has burned more than 78,000 acres since it broke out in the Sierra Mountains on Friday, and the authorities said none of it had been contained. The fire has burned at least two dozen dwellings in the town of Big Creek, the Los Angeles Times reports. More than 200 hikers had to be airlifted out of the popular Mammoth Pool Reservoir after becoming trapped by flames on Saturday. Valley Fire in San Diego County has burned through more than 10,000 acres, and prompted the evacuation of the remote town of Alpine; while Bobcat fire in Angeles National Forest has destroyed nearly 5,000 acres and saw the evacuation of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Cal Fire blamed a "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party" for starting the The El Dorado fire in San Bernadino County. Gender reveal parties are celebrations announcing whether expecting parents are going to have a girl or a boy. In recent years, several large-scale parties have gone wrong, even resulting in the death of a woman in 2019.
9-8-20 EU says one in eight deaths linked to pollution
One in every eight deaths in Europe can be linked to pollution, according to a new report by the EU's environment agency (EEA). It said factors such as air and noise pollution, as well as poor water quality and exposure to chemicals, contributed to 13% of all deaths. The report also noted that poorer communities and vulnerable people were the hardest hit by pollution. "Strong action is needed to protect the most vulnerable," the agency said. "There is a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of our population," the EU's Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said. "Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives," he added. The report by the Copenhagen-based agency was released on Tuesday, and was described as "a major assessment on health and [the] environment" in Europe. It found that a total of 630,000 premature deaths in the EU were attributable to environmental factors in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. Air pollution contributed to 400,000 annual deaths, with noise pollution being an attributable factor in 12,000. The remaining deaths were linked to extreme weather such as heatwaves. "People are exposed to multiple risks at any time, including air, water and noise pollution, and chemicals, which combine and in some cases act in unison to impact on health," the report said. The World Health Organization (WHO) says air pollution causes the death of millions of people around the world each year and accounts for a third of fatalities from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease. Another WHO report on noise pollution, meanwhile, noted that it contributed to heart problems by raising blood pressure and stress hormones.
9-7-20 A wall of trees is being built across Africa to hold back the desert
Its proponents say it will be a new world wonder. A plan for an 8000-kilometre-long, 15-kilometre-wide wall of trees stretching the width of Africa to hold back encroaching deserts and provide people with livelihoods has been embraced by 11 countries since its launch 13 years ago. Has it worked so far? The first comprehensive status update on the Great Green Wall, released today, paints a mixed picture of efforts to reforest degraded land to a fertile state and provide livelihoods across the Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert in North Africa. So far, 17.8 million hectares have been restored, 84 per cent of it in Ethiopia, according to the report for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The pace needs to increase dramatically: the goal is for the restoration of 100 million hectares by 2030. Despite this, Salima Mahamoudou at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC says that even having numbers is refreshing progress. “But is the number good enough? No, because we need 10 times more for the Sahel,” she says. Mahamoudou, originally from Niger, thinks the 2030 goal is a stretch but not impossible. The project’s initial idea of a contiguous wall of just trees has shifted to a vision of a wider band of vegetation. That is a good thing as it reflects different local social and ecological factors along the wall’s path, says Deborah Goffner at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). She supports the project, but is clear-eyed about its failings. In Senegal, she says: “The ambition was gigantic, the financial means were peanuts.” Funding has been tricky in other countries too: today’s report warns it has been “insufficient, unpredictable and insecure”.
9-7-20 California wildfires: Gender reveal party blamed for fire
Officials have blamed a gender reveal party for one of several wildfires raging in the US state of California. A "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device" at the event sparked the El Dorado fire, which has now spread over 7,000 acres. It is one of more than two dozen blazes across the state. California is currently experiencing a record heatwave, with Los Angeles reporting its highest ever temperature of 49.4C (121F). The National Weather Service described Sunday as "one of the hottest days since weather records began across much of south-western California". Last month, Death Valley National Park in California reported a temperature of 54.4C (130F) - what could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth. The largest blaze, known as the Creek Fire, has burned more than 73,000 acres and authorities said none of it has been contained. It started at about 18:45 on Friday (01:45 GMT on Saturday) in the Sierra National Forest, an area of steep and rugged terrain. Helicopters rescued more than 200 people trapped after the wildfire cut off the popular Mammoth Pool Reservoir, 40 miles (60km) north-east of Fresno. About 20 of them were hurt, with some suffering burns. National forest spokesman Dan Tune said he did not know how close the fire was to the campsite, a popular boating and fishing destination. The El Dorado fire meanwhile has spread over more than 7,000 acres. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, blamed a "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party" for the start of the blaze. Gender reveal parties are celebrations announcing whether expecting parents are going to have a girl or a boy. In recent years, several large-scale parties have gone wrong, even resulting in the death of a woman in 2019.
9-7-20 California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help
Before the Gold Rush and Spanish Era, millions of acres of California were burned every year for more than 13,000 years by hundreds of tribes across the region. Now, governments mostly suppress fires, which leads to a build-up of fuel for catastrophic wildfires down the road. fter years of advocacy work, cultural burning practitioners had a win in Australia when the government of New South Wales, the state hit hardest by last year's catastrophic bushfires, formally accepted a recommendation for an increase in cultural burning as part of their fire management strategy. An official report issued by the New South Wales government explains how Indigenous land practices can improve fire management in the wake of the deadly bushfires. As some of the most damaging wildfires in recent memory have raged through California, in the United States, this cultural burning knowledge is becoming more relevant than ever, said Don Hankins, a Plains Miwok fire expert at Chico State University in California. Today, officials in both the United States and Australia are increasingly turning to Indigenous land management practices to help control wildfires. Hankins says he has contemplated the benefits of cultural burning — a form of traditional fire management passed down through generations among Indigenous people in fire-prone landscapes — for most of his life. The practice entails carefully burning areas during the wet season to reduce flammability and vulnerability in advance of fire season. Burning also helps improve soil quality, spurs the growth of certain plant species, and creates more productive landscapes. Hankins found international inspiration back in 2003, when he flew over northern Australia, on his way to do some dissertation research, and saw small fires — set carefully and intentionally. It was the first time he had seen Indigenous burning practices done on a landscape scale. "I could do that in California," he thought to himself. Since then, Hankins has been working to promote cultural burning in California, through training sessions, workshops, and skill-sharing. Hankins says cultural burning is "about reading the land and knowing the landscape and knowing how and when to apply fire in a very safe and effective manner."
9-7-20 Windows become transparent solar panels with added nanoparticles
Ordinary glass panels can act as solar panels when a layer of nanoparticles is sandwiched between two panes. This could help us take advantage of solar energy in cities where space for solar panels may be limited. “If we’ve done our job, no one will even know that they’re there,” says Hunter McDaniel at UbiQD, a materials manufacturing firm in the US. He and his colleagues have developed transparent solar panels that are indistinguishable from regular glass. Test installations, involving panels that are 1 square metre in size, are under way in buildings in the US and the Netherlands. The panels have a power conversion efficiency of 3.6 per cent, a measure of how much sunlight is converted into electricity. Opaque solar panels, in comparison, have efficiencies between 15 and 20 per cent. These transparent panels are made from two layers of glass glued together with a polymer that contains nanoparticles known as quantum dots. With a core of copper indium sulphide and a shell of zinc sulphide, these quantum dots are tiny semiconductors that can manipulate light. When the nanoparticles are excited by exposure to UV light, they release photons that travel along the transparent panel towards its edge. The perimeter is fitted with solar cells, which convert the photons into electrical current. The solar cell edging sits in the frame of a window, out of sight. It doesn’t take much to convert the windows to solar panels: the polymer is just 1.7 per cent quantum dots by weight. The quantum dots are non-toxic and also relatively cheap to produce, says McDaniel. The resulting panels are brownish in colour, but the team showed it could also produce panels of a grey or grey-blue colour by mixing in a blue dye. The transparency of the glass is also possible to customise, to make panels with a darker or lighter tint. The darker the tint, the greater the energy output, as more light is absorbed. “It’s basically an almost linear relationship,” says McDaniel.
9-6-20 Climate change has arrived
The connection between hellacious weather and man-made climate change is becoming undeniable.
- What has shifted? For years, climate scientists have been wary of attributing extreme weather directly to man-made atmospheric warming, but that's changing in the face of historic heat waves and cascading natural disasters. In recent weeks alone, a "derecho," a complex of unusually powerful, hurricane-like storms, tore through the Midwest, destroying homes and crops across a 745-mile path; Hurricane Laura crashed into the Gulf Coast with sustained 150-mph winds; and hundreds of California wildfires incinerated an area the size of Rhode Island in just a week. The Southwest suffered a punishing heat wave with a high of 130 in Death Valley, perhaps the hottest day in world history. It followed highs of 125 in Iraq and a record 100-degree day in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, a once-in-100,000-years event. These freak patterns, researchers say, are almost certainly the result of mankind pumping 2.6 million pounds of CO2into the atmosphere per second.
- How strange is recent weather? The expression "500-year storm" is losing its meaning: Houston has suffered five of them in a five-year span. California's wildfires — ignited by 1,200 lightning strikes in a 72-hour span — produced the second- and third-worst blazes in state history, even without the aid of the fall's strong Santa Ana winds. The Atlantic coast has seen 10 named storms so far this season, a mark typically hit in October, and upcoming storms are projected to be twice as intense as usual, because of extremely warm ocean waters. Hurricanes have done $335 billion in damage over the past three years, compared with $38.2 billion across the entire 1980s, adjusted for inflation.
- What's the link to climate change? Weather patterns are shaped by an intricate web of atmospheric and oceanic conditions, which is why scientists traditionally resist drawing causal links between climate change and any one event. But when both rising temperatures and disasters become consistent and pervasive, the connection becomes obvious. The average daily highs in Northern California during wildfire season are 3 to 4 degrees warmer than they were in 1900.
- Where is it worst? The future of climate chaos is being previewed in northern latitudes, where a CO2 domino effect plays out: Warm winters melt more snow, causing the ground to absorb more heat, which leads to dry soil that fuels wildfires and thaws permafrost, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. In Russia this summer, thawing permafrost caused a power-plant fuel tank to collapse, spilling more than 20,000 tons of diesel into the Ambarnaya River. Russia's average temperature was nearly 11 degrees above its January-to-April norm, the largest anomaly ever for any country. In February, Antarctica hit a record 69 degrees, causing a 120-square-mile chunk of glacier to break off.
- How else is climate change felt? Disrupted weather patterns are rippling around the globe, creating bizarre, almost biblical catastrophes. Extreme temperatures in the Indian Ocean caused drought and wildfires in Australia while spawning cyclones in eastern Africa. The torrential rain there created perfect conditions for desert locusts, which reproduced at terrifying rates. By March, hundreds of billions of the finger-length insects swept across the region, devouring every crop in their path, and pushing tens of millions of Africans to the brink of starvation.
- What does the future hold? Much depends on the oceans, which play a critical role in absorbing CO2 and heat, and regulating weather. "The amount of heat we have put in the world's oceans in the past 25 years equals 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom bomb explosions," said Lijing Cheng, a Beijing physics professor. Warming oceans are circulating more slowly — by about 15 percent in the Atlantic Ocean since 1950. The reduction in their moderating influence could cause warmer summers, colder winters, changing rainfall patterns, and more destructive storms.
- A CO2 silver lining: The pandemic forced automobile and airplane travel to fall off a cliff, and satellite images of pollution in the atmosphere offered a striking before-and-after contrast. At the height of April's coronavirus lockdowns, Google's mobility data indicated that 4 billion people cut their travel in half. As a result, worldwide daily CO2 emissions dropped by an estimated 18.7 million tons, falling to levels not seen since 2006. Reduced car, bus, and truck traffic contributed to 43 percent of the drop-off, although emissions from residential buildings ticked up 2.8 percent, mostly from people running air conditioners while stuck at home.
9-3-20 Zombie fires spark record Arctic CO2 emissions
This summer’s carbon emissions from Arctic wildfires were a third higher than last year’s previous record levels, research suggests. The atmospheric monitoring service Copernicus says the fires which blazed during summer’s heatwaves are a cause for concern. They say some so-called zombie fires are smouldering through the winter in peat below the frozen surface. These underground fires then re-ignite surface vegetation in the Spring. This spells double trouble: not just CO2 emissions from the burning vegetation, but also from the peat which is naturally a store for CO2. The researchers estimate that from the start of January to the end of August, Arctic CO2 emissions from fires were 244 megatonnes. That’s a huge figure - similar to the total for the whole economy of, say, Malaysia or Eygpt. This wildfire index is just 17 years old, so it can’t paint a full historic picture. But the scientists are alarmed that this year’s spike in wildfires follows 2019’s previous record, which in turn dwarfs previous trends. The scientists say the wildfire outbreaks could be sparked by lightning strikes or human activity, as well as by zombie fires. A senior scientist at Copernicus, Mark Parrington, told BBC News: “The high figure for wildfires last year caught us by surprise, so it was even more surprising to see this year’s figures so much higher still. “Obviously it’s concerning – we really hadn’t expected to see these levels of wildfires yet.” Huge fires have also raged through the Russian Far East Federal District, and a large region of the US has suffered wildfires during heatwave conditions - with large plumes of smoke observed across the Great Lakes. California in particular has experienced widespread wildfire activity, including the second- and third-worst fires in state history. Rod Downie, Chief Polar Adviser at WWF, said: "The Arctic is in meltdown. Large areas are burning in front of our eyes. “The climate crisis behind these broken records is a global problem. In the UK we have the chance to show global leadership at the Glasgow summit next year – but we can only do that if we drastically, and urgently raise our ambition.”
9-3-20 Aviation’s contribution to global warming has doubled since 2000
The most comprehensive analysis so far of how much warming is caused by aeroplanes has found that flying’s contribution to global warming nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018. Rapid growth is far outpacing efforts to reduce its contribution. “It is growing so rapidly,” says David Lee at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. “It’s just astonishing.” The study only goes up to 2018, before the big decrease in flying due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this is just a blip, says Lee. “It’s not going to make much difference in the long term.” Flying has extremely complex effects on the climate. For instance, the soot from jet engines triggers the formation of contrails that, like clouds, can have both a warming effect by reflecting outgoing heat back down to Earth’s surface and a cooling effect by reflecting sunlight back into space. Similarly, nitrogen oxides from the engines can increase the formation of ozone, an important greenhouse gas, but also destroy methane, another potent greenhouse gas. So the team behind the new analysis, which included Ulrike Burkhardt at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Germany, used computer models to improve on previous estimates of the overall effect. These suggest that contrails cause less than half as much warming as previously thought. Even so, short-lived contrails still lead to more warming than the long-lasting carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft. Overall, the team calculated that flying is responsible for 3.5 per cent of the global warming effect resulting from human activities. That is less than previous estimates of around 5 per cent. Figures suggesting that flying is responsible for around 2 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions don’t take into account the other ways in which flying causes warming.
9-3-20 Bering Sea winter ice shrank to its lowest level in 5,500 years in 2018
Five millennia of climate shifts impacting the ice is recorded in peat from an Arctic island. Sea ice in the Bering Sea, on the southern margin of the Arctic Ocean, dwindled to its smallest wintertime expanse in 5,500 years in 2018, new data show. Summertime sea ice loss due to climate change has captured headlines, but winter ice in the region has also shown recent signs of decline. In both February 2018 and February 2019, the extent was 60 to 70 percent lower than the average February-to-May extent from 1979 to 2017. However, researchers thought that those declines might be linked to unusual short-term atmospheric conditions. Instead, the new study suggests that human-caused climate change is also helping to shrink Bering Sea ice during the winter. The findings, by geologist Miriam Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., and colleagues, were published September 2 in Science Advances. Jones and her team collected cores of peat from St. Matthew Island, a remote spot in the Bering Sea west of Alaska. Within the peat — packed remains of partially decomposed plants — oxygen-bearing organic compounds called cellulose contain clues to the climate history of the region. Rain falling on the island contains two different isotopes, or forms, of oxygen: oxygen-18 and oxygen-16. The relative values of those isotopes in the rainfall change depending on atmospheric conditions, and as plants take up that oxygen from the air, they record those changes. By analyzing the amounts of those isotopes in the cellulose over time, the team was able to track changes in precipitation and atmospheric circulation going back 5,500 years. Then, the team established the link between this oxygen isotope record and sea ice extent. Bering Sea ice is known to be directly tied to shifts in wind direction. So the researchers created a computer simulation that included climate conditions from 1979 to 2018, oxygen isotope values from cellulose during that time and satellite observations of sea ice. When winds were strongly blowing from the south, and there was less sea ice, the relative amount of oxygen-18 increased. When winds from the north dominated, and there was more sea ice, there was less oxygen-18 in the cellulose.
9-2-20 Winter ice in the Bering Sea is doomed to disappear within decades
Winter sea ice extent in the Bering Sea is the lowest it has been for the past 5500 years and will soon be gone completely, according to a study of how it has changed in recent millennia. “We are essentially locked into a complete loss of winter sea ice in the Bering Sea,” says Miriam Jones, who began the research while at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is now at the US Geological Survey in Virginia. The Bering Sea borders the Arctic Ocean, which almost completely freezes over in winter. More and more of its ice has been melting each summer due to global warming, leading to more extreme weather around the northern hemisphere. Winter sea ice levels can also vary where the Arctic Ocean joins with other bodies of water. In the Bering Sea, located between Alaska and Russia, levels of sea ice in winter have been relatively stable in recent decades. However, they plummeted to half the usual extent recorded over the past 40 years in 2018 and reached similar levels in 2019 too, shocking researchers. “In those two years in particular, it was very alarming because it was unprecedented,” says Jones. Her team has been studying oxygen isotopes in peat cores taken from St Matthew Island in the middle of the Bering Sea. Unexpectedly, they found a very strong correlation between the sea’s ice levels in winter and the oxygen isotope ratio in the peat over the past 40 years, the period for which sea ice records exist. This is because the oxygen isotope ratio reflects the prevailing wind direction – and so where the precipitation falling on the island evaporated – and the wind direction also affects sea ice extent, says Jones. Since the oldest peat in the cores is 5500 years old, the team was able to infer winter sea ice levels in the Bering Sea going back this far. The peat cores suggest that there has been a slow fall in winter ice over this time. The long-term decline is due to the wobble in Earth’s orbit, says Jones, which has resulted in the region getting slightly more sunshine during winters.
9-2-20 Asphalt on roads may soon be greater source of air pollution than cars
Asphalt, also known as bitumen, is a major source of air pollution, especially in sunny and hot places. For one kind of harmful particulate pollution, asphalt emissions from roads and roofs may be a bigger problem than emissions from all petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. Peeyush Khare at Yale University and his colleagues placed samples of asphalt into an enclosed furnace so they could study their emissions in detail. They subjected them to temperatures ranging from 40°C to 200°C. Total emissions doubled when the temperature rose from 40°C to 60°C, which are typical temperatures for asphalt on a Californian summer day. The pollutants released were all carbon-based chemicals, often with 12 to 25 carbon atoms per molecule. “Many of these compounds are conducive to condensing to form secondary organic aerosol after reacting in the atmosphere,” says co-author Drew Gentner, also of Yale University. This can, in turn, go on to form tiny particles called PM2.5, which are one of the most dangerous types of air pollution for human health. Emissions could also be triggered by sunlight shining on the asphalt. Under controlled conditions, this led to a 300 per cent increase in emissions. Read more: Does air pollution really kill nearly 9 million people each year? Pollution from vehicles is declining in many places, as petrol and diesel vehicles are replaced with electric ones. But pollution from asphalt could actually increase, the researchers argue. That is because climate change is causing higher temperatures, which will trigger more emissions from asphalt. “Megacities are likely to see urban temperature increases driven by climate change and urban heat island effects,” says Gentner. “We are not making policy recommendations,” says Gentner, emphasising that they need to understand how much pollution the asphalt emits over its lifetime and how it interacts with other sources of pollution. However, he points to ongoing research into “cool pavement coatings”, which are being studied as a way to reduce the excess heat in built-up areas. Such coatings might also reduce emissions by cooling the asphalt surface, he says.
9-2-20 Blue jeans pollute water by releasing 50,000 microfibres per wash
They may be a comfortable, convenient choice for those working at home, but blue jeans could be harming the planet. Microfibres of indigo denim have been discovered in vast quantities in water samples taken across Canada, from Toronto up to the Arctic. The survey, conducted by Miriam Diamond at the University of Toronto and her colleagues, found that between one in eight and one in four of all microfibres in the samples were blue denim. Some of the microfibres were found at a depth of 1500 metres, and the researchers say this means that they are able to withstand travelling long distances. The highest concentrations of jean microfibres were found in shallow suburban lakes. While the survey was limited to Canada, the team believes the results would be repeated elsewhere. “The finding of fibres in the Arctic is symbolic of the spread of human impact,” says Miriam Diamond at the University of Toronto. Separately, the researchers also monitored how many microfibres are lost from a pair of jeans during the average wash. They found that around 50,000 microfibres were sloughed off from the surface of jeans every time they were cleaned. “Unfortunately, the results are not surprising to environmental scientists; they are even expected,” says Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay at the University of Glasgow in the UK. However, she calls it an important paper because it looks at natural microfibres, which have previously been overlooked in microplastic studies focusing on synthetic materials. Diamond and her colleagues weren’t sure of the effect of denim microfibres on the environment. “While they’re not plastic, they are anthropogenically modified,” says Samantha Athey at the University of Toronto. Denim picks up chemicals and jeans are chemically treated during production. “What impact that chemical modification has is a question that remains to be answered,” says Athey. “But they’re so abundant we should look at it.” In the meantime, the team advises that you wash your jeans less. One jeans company, whose products were used in the study, suggests a wash once a month.
9-1-20 Silicon Valley billionaires want to geoengineer the world's oceans
SOME of the world’s richest people are funding research that could use the oceans to combat climate change. The idea is welcomed by some researchers, but others caution that there is a lack of international agreement about geoengineering the planet in such ways. Should billionaires be able to start tinkering with the climate without asking the rest of us? Last September, scientists, policy-makers and funders met in California to discuss an idea to use an emerging suite of technologies known as ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE). This aims to reduce both ocean acidification – which threatens delicate ecosystems like coral reefs – and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (see “How to save the seas“). Doing this on a planetary scale would be a gargantuan undertaking. A report from the conference says that one OAE process requires the extraction of 5 billion t The rock would have to be finely ground up to increase its reactive surface area, and ultimately deployed worldwide, perhaps via a fleet of ships. This would have its own significant carbon footprint, making calculating the eventual benefits fiendishly complicated. The conference attendees, including ecologists, biochemists and experts in carbon removal, discussed these problems, and brainstormed the science, the systems and the cash needed to make OAE a reality. Little did most of them realise that the organisation behind the conference, Oceankind, is likely to be controlled by a Silicon Valley billionaire who would be able to fund a significant geoengineering effort out of their own pocket. Oceankind was founded in California in April 2018, as a limited liability company (LLC). Incorporating as an LLC rather than as a non-profit organisation has one great advantage: charities in the US have to file public financial documents each year with the Internal Revenue Service, but LLCs are virtually opaque to public scrutiny.
9-1-20 Climate change: Power companies 'hindering' move to green energy
New research suggests that power companies are dragging their feet when it comes to embracing green energy sources such as wind and solar. Only one in 10 energy suppliers globally has prioritised renewables over fossil fuels, the study finds. Even those that are spending on greener energy are continuing to invest in carbon heavy coal and natural gas. The lead researcher says the slow uptake undermines global efforts to tackle climate change. But while green energy has boomed around the world in recent years, many of the new wind and solar power installations have been built by independent producers. Large scale utility companies, including many state and city owned enterprises, have been much slower to go green, according to this new study. The research looked at more than 3,000 electricity companies worldwide and used machine learning techniques to analyse their activities over the past two decades. The study found that only 10% of the companies had expanded their renewable-based power generation more quickly than their gas or coal fired capacity. Of this small proportion that spent more on renewables, many continued to invest in fossil fuels, although at a lower rate. The vast majority of companies, according to the author, have just sat on the fence. "If you look at all utilities, and what's the dominant behaviour, it is that they're not doing much in fossil fuels and renewables," said Galina Alova, from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford. "So they might be doing something with other fuels like hydro power or nuclear, but they're not transitioning to renewables nor growing the fossil fuel capacity." The author says that many of these types of utilities are government-owned and may have invested in their power portfolios many years ago. The overall conclusion from the analysis, though, is that utility companies are "hindering" the global transition to renewables. "Companies are still growing their fossil-fuel based capacity," Galina Alova told BBC News.
9-1-20 50 years ago, scientists were trying to develop a low-emission car
Excerpt from the September 12, 1970 issue of Science News. The recent week-long clean air car race from Massachusetts to California provided a shotgun approach to development of low-emission or nonpolluting vehicle engines. Yet despite more than 40 entries employing five engine classes, the winner was a modified standard internal-combustion engine…. There is a consensus among some engineers that the answer will lie with some form of electrically powered vehicle. Most vehicles today house internal-combustion engines, but cars with electric motors are gaining ground. In 2010, there were about 17,000 electric cars globally, including all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids. By 2019, that number had soared to 7.2 million, the International Energy Agency reported in June. Although air pollution and oil shortages sparked interest in electric cars, the vehicles also curb greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, generating energy for electric cars emitted about half as much carbon dioxide equivalent as that emitted from the same number of gas-fueled vehicles, the agency noted.