3-31-21 The oceans are changing - here’s how to help researchers monitor them
More than 1000 people have already participated in a global project to track changes to the oceans. Krista Charles explains how to join the effort. IF YOU have access to the sea or a coastline you can help researchers monitor the world’s oceans during the covid-19 pandemic and beyond. More than 1000 people have already joined the eOceans platform, which aims to help researchers gather data on oceans and ocean ecosystems in real-time. You can take part by downloading the eOceans app on your smartphone and logging what you see when you are on the coast or in the ocean, including any animals, people, pollution or even an empty beach. The app lets you note your observations as well as upload photos. This information is then linked to your geographical location and is made accessible to scientists studying that region. Covid-19 restrictions on travel in many countries have made it more difficult for researchers to access and study coastlines, says Christine Ward-Paige, founder and lead scientist at eOceans. “When covid-19 hit and the world went into varying levels of lockdown, we could understand what was happening in the atmosphere or what was happening on land and [with] the economy,” says Ward-Paige. “But we had no idea what was happening in the ocean.” Using eOceans data, researchers such as Ward-Paige can remotely monitor how oceans and coastal communities worldwide are faring, including in the context of the pandemic. She and others hope to obtain more data on wildlife spotted along coastlines, as well as information on how people are using these spaces. Observations recorded through eOceans are already providing valuable insights. During Australia’s lockdown, for example, the largest swarm of turtles in the country’s history was spotted by researchers using eOceans data. And in Hawaii, data from the app suggests that a reduction in tourists during the pandemic is associated with clearer waters.
3-31-21 A solar geoengineering test has been delayed until 2022
A trailblazing experiment to launch a balloon into the stratosphere from Sweden for a solar geoengineering test has been suspended and delayed until 2022 to give more time for engagement with the Swedish public. The decision by an independent advisory committee is a major setback to the Harvard University experiment, known as SCoPEx. The project would be the first to intentionally inject particles into the stratosphere to explore the technology’s feasibility for cooling Earth and buying time for governments to act on climate change. In a double whammy for the scheme’s proponents, the Swedish space agency also took the independent decision to scrap a test flight planned for June. “The scientific community is divided regarding geoengineering,” the agency said in a statement. A spokesperson for the agency told New Scientist that the flight had been cancelled after consulting not just with SCoPEx’s advisory committee but with experts in Sweden. Frank Keutsch at Harvard University, who leads SCoPEx, said in a statement that he “fully supports” the committee’s decision and would “listen closely” to what the public had to say. Today’s rejection of the test flight comes just five days after the US National Academy of Sciences gave its backing to such experiments. The group also called on the US government to launch a $100 million research programme into solar geoengineering because of slow action on climate change. Keutsch has previously echoed that view, telling New Scientist “we really need to do the research” on solar geoengineering because emissions are being curbed too slowly. Research into this method of solar geoengineering, known as stratospheric aerosol injection, is controversial, because of concerns that it could lead to large-scale deployment of the technology, potentially negatively affecting weather in some parts of the world. The SCoPEx advisory committee said that the project shouldn’t go ahead before more “societal engagement” in Sweden, pushing an initial test flight back to 2022.
3-31-21 Global tree loss is undermining tactics to address the climate crisis
World leaders love to present trees as the answer to our climate change woes. And scientists calculate Earth has room for another 0.9 billion hectares of trees, which could buy us an extra 20 years to decarbonise our societies as they lock up our emitted carbon. But many countries are terrible at even holding on to their existing, carbon-rich trees. Satellite data shows the world lost 4.2 million hectares of undisturbed rainforest last year, up 12 per cent on 2019, according to the US non-profit World Resources Institute (WRI) and Global Forest Watch. Losses in the tropics have now increased for two years in a row, driven mostly by forests being cleared for agriculture. However, this problem isn’t caused solely by lower-income countries, as a recent study made clear by linking deforestation to international trade. High-income countries – including the UK, Japan and Germany – are driving deforestation abroad with their demand for beef, soy, palm oil and other goods. Last year’s increase in tree cover loss, which includes deforestation as well as natural losses, such as through fire, is especially galling because 2020 was the deadline a host of countries and businesses set for halving deforestation from 2014 levels. “It was supposed to be a landmark year. The fact that we are still seeing things tick up rather than down is a really big cause for concern,” says Mikaela Weisse at WRI. “It’s pretty shocking to be honest,” says Simon Lewis at the University of Leeds, UK, who wasn’t involved in the analysis. The timing also poses a headache for the United Nations and the countries hoping for a good outcome at this year’s pivotal COP26 climate summit in November. Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, says a “really critical” factor in the summit’s success will be high-income countries delivering on their promises of sending $100 billion a year of climate finance to lower-income ones.
3-31-21 Climate change: China absent from key UK meeting
A critical meeting on climate change, organised by the UK, appears to be the latest victim of an ongoing row with China. Ministers from around 35 countries are due to participate in today's summit on climate and development. But while the US, EU, India and others are taking part, China is notable by its absence. The UK says that China was invited to the event but is not participating. Relations between the UK and China have deteriorated in recent weeks after angry exchanges about human rights. Just a few days ago China imposed sanctions on nine UK citizens - including five MPs- for spreading what it called "lies and disinformation" about the country. The move came in retaliation for measures taken by the UK government and others over human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority group. Today's climate and development summit is being described by the UK as a "key moment" in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow later this year. A list of invitees was published two weeks ago including China. But when the final list of participants was circulated, they were absent. A UK COP26 spokesman said China had been invited, adding: "We look forward to working with them on climate change issues in this critical year ahead of COP26." When pressed on the reasons for the non-participation, no further comment was forthcoming. With major emitters such as the US, EU and India taking part, it would be expected that China would play a leading role in this type of event. Not only is it the world's biggest carbon emitter but it also likes to portray itself as a key ally for developing countries. "To have the ministerial taking place without China is far from ideal," said Richard Black, from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. "China is a major lender, trading partner and diplomatic presence across much of the developing world, and will of course be a hugely important power broker for COP26."
3-30-21 Climate change: Consumer pose 'growing threat' to tropical forests
Rising imports in wealthy countries of coffee, cocoa and other products are a "growing threat" to forests in tropical regions according to a new study. Research shows consumer behaviour in the UK and other rich nations is responsible for the loss of almost 4 trees per person per year. Increasing numbers of trees are now being planted in the developed world, the authors say. But imports of products linked to deforestation undermine these efforts. This growing international trade is doing more harm than good for climate and for biodiversity say the researchers. Among the world's forests, trees growing in tropical areas are said to be the most valuable in protecting species and limiting global heating. Tropical forests are home to between 50-90% of all terrestrial plants and animals. They are also critical for the climate, soaking up and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide. But in the Amazon, central Africa, Indonesia and parts of Asia, growing numbers of trees have been cut down in recent decades so farmers can grow commodity crops like soybeans, and graze cattle for beef. Using high-resolution forest maps and a global supply chain model, the researchers were able to compile a comprehensive and highly detailed account of how deforestation is being driven by consumer behaviour, especially in richer countries. So while countries like the UK, Germany, China and India have all planted more trees at home in recent years, all are linked to rising deforestation outside their borders, particularly in tropical forests. The researchers were able to be remarkably precise about the impacts of this trade. Cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to forests in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana, in Tanzania it's the demand for sesame seeds among Japanese consumers that's a key driver. It's not just the wealthier nations - demand in China is responsible for deforestation in Northern Laos as land is cleared for rubber plantations.
3-30-21 Uganda climate change: The people under threat from a melting glacier
Ronah Masika remembers when she could still see the snowy caps of the Rwenzori mountains, a Unesco World Heritage site on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The view was stunning every time she travelled from her home in Kasese town to the Ugandan capital, Kampala - and it was not even that long ago. But now she cannot even catch a glimpse of the ice because the glacier is receding. And it is not only the view that has changed. Ms Masika recalls her grandmother used to grow beans to feed her family, and they would last until a new crop was ready to be harvested. "Now I and other people find it difficult to sustain ourselves with what we plant at home, because everything gets destroyed by floods or drought. It's either too much drought or too much rain. "It's making me uncomfortable, thinking of how the next generation is going to survive this horrible situation," says Ms Masika, who now works on a project to mitigate the impact of the shifting environment. Climate change is affecting the Rwenzori Mountains in different ways. The most visible is the rapid loss of the ice field, which shrunk from 6.5 sq km in 1906 to less than one sq km in 2003, and could completely disappear before the end of this decade, research shows. In 2012, forest fires reached altitudes above 4,000m, which would have been inconceivable in the past, devastating vegetation that controlled the flow of the rivers downstream. Since then, the communities living at the foot of the Rwenzori have suffered some of the most destructive floods the area has ever seen, coupled with a pattern of less frequent but heavier rainfall. In May last year, five local rivers burst their banks after heavy rains. The waters came down the mountain carrying large boulders, sweeping away houses and schools and razing the entire town of Kalembe to the ground. Around 25,000 houses were destroyed and 173,000 people were affected.
3-30-21 Japan's cherry blossom 'earliest peak since 812'
The cherry blossom season, Japan's traditional sign of spring, has peaked at the earliest date since records began 1,200 years ago, research shows. The 2021 season in the city of Kyoto peaked on 26 March, according to data collected by Osaka University. Increasingly early flowerings in recent decades are likely to be as a result of climate change, scientists say. The records from Kyoto go back to 812 AD in imperial court documents and diaries. The city has experienced an unusually warm spring this year. The previous record there was set in 1409, when the season reached its peak on 27 March. The blossoms, "sakura" in Japanese, last only for a few days, but their appearance is tremendously important, both economically and culturally. Friends and family get together, and Instagram is awash with pictures. The dataset for cherry blossom season in Japan is especially valuable because it goes back so far. "In Kyoto, records of the timing of celebrations of cherry blossom festivals going back to the 9th Century reconstruct the past climate and demonstrate the local increase in temperature associated with global warming and urbanisation," according to an earlier paper published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation. Yasuyuki Aono, a researcher at Osaka Prefecture University, has tracked the data back to 812. "I have searched and collected the phenological data for full flowering date of cherry tree (Prunus jamasakura) from many diaries and chronicles written by emperors, aristocrats, governors and monks at Kyoto in historical time," he wrote. Phenology is the study of seasons and recurring biological events. Since about 1800, the data suggest the peak date in Kyoto has gradually been moving back from mid-April towards the beginning of the month. The progress of the cherry blossom season is closely monitored, with the Japanese Meteorological Agency issuing forecasts of the first flowers and the peak of the season. This year, the season began in Hiroshima on 11 March, eight days earlier than the previous record, which was set in 2004, according to Japan Forward.
3-28-21 Is nuclear fusion the answer?
The race is on to build fusion reactors that would provide limitless energy without nuclear waste or carbon emissions. Here's everything you need to know:
- What is fusion? Thermonuclear fusion is the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and all stars. It occurs when two nuclei of a lightweight element such as hydrogen collide at colossal speed, forcing them to fuse. Leftover mass is converted into enormous amounts of energy, according to Einstein's formula E = mc2.
- Why attempt such a feat? With the climate crisis intensifying, President Biden has pledged to eliminate all greenhouse-gas emissions from the electricity sector by 2035. Solar, wind, and hydropower will play a major role, but those technologies aren't feasible everywhere, so Biden's energy plan also includes nuclear technologies.
- Where does research stand? The biggest project is ITER, a tokamak the size of 60 soccer fields that is under construction in France and is expected to operate in 2035. ITER, which means "the way" in Latin and originally stood for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is a joint effort of the European Union, U.S., U.K., China, Russia, Japan, India, and South Korea.
- How far off is success? The joke in the industry is that every year workable fusion is said to be 25 years away. But proponents now contend it really could be just five to 10 years before a fusion reactor could actually provide more power than it consumes, thanks to significant technological breakthroughs.
- Who is working on those? One company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, spun out of MIT in 2017 and with some $250 million in private capital backing it is building a tokamak the size of a tennis court that will cost a fraction of ITER. It plans to bring a prototype reactor online by 2025 that can generate about 270 megawatts, enough to power 100,000 homes.
- Will these efforts pay off? The example of Lockheed Martin is sobering. At great expense, that giant defense and energy firm has been toiling away at fusion for years with slow progress. Furthest ahead is South Korea, yet even its National Fusion Research Institute has only managed to maintain plasma at 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds.
- An alternative: Small fission reactors: Cutting-edge energy firms — including Bill Gates' TerraPower — are working on mini–fission reactors known as small modular reactors, or SMRs. Last fall, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave its first approval to such a device, greenlighting a design by Oregon company NuScale Power that would generate 50 megawatts of electricity.
3-28-21 Earth Hour: Cities around the world turn lights off
Famous landmarks in cities such as Paris, Moscow, Athens, Rome, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro have turned off their lights to raise awareness of environmental issues. Earth Hour is an annual global event organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature. This year's event highlights the link between the destruction of nature and increasing outbreaks of diseases like Covid-19.
3-28-21 The real reason humans are the dominant species
From early humans rubbing sticks together to make fire, to the fossil fuels that drove the industrial revolution, energy has played a central role in our development as a species. But the way we power our societies has also created humanity's biggest challenge. It's one that will take all our ingenuity to solve. Energy is the key to humanity's world domination. Not just the jet fuel that allows us to traverse entire continents in a few hours, or the bombs we build that can blow up entire cities, but the vast amounts of energy we all use every day. Consider this: a resting human being requires about the same amount of energy as an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb to sustain their metabolism - about 90 watts (joules per second). But the average human being in a developed country uses more like 100 times that amount, if you add in the energy needed to get around, build and heat our homes, grow our food and all the other things our species gets up to. The average American, for example, consumes about 10,000 watts. That difference explains a lot about us - our biology, our civilisation and the unbelievably affluent lifestyles we all lead - compared, that is, with other animals. Because unlike virtually every other creature on Earth, we human beings do much more with energy than just power our own metabolism. We are a creature of fire. Humanity's exceptional relationship with energy began hundreds of thousands of years ago, with our discovery of fire. Fire did much more than just keep us warm, protect us from predators and give us a new tool for hunting. A number of anthropologists believe fire actually refashioned our biology. "Anything that allows an organism to get energy more efficiently is going to have huge effects on the evolutionary trajectory of that organism," explains Prof Rachel Carmody of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She believes the decisive development was cooking. Cooking transforms the energy available from food, she argues. The carbohydrates, proteins and lipids that provide our bodies with nutrition are unravelled and exposed when they are heated. That makes it is easier for our digestive enzymes to do their work effectively, extracting more calories more quickly than if we ate our food raw. Think of it as a way of "pre-digesting" food.
3-27-21 Super-cold thunderstorm sets temperature record
We've all seen those majestic anvil storm clouds that form on a hot summer's day, but what do you think is the temperature right at the very top? It's very cold, obviously; at high altitude it is well below freezing. But would you be surprised to learn it is sometimes below even -100C? Indeed, scientists have just published research showing the top of one tropical storm cloud system in 2018 reached -111C. This is very likely a record low temperature. It was seen on 29 December that year, just south of the equator in the western Pacific. The measurement was made by a passing American satellite, Noaa-20. When a powerful upward draft reaches the top of the lower atmosphere, or troposphere, it will normally flatten and spread out to form that classic anvil shape. But if the storm is very energetic, the upward movement of air can punch through the troposphere's ceiling, the tropopause, to keep on rising into the stratosphere, the next layer up in the atmosphere. In the 2018 event, the cloud top was at about 20.5km in altitude. "It's called an overshooting top," explains Dr Simon Proud, a Nerc research fellow in satellite remote sensing at the National Centre for Earth Observation and Oxford University, UK. "Overshooting tops are reasonably common. We get them over the UK as well, sometimes - like last August when we had a number of massive storms. But this was a very big overshoot. Normally, an overshooting top cools by about 7C for every kilometre it goes above the tropopause; and this one was about 13C or 14C cooler than the tropopause - so, a pretty big overshoot," he told BBC News. Dr Proud and Scott Bachmeier, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, report the event in a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. They describe the contributing factors. Although big storms in that part of the Pacific are frequent around the December-January timeframe, this one seemed to get an extra boost.
3-26-21 Climate change expected to make European hay fever seasons much worse
Coping with the hay fever season in north-west Europe is set to get harder, with climate change projected to potentially increase the severity of the pollen season by more than half. Pollen seasons are already expected to start earlier and last longer as temperatures warm and carbon dioxide concentrations rise, affecting the trees and grasses that release the pollen. However, efforts to predict the difference climate change might bring at a local level are still at an early stage. To find out more, a European team gathered 22 years of pollen data from 34 monitoring sites across Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the UK, and combined it with weather data collected near those sites. Running the results through two statistical models, the researchers found that the amount of pollen released in a season could increase by up to 60 per cent due to climate change, assuming a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels to around 800 parts per million. Unless humanity disastrously fails to rein in carbon emissions, that is unlikely to ever happen. But Carsten Skjøth at the University of Worcester, UK, who worked on the study, says the direction of travel is clear. So what can be done apart from cutting CO2 emissions? The biggest thing is better planning ahead of the pollen season, says Skjøth, such as having more people medicated to cope with hay fever symptoms or advised to avoid exposure to pollen where possible. There is one important caveat to the research, Skjøth acknowledges. The study didn’t consider the impact that rising temperatures would have on pollen from different types of grass and trees, which matters because climate change is expected to alter where certain species can live as well as what people plant, such as adopting more drought-tolerant species.
3-26-21 The EU could greatly reduce carbon emissions by embracing GM crops
The European Union could greatly reduce carbon emissions by embracing genetically engineered crops. If EU countries had grown genetically modified crops in 2017, in total they would have cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that year, according to an analysis. The reason is that GM crops have higher average yields, meaning less land is needed to produce the same amount of food. “That can reduce clearing of new agricultural land,” says study co-author Emma Kovak at the Breakthrough Institute in California. “And when land is cleared, that carbon storage is lost.” In fact, according to a 2018 report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), if farm yields remain at today’s levels, most of the world’s remaining forests would have to be cleared to meet estimated food needs in 2050. This would wipe out thousands more species and release enough carbon to warm the world by more than 2°C, even if all other human emissions stopped, it says. Kovak and her colleagues have now worked out what the change in carbon emission would have been if the adoption rates of five key GM crops – soya bean, maize, cotton, rapeseed and sugar beet – had been as high in Europe as they were in the US in 2017, which has a much more favourable view of genetic engineering. The team used data from a global metastudy of GM crops and previous studies of land-use change to calculate the 33 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent figure. This is a substantial amount, equivalent to 8 per cent of all the EU’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. For comparison, total global emissions from all human activities are around 100 million tonnes of CO2 per day. Many people think intensive farming is bad for the environment. If you measure the impact of low-intensity organic farming per area used, it is lower, says Kovak. But per amount of food produced, high-intensity farming has a much lower impact. “The intensification of farming can spare habitat for wildlife,” she says.
3-26-21 UK switch to hydrogen vehicles would need thousands more wind turbines
Switching to hydrogen trucks, buses and cars in the UK would require about 2000 more wind turbines around the country’s coast than if battery-powered vehicles were prioritised, a new analysis suggests. Battery electric vehicles are already the leading technology for shifting away from fossil fuel cars in the UK, with a record-breaking 108,000 sold last year. hydrogen mooted as the answer by some firms. This week, the UK government provided millions of pounds of funding for both hydrogen buses and electric trucks. So-called green hydrogen can be made by using renewable electricity and electrolysis to extract it from water, but energy is lost in the process, leading some to question whether it stacks up against using renewable electricity directly. A report published today by non-profit Transport & Environment outlines how much renewable electricity would be needed for hydrogen to provide even a small share of energy needs for road transport by 2050. If half of heavy duty trucks and buses and a tenth of cars run on hydrogen by mid-century, with the rest run on battery electric, the UK will need 15 per cent more electricity than it would by going entirely battery electric, the report finds. “After 2030, renewable energy demand in transport rises quickly. It is therefore essential the UK government rules out now impractical solutions like widespread use of synthetic fuels and hydrogen in cars, vans and trucks,” says Matt Finch at Transport & Environment. The report indicates that even the battery-only route for trucks and cars will require a dramatic investment in renewables, requiring 369 terawatt hours of electricity supply by 2050, slightly more than total UK electricity generation today. The greater reliance on hydrogen would lift that number to 426 TWh by mid-century.
3-26-21 Canada's Supreme Court rules in favour of national carbon tax
Canada's national carbon tax will remain intact after the country's Supreme Court ruled in favour of its legality. The federal law sets minimum standards for carbon pricing with the intent to price out emissions over time. Three provincial governments had pushed back on the plan, arguing Ottawa overstepped its role with the scheme. The court's decision bolsters the key component in a national effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The tax plan has been the central driving force in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. But it was a topic of contention in the last federal election, with conservative opponents arguing it hurts consumers and energy producers. The 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pricing Act is a national framework for carbon pricing. Provinces were allowed to implement their own plans. However, the law gives the federal government in Ottawa the power to apply its own carbon tax, known as the "backstop", on those provinces that either fall short of the national standard or have not implemented their own system. Seven of Canada's 13 provinces and territories currently pay the "backstop" rate. Its current price sits at C$30 (£17.35) per tonne of carbon dioxide released and will rise sharply to C$170 (£98.38) per tonne by 2030. The Trudeau government has expressed a desire to exceed its emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate accords. The top court in the country ruled in a split decision on Thursday that climate change is a threat to the whole country and demands a coordinated national approach. "Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, and it poses a grave threat to humanity's future," Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote, on behalf of the majority. Six justices agreed, with Mr Wagner writing: "Parliament has jurisdiction to enact this law as a matter of national concern." Shortly after the ruling, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson released a statement hailing it as "a win for the millions of Canadians who believe we must build a prosperous economy that fights climate change".
3-26-21 Simple hand-built structures can help streams survive wildfires and drought
Low-tech restoration gains popularity as an effective fix for ailing waterways in the American West. Wearing waders and work gloves, three dozen employees from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service stood at a small creek amid the dry sagebrush of southeastern Idaho. The group was eager to learn how to repair a stream the old-fashioned way. Tipping back his white cowboy hat, 73-year-old rancher Jay Wilde told the group that he grew up swimming and fishing at this place, Birch Creek, all summer long. But when he took over the family farm from his parents in 1995, the stream was dry by mid-June. Wilde realized this was partly because his family and neighbors, like generations of American settlers before them, had trapped and removed most of the dam-building beavers. The settlers also built roads, cut trees, mined streams, overgrazed livestock and created flood-control and irrigation structures, all of which changed the plumbing of watersheds like Birch Creek’s. Many of the wetlands in the western United States have disappeared since the 1700s. California has lost an astonishing 90 percent of its wetlands, which includes streamsides, wet meadows and ponds. In Nevada, Idaho and Colorado, more than 50 percent of wetlands have vanished. Precious wet habitats now make up just 2 percent of the arid West — and those remaining wet places are struggling. Nearly half of U.S. streams are in poor condition, unable to fully sustain wildlife and people, says Jeremy Maestas, a sagebrush ecosystem specialist with the NRCS who organized that workshop on Wilde’s ranch in 2016. As communities in the American West face increasing water shortages, more frequent and larger wildfires (SN: 9/26/20, p. 12) and unpredictable floods, restoring ailing waterways is becoming a necessity.
3-25-21 Is it time to try geoengineering to solve the climate crisis?
The United Nations last month laid bare how badly the world is doing on its climate targets. Today the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) says such slow progress means the US should launch a $100-$200 million research programme on solar geoengineering, a controversial set of techniques to reflect sunlight back to space in order to cool the Earth. However, the group stressed in a report that it isn’t calling for deployment of such solar geoengineering technologies and warns that doing more research is no excuse for “giving up on decarbonisation”. The report reviews geoengineering methods such as “solar shields”, which rely on injecting aerosols into the stratosphere. A group led by Harvard University is researching this approach with an experiment releasing a few hundred grams of mineral dust from a high-altitude balloon above Sweden later this year. It will be the first time that particles have been intentionally injected into the stratosphere in an attempt at geoengineering. That project, called SCoPEx, will only go ahead if an initial test balloon flight at Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, goes well. It also hinges on a green light from an independent advisory committee, which has delayed giving a verdict, initially due on 15 February. “We really need to do the research because I’m really worried where we’re going with climate change, as action is just not fast enough,” says Frank Keutsch at Harvard University, who is leading SCoPEx . Modelling how particles behave that high up, and how much sunlight they reflect, or extrapolating from what happens during a volcanic eruption only goes so far, says Keutsch – at some point observational data is needed. The NAS backs the idea of real world experiments like Keutsch’s, provided they are subject to good oversight. “Limited outdoor experimentation could help advance the study of certain atmospheric processes that are critical for understanding solar geoengineering,” the report says.
3-25-21 Lord Howe Island: Saving an Australian paradise's 'cloud forest'
Australia's Lord Howe Island is famous for its beauty and unique mix of plants and animals. Nowhere is this more evident than in a rare cloud forest atop the island's two southern mountains. But its environment has faced a battle for survival.
3-24-21 Green spaces aren’t just for nature – they boost our mental health too
We’re beginning to understand just how vital access to natural space is for our mental well-being – with implications for how we design cities worldwide. FROM the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the orange gardens of Seville, urban planners down the ages have taken inspiration from nature. And those of us living in the concrete and brick jungle have perhaps never appreciated scraps of green space more than during the covid-19 pandemic. During lockdowns, city dwellers across the world have found parks and gardens – where they exist an unexpected source of calm and joy. That comes as no surprise to the growing number of psychologists and ecologists studying the effects of nature on people’s mental health and well-being. The links they are uncovering are complex, and not yet fully understood. But even as the pandemic has highlighted them, it has also exposed that, in an increasingly urbanised world, our access to nature is dwindling – and often the most socio-economically deprived people face the biggest barriers. Amid talk about building back better, there is an obvious win-win-win here. Understand how to green the world’s urban spaces the right way and it can boost human well-being, help redress social inequality and be a boon for the biodiversity we all depend on. On evolutionary timescales, urban living is a new invention. Our species has existed for at least 300,000 years, but the oldest cities are only some 6000 years old. Only recently – little more than a decade ago, according to figures from the UN Population Division – have we become a majority-urban species. Now the number of us living in cities is booming like never before. By 2050, projections suggest almost 70 per cent of us will be urban dwellers (see “Urban latecomers”). Our late arrival into cities might help explain our affinity with nature and green spaces. In 1984, biologist Edward O. Wilson made this connection explicit with his “biophilia” hypothesis. His idea was that the environment in which humans evolved has shaped our brain, priming it to respond positively to cues that would have enhanced survival for our ancestors, such as trees, savannah, lakes and waterways. This, Wilson argued, is why being in nature makes us feel good.
3-24-21 We must reinvent urban spaces to improve the health of city dwellers
IN 2007, give or take, came a watershed moment in the 300,000-odd-year history of Homo sapiens. For the first time, more of us were living in urban settings than in small communities embedded in largely natural environments. Urbanisation has been a driver of human cultural and material development since the first cities arose some 6000 years ago. Yet it is becoming clear that city life brings with it burdens on our evolved psyches. Indeed, green spaces have been shown to be vital not just to our physical health, but also to our mental health, including in alleviating conditions such as depression, anxiety and mood disorders. They also help with creativity, positive social interactions, healthy sleep patterns and much more. The covid-19 pandemic has driven home the reality of those connections for many city dwellers. It has also highlighted the inequalities between socioeconomic groups, both in terms of access to green space and in the degree to which they are exposed to pollution, for example. Yet all too often urban planning pays only lip service to matters of human health – and still less to creating environments in which the biodiversity we depend on can thrive. The rapidly expanding cities of Asia and Africa are repeating the mistakes made in the West, subjugating liveability for all beneath sprawl and the demands of a motorised few. Attempts to reimagine cities for a greener, more sustainable, post-covid future have been piecemeal and disjointed, and often shouted down by vocal minorities with an interest in the status quo. We are storing up trouble for ourselves. If there is one general lesson the pandemic has taught us, it is that investment up front prevents far greater costs down the line. How we plan our cities affects not just the health of those living in them now, but the health of billions who will live in them in the future. A liveable environment must be seen as a fundamental human right. That requires consequential decisions to be taken across the world to reinvent cities as spaces in which all inhabitants can thrive.
3-25-21 Why cutting down trees can be good for the climate
A massive tree felling operation has been going on in the vast Kielder Forest of Northumberland for the last few weeks. Thousands of trees have been cut down as part of a project that claims to be improving the environment and tackling climate change.
3-24-21 UK seeks to drill more oil and gas from North Sea
More oil and gas wells are to be drilled in the North Sea, the UK government has announced. The decision has angered environmental campaigners, who say the government should refuse new licences. Ministers say permission to drill will be granted as part of a careful transition away from fossil fuels, safeguarding jobs and the economy. But the environmentalists say that enough fossil fuels to ruin the climate have already been found. In light of this, they say, the government should have refused the new licences. They add that the decision undermines the UK position as leader of the vital UN climate conference in November, known as COP26. But ministers insist that their strategy will work. So-called "checkpoints" will be introduced that take into account domestic demand for oil and gas, projected production levels, the increase in clean technologies such as offshore wind, and the sector’s progress in cutting emissions. The sector will face targets to reduce emissions by 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027. It is also committed to cut emissions by 50% by 2030. It will be helped by joint government and private investment of up to £16bn by 2030. This will include up to £10bn for hydrogen production and £3bn for a technology called carbon capture, usage and storage - where carbon emissions are either turned into other products such as plastics or buried. The government says the deal should cut pollution by up to 60 million tonnes by 2030, while also supporting up to 40,000 jobs across the supply chain. Mel Evans from Greenpeace said: “This is a colossal failure. The UK will make a fool of itself in the run-up to hosting the COP26 global climate talks if our energy minister signs off on new oil and gas licences that serve to rip up the Paris Agreement (the world deal to hold global temperature rise to 1.5C). “We know the government has already approved too much oil and gas extraction to meet our climate obligations under Paris, and the oil industry itself says that we’ve passed peak oil demand.” Denmark recently announced a decision to reject new licences for oil drilling in the North Sea.
3-24-21 Wildfires could become a big threat in the UK due to climate change
Climate change is projected to drive a very large increase in fire danger across the whole of the UK, leading researchers to warn that planning rules may need to block the building of new homes in fire-prone areas. Flooding is considered the UK’s biggest threat from climate change, but even rare wildfires can cause disruption, from the toxic smoke created by the massive recent fires on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester to large blazes in west Scotland and Cornwall last month. There is evidence that warming has already increased the number of fires in the UK in recent years. Now, a new analysis has found that if the world continues to have high carbon emissions, the danger of blazes will hit the south and east of England the hardest. The number of days with conditions hot and dry enough for serious wildfires in the south of England will climb from 20 a year today to 111 by the 2080s. Even traditionally wet parts of the UK, including Wales, will see big increases in days when fire danger is very high. “If we don’t think we’ve got a wildfire hazard at the moment, in a few decades we will have a much more obvious and noticeable one, perhaps to the extent that people are familiar with it in the Mediterranean. Awareness needs to go up,” says Nigel Arnell at the University of Reading in the UK. To model the future risk as the world warms, Arnell and his colleagues divided the UK into 12 by 12 kilometre squares and looked at how temperatures, humidity and rainfall would change in those areas using a climate model developed by the Met Office. The results were then combined with a weather index of how serious fires could be if they broke out, in order to project the future number of “high” and “very high” days. The main reason for greater fire danger was higher temperatures, followed by humidity decreasing. Reduced rainfall was less important.
3-23-21 Erin Brockovich: California water battle 'woke me up'
Erin Brockovich talks about her new case on "forever chemicals" in our water, and their potential wide-spread health impact. The name Erin Brockovich has become synonymous with those who investigate and hold corporations to account for polluting people's water. Actor Julia Robert's sassy film portrayal of the single mum's key role in winning the largest settlement ever awarded at the time for a direct-action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), made her a household name. She did this without legal, medical, or scientific training. The case alleged contamination of the water with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, in the southern California town of Hinkley. "Hinkley woke me up", says Brockovich. "Everyone said the two-headed frog and the green water was normal. I'm like 'bullshit,'" she shouts in a way that those familiar with the film will recognise. Working as a legal clerk for Masry & Vititoe, she helped to secure $333m (£240m) for over 600 plaintiffs who alleged injury from drinking contaminated water. Despite the win, there was no Hollywood ending for the community according to Brockovich: "Hinkley's gone now." PG&E bought people's homes sitting on contaminated land and bulldozed them to prevent squatters. "Now it's just a desert and underneath it a very toxic plume that PG&E will carry on their books to clean up for years to come," she says. Even with on-going clean-up efforts, hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium-6, a chemical that has been shown to cause lung cancer when inhaled by humans) still haunts the plaintiffs, as the plume continued to spread. "After the case, Roberta Walker, the first person that I started working with in Hinkley, moved a good distance away. But the new plume found her." According to Brockovich PG&E recently bought Walker's house and she has moved away. "Talk about getting struck by lightning twice" says Brockovich. She says many of the people involved have suffered cancer, reproductive issues, and some sixty former plaintiffs have passed away.
3-22-21 Sport urged to drop high carbon sponsorship deals
Sports teams and competitions have been urged to drop sponsorship deals from companies that promote "high carbon lifestyles, products and services". A new report called "Sweat Not Oil" says the deals damage progress in efforts to tackle global warming. It says there are more than 250 sponsor agreements worldwide between sports groups and high carbon industries. "Sport floats on a sea of sponsorship deals with the major polluters," report co-author Andrew Simms said. "It makes the crisis worse by normalising high-carbon, polluting lifestyles, and reducing the pressure for climate action." The report is published by the New Weather Institute think tank, climate charity Possible and the Rapid Transition Alliance. Thirteen sports were examined, with football found to have the most deals - 57 in total worldwide - from kit sponsors to stadium naming rights being sold to oil and gas companies, as well as airlines and motoring firms. Their research will be presented to governing bodies as well as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Etienne Stott, London 2012 Olympic champion canoeist said: "Sport has a unique power to connect and inspire people. I would like to see it use its voice to promote the idea of care and stewardship of our planetary resources." The study also highlights the public health effects of the pollution which comes from burning fossil fuels and compares that with tobacco, which was banned from sports advertising in the UK in 2003. Simms added: "Major polluters have become the 'new tobacco' of sports sponsorship. "An estimated 8.7 million people are killed by air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels each year, more than the 8.2 million killed by smoking. "Tobacco advertising was ended to protect people's health. Now it's time for sport to show end sponsorship from major polluters for the health of people and the planet." The report highlights global chemical company Ineos and its sponsorship of the cycling team Ineos Grenadiers and Ben Ainslie's America's Cup sailing team Ineos Team UK.
3-22-21 Australia floods: Rainfall set to peak as weather systems collide
Areas of Australia that have seen their worst flooding in decades are bracing for more heavy rainfall, with the peak expected on Tuesday. The entire coast of New South Wales has been put on alert, with troops and hundreds of volunteers deployed. Roads and bridges have been cut off, cars and signs submerged, livestock marooned and schools closed. PM Scott Morrison told MPs there was "serious risk still ahead" and weather officials said "it's far from over". New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian said no deaths had yet been reported - "a miracle given what we have been through". Some 18,000 people have been evacuated so far in the state, which is Australia's most populated with eight million residents. The heaviest rainfall for the worst-affected state of NSW is expected overnight into Tuesday morning, as two major weather systems collide. The southern coastal areas could be the worst hit this time. A tweet put out by Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said an area as large as Alaska - stretching from the NSW coast back to the southern Northern Territory - was now being affected by weather warnings. In all, 10 million people are under warnings in every state and territory except Western Australia. A low pressure weather system that has been inundating the NSW coast for days has now been met by another weather system inland that is moving east. The bureau has forecast "increased rainfall, strong winds, damaging surf and abnormally high tides" in New South Wales on Tuesday. "It may have been going for days but unfortunately this situation is far from over," the bureau tweeted. Its flood manager, Justin Field, said: "I've been a flood forecaster in the bureau for 20 years and this is probably the worst flooding that I've experienced and I've had to forecast. "We've got a flood watch that covers all the way from the Queensland border down to the Victorian border."
3-21-21 Saudi Aramco's profits slide nearly 45% after lower oil demand
The oil giant Saudi Aramco has announced that its profits fell sharply last year as lockdowns around the world curbed demand for oil. Earnings in 2020 fell by nearly 45% compared with 2019. Saudi Aramco, one of the largest companies in the world, still made a profit of $49bn (£35bn) however and said shareholders would still receive dividends totalling $75bn. Aramco's largest shareholder is the Saudi government. The firm said it had been "one of the most challenging years in recent history". Over the course of last year the price of oil fell by a fifth as countries halted travel, closed down industries and restricted many day-to-day activities, reducing demand for energy and fuel. Other big oil and gas firms such as Royal Dutch Shell and BP also saw profits plummet. Exxon Mobil, the largest US energy company, posted its first annual loss. The oil price has recovered slightly since December to $64.53 for a barrel of Brent Crude as the vaccine rollout gets under way. "We are seeing a pick-up in demand in Asia and also positive signs elsewhere," said Saudi Aramco's chief executive, Amin Nasser. "We expect this to continue as governments and authorities around the world reopen economies." However Aramco faces other challenges. It has suffered two recent drone attacks on its installations because of Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen; one last Friday started a fire at an oil refinery in Riyadh. Mr Nasser said the refinery was back on stream within a few hours and that the firm had emergency response plans in place to deal with such attacks.
3-21-21 Iceland volcano: Lava-spewing Fagradalsfjall 'subsiding'
A volcano which erupted on Friday night near Iceland's capital Reykjavik seems to be subsiding, scientists say. Lava at Fagradalsfjall burst through a crack in the Earth's crust hundreds of metres long and a series of small fountains turned the night sky red. Icelanders had been bracing themselves for an eruption for several weeks, after the island nation recorded more than 50,000 recent earthquakes. Meteorologists said the eruption was small and no-one was in danger. The last eruption there was some 800 years ago. In 2010, the eruption of another volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, brought air traffic to a halt across Europe. However, the eruption of Fagradalsfjall has not spewed out much ash, so no major disruption is expected. The biggest threat was pollution from the gases that had been released, and nearby residents were asked to keep their windows shut. But the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said in a report on Saturday that the pollution was likely to have little effect on the health and well-being of the area's inhabitants. Officials quoted by AFP news agency said that the area of the eruption was open to the public, but could only be accessed by a difficult hike of several hours from the nearest road. There is also a potential danger from sulphur dioxide gas. "Currently gas pollution is not expected to cause much discomfort for people except close up to the source of the eruption. The gas emissions will be monitored closely," the IMO said. The IMO said the eruption of Fagradalsfjall began at about 20:45 GMT on Friday, and was later confirmed via webcams and satellite images. A coastguard helicopter was sent to survey the area, about 30km (19 miles) from Reykjavik. It then sent first images of the lava snaking its way down after the eruption. "I can see the glowing red sky from my window," said Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, who lives in Grindavik, 8 km (5 miles) from the eruption. A magnitude 3.1 earthquake was recorded 1.2 km from Fagradalsfjall just several hours earlier. Iceland frequently experiences tremors as it straddles two tectonic plates, which are drifting in opposite directions.
3-20-21 Icelandic volcano erupts near Reykjavik
A volcano has erupted south-west of Iceland's capital Reykjavik, the country's meteorological office says. It says the fissure is about 500-700 metres long (1,640-2,300ft) at Fagradalsfjall on Reykjanes peninsula. The last eruption there was some 800 years ago. Iceland has recorded more than 40,000 earthquakes in the past three weeks. In 2010, the eruption of another volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, brought air traffic to a halt across Europe. However, the eruption of Fagradalsfjall is not expected to spew out much ash, so aviation should not suffer disruption. The Icelandic Meteorological Office says the eruption of Fagradalsfjall began at about 20:45 GMT on Friday, and was later confirmed via webcams and satellite images. A coastguard helicopter was sent to survey the area, about 30km (19 miles) from Reykjavik. It then sent first images of the lava snaking its way down after the eruption. "I can see the glowing red sky from my window," said Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, who lives in Grindavik, 8 km (5 miles) from the eruption. "Everyone here is getting into their cars to drive up there," she said, according to Reuters news agency. A magnitude 3.1 earthquake was recorded 1.2 km from Fagradalsfjall just several hours earlier. Iceland frequently experiences tremors as it straddles two tectonic plates, which are drifting in opposite directions.
3-19-21 Volcanic eruption may have forced ancient Egyptians to abandon a city
Ancient Egyptians abandoned one of their coastal cities more than 2000 years ago, when the supply of fresh water dried up. The cause may have been a major volcanic eruption, possibly on the other side of the world, that triggered a severe drought. Archaeologists have been excavating the city of Berenike on Egypt’s Red Sea coast on and off since 1994. Berenike was founded between 275 and 260 BC, but was temporarily abandoned sometime between 220 and 200 BC, before being repopulated for many centuries. After Egypt was annexed by the Roman Empire in 30 BC, Berenike became the empire’s southernmost port. Berenike was “a kind of combination of city and military base”, says Marek Wozniak at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures in Warsaw, Poland. Since 2014, Wozniak has been excavating the remains of a gate and tower in the fortress wall. With James Harrell at the University of Toledo in Ohio, he has now described a well sunk into the floor of the building. The well still accumulates water today. “It tastes pretty good, although actually a bit salty,” says Wozniak. However, the well dried up between 220 and 200 BC, and sand was blown into it by the wind. This sand is preserved in the well, and contains two bronze coins dating from the decades before 199 BC. Elsewhere in the fortress, there are few artefacts from that time, suggesting Berenike was abandoned. There must have been a drought lasting several years to cause the well to dry up, says Wozniak. He says the most likely cause is a volcanic eruption. In line with this, a 2017 study led by Jennifer Marlon at Yale University found that, in 209 BC, a volcanic eruption released lots of sulphate aerosols into Earth’s atmosphere. This caused the summer rains over the Nile headwaters to fail. The lack of rain could explain the well drying out, which perhaps helped encourage inhabitants to abandon the city.
3-18-21 Recent Australian wildfires led to record atmospheric pollution
The 2019–20 wildfires in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere, which has led to record aerosol levels over the southern hemisphere. Ilan Koren at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Eitan Hirsch at the Israel Institute for Biological Research analysed satellite data collected between 1981 and 2020 to look at what effect the devastating bushfire season in Australia had on aerosol concentrations in the stratosphere. While aerosols in the lower atmosphere have a lifetime measured in minutes to weeks, those that reach the stratosphere can persist there for months or years. The researchers looked at aerosol optical depth, which measures how much aerosols contribute to the amount of reflected light picked up by satellites. The aerosol optical depth levels over the southern hemisphere in the early months of 2020 were at record levels: more than three standard deviations higher than the monthly averages prior to the wildfires, and comparable to those caused by a moderately large volcanic eruption. Although all fires were extinguished by early May, the researchers noted that stratospheric smoke persisted across the southern hemisphere until at least July 2020, after which time it became more difficult to separate the smoke signal from other sources. The overall effect of aerosols in the stratosphere is one of the largest uncertainties in climate science, says Koren. In the case of the Australian wildfires, the smoke cooled Earth by blocking some solar radiation, leading to marked cooling over cloud-free ocean areas. “But [aerosols] can also warm the stratosphere by absorbing part of the radiation [from the sun] and therefore affect processes there,” says Koren. The intensity and location of the Australian fires were particularly suitable for injecting smoke into the stratosphere. For instance, the fires were far enough south to be located at a relatively high latitude, where the border between the lower atmosphere and the stratosphere is thinner – around 9 kilometres, compared with 18 kilometres over the tropics. “When it is shallow, the deeper clouds can penetrate it more easily and inject smoke to the stratosphere,” says Koren.
3-18-21 Protect our ocean 'to solve challenges of century'
Protecting the ocean has a triple whammy effect, safeguarding climate, food and biodiversity, according to new research. A global map compiled by international scientists pinpoints priority places for action to maximise benefits for people and nature. Currently, only 7% of the ocean is protected. A pledge to protect at least 30% by 2030 is gathering momentum ahead of this year's key UN biodiversity summit. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, sets a framework for prioritising areas of the ocean for protection. The ocean covers 70% of the Earth, yet its importance for solving the challenges of our time has been overlooked, said study researcher Prof Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "The benefits are clear," he said. "If we want to solve the three most pressing challenges of our century - biodiversity loss, climate change and food shortages - we must protect our ocean." The ocean supports a unique web of life and harbours valuable food resources, while acting as a sink for greenhouse gases. The researchers developed an algorithm to identify where in the world ocean protections such as marine protected areas and responsible fisheries management could deliver the greatest benefits across three goals of biodiversity protection, seafood production and climate mitigation. Locations were mapped to create a "blueprint" that governments can use in planning and implementing commitments to protect the ocean from overfishing and habitat destruction. Rather than a single map for ocean conservation, the researchers created a framework for countries to decide which areas to protect depending on their national priorities. Many of the priority places identified in the research fall under the jurisdiction of countries that can enact proactive and sustainable ocean policies, Jennifer McGowan of the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, Yale University and The Nature Conservancy, said. "Often times we think about protection as just being about saving the whales, but the oceans provide so much more to us - they are providing food for the planet, providing refuges for species under climate change, it's a huge carbon sink that really matters to our climate," she told BBC News. "What this research is suggesting is that with one of our strongest mechanisms, which is ocean protection, we can help deliver good outcomes for all of those things." Priority areas for protection for biodiversity include the Antarctic Peninsula, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Mascarene Plateau and the Southwest Indian Ridge.
3-17-21 Mark Carney interview: Rethink capitalism to solve the climate crisis
The ex-governor of the Bank of England is now a key figure in international climate action talks. Progress requires radically reimagining how financial markets value nature, he says. MARK CARNEY made his name as a sound steward of money. He entered the public eye in 2008 when he was appointed governor of the Bank of Canada at the age of just 42, and his swift and decisive interventions there are credited with helping the country weather the storm of the global financial crisis better than any other rich nation. From 2011 to 2018, he was chair of the global Financial Stability Board, established in the wake of that crisis to strengthen oversight of the world’s banks and try to avoid a repeat. In 2013, Carney was appointed governor of the Bank of England, the first non-Briton to oversee the UK’s central bank since it was established in 1694. Since stepping down from the governorship in 2020, he has turned his focus to the tricky interface of economics and the environment. He has returned to the private sector as a vice chair and head of impact investing at Canada-based firm Brookfield Asset Management – a role that recently garnered some controversy for that firm’s definition of its net-zero climate investments. Carney is also the UN special envoy for climate action and the finance advisor for the UK government’s presidency of the UN’s COP26 climate change conference, a crucial point for the world’s climate plans, scheduled to take place this November in Glasgow. He has just written a book called Value(s): Building a better world for all about how we can and must rework capitalism to help solve the crises we face. Mark Carney: I came in as governor of the Bank of Canada at the start of the global financial crisis. I finished as the governor of the Bank of England literally the week of the first UK lockdown, at the start of the covid-19 crisis. Throughout that time, a third crisis – the climate crisis – has been building too. I reflected on all this and realised that, in many respects, these are all crises of values – in particular the relationship between how markets value things versus the broader values of society, including values that are necessary, actually, for the market to work well. The book tries to chart a way of thinking about value in economic terms and philosophical terms. It looks at how that thinking has changed, how that’s contributed to these crises and then what responses will work.
3-17-21 Yes, the global finance system must reform to avert a climate disaster
ESTABLISHING a good degree of pandemic resilience would have cost less than the economic output lost in just a single day of the covid-19 crisis. That missed opportunity is one indictment of market failings among many that former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney advances in our interview with him this week. Another, perhaps the most troubling, is the inability of markets to value the natural world. How is it that we can put a value on Amazon, the company, yet only ascribe value to the Amazon rainforest by logging it and stripping it bare? Carney’s critiques are worth listening to. He has sat at the top table of global capitalism for the past decade and a half. We have become in thrall, he says, to a dangerous market fundamentalism that fails to find value in things of real worth to all of us, things that create long-term prosperity: resilience, sustainability and equality of opportunity among them. Failure to invest in pandemic controls before covid-19 is one example of this “crisis of value”. The growing climate and environmental crisis is another. The technological solutions we need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century largely already exist. With a new US administration in place, the political momentum for change is gathering, too. Aligning market values with our values in the climate fight is now the missing piece. Carney is at the centre of efforts to remedy that in the run-up to the crucial COP26 climate talks in the UK this November. Central to it all is the thing that oils all efficient markets: information. Establishing reporting requirements, for example, that make it clear how firms’ investment strategies fit with net-zero might not sound heroic, but it would allow everyone to make investment decisions based on their own, and society’s, values.
3-17-21 Aircraft contrails are a climate menace. Can we rid the sky of them?
The wispy cloud trails left by aircraft cause more warming than the carbon emissions from their fuel. Now there might be a simple way to stop them forming. THERE are few more delightful antidotes to stress than to lie on your back in warm grass and watch the clouds go by. As children, we love finding the outlines of animals and castles in the billowing shapes. As adults, there is something calming and comforting about those fluffy tufts of white drifting slowly past. Clouds are beautiful. Clouds are innocent. With one exception. The streaky smears of cloud that criss-cross the sky in the wake of aeroplanes may look too wispy to cause any harm. But we now know that these condensation trails, or contrails, make an outsized contribution to global warming by trapping heat like a downy jacket. “They are one of the few manifestations of man-made climate change agents that you can actually observe,” says David Lee, an atmospheric scientist at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. As the evidence mounts to show how harmful contrails are, some engineers are reaching for an audacious solution: scrub them from the sky altogether. Contrails are created when water condenses to form ice crystals around tiny particles of soot from aircraft exhausts. Yet there is no fundamental reason why this has to happen. Decades of experiments with spy planes, alternative engines and, most recently, with artificial intelligence have shown that it is possible to stop them forming. It won’t be easy: wiping the atmosphere clean of contrails may require nothing less than a wholesale reimagining of the traffic in our skies. The effect of clouds on our climate is subtle because they can both reflect incoming sunlight, which has a cooling effect, and trap heat beneath them, which has a warming effect. However, contrails are a type of artificial cirrus – a thin, cold, high-altitude cloud – and we have known for a long time that these are a climate menace. Their wispiness means they let almost all sunlight through while also trapping heat below them highly effectively.
3-17-21 Pollinators are our secret weapon in the fight against global warming
Pollinators have a critical, but largely unappreciated, role to play when it comes to climate change, says ecologist Jeff Ollerton. YOU would be forgiven for not knowing that there are two large United Nations environmental events happening this year. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, UK, is receiving a huge amount of media attention; the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Kunming, China, much less so. At least, outside New Scientist. This is a source of frustration to us ecologists, but it is fairly typical: the climate emergency often overshadows the ecological emergency, even though the two overlap both in their causes and their solutions. Although ceasing the extraction of fossil fuels is a priority, if we are going to reverse the effects of climate change we need nature-based solutions, built on conservation of biodiversity, to capture the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Pollinators are crucial to this, but their numbers are declining, some species have gone extinct and others are critically endangered. Around 75 per cent of the world’s main types of crops rely on pollinators. Without them, our diets and farmers would be poorer. But their value in combating climate change is often overlooked. Almost 90 per cent of the 352,000 species of flowering plants are pollinated by insects and vertebrates such as birds and bats. As such, pollinators ensure the continuation of plant populations that lock up carbon in their woody stems, roots, bulbs and tubers. The best way to restore natural habitats to help fight global warming is through natural regeneration from seeds, and for that we need pollinators. But this may not be the most important role of pollinators in relation to climate change; how they affect soils may be more critical. When a pollinator visits a flower it sets in motion a chain of events that leads not just to seeds, but also to a series of structures that support plant reproduction. These include woody fruit casings that protect the developing embryo, as well as dispersal structures such as the wings of sycamore seeds. All of these contain a very high proportion of carbon. Once they have fulfilled their function, they fall to the ground where they enter the soil as a source of locked-in carbon.
3-17-21 Iceland shaken by more than 50,000 earthquakes in three weeks
Iceland has recorded more than 50,000 earthquakes in the past three weeks. This unusual activity indicates a volcanic eruption is on its way. Scientists are baffled over when it will happen and Icelanders are learning to live with the shakes.
3-17-21 Antarctic seafloor exposed after 50 years of ice cover
Life gets busy wherever it can, even under thick ice cover in Antarctica. German scientists have inspected an area of seafloor newly exposed by the calving of mega-iceberg A74 and found it to be teeming with animals. Video cameras tracked abundant filter feeders thriving among the soft muds. It was a remarkable opportunity for the team as their ship, RV Polarstern, threaded the still narrow gap that exists between A74 and the Brunt Ice Shelf, which produced the giant berg. Research groups frequently try to probe waters below freshly calved ice shelves, to better understand how these unique ecosystems operate. But success is not easily won. You have to be in the right place in Antarctica at just the right time, and often the sea-ice conditions simply won't let a research ship get into position above the target site. But Polarstern, run by the Alfred Wegener Institute, got lucky. It was already in the eastern Weddell Sea on a pre-planned expedition when city-sized A74 split from the Brunt. And when the weather calmed last weekend, the ship slipped in behind the berg to take a look at an area of seafloor that is now free of ice cover for the first time in five decades. Polarstern employs an Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System (OFOBS). This is a sophisticated instrument package that is towed behind the ship at depth. Over five hours, the system collected almost 1,000 high-resolution images and long sequences of video. "Despite the years of continuous ice coverage, a developed and diverse seafloor community was observed," said OFOBS team-members Dr Autun Purser and Dr Frank Wenzhoefer. "In the images, numerous sessile animals can be seen attached to various small stones scattered liberally across the soft seafloor. "The majority of these are filter-feeding organisms, presumably subsisting on fine material transported under the ice over these last decades. "Some mobile fauna, such as holothurians, ophiuroids, various molluscs, as well as at least five species of fish and two species of octopus were also observed."
3-16-21 Climate change: Jet fuel from waste 'dramatically lowers' emissions
A new approach to making jet fuel from food waste has the potential to massively reduce carbon emissions from flying, scientists say. Currently, most of the food scraps that are used for energy around the world are converted into methane gas. But researchers in the US have found a way of turning this waste into a type of paraffin that works in jet engines. The authors of the new study say the fuel cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 165% compared to fossil energy. This figure comes from the reduction in carbon emitted from airplanes plus the emissions that are avoided when food waste is diverted from landfill. The aviation industry worldwide is facing some difficult decisions about how to combine increased demand for flying with the need to rapidly cut emissions from the sector. In the US, airlines currently use around 21 billion gallons of jet fuel every year, with demand expected to double by the middle of the century. At the same time, they have committed to cutting CO2 by 50%. With the development of battery-powered airplanes for long haul flights a distant prospect at this point, much attention has focussed on replacing existing jet fuel with a sustainable alternative. In fact the UK government has just announced a £15m competition to encourage companies to develop jet fuel from household waste products. Current methods of making green jet fuel are based on a similar approach to making biodiesel for cars and heavy goods vehicles. It normally requires the use of virgin vegetable oils as well as waste fats, oil and grease to make the synthetic fuel. At present, it is more economical to convert these oils and wastes into diesel as opposed to jet fuel - which requires an extra step in the process, driving up costs. Now, researchers say that they have developed an alternative method able to turn food waste, animal manure and waste water into a competitive jet hydrocarbon.
3-16-21 Plastic bags recycled into fabric to fight pollution
Scientists have made fabrics from polythene in a move they say could reduce plastic pollution and make the fashion industry more sustainable. Polythene is a ubiquitous plastic, found in everything from plastic bags to food packaging. The new textiles have potential uses in sports wear, and even high-end fashion, according to US researchers. The plastic "cloth" is more environmentally-friendly than natural fibres, and can be recycled, they say. Dr Svetlana Boriskina, from the department of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US, said plastic bags that nobody wants can be turned into high-performance fabrics with a low environmental footprint. "There's no reason why the simple plastic bag cannot be made into fibre and used as a high-end garment," she told BBC News. "You can go literally from trash to a high-performance garment that provides comfort and can be recycled multiple times back into a new garment." The fabric is made from fibres of polythene woven on industrial looms into textiles that are designed to be comfortable to wear. Crucially, the fibres are designed to allow water to escape, rather than repelling water like conventional polythene. The researchers say the fabric is less damaging to the environment than the likes of wool, cotton, linen, silk, nylon and polyester, and can be washed in cold water, further reducing the environmental footprint. The plastic can be dyed in different colours before being woven into fabric. Because it is made up of only one type of plastic - polythene - it can be recycled into new garments time and time again. The fabric has potential for use in sportswear, such as trainers, vests and leggings, they say. In the long-term, it could also have applications as a high-performance space suit, engineered to be protect against cosmic radiation.
3-16-21 Should the hurricane season begin earlier?
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on 1 June. But over the past six years, significant storms have been forming earlier than this. So does the hurricane season need to start earlier - and is climate change to blame? At a regional meeting of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) this week, meteorologists and officials will be discussing a possible change to how the hurricane season is defined. "The 2020 hurricane season was one of the most challenging in the 40-year history of [the] WMO's Tropical Cyclone Programme," says WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas. "The record number of hurricanes combined with Covid-19 to create, literally, the perfect storm." The hurricane season has officially started on the 1 June since the mid-1960s, when hurricane reconnaissance planes would start routine trips into the Atlantic to spot storm development. Over the past 10 to 15 years, though, named storms have formed prior to the official start about 50% of the time. And the way they are defined and observed has changed significantly over time. "Many of these storms are short-lived systems that are now being identified because of better monitoring and policy changes that now name sub-tropical storms," Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist at the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) told BBC Weather. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record with a total of 30 named storms. Two of those storms - Arthur and Bertha - formed in May. As all the pre-determined names were used up, officials at the NHC had to move on to using the Greek alphabet for only the second time. During the 2020 season, the NHC had to issue thirty-six "special" forecasts called Tropical Weather Outlooks prior to 1 June. These highlight areas in the Atlantic where meteorologists monitor activity. Mr Feltgen said that "in order to provide more consistent information for late May and early June systems, NHC will begin to issue these outlooks routinely from 15 May this year". Is this a step closer to officially recognising the season starting earlier?
3-15-21 Apocalyptic skies as Beijing hit by worst sandstorm in a decade
The Chinese capital of Beijing was covered in thick dust on Monday as it experienced what its weather bureau has called the worst sandstorm in a decade. The storm caused an unprecedented spike in air pollution measurements - with pollution levels in some districts at 160 times the recommended limit. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or grounded as the sky was covered by an apocalyptic-looking orange haze. The sand is being brought in by strong winds from Inner Mongolia. In Mongolia the severe sandstorms have reportedly caused six deaths and left dozens missing. China's Global Times media outlet reported that at least 12 provinces in the country, including the capital, had been affected, and the weather was likely to continue through the day on Monday before improving at night. "It looks like the end of the world," Beijing resident Flora Zou told the Reuters news agency. "In this kind of weather I really, really don't want to be outside," she said. The WHO currently sets safe levels of air quality based on the concentration of polluting particles called particulate matter (PM) found in the air. According to news wire AFP quoting the Global Times, the PM 10 pollution in six central districts reached "over 8,100 micrograms per cubic metre" on Monday. The WHO considers levels between 0-54 as "good" and 55-154" as "moderate" levels of PM 10. AFP added that schools had been told to cancel outdoor events, and those with respiratory diseases advised to stay indoors. Beijing was historically hit by sandstorms on a much more regular basis, but pollution reduction projects - including prohibitions on new coal-fired power plants, restrictions on the number of cars on the road and reforestation - have significantly improved air quality. Sandstorms like the one seen this week, caused by wind, are harder to control. But Beijing and surrounding regions have suffered from high levels of pollution in recent weeks, with one Greenpeace activist telling AFP that it was a result of "intense" industrial activities. These, he said, exacerbated sandstorm conditions, which were the "result of extreme weather conditions and desertification".
3-15-21 One side of Earth's interior is losing heat much faster than the other
Our planet is a bit lopsided. One half of Earth is losing heat from the planet’s interior faster than the other, and has been for much of the past 400 million years. The uneven heat loss is probably a relic of past supercontinents, when all the land masses were joined together on one side of the planet. “We see that the Pacific has lost more heat,” says Krister Karlsen at the University of Oslo in Norway. “That is in large part due to the distribution of the continental land masses.” Karlsen and his colleagues reconstructed the rates of heat loss from Earth’s interior over the past 400 million years by combining two existing data sets. The first concerns the amount of heat from Earth’s interior that flows up through the crust. This data set shows that oceans aren’t as good at trapping heat inside Earth as the continents are, says Karlsen. That is partly down to the thickness of the rock: continental crust is often many kilometres thicker than oceanic crust, so it is a better insulator. The second data set relates to the movement of the continents deep in prehistory. Some continental rocks carry telltale traces of Earth’s magnetic field, which varies around the globe. Data from these rocks can be used to show that Earth has, on several occasions, been home to a supercontinent – and it can help establish some of those supercontinents’ approximate position. The most recent supercontinent was Pangaea, which existed from around 335 to 175 million years ago, and was centred roughly where Africa lies today. When Karlsen and his colleagues reconstructed the pattern of heat loss through the past 400 million years, they found that more heat had been lost from the Pacific hemisphere of the planet than from the opposite African hemisphere, where Pangaea once lay. The Pacific side of our planet was – and still is – dominated by ocean.
3-13-21 Climate change: 'Forever plant' seagrass faces uncertain future
The green, underwater meadows of Posidonia seagrass that surround the Balearic Islands are one of the world's most powerful, natural defences against climate change. A hectare of this ancient, delicate plant can soak up 15 times more carbon dioxide every year than a similar sized piece of the Amazon rainforest. But this global treasure is now under extreme pressure from tourists, from development and ironically from climate change. Posidonia oceanica is found all over the Mediterranean but the area between Mallorca and Formentera is of special interest, having been designated a world heritage site by Unesco over 20 years ago. Here you'll find around 55,000 hectares of the plant, which helps prevent coastal erosion, acts as a nursery for fish, but also plays a globally significant role in soaking up CO2. "These seagrass meadows are the champion of carbon sequestration for the biosphere," said Prof Carlos Duarte, of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. He's recently published the first global scientific assessment of the environmental value of Unesco's marine world heritage sites. "Posidonia acts as a very intensive sediment trap and captures carbon into these sediments. It is also very resistant to microbial degradation, so the carbon is not degraded when it's deposited on the sea floor. And much of that stays unaltered during decades to millennia." Depending on the water temperature, the species reproduces either sexually through flowering or asexually by cloning itself. This ability to clone itself means it can live an extremely long time. "It's a remarkable plant not only in the capacity to sequester carbon, but also because it's one of the longest-lived organisms on the planet," said Prof Duarte. "In the marine protected areas of Ibiza we documented one clone where we estimated that the seed that produced that clone was released into the seafloor and sprouted 200,000 years ago." "A clone could be eternal, kind of," says Dr Núria Marbà, from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Mallorca.
3-12-21 Signs that Earth was once almost entirely molten found in ancient rock
Chemical signatures in 3.7-billion-year-old basalt rocks from Greenland support the long-held theory that Earth was once almost entirely molten. We know very little about what early Earth looked like – but one theory says that at several times it was almost entirely molten, a magma ocean. These oceans were probably caused by a series of massive impacts with other objects in our solar system that each generated enough energy to melt our planet’s interior. One of the last such collisions is thought to have formed the moon. Now, Helen Williams at the University of Cambridge and her colleagues have found evidence of these early magma oceans in ancient rocks. They collected samples of 3.7-billion-year-old basalt from the Isua supracrustal belt, an area of rocks in south-west Greenland, and measured the iron isotopes in them using chromatography and mass spectroscopy. They found unusually high levels of heavy iron isotopes – lighter ones are commonly found in younger basalt rocks. These heavy iron isotopes are typical of the high pressures of magma ocean crystallisation, says Williams. “We are looking at a real signature of the process.” The team found that the Greenland rocks contained iron-rich minerals that hold a history of repeated crystallisation from magma oceans beginning as early as 4.1 billion years ago. Some of the minerals may have formed at least 700 kilometres below Earth’s surface. “The unusual ratios of iron isotopes are best explained by crystals having formed in a deep magma ocean and then being transported to the upper mantle where they melted again to form the Greenland rocks,” says Catherine McCammon at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, who wasn’t involved in the research. “Old rocks, such as the ones from Greenland, are melted reconstructions of ancient material.”
3-12-21 Climate change: 'Default effect' sees massive green energy switch
When Swiss energy companies made green electricity the default choice, huge numbers of consumers were happy to stick with it - even though it cost them more. Four years after the switch, researchers found that around 80% of customers were still on green tariffs. This "default effect" happened partly because people didn't want the hassle of switching back to fossil fuels. The authors say the idea could have a big impact on global emissions of CO2. In the study, the researchers looked at what happened when two Swiss energy suppliers changed the default electricity offering for their customers from a mixture of fuels to renewables only. This change affected around 234,000 private households and 9,000 businesses. Before the switch, the numbers choosing to have green power were at around 3%. Afterwards, this rose to 80-90% of customers. Residential consumers had to pay at least 3-8% more for their energy on the green tariff, while businesses saw their costs increase by up to 14% for energy used at night. Remarkably, these extra costs weren't enough to push consumers to change their tariffs back to ones with fossil fuels in the mix. "It is worth noting that even five years after the change, some 80% of the households are still sticking with green electricity," said co-author Dr Jennifer Gewinner, from ETH Zurich, a public research university in Switzerland's largest city. It was a similar story for small business customers. Several years after the switch, more than 70% were still on the more expensive green tariff. In the case of large companies, which had considerable choice in terms of which energy provider to go with, the vast majority stayed with green energy even though it was costing them around $2,300 extra per year. The researchers believe that what they are observing is the surprising power of the default effect. This is a widely known phenomenon in different spheres, such as in organ donation, where laws have changed in many countries so that the people have to opt out if they don't want to donate after death.
3-12-21 Cumbria coal mine: Public inquiry after government U-turn
A public inquiry has been announced into plans for the first new deep coal mine in the UK for decades. The government had previously decided not to intervene on the project near Whitehaven in Cumbria, which was in the hands of local officials. But ministers have taken control because of "increased" controversy. Green campaigners say the mine will increase carbon emissions and send the wrong signal in the run-up to a UK-hosted climate conference in October. The Woodhouse Colliery would extract coking coal for the steel industry from the seabed off St Bees, with a processing plant at Kells, in Whitehaven. Cumbria County Council councillors, who have been assessing the project since 2017, gave it the go-ahead last March - but have since decided to review the application. Last month it was reported that the government's climate tsar, Alok Sharma, was apoplectic the plans for the coal mine had not been stopped. Mr Sharma, who is in charge of preparations for the COP26 UN climate conference, has faced calls to resign over the issue. He told MPs only last month that the mine was a "local issue" and would be decided by the council. But the government has now decided to "call in" the application, meaning Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will get the final say over it. In a letter to Cumbria County Council, Mr Jenrick said the application had raised issues of "more than local importance". He added the reversal had also been prompted by new advice on carbon emissions from government climate advisers published in December. However, a public inquiry will first be held by independent planners at the Planning Inspectorate. The inquiry process could take a number of months. MP Trudy Harrison, whose Copeland constituency would include the mine, is a ministerial aide to Boris Johnson and has described opponents of the mine as being in "cloud cuckoo land".
3-10-21 Wooden floors rotted by fungi generate electricity when walked on
Fungi have helped scientists make a breakthrough in transforming wood into a useful source of clean electricity, which could one day lead to “energy ballrooms”. The possibility of applying pressure to wood to produce an electric charge, known as the piezoelectric effect, has been discussed since the 1940s and 1950s. However, the vanishingly small amount of electricity the process produces has held back the idea. Now, a team led by Ingo Burgert at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, has discovered how to tweak the internal structure of balsa wood to make the piezoelectric output 55 times higher. The solution was to deliberately rot the wood. Burgert and his colleagues applied a white rot fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) to balsa wood for several weeks. This rapidly decayed the lignin and hemicellulose within the wood, reducing its weight by almost half. They found the sweet spot was six weeks of treatment to create wood that was more compressible – meaning it could generate more electricity from the pressing and releasing action when pressure was applied – without losing its strength. The team then rigged up nine blocks of the decayed wood, covered with a wooden veneer, to create a prototype “energy floor” that was wired up to power an LED. “It’s clear this is only a first step in this direction. But it’s important to show there’s potential,” says Burgert. The amount of electricity generated is still very small, just 0.85 volts from one cube of decayed wood 15 millimetres across. Initially, the electricity could power remote sensors, for example ones that detect whether an older person has fallen over, suggests Burgert. However, in the longer run he envisages energy floors such as a wooden ballroom producing a much greater output, and is talking with companies about commercialising an energy wood product.
3-9-21 Climate change: Kerry urges top polluters to cut emissions now
US climate change envoy John Kerry has urged the world's top 20 polluters which create 81% of emissions between them to reduce CO2 immediately. He was speaking after meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior UK figures in London to plan two upcoming international climate summits. He praised the UK for phasing out coal, and for its "ambitious" climate goals. But he told BBC Newsnight that the UK - along with other major nations - must deliver their proposed emissions cuts. "China, the US, Russia, India, the EU, Korea, Japan and others all have to be part of this effort," he said. "Twenty countries. Eighty one percent of the emissions." Asked during the interview whether the UK should be planning a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria, he replied: "The marketplace has made a decision that coal is not the future. "All over the world people have made a decision to move to cleaner fuel than coal, which is the dirtiest fuel in the world. In America and elsewhere …most banks will tell you we're not going to fund a new coal plant." Earlier after talks with Mr Johnson and other senior ministers, Mr Kerry hailed the UK as a "strong partner" in the fight to safeguard the planet. And the prime minister said the two countries had an "exciting shared agenda" in driving down global emissions in the run-up to November's COP 26 UN summit in Glasgow. Mr Kerry, a former US Secretary of State appointed to the role by Mr Biden in November, spent several hours in Downing Street with Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister who is chairing November's gathering. Mr Kerry was also due to meet other senior UK figures, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. On Tuesday, climate diplomacy sees him in Paris and Brussels for talks with European leaders, who have been praised for their recent target to cut emissions 55% on 1990 levels. Leaders are wrestling with gloomy news from China, whose recent five-year plan takes tiny steps to decarbonisation.
3-8-21 Colorado's legal cannabis farms emit more carbon than its coal mines
Legal cannabis production in Colorado emits more greenhouse gases than the state’s coal mining industry, researchers analysing the sector’s energy use have found. The production and use of cannabis for medical or recreational reasons is now legal in several US states, which has led to a booming industry. Hailey Summers and her colleagues at Colorado State University have quantified and analysed the greenhouse gas emissions produced by cannabis growers. They found that emissions varied widely by state, from 2.3 to 5.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per kilogram of dried flower produced. In Colorado, the emissions add up to around 2.6 megatonnes of CO2e, which is more than that from the state’s coal mining at 1.8 megatonnes of CO2e. “The emissions that come from growing 1 ounce, depending on where it’s grown in the US, is about the same as burning 7 to 16 gallons of gasoline,” says Summers. Most US cannabis is grown indoors, as some states don’t allow outdoor growing and the crops are also at risk of theft. This means that the majority of cannabis production emissions come from climate-control systems and high-powered lights that take the place of the sun. “One of the challenges associated with this is that the profit margins are so huge that you don’t have to be making super energy-conscious decisions,” says team member Jason Quinn. The team suggests that moving to growing cannabis outdoors in greenhouses could lower the energy requirements and reduce emissions. The current indoor set-ups could also be made more energy efficient by switching to LED bulbs and retrofitting the climate-control systems. Making the change in Colorado would save 2.1 megatonnes of CO2e, or 1.3 per cent of the state’s total emissions.
3-8-21 Keep warming under 1.5°C to stop tropics becoming too hot to live
The tropics could become uninhabitable if we don’t limit global warming to less than 1.5°C, the target set in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Above this, the equatorial region, which is home to around 43 per cent of the world’s population, could see air temperatures increase beyond the limit that the human body can withstand. Yi Zhang at Princeton University in New Jersey and her colleagues used data from 22 climate models to determine how rising air temperatures in the tropics will affect wet bulb temperatures – a measure of both heat and humidity made with a thermometer covered by a wet cloth. “One can think of this wetted thermometer bulb as mimicking the process of human skin cooling off by evaporating sweat – this is why it is relevant for the heat stress of our bodies,” says Zhang. Humans’ ability to regulate an optimum body temperature of 37°C is dependent on this. If the wet bulb temperature exceeds 35°C, the human body is unable to sufficiently cool itself down. “The drier the environment is, the more effective the evaporation is and the lower the wet bulb temperature,” says Zhang. “Most of us can tell from life experience that a hot and humid day feels hotter than an equally hot but dry day.” Although wet bulb temperature is often lower than air temperature, the team’s models suggested that an increase in air temperature in the tropics would correspond to an equal increase in wet bulb temperature. Temperatures in the tropics are already high on average, but as the humidity is also generally high, this places the region at higher risk of becoming uninhabitable than other areas of Earth. The team’s analysis suggests that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will prevent the region from reaching the 35°C threshold of wet bulb temperature.
3-8-21 Climate change: Johnson meeting US envoy Kerry for talks
America’s special climate change envoy John Kerry is in London meeting Prime Boris Johnson and senior ministers. Their talks come ahead of two critical summits – one in the US in April and the other in Glasgow in November. Leaders are wrestling with gloomy news from China, whose recent five-year plan takes tiny steps to decarbonisation. But they will be heartened by President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package agreed by the Senate, which will support “green” economic growth. There is positive news too, from Brazil, which – under US pressure – says its previous stance blocking climate talks was misunderstood. Mr Kerry, a former US Secretary of State appointed to the role by Mr Biden in November, has arrived for talks in Downing Street. He will also be meeting the organiser of November's COP26 summit, Alok Sharma, as well as Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. On Tuesday, climate diplomacy sees him in Paris and Brussels for talks with European leaders, who have been praised for their recent target to cut emissions 55% on 1990 levels. Monday's meetings may go some way to helping the UK focus its objectives for the November gathering. Ministers were accused recently by MPs on the Business and Energy Select Committee of failing to set clear goals. The committee said the key areas identified by the UK for action - adaptation and resilience; nature based solutions; energy transitions; clean transport and switching the finance system to low-carbon investments - were too broad and "without clear measures for success". It said more focus needed to be given to the "overriding necessity" of agreeing deliverable policies that keep global temperature rises to as close to 1.5C as possible. Nick Mabey, from the think tank e3g, told the BBC there was the potential to achieve multiple goals – including banning new coal power plants, ending banks' fossil fuel investment and supporting poorer nations to adapt - and that these should be debated publicly. “This debate is up for grabs” he said. “It should be a public debate because we’re talking out how to change whole economies. A lot of the outcomes from Glasgow will be decided in the court of public opinion.”
3-8-21 Carbon-negative crops may mean water shortages for 4.5 billion people
Billions more people could have difficulty accessing water if the world opts for a massive expansion in growing energy crops to fight climate change, research has found. The idea of growing crops and trees to absorb CO2 and capturing the carbon released when they are for energy is a central plank to most of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios for the negative emissions approaches needed to avoid the catastrophic impacts of more than 1.5°C of global warming. But the technology, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), could prove a cure worse than the disease, at least when it comes to water stress. Fabian Stenzel at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and his colleagues project that the water needed to irrigate enough energy crops to stay under the 1.5°C limit would leave 4.58 billion people experiencing high water stress by 2100 – up from 2.28 billion today. That is 300 million more people than a scenario in which BECCS isn’t used at scale and warming spirals to a devastating 3°C. “I was a little bit shocked. The takeaway message is, so far, we haven’t looked at side effects enough. To limit all the trade-offs that we might face in terms of climate change and climate change mitigation, it’s really important to look at the holistic Earth system,” says Stenzel. The analysis found high water stress, which is when the ratio of water demand to supply is more than 40 per cent, would expand to previously unstressed parts of the world due to the need for new BECCS crop plantations. South America and southern Africa would both be hit hard. The upper-end projection of 4.58 billion affected people assumes a total of 6 million square kilometres of crops grown for BECCS, limited use of sustainable water and a global population reaching 9 billion by 2100.
3-8-21 Could lab-grown meat help tackle climate change?
Last year, Singapore became the first country to allow the sale of lab-grown meat. BBC Minute takes a look at what lab-grown meat is and whether it could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future.
3-7-21 Will regenerative agriculture change the way we grocery shop?
Look for the word "regenerative" at your local grocery store. Chances are, you'll spot it on boxes of mac and cheese, cartons of milks, or even bags of chips. Regenerative agriculture, also called carbon farming, has become the latest darling of everyone from food companies to universities to politicians. But what is regenerative agriculture? How do products made with these practices differ from others, and can buying them help consumers fight the climate crisis? Here's what you need to know about this farming philosophy. Ask 10 different people to define regenerative agriculture, and you'll get 10 different answers. There is no one single definition, although several organizations are currently working to establish formal guidelines. "The idea with regenerative agriculture is to make the land better than it was," says Dawn Pettinelli, associate cooperative extension educator at the University of Connecticut's Institute of the Environment. In essence, regenerative agriculture is farming done in a way that helps build soil health, increase organic matter, store water more effectively, and draw carbon out of the atmosphere. This isn't exactly a new idea — farming with soil health in mind is a concept nearly as old as agriculture itself. It wasn't until the 1980s, however, that the Rodale Institute began using the term, and it's only recently become a buzzword. "There's a lot of power in words, and I think people are drawn to the term because it conveys something that is missing," says Jiff Martin, associate extension educator in sustainable food systems for the University of Connecticut's College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, adding she's noticed the term being used more frequently in the past five years. The number of labels on our food and other products can be overwhelming, but there are some differences between organic, other labels, and those that denote products made with regenerative agriculture. Think of organic as the idea of "do no harm." Regenerative takes it a step beyond that: It's a farming philosophy focused on healing. You may find this terminology on products under the Regenerative Organic Alliance label. Designed by Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner's, products certified by the Regenerative Organic Alliance are organic and made in a way that benefits farmers and promotes long-term soil health. "It's soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness," says Birgit Cameron, head of Patagonia Provisions. "It goes together with organic. You can call it regenerative or not, but you can't have a truly regenerative system if organic isn't attached to it." Patagonia Provisions partners with farmers and producers interested in regenerative agriculture that are already practicing organic farming, and the company has strong animal welfare and social fairness philosophies behind its line of shelf-stable packaged foods. While regenerative agriculture is something that many small farmers have long specialized in, that doesn't necessarily make the practice an easy one. "It's hard because all of agriculture is hard, and you need to be viable," Martin says. "But people have different notions of what viable is, how much money you have to make to be successful, and ultimately if you can grow food in a way that meets your values while still being able to sell it."
3-5-21 The Himalayan hazards nobody is monitoring
Retreating glaciers in the Himalayas are not only dangerously filling up glacial lakes but they are also causing other hazards that are not being monitored, scientists have warned. The recent flash flood disaster in India's Uttarakhand state, they say, is the latest example of such a perilous knowledge gap. The Himalayas have the largest number of glaciers on Earth outside the poles and they have lost billions of tonnes of ice due to accelerated melting caused by global warming. "There is simply no comprehensive understanding of what actually is happening in terms of such hazards," said Professor Jeffrey Kargel, a senior geologist in the US who has researched a number of disasters in the Himalayas and who is also looking into the Uttarakhand disaster. "We are just reactive when incidents like what happened in Uttarakhand happen. We are not monitoring the glaciers with such hazard attributes, at least not the majority of them." Experts say when glaciers retreat or thin out, some of them can become dangerous. For instance, in some cases, remaining ice of retreated glaciers can hang perilously on steep walls of mountains and can collapse at any time. It is also possible that thinned or retreated glaciers can destabilise the ground below and around them which they would have otherwise buttressed. This can make the area prone to landslides, rockfall or icefall and even potentially lead to the collapse of entire mountain slopes. Scientists say such events can also block rivers and rivulets below that eventually burst, sweeping away everything in their path - just like what seems to have happened in Uttarakhand recently, according to preliminary findings. But they say they don't know where exactly such glacier-related dangers are lurking and which human settlements and infrastructure downstream are under threat. The difficult geography of the Himalayas makes such monitoring extremely challenging, they add. "There are more than 50,000 glaciers in the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush region and only 30 of them are being closely observed, including field studies," said Muhammad Farooq Azam, a glaciologist with the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore. "Only around 15 of those studies have been published. We need to be observing our glaciers more closely, particularly because so many factors are at play."
3-5-21 Nalleli Cobo: How a nine-year-old fought an oil company and won
When a Latino community in Los Angeles began their fight against an oil company they claimed was polluting their neighbourhood, a young woman played a central role. Nalleli Cobo was nine years old when she started suffering from asthma, nosebleeds and headaches. It was the beginning of a battle against an active oil well site located in front of her house in South Los Angeles. Nalleli and her mother soon found out that some of their neighbours were also getting sick. The community, mostly composed of low-income families, protested until the site was temporarily shut down. Cobo didn't stop there. Joined by a group of young activists and organisations, they sued the city to demand more regulations in oil extraction. And they won. A criminal case against the company, Allenco, and its handling of the site, resumes later this month. They declined to comment for this story but have previously stated that they invested capital to comply with regulations. She has been compared to Greta Thunberg, although her name has been recognised locally for over a decade. Cobo paused her activism activities in early 2020 after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19. Her doctors don't know what caused her illness. After three surgeries and medical treatment, she has recently been declared cancer-free. This is her story. I grew up in University Park, in South Central Los Angeles, 30ft across the street from an oil well owned by AllenCo from 2009. I lived with my mom, my three siblings, my grandma, my great grandpa, my great grandma all in one apartment. We were eight people, including me. My mom is from Mexico and my dad is from Colombia. He was deported when I was two years old and my mom raised me. It was the year 2010 and I was nine years old. All of the sudden I started having stomach pains, nausea. I got body spasms so severe I couldn't walk, my mom would have to carry me because I would freeze up like a vegetable. I got nosebleeds so severe that I would have to sleep sitting down so I wouldn't choke on my own blood at night.
3-5-21 Antarctica: Close-up view of crack that made mega-iceberg
Very high resolution imagery has been released of the crack that resulted in the calving of Antarctica's latest mega-iceberg. A74, as the 1,290-sq-km (500-sq-mile) block is known, broke away from the Brunt Ice Shelf exactly a week ago. The new pictures from last Saturday show the widening "North Rift" a day after calving. They were acquired by the UK satellite Vision-1 for the British Antarctic Survey. BAS has its Halley Research Station on the Brunt, positioned about 23km from the rift. Also in the hands of BAS is new radar imagery captured on Thursday by the EU's Sentinel-1 spacecraft. This gives a wider view of the 150m-thick A74 pushing out into Antarctica's Weddell Sea. BAS is using all these space pictures to monitor events. The Cambridge-based agency wants to see if A74 might collide with the western part of the Brunt and initiate a second calving even closer to Halley. The base is currently unoccupied. In part, that's because of Covid; very little Antarctic science is being undertaken at present. But it's also because BAS needs to be sure the Brunt Ice Shelf - a vast floating platform of ice - will remain stable into the future. Halley would be 17km from the most likely site of a second calving. GPS sensors around Halley reported no reaction in the ice directly under the base in the days following the production of A74. BAS is confident the same would be true from a second breakaway, but the agency would obviously like the certainty that come with the data. The Vision-1 satellite was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd of Guildford. It's a subsidiary of the European aerospace giant Airbus. Vision-1 can resolve details at the surface of the Earth less than a metre across. It is on the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is the floating protrusion of glaciers that have flowed off the land into the Weddell Sea. On a map, the Weddell Sea is that sector of Antarctica directly to the south of the Atlantic Ocean. The Brunt is on the eastern side of the sea. Like all ice shelves, it will periodically calve icebergs.
3-5-21 National Trust maps out climate threats to historic places
The National Trust has mapped climate change threats to its stately homes, countryside and coastline. The map paints a "stark picture", which will help plan interventions to save its sites, says the charity. The data is based on a "worst-case scenario" where emissions of heat-trapping gases continue unabated. Sites facing a high level of threat from the likes of extreme heat or flooding could rise from 5% in 2020 to 17% in 2060, the map predicts. The map will be used to help pinpoint locations for peat bog restoration to counteract flooding or tree planting to provide shade in areas likely to experience high temperatures. "While the data draws on a worst-case scenario, the map paints a stark picture of what we have to prepare for," National Trust director for land and nature Harry Bowell said. "But by acting now, and working with nature, we can adapt to many of these risks." Future threats include more landslides at coastal sites such as the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, storm and flood damage to historic buildings, and high heat and humidity at stately homes such as Ham House in London. The map uses data from a number of sources and plots them in hexagonal grids across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the National Trust operates. A spokesperson for the independent Climate Change Committee, which advises government, said: "This map will support our research and analysis into the vulnerability and exposure of some of the nation's most important and sensitive heritage sites to future climate change." The release of the map comes eight months ahead of a key climate summit in Glasgow where world leaders will meet to formulate a global plan on how to tackle the climate crisis. On Friday, two reports from MPs criticised the government over its planning for meeting long-term climate targets and a lack of clear measures of success for the COP26 conference.
3-5-21 Government has no climate change plan - MPs
The government has been hit by a double whammy of reports from MPs criticising its performance on climate change. The influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says ministers have "no plan" to meet climate change targets, two years after setting them in law. And the business committee says the vital UN climate conference scheduled for Glasgow in November will fail unless its goals are made clear. The government says both reports are inaccurate and unfair. The PAC's report says ministers still don't have a coordinated strategy to realise the goal of removing almost all the carbon emissions from Britain by 2050. The report notes that the government intends to publish what the MPs call a "plethora" of strategies setting out how it will reduce emissions in sectors ranging from transport to heating buildings. But, it says, the policies aren't agreed yet. The MPs say the Treasury has changed its guidance to ensure departments place greater emphasis on the environmental impacts of their policies, but hasn't explained how this will work in practice. What's more, the MPs say, the government is not yet ensuring that its activities to reduce emissions in Britain are not simply transferring those emissions overseas - where so many of the carbon-intensive goods bought in Britain's shops are made. They also blame the government for failing to engage with the public. Meg Hillier, the committee's Labour chairwoman, said: "The government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net zero economy by 2050 - but there is little sign that it understands how to get there. " We must see a clear path plotted, with interim goals set and reached - it will not do to dump our emissions on poorer countries to hit UK targets. "Our new international trade deals, the levelling up agenda - all must fit in the plan to reach net zero. "COP26 (the vital climate conference in Glasgow in November) is a few months away. The eyes of the world, its scientists and policymakers are on the UK - big promises full of fine words won't stand up."
3-4-21 Then and now: A 'megadrought' in California
In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. Here, we look at the effects of extreme weather on a crucial reservoir that supplies water to millions of people in northern California This year is likely to be critically dry for California. Winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across the state are not expected to be substantial enough to counterbalance drought conditions. Lake Oroville plays a key role in California's complex water delivery system. This 65km-square body of water north of Sacramento is the second-largest reservoir in California. Not only does Lake Oroville store water, it helps control flooding elsewhere in the region, assists with the maintenance of water quality and boosts the health of fisheries downstream. In 2014, more than 80% of California was in the grip of an "extreme drought". Against this backdrop, Oroville's capacity fell to 30% - a historic low level. As the water level receded to hundreds of feet below normal levels, ramps and roads no longer reached the water's edge. More worryingly, the reservoir - when full - provided enough water for an estimated seven million households, as well as providing power for hydroelectricity facilities and irrigation for agricultural land. The dry conditions didn't start in 2014, however, there had been a drought for years prior to Oroville recording its historic low level. Indeed, the US space agency's Earth Observatory had warned that the multi-year drought was having a wider impact on the region. Among its effects was a contribution to "unusually active and destructive" fire seasons and poor yields from agricultural land. "There is strong evidence from climate models and centuries of tree ring data that suggest about one-third to one-half of the severity of the current drought can be attributed to climate change," observed Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist from Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
3-4-21 Changing sounds reveal impact of Amazon fires on animal life
Round-the-clock acoustic recordings have been used to monitor the effects of logging and fires on biodiversity in tropical forests. Danielle Rappaport at the University of Maryland and her colleagues used historical satellite data to select sites in the southern Brazilian Amazon that had experienced logging or forest fires over the past few decades. They placed sound recorders at the sites in September and October 2016 to try to capture the acoustic markers of ecosystem degradation. The aim was to develop a way to measure ecosystem intactness through the overall acoustic patterns created by all the sound-generating animals in an environment. This would allow researchers to track variations in the composition of animal communities without having to identify individual species, says Rappaport. Traditionally, biodiversity research in the Amazon has focused on dawn and dusk inventories of identifiable animals, most commonly birds, says Rappaport. “Our understanding of biodiversity really has excluded the taxa we can’t identify, like insects, which makes up the bulk of biodiversity in the Amazon,” she says. After analysing thousands of hours of ecosystem audio, the researchers found that there was a difference in 24-hour acoustic activity patterns between logged and burned forests. “Fire has a major pronounced effect on animal communities,” says Rappaport. In particular, the researchers found that this fire effect was far more pronounced in forests that had experienced two or more fire events. In these forests, animal communication networks were quieter, less connected and more homogenous. “It really underscores the importance of protecting a burned forest from subsequent burns,” says Rappaport. Rappaport’s previous research using lidar technology has shown that forest degradation from fire and logging results in large and sustained losses of stored carbon.
3-4-21 Climate change: Will China take a 'great leap' to a greener economy?
Tackling climate change may emerge as a key goal for China when it unveils its future economic roadmap in Beijing on Friday. The 14th five-year plan will be the blueprint for the country's short-term development. It's expected to outline stronger steps in limiting carbon from the world's biggest emitter. But concerns over the impact on the economy could stem the shift towards greener policies. Every five years since 1953, China has produced a planning document that sets out the government's targets for economic growth, social development and foreign policy over the next half decade. Essentially, it is the political programme of the Chinese Communist Party and the plans are the framework that guide all policy decisions across government and industry. For decades, they have sparked the fossil-fuel based growth of the Chinese economy, leading to rapid growth in GDP (gross domestic product) and rising living standards. The key question for the Chinese government is: can it keep the economy growing while limiting the warming gases that threaten the entire planet. Last September, Chinese president Xi Jinping surprised the world by announcing that the country would reach net zero emissions by 2060 and would peak their carbon use before 2030. Net zero refers to cutting greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and balancing any further releases by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. This new five-year plan will be a critical step forward on that road, and will give analysts a good indication as to how realistic those aims are. As well as outlining the steps for the next half decade, China is also looking longer term, sharing a series of objectives to 2035. "What you see is China trying to identify the technologies of the future," said Isobel Hilton, founder and senior advisor to China Dialogue. "These are low-carbon technologies, they are trying to move the economy up market, and to lay the foundations for China to become the supplier of low-carbon goods and technologies for a carbon constrained world."
3-4-21 Over one-sixth of all food produced ends up being thrown in the bin
Over one-sixth of all food produced globally ends up thrown away, a UN analysis has found. Around 931 million tonnes of food went into the waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants and other food services in 2019. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UK charity WRAP, which promotes sustainability, looked at food waste in retail outlets, restaurants and homes by reviewing government data and academic studies across 54 countries with a mix of incomes. Their joint 2021 Food Waste Index Report found that 17 per cent of all food produced is thrown away by consumers. Most of this waste – 11 per cent of total food – occurs in homes. Globally, the average person throws away 121 kilograms of food, with 74 kg of this happening within households. Food waste isn’t just a problem in high-income countries, the report found. On average, the annual per capita food waste in homes is 79 kg in high-income countries versus 91 kg in lower middle-income countries. The report included both edible and non-edible waste, such as bones or vegetable peelings that must be thrown away. Lower middle-income countries may have higher per capita food waste because food is more often prepared from scratch, which might increase inedible food waste. “A lot more data on edible and non-edible food waste in households is needed, especially in lower middle-income countries,” says a spokesperson for UNEP. Food losses pre and post-harvest and food waste by consumers has a substantial impact on the environmental and climate change, making up around 9 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It also increases demand on land for agriculture and raises water use. UN figures show that 690 million people go to bed hungry, a number expected to rise sharply as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and 3 billion people can’t afford a healthy diet.
3-4-21 Food waste: Amount thrown away totals 900 million tonnes
More than 900 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, according to a global report. Sustainability charity Wrap, the UN's partner organisation on this report, says people have been planning their shopping and their meals more carefully. And in an effort to build on that, well-known chefs have been enlisted to inspire less wasteful kitchen habits. The report has highlighted a global problem that is "much bigger than previously estimated," Richard Swannell from Wrap told BBC News. "The 923 million tonnes of food being wasted each year would fill 23 million 40-tonne trucks. Bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth seven times." It is an issue previously considered to be a problem almost exclusive to richer countries - with consumers simply buying more than they could eat - but this research found "substantial" food waste "everywhere it looked". There are gaps in the findings that could reveal how the scale of the problem varies in low- and high-income countries. The report, for example, could not distinguish between "involuntary" and "voluntary" waste. "We haven't looked deeper [at this issue] but in low-income countries, the cold chain is not fully assured because of lack of access to energy," Martina Otto from Unep told BBC News. The data to distinguish between the waste of edible food and inedible parts - like bones and shells - was only available for high-income countries. Lower-income countries, Ms Otto pointed out, were likely to be wasting much less edible food. But the end result, she said, was that the world was "just throwing away all the resources used to make that food". Ahead of major global climate and biodiversity summits later this year, Unep executive director Inger Andersen is pushing for countries to commit to combatting waste - halving it by 2030. "If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste," she said. Richard Swannell pointed out: "Wasted food is responsible for 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions, so if food waste was a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet."
3-3-21 The covid-19 pandemic makes plain the consequences of abusing nature
We may never know how the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped from another animal to humans, but we know that our mistreatment of nature made it possible – it is time to clean up our actid-19-pandemic-makes-plain-the-consequences-of-abusing-nature/#ixzz6oFncUdnA. WE MAY never know for certain how the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped from another animal to a human before upending our world. Getting a convincing answer will take some time, judging by the first results from a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the new coronavirus. The WHO team served up more questions than answers at a press conference last month, ruling out a lab origin, but calling for more research into the possibility that it was carried via frozen food. Most virologists regard that as unlikely. The most plausible route seems to be that the virus originated in a bat, as the closely related SARS-CoV-1 virus, which causes SARS, did two decades ago, and spread from there to people via an unidentified species. In a sense, the details don’t matter. We know enough to say that, even though these deadly pathogens originate in nature, they aren’t a problem created by nature. Unbridled human consumption driving ecosystem destruction, the degradation of habitats changing the balance of species and the way we bring species unnaturally close to one another in the wildlife trade all increase the risk of “zoonotic” diseases that jump from species to species. The staggering economic cost of the covid-19 pandemic – a hit to global output estimated by the International Monetary Fund at $28 trillion – should be reason enough to convince even the hardest-nosed market acolyte that cleaning up our act is a matter of economic self-interest: not a cost, but an essential investment to safeguard our future.
3-2-21 ‘Green’ burials are slowly gaining ground among environmentalists
Awareness of eco-friendly death care is low even as the industry grows. Despite “green” burials becoming increasingly available in North America, some older eco-conscious adults remain unaware of the option when planning for their deaths, a small study hints. Green burials do not use concrete vaults, embalm bodies or use pesticides or fertilizers at gravesites. Bodies are buried in a biodegradable container like a pinewood or wicker casket, or a cotton or silk shroud. Proponents of the small but growing trend argue it is more environmentally friendly and in line with how burials were done before the invention of the modern funeral home industry. But when researchers asked 20 residents of Lawrence, Kan., over the age of 60 who identify as environmentalists if they had considered green burial, most hadn’t heard of the practice. That’s despite the fact that green burial had been available in Lawrence for nearly a decade at the time. More than half of the survey participants planned on cremation, because they viewed it as the eco-friendliest option, the team reported online January 26 in Mortality. In 2008, Lawrence became the first U.S. city to allow green burials in a publicly owned cemetery. Several years later, at a meeting of an interfaith ecological community organization in the city, sociologist Paul Stock of the University of Kansas in Lawrence and his colleague Mary Kate Dennis noticed that most of the attendees were older adults. These people “live and breathe their environmentalism,” says Dennis, now a social work researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “We were curious if it followed them all the way through to their burials.” That the majority of participants in the new survey leaned towards cremation aligns with national trends. Cremation recently surpassed traditional burial as the most popular death care choice in the United States. In July 2020, the National Funeral Directors Association projected the cremation rate that year would be 56 percent compared to 38 percent for casket burials. By 2040, the cremation rate is projected to grow to about 78 percent while the burial rate is estimated to shrink to about 16 percent.
3-2-21 Global CO2 emissions have already rebounded above pre-pandemic levels
In 2020, covid-19 lockdowns saw global carbon emissions plummet by a record 5.6 per cent, according to one estimate by the Global Carbon Project. But the reprieve is looking increasingly short-lived. A monthly breakdown by the International Energy Agency (IEA) today shows that worldwide emissions in December 2020 were up 2 per cent on December 2019. China was the only major economy in which emissions grew for 2020 as a whole, up 0.8 per cent on 2019 levels, or 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. More big polluters saw their economies – and their emissions – recover after the nadir of April. For example, Brazil’s emissions were above 2019 levels from October to December 2020. “The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide,” said Fatih Birol at the IEA, in a statement. The IEA’s view chimes with other analyses. On Monday, the Global Carbon Project’s estimate of a 5.6 per cent fall in 2020 was downgraded to a 4.9 per cent decline. Robbie Andrew at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, made the revision after China released new data on Sunday. Andrew says the trend of rebounding emissions is driven by two factors. One is that most countries, including the US, India and many places in Europe, are seeing emissions nowhere near as low as they were in April, due to less severe coronavirus restrictions. The other is that China dealt with the pandemic quickly, went back to “business as usual” and invested a lot of money into high emissions infrastructure due to the country’s slump in January and February. Of the global trend, he says: “We are certainly seeing a rebound. The question is whether that rebound will be sustained at previous levels.” Andrew thinks that is unlikely because apart from China, most countries will not rebound so strongly. That could be because they may increase spending on infrastructure with lower emissions as their economies rebound. Other sources tell a similar story.
3-2-21 Climate targets at risk as green tech triggers higher energy demands
The world is failing to account for a “rebound effect” that could wipe out more than half of the savings from energy efficiency improvements like cleaner cars, making the goals of the Paris Agreement even harder to hit. Improvements to energy efficiency, from LED lights to better steel-making arc furnaces, are seen by many authorities as a top priority for cutting carbon emissions. Yet a growing body of research suggests that human behaviour and economics mean a major chunk of anticipated efficiency savings are lost. A team led by Paul Brockway at the University of Leeds, UK, looked at 33 studies on the economy-wide impact of a phenomenon known as the rebound effect. First comes the direct rebound: for instance, when someone buys a more efficient car, they may take advantage of that by driving it further. Then comes the indirect rebound: fuel savings leave the owner with more money to spend elsewhere in the economy, consuming energy. This contributes to the macro effect of growing the overall economy. Although the 33 studies used different methods to model the rebound effect, they produced very consistent estimates of its impact, leading Brockway and his colleagues to conclude that the effect erodes, on average, 63 per cent of the anticipated energy savings. “We’re not saying energy efficiency doesn’t work. What we’re saying is rebound needs to be taken more seriously,” says Brockway. The idea that increased efficiency may not deliver the hoped-for savings dates back to the Jevons paradox, named after the economist William Stanley Jevons who, in 1865, observed that more efficient coal use was leading to more demand for coal. The last review of the economy-wide rebound effect was in 2007. The new analysis is the first to pull together the explosion of research since. Worryingly, the influential energy models that governments and companies rely on to examine how future emissions and energy demand may unfold aren’t good at capturing the rebound effect. The team looked at 17 scenarios from energy models, including ones used by the International Energy Agency, the UN climate science panel, BP, Shell and Greenpeace. “Most of the models missed out large numbers of the channels which contribute to rebound effects,” says Steve Sorrell at the University of Sussex, UK, a co-author of the new study. One scenario assumed a rebound effect of just 10 per cent.
3-1-21 Climate change is leading to premature births in the Brazilian Amazon
Extreme weather patterns and flooding worsened by climate change are adversely affecting the health of babies born in the Amazon rainforest. Luke Parry at Lancaster University, UK, and his colleagues compared levels of rainfall with the birth weights and and pregnancy duration of nearly 300,000 babies born between 2006 and 2017 in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that babies in riverside communities were more likely to be born premature (before 37 weeks) and underweight following extreme weather like floods and droughts. Low birth weights and prematurity are associated with negative outcomes in education, health and income throughout life and subsequent generations. Babies born after periods of extreme rainfall were on average 183 grams lighter than those born at other times, with the gap increasing to 646 grams in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. This difference is higher than in previous studies examining the impact of extreme weather on babies in other countries such as India, Mexico and Vietnam. The effect was present even when controlling for pregnancy duration – in other words, the lower birth weight wasn’t solely due to prematurity. Floods in the Amazon following extreme weather mean pregnant women have less access to nutritious food due to crop failure and are more likely to contract infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes, which thrive in wet conditions. Both are likely to contribute to low birth weight and premature birth. Anxiety and stress following flooding may also play a role, say the researchers. Major floods and droughts in the Amazon have increased in both frequency and severity in recent decades due to global warming – floods in the Amazon basin are around five times more frequent today than they were a century ago. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, visited the state of Amazonas last week as cities were once again submerged by water, displacing more than 100,000 people.
3-1-21 Radar images capture new Antarctic mega-iceberg
Radar satellites got their first good look at Antarctica's new mega-iceberg over the weekend. The EU's Sentinel-1 and Germany's TerraSAR-X spacecraft both had passes over the 1,270-sq-km (490-sq-mile) block, informally named "A74". Their sensors showed the berg to have moved rapidly away from the Brunt Ice Shelf - the floating platform from which it calved on Friday. The good news is that no disturbance was felt at the UK's nearby base. The Halley research station is sited just over 20km from the line of fracture, but GPS stations installed around the facility reported continued stability. "We didn't think there would be a reaction simply because, glaciologically speaking, the ice around Halley is slightly separated from the area that produced A74; there's not a good way for stress to be transmitted across to the ice under the station," explained Dr Oliver Marsh from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "Since Friday's calving, we've had a lot more high-precision GPS data that measures centimetre changes in strain along a whole range of baselines, and none of these show anything different from what was happening before the calving," he told BBC News. Halley is currently mothballed. In part, that's because of Covid; very little Antarctic science is being undertaken at present. But it's also because BAS has been waiting to see how the Brunt Ice Shelf would behave when bergs started to calve from the platform. A74 was the result of multiple cracks that have been developing in the Brunt - some over many years, some very recently. Friday's calving could well be the first in a series of breakaways during the coming days and weeks. Of particular interest now is the section of the Brunt to the west of Halley. This is almost completely cut through by several wide chasms and rifts, and is only held in place by a very thin stretch of ice that's pinned to the sea floor at a location known as the McDonald Ice Rumples.
3-1-21 Letter demands action over 'UK nature in freefall'
More than 50 wildlife experts, politicians and celebrities have signed a letter to Boris Johnson demanding tougher action on nature loss. The UK prime minister's father, Stanley, is among signatories calling on the UK to become the first country to set legally binding targets for nature recovery. The government has pledged to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. The letter calls for this ambition to be enshrined in law. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in Europe. Half of UK wildlife has decreased since 1970, with one in seven species now at risk of extinction. Rivers and lakes are in a poor state, due to pollution and sewage. The open letter is signed by nature groups, from The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, to nature campaigners such as Chris Packham, Mya-Rose Craig and Dara McAnulty. It says the Environment Bill "falls short of its potential to set world-leading nature targets", and the framework for target-setting is "too technocratic and slow". The letter states: "Just as the UK led the way in creating the world's first Climate Change Act, we can be the first country to set ambitious targets in law for the recovery of the natural world." And it concludes that a "mismatch in urgency and timescales" means that the PM's commitment to protect and manage 30% of land and seas for nature by 2030 cannot be placed in law under the Environment Bill framework. Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: "Nature in the UK is in freefall - we are losing species and the habitat they need every year. Actions not just words are now required." Dr Richard Benwell, the chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, added: "First and foremost, we need a powerful target to improve the state of nature in the Environment Bill to ensure the government plays its part in protecting our natural world." The Environment Bill, which has been delayed in Parliament for a third time, is expected to begin progress again through the House of Lords in May.