4-30-21 Driftwood could be recycled into cleaner electric car batteries
Driftwood collected from rivers could be recycled for use in future electric car batteries. The remains of trees provide many benefits to ecosystems in rivers and oceans, but driftwood is a nuisance for dam operators. For example, each year 1300 tonnes of wood have to be pulled out of a section of the Rhône river near the the Génissiat hydroelectric plant in France so as not to interfere with it, says Abdullah Qatarneh, formerly at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands. The wood is usually burned or ends up in landfills, but Qatarneh and his colleagues have found that they make an excellent raw material for a form of carbon used in a battery technology that is being considered for use in electric cars. The researchers treated driftwood with a process called hydrothermal carbonisation, which involves submerging it in water and subjecting it to pressure and 200°C heat until it turns into a carbon-rich solid called hydrochar. They then baked the hydrochar at 1400°C until it turned into a material called hard carbon and tested its performance in sodium-ion batteries, which use it as their anode material. The batteries performed well, Qatarneh told the virtual annual conference of the European Geophysics Union on 27 April. Electric vehicles generally run on lithium-ion batteries at the moment, but lithium is expensive and can be environmentally damaging to mine. Sodium-ion batteries are seen by some as a better alternative, but hard carbon for these batteries is currently produced using fossil fuels. Driftwood could be a better option – the wood of the Génussiat dam alone could produce enough anode material for several thousand electric cars each year, says Qatarneh. For this to happen, large-scale installations will have to be developed for the hydrothermal carbonisation step, something that Qatarneh is now working on. “It is not a fully mature technology,” he says.
4-29-21 Climate change: World's glaciers melting at a faster pace
The world's glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate, according to a comprehensive new study. A French-led team assessed the behaviour of nearly all documented ice streams on the planet. The researchers found them to have lost almost 270 billion tonnes of ice a year over the opening two decades of the 21st Century. The meltwater produced now accounts for about a fifth of global sea-level rise, the scientists tell Nature journal. The numbers involved are quite hard to imagine, so team member Robert McNabb, from the universities of Ulster and Oslo, uses an analogy. "Over the last 20 years, we've seen that glaciers have lost about 267 gigatonnes (Gt) per year. So, if we take that amount of water and we divide it up across the island of Ireland, that's enough to cover all of Ireland in 3m of water each year," he says on this week's edition of Science In Action on the BBC World Service. "And the total loss is accelerating. It's growing by about 48Gt/yr, per decade." The worldwide inventory of glaciers contains 217,175 ice streams. Some are smaller than a football pitch; others can rival in area a mid-sized country like the UK. What nearly all have in common is that they are thinning and retreating in a changing climate, either through stronger melting in warmer air or because the patterns of snowfall that feed the glaciers have shifted. The research team, led by Romain Hugonnet from the University of Toulouse, France, used as its primary source of data the imagery acquired by Nasa's Terra satellite, which was launched in 1999. Immense computing power was brought to bear on the process of interpreting these pictures and pulling out the changes in the glaciers' elevation, volume and mass up to 2019. The team believes its approach has hammered down the uncertainties in its results to perhaps less than 5% overall. That's in large part because every single glacier examined in the study is represented based on the same methodology.
4-29-21 They are killing our forest, Brazilian tribe warns
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has asked for $1bn (£720m) a year in foreign aid to reduce illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. But under Mr Bolsonaro deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has soared, jeopardising the livelihoods of some of the world's most vulnerable indigenous communities. Our chief environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, has been trying to find out what this has meant for an Amazon tribe he first met back in 2010. I felt like Mr Bean, the rubber-faced TV character played by Rowan Atkinson, when I first visited the Awa people over a decade ago. I had expected a yawning cultural chasm would make connecting with them difficult. After all, some of the older tribespeople had grown up in the Amazon rainforest without ever having contact with the outside world. But it quickly became clear that I was the real curiosity. The Awa found my bumbling incomprehension about the ways of the jungle hilarious. I squealed when I rested against a spiky tree, tripped over the roots on the jungle path and gagged when they offered me a lightly charred and faintly rotten monkey to eat. Each mishap prompted a new gale of laughter from my hosts. It was clear my visit was a source of great entertainment for the Awa. They remain good natured despite the plight the community faces. The conservation charity Survival International has called the Awa the "most threatened tribe on earth". When I visited in 2010 my best friend in the community, Pirai, told me sometimes they could hear chainsaws in the rainforest near their village. The Awa are some of the last people on Earth who still try to live as traditional hunter-gatherers but that has been becoming increasingly difficult. They live in a 289,000-acre forest reserve in the poverty stricken eastern Amazonian state of Maranhão. For decades, loggers and farmers have been invading their ancestral lands and clearing the forests. And two years ago the threat to the Awa got even greater. A right-wing ex-army officer, Jair Bolsonaro, became the president of Brazil.
4-29-21 UK air pollution fell to record lows in 2020 due to lockdowns
Air pollution in the UK fell to its lowest levels in decades last year due to the coronavirus pandemic’s unprecedented restrictions curbing traffic. Past research has detected deep but brief drops in pollution during the country’s lockdowns, but today figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed the scale of the impact in 2020 for the first time. Average levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas produced largely by diesel vehicles, fell to their lowest point since records started in 1997. Many UK cities have been in breach of legal limits on NO2 for more than a decade. The ONS said covid-19 restrictions were probably a “large contributing factor” to the decline. The average roadside concentration of NO2 per cubic metre was 23 micrograms in 2020, down from 30 µg/m³ in 2019 and 60 µg/m³ in 1997. The annual legal limit is 40 µg/m³. Other pollutants saw similar dramatic reductions as lockdowns meant people stayed at home and road traffic at times fell back to levels last seen in the 1950s. Levels of PM2.5, a type of particulate matter that is produced by vehicles, wood-burning stoves and fossil fuel power stations, declined to their lowest point since 2009, when records began. A larger type of particulate pollution, PM10, dropped to a low unseen since records began in 1992. However, the respite is expected to be short-lived as traffic levels return to normal in 2021. Campaigners are pressing the UK government to adopt tougher air pollution limits after a coroner recently said they are needed to avoid future deaths. Up to 36,000 people are estimated to die in the UK annually because of long-term exposure to dirty air.
4-28-21 Climate change: A small green rock's warning about our future
It's an unassuming rock, greenish in colour, and just over 4cm in its longest dimension. And yet this little piece of sandstone holds important clues to all our futures. It was recovered from muds in the deep ocean, far off the coast of modern-day West Antarctica. The scientists who found it say it shouldn't really have been there. It's what's called a dropstone, a piece of ice-rafted debris. It was scraped off the White Continent by a glacier, carried a certain distance in this flowing ice, and then exported and discarded offshore by an iceberg. What's remarkable about this particular cobble is that researchers can say where it originated. Using the latest "geo-fingerprinting" techniques, they've established with strong confidence that it comes from the Ellsworth Mountains - some 1,300km from where the rock was pulled up from the floor of the Amundsen Sea by a drilling ship. The conundrum is that the Ellsworths - the tallest range in Antarctica - are in the far-interior of the continent, and it's highly unlikely a rock like this could survive being ferried so far under an ice sheet to get to the coast to be then despatched in a large, frozen, floating block. "In our view of observations of that material, it would not withstand a great deal of transport, with deposition and then re-transport over multiple steps of a cycle. And, furthermore, it probably would not hold up well to a great deal of interaction between the ice sheet and the bedrock. It would be destroyed and disaggregated," Christine Siddoway, professor of geology at Colorado College, US, told BBC News. So how did it get to travel so far? The answer is in the age of the deposits collected by the Joides Resolution ship on its International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) "Expedition 379" cruise in 2019. They're mid-Pliocene in the geologists' timeline. That's about three million years ago. The mid-Pliocene is a fascinating period in Earth history because of its strong echoes of today. It was the last time the atmosphere carried the same concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide - at over 400 parts per million.
4-28-21 Climate change may have changed the direction of the North Pole’s drift
A mid-1990s change in pole movement coincided with increased glacial melting. A sudden zag in which way the North Pole was drifting in the 1990s probably stemmed in large part from glacial melt caused by climate change, a new study suggests. The locations of Earth’s geographic poles, where the planet’s axis pierces the surface, aren’t fixed. Instead, they wander in seasonal and near-annual cycles, largely driven by weather patterns and ocean currents (SN: 4/15/03). But in addition to moving about in relatively tight swirls just a few meters across, the poles drift over time as the planet’s weight distribution shifts and alters its rotation around its axis. Before the mid-1990s, the North Pole had been drifting toward the western edge of Canada’s Ellesmere Island. But then the pole veered eastward by about 71 degrees toward the northeastern tip of Greenland. It’s continued to head that way, moving about 10 centimeters per year. Scientists aren’t quite sure why this shift occurred, says Suxia Liu, a hydrologist at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research in Beijing. Liu and colleagues checked how well the polar drift trends matched data from previous studies on glacial melt worldwide. In particular, glacier melt in Alaska, Greenland and the southern Andes accelerated in the 1990s (SN: 9/30/20). The timing of that melting, as well as the effects it would have had on Earth’s mass distribution, suggests that glacial melt induced by climate change helped trigger the change in polar drift, the team reports in the April 16 Geophysical Research Letters. The team’s analysis shows that while glacier melting can account for much of the change in polar drift, it doesn’t explain all of it. So other factors must be at play. With copious irrigation, for example, groundwater pumped from aquifers in one region can end up in an ocean far away (SN: 10/9/19). Like glacial melt, water management alone can’t explain the North Pole’s tack, the team reports, but it can give the Earth’s axis a substantial nudge.
4-28-21 Saharan dust could increase the risk of avalanches in the French Alps
Saharan dust has been blamed for everything from rain leaving marks on windows in the UK to even potentially playing a role melting sea ice in the Arctic. Now it seems the dust could even play a role in making avalanches more likely in Europe. The dust has regularly turned skies above French mountains a dramatic orange, with a recent episode in February adding sand to ski slopes and making the landscape look more like Mars than the Alps. Marie Dumont at the French weather agency Météo-France, and colleagues ran computer simulations of how snow behaved with and without dust deposition in the French Alps. They found that the dust has a more significant impact in certain weather conditions, and can make snowpack more unstable and avalanches more likely. “The primary impact is the change of colour,” says Dumont. The team found that the change in the amount of light being reflected as the snow grows darker leads to more energy coming into the snowpack, an increase in temperature and then an accelerated melt as a result. The findings are not yet peer-reviewed and were presented at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union on 27 April. The team said the computer modelling showed dust deposition leads to a period with a “higher risk” of skiers and snowboarder triggering slab avalanches. The balance of risk depends on how much dust is deposited, which direction the slopes face and the altitude. One of Dumont’s colleagues, Oscar Dick at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland, says for now the work relies entirely on snow models and computer simulations. No field work has yet made been to corroborate the results, he says.
4-27-21 Air pollution halved in first UK lockdown but fell less in the third
Air pollution fell by only 28 per cent during the most recent lockdowns across the UK compared with a halving during the first lockdown, despite restrictions and ensuing drops in traffic being similar. The difference is probably explained by increased air pollution from gas boilers as people worked from home and tried to keep warm during the winter, says Rhianna Evans at University of York, UK, who led the study into levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2). “Covid has provided us with a glimpse into the future of air pollution,” says Evans. The UK’s NO2 pollution from cars and lorries is due to fall in coming years due to electric vehicle take-up, but more remote working and reliance on gas boilers for heating will make the contribution of homes more important. Evans and her colleagues examined data from 30 air pollution monitoring sites across the UK to build a representative picture of how NO2 and ozone levels responded to covid-19 restrictions around the country. Traffic levels were gleaned from Google Transit Mobility data, which uses anonymised travel data from the phones of Google users. The severity of restrictions were measured by the University of Oxford’s stringency index, which compares indicators such as school closures and travel restrictions around the world. During both the March-May 2020 lockdown across the UK and the period between January and March 2021 – which aligned with lockdown in England, though lockdowns in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland lasted longer – traffic was down about 70 per cent and the restrictions were similarly high. Yet NO2 emissions fell nearly twice as much during the 2020 lockdown as they did during the 2021 lockdown. “Gas boilers kicking more nitrogen dioxide into our air last year is backed up by government data showing that residential carbon emissions were also higher as we all spent more time at home during lockdown,” says Jess Ralston at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in the UK.
4-27-21 2020 Australian bushfires hit people in disadvantaged areas hardest
The most socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Australia were disproportionately affected by the devastating 2019 to 2020 bushfire season. Australians in the most disadvantaged 10 per cent of regions were exposed to significantly higher fire risk than those in better-off communities, according to a new analysis. Sonia Akter at the National University of Singapore and Quentin Grafton at the Australian National University have studied the link between disadvantage and exposure to environmental hazards. Using publicly available wildfire data from the Australian government, they developed a hazard exposure index, which measures the amount of land burned in a given area and also how close that burned area was to human settlements. To quantify disadvantage, the researchers used existing data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the socio-economic conditions of geographic regions across Australia, accounting for factors including inhabitants’ incomes, educational attainment and employment rates. Akter and Grafton focused primarily on New South Wales and Victoria, the two states most significantly affected by the bushfires last year. They found that for people who lived in urban areas, such as major cities, the link between socio-economic disadvantage and wildfire hazard exposure was weak. This was unsurprising, given that the overall fire risk in cities is low, says Akter. “If you live in rural areas, the relationship is much stronger.” The duo’s analysis suggested that for people living in more remote, rural regions, the hazard risk was much higher for the socio-economically disadvantaged – even when they controlled for other variables including geographical location, how much of the area was forested and how many times it had been affected by fire in the previous five years.
4-27-21 Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?
"The rate at which we're growing the industry is absolutely scary," says Paul Anderson from Birmingham University. He's talking about the market for electric cars in Europe. By 2030, the EU hopes that there will be 30 million electric cars on European roads. "It's something that's never really been done before at that rate of growth for a completely new product," says Dr Anderson, who is also the co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials. While electric vehicles (EVs) may be carbon neutral during their working lifetime, he's concerned about what happens when they run out of road - in particular what happens to the batteries. "In 10 to 15 years when there are large numbers coming to the end of their life, it's going to be very important that we have a recycling industry," he points out. While most EV components are much the same as those of conventional cars, the big difference is the battery. While traditional lead-acid batteries are widely recycled, the same can't be said for the lithium-ion versions used in electric cars. EV batteries are larger and heavier than those in regular cars and are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells, all of which need dismantling. They contain hazardous materials, and have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly. "Currently, globally, it's very hard to get detailed figures for what percentage of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, but the value everyone quotes is about 5%," says Dr Anderson. "In some parts of the world it's considerably less." Recent proposals from the European Union would see EV suppliers responsible for making sure that their products aren't simply dumped at the end of their life, and manufacturers are already starting to step up to the mark. Nissan, for example, is now reusing old batteries from its Leaf cars in the automated guided vehicles that deliver parts to workers in its factories.
4-26-21 70 per cent of people live in countries without sustainable resources
Nearly three-quarters of people live in countries without enough natural resources to live sustainably – and without enough money to buy them from elsewhere. Biocapacity is the ability of an ecosystem to regenerate the resources that people use. It compares the rate at which we use our natural resources against our ability to replace them and absorb our waste materials. To maintain its population, a country needs either enough resources to match its people’s ecological footprint and maintain a biocapacity surplus, or it needs enough money to buy the necessary biocapacity from elsewhere to make up any shortfall. Mathis Wackernagel at Global Footprint Network in California and his colleagues looked at the biocapacity of every nation for the years between 1980 and 2017, examining whether they had a deficit or surplus of resources. Then they compared these with each country’s GDP per capita – the sum of all monetary transactions in an economy split between the nation’s population – to estimate average income. In 2017, 72 per cent of the global population lived in countries with a biocapacity deficit and below-average income. This means 5.4 billion people couldn’t sustainably get the ecological resources they need and were unable to buy them from other nations. “If you have less than average income, you cannot bid as strongly on foreign markets for things as much as other countries,” says Wackernagel. The researchers ran this calculation for every year from 1980 to 2017. The situation as it stood in 1980 suggests that in that year, 57 per cent of the world’s population lived in below-average-income countries with a biocapacity deficit. The research also revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that nations with higher incomes were able to function with a much more severe local biocapacity deficit because of their ability to buy biocapacity from elsewhere. The strength of a country’s economy determines how many resources it is able to buy and use, says Wackernagel.
4-26-21 Nature 'more important than ever during lockdown'
Data has confirmed what many suspected: nature and green spaces have been a big comfort during lockdown. More than 40% of people say nature, wildlife and visiting local green spaces have been even more important to their wellbeing since the coronavirus restrictions began. The percentages have remained stable throughout the pandemic, according to the government's advisor for the natural environment, Natural England. And the trend could persist. Numerous surveys from bodies such as Natural England have shown that people felt time in nature supported their mental and physical well-being during lockdowns. In a review of surveys and data on the role of nature and green spaces in the past year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said shifts in personal behaviour and corporate attitudes could mean that the UK, post-lockdown, will value and interact with nature on a much greater scale than before the pandemic. In a review of surveys and data on the role of nature and green spaces in the past year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said shifts in personal behaviour and corporate attitudes could mean that the UK, post-lockdown, will value and interact with nature on a much greater scale than before the pandemic. "What we do not know yet is whether the changes brought on by lockdown will be a temporary trend, or a new way of life," it said. Green spaces helped to bring people together at various times during the pandemic, studies showed, playing an important role in allowing people to meet family and friends. The percentage of people increasing their time spent connecting with loved ones outdoors grew over lockdown, from 11% in May to 22% in July, said the ONS. This increase during the summer months persisted until January when it dropped to 19%. Lockdown has also highlighted societal inequalities that exist in access to private green spaces, such as gardens. About one in 10 households across Great Britain has no access to a private or shared garden. This rises to one in five households in London.
4-26-21 Earth’s land may have formed 500 million years earlier than we thought
Earth’s continental crust may have emerged 500 million years earlier than scientists had previously estimated. Pinning down when our planet’s land emerged could help us understand the conditions in which primitive life began. Today, new oceanic crust rises at mid-ocean ridges where tectonic plates drift apart. Continental crust is usually much older, formed from volcanism where plates crash into each other, thrusting a thicker, less-dense layer above sea level. Weathering of continental crust adds nutrients to the ocean, a process that may have played a role in supporting primordial life. The big question is: when did continental crusts start forming? To try to answer that, Desiree Roerdink at the University of Bergen in Norway and her colleagues analysed 30 ancient rock samples from six sites in Australia, South Africa and India. These contained barite, which can form in hydrothermal vents – fissures in the ocean floor where warm, mineral-rich waters react with seawater. “Barites don’t really change, their chemistry contains a fingerprint of the environment in which they formed,” says Roerdink, who presented this work at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union on 26 April. She and her team used the ratios of strontium isotopes in the deposits to infer when weathered continental rock began entering the oceans. They found that the weathering began about 3.7 billion years ago. When Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was a hellish landscape of molten rock. Eventually, the planet’s outer layer cooled enough to start forming a solid crust covered by a global ocean. That kicked off a new geological aeon around 4 billion years ago, known as the Archaean, which is when scientists believe life first emerged. There is strong evidence for microbial activity at least 3.5 billion years ago, but precisely when and how life began is far from clear.
4-25-21 Brazil: Environment police battle for Amazon rainforest
Brazil's environmental police force, IBAMA, is facing new challenges due to government policy changes, an anonymous senior officer has told the BBC. Cuts to government funding and equipment from abroad, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and rioting have left the authority with little resources to protect the Amazon from illegal logging and mining.
4-25-21 Building high-rises, hotels, and stadiums out of wood — for climate's sake
It started as a dream that is slowly becoming a reality. "Maybe six or seven years ago, we set out to build the most sustainable football stadium that's ever been built in the world," said Dale Vince, the owner of the football club Forest Green Rovers, in Gloucestershire, in southwest England. Vince's team has been working on sustainability on every front, from solar panels on the roof to vegan meals for players to electric vans for getting around. When it came to building the team's new stadium, Vince settled on the option with the lowest carbon footprint: wood. "By choosing wood, we will have the lowest carbon footprint stadium since the Romans invented concrete," Vince said. Wood used to rule much of the building world, and now, it's poised for a comeback as engineered wooden buildings start to become an eco-friendly alternative to concrete and steel. Globally, building and construction are huge sources of pollution. Steel and concrete alone account for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The stadium will be made out of something called mass timber, which is a catchall term for engineered wood that's cut into slabs and then stacked together to make strong panels or beams. The special engineering makes the building material really strong. "The exciting part about engineered wood is it has similar properties to concrete and steel, and therefore, the opportunity is now available to build tall wood buildings," said Anne Koven, director of the Mass Timber Institute in Toronto. The timber can replace the steel and concrete in a building, cutting its carbon footprint by 26 percent - 44 percent, according to sustainability researcher Indroneil Ganguly at the University of Washington. In the last two decades, thousands of mass timber projects have been planned and built around the world — from high-rises in Norway to university buildings in Singapore to hotels in the U.S. But Koven said for the industry to expand, it needs to move beyond boutique projects. What mass timber needs right now, she said, "is a sort of bread-and-butter building, so that gas stations, restaurants, variety stores, and malls will start using mass timber." That scaling up is happening right now, said Mattieu Robert, an engineer and wood-building expert at Stora Enso, a Scandinavian company that manufactures mass timber for use around the world. "I have 20 years in this field, and I have never seen such a momentum," Robert said. "In the last four or five years, it's just booming." At its current scale, mass timber is a more expensive building option in many settings, but that is likely to change once the industry becomes more ubiquitous. There are some indications that even now, mass timber can be a more economical option. Because mass timber building materials are prefabricated in factories, there is less waste during the construction phase. And there has been pushback. Entrenched industry interests, like the concrete industry, have sponsored efforts to exclude mass timber from the international building code (IBC), which most U.S. jurisdictions use. But this year, the IBC was updated to allow mass timber structures up to 18 stories to be built, which Robert expects will cause a lot more demand in the U.S. And new regulations in Europe targeting building emissions could give wood options a boost, like a new rule in France requiring builders to calculate the 50-year carbon footprint of new construction. "We are looking at the entire lifetime of the building, and that's really great," Robert said. "You start by having a regulation on carbon, and then, you can incentivize [low-carbon options]." The buildings perform well in earthquakes and fires, as good if not better than their concrete and steel counterparts.
4-24-21 Brazil cuts environment budget despite climate summit pledge
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has approved a cut to the environment ministry budget a day after he vowed to boost spending to tackle deforestation. At a US-led climate summit, he promised to double the money reserved for environmental enforcement and to end illegal deforestation by 2030. But the budget signed off on Friday did not include his spending pledge, or additional proposals made by Congress. His government has weakened protections and wants to develop protected areas. Critics say the president's promises on Thursday were linked to a controversial deal Brazil is negotiating with the US to receive financial aid in return for protecting the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, and other areas. The 2021 federal budget includes 2.1bn reais (£280m; $380m) for the environment ministry and agencies it oversees. The ministry had a budget of about 3bn reais in 2020. Late on Friday, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said he had requested the economy ministry to review the numbers and fulfil the pledge made by President Bolsonaro at the virtual climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden. The environmental policies of President Bolsonaro, who is supported by powerful agribusiness leaders, have drawn widespread condemnation. The far-right leader has encouraged agriculture and mining in the Amazon, and rolled back environmental legislation. Last year, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high. Activists and indigenous groups say environmental enforcement remains underfunded, and denounce the impunity for illegal logging and mining in protected areas.The president rejects the criticism, saying Brazil remains an example for conservation. But at Thursday's summit he attempted to strike a more conciliatory tone, and also promised that Brazil would reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, 10 years earlier than previously agreed.
4-24-21 As temperatures heat up, farmworkers across the U.S. push for more rights
Climate change is intensifying heat-related sickness and deaths among farmworkers. hree years ago, in Homestead, Florida, fieldworker Sofia spent several hours outside in 90-degree heat, cultivating shrubs, bushes, and other ornamental plants — when her vision suddenly blurred. "I was working and suddenly everything went white, and I fell," she said. She started to vomit and couldn't get back up. Sofia, who's undocumented, and asked to use her first name only, said she was suffering from heat stress — the second time that week. She was also covered in long sleeves, wore heavy boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and a bandana covered her mouth and nose — all adding an additional 10 degrees to her body, she said. Sofia is among 2.4 million farmworkers in the U.S. who are now asking the federal government for heat safety standards. Many are undocumented, some have work visas — but all of them do manual labor outside in all types of climate conditions. Sofia recovered, but other co-workers have experienced much worse. Some ended up in the hospital, while others in other parts of the country have died, she said. Soon after her second heat-related incident, Sofia left that job. Today she's packing green beans and picking peppers. Workers like Sofia want paid water breaks, shaded areas to rest, and protection from retaliation if they speak up, said Amy Liebman, director of environmental and occupational health with the Migrant Clinicians Network, a national group focused on health justice for migrant and immigrant communities. "There is a long history of what we call farmworker exceptionalism, where farmworkers receive fewer protections than other workers," she said. Lawmakers in Congress have tried — for years — to improve protections. They're trying again this year with the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act. It is named after Asunción Valdivia, who died from heat stroke in 2004 after picking grapes for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures. The proposal would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish enforceable standards to protect workers, and also direct employers to offer training for their employees. But Liebman said that many employers resist more regulations, making it harder to enact change. So far, Liebman said, only California, Minnesota, and Washington state have such heat standards in place. "And, you know, California has an incredibly robust farming economy and it has not gone under as a result of a standard protecting workers. And so it can be done nationally," she said. Scientists are also concerned. Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the food and environment program with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says climate change is intensifying heat-related sickness and deaths. "So this is only going to get worse because as the temperature increases, you're not only going to have more hazardous conditions, they're going to increase exponentially," Salvador said. Today, Salvador said, people are at least paying attention to how climate affects farmworkers. And the past year showed a lot more. "Precisely because there's greater awareness, the pandemic has actually pulled back the veil on how exploitative our food system is," he said. This awareness, Salvador said, could encourage lawmakers to act.
4-23-21 Boris Johnson: Climate change about jobs not 'bunny hugging'
Tackling climate change is about "growth and jobs" not "expensive bunny hugging", Boris Johnson has said. Speaking at a virtual summit, the prime minister told world leaders "we can build back better from this pandemic by building back greener." At the same event, US President Joe Biden pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. Mr Johnson praised Mr Biden for "returning the US to the front rank of the fight against climate change". One of Mr Biden's first acts as president was to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, months after his predecessor Donald Trump had taken the US out. Forty other leaders attended the summit including China's President Xi Jinping who reiterated a promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. It is hoped that all countries will commit to further carbon emission cuts at the COP26 conference due to be held in Glasgow this November. Earlier this week, the UK government announced its own plans to cut carbon emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035. Labour welcomed the new commitment - which brings the current target forward by 15 years - but said the government "can't be trusted to match rhetoric with reality". The party's shadow environment secretary Ed Miliband urged ministers to match promises with "much more decisive action". In his speech to the Leaders Summit on Climate, Mr Johnson said UK's carbon emissions were lower than at any point since the 19th century. He also praised the wind power sector in the country, describing the UK as "the Saudi Arabia of wind". The prime minister called on other countries to "make this decade the moment of decisive change in the fight against climate change" by setting their own tough targets on carbon emissions. He also emphasised the connection between wildlife and climate, saying: "If we're going to tackle climate change we have to deal with the disaster of habitat loss and species loss across our planet."
4-23-21 Australia resists calls for tougher climate targets
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure to set more ambitious carbon emission targets while other major nations vowed deeper reductions to tackle climate change. Addressing a global climate summit, Mr Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions. But he stopped short of setting a timeline, saying the country would get there "as soon as possible". It came as the US, Canada and Japan set new commitments for steeper cuts. US President Joe Biden, who chaired the virtual summit, pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. This new target essentially doubles the previous US promise. By contrast, Australia will stick with its existing pledge of cutting carbon emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels, by 2030. That's in line with the Paris climate agreement, though Mr Morrison said Australia was on a pathway to net zero emissions. "Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create," he told the summit. "Future generations... will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver." Australia is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis. Mr Morrison, who has faced sustained criticism over climate policy, said action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would focus on technology. The prime minister said Australia is deploying renewable energy 10 times faster than the global average per person, and has the highest uptake of rooftop solar panels in the world. Mr Morrison added Australia would invest $20bn ($15.4bn; 11.1bn) "to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity". "You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable."
4-23-21 Greta Thunberg becomes 'bunny hugger' on Twitter
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has updated her Twitter biography to describe herself as a "bunny hugger". The change comes after remarks made by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to US President Joe Biden's virtual climate summit on 22 April. In his speech, Boris Johnson described "the politically correct green act of bunny hugging". The remarks made were met with bemusement from some on social media. It is not the first time the Swedish climate activist - who's also changed her Instagram profile - has used her Twitter bio to make a joke. She changed her Twitter bio to feature the words "currently chilling" after former US President Donald Trump told her to "chill" in 2019. In the same year, she also changed her description on the site to "pirralha" (the Portuguese word for brat) after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the word to describe her. She also responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling her "a kind but poorly informed teenager" by putting the quote into her social media biography. In his speech, delivered virtually, Mr Johnson argued that tackling climate change is about "growth and jobs" not "expensive bunny hugging". He quickly backtracked, saying there was "nothing wrong with bunny hugging but you know what I'm driving at". His speech attracted thousands of comments on social media, with Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden telling her followers on Twitter that the prime minister's speech was best watched "curled up behind the sofa". Others on the site expressed concern that the remarks made by Mr Johnson may not have translated well for those watching without English as a first language. The virtual climate summit was organised by US President Joe Biden. He described the coming years as a "decisive decade" for action on the climate crisis. Later this year, the UK is due to host the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
4-22-21 The shadow over Biden's climate summit: America can't be trusted
Leaders from around the world participated in a remote global climate summit Thursday, arranged by the Biden administration. It was a remarkable break with the recent past — every world leader of consequence attended, including Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping. Every single one promised at least some kind of action on climate, some very aggressive. The summit was part of Biden's bid to reestablish American global climate leadership. But while it was no doubt a profound relief to see a regular politician at the U.S. helm instead of a game show lunatic, the rest of the world would be fools to trust American commitment or follow-through on climate. A crackpot climate denier could easily be the next president, and even Biden and his party are not taking the problem seriously enough. Looming over the summit was the shadow of Donald Trump, who as president abrogated as much of American climate policy as he could. His administration pulled the country out of the Paris climate accords, rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, and clumsily attempted to subsidize coal power plants to keep them from being bankrupted by cheap wind and solar (a sort of "brown new deal" as it were, though thankfully it did not work). The United States is not going to find it easy to live down the Trump years. Not only was he appallingly backward on climate, he also continues to lead a party that largely rejects the basic science of climate change, and categorically rejects doing anything serious about it. Trump's glaringly obvious incompetence and irresponsibility deeply alarmed countries around the world and though America, like any country, has had its share of goofball presidents, Trump was in a class by himself. He made Silvio Berlusconi look like Pericles. No other major party in the rich world is as rotten as the Republican Party, and few are in the developing world. The world leaders at the summit represent parties that are all over the political spectrum — from Canada's center-left Justin Trudeau, to Germany's center-right Angela Merkel, to Britain's right-wing Boris Johnson, to India's far-right Narendra Modi. These people have their problems, some of them very bad. But none of them are delusional maniacs who get their policy briefings by half-listening to right-wing televison media personalities while feuding with Bette Midler on Twitter. They all recognize the need to do something about climate change, because if one accepts the science, the threat is obvious no matter one's political complexion. Only Brazil's gleefully stupid Jair Bolsonaro bears comparison to Trump, and even he still participated in the summit and admitted the need for action (it seems he wants bribes in return for not burning down the Amazon basin). A country that elected Donald Trump president — a blatantly corrupt and unhinged demagogue with literally zero prior experience — cannot be trusted not to do something similar in future. Republicans have a solid chance to win the 2022 midterms, or the 2024 presidential election, or they may simply steal those elections outright, in which case the door to new climate legislation will be closed. The U.S. can't be a global leader if the world is constantly waiting on tenterhooks to see if the lunatic party takes command once more, perhaps by establishing a permanent dictatorship. As Adam Tooze writes in The New Statesman, "Without broader societal agreement, each U.S. election will be a heart-stopping moment of potential derailment."
4-22-21 China must act fast to avoid breaching the world's 1.5°C climate goal
China will have to clean up its entire power sector by 2050 if the world is to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of holding global warming to 1.5°C, meaning its carbon emissions must peak much earlier than currently planned. The country, which is the planet’s biggest emitter, made a surprise pledge last year to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060, leading to a fresh wave of research on how it can end its huge reliance on coal and green its fast-growing economy. An analysis published today adds to the growing consensus that China’s electricity sector must be fully decarbonised by 2050. At the start of last year, coal provided around two-thirds of electricity supplies in the country, with renewables, including hydro, at around a quarter. That picture needs to change radically, says Hongbo Duan at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He and his colleagues suggest that wind and solar power must dominate the country’s energy supply by mid-century, backed up by nuclear power and coal plants using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The team looked at nine models of how the Chinese economy needs to transform by 2050, finding that its CO2 emissions must fall 90 per cent to help the world stay below 1.5°C of warming, as the Paris Agreement demands. “Keeping to 1.5°C is largely consistent with the 2060 carbon neutrality goal,” says Duan. “The first important contribution [to CO2 cuts] is energy demand reduction, by 73 per cent. The second part is energy substitution of renewables for fossil fuels.” Negative emissions technologies, including CCS and machines to suck CO2 from the air, are seen as delivering a fifth of the required CO2 reductions. However, the modelled pathways for China’s energy mix reveal the disconnect between ideal trajectories and reality. For example, the models consistently found CO2 emissions needed to start decreasing “steeply” last year. In reality, China was the only major economy where emissions grew in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
4-22-21 Biden announces US will halve emissions by 2030
The US has unveiled an updated carbon pledge that will see its emissions nearly halved by 2030. President Joe Biden will host 40 leaders at a virtual summit in the White House to raise ambition on tackling climate change. The meeting will aim to re-assert US global leadership in the area after President Trump pulled the country out of the Paris agreement. President Biden has made the climate a key focus for his administration, re-joining the Paris agreement on his first day in office. Ahead of the meeting, officials urged greater ambition, particularly among countries perceived as "laggards" on climate. The leaders of China, the UK, India, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Russia are all attending. Observers have been closely watching China - the world's top emitter - for any commitments it might make at the meeting. You can’t see or smell carbon dioxide (CO2) but it’s actually all around us and is at the heart of the world's changing climate. Scientists believe the last time levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were as high as they are now was probably more than three million years ago. Reality Check’s Chris Morris explains why limiting the amount of carbon dioxide we use is so important. This next session will feature a few more world leaders - including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It will then move on to speakers from various organisations working to combat climate change including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Allianz, and more. Thunberg's opening statement is yet another sharp and pointed critique of leaders for being slow to adapt to the climate fight. Climate activists are not naive, she says, and do not really expect countries and companies to take bold action. Thunberg says the proof is that they are still "making vague, distant insufficient targets without any real pressure from the media and the general public". "The general level of awareness is so absurdly low you still get away with not stopping fossil fuel subsidies," she points out, referring back to the topic of the hearing. But "my generation will not give up without a fight", she warns, adding that leaders in the US and around the world will not continue to get away with their lack of urgency. "We the young people are the ones who are going to write about you in the history books. We are the ones who get to decide how you will be remembered," she says. "So choose wisely."
4-22-21 Biden: This will be 'decisive decade' for tackling climate change
US President Joe Biden has told a major summit that we are in a "decisive decade" for tackling climate change. The US has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. This new target, which was unveiled at a virtual summit of 40 global leaders, essentially doubles their previous promise. The Americans hope that their ambitious new plan will encourage China, India and others to go further before the crucial COP26 meeting, in Glasgow in November. But there will be some scepticism about the ability of the US to deliver on its new target, given the divided nature of American politics. "Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade - this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis," President Biden said at the summit's opening address. "We must try to keep the Earth's temperature to an increase of 1.5C. The world beyond 1.5 degrees means more frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes - tearing through communities, ripping away lives and livelihoods." Vice-President Kamala Harris added: "As a global community, it is imperative that we act quickly and together to confront this crisis." "This will require innovation and collaboration around the world." The UK is among the countries that have been keen to show their ambition ahead of the meeting. Earlier in the week, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced a "world-leading" target for the UK to cut emissions by 78% on 1990 levels by 2035. The country is playing a critical role this year as president of COP26, and is tasked with achieving agreement in Glasgow when world leaders meet there in November. At the summit, Mr Johnson called President Biden's announcement about cutting US greenhouse gas emissions "game-changing". "We can do this together across the world. It's going to mean the richest nations coming together and exceeding the $100bn commitment they already made in 2009," he said. Johnson ended his speech by saying "we can build back better, by building back greener", referring to the job creation that can come with combatting climate change.
4-22-21 What is the Paris climate agreement and why did the US rejoin?
The US has pledged to cut carbon emissions in half, compared with 2005 levels, by the end of this decade. The new target will be unveiled at a virtual summit of 40 global leaders. The announcement comes after President Joe Biden reversed predecessor Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. Adopted by nearly 200 countries in the French capital on 12 December 2015, it came into force on 4 November 2016. The deal united all the world's nations - for the first time - in a single agreement on tackling global warming and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. It went much further than the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. That agreement had set targets for cutting emissions for a handful of developed countries - but the US later pulled out and others failed to comply. What are the main aims of the Paris deal? To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C, To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally - beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100, Each country sets its own emission-reduction targets, known as national determined contributions (NDCs), reviewed every five years to raise ambition, For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy. Does the Paris Agreement go far enough? The plan is to create a climate-neutral world by the middle of the century. Becoming "climate neutral" means reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as much as possible but also compensating for any remaining emissions by removing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, using natural or artificial processes.
4-22-21 8 eco-friendly products to wean you off the single-use lifestyle
From reusable 'plastic' wrap to zero-waste beauty products. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last year is that everything you do has a ripple effect. When it comes to taking care of the planet, that's a good thing — if you stop purchasing paper towels, for example, that's one less tree that has to be cut down. As your new habits become routine, remember that what you're doing is making a difference, even if you can't see it right away. Everything adds up! If you're ready to say goodbye forever to traditional paper towels, plastic wrap, and facial tissues, you're in luck — it's never been easier to scrap single-use products. Still, even if you're ready for a complete overhaul of your home and way of life, getting started might feel overwhelming. Making the switch to being as eco-friendly as possible takes time and planning. This guide aims to make the transition away from single-use products a little easier, explaining what products are out there, the problems they solve, and how they help the Earth.
- Bee's Wrap A natural alternative to plastic wrap for food storage. Starting at $6.
- LastSwab: A reusable and sustainable alternative to cotton swabs. Comes in two styles: Basic and Beauty. $12
- Ethique: Ethique is the world's first full-range, zero-waste beauty brand. They make bodywash, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant bars, all without the plastic packaging. Prices start at $4.
- LastTissue: A modern twist on the handkerchief and an alternative to single-use tissue packs. $24
- Papaya reusable paper towels: A reusable paper towel. $18 for a one-time delivery of two cloths.
- Kind laundry detergent sheets: Kind laundry detergent sheets
- Bark Potty: An alternative to dog pee pads, made out of real bark. $37 per potty, as part of a monthly subscription.
- Attitude: A line of household and personal products made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients. Prices start at $4.95.
- Succulents Box: An organic plant subscription box. Prices vary, depending on subscription. While this product doesn't replace any single-use items, it's the perfect gift to give yourself (or someone else) this Earth Day.
4-21-21 Climate change in graphics: The charts that show we must act now
Global warming is already happening as carbon emissions keep on rising, with effects from sea level rise to more and more extreme weather events worldwide. Earth is warming. Globally, 2020 was the second-warmest year on record, with a mean temperature 1.2°C above the pre-industrial average. By that measure, this means we are already four-fifths of the way to the 1.5°C “safe” level to which the world committed to try to limit global warming. The culprits are carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and land use changes that reduce Earth’s ability to draw down greenhouse gases. The results are already being felt, not just through rising temperatures, but also through loss of ice cover, rising sea levels and more extreme droughts, floods and storms across the globe. In March 1958, climate scientist Charles David Keeling began measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from a monitoring station atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The readings continue to this day, now carried out by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Together with measurements of air trapped in ice cores collected from the Antarctic and elsewhere, our record of the concentrations of this crucial greenhouse gas stretches back 800,000 years. In March 2021, the average atmospheric CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa was 417.64 parts per million. Readings taken at other places around the globe confirm the picture at Mauna Loa: atmospheric CO2 concentration varies seasonally owing to differing levels of plant growth, but is trending upwards year on year. The average global concentration for 2020 was higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years. The rise in CO2 we are seeing now began in the late 18th century, when the first industrialising countries in the West started mining and burning coal in large quantities. In the 20th century, ballooning population and consumption vastly increased the quantity of fossil fuels being extracted and burned. That, combined with humans claiming ever more land for crops and livestock, has resulted in skyrocketing levels of CO2 and methane, another potent greenhouse gas. A third greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, released through agricultural activities, is also on the up.
4-21-21 We must seize this historic moment to secure our climate future
CHILLING might be the wrong word, but it is certainly a stark message that appears towards the end of our special report on the latest climate change science: if we do too little, too late, and Earth’s climate feedbacks work against us, many children today could live to see 5°C of global warming or more. As this week’s equally stark cover image of global temperature anomalies last month shows, in some parts of the world at some times, we are already there. Global warming is the greatest existential challenge of our age – perhaps of any age, measured by the scale of the societal changes necessary to mitigate it and adapt to it. Time is running out to do that – and the latest science isn’t panning out in our favour. So the stakes couldn’t be higher for the UN COP26 climate summit, due to be co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Italy in Glasgow this November. The global community needs to finally come good on commitments made in Paris in 2015, and agree how to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, thus limiting climate change to a nominally “safe” level of 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C. There are positives to be stressed. Carbon emissions aren’t rising as fast as they would have been if no action had been taken. Countries such as the UK, which in 2019 became the first major economy to write a commitment to reaching net zero by mid-century into law, have made great strides in decarbonising their power supply. As UN chief climate diplomat Patricia Espinosa notes in our interview, the commitment by China, the world’s largest climate polluter, to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 would have been unimaginable just a year ago. After four lost years, the US is fully on board once again. Although no one would have wished it on anyone, the covid-19 pandemic has also shown how great societal changes can happen rapidly when humanity recognises a real and present danger. And it displayed the power of science and technology to supply solutions.
4-21-21 UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa: We can still turn this around
It’s a critical time for action on climate change – but the rapid adaptations seen during the covid-19 pandemic offer hope that we can make a breakthrough, says the diplomat in charge of negotiations. The Mexican diplomat and former foreign minister Patricia Espinosa is executive secretary of theUN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UN recently issued a report finding that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will be only 0.5 per cent below 2010 levels, way off what is needed to hold global warming below 1.5°C. How did you feel reading that? Patricia Espinosa: It was very bad news. It confirmed the bad scenario we had been talking about, that we really are in a climate emergency. I feared we would have bad news, so in that sense it was not really a surprise. But this report is very helpful because it illustrates how grave the situation is, how difficult it is and how much urgency we need to impress in decision-making and in actions. You have said that some countries’ long-term net-zero emissions goals are reasons for optimism. But there is a big disconnect between those targets and short-term ones, isn’t there? This is a big challenge now. This is precisely why we are stressing the need to review the NDCs [nationally determined contributions, or national climate plans] and see if we can increase ambition. I hope they can help us in giving this push to a higher level of ambition. For many businesses, and many different actors in society, it has become clear this is really about survival. Have any governments heeded your call to submit new versions of existing national plans? I’ve been talking with all of them without interruption. [The UN report] is not pointing fingers at anyone, but just reminding everyone there is a collective obligation. What does the COP26 summit later this year need to achieve to be a success? COP26 is a credibility test for the fight against climate change. Look at the less than 1 per cent reduction [in projected 2030 carbon dioxide emissions] and look at how we need to be at a 45 per cent reduction in only 10 years. Decisions need to be made now. This transformation of societies into low-carbon economies will take time. Every decision about investments needs to go through the lens of climate risk. The sense of urgency needs to be at the centre of attention of all political leadership – and not only politicians, but also the private sector and individuals.
4-21-21 Chinese air pollution data was altered, statistical analysis suggests
Official Chinese air pollution data has previously shown evidence of manipulation when compared with data from US embassies in the same cities. The Chinese government has already taken action against the local officials involved, but now an independent statistical analysis shows the extent of the manipulation. Jesse Turiel at Harvard University and Robert Kaufmann at Boston University looked at data from official Chinese monitoring stations as well as readings collected by US embassies in five cities: Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. They found that there were regular divergences in the amount of PM2.5, a size of particulate with proven links to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease, recorded by Chinese and US stations. The researchers looked at data from between 2015 and 2017, at which point the US stopped collecting data. They noticed a statistically unlikely amount of days on which pollution levels were just below the limit imposed by China’s “blue sky” policy, which created an index for each city where results at 100 or above were deemed too high and results 99 or below were acceptable. “What that encouraged therefore, was any days that were close to 100 you’d just report 99, 98, 97,” says Turiel. “You could see this in the data. There was a very obvious bubble right below 100 and a very low proportion right at 100. People will use creative methods if they can get away with it.” The divergences were 40 per cent more frequent than would be expected by chance, and 63 per cent of the discrepancies saw the Chinese data lower than the US readings. It was also more common to see misreporting on the days with the worst pollution, which is when the worst associated health effects are found. Although these data discrepancies have been noted before, the pair’s work is the first time a robust statistical analysis has ruled out the possibility of it happening by chance.
4-22-21 President Biden sets new US target of 52 per cent carbon cut by 2030
US president Joe Biden will commit the world’s second-biggest emitter to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52 per cent by 2030 at a climate summit today. The new goal, which aims for a 50 to 52 per cent drop on 2005 levels, is part of a wider US effort to build momentum on more ambitious climate pledges ahead of the United Nations’ COP26 summit this November. Biden’s pledge is in line with experts’ expectations and what US businesses were calling for. The commitment marks a big upgrade to the previous US target of reducing emissions by 28 per cent by 2025 on 2005 levels, which is now equivalent to around a 38 per cent cut. The independent Climate Action Tracker, which monitors countries’ emissions pledges, called the new US target a “significant step forward”. However, the group said the goal was just shy of what would be required to meet the Paris Agreement’s aspiration of holding global warming to 1.5°C. That would require a 57 to 63 per cent cut, it said. A White House fact sheet today reiterated a plan to achieve zero-carbon electricity by 2035, and said the new goal would also be met with more forests, fuel-efficient cars and heat pumps in buildings. “The United States is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now,” the statement said. Around 40 heads of state are attending Biden’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate today. Yoshihide Suga of Japan and Justin Trudeau of Canada are among those expected to also submit a new climate plan like the US, known formally as a nationally determined contribution (NDC). The new US NDC comes just days after the UK enshrined in law a target of cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, based on 1990 levels. John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, tweeted: “This Earth Day we’re working hard to lower our emissions & encouraging other countries to do the same.” However, Michal Meidan at Oxford Institute for Energy Sudies says Biden’s target is unlikely to swiftly prompt a new NDC from China, the world’s largest emitter.
4-21-21 Climate change: EU to cut CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030
The EU has adopted ambitious new targets to curb climate change, with a pledge to make them legally binding. Under a new law agreed between member states and the EU Parliament, the bloc will cut carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. The EU parliament had pushed for a higher target of a 60% reduction. "Our political commitment to becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal one," said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. "The Climate Law sets the EU on a green path for a generation." The deal comes ahead of a virtual summit of world leaders later this week, where the US is expected to announce its own climate targets for 2030. US President Joe Biden, who will lead the meeting, rejoined the Paris climate agreement in his first day in office and has previously committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The UK, meanwhile, announced radical plans to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 earlier this week, although environmentalists warn that the government has consistently failed to achieve previous targets set by its independent Climate Change Committee (CCC). The EU Climate Law was agreed in the early hours of Wednesday after months of talks. It sets a limit on the levels of CO2 removal that can count towards the 2030 target, to ensure that states actively lower emissions rather than removing them from the atmosphere through forests, for example. A 15-member independent council will also be established to advise the EU on climate measures and targets. The EU Commission will announce a package of climate laws in June to support the plans. The target to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 was initially announced by EU leaders in December but there had been pressure from the EU Parliament and environmental groups for the law to go even further. Previous EU targets had called for a 40% cut.
4-21-21 Climate emergency: The new science showing it’s make-or-break time
As climate talks ramp up ahead of the crucial COP26 meeting in Glasgow, new research on what our carbon emissions are doing to the planet paints a disturbing picture. SHALL we start with the good news or the bad news? The good news is that the world has made some progress in cutting the carbon emissions driving climate change. The bad news is that it is by no means enough, and emerging research suggests that the impact of the emissions we are pumping into the atmosphere could be even greater than we feared. “The science, if anything, has become more pessimistic,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the University of Potsdam, Germany. “The signs from the science are pointing towards more urgent climate action being needed.” To have a chance of averting catastrophe, we must get to “net-zero” emissions – where we are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere no more quickly than Earth’s natural processes or yet-to-be-developed technologies can remove them – in less than three decades. Most countries haven’t yet got credible plans to produce the sort of emissions cuts needed, let alone to implement them. The question then becomes: how bad could it get if we fail to take the drastic action required now? The fate of much life on the planet depends on three main factors. First, how much more CO2 we add to the atmosphere. Second, how the planet changes in response to all that extra CO2: how much it will warm the planet, and its impact on sea level rise and extreme weather. Third, how well we prepare for the coming changes. Of these factors, by far the most important is how much CO2 we are emitting. This is what is causing climate change and it is within our control. In 1988, climate scientist James Hansen gave the first high-profile warning that we needed to cut emissions. Decades of denial followed, but today that argument is largely won. “Everybody seems to realise that climate change is something that needs to be taken seriously,” says Lisa Schipper at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. “People are enraged and engaged.”
4-21-21 Air pollution: Coroner calls for law change after Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah's death
A coroner has called for a change in the law after air pollution led to the death of a nine-year-old girl. Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, died in 2013. An inquest had found air pollution "made a material contribution" to her death. Coroner Phillip Barlow said there is "no safe level of particulate matter" in the air and called for national pollution limits to be reduced. Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, following the inquest ruling by Mr Barlow last December. In a report to prevent future deaths, he said the government should reduce existing legally binding targets for particulate matter pollution to bring them in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Responding to the report, Ella's mother Rosamund Adoo- Kissi-Debrah, called on the government to act on the coroner's recommendations, warning "children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution". In his report, Mr Barlow called for more information about air pollution and its impact to be made available to the public. "As the parent of a child suffering from severe asthma, I should have been given this information but this did not happen," Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said. "Because of a lack of information I did not take the steps to reduce Ella's exposure to air pollution that might have saved her life. I will always live with this regret. "But it is not too late for other children." Particulate matter consists of tiny particles known as PM2.5. These have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres across - that is one-four-hundredth of a millimetre, or about 3% of the diameter of a human hair. These particles are so small they can lodge in the lungs and even pass into the bloodstream. There is evidence they can damage blood vessels and organs. The WHO guidelines suggest keeping an average concentration of PM2.5 under 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3), to prevent increased deaths. The UK limit, based on European Union (EU) recommendations, is a yearly average of 25 µg/m3. An inquest into Ella's death also found levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) near her home exceeded WHO and EU guidelines.
4-21-21 UK should set tougher air pollution limits, says Kissi-Debrah coroner
The UK government should impose tougher legal limits on air pollution in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, to prevent more deaths like those of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, a coroner has urged. An inquest last year by coroner Philip Barlow into the death of Ella in 2013 found that her exposure to dangerously dirty air in London had played a material role. She lived and walked to school in an area of south London that frequently breached UK limits for air pollution. In a report published today on preventing future deaths, Barlow made three recommendations. He said the government should bolster the UK’s air pollution limits, noting that they are currently “far higher” than the WHO’s guidelines. “Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” he said. Barlow added that doctors and nurses are failing to sufficiently communicate the health risks of exposure to dirty air, and professional medical bodies need to address the shortcoming. Public awareness of local and national air pollution levels are low, said Barlow, which he suggested could be fixed by increasing the number of air-quality sensors. Central and local government must tackle that, he said. Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, said in a statement that she would ask the UK’s environment secretary George Eustice to legislate to implement WHO air pollution rules in the wake of the report. “Children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution. In order to save lives the government must act now and take the three steps that the coroner has identified in his report,” she said. The UK’s legal limit for a fine particulate form of pollution, PM2.5, is an annual mean of 20 micrograms per cubic metre, twice the 10 micrograms per cubic metre in WHO guidelines.
4-20-21 Climate change: UK to speed up target to cut carbon emissions
Radical new climate change commitments will set the UK on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, the UK government has announced. Hitting the targets would require more electric cars, low-carbon heating, renewable electricity and, for many, cutting down on meat and dairy. For the first time, climate law will be extended to cover international aviation and shipping. But Labour said the government had to match "rhetoric with reality". It urged Boris Johnson to treat "the climate emergency as the emergency it is" and show "greater ambition". The prime minister's commitments, which will become law, bring forward the current target for reducing carbon emissions by 15 years. This would be a world-leading position. Homes will need to be much better insulated, and people will be encouraged to drive less and walk and cycle more. Aviation is likely to become more expensive for frequent fliers. The government has accepted the advice of its independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) to adopt the emissions cut, which is based on 1990 levels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a major surge in CO2 emissions from energy this year, as the world rebounds from the pandemic. The UK's new commitments come as US President Joe Biden prepares to stage a climate summit from Washington DC. Environmentalists welcomed the government's move, but warned that ministers had consistently failed to achieve previous CCC-set targets. And they insisted that Chancellor Rishi Sunak must show clearly how the transition is to be funded. Tom Burke, from the environmental think tank E3G, explained what policy changes were needed to achieve the goal: "The most important thing, I think, is for [the prime minister] to focus his policy around energy efficiency, around wind and solar, and around storage of electricity and the management of the grid." However, he told the BBC's Today programme: "At the moment, it's... a bit of a Boris blunderbuss and is a huge range of marginal things instead of a concentration of effort on those things that will deliver the most emissions reductions in the fastest time."
4-20-21 Climate change: Carbon 'surge' expected in post-Covid energy boom
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is predicting a major surge in CO2 emissions from energy this year, as the world rebounds from the pandemic. Total energy emissions for 2021 will still be slightly lower than in 2019, the agency says. But CO2 will rise by the second largest annual amount on record. The use of coal in Asia is expected to be key: the IEA says it will push global demand up by 4.5%, taking it close to the global peak seen in 2014. However, renewable energy is also booming, with green sources set to supply 30% of electricity this year. The empty roads, high streets and airports that marked the global response to coronavirus saw the biggest fall in demand for energy since World War Two. That decline saw carbon emissions tumble by around 6% in 2020, as the more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and oil were hardest hit by restrictions. Many hoped that these changes in energy use would be sustained in the recovery from the pandemic, but these latest predictions from the IEA indicate that is not likely to be the case. Energy demand is booming in the developing world, with a rise of 3.4% predicted for this year - this contrasts with richer economies, where overall energy use is expected to still be 3% below 2019. In the places where energy demand is growing, coal is playing a key role. Overall global use declined by around 4% in 2020, but is expected to rise by 4.5% this year. This is mainly happening in Asia, where China is leading the way and expected to account for more than half of the global coal growth this year. But even in the US and EU, where coal has been on the back foot for some time, demand is expected to rise - although it will still likely remain below 2019 levels in these regions. According to the IEA, coal demand is likely to be close to the global peak seen in 2014 - and that has implications for efforts to rein in climate change. "Global carbon emissions are set to jump by 1.5 billion tonnes this year - driven by the resurgence of coal use in the power sector," said Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director. "This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate."
4-20-21 Untouched nature was almost as rare 12,000 years ago as it is now
As early as 12,000 years ago, nearly three-quarters of land on Earth was inhabited and shaped by human societies, suggesting global biodiversity loss in recent years may have been driven primarily by an intensification of land use rather than by the destruction of previously untouched nature. “It’s not the process of using land itself [that causes biodiversity loss], it’s the way that land is used,” says Erle Ellis at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “You can have traditional land use and still have biodiversity.” Ellis and his colleagues analysed the most recent reconstruction of global land use by humans over the past 12,000 years and compared this with contemporary global patterns of biodiversity and conservation. They found that most – 72.5 per cent – of Earth’s land has been shaped by human societies since as far back as 10,000 BC, including more than 95 per cent of temperate and 90 per cent of tropical woodlands. “Our work confirms that untouched nature was almost as rare 12,000 years ago as it is today,” says Ellis. He and his team found that lands now considered natural, intact or wild generally exhibit long histories of use, as do protected areas and lands inhabited only by relatively small numbers of Indigenous peoples. The extent of historical human land use may previously have been underestimated because prior analyses didn’t fully account for the influence that hunter-gatherer populations had on landscapes, says Ellis. “Even hunter-gatherer populations that are moving around are still interacting with the land, but maybe in what we would see as a more sustainable way,” he says. The researchers also found that in regions now characterised as natural, current global patterns of vertebrate species richness and overall biodiversity are more strongly linked to past patterns of land use than they are with present ones. Ellis says this indicates the current biodiversity crisis can’t be explained by the loss of uninhabited wild lands alone. Instead, this points to a more significant role for recent appropriation, colonisation and intensification of land use, he says.
4-19-21 'Lost' coffee plant can resist climate change and tastes just as good
A rare species of coffee has been found to have a similar flavour to the varieties favoured by coffee growers for their high quality – but it is also more tolerant of the higher temperatures and more varied rainfall that are becoming increasingly typical of coffee-growing regions. Many types of coffees favoured for their taste only grow in a narrow range of conditions, meaning they might not survive if temperatures increase. In fact, around 60 per cent of wild coffee species are facing extinction. Coffea stenophylla may offer a solution. Farmers stopped cultivating it in the 1920s, believing it couldn’t compete in the market at the time, and it was thought to have gone extinct in some countries where it once grew, including Guinea and Sierra Leone. But two small, wild populations were rediscovered in Sierra Leone in 2018. Historical records showed that it had an excellent flavour, but Aaron Davis at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London and his team wanted to test this properly. Working alongside their colleagues at CIRAD, a French agricultural research centre, they created samples of coffee brewed with C. stenophylla beans and served them to five professional judging panels alongside samples of high-quality Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora), which is commonly used for instant coffee. The judges said coffee made from C. stenophylla had a complex flavour with sweetness and a good body, similar to the taste of Arabica. Some 81 per cent of judges thought C. stenophylla coffee was actually Arabica. They also gave it a score of 80.25 on the Speciality Coffee Association’s 100-point Coffee Review scale, meaning it is considered a speciality coffee. “I was really blown away by the taste,” says Davis. “It’s rare to find something that tastes as [good] as high-quality Arabica, so this is really exciting.”
4-19-21 The best climate solution you've never heard of
Around the world, there are teams of people who are working to track down and destroy hidden sources of greenhouse gases - stopping them from harming the planet. Some of the gases, which are used in refrigeration, have many times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. On the outskirts of Guatemala City, Ángel Toledo runs a waste disposal company dealing with metal, plastic and glass. For the last three years they've also started dealing with refrigerant gases - which contribute to climate change. He siphons the gases from household appliances like fridges into refrigerant recovery machines. They are then transferred to a huge tank that's taken to be destroyed once it's full. It's a tangible measure of what Ángel has helped save. "I feel fulfilled," he says. "I've had this plant for 16 years working with plastic and glass and other waste but I've been working on refrigerants for the last three years. "I feel it's like a dream, helping the environment. Avoiding these gases from reaching the atmosphere. It's an ecstasy being able to help the planet through this work. It's very important for me." But not everyone is disposing of refrigerant canisters or fridges in the right way. "Unfortunately, you see that a lot and one of the biggest challenges we face is having to change the common practice. You see the cylinders on the street," he explains. "They vent the gases as they're dealing with equipment or the cylinders and it's going to the atmosphere." Ángel is part of a chain of people working to stop these gases causing damage to the planet. Teams from Tradewater, a company funded through climate offsetting, are working around the world negotiating with governments, private companies and individuals to find ways to find, secure and destroy the gases safely. Once they get an agreement from the owner and local authorities, they take them somewhere they can be disposed of safely.
4-19-21 Table Mountain fire: Residents evacuated in Cape Town suburb
South African emergency workers have evacuated three 17-storey residential buildings overlooking Cape Town as a huge fire burns along Table Mountain. The blaze spread quickly after breaking out on Sunday morning near a memorial to politician Cecil Rhodes. A restaurant was destroyed. The University of Cape Town's historic library was also badly damaged. About 250 firefighters have been battling the blaze, which has been fanned by strong winds. Helicopters were used to water-bomb flames, but their work had been hampered by the strong winds. South African National Parks said firefighters were alerted at 09:00 local time (07:00 GMT) on Sunday. The flames spread quickly because of the low humidity and dry bush. The fire created its own wind further increasing the rate of spread, it added, estimating that firefighters would need at least three days to control the blaze. City officials said a suspect had been detained amid speculation that new fires may have been started and the original fire was an act of arson. "The fire is not under control yet. At this time, the wind is a major contributing factor," a statement issued by city officials said. The emergency services have evacuated some residents from the upmarket suburb of Vredehoek, along the slopes of Table Mountain. Schools in the suburb have been also ordered to evacuate. "The fire that initially started in the vicinity of Rhodes Memorial just under 24 hours ago continues to rage and has spread in the direction of Vredehoek," city officials said in a statement. Disa Park, which refers to three identical residential buildings close to the foot of Table Mountain, has also been evacuated. The nearby University of Cape Town has also been shut and students evacuated. The fire destroyed the Reading Room at its 200-year-old Jagger Library and the historic Mostert's Mill. Other buildings were also affected. "Some of our valuable collections have been lost," the university said. This includes some 3,500 archival collections, including the Bleek-Lloyd collection of San language and mythology, the university added.
4-18-21 China and US pledge climate change commitment
China and the US say they are committed to working together and with other countries on tackling climate change. It comes after several meetings between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry in Shanghai last week. They both agreed on further specific actions to reduce emissions, a joint statement on Sunday confirmed. US President Joe Biden is holding a virtual climate summit this week, which China says it is looking forward to. However it is not yet known if Chinese President Xi Jinping will join the world leaders who have pledged to attend. "The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands," the statement said. It added that both nations will continue to discuss "concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach". Both nations also agreed to help developing countries finance a switch to low-carbon energy. Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for environmental group Greenpeace, described the statement as "positive". "It sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue (China and the United States) will co-operate. Before the meetings in Shanghai this was not a message that we could assume, " Mr Li told Reuters news agency. Mr Kerry's trip to China is the first high-level visit by a member of the Biden administration since the new US president took office. However US and Chinese officials met for talks in Alaska last month. Ahead of his trip to Shanghai, Mr Kerry told CNN that China's co-operation was "absolutely critical" to battle the climate crisis. "Yes, we have big disagreements with China on some key issues, absolutely. But climate has to stand alone," he said.
4-18-21 These teenage climate activists are pushing for change in Australia
Bushfires in Australia in January 2020 destroyed lives, homes and wildlife. A study by the World Weather Attribution consortium said that global warming boosted the risk of the hot, dry weather likely to cause fires by 30%. Teenage climate activists Airly, Ava and Will want more to be done to tackle climate change in Australia, one of the world's biggest per capita greenhouse gas emitters. "Climate Action" is Goal 13 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets announced in 2015 to transform lives around the world by 2030. The UN wants countries around the world to take "urgent action" to combat climate change.
4-18-21 Table Mountain fire 'burns out of control' in Cape Town
A wildfire is raging out of control on the slopes of Table Mountain above the city of Cape Town, South African authorities say. The blaze has destroyed part of a cafe at the Rhodes Memorial overlooking the city's port. Hundreds of students have been evacuated from a nearby University of Cape Town campus. The fire is moving towards the campus, the Western Cape Government said. Three helicopters are water-bombing the flames. Firefighters were first alerted at 08:45 local time (06:45 GMT). Local environment chief Anton Bredell said the situation was serious and the wind was picking up, which he said was a cause for concern. Residents in the area have been warned of smoke and soot in the air and told to keep windows and doors closed. Meanwhile hikers in the Table Mountain National Park have been told to leave and drivers who have parked in the area have been told to collect their vehicles. People who were in the area and city residents have been uploading footage of the blaze.
4-18-21 A68: Iceberg that became a social media star melts away
The iceberg that was for a time the biggest in the world is no more. A68, as it was known, covered an area of nearly 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) when it broke away from Antarctica in 2017. That's like a small country; it's equal to a quarter of the size of Wales. But satellites show the mega-berg has now virtually gone, broken into countless small fragments that the US National Ice Center says are no longer worth tracking. A68 calved from the Larson C Ice Shelf on the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, and for a year it hardly moved. But then it started to drift north with increasing speed, riding on strong currents and winds. The billion-tonne block took a familiar route, spinning out into the South Atlantic towards the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia. The small island is where many of the biggest icebergs go to die. Caught in the local shallows, they are doomed to gradually melt away. But this one somehow managed to escape that particular fate. Instead, it was the waves, the warm water and higher air temperatures in the Atlantic that eventually consumed A68. It simply shattered into smaller and smaller fragments. "It's amazing that A68 lasted as long as it did," Adrian Luckman, from Swansea University, told BBC News. "If you think about the thickness ratio - it's like four pieces of A4 paper stacked up on top of one another. So this thing is incredibly flexible and fragile as it moved around the ocean. It lasted for years like that. But it eventually broke into four-to-five pieces and then those broke up as well." A68 will probably be best remembered as the first iceberg to become a star on social media. People around the world shared satellite pictures online, especially as the frozen block neared South Georgia. Had it grounded, the berg's immense bulk could have disrupted the foraging behaviour of the island's many penguins - and who isn't worried about penguins in peril?
4-17-21 Brazil 'needs $10bn to reach zero emissions' says minister
Brazil's environment minister says the country needs $10bn (£7.2bn) a year in foreign aid in order to reach zero emissions by 2050. The move would mean that Brazil could achieve the symbolic figure 10 years earlier than currently planned. It comes ahead of US President Joe Biden's climate summit next week. Brazil's environmental policies have brought international condemnation since President Jair Bolsonaro took office two years ago. He has encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said $1bn would be used to reach zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. He added that a third of the money would be used to recruit more environmental agents, potentially from the national military police. The remainder would be used to invest in sustainable development of the Amazon, he told Reuters news agency. Mr Salles said he does not expect a deal to be made before next week's virtual summit. His call for foreign aid comes as Mr Bolsonaro's government is attempting to negotiate a deal with the US in which it would receive financial aid in return for protecting the Amazon. The move has been criticised by environmentalists and indigenous groups who say they haven't been consulted on the plans. A report by Brazil's space agency (Inpe) released in 2020, said that deforestation of the Amazon had surged to its highest level in 12 years. The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. Mr Bolsonaro has previously clashed with Inpe over its deforestation data, accusing it of smearing Brazil's reputation. Vice-President Hamílton Mourão said Brazil has a set goal to reduce illegal deforestation by 15-20% per year in order to eliminate it by 2030. He said that the target was mentioned in a letter sent by Mr Bolsonaro to Mr Biden earlier this week.
4-17-21 Your biggest climate decision isn't what you cook — it's what you don't
So how do we make sustainable food choices from start to finish? Author Paul Greenberg has some ideas. We spend a lot of time climate-agonizing over what to buy and what to cook. By now, most of us know that beef can have 25 times the carbon footprint of legumes, that out-of-season air-freighted things like winter berries and fish from distant shores burden the planet, and that water from the tap is a vastly better choice than bottled. But if we're really looking to trim our carbon footprints consistently throughout the year — what I call going on a climate diet — addressing what we do after our meals are cooked and eaten can be a real game changer. By doing that, every American could easily cut their carbon footprint from food in half. The culprit here of course is waste, but not necessarily in the way you think of it. So, let's take a moment to look at the way discarded food can come back to bite you, and then make a plan to lessen that bite. To begin with, Americans throw out a lot of food. Somewhere around 40 percent of what we buy goes into landfills. But the hidden problem for climate change isn't just that we have to grow 40 percent more food than we'd have to in a more frugal society. No, the problem with our wasted food happens in the landfill itself. Food waste in landfills, starved of oxygen, releases methane, which has a warming consequence dozens of times that of carbon dioxide. Because of decomposing food waste, the United States has larger landfill emissions than any other country on Earth, the equivalent of 37 million cars on the road each year. To keep food out of landfills, we can start by changing how we plan for the full lifecycle of our food. We can and should look at the available space in our refrigerators and freezers before going to the grocery store or hitting the buy button. We can plan weekly meals with an eye toward moving perishables from fridge to freezer as they approach their expiration dates. But perhaps the most significant change we can make with respect to our food is to change our perspective on the very concept of waste. As I've slowly begun modifying the way I cook, I've come to a shocking realization. There is no such thing as food waste. Food, all of it, is by definition, edible. Take for example a head of cauliflower. In nearly every recipe I've ever read, the cook is instructed to trim the leaves and stem and discard. But why? The stem and leaves of that same head of cauliflower are perfectly acceptable substitutes for celery in a Bolognese or zucchini in a Moroccan vegetable stew. Similarly, the cook is always told to peel carrots and potatoes, trim any fat, and discard chicken skin. Each of these thrown-away items add flavor, texture, and nutrients to your food. Next, we'll want to be prepared to take on some post-processing tasks to further stretch what we can do with the food we've bought. To this end, I direct you to the vinegar barrel and the stockpot. Because of their sugar content, fruit peels and cores are great agents to promote fermentation. A leftover yogurt container half-filled with water and gradually filled with your cores and peels makes a fine receptacle to start a vinegar culture. Let fruit discards steep for several weeks, strain and boil, and you've just saved yourself a trip to the store to buy vinegar. You can take some of that vinegar production and use it to pickle vegetable peels, which make for excellent side slaws and sandwich accompaniments.
4-16-21 Whitest paint ever reflects 98 per cent of light and could cool homes
An extremely white paint that reflects 98.1 per cent of sunlight can cool itself by radiating heat into deep space. It could help keep buildings cool, potentially replacing energy-intensive air conditioners. Xiulin Ruan at Purdue University in Indiana and his colleagues previously developed an ultra-reflective paint using calcium carbonate particles that reflected 95.5 per cent of sunlight. They have now improved on that by using barium sulphate particles in a paint that reflects 98.1 per cent of sunlight. This new ultra-white paint absorbs less than half the amount of energy from the sun as the previous paint. Standard commercial white paint absorbs between 10 and 20 per cent of sunlight energy. The amount of sunlight absorbed by the new paint is lower than the amount of energy it radiates through our atmosphere and into deep space, so the material actually becomes cooler than its surroundings. The team plans to carry out experiments with painted tubes carrying water and hopes to create an electricity-free refrigeration effect. The team hopes that the paint can lower global carbon emissions as houses coated in the paint would need less air conditioning. If the paint is used on a 930 square metre roof, the cooling effect could be as high as 10 kilowatts, which the team says is more powerful than a standard air conditioner. Ruan says there is a double-pronged positive effect because the paint sends energy away from our planet. “We send the heat to space, we’re not leaving the heat on Earth,” he says. “Traditional air conditioners leave the heat on Earth’s surface, it’s just moved from the inside of your house to the outside.” The team calculated that if 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of Earth’s surface was covered in this paint, for instance by coating roofs with it, the total effect would reverse global heating to date.
4-16-21 Carbon Mapper satellite network to find super-emitters
A constellation of satellites will be flown this decade to try to pinpoint significant releases of climate-changing gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane. The initiative is being led by an American non-profit organisation called Carbon Mapper. It will use technology developed by the US space agency over the past decade. The satellites - 20 or so - will be built and flown by San Francisco's Planet company. Planet operates today the largest fleet of Earth-observing spacecraft. There are already quite a few satellites in the sky that monitor greenhouse gases, but the capability is far from perfect. Most of these spacecraft can sense the likes of methane over very large areas but have poor resolution at the local level, at the scale, say, of a leaking pipeline. And those systems that can capture this detail will lack the wide-area coverage and the timely return to a particular location. The Carbon Mapper project wants to fix this either-or-situation by flying multiple high-resolution (30m) sensors that can deliver a daily view, or better. They will look for super-emitters - the actors responsible for large releases of greenhouse gases. These would include oil and gas infrastructure, or perhaps poorly managed landfills and large dairy factory facilities. Often these emitters want to know they have a problem but just don't have the data to take action. "What we've learned is that decision support systems that focus just at the level of nation states, or countries, are necessary but not sufficient. We really need to get down to the scale of individual facilities, and even individual pieces of equipment, if we're going to have an impact across civil society," explained Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper's CEO and a research scientist at the University of Arizona. "Super-emitters are often intermittent but they are also disproportionately responsible for the total emissions. That suggests low-hanging fruit, because if you can identify and fix them you can get a big bang for your buck," he told BBC News. The aim is to put the satellite data in the hands of everyone, and with the necessary tools also to be able to understand and use that information.
4-16-21 Meteorologists can predict strength of Asian monsoon a year in advance
A climate model can now reliably predict the strength of the Asian summer monsoon – and tropical cyclone activity associated with it – more than one year ahead of time, which could enable government agencies to make preparations for damaging weather events. Yuhei Takaya at the Japan Meteorological Agency and his colleagues have developed a climate prediction system that takes into account both historical and up-to-date meteorological measurements to simulate atmospheric changes and temperatures on land and in the ocean. The key to its long-range forecasting is the ability to predict when an El Niño-Southern Oscillation will occur. “When an El Niño occurs, the Indian Ocean warms during the fall to winter and this persists in the next summer,” says Takaya. The resulting warm conditions in the Indian Ocean have a significant effect on the Asian summer monsoon, he says. The team’s model was tested using oceanic and climate data gathered between 1980 and 2016. Given meteorological data for a particular year, the model predicts what will happen the following summer, including the sea surface temperature, regional rainfall and a weather pattern known as the western North Pacific monsoon. “In summer, we have droughts or floods associated with this variability,” says Takaya. The climate model predicted the strength of the monsoon a year ahead, measuring how linear the correlation is between real and predicted weather patterns with a value of 0.5, where a score of 1 indicates a perfect correlation. It was more accurate at predicting temperatures over South-East Asia than predicting monsoon strength, with a score of 0.75. Existing climate models used by meteorological centres are usually able to predict weather patterns six months in advance, says Takaya.
4-15-21 Alaskan forests may store more carbon after being burned by wildfire
As the boreal forests of Alaska recover from wildfires, they may shift from containing mostly coniferous trees to a deciduous-coniferous mix – and this change could ultimately offset some of the carbon emitted during the fires. Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and intense in certain parts of the world, such as the boreal forests of the Arctic. These forests typically act as carbon sinks, but if fires burn deep into their soil, they could begin to release more carbon into the atmosphere than they store through new wood growth, accelerating the effects of climate change. Michelle Mack at Northern Arizona University and her team assessed the Alaskan boreal forest, which is experiencing more frequent fires, to see how the blazes are affecting forest recovery and carbon storage. Around 2.7 million hectares of land was burned there in 2004 – the area’s worst wildfire season on record – due to extreme temperatures and frequent lightning strikes. The team monitored 75 sites across this forest for 15 years after this fire year. Before 2004, records showed that the forest contained mainly black spruce trees, a conifer species. In 2017, this spruce was the principal species at 28 per cent of sites, while 72 per cent were dominated by deciduous trees, like aspen and birch, or had a mix of deciduous and conifer. “The fire burned more deeply at these sites, exposing the deeper, nutrient-rich layer of soil,” says Mack. Fast-growing deciduous seeds dispersed from further afield could develop rapidly in this soil layer, which might be why so many sites changed composition, she says. Because deciduous trees take in more carbon dioxide than conifers to grow their denser wood, the team estimated that sites shifting towards deciduous species could ultimately store around five times as much carbon as those where spruce remained. This means that if deciduous trees replace conifers following a fire in a boreal forest, the new mix of tree species could more than compensate for the carbon released during the wildfire, providing a negative feedback to climate change.
4-15-21 Heat overrides genes to make bearded dragon embryos change sex
Some lizards that begin developing as males will actually hatch as females if the egg is particularly warm – and now we know why. The heat triggers genes that override chromosomal sex determination. In the 1960s, French scientists discovered that reptiles in Senegal would hatch as females when temperatures rose much above about 30°C. Since then, researchers have noted that the sex of many reptiles and some fish actually depends entirely on the temperature during their development. In a few animals, like the central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) of Australia, sex determination depends on both genetics and temperature. Males have two identical sex chromosomes – ZZ – and females have two different sex chromosomes – ZW. But male embryos will develop as females if the egg is warm enough. This means females may develop in one of two ways, but the mechanisms behind this phenomenon have eluded scientists for more than half a century. To explore the mystery, Sarah Whiteley at the University of Canberra in Australia and her colleagues ran genetic sequencing on unhatched bearded dragons incubated either at 28°C – cool enough for ZZ embryos to hatch as males – or at 36°C – warm enough for ZZ embryos to hatch as females. For the eggs at 36°C, the researchers found that ZW female embryos had “dramatically” different active genes during the major stages of sex development, compared with ZZ females, demonstrating there are two distinct sets of genes that can make a central bearded dragon female. In the ZZ females, the genes that “wanted” to code for male development were forcibly switched off, and those for female development were switched on. “The sex chromosomes in the dragon are… more recently developed – on an evolutionary timescale – compared to [human] sex chromosomes,” Whiteley says. “So sex reversal might be a relic of temperature sensitivity [alone].”
4-15-21 Just 3 per cent of the land on Earth is still ecologically intact
Most of Earth’s terrestrial habitats have lost their ecological integrity, including areas previously categorised as being intact. Ecological integrity encompasses three measures of intactness. Habitat intactness is a measure of the extent to which people have made changes to the land, faunal intactness is a measure of the number of animal species lost from a habitat, and functional intactness measures whether there are enough animals of individual species to effectively play their part in a functioning ecosystem. “We only find about 2 to 3 per cent of the Earth[’s land] is where you could be considered as having the same fauna and flora that you had 500 years ago, in pre-industrial times, before major human impacts had occurred,” says Andrew Plumptre, head of the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat and an employee at BirdLife International in the UK. Plumptre and his colleagues combined data on human impacts and loss of animal species from various global databases to map the ecological integrity of different regions. Only 11 per cent of ecologically intact sites lie within environmentally protected areas. However, many other of the intact sites, including parts of the Sahara, Amazon and northern Canada, are within territories managed by indigenous communities, which have played a role in maintaining ecological integrity. “Conservation of intact ecosystems is critical for the maintenance of biodiversity on Earth, and in turn for the services that these ecosystems provide to humans,” says Kimberly Komatsu at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. The team determined that by reintroducing between one and five different species to sites that aren’t completely degraded, ecological integrity could be restored across about 20 per cent of Earth’s land.
4-15-21 Only 3 percent of Earth’s land hasn’t been marred by humans
Human activity has had a far-ranging impact on the numbers and abundance of other species. The Serengeti looks largely like it did hundreds of years ago. Lions, hyenas and other top predators still stalk herds of wildebeests over a million strong, preventing them from eating too much vegetation. This diversity of trees and grasses support scores of other species, from vivid green-orange Fischer’s lovebirds to dung beetles. In turn, such species carry seeds or pollen across the plains, enabling plant reproduction. Humans are there too, but in relatively low densities. Overall, it’s a prime example of what biologists call an ecologically intact ecosystem: a bustling tangle of complex relationships that together sustain a rich diversity of life, undiminished by us. Such places are vanishingly rare. The vast majority of land on Earth — a staggering 97 percent — no longer qualifies as ecologically intact, according to a sweeping survey of Earth’s ecosystems. Over the last 500 years, too many species have been lost, or their numbers reduced, researchers report April 15 in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change. Of the few fully intact ecosystems, only about 11 percent fall within existing protected areas, the researchers found. Much of this pristine habitat exists in northern latitudes, in Canada’s boreal forests or Greenland’s tundra, which aren’t bursting with biodiversity. But chunks of the species-rich rainforests of the Amazon, Congo and Indonesia also remain intact. “These are the best of the best, the last places on Earth that haven’t lost a single species that we know of,” says Oscar Venter, a conservation scientist at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George who wasn’t involved in the study. Identifying such places is crucial, he says, especially for regions under threat of development that require protection, like the Amazon rainforest.
4-15-21 China 'can save $1.6 trillion by scrapping coal', report says
China can save up to $1.6 trillion (£1.2 trillion) over 20 years by switching from coal power to renewables, a report says. The authors say China must close 588 coal-fired power plants in a decade to meet climate pledges - but they insist the move will save cash. That's because renewables are now so much cheaper than coal. It mirrors the situation in the US, where coal tumbled from being the cheapest major fuel to the most expensive. China is currently running 1,058 coal plants – more than half the world’s capacity. The authors of the report from the climate think tank, TransitionZero, say to meet its stated goal of becoming "carbon neutral" by 2060, China must take radical action now. China has announced it’s building five new nuclear stations to supply clean power – and President Xi has announced he will join a French-German climate summit on Friday. It's also the world leader in wind turbines and solar panels. But over the past year the country has strayed in a high-carbon direction, with regional governors building new power stations to stimulate economic growth. The report warns that China’s 14th Five-year Plan risks creating “stranded assets” – that’s coal plants which get built but not used. It’s based on satellite technology and machine learning, which are being used for the first time to determine exactly how much CO2 China’s power sector is emitting. Western diplomats have been suspicious about the nation’s data, which is published on a provincial basis every month. The UK and the US, by comparison, publish CO2 data at plant level every day. Accurate numbers are essential as countries attempt to fulfil their pledges to reduce emissions. Matt Gray, one of the report’s authors, told BBC News: “There has to be credible data on emissions so nations can trust each other in climate negotiations. “Independent of climate considerations, our analysis finds China could save money, reduce stranded assets and improve its international reputation by replacing coal plants with zero-carbon alternatives,” he said. Former US vice-president Al Gore, one of the sponsors of the research, said: “The economic opportunity presented by a transition from coal to clean energy shows that climate action and economic growth go hand in hand.”
4-15-21 Torres Strait 8: Australian Islanders in landmark climate fight
A group of indigenous islanders from Australia’s Torres Strait has launched a world-first legal battle in a bid to protect their homes. They argue Australia has breached their rights to culture and life by failing to adequately address climate change. The low-lying islands, located on the northern tip of Australia, have seen rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding in recent years. It’s the first time a claim of this kind has been taken to the UN Human Rights Committee.
4-14-21 Earthquakes in Taiwan are linked to seasonal changes in water levels
Earthquakes in Taiwan may be linked to seasonal variations in the water cycle, driven by the Asian monsoon. Taiwan has both a high frequency of damaging earthquakes and a wide variation in the amount of precipitation and water stored in the ground, as a result of the heavy rains and typhoons that buffet the island between May and September. Ya-Ju Hsu at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and her colleagues analysed earthquake data in eastern and western Taiwan and found a correlation between seismic activity and fluctuations in the water cycle. Hsu had initially noticed that many earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater seemed to occur during Taiwan’s dry season between about February and April. She and her colleagues analysed seismic data collected between 2002 and 2018, as well as groundwater measurements from 40 monitoring stations and data on how the Earth’s crust changes in response to seasonal water loading. They found that seismic activity in western Taiwan was highest in the dry season and lowest between July and September, at the end of the monsoon season. “In the dry season, we see more earthquakes because the water load has been removed,” says Hsu. The researchers found that this decreased groundwater resulted in a peak in the rebounding of Earth’s crust even when under low amounts of stress. Eastern Taiwan had a more complex pattern of seismic activity. There, deeper earthquakes tended to occur more frequently from December to February. Shallow earthquakes in this part of Taiwan were also linked to the variations in groundwater level and crust changes, but there was greater variability in their timing. The researchers also looked at records of 63 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater between 1604 and 2018, and found similar trends in the seasonal variation in seismic activity.
4-14-21 COP26: Delaying key climate meeting preferable to 'messing it up'
A former UN climate chief says that delaying the critical Glasgow meeting this year would be preferable to risking a failed conference. There have been doubts over the wisdom of having thousands of delegates attending the event - known as COP26 - while concerns linger over Covid-19. The UK says that a physical meeting is still the preferred option. But Yvo de Boer, who ran UN climate talks until 2010, says that delay is preferable to "messing it up". COP26, or the 26th Conference of the Parties, is the key forum for countries all over the world to tackle climate change. The meeting in Glasgow was due to take place late last year but was postponed because of the pandemic. The UK, which is presiding over the meeting, hopes that around 200 world leaders will turn up in Scotland later this year to try and agree a number of key steps forward on dealing with rising temperatures. But with new waves of the virus sweeping many countries, and vaccine rollouts happening at varying speeds, there are worries that the Glasgow meeting may again be in jeopardy. There have been suggestions that Glasgow should become what's termed a "hybrid" COP, with many of the side events taking place online and with slimmed down teams of negotiators taking part in person. "There will be the key elements that have to be in-person and then a lot else that would be virtual, and I think there's that's probably the most likely scenario from my perspective," said Helen Mountford from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a long-time observer of UN negotiations. Not everyone is in favour of this form of meeting. "I think a hybrid whereby you have the high-level ministerial segment in person and the rest virtual that might work," said Yvo de Boer, who ran the UN talks at the ill-fated Copenhagen summit in 2009. "But can you cover all the ground that needs to be covered in a virtual meeting, given the fact that generally the process relies very heavily on bilateral meetings and backroom deals? "My overall senses that delay is better than messing it up, overplaying your hand and having a failed meeting."
4-14-21 US envoy John Kerry woos China over climate
US envoy John Kerry is heading to Shanghai to woo China in advance of a climate summit President Joe Biden is hosting next week. After a major diplomatic row at the UN, both sides hope to co-operate over plans to drastically cut emissions. The US wants China to cease building coal-fired power stations and to stop financing coal ventures abroad. China wants the US to give more cash to developing countries to obtain clean technology and adapt to climate change. It also wants Washington to announce deep cuts in emissions. Speaking to CNN, Mr Kerry said China's co-operation was "absolutely critical" to battle the climate crisis. "Yes, we have big disagreements with China on some key issues, absolutely. But climate has to stand alone." He is hoping to salvage the superpower relationship to allow progress at President Biden’s virtual summit on 22 and 23 April. Scientists warn that without an agreement between the world’s great polluters there’s little chance of averting dangerous climate change. Bernice Lee, a China expert at the UK think tank Chatham House, said: “This is good news. At least they’re talking in the run-up to the summit. There will be big issues for both sides to resolve. But they must be resolved." Neither party has formally declared its climate masterplan to the UN, and each is struggling to coax more concessions from the other. The US was absent from climate negotiations during President Donald Trump’s term of office and it is now being urged to cut emissions to between 57%-63% below 2005 levels this decade. President Biden is expected to declare the formal US offer before, or at, next week’s summit. China, meanwhile, has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 (that means cutting out all carbon emissions from fossil fuels but still allowing farm emissions of methane – another planet-heating gas). It will be pressed to explain the policies that will achieve those targets.
4-14-21 Limiting fossil fuel use isn’t enough – we must stop extraction too
FOSSIL fuels aren’t mentioned in the world’s landmark deal for tackling catastrophic climate change. The 2015 Paris Agreement commits leaders to holding warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, or “well below” 2°C at the worst – but nowhere does it say how much oil, gas or coal must be left in the ground. This is convenient for world leaders, who are happy to talk about curbing fossil fuel demand, but desperate to continue business as usual when it comes to extraction – a disconnect that risks serious consequences for the planet’s thermostat. Political aversion doesn’t change the facts. Staying under 2°C warming means huge chunks of fossil fuel reserves – the known amount that can be extracted in a profitable way – must remain unused. A 2015 study estimated that four-fifths of coal, half of gas and a third of oil reserves globally must be left in the ground. Despite such warnings, six years on from Paris and with the pivotal COP26 climate summit looming in November, governments are still struggling to reduce fossil fuel extraction. Take the UK. It has an internationally respected record on policies to curb demand, including an ambitious 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales announced last November. But just a few months later, on 24 March, the UK government backed future permits to extract oil and gas in the North Sea, disappointing campaigners who had called for a ban. Ministers have previously justified continued extraction on the grounds the country still needs fossil fuels and, if it doesn’t produce them, another nation will. Nonetheless, in a sop to climate concerns, the UK government’s recent green light was coupled with carbon emissions targets for industry (see “Tiny tweaks are not enough“) and a pledge that new drilling would only be approved if it meets an as-yet-undefined “climate compatibility checkpoint”. Even so, a week later the UK government’s chief climate adviser, Chris Stark, branded the emissions targets unambitious.
4-14-21 UK woodlands 'at crisis point' amid wildlife decline
A review of the state of Britain's native woods and trees has found only 7% are in a good condition. While woodland cover is slowly increasing, the wildlife within it is decreasing, says the Woodland Trust. If threats to woodland aren't tackled, the UK's ability to tackle climate and nature crises will be "severely damaged", the charity warns. The Woodland Trust is among a number of groups calling for legally binding targets for the recovery of nature. "The warning signs in this report are loud and clear," says Abi Bunker, director of conservation and external affairs at the Woodland Trust. "If we don't tackle the threats facing our woods and trees, we will severely damage the UK's ability to address the climate and nature crises." Woodland now covers 13% of UK land, up from 12% in 1998. About half is made up of native tree species, such as oak, beech and ash, including centuries-old ancient woodlands. The remaining half comprises non-native trees such as conifers grown commercially for timber. Despite the small increase in the amount of woodland cover over the past few decades, the trend for wildlife is one of steep decline, said the Woodland Trust. "Wildlife is going down - woodland birds, woodland butterflies, woodland plants are all going in the wrong direction for woodlands as a whole," Chris Reid, lead author of the report, told BBC News. "This is down to factors such as pollution, invasive species, deer browsing and fragmentation - woods chopped up into small parcels. All of these need to be tackled." The report, State of the UK's Woods and Trees 2021, found that ancient woodlands lock up proportionally more carbon than other types of tree cover. Estimates suggest that ancient and long-established woodlands hold 36% of all woodland carbon (77 million tonnes). "They're really important in terms of their ability to tackle climate change whilst providing that real specialist and irreplaceable habitat for declining wildlife," says Hazel Jackson of the Woodland Trust. Ancient woodlands continue to be lost and damaged by house building, new road and railways, the report says. It calls for a better balance to be restored by removing non-native trees and invasive plants such as rhododendrons.
4-13-21 World's wealthiest 'at heart of climate problem'
The world’s wealthy must radically change their lifestyles to tackle climate change, a report says. It says the world's wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%, according to the UN. The wealthiest 5% alone – the so-called “polluter elite” - contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015. The authors want to deter SUV drivers and frequent fliers – and persuade the wealthy to insulate their homes well. The report urges the UK government to reverse its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights. And it wants ministers to re-instate the Green Homes Grant scheme they also scrapped recently. The document has come from the UK-based Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change. It’s a panel of 31 individuals who study people’s behaviour relating to the environment. They were tasked to find the most effective way of scaling up action to tackle carbon emissions. Their critics say the best way to cut emissions faster is through technological improvements - not through measures that would prove unpopular. But the lead author of the report, Prof Peter Newell, from Sussex University, told BBC News: “We are totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products - but it’s clear that more drastic action is needed because emissions keep going up. “We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions. “These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not. “They’re also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to.” Prof Newell said that to tackle climate change, everyone needs to feel part of a collective effort – so that means the rich consuming less to set an example to poorer people.
4-13-21 Wildfires launch microbes into the air. How big of a health risk is that?
Now that they know bacteria and fungi can survive in wildfire smoke, a small group of researchers is trying to figure out the implications. As climate change brings more wildfires to the western United States, a rare fungal infection has also been on the rise. Valley fever is up more than sixfold in Arizona and California from 1998 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Valley fever causes coughs, fevers and chest pain and can be deadly. The culprit fungi, members of the genus Coccidioides, thrive in soils in California and the desert Southwest. Firefighters are especially vulnerable to the disease. Wildfires appear to stir up and send the soil-loving fungi into the air, where they can enter people’s lungs. If the fires are helping these disease-causing fungi to get around, could they be sending other microorganisms aloft as well? Leda Kobziar, a fire ecologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow, decided in 2015 to see if she could find out if and how microorganisms like bacteria and fungi are transported by wildfire smoke — and what that might mean for human and ecological health. By 2018, Kobziar had launched a new research field she named “pyroaerobiology.” First, she asked if microorganisms can even survive the searing heat of a wildfire. The answer, she found, is yes. But how far bacteria and fungi can travel on the wind and in what numbers are two of the many big unknowns. With a recent push to spark new collaborations and investigations, Kobziar hopes that scientists will start to understand how important smoke transport of microbes may be.
4-13-21 Climate Check
From destructive tornadoes to record high temperatures, the start of northern hemisphere spring has brought extreme weather around the globe. Meanwhile carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise, despite temporary cuts in emissions due to the pandemic.
4-12-21 The immense untapped potential of offshore wind
President Biden is on the right track, but he needs to aim higher. resident Biden is proposing a big build-out of offshore wind power. The White House released a plan calling for 30 gigawatts of new wind capacity by 2030, starting with a big project between Long Island and New Jersey. The idea is to create jobs, expand U.S. steel and wind turbine production, and eventually put America on course for 100 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2050. This step is long overdue — the U.S. is far behind many European countries and China in offshore wind capacity. In fact, if anything Biden's plan is not nearly aggressive enough. There is simply no way around the need for a truly massive expansion of offshore wind power. A bit of background: America does have quite a lot of wind capacity installed already. Thanks to steady reductions in the cost of the resulting power, states across the country have been throwing up wind turbines by the thousands. Last year saw the biggest amount of wind power capacity added in American history, at 14.2 gigawatts (making for a total of 118 gigawatts). Utility-scale wind farms produced 338 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, or about 8 percent of the utility-scale total (up from less than 1 percent in 1990). Iowa gets fully 58 percent of its electricity from wind, while Kansas gets 43 percent. But almost all of those turbines are on land. The U.S. has just two small offshore wind farms, with a piddling 42 megawatts of capacity put together (or about 0.04 percent of the total), though several more are being planned. This must change. Offshore is an ideal location for wind turbines, for two reasons. First, land is scarce, particularly in and around cities where power is most needed. As the White House plan points out, the proposed New York Bight wind energy area will be quite close to the New York City metro area, the biggest concentration of people in the country. Second, wind tends to blow harder and more steadily offshore (and more so the further one gets from land), which counteracts the biggest weakness of wind — that it doesn't produce in calm conditions. The land of the Eastern Seaboard is relatively calm, but just offshore wind speeds increase dramatically. Several European countries have taken advantage of these facts to harvest huge amounts of power from ocean breezes. The U.K. now gets about a quarter of its power from wind, and about 43 percent of that from offshore (making it the biggest offshore wind producer in the world). Germany also gets about a quarter of its power from wind, of which about 20 percent comes from offshore. Denmark gets about half of its power from wind, of which about 27 percent comes from offshore. (Denmark is also planning to build a wind island in the North Sea that will eventually have 10 megawatts of turbines, or almost six times its current offshore capacity.) In 2016, the Department of Energy estimated the "technical resource potential" of offshore wind — the maximum possible power we might generate assuming that turbines can't be built where wind is weak, or in deep waters in the Great Lakes, or where the ocean seabed is more than 1,000 feet deep — and calculated 2,000 gigawatts of potential capacity, for 7,200 terawatt-hours of actual electricity produced. That's nearly twice as much power as the entire country produced in 2020. Of course, it would be impractical to actually hit that maximum. But I see no reason not to shoot for, say, 10 percent of that figure over the next couple decades, instead of Biden's modest 30 gigawatt goal. Indeed, that is barely more than the 24 gigawatts of projects that are already in the planning stage. In particular, the Pacific coastline from southern Oregon to northern California, and the big continental shelf between Boston and Nova Scotia, are absolutely perfect for some huge offshore farms. (Logically we ought to collaborate with Canada on the latter area since the shelf extends into its territorial waters.) That would give us 200 gigawatts of new wind, replacing perhaps 15-20 percent of the current carbon power supply.
4-12-21 How researchers can keep birds safe as U.S. wind farms expand
Citizen science data should help guide where wind turbines are built, scientists argue. Wind energy is surging in the United States. In 2020, turbines generated about 8 percent of the country’s electricity — roughly 50 times the share of wind-generated electricity in 2000 —according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While the growth is a positive step toward curbing climate change, scientists say, it could be bad news for birds. An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 birds die each year due to turbine collisions. Bird deaths could soar to 1.4 million per year if the U.S. Department of Energy achieves its goal of expanding wind energy to 20 percent of the country’s electricity demand by 2030. To prevent avoidable deaths, some scientists are advocating for the use of citizen science and bird migration data when deciding where to construct wind farms. The wind energy industry could use such information to get a more comprehensive picture than traditional surveys provide and minimize harm to birds and other wildlife (SN: 9/30/14). Citizen science is already proving that it can fill vital information gaps. From 2007 to 2018, more than 180,000 birders uploaded observations about bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to the eBird database. Using that treasure trove of data, conservation scientist Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez and colleagues estimated where in the United States the birds would be most abundant throughout the year — and face the highest risk of colliding with wind turbines. Unlike traditional survey data, which cover limited time periods or locations, the citizen science data span the entire United States and reflect the entire year, the team reports March 14 in the Journal of Applied Ecology. “What we’re able to do is really harness strength that only citizen science has,” says Ruiz-Gutierrez, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended using the team’s bald eagle maps to identify low-risk collision areas that are suitable for building wind turbines.
4-12-21 Why India and Nepal's forest fires are worrying scientists
The lush-green mountains in the background usually make the famous Nainital lake in Uttarakhand state of northern India more picturesque. But for several weeks now haze from forest fires has hidden the mountains, and the lake's beauty has visibly shrunk. "You can smell the haze from this side of the lake where I live," said Shekhar Pathak, an expert on the history of forests in the region. "Not just the pine trees that are highly prone to fires, even the oak forests are burning and that means the situation is quite serious." Locals in areas worst-affected by forest fires told the BBC they don't sleep at night these days. "We wake up in the middle of the night and check around the forests to make sure the fires are not approaching us," said Kedar Avani of Banaa village in Pithoragarh district, the eastern-most Himalayan district in the state. "Fires have eaten up our haystacks and grass stored for our livestock, and now we fear our houses will be gutted too." Mr Avani said that the fires were so strong that the heat could be felt even at a distance of 20 metres. "There is no way we can put them out," he said. Scientists say the forest fires in some parts of northern India and neighbouring Nepal have been the strongest in the past 15 years. The European Union's Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) said that Uttarakhand's forest fires emitted nearly 0.2 mega tonnes of carbon in the past one month, a record since 2003. Based on the analysis of satellite pictures, it estimated Nepal emitted nearly 18 mega tonnes of carbon in the same period, the highest since 2016 when it emitted 27 mega tonnes of carbon. "This shows the intensity with which the fires are burning in the region and it is quite worrying," said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at CAMS. Nearly 20 people have been reportedly killed by the fires in Uttarakhand and Nepal. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests are believed to have been razed although official figures are yet to be published.
4-10-21 A trek under Thwaites Glacier’s ice shelf reveals specific risks of warm water
Temperature, salinity and other data show the chemistry and path of warm water eroding the ice. The under-ice trek of an autonomous underwater vehicle is giving scientists their first direct evidence for how and where warm ocean waters are threatening the stability of Antarctica’s vulnerable Thwaites Glacier. These new data will ultimately help scientists more accurately project the fate of the glacier — how quickly it is melting and retreating inland, and how far it might be from complete collapse, the team reports April 9 in Science Advances. “We know there’s a sick patient out there, and it’s not able to tell us where it hurts,” says Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine who was not involved in the new study. “So this is the first diagnosis.” Scientists have eyed the Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier with mounting concern for two decades. Satellite images reveal it has been retreating at an alarming rate of somewhere between 0.6 to 0.8 kilometers per year on average since 2001, prompting some to dub it the “doomsday glacier.” But estimates of how quickly the glacier is retreating, based on computer simulations, vary widely from place to place on the glacier, Rignot and other researchers reported in Science Advances in 2019. Such uncertainty is the biggest difficulty when it comes to future projections of sea level rise (SN: 1/7/20). The primary culprit for the rapid retreat of Thwaites and other Antarctic glaciers is known: Relatively warm ocean waters sneak beneath the floating ice shelves, the fringes of the glaciers that jut out into the ocean (SN: 9/9/20). This water eats away at the ice shelves’ underpinnings, points where the ice is anchored to the seafloor that buttress the rest of the glacier against sliding into the sea.
4-9-21 Climate change: Electric trucks 'can compete with diesel ones'
The view that battery-powered heavy goods lorries can't compete with diesel is being challenged by new research. It had been felt that the extra batteries needed for freight would make electric vehicles too expensive. But a new study says that if fast charging networks are built for trucks, then they can beat diesel in terms of cost. With fast charging, the bigger the vehicle, the greater the advantage for electric, say researchers. In the UK, and around the world, there's a strong shift among consumers towards electric-powered cars. Figures for March in the UK saw sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars reach 14% of the market. When it comes to pure electric vehicles, Western Europe is the global hotspot with over 700,000 battery-powered cars sold in 2020. But it is a different story when moving heavy freight. For climate change, this is an important issue. Around 7% of global carbon emissions are generated by heavy transportation trucks. While Tesla and other manufacturers have taken small steps into this market, critics argue that they will struggle to be cost-competitive with diesel. Adding extra batteries to carry the bigger loads just doesn't add up financially is the view. But this new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), says that we are looking at the issue the wrong way round. In their research paper, the authors say that fast charging and not bigger batteries is the key to commercial competition for large-scale electric lorries. "If you take that average value, which is our default analysis in the paper, we are really at the tipping point where this starts to make sense," said lead author Björn Nykvist from SEI. "It doesn't really matter [about] the size of the battery pack in the truck. You really just need more power from the charger." "The key here is that, basically, a heavier vehicle consumes more energy. The more energy you consume, the more saving potential there is. So, a very heavy truck uses more diesel per kilometre than a lighter one, but that's also a big savings potential if you can switch to electricity."
4-9-21 COP26: Greta Thunberg says Glasgow summit should be postponed
Greta Thunberg has told the BBC she does not plan to attend the UN climate conference due to be held in Glasgow this November. The 18-year-old Swedish climate campaigner is concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on attendance at COP26. She believes the summit should be postponed. She says the UK government, which is hosting the summit, should wait until global vaccination rates have risen. The summit will bring together world leaders with the aim of agreeing a plan to tackle climate change. Ms Thunberg's decision is likely to be a significant blow for the UK government. The activist has attended every major climate conference since her first protest outside the Swedish parliament two and a half years ago. She said: "This needs to happen in the right way. Of course, the the best thing to do would be to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible so that everyone could take part on the same terms." The UN meeting has already been delayed once, from November 2020, and there have been rumours that it may be postponed again. The last two Conference of the Parties (COP) summits have had more than 20,000 attendees and the UK is understood to have been working on the basis that as many as 30,000 people could attend in Glasgow. At the end of last month, sources in Downing Street and Holyrood were adamant that no decision had been made on a further delay to the conference. However, the BBC was told a final decision on whether to delay or move ahead with the summit was likely to be taken shortly after Easter. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and it is attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty agreed in 1994. The 2021 meeting will be the 26th meeting, so it has been named COP26. COP25 was held in Madrid, Spain, in November 2019 and featured a headline speech from Greta Thunberg. It ended with many unresolved issues, but an agreement was made about cutting carbon dioxide - a gas that causes global warming. Each nation agreed to devise a plan to cut their carbon emissions by the next conference in Glasgow.
4-8-21 A third of Antarctic ice shelves risk collapsing due to climate change
Around a third of the ice shelves holding back huge glaciers in Antarctica are at risk of collapse if the world fails to take sufficient action on climate change, new projections have found. The ice shelves circling the continent are vulnerable to meltwater on their surface causing the ice to crack and disintegrate, a process known as hydrofracturing. Computer modelling by Ella Gilbert at the University of Reading, UK, and Christoph Kittel at the University of Liege, Belgium, showed that if the world warms by 4°C since pre-industrial levels, then 34 per cent of the continent’s ice shelves will have meltwater on their surface, a sign they are at risk of collapse. However, the figure falls to 18 per cent if temperature rises are checked at 2°C. The world is currently on track for a 2.9°C rise but, if implemented, climate plans and net zero goals would cut that to 2.1°C. “Warming to 2°C means half the ice shelf area is at risk of collapsing. That is the message: the less the warming the better,” says Gilbert. She and Kittel used a much higher resolution climate model than previous research, with grid squares 35 kilometres across rather than hundreds of kilometres across. It also more accurately represents cloud physics, which is vital as estimates of the area at risk of collapse hinge on how much ice loss is replaced by snowfall. The big difference between the 2°C and 4°C rise scenarios stems from melting outweighing increased snowfall in a 4°C warmer world. The Larsen C ice shelf on the east of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a huge iceberg broke off in 2017, was found to be one of the areas most at risk. “This study shows melting at the ice shelves’ surface will spreads southwards to parts of the continent where huge reservoirs of inland ice may lose their protective barrier. If that happens, we can expect rapid increases in sea level rise along every coastline of our planet,” says Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, UK, who wasn’t involved with the paper.
4-8-21 Australian bushfires warmed the stratosphere by 1°C for six months
Smoke pollution from the 2019–2020 Australian bushfires warmed the stratosphere over the southern hemisphere by at least 1°C for six months, according to a new analysis. The devastating 2019–2020 bushfire season in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere and led to record aerosol pollution. Yu Pengfei at Jinan University in China and his colleagues used a climate model to simulate the atmospheric smoke movement and its environmental impacts. They found that the smoke remained in the stratosphere for all of 2020, measurably warming the stratosphere by between 1–2 °C , which persisted for approximately six months after the fires. The particles in the bushfire smoke are mainly comprised of organic carbon and black carbon. “The black carbon material in smoke can absorb sunlight and warm the surrounding air,” says Yu. The stratospheric warming would have led to changes in air circulation for the six months that the warming persisted, but the exact effects are unknown, says Yu. The stratosphere – the portion of the atmosphere roughly between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth’s surface — also contains the ozone layer. The researchers suggest that the smoke particles also increased the destruction of ozone molecules over the southern hemisphere, reacting in a similar manner as sulphate aerosols. The heating effect of the black carbon would also have contributed by increasing the rate of ozone destruction, adds Yu. This likely contributed to the ozone hole being larger than usual in 2020. The team’s model estimated a drop between August to December 2020 of 10 to 20 Dobson units in total column ozone, a measure of the amount of ozone extending vertically upwards from the Earth’s surface. The average amount of ozone in the atmosphere is roughly 300 Dobson units.
4-7-21 Why rescuing the climate and saving biodiversity go hand in hand
Global warming is a "threat multiplier" for habitats and species already under pressure – by understanding how the problems are linked, we can solve two crises at once. THE Great Barrier Reef is already in a critical state. Rising sea temperatures are killing corals faster than they can recover. As temperatures continue to increase, more and more of the reef will die, along with the rich variety of life and the AUS$6 billion tourism industry that depend on it. It is one headline-grabbing example among many. The continued rapid warming of the planet would wipe out many species, even if it were the only change happening. As it is, a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is already under way as farms replace forests and factory ships overfish the oceans. The heating of the planet will push many struggling species over the brink. Some will just have no place left to go. For biodiversity, climate change is, in military jargon, a threat multiplier. Worse still, measures to limit warming often don’t take biodiversity into account. Some, such as the push for biofuels, directly harm it. Yet there is little that is inevitable about what happens next. We might not be able to save all the species under threat, but we can save an awful lot of them. “We could cut the number of extinctions in half,” says John Wiens at the University of Arizona. “I think that’s the biggest cause for optimism.” But our chances are better if we think more smartly about the links between biodiversity loss and climate change, and tackle both of these issues together. Done right, a rescue plan for nature can be part of a plan for saving humanity from the worst of climate change – and vice versa. “Many species are already moving to stay within their comfort zone” The world has warmed around 1°C since pre-industrial times. That is already having a dramatic effect on wildlife. In the Arctic, for example, the loss of more and more sea ice each summer is affecting many animals, from walruses to polar bears.
4-7-21 Britain's electricity system 'greenest ever' over Easter
Great Britain's electricity system was the greenest it had ever been at lunchtime on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, its operator has said. Sunny and windy weather, coupled with low demand for power, led to a surge in renewable sources of energy, National Grid Electricity System Operator said. It meant low-carbon energy sources made up almost 80% of Britain's power. There was no coal generation on the grid and just 10% of power was from gas plants, the operator added. The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said levels of carbon pollution for each unit of electricity consumed dropped to just 39 grams of carbon dioxide - the lowest ever recorded for the grid - at 13:00 BST on Monday. It said wind power made up 39% of the energy mix, with solar at 21% and nuclear accounting for 16%. The burning of biomass accounted for around 4%. There is debate over the environmental costs of burning biomass, like wood, and the National Grid ESO categorises it separately from low-carbon sources and fossil fuels. By comparison, on Tuesday, 24.8% of Britain's energy came from fossil fuels, most of which was gas (combined cycle), while 45.2% was renewable energy sources. Those fossil fuel figures have been dropping all year. In January, gas accounted for more than 43% of the energy mix, with coal at almost 5%, and then last month just 37% of Britain's electricity was generated from gas. The previous record for Great Britain's greenest day was set during lockdown last year, on 24 May. When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted and the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network and the four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down. Last year as a whole saw many records broken for Britain's electricity mix, with an almost 68-day coal-free run between 10 April and 16 June, and solar providing more than a third of electricity supplies on several occasions during May. Christmas 2020 was also the first ever coal-free Christmas Day. Meanwhile, the highest ever amount of electricity generated by wind was on 13 February this year.
4-7-21 Most fuel-hungry SUVs in the UK are bought by people in cities
SUVs in the UK are overwhelmingly bought by people in towns and cities rather than rural areas, with the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea the country’s Range Rover capital. Despite emitting 25 per cent more carbon dioxide on average than a medium-sized car, SUVs have jumped from nearly 7 per cent of private cars sold in the UK in 2009 to more than 21 per cent in 2018. One recent global analysis found the rise of SUVs last year wiped out the environmental gains from electric cars. Now, a new report by environmental charity Possible finds they aren’t even being sold in places where the four-wheel drive and off-roading capabilities of the largest SUV models would be useful. Between 2018 and 2020, 74 per cent of SUVs were registered to buyers with urban addresses, Department for Transport figures show. For the largest class of SUV models, six of the 10 areas registering most sales were affluent London boroughs, including Kensington and Chelsea. And 1 in 10 private cars registered in that borough were Range Rovers, the highest share in the UK. “We stood up the old urban folklore about the ‘Chelsea tractor’, and found Kensington and Chelsea is the home of the SUV. Something has been done to persuade people it’s normal to have a 2-tonne truck to do the shopping,” says Andrew Simms at the New Weather Institute, a co-author of the analysis published today. He says part of the problem is advertising, with SUVs often marketed as a way to protect your family and dominate the road. “The advertising approach has got under people’s fears about living in cities,” he says. Car manufacturers have bigger profit margins on SUVs than other car classes. Simms and Possible say their findings should lead the government to ban advertising for the most polluting third of cars on sale, which would cover most SUVs. They are also calling on advertising firms to reject briefs for polluting SUVs.
4-7-21 City drivers 'should think twice' before buying SUVs
Drivers in crowded cities should think twice before buying a big SUV, says the head of a motoring organisation. Steve Gooding, from the RAC Foundation, said: "We should all choose the right vehicle for the right trip to cut the size of our carbon footprint. "It is right to question if suburban drivers need a car capable of ploughing over rivers, across fields and up steep hills just to pop to the shops." His comments come as research confirms most SUVs are bought by urban drivers. It shows that large SUVs - often known as Chelsea tractors - are indeed most prevalent in places such as Chelsea. They are typically defined by their extreme size, and off-road features such as high ground clearance and four wheel drive. They often face complaints from other road users about their bulk and their pollution - especially during the school run. The report from the think-tank New Weather Institute said: "The numbers stand up long-held suspicions that these vehicles ostensibly designed for off-road are actually marketed successfully to urban users where their big size and higher pollution levels are a worse problem." The report says areas where SUV owners dominate are also the places where road space is most scarce, and where the highest proportion of cars are parked on the street. It says many large SUVs are too big for a standard UK parking space. Andrew Simms, from the New Weather Institute, said: "It turns out that the home of the 'Chelsea tractor' really is Chelsea. One of advertising's biggest manipulations has persuaded urban families that it's perfectly 'normal' to go shopping in a two-tonne truck. "But the human health and climate damage done by SUVs is huge and needs to be undone. Just as tobacco advertising was successfully ended, it's time to stop promoting polluting SUV's." The UK Citizens' Assembly on climate change has supported restrictions on SUVs. But motoring organisations said the analysis was too simplistic.
4-7-21 Greenland election: Opposition win casts doubt on mine
Greenland's main opposition party has won an election which could have major consequences for international interests in the Arctic. The left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit, which opposes a mining project in southern Greenland, secured 37% of votes. Its leader said on Wednesday that the Kvanefjeld mine, home to major deposits of rare minerals, would not go ahead. The social-democratic Siumut party came second, having been in power for all but four years since 1979. Inuit Ataqatigiit, an indigenous party with a strong environmental focus, will now seek to form a government. Greenland is a vast autonomous arctic territory that belongs to Denmark. Although it has a population of just 56,000, the result of the election has been closely followed internationally. Greenland's economy relies on fishing and subsidies from the Danish government, but as a result of melting ice, mining opportunities are increasing. The company that owns the site at Kvanefjeld, in the south of the country, says the mine has "the potential to become the most significant western world producer of rare earths", a group of 17 elements used to manufacture electronics and weapons. However, disagreement over the project led to the collapse of Greenland's government earlier this year, paving the way for Tuesday's snap election. Many locals had raised concerns about the potential for radioactive pollution and toxic waste in the farmland surrounding the proposed mine. "The people have spoken," Inuit Ataqatigiit's leader Múte Bourup Egede told Danish state broadcaster DR on Wednesday morning, adding that the project would be halted. The head of the Siumut Party, Erik Jensen, told Denmark's TV 2 he believed the controversy surrounding the Kvanefjeld mine was "one of the main reasons" for its defeat, with 29% of the vote. The party had supported the development, arguing that it would provide hundreds of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually over several decades, which could lead to greater independence from Denmark.
4-6-21 Greta Thunberg's amazing year meeting the world's climate scientists
“I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the science,” says Greta Thunberg in the first episode of a new three-part documentary series about her life. It is a message we have heard before from the 18-year-old. But in Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World, we follow the activist as she embarks on a year off school to learn more about herself, get hands-on experience of the consequences of climate change and further explore the science of global warming with the help of the world’s leading scientists. Thunberg has been the figurehead for young climate activists across the world ever since she protested in front of the Swedish parliament building in 2018, aged just 15. Since then, she has inspired thousands of people and challenged policy-makers in her fight against climate change – her impact has even been dubbed “the Greta Thunberg effect”. The first episode of the BBC documentary focuses on Thunberg and her father, Svante, in late 2019 as they travel through North America on their way to the UN COP25 climate conference in Chile. They stop at three key locations that reveal how the environment is changing as a direct result of warming temperatures. First, they visit the Canadian Rockies to investigate why the once lush pine forests there are dwindling. The trees are dying, biologist Brenda Shepherd tells Thunberg, because rising temperatures are increasing the number of mountain pine beetles. Canada is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, employing over 170,000 people. But as a result, some areas of the country are experiencing increases in temperatures twice as fast as the rest of the world. Thunberg emphasises the importance of balancing the trade-off between the strength of the global economy and the health of the planet – something she has repeatedly explained to politicians and industry players alike. To help drive this message home, the series is interspersed with impassioned scientists working across the field, as well as economists who examine what can be done to avert the worst of the climate crisis.
4-6-21 A spike in Arctic lightning strikes may be linked to climate change
Arctic lightning has gotten way more frequent over the last decade amid rising global temperatures, study finds Climate change may be sparking more lightning in the Arctic. Data from a worldwide network of lightning sensors suggest that the frequency of lightning strikes in the region has shot up over the last decade, researchers report online March 22 in Geophysical Research Letters. That may be because the Arctic, historically too cold to fuel many thunderstorms, is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world (SN: 8/2/19). The new analysis used observations from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, which has sensors across the globe that detect radio waves emitted by lightning bolts. Researchers tallied lightning strikes in the Arctic during the stormiest months of June, July and August from 2010 to 2020. The team counted everywhere above 65° N latitude, which cuts through the middle of Alaska, as the Arctic. The number of lightning strikes that the detection network precisely located in the Arctic spiked from about 35,000 in 2010 to about 240,000 in 2020. Part of that uptick in detections may have resulted from the sensor network expanding from about 40 stations to more than 60 stations over the decade. And just looking at the 2010 and 2020 values alone may overstate the increase in lightning, because “there’s such variability, year to year,” and 2020 was a particularly stormy year, says Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric and space scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. In estimating the increase in average annual lightning strikes, “I would argue that we have really good evidence that the number of strokes in the Arctic has increased by, say, 300 percent,” Holzworth says. That increase happened while global summertime temperatures rose from about 0.7 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average to about 0.9 degrees C above — hinting that global warming may create more favorable conditions for lightning in the Arctic.
4-6-21 Greenland election: Melting ice and mining project on the agenda
Greenland heads to the polls on Tuesday in snap elections which could have major consequences for international interests in the Arctic. The vast territory, which belongs to Denmark but is autonomous, lies between North America and Europe and has a population of just 56,000. Greenland's economy relies on fishing and Danish subsidies, but melting ice and a planned mine could change the course of the vote - and the territory's future. Here's what you need to know. Disagreement over a controversial mining project in the south of Greenland has split the government and paved the way for this week's election. The company that owns the site at Kvanefjeld says the mine has "the potential to become the most significant western world producer of rare earths", a group of 17 elements used to manufacture electronics and weapons. The Siumut (Forward) Party supports the development, arguing that it would provide hundreds of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually over several decades, which could lead to greater independence from Denmark. But the opposition Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People) party has rejected the proposal, amid concerns about the potential for radioactive pollution and toxic waste. The future of the Kvanefjeld mine is significant for a number of countries - the site is owned by an Australian company, Greenland Minerals, which is in turn backed by a Chinese company. Greenland has hit the headlines several times in recent years, with then-President Donald Trump suggesting in 2019 that the US could buy the territory. Denmark quickly dismissed the idea as "absurd", but international interest in the territory's future has continued. China already has mining deals with Greenland, while the US - which has a key Cold War-era air base at Thule - has offered millions in aid.
4-6-21 Light pollution: How lockdown has darkened our skies
One of the positive impacts of lockdown is that there has been a big reduction in light pollution. A nationwide star count found a 10% drop in the amount of people who could only see 10 or fewer stars, an indicator of severe light pollution. Light pollution can impact human health and wildlife by disturbing biological cycles and behaviours. The BBC's Justin Rowlatt visited the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, an area that benefits from some of the darkest skies in England, to explore the impact of less light.
4-5-21 Piney Point: Emergency crews try to plug Florida toxic wastewater leak
Emergency crews in Florida have been working to prevent a "catastrophic" flood after a leak was found in a large reservoir of toxic wastewater. More than 300 homes near Tampa Bay have been evacuated, and a highway near the Piney Point reservoir has been closed. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday. On Sunday, he said the water was "primarily saltwater" from a dredging project mixed with "legacy process water and storm water runoff". He added that the water was not radioactive, as had been feared, and that the priority was to prevent a "real catastrophic flood situation". Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant. The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser. Attempts to repair the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful. Declaring a state of emergency allowed funds to be released to send more pumps and cranes to the area. On Sunday, Mr DeSantis said emergency workers - assisted by the Florida National Guard - were pumping water out of the pond at a rate of 33 million gallons a day. Other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told a press conference on Saturday that there were concerns the water could flood the area, which is mostly agricultural. "We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons (2.3 billion litres) within a matter of seconds and minutes, leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area," he said. By Sunday, however, he was more optimistic - telling reporters that the situation should be in a "much better position" by Tuesday.
4-4-21 Companies back moratorium on deep sea mining
A long-running dispute over plans to start mining the ocean floor has suddenly flared up. For years it was only environmental groups that objected to the idea of digging up metals from the deep sea. But now BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung are lending their weight to calls for a moratorium on the proposals. The move has been criticised by companies behind the deep sea mining plans, who say the practice is more sustainable in the ocean than on land. The concept, first envisaged in the 1960s, is to extract billions of potato-sized rocks called nodules from the abyssal plains of the oceans several miles deep. Rich in valuable minerals, these nodules have long been prized as the source of a new kind of gold rush that could supply the global economy for centuries. Interest in them has intensified because many contain cobalt and other metals needed for the countless batteries that will power the electric vehicles of a zero-carbon economy. Dozens of ventures, most of them government-backed, have been exploring vast areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans to assess their viability for mining. And several companies have developed prototypes of "nodule collectors", giant robotic machines that would drive over the seabed, gathering the rocks and piping them up to ships at the surface. We witnessed one of these devices - called Apollo II - being tested in the waters off southern Spain in 2019. Claudia Becker, a senior BMW expert in sustainable supply chains, tells me what led the car giant to decide against using deep sea metals. "It's the fear that everything we do down there could have irreversible consequences," she said. "Those nodules grew over millions of years and if we take them out now, we don't understand how many species depend on them - what does this mean for the beginning of our food chain? "There's way too little evidence, the research is just starting, it's too big a risk."
4-3-21 World’s largest ocean monitoring system BRUVS launched
Professor Jessica Meeuwig, the Director of the Centre for Marine Futures at the University of Western Australia, has told the BBC about her hopes for a new ocean monitoring system. The UK government funded project, known as BRUVS, will focus on monitoring marine life in ten British Overseas Territories including Pitcairn and Ascension Island.
4-2-21 Then and now: Rising temperatures threaten corals
n 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 coral bleaching, and how warming waters are threatening the survival of a true wonder of the seas. Coral reefs are hives of activity in the ocean, where many different species can be found. Scientists refer to such zones as biodiversity hotspots. Although reefs take up less than 1% of the area covered by ocean, they are estimated to be home to more than a third of life under the waves. Yet they too face an uncertain future as a result of a warming world. Scientists list climate change as the main cause of damage to the world's reefs. Corals can't tolerate very high temperatures, so as ocean water warms, they effectively become "sick". Thermal stress of this kind can lead to the coral becoming bleached, meaning they lose their striking colours and turn white or very pale. Coral can survive bleaching events, but in this state they are also more likely to die. The before and after photos show an episode of bleaching and coral mortality in American Samoa, a territory in the Pacific Ocean, back in 2015. A US team of scientists observed at the time: "Severe bleaching and mortality occurred on shallow inshore and [lagoon] reefs along southern Tutuila [American Samoa's main island]. "These shallow habitats have limited water circulation, which worsens the effects of high temperature stress." Despite this worrying event, the state of the reefs in this area are currently deemed to be "good". Coral is an umbrella term for several species of marine invertebrates (animals without backbones). They have a hard outer layer (exoskeleton) made from calcium carbonate - the same stuff shells are made out of. They are found all over the globe, from tropical waters to the freezing polar regions. However, corals only form reefs in the warm, shallow seas of the tropics. The most famous of these is the 2,300km-long Great Barrier Reef, located off the north-eastern shores of Australia. Healthy coral forms a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae, known as zooxanthellae. In return for being allowed to live in the corals' hard, calcium carbonate exoskeleton, the algae help produce food for their hosts. Zooxanthellae also provide the vibrant colours we associate with healthy coral reefs.
4-2-21 Then and now: Rising temperatures threaten corals
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 coral bleaching, and how warming waters are threatening the survival of a true wonder of the seas. Coral reefs are hives of activity in the ocean, where many different species can be found. Scientists refer to such zones as biodiversity hotspots. Although reefs take up less than 1% of the area covered by ocean, they are estimated to be home to more than a third of life under the waves. Yet they too face an uncertain future as a result of a warming world. Scientists list climate change as the main cause of damage to the world's reefs. Corals can't tolerate very high temperatures, so as ocean water warms, they effectively become "sick". Thermal stress of this kind can lead to the coral becoming bleached, meaning they lose their striking colours and turn white or very pale. Coral can survive bleaching events, but in this state they are also more likely to die. An episode of bleaching and high coral mortality hit reefs in American Samoa, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, back in 2015. A US team of scientists observed at the time: "Severe bleaching and mortality occurred on shallow inshore and [lagoon] reefs along southern Tutuila [American Samoa's main island]. "These shallow habitats have limited water circulation, which worsens the effects of high temperature stress." Despite this worrying event, the state of the reefs in this area are currently deemed to be "good". Coral is an umbrella term for several species of marine invertebrates (animals without backbones). They have a hard outer layer (exoskeleton) made from calcium carbonate - the same stuff shells are made out of. They are found all over the globe, from tropical waters to the freezing polar regions. However, corals only form reefs in the warm, shallow seas of the tropics. The most famous of these is the 2,300km-long Great Barrier Reef, located off the north-eastern shores of Australia. Healthy coral forms a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae, known as zoosthellae. In return for being allowed to live in the corals' hard, calcium carbonate exoskeleton, the algae help produce food for their hosts. Zoosthellae also provide the vibrant colours we associate with healthy coral reefs.
4-2-21 Sydney’s inland suburbs are 10°C warmer than the coast in heat waves
Large-scale weather patterns and urban overheating are interacting to make Sydney’s inland suburbs up to 10°C warmer than coastal areas during extreme heat events. Urban overheating occurs when temperatures in certain parts of an urban environment are comparatively higher than those in surrounding urban areas. The phenomenon occurs as a result of a combination of factors, including heat fluxes linked to human activity and air pollution. What’s more, artificial materials used to build roads, roofs and other urban architecture absorb solar radiation and release it slowly, further heating the air, in a way that trees and other vegetation don’t. Hassan Khan at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and his colleagues have analysed how large weather patterns interact with urban overheating in Sydney. They looked at temperatures in the Sydney central business district (CBD), which is close to the ocean, and compared them with locations in inner Sydney – between 8 and 12 kilometres from the nearest coast – and in western Sydney, between 25 and 50 kilometres inland. The team found that during extreme heat events, the mean daily maximum temperature was between 8 and 10.5°C hotter in western Sydney than in the CBD – despite the fact that the CBD is far more built-up than western Sydney. In inner Sydney suburbs, the mean maximum was 5 to 6.5°C hotter than in the CBD. Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, is located on the east coast of Australia and is also relatively close to desert landforms to the west.As a result, the city experiences “humid–warm” air masses that come from the Pacific Ocean to the east, which are prevalent particularly during the summer months, says Khan. There are also coastal winds that help cool the CBD – but these aren’t able to penetrate inland to reach inner and western Sydney.
4-1-21 Biden is still not taking climate change seriously
His infrastructure plan is ambitious by U.S. standards. That doesn't mean it's enough. President Biden has released the details of his infrastructure plan. It's a big bill — priced at roughly $2.8 trillion over a decade, with tons of money for repairs, maintenance, trains, green investment, and more (as well as a lot of other stuff). It would be paid for with hikes in income and corporate tax rates. A main objective of the plan is supposed to be tackling climate change. Judging by the standards of American politics, it is quite aggressive. But judged by the standards of Biden's campaign platform, and more importantly, by the standards of what is needed to combat climate change, the proposal falls far short of the mark. America will need bolder action than this to do its part in the global fight to preserve a livable climate. First, the good. Biden would invest $85 billion in public transit agencies, $80 billion in Amtrak, and $174 billion in electric vehicles. That's a doubling of federal funding for transit and a quadrupling for intercity rail. He would invest $35 billion in green research directly, and another $155 billion in general research, including advanced energy technology. Most importantly, there are $400 billion in clean energy tax credits for things like wind farms, rooftop solar, home insulation upgrades, and so forth, which will have a climate impact in the trillions. (These credits were mysteriously not included in the administration's headline price tag.) All that is a great stuff. But in terms of climate, this proposal is a substantial downgrade from Biden's campaign pledge — the overall size is about the same, but the priorities are different. The $180 billion in research is welcome, but he previously promised $400 billion focused entirely on climate. There is also $400 billion in elder care, which is welcome of course but has little to do with climate or even infrastructure. The $115 billion for road maintenance, and money to replace every lead water pipe in the country, is similarly vital but largely unrelated to climate. The electric vehicle spending will help, but it lamentably ignores the far greater promise of electric bicycles (though the focus on electric buses and Post Office vehicles is good). At bottom, it isn't really a climate bill — it's a grab bag of some infrastructure stuff, some climate stuff, and some elder care stuff. Despite the large headline price, it isn't that big either — just one percent of GDP. Neither does Biden address the biggest missing element of his campaign's climate plan — international cooperation. Climate change is a global problem, and the U.S. is not even close to the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world now. China emits fully twice as much as the U.S., and India emits nearly as much as the entire European Union. The key tasks for global climate policy will be to help or coax China into slashing its emissions, and to prevent the rest of the developing world from following China's coal-powered model. It's a striking absence given that Biden also proposes to revolutionize international corporate taxation. He would institute a 21 percent minimum tax on American corporate taxes, and close many loopholes that allow U.S. companies to book their profits in low-tax foreign countries. More importantly, he proposes to set up a global minimum corporate tax through international agreements. As economist Gabriel Zucman points out, if Biden could get this done (and the U.S. has many ways to pressure other nations to agree, especially given that it would be in their interest anyway), it would end the scourge of beggar-thy-neighbor tax havens which have driven a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates. That's an excellent idea — but it doesn't have anything directly to do with climate.
4-1-21 Climate change: Net zero targets are 'pie in the sky'
Sharp divisions between the major global emitters have emerged at a series of meetings designed to make progress on climate change. India lambasted the richer world's carbon cutting plans, calling long term net zero targets, "pie in the sky." Their energy minister said poor nations want to continue using fossil fuels and the rich countries "can't stop it". China meanwhile declined to attend a different climate event organised by the UK. Trying to lead 197 countries forward on the critical global issue of climate change is not a job for the faint hearted, as the UK is currently finding out. As president of COP26, this year's crucial climate meeting due to take place in Glasgow in November, Britain is charged with ensuring a successful summit of world leaders and their negotiators. To that end, the UK team have embarked on a series of meetings to find the building blocks of agreement, so that the world keeps the temperature targets agreed in Paris in 2015 within reach. To have a decent chance of keeping the increase in global temperature under 1.5C - which is now considered as the gateway to dangerous warming - carbon emissions need to reach net zero by 2050. Net zero refers to balancing out any greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry, transport or other sources by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. A range of major carbon-producing countries, including the US, the UK, Japan and the EU, have signed up to the idea. Last September, China said it would get there by 2060. India, the world's fourth largest emitter, doesn't seem keen to join the club. "2060 sounds good, but it is just that, it sounds good," Raj Kumar Singh, India's minister for power, told a meeting organised by the International Energy Agency (IEA). "I would call it, and I'm sorry to say this, but it is just a pie in the sky." To the discomfort of his fellow panellists, Mr Singh singled out developed countries where per capita emissions are much higher than in India.
4-1-21 These are the 5 costliest invasive species, causing billions in damages
The impact from all invasive species cost the global economy at least $1 trillion since 1970. Invasive species can wreak havoc on local ecosystems. Cleaning up that biological wreckage comes at a big price. These invaders, often thrust into new environments unintentionally (or intentionally, to combat pests) by humans, can transmit new diseases, devastate crops and eat away at crucial infrastructure. From 1970 to 2017, such invasions cost the global economy at least $1.28 trillion in damages and in efforts to control them, researchers report March 31 in Nature. As the globe becomes increasingly interconnected and invasive species take over new habitats, that cost grows. “For decades, researchers have been evaluating the significant impacts of invasive species, but the problem isn’t well known by the public and policy makers,” says Boris Leroy, a biogeographer at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris. “By estimating the global cost, we hoped to raise awareness of the issue and identify the most costly species.” Leroy and his colleagues screened over 19,000 published papers, ultimately analyzing nearly 1,900 that detailed the costs of various invasions at particular times. The team then constructed a statistical model that estimated yearly costs, adjusting for factors like inflation, different currencies and timescales. Between 1970 and 2017, annual costs roughly doubled every six years, reaching a yearly bill of $162.7 billion in 2017. Intensified global trade over that period gave invaders more opportunities to hitch rides on cargo ships or airplanes, the researchers say. And deforestation and agricultural expansion probably sped their spread by allowing easier access to pristine areas. On the whole, cleaning up the damage caused by invasive species cost $892 billion, about 13 times higher than the $66 billion spent managing invasions, the researchers found.
4-1-21 Flamboyant fishes evolved an explosion of color as seas rose and fell
The feisty fairy wrasses became a neon kaleidoscope thanks to a coral reef "species pump". Fairy wrasses are swimming jewels, flitting and flouncing about coral reefs. The finger-length fishes’ brash, vibrant courtship displays are meant for mates and rivals, and a new study suggests that the slow waxing and waning of ice sheets and glaciers may be partly responsible for such a variety of performances. A new genetic analysis of more than three dozen fairy wrasse species details the roughly 12 million years of evolution that produced their vast assortment of shapes, colors and behaviors. And the timing of these transformations implies that the more than 60 species of fairy wrasses may owe their great diversity to cyclic sea level changes over the last few millions of years, scientists report February 23 in Systematic Biology. can’t help but stand out. They are the most species-rich genus in the second most species-rich fish family in the ocean, says Yi-Kai Tea, an ichthyologist at the University of Sydney. “That is quite a bit of biodiversity,” says Tea, who notes that new fairy wrasse species are identified every year. Despite this taxonomic footprint, Tea says, scientists knew “next to nothing” about the fairy wrasses’ evolutionary history or why there were so many species. To fill this knowledge gap, Tea and his colleagues turned to the fishes’ genetics, extracting DNA from 39 different fairy wrasse species. Many earlier genetic studies on ocean animals in the region focused on a handful of genes in single species, but Tea and his team used a method that isolated nearly 1,000 genes from many species at once. Comparing DNA across species, the researchers reconstructed an evolutionary tree, showing how the dozens of fairy wrasse species are interrelated. The team also estimated how long ago these species split from one another.