5-16-21 John Kerry: US climate envoy criticised for optimism on clean tech
America’s climate envoy John Kerry has been ridiculed for saying technologies that don’t yet exist will play a huge role in stabilising the climate. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, he said the US was leading the world on climate change - and rapidly phasing out coal-fired power stations. But he rejected a suggestion that Americans need to change their consumption patterns by, say, eating less meat. He said: “You don't have to give up quality of life to achieve some of the things we want to achieve. “I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.” But his faith in unknown technologies has left some leading engineers aghast. Julian Allwood, professor of engineering and the environment at the University of Cambridge, told BBC News: "It's virtually impossible for new energy infrastructure technologies to have a significant effect on global emissions in the time we have left to act." He warned that with every new energy-infrastructure technology so far, it's taken 30-100 years from invention to 5% penetration of existing markets. "Firstly," he said, "the new idea is developed from laboratory through increasing pilot scales to initial introduction to national systems. “We have to solve physical and operational issues, solve problems with integration, develop legal and environmental regulations, understand financing requirements and explore social consent as the first accidents occur. “Growth then occurs at a linear rate, as government appetite for risk is constrained, and the incumbent technology fights to avoid closure." He said no country has ever introduced a new electricity generating technology at an average rate faster than 2% of national demand per year. “Despite politicians' wishful thinking," he continued, "the most important innovation opportunities will be not about new technologies, but new businesses in areas such as remote working."
5-14-21 Rivers might not be as resilient to drought as once thought
Years after a lengthy drought, some southeastern Australia rivers show no signs of recovering. Rivers ravaged by a lengthy drought may not be able to recover, even after the rains return. Seven years after the Millennium drought baked southeastern Australia, a large fraction of the region’s rivers still show no signs of returning to their predrought water flow, researchers report in the May 14 Science. There’s “an implicit assumption that no matter how big a disturbance is, the water will always come back — it’s just a matter of how long it takes,” says Tim Peterson, a hydrologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “I’ve never been satisfied with that.” The years-long drought in southeastern Australia, which began sometime between 1997 and 2001 and lasted until 2010, offered a natural experiment to test this assumption, he says. “It wasn’t the most severe drought” the region has ever experienced, but it was the longest period of low rainfall in the region since about 1900. Peterson and colleagues analyzed annual and seasonal streamflow rates in 161 river basins in the region from before, during and after the drought. By 2017, they found, 37 percent of those river basins still weren’t seeing the amount of water flow that they had predrought. Furthermore, of those low-flow rivers, the vast majority — 80 percent — also show no signs that they might recover in the future, the team found. Many of southeastern Australia’s rivers had bounced back from previous droughts, including a severe but brief episode in 1983. But even heavy rains in 2010, marking the end of the Millennium drought, weren’t enough to return these basins to their earlier state. That suggests that there is, after all, a limit to rivers’ resilience. What’s changed in these river basins isn’t yet clear, Peterson says. The precipitation post drought was similar to predrought precipitation, and the water isn’t ending up in the streamflow, so it must be going somewhere else. The team examined various possibilities: The water infiltrated into the ground and was stored as groundwater, or it never made it to the ground at all — possibly intercepted by leaves, and then evaporating back to the air.
5-14-21 COP26: Alok Sharma urges nations to banish coal
The head of a vital UN climate summit due to be held in Glasgow in November says his personal priority is to banish coal. Speaking ahead of the COP26 conference, Alok Sharma will urge nations to abandon coal power generation, with rich countries leading the way. He will add that wealthy nations must help poorer ones make the same change. And he will tell banks and institutions to stop lending money to countries to build coal power stations. In his speech, the former business Secretary will say: "The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past. And in the past they must remain. “The coal business is, as the UN secretary general [António Guterres] has said, going up in smoke. It’s old technology. “So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, while supporting workers and communities to make the transition and creating good 'green' jobs to fill the gap.” His apparent passion explains why he was reportedly "apoplectic" when Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick allowed plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria – a decision that’s now gone to a planning review. Mr Sharma is set to re-iterate the UK’s main themes for the summit, which will bring together climate negotiators from 196 countries, the EU, as well as businesses, organisations, experts and world leaders. They are: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees; helping people and nature adapt to climate warming that will inevitably happen; and drumming up finance for poorer nations to get clean technology. He will be supported by government ministers who will be taking part in climate-related visits throughout Friday to show how the UK is attempting to "green" all parts of society - from hospitals and prisons, to jobs and transport. Mr Sharma will say: "I have faith that world leaders will rise to the occasion and not be found wanting in their tryst with destiny." And he will invoke a message from his children: "In preparing for this speech, I asked my daughters what message I should give to world leaders about their priorities. Their response was simple: 'Please, tell them to pick the planet.'"
5-14-21 The most plastic-polluted riverbed in the UK
Raw sewage that scientists say is “laced with microplastic” is being released into UK rivers routinely, according to a study by scientists at the University of Manchester. The researchers found that one site on the River Tame in Greater Manchester was the most plastic-polluted riverbed in the UK.
5-14-21 Calls for post-Covid 'revolution' in building air quality
Dozens of the world's top experts in how diseases spread have called for big improvements to the air in buildings. They say current rules on ventilation are failing to stop infections, including Covid-19. The problem is likened to the health crisis caused by contaminated water in Britain's cities in the 1800s. The appeal comes amid growing evidence that the coronavirus is often transmitted via infectious aerosols in crowded indoor spaces. Writing in the journal Science, the scientists and engineers say that while governments have regulations on the safety of food, sanitation and drinking water, there's far less emphasis on pathogens in the air. They say that's partly because it's easier to identify a single water pipe or package of food that might be the cause of an outbreak than to track down an airborne source. They also say that building designers have for decades focused on keeping people at a comfortable temperature or on saving energy. Now, the article argues, there's evidence from studies of cases in restaurants, ships and schools that respiratory infections can be passed through the air. This suggests that "the way we design, operate and maintain buildings influences transmission". While World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on indoor air quality cover chemicals such as benzene and carbon monoxide, they do not recommend any standards for bacteria or viruses. The conclusion is that "a paradigm shift" is needed on the scale of the reforms that helped to clean up British cities in the 19th century. A landmark report on sanitation by Edwin Chadwick in 1842 highlighted the shocking plight of the poorest urban dwellers, many suffering from diseases caused by contaminated water. It led to a huge programme of investment in networks to supply water and to handle sewage. An effort on a similarly vast scale is needed now, the experts say, to clean up the air in our buildings, cut the number of pathogens and improve health "just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps"
5-14-21 Ignore hype over hydrogen heating, government told
Environmentalists are warning the government to ignore what they call “hype” over the use of hydrogen to provide heat. New natural gas boilers will be phased out next decade because their emissions add to climate change. Oil and gas firms are pushing for so-called “blue” hydrogen to be used to provide heat instead. But environmentalists say electric heat pumps are a much better option for most homes. In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday, groups including climate think tank E3G, WWF, and Greenpeace urged the government to drop funding for “blue” hydrogen. They said that it appears to be environmentally-benign, but really it’s not. Most homes are heated by gas, and the domestic gas market is worth £28bn a year. The push to use hydrogen as a substitute comes from the oil and gas giants who supply the fuel; the firms that make the boilers; and gas network operator Cadent. Most investment so far is going into “blue” hydrogen, produced by splitting natural gas at high temperatures. This process does produce carbon emissions, but these can be captured by a chemical solvent and forced into underground rocks using carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Hydrogen Taskforce, an industry body, wants hydrogen blended into the existing gas network to reduce emissions overall. And it wants all boilers to be made to be “hydrogen-ready”. “Blue” hydrogen is much better for the climate than natural gas – but green groups writing to the government say it’s incompatible with a zero-carbon Britain. That’s because fracking for the natural gas to produce hydrogen creates leaks of methane – a potent planet-heating gas. Emissions are also created in the exploration for gas and its transport. What’s more, many environmentalists don’t trust the carbon capture technology essential for blue hydrogen because it’s been touted for decades as a planetary saviour, but is still not locking up carbon dioxide at scale.
5-13-21 Climate change is speeding up the degradation of ancient rock art
Degradation of ancient rock art in Indonesia may be accelerating due to climate change. The Maros-Pangkep karst, a cave complex in Indonesia, contains Palaeolithic paintings that are between 20,000 and 45,000 years old, including one of the oldest known hand stencils in the world. Anecdotal reports in recent decades suggest that the paintings have been degrading at an accelerated rate. To investigate, Jillian Huntley at Griffith University in Australia and her colleagues analysed flakes of rock at 11 cave sites in Maros-Pangkep. They found a high level of sulphur in the rock at all 11 sites, as well as a build-up of calcium sulphate and sodium chloride salts in rock at three of the sites. The salts occur naturally in the rock and form crystals in a process called salt efflorescence, which often happens in wet environments. “As water washes through the stone or over the top of the stone, it picks these things up, and then when the water dries off and the solution dries off, it drops out the salts,” says Huntley. The resulting crystals expand and contract with temperature and humidity, exerting a mechanical pressure on the rock that can lead it to flake and fragment, damaging any art painted on the surface. This finding indicates that salt-driven rock art degradation is widespread in Maros-Pangkep. “It’s a monsoon climate, so you have recharge of water and then you have the dry season, so just naturally this is a perfect environment for salts to form,” says Huntley. The researchers suggest that the increasing severity and frequency of El Niño-induced droughts – a result of climate change that has led to more consecutive dry days and higher temperatures – as well as the moisture during the monsoon season have provided ideal conditions to accelerate the degradation of the rock paintings.
5-13-21 US environmental agency releases climate report delayed by Trump
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said for the first time that climate change is being driven at least in part by humans. The agency made the acknowledgement in a new report that had been delayed by the Trump White House since 2017. The Climate Change Indicators report charts the extent to which glaciers are shrinking, sea levels are rising and flooding is increasing. The impacts are being felt by Americans "with increasing regularity", it says. Under former President Donald Trump, the EPA's Climate Change Indicators website was not updated, as it had been under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Mr Trump has long been a sceptic of human-caused climate change, at times calling it a "hoax". A press officer for the EPA told the BBC that until Wednesday's report, the agency had never before - not even during the Obama years - attributed global warming at least in part to human activities. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement announcing the resumption of the survey: "Combatting climate change - it's not optional. It's essential at EPA." "We will move with a sense of urgency because we know what's at stake. The report takes in data from dozens of US agencies, and shows the damage climate change has already caused. Coastal flooding is becoming more common, especially in cities along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Floods are now five times more common in the cities surveyed than in the 1950s. Arctic sea ice is thinning, and the minimum extent of its coverage has been getting smaller each summer. September 2020 saw the second smallest amount of Arctic sea ice ever recorded. The average decrease for that month amounts to about 900,000 sq miles (1,450,000 sq km) - "a difference three and a half times the size of Texas", the report says. Ocean temperatures also hit a record-breaking high in 2020 and the water has grown more acidic over the past decade. Wildfire season and pollen season are both starting earlier and lasting longer. Heat waves are occurring about three times more often than in the 1960s.
5-13-21 Wastewater is 'polluting rivers with microplastic'
Untreated wastewater "routinely released into UK rivers" is creating microplastic hotspots on riverbeds. That is the conclusion of a study in Greater Manchester, which revealed high concentrations of plastic immediately downstream of treatment works. The team behind the research concluded: untreated wastewater was the key source of river microplastic. The water company that operates along the river the scientists studied said it "didn't fully accept" the findings. But the scientists, who published their research in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability, say sewer overflow pipes and outflows from treatment plants can release millions of plastic particles in a day. Lead researcher Prof Jamie Woodward from the University of Manchester told BBC News that, at the most contaminated site in the River Tame, where the team carried out their research, there were "concentrations over 130,000 microplastic particles per kilogram of sediment on the riverbed". "So for every single gram of sediment, there were 130 particles; we have some extraordinarily high levels of contamination. "It's clear that wastewater is the key source of microplastics in our rivers." While the water company, United Utilities, declined to be interviewed, Jo Harrison, the company's director of environment said in a statement: "We understand that wastewater will be a contributing factor to microplastics pollution, which is why we are involved in a much wider two-year study beginning this summer to give a more holistic understanding of the sources, pathway and consequences of microplastics in the environment." A spokesperson for the Environment Agency, which regulates the activities of the water industry added: "We are working hard to reduce microplastic emissions from wastewater treatment works by aiding water industry research in this area."
5-12-21 Nitrogen pollution is the environmental threat we must hear more about
CARBON is in the news a lot these days. Story after horrifying story tells of how carbon emissions are turning up Earth’s thermostat with dire consequences. But when it comes to the environment, there is another element we need to worry about. Nitrogen, carbon’s next-door neighbour on the periodic table, is at the centre of a different environmental crisis that is rarely in the limelight. Like so much in life, nitrogen is good in moderation. It is the fourth most common element in your body, an essential ingredient of DNA and other crucial biomolecules. We get this nitrogen from the food we eat. To enter the food chain, the relatively inert nitrogen gas in the air has to be converted, or fixed, to “reactive nitrogen” compounds in the soil, which are taken up by plants. Over the past century, we’ve added to the natural processes that do this by producing synthetic fertiliser in huge quantities and slathering it on fields. The average person in the US has a nitrogen footprint of about 41 kilograms per year, mostly thanks to the fertiliser used to grow their food. A lot of reactive nitrogen ends up leaching into the wider environment where it disrupts the natural chemical balance. We have known this for decades. Back in 1996, New Scientist was reporting on how nitrogen run-off causes blooms of toxic algae – “red tides” – that kill sea life. The long list of effects includes air pollution, acid rain and soil acidification. Finally, it seems the world might be confronting the problem. A UN-backed group called the International Nitrogen Management System is beginning to chart a well-evidenced course out of the nitrogen emergency. It has helped set a target of cutting nitrogen waste in half by 2030 and put forward a range of ways to pull this off. It is a welcome start. But we shouldn’t forget that the seemingly different environmental catastrophes we are facing, not least biodiversity decline and climate change, are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. This is true of nitrogen too: one nitrogen pollutant, nitrous oxide, is a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We need to hear a lot more about nitrogen.
5-12-21 The nitrogen emergency: How to fix our forgotten environmental crisis
Nitrogen pollution poisons our water and clogs our air – and it exacerbates other environmental problems. But if we organise now, we can fight back before it’s too late. THERE is an invisible gas in Earth’s atmosphere that is feeding an environmental crisis. The damage gets worse every year. If things are left unchecked, we are heading for a global disaster. And here is the most worrying thing about this gas: it isn’t carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is normally thought of as inoffensive stuff; after all, this colourless substance makes up 78 per cent of Earth’s atmosphere. When you feel a refreshing breeze on your cheeks, it is mostly nitrogen molecules swishing past. Our ecosystems naturally cycle nitrogen from the air in and out of our soils, where it forms an essential nutrient for plants. The trouble is, this cycle is now dangerously out of whack because of human activity. The result is nitrogen in harmful forms swamping the wider environment. Some of the effects of this crisis have been obvious for ages. We have long known, for instance, that pollution from nitrogen-bearing compounds prompts algal blooms that choke waterways. But other effects are now coming into focus too, like the way nitrogen pollution is killing peat bogs. Compounds of nitrogen are also damaging the delicate balance of the atmosphere. A United Nations panel set up to assess the problem has revealed just how bad things have become. In fact, nitrogen pollution is one of the most dire crises we face. Fortunately, there are ways that we can dig ourselves out of this hole – but they will involve wholesale changes to how we grow our crops. All life on Earth depends on nitrogen. Most of the crucial chemical components of our bodies, from the proteins in our nails to the DNA at the heart of every cell, incorporate this element. But even though nitrogen gas is all around us, it isn’t useful as a raw material for living things in that form. Nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere consist of two nitrogen atoms joined by an extremely strong triple bond, making it tough to chemically manipulate.
5-12-21 Nature: Throwing money at biodiversity schemes is ineffective
Rich countries "throwing money" at schemes designed to enhance biodiversity is ineffective, a report by charity Third World Network says. The report calls for "a profound re-organisation of the global post-pandemic economy to prevent further harm to the planet". It recommends nothing less than a "change in our entire economic model". Cancellation of debt owed by the poorest, most biodiverse countries would be the place to start, it adds. Developed nations in the global north should pay for their "vast ecological debts", said lead author Dr Patrick Bigger from Lancaster University. "There need to be no strings attached payments to those countries," said Dr Bigger. "Otherwise we just continue to dig this hole and try to fill the hole with money." This study of the economics of biodiversity loss sets out how the current model by which money flows from rich, developed nations into schemes to enhance and protect nature in poorer nations can exacerbate the problem. Investment in activities like large-scale agriculture and resource extraction, it points out, continue to drive the destruction of natural habitats. The gap, the researchers say, "between those who live with the environmental consequences of [resource] extraction and those who benefit from financing these developments", is widening. "In 2019, 50 of the world's largest banks underwrote more than $2.6 trillion into industries known to be the drivers of biodiversity loss, an amount equivalent to Canada's gross domestic product," the report states. There are a number of international schemes designed to protect nature that this report deems "ineffective and underfunded". It points specifically to a UN programme that was designed to pay communities that live in valuable, biodiverse forests for "actions that prevent forest loss or degradation". Essentially, it pays those communities in credits for activities that protect the forest. That scheme paid out about 160 million US dollars in 2019. "While that may sound like a large number, it is far less than the monthly increase of Jeff Bezos' fortune since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic," said Dr Bigger. In some cases, these market-driven schemes can do more harm than good.
5-12-21 Rubber slabs washed up in Brazil traced to second world war shipwreck
Unidentified packages that appeared along the Brazilian coast in 2018 have been confirmed as bales of natural rubber coming from a German shipwreck from the second world war. Throughout 2018, around 200 square packages washed up along 1600 kilometres of the Brazilian coastline from the states of Maranhão to Sergipe. Each weighed up to 200 kilograms and they ranged in size from 0.06 to 3.4 cubic metres. They caused considerable public concern as people were unsure what they were made of and where they came from. Now, Carlos Teixeira at the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil and his colleagues have identified the packages as part of the SS Rio Grande, a German ship that sank in 1944 and was discovered 1000 kilometres from the Brazilian coast in 1996. These ships commonly carried cargo, such as natural rubber, between allies and colonies. “The SS Rio Grande was the deepest shipwreck ever for over 25 years,” says Teixeira. It was found at 5762 metres deep. First, the researchers chemically analysed four of the packages to confirm they were made of natural rubber. Some of them had stamps on them, describing their packaging material and manufacturing place. Using this information and previous literature about nearby shipwrecks, Teixeira and his team identified that the bales could have come from two possible shipwrecks: the SS Burgenland or the SS Rio Grande. Then they tracked the movement of the packages using a model to simulate their dispersion in the ocean. “Our computer models essentially forecast the ocean currents,” says Teixeira. The researchers simulated the release of virtual bales within a 10-kilometre radius of the two shipwrecks. Their model showed that the packages would reach the Brazilian coastline within three months in the same region where the real rubber bales were found if they were coming from SS Rio Grande. SS Burgenland is unlikely to be the culprit as the ocean currents would carry the rubber packages much further west.
5-11-21 Forests the size of France regrown since 2000, study suggests
An area of forest the size of France has regrown naturally across the world in the last 20 years, a study suggests. The restored forests have the potential to soak up the equivalent of 5.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide - more than the annual emissions of the US, according to conservation groups. A team led by WWF used satellite data to build a map of regenerated forests. Forest regeneration involves restoring natural woodland through little or no intervention. This ranges from doing nothing at all to planting native trees, fencing off livestock or removing invasive plants. William Baldwin-Cantello of WWF said natural forest regeneration is often "cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests". But he said regeneration cannot be taken for granted - "to avoid dangerous climate change we must both halt deforestation and restore natural forests". "Deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated," Mr Baldwin-Cantello said. "To realise the potential of forests as a climate solution, we need support for regeneration in climate delivery plans and must tackle the drivers of deforestation, which in the UK means strong domestic laws to prevent our food causing deforestation overseas." The Atlantic Forest in Brazil gives reason for hope, the study said, with an area roughly the size of the Netherlands having regrown since 2000. In the boreal forests of northern Mongolia, 1.2 million hectares of forest have regenerated in the last 20 years, while other regeneration hotspots include central Africa and the boreal forests of Canada. But the researchers warned that forests across the world face "significant threats". Despite "encouraging signs" with forests along Brazil's Atlantic coast, deforestation is such that the forested area needs to more than double to reach the minimal threshold for conservation, they said.
5-10-21 Sir David Attenborough: Problems that await greater than the epidemic
Sir David says the problems that await the world in the next five to 10 years because of climate change are greater than the coronavirus pandemic. His comments come as he is named People's Advocate for climate change ahead of the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow in November. The meeting is viewed as crucial to keep global temperature rises below 2C. He will address world leaders at major international events over the next six months to put climate and the protection of nature at the top of their agenda.
5-10-21 The EU may make recycling e-waste a legal requirement - will it work?
Countries in the European Union should be legally required to recycle critical metals in electronic waste, a report has found. The proposed law would be unprecedented and could drive countries outside the EU to follow suit, but there are several challenges to overcome to make this recycling work in practice. The report by the EU-funded CEWASTE consortium argues that making recycling a legal requirement will help EU countries reduce their reliance on imports and protect against future supply disruptions of critical metals, such as lithium, neodymium and praseodymium, which are essential for manufacturing of electronic and electrical equipment. Rates of recycling of critical raw materials in the EU are currently “close to zero” in most cases, finds the report. In addition to introducing legislation, the report says that it will also be important to crack down on illegal e-waste export from the EU, invest in the development of recycling technology and create financial incentives for companies to recover critical raw materials, for instance by reducing tax on products made with recycled content. But a key factor that could still limit the success of a recycling scheme is consumer behaviour – many people don’t recycle electronic gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. “It is estimated that there are more technology critical metals in household drawers than in Europe’s largest mines,” says Andy Abbott at the University of Leicester, UK. “It’s definitely a bottleneck,” says Pascal Leroy at the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment forum in Belgium, who co-authored the report. “You can improve the recycling technology…but as long as you don’t collect more e-waste, you’re not really making much progress,” he says. “One of the key recommendations that we have provided is to also maybe think about new ways, new collection models and new strategies for better [e-waste] collection,” says Shahrzad Manoochehri at the World Resources Forum in Switzerland, also a co-author on the report. “This is one of our key recommendations to the European Commission, to overcome this challenge and this bottleneck.”
5-10-21 A common antibiotic slows a mysterious coral disease
Amoxicillin is 95 percent effective at healing infected tissues on stony coral colonies. Slathering corals in a common antibiotic seems to temporarily soothe a mysterious tissue-eating disease, new research suggests. Just off Florida, a type of coral infected with stony coral tissue loss disease, or SCTLD, showed widespread improvement several months after being treated with amoxicillin, researchers report April 21 in Scientific Reports. While the deadly disease eventually reappeared, the results provide a spot of good news while scientists continue the search for what causes it. “The antibiotic treatments give the corals a break,” says Erin Shilling, a coral researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce. “It’s very good at halting the lesions it’s applied to.” Divers discovered SCTLD on reefs near Miami in 2014. Characterized by white lesions that rapidly eat away at coral tissue, the disease plagues nearly all of the Great Florida Reef, which spans 580 kilometers from St. Lucie Inlet in Marin County to Dry Tortugas National Park beyond the Florida Keys. In recent years, SCTLD has spread to reefs in the Caribbean (SN: 7/9/19). As scientists search for the cause, they are left to treat the lesions through trial and error. Two treatments that show promise involve divers applying a chlorinated epoxy or an amoxicillin paste to infected patches. “We wanted to experimentally assess these techniques to see if they’re as effective as people have been reporting anecdotally,” Shilling says. In April 2019, Shilling and colleagues identified 95 lesions on 32 colonies of great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) off Florida’s east coast. The scientists dug trenches into the corals around the lesions to separate diseased tissue from healthy tissue, then filled the moats and covered the diseased patches with the antibiotic paste or chlorinated epoxy and monitored the corals over 11 months.
5-7-21 Report: China emissions exceed all developed nations combined
China emits more greenhouse gas than the entire developed world combined, a new report has claimed. The research by Rhodium Group says China emitted 27% of the world's greenhouse gases in 2019. The US was the second-largest emitter at 11% while India was third with 6.6% of emissions, the think tank said. Scientists warn that without an agreement between the US and China it will be hard to avert dangerous climate change. China's emissions more than tripled over the previous three decades, the report from the US-based Rhodium Group added. The Asian giant has the world's largest population, so its per person emissions are still far behind the US, but the research said those emissions have increased too, tripling over the course of two decades. China has vowed to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 with a peak no later than 2030. President Xi Jinping reiterated his pledge at a climate summit organised by US President Joe Biden last month. "This major strategic decision is made based on our sense of responsibility to build a community with a shared future for mankind and our own need to secure sustainable development," President Xi said at the time. However, China is heavily reliant on coal power. The country is currently running 1,058 coal plants - more than half the world's capacity. Under the Paris accord, agreed in 2015, 197 nations pledged to limit global warming to below 2C. However, the world is far from meeting that commitment. Central to the Paris Agreement are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These are targets intended to cut emissions. NDCs represent the commitments by each country - under the Paris pact - to reduce their own national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. According to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action, China's NDC rating is "highly insufficient" and "are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2C". (Webmaster's comment: It's emssions per capita that matters and the United States has twice the emissions per person than China has! )
5-7-21 Cutting methane gas 'crucial for climate fight'
Reducing emissions of methane gas is vital for tackling climate change in the short-term, a major UN report says. Methane is produced when living things decompose; it's also in natural gas. It persists for just a short time in the atmosphere - unlike carbon dioxide - but methane is a much more potent global warming gas than CO2. The report says "urgent steps" are necessary in order to reduce methane if global warming is to be kept within a limit laid down in the Paris deal. This agreement, signed by 200 countries, aims to keep the global temperature rise to within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. The 1.5C target is regarded as the gateway to "dangerous" warming, where the planet could experience serious adverse effects of climate change. The report comes as data showed both CO2 and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere reached record highs last year. This happened despite pandemic lockdowns, which massively reduced economic activity. The good news is that the UN report says rapid and significant reductions in the greenhouse gas are possible using existing technologies and a very low cost. Methane is also a source for another gas - ozone - in the lowest layer of the Earth's atmosphere (known as the troposphere). In addition to saving money, cutting methane would yield significant health benefits by reducing the amount of ground-level ozone - a pollutant that's harmful to the human body. The recommendations come from an international team of scientists, who have produced the Global Methane Assessment for the UN Environment Programme (Unep). Drew Shindell, the study's lead author, and a professor of Earth science at Duke University in Durham, US, agrees CO2 is the number one target in the fight against climate change, but says cutting methane will have a more rapid impact. "So many aspects of climate change are happening faster than expected", he said. "We see more fires, more of the strongest hurricanes, more heatwaves, and methane is the best lever we have to reduce the growth in those over the next 30 years."
5-7-21 Mangrove forests on the Yucatan Peninsula store record amounts of carbon
The trees stockpile up to about 2,800 metric tons of carbon per hectare in the soil. Coastal mangrove forests are carbon storage powerhouses, tucking away vast amounts of organic matter among their submerged, tangled root webs. But even for mangroves, there is a “remarkable” amount of carbon stored in small pockets of forest growing around sinkholes on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researchers report May 5 in Biology Letters. These forests can stock away more than five times as much carbon per hectare as most other terrestrial forests. There are dozens of mangrove-lined sinkholes, or cenotes, on the peninsula. Such carbon storage hot spots could help nations or companies achieve carbon neutrality — in which the volume of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere is balanced by the amount of carbon sequestered away (SN: 1/31/20). At three cenotes, researchers led by Fernanda Adame, a wetland scientist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, collected samples of soil at depths down to 6 meters, and used carbon-14 dating to estimate how fast the soil had accumulated at each site. The three cenotes each had “massive” amounts of soil organic carbon, the researchers report, averaging about 1,500 metric tons per hectare. One site, Casa Cenote, stored as much as 2,792 metric tons per hectare. Mangrove roots make ideal traps for organic material. The submerged soils also help preserve carbon. As sea levels have slowly risen over the last 8,000 years, mangroves have kept pace, climbing atop sediment ported in from rivers or migrating inland. In the cave-riddled limestone terrain of the Yucatan Peninsula, there are no rivers to supply sediment. Instead, “the mangroves produce more roots to avoid drowning,” which also helps the trees climb upward more quickly, offering more space for organic matter to accumulate, Adame says.
5-7-21 These climate-friendly microbes recycle carbon without producing methane
Scientists found the newly discovered single-celled archaea living in hot spring sediments. Earth’s hot springs and hydrothermal vents are home to a previously unidentified group of archaea. And, unlike similar tiny, single-celled organisms that live deep in sediments and munch on decaying plant matter, these archaea don’t produce the climate-warming gas methane, researchers report April 23 in Nature Communications. “Microorganisms are the most diverse and abundant form of life on Earth, and we just know 1 percent of them,” says Valerie De Anda, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “Our information is biased toward the organisms that affect humans. But there are a lot of organisms that drive the main chemical cycles on Earth that we just don’t know.” Archaea are a particularly mysterious group (SN: 2/14/20). It wasn’t until the late 1970s that they were recognized as a third domain of life, distinct from bacteria and eukaryotes (which include everything else, from fungi to animals to plants). For many years, archaea were thought to exist only in the most extreme environments on Earth, such as hot springs. But archaea are actually everywhere, and these microbes can play a big role in how carbon and nitrogen cycle between Earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere. One group of archaea, Thaumarchaeota, are the most abundant microbes in the ocean, De Anda says (SN: 11/28/17). And methane-producing archaea in cows’ stomachs cause the animals to burp large amounts of the gas into the atmosphere (SN: 11/18/15). Now, De Anda and her colleagues have identified an entirely new phylum — a large branch of related organisms on the tree of life — of archaea. The first evidence of these new organisms were within sediments from seven hot springs in China as well as from the deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. Within these sediments, the team found bits of DNA that it meticulously assembled into the genetic blueprints, or genomes, of 15 different archaea.
5-6-21 I lived under a glacier for two weeks looking for life
CHISELLED, grey rock walls loom on all sides, brought to life by the faint beam of my headlamp. Tiny rivulets of groundwater form a tangle of silver threads around me. As I inhale, I smell the heavy scent of cold, damp, stale air, which clings to my face like an invisible cloth. Slowly, I drag my welly-clad feet along the seemingly endless dirt track towards the eye of the tunnel ahead and the guts of the glacier. I have never had much of a proclivity for caves, but here I was living in a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Norwegian glacier Engabreen of the Svartisen ice cap. I spent two weeks here in the winter of 2006, coming to visit its tantalisingly named “subglacial laboratory”, where you could access the glacier bed thanks to tunnels originally bored through the mountain to tap the copious meltwater for hydroelectric power. The laboratory was equipped with an ingenious means of getting to the inhospitable glacier bed. You would open up a shaft (with a door made of iron girders) to reveal the dirty, basal layer of the glacier topped by a translucent, 200-metre-thick mass of slowly moving ice and then melt your way in with a hot-water drill. My reason for being there was a grand hunt for microbial life and one of its troublesome by-products, methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas: it has around 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Some of the places most notorious for its production are rice paddies, landfill sites, wetlands and even the stomachs of cows, but, increasingly, it seems like glaciers could be hotspots too. That is because one type of microbe that thrives in the oxygen-starved conditions beneath a glacier is a methanogen, or “methane maker”. Its carbon supply comes from ancient soils, lake sediments and marine muds that were entombed by the glacier when it grew. Remarkably, some methanogens may be fed by hydrogen produced as the glacier grinds over its rocky base.
5-5-21 Hitting Paris climate goal could cut sea level rise in half by 2100
The amount of sea level rise facing coastal cities as a result of ice melt could be roughly halved if the world meets the Paris Agreement’s toughest goal of holding climate change to 1.5°C of warming. Coastal flooding would still worsen as meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets would raise seas by an average 13 centimetres by 2100, a new overview of computer modelling suggests. But failure to rein in carbon dioxide emissions leading to global warming of 3.4°C would see a 25-cm increase from ice melt. “We know global sea level is going to continue to rise. But we could halve that contribution from ice melting if we limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial [levels]. Of course, coastal flooding will still increase, but less severely,” says Tamsin Edwards at King’s College London. Edwards and her colleagues analysed the results of hundreds of ice and climate change models to see how loss of land ice across 19 regions of the world may affect sea level rise between 2015 and 2100 under two plausible emissions scenarios. Curbing temperature rises makes a big difference to how much melting glaciers around the world and ice sheets on Greenland raise seas. But the new analysis notably shows the same impact from Antarctica – 5 centimetres of sea level rise per century – whether temperatures are held to 1.5°C or 3.4°C. Edwards say this is “not because we don’t think Antarctica will respond to climate change”. Instead, there was such a wide range of results in models – from ones where extra snowfall in a warming world offsets ice melt from oceans warming, and vice versa – that it isn’t clear what Antarctica will do. Jonathan Bamber at the University of Bristol in the UK says the research is thorough and careful. However, he notes that none of the study’s models include a process called marine ice cliff instability, a theoretical but as-yet unseen process that could lead Antarctica’s ice sheets to disintegrate faster. “Ice sheets can behave in unexpected ways,” he says.
5-5-21 Ecocide may be on its way to becoming a new international crime
THOSE of us who write about the state of the environment are accustomed to being the bearers of bad news, and it is easy to become numbed by the scale of the destruction. But some stories retain the power to shock. One of them hit me hard a few weeks ago. A widely reported research paper set out to discover how much of Earth’s land is ecologically intact, meaning that its ecosystem remains in a pristine, pre-industrial state. The answer: just 3 per cent. To frame it differently, in the past 500 years, humans have degraded 97 per cent of the terrestrial biosphere. There is, I think, only one word for such levels of destruction: ecocide. Like genocide, it isn’t a word to be thrown around casually. But what else does justice to that degree of destruction? Speaking of justice, that is exactly what some activists would like ecocide to lead to. Their long-standing goal is to have ecocide recognised in international law alongside crimes like genocide. Those who bring destruction on nature could find themselves at the International Criminal Court (ICC) next to the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against humanity. This idea has long been on the fringes of environmental activism, but it now has a genuine chance of being written into the statute books. Like laws for crimes against peace, an ecocide law would trace its roots to wartime atrocities, in this case the annihilation of forests in South-East Asia, first by the UK’s Royal Air Force during the guerrilla war known as the Malayan Emergency and later by the US Air Force in the Vietnam war. In 1970, the destruction inspired Arthur Galston, a plant biologist at Yale University whose PhD research had led to the development of agent orange, to coin the word “ecocide”.
5-5-21 Climate change: Promises will mean rise of 2.4C - study
Recent climate change promises by major nations will bring the world a fraction closer to the prospect of a more stable climate, analysis suggests. The Climate Action Tracker group says the new targets have reduced projected warming by the end of century by 0.2C. The forecast now stands at 2.4C – a small improvement, but higher than the 1.5C threshold nations are aiming for under the Paris climate agreement. Final calculations by researchers of the emissions gap in 2030 between Paris pledges and a 1.5C pathway show it’s been narrowed by 11-14%. The biggest prospective contributors to reducing emissions are the US, EU countries, China and Japan. The researchers noted that Canada announced a new target at President Biden’s recent climate summit while South Africa is consulting on an increased target. Argentina has increased its target, and the UK has a stronger target of a 78% emissions cut by 2035. The research comes with a warning about the potential gap between aspiration and achievement. Based on current national policies the estimated warming is 2.9C - that's nearly twice what governments agreed it should be when they sealed the big climate deal in Paris in 2015. Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, one of the partner organisations for the report, said: “It is clear the Paris Agreement is driving change, spurring governments into adopting stronger targets. “But there is still some way to go, especially given that most governments don’t yet have policies in place to meet their pledges.” He said Brazil, for instance, had brought forward its climate neutrality goal, but changed the baseline from which it was calculated - actually making its 2030 target weaker. Some governments also continue to build coal-fired power plants, and to increase the usage of natural gas for electricity. The report also identifies a major problem with automobiles, as drivers steer towards larger, less efficient SUVs.
5-5-21 UK supermarkets warn Brazil over Amazon land bill
Nearly 40 UK food businesses have threatened to stop sourcing products from Brazil over proposed land reforms. An open letter from the group calls on Brazil's legislature to reject a bill which could legalise the private occupation of public land. The letter said the proposal could accelerate deforestation in the Amazon. The bill is being considered just months after Brazil pledged to end illegal logging. Sainsbury's, Aldi, Greggs, the Co-Op, the British Retail Consortium, and the Hilton Food Group are among the major organisations to sign the open letter. A vote in the Senate on the bill is expected later Wednesday or Thursday. The companies say they "consider the Amazon as a vital part of the earth system that's essential to the security of our planet, as well as being a critical part of a prosperous future for Brazilians and all of society." Rainforests are critical to mitigating the effects of climate change, as they store vast amounts of carbon. Under the leadership of right-wing President Jair Bolsanaro, the level of deforestation in the Amazon is reported as being the highest since 2008. This year alone around 430,000 acres of the Amazon have been logged or burned, according to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project. The vast majority of land is cleared either to graze cattle for beef exports, or to grow soy, which goes in to animal feed around the world. At a summit in April hosted by US President Joe Biden, Mr Bolsanaro declared that Brazil would end illegal logging. The letter says these measures "run counter" to this "narrative and rhetoric. The new law would allow land that has been illegally occupied after 2014 to be put up for sale. This would potentially allow illegal occupants to buy it. Similar controversial measures were first put forward in a different bill last year, but were withdrawn after more than 40 organisations made the same threat over supply chain sourcing.
5-5-21 Indonesia coral reef partially restored in extensive project
Around 40,000 sq m of coral reef has been restored as part of a collaboration between local groups, conservation organisation The Nature Conservancy and pet brand Sheba. It's part of a plan to restore 185,000 sq m of the world's coral reefs by 2029. One partially restored reef off the coast of Indonesia has since seen a rise in coral cover from 5% to up to 55%. The BBC's David Shukman speaks to marine scientists about the project and whether efforts like this can protect reefs from the ongoing threat of climate change.
5-4-21 How rising sea levels are threatening my home
Hereiti, 17, lives on Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. She says the ocean is the "lifeblood" of her community, and that when it is “healthy”, the people are too. But she worries that rising sea levels and pollution are threatening the health of the ocean. “Life Below Water" is goal 14 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 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, and significantly reduce marine pollution by 2025. This video is part of Project 17, a BBC World Service series produced in partnership with the Open University, in which 17-year-olds look at progress on the UN's 17 goals.
5-3-21 Carbon: How calls for climate justice are shaking the world
Young activists are breathing new life into the long-running debate over climate justice - the framing of global warming as an ethical issue rather than a purely environmental one. When world leaders took to the (virtual) stage at President Biden's climate summit, they were given a gentle telling off by 19-year-old climate activist, Xiye Bastida. "Solutions must be aligned with the fact that climate justice is social justice," she said, echoing the words of Greta Thunberg. The Mexican-born teenager is among a new generation of climate activists drawing attention to environmental and social injustices they say are blighting lives worldwide. Her words cut through the noise in a video that has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times. Harriet Lamb of the climate solutions charity, Ashden, says people have been talking about the problem of climate injustice for decades but young activists are giving it new momentum. "It has undoubtedly changed the agenda," she says. For her, climate justice is about making sure we address historic injustices over emissions, including the carbon footprint of the wealthy, whose lifestyles have contributed most to global warming. At the same time, climate change is predominantly impacting those who've done the least to contribute to carbon pollution and who have the least resources to deal with it because they are living below the poverty line. The starkest inequalities are seen in the poorest countries of the world, where people leaving only a tiny carbon footprint are at the front line of climate chaos, from floods to ruined crops. But even in wealthy countries like the UK, there are warnings of carbon inequality. Amy Norman, a researcher at the think-tank, The Social Market Foundation, says politicians need to level with voters on what the transition to net zero will mean for the way we live. There's potential for a public and political backlash over issues of unfairness, she says, which could damage trust and ultimately the wider transition to net zero (removing as many emissions as we produce).
5-2-21 Then and now: When silence descended over Victoria Falls
In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. Here, we look at the effects of global heating on Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world - and how Sub-Saharan Africa is learning to cope with the climate crisis. In full flow, Victoria Falls easily qualifies as one of the natural wonders of the world. Spanning 1.7km at its widest point and with a height of more than 100m, locals refer to Africa's greatest waterfall as "the smoke that thunders". This amazing feature is formed as the Zambezi river plunges into a chasm called the First Gorge. The chasm was carved by the action of water along a natural fracture zone in the volcanic rock that makes up the landscape in this region of southern Africa. In 2019, however, Victoria Falls was silenced. In a drought described as the worst in a century, the flow of the Zambezi was reduced to a relative trickle and the Falls ran dry. As one of the region's biggest attractions for tourists, Victoria Falls is a valuable source of income for Zimbabwe and Zambia. As news of the low waters spread, local traders noticed a visible drop in tourist numbers. As well as hitting the countries' economies, it also hit electricity supplies, which are dependent on hydroelectric generation. More widely across the region, agencies reported an increase in the need for food aid, as crops failed in the drought. A single extreme weather event cannot, in isolation, be viewed as a consequence of climate change. But the region is recording a sequence of extreme droughts that reflect what climate modellers have predicted will occur as a result of an increase in greenhouse gases in the world's atmosphere as a result of human activity. Zambia's President, Edgar Lungu - speaking at the time - called it "a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment". Observers of weather patterns in the Zambezi Basin believe the changing climate is resulting in a delay to the monsoon season, concentrating the rains into bigger, more intense events. This makes the storage of the water in the region more difficult, and makes the impact of the extended dry season more damaging to people and the environment.
5-1-21 Do you know where plastic waste in the oceans is coming from?
Around 1,000 of the world’s rivers are the source of 80% of the global ocean plastic pollution, according to a new study. The research was carried out by The Ocean Cleanup, who are developing technology to remove plastic waste from the Pacific Ocean, as well as from rivers themselves.