5-31-21 Climate change to blame for 37 per cent of world’s heat-related deaths
Climate change is to blame for an average 37 per cent of heat-related deaths globally in the past three decades, according to researchers who say their finding is a reminder global warming is already having severe impacts. Every continent saw an increase in deaths from heat linked to climate change over the period, but the percentage of heat deaths linked to climate change varied widely across the world. The proportion was much higher in Central and South American countries including Guatemala and Colombia, and more than 50 per cent in Kuwait and Iran in the Middle East, and the Philippines in South-East Asia. The percentages were much lower in the US and Canada, and much of Europe. “The main message is climate change is not something that will come in the future. It’s already happening, and we can quantify the negative impacts,” says Antonio Gasparrini at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, one of the research team. The team took temperature and mortality data from 43 countries between 1991 and 2018, and modelled a counterfactual world without the 1.1°C of warming the world has seen to date. The difference was used to estimate the number of climate-linked heat deaths. To account for people in different parts of the world being acclimatised to different heat extremes, the researchers tailored the risk of death from rising temperatures for all 732 locations in the study, so high temperatures in Berlin resulted in a greater increase in deaths than in Johannesburg. Chloe Brimicombe at the University of Reading, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research, says the study is timely given the record-breaking high temperatures in some parts of the world this month. “It also shows how quicker action in the past to limit emissions would have led to fewer heat-related deaths,” she says.
5-29-21 Homes set to be heated by sewage plants in future
Waste heat from data centres and sewage works may keep many people warm in a future low-carbon Britain. Heat from industries and incineration could also be captured and piped to homes, hospitals, schools, and offices. Warmth may also be sucked out rivers and the sea - and from old coalmines - using heat pumps which work like fridges in reverse. A fifth of heat needed for buildings could come from so-called district heat networks, government advisers said. These are grids of pipes laid under city streets to convey warm water generated at a centralised location by low-carbon technology. It's part of a heating revolution being forced ahead by the UK's commitment to combat climate change by ending the burning of gas for heat. So far, debate has focused on the battle between individual air source heat pumps or hydrogen heating for people's homes. But Chris Stark from the government's advisory Climate Change Committee told BBC News: "It's really important to get district heating into the discussion. It's so appealing in population-dense cities. "And it's the best answer for conservation areas, because it offers a low-carbon solution for housing where it would be difficult or expensive to upgrade the fabric of the building itself." District heating networks like this are common in Scandinavia, where many are fuelled by scrap from the timber industry or municipal waste from people's homes. Mr Stark said each town and city should start planning and zoning its own heat decarbonisation. "The sooner we get on with it the better," he said. He expects £20bn to be invested into district heating by 2030. Flooded abandoned coal mines might provide a useful source of heat, he says. And London has already opened the first stage of a heat network harvesting warmth from the Tube. The CCC is urging the government in its forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy to provide multi-year funding for district schemes. In the CCC's modelling, about 18% of homes will be warmed by district heat by 2050.
5-29-21 Mud cylinders reveal humans' impact on Earth began earlier than we thought
Scientists have been uncorking long, thin cylinders of soil from wetlands and riverbeds in an attempt to look back in time and understand the impact humans have had on nature. The results have made them radically rethink previous assumptions about when this started. "It's amazing - one of the most fascinating things," says Ondrejj Mottl. The object of his fascination? Mud. Dr Mottl and his colleagues have been extracting "mud cores" from the depths of lakes and wetlands. These long, tightly compacted cylinders of earth contain a record of exactly what grew in that soil when, going back millennia. "They're our window to the past," says Dr Mottl, an ecologist based in Bergen, Norway. Analysing these cores of mud, looking at the pollen that has settled in each layer, has brought an entirely new understanding of when human activity started changing vegetation. Scientists had expected to see the first "signal" of human intervention a few centuries ago, when landscapes really started to transform during the Industrial Revolution. Pollen records from the mud core research have led them to radically readjust that assumption, and track our species' first impact on the natural world back to about 4,000 years ago. It's a discovery that has major implications for the future of our forests and other natural landscapes. The evidence for all these grand theories exists in the tiny grains of pollen that fell and settled in layer upon layer of mud over the centuries. By carefully extracting that mud, like a cork from a wine bottle, and analysing the "fossil pollen" at different depths, researchers were able to carbon date each mud layer to work out what grew, when. But what exactly did they spot that led them to rethink theories about when man had started to impact nature? The team found in the mud an uptick in the rate of change - layer by layer - of pollen composition. Basically, each layer began to look more different from the other in terms of the plant pollen it contained. The scientists chose to look back 18,000 years to capture the era time when the planet had started to emerge from the last ice age. Earth was defrosting, so almost every environment was changing. "The last 10,000 years was - climate-wise - relatively stable, so [that's when] we're able to pick up the influence of humans," says Suzette Flantua, a global ecologist also at the University of Bergen, That influence started as soon as we - humans - began to clear wild vegetation to make space for ourselves, our crops and our livestock. "We see that trend [in vegetation change] picking up at different points," says Dr Flantua. It's earlier in Asia and South America, and slightly later - about 2,000 years ago - in Europe.
5-28-21 How courts and investors are forcing big oil companies to clean up
This has been a seismic week for international oil and gas companies who have been slow to transition into clean energy firms – but are now being forced to change faster by courts and investors. The most significant moment came on Wednesday, when a Dutch court ordered Anglo-Dutch firm Shell to cut its carbon emissions 45 per cent by 2030, vitally including emissions from the products it sells. It was the first time a court anywhere has ruled a company has a responsibility to reduce emissions, and a legal first to make a firm align itself with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The same day, investors voted to make US company Chevron responsible for reducing the emissions from customers burning its products, and a small hedge fund made US firm ExxonMobil accept two pro-environment members on its board. The three moments together constituted a “crushing day for Big Oil”, tweeted campaigner Bill McKibben of climate group 350.org. But how important is this in the fight to avoid catastrophic climate change? And what does it tell us about how future litigation and shareholder pressure will transform major oil companies? The court judgment will have big ramifications, and not only for Shell. “It really is a landmark, I don’t think it’s being overhyped,” says Paul Benson at UK environmental law charity ClientEarth. Shell has promised to file an appeal, in which Benson expects the company will argue the court erred in its interpretation of Dutch law. Regardless of the appeal’s outcome, the ruling is provisionally enforceable in the meantime, meaning Shell must immediately begin pivoting towards a radical emissions cut, or risk further legal action. The precedent also puts rival oil and gas companies and big emitters in other sectors in the crosshairs for future climate litigation, even if they are headquartered in a different legal jurisdiction. “I do think it will embolden other climate activists to bring other cases against fossil fuel companies, especially if they are perceived to not be addressing investors’ concerns. Not just fossil fuel companies but other big emitters in transport, mining, agriculture,” says Will Nichols at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft in the UK. (Webmaster's comment: Arresting the executives and sending them to prison would work even faster!)
5-28-21 French oil giant Total rebrands in shift to renewables
Oil and gas giant Total will be rebranded as TotalEnergies as it shifts some of its focus towards renewable energy sources. Shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move and approved the firm's environmental goals. "We want to become a sort of green energy major," said chief executive Patrick Pouyanné. Big energy firms are coming under increasing pressure to adjust to a lower-carbon world. On Wednesday, a small hedge fund investor succeeded in ousting two board members at Exxon in the US, in a bid to alter the firm's direction on climate change. And a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its emissions more quickly than the Anglo-Dutch oil firm had planned. Total, the world's fourth-largest privately-owned oil and gas producer, is aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, in part by investing in more solar and wind power projects. While several small investors opposed the company's plans at the annual general meeting, arguing they did not go far enough, the resolution was passed with more than 90% of the vote. European energy firms have moved more quickly than their US counterparts to begin the transition away from fossil fuels, said Mike Coffin, senior analyst in oil and gas at financial think tank Carbon Tracker. "Total we see in the upper tier, ranking alongside BP, but below Eni," he said. "They don't fulfil all our hallmarks of Paris [climate treaty] compliance, but above Shell and certainly above the North American companies." In February, announcing the planned rebranding, Mr Pouyanné said the new name would symbolise Total's "new commitment to be a leader in a world with more energies and fewer emissions". He said the company would have to go through "a genuine transformation" to meet its net zero target by 2050. The International Energy Agency surprised the energy market this month with a report suggesting fossil fuel production needed to slow down much more quickly than firms were planning for. The IEA said there could be no new investment in fossil fuel projects after this year, if the world wanted to reach net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century.
5-27-21 The end of summer as we knew it
In the future, we could have five seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer, and fire. In the popular consciousness of the American west, we already sort of do. Spring weather arrives earlier and earlier every year, and summers are likewise starting sooner and lasting longer. 2021 in particular, though, is shaping up to be a case study in how we're living through the end of summer as we previously knew it. Take this year's unseasonably warm spring: March was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the twentieth-century average, NOAA reports, while by the end of April, wildfires were already raging in three western states. The Conversation recently detailed how authorities are enacting water conservation measures more typical of August in what's supposedly the last full month of spring: It's only May, and states are already considering water use restrictions to make the supply last longer. California's governor declared a drought emergency in 41 of 58 counties. In Utah, irrigation water providers are increasing fines for overuse. Some Idaho ranchers are talking about selling off livestock because rivers and reservoirs they rely on are dangerously low and irrigation demand for farms is only just beginning. Meanwhile, organizers of the L.A. County Fair announced this week that the end-of-summer festivities, which have been held in September for the past 100 years, will be held in May going forward. Regrettably, the triple-digit heat the past several years has kept the revelers away. "Rescheduling a century-old event to a cooler month is only the beginning and I don't think anyone is fully prepared for how quickly our definition of 'summer' will change," warned writer Alissa Walker on Twitter. Forget the idyllic summer image of kids jumping through sprinklers; tightening water restrictions mean an end to that. Enjoying a picnic in the park with your friends can't happen if the wildfire smoke makes it too dangerous to be outdoors. Escaping to the mountains for a long weekend? That's a no-go; the campground burned down. And don't bother trying to find a hotel nearby, either; all the rooms are filled with evacuees. That's not just a worst case scenario, either. One terrifying recent analysis by Chinese researchers suggested that by the year 2100, summer could last for six months. So enjoy Memorial Day weekend's lovely false summer weather while it lasts. It's only going to get more infernal from here.
5-27-21 Climate: World at risk of hitting temperature limit soon
It's becoming more likely that a key global temperature limit will be reached in one of the next five years. A major study says by 2025 there's a 40% chance of at least one year being 1.5C hotter than the pre-industrial level. That's the lower of two temperature limits set by the Paris Agreement on climate change. The conclusion comes in a report published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The analysis is based on modelling by the UK Met Office and climate researchers in 10 countries including the US and China. In the last decade, it was estimated that the chance of any one year reaching the 1.5C threshold was only 20%. This new assessment puts that risk at 40%. Leon Hermanson, a senior Met Office scientist, told BBC News that comparing projected temperatures with those of 1850-1900 shows a clear rise. "What it means is that we're approaching 1.5C - we're not there yet but we're getting close," he said. "Time is running out for the strong action which we need now." The researchers point out that even if one of the next five years is 1.5C above the pre-industrial level, it'll be a temporary situation. Natural variability will mean the following few years may be slightly cooler and it could be another decade or two or more before the 1.5C limit is crossed permanently. The Paris Agreement established the goal of keeping the increase in the global average temperature to no more than 2C and to try not to surpass 1.5C - and that's understood to mean over a long period rather than a single year. According to Dr Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, "the 1.5C in the Met Office announcement should not be confused with the 1.5C limit in the Paris Agreement". "The Paris targets refer to global warming - that is, the temperature increase of our planet once we smooth out year-to-year variations," he explained. "A single year hitting 1.5C therefore doesn't mean the Paris limits are breached, but is nevertheless very bad news. "It tells us once again that climate action to date is wholly insufficient and emissions need to be reduced urgently to zero to halt global warming."
5-27-21 Soil microbe transplant could improve tree growth and remove more CO2
The soil equivalent of a faecal microbiome transplant and the effect of sprinkling rock dust are to both be tested at scale in tree-planting schemes to see if they can turbocharge the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. In the past few weeks, UK charity The Carbon Community has planted 25,000 trees across 11.5 hectares of former farmland in Carmarthenshire, Wales. This forest will host a trailblazing experiment to see if and how the two approaches can accelerate carbon sequestration. The first involved taking soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi from a nearby established forest and using them to kickstart the saplings’ growth, which has the potential to increase the amount of carbon that will be locked up in the trees’ stems and the soil. The second experiment is intended to speed up the natural rate at which rocks absorb carbon from the air, by taking basalt rock dust from a quarry around 30 kilometres away and adding it to soil during the planting, a process known as enhanced weathering. Both measures will be applied to native broadleaf trees, including birch and oak, and to a conifer used for timber called the Sitka spruce. The results could help inform reforestation projects globally including those led by the UK government, which needs to plant at least 30,000 hectares a year to meet its 2050 net zero target. Such nature-based solutions are seen as a vital tool for tackling climate change. “Natural tree regeneration will take a very long time on sites like this,” says Charles Nicholls at The Carbon Community, referring to the degraded nature of the soil on the former agricultural land. “If you look at both basalt and the microbiome injection, these are both natural processes that would happen anyway, but take decades. We are just trying to accelerate these natural processes.”
5-26-21 Japan wants to use the Olympic games to promote hydrogen to the world
DESPITE a surge in covid-19 cases, Japan is doggedly pushing ahead with its preparations for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games. In January, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said they should continue as “proof of human victory against the coronavirus”. But there is another reason too: Japan wants to use the events to showcase its efforts to become a “hydrogen society” and to inspire other countries to join it. To do so, Japan is making heavy use of Olympic symbols. The Olympic torch is being partly fuelled by hydrogen as it makes its way through Japan, even as some parts of the relay are cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. When the games begin in July – unless they are derailed again – the Olympic cauldron will also be powered by hydrogen. And a hydrogen station has been built near the athletes’ village for refuelling the hydrogen-powered buses and cars that will ferry competitors to and from venues. Japan is one of the growing number of countries that aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But its transition to renewable energy is trickier than it is for others, since it has limited free space for building vast solar and wind farms to replace fossil fuels. It has installed floating solar plants on many of its lakes and is planning large offshore wind farms, but these alone cannot supply enough energy for its 126 million people. To fill this gap, Japan has decided to bet big on hydrogen energy. It wants to power at least 5 million homes and 800,000 vehicles, including 1200 buses, using hydrogen by 2030, and is also researching its potential use in powering trucks, ships, trains, aircraft and industries like steel-making. It has established a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) Green Innovation Fund that will help to support this expansion. In December 2020, more than 80 Japanese companies, including giants like Toyota and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, agreed to work together to help the nation achieve its hydrogen goals.
5-26-21 The last 30 years were the hottest on record for the United States
The average U.S. temperature for 1991–2020 was 53.3° F, up from 52.8° F during 1981–2010. There’s a new normal for U.S. weather. On May 4, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced an official change to its reference values for temperature and precipitation. Instead of using the average values from 1981 to 2010, NOAA’s new “climate normals” will be the averages from 1991 to 2020. This new period is the warmest on record for the country. Compared with the previous 30-year-span, for example, the average temperature across the contiguous United States rose from 11.6° Celsius (52.8° Fahrenheit) to 11.8° C (53.3° F). Some of the largest increases were in the South and Southwest — and that same region also showed a dramatic decrease in precipitation (SN: 8/17/20). The United States and other members of the World Meteorological Organization are required to update their climate normals every 10 years. These data put daily weather events in historical context and also help track changes in drought conditions, energy use and freeze risks for farmers. That moving window of averages for the United States also tells a stark story about the accelerating pace of climate change. When each 30-year period is compared with the average temperatures from 1901 to 2000, no part of the country is cooler now than it was during the 20th century. And temperatures in large swaths of the country, from the American West to the Northeast, are 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher. The average temperatures for 30-year “normal” periods for the contiguous United States show the country getting hotter since 1901. Here, each 30-year period is compared with the average temperature for the entire 20th century. From 1991 to 2020, average temperatures across most of the country were at least 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) higher than the 20th century average. (Webmaster's comment: This summers going to be a scorcher!)
5-26-21 Global heating: Study shows impact of 'climate racism' in US
A new study says that black people living in most US cities are subject to double the level of heat stress as their white counterparts. The researchers say the differences were not explained by poverty but by historic racism and segregation. As a result, people of colour more generally, live in areas with fewer green spaces and more buildings and roads. These exacerbate the impacts of rising temperatures and a changing climate. Cities are well known magnifiers of a warmer climate. The surface urban heat island effect is the technical term for the impact that the buildings, roads and infrastructure of cities have on temperatures. All that concrete and asphalt attracts and stores more heat, ensuring that both days and nights in big urban areas are much warmer than the surrounding locations. But, within cities, there are often large differences in this heat island impact, with areas rich in trees and green spaces noticeably cooler than those that are dense with housing and industry. A previous study in the US found a correlation between warmer neighbourhoods in big cities with racist housing practices dating back to the 1930s. Back then, areas with large African-American or immigrant populations were "redlined" in documents by federal officials, and deemed too hazardous for home loans and investment. This led to a concentration of poverty and low home ownership rates in some parts of big cities. This new study takes a broader look at these warmer neighbourhoods and the people who are affected by them. Using satellite temperature data combined with demographic information from the US Census, the authors found that the average person of colour lives in an area with far higher summer daytime temperatures than non-Hispanic white people. For the purposes of the paper, the scientists defined "people of colour" as including all Hispanic people (regardless of race) and anyone who does not identify as white alone. In all but six of the 175 largest urbanised areas in the continental US, people of colour endure much greater heat impacts in summer. For black people this was particularly stark. The researchers say they are exposed to an extra 3.12C of heating, on average, in urban neighbourhoods, compared to an extra 1.47C for white people.
5-26-21 Shell: Netherlands court orders oil giant to cut emissions
A court in the Netherlands has ruled in a landmark case that the oil giant Shell must reduce its emissions. Dutch media reported that this was the first time an oil company had been held liable for climate change. Environmental group Friends of the Earth brought the case to court in 2019, alongside six other bodies and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens. It sought to force Shell to cut emissions in line with the 2015 Paris climate accords. On Wednesday the civil court ruled that by 2030, Shell must cut its CO2 emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels. It said the oil giant is responsible for CO2 emissions of the Shell group and its suppliers. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 nations agreed to keep global temperatures "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels. The legally-binding treaty came into force on 4 November 2016. The US withdrew under former President Donald Trump but has since rejoined under President Joe Biden. A number of groups around the world are now trying to force companies and governments to comply with the accords through the courts. Shell has previously said it wants net zero emissions for itself and from products used by its customers by 2050. In December its defence lawyers told the court the company was already taking "serious steps" to move away from fossil fuels, and said there was no legal basis for the case. Shell - full name Royal Dutch Shell - is a British-Dutch multinational which has its headquarters in The Hague, allowing Friends of the Earth to bring the case to a Dutch court. Earlier this year a Dutch court ruled that Shell is responsible for damage caused by leaks in the Niger Delta, and ordered the company to pay compensation to farmers there. Shell, however, has said the leaks were the result of "sabotage".
5-26-21 Mast Upgrade: UK experiment could sweep aside fusion hurdle
Initial results from a UK experiment could help clear a hurdle to achieving commercial power based on nuclear fusion, experts say. The researchers believe they now have a better way to remove the excess heat produced by fusion reactions. This intense heat can melt materials used inside a reactor, limiting the amount of time it can operate for. The system, which has been likened to a car exhaust, resulted in a tenfold reduction in the heat. The tests were carried out at the Mast (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) Upgrade nuclear fusion experiment at Culham in Oxfordshire. The £55m device began operating in October last year, after a seven-year build. Nuclear fusion is an attempt to replicate the processes that power the Sun - and other stars - here on planet Earth. But the trick is getting more energy out of the reactions than you put in. This goal continues to elude teams of scientists and engineers around the world, who are working to make fusion power a reality. Existing nuclear energy relies on a process called fission, where a heavy chemical element is split to produce lighter ones. Fusion works by combining two light elements to make a heavier one. One common fusion approach uses a reactor design called a tokamak, in which powerful magnetic fields are used to control charged gas - or plasma - inside a doughnut-shaped container. An international fusion megaproject called Iter is currently under construction in southern France. Prof Ian Chapman, chief executive of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), said it would be crucial for demonstrating the feasibility of bringing fusion power to the grid. But he added that Iter's size and cost meant that "if every time you wanted to build a unit, you had to raise that sum of money, then the penetration into the market would be determined by economics, not technology". Mast Upgrade is one attempt to come up with a template for more compact, cheaper fusion reactors. It makes use of an innovative design known as a spherical tokamak to squeeze the fuel into a 4.4m-tall, 4m-wide space. By comparison, the containment vessel Iter will use to control its fusion reactions is 11.4m tall and 19.4m wide. But Mast Upgrade's bijou dimensions come at a price: "You're making something that's hotter than the Sun... in a smaller volume. How you then get the heat out becomes a big challenge," said Prof Chapman.
5-25-21 Biden administration reveals plans for wind farms off the California coast
More than 250,000 acres off the California coast will be open to wind development, the Biden administration announced Tuesday. Under this new plan, wind power projects would be built off the coast of Morro Bay in Central California and Humboldt Bay in Northern California, and combined, they could generate 4,600 megawatts of electricity that could power 1.6 million homes, the Los Angeles Times reports. Wind energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, and offshore wind farms will help fight climate change and create more than 77,000 jobs, the White House said. Now, there are only two wind farms in the United States, both on the East Coast. Gina McCarthy, President Biden's senior climate change adviser, said on Tuesday the California projects will "set the stage for the long-term development of clean energy and the growth of a brand-new, made-in-America industry." California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) agreed, saying these "game-changing" wind farms will benefit "diverse communities" across the state. He believes the projects will be built 20 miles offshore, with room for about 380 wind turbines. The Pacific Ocean is deep, and the turbines will have to float, held in place by cables. There is some pushback from a variety of detractors, including people who live on the coast and don't want to look at turbines. Previously, the Department of Defense cautioned that offshore wind farms off the California coast could interfere with military training and operations, but Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, said on Tuesday suitable locations were found that are out of the way, the Times reports.
5-25-21 Move to net zero 'inevitably means more mining'
The public will need to accept greater mining activity if the world is to meet the challenge of going green. Resource experts say the current supply of various metals and minerals cannot support a global economy producing net zero carbon emissions. Extraction rates have to be raised, the scientists argue, if only in the short term. Eventually, large-scale recycling should be able to satisfy the demand for key commodities such as lithium. New mining initiatives are often met with resistance because of the negative impacts they can have on the wider environment and on health. And some activities have drawn particular ire because they've become associated with labour abuses. But Prof Richard Herrington and colleagues believe an urgent conversation needs to get going on where and how the inevitable new extraction is practised. "The public are not in this space at the moment; I don't think they understand yet the full implications of the green revolution," the head of Earth sciences at London's Natural History Museum told BBC News. "We're probably only talking about a short-term spike in mining but we have to work quickly, because we know if we don't cut carbon dioxide now it will be a problem in the future." Governments around the world are busy setting targets to transform their economies so they no longer contribute warming gases to the atmosphere, or more correctly have a net zero contribution. This will mean phasing out the internal combustion engine and dramatically increasing renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar. The UK, for instance, wants all new cars to go electric from 2030. But to switch Britain's 31.5 million petrol and diesel vehicles over to a battery-electric fleet would take an estimated 207,900 tonnes of cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, and 2,362,500 tonnes of copper.
5-25-21 Are plans for a carbon-negative power plant too costly to be worth it?
UK energy firm Drax’s plan to transform a biomass power plant in the north of England into the world’s first carbon-negative power station is running into strong pushback. By 2027, Drax hopes to retrofit its plant near Selby so it can be used for ‘bioenergy with carbon capture and storage’ (BECCS), a process in which the firm will grow trees that remove millions of tonnes of CO2 from the air, burn them for power, capture the resulting CO2 and pipe it below the bedrock of the North Sea. BECCS has been included in climate models created by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the main way to remove CO2 emissions if the world overshoots its climate targets, and to balance out emissions from hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as aviation. “The key issue is we are running out of time to hit the 1.5°C target,” says Will Gardiner at Drax, referring to the Paris Agreement’s toughest goal. “Increasingly, you have people realising negative emissions have to be part of the solution. The case for BECCS is it’s available today.” New models suggest the IPCC’s estimates may have been overly optimistic, but BECCS has had its critics for years because of concerns over the land that would be needed to grow the crops, and the knock-on effect on food prices, biodiversity and water. Now the idea is on the brink of moving from concept to commercial reality, mobilising renewed opposition. A report published by UK non-profit Ember on 25 May estimates the Drax project would cost UK consumers £31.7 billion over 25 years to fund subsidies, adding more than £16 a year to household energy bills. However, the report arrives at the estimated cost by assuming Drax eventually converts all four of its power station’s generating units, rather than the two it has publicly committed to. It also assumes marginally higher subsidy costs than what Gardiner has told New Scientist. But it’s clear the two generating units, which Drax estimates will cost £1 billion each, will not happen without sizeable public support.
5-25-21 UK finance sector in top 10 for carbon emissions
If the UK's biggest banks and investors were a country, they'd rank 9th in the world for the carbon emissions they're responsible for. That's the striking conclusion of a new analysis by Greenpeace and WWF. The study assessed the emissions associated with the global investments of 15 British banks and 10 asset managers. A spokesman for UK financial institutions said they were committed to being net zero by 2050. Net zero refers to the reduction of carbon emissions as much as possible, so that any remaining emissions are balanced out by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere - through planting trees, for example. The research, led by South Pole, a specialist environmental analysis company, is an attempt at a rough estimate of the carbon footprint of the choices made by the giants of the British financial world. Using data from 2019, it finds that they were responsible for a total of 805 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. That's 1.8 times more than the UK as a whole emitted that year and slightly more than Germany. According to Greenpeace, this shows that the financial sector should be considered "high carbon" along with the oil and gas industry, coal mining, aviation and transport. The estimates do not include emissions associated with insurance underwriting or property so the real figure may be far higher. The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, described finance as the "UK's dirty little secret". "Banks and investors are responsible for more emissions than most nations and the UK government is giving them a free pass," he said. "How can we say we're 'leading the world on climate action' while allowing financial institutions to plough billions into fossil fuel production every year? The claim is almost laughable." The chief executive of WWF UK, Tanya Steele, called on the financial sector to have zero carbon transition plans that cover their investments all over the world.
5-24-21 Greenland’s ice sheet is releasing huge amounts of mercury into rivers
An ice sheet in the southwestern region of Greenland is releasing huge amounts of mercury into nearby rivers. The discovery is worrying as the toxic metal can accumulate in the marine animals that are a key dietary component for local Indigenous communities. Mercury is a naturally occurring metal found in some rocks. As glaciers slowly flow downhill, they grind up the underlying rocks, potentially releasing mercury into their meltwater. To find out whether this is occurring in Greenland, Jon Hawkings at Florida State University and his colleagues analysed meltwater flowing from the southwestern margin of the Greenland ice sheet. Hawkings and his team completed two expeditions to Greenland in 2015 and 2018, collecting water samples from three meltwater rivers that receive substantial amounts of water from the Greenland ice sheet – up to 800 cubic metres per second. The samples were filtered to remove any sediment and kept safe from contamination. Then the researchers analysed the mercury concentration in each one. “[Mercury concentrations in this region] are at least 10 times higher than in an average river,” says Hawkings. This means the meltwater is as rich in mercury as some highly polluted rivers – except in this case the mercury hasn’t been introduced into the water directly by humans. “Although this mercury isn’t introduced by humans, the ice sheet is melting much faster as a result of climate change,” says Hawkings. The researchers estimate this source of mercury is exporting significant amounts into downstream fjords – long, narrow bodies of water carved out by moving glaciers. This region in Greenland could be exporting up to 42 tonnes of mercury every year – around 10 per cent of the estimated global export of mercury from rivers into the oceans. The mercury concentrations are among the highest ever recorded in the scientific literature for natural waters not contaminated by human activity. Mercury is one of the core elements of global concern because of its toxicity as it accumulates in food webs. “As you go further up the food chain, mercury becomes more concentrated,” says Hawkings.
5-24-21 Fish 'not as carbon friendly' as previously thought
Eating fish could be worse for the climate than previously thought, according to a recent scientific study. Previous research indicated that seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins, because fishing doesn't require farmland or the care of livestock. But a new study published in Nature and led by Dr Enric Sala, claims that catching fish using heavy nets that drag across the seabed - known as bottom trawling - emits about the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) globally as the aviation industry. Seabed sediments that act as huge carbon sinks are churned up during this kind of trawling - and this results in CO2 being released. "The ocean is full of little creatures that we call the plankton, microscopic algae and microscopic shrimp and so forth," says Dr Sala, explorer-in-residence at National Geographic. Speaking to the BBC World Service's, The Climate Question, he says "most of these creatures, when they die, will sink to the bottom of the ocean. And over thousands and millions of years, those little organisms will accumulate first forming mud". His paper calculates that on average, about 1Gt (gigaton) of carbon dioxide is created because of bottom-trawling activities. "That's about 2% of the global CO2 emissions," he says. By comparison, it is estimated that aviation emits about 1.04Gt or 2.5% of global emissions each year. Bottom trawling is one of the most common methods of fishing in the world and the government says it accounts for half of the UK's annual fish catch. However, The Climate Question spoke to fishing experts who dispute the results of the paper and are concerned that Dr Sala has overestimated the CO2 emissions resulting from bottom trawling. The South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association says that it is not yet known how much carbon in the ocean gets into the atmosphere. Dr Sala believes, however, that this information is not as crucial as it might seem. His argument is that if too much CO2 is absorbed into the water from the seabed, then the oceans will be able to absorb less carbon from the air. "The ocean absorbs a quarter or more a third of our CO2 emissions every year. So if we increase the CO2 in the water, that will diminish the ability of that part of the ocean to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere, " he says.
5-22-21 Hurricane season is early this year. Are authorities prepared?
Emergency management specialists are bracing for an early — and intense — hurricane season. urricane season is right around the corner. It's the second year in a row when tropical storms and a pandemic have created the opportunity for overlapping disasters and "disaster fatigue." Officials worry that may leave residents in vulnerable areas less prepared than usual. The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, but in each of the past six years, named storms — given to storms that exceed 39 miles per hour — have formed before that date. The National Hurricane Center began issuing its routine tropical weather advisories on May 15, for the first time this year. Improvements in satellite technology make it easier to spot these early storms, "but there's also good reasons to suspect that there's something really going on related to climate change," said Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished scholar at the National Center of Atmospheric Research. There is some evidence to suggest that storm season is starting earlier and ending later. "This is consistent with the idea that climate change is occurring," Trenberth said, "and so the oceans are warming and the environment evidently is changing sufficiently to enable these tropical storms to occur." Regional hurricane officials are meeting this spring to discuss moving the official start date for the Atlantic hurricane season in future years to May 15, a move that would bring it in line with the beginning of the Pacific basin season. Another change this season: No more storms named after Greek letters. They were used last year for just the second time ever after the 21-name alphabetical list of storm names was exhausted. After the record-breaking season ended, the World Meteorological Organization committee tasked with naming storms decided that the Greek-letter names used last year — nine in all, including Theta, Eta, and Zeta — were confusing. "Some of the names were similar sounding," said Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. "Some of the names didn't translate well into other languages that are used in the region, Spanish and French, so it was decided by the committee to no longer use that as a supplemental name list." Instead, there's a second alphabetical list of names as a backup. Last season's Atlantic storm season was the most active ever, with 30 named storms, including back-to-back November hurricanes Eta and Iota, estimated to have impacted 7 million people in Guatemala and Honduras. The Caribbean islands were spared the worst of last year's hurricanes. "We really were quite pleased that we did not have any cyclones that would have put persons in emergency shelters because we know that opens up the conduit for the spreading of the COVID-19 virus," said Michelle Forbes, director of the National Emergency Management Organization for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But in a year of overlapping disasters, that changed for St. Vincent in early April, when the La Soufriere volcano erupted. Forbes said nearly 20,000 people were displaced, and emergency shelters are still full. Thick volcanic ash deposits mean even average rains can trigger dangerous landslides and flooding, which the National Emergency Management Organization has been warning against through videos posted on Facebook. "That's a different twist now to the hurricane season," Forbes said. "It's not just the regular flooding. So, these are the things now that we are working on communicating to the public." Forbes called the pandemic, volcano, and the upcoming hurricane season a triple whammy, one that has meant late nights in the office. She said she's slept at home only five nights since April 8, the day before La Soufriere erupted.
5-21-21 Climate change: G7 ministers agree new steps against fossil fuels
The world's major nations have taken further significant steps to help limit climate change. G7 environment ministers have agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C. That's far more ambitious than the previous 2C maximum. Ministers also agreed to stop direct funding of coal-fired power stations in poorer nations by the end of 2021. There's wriggle room in the statement, but the decision will send a clear message to development banks that still fund coal power in poor countries. There's also an important commitment to safeguarding 30% of land for nature by 2030 to boost wildlife and help soak up carbon emissions. Environment ministers from the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Germany took part in the virtual G7 meeting, which is one of a series leading to the leaders' gathering in Cornwall in June. The online meeting was led by the UK, and a government source told BBC News: "We're pretty encouraged by the outcomes." The decisions that have been taken are an important stepping-stone on the road towards the vital global climate summit in Glasgow in November called COP26. The move to keep their policies in line with 1.5C implies much faster action to cut emissions by 2030, rather than by mid-century. Nick Mabey from the climate think tank E3G told BBC News: "This is looking good. "It puts the burden on any fossil fuel development now to prove that it's 1.5C compatible." The ministers are said to have been heavily influenced by a recent report from the rich nations' energy think tank, the IEA. The study said that if the world wanted to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, then there could be no new coal, oil or gas development from now on. The G7 ministers agreed much more cash was needed to help fast-growing economies such as India and Indonesia to get clean technology. This decision will be pushed forward at the G7 Finance ministers' meeting on 4 June. The final touches are being put to the communique, and some key details may change - but the latest draft said: "We will phase out new direct government support for carbon-intensive international fossil fuel energy." This is expected to mean coal and oil.
5-21-21 School Strike 4 Climate: Thousands join Australia protest
Thousands of Australian children are walking out of school to attend protests, calling for action on climate change. Up to 50,000 students are expected at School Strike for Climate rallies across the country. It's the latest grassroots campaign by young people pushing for action on the climate crisis. Australia has long faced criticism for refusing to set more ambitious emissions targets. David Soriano, a 17-year-old attending a Syndey rally told the BBC he was worried about the future and wants the government to see the youth movement "as one to be reckoned with". "We're scared and concerned. We're doubtful that there might not be a future in store for the generations after us, and even our own generation," he said. Mr Soriano said he had experienced increasing heatwaves and low air quality, in Western Sydney where he lives. The protesters are also calling for no new coal, oil and gas projects in Australia, including the controversial Adani mine. India's Adani Enterprises has attracted criticism in parts of Australia for developing a new thermal coal mine. Protesters want 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030 too, along with plans for the transition away from fossil fuel jobs. "I also fear for my extended family in the Philippines who, because of climate change, have been seeing more severe typhoons at an unpredictable rate," Mr Soranio said. "I hope the government will hear our voices," he added. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced sustained criticism over climate policy and international pressure to step up efforts to cut emissions. At a global climate summit last month, Mr Morrison resisted calls to set more ambitious carbon emission targets while other major nations vowed deeper reductions. "Future generations... will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver," Mr Morrison said at the summit.
5-21-21 2021 will be another busy year for the Atlantic hurricane season
The average Atlantic hurricane season is busier than it used to be. The record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is a tough act to follow. But U.S. Atlantic coast residents shouldn’t let their guard down — 2021 will still be an active year for storms, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a May 20 press conference. NOAA’s forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 through November 30, predicts 13 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 of those developing into hurricanes, and three to five into major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. By comparison, 2020 racked up 31 tropical and sub-tropical cyclones (SN: 11/10/20). An average Atlantic hurricane season is also busier than it used to be, NOAA announced in April. The new “normal” is now based on averages from 1991 to 2020 rather than 1981 to 2010. Instead of 12 named storms and six hurricanes, an average season now has 14 named storms and seven hurricanes. Most of the climate conditions that fostered 2020’s busy season continue into 2021: very warm waters in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker trade winds across the Atlantic and a strong West African monsoon. The notable exception is that 2020 was a La Niña year, a phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation weather pattern that can juice up Atlantic hurricane seasons (SN: 8/21/19). There’s no La Niña so far in 2021, although it could return later in the year.
5-20-21 ‘Tree farts’ contribute about a fifth of greenhouse gases from ghost forests
The findings are helping researchers get a detailed accounting of the planet’s carbon budget. If a tree farts in the forest, does it make a sound? No, but it does add a smidge of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. Gases released by dead trees — dubbed “tree farts” — account for roughly one-fifth of the greenhouse gases emitted by skeletal, marshy forests along the coast of North Carolina, researchers report online May 10 in Biogeochemistry. While these emissions pale in comparison with other sources, an accurate accounting is necessary to get a full picture of where climate-warming gases come from. A team of ecologists went sniffing for tree farts in ghost forests, which form when saltwater from rising sea levels poisons a woodland, leaving behind a marsh full of standing dead trees. These phantom ecosystems are expected to expand with climate change, but it’s unclear exactly how they contribute to the world’s carbon budget. “The emergence of ghost forests is one of the biggest changes happening in response to sea level rise,” says Keryn Gedan, a coastal ecologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the work. “As forests convert to wetlands, we expect over long timescales that’s going to represent a substantial carbon sink,” she says, since wetlands store more carbon than forests. But in the short term, dead trees decay and stop taking up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, “so that’s going to be a major greenhouse gas source.” To better understand how ghost forests pass gas into the atmosphere, the researchers measured greenhouse gases wafting off dead trees and soil in five ghost forests on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in North Carolina. “It’s kind of eerie” out there, says Melinda Martinez, a wetland ecologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
5-20-21 ‘Zombie’ forest fires may become more common with climate change
Wildfires that smolder underground in the winter can reemerge after warm summers. Winter usually kills most forest fires. But in the boreal woods that encircle the far North, some fires, like zombies, just don’t die. The first broad scientific look at overwintering “zombie fires” reveals these rare occurrences can flare up the year after warmer-than-normal summers and account for up to 38 percent of the total burn area in some regions, researchers report online May 19 in Nature. As climate change accelerates in boreal forests, the frequency of zombie fires could rise and exacerbate warming by releasing more greenhouse gases from the region’s soils, which may house twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere (SN: 4/11/19). Zombie fires hibernate underground. Blanketed by snow, they smolder through the cold, surviving on the carbon-rich fuel of peat and boreal soil and moving very slowly — just 100 to 500 meters over the winter. Come spring, the fires reemerge near the forest they previously charred, burning fresh fuel well before the traditional fire season starts. Until now, these zombie fires have remained relatively mysterious to science, known mostly from firefighter anecdotes. Strange coincidences on satellite images, however, got the attention of earth systems scientist Rebecca Scholten and her colleagues. “My adviser noticed that some years, new fires were starting very close to the previous year’s fire,” says Scholten, of Vrije University Amsterdam. This is unusual, she says, since boreal fires are usually sparked by random lightning or human activity. Local fire managers confirmed that these were the same fires, prompting the researchers to wonder just how often fires overwinter. To find evidence of underground fires, the researchers combined firefighter reports with satellite images of Alaska and northern Canada captured from 2002 to 2018. They looked for blazes that started close to the scars left the previous year and that began before midsummer, when lightning-sparked fires usually occur.
5-19-21 Indonesia: Climate change destroying world's oldest animal painting
Indonesian rock art is decaying at an alarming rate due to the effects of climate change, researchers said. This includes a picture of a wild pig drawn 45,500 years ago on the island of Sulawesi - said to be the world's oldest animal cave painting. Other cave motifs in the region depicting hunting scenes and supernatural beings have also crumbled faster as temperatures increase. The findings signal that more needs to be done to preserve the priceless art. "[These pieces of art are] disappearing before our eyes," study lead Dr Jillian Huntley, from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, said in a press statement. In a study published in Scientific Reports last week, a team of Australian and Indonesian researchers found that increased temperatures and other extreme weather patterns - such as consecutive dry days and heavy monsoons - have accelerated the build-up of salts within the cave systems housing the rock art. The salts swell and shrink as the environment heats and cools. On hot days, geological salts can grow to more than three times their initial size, the team wrote. These salt crystals, growing on top of and behind the rock art, can then cause parts of the pictures to flake off the cave walls. Dr Huntley added that she believed the "degradation of this incredible rock art is set to worsen the higher global temperatures climb." "I was gobsmacked by how prevalent the destructive salt crystals and their chemistry were on the rock art panels, some of which we know to be more than 40,000 years old," she said. "We urgently need further rock art and conservation research to have the best chance of preserving the Pleistocene cave paintings of Indonesia." The life-sized picture of the Sulawesi warty pig appears to be part of a narrative scene found in the Leang Tedongnge cave in a remote valley on the island of Sulawesi. It provides the earliest evidence of human settlement of the region. The painting is the world's oldest art depicting a figure, but it is not the oldest human-produced art. In South Africa, a hashtag-like doodle created 73,000 years ago is believed to be the oldest known drawing.
5-19-21 ‘Zombie’ fires in Alaska and Canada may be becoming more common
In the northern hemisphere, “zombie” forest fires that burn in the summer then smoulder over winter and reignite in spring may be becoming more common. A model suggests they are associated with warmer summers, which are happening more often as the climate warms. Rebecca Scholten at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and her colleagues created an algorithm based on satellite imagery to track the occurrence and characteristics of the zombie forest fires in Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada between 2002 and 2018. The fires made up about 0.8 per cent of the total burned area over the period, but this varied annually, with a single zombie fire in Alaska responsible for 38 per cent of the burned area in 2008. “It seems to be that they have become quite common now, as in we have one or two every year, with large occurrences happening after large fire years,” says Scholten. “What is interesting about that of course is that we are seeing more large fire years and hotter summers with climate warming.” Overwintering fires have been anecdotally reported for years. “It’s never been very clear whether this was that thing they saw that one time or whether it’s something important that happens often enough that you need to take note of it,” says Steven Cumming at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. “It looks like the answer to that question is, maybe it does. There’s not tonnes of them yet, but there could be a lot more in future.” Overwintering fires are more common in lowland areas with thick organic soils and dense tree cover. The fires burn with high intensity deep into the soil, which could be what enables them to survive winter. Scholten hopes that knowing the features of these events will help us develop better fire management strategies.
5-19-21 Kimberly Nicholas interview: How to be human in a warming world
To have any hope of tackling climate change, we must alter many aspects of society, says sustainability researcher Kimberly Nicholas – but meeting that challenge can give meaning to our lives. “TO 2030. I hope we did right by you”. It is an unusual dedication that appears at the front of Under the Sky We Make: How to be human in a warming world. But then Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at Lund University in Sweden, has written an unusual book: a guide, she says, to living through the “decade that will define the future for both humanity and life on Earth“. It is part clear-headed summary of what we know about climate change, part call to action and part personal reflection on how global warming has challenged her own views and values. Nicholas spoke to New Scientist about climate science, environmental loss, the problem of finding a green date on Tinder and her challenging legacy as a turkey heiress. Richard Webb: What’s the meaning of the title Under the Sky We Make? Kimberly Nicholas: It came to me when I was travelling overland to a science communication conference in Finland several years ago. I was really struck by what a momentous time we live in. We are the stewards of the very last traces of humanity’s carbon budget. We’re making the sky that we live under, and that our descendants will live under for many generations. We have a lot of agency and power and responsibility. I want us to make the changes we need to make a safe and beautiful sky, not the dangerous one we’re making at the moment. You summarise climate change as: “It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. We can fix it.” But you also say that science won’t save us. Why would a scientist say that? I wanted to convey that science has taken us about as far as it can in the time we have. We know what the problems are, and we have most of the solutions. It worries me that sometimes there’s an excessive faith in science and technology – that we can just switch from fossil fuels to clean energy and carry on exactly as before. That’s not going to be enough. We need social and political and cultural changes as well as implementing scientific solutions.
5-19-21 The world has missed its target for protecting oceans to save species
Governments have hit a global target for creating protected areas on land, but failed to meet a similar goal on oceans, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found. World leaders in 2010 agreed to tackle alarming species extinctions and declines in biodiversity by expanding protections such as national parks and marine reserves to 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. UNEP found that while only 16.64 per cent of land had been officially reported as protected by 2020, it is clear from other data that the 17 per cent goal was exceeded. However, just 7.74 per cent of oceans were protected, and even several large pending marine protected areas won’t close the gap. Despite that shortfall, the numbers should be welcomed, says Neville Ash at UNEP. “It’s good news. There has been tremendous progress both on land and at sea in the last decade.” In total, 80 countries increased the total size of protected areas, but more than 100 didn’t. Moves to protect land in Algeria, Canada, the Philippines, South Africa and Guernsey – an island in the English Channel – have alone shifted the total protected terrestrial area by 1 percentage point. Varying progress between countries seems to be more down to population densities rather than income levels, says Ash. The reason ocean protection is lagging appears to be due in part to their sheer size relative to terrestrial areas, and challenges in governments agreeing to designate international waters as protected, says Ash. Only 1 per cent of such “high seas” are protected. Despite the successful creation of new reserves and national parks on land, biodiversity losses have continued at rates unseen for millions of years. “Protected areas are a core part of stopping biodiversity loss, but in themselves are insufficient,” says Ash, who says they need to be accompanied by more fundamental changes, such as redirecting subsidies for fishing, agriculture and fossil fuels to nature.
5-19-21 Climate change: The Antarctic ice shelf in the line of fire
Will it be next, and if so, when? These are questions often asked about Larsen C, a huge ice shelf, twice the size of Wales, attached to the eastern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula. A dozen or so smaller floating ice platforms, mostly to the north, have either disintegrated or substantially retreated in recent decades, as the region's climate has warmed. So it's with interest that we learn from new research that Larsen C may be more resilient than we dared hope. Scientists have been drilling through the ice shelf, and just in front, to get at sediments that record past ice behaviour. And what these investigations tell us is that Larsen C has maintained integrity throughout the last 10,000 years. It's had a couple of phases of retreat in previous warm spells - roughly 9,000 and 4,000 years ago - but it's never collapsed like its northern cousins. "It's clearly a robust ice shelf; it's hung in there for a long time," says study leader Dr James Smith from the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. "So with that resilience we could potentially prevent a collapse if we curb carbon emissions and get a good grip on atmospheric warming. But what I would say is that Larsen C is probably as vulnerable as it's ever been in terms of the last 10,000 years because it's likely at the thinnest it's ever been over that period," he told BBC News. Larsen C is an amalgam of ice from many glaciers that flow off the Peninsula into the Weddell Sea. There's a point - it's called the grounding line - where this protruding mass becomes buoyant and lifts up to form a wide, 300m-thick, floating wedge. Occasionally it will spit out icebergs, some on a gargantuan scale, such as the trillion-tonne A68 block that broke off in 2017 and later grabbed social media attention as it wandered up into the South Atlantic. Larsen C's importance - and it's the same for all ice shelves - is that it buttresses the glaciers behind. Remove the shelf and ice streams to the rear flow faster, putting more mass into the ocean to further raise sea-levels.
5-19-21 World's largest iceberg has just broken off an Antarctic ice shelf
An iceberg bigger than Majorca that calved off an Antarctic ice shelf has been spotted by satellites, and declared the world’s largest iceberg. The finger-shaped iceberg, which is about 4320 square kilometres in size, isn’t thought to have been caused by anthropogenic climate change. Named A-76, the iceberg broke off the Ronne ice shelf into the Weddell Sea in recent days, according to the European Space Agency. The area has been spared an influx of warm ocean water affecting other parts of western Antarctica, which is threatening to release huge glaciers such as one called Thwaites. “It’s not an area that is undergoing any significant change because of global heating. The main message is it’s part of a natural cycle,” says Alex Brisbourne, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey. The tabular-shape of A-76 is typical of icebergs, and the horizontal lines on it are a sign of the stresses that caused it to break from the ice sheet, says Brisbourne. The part of the ice sheet that it calved from was floating, so the iceberg shouldn’t have any impact on sea level rise. While A-76 is the largest iceberg in the world at the moment, it wouldn’t make the pantheon of the 10 biggest icebergs in history. However, it could still have a significant impact depending on where it ends up. Another iceberg last year, A-68a, at one point appeared on a pathway that could harm wildlife on the island of South Georgia but eventually broke up. “It’s big enough to influence the ocean, and the salinity of the ocean. Depending on the trajectory, it could be as significant as A-68a,” says Brisbourne.
5-19-21 Major 2015 wildfires in central Amazon killed a quarter of vegetation
Devastating wildfires that swept the central Amazon in 2015 caused a loss of around 27 per cent of vegetation in the region over the next three years. The fires were caused by severe drought following the 2015 El Niño, a climate pattern that sees the warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean and that causes extreme weather across the world. The El Niño recorded during 2015 and 2016 is the strongest on record. Wildfires during this period burned an estimated 9246 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest in total – even affecting the central region, which is historically very wet and fire-resistant. Aline Pontes-Lopes at the National Institute for Space Research in São Paulo, Brazil, and her colleagues have measured how plants in the central Amazon fared in the three years after the wildfires. The researchers created 18 closed-off study areas, each measuring 250 metres by 10 metres, across the central Amazon in the northern Purus-Madeira of Brazil in December 2015. Then, every subsequent November until 2018, they visited each study area and measured the impact of fire damage on each plant. “We looked at over 2420 [individual] trees, palms and lianas [woody vines],” says Pontes-Lopes. Over the three years after the fire, 27 per cent of the plants died – representing 13 per cent of total biomass. Although this is less than in other parts of the Amazon, the results suggest that the strongest fire events are still felt in the wettest regions of the rainforest. Some areas in the southwestern Amazon reported 50 per cent vegetation loss in the same period. The most affected plants were small to medium trees, those with a trunk diameter of less than 40 centimetres. “The large trees in the central Amazon are more resistant because they have a higher wood density and thicker tree bark,” says Pontes-Lopes.
5-19-21 UK must do better over electric cars - MPs
The government has no plan to meet the "huge challenge" of persuading motorists to switch to electric vehicles, MPs have warned. The Public Accounts Committee said the official target of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 could be missed without urgent action. It also argued that electric vehicles were still too expensive and there were not enough charging points. The government said it was on track to meet its targets. A spokesman said it was investing £2.8bn to help the car industry and drivers make the switch to electric. Sales of electric vehicles are by far the fastest growing segment of the car market, but they still only account for only 11% of new registrations. The committee warned that this would not get to 100% unless prices fell and charging infrastructure was installed quickly. Only 13 electric car models on sale in the UK at the moment cost less than £30,000, its report said. It pointed out that the majority of charging took place at home and claimed the government had not focused enough on helping people who do not have off-street parking. The committee also said the government needed to develop the skilled workforce and electric power infrastructure needed to support the transition. Its chairwoman, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said the UK had "a mountain to climb" to meet its targets. Challenges included making the car industry "environmentally and socially compliant", but getting the government "wean itself off carbon revenues" could be the biggest obstacle, she added. "What we've got is a government throwing up a few signs around base camp, and no let-up in demand for oversized, petrol-guzzling vehicles," Ms Hillier said. But the government said it had a "highly ambitious and world-leading approach to increasing the uptake of zero-emission cars". A spokesperson said the "progress we're making in this area will help us to meet our targets".
5-18-21 A mysterious rise in methane levels is sparking global warming fears
IN A University of Colorado lab, near a furnace running at 1100°C and machines adorned with Star Trek posters, lie rows of metal flasks holding clues to the cause of an alarming rise in a powerful greenhouse gas. They contain samples of air from around the world that Sylvia Michel‘s team of methane detectives analyse to reveal whether the gas came from burning fossil fuels and wood, or from wetlands and cow guts. The work isn’t merely academic. Pinpointing the sources of the methane has become an urgent task: the gas may be shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, but its warming effect is 28 times more potent and atmospheric concentrations of it have resumed climbing inexorably upwards since 2007, after seeming to plateau in the early 2000s. We still aren’t sure why. Worryingly, according to preliminary data released this month, last year, methane levels made their biggest annual jump, by 14.7 parts per billion, since records started in 1983. “2020’s increase was double the 2007 growth. It’s even higher than the early 1980s, when the gas industry was going crazy. It’s really scary,” says Euan Nisbet at Royal Holloway London. It is possible the coronavirus pandemic had a role, but this is still being investigated. Whatever the cause, methane levels have raced ahead of most climate scientists’ scenarios. Even new modelling for a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due out in August, predicts that methane concentrations will start to fall this year, says Martin Manning at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. But that isn’t happening in reality. Since the pre-industrial period, methane has contributed about 16 per cent of global warming. Tackling it matters if we want to avert catastrophic climate change. “In the long-term, we absolutely must reduce CO2 emissions. However, on shorter timescales, of 25 years, methane is a really potent greenhouse. It provides a huge lever for near-term climate [change] and is really one of the best ways of keeping temperature rises below 1.5°C,” says Alex Turner at the University of Washington in Seattle, referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement‘s tougher goal.
5-18-21 Climate change meant Hurricane Sandy caused $8 billion more damage
Without sea level rise caused by human-induced climate change, Hurricane Sandy would have caused $8.1 billion less damage, according to a modelling study. Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, swept over the Caribbean and other islands before striking the east coast of North America in late 2012. It left extensive damage in its wake, affecting US states including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The destruction there – for instance to power grids and transportation networks – required investment of more than $62.5 billion to repair. Rising sea levels, linked to climate change, are known to worsen the effects of coastal storms by intensifying storm surges and increasing floods. Benjamin Strauss at Climate Central in New Jersey and his colleagues have now estimated the economic costs of human-induced sea level rise on Hurricane Sandy. The team focused on the damage in the US, using a flood model that simulated the actual water levels during Hurricane Sandy on the US east coast. The group then compared this with the simulation of how much damage there would have been without human-induced sea level rise – estimated as 10.5 centimetres in total between 1900 and 2012. There was a difference of $8.1 billion in damages between the real costs to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and costs for scenarios without human-induced sea level rise. However, this could have been as high as $14 billion using higher estimates for human-induced sea level rise. “Climate change is already harming us a lot more than we may realise,” says Strauss. “Most, if not all, coastal floods around the world today, and especially for the last half century, have been made worse.” The team’s model also estimates that between 40,000 and 131,000 more people in the US were exposed to flooding than would have been the case in the absence of human-induced sea level rise. This equates to approximately 36,000 housing units.
5-18-21 Just 20 firms behind more than half of single-use plastic waste - study
Just 20 companies are the source of more than half of all the single-use plastic items thrown away globally. That's the conclusion of analysis of the corporate network behind plastic production. The study looked at approximately 1,000 factories that make the raw materials needed for single-use products. Plastic bottles, food packages and bags are among billions of items that are used once and then thrown away, often ending up in the oceans. The research - carried out by a consortium including the London School of Economics - looked at which companies are at the base of the plastic supply chain and make polymers, the building blocks of all plastics. It names 20 petrochemical companies which it says are the source of 55 per cent of the world's single-use plastic waste. The companies include ExxonMobil, Dow and Sinopec. The study also assesses which countries generate most single-use plastic waste, based on per head of population. The UK comes in fourth, with more than 40kg of plastic waste generated per person per year, the authors state, while Australia is top and the United States second. Part of the increase in demand for plastic stems from the need for masks and other protective and medical equipment to deal with the Covid crisis. Previous research has focused on the impact of plastic waste on the natural world, or on the consumer companies making and selling consumer products packaged in plastic. By contrast, this analysis tracks the flow of plastic through the supply chain, starting with the manufacturers of the basic ingredients that go into making single use items. Those ingredients, known as polymers, are mostly produced by processing fossil fuels including oil, gas and coal. The research was led by Australia's Minderoo Foundation and a consortium including LSE, market researchers Wood Mackenzie and the Stockholm Environment Institute. US-based ExxonMobil is the biggest producer of single-use plastic, the report says, followed by: Dow, Sinopec, Indorama Ventures, Saudi Aramco, PetroChina, LyondellBasell, Reliance Industries, Braskem, Alpek SA de CV, Borealis, Lotte Chemical, INEOS, Total, Jiangsu Hailun Petrochemical, Far Eastern New Century, Formosa Plastics Corporation, China Energy Investment Group, PTT and China Resources.
5-18-21 Climate change disinformation is evolving. So are efforts to fight back
Researchers are testing games and other ways to help people recognize climate change denial. Over the last four decades, a highly organized, well-funded campaign powered by the fossil fuel industry has sought to discredit the science that links global climate change to human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These disinformation efforts have sown confusion over data, questioned the integrity of climate scientists and denied the scientific consensus on the role of humans. Such disinformation efforts are outlined in internal documents from fossil fuel giants such as Shell and Exxon. As early as the 1980s, oil companies knew that burning fossil fuels was altering the climate, according to industry documents reviewed at a 2019 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing. Yet these companies, aided by some scientists, set out to mislead the public, deny well-established science and forestall efforts to regulate emissions. But the effects of climate change on extreme events such as wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes have become hard to downplay (SN: 12/19/20 & SN: 1/2/21, p. 37). Not coincidentally, climate disinformation tactics have shifted from outright denial to distraction and delay (SN: 1/16/21, p. 28). As disinformation tactics evolve, researchers continue to test new ways to combat them. Debunking by fact-checking untrue statements is one way to combat climate disinformation. Another way, increasingly adopted by social media platforms, is to add warning labels flagging messages as possible disinformation, such as the labels Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram) began adding in 2020 regarding the U.S. presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, Facebook was sharply criticized for a change to its fact-checking policies that critics say enables the spread of climate disinformation. In 2019, the social media giant decided to exempt posts that it determines to be opinion or satire from fact-checking, creating a potentially large disinformation loophole.
5-18-21 Green light for 'net zero' equivalent for nature
The government is expected to announce a legally-binding target for 2030 to drive action to halt the decline of nature and wildlife. Environment Secretary George Eustice will also outline plans for a taskforce on reintroducing animals such as the wildcat to England, and returning beavers to new areas of the country. And he will confirm intentions to restore more peatlands and woodlands. Nature groups have long pushed for a stronger Environment Bill. In a speech from Delamere Forest, in Cheshire, Mr Eustice is expected to say: "We will be amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally-binding target for species for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature." It's thought the legally-binding target will apply to England only, with devolved administrations able to set their own policy. Mr Eustice will describe the move as "a huge step forward," adding: "We hope that this will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis." Wildlife groups have welcomed the proposals as "an important milestone". Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of 57 nature groups, said: "If the legal detail is right, and the targets are comprehensive and science-based, then this could inspire the investment and action needed to protect and restore wildlife, after a century of decline." Mr Eustice is also expected to confirm proposals for restoring peatlands in England. The measures will include a ban on sales of peat compost to gardeners in England by 2024 and funding to restore 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of degraded peatlands in the next four years, about 1% of the UK's total. Only a fifth of the UK's 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of peat are in good condition. Estimates suggest the habitat - which ranges from upland moors to rich agricultural lowland - could give off as much as 23 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. In contrast, healthy peatlands store carbon - three times as much as forests.
5-18-21 Climate change: Ban all gas boilers from 2025 to reach net-zero
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that no new fossil fuel boilers should be sold from 2025 if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. It's one of 400 steps on the road to net-zero proposed by the agency in a special report. The sale of new petrol and diesel cars around the world would end by 2035. The IEA says that from now, there is no place for new coal, oil or gas exploration or supplies. The report has been welcomed as an important contribution on the road to COP26 in Glasgow, when countries will attempt to agree the measures needed to put the Paris climate agreement into practice. In that context, tackling the issue of how the world produces and consumes energy is the most critical endeavour. The energy sector, according to the IEA, is the source of around 75% of the emissions of greenhouse gases that are driving up global temperatures. Models designed so they could switch to burn hydrogen could be an option - and will probably be around £100 more than the £2,000 standard gas boiler. This will help the climate because hydrogen from renewables burns with no emissions. But climate advisors say it will probably only heat around 11% of homes, because hydrogen supply will be limited. So most are expected to be warmed by heat pumps, which extract warmth from the air or the ground, or from water - a bit like a fridge operating in reverse which sell for between £6,000 and £18,000. They're subsidised, but MPs say the government needs to offer more help to home owners. What's more, heat pumps need high levels of insulation which aren't always possible. There are other technologies being considered. Geothermal heat may warm places such as Cornwall. Nuclear might figure, too. But the great task of shifting heating from gas will be expensive and difficult.
5-17-21 Corals swap in heat-resistant algae to better cope with global warming
Some corals can swap out the algae that live inside their tissues for different strains that are more heat tolerant – and these coral species have a better chance of surviving global climate change in the coming decades. When sea temperatures are too high, corals expel the microscopic algae living in their tissues. This is what occurs during coral bleaching. Losing algae in this way is harmful for the corals because the algae normally provide oxygen for them and remove their waste products. However, marine biologists have previously discovered that when some corals are exposed to warmer temperatures, they can swap the algae inside their tissues for strains that have a higher thermal tolerance. Cheryl Logan at California State University in Monterey Bay and her colleagues have developed a model to simulate how these corals – and other coral species – will respond to global warming and ocean acidification. They applied their model to 1925 coral reefs around the world under four different climate scenarios. These scenarios were taken from the 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Each one models the effects of climate change on the planet until 2100, dependent on different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers found that the coral species that are able to swap their algae for more heat-resistant strains are more likely to survive until 2100 by resisting bleaching. But this was only the case in scenarios in which greenhouse gas emissions are kept low and ocean warming is restricted to below 2°C. “With a low-emissions scenario, which aligns with the targets for the Paris Agreement, we see these types of coral persisting until the end of the century,” says Logan. These corals are better able to withstand temperature increases of up to 1.5°C than the corals without this adaptation.
5-17-21 UK plastic waste being dumped and burned in Turkey, says Greenpeace
UK plastic waste is being exported to Turkey and then illegally dumped and burned, according to a report. Greenpeace said about 40% - or 210,000 tonnes - of the UK's plastic waste exports were sent to Turkey last year. But rather than being recycled, investigators saw some of it dumped by roads, in fields and in waterways. The UK is a "global leader in tackling plastic pollution", the government said - after Greenpeace called for it to "take control" of the problem. Greenpeace's report warned Turkey was becoming Europe's "largest plastic waste dump". The charity said it had investigated 10 sites across southern Turkey and found plastic bags and packaging from UK supermarkets and retailers at all of them. Packaging for a coronavirus antigen test was also found, indicating the waste was less than a year old, the report said. The UK generates more plastic waste per person than any other country apart from the US, the report added. Turkey, Malaysia and Poland received the largest amounts of plastic waste exports from the UK in 2020. Last year, the dumping of plastic waste in Turkey was the subject of a BBC investigation. Correspondent Angus Crawford sorted through piles of plastic bags, bottles and packaging left by the roadside. Turkey received nearly 40% of the UK's plastic waste exports in 2020 - an increase by a factor of 18 since 2016, when 12,000 tonnes were sent. European Union member states also sent 20 times more plastic waste to Turkey last year compared to 2016. Nihan Temiz Atas, biodiversity projects lead from Greenpeace Mediterranean, based in Turkey, said: "Around 241 truckloads of plastic waste come to Turkey every day from across Europe and it overwhelms us. "As far as we can see from the data and the field, we continue to be Europe's largest plastic waste dump."
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.