6-21-21 Mapping quest edges past 20% of global ocean floor
The quest to compile the definitive map of Earth's ocean floor has edged a little nearer to completion. Modern measurements of the depth and shape of the seabed now encompass 20.6% of the total area under water. It's only a small increase from last year (19%); but like everyone else, the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project has had cope with a pandemic. The extra 1.6% is an expanse of ocean bottom that equated to about half the size of the United States. The progress update on Seabed 2030 is released on World Hydrography Day. The achievement to date still leaves, of course, four-fifths of Earth's oceans without a contemporary depth sounding. But the GEBCO initiative is confident the data deficit can be closed this decade with a concerted global effort. "It doesn't matter whether you operate a high-tech fleet of ships or you're just a simple boat-owner - every piece of data matters in this giant jigsaw we're making," said project director, Jamie McMichael-Phillips. "If you're going to sea for whatever reason, switch on your echosounder. Even if you're just a yachtsman, a recreational sailor - then low-tech data-logging equipment is only a few hundred dollars, with the price coming down all the time. Fit it, plug in your GPS, plug in your echosounder and help us get to 100% coverage by 2030," he told BBC News. When Seabed 2030 was launched in 2017, only 6% of the oceans had been mapped to modern standards. So, it is possible to make swift and meaningful gains. For example, a big jump in coverage would be achieved if all governments, companies, and research institutions released their embargoed data. There's no estimate for how much bathymetry (depth data) is hidden away on private web servers, but the volume may be very considerable indeed. Those organisations holding such information are being urged to think of the global good and to hand over, at the very least, de-resolved versions of their proprietary maps. Seabed 2030 is not seeking 5m resolution of the entire floor (close to something we already have of the Moon's surface). One depth sounding in a 100m grid square down to 1,500m will suffice; even less in much deeper waters.
6-21-21 Climate change could turn bumblebees into picky eaters
Temperature and humidity changes that influence the way flowers grow can make bumblebees picky eaters – and climate change could make them even more so. This suggests that rising temperatures could have an impact on pollination rates, which are already in decline. Charlotte Descamps and her colleagues at UCLouvain in Belgium tested how buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) respond to plants grown at different temperatures. They found the bees were four times less likely to visit borage plants grown at 26°C compared with those cultivated at 21°C. Borage is a bee-pollinated plant, with blue flowers evolved for attractiveness to bumblebees and honeybees. The team found that growing the plants at higher temperatures led to fewer open flowers per plant, a smaller overall floral area and lower nectar volume, all of which would make them attractive to pollinators. “If climate change raises the average temperature of the environment during spring or summer, this result demonstrates that the rise could impact on how wild species develop, which in turn could have impacts on what they can provide to pollinators,” says Sean Rands at the University of Bristol, UK. “The experimental bumblebees showed a distinct preference for the plants grown at ‘current’ temperatures, which demonstrates that there may be a link between the physical changes in the plants and the choices made by the bees,” he says. In separate work, Rands and his colleagues have found that bumblebees can detect the humidity levels near flowers, and choose to visit those with higher humidity. The team offered bees the choice of artificial flowers generating higher or lower levels of humidity, while the reward for visiting the flowers (the amount of sugar solution) was the same.
6-20-21 Climate change: How can you make your home eco-friendly?
With new homes being built with eco-friendly design in mind, older properties can prove the worst offenders when it comes to their carbon footprint. But making alterations to your existing home can be costly, running into hundreds or even thousands of pounds. So, how can homeowners make their properties kinder to the environment while keeping costs down? We spoke to the Welsh government and Energy Saving Trust to find out. All homes have the potential to become more energy efficient and reduce carbon emissions. The Energy Saving Trust's head of UK energy Laura McGadie said the first step in cutting carbon emissions - and bills - was to take control of your heating. "Make sure you understand your heating controls and set them to only heat the rooms you need, when you need them, and not above the required temperature," she said. "To do this effectively, you will need a decent set of heating controls which, for most central heating systems, includes a timer or programmer, a room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves. Fitting and using these properly could save you £75 a year on your bills and reduce your carbon emissions by 320kg." For a quick and cost-effective improvement, insulate any exposed hot water pipes, along with your hot water cylinder if you have one. Around a third of heat in an insulated home is lost through the walls, according to the Energy Saving Trust. Most homes in the UK have either solid walls, which can be insulated from the inside or outside, or cavity walls, which have a gap that can be filled with insulation. Installing solid-wall insulation could save a gas-heated, semi-detached home around 930kg of carbon dioxide emissions a year. The Welsh government said changes should be tailored to each home. "The changes are likely to be a mixture of improvements to the building fabric (better insulation), changes to the heating systems (low carbon heat system), together with energy storage and renewable energy generation such as batteries and solar PV," said a spokesperson. "The electricity supplied by the grid is becoming more environment-friendly every day as additional renewable generation increases. This in turn makes homes greener when using that electricity. "Choosing a green energy supply or a flexible low-carbon tariff is a simple step towards greening your home."
6-19-21 A satellite’s view of a deadly 2019 eruption could improve volcano monitoring
The Whakaari, or White Island, volcano released telltale gases before erupting, data show. On December 9, 2019, a cloud of steam and volcanic gases blasted out of New Zealand’s Whakaari, or White Island, volcano. Relative to eruptions at other volcanoes, the explosion was small. But it claimed the lives of 22 people and injured another 25, many of whom suffered severe burns. Now, using high-resolution satellite data and computer algorithms, scientists have revealed how gases released by the volcano subtly changed before, during and after the 2019 eruption. Observing such small changes using satellites could greatly improve volcano monitoring and help spot early warnings of eruptions, the researchers report June 18 in Science Advances. Volcanologists typically use instruments on the ground to help warn of eruptions, monitoring changes in gases, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, that quietly seep from volcanoes between blasts. But only around 50 of the world’s volcanoes are monitored in this way. Satellites have been used to study the plumes of large volcanoes, but the orbiting crafts haven’t been used to detect gases emitted by small eruptions. Compared with large eruptions, like the blast that decapitated Washington’s Mount St. Helens in 1980, small-scale eruptions occur more often. So they pose a greater threat to people, says volcanologist Mike Burton of the University of Manchester in England. By chance, the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite flew over Whakaari about an hour after the 2019 eruption and collected data on light reflected from the volcano’s plume of ejected gases with its Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument, or TROPOMI. “What we realized was that we could use [satellites] to actually look at unprecedentedly small explosions,” Burton says.
6-19-21 Can old traditions and tech help Singapore reach zero waste?
You can hear Madam Ng trundling down the road long before you see her. In the quiet of the early morning, the low rumble of her heavily laden trolley reverberates through the streets of the historic Tiong Bahru area of Singapore. Madam Ng is a karang guni trader, one of the rag and bone collectors who have traditionally picked up the things people throw away. This includes everything from old newspapers, drinks cans, second-hand clothes to unwanted electronic devices. They usually sell them on to other karang guni traders or recycling firms. Karang guni itself comes from the Malay term for the large hessian sacks that they traditionally used to carry their goods. Nowadays, these have been replaced by trolleys like Madam Ng's, often four-wheeled flat-bed carts, or two-wheeled sack trolleys as well as trucks and vans. Madam Ng became a karang guni more than three decades ago, as she wanted to make extra money to help pay for one of her daughters to study abroad. "I was in my 40s and still a nurse. I used to go around collecting newspapers, magazines and books after work - but now I've been doing it daily since I retired," she says as she takes a rare break from her round. Now, aged 78, her daily work routine would be daunting for many half her age. "Every day I wake up at 4am and am out of the house by 4.30am. I push my cart around the neighbourhood, collecting discarded newspapers and cans. I am out for about four to five hours, then I go home and I'm done for the day." While rag and bone collectors may seem like an echo from the past in many countries, they are still part of Singapore's present and most likely its future. Singapore is known as one of the cleanest cities in the world, and its army of collectors are the city-state's original recyclers. Even in this $380bn (£270bn) economy, the government sees them playing a crucial part in its sustainability programme. The Singapore Green Plan 2030 covers a whole range of sustainable goals, including cutting the amount of waste sent to landfill by 30% within the next decade.
6-18-21 California heatwave: State declares state of emergency
California has declared a state of emergency to address power system concerns, as parts of the US south-west reported dangerously high temperatures. An excessive heat warning is in place for much of Arizona and California, and southern areas of Nevada and Utah. People are being told to stay in air-conditioned areas and out of the sun. Californians have also been urged to conserve energy during peak times, as temperatures are expected to remain between 100-110F (37-43C) until Sunday. Governor Gavin Newsom said the state of emergency, which is in effect until 23:59 on Saturday (06:59 GMT on Sunday), was to "reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure and increase energy capacity". The California Independent System Operator, which controls most of the state's power grid, asked people to set thermostats to 78F (25C) or higher, avoid using major appliances and unnecessary lights. In California's Death Valley National Park, typically one of the hottest spots in the world, a thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center marked 130F (54C) on Thursday. Willo Alford, who runs a general store in Death Valley Village and has lived there most of her life, told Reuters news agency: "Up to a certain temperature, it's OK, like maybe 120F (49C), but once it gets above that is when it really gets hard." Higher temperatures were felt in the San Francisco Bay Area, where several cities have set up cooling centres. In Phoenix, Arizona, the temperatures reached 118F (48C) on Thursday, while Las Vegas reported 115F (46C) and Denver reached 100F (38C) for the third day in a row. About 50 million people were under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories across the south-west. A high-pressure system parked on the south-west since Tuesday caused the heatwave, a week before the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. The event is worsening a mega-drought that has dried up rivers and reservoirs. Scientists say states in the US West Coast should expect more of these events. "Heatwaves are getting worse in the West [Coast] because the soil is so dry" from the region's megadrought, Park Williams, a climate and fire scientist at the University of California was quote by the Associated Press as saying. "We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer."
6-18-21 Climate change: UN virtual talks make little progress
Exhausted delegates have concluded three weeks of virtual climate negotiations with little progress on key issues. The UN subsidiary bodies meeting was meant to clear the decks ahead of the major COP26 gathering in Glasgow in November. But technical glitches, and multiple time zones scuppered attempts to find common ground. Ministers from 40 countries will meet in July to push the process forward. Developing nations are also concerned that a lack of vaccines may limit their ability to take part in the Glasgow conference. But the UK says it will ensure all accredited delegates will get their jabs ahead of the summit. Thanks to the pandemic, this virtual gathering was the first significant meeting of UN negotiators since December 2019, when COP25 ended in Madrid. That meeting had failed to find a way forward on a number of important technical questions including the role of carbon markets in curbing climate change. Despite an extended session that ran for three weeks of talks, these important issues have still not been resolved. The challenges of delegates in differing time zones with varying internet connections made these difficult negotiations a real struggle. "I think this was technically challenging for many parties, connectivity problems compounded and complicated the trust deficits that exist," said Quamrul Chowdhury, a climate negotiator from Bangladesh. "Even the low hanging fruits couldn't be harvested," he told BBC News. As well as the technical challenges, there were issues with access for observers with China objecting to their presence at talks on transparency. With little movement from the negotiators, it will require ministerial intervention to push the process forward. "The past three weeks have made one thing very clear - the most dangerous stumbling blocks on the road to COP26 are political, not technical," said Jennifer Tollmann, a senior policy advisor at environmental think-tank E3G. "Parties know each others' positions, it's the will to find compromise options that drive ambition that's frequently missing."
6-18-21 Collapse may not always be inevitable for marine ice cliffs
As a result, glacier retreat may not always be as quick as predicted, simulations suggest. When it comes to global warming and sea level rise, scientists have made some dire predictions. One of the most calamitous involves the widespread collapse of ice cliffs along the edges of Greenland and Antarctica, which could raise sea level as much as 4 meters by 2200 (SN: 2/6/19). Now, new simulations suggest that massive glaciers flowing into the sea may not be as vulnerable to such collapses as once believed. One hypothesis that projected calamitous sea level rise is called the marine ice cliff instability. It suggests that sea-facing bluffs of ice more than 100 meters tall will fail and then slough off to expose fresh ice. Those new cliffs will in turn disintegrate, fall into the sea and float away, setting off a relatively rapid retreat of the glacier that boosts sea level rise. Although discussed for years, the phenomenon hasn’t yet been seen in today’s glaciers, says Jeremy Bassis, a glaciologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But that may not be surprising, due to the relatively short record of observations in the field and by satellites,” he says. Because of the dearth of field data, Bassis and colleagues decided to use computer simulations to explore ice-cliff behavior. Unlike previous models, the researchers’ simulations considered how ice flows under pressure as well as how it fractures when highly stressed. This blended model is “a pioneering composite,” says Nicholas Golledge, a glaciologist at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who wasn’t involved in the study. First, the researchers simulated the collapse of a 135-meter-tall ice cliff on dry land. Over a virtual period of weeks, the face of the cliff shattered and then slumped down to the base, where the icy rubble helped buttress the cliff against further collapse. Researchers have often seen this result in the field, Bassis says.
6-17-21 America's backward climate politics are cooking the country
Ted Cruz is tweeting while Texas fries. The interminable Senate negotiations on infrastructure are grinding on. A bipartisan group of conservatives is reportedly attempting to hammer out some kind of bargain (though the sincerity on the Republican side should be viewed with extreme suspicion), while a growing group of progressive senators and representatives say they will not vote for anything that doesn't have adequate provisions to fight climate change. In response, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, has reportedly said that the focus on climate change risked his support. One couldn't ask for a better argument for the progressive position than what is currently happening across the American west. At time of writing, a region from western Texas to California is in the grips of extreme drought, while Texas is suffering electricity shortages due to unseasonable heat. But this has made no dent in the conservative position. It's a perfect example of how broken the politics of climate change are in this country. A climate science paper from last year found that the last two decades in the Southwest have seen a "megadrought" — the period from 2000 to 2018 was the driest period since the 1500s and the second-driest since 800. Climate change was responsible for nearly half of the reduction in precipitation, pushing "what would have been a moderate drought in southwestern North America into megadrought territory." Since that paper was published, the drought has only gotten worse. As Peter Annin writes at The Washington Post, the megadrought has already forced the imposition of heavy water restrictions in many Southwest states and cities, and even more strict controls will likely be imposed by the end of the year. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, will probably be below the level at which a water shortage must be declared by this August, which will trigger all manner of conservation measures. If levels continue to drop throughout the Colorado River system, the Southwest states will have no choice but to impose yet more strict rationing. Agriculture is still the primary human consumer of water in every state in the Southwest. A lot of that in Arizona and Colorado is uneconomical alfalfa and cotton farms, but California agriculture is tremendously productive — accounting for roughly a third of America's vegetable production and two-thirds of its fruit and nuts. Continued climate change-fueled drought literally threatens our national food supply. Meanwhile in Texas this week, an unseasonable heat wave — more and more common because of climate change — has been driving extremely high demand for electricity, and apparently knocked a number of power plants offline. The Texas grid regulator thus urged Texans to cut their electricity use during the day to avoid causing blackouts. Ironically, the state government just finished a reform package meant to address the previous catastrophic blackout, caused by the February blizzard, that killed perhaps 700 people. Experts canvassed by The Texas Monthly agree that the package would at least help somewhat, but it is plainly evident that it wasn't enough. Conservatives always like to pretend that energy policy is simple and easy: just burn tons of fossil fuels and treat the environment with sneering contempt. In fact, an electric grid is a delicate and extremely complicated piece of machinery, vulnerable to extremes of both heat and cold — a fact that Texas has been beaten over the head with twice in less than four months. The longer Texas and the rest of the U.S. takes to get away from filthy carbon power, the more damage we will cause to our own infrastructure.
6-17-21 UK warned it is unprepared for climate chaos
The UK is woefully unprepared to deal with changes occurring to the climate, government advisers say. A report by the independent Climate Change Committee predicts warming will hit the UK harder than first thought. It warns of more severe heatwaves, especially in big cities, and more intense rainfall, with an increased flood risk across most of the UK. It says homes, infrastructure and services must be made resilient to floods, heat and humid nights. The authors of the report on adaptation, or "climate-proofing", warn that global warming can cause damage running into tens of billions of pounds over short periods - and they say they're frustrated at the lack of government action. The committee, also known as the CCC, says the UK is even worse prepared than it was five years ago, at the time of its last report on the risks of climate change. The CCC is an independent group of experts set up to provide the government with advice on the climate crisis. The chairwoman of the CCC's sub-committee on adaptation, Baroness Brown, said ministers appeared to be deterred from taking action by the upfront costs of protecting infrastructure. This is because the benefits sometimes are not seen for several years. "They think they can put adaptation off until tomorrow," she said. "But now's the time for urgent action." Responding to the report's findings, a government spokesman said many of the issues raised were being addressed in policy. Here's what the CCC says the government must do to better prepare for the impacts of climate change. There's a need to insulate buildings to save emissions, but overheating has emerged as a deadly risk - especially in flats. The government must force landlords to improve cooling by, say, installing sunshades. Ministers must ensure all new homes are built for a hotter climate. The state of UK nature has been declining for some time, with habitat loss one of the factors driving the loss of plant and animal species. Climate change will make the situation worse. Beech trees won't be able to tolerate conditions in southern England by 2050.
6-17-21 Russia's controversial 764-mile-long natural gas pipeline
What the Nord Stream 2 means for Europe — and the world. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will transport natural gas directly from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. It's under scrutiny because a fair amount of Russia-to-Europe gas currently runs through other countries, including Ukraine, which rely heavily on revenue from the transit fees. And while the original Nord Stream pipeline has been in operation since 2011 and follows the same course, the second set will double the amount of gas coming from Russia. Ukraine and other transit countries fear the Kremlin will eventually divert all of its European natural gas supplies to the Nord Stream system and put the land routes out of business. So, while Moscow and Berlin maintain that Nord Stream 2 is purely a business venture, the United States and many European countries believe it's a thinly-veiled Russian geopolitical project aimed at exerting influence over central and Western Europe while weakening its eastern neighbors. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his foreign minister Dymitro Kuleba have argued the pipeline will not only hamper Ukraine's economy — it could cost it $2 billion in annual transit fees — but would also be a security threat since it would take away the geopolitical leverage Kyiv holds due to its middle-man status. The transit revenue also accounts for a good portion of Ukraine's defense spending at a time when the country is still mired in a military conflict with Russia and Russian-back separatists in eastern Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is usually pretty tough on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, but in this case, she's in a bind. German businesses believe abandoning the Nord Stream 2 project would be an expensive legal hassle and hurt Germany's reputation as a "safe investment location." Meanwhile, European gas production is falling, but demand is expected to remain stable over the next two decades. As a result, there's concern about meeting the continent's energy needs, and it doesn't hurt that the Nord Stream supply can be had at a relatively low price. Merkel and other ministers hinted the deal might be in jeopardy after Russian authorities arrested and jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny earlier this year, but that threat fizzled. Merkel is trying to draw some sort of line by demanding that Ukraine remain a transit country even after the pipeline is completed, but it's unclear whether Russia will acquiesce. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have objected to the pipeline, and it's a rare point of bipartisan agreement in the halls of Congress. There do appear to be legitimate concerns about Europe's potential over-dependence on Russian energy and Ukraine's vulnerability, but there are selfish reasons for the opposition, too: The U.S. wants to get more involved in the European gas market as a supplier. President Biden has called the pipeline a "bad deal," and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has emphasized U.S. opposition. Yet the administration waived sanctions on the company overseeing the pipeline's construction, Nord Stream 2 AG — which is owned by Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom — and its CEO Matthias Warnig, a former East German intelligence officer who's been described as a Putin crony.
6-17-21 A new book uses stories from tsunami survivors to decode deadly waves
‘Tsunami’ blends harrowing eyewitness accounts with science. On March 27, 1964, Ted Pederson was helping load oil onto a tanker in Seward, Alaska, when a magnitude 9.2 quake struck. Within seconds, the waterfront began sliding into the bay. As Pederson ran up the dock toward shore, a tsunami lifted the tanker and rafts of debris onto the dock, knocking him unconscious. Pederson survived, but more than 100 others in Alaska did not. His story is just one of more than 400 harrowing eyewitness accounts that bring such disasters to life in Tsunami. Written by geologist James Goff and oceanographer Walter Dudley, the book also weaves in accounts from researchers examining the geologic record to shed light on prehistoric tsunamis. Chapter by chapter, Goff and Dudley offer readers a primer on tsunamis: Most are caused by undersea earthquakes, but some are triggered by landslides, the sudden collapse of volcanic islands or meteorites hitting the ocean (SN: 3/6/04, p. 152). Readers may be surprised to learn that tsunamis need not occur on the coast: Lake Tahoe (SN: 6/10/00, p. 378) and New Zealand’s Lake Tarawera are just two of many inland locales mentioned that have experienced freshwater tsunamis. Copiously illustrated and peppered with maps, the book takes readers on a world-spanning tour of ancient and recent tsunamis, from a deep-ocean impact off the coast of South America about 2.5 million years ago to numerous tsunamis of the 21st century. The authors’ somber treatment of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 stands out (SN: 1/8/05, p. 19). Triggered by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake, the megawave killed more than 130,000 people in Indonesia alone. The authors — Goff is a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and Dudley is a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Hilo — help readers understand tsunamis’ power via descriptions of the damage they’ve wrought. For instance, the account of a huge wave in Alaska that scoured mature trees from steep slopes along fjords up to a height of 524 meters — about 100 meters taller than the Empire State Building — may leave readers stunned. But it’s the heart-thumping stories of survivors who ran to high ground, clambered up tall trees or clung to debris after washing out to sea that linger with the reader. They remind us of the human cost of living on the shore when great waves strike.
6-16-21 NASA: Earth is trapping 'unprecedented' amount of heat, warming 'faster than expected'
Since 2005, the amount of heat trapped by the Earth has roughly doubled, according to a new study by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers. This is contributing to warming oceans, air, and land, the scientists write in the study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented," NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told The Washington Post. "The Earth is warming faster than expected." Using satellite data, the researchers measured the planet's energy imbalance, which is the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun and how much is radiated back into space. If there is a positive imbalance, the Earth is absorbing more heat than it is losing; in 2005, there was a positive imbalance of about half a watt per square meter of energy from the sun, and in 2019, the positive imbalance was one watt per square meter, the Post reports. "It is a massive amount of energy," NOAA oceanographer Gregory Johnson, a co-author of the study, told the Post, adding that this energy increase is equivalent to everyone on Earth using 20 electric tea kettles at the same time. The team needs to conduct more research to determine the factors behind the increase, but there is evidence that a rise in greenhouse gas emissions and decrease in cloud cover and sea ice could be part of it, as well as cyclical variations in the climate. One thing is certain, Johnson said: "We're responsible for some of it."
6-16-21 60 per cent of world’s rivers stop flowing for at least one day a year
More than half the world’s rivers stop flowing for at least one day per year, according to the first detailed global map of river flow. More rivers than that are expected to run dry if climate change and water management issues aren’t addressed. Many rivers and streams have natural disruptions to their flow – for example, Himalayan streams that freeze solid in winter and Saharan rivers that dry up for long stretches between rainy seasons. Others sometimes dry up when too much water is extracted for crop irrigation or other human uses. To find out how many rivers have intermittent flows, Mathis Loïc Messager at McGill University in Canada and his colleagues analysed data from 5600 global river flow measurement stations. Next, they used machine learning to predict the probability of intermittent flows along the rest of the global river network, based on each section’s climate, soil, geology and other environmental factors. From this, they estimated that water ceases to flow for at least one day per year along up to 60 per cent of the world’s 64 million kilometres of mapped rivers and streams. Even more rivers could start to run dry in the future as climate change drives more severe, frequent droughts in some regions, says Ton Snelder at LWP, a water management consulting firm in New Zealand, who co-authored the study. This could be exacerbated by disagreements over how to allocate river water, he says. “There are conflicting values about how to use water resources in pretty much every country in the world,” he says. At the same time, global warming may cause some naturally intermittent rivers to start flowing continuously. For example, rivers in usually cold climates may freeze over less, says Snelder. These changes to river systems could affect biodiversity, he says. “The balance may shift in favour of some species and push others to local extinction.”
6-16-21 Inside the race to rescue clues to Earth’s past from melting glaciers
Glacial ice records all manner of precious information about the planet’s environmental history, but it is melting fast. The Ice Memory project is scrambling to extract samples for posterity before it’s too late. MARGIT SCHWIKOWSKI and her team were attempting to drill into the Corbassiére glacier in the Swiss Alps when the weather started to turn. They were camped among the soaring peaks of the Grand Combin massif. The only way off this vast sheet of ice in a storm is to descend a steep mountain wall or traverse the jagged glacier surface itself, which claims several lives a year. Instead, they retreated by helicopter before it was too late. For Schwikowski, an environmental chemist at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen, Switzerland, the risks of missions like this October 2020 expedition to Corbassiére are worth it. The team she was leading is part of an international enterprise that aims to preserve the “memories” frozen into mountain glaciers across the world, by drilling out long samples all the way from the young surface snow down to the old, compacted ice at the base of a glacier. These ice cores are loaded with information about Earth’s past that could be crucial in our fight against global warming. Locked within them is a picture of how the planet’s climate has changed over time, as well as evidence of human activity as far back as the Romans, clues about the evolution of microorganisms and much more. Now, scientists are racing rising temperatures to rescue ice cores from the world’s glaciers before they melt. Mountain glaciers, also known as alpine glaciers, are slow-flowing rivers of ice. They begin life at high altitudes where the amount of snow settling in winter significantly exceeds the amount that melts in the summer. Over time, the snowpack builds up and the overlying weight causes snowflakes in the deeper layers to gradually transform into blue-tinted glacier ice, which eventually creeps downhill under its own weight.
6-16-21 Campaigners troubled by WHO delay of tougher air pollution guidelines
The World Health Organization (WHO) has postponed the publication of new guidelines on tougher limits for air pollution, New Scientist has learned. The recommendations are expected to be highly influential in how countries around the world act to clean up dirty air, a public health crisis that kills millions of people annually. Campaigners say the delay is troubling and risks pushing back strong action on air pollution. The WHO’s current limits on air quality, first set in 2005, are considered the gold standard internationally. Governments, including the UK’s, have been pressured to adopt them. Recently, experts have been helping the WHO flesh out new, lower limits for pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny particulates known as PM2.5 and PM10, reflecting a wave of research documenting the harm to human health from exposure to even low levels of air pollution. A review of the limits was called for in 2015. In a virtual meeting on 4 May, a WHO official said that a report on the new guidelines, which have been highly anticipated by campaigners, public health officials and local authorities, would be published in June or July. However, a source close to the process has confirmed to New Scientist that the report will now be delayed until September at the earliest. They said that the postponement was due to administrative reasons, rather than disagreements over the precise limits that should be set. “This last-minute delay, if formally confirmed, would be troubling, because the WHO’s new air quality guidelines are expected to be significantly lower and highlight the urgent need to reduce air pollution,” says Simon Birkett at the charity Clean Air London. He adds: “We lose three of the five months left until COP26 [the UN climate summit in November] to get climate negotiators to understand that about 80 per cent of the sources of local air pollution and greenhouse gases are the same.”
6-16-21 UK warned it is unprepared for climate chaos
The UK is woefully unprepared to deal with changes occurring to the climate, government advisers say. A report by the independent Climate Change Committee predicts warming will hit the UK harder than first thought. It warns of more severe heatwaves, especially in big cities, and more intense rainfall, with an increased flood risk across most of the UK. It says homes, infrastructure and services must be made resilient to floods, heat and humid nights. The authors of the report on adaptation, or "climate-proofing", warn that global warming can cause damage running into tens of billions of pounds over short periods - and they say they're frustrated at the lack of government action. The committee, also known as the CCC, says the UK is even worse prepared than it was five years ago, at the time of its last report on the risks of climate change. The CCC is an independent group of experts set up to provide the government with advice on the climate crisis. The chairwoman of the CCC's sub-committee on adaptation, Baroness Brown, said ministers appeared to be deterred from taking action by the upfront costs of protecting infrastructure. This is because the benefits sometimes are not seen for several years. "They think they can put adaptation off until tomorrow," she said. "But now's the time for urgent action." Responding to the report's findings, a government spokesman said many of the issues raised were being addressed in policy. Here's what the CCC says the government must do to better prepare for the impacts of climate change: There's a need to insulate buildings to save emissions, but overheating has emerged as a deadly risk - especially in flats. The government must force landlords to improve cooling by, say, installing sunshades. Ministers must ensure all new homes are built for a hotter climate.
6-16-21 UK warned its failure to adapt to warming threatens net zero target
The UK government has been warned that its failure to adapt to deadly temperatures, extreme flooding and other effects of climate change is endangering the country’s goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. Climate impacts are already testing the UK’s resilience to a warmer world, such as a six-day heatwave last August that was linked to hundreds of deaths. But the UK government’s statutory advisers on climate change say the country’s response has been inadequate and frustrating. “Overall, the level of risk that we are facing from climate change has increased since five years ago,” says Chris Stark at the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent public body that advises the UK government and parliament. “Our preparations are not keeping pace with the risks that we face. That is a very concerning conclusion.” In a report published today as part of the UK’s third climate change risk assessment, the CCC says warmer and wetter winters and hotter and drier summers are already posing a risk to people, nature and the economy after only 1°C of climate change globally. Without further adaptation, heat-related deaths in the UK could more than triple as temperatures rise, from about 2000 a year now to around 7000 by 2050. Other risks facing the UK include an increase in wildfires and landslides. The CCC is damning about the UK government’s failure to act in recent years, citing examples such as the 570,000 homes built in the past five years that aren’t resilient to future heat. “We are frustrated. Some of these issues, like overheating in buildings, we’ve been raising consistently for over a decade,” says Stark. Julia King at the CCC says that after the last climate change risk assessment in 2017, the ensuing adaptation plan from the government was inadequate. “It didn’t address many of the risks highlighted in the risk assessment and it wasn’t action-focused, it was very much process. The time for action was some time ago, but it’s now getting really urgent.”
6-16-21 UK could be left behind in the electric car race, warns report
The UK risks being left in the slow lane when it comes to building electric cars, according to a new report. Influential green group Transport and Environment (T&E) says as recently as 2018, the UK produced roughly half of all electric cars built in Europe. But it claims a lack of investment by UK manufacturers means that by the end of the decade that figure will have fallen to just 4%. This comes at a time when the market is expanding rapidly. As a result, the Brussels-based campaign group says that, despite being one of the first countries to outlaw the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, the UK will be almost wholly reliant on electric vehicles imported from abroad. The market for electric cars remains relatively small, but it is growing rapidly, largely due to increasingly stringent emissions limits. A number of European governments have already set targets for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, in their efforts to meet climate change targets. The UK, which plans to ban the sale of most new cars with internal combustion engines by 2030, is among the most ambitious. But according to the study by T&E, manufacturers based here are among the worst prepared for the change. T&E's report is based on information compiled by industry data specialist IHS Markit, including the carmakers' own market and production forecasts. It concludes that by 2030, battery-powered electric cars will account for 48% of production across the 27 countries of the EU and the UK. Plug-in hybrids will make up 11%. However, it suggests that the difference in the way manufacturers have approached the transition means that the balance of power in the industry is expected to change. Germany is expected to remain the dominant car producer in Europe. By 2030, its output is expected to increase from 4.5 million cars a year to 5.1 million - with half of them being electric. But the UK, it says, will see output fall from its pre-Covid level of 1.3 million cars a year to just 1 million - and only 24% are expected to be battery-powered electric vehicles.
6-15-21 50 million Americans under excessive heat warnings
A heat wave is hitting the western United States, bringing scorching temperatures to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado over the next several days. The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for multiple states, affecting 50 million people and regions already experiencing droughts. For the first time ever, the National Weather Service put out an excessive heat warning for Grand Junction, Colorado, where it is expected to reach 110 degrees this week, breaking the 2005 record of 106 degrees. Las Vegas' hottest recorded temperature was 117 degrees on June 20, 2017, and that could potentially be shattered this week. It is rare for it to be this hot in Las Vegas so early in June, and the heat wave is also lasting longer than normal — typically they only go on for about two days, but this heat wave will likely last for at least four days. The highest temperature ever recorded in Nevada was 125 degrees in Laughlin, and experts say this could be tied or broken. In many parts of Southern California, over the next few days it will be 10 to 20 degrees hotter than normal for this time of year, which is "unusual and much above average," meteorologist Alex Tardy said. To stay as cool as possible, people should remain in air-conditioned rooms, and if they have to be outside, need to stick to the shade. Children and pets must not be left in cars, where temperatures can rise quickly, leading to death in just minutes. It's also important to drink lots of fluids and wear light and loose-fitting clothing.
6-15-21 Ghana fights deforestation by planting 5 million trees in 1 day
Students, community leaders, celebrities, and politicians in Ghana all came together to revitalize the country's forests. As part of the Green Ghana program, 5 million trees were planted on Friday, with the government giving free seedlings to individuals, schools, and organizations. Government statistics show that in 1900, Ghana had 20 million acres of forest cover, and today, that has dropped to about 4 million acres. The forests are being ravaged due to small-scale mining and rampant illegal logging, and now is the "time for action," Ghana's Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Samuel Abu Jinapor told Agence France-Presse. "The aim of Green Ghana is to save us now and our future generations. We can't fail our future leaders."The government, which will sustain this program for the next five years, gave extra seedlings out to students like Rosemond Asante, 12, so they could also plant with their parents at home. Asante told Al Jazeera they were "happy to be part of this beautiful event," adding, "I love trees."
6-15-21 UK government pledges a 'nature-positive future'
The government is to table an amendment to the Environment Bill that will require major national infrastructure projects to provide a net gain for nature. And it says it will aim to implement the second leg of high-speed railway, HS2, in a "nature-positive" way. Ministers were responding to a landmark independent review calling for nature to be at the heart of economic policy. The report said prosperity had come "at a devastating cost to nature". The eponymous review by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge was commissioned by the Treasury in 2019 and published in February this year. The message was stark: the world needs to fundamentally overhaul how it measures economic success to stem the decline in nature that threatens lives and livelihoods. The 600-page report said prosperity had come at a "devastating" cost to the natural world and proposed recognising nature as an asset and reconsidering our measures of economic prosperity. In its response to the review, the government said it was committed to delivering a "nature-positive future". It proposes amending the Environment Bill, a key piece of legislation that is currently passing through Parliament, to ensure new nationally significant infrastructure projects in England, such as future transport and energy projects, will provide net gains for nature. In addition, HS2, which has caused controversy over the destruction of ancient woodland in its path, will aim to deliver a net gain in biodiversity on the Crewe-Manchester leg. And the government said it was committed to ensuring all new UK bilateral aid spending does no harm to nature. Kemi Badenoch, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said the response to the review "sets out the ways in which the Government will go further to ensure our economy supports nature and wildlife - from infrastructure at home to bilateral aid spending overseas".
6-15-21 Nato and climate change: How big is the problem?
The world's most powerful defence alliance agreed on Monday to step up efforts to tackle climate change for the first time. Nato - the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - said its members have pledged to "significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from military activities" in a way that does not impact personnel safety or the effectiveness of their operations. In a statement released after a summit in Brussels, the group also asked the organisation's leader to develop a realistic, ambitious and concrete target for reducing Nato emissions and to assess the feasibility of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The statement described climate change as "one of the defining challenges of our times". It said Nato wanted to be a leading international force in understanding and adapting to the ways climate change will impact world security. Nato is a powerful political and military alliance between 30 European and North American countries. It is no secret that militaries use arsenals of gas-guzzling equipment - like armoured vehicles and aircraft - which are sometimes hauled along with troops around the world. But getting accurate data on their environmental impact is notoriously difficult. A report commissioned by some members of the European Parliament earlier this year said that because militaries are often exempt from publicly reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, it can be difficult to accurately measure how big their environmental impact is. One study published in 2019 suggested that if the US military were a country, it would rank as the 47th largest emitter in the world on fuel usage alone. But this is not a uniquely US issue. The International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) says in its latest annual report that defence remains the single largest consumer of hydrocarbons - like fuel and gas - in the world. In Monday's statement Nato said it would develop a "mapping methodology to help Allies measure greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations", which could help set "voluntary goals" to try and reduce these emissions.
6-15-21 Gigafactories: Europe tools up against US and Asia as a car battery force
Surrounded by a forest of tall green pine trees, 125 miles south of the Arctic circle, a giant electric battery factory is rapidly taking shape on a site as big as 71 football pitches. The project will be a gigafactory, a term coined by Tesla founder Elon Musk to describe his first high-volume plant for producing lithium-ion electric battery cells, deep in the Nevada desert. Startup Northvolt, co-founded by two former Tesla executives, is in Skellefteå, a much chillier location, in northern Sweden. But from here, as well as a base in Västerås just outside Stockholm, it is hoping to provide a quarter of Europe's electric batteries, as demand for electric vehicles surges amidst the global race to cut carbon emissions. By 2030, 40% of all new cars sold will be electric according to the latest forecast by the investment bank UBS, rising to almost 100% of the new car market by 2040. "If you look at the agenda for all the automotive manufacturers to actually make those electric cars, the amount of cells that you'll need to access, is going to be humongous," says the plant's manager Fredrik Hedlund. Although many of the imposing grey buildings are yet to have much equipment installed, Mr Hedlund is confident everything will be in place in time for production to start by the end of 2021. Northvolt aims to make enough batteries to power almost 300,000 electric vehicles a year. It's already received a $14bn order from Volkswagen to produce its batteries for the next decade, and has plans for a long-term partnership with Swedish truck and bus maker Scania. It recently announced that it had raised another $2.75bn (£1.94bn; €2.26bn) to fund its expansion. "We are building a totally new industry that hasn't really existed, especially in Europe, at this scale," says Mr Hedlund, striding across the high-security site in a neon yellow jacket. "I think, not only myself but a lot of people, think that this is the coolest project in Europe right now."
6-14-21 Swiss voters reject key climate change measures
Switzerland's policy on fighting climate change has been thrown into doubt after voters rejected key measures in a popular vote.A referendum saw voters narrowly reject the government's plans for a car fuel levy and a tax on air tickets. The measures were designed to help Switzerland meet targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Many voters appear to have worried about the impact on the economy as the country tries to recover from Covid-19. Opponents also pointed out that Switzerland is responsible for only 0.1% of global emissions, and expressed doubts that such policies would help the environment. The vote, under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, went 51% against, 49% in favour. The Swiss government wants to bring emissions down to half of 1990 levels by 2030. Two more national votes on environmental issues were also defeated, though the results were expected. The no-vote to limiting emissions is a huge shock. The Swiss government drafted this law carefully. The plan: to cut greenhouse gases to half their 1990 levels by 2030, using a combination of more renewables and taxes on fossil fuels. Voter rejection undermines Switzerland's entire strategy to comply with the Paris Agreement. Today's results are a devastating blow for environmentalists. Some analysts suggest the Swiss - who traditionally pride themselves on their green policies - are nervous about taking any economic risks while the country recovers from the pandemic. Now the government must go back to the drawing board, as Switzerland falls behind its European neighbours in efforts to tackle climate change. A proposal to outlaw artificial pesticides, and another to improve drinking water by giving subsidies only to farmers who eschew chemicals were both voted down by 61%. Supporters had pointed to worrying levels of pesticides in water, and damage to plants, animals and insects.
6-13-21 G7 to agree tough measures on burning coal to tackle climate change
World leaders meeting in Cornwall are to adopt strict measures on coal-fired power stations as part of the battle against climate change. The G7 group will promise to move away from coal plants, unless they have technology to capture carbon emissions. It comes as Sir David Attenborough warned that humans could be "on the verge of destabilising the entire planet". He said G7 leaders faced the most important decisions in human history. The coal announcement came from the White House, which said it was the first time the leaders of wealthy nations had committed to keeping the projected global temperature rise to 1.5C. That requires a range of urgent policies, chief among them being phasing out coal burning unless it includes carbon capture technology. Coal is the world's dirtiest major fuel and ending its use is seen as a major step by environmentalists, but they also want guarantees rich countries will deliver on previous promises to help poorer nations cope with climate change. The G7 will end the funding of new coal generation in developing countries and offer up to £2bn ($2.8bn)to stop using the fuel. Climate change has been one of the key themes at the three-day summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. Leaders of the seven major industrialised nations - the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy - are expected to set out plans to reduce emissions from farming, transport, and the making of steel and cement. They will commit to protecting 30% of global land and marine areas for nature by 2030. They are also expected to pledge to almost halve their emissions by 2030, relative to 2010 levels. The UK has already surpassed that commitment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a news conference on Sunday afternoon, the final day of a summit where he has clashed with EU leaders over the Brexit deal's requirements for checks on goods from Britain to Northern Ireland.
6-13-21 G7 summit: How significant are group's climate pledges?
The world's rich nations which caused the climate crisis know what's expected of them - but they consistently fail to deliver in full. This summit made some progress, especially on heralding the demise of coal - the fuel that drove the industrial revolution and sent emissions soaring. But for the umpteenth time the rich club has failed to deliver on its promise to channel $100bn a year to poor nations coping with a heating climate. Yes, bilateral deals have offered top-up funding to developing nations - but although we haven't seen the details yet, it's clear that they won't tot up to the magic 100 mark. And campaigners are warning there will be no over-arching deal to protect the climate unless that sum is reached and guaranteed at the vital COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in December. Teresa Anderson, from Action Aid said: "The G7's reaffirmation of the previous $100 billion a year target doesn't come close to addressing the urgency and scale of the crisis. "Rich countries have so far failed to deliver on climate finance pledges. The majority of what has been provided so far has been in the form of loans, which are pushing vulnerable countries further into debt and poverty. "The G7 must announce real finance through grants and stop turning a blind eye while the world's poorest and most marginalised are hit hardest." The finance issue - a running sore in climate negotiations - has been compounded by demands from poor nations for more Covid help. This row overshadowed some more promising moves from G7. President Biden talked up the end of coal for power generation in America (with no details of a date, or of how he would get legislation through Congress). Germany and Japan will face difficulty on this issue, too. The president also trumpeted the end of coal finance for poor nations. This will heap pressure on China to follow suit. The initiative to specifically target coal was led originally by the UK, which deserves credit for spotting a deliverable policy in the morass of vague talk about climate action. There's another detail on coal, too: a handful of rich nations will offer up to $2bn a year to help emerging economies turn away from coal. It's another sign that the world is in this climate fight together, although the sum is small.
6-11-21 'Quick fixes' to the climate crisis risk harming nature
Climate change and nature loss are interlinked and must be tackled together. That's the finding of a key report by 50 leading scientists searching for combined solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. "Quick fixes" for climate change risk harming nature, say the experts. Potential "climate and biodiversity fails" include misguided tree planting and large-scale bioenergy crops. The report is the first collaboration between two groups of influential scientists advising international governments on tackling climate change and extinction. Prof Camille Parmesan of Plymouth University, a co-author of the report, said smarter tree planting strategies are needed. For example, plantations of a single species of non-native tree "are a disaster", she said, as these forests will be vulnerable to extreme weather or outbreaks of plant pests. "Every tree is the same species," she said. "That fungus or that moth or that beetle just goes boom, boom, boom from one tree to another and you lose the whole forest within one season, one drought, one heatwave." While some timber plantations are needed to supply wood for building we must include native trees in the landscape, said Prof Pete Smith of the University of Aberdeen, who also contributed to the report. He warned of the dangers of "an epic fail for the climate and for biodiversity" such as planting trees for forestry on peatlands, which happened in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK. Peatlands suck carbon dioxide out of the air when in a healthy condition, but 80% of the UK's peatlands are still in a damaged state, meaning they contribute to carbon emissions. The report was compiled by scientists from the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes).
6-11-21 Poorer nations 'more focused on sustainability'
Developing nations put proportionately more of their research effort into sustainability than richer countries, a Unesco study has revealed. The report, published every five years, tracks scientific research output. "We want to know what development path countries are following and the challenges they face," explained Unesco's Dr Susan Schneegans. The report also tracks progress towards meeting the United Nations' (UN) sustainable development goals. By analysing the research coming out of each country, it assesses how much progress is being made towards those targets. They were set by the UN in 2015 to ensure all countries work together to protect people's health, tackle poverty and to protect the planet. In a wide-ranging and global study, the authors looked at 56 topics that they categorised as "sustainability research". These included investigations into ecological alternatives to plastic, developing crops to withstand our changing climate, clean water and renewable energy technologies. Proportionately, developing countries were found to be publishing the most on those topics. Poorer, developing economies tend to be most reliant on natural resources and are bearing much of the brunt of climate change, so, as Dr Schneegans explained, "it's more of a question of survival for them". Unesco's Dr Tiffany Straza added: "Under the present reality of climate change, ecological degradation and socio-ecological injustice, many countries do not have time to wait before understanding and acting towards their sustainable development," she told BBC News. Floating plastic debris in the ocean was the "sustainability topic" that showed the fastest growth in research output - increasing from 46 scientific publications in 2011 to 853 in 2019. But Dr Straza said it was a concern that there had not been a "boost in scientific output" in some research areas that would enable richer nations to help meet the sustainable development goals and to fight climate change. For carbon capture and storage research, she said, "output even declined among high-income economies".
6-11-21 Plastic from take-out food is polluting the oceans - study
Plastic from take-out and convenience food is littering rivers and oceans - but straws are not the worst offenders, according to a new study. Scientists analysed global inventories cataloguing more than 12 million pieces of litter found in and around rivers, oceans, shorelines and the seafloor. They found eight out of 10 items listed were made of plastic. And 44% of this plastic litter related to take-out food and drinks. Single-use bottles, food containers and wrappers, and plastic bags made up the biggest share. "It was shocking to find out that bags, bottles, food containers and cutlery together with wrappers account for almost half of the human-made objects on a global scale," said study leader Dr Carmen Morales of the University of Cadiz, Spain. "We found them in rivers, on the deep seabed, on shorelines and floating off our coasts." Measures to cut plastic pollution have focused on the likes of straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers, which are relatively easy to replace. The researchers say these actions are welcome, but they recommend also tackling plastic from take-out food and drink. They say this type of plastic is often discarded outdoors after being used for only a very short time and should be prioritised. Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, they suggest three possible strategies for tackling the problem: Replace plastic in take-out food and drink with more-easily degradable materials, Bring in regulatory bans on plastic that can be avoided, such as bags, Consider deposit-refund schemes to encourage shoppers to return take-out products.The study also highlighted the problem of litter from fishing gear, such as plastic nets and ropes, which was the biggest problem in the open ocean. Dumped and discarded nets and lines can be deadly for marine wildlife.
6-11-21 Lake Mead: Largest US reservoir dips to record low
The largest reservoir in the US has dipped to its lowest ever level, officials say, as an extreme drought continues in the region. The surface elevation of Lake Mead along the Arizona-Nevada border fell to 1,071.56ft (326.6 metres) above sea level at 06:00 GMT Thursday. It has sunk about 140ft since 2000 - which is almost the height of New York City's Statue of Liberty. The reservoir is a major water supply source for more than 20 million people. Among them are residents of such big cities as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. "People are certainly concerned," Patti Aaron, a spokeswoman for the US Bureau of Reclamation, told the Associated Press. "We're expecting the reservoir to keep declining until November, then it should start to rebound," she said. Lake Mead was created by the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Thousands of people were involved in the massive engineering project during the Great Depression, with more than 100 of them losing their lives. Levels have been declining since 2000. Droughts have been getting worse in recent years, with scientists saying climate change is exacerbating the situation. The drought has for weeks been gripping several states in America's south-west, devastating farming in the region. Amid the drought, Las Vegas is banning "non-functional turf" from the city - grass, for example, found outside businesses or between stretches of road. The governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, has urged everyone in the state to pray for rain.
6-11-21 Uttarakhand flood was caused by rare rock and glacier avalanche
The 2021 flood in Uttarakhand, India, that resulted in over 200 dead and missing was the result of an avalanche that dropped about 27 million square metres of rock and glacier ice from the nearby Ronti mountain. On 7 February 2021, residents of the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand saw a plume of dust coming down through the valley followed swiftly by a massive amount of water that damaged two hydropower projects. They extensively filmed the events of that day, broadcasting it in real time. “It’s not that this is the first time that a flood happened, but it is the first time that a flood happened in February. It snows in the region in winter and floods generally happen in the monsoon season which is between June and August,” says Kavita Upadhyay, an independent journalist and water policy expert in India. Dan Shugar at the University of Calgary in Canada and his colleagues used satellite images and sensor data to trace the source of the flood and found that it was triggered by an avalanche consisting of about 80 per cent bedrock and 20 per cent glacier ice that dropped almost 2 kilometres to the valley below, then continued travelling down, picking up trees and other debris along the way. “During that descent of something like 3400 metres, the frictional energy that was released in the form of heat was able to melt almost all of the glacier ice and that was what produced all the water that we see in those videos,” says Shugar. It is unclear if climate change played a role in the disaster, says Marta Chiarle at the Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection (IRPI) in Torino, Italy. “There is still an ongoing debate about how much climate change can really be considered responsible for these events and whether we can expect more of them or not,” she says.
6-11-21 Scientists have found the origins of a mysterious, deadly flood in India
A massive landslide of rock and ice caused the February flood that left over 200 people dead or missing. On February 7, a massive flood rushed through a valley in India’s Himalayan Uttarakhand state, washing out two hydroelectric power plants and leaving at least 200 people dead or missing. What triggered the deadly flood has been a mystery — but after amassing evidence from satellite images, seismic records and eyewitness accounts, a team of over 50 scientists now say they have solved the case. The ultimate culprit was a massive avalanche of rock and glacier ice that tumbled 1,800 meters down a steep slope of Ronti Peak, setting off a cascade of events that led to the disaster, the researchers report online June 10 in Science. This was no ordinary landslide, says Daniel Shugar, a geomorphologist at the University of Calgary in Canada. “This was a multi-hazard scenario where it was much more fluid and mobile than a landslide would be expected to be. It was a worst-case scenario of rock and ice and [the] height of the fall.” Initially, the culprit was suspected to be a well-known high mountain hazard called a glacial lake outburst flood, in which dammed-up water suddenly spills over its bounds and rushes down the mountainside (SN: 2/9/21). But what little data were available in the immediate aftermath pointed to a possible landslide instead, Shugar says. In the months that followed, he and his colleagues used numerous sources of data as well as computer simulations to painstakingly reconstruct what happened that day. Here’s what the data show: Starting around 10:21 a.m. local time on February 7, about 27 million cubic meters of rock and ice fell from the steep north face of Ronti Peak, which stands 6,063 meters above sea level. The landslide, consisting of about 80 percent rock and 20 percent ice, originated at a height of about 5,500 meters and tumbled downslope about 1,800 meters, traveling at a speed of up to 60 meters per second.
6-10-21 Coral reefs may start dissolving faster than they can grow by 2054
The world’s coral reefs could start to disappear by the middle of the century as stress induced by climate change erodes their skeletons faster than they can regenerate. Corals build their skeletons using calcium and carbonate ions in seawater, a process known as calcification. Climate change is making calcification harder by driving ocean acidification, which reduces the concentration of carbonate ions in the water. It is also causing more severe weather events like heatwaves and cyclones, which stress corals and deplete their energy for growth. To see how this is affecting global reef health, Kay Davis at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, and her colleagues analysed data from 36 coral reef sites in 11 countries, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Shiraho Reef in Japan. They found that the rate at which coral reefs are depositing new calcium carbonate has been dropping by around 4 per cent per year since 1970. If this trend continues, a tipping point will be reached in the year 2054 whereby corals stop growing altogether and their calcium carbonate structures start to dissolve away into the ocean. “It’s not going to be every single reef at exactly 2054, but our analysis indicates that will be the average,” says Davis. The trend has already begun – some corals in the northern part of the Florida Reef Tract have hit this tipping point. As coral reefs struggle to rebuild, they are at risk of being taken over by algae, says Davis. “As stress events impact corals, it gives marine algae a chance to establish themselves and start growing,” she says. “We found that marine algae are increasing concurrently with declining calcification, which indicates a shift in ecosystem functionality towards algal domination.”
6-10-21 Climate change and nature loss must be tackled together, says report
The two planetary crises of climate change and nature loss must be tackled together or neither will be successfully solved, a major report has warned. Action to help natural habitats, such as restoring native woodlands or peatlands, can deliver win-wins for wildlife, storing carbon and protecting against climate impacts, according to two international bodies. The report was produced by a workshop of 50 biodiversity and climate experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in the first collaboration of its kind. The peer-reviewed report warns that climate change and biodiversity loss have largely been tackled separately, even though both are driven by human activities and both have impacts on each other. Climate change is threatening wildlife by affecting habitats, and the warmer the world becomes, the less natural systems can provide for humans. At the same time, destroying nature and habitats – from salt marshes along the coasts to wildlife in the oceans and forests on land – reduces the natural world’s ability to capture human-driven carbon emissions and protect against climate impacts such as sea level rises, storms and droughts. There are solutions that can help deliver benefits for the climate and nature, including stopping the destruction of wildlife-rich habitats such as forests, wetlands, mangroves, kelp forests and seagrass meadows. Restoring these kind of areas is among the cheapest and quickest nature-based measures to cut emissions, as well as providing habitat and delivering benefits including protecting coasts, cutting soil erosion and curbing floods. Managing crop and grazing land better, with measures such as conserving soils and reducing pesticides, can save 3 to 6 billion tonnes of emissions a year, the report says.
6-10-21 Keystone XL pipeline halted after Biden blocks permit
The Keystone XL pipeline's developer has halted all construction on the project months after its permit was revoked by the Biden administration. The pipeline was set to carry oil 1,200 miles (1,900km) from the Canadian province of Alberta down to Nebraska. Environmentalists and Native American groups had fought against the project for more than a decade. President Donald Trump revived the pipeline in 2017, two years after it was rejected by President Barack Obama. In a statement on Wednesday, Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with regional regulators to dismantle their equipment and "ensure a safe termination of and exit from" areas where construction had been planned. On his first day in office President Joe Biden cancelled a permit to allow the project to cross into the US amid concerns that it would worsen climate change. Mr Biden's decision came over the objections of US lawmakers, including members of his own party, who said the project would have created energy sector and construction jobs for American workers. On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators introduced legislation that would force the Biden administration to account for the number of jobs lost due to the project's cancellation. "The Keystone XL pipeline would have strengthened US energy independence while supporting thousands of high-paying jobs in the US and Canada," Idaho Senator and bill sponsor Jim Risch said in a statement. The group also condemned the Biden administration for waiving sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 project - a Russian pipeline intended to deliver gas to Germany. The bill, which is not expected to become law, would require the Secretary of Labor to report to Congress the number of jobs estimated to have been lost due to the project's cancellation. While visiting US troops stationed in the UK during a trip to the G7 conference on Wednesday, Mr Biden said that climate change represents the "greatest threat" to US national security.
6-9-21 European airlines have been lobbying against EU climate plans
Several European airlines have been engaged in wide-ranging lobbying to challenge European Union climate policies, including imminent plans to force them to use more green biofuels, a UK-based think tank has found. InfluenceMap, a think tank that monitors corporate lobbying around climate change, used freedom of information requests and research to draw up its new report. It reveals that while the 10 European airlines looked at for this report have received around €30 billion in government bailouts during the pandemic – some of which came with conditions attached to encourage climate-friendly actions – most have simultaneously lobbied to delay new proposals to cut aviation emissions. Air France-KLM, IAG (the parent company of British Airways), Lufthansa and Ryanair – Europe’s four biggest airlines by carbon dioxide emissions – were found in the report to be the most regressive with their stance towards climate policies. InfluenceMap rated their position roughly on a par with the airline trade bodies IATA and Airlines for Europe (A4E). The airline Easyjet was seen as taking a slightly more progressive stance. Ben Youriev, the report’s author, says the unity of opposition across the sector is “startling” compared to most other sectors, such as energy, where there is usually a more mixed picture. IATA has labelled the report “a gross distortion of the aviation industry’s genuine and long-standing sustainability efforts”. According to the report, one of the most significant lobbying targets was repeated attempts by IATA and A4E to persuade the European Commission (EC) to address emissions from international aviation from the mid-2020s through a global carbon offsetting scheme, CORSIA, rather than the EU’s own carbon market, the ETS. The EC has previously concluded that in several respects CORSIA was “less ambitious than the regulation of aviation within the EU ETS”.
6-9-21 Slump in electronics sales due to pandemic could help tackle e-waste
The covid-19 pandemic has caused a slump in the sale of electronic devices and a resulting fall in electronic waste, UN researchers have found. This may offer governments an opportunity to improve e-waste recycling, but the decline in sales has mostly affected poorer countries, which could widen the digital divide. In 2019, the global population created 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste – discarded electronics that contain toxic substances such as brominated flame retardants, lead and mercury. East and South-East Asia accounted for over 22 million tonnes of this waste, while Europe and North America generated slightly less than 20 million tonnes. Despite an increase in sales of devices like laptops and games consoles driven by home working and demand for entertainment during isolation and quarantine, the sale of electronic equipment worldwide decreased by 6.4 per cent in the first nine months of 2020 compared with sales estimates based on previous years. But there was a 30 per cent fall in sales in low and middle-income countries and only a 5 per cent decline in high-income nations, showing that the impact on quality of life was largely confined to poorer countries. This overall drop translates to 4.9 million tonnes less electronic waste being produced in the first nine months of 2020, says a report from the UN, which suggests that nations use this as an opportunity to improve e-waste management. Report co-author Kees Baldé at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan, says: “This allows a little bit of breathing space, but not sufficient to solve the problem. We’re recycling 17 per cent of our [e-waste] refuse, so we must increase more than fivefold in order to solve the problem.” Baldé says the issue could return as an even larger problem as lockdowns lift if there is a rebound in sales caused by pent-up demand and high levels of saved cash, but that it is hard to estimate the scale of such an effect.
6-9-21 The federal marijuana ban is contributing to climate change
Marijuana isn't actually very green, it turns out. Cannabis is the most energy-intensive crop in the U.S., Politico reports — though it needn't be. Grown in warehouses, marijuana production can require 2,000 watts of electricity per square meter, versus about 50 watts for lettuce, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found. But marijuana grows great outdoors — it is called "weed" for a reason — in some areas of the country, especially Northern California and Southern Oregon. "Because cannabis remains federally illegal, and the federal government regulates interstate commerce, none of the legal cannabis grown in Oregon or California can cross state lines," Politico's Natalie Fertig and Gavin Bade write. "Instead, each new state that legalizes recreational marijuana must also grow enough to meet consumer demand in that state. This would be like every state in America being required to grow all of the oranges consumed each year by its residents, rather than simply buying them from Florida." Some states and cities require indoor cannabis operations to use energy-efficient LED grow lights or take other steps to mitigate carbon emissions, but "reducing the environmental impact of cannabis in state-siloed markets is not simple — or cheap," Politico says. Allowing the country to buy marijuana grown outdoors on the West Coast may not be a perfect solution either, though, since cannabis also takes water to grow, and water is a critically scarce commodity in Northern California and Southern Oregon.
6-9-21 Halogen lightbulb sales to be banned in UK under climate change plans
Sales of halogen lightbulbs are to be banned in the UK from September, with fluorescent lights to follow, under government climate change plans. The move will cut 1.26 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year and deliver consumers savings, officials say. The UK began phasing out the sale of higher-energy halogen lightbulbs in 2018 under EU-wide rules. Now retailers will no longer be able to sell most remaining halogen bulbs, such as kitchen spotlights. Legislation for the plans is being brought forward this month by the government. The plan will help continue the shift to low-energy LED lightbulbs, which account for about two-thirds of lights now sold in Britain. It is expected to mean LEDs will account for 85% of all bulbs sold by 2030, officials said. LED lights last five times longer than traditional halogen bulbs and produce the same amount of light, but use up to 80% less power. To help people to choose the most efficient lightbulbs, changes to the energy labels that consumers see on bulb packaging are being brought in, with the A+, A++ and A+++ ratings abandoned and efficiency graded between A-G, with only the most efficient bulbs given an A rating. LED bulbs could be incorporated into the fluorescent light fittings as a more energy-efficient alternative, officials said. Legislation will also include moves to phase out high-energy fluorescent lightbulbs - such as strip lights commonly found in offices - with a view to bringing an end to their sale from September 2023. The cut in carbon emissions as a result of the new rules is the equivalent of removing more than half a million cars from the UK's roads, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy said. It is part of a package of measures which it says will save consumers money and includes the right to get goods repaired, new energy labels and higher efficiency standards for white goods, TVs and other appliances.
6-8-21 Amazon-dwellers lived sustainably for 5,000 years
A study that dug into the history of the Amazon Rainforest has found that indigenous people lived there for millennia with "causing no detectable species losses or disturbances". Scientists working in Peru searched layers of soil for microscopic fossil evidence of human impact. They found that forests were not "cleared, farmed, or otherwise significantly altered in prehistory". The research is published in the journal PNAS. Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, who led the study, said the evidence could help shape modern conservation - revealing how people can live in the Amazon while preserving its incredibly rich biodiversity. Dr Piperno's discoveries also inform an ongoing debate about how much the Amazon's vast, diverse landscape was shaped by indigenous people. Some research has suggested the landscape was actively, intensively shaped by indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans in South America. Recent studies have even shown that the tree species that now dominates the forest was planted by prehistoric human inhabitants. Dr Piperno told BBC News, the new findings provide evidence that the indigenous population's use of the rainforest "was sustainable, causing no detectable species losses or disturbances, over millennia". To find that evidence, she and her colleagues carried out a kind of botanical archaeology - excavating and dating layers of soil to build a picture of the rainforest's history. They examined the soil at three sites in a remote part of north-eastern Peru. All three were located at least one kilometre away from river courses and floodplains, known as "interfluvial zones". These forests make up more than 90% of the Amazon's land area, so studying them is key to understanding the indigenous influence on the landscape as a whole.
6-4-21 Some Arctic sea ice is thinning twice as fast as previously thought
Some regions of Arctic sea ice are thinning up to twice as fast as previously thought, according to measurements that account for how climate change is affecting snow. For decades, rising global temperatures have been causing a decline in sea ice extent, which is closely and accurately mapped. But there is far greater uncertainty about the thickness of the ice, which is a crucial figure to understand because thinner ice is more prone to melt in summer. Typically, we have estimated the thickness of sea ice by measuring the height of its surface above sea level, and then taking into account that this height is lower than it should be because thick snow resting on top of the ice weighs it down. But Robbie Mallett at University College London says the approach isn’t good enough because it relies on maps of snow depth from 1999 that were still being used, despite the fact we know that the snow has become shallower in the two decades since because of climate change. To narrow down the uncertainty, he and his colleagues combined radar data from satellites with a much more realistic estimate of the amount of snow on the sea ice. Swapping the maps for modelling of snow levels, which was calibrated against real world observations, the sea ice thickness was found to be declining 60-100 per cent faster between 2002 and 2018. The year-to-year swings in thinning rates were also found to be much bigger than thought, up 76 per cent, than with the old method. Having a more realistic handle on sea ice thinning will help build more accurate climate change models of the future, while understanding the annual variations will help the growing number of ships travelling through the Arctic, says Mallett. “Sea ice thickness remains highly uncertain compared to the area that the sea ice covers. However, this paper is a significant advance in characterising the trends that we’re seeing in the thickness, and those are trends that reflect an Arctic warming at three times the global rate,” says Mallett.
6-4-21 Oil companies begin to face reality
Climate change is going to be expensive. The prospects for serious climate policy coming out of the Biden administration are not good. Not only is his infrastructure plan far, far short of what is needed — as Adam Tooze points out, Biden would dedicate less to green energy research over eight years than Americans spend on pet food annually — even that much passing Congress seems increasingly unlikely. However, there is a somewhat hopeful sign coming from oil companies, of all places. Three major firms — Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron — have all taken serious hits to their business models of late. Fossil fuel companies still make money today, but their future business prospects are dim, and that is starting to sink in even among top managers and investors. A quarter of Exxon's board of directors is now composed of critics who have argued the company has been too slow in moving away from traditional carbon power. Bizarrely, a tiny activist hedge fund is responsible for this. Called Engine No. 1, it has been running four candidates for the board as part of a shareholder campaign to push Exxon away from carbon power, and three of them won in recent shareholder elections. Though the other nine seats are still filled by company loyalists, analysts agree this a huge defeat for Exxon's management — Engine No. 1 only owns about 0.02 percent of Exxon shares, yet their arguments were compelling enough to convince many other investors. Chevron also saw its own investors vote for a proposal to cut emissions from their customers at a recent conference, even after its board urged them not to. Meanwhile, Shell recently lost a major case in Dutch court. The judges ruled that the company has to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 (relative to their 2019 level), in keeping with European climate promises. Because it is not an American company, Shell had actually previously promised to cut its emissions by 45 percent by 2035, but that was apparently too slow. More important than this modest acceleration is the precedent it sets — hundreds more lawsuits demanding other companies cut back their emissions are likely to follow, in Europe and elsewhere.
6-4-21 Euro 2020: What is the climate cost of tournament staged in 11 countries?
Euro 2020 promises to be a tournament like no other, staged across more countries than any international football event in history. And while coronavirus has dominated the build-up - the original list of 12 host nations was reduced to 11 as recently as April and capacities at stadiums will be limited - it is far from the only major global issue causing concern at this European Championship. At a time when the world is attempting to tackle the threat of "irreversible" climate change, is it really sensible that players, officials and fans will be criss-crossing the continent like never before? From Seville in the west of the continent to Baku 4,766km away in the east, significant amounts of air travel will be involved at Euro 2020 - both for players and the thousands of fans wanting to watch their team. Covid restrictions mean the volume of air traffic will be far lower than one initial estimate of an extra two million plane trips during the tournament, but it will still be significant. Climate experts and campaigners say we need to avoid or reduce flying because greenhouse gases, produced when fuel is burned, are "the root cause" of global warming. Scientists have warned that such warming could have a catastrophic effect on the planet. Aviation actually only contributes about 3.5% of the world's global carbon emissions, according to Carbon Brief, but only a very small percentage of the world flies frequently, meaning those who do are disproportionately responsible for these emissions. For example, a return flight from London to New York gives out about 11% of the average annual carbon emissions for someone in the UK - or about the same as those produced by someone living in Ghana over a year. It would also use nearly a third of the current suggested per person carbon budget for an entire year.
6-2-21 Time is running out for big oil companies to reinvent their business
IT WAS inevitably dubbed “Black Wednesday”. But for anyone with an interest in a sustainable future for humanity on the planet — that is, all of us — 26 May was a red-letter day. Strike one was a Dutch court ordering Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell to align itself with the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut its carbon emissions, including from the products it sells, by 45 per cent by 2030. Activist investors then voted to make US oil firm Chevron responsible for reducing the emissions from customers burning its products. And, in strike three, a small hedge fund forced ExxonMobil to accept two pro-environment members on its board. It was a “crushing day for Big Oil”, campaigner Bill McKibben of 350.org tweeted. Shell announced its intention to appeal the court decision. It must ask itself on what basis, and what further legal, financial and reputational risk it will bring on itself by doing so. The Paris accord represents the settled, negotiated will of humanity to limit global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5°C. Fossil fuel companies can enjoy no exemption if it is to be implemented in full. No less a body than the International Energy Agency, often seen as a fossil fuel apologist, said in a landmark report last month that investment in new fossil fuel projects must stop now if we are to hit “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. Time is running out for big oil to secure its own future by pivoting unequivocally towards green fuels. If firms won’t do that themselves, the Chevron and ExxonMobil cases show that investors are increasingly willing to force change from the inside. That is a process we can all assist. As our report shows, much of the money used to capitalise big oil and other unsustainable industries is controlled by investment funds, including pensions, on our behalf. It is time for all individuals with such investments to start making noise, demanding transparency on where our money is going, and forcing change if we don’t like it. Capitalism created climate change. With increasingly robust legal and financial backing, it can fix it.
6-2-21 Why your pension may be destroying the planet – and how to change that
Pension funds routinely invest in fossil fuel companies and other industries that harm the environment. Forcing change isn't easy, but there are things you can do. I GENERALLY regard myself as an environmentally conscious consumer. I stopped eating meat years ago and I travel by bike or public transport when possible. I won’t bore you with my other virtues, but suffice it to say that if there is a sustainable lifestyle box, I probably tick it. To be honest, I might as well not bother. I also own stakes in some of the world’s most environmentally destructive industries: fossil fuels, mining, petrochemicals, cement, steel, aluminium and cars. Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Rio Tinto are just some of the companies in my portfolio, and there are almost certainly many more I don’t know about. The greenhouse gas savings I make through my lifestyle choices are dwarfed by the ones generated by my support for these companies and industries. I didn’t actively purchase stakes in them. Somebody did it for me. I probably could have stopped them, but I didn’t. If you have a personal pension plan, a similar story is probably true of you, too. Now I am trying to get out of my investments, but I can’t. Not easily, anyway. “It’s not like veganism, where you can just make a choice and go to the shop. It requires a lot of persistence to do this,” says Michael Kind of UK pressure group ShareAction. What’s more, as I investigated how to extricate myself from my pension swamp, it became clear that doing so might actually do more harm than good. Pensions are big business. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calculates that the UK workforce is sitting on a pension pot of $3.6 trillion. Globally, it puts the figure at $32.3 trillion. That money doesn’t sit in bank vaults accruing interest, it is being invested in projects that require capital. Around half the world’s investments are made using money held in retirement funds, according to ShareAction.
6-2-21 Iconic animals are under threat if we breach 1.5°C warming, warns WWF
Wildlife ranging from bluebells and bumblebees to snow leopards and emperor penguins is under threat from climate change, according to a new report. Even the coffee plants that produce one of the world’s favourite brews are at risk from rising temperatures, conservation charity WWF has warned. The charity is calling on world leaders meeting for COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, UK, in November to take action to restrict global temperature rises to 1.5°C and limit the damage to nature and people. WWF’s Feeling The Heat report warns that climate change is warming oceans and landscapes, and increasing the frequency of heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires, creating conditions that many species can’t cope with. In the UK, puffins, mountain hares, bumblebees and bluebells are already feeling the heat, while overseas, wildlife including leatherback turtles, monkeys in the Amazon, corals and hippos are all under threat. Mike Barrett, the charity’s executive director of science and conservation, said: “This isn’t a far-off threat – the impacts of climate change are already being felt, and if we don’t act now to keep global warming to 1.5°C, we will slide faster and faster towards catastrophe.” The report said temperatures are already 1°C above levels before the industrial revolution, and failing to curb global warming at 1.5°C could spell catastrophic damage for wildlife – and people, who rely on the services nature provides. But on current plans and pledges, the world is on track for a temperature rise of 2.4°C, with severe consequences for coastal communities and crops, as well as plants and animals already under pressure from other human activity. Global wildlife populations have fallen by an average of 68 per cent since 1970, and the report calls for action to protect and restore habitats from tropical forests to Welsh seagrass meadows, and to transform farming and how the land is used.
6-2-21 Can the UK recycle plastic without dumping it on other countries?
THE grim piles of plastic waste blanketing riversides and burning next to roads around the Turkish province of Adana didn’t take long to trace back to other countries. An investigation by campaigners Greenpeace UK in March found single-use carrier bags, yogurt pots, milk bottle labels and other items with UK supermarket labels among the material at 10 sites of illegally dumped rubbish. In response to images of the despoiled landscapes released on 17 May, the Turkish government announced a ban on all imports of key types of plastic waste to take effect in early July. The ban is the latest door that has closed for the UK and other high-income countries that export much of their plastic waste. China, once a major importer of UK plastic for recycling, banned imports in 2018. Exports then switched to other South-East Asian nations before many also imposed bans, eventually leading to 39 per cent of the UK’s plastic waste going to Turkey last year. “The worry now is it’ll be ‘pass the parcel’ with the UK’s plastic waste,” says Nina Fasciaux at Greenpeace UK. In the short term, the Netherlands and Malaysia are next on the list as possible candidates for these exports, once the Turkish ban begins, she says. “Longer term, we should absolutely be dealing with our own plastic waste within the boundaries of the UK,” says Helen Bird at UK waste charity WRAP. Greenpeace UK wants the UK government to ban plastic waste exports by 2025. So how could the UK, and other rich countries in a similar position, do that? There are two directions to come at the problem. The first is to slash how much plastic the UK generates. WRAP calculates that in 2019 it was 2.3 million tonnes, half of which was recycled, with 61 per of that via exports. The UK has the capacity to recycle 1.3 million tonnes of plastic a year.
6-2-21 Alaska: Biden to suspend Trump Arctic drilling leases
US President Joe Biden's administration will suspend oil and gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending an environmental review. The move reverses former President Donald Trump's decision to sell oil leases in the refuge to expand fossil fuel and mineral development. The giant Alaskan wilderness is home to many important species, including polar bears, caribou and wolves. Arctic tribal leaders have welcomed the move but Republicans are opposed. Covering some 19 million acres (78,000 sq km), the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is often described as America's last great wilderness. The push for exploration in the park has been the subject of a decades-long dispute. The oil-rich region is a critically important location for many species and is considered sacred by the indigenous Gwich'in people. One side argues that drilling for oil could bring in significant amounts of money and provide jobs for people in Alaska, while the other has raised concerns over environmental and climate threats. Days before his presidential term ended in January, Mr Trump went ahead with the first sale of oil leases in the region's coastal plain as part of his push to develop more domestic fossil fuel production. But the sale received little interest from the oil and gas industry. Companies said they were focusing their spending on renewable energy, amid a huge slump in oil prices. Several large US banks said they would not fund exploration in the area. In total, 11 tracts were auctioned off, covering just over 550,000 acres, according to the Washington Post newspaper. The sale raised less than $15m (£11m) - far less than the government had hoped. Most went to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency. While estimates suggest around 11 billion barrels of oil lie under the refuge, it has no roads or other infrastructure, making it a very expensive place to drill. During his campaign Mr Biden pledged to protect the habitat. Once in office, he directed the Interior Department to review the leases. In a statement on Tuesday, the department said it had "identified defects in the underlying record of decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives", required under environmental law.
6-2-21 Major project aims to clear clean energy hurdle
A major project aims to overcome a barrier to electricity grids that are entirely supplied by renewable energy. Output from wind turbines varies because wind speeds fluctuate; output from solar cells changes according to cloud cover and other factors. This is called variability, and overcoming it is crucial for increasing the share of renewables on the grid. A group of leading nations will invest $248m over the next decade to solve the issue by 2030. The effort has emerged from a clean-tech research programme called Mission Innovation (MI). Environmentalists say the sum’s a fraction of the many trillions of dollars of damages that climate change is projected to wreak on society, unless it’s curbed. But the 23 member governments involved in the programme are spending US$5.8bn per year more than in 2015 – and they say they’ll commit more public funds to clean tech if they can afford it. Solutions to the variability problem will include energy storage; for example, smart power systems which respond to changes in demand; advanced controls and artificial intelligence. Those behind MI say that half of the global emissions reductions required to achieve climate targets by 2050 depend on technologies that exist today, but are only at demonstration or prototype phase. These include hydrogen power, advanced battery storage and zero-emission fuels. Solar power and wind power are already widely affordable, but the statement says nations need to develop whole energy systems to match. The other main areas of the group’s research will be hydrogen power, shipping, long-distance transportation, and carbon dioxide removal from the air. Members of the partnership include the US, UK, the EU and China. Each member has agreed to open three “hydrogen valleys” - clusters of industries powered by clean hydrogen fuel.
6-1-21 Biden administration suspends oil, gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska's 19.6 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a new environmental review of the leasing program enacted by the Trump administration. On Jan. 6, the Bureau of Land Management held a lease sale for the refuge's coastal plain, and about a week later, signed leases for nine tracts totaling almost 685 square miles, The Associated Press reports. On President Biden's first day in office, he signed an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities. Haaland on Tuesday said a review of the Trump administration's leasing program found several issues, including that it lacked "analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives," which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls, and migrating birds, and is sacred to the Gwich'in. In 1995, former President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to open the refuge to drilling, and since then Democrats and Republicans have battled over the region, AP notes. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Tuesday said the Trump administration wanted to "shortcut environmental laws," but that effort "fell apart when exposed to the facts that federal scientists say Arctic Refuge drilling cannot be done safely and oil companies don't want to drill there. Now it is up to Congress to permanently protect this irreplaceable, million-year-old ecosystem and facilitate new economic opportunities based on preserving America's pristine public lands for outdoor recreation."
6-1-21 Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think
I know, you probably haven't even driven one yet, let alone seriously contemplated buying one, so the prediction may sound a bit bold, but bear with me. We are in the middle of the biggest revolution in motoring since Henry Ford's first production line started turning back in 1913. And it is likely to happen much more quickly than you imagine. Many industry observers believe we have already passed the tipping point where sales of electric vehicles (EVs) will very rapidly overwhelm petrol and diesel cars. It is certainly what the world's big car makers think. Jaguar plans to sell only electric cars from 2025, Volvo from 2030 and last week the British sportscar company Lotus said it would follow suit, selling only electric models from 2028. And it isn't just premium brands. General Motors says it will make only electric vehicles by 2035, Ford says all vehicles sold in Europe will be electric by 2030 and VW says 70% of its sales will be electric by 2030. This isn't a fad, this isn't greenwashing. Yes, the fact many governments around the world are setting targets to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles gives impetus to the process. But what makes the end of the internal combustion engine inevitable is a technological revolution. And technological revolutions tend to happen very quickly. Look at the internet. By my reckoning, the EV market is about where the internet was around the late 1990s or early 2000s. Back then, there was a big buzz about this new thing with computers talking to each other. Jeff Bezos had set up Amazon, and Google was beginning to take over from the likes of Altavista, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. Some of the companies involved had racked up eye-popping valuations. For those who hadn't yet logged on it all seemed exciting and interesting but irrelevant - how useful could communicating by computer be? After all, we've got phones!
6-1-21 Then and now: Pandemic clears the air
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. Air pollution has long been one of the biggest killers, claiming an estimated seven million victims annually. However, the Covid-19 global pandemic showed how quickly we could clear the air once we cut the number of journeys we made... Air pollution has long been one of the most severe forms of environmental damage. Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that air pollution kills seven million people worldwide every year. Its data also shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits on high levels of pollutants. Emissions from fuel combustion account for almost a quarter of CO2 emissions from human activities. So the impact of lockdowns on transport around the globe in the Covid-19 pandemic has been stark. According to the International Energy Agency, average activity on the world's roads fell by almost 50% compared with 2019. The improvement in air quality was clear to see. In a short space of time, urban areas were recording massive reductions in a range of pollutants associated with internal combustion engines. Data collected by the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science shows marked reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and in particulate matter (PM2.5) across 10 cities. In India, people took to social media to post images of clear skies after an estimated 90% of road journeys stopped during the lockdown. Speaking in April, Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air told BBC News: "The current crisis has shown us that clear skies and breathable air can be achieved very fast if concrete action is taken to reduce burning of fossil fuels." However, as quickly as air quality improved during lockdowns, so it appears to have returned to normal just as fast once lockdowns were eased or lifted.