1-30-22 US East Coast blanketed by 'bombogenesis' snowstorm
Parts of the US East Coast have been battered by blizzard conditions and heavy snowfall, sparking transport chaos and power cuts for thousands. Five states declared an emergency hours before piles of snow and high winds blasted the area on Saturday. Some areas of Massachusetts have seen as much as 2.5ft (75cm) of snow, with locals told to hunker down inside. Nearly 6,000 US flights were cancelled across the weekend, with conditions expected to lighten on Sunday. Forecasters warn cold temperatures will remain a problem throughout much of the north-east, with the snowstorm set to move on to the state of Maine. The storm, known as a Nor'easter, has hit parts of New York and Massachusetts with heavy snowfall, coastal flooding and blizzard conditions. The city of Boston got 23.6in (60cm) of snow on Saturday - matching a previous one-day record. By Saturday night, more than 80,000 homes in the state of Massachusetts were still without electricity. Cape Cod was one of the worst hit regions, with every customer in the town of Provincetown losing power on Saturday. Coastal storm surge flooding was also reported in Nantucket. Local meteorologist Matthew Cappucci told the BBC the sheer volume of snow was a problem, with 8-10cm of snow falling each hour at one point. "No road crew in the world could handle this, and that means all the roadways are essentially shut down. The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed on Saturday that the storm had undergone bombogenesis, meaning that colder air mixed with warmer sea air, leading to a swift drop in atmospheric pressure. The process leads to a so-called bomb cyclone. The NWS in Boston warned that people should only travel in an emergency. "If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle." The powerful storm began to hit the country's coast in the early hours of Saturday morning, with millions of residents urged to stay home across much of the weekend. Parts of New York state saw 2ft (61cm) of snow, with workers struggling to manage thick blankets covering popular New York City tourist spots like Times Square.
1-29-22 Blizzard blanketing East Coast likely to become bomb cyclone
The first major blizzard to hit the region in four years struck the northeastern United States Friday night. By Saturday afternoon, up to two feet of snow had blanketed Boston in what AccuWeather predicted could turn out to be the biggest snowstorm ever to hit the city; over 80,000 Massachusetts homes were without power; and airlines had canceled more than 5,000 U.S. flights, BBC reported. Amtrak service along the Boston-to-Washington corridor was suspended or limited, and five states declared emergencies. Wind gusts of up to 75mph lashed parts of the coast. The National Weather Service in Boston said travel "should be restricted to emergencies only" and that anyone who must travel should prepare for the possibility of becoming stranded, a warning that was echoed up and down the East Coast, The Associated Press reported. According to Business Insider, "Forecasters said [the storm is] developing bombogenesis conditions ... eventually leading to the formation of a bomb cyclone." The New York Times explains that "the barometric pressure must drop by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours for a storm to be called a bomb cyclone." The drop in barometric pressure combined with the Earth's rotation create a cyclone that produces a nor'easter — a storm with winds coming from the northeast. The storm is expected to subside by Sunday morning.
1-29-22 US East Coast hunkers down as 'bombogenesis' snowstorm hits
The US East Coast is hunkering down as a major blizzard hits the region for the first time in four years. The storm is forecast to stretch from the Carolinas to Maine, packing hurricane-force winds in coastal parts. Five states have declared emergencies. Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston, a city that is no stranger to snowfall, said the storm could be "historic". More than two feet of snow could fall in New England. Weather officials also warn of flooding near the coast. Over 5,000 US flights were cancelled between Friday and Sunday, according to FlightAware. Forecasters say there is a chance the storm, known as a Nor'easter, will blanket the Boston area with up to 2ft (61cm) of snow. The current record of 27.6in (70cm) within 24 hours was set in 2003. Experts say the storm will undergo bombogenesis, meaning that colder air is expected to mix with warmer sea air, leading to a swift drop in atmospheric pressure. The process leads to a so-called bomb cyclone. "Travel should be restricted to emergencies only," warned the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boston. "If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle." The powerful storm began to hit the country's coast in the early hours of Saturday morning, with snowfall already blanketing a number of states. Bryce Williams, a meteorologist based in Boston, told the New York Times the heaviest would hit there by Saturday evening before conditions clear up across the weekend. "If you don't have to be out and about, we're trying to say: Stay home until Sunday," he told the newspaper. Winds are expected to strengthen, possibly reaching hurricane-level speeds, according to the NWS and Accuweather. A blizzard warning has been issued throughout the north-east, the first time such an alert has been issued since 2018.
1-29-22 Ten people injured in Pittsburgh bridge collapse
A bridge in the US city of Pittsburgh has collapsed with six vehicles, including a bus, on it at the time. Officials said 10 people sustained minor injuries, three of whom were taken to hospital. The snow-covered Forbes Avenue Bridge gave way on Friday morning, sometime after 06:00 local time (11:00 GMT). The collapse happened just hours before President Joe Biden visited the area to talk about infrastructure. Fire Chief Darryl Jones said first responders used ropes longer than 100ft (30m) and formed human chains to pull victims to safety. Search dogs and drones were spotted at the scene. Bus driver Daryl Luciani and his two passengers at the time were among those rescued from the ravine formed by the fallen bridge. Mr Luciani, 58, said he was feeling "banged up", but was not injured. "The bus was bouncing and shaking and it seems long, but it was probably less than a minute that the bus finally came to a stop, and I was just thankful that nobody on the bus was hurt," he told the WPXI-TV local news station. He was supposed to be off on Friday but decided to work for some extra money, according to local media. A nearby resident told the KDKA-TV news channel that the incident "sounded like a huge snow plough pushing along the surface with no snow". Residents have been asked to avoid the area after public safety officials confirmed they had to shut off a leaking gas line that goes under the bridge. It remains unclear what caused the city-owned bridge to cave in. Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said it had been inspected as recently as September, but a 2019 assessment revealed its structure was deteriorating. The steel span, built in 1970, is a common route for motorists into central Pittsburgh. Federal transportation officials say about 45,000 US bridges - including more than 3,000 in Pennsylvania - are in poor condition. In November, President Biden signed legislation into law that includes $110bn (£82bn) to repair roads and bridges. On Friday, Mr Biden travelled to site of the fallen structure ahead of a pre-planned speech in West Mifflin, about 10 miles (16km) outside of Pittsburgh, to proclaim the benefits of the funding.
1-29-22 Storm Ana: Deadly Africa storm shows climate crisis reality - UN
The deadly storm that hit southern African countries this week has shown the reality of the climate crisis, a UN official has said. The death toll from the destruction caused by Storm Ana has risen to 86. Rescue workers are trying to reach tens of thousands who have been cut off as roads and bridges have been washed away in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Authorities are now watching to see if a second storm - Batsirai - will hit the continent next week. In Mozambique, where 18 people have been killed and 120,000 people affected, Maria Luisa Fornara, from the UN children's fund Unicef, described Storm Ana as a "blunt reminder" of the impact that climate change is having. UN Secretary General António Guterres said more investment was needed to "protect and save lives". "I lost my fishing boat, it was swept away by the strong wind," Abdul Ibrahim, a fisherman in Mozambique's Nampula province told AFP news agency. "I have never seen anything like this before. It will be difficult for me to recover." Seeking temporary shelter in a classroom for her and her two children, Maria Jose told AFP that the first winds had blown away her house. "I have nothing left, I lost everything." Some of the infrastructure that had been rebuilt after Cyclone Idai in 2019 has been destroyed again. In Madagascar, which was the first country to be hit on Monday, the death toll now stands at 48 and some 72,000 are reported to have lost their homes. "I am very sad because we work like crazy to make money and now our house is destroyed," one woman said surveying the damage that was caused. Malawi's President, Lazarus Chakwera, declared a state of emergency in the wake of the storm which left 20 people dead in the country. The disaster management agency said families had been forced to carry the dead to burials because roads had been cut off. A resident in the southern town of Chikwawa, described how fellow villagers spent two days holding on to trees as the waters swept through. The weather authorities are keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Batsirai which has formed in the Indian Ocean and is moving westwards.
1-29-22 Peru oil spill after Tonga eruption bigger than previously thought
An oil spill off the Peruvian coast earlier this month was twice as big as previously reported, according to the country's government. Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez said Friday that almost 12,000 barrels of oil leaked into the sea on 15 January. Officials described the spill as an "ecological disaster" to blame for the deaths of local fish and seabirds. It happened when tanker at the La Pampilla refinery was hit by waves linked to a volcanic eruption on Tonga. The site, about 30km (19 miles) north of Lima, is owned by Spanish oil company Repsol. Peru has demanded compensation and prosecutors have opened an investigation into Repsol's role in the incident. A judge granted a request on Friday to bar four executives from the firm leaving the country for 18 months amid the ongoing probe. In a statement to the AFP news agency, Repsol said it would "fully cooperate with any criminal investigation" and said it was already aiding in the preliminary stages. "Our main concern is cleaning up the environment. Repsol is putting all its efforts into cleaning up as quickly as possible," the company added. Repsol said it had calculated the oil spilled to be equivalent to 10,396 barrels, after a revised government estimate that put the number at 11,900 - up from the 6,000 previously reported. In an update on Friday, the environment ministry said a third of the spilled oil has been recovered from the ocean and across 20 beaches. Some local fisherman have staged protests because they are unable to go out to sea and work because of the disaster. Repsol previously blamed the leak on unusual waves triggered by a massive volcanic eruption in Tonga, more than 10,000km away. The Mare Doricum, the Italian-flagged tanker involved in the spill, has also been banned from setting sail. La Pampilla is built just off the town of Ventanilla in the Lima region and is Peru's largest refinery. It provides for more than half of the local fuel market.
1-27-22 Climate change: Key crops face major shifts as world warms
The parts of the world suitable for growing coffee, cashews and avocados will change dramatically as the world heats up, according to a new study. Key coffee regions in Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia will all "drastically decrease" by around 50% by 2050. Suitable areas for cashews and avocados will increase but most will be far from current sites of production. The authors say that greater efforts must be made to help farmers adapt. Coffee is one of the world's most important crops, not just as key beverage but as a livelihood for millions of small farmers. And thanks to growing consumer preferences in richer countries, demand for avocados and cashews has increased substantially in recent decades. While the threat to coffee from climate change has been well documented in recent years, there is little information about how rising temperatures will impact avocados and cashews. In this study, the authors looked at how rising temperatures and changing rates of precipitation will impact the three crops over the next 30 years. The researchers have also, for the first time, incorporated information about land and soil characteristics. Coffee is the most susceptible crop to high temperatures. In those countries accounting for the majority of the world's production of Arabica - the dominant coffee variety - suitability for growing the crop will decrease by around half by 2050 - a "drastic" reduction, according to the report. Some key areas will see a heavier impact. In the lowest temperature scenario, there would be a reduction of 76% in Brazil's most suitable areas for coffee. In Colombia it would shrink by 63%. Some regions at the northern and southern ends of today's growing areas will become more suitable, including Argentina, South Africa, China and New Zealand among others. But according to the authors, this doesn't mean that these new regions can easily replace the current sites. "The key message for those that are in the main producing regions today is that farming systems have to adapt to the changing conditions," said lead author Roman Grüter, from Zurich University of Applied Sciences.
1-26-22 Lithium fields: Beautiful from the air, trouble on the ground
THE vivid swathes of minerals in this lithium extraction field make for a dazzling sight, but also represent a troubling aspect of our rapidly electrifying world. Taken by photographer Tom Hegen, this image of the Soquimich lithium mine in the Atacama desert, run by major mining operator SQM, is part of his new project, The Lithium Series I, which documents lithium extraction in Chile. The element is a critical component in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric cars, which are projected to account for up to 60 per cent of new car sales by 2030. The ongoing demand for lithium is unprecedented. More than half of the world’s supply of this element is thought to reside in the “Lithium Triangle” where Chile, Argentina and Bolivia meet, with roughly a quarter contained in the Salar de Atacama salt flats in northern Chile. The rush for lithium is transforming landscapes across South America. The varying hues of the ponds in this extraction field on the salt flats are caused by different concentrations of lithium carbonate, ranging from the dilute, turquoise, to the highly concentrated, yellow. Although pretty from a distance, lithium mines are environmentally damaging and use a lot water and energy. They can also harm local communities. The Lithium Triangle is one of the driest regions on Earth, and the mining is reducing access to fresh water for Indigenous communities, as well as disrupting wildlife habitats – effects that are only exacerbated by climate change.
1-26-22 We can't afford to delay getting to grips with chemical pollution
IN 1855, Michael Faraday wrote a letter to the UK parliament alerting MPs to the state of the river Thames, which was used both as a sewer and a source of drinking water. He had conducted an experiment in which he sank pieces of paper to see at what point they disappeared from view in the turbid water. Barely any depth at all, he found, concluding that the river had become a cesspool. “If we neglect this subject, we cannot expect to do so with impunity,” he warned. Parliament neglected the matter, and was punished. In 1858, the Great Stink enveloped London, necessitating vast expenditure to quell the stench. The curtains in the Houses of Parliament were soaked in bleach in a bid to keep the miasma out. It failed, and the members could no longer ignore the problem. Last week, scientists issued a similar, although sterner, warning. Chemical pollution is now so pervasive that we have smashed through a guard rail called a “planetary boundary “. It is now a risk to the habitability of Earth. Our habit of treating the environment as a sewer has come back to haunt us again. But just as in the mid-19th century, we don’t fully understand what impact the pollution is having on our health. Faraday’s contemporaries were aware of a link between filthy water and disease, but didn’t know that microorganisms, not foul air, were the cause. We similarly understand that chemical pollution is probably bad for us, but we don’t really know how. That is the subject of an ambitious new field of science called exposomics, which aims to measure our exposure to chemical pollutants throughout our lives and decipher their effects on our health, whether these are good, bad or indifferent. From what we know already, the answer will mostly be “bad”. The pollution problem is probably even worse than we realise.
1-27-22 Fix the Planet newsletter: Why planes needs a battery breakthrough
As people begin to return to flying, we look at one potential long-term fix for cutting aviation emissions: battery-powered planes. Judging from recent conversations I’ve been having, many people soon plan to fly for the first time since covid-19 arrived. Air travel is still expected to take at least another year or two to return to pre-pandemic levels, but as the aviation industry does recover, you can expect its climate change impact to return to the fore. The issue with aviation is not so much its size today – it’s about 2 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions – but the rapid rate at which its emissions are growing. This year, a new supersonic plane (Boom’s XB-1) is due to have its first flight, raising the prospect of a new wave of fuel-hungry journeys too. Some people argue the only real answer to aviation emissions is to cut demand and fly less, but as recent flight growth shows, people still want to travel by plane. That’s why today’s Fix the Planet turns to one prospect for a long-term techno fix: battery-powered planes. In the short term, there’s no such thing as a green flight. The only real options available today are more efficient engines, biofuels and carbon offsetting. The first is welcome but failed to stop emissions rising pre-pandemic. The other two are problematic and limited. In the longer run, we are probably looking at either hydrogen, batteries, a combination of the two or something totally new. I’ve written before about hydrogen, which is attractive to plane-makers because of the energy it can pack for its mass. Still, it faces a host of issues, not least the challenge of making the stuff in a low-carbon way. Replacing jet fuel with batteries is hard, says Venkat Viswanathan, who works with a team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania to make better batteries. In a paper, Viswanathan and his colleagues lay out the challenges, which range from the energy density of batteries, their weight and concerns over mid-flight battery fires to the trade-off of energy density versus how many times you can recharge the battery. To put the problem in perspective, a large airliner takes off with the equivalent energy delivered by 30,000 Tesla cars. “The goal of the paper is to set realism against all the optimism going around,” says Viswanathan. Aviation is uniquely demanding, he explains: “You need safety, you need economics, you need all the reliability and you can’t compromise on any.”
1-27-22 NIF: US lab takes further step towards nuclear fusion goal
US physicists have confirmed that they achieved a stage in nuclear fusion called "burning plasma" last year. There's a longstanding effort to crack fusion power because it promises an unlimited source of clean energy. Burning plasma occurs when fusion reactions become the dominant source of heating in the process, rather than energy introduced from outside. The stage was seen in experiments carried out at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California. The achievement is described in two papers published in the academic journal Nature. Existing nuclear energy relies on a process called fission, where a heavy chemical element is split to produce lighter ones. Fusion works by combining two light elements to make a heavier one. Researchers have been working on the nuclear fusion problem since the 1950s. It's the process that powers the Sun, and the effort has sometimes been likened to building a star on Earth. However, turning nuclear fusion into a commercially viable energy source has proven elusive. Getting the reactions going is not the problem; the trick is getting more energy out of the fusion process than you put in. To this end, NIF uses a powerful laser to heat and compress hydrogen fuel inside a capsule. The 192 beams from this laser - the highest-energy example in the world - are directed towards a peppercorn-sized capsule containing deuterium and tritium - different forms of the element hydrogen. This compresses the fuel to 100 times the density of lead and heats it to 100 million degrees Celsius - hotter than the centre of the Sun. Heating the target in this way generates an electrically-charged gas called plasma. In the plasma, electron particles are stripped out of atoms, leaving the parts known as atomic nuclei. These can fuse together, generating energy in the process. When fusion reactions become the dominant source of heating in the plasma, rather than laser energy required to start the process, the heat provides the energy for even more fusion.
1-26-22 Pollution is the forgotten global crisis and we need to tackle it now
IN THE lead-up to Christmas, my household began to feel like a badly managed waste-processing facility. We planned to spend time with vulnerable relatives, so were keeping a close eye on our covid-19 status. Each lateral flow test generated seven items of non-recyclable waste, which piled up in the bathroom until I bit the plastic bullet and binned the lot. They are now, presumably, in landfill. The pandemic may have temporarily cut global consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, but from a pollution perspective, it has spawned an almighty mess. It became clear early on that large quantities of discarded masks and other medical detritus were finding their way into the wild. Recent research has revealed the shocking scale of the covid-19 waste heap. It estimates that by August 2021, the pandemic had generated 8.4 million tonnes of plastic waste, which has been dumped into the environment rather than disposed of properly. Such mismanaged waste is the main source of ocean plastic. Before the pandemic, we collectively fly-tipped about 32 million tonnes of it a year. The extra 8.4 million tonnes “intensifies pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic waste problem”, write the researchers (PNAS, doi.org/gnct34). This is no exaggeration. Last year, the United Nations declared that waste and pollution is a planetary crisis on a par with climate change and biodiversity loss, and that we must tackle all three together. However, until recently, this crisis was a distant third in the global pecking order. That, in part, was down to a lack of data. Quantifying waste and pollution is hard. But if there was any doubt about the scale of the problem, new research dispels it. It contends that waste and pollution have crossed a Rubicon called a “planetary boundary”, and are now a threat to the habitability of Earth. We are literally choking on our own detritus. The concept of a planetary boundary dates back to 2009, when a group of researchers led by Johan Rockström at Stockholm University in Sweden tried to define what they called a “safe operating space for humanity”. They picked nine global parameters that have stayed remarkably stable for the past 10,000 years, including climate, biodiversity, land degradation and pollution. These collectively create a life-support system for us, but are being pushed out of whack by our dominance of the planet. For each of them, they attempted to set a boundary that we breach at our peril.
1-26-22 How our environment is making us sick – and what we can do about it
From air pollutants to pesticides in food and cosmetic additives, modern life means constant exposure to environmental chemicals. Picking apart the effects will help us boost the health of humans and the planet. MICHAEL SNYDER wears four watches, two on each wrist. A geneticist at Stanford University, California, he isn’t obsessed with time – only with buying us all a little more of it. The watches track his movements and vital signs such as heart rate and body temperature. He also carries round a walkie-talkie-sized device to sample everything airborne he comes into contact with, from chemicals to viruses. Snyder is trying to help answer an age-old conundrum: how does our environment affect our health? Every time we breathe, eat, drink, wash, exercise, get dressed, go to work or climb into bed, we expose ourselves to potentially harmful substances – air pollution, synthetic chemicals, contaminated food and water, radiation, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, noise and microorganisms, to name but a few. Every year, between 9 and 12 million people die prematurely through the cumulative effect of such exposures, mainly air and water pollution, heavy metals, synthetic chemicals and workplace carcinogens and particulates. Yet our ignorance about what exactly is going on is breathtaking. “For most exposures, probably the things you’re breathing right now, we’re not really sure what they’re doing,” says Snyder. Now he and others are attempting to spearhead a revolution in understanding how our environments make us sick. “It might sound similar to what has been done in the past, but now we’ve got this big concept,” says Michelle Bennett at the US National Cancer Institute Center for Research Strategy. Its name is exposomics, and big it certainly is – it aims to measure everything we are exposed to throughout our lives and link this with effects on our health. Can that ever succeed?
1-26-22 Winter Olympics: Will the Beijing Games be 'green and clean'?
China has promised to deliver a "green and clean" Winter Olympics, which gets under way on 4 February. Organisers say they have prioritised protecting native species, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting down on resources used. But there's been criticism that this will be the first Winter Olympics to rely entirely on artificial snow - and that some events will be held in the middle of a nature reserve. The Olympics will be hosted across three sites, and Yanqing will host the popular Alpine ski events. But the ski runs have been constructed in the middle of the Songshan nature reserve in Yanqing - over an area bigger than a thousand football pitches. The construction required removing more than 20,000 trees, which was done during the last few years. The Beijing Olympics Committee (BOC) pledged to transplant the trees - along with 81 hectares (over 200 acres) of topsoil - to another location in the mountains north of the city. It worked closely with Beijing Forestry University, and claims that more than 90% of the trees have survived the move. But Dr Carmen de Jong, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Strasbourg, says the removal of the topsoil in this process could significantly increase the risk of erosion and landslides, water pollution and damage to animal habitats. "The nature reserve has lost about 25% of its surface….which has very high biodiversity and protected species such as the golden eagle." The BOC was alerted to the potential environmental risk in this area as early as 2015 by Chinese biologists, but the site was not moved elsewhere. The journal Nature reported at the time that posts on the issue on Chinese social media site Weibo were removed. When we asked the Beijing Organising Committee about this, they told us: "Beijing 2022 has done its best to protect ecosystems in the competition zones." Beijing has promised that all competition venues will be covered with "high-quality snow", despite the city only having a few days of snow in recent years. Yanqing, the site of the ski centre, only receives an average of 21cm (just over eight inches) a year of snowfall. But this venue alone needs more than 1.2 million cubic metres of snow for Olympic events. So instead, for the first time, 100% artificial snow will be used.
1-25-22 Climate change: 'Fragile win' at COP26 summit under threat
COP26 President Alok Sharma has warned that progress made during the summit is at risk of "withering on the vine". Mr Sharma said that the agreements reached at the Glasgow climate meeting had been a "fragile win" for the world. But unless the commitments made are turned into action this year, the chances of keeping global temperatures in check will be lost. Quoting from the popular film, Don't Look Up, he said this was no time to "sit tight and assess". The UN's COP26 climate summit in November ended with a deal being struck in a bid to stave off severe climate change. This pact was the first ever UN climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal - the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases. But the pledges didn't go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5C, seen by scientists as the threshold for dangerous impacts from global warming. Twelve weeks to the day after the start of COP26 (so named because it was the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties), Alok Sharma delivered his first major speech since the gathering, at a Chatham House event in Central London. Mr Sharma is essentially in charge of the negotiations process until the next major conference, COP27, in Egypt in November. He highlighted the fact that, despite the pandemic, and frayed international relations, countries had worked together at COP26 to deliver the Glasgow Climate Pact. That agreement, he said, was a significant achievement. In Glasgow, countries had agreed to return with new and improved carbon-cutting plans for 2030 by the time of the next major summit in Egypt in November. The hope is that every nation will increase their national efforts in line with limiting global warming below 1.5C. Mr Sharma also underlined the progress made in Glasgow on getting rid of the most polluting fossil fuel. "When my team and I were deliberating on whether we should aim to consign coal power to history, I was warned we would never get the word 'coal' in a COP text," Mr Sharma said.
1-25-22 Climate change threatening buried UK treasures
Climate change is threatening to destroy treasures buried in the UK as the soils that protect them dry out. A Roman toilet seat, the world's oldest boxing glove, and the oldest handwritten letter by a woman are some of the extraordinary objects discovered in at-risk British peatlands. It means climate change could undermine our understanding of our past, say archaeologists. About 22,500 archaeological sites in UK may be in danger. The problem is that changing weather patterns are drying out some peatlands - the waterlogged soils that cover about 10% of the UK. Because peat contains very little oxygen, organic materials like wood, leather and textiles do not rot. They can survive for thousands of years, preserved by the stable anoxic chemistry of the soil. But if the soils dry, oxygen can enter the system, kick-starting the process of decomposition. If that happens artefacts can, quite quickly, rot away. Excavating these potentially huge sites could cost hundreds of millions of pounds and take decades, by which time they may have been badly damaged. The trustees of Magna, a Roman fort alongside Hadrian's Wall, fear the process is already under way at the site. The warnings come as celebrations for the 1,900th anniversary of the start of construction of the wall begin this week. The land at Magna has subsided by up to a metre in places in the past decade. It is evidence of "desiccation" - the drying of the peat layer - fears Dr Andrew Birley, the chief archaeologist at the site. It means "an historical time capsule" is at risk, he says, because only a tiny part of the site has so far been excavated. "This place has the potential to be quite frankly, amazing," Dr Birley believes. "Pretty much everything the Romans used here for 300 or 400 years could have been preserved in more or less the same state it was thrown away, which is an incredible opportunity."
1-25-22 Central Asia blackout leaves millions without power
Millions of people were left for hours without electricity on Tuesday when a huge power blackout hit cities in three Central Asian countries. Areas of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were affected when a shared power line was disconnected. It caused traffic jams, airport delays and other public transport disruptions across the ex-Soviet nations. The blackout happened in the late morning, with power restored in most areas by early evening. The power grids of the three countries are interconnected, and linked to Russia's network via a Soviet-built power line that runs through Kazakhstan. It allows them to draw power from Russia's grid when there are unexpected shortages. But due to "a significant emergency imbalance" there was a power surge and the connection was cut, grid operator KEGOC said. Outages were reported in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, and several cities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. There are also reports that the blackout affected surrounding provinces in all three countries. Many residents across the region lost access to tap water, heating, petrol pumps and the internet, Reuters news agency reported. Hospitals had to rely on generators to keep critical equipment running and some underground trains were left stuck in tunnels. Uzbekistan's capital city, Tashkent, saw traffic jams as the outage affected traffic lights. The metro system was down and flights had to stop landing at the airport during the blackout, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Skiers were reportedly left stranded on a cable car at Uzbekistan's largest ski resort, Amirsoy. The outage has once again raised concerns about how vulnerable the 1970s-built power line is. Kazakhstan has experienced power shortages before, following a boom in crypto-currency mining - the process by which transactions are verified and new "coins" made.
1-21-22 The UK still won't say how much CO2 its Net Zero Strategy will save
For the third time, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has refused a request to release key details about its Net Zero Strategy. The UK government has declined for a third time to release the expected emissions savings for measures in its landmark plan to meet the UK’s carbon targets, in a decision that critics have called deeply unhelpful and concerning. When the Net Zero Strategy was published last October, officials said its policies on everything from electric cars to nuclear power were collectively enough to put the UK back on track for its legally binding carbon targets in coming years. But the savings from individual polices weren’t released, making it impossible to scrutinise the claims and drawing criticism over a lack of transparency. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) refused a New Scientist freedom of information request for a spreadsheet of the savings in December. Weeks later, it rejected an appeal on the grounds that releasing the information risked “damaging the internal decision-making process”. Now BEIS has declined to publish its figures for a third time, after Labour MP Darren Jones called on the department to reconsider withholding the document. In response, energy minister Greg Hands said the figures will be published in emissions projections in “due course”, without giving any date. “This will set out emissions reductions from those specific Net Zero Strategy measures where decisions on the design of the associated individual policy intervention are sufficiently advanced to meet Energy and Emissions projections publication standards,” he said in a written answer. “The government’s refusal to set out how much individual policies of their flagship Net Zero Strategy will reduce emissions is concerning,” says Jones, who is chair of the BEIS select committee. “The lack of transparency does little to advance public understanding and is deeply unhelpful when it is vital we engage the public to help ensure a fair and just transition to net zero.”
1-21-22 Intense drought or flash floods can shock the global economy
Rainfall extremes affect manufacturing and services more than agriculture, a study suggests. Extremes in rainfall — whether intense drought or flash floods — can catastrophically slow the global economy, researchers report in the Jan. 13 Nature. And those impacts are most felt by wealthy, industrialized nations, the researchers found. A global analysis showed that episodes of intense drought led to the biggest shocks to economic productivity. But days with intense deluges — such as occurred in July 2021 in Europe — also produced strong shocks to the economic system (SN: 8/23/21). Most surprising, though, was that agricultural economies appeared to be relatively resilient against these types of shocks, says Maximilian Kotz, an environmental economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Instead, two other business sectors — manufacturing and services — were the most hard-hit. As a result, the nations most affected by rainfall extremes weren’t those that tended to be poorer, with agriculture-dependent societies, but the wealthiest nations, whose economies are tied more heavily to manufacturing and services, such as banking, health care and entertainment. It’s well established that rising temperatures can take a toll on economic productivity, for example by contributing to days lost at work or doctors’ visits (SN: 11/28/18). Extreme heat also has clear impacts on human behavior (SN: 8/18/21). But what effect climate change–caused shifts in rainfall might have on the global economy hasn’t been so straightforward. That’s in part because previous studies looking at a possible connection between rainfall and productivity have focused on changes in yearly precipitation, a timeframe that “is just too coarse to really describe what’s actually happening [in] the economy,” Kotz says. Such studies showed that more rain in a given year was basically beneficial, which makes sense in that having more water available is good for agriculture and other human activities, he adds. “But these findings were mainly focused on agriculturally dependent economies and poorer economies.”
1-21-22 False banana: Is Ethiopia's enset 'wondercrop' for climate change?
Scientists say the plant enset, an Ethiopian staple, could be a new superfood and a lifesaver in the face of climate change. The banana-like crop has the potential to feed more than 100 million people in a warming world, according to a new study. The plant is almost unknown outside of Ethiopia, where it is used to make porridge and bread. Research suggests the crop can be grown over a much larger range in Africa. "This is a crop that can play a really important role in addressing food security and sustainable development," said Dr Wendawek Abebe of Hawassa University in Awasa, Ethiopia. Enset or "false banana" is a close relative of the banana, but is consumed only in one part of Ethiopia. The banana-like fruit of the plant is inedible, but the starchy stems and roots can be fermented and used to make porridge and bread. Enset is a staple in Ethiopia, where around 20 million people rely on it for food, but elsewhere it has not been cultivated, although wild relatives - which are not considered edible - grow as far south as South Africa, suggesting the plant can tolerate a much wider range. Using agricultural surveys and modelling work, scientists predicted the potential range of enset over the next four decades. They found the crop could potentially feed more than 100 million people and boost food security in Ethiopia and other African countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Study researcher Dr James Borrell, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said planting enset as a buffer crop for lean times could help boost food security. "It's got some really unusual traits that make it absolutely unique as a crop," he said. "You plant it at any time, you harvest it at any time and it's perennial. That's why they call it the tree against hunger." Ethiopia is a major centre of crop domestication in Africa, home to coffee and many other crops.
1-20-22 Pristine coral reef discovered in deep water off the coast of Tahiti
A spectacular coral reef has been found between 35 and 70 metres below sea level near Tahiti, and it seems to be in good health despite the global biodiversity crisis. This spectacular rose-shaped coral has been found off the coast of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean, at depths of between 35 and 70 metres. It forms part of a reef that stretches for more than 3 kilometres and measures 70 metres across at its widest. It may be one of the largest found at such depths. Laetitia Hédouin at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research and her colleagues undertook a diving expedition off the peninsula of Tahiti, where they first discovered the reef. It is primarily composed of two coral species: from 30 to 45 metres deep, Porites rus dominates. Going deeper, Pachyseris speciosa emerges and eventually becomes dominant at depths of 50 to 55 metres. “It looks like a giant rose garden going as far as the eye can see,” says Julian Barbière at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. One of the most remarkable things about this reef is its pristine condition. “It’s a very healthy reef, like a dream come true,” says Hédouin. “In the middle of the biodiversity crisis, this is very good news.” Coral reefs around the world are vulnerable in the face of increasing human-driven pressures, such as climate change, and natural disasters, such as tsunamis and cyclones. Whether the tsunami triggered by the recent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano has affected the reef is unknown yet. This reef is also one of very few we have found at such depths, in what is known as the twilight zone of the ocean, says Barbière. “There might be many more large reefs in our ocean at such depth that require more investigation,” he says. “This could be one of the largest coral reefs at this depth as far as we know, but the fact is that we haven’t really looked for coral reefs at this depth.” As it stands, only 20 per cent of the seafloor has been mapped, says Barbière. By mapping more of the ocean, at even greater depths, researchers hope to understand the best ways to protect and manage these rich ecosystems.
1-20-22 Giant pristine coral reef discovered off Tahiti
Marine explorers have discovered a "pristine" 3km (2-mile) coral reef at depths of 30m (100ft) off the coast of Tahiti, French Polynesia. It is one of the largest discovered at that depth, says the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which led the mission. Dr Julian Barbiere, from Unesco, said there were probably many more of these ecosystems "we just don't know about". "We should be working to map them and to protect them," he said. Unesco director general Audrey Azoulay said the "remarkable" discovery extended our knowledge of "what lies beneath". The reef was found in November, during a diving expedition to a depth known as the ocean's "twilight zone" - part of a global seabed-mapping mission called the Seabed2030 Project. French underwater photographer Alexis Rosenfeld said it had been "magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals stretching as far as the eye can see". "It was like a work of art," he added. Coral reefs are among the ocean's most threatened ecosystems - vulnerable to pollution, rising sea temperatures and the change in chemistry caused by carbon-dioxide emissions dissolving in the water. Prof Murray Roberts, a leading marine scientist from the University of Edinburgh said the discovery brought home how much we still have to learn about the ocean. "We still associate corals with the shallowest tropical seas but here we find a huge previously unknown coral reef system. "As shallow waters warm faster than the deeper waters we may find these deeper reef systems are refuges for corals in the future. We need to get out there to map these special places, understand their ecological role and make sure we protect them for the future." There is currently "no evidence" this reef had been damaged by those pressures and, Dr Barbiere said, its unusual depth was one reason it remained in such a "very good state". "Generally we find them at shallower depths," he told BBC News, because the algae that lives within the bodies of corals needs light.
1-20-22 A68: 'Megaberg' dumped huge volume of fresh water
The monster iceberg A68 was dumping more than 1.5 billion tonnes of fresh water into the ocean every single day at the height of its melting. To put that in context, it's about 150 times the amount of water used daily by all UK citizens. A68 was, for a short period, the world's biggest iceberg. It covered an area of nearly 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) when it broke free from Antarctica in 2017. But by early 2021, it had vanished. One trillion tonnes of ice, gone. Researchers are currently busy trying to gauge the impact A68 had on the environment. And a team led from Leeds University has been back through all the satellite data to calculate the behemoth's changing dimensions as it moved north from the White Continent, through the Southern Ocean and up into the South Atlantic. This has enabled the group to assess varying melt rates during the course of the megaberg's three-and-a-half-year existence. One of the key periods, obviously, was towards the end, as A68 approached the warmer climes of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia. For a while, there were fears the giant block could ground in the surrounding shallows, blocking the foraging routes of millions of penguins, seals and whales. But it never quite happened because, as the team can now show, A68 lost sufficient depth of keel to stay afloat. "It does seem that it briefly touched the continental shelf. That's when the berg took a turn and we saw a small piece break off. But it wasn't enough to ground A68," lead author Ms Anne Braakmann-Folgmann from the Nerc Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at Leeds told BBC News. "And I think you can see why in the thickness estimates," added co-author Prof Andrew Shepherd. "By that stage the berg's keel was 141m, on average, and the bathymetry (depth) charts in the area showed 150m. It was a close call in the end." By April 2021, A68 had broken into countless small fragments that were beyond tracking. But its ecosystem impacts will have been much longer-lived.
1-20-22 River pollution: Shake-up call for investigations in Wales
River groups have called for a review of how water pollution incidents are investigated in Wales. Thousands of small-scale spills are not even being looked into, they said, adding up to a "massive issue". It follows criticism of a leaked document suggesting staff at England's Environment Agency (EA) should ignore low-impact pollution events. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said incident management was a crucial part of its work. Described as an "appalling scandal" by the UK Rivers' Trust, an internal briefing to EA staff on how to handle pollution was leaked to the media. The Guardian newspaper and Ends Report found that bosses had shown support for "no response" to low-impact environmental incidents because of a lack of funding to investigate them. Now campaigners in Wales have accused NRW of taking a similar approach for years and said a change in culture at the watchdog was needed. A guidance note from 2017 on NRW's website suggests the majority of low-level impact incidents would not "merit attendance" by officials, nor an immediate response. Examples of river pollution cases that fall into this category include those that cause "minor loss of fish habitat" or kill a small number of fish from species that are not rare. The same applies to incidents that give rise to minor public health problems, including "a few individuals with temporary sore throats". Spills that kill one or two adult salmon or sea trout could also be classed as low-impact, though fisheries officers would need to be consulted. Stocks of the fish have hit such "unprecedented lows" in recent years that NRW has introduced new bylaws forcing anglers to throw back their catch for a decade. The document notes that media interest or a risk to NRW's reputation should be one factor used to weigh up whether an incident merits a response. "The approach that the EA are moving to is not dissimilar to what's already taking place in Wales," explained Gail Davies-Walsh, chief executive of Afonydd Cymru, which represents Wales' rivers' trusts. Thousands of low-level incidents "are either not getting investigated at all or are being looked at quite far down the line after the event", she said. It means getting an accurate picture of the scale of agricultural pollution, sewage spills and business waste affecting Wales' rivers is very difficult, she added. NRW figures from 2019 show it received 7,423 incident reports, of which 29% were related to water pollution.
1-20-22 Fix the Planet newsletter: The weird and wonderful rivals to batteries
As Scotland announces the building of 17 enormous wind farms off its coast, we look at the novel solutions for storing the electricity they will produce. On Monday, Scotland awarded licences for 17 gargantuan wind farms off its coast. Many of them will be in deep water thanks to innovative technology to float the turbines rather than fix them to the sea bed. The sheer size of the schemes – 25 gigawatts of capacity on top of the 10.4 GW the whole UK has in offshore wind today – is noteworthy. So is the involvement of two big oil firms, BP and Shell. Today’s newsletter looks at the emerging technologies for storing some of the electricity those wind farms produce, to help the UK meet its target of a fully decarbonised power grid by 2035. Other countries will also need new ways of storing energy, such as the US, which sees solar power as the cornerstone of a zero-carbon grid. From 500-tonne weights dropped down mine shafts to cooling air, there are plenty of energy storage ideas jockeying to help deliver a renewable-powered future. “With the rise of renewables in the energy system, there’s a lot of periods where we’ve got a lot of generation coming from low-carbon sources. But when it’s not windy, when the sun’s not shining, we are still using a lot of gas for electricity,” says Emma Woodward at UK-based analyst Aurora Energy Research. Long-duration storage, which is usually considered a technology that can provide energy for 4 hours or more, can use low-carbon electricity when it is abundant to create a store of energy and release it later. Another reason we need long-duration storage is those Scottish wind farms mentioned at the outset. Traditionally, big power plants are built near the cities that consume most of their electricity, such as in the Midlands. “We are getting an awful lot of capacity being built a long way from demand, which the grid struggles to deal with,” says Woodward. Only about 5.5 GW of energy can get over the Scottish border to England at any one time, so you can see how 25 GW of new wind farms off Scotland could lead to bottlenecks. More storage in Scotland could overcome those.
1-19-22 Svalbard glacier ice loss projected to roughly double by 2100
Archive photos of the Norwegian archipelago's glaciers enabled researchers to reconstruct past melting and project ice mass loss under future climate change. Glaciers in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic circle, are expected to lose ice at roughly double the current rate by the end of the century even if the world meets its climate targets. The islands are home to one of the world’s northernmost permanent settlements, a “doomsday vault” for the planet’s seeds and a back-up of open source code for future generations. The area is seen as a preview of what is in store for other regions under climate change, as it has warmed at a rate of 1.7°C per decade since 1991, which is seven times the global average for the same period. But understanding how Svalbard’s glaciers will respond to future warming is hampered by a lack of observations before the modern satellite era. To fill in the historical gaps, a Nordic-US team mined archives to find 5500 aerial stereo photographs of the glaciers taken in 1936 and 1938, before the second world war interrupted further surveys. To get around the paucity of data between the photos and the modern satellite record beginning in 2010, the researchers used the fact that Svalbard has a high number of glaciers – more than 1500. Because some of these experience different climate conditions, they could use the 1930s photographs from across Svalbard to understand how the archipelago’s glaciers respond to climate, a strategy they called a space-for-time approach. They then used the information in the photographs, in combination with historical temperature and precipitation data, to model rates of ice loss across Svalbard between the 1930s and 2010. To see what this century holds for the glaciers, the researchers ran four scenarios of low to high global climate change by 2100. They found that the rate at which glaciers thinned between 1936 and 2010 will increase at least 1.9 times under modest warming, to 0.67 metres a year. If humanity’s emissions go unchecked, in the most extreme scenario, that jumps to 0.92 metres annually.
1-19-22 Climate change made the past 7 years the warmest on record
The UN's World Meteorological Organization found that 2021 was the seventh hottest year to date, at 1.11°C above pre-industrial levels. The past seven years were the warmest on record as climate change continued apace, despite the cooling effect of the La Niña weather pattern in 2021, the United Nations has found. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) analysed the six main global temperature data sets, which revealed that last year was the seventh hottest to date, at 1.11°C above pre-industrial levels. “The continued onslaught of record years, including the seven warmest having occurred since 2015, is precisely what we expect to see due to human-caused planetary warming,” says Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University. Governments at the COP26 climate summit in November reaffirmed their commitment to trying to hold temperature rises to 1.5°C and well below 2°C at worst. But emissions reductions pledges currently have the world on course for 2.4°C or more. 2021 is the seventh year in a row where temperatures have been more than 1°C above pre-industrial levels. While only the seventh warmest year on average globally, 2021 saw climate scientists shocked by several temperature records broken by much larger margins than usual in some places, such as the near-50°C record set in Lytton, Canada. Previous research showed this event would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change. “Climate change impacts and weather-related hazards had life-changing and devastating impacts on communities on every single continent,” said Petteri Taalas at the WMO in a statement. Although not a record for surface air temperatures, 2021 was another record-breaking year for heat content in the upper levels of the oceans, which are absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans and the heat that this gas traps. The cooling effect of the La Niña weather pattern is expected to give way later this year to its opposite, El Niño, which was responsible for 2016 being the hottest year on record. The UK Met Office, which holds one of the six data sets examined by the WMO, forecasts that 2022 will be 1.09°C above pre-industrial levels.
1-19-22 Air pollution makes it harder for pollinators to find plants
A field trial found that levels of nitrogen oxides and ozone similar to those near roads led to a 70 per cent drop in the numbers of bees and butterflies on mustard plants. Exposing bees, butterflies and other pollinators to air pollution severely impairs their ability to sniff out the plants they feed on. That could be bad news for both insect populations and the crops that rely on them for pollination. Pesticides and land use changes are two of the biggest drivers of plummeting insect numbers, but a new field trial suggests that polluted air caused by diesel cars may be a major cause too. Previous evidence from lab studies has shown how air pollutants degrade the floral odour particles released by plants, making it harder for insects to locate them. To gain a better handle on how those interactions play out in the wider environment, James Ryalls at the University of Reading, UK, and colleagues ran a three-year field trial. They built a system that generated nitrogen oxides and ozone pollution in the centre of a wheat field and piped it to six octagonal enclosures where black mustard plants were grown. Two more enclosures filled with ambient air acted as a control. The results were stark. Levels of the pollutants on a par with average concentrations next to major UK roads led to a reduction in the number of pollinators counted on the plants by up to 70 per cent compared with the controls. Ryalls was surprised by how steep the fall was with relatively moderate levels of pollution. “We weren’t expecting nearly as severe a reduction as we found. It’s kind of crazy,” he says. “If the results from this study extend to the landscape scale, air pollution is likely a pretty important but underlooked factor contributing to pollinator decline. It’s a bit worrying.” Further field studies and research at a wider landscape level will be needed to fully establish how much dirty air is confusing pollinators hunting for plants’ odours. Some pollinator groups may be more able to compensate with visual cues than others, says Ryalls.
1-19-22 Sewage regularly dumped illegally in England and Wales rivers
Untreated sewage is being dumped illegally in rivers across the country on a regular basis, analysis shown to the BBC suggests. It found seven water companies in England and Wales discharged untreated sewage into rivers and the sea more than 3,000 times between 2017 and 2021. The water industry admitted action was needed to address the problem. The fresh data comes a week after MPs warned of a "chemical cocktail" of pollutants tainting England's rivers. The Environmental Audit Committee said raw sewage and microplastics were putting health and nature at risk. Chairman Philip Dunne MP said self-monitoring by water companies had "allowed a blind eye to be turned" to unpermitted sewage discharges, which he said were unacceptably high. He urged regulators and water companies to "get a grip" on the situation. If illegal discharges were to continue, Mr Dunne said water regulator Ofwat should look at its powers to review those water bosses who receive "lofty bonuses". Peter Hammond, a retired professor of computational biology and also a campaigner with Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, said the statistics showed that the water industry was flouting poor regulation by the Environment Agency. "In some cases, multiple sewage works are spilling into the same river causing damage for long periods of time, sometimes spilling as long as four months, six months almost without a break," he said. He calculated that together the seven companies - Southern Water, South West Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Wessex Water, Yorkshire Water and Welsh Water - discharged untreated sewage from 59 treatment works that treat 4.5 million people's wastewater. Water companies are allowed to discharge untreated sewage into rivers in exceptional circumstances - for example during heavy rainfall. They can be acting illegally if they discharge when the conditions are dry - this is known as a dry spill. Or they can be breaking the law if they are not treating enough of the sewage before they discharge it - this is known as an early spill.
1-18-22 Plastic crisis needs binding treaty, report says
Pollution from plastics is a global emergency in need of a robust UN treaty, according to a report. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says there's a cascade of evidence of harm from plastics. It argues that the plastic pollution threat is almost equivalent to climate change. The air we breathe now contains plastic micro particles, there’s plastic in Arctic snow, plastic in soils and plastic in our food. It's reported, for instance, that about 20 elephants in Thailand have died after eating plastic waste from a rubbish dump. The authors urge nations to agree a UN treaty with binding targets for reducing both plastic production and waste. "There is a deadly ticking clock counting swiftly down," said the EIA’s Tom Gammage. "If this tidal wave of pollution continues unchecked, the anticipated plastics in the seas by 2040 could exceed the collective weight of all fish in the ocean." The United Nations has identified three existential environmental threats - climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution - and concluded that they must be addressed together. Multilateral agreements on biodiversity loss and climate have existed for nearly 30 years (although they have failed to halt CO2 emissions or protect the natural world). The idea of a dedicated plastics treaty has been opposed by some nations in recent years. But more than 100 countries, including the UK, are said to favour a treaty being proposed at the next UN Environment Assembly in February and March. Sources say outright opposition is weakening, although there's a dispute as to how strict the treaty should be, and whether it should be legally binding or voluntary. US President Joe Biden has announced that the US now supports a global agreement, previously resisted by former President Donald Trump. It’s not clear, though, whether he can win approval from Congress, as most plastics are made from oil and gas - and they're both produced in the US.
1-18-22 Government says its climate change curbs inadequate
The government has admitted that its efforts to insulate the UK from climate change impacts have been inadequate. The costs of climate change to Britain are "high and increasing", it says, and could reach many billions of pounds a year. Ministers say they'll have to go much further and faster to curb the worst impacts. It means climate change must be built into all long-term decisions, such as new housing or infrastructure. The aim should be to avoid costly remedial actions in the future. The government has also accepted that it must consider low-probability but high-impact events arising from a heating climate. The report is a response to an analysis of the UK’s vulnerability to climate change by the official advisers, the Climate Change Committee. "Climate change is happening now. It is one of the biggest challenges of our generation and has already begun to cause irreversible damage to our planet and way of life," the report begins. It earmarks 61 climate risks cutting across multiple sectors of society. Health and productivity could be affected, it says, with impacts on many households, businesses and public services. The report warns of worsening soil health and farm productivity, reduced water availability, and impacts on alternative energy supply. For example, it notes, unless the UK takes further action, the cost of flood-related damages for non-residential properties is expected to increase by 27% by 2050 and 40% by 2080. That's with a temperature rise of just 2C - and even that relatively low figure is looking very hard to achieve. If temperature rises to 4C – which the government’s science advisers say is possible - this increases to 44% and 75% respectively. The government says it’s already investing to adapt to climate change. But critics say efforts so far have been diluted by inadequate finance from the Treasury for long-term schemes. Indeed the chancellor didn’t mention climate change once in his Budget. Green MP Caroline Lucas MP said: "It's crystal clear that we are moving nothing like fast enough to net zero emissions and the longer we delay, the more it will cost. The government acknowledges the risks. We have yet to see the action plan that will deal with them." Ministers admit they must do much more.
1-17-22 Ozone pollution causes $63 billion damage per year to East Asian crops
Rising levels of ground-level ozone in China and nearby countries are having a big effect on the yields of staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize. Increasing concentrations of ground-level ozone in East Asia are causing ever more damage to crops. The relative fall in yields of wheat, rice and maize in China, Japan and South Korea is costing $63 billion a year, according to Zhaozhong Feng at the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China and his colleagues. Surface ozone concentrations in China have been rising by around 5 per cent a year, says Feng. “Such a fast increase of surface ozone has increased the ozone threat to crop yields,” he says. Ozone is a highly reactive gas. Its presence in the stratosphere is beneficial as it blocks dangerous ultraviolet light, but ground-level ozone harms plants and animals. Surface ozone forms when nitrogen oxides (NOx) react with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. Surface ozone levels have increased in many regions worldwide because of NOx pollution, mainly from vehicles. Crop yields have also generally risen due to improved methods and varieties, but they would be even higher without ozone. Based on measurements from 3000 sites in China, Japan and South Korea, Feng’s team estimates that ozone pollution is causing relative yield losses of 33 per cent for wheat, 23 per cent for rice and 9 per cent for maize. This is nearly double estimates from 2016. The increase is partly because ozone levels are now higher and partly because the researchers calculate that ozone does more damage than previously thought, says Feng. The estimate of $63 billion-worth of crop losses is plausible, says Nigel Bell at Imperial College London. The huge impact of surface ozone has slowly been becoming clear, he says. “It’s something that gradually crept up on us.” Because farming is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and continued land clearance for farms is causing habitat loss, the findings mean that ozone pollution is also indirectly leading to global warming and biodiversity loss. But the relationship between ozone and other air pollutants is complex, making it hard to tackle the problem in the short term.
1-17-22 Thousands without power as US and Canada hit by winter storm
A major winter storm has brought heavy snow and ice to parts of the US and Canada, putting more than 80 million people under weather warnings. More than 145,000 people are without power in some south-eastern states, and thousands of flights are cancelled. Virginia, Georgia, and North and South Carolina have all declared states of emergency. The US National Weather Service (NWS) says more than 1ft (30cm) of snow is expected in some areas. Snow and ice could result in "dangerous travel, power outages, and tree damage", the NWS warned. Highway patrols reported hundreds of vehicle accidents, according to the Associated Press news agency. There were also forecasts of possible coastal flooding in some areas, including in New York City and parts of Connecticut, with warnings that roads and infrastructure could be affected. In Canada's Ontario province, which shares a border with New York state, officials issued storm warnings on Sunday morning for much of the south. Toronto, the capital of the province and Canada's largest city, is forecast to get seven inches (20cm) of snow. More than 3,000 flights into and out of the US were cancelled on Sunday, according to the FlightAware data tracking website. Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was among the worst hit, with almost 90% of flights scrapped, and a message on its website urged passengers to check with their airlines before travelling to the airport. In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster called on residents to stay off the roads. "This is going to be a pretty bad storm in the upper part of the state," he said, adding that it was "good news" that the storm was forecast to hit on a weekend and on a public holiday on Monday, when fewer people would need to travel. "Hopefully, the storm will underdeliver, but it could overdeliver. We just don't know," Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said as he announced preparations for his state.
1-17-22 Climate change: Wales has 'duty' due to coal mining history
Wales has a "particular responsibility" to help fight climate change because of its coal mining past, a leading conservationist has claimed. Director of Carbon Link Ru Hartwell said the country "invented" a model of industrial development based on exploiting fossil fuels. His charity runs one of the tree-planting programmes the Welsh government funds in Africa. It has planted about four million trees in Kenya's Boré community since 2012. The project has expanded significantly over the course of the past decade, from getting 1,000 cashew trees in the ground initially to ambitions to plant one million trees this year. They will include 19 varieties, some of which provide food and timber to the community and others to create wildlife habitats and improve biodiversity. The funding comes via Welsh government, the charity Size of Wales and takings from two innovative climate change charity shops in Lampeter and Aberystwyth. "It's all about helping the local people protect their existing forest and plant new trees to suck down carbon from the atmosphere and improve the climate for everyone," Mr Hartwell explained in a video call from the Boré Community Forest Project. One of the "tragic ironies of climate change," he said was poorer nations that had contributed least to the carbon emissions problem were being worst hit by the impacts of rising temperatures and extreme weather. "Wales has a very long history of releasing carbon," he said. "We've got one of the longest legacy footprints of any country in the world because of the industrialisation that came with the south Wales coalfield. "The model of industrial development based on the exploitation of fossil fuels was invented in south Wales and every other country in the world has gone on to kind of emulate that. "So, because we were the first industrialised nation, we have a particular responsibility to draw back some of that ancient, historical carbon."
1-17-22 Volcano eruption in Tonga was a once-in-a-millennium event
The underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption has already triggered a tsunami, a sonic boom and thousands of lightning bolts, and could now lead to acid rain. The massive explosion of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga on Saturday was its most powerful eruption since AD 1100. The after-effects have been felt around the globe and the damage is still being assessed. The volcano, located about 65 kilometres north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, exploded with violent force at 5:10pm local time on 15 January. Satellite images show a mushroom cloud of ash billowing 30 kilometres high and later sweeping more than 3000 kilometres west to Australia. A sea level gauge at Nuku’alofa recorded a tsunami wave of 1.19 metres before it stopped recording, according to Hannah Power at the University of Newcastle in Australia. Videos posted to social media show waves crashing into houses in Tonga, and large waves also reached Japan, prompting evacuation orders, and Peru, where two people drowned at a beach. The extent of destruction in Tonga is still uncertain because the country’s main undersea phone and internet cable was damaged. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference on 16 January that she had received reports of boats and large boulders washed ashore in Nuku’alofa and damage to properties, but that there was no news from other coastal areas. No deaths have been reported at this stage. A New Zealand air force plane was deployed on 17 January to assess the damage, but its findings haven’t yet been reported. Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai is 1.8 kilometres tall and 20 kilometres wide, but most of it is underwater, with only its top 100 metres poking out of the sea. It has been spewing ash intermittently and making small blast noises since 20 December. The pressure wave generated by the explosion blasted through the atmosphere at more than 1000 kilometres per hour and was recorded crossing the US, UK and Europe. The resulting sonic boom was heard in nearby Fiji, in New Zealand and even in Alaska, over 9000 kilometres away.
1-16-22 Will ScotWind auction deliver a renewables revolution?
The ScotWind auction is the first time in a decade that plots of seabed in Scottish waters have been up for grabs. So when the successful bidders are announced on Monday could it power a long-awaited renewables revolution? Over the next decade these new offshore wind farm sites could supercharge renewable energy capacity, more than doubling everything currently built, or planned, in Scottish waters. At the moment the capacity of offshore wind in Scotland is about 2GW, a small fraction of overall renewables. The Moray East project, in the Outer Moray Firth, recently became Scotland's single largest source of renewable energy, with a capacity of 950MW from 100 offshore turbines, enough to power about 650,000 homes. It will be eclipsed in the next year by Seagreen, located about 27km off the Angus coast, which will be slightly bigger at 1,000MW or 1GW. In total, projects which have consent and those already in the pipeline come to less than 10GW. The ScotWind auction, whose successful bidders will be announced on Monday, should see at least a further 10GW added to the Scottish market and maybe more as technology becomes more efficient. By industry calculations that has the potential to power seven million homes, almost one quarter of the total number in Britain. It is an auction of the rights to develop several sites in Scottish waters for offshore wind. The process is managed by Crown Estate Scotland (CES), which takes its lead from the Scottish government, which will receive the hundreds of millions of pounds in profits. The 15 Scotwind zones in this leasing round are on a much bigger scale than before and a total of 74 bids have been submitted. CES will make initial offers to successful applicants on Monday. Agreements will then be finalised before developers can move forward with detailed plans. The winning bidders will still have a lot of work to do - designing, getting planning permission, securing grid connections, the subsidy auction, getting billions of pounds lined up, and then procuring and installing. It is a long-term project.
1-15-22 Plans to protect England's national parks set out
Plans to safeguard England's national parks for future generations have been unveiled by the government. The proposals also aim to improve access to nature and ensure landscapes are key to tackling climate change. It follows a review of protections for national parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONBs). Environment Secretary George Eustice said the plans - including a public consultation - were "a new chapter in the story of our protected landscapes". The consultation runs to 9 April and will ask for views on the proposals to drive nature recovery and support communities that live and work in those areas. The proposals include creating management plans for those in charge of the national parks and AONBs, and encouraging local leaders across England to organise campaigns, events and volunteering projects to bring the public closer to nature. The Landscapes Review looked at whether the existing protections were still fit for purpose. The review's author, Julian Glover, said: "It won't be enough just to try to conserve what we have inherited - we can change the story from decline to recovery, to make them greener, more welcoming and full of hope." The pandemic has seen more people spending time outside but it has also highlighted inequalities surrounding access to green spaces - with people on low incomes being disadvantaged, according to the advisory body Natural England. Increased access to nature is among the aims set out in the new plans. Using landscapes in the fight against climate change are also central to the aims, along with protecting biodiversity and supporting people's health and wellbeing for the next 70 years and beyond. Mr Eustice said: "These reforms will play a pivotal role in meeting our international commitment to protect 30% of land for biodiversity by 2030." The government has also pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 as part of its 25-Year Environment Plan.
1-15-22 How a colossal block of ice became an obsession
Did you develop an obsession during lockdown? Did those long weeks and months take you down surprising avenues? Where did your mind wander? The Swiss-based British artist Kevin Eason found himself thinking about Antarctica and one particularly large chunk of ice. He'd read an article, by me as it happens, about a 300-billion-tonne iceberg that had recently calved from the east of the continent. D28, it's called; although that's not its only name as I'll explain. Kevin's interest was piqued by the satellite images that scientists began publishing of this berg, along with the sometimes surprising colours they would choose to render scenes and emphasise contrast. "It started out quite small. Just little studies," the artist recalls. "I found myself taking images that I'd see of D28, dropping them into Photoshop, and making colour samples. I was basically making pantones from Antarctica based on images that were being circulated around the internet. "I spent weeks mixing the paint to match these colours. I guess it was a form of meditation. And then I was bound to the studio, and so it just started developing into something." That something is a series of four oil paintings depicting the life of D28. The first picture captures the definitive and distinctive outline of the berg in the days immediately after it broke from the edge of Antarctica's Amery Ice Shelf. The ones that follow are from Kevin's imagination. The series marks the years 2019, 2021, 2023, and 2025. We don't know when that final, speculative view will occur, but it will happen eventually. Icebergs are born to wither and melt away. Those people who've seen the series have had various reactions, but some of the themes are common. You won't be surprised to learn that when asked to describe an emotion or feeling, the words that viewers used included "transformation", "scale", "time", "isolation", "drifting", "silence", "change", "awareness", and "loss".
1-14-22 UK energy crisis: Why renewable subsidies will help avoid price shocks
Rising energy costs have seen wind farms substantially refund environmental levies for the first time, showing they are likely to be the solution to, not a cause of, soaring bills. Amid the UK’s increasingly heated debate over what to do about soaring energy bills, targeting green levies has repeatedly been suggested as a way to soften rising costs. The boss of the UK’s biggest energy supplier wants them moved off energy bills and paid for by general taxation. Green-minded Conservative MPs agree. A separate group of Tory MPs, some of whom are critical of the costs of acting on climate change, have written that they should be scrapped entirely, later clarifying that they should at least be temporarily suspended. But a new milestone announced this week points to how these environmental levies are the solution, not the problem, when it comes to avoiding energy price shocks. The green levies, along with social ones such as efforts to alleviate fuel poverty, make up 15 per cent of the average dual fuel bill for households in England, Scotland and Wales. One of the major green levy items is a scheme to incentivise development of new wind farms, known as Contracts for Difference (CfD). Under this, energy suppliers usually pay electricity generators, such as wind farm owners, the difference between wholesale power prices and a “strike price” that is a better reflection of the cost of producing renewable energy. For example, some older wind farms have a strike price of £114 per megawatt hour. In normal times, UK wholesale prices are in the region of £50/MWh, in which case a wind farm owner gets a £64 top-up. But gas costs meant wholesale prices were so high in July to September 2021 that they eclipsed strike prices, and the money reversed direction. During that three-month period, the scheme returned funds to energy suppliers: £39.2 million, to be precise. In effect, renewable energy was helping suppress the rise in energy prices for supplies.
1-14-22 The 'green' row over the UK's largest renewable power plant
This is the second of two articles examining the way wood pellets are produced and used as a green energy source. The first article can be found here.The Drax power station near Selby, Yorkshire, is surrounded by both busy roads and small farms. A faint humming noise emanates all around the complex, while water vapour rises slowly and steadily from the cooling towers. The scale of operations at this converted coal plant is gargantuan. It's the UK's largest renewable power station. Wood pellets are imported from the US on enormous ships that take up to 21 days in transit. They are then transported overland via rail, and Drax receives about 17 deliveries of wood pellets a day, operating 24 hours a day, six days a week. Once inside, the pellets are pulverised into a powder, blown into boilers and then burnt. The steam from this process powers turbines that produce electricity. In 2020, Drax generated 11% of the UK's renewable power - enough for four million homes. While the UK is by far the largest consumer of wood pellets, globally, biomass is a massive industry that is growing in value and reach. The EU is also a major market, and South Korea and Japan are increasingly interested as well. This means that the search has widened for new sources of wood, for instance from Estonia. Yet, Drax's green credentials have been comprehensively challenged by environmentalists and others recently. The climate think tank, Ember, calculates that the power station is now the UK's single largest source of carbon dioxide. The firm's share price weakened on this news breaking although it has subsequently regained ground. The stock was removed from the S&P Global Clean Energy Index in October after the index changed its methodology. When it comes to the arcane world of climate accounting, biomass energy is classed as renewable based on the premise that trees grow back. So greenhouse gas emissions from trees are counted in the nation of land use rather than the place where they are burnt. Yet, Mary Booth, founder of the environmental organisation Partnership for Policy Integrity, points out that "just because something is counted as zero because of an accounting convention does not mean it's carbon neutral".
1-14-22 UK energy crisis: Why renewable subsidies will help avoid price shocks
Rising energy costs have seen wind farms substantially refund environmental levies for the first time, showing they are likely to be the solution, not the problem, to soaring bills. Amid the UK’s increasingly heated debate about what to do about energy bills, targeting green levies has repeatedly been suggested as a way to soften rising fuel costs. The boss of the UK’s biggest energy supplier wants them moved off energy bills and paid for by general taxation. Green-minded Conservative MPs agree. A separate group of Tory MPs, some of whom are critical of the costs of acting on climate change, have written that they should be scrapped entirely, later clarifying that they should at least be temporarily suspended. But a new milestone announced this week points to how these environmental levies are the solution, not the problem, when it comes to avoiding energy price shocks. The green levies, along with social ones such as schemes to alleviate fuel poverty, make up 15 per cent of the average dual fuel bill for households in England, Scotland and Wales. One of the big ticket items is a scheme that incentivises developers of new wind farms, known as Contracts for Difference (CfD). Under the scheme, energy suppliers usually pay electricity generators, such as wind farm owners, the difference between wholesale power prices and a “strike price”. For example, some older wind farms have a strike price of £114 per megawatt hour. In normal times, UK wholesale prices are in the region of £50/MWh, in which case a wind farm owner gets a £64 top-up. But gas costs meant wholesale prices were so high in July to September 2021 that they eclipsed strike prices, and the money reversed direction. During that three-month period, the scheme returned funds to energy suppliers: £39.2 million, to be precise. “That was always the intention – but hasn’t happened before,” says Jim Watson at University College London. “It marks a turning point in the UK’s net zero transition as it becomes clear that early renewable subsidies are paying off,” says Jess Ralston at the thinktank ECIU.
1-13-22 Animal decline is hurting plants' ability to adapt to climate change
Declines in bird and mammal species are making plant seed dispersal more difficult, which means plants can’t adapt as effectively to climate change. Losses in the number of birds and mammals are limiting the capacity of plants worldwide to adapt to climate change by curbing seed dispersal. About half of plants rely on animals to disperse their seeds, and research has shown the importance of large animals for transporting seeds over long distances. But the impact of wildlife declines on seed dispersal hasn’t been measured at a global level before, which Evan Fricke at Rice University, Texas, set out to address. Fricke and his colleagues gathered data on 302 animal species and on the seeds of which plant species they help disperse, combining it with information from field studies including how far the seeds travel and how they survive after passing through animals’ guts. Researchers “are nowhere close” to having evidence for all plant and animal species, says Fricke, so his team relied on machine learning and modelling to fill gaps. For example, in a case of missing data for a seed dispersed by a monkey, a similar-sized primate that had been studied stood in. The result was an index estimating how many seeds a given number of birds and mammals could spread by more than a kilometre. The team found that seed dispersal globally had “steeply declined” compared with a model of a world that hadn’t experienced the bird and mammal losses recorded to date. The individual declines vary, but the biggest were in northern temperate regions rather than the tropics. With some plant species having to shift their range by hundreds of metres or even several kilometres a year to be able to thrive in a rapidly warming world, the team also built an index tracking the ability of seed dispersal to outpace plants’ changing local climates. The loss of birds and mammals was found to have driven a 60 per cent cut in plant species’ ability to track climate change. A further 15 per cent fall is expected if today’s threatened animals go extinct.
1-13-22 Australia equals hottest day on record at 50.7C
Australia has equalled its hottest day on record after a remote coastal town reported temperatures of 50.7C (123.26F). The temperature in Onslow, Western Australia, on Thursday matched a record set in 1962 in South Australia. Onslow and the surrounding areas could see records broken again with temperatures set to rise slightly on Friday. It comes after Western Australia reported large bushfires last month. One fire near Margaret River scorched through more than 6,000 hectares of land, forcing evacuations. The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed on Thursday that Onslow equalled the record at 14:26 local time (22:26 GMT). According to local media, the average temperature in Onslow at this time of year is 36.5C. Two other towns, Mardie and Roebourne, reported temperatures of more than 50C on Thursday. Luke Huntington, of the Bureau of Meteorology, said that a build-up of hot air in the region had been caused by a lack of thunderstorms. He said people take "extra care to stay indoors with air conditioning, or if they have to be outdoors, to stay in the shade and keep up with fluids". One Roeburn resident, Mark Barratt, told ABC News that temperatures have got so high the air conditioning in their office had stopped working. "Things are starting to feel the stress, that's for sure," he said. BBC weather forecaster Chris Fawkes said that temperatures are set to rise slightly on Friday but will cool down in the following days. The record-breaking heat comes just days after a report from the EU's satellite system confirmed that the past seven years have been the hottest on record. Heatwaves are becoming more likely and more extreme because of human-induced climate change. The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began, and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.
1-13-22 Chemical cocktail’ polluting English rivers - MPs warn
Raw sewage, microplastics and slurry are coursing through all of England's rivers, putting health and nature at risk, a parliamentary report concludes. Agriculture and water companies are the biggest contributors to this "chemical cocktail", the Environmental Audit Committee warns. Car tyre particles, oils and wet wipes are also clogging waterways. The environment minister said the report highlighted areas the government was currently tackling. People across the country using rivers for activities ranging from sports and swimming to fishing risk falling ill from bacteria in sewage and slurry. The water and riverbanks are also home to rich plant, fish and insect life and are essential to biodiversity. But chemicals, plastics and an excess of nutrients are choking the water. No river in England can be given a clean bill of health, the group of MPs on the committee concluded after months of hearing from experts. Budget cuts are hampering the Environment Agency's ability to stop pollution, says the report. "Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected. Our inquiry has uncovered multiple failures in the monitoring, governance and enforcement on water quality," Environmental Audit Committee chairman and MP Philip Dunne said. "For too long, the government, regulators and the water industry have allowed a Victorian sewerage system to buckle under increasing pressure." Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: "We are going further and faster than any other government to protect and enhance the health of our rivers and seas. "We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee's report which highlights many areas that this government is now tackling." The report makes a series of recommendations to overhaul how the country's rivers are managed. Water companies should be penalised more heavily for sewage discharge and each river should have a designated bathing area by 2025, it suggests. Pollution from intensive farming, in particular from chicken farms, is the most common way rivers are being contaminated, the report says. Excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen leaked into water cause algae to bloom to high levels in water - that's the cause of the thick, bright green layer often seen coating waterways. This can prevent oxygen entering the water, suffocating life beneath the surface.
1-13-22 Water pollution: How clean are the UK's rivers and lakes?
England's rivers are contaminated by a "chemical cocktail" of sewage, agriculture and road pollution, according to MPs. Microplastics, slurry, car tyre particles, oils and wet wipes are all part of the problem, they said. High quality water is key both to our survival and that of the environment. Each person in the UK uses around 140 litres of water a day for washing, drinking and cooking. The water we use in our homes is safe, but increased pollution means more intensive treatment is required, which raises household bills. Contamination also threatens water sources crucial for the survival of wildlife, the natural environment and the food system. According to the Wildlife Trusts, rising pollution levels place 10% of freshwater and wetland species at risk of extinction. In Wales and England, 38% of fish health checks are failed due to disease caused by pollution. These species are vital to: 1. reduce the impact of flooding, 2. provide income for communities: the UK's freshwater fisheries provide £1.7 billion to the economy, 3. support food and agricultural services. Access to clean water sources can also provide an opportunity for outdoor exercise. The main causes are: 1. excessive use of fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture - which is responsible for 40% of water pollution in England, 2. untreated sewage released by water companies - responsible for 35%, 3. "run-off" from roads and towns which contains pollutants such as oil - responsible for 18%. Professor Steve Ormerod, an ecologist at Cardiff University, warns of other threats. He says: "We need to understand the risks which come with emerging pollutants - pharmaceuticals, microplastics. We don't know, at this stage how big a problem they're going to be." Previous campaigns on acid rain and sewage have been successful in improving water quality, but improvements have stalled since 2016. "The fact remains that many water companies, farmers and others are still not doing enough to protect [our waters]," the Environment Agency says.
1-13-22 Fix the Planet newsletter: The race to replace meat
Meat is responsible for roughly twice the greenhouse gas emissions of plant-based food. Can we afford not to seek alternative sources of protein for our food? Welcome to this week’s Fix the Planet, the weekly climate change newsletter that reminds you there are reasons for hope in science and technology around the world. To receive this free, monthly newsletter in your inbox, sign up here. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I used to rely on it as my main source of protein. Many other people still do. But meat is also responsible for roughly twice the global greenhouse gas emissions as plant-based food and more nitrogen pollution than Earth can handle, as well as being a leading driver of illegal deforestation. So where else can we get our protein, without livestock’s environmental hangover? A host of alternative proteins are competing, from plant-based ones (currently mostly wheat, soy or pea-based options) and “lab-grown” meat to insects and microbes that make animal proteins. A food strategy commissioned by the UK government said last year that the country should develop alternative proteins. Today, alternative meat is worth just 1 per cent of the global meat industry, but some experts think it could reach 10 per cent by 2029. This week’s Fix the Planet takes a closer look at some of the options and the potential pitfalls in the transition to alternative proteins. It’s worth saying that, in the UK at least, most people eat more protein than they need, about 50 per cent more on average than guidelines recommend. So we don’t need a completely like-for-like replacement for protein from meat. But looking beyond today to a world of 9 billion people in 2050 , Wendy Russell at University of Aberdeen, UK, says the status quo would require 465 billion kilograms of meat. That isn’t feasible in terms of land and water use, she says, let alone carbon emissions. “We really do need to change our diet,” says Russell.
1-12-22 Climate change destroying homes across the Arctic
Cracked homes, buckled roads and ruptured pipelines are likely to become common in and near the Arctic as warming temperatures cause frozen ground to thaw, new findings say. Five million people live on Arctic permafrost including in Russia, North America and Scandinavia. Climate change is causing the Arctic to warm two-to-four times faster than the rest of the planet. "The land changes right before us," one Alaska resident told BBC News. Scientists studying the Arctic say that 70% of infrastructure and 30-50% of critical infrastructure is at high risk of damage by 2050, with projected cost of tens of billions of dollars. The study published on Tuesday highlights again how climate change is expected to threaten life as we know it as well as the natural world. "Arctic communities are all different but everyone living on permafrost is really struggling," Kaare Sikuaq Erickson told BBC News. He works in Alaska as a cultural mediator between residents and institutions. Permafrost or tundra is defined as land that has been frozen continuously for more than two years. It covers around one quarter of the northern hemisphere's land surface, including half of Canada's land and 80% of Alaska's. But warming temperatures are causing parts of it to thaw with often unpredictable effects, including sinkhole formation, land slips and flooding. "Both the construction itself and the warming of the climate cause permafrost to thaw, which threatens existing infrastructure and future construction projects," says lead author Prof Jan Hjort at the University of Oulu in Finland. Imagine living on a block of ice and constantly trying to keep it frozen, Mr Erickson says when explaining the challenges facing Alaskan communities. It affects everything from trying to dig foundations for a house, or building a level road, to installing sewer and water systems. "Historically the ice did stay cooler, but now it's warming fast," he explains. "You see the foundations of buildings and highways are up and down - you're driving over big bumps in the roads."
1-11-22 Antarctica: Invasive species 'hitchhiking' on ships
Species from around the world that are "hitching a lift" on ships threaten Antarctica's pristine marine ecosystem. That is the conclusion of a study tracking research, fishing and tourist vessels that routinely visit the protected, otherwise isolated region. It revealed that ships from 1,500 ports around the globe visit Antarctica. "These ships travel all around the world," explained lead researcher Arlie McCarthy from the University of Cambridge. "It means that almost anywhere could be a potential source for invasive species." Those non-native species, she explained, "can completely change an ecosystem". "They can create entirely new habitats that would make it harder for those amazing Antarctic animals to find their own place to live." The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points to the need for more stringent measures to ensure that ships do not bring species that could disrupt Antarctica's fragile habitats. The research team, from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge, used satellite data and international shipping databases to work out the weight of Antarctic traffic - and the origin of those ships. "What was really surprising was that they don't just have one home port that they go back and forth to," said Ms McCarthy. Instead, the global movement of vessels links otherwise isolated parts of Antarctica to more than 1,500 ports all around the world. Any marine species that can cling to the hull of the ship and survive the journey to Antarctica could pose an invasive threat. Creatures, including mussels, barnacles, crabs and algae, are of particular concern, because they attach themselves to hulls, in a process termed "biofouling". Mussels, for example, can survive in polar waters and spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed. Their water filtering alters the marine food chain and also the chemistry of the water around them. "This is the last place in the world where we don't have marine invasive species," explained Ms McCarthy. "So we [still] have an opportunity to protect it."
1-11-22 Veg diet plus re-wilding gives 'double climate dividend'
One hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the air by the end of the century through veggie diets plus re-wilding farmland. That's the estimate of a study of potential carbon savings from turning the land freed up to nature. A quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food and agriculture, with livestock accounting for the bulk, in rich nations. And the animals need a huge amount of land for grazing and growing feed. If wealthier countries moved away from meat-rich diets, much less land would be needed to grow food, and vast areas could be left to revert to their natural state, with wild plants and trees drawing down carbon from the atmosphere, a study found. This "double climate dividend" could be achieved through linking land, food, public health and climate policy. "It's a double whammy," said Dr Paul Behrens of Leiden University in The Netherlands, who led the research. "We know that shifting diets can save a huge amount of emissions from avoiding emissions from animal-based agriculture, but we can also save large amounts of land which can be used to sequester carbon from the atmosphere."The researchers estimated the effect of a shift to a diet with a bit of meat but a lot of veg by more than 50 high-income nations. They estimate this "planetary health diet" would reduce annual agricultural production emissions by almost two-thirds, while allowing former farmland to return to its natural state would remove 98.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of the century (about 14 years' worth of total global emissions from agriculture). "Another way to think about it is that you could roughly double the emissions that you save by following a plant-based diet if the land was allowed to re-wild or re-forest," Dr Behrens said. There's a growing realisation that climate change and nature are inextricably linked and must be tackled together. "It's really about having a joined-up picture of food policy and land policy and climate policy at the same time and fundamentally re-aligning subsidies in order to harness this," he added.
1-11-22 Climate change communication should focus less on specific numbers
Overemphasis on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius misses a key point, some experts say. What’s in a number? The goals of the 2021 United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, called for nations to keep a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius “within reach.” But when it comes to communicating climate change to the public, some scientists worry that too much emphasis on a specific number is a poor strategy. Focusing on one number obscures a more important point, they say: Even if nations don’t meet this goal to curb global climate change, any progress is better than none at all. Maybe it’s time to stop talking so much about one number. On November 13, the United Nations’ 26th annual climate change meeting, or COP26, ended in a new climate deal, the Glasgow Climate Pact. In that pact, the 197 assembled nations reaffirmed a common “ideal” goal: limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C by 2100, relative to preindustrial times (SN: 12/17/18). Holding temperature increases to 1.5 degrees C, researchers have found, would be a significant improvement over limiting warming to 2 degrees C, as agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement (SN: 12/12/15). The more stringent limit would mean fewer global hazards, from extreme weather to the speed of sea level rise to habitat loss for species (SN: 12/17/18). The trouble is that current national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are nowhere near enough to meet either of those goals. Even accounting for the most recent national pledges to cut emissions, the average global temperature by 2100 is likely to be between 2.2 and 2.7 degrees C warmer than it was roughly 150 years ago (SN: 10/26/21).And that glaring disparity is leading not just to fury and frustration for many, but also to despair and pervasive feelings of doom, says paleoclimatologist Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
1-10-22 Past seven years hottest on record - EU satellite data
The past seven years have been the hottest on record, according to new data from the EU's satellite system. The Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2021 was the fifth-warmest year, with record-breaking heat in some regions. And the amount of warming gases in our atmosphere continued to increase. Governments are committed to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C to curb climate change. But scientists warn that time is fast running out. The environmental, human and economic costs of hotter temperatures are already being seen globally. Europe lived through its warmest summer, and temperature records in western US and Canada were broken by several degrees. Extreme wildfires in July and August burnt almost entire towns to the ground and killed hundreds. "These events are a stark reminder of the need to change our ways, take decisive and effective steps toward a sustainable society and work towards reducing net carbon emissions," Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, explains. The Copernicus data comes from a constellation of Sentinel satellites that monitor the Earth from orbit, as well as measurements taken at ground level. Copernicus data showed that 2021 was the fifth-hottest on record, marginally warmer than 2015 and 2018. Taken together, the past seven years were the hottest seven years on record by a clear margin, the agency explained. The 2021 average temperature was 1.1-1.2C above the pre-industrial level around 150 years ago. The agency said that the start of the year saw relatively low temperatures compared to recent years, but that by June monthly temperatures were at least among the warmest four recorded. Places with above average temperatures included the west coast of US and Canada, north-east Canada and Greenland, large parts of north and central Africa, and the Middle East.
1-10-22 2021 ranks as Earth's fifth-hottest year on record
.Last year was planet Earth's fifth-hottest year on record, The New York Times reports Monday, per European scientists. Iceberg at sunset. Last year was planet Earth's fifth-hottest year on record, The New York Times reports Monday, per European scientists. The researchers' finding also fits a "clear warming trend," writes the Times: "The seven hottest years on record have been the past seven." Last year ranked fifth warmest at a slight margin over 2015 and 2018, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European group who conducted the study made public on Monday. The years 2016 and 2020 are virtually tied for hottest on record. Even if 2021's worldwide average temperature failed to surpass previous years' records, last year's climate events were nonetheless "a stark reminder of the need to change our ways, take decisive and effective steps toward a sustainable society and work toward reducing net carbon emissions," Carlo Buontempo, director of Copernicus, told the Times. La Niña conditions, "a recurring climate pattern characterized by lower surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean," assisted in lowering the mean temperature early in the year, though its effects were later offset by higher temperatures in many countries (though not all) between June and October, writes the Times, per Copernicus. "When we think about climate change, it's not just a single progression, year after year after year being the warmest," said scientist Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth. "The preponderance of evidence — which comes from looking at ocean temperatures, land temperatures, upper atmospheric temperatures, glaciers melting, sea ice changes — are telling us a coherent story about changes in the earth system which points to warming overall." "Slight variations up or down, a year or two at a time, don't change that picture," he added. Read more at The New York Times.
1-10-22 Air pollution: Delhi's smog problem is rooted in India's water crisis
Every winter, Indian capital Delhi's toxic air is fuelled by farmers burning crop stubble. But the fires don't stop. Why? The answer lies in water, writes climate expert Mridula Ramesh. India loses an estimated $95bn (£70bn) to air pollution every year. From mid-March to mid-October, when Delhi's air quality varies from good to moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups, chatter on air pollution and its causes is muted. But then comes winter. Pollution in any city mixes vertically in the atmosphere, and the height at which this happens shrinks by more than half in the winter, raising the concentration of pollution. Two new sources also enter the mix. By the end of October, when the rains have ceased, the winds begin to blow in from the northwest, carrying fumes from burning fields. Then there is the Diwali, the popular festival lights, where millions burst fire crackers to celebrate. Both of these play a large role in the spike in pollution. In the first week of November 2021, when Delhi's air quality went beyond hazardous, stubble burning accounted for 42% of the city's PM2.5 levels - these are tiny particles that can enter the lungs. Governments have banned the practice, imposed fines and even suggested alternate uses for the straw and other crop residue. But farmers continue to burn stubble. Why? Think of the fields that are on fire. They get only between 500-700mm (19-27 in) of rainfall a year. Yet, many of these fields grow a dual crop of paddy and wheat. Paddy alone needs about 1,240mm (48.8 in) of rainfall each year, and so, farmers use groundwater to bridge the gap. The northern states of Punjab and Haryana, which grow large amounts of paddy, together take out roughly 48 billion cubic metres (bcm) of groundwater a year, which is not much less than India's overall annual municipal water requirement: 56bcm. As a result, groundwater levels in these states are dropping rapidly. Punjab is expected to run out of groundwater in 20-25 years from 2019, according to an official estimate.
1-10-22 Energy bills: Fix insulation to tackle cost of heating, PM told
Better insulation could save UK households more than £500 a year on energy bills, according to a group of business organisations and charities. The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group is calling on the prime minister to prioritise energy saving through home improvements. It could save the UK £7.8bn a year, the group says. The government is under political pressure to take action over rocketing gas bills. Households have seen energy bills rise in recent months and further increases will take effect in April, when the energy price cap will be raised to take higher wholesale gas prices into account. The government is exploring ways to support those on low incomes who will struggle to afford higher heating costs. But the EEIG, which includes the CBI, Kingfisher, Energy Savings Trust and the green group WWF, says this and previous administrations are partly to blame for higher bills because they failed to ensure Britain's homes are adequately insulated. "The cost-of-living crisis is being driven by soaring gas prices," said EEIG chairwoman Sarah Kostense-Winterton. "A permanent solution to lower bills is by reducing demand through energy efficiency measures. "Emergency short-term measures for the most vulnerable households are crucial, but it's fundamental for the government to simultaneously focus on the long term to avoid futures crises. "Green home retrofits have significant social, environmental and economic co-benefits, and stand out as a 'no regrets' solution to the energy crisis, climate crisis, and levelling up agenda." Britain has the coldest and leakiest housing stock in western Europe, leaving residents particularly exposed to spikes in gas prices. Successive governments have failed to implement policies to tackle the problem. The most recent insulation scheme, the Green Homes Grant, was scrapped after just six months.
1-9-22 Simon Reeve: 'I feel a hypocrite over my carbon footprint'
TV adventurer Simon Reeve has admitted he sometimes feels like a "hypocrite" over the carbon footprint his travel documentaries leave behind. The presenter has journeyed around the world fronting travel shows for the BBC in far-flung locations including Australia, Cuba and the Caribbean. But in recent years Reeve has spent time showcasing British landscapes. He said he hoped the "honest stories" his shows convey about the planet help mitigate their environmental impact. Discussing the issue of his carbon footprint, on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Reeve said: "I obviously feel many a time like a hypocrite. "Ultimately, the only way we're going to know what's happening out there is by going out there and faithfully capturing it and bringing it back for people to see and be shocked by." Reeve said he was always keen to jump at things that might be seen as dangerous, such as searching for bears in a forest in the middle of the night. "Think about the risks, mitigate them of course, but embrace life and take chances on planet Earth because it's the way to feel alive," he said. However, he said there have been times where he had realised on reflection how dangerous a certain trip was. The presenter recalled the time he and his team were trying to find the source of a new drug, and discovered that the place they had gone to to interview individuals was actually a gang's drug den. "I do feel a sense of responsibility in that sense, but I work with people who I trust and I hope trust me, we're alert to risk and danger probably more than most people," he said. "And we try and mitigate and design that out wherever possible." Reeve, who has presented travel documentaries including Holidays In The Danger Zone: Places That Don't Exist, Tropic Of Cancer and Tropic Of Capricorn, said his upbringing had not been as adventurous and revealed he did not fly on a plane until he was an adult.
1-8-22 Biden tours Colorado communities devastated by fire
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited Colorado Friday, touring neighborhoods destroyed by the fire that devastated Louisville, Superior, and Boulder County last week, the Denver Post reported. The president met with local first responders and with families who lost their homes, praising them for "the incredible courage and resolve that you all show." According to Reuters, Biden also took the opportunity to say that "these fires are being supercharged" by climate change and to declare the disaster "a blinking code red for our nation." Local authorities estimate the fire that ravaged these communities caused at least $513 million in damage and destroyed almost 1,100 homes and structures, The Associated Press reported. One person is confirmed dead. Investigators are still working to determine the fire's cause but have narrowed in on a piece of Boulder-area property owned by the Christian fundamentalist sect Twelve Tribes. A barn on the property was filmed burning before the larger blaze broke out. Per the Denver Post, Air Force One deposited the Bidens at Denver International Airport at around 2 p.m. and whisked them away to Las Vegas, where the president is scheduled attend Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's memorial, before 7 p.m.
1-8-22 Tories call on Treasury to fund green energy plans
A group of green-minded Tory MPs says the government should fund environmental and social energy policies from the Treasury, instead of from consumer bills. The Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which includes 116 MPs, says the temporary measure would ease the surge in household costs. But the group opposes a separate proposal to abolish the 5% VAT on energy bills, saying it would effectively provide a subsidy for fossil fuels. The CEN is urging ministers to reduce bills and emissions in the long term by ensuring the UK's homes are better insulated. The plea is endorsed by the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group - an alliance of businesses and charities who will write to the prime minister on Monday, arguing better insulation for people in sub-standard housing could cut bills by £500 a year. But the current crisis over energy bills has revealed divisions among Conservative backbenchers. The plan to scrap VAT on energy has been pushed by the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) of Tory MPs and peers. The caucus, with around 20 followers, has been linked to the anti-green pressure group formerly known as the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which was founded by the former Chancellor Nigel Lawson. Although its numbers are small, it is well connected in Conservative media. Its leader, the Tory MP for South Thanet, Craig Mackinlay has regularly voted against measures to tackle climate change. He doesn't deny climate change science, but believes the costs of climate policies are falling unfairly on the UK. In December, Mr Mackinlay tweeted that he blamed "the rush to Net Zero" for creating the "madness in the energy market". But this view is disputed by the industry body Energy UK, which says the rise in gas prices has caused the crisis, not Net Zero policies. Sam Hall, director of the environmental CEN, pointed out that his organisation had almost six times more members than the sceptic NZSG.
1-7-22 Record levels of greenhouse gas methane are a ‘fire alarm moment’
Average atmospheric concentrations of methane reached 1900 parts per billion last September, the highest in nearly four decades of records. Rising levels of the powerful greenhouse gas methane reaching a new milestone should serve as a “fire alarm moment”, say researchers. According to data compiled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), average atmospheric concentrations of methane reached a record 1900 parts per billion (ppb) in September 2021, the highest in nearly four decades of records. The figure stood at 1638 ppb in 1983. “It is scary,” says Euan Nisbet at Royal Holloway, University of London. He says the record shows the importance of more than 100 countries acting on their methane-cutting pledge at the COP26 climate summit. The new high is unsurprising because methane levels have been climbing since 2007, thought to be driven primarily by changes in wetlands and agriculture in the tropics and – to a lesser degree – by leaks from oil and gas production. “The September data continues the exceptional trends that we’ve been seeing over the past few years,” says Keith Shine at the University of Reading, UK. However, the rate at which concentrations are rising is concerning researchers, with 2020 marking the biggest annual jump since records began in 1983. It is too early to say yet whether 2021 will see a record annual increase, says Ed Dlugokencky at the NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. However, based on flasks of air analysed up to the end of September, he is expecting a large rise. Two possible drivers are wet conditions in the tropics, which are common when, as now, the world is experiencing a weather pattern called La Niña, and heat in the Arctic. “Do these conditions play a role in the increase in 2021? Perhaps, but it is too soon to know,” says Dlugokencky.
1-7-22 Colorado's brutal wildfire caused $513 million in damage, officials report
The Marshall Fire that burned through Denver and Boulder, Colo. last week is estimated to have caused at least $513 million in damage and destroyed almost 1,100 homes and structures, The Associated Press reports, per updates from Boulder County officials. It was the most destructive blaze in Colorado history. Officials released the new totals after "further assessing" the damage in suburbs between Denver and Boulder; previous estimates marked at least 991 homes and other buildings destroyed. The $513 million financial figure is the first survey of the event's economic damage, per AP. Investigators are still working to determine the fire's cause, but have narrowed in on an area near Boulder "where one person captured video of a burning shed just before the fire erupted," reports The Hill. Officials believe it could take weeks to figure out exactly how the Dec. 30 blaze began. Two people are missing, "though officials have found partial human remains at one location," notes AP. President Biden was slated to survey the fire's damage on Friday.
1-7-22 Energy crisis: What can the UK government do to help cut fuel bills?
The UK government is talking to the energy industry to find ways to mitigate a huge rise in energy bills that is set to hit consumers in April. The shock of rising energy bills due to sky-high wholesale gas prices has already squeezed UK household budgets, disrupted industrial plants and triggered the collapse of 28 energy suppliers including Bulb. Now the issue is on the brink of escalating into a major cost of living crisis. By 7 February, the energy regulator Ofgem will announce a new level for a regulated price cap that protects 15 million customers. When it takes effect in April, the average annual dual fuel energy bill could rise to £1925, a phenomenal 50 per cent jump, according to analysts Cornwall Insight. The consequences of an unmitigated rise that steep will be “an avalanche” of people falling into debt or rationing heating, says Adam Scorer at fuel poverty charity National Energy Action. For those who cut down on heating, “it’s damp, it’s cold, you will get ill, your children won’t be able to do home schooling, you won’t be productive if you’re trying to work from home”, he says. The size of the overnight increase is likely to ripple well beyond vulnerable customers to affect the wider economy into next year, says Emma Pinchbeck of trade body Energy UK. That is why the UK government is talking to the energy industry about short-term ways to mitigate the increase. Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng met industry figures on 5 January, but the government has been silent on its plans. There is little debate it has to act – the question is how. Cutting the 5 per cent VAT on energy has garnered a lot of attention, as it has been pushed by both the opposition Labour party and Conservative MPs. There are two downsides beyond lower tax take: the first is it is blunt, helping the rich as well as the poor. The bigger issue, says Scorer, is it is only a modest saving, estimated at about £90 a year.
1-7-22 Fix the Planet newsletter: 11 climate solutions to watch in 2022
From heat pumps to electric cars, satellite launches to floating wind turbines, we focus our attention on 11 climate solutions to watch in 2022. Happy new year, and welcome to this week’s Fix the Planet, the weekly climate change newsletter that reminds you there are reasons for hope in science and technology around the world. To receive this free, monthly newsletter in your inbox, sign up here. I’ve been looking to see how my predictions for 2021 fared. Betting on a strong year for hydrogen and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere turned out to be good ideas, while my hope for green economic recoveries transpired to be wishful thinking. Today I’m turning my eye to 2022. Delivering on the promises made in the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed last November will be a big challenge, while two major set-piece climate science reports will dominate February and March. But many of the trends we’ll see this year will be due to economics, technology, science and, of course, politics. Climate change may feature in several key election battles, from national votes in Australia, France and Brazil to the US midterms. Below is my list of what to watch. Next month sees part two of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s current round of reports on the state of climate science. It will mostly cover the impacts of climate change, such as heatwaves, fires and flooding, and how we can adapt to them. As demonstrated by the 19.4°C heat in Alaska at the end of December and the UK’s 16.2°C on New Year’s Day – both records for those dates – every year now brings a deluge of extremes and records. And that’s with just 1.1°C of global warming to date. So expect the IPCC report to make waves with leaders who will have to plan for flood barriers, “cool spaces” to escape heat and so on. The IPCC also has a crucial third report due in March on mitigation, or how we can cut and remove emissions enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change. If you missed part one of these reports, read this.
1-5-22 One in 12 new cases of asthma in children linked to NO2 air pollution
Researchers estimate that 1.85 million new childhood asthma cases in 2019 were linked with exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas released by diesel vehicles. About one in 12 new child asthma cases worldwide are associated with exposure to a toxic gas released by diesel vehicles, according to a new estimate.About one in 12 new child asthma cases worldwide are associated with exposure to a toxic gas released by diesel vehicles, according to a new estimate.About one in 12 new child asthma cases worldwide are associated with exposure to a toxic gas released by diesel vehicles, according to a new estimate. Breathing high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has been previously linked with triggering and exacerbating asthma in childhood. The evidence is now considered strong enough that in 2020, a UK coroner ruled that exposure to the pollutant contributed to the death of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah. Susan Anenberg at George Washington University in Washington DC and her colleagues estimate that 1.85 million new childhood asthma cases were linked with the gas in 2019, making up 8.5 per cent of all new cases that year. That is down from 13 per cent four years earlier, mainly due to richer countries cleaning up their air through emissions standards for “I think this is a good news story for NO2. The fraction of new paediatric asthma cases that are attributable to NO2 has dropped,” says Anenberg. However, the researchers show how unevenly the burden today falls on cities and poorer countries. About two-thirds of the linked asthma cases are in urban areas. And while high-income nations saw NO2-associated cases fall by 41 per cent – driven largely by North America – south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa saw them rise. The researchers used satellite and land use data to map annual average NO2 levels in one kilometre-wide squares globally, before taking data on total childhood asthma cases to estimate how many were associated with NO2, based on 20 epidemiological studies.
1-5-22 Extreme air pollution from US wildfires now affects millions of people
The simultaneous occurence of extreme levels of ozone and particulate matter have increased significantly in the past decade due to wildfires in the western US. The area of the western US hit by the unusually high co-occurrence of two air pollutants because of wildfires has more than doubled in the past decade, exposing millions more people to dirty air. California and other western states have seen historic forest fires in the past five years that have claimed lives, destroyed property and forced evacuations. Now there is evidence that the human cost reaches much further than the blazes’ immediate vicinity. After personally experiencing an increase in smog and smoke in recent years, Daniel Swain at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues explored the role wildfires play. Two types of air pollution – tiny particulate matter called PM2.5 and ozone – are both linked to human health concerns, but they tend to peak at different times of the year. If there is a significant level of wildfire activity, however – which in the western US can occur between July and September – it is possible to see simultaneous peaks in the two pollutants. Such a co-occurrence is thought to have a disproportionately more severe health impact than either pollutant in isolation. Swain and his colleagues looked at an area of the western US stretching from Washington in the north to California in the south, and extending as far east as Montana and New Mexico. They divided the area into 111-kilometre-wide squares. Using data they had previously gathered, supplemented by new satellite data, they looked for what they term extremes in the levels of both PM2.5 and ozone between 2001 and 2020. Over their 20 year study period, the number of squares experiencing the co-occurrence of the two pollutants more than doubled, from 18.9 per cent to 44.6 per cent. The largest areas affected were seen in hot, dry summers with many fires: 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2020. “It’s a very large increase over a short period of time,” says Swain.
1-5-22 Snowbound in Virginia traffic for over 10 hours
Nigel Hammett was on a bus to Atlanta, Georgia, when he fell asleep in traffic. He woke to find the bus in the same spot - stranded by heavy snowfall. He was one of many trapped by a snowstorm that caused major travel delays and power outages. Drivers conserved gas and waited for roads to be cleared overnight. Some abandoned their cars, leaving them to be towed rather than spend the night on the snowy highway. Transportation officials are hoping to reopen the road within 72 hours of the closure.
1-4-22 Why was the D.C.-area snowstorm on Monday so intense?
An unexpected snowfall took the greater Washington, D.C., area by storm on Monday, blanketing the region in five to 10 inches or more of "cement-like snow" that cut power for over half a million residents and stranded hundreds of motorists on Interstate 95, The Washington Post reports. But what made this particular storm so unwieldy and why was its impact so unexpected? Well, you can attribute that to the heavy weight of the wet snow that piled onto trees and sidewalks, as well as the storm's "unusual strength" and the "ideal" track it took while traveling through central Virginia, southern Maryland, and D.C., writes the Post's Capital Weather Gang. Because temperatures "hovered near freezing" during the snowfall, flakes were heavy and wet — "perfect for packing snowballs but perilous for trees limbs," writes the Post. As winds increased in gusto, branches snapped under the strain of the snow. Then, while temperatures continued to drop, initially-wet paved surfaces (like I-95) developed treacherous icy layers that complicated road crew efforts. As for the colossal amount of snow, that can be attributed to a nor'easter that grew stronger as it moved away from the Carolinas and toward the coastal Atlantic. Storms that develop this way are "notorious for producing significant snowfall in our area," wrote the Capital Weather Gang. Though forecasters were aware of a significant, impending snow event, they were not prepared for how rapidly the snowstorm would evolve, the widespread power outages it would cause, or how severe it would be in some communities, which surely added to some of the shock. Read more at The Washington Post.
1-4-22 Snowstorm strands thousands of motorists for 10-plus hours south of Washington, D.C.
Drivers have been stuck on I-95 in Northern Virginia "for more than 15 hours after multiple trucks crashed amid a major snowstorm that left snow and ice packed onto the road," NBC Washington reported Tuesday morning. "Many drivers are out of gas. They don't have food or water. Some say they have kids and pets in the car." As of 5 a.m. on Tuesday, traffic along a 48-mile stretch of I-95 was at a standstill in both directions, the Virginia Department of Transportation confirmed. "There's cars and trucks as far as I can see behind me, and in front of me, and it's looked like this for 12 hours," driver Anne Gould told NBC News, stuck en route to Florida. NBC News correspondent Josh Letterman called in to MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday to describe the 10-plus hours he and his dog have spent trapped in stopped traffic on I-95, about 30 miles south of Washington, D.C. Virginia State Police attributed the lengthy traffic standstill to a series of crashes — one involving six tractor-trailers — and efforts to reach stranded motorists. State police responded to and cleared 653 crashes and 649 disabled and stuck motorists in Virginia during the first 15.5 hours of the snowstorm, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Maryland State Police said its officers had responded to 199 crashes and 237 disabled or abandoned vehicles as of Monday night, The Washington Post reports. "The drive is not worth the risk of a crash, getting stuck, injury to you or your passenger, or the cost of a repair," Virginia State Police said in a statement. Many drivers were stranded or got in wrecks after "going too fast for conditions," the department tweeted. "Pls stay off the roads. Limit travel only if necessary." "This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes," VDOT engineer Marcie Parker said in a statement. "In addition to clearing the trucks, we are treating for snow and several inches of ice that has accumulated around them to ensure that when the lanes reopen, motorists can safely proceed to their destination."
1-3-22 Snowstorm leaves half a million without power in Maryland and Virginia
A snowstorm struck the U.S. East Coast on Monday, dumping up to 12 inches of snow on Maryland and Virginia and leaving 500,000 people in the greater D.C. area without power, The Washington Post reports. Snow began falling Sunday night, prompting federal agencies, Smithsonian museums, and schools to close. For many districts, Monday had been scheduled to be the first day of classes after winter break. Stafford County School District, located about an hour south of D.C., announced at around 1:00 p.m. ET Monday afternoon that schools would also be closed Tuesday. Additional closures are likely. By 2:15 p.m. ET, Monday, the snow had stopped falling except in southern Maryland. Weather forecasts predict freezing temperatures overnight as well as the chance of more snow Thursday. The New York Post reported that, after Air Force One landed at Maryland's Joint Base Andrews in the middle of the storm, President Biden was stuck on the runway for 36 minutes while it was being plowed. It took his motorcade over an hour — more than twice the usual time — to reach the White House. According to NBC News, other parts of the East Coast were also affected. Two children, one in Georgia and another in Tennessee, were killed by falling trees. Around 85,000 people in Georgia lost electricity, as did 75,000 in South Carolina. New Jersey declared a state of emergency for the southern part of the state, parts of which were blanketed by more than 12 inches of snow.
1-3-22 Africa’s ‘Great Green Wall’ could have far-reaching climate effects
A massive line of vegetation in the Sahel may intensify the West African monsoon, simulations show. Africa’s “Great Green Wall” initiative is a proposed 8,000-kilometer line of trees meant to hold back the Sahara from expanding southward. New climate simulations looking to both the region’s past and future suggest this greening could have a profound effect on the climate of northern Africa, and even beyond. By 2030, the project aims to plant 100 million hectares of trees along the Sahel, the semiarid zone lining the desert’s southern edge. That completed tree line could as much as double rainfall within the Sahel and would also decrease average summer temperatures throughout much of northern Africa and into the Mediterranean, according to the simulations, presented December 14 during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. But, the study found, temperatures in the hottest parts of the desert would become even hotter. Previous studies have shown that a “green Sahara” is linked to changes in the intensity and location of the West African monsoon. That major wind system blows hot, dry air southwestward across northern Africa during the cooler months and brings slightly wetter conditions northeastward during the hotter months. Such changes in the monsoon’s intensity as well as its northward or southward extent led to a green Sahara period that lasted from about 11,000 to 5,000 years ago, for example (SN: 1/18/17). Some of the strongest early evidence for that greener Sahara of the past came in the 1930s, when Hungarian explorer László Almásy — the basis for the protagonist of the 1996 movie The English Patient — discovered Neolithic cave and rock art in the Libyan Desert that depicted people swimming. Past changes in the West African monsoon are linked to cyclical variations in Earth’s orbit, which alters how much incoming solar radiation heats up the region. But orbital cycles don’t tell the whole story, says Francesco Pausata, a climate dynamicist at the Université du Québec à Montréal who ran the new simulations. Scientists now recognize that changes in plant cover and overall dustiness can dramatically intensify those monsoon shifts, he says.
1-2-22 Germany decommissions 3 of its 6 remaining nuke plants
Germany powered down three of its six remaining nuclear power plants Saturday, making good on a government pledge to denuclearize after the 2011 meltdown of Japan's Fukushima reactor, Reuters reported. The other three plants will be deactivated by the end of 2022. The six plants' combined output amounted to around 12 percent of the electricity produced in Germany in 2021. Coal and gas produce around 43 percent with most of the remainder coming from renewables like wind and solar. Supporters of the shutdown see it is a necessary step in Germany's planned transition to renewable energy. Critics argue that, without nuclear, the country will burn increasing amounts of fossil fuels and have a less reliable power grid. A post-nuclear Germany would also be forced to rely more on Russia for the natural gas it exports, a dangerous vulnerability at a time when Russia's bellicose behavior in Eastern Europe has driven tensions with NATO — of which Germany is a member — to the breaking point. An editorial in The Washington Post compared Germany unfavorably with neighboring France, writing that "French President Emmanuel Macron is moving in the opposite direction, announcing plans for new nuclear reactors. France relies more on nuclear power than any other nation, a major reason the country has about half the per capita greenhouse emissions Germany does." Independent energy journalist Angelica Oung concurred. "It makes no sense from a climate perspective to shut down nuclear plants before their time is up. The cost both financial and in terms of carbon emissions is incurred in construction. Even worse is Germany's timing. To do this in the middle of a continent-wide energy crunch is all but guaranteed to drive up prices for consumers and increase [the use of] fossil fuels," she told The Week. Nuclear energy suffered another defeat in Taiwan last month when voters rejected a referendum that would have allowed work to resume on the island nation's creatively named Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
1-2-22 Colorado wildfire: Three people reported missing and presumed dead
Three people are missing and presumed dead, after a devastating wildfire in the central US state of Colorado. The blaze swept through several towns, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. The local sheriff had initially said there were no fatalities, calling it a "miracle". But a spokeswoman for Boulder County admitted a mistake had been made. "I think the sheriff probably wasn't adequately briefed by us," Jennifer Churchill said, in comments carried by the Colorado Sun. "That was an unfortunate error. We feel terrible." No details have been released about those missing, but local media reported that one of them was a 91-year-old woman whose family said got trapped by the incoming flames. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said it was unlikely any of the three will be found alive. He added that the county is set to bring in human-remains detection dogs to help search for victims. The wildfire burned 6,000 acres across Boulder County, destroying at least 1,000 homes and businesses. It started under unusually dry conditions and came under control in part because of snowfall. More than 10 inches (25cm) of snow has fallen on the Boulder area and is now hampering efforts to find those missing. Images showed eerie scenes, with charred buildings buried under thick snow. Residents hit by the wildfire are coming to terms with what happened, in some cases returning home to find complete destruction. "I feel like I made it out with my life and that's I think the most important thing," Jessi Delaplain, who lost her home to the fire, told CBS. "I gathered myself and I gathered my cats which was no easy feat to stuff them into the car. And I pulled out of the driveway and there were flames surrounding us." The cause of the wildfire is being investigated. Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires, and experts say that fires in western North America have grown more intense in recent years.
1-2-22 At least 7 injured and 3 feared dead after Colorado fire destroys almost 1,000 homes
No deaths have been confirmed, but authorities announced Saturday that 3 people are still missing after a fire that broke out Thursday destroyed almost 1,000 homes in the Denver suburbs and damaged hundreds more, The Wall Street Journal reported. At least 7 people were injured. The blaze burned more than 9 square miles in the cities of Louisville and Superior, and many homes that escaped direct fire damage were left without power or heat. A 10-inch fall of snow has hampered recovery efforts, frozen pipes, and caused water damage to homes already scarred by the flames, The New York Times reports. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Saturday that investigators have not ruled out arson or "reckless behavior" and are still attempting to determine the cause of the blaze. He also confirmed that law enforcement had executed a search warrant at one specific property but declined to elaborate. An unnamed source within the sheriff's department said the property in question was located in Marshall Mesa, an area of sparsely populated open grassland west of Superior and Louisville known for its hiking trails. According to The Associated Press, National Guard troops have arrived to maintain order and render aid. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are on the ground distributing space heaters, bottled water, and blankets.
1-2-22 Denmark to make domestic flights fossil fuel free by 2030
Denmark's government has announced a goal to make domestic flights fossil fuel free by 2030. In her New Year's address, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she wanted to "make flying green". However she acknowledged that the solutions to reach her target were not yet in place. Denmark is aiming for a 70% cut in overall carbon emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. "To travel is to live and therefore we fly," said Ms Frederiksen, announcing her plan. "When other countries in the world are too slow, then Denmark must take the lead and raise the bar even more," she said. She added that achieving green domestic flights would be difficult but researchers and companies were working on solutions. The European manufacturer Airbus has announced plans to develop hydrogen-fuelled planes that could be operational by 2035. If the hydrogen used to fuel them is generated using renewable energy, this could be a way for Denmark to reach its goals. However it is unclear if the technology will be ready, and costs sufficiently low, for the 2030 target to be reached. Sweden has also announced plans to make its domestic flights fossil fuel-free by 2030. It is also hoping to make international flights green by 2045. Earlier this year, the government there announced plans to introduce increased airport fees for high-polluting planes. Meanwhile France is moving to ban domestic flights where the same journey could be made by train in under two-and-a-half hours. The measures could affect travel between Paris and cities including Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux.
1-2-22 EU plans to label gas and nuclear energy 'green' prompt row
The European Commission has proposed plans to label some gas and nuclear power as green, prompting criticism from Germany. The proposal argues that gas and nuclear are key to helping transition to cleaner power. But Germany's environment minister called the plan "absolutely wrong". It comes months after countries pledged to keep temperature rises within 1.5C at the COP26 climate summit. "It is necessary to recognise that the fossil gas and nuclear energy sectors can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Union's economy," the Commission's proposal says. Under the proposal, only gas and nuclear plants with the highest standards would be considered green. Nuclear plants would also have to have strict waste disposal plans, Deutsche Welle reports. While gas plants would have a limit of how much carbon dioxide is released per kilowatt-hour of energy produced. If a majority of EU members back the proposal then it will become law from 2023. France had reportedly pushed for nuclear power to be included. The country relies on nuclear energy for 70% of its electricity, although this will be cut to half over the next 15 years. France has also pledged to reduce its reliance on nuclear power by shutting down 12 nuclear reactors by 2035. The move has been criticised by Germany, which is in the process of phasing out nuclear completely and only has a few plants remaining. German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke described the proposal as "wrong", adding that nuclear energy could lead to environmental disasters and large amounts of nuclear waste. Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck called the plan "greenwashing", saying it "waters down the good label for sustainability."
1-1-22 California's fires threaten to ravage mighty sequoia forests
California's giant sequoias are symbols of permanence - with some living for thousands of years. But the fierce wildfires ravaging the state threaten even these mighty trees, which are among the longest-lived organisms on Earth. There is something primeval about giant sequoias. Their weird, broccoli-like branches wouldn't seem out of place with a long-necked dinosaur plodding by. And they are impossibly big: 30 or 40 people would have to link hands to hug the largest ones. The tallest trees are 90m (295ft) high. That's like a 30-storey tower block. "They make you feel deep time", sighs Christy Bingham, as she looks up at the biggest tree in the world - known as the General Sherman. "You can just sense standing here that this tree was born before Jesus." Christy lowers her voice as she says this, as if out of respect. She's in charge of conserving these magnificent trees in the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains - their last redoubt. Sequoias live so long because they are exquisitely adapted to their environment, Christy tells me. There have always been fires in California and, in response, sequoias have developed insulating bark which can be up to a metre thick and which stops all but the hottest fires damaging the trees. But California's fires are changing. Christy leads me deeper into the forest, to show me what she means. All you can hear is the sound of the wind in the leaves, the occasional cry of a raven and our footsteps crunching in the leaf litter. It is heaven. Until, that is, we walk over a ridge and the scene changes dramatically. "This is what I wanted to show you, this was a giant sequoia grove", she says. The landscape is monochrome now: grey or black, ash or cinders. Many of the huge trees have been reduced to columns of charcoal. "Before 2015 no one saw a sequoia that looked like this," says Christy. She is crying now. "You never saw a tree become a candle and burn up in this way before." She points to the blackened remains of one of the biggest trees.
1-1-22 Colorado: Residents return following devastating fire
Residents of Boulder County in Colorado have returned to scenes of devastation after snowfall helped extinguish the last of a raging wildfire. The fire swept through 6,000 acres in just a few hours, destroying hundreds of homes. One local resident said some families in the area that "lost everything" and it was a "Christmas miracle" that nobody was killed. Tens of thousands of people fled as the flames engulfed the area. The fire at its peak was driven by winds of up to 105 mph (169km/h) which caused flames to jump over highways and entire communities, local authorities told Reuters news agency. Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires, and experts say that fires in western North America have grown more intense in recent years. Now snow has started to fall, officials say they do not expect the fire to pose any more danger. People have started returning home to assess the damage, many facing scenes of complete destruction. In Louisville, Jeff Conroy told local media that he had watched his family's house burn to the ground. "The fire department left before I did," he told USA Today. "They knew it couldn't be saved, but I had to watch. And I stayed until our house walls were fully gone." Another Louisville resident, Linda Jackson, told the Denver Channel that her home of 20 years had been completely destroyed by the fire. "I could see flames in my backyard and I knew I had to get out," she said. "I went downstairs, no electricity in my garage and my garage wouldn't open. I thought about just walking out and walking down the street, but I called 911 and the fire department came and got me out." She said she knew her home "was just going to be ash". Six people have been treated for injuries but no fatalities have been reported - something local officials described as a "miracle".