5-16-22 COP26: No countries have delivered on promise to improve climate plans
In Glasgow, 196 countries promised to "revisit and strengthen" their plans for curbing emissions, but there is little sign of this happening before the next talks in November. Sebastian Mernild’s presentation pulled no punches. As more than 40 countries met in Copenhagen last week to discuss progress since 2021’s COP26 climate summit, the University of Southern Denmark glaciologist greeted ministers with jagged red lines showing rising global temperatures. He reminded them that emissions are still growing. And he told them their goal of holding temperature rises to 1.5°C needs nothing less than “rapid, deep and sustained” emissions cuts. “They all know what we are facing scientifically regarding 1.5°C,” says Mernild. Whether they are acting on that knowledge is another question. Half a year on from a deal at COP26 in Glasgow, it is far from clear if countries are delivering on the commitments they made. COP26 president Alok Sharma said today that failure by world leaders to deliver on their pledges would be a “monstrous act of self-harm”. Speaking in Glasgow, he said he could understand why action to cut emissions had been pushed out of the spotlight by the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, but reminded his audience that “climate change is a chronic danger” the world couldn’t ignore. Sharma added that Russia’s invasion had shown that “climate security is energy security, and we must break our dependency on fossil fuels”. One of the headline promises of the Glasgow Climate Pact was that this year, 196 countries would “revisit and strengthen” their plans for curbing emissions by 2030. Without stronger action plans, the target of keeping below 1.5°C of warming will be out of reach. Sharma said that the UK government is looking at ways to strengthen its 2030 national climate plan, but to date, no countries have formally submitted a blueprint that goes further than what they promised before or at COP26.
5-16-22 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is packed with floating life
Beautiful floating organisms called neuston are gathered up by the same ocean currents as plastic pollution, and they may be endangered by clean-up efforts. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is teeming with delicate organisms called neuston that appear to be swept up by the same ocean currents as plastic pollution. The finding suggests that efforts to trap and remove plastic from this area could accidentally remove these creatures as well. Neuston are organisms that float on the ocean surface. They encompass a wide range of species, including blue sea dragons (Glaucus atlanticus), violet snails (Janthina janthina), blue button jellyfish (Porpita porpita) and by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella). Despite their beauty, neuston have received little scientific attention and most people have never heard of them, says Rebecca Helm at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. In 1972, US scientists conducted one of the few studies of neuston in the North Atlantic Ocean and noticed that their sampling nets also caught hundreds of bits of plastic. This marked the discovery of the North Atlantic Garbage Patch – a region where circulating ocean currents have concentrated large amounts of plastic pollution. Other ocean garbage patches have since been discovered in the North Pacific, South Pacific, South Atlantic and Indian oceans. Helm and her colleagues wondered if neuston and plastic may congregate in other ocean garbage patches, since the same swirling ocean currents that draw in floating plastic might also collect floating life. To explore this idea, they analysed 22 water samples collected by a sailing crew that accompanied long-distance swimmer Benoît Lecomte as he swam through the North Pacific Garbage Patch – also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – to raise awareness of plastic pollution in 2019.
5-16-22 Farmers in India cut their carbon footprint with trees and solar power
Climate-friendly agriculture offers new income sources and is more sustainable. In 2007, 22-year-old P. Ramesh’s groundnut farm was losing money. As was the norm in most of India (and still is), Ramesh was using a cocktail of pesticides and fertilizers across his 2.4 hectares in the Anantapur district of southern India. In this desert-like area, which gets less than 600 millimeters of rainfall most years, farming is a challenge. “I lost a lot of money growing groundnuts through chemical farming methods,” says Ramesh, who goes by the first letter of his father’s name followed by his first name, as is common in many parts of southern India. The chemicals were expensive and his yields low. Then in 2017, he dropped the chemicals. “Ever since I took up regenerative agricultural practices like agroforestry and natural farming, both my yield and income have increased,” he says. Agroforestry involves planting woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) alongside agricultural crops (SN: 7/3/21 & 7/17/21, p. 30). One natural farming method calls for replacing all chemical fertilizers and pesticides with organic matter such as cow dung, cow urine and jaggery, a type of solid dark sugar made from sugarcane, to boost soil nutrient levels. Ramesh also expanded his crops, originally groundnuts and some tomatoes, by adding papaya, millets, okra, eggplant (called brinjal locally) and other crops. With help from the nonprofit Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre in Anantapur, which works with farmers who want to try sustainable farming, Ramesh increased his profits enough to buy more land, expanding his parcel to about four hectares. Like the thousands of other farmers practicing regenerative farming across India, Ramesh has managed to nourish his depleted soil, while his new trees help keep carbon out of the atmosphere, thus playing a small but important role in reducing India’s carbon footprint. Recent studies have shown that the carbon sequestration potential of agroforestry is as much as 34 percent higher than standard forms of agriculture.
5-15-22 Saudi Aramco: Oil giant sees profits jump as prices surge
Saudi Aramco has posted its highest profits since its 2019 listing as oil and gas prices surge around the world. The state-owned energy giant saw an 82% jump in profits, with net income topping $39.5bn (£32.2bn) in the first quarter. In a press release, the firm said it had been boosted by higher prices, as well as an increase in production. The invasion of Ukraine has seen oil and gas prices skyrocket. Russia is one of the world's biggest exporters but Western nations have pledged to cut their dependence on the country for energy. Oil prices were already rising before the Ukraine war as economies started to recover from the Covid pandemic and demand outstripped supply. Other energy firms including Shell, BP and TotalEnergies have also reported soaring profits as a result, although many are incurring costs exiting operations in Russia. Aramco's president and chief executive, Amin Nasser, said on Sunday that the company was "focused on helping meet the world's demand for energy that is reliable, affordable and increasingly sustainable". "Energy security is vital and we are investing for the long-term," he added. In March, the oil and gas producer pledged to ramp up investment and boost output significantly over the next five to eight years. Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the world's biggest oil exporter that month to try to persuade it to release more oil into world markets in the short-term. Saudi Arabia is the largest producer in the oil cartel Opec (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and by raising production it could help to reduce energy prices. But the country has been condemned for a range of human rights abuses: its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Yemen, the murder in 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, for jailing dissidents and for widespread use of capital punishment. Aramco itself also faces security challenges because of the conflict in Yemen, with Huthi rebels targeting some of its sites and temporarily knocking out a big portion of the kingdom's crude production.
5-15-22 Tonga eruption was 'record atmospheric explosion'
The eruption of the Tonga volcano in January has been confirmed as the biggest explosion ever recorded in the atmosphere by modern instrumentation. It was far bigger than any 20th Century volcanic event, or indeed any atom bomb test conducted after WWII. The assessment comes in a pair of scholarly papers in the journal Science that have reviewed all the data. Of recent history, it's likely only the Krakatoa eruption of 1883 rivalled the atmospheric disturbance produced. That catastrophic event in Indonesia is thought to have claimed more than 30,000 lives. Fortunately, the 15 January climactic eruption of the underwater volcano at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (HTHH) in the south Pacific resulted in very few deaths, even though it too produced large tsunamis. "Tonga was a truly global event, just as Krakatau was, but we've now got all these geophysical observation systems and they recorded something that was really unprecedented in the modern data," Dr Robin Matoza, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told BBC News. He is the lead author on one of the papers. Scientists now have access to an extraordinary array of ground-based and spaceborne instruments, including atmospheric pressure sensors, seismometers, hydro-phones, and a fleet of satellites that monitor the Earth across the entire light spectrum. The colossal Tonga explosion, which came at the end of of several weeks of activity at the seamount, produced several types of atmospheric pressure waves that propagated vast distances. In the audible range of frequencies, people 10,000km away in Alaska reported hearing repeated booms. The global network of detectors set up to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty picked up the infrasound signal. Infrasound has frequencies that are just below what humans are capable of hearing. The network's data indicated the Tonga volcano blast produced an atmospheric pressure wave comparable with that from the biggest ever nuclear explosion - the Tsar bomb detonated by the Soviets in 1961 - but lasted four times longer.
5-14-22 Plastics everywhere
Microplastics permeate the globe from the oceans’ depths to the highest mountaintop — and our bodies. What are microplastics? They're tiny shreds of plastic found in our air, water, and soil, ranging from 5 mm — about the size of a grain of rice — to less than a micron. Human beings have produced more than 8 billion metric tons of plastic since the 1950s, less than 10 percent of which has been recycled. As a result, phenomenal amounts of plastic waste fill our rivers, oceans, and shorelines. Plastic doesn't biodegrade over time — it just breaks down into ever-smaller particles. In addition to bottles, utensils, straws, and other single-use plastics, sources include car tires, cigarette butts, packaging, fishing nets, and polyester fabrics, which collectively have shed trillions of microfibers. Since scientists first became concerned about microplastics a few decades ago, they've been stunned to learn these tiny particles quite literally blanket the globe. They've been found in Arctic snow, in soil samples from Swiss nature reserves, on Mount Everest, and in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench — 7 miles below the surface. "Nowhere — no matter how remote — is immune," said Alan Jamieson, a Newcastle University scientist who has found plastic fibers in the stomachs of deepwater sea creatures. Microplastics are also increasingly found in our bodies. Where in our bodies? A pair of studies unveiled in March and April found microscopic particles in subjects' blood and deep in their lungs. In the blood study, a team of Dutch scientists found plastics — including those used to make beverage bottles and packaging — in samples from 17 out of 22 healthy blood donors. In the lung study, researchers from the U.K.'s Hull York Medical School took 13 lung samples from surgical patients and found microplastics in 11 of them, including samples from deep in the lower lungs. Microplastics have been found in stool samples and in the placentas of unborn babies. That latter finding was "very worrying," said Elizabeth Salter Green of Chem Trust, a U.K. charity focused on chemical harm. "Babies are being born pre-polluted." Why is plastic in people? We eat, drink, and breathe it. Trace amounts of plastic have made their way into the food chain; plastic also directly leeches into food from packaging and containers. A 2019 analysis by the World Wildlife Fund estimated that people consume up to 5 grams of plastic a week — about the same amount of plastic in a credit card. Microplastics have been found in shellfish, salt, beer, fresh fruit, and especially drinking water. A global study in 2017 found plastic fibers in 83 percent of tap-water samples — and bottled water is far worse. British researchers also have found that bottle-fed babies swallow daily millions of microplastic particles shed into milk from plastic bottles, an amount that one researcher said left him "absolutely gobsmacked." We also breathe in plastic in microfibers that float invisibly in the air, many shed by clothing, fabric, and other textiles. A 2020 study found that 11 national parks and protected lands in the American West were showered every year by more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastic-particles — the equivalent of 300 million pulverized plastic bottles.
5-13-22 Coastal fire: California mansions burn as wildfires spread
Hundreds have been forced to evacuate from their homes due to a swift-moving wildfire in southern California that has torched some 20 mansions so far. The Coastal fire in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, has grown to 199 acres since it began on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the largest wildfire in the US has burned around 170 homes in New Mexico, and continues to threaten communities and businesses. Fire season is off to an early start, partly due to a decades-long drought. The Coastal fire is not contained, officials said in an update on Thursday, although the winds that have fuelled the blaze are forecast to die down later. Around 900 homes were still under mandatory evacuation order in the hills around the city of Laguna Beach by Thursday morning. "We will repopulate when it is safe to do so," Orange County Sheriff's Department Captain Virgil Asuncion said in a morning news conference. More than 500 firefighters have been deployed to fight the blaze. A spokesman said one firefighter was injured and has been taken to hospital. Aircrafts were seen dumping fire retardant around the neighbourhoods of Laguna Niguel and Coronado Pointe, where the multi-million dollar mansions had burned overnight. Officials say that hot embers travelling ahead of the main fire are what set many of the homes ablaze. Some homes not touched by embers were spared. Local man Phil Charlton told the Orange County Register newspaper that he understands the danger of fires while living in "the best place in the world". "You see a fire like this and it goes through the brown brush and green brush," he said, adding: "People who live in brown canyons can't complain about fire." Tim Wheaton told Reuters the evacuation orders created traffic congestion in the hilly region. He described seeing "people crying and hugging one another and cars full of, I assume, their most precious items from their homes".
5-13-22 How much plastic do you use in a week?
Thousands of people will count their plastic waste for a week in a national survey of how much we consume. The count, put together by the organisation Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace, starts on Monday. Only the US uses more plastic per person per year than the UK, research suggests. Campaigners say the count will shed a unique light on how households consume the environmentally damaging material. Huge amounts of energy and fossil fuels are needed to make new plastic, and it sticks around in our environment for a long time. It is also only possible to recycle plastic two or three times before it becomes too degraded. Microplastics have been found everywhere from human blood to Arctic snow. Around 151,000 households, 96 MPs, and 4,180 classrooms will be tallying up each piece of plastic they use from 16-22 May. Government figures suggest that UK households recycled 44% of their waste in 2020. But some plastics put in recycling bins goes to landfill or incinerators, or is even sent abroad where it can be dumped instead. In 2020 BBC News uncovered mountains of plastic waste sent from the UK to Turkey. "This count is the UK's biggest ever investigation of plastics. Millions of us do our part to recycle but we don't really know where our plastic waste ends up," Greenpeace plastics campaigner Chris Thorne told BBC News. Everyday Plastic founder Daniel Webb counted his plastic for a year in 2017, filling 40 bin bags with waste. "This experience changed my life and changed how I understood the problem. Then I thought, what if other people did the same experiment as I did?" he told BBC News. Participants in the Big Plastic Count receive a pack explaining how to count the plastics they use, broken down into 19 categories. They then tally up each type of plastic waste before putting it in the bin or the recycling. The data will be analysed by Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace to produce a national picture of plastic waste.
5-12-22 Record number of polluters set CO2 emissions targets
A record number of big polluters are committing to cutting CO2 emissions, a UN-backed report has said. But firms in Asia, Africa and Latin America are lagging behind Europe, the US and Japan, the Science-Based Targets Initiative said. Separately, a report cast doubt on whether oil companies can all deliver carbon cuts they've promised. Big oil firms are relying on unproven technologies, a think tank said. The Science-Based Targets Initiative advises firms on how to set emissions reduction targets in line with climate science. It says targets have now been adopted by more than 2,000 firms worth $38tn across 70 countries in 15 industries. The authors say that in the most polluting sectors a critical mass of firms (27%) has joined the initiative. They believe this could prove a positive tipping point, as the polluting giants influence actions across the whole supply chain. More than half the companies setting targets are in the G7 rich nations, but there are also participants from China, India, Brazil, South Korea and South Africa. Canada and Italy are lagging behind, the report says. And Africa and Asia need more participants. The document says: Around 80% of the targets approved by the firms in 2021 were aligned with the benchmark of holding global temperature rises to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial times. Between 2015-2020, the majority of companies with 1.5°C targets cut emissions twice as fast as required. Environmentalist Tom Burke from the think tank E3G welcomed the target setting. "This is really good news", he said, "but it's very late in the day. We are way past the time when we should be tackling climate change. "It's great to have targets but there's a huge gap in government and business between targets and achievements".
5-12-22 Nature loss: Watchdog highlights 'precarious state' of environment
A report from an independent watchdog says it's very concerned about the "precarious state" of England's environment. The Office for Environmental Protection says that existing laws are failing to slow the damage to land, air and water. Protecting the environment should have the same urgency as efforts to reach net zero emissions, the study says. The government says current laws will make a real difference and put nature on the road to recovery this decade. The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was set up under the 2021 Environment Act to hold the government and other public bodies to account in England and Northern Ireland. Its first report, described as a "polite demolition" of the government's track record, paints a picture of environmental crises on land, in the air and in the seas and rivers. Among the issues identified by the OEP are the state of England's inland rivers and waterways. They face pollution from multiple sources including agricultural runoff and discharges from sewage treatment works. While the government is praised for putting in place a 25-year environment plan in 2018, the OEP says that progress on delivery has been far too slow, and, so far, it has failed to halt the loss of species or the unsustainable use of resources. "The 25-year environment plan was an ambitious attempt to confront the challenges facing the environment, yet we continue to see worrying and persistent trends of environmental decline," said Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP. "Our rivers are in a poor state, bird and other species numbers are in serious decline, poor air quality threatens the health of many, and our seas and sea floor are not managed sustainably." Of even greater concern are the potential for "tipping points", where long term, slow declines become irreversible. The OEP identifies a number of these points, including the decline in fish stocks and the widespread use of nutrients on farmland.
5-11-22 Circular cities experience more rain than square or triangular ones
The shape of a city can influence the amount of rainfall it gets, because circular cities are better at mixing air fronts together. Circular cities have more rain than square cities, and triangular cities have the least rain of all – a finding from a modelling study that could help urban planners tackle the effects of climate change. Dev Niyogi at the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues decided to investigate the link between the shape of an urban area and its rainfall after noticing that weather data from roughly circular cities such as Dallas and London often show more rain than triangular cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, but it wasn’t clear if this was due to their shape or other factors, such as location. “We see cities change their shape as they grow, so understanding if there is a feedback between city shape and storminess was a question that needed to be answered,” says Niyogi. To find out more, Niyogi and his colleagues combined high resolution simulations of air turbulence and a weather forecasting model to simulate rainfall for circular, square and triangular cities with the same area, at both generic coastal and inland locations. They found that circular cities received 22 per cent more rainfall than triangular cities, and that it is 78 per cent more intense, while square cities saw 8 per cent more than triangular ones. These differences were even more pronounced in coastal locations because the contrast between maritime and urban air tends to be even greater, which drives stronger convection. “We typically get rainfall when two different air masses meet each other. A circular city allows air masses coming from all directions to converge at the centre of the city, creating an intense mixing zone and leading to convection and rain. For other city shapes, such as triangles or squares, air masses entering around the corners will meet early and consume energy before they reach the city centre,” says team member Jiachuan Yang at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
5-10-22 Climate change: 'Fifty-fifty chance' of breaching 1.5C warming limit
The likelihood of crossing a key global warming threshold has risen significantly, according to a new analysis. UK Met Office researchers say that there's now around a fifty-fifty chance that the world will warm by more than 1.5C over the next five years. Such a rise would be temporary, but researchers are concerned about the overall direction of temperatures. It's almost certain that 2022-2026 will see a record warmest year, they say. The Met Office is the UK's national meteorological service. As levels of warming gases in the atmosphere have accrued rapidly over the past three decades, global temperatures have responded by rising in step. In 2015, the world's average temperature first went 1C above the pre-industrial levels, which are generally thought of as the temperatures recorded in the middle of the 19th century. That was also the year that political leaders signed the Paris climate agreement, which committed the world to keeping the rise in global temperatures well below 2C while pursuing efforts keep them under 1.5C. At COP26 in Glasgow last November, governments re-iterated their commitment to keeping "1.5C alive." For the past seven years, global temperatures have stayed at or around that 1C mark, with 2016 and 2020 essentially tied as the warmest years on record. Scientists say that with around 1C of warming the world is already experiencing significant impacts such as the unprecedented wildfires seen in North America last year, or the drastic heatwaves currently hitting India and Pakistan. This update from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), carried out by the UK Met Office, says that the chances of temporarily going over 1.5C in one of the next five years have never been higher. The study suggests that temperatures between 2022 and 2026 will be between 1.1C and 1.7C higher than pre-industrial levels. The Met Office researchers predict that for any one year in the period, the likelihood of breaching the 1.5C level is around 48%, or close to 50:50.
5-10-22 We have 48% chance of breaching 1.5°C target by 2026, says Met Office
The world could soon temporarily overshoot the 1.5°C warming threshold – showing how close we are coming to missing the Paris Agreement’s target. The UK Met Office has warned there is an almost 50-50 chance that the world will briefly overshoot its crucial 1.5°C climate change target within the next five years. The Paris Agreement set an aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, a threshold seen as vital for limiting the worst impacts of global warming on people and ecosystems. That aim would only be missed if a temperature rise is sustained over a couple of decades. The Met Office’s climate models estimate there is a 48 per cent chance that the average global temperature of any year between 2022 and 2026 will be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. For the previous five-year period, 2017 to 2021, the chance was less than 10 per cent. The prediction shows how close the world is to failing on its climate goals. “It’s not a magic threshold, and things are not going to suddenly change,” says Leon Hermanson at the Met Office, part of the team behind the analysis produced for the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. “One year’s exceedance doesn’t mean anything; it just means that we’re getting closer and it’s a warning that we need to really double up on the efforts to cut carbon dioxide and reduce our use of fossil fuels.” The reason the chance of temporarily hitting 1.5°C has increased is a combination of continued carbon emissions pushing Earth closer to the threshold, and new temperature data causing researchers to revise upwards their estimates of past warming since pre-industrial times. As human-induced climate change has driven average temperatures up, the chance of natural cycles such as El Niño pushing us over 1.5°C have increased. El Niño can raise temperatures by 0.2 to 0.3°C, says Hermanson.
5-10-22 Amazon deforestation in April was the worst in modern records
The area cleared almost doubled year-on-year, from 579 square kilometres in April 2021 to 1012 square kilometres last month. The Amazon rainforest in Brazil has suffered its worst-ever April deforestation rate since 2016, according to modern satellite records, months ahead of a general election where environmental protections are expected to be a key dividing line. The area cleared almost doubled year-on-year, from 579 square kilometres in April 2021 to 1012 square kilometres last month. The losses are “bleak”, tweeted Tasso Azevedo, the former head of Brazil’s forest service. The destruction follows several years of rising deforestation rates under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has argued that Brazil has a right to exploit the forest, a biodiversity hotspot and crucial sink for carbon emissions. Brazil accounted for about 40 per cent of forest cover loss in the tropics in 2021. “The continued deforestation highs are a direct result of President Bolsonaro’s sabotage of environmental law enforcement in Brazil,” says André Freitas at Greenpeace Brazil. He adds that only 2 per cent of deforestation alerts have been investigated by authorities in recent years. Mark Parrington at the European Earth observation programme Copernicus says satellites detected above-average fire emissions in late April, the start of the peak deforestation “season”. “If it follows the typical seasonal trend in daily emissions, then it could be one of the highest April to May totals for quite a few years,” he adds. The accelerated pace of deforestation comes despite Brazil having promised to halt deforestation by 2030 in a high-profile pledge made at 2021’s COP26 climate summit. The losses come ahead of the months when most deforestation usually occurs. In April, the rainforest is still in the rainy season and fewer fires are usually lit to clear land for cattle ranching and other agriculture.
5-10-22 India's extreme heatwaves show the need to adapt to a warming world
India is no stranger to high temperatures but they don't normally occur in March and April, when many people aren't used to dealing with extreme heat. India is reeling from a fresh heatwave that began on 7 May. It follows weeks of extreme heat throughout much of the north of the country in March and April that saw temperatures reach more than 46°C and approach 49°C in neighbouring Pakistan. “This kind of heat is not unknown in north India during the summer before the monsoon,” says Ulka Kelkar, director of the World Resources Institute’s climate programme in India. “The difference this time is that it has come earlier than expected, when agricultural operations or even schools are in full swing, so more people get exposed and may not be prepared.” The monsoon that typically slakes the extreme heat of summer is still weeks away. On 5 May, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, urged states and federal territories to prepare new heat action plans in the face of extreme temperatures. Every year, temperatures in the region soar to the mid to high 40s, usually in the months of May and June. In some parts of Pakistan, they can touch 50°C. Above 40°C, the human body is at risk of muscle cramps, swelling, exhaustion, dizziness and fainting, and heatstroke. Hemraj, a gardener at the Shiv Nadar University campus in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi, is used to preparing for a heatwave every summer. But “summer came early this year”, he says. Hemraj has been working since the late 1990s and seen the summers get hotter and longer over the decades. At 2pm, close to the hottest part of the day, Hemraj is still outdoors, working. “I don’t feel the heat or the cold,” he says. “I focus on my work instead.” A few minutes later, he talks about how leaves burn in the sun and how he can feel the heat of the ground through his shoes. He drinks lots of water, keeps his head covered and takes breaks to beat the heat. “People who sit in air-conditioned rooms can’t imagine being outside in this heat, but we are used to it,” he says.
5-10-22 Climate change: Airlines miss all but one target - report
UK airlines have missed all climate targets set since 2000 except for one, a new report claims. The aviation industry sets its own goals for cutting its environmental footprint. A representative for the UK aviation industry said it was committed to significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018 air travel was responsible for 7% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. Possible, the charity behind the research, investigated the issue to find out whether airlines can be relied upon to tackle their role in causing emissions that lead to climate change. "Companies set grand-sounding targets with a lot of fanfare and announcement. They talk about them for a couple of years - then the targets sink without trace, never to be seen again," Leo Murray from Possible told BBC News. The research looked at environmental goals airlines have set themselves since 2000. Most of the targets focussed on using greener fuels to power airplanes or making fuel more efficient. EasyJet was the only company named in the research that was found to have met a target. It successfully reduced fuel burn per passenger kilometre by 3% by 2015, Possible says. But Possible claim it missed other goals, including a plan in 2007 to build the "ecoJet" that would emit 50% less CO2 than its current planes. The ambition was mentioned again in 2009, Possible says, but the company appeared to drop the target and the ecoJet was never built. "The ecoJet was a prototype concept which was used to urge the industry to produce planes that significantly reduce carbon emissions. Our ultimate ambition today has only strengthened to achieve zero carbon emission flying," a spokesperson for EasyJet told BBC News. Possible also points out that between 2010-12 Virgin Atlantic said that 10% of its fuel would be biofuel by 2020. Possible says the target wasn't mentioned again. In 2021 Virgin Atlantic announced it will use 10% alternative fuels by 2030.
5-10-22 Lake Mead: Shrinking reservoir reveals more human remains
More human remains have been found in Lake Mead, just one week after the body of a suspected murder victim was found in the rapidly shrinking reservoir. The latest remains were reported to park rangers on Saturday. On 1 May, a body was found in a barrel stuck in the mud of the lake's receding shoreline. The largest US reservoir, Lake Mead supplies drinking water to 20 million people from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Police warn that more bodies will probably be found as the lake recedes. Lake Mead levels have been declining since 2000 - droughts have been getting worse in recent years, with scientists saying climate change is exacerbating the situation. Investigators say the body found last week by boaters belonged to a person who was fatally shot in the 1970s or 80s. Las Vegas homicide detective Lt Ray Spencer told local media the timing was determined due to the victim's clothes and shoes, which were sold at Kmart stores at the time. Further research is being conducted to study the corroded metal of the barrel for more evidence. "It's going to be a very difficult case," Lt Spencer told CBS News in Las Vegas after the first discovery. "I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains." And this weekend, that prediction proved accurate. The National Park Service, which patrols Lake Mead, said the latest discovery of "human skeletal remains" was reported by witnesses on Saturday afternoon. "The investigation is ongoing. No further information is available at this time," park officials said in a press release. Saturday's discovery was made by two sisters who were paddleboarding, they told local media, adding they thought it was a large rock before finding bones. "At first I thought it was a bighorn sheep and then we started digging around a little bit and as we discovered the jaw, we realised it was human remains," Lindsey Melvin told CBS. "For the longest time I was in disbelief. Like I did not think that we actually found human remains," her sister Lynette Melvin added. Las Vegas police said on Monday that no foul play is suspected in the second death at this point, but they "will investigate if it is determined to be a homicide or a suspicious death".
5-10-22 Pakistan: Bridge crumbles after heatwave triggers floods
A historic bridge in Pakistan has collapsed, after a heatwave caused a glacial lake to release large amounts of water into a stream. The Hassanabad Bridge in the Hunza Valley was destroyed on Saturday.
5-9-22 Inside big tech's $925 million plan to speed up carbon removal
Alphabet, Meta and others have teamed up to turbocharge the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Nan Ransohoff, who heads the project, tells New Scientist why they're betting on new technologies – and trying to avoid the pitfalls of carbon offsetting. Can the world’s technology and consulting giants turn carbon removal into a multibillion-dollar global industry? That is the question Nan Ransohoff, head of climate at payments firm Stripe, is trying to answer. She now also heads Frontier, an ambitious bid launched last month to use an approach borrowed from vaccine creation to turbocharge early-stage companies taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Finding ways to do so is now considered vital for averting catastrophic climate change. “We learned from the latest [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report that we are going to have to do a huge amount of carbon removal, in addition to a huge amount of emissions reduction, in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” says Ransohoff, referring to scientists’ landmark assessment last month on how to rein in rapidly rising global temperatures. She says the challenge with CO2 removals is they have no intrinsic value and therefore few “customers” to pay for them. Ransohoff’s solution is a $925 million advance market commitment (AMC) from Meta, Alphabet, Shopify and McKinsey to become the customers for tonnes of carbon that companies remove this decade. Notably, the initial alliance doesn’t include Microsoft, which has already pledged $1 billion to advance removal technologies. Exactly what those technologies might be remains to be seen. Ransohoff mentions Charm, a US company turning crop waste into an oil to be buried underground; Running Tide, a start-up using kelp to bury carbon in the sea bed; and Climeworks, the Switzerland-based poster child of “direct air capture”, machines using materials to absorb carbon in the atmosphere. But she won’t be drawn on which tech is the most promising. “We are not ready to pick a horse,” she says.
5-8-22 New Mexico wildfire: Huge blaze could worsen this weekend
"Historic" and "extreme" weather conditions could fan a wildfire in New Mexico which is already the second biggest ever seen in the US state. The so-called Hermits Peak Fire has been burning for more than a month and has torn through an area larger than the city of Chicago. Many families have been left homeless and thousands have been evacuated. Winds, near-record high temperatures and dry conditions are now expected to stoke the blaze further. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque tweeted that its forecasters are "using exceedingly rare language" in its warning for a "long duration and extreme fire weather event". State Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called on people in mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately. "Tonight we will enter an exceptionally dangerous period of extreme fire weather. As severe winds pick up, conditions may worsen and air support may be limited," she tweeted. US President Joe Biden this week declared a major disaster in New Mexico, unlocking federal resources including financial aid for affected individuals. Restaurants and grocery stores in Las Vegas, a New Mexico city of 13,000 people, have been closed, while schools have either closed or moved to remote-only options. "It's literally like living under a dark cloud. It's unnerving," Liz Birmingham, a resident of the city, told CBS News. Elmo Baca, chairman of the Las Vegas Community Foundation, said: "There's uncertainty and there's fear about how the winds are going to affect the fire from day to day. "Once the people are evacuated out of an area, they can't go back, so they're just stuck worrying." The fire has blackened more than 267 sq miles (691 sq km). It is believed to have started on 6 April and has been traced, in part, to a preventive fire initiated by the US Forest Service to reduce flammable vegetation. But the blaze then merged with another wildfire. The frequency of large wildfires has increased dramatically in recent decades. Compared with the 1970s, fires larger than 10,000 acres (40 sq km) are now seven times more common in the west of the US, according to Climate Central, an independent organisation of scientists and journalists.
5-8-22 Mine e-waste, not the Earth, say scientists
The recycling of e-waste must urgently be ramped up because mining the Earth for precious metals to make new gadgets is unsustainable, scientists say. One study estimated that the world's mountain of discarded electronics, in 2021 alone, weighed 57 million tonnes. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says there now needs to be a global effort to mine that waste, rather than mining the Earth. Global conflicts also pose a threat to supply chains for precious metals. The RSC is running a campaign to draw attention to the unsustainability of continuing to mine all the precious elements used in consumer technology. It points out that geopolitical unrest, including the war in Ukraine, has caused huge spikes in the price of materials like nickel, a key element in electric vehicle batteries. This volatility in the market for elements is causing "chaos in supply chains" that enable the production of electronics. Combined with the surge in demand, this caused the price of lithium - another important component in battery technology - to increase by almost 500% between 2021 and 2022. Some key elements are simply running out. "Our tech consumption habits remain highly unsustainable and have left us at risk of exhausting the raw elements we need," said Prof Tom Welton, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, adding that those habits were "continuing to exacerbate environmental damage". All the while, the amount of e-waste generated is growing by about two million tonnes every year. Less than 20% is collected and recycled. "We need governments to overhaul recycling infrastructure and tech businesses to invest in more sustainable manufacturing," said Prof Welton. New research by the RSC also revealed a growing demand from consumers for more sustainable technology. In an online survey of 10,000 people across 10 countries, 60% said they would be more likely to switch to a rival of their preferred tech brand if they knew the product was made in a sustainable way.
5-6-22 How some sunscreens damage coral reefs
Sea anemones and coral turn a common sunscreen ingredient into a toxin activated by light. One common chemical in sunscreen can have devastating effects on coral reefs. Now, scientists know why. Sea anemones, which are closely related to corals, and mushroom coral can turn oxybenzone — a chemical that protects people against ultraviolet light — into a deadly toxin that’s activated by light. The good news is that algae living alongside the creatures can soak up the toxin and blunt its damage, researchers report in the May 6 Science. But that also means that bleached coral reefs lacking algae may be more vulnerable to death. Heat-stressed corals and anemones can eject helpful algae that provide oxygen and remove waste products, which turns reefs white. Such bleaching is becoming more common as a result of climate change (SN: 4/7/20). The findings hint that sunscreen pollution and climate change combined could be a greater threat to coral reefs and other marine habitats than either would be separately, says Craig Downs. He is a forensic ecotoxicologist with the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Amherst, Va., and was not involved with the study. Previous work suggested that oxybenzone can kill young corals or prevent adult corals from recovering after tissue damage. As a result, some places, including Hawaii and Thailand, have banned oxybenzone-containing sunscreens. In the new study, environmental chemist Djordje Vuckovic of Stanford University and colleagues found that glass anemones (Exaiptasia pallida) exposed to oxybenzone and UV light add sugars to the chemical. While such sugary add-ons would typically help organisms detoxify chemicals and clear them from the body, the oxybenzone-sugar compound instead becomes a toxin that’s activated by light. Anemones exposed to either simulated sunlight or oxybenzone alone survived the length of the experiment, or 21 days, the team showed. But all anemones exposed to fake sunlight while submersed in water containing the chemical died within 17 days.
5-6-22 Replacing some meat with microbial protein could help fight climate change
Just a 20 percent replacement could cut deforestation rates by more than half by 2050. “Fungi Fridays” could save a lot of trees — and take a bite out of greenhouse gas emissions. Eating one-fifth less red meat and instead munching on microbial proteins derived from fungi or algae could cut annual deforestation in half by 2050, researchers report May 5 in Nature. Raising cattle and other ruminants contributes methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere, while clearing forests for pasture lands adds carbon dioxide (SN: 4/4/22; SN: 7/13/21). So the hunt is on for environmentally friendly substitutes, such as lab-grown hamburgers and cricket farming (SN: 9/20/18; SN: 5/2/19). Another alternative is microbial protein, made from cells cultivated in a laboratory and nurtured with glucose. Fermented fungal spores, for example, produce a dense, doughy substance called mycoprotein, while fermented algae produce spirulina, a dietary supplement. Cell-cultured foods do require sugar from croplands, but studies show that mycoprotein produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses less land and water than raising cattle, says Florian Humpenöder, a climate modeler at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. However, a full comparison of foods’ future environmental impacts also requires accounting for changes in population, lifestyle, dietary patterns and technology, he says. So Humpenöder and colleagues incorporated projected socioeconomic changes into computer simulations of land use and deforestation from 2020 through 2050. Then they simulated four scenarios, substituting microbial protein for 0 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of the global red meat diet by 2050. A little substitution went a long way, the team found: Just 20 percent microbial protein substitution cut annual deforestation rates — and associated CO2 emissions — by 56 percent from 2020 to 2050. Eating more microbial proteins could be part of a portfolio of strategies to address the climate and biodiversity crises — alongside measures to protect forests and decarbonize electricity generation, Humpenöder says.
5-6-22 Huge volume of water detected under Antarctic ice
Vast quantities of water have been detected in sediments that underlie a part of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The volume is equivalent to a reservoir that is several hundred metres deep. The water was detected below the Whillans Ice Stream, but its presence is likely replicated elsewhere across the White Continent. That being the case, it could be an important influence on how Antarctica reacts to a warmer world, researchers tell the journal Science this week. Water at the base of glaciers and ice streams generally works to lubricate their movement. The transfer of water into or out of this deep reservoir has the potential therefore to either slow down or speed up ice flow. Models that simulate future climate impacts will now have to account for it. The detection was made by a team led by Dr Chloe Gustafson from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, US. She said the deep sediments were ancient ocean muds and sands that became saturated with salty seawater thousands of years ago when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was much less extensive than it is today. "These sediments I like to think of as a giant sponge," she explained. "If you could squeeze out all that water and pool it on the surface, the water would range anywhere from about 220m in depth all the way up to 820m. "For comparison, the Empire State Building is about 440m tall. So at the shallowest, this water would go halfway up the Empire State Building, and at the deepest it would almost submerge two Empire State Buildings," the postdoctoral researcher told BBC News. Dr Gustafson made her measurements during a six-week expedition on the Whillans Ice Stream, an 800m-thick, 100km-wide convoy of fast moving ice that feeds into the Ross Ice Shelf. The technique she deployed is called magnetotellurics. This records variations in the the Earth’s natural electric and magnetic fields to determine the properties of deeply buried materials, be that rock, sediments, ice or water.
5-5-22 Vast reservoir of water discovered under the ice in Antarctica
Ice streams in Antarctica carry ice from the continent’s centre to the ocean, and there appears to be a huge amount of water buried beneath one, which may affect its flow. Antarctica is hiding a huge amount of water beneath its surface. Researchers have long suspected that there might be groundwater buried beneath the ice, but until now there has been no conclusive evidence to confirm that suspicion. Within Antarctica’s ice sheet, corridors of relatively fast-moving ice flow to the ocean. “Ice streams are responsible for bringing 90 per cent of Antarctica’s ice out into its margins, so they’re really important for understanding how ice in Antarctica ultimately goes into the ocean,” says Chloe Gustafson at the University of California, San Diego. “They’re sort of like water slides, in that if there’s water at the base of your ice stream, it can go very quickly, but if there’s no water there, you can’t go very fast,” she says. Researchers already knew that shallow pools of water – typically millimetres to a few metres deep – can sit between the ice streams and the ground below. But Gustafson and her colleagues wanted to know whether there was a larger reservoir of moving water beneath the Whillans ice stream in West Antarctica. By measuring seismic activity and electromagnetic fields, they found a kilometre-thick layer of sediments saturated with a mix of fresh glacier water and ancient seawater. stream, and water seems to flow between the deep and shallow areas. The apparent connection suggests the groundwater may be important for controlling the flow rate of the ice streams, a process that is crucial to understand for predicting the effects of climate change on sea level. “Antarctica as a whole, the whole ice sheet, contains [enough water to lead to] about 57 metres’ worth of sea level rise,” says Gustafson. “Ultimately, we want to understand how quickly that ice is going to flow off the continent into the ocean and affect that sea level rise.”
5-5-22 Biden administration launches plan to replenish U.S. oil reserves
The Biden administration on Thursday announced a plan to replenish the country's emergency oil reserves after President Biden promised to offset energy costs by releasing 180 million barrels over six months, CNN reports. The administration will seek bids to buy 60 million barrels of crude oil from companies this coming fall, "the first step in a years-long" replenishment process, CNN writes. Officials want the plan to convey how serious they are about refilling the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest emergency supply of oil in the world. Delivery of the first 60 million barrels will take place in "unspecified future years," CNN writes per an Energy Department official, and will be paid for with revenue from ongoing emergency sales. Oil reserves were already "sitting at 20-year lows, largely because of congressionally-mandated sales" that came before Biden's record-setting promise. "As we are thoughtful and methodical in the decision to drawdown from our emergency reserve, we must be similarly strategic in replenishing the supply so that it stands ready to deliver on its mission to provide relief when needed most," said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. The White House also hopes its plan will bolster domestic oil production by "guaranteeing a source of future demand," CNN writes.
5-5-22 Climate change: Spring egg-laying shifts by three weeks
"In some parts of this wood, egg-laying has shifted by three weeks," explains Dr Ella Cole of Oxford University. The softly-spoken, seasoned ornithologist is showing me around a very special field site - Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire; one of the most studied woodlands in the world. This year is the 75th anniversary of a study that has tracked 40 generations of great tits in the wood. It is one of the longest-running animal-tracking studies in the world. It is precisely because this is a decades-long study that has followed every nestling - marking and counting the birds, recording the exact date that females lay their eggs and the date those eggs hatch - that the data has revealed this trend in the timing of critical seasonal behaviour. "The tits here are actually managing to track the other members of their food chain," explains Dr Cole. "So, that's the peak in the number of the caterpillars they feed on and in the timing of the oak trees [that the caterpillars] feed on. The site was bequeathed to the University of Oxford by a local family in 1942, specifically for the pursuit of science. Researchers have certainly lived up to the condition of that bequest. In an area of about 800 acres, there are now about 1,200 specially-built nest boxes, some of which have been there, repeatedly occupied by great tits and blue tits, since the project began in 1947. There are signs of on-going ecological experiments everywhere - with netted bags hanging off branches to catch caterpillars and seed traps laid out beneath the canopy.
5-5-22 Flying insects splatting on cars have dropped by 60 per cent in UK
A survey finds that between 2004 and 2021 there have been huge declines in the number of insect "splats per mile" on cars in the UK, with the fall particularly bad in England. New evidence suggests there is some truth to anecdotes about today’s car windscreens being covered in fewer dead insects than in the past. A UK citizen science survey has found the number of flying insects splatted on cars dropped by 58.5 per cent between 2004 and 2021, after drivers counted how many were squashed on their number plates. “It’s dramatic and alarming,” says Matt Shardlow at Buglife, the charity that led the work. Fears have grown in recent years that, due to a loss of pollinators, some food crops could be undermined by a global decline in insects, with one recent study finding climate change and agriculture have almost halved insect numbers in the worst-hit regions. But most monitoring of flying insects is based on their distribution, rather than their abundance. To get a better handle on how flying insect populations are changing, Buglife enlisted drivers to wipe their number plate clean before a journey and then use a sampling grid (a “splatometer”) to count the number of dead insects when they reached their destination and upload the results to an app. Dividing the number of insects by the journey’s distance, researchers arrived at a “splats per mile” unit. This measure fell from 0.238 per mile on average in 2004 to 0.104 per mile in 2021, or a 58.5 per cent drop UK-wide. “This confirms what we already knew – that insect populations are in free fall. There seems to be no credible explanation for these findings other than a massive decline in insect abundance,” says Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research. The rate of decline is similar to that reported by a 2017 study, which found a 76 per cent drop in flying insect biomass in Germany over 27 years.
5-5-22 How much does eating meat affect nations’ greenhouse gas emissions?
New data show the climate costs of the eating habits of different countries, The food we eat is responsible for an astounding one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities, according to two comprehensive studies published in 2021. “When people talk about food systems, they always think about the cow in the field,” says statistician Francesco Tubiello, lead author of one of the reports, appearing in last June’s Environmental Research Letters. True, cows are a major source of methane, which, like other greenhouse gases, traps heat in the atmosphere. But methane, carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases are released from several other sources along the food production chain. Before 2021, scientists like Tubiello, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, were well aware that agriculture and related land use changes made up roughly 20 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Such land use changes include cutting down forests to make way for cattle grazing and pumping groundwater to flood fields for the sake of agriculture. But new modeling techniques used by Tubiello and colleagues, plus a study from a group at the European Commission Tubiello worked with, brought to light another big driver of emissions: the food supply chain. All the steps that take food from the farm to our plates to the landfill — transportation, processing, cooking and food waste — bring food-related emissions up from 20 percent to 33 percent. To slow climate change, the foods we eat deserve major attention, just like fossil fuel burning, says Amos Tai, an environmental scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The fuller picture of food-related emissions demonstrates that the world needs to make drastic changes to the food system if we are to reach international goals for reducing global warming.
5-5-22 Iraq dust storm leaves 5,000 people needing treatment
One person has died and more than 5,000 people have been admitted to hospitals with breathing problems in Iraq after a seventh severe dust storm in a month. A health ministry spokesman said 2,000 of the cases of "suffocation" had been reported in Baghdad province, according to the official Iraqi News Agency. He advised people with asthma and other chronic diseases to stay indoors. Dust storms are common in Iraq, but some experts believe they are becoming more frequent due to climate change. Another storm on Sunday left dozens of people with breathing difficulties and grounded flights at airports serving Baghdad and the Shia holy city of Najaf. Health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday that all of Iraq's medical facilities were on alert and that the number of people admitted with respiratory problems was "not final", INA reported. Most of those affected had chronic diseases like asthma or were elderly, and the majority were discharged after receiving oxygen and other treatments, he added. Besides Baghdad, the western desert province of Anbar and the south-western province of Najaf were also badly affected. Dust storms mostly hit Iraq in the summer months, when they are often associated with strong winds known as shamal blowing in from the north-west. In western Iraq, shamal-driven dust storms occur mainly in the spring. Last month, an environment ministry official warned that Iraq could face "272 days of dust" a year in the coming decades. The storms are expected to become more frequent due to drought, desertification and declining rainfall. In recent years, Iraq has seen record low rainfall and summer temperatures regularly exceeding 50C (122F). Iraq's water reserves are already 50% lower than last year, and the water resources ministry has warned that vital Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide most of the country's surface water, could dry up within 20 years.
5-4-22 It worked with cigarettes. Let's ban ads for climate-wrecking products
Outlawing adverts that push high-carbon products such as SUVs would be a simple win for regulators looking to take climate action, says Andrew Simms. FROM the car advert urging you to enjoy a life “without restrictions” by driving an SUV with emissions 250 per cent above the EU target to the airline ad mocking people who holiday at home, why, in a warming world, are we surrounded by ads encouraging us to buy polluting, high-carbon products? Ending them would be an easy win for decision-makers looking to take rapid climate action. Ads promoting high-carbon lifestyles and products are ubiquitous. Car firms spent an estimated $35.5 billion on advertising in major global markets in 2018. SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions between 2010 and 2018. Following heavy promotion by vehicle manufacturers, in less than a decade, SUVs went from being 1 in 10 of new car sales to more than 4 in 10. Once you start to look for such ads, they are everywhere. Sport is one of the world’s biggest advertising markets. The three sponsors with courtside adverts at the 2021 Australian Open tennis tournament were an oil and gas company, an airline and a car-maker (Santos, Emirates and Kia). Advertising wouldn’t be the multibillion industry it is if it didn’t work. One recent estimate looking at the degree to which global car and airline advertising increased demand suggests that it could have been responsible for between 202 million and 606 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 – an order of magnitude ranging from between the Netherlands’ entire emissions that year to almost twice those of Spain. To a large degree, the advertising of high-carbon products has taken the place of once-common tobacco advertising, which ended in the UK in 2003 for health reasons. Now, with a climate crisis and an estimated 8.7 million premature deaths a year from burning fossil fuels, ads from big polluters should go the same way.
5-4-22 Swapping fifth of meat for alternative foods could halve deforestation
Even a modest shift from ruminant meat to microbial proteins could cut deforestation and carbon emissions 56 per cent by 2050. Swapping a fifth of the world’s meat consumption for meat-free alternatives made in factories would more than halve global deforestation and related carbon emissions, a group of researchers has found. Cattle ranches and crops grown to feed cows are two of the biggest drivers of forests being cleared across the tropics, which is continuing despite political pledges to curb the loss of carbon-rich, biodiverse habitats. Microbial proteins, such as the Quorn mycoprotein made from a fungus and sugar in heated vessels, have previously been shown to have a lower environmental impact than meat from ruminants such as cows and sheep. But their future potential – as populations grow, food demand rises and diets shift – hasn’t been fully explored. To fill the gap, Florian Humpenöder at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and his colleagues modelled what would happen in three scenarios, where 20, 50 and 80 per cent of ruminant meat consumption per person was substituted for microbial proteins by 2050. The impact was surprisingly strong, says Humpenöder. The 20 per cent scenario would cut deforestation rates from 8.4 million hectares annually compared with business continuing as usual, to 3.7 million hectares. Net CO2 emissions would fall from 5.5 billion tonnes in 2050 to 2.4 billion. “It’s not a silver bullet, not the single solution to the climate or biodiversity crisis. But I really think it can be a part of the solution,” says Humpenöder. Unlike alternatives such as cultured meat, the technology for making microbial proteins is already mature. More plant-based diets are another option to reduce emissions. While a shift to microbial proteins still needs land to grow sugar, Humpenöder says that producing more food in factories could also be seen as a form of climate adaptation because of the impact that extreme weather events are having on crops. India’s recent heatwave damaged wheat harvests.
5-4-22 These are the five most extreme heatwaves since records began
Two of the world’s five most extreme heatwaves occurred in the US, with the others in South-East Asia, Brazil and Peru. The most extreme heatwaves ever recorded globally have now been identified, including five events that were more severe than the deadly western North American heatwave last year. “As far as we’re aware, we’re the first to assess heatwaves globally where you can compare them to each other at the same time,” says Vikki Thompson at the University of Bristol, UK. “We started by looking at the heatwave last June in the USA and Canada, which, at the time, everyone was quite shocked by. Then we found five events that were more extreme than that event.” These heatwaves occurred in southern Brazil in 1985, South-East Asia in 1998, south-west Peru in 2016, south-east US in 1980 and Alaska in 2019. “Many of these events are in parts of the world where they were missed because they had less impact on us in the Western world, or where there are less people and they’re just not monitored so well,” says Thompson. Thompson and her colleagues analysed historical temperature data collected from 158 regions of the world from 1968 to 2021. They used a climate model to fill in gaps in the measurements, before pinpointing daily temperatures in each region that were so high there was less than a 0.1 per cent chance of them occurring normally in that area. The team also predicted how common heatwaves would be in North America in the future, under different scenarios of global warming. Under a worse-case scenario of climate change, which would see a 4.3°C increase in average global temperature by the end of the century, they estimated a 1-in-6 chance of an extreme heatwave occurring each year by the 2090s. In a low-emissions scenario, which would lead to an increase in average global temperature of 1.8°C by 2100, there would be a 1-in-1000 risk of an extreme heatwave each year by the same time period.
5-4-22 Planting trees rather than bioenergy crops sucks more CO2 from the air
Compared with capturing the CO2 released by burning bioenergy crops, planting forests will lock away more carbon while also causing much less water stress and pollution. In the US, nearly twice as much carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere by 2100 through planting forests than through growing bioenergy crops and capturing the CO2 emitted when the crops are burned. What’s more, growing forests would lead to fewer water shortages and less water pollution, according to a modelling study. Many scenarios for limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C that are used in climate models assume that vast amounts of carbon can be removed from the atmosphere by growing bioenergy crops and capturing the CO2emitted when they are burned to generate electricity or heat. This concept, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), was essentially invented to make these scenarios feasible. It isn’t being done at scale anywhere in the world. Yanyan Cheng at the National University of Singapore and her colleagues used a computer model to compare two scenarios. In one, the US relies on non-food-based bioenergy crops, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, to remove CO2. Nearly 2 million square kilometres – equivalent to almost 90 per cent of cropland in the US in 2015 – are planted by 2100. In the other, the focus is on growing forests, with only 500,000 square kilometres devoted to energy crops. The model suggests the bioenergy expansion scenario would lock away 70 per cent less carbon than the reforestation scenario unless very optimistic assumptions are made about bioenergy yields, carbon capture efficiency and so on. Around 130 million people would be affected by water shortages in this scenario, compared with 40 million for afforestation. Water quality would also be lower in the bioenergy scenario because of fertiliser run-off. The model takes into account factors such as forest fires releasing carbon and more land being cleared for farmland to compensate for the land used for bioenergy crops. It doesn’t include the substantial greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser manufacture and use.
5-4-22 Toxic foam from polluted rivers causes health problems in Colombia
Clouds of foam containing toxic chemicals are floating through a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bogotá, and residents say they it is making them sick. As downpours intensified on 23 April on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia, toxic foam from an adjacent river started engulfing the Los Puentes neighbourhood. Fluffy white froth emerged from the water and was whisked up by the wind until it reached a height of 5 metres and blanketed cars and roads, says restaurant manager María Morales. Eventually, it crept through the windows of her kitchen, forcing her to close the business. Though the scenes may resemble a harmless giant bubble bath, the residents know better. “If it were normal foam, the kids would love it,” says Maria Chacue, who has had a hard time stopping her 22-month-old son from playing in the toxic chemicals, which include compounds from soaps and detergents. “But it’s not normal. It’s so polluted.” Environmental officials blame the heavy rains driven by the La Niña weather phenomenon, which have flooded much of Colombia in recent weeks. As the Bojacá and Subachoque rivers converge in the lower river basin near Los Puentes at high speeds and volumes, they churn up the underlying contaminants. “It’s like detergent in the sink,” says Edwin Garcia, a government official overseeing environmental controls in the region. “If you don’t move it, nothing happens. But if you stir it, it foams up.” Tests show that the responsible chemicals are largely cleaning products, he says, but a wide range of pollutants are present. Oils from cooking and fertilisers from crops eventually find their way into the Bojacá and Subachoque rivers, says Sergio Valero, director of risk management for the region. Rubbish and even dead animals are dumped in the rivers, and though dumping waste is illegal, some businesses use the cover of night to discard toxic materials, he says.
5-3-22 Corals further from pollution were more resistant to Hawaiian heatwave
A study of more than 200 square kilometres of reefs in the Hawaiian islands found that those further from pollution and coastal developments held up better after a 2019 marine heatwave. Areas of coral reefs closest to land developments and pollution are less likely to survive when ocean temperature spikes, according to a study that used a novel aerial mapping tool to measure reef health. After a marine heatwave hit the US state of Hawaii in 2019, ecologist Greg Asner at Arizona State University and his colleagues wanted to know how its reefs fared. “We’re trying to figure out, how bad is it for these corals? Which corals, in which areas?” says Asner. Corals are a collection of thousands of tiny animals, called polyps, in a delicate symbiotic partnership with algae. The photosynthesising algae produce the coral’s food. When polyps are stressed with unusually warm or acidic water, they will expel their algal partner and turn ghostly white in a process called bleaching. Corals can recover from bleaching, but if stressed for too long, they die. To get a better understanding of the changing coral coverage, Asner and his colleagues flew a small aeroplane outfitted with a special infrared spectrometer to measure differences in the spectrum of light emitted by corals. Depending on how the coral molecules stretch, bend and vibrate when exposed to sunlight, the researchers could determine which parts of the reef were living and which had died. This gave them information on the molecular composition of the corals, to a depth of 16 metres. “We fly over land and sea, and we measure the molecular composition of things – sometimes it’s water quality, sometimes it’s tropical forest canopy diversity,” says Asner. “In this case, we learned how to convert the molecular information to whether the corals are… alive or dead.”
5-2-22 Orange skies as Iraq hit by dust storm
Iraq has been engulfed by a dust storm that have become increasingly common in the country. Dozens were hospitalised with respiratory problems and flights have been grounded because of poor visibility at in Baghdad, Najaf and Erbil. Experts say the storms could become more frequent due to drought and declining rainfall.
5-2-22 EU split on ending energy supplies from Russia
Updates from BBC correspondents: Sarah Rainsford in Kyiv, Andrew Harding in Donbas, Laura Bicker in Zaporizhzhia, Hugo Bachega in Dnipro, Joe Inwood and Sophie Williams in Lviv, and Caroline Davies in Odesa. The EU remains unable to agree on ending supplies of Russian oil and gas, Germany's economy minister says. Ministers are discussing an embargo on Russian oil, but Hungary has made it clear it will block consensus. Germany says it would not be ready to block Russian gas but could bear a phased-in oil embargo. Revenues from the supplies - millions of euros a day - are used to fund Russia's war in Ukraine. Some 100 people evacuated from a besieged steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol are due to arrive in Ukraine-held areas. Hundreds more civilians remain trapped there and President Zelensky has said he hopes further evacuations can take place.
5-1-22 What to expect from this year's 'hotter and drier than normal' summer
It's only spring, but already there are dozens of wildfires burning in New Mexico and Nebraska. Meanwhile, officials in Southern California are warning some residents that unless they start drastically conserving water, they may face a full outdoor watering ban. With the situation already so extreme in some parts of the United States, what can Americans expect when it comes to fires, heat, and droughts this summer? Here's everything you need to know: What are meteorologists saying about this summer's weather? This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its monthly report on global climate trends, which included a look at how June, July, and August are shaping up weather-wise. March was one of the driest and hottest months on record in the United States, and NOAA predicts it will be a hotter and drier than normal summer with higher temperatures across the country. NOAA also said the La Niña climate pattern is favored to continue through the summer, which could bring drier conditions to the southern United States and more rain in the northern half. Expect the hottest temperatures in the western United States in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its monthly report on global climate trends, which included a look at how June, July, and August are shaping up weather-wise. March was one of the driest and hottest months on record in the United States, and NOAA predicts it will be a hotter and drier than normal summer with higher temperatures across the country. NOAA also said the La Niña climate pattern is favored to continue through the summer, which could bring drier conditions to the southern United States and more rain in the northern half. Expect the hottest temperatures in the western United States in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. How will these conditions affect the drought in the western United States?The region is experiencing a multi-year drought, with NOAA saying it is the "most extensive and intense drought in the 22-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor." Precipitation deficits are at or near record levels, and the climatological wet season is ending with below-average snow cover, meaning the snow melt won't be enough to fill the low reservoirs. With NOAA expecting the summer to be hotter and drier, the drought is only expected to get worse, affecting everything from crops to public safety, as bone dry vegetation fuels wildfires.How will these conditions affect the drought in the western United States? The region is experiencing a multi-year drought, with NOAA saying it is the "most extensive and intense drought in the 22-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor." Precipitation deficits are at or near record levels, and the climatological wet season is ending with below-average snow cover, meaning the snow melt won't be enough to fill the low reservoirs. With NOAA expecting the summer to be hotter and drier, the drought is only expected to get worse, affecting everything from crops to public safety, as bone dry vegetation fuels wildfires. Is the drought behind the wildfires now burning in New Mexico? Experts say that's one factor. "Because of climate change and the megadrought across the western U.S. and especially the Great Basin, there's no moisture in the soil anymore," Andrew Church, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, told CNN. Usually, there is an increase in relative humidity after a cold front passes, but because the ground is so dry, that doesn't happen anymore, Church said. That rise in relative humidity would "help keep small fires ... in check," he added, and "stem the rapid spread of ... wildfires." There are about two dozen wildfires burning in New Mexico, and Church said the 2022 fire season started "around a week and a half, almost two weeks earlier than average." The state sees the peak of its fire season in June.