80 Global Warming News Articles
for May of 2017
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
5-31-17 Trump will reportedly turn America into a planet-imperiling rogue state
Trump will reportedly turn America into a planet-imperiling rogue state
President Trump is prepared to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords, multiple news outlets are reporting. Though Trump himself has not yet confirmed the news — writing on Twitter that he'll make his decision in the "next few days" — it fits both with his belligerent style and his promises during the campaign. Politico writes that this is a victory for the "nationalist" wing of the White House. On the contrary, it's a victory for precisely no one. It's a representation of how crack-brained thinking has turned the United States into an enemy of the human race. It must always be emphasized that climate change is first and foremost a threat to human civilization — contrary to typical centrist media framing of the issue as some sort of boutique environmentalist hobbyhorse. Climate change means more drought, more flooding, more extreme weather, mass extinctions, tremendous disruption of agriculture, and sea levels rising by many meters. Climate change does not threaten America as much as it does India or China, but neither are we in as good a position as Canada, with its vast tracts of barely-inhabited taiga. But even that country is not secure in the long run if emissions are not ratcheted down quickly, starting now. Procrastination raises the likelihood of triggering one of many potential feedback loops, which could spiral out of control no matter what we do to greenhouse gas emissions, rendering much of the Earth's surface uninhabitable — and leaving wildly dangerous geoengineering schemes as the last Hail Mary chance at rescue.
5-31-17 Trump looks set to take US out of Paris climate agreement
Trump looks set to take US out of Paris climate agreement
US president Donald Trump is expected to announce this week that he will take the country out of the international climate agreement. Donald Trump is expected to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord, according to a White House official. But the official said there may be “caveats in the language” the president uses to announce the withdrawal, leaving open the possibility that the decision is not final. Nearly 200 nations, including the US, agreed in 2015 to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change. During Trump’s overseas trip last week, European leaders pressed him to keep the US in the landmark agreement. He had promised during his presidential campaign to pull the US out of the deal. Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax”, tweeted on Wednesday morning: “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Withdrawing would leave the US aligned only with Russia among the world’s industrialised economies in rejecting action to combat climate change. Word of Trump’s decision comes a day after he met Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Like his boss, Pruitt has questioned the consensus of climate scientists that the Earth is warming and that man-made climate emissions are to blame. Since taking office, the pair have moved to delay or roll back federal regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions while pledging to revive long-struggling US coal mines. The US is the world’s second largest emitter of carbon, following only China.
5-31-17 Exxon shareholders back 'historic' vote on climate
Exxon shareholders back 'historic' vote on climate
For the first time, Exxon Mobil will have to consider the impact of climate change on its business. Shareholders in Exxon Mobil have backed a motion requiring the company to assess the risks from climate change. The plan, proposed by investors including the Church of England, was supported by over 62% of those eligible to vote. The vote comes as US media reports that President Trump is poised to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Exxon will now have to consider how global efforts to mitigate climate change will impact their business. Long seen as the last bastion of opposition to action on rising temperatures, Exxon Mobil is the world's largest publicly traded oil company. They've recently been under investigation by some state authorities in the US. They've been accused of allegedly concealing information from shareholders on when the company first realised that human emissions of carbon were driving up global temperatures. Previous attempts by activists to force the company to take the impact of climate change into account failed. Last year, the motion gained just over 38% of shareholder support. The resolution, filed by the Church Commissioners for England and New York State Comptroller Thomas P DiNapoli, asked Exxon to report on how its business model will be affected by global efforts to limit the average rise in temperatures to below 2C.
5-31-17 UK government to be taken back to court again over air pollution
UK government to be taken back to court again over air pollution
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have said they are taking the government back to court once again over its inadequate plans to tackle illegal air pollution. Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have said they are taking the Government back to court over its plans to tackle illegal air pollution. The law firm said draft plans published in early May contained “major flaws” and they had written to the Environment Department calling for improvements. Defra has refused, prompting the legal firm to take the government back to the High Court, the lawyers said. The government was forced to publish the draft plans to tackle illegal levels of health-harming pollutant nitrogen dioxide after the courts ruled previous efforts were not sufficient. “We have been looking at the fine detail of the draft air quality plans published by the government,” said ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton.”We have found some major flaws. The law requires the final plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the shortest time possible. These flaws seriously jeopardise that timetable. “These are plans for more plans, what we need are plans for action,” he said. “It is disgraceful that this government has had to be dragged back to court so many times over for failing to tackle illegal and unsafe air pollution that’s plaguing our streets,” said Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner, Greenpeace. “Our air has broken legal limits for pollution every year since 2010, and yet the government is still not acting to protect the public from this crisis,” Hamid said. “By delaying action to tackle air pollution over and over again the government is putting people’s lives at risk, and the voting public will expect better.”
5-31-17 Antarctic ice crack takes major turn
Antarctic ice crack takes major turn
There has been an important development in the big crack cutting across the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The fissure, which threatens to spawn one of the biggest bergs ever seen, has dramatically changed direction. "The rift has propagated a further 16km, with a significant apparent right turn towards the end, moving the tip 13km from the ice edge," said Swansea University's Prof Adrian Luckman. The calving of the berg could now be very close, he told BBC News. However, he also quickly added that nothing was certain. The fissure currently extends for about 200km in length, tracing the outline of a putative berg that covers some 5,000 sq km - an area about a quarter of the size of Wales. The crack put on its latest spurt between 25 May and 31 May. These dates were the two most recent passes of the European Union's Sentinel-1 satellites. Their radar vision is keeping up a constant watch as the White Continent moves into the darkness of deep winter. After some initial activity at the beginning of the year, the Larsen crack became stationary as it entered what is termed a "suture" zone - a region of soft, flexible ice. But this situation held only until the beginning of May, when the rift tip then suddenly forked. And it is the new branch that has now extended and turned towards the ocean.
5-31-17 UN chief Guterres says climate deal is essential
UN chief Guterres says climate deal is essential
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said it is "absolutely essential" that the world unite to combat the threat from climate change. Speaking in New York, Mr Guterres said if any country doubted the need for the 2015 Paris climate accord, then other countries must "stay the course". He was speaking after US President Donald Trump refused to join other leaders of the G7 group of rich nations in reaffirming support for the accord. He is due to decide the US stance soon. President Trump has previously dismissed global warming as a "hoax" created by China and has threatened to pull out of the Paris accord. Mr Guterres was making his first major statement on climate since taking office as UN chief five months ago. "If any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course," he told the audience at New York University. "The message is simple: the sustainability train has left the station. Get on board or get left behind." He added: "The world is in a mess. It is absolutely essential that the world implements the Paris agreement."
5-31-17 Trump 'poised to quit Paris climate deal'
Trump 'poised to quit Paris climate deal'
US President Donald Trump is poised to pull the country out of the Paris climate accord, US media report, quoting senior officials. The American leader refused to reaffirm his country's commitment to the accord at a G7 summit in Italy on Saturday. He said he would make up his mind after returning to the US. Mr Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax" on occasion, has reportedly indicated this is still his position to key members of his inner circle. In 2015, nearly 200 countries agreed to the landmark accord, which aims to reduce global carbon emissions. Responding to the reports, a top EU official said Europe was ready to assume leadership on combating climate change. "If they decide to pull out it would be disappointing but I really do not think this would change the course of mankind," European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "There is a much stronger expectation from our partners across the world from Africa, Asia and China that Europe should assume leadership in this effort and we are ready to do that."(Webmaster's comment: Surrending the lead in tackling global warming will not make America Great Again!)
5-31-17 Fragile future for US nuclear power
Fragile future for US nuclear power
No one died, there were no direct health impacts, but the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident burned so deeply into the US psyche that it has helped limit the future use of the power source across America. A major factor in turning the accident into a "disaster" was timing. Just 12 days before the 1979 accident that saw a partial core meltdown at one of the two reactors at the Pennsylvania plant, The China Syndrome was released in cinemas across the US. The film's plot centred on a major safety issue at a California nuclear plant. It was a spooky backdrop to the worst real world nuclear accident in US history. While citizens were frightened by TMI, so too were investors. The accident happened after just three months of commercial operation causing the plant owner to go bankrupt. The whole clean up effort took 14 years and cost almost $1bn. (Webmaster's comment: Designed right nuclear power can be completely safe, but I doubt that American engineers are capable of doing that anymore. And the for profit motive will lead to cost cutting that removes many safety features.)
5-30-17 Barrier reef suffers huge coral loss
Barrier reef suffers huge coral loss
Australia's Great Barrier Reef lost nearly a third of its corals in the past year, officials have said. Coral "bleaching" has led to widespread coral decline and habitat loss on the world's largest coral reef system. Surveys show that 29% of corals died in 2016, greater than the figure of 22% projected in mid-2016. The worst-hit area was near Port Douglas, where 70% of shallow water corals died, but there was a recovery of corals in the south of the reef. The latest results come from surveys carried out by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said: "As has been the case with reefs across the world, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced significant and widespread impacts over the last two years. "We're very concerned about what this means for the Great Barrier Reef itself and what it means for the communities and industries that depend on it."
5-28-17 Climate change: Trump keeps world waiting on Paris deal
Climate change: Trump keeps world waiting on Paris deal
Donald Trump has said he will decide whether to pull out of a key climate change deal in the next week, having apparently shrugged off pressure from US allies in recent days. The US president tweeted he would make his "final decision" on the Paris accord after his return to Washington. Mr Trump left the G7 summit in Sicily on Saturday without reaffirming his commitment to the accord, unlike the other six world leaders in attendance. He previously threatened to pull out. Mr Trump, who has called climate change "a hoax" on occasion, has reportedly indicated this is still his position to key members of his inner circle. The uncertainty over his position on the Paris agreement puts him at odds with other members of the G7.
5-26-17 G7 talks: Trump isolated over Paris climate change deal
G7 talks: Trump isolated over Paris climate change deal
Leaders of the G7 group of rich nations have failed to agree a statement on climate change. Six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world's first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions. However, the US has refused to recommit to the agreement, saying it will make a decision next week. Mr Trump, who once dismissed global warming as a "hoax", has previously threatened to pull out of the accord. This is Mr Trump's first G7 summit - during his first foreign trip. G7 leaders from the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan have agreed a statement on fighting terrorism. The final communique issued at the G7 summit in Italy said the US "is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics". However, the other G7 leaders pledged to "reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement". German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussion on climate change had been "very unsatisfactory", adding "we have a situation of six against one".(Webmaster's comment: The world needs to forget about the United States and move ahead without it. Let it descent into a Christianity dominated dark ages just like the Muslim dominated countries have. A hell of our own making!)
5-26-17 Governments sued over climate change, with banks and firms next
Governments sued over climate change, with banks and firms next
Almost 900 climate change cases have now been filed in 24 countries, and the Paris climate agreement could provide a further boost to litigation efforts. Citizens are increasingly taking governments to court over climate change inaction, with financial lenders – and possibly big firms – next in the firing line. Some 894 climate change cases have now been filed in 24 countries, according to a report published last week by the United Nations Environment Programme and Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in New York. By some distance, most – 654 – have been in the US. Australia sits in second place, with 80 cases, and the UK third, with 49. The number of countries with climate cases has tripled since 2014. Citizens have filed the vast majority of these cases against governments, with a handful lodged against fossil fuel companies. Separately, campaign group ClientEarth has written to energy giants BP and Glencore warning them of the risk of investor lawsuits based on over-optimistic statements about future fossil fuel demand in their reporting. (Webmaster's comment: Go get them! Use the laws and the counts against them!)
5-26-17 Hot, sleepless nights will get more common with climate change
Hot, sleepless nights will get more common with climate change
People in the US stand to lose sleep as the climate warms – and those in hotter countries will be harder hit. As the planet warms, many people will find it much harder to get a good night’s sleep. A study based on a survey of 750,000 people living in the US has found that when temperatures are high, people report getting less sleep. Elderly and poorer people find it particularly hard to sleep on hot nights. This may be partly because they cannot afford air conditioning, says Nick Obradovich at Harvard University. Obradovich and his colleagues estimate that there will be a big increase in sleep loss as the planet warms – not least because nights are warming faster than days. For every 100 people in the US, there will be six extra sleepless nights per year by 2050 if global warming continues at its current rate. Heat stress is known to have numerous effects on people’s health and ability to work. “The way people recover from heat is having a good night’s rest,” says Obradovich. “Sleep loss may play a role in loss of life.” We may already be losing sleep as a result of climate change, given that the planet has warmed by more than 1°C since pre-industrial times. Animals are already known to be affected – some are spending less time hibernating, or even not hibernating at all. Heat stress due to climate change is already reducing people’s productivity. If the planet were to warm by more than 7°C, large parts of it would become too hot for people to survive. (Webmaster's comment: And it's well on the way. It'll be here in your children's life time.)
5-26-17 Turning off reactors
Turning off reactors
The Swiss have voted to phase out the country’s nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable-energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power. In a referendum this week, 58 percent of voters chose to ban new nuclear power plants and provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewables. “Switzerland will finally enter into the 21st century when it comes to energy,” said Green Party MP Adele Thorens Goumaz. The government says the plan will cost each Swiss family an extra $41 a year; critics contend it will end up costing many times more and disfigure the landscape with wind turbines. Switzerland’s five aging reactors generate some 35 percent of Switzerland’s energy output, while hydropower accounts for 60 percent.
5-26-17 Uncertain times in the oil industry
Uncertain times in the oil industry
“A great struggle is unfolding in the world oil market,” said Daniel Yergin. Oil producers are attempting to rebalance supply and demand, in order to push oil prices up from recent lows, and they are simultaneously streamlining their businesses to survive during an era of cheap oil. “That tension explains why the price keeps jumping toward $60 a barrel and then falling back near $40.” Oil prices started to collapse in 2014, when global supply began rapidly outstripping demand, largely thanks to the shale oil revolution in the U.S. By late 2016, low prices had caused many companies to either go bankrupt or slash exploration and production. That production decline eventually helped raise prices somewhat, though nowhere near the $100 a barrel highs we saw three years ago. At the same time, the decline in revenues has forced companies across the industry to become more efficient. New shale-oil wells are now profitable at $50 or even $40 a barrel, a price point that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. This efficiency is creating a new surge in U.S. drilling. By next year, “the U.S. is likely to hit the highest level of oil production in its entire history,” which will keep global prices low for years to come. The days of $100 a barrel oil now look like “an aberration that will not recur, absent an international crisis or a major disruption.”
5-26-17 Doomsday threat
Unusually high Arctic temperatures caused permafrost to melt and seep into the “Doomsday” seed vault—a fail-safe trove intended to protect food supplies in case of a global calamity—it was revealed last week. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is buried in a frozen mountain on a Norwegian island, stores some 500 million seeds from around the world. But late last year temperatures soared on Svalbard, pushing the permafrost around the vault above melting point. Water seeped into the entrance tunnel, but didn’t reach the seeds. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there,” said Norwegian official Hege Njaa Aschim.
5-26-17 Greetings from ‘Garbage Island’
Greetings from ‘Garbage Island’
Lying between New Zealand and Chile in the South Pacific, uninhabited Henderson Island boasts white sandy beaches, 57 species of flowering plant—and 38 million pieces of plastic garbage, the highest density of trash ever recorded. Researchers made the startling discovery during a routine survey of the 14.4-square-mile coral atoll, which is so remote and inaccessible that in 1988 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site with a “near-pristine island ecosystem.” Now Henderson is littered with 18 tons of fishing nets, toothbrushes, razors, lighters, water bottles, helmets, toy soldiers, and other refuse, The Washington Post reports. Markings suggest the debris came from China, Japan, South America, Europe, the U.S., Russia, and elsewhere around the world. Why did it end up on Henderson? The island sits on the western edge of the South Pacific gyre—a circular ocean current that acts like a conveyor belt, dumping floating objects ashore. During a three-month stay on Henderson, the researchers found that about 3,500 pieces of plastic waste washed onto the island’s beaches daily. All told, some 9 million tons of plastic ends up in oceans each year; it traps marine mammals and fish, gets swallowed by seabirds, never degrades, and can float around for decades. “When we dispose of plastic, we think it goes away,” says study co-author Alex Bond. “But there is no ‘away.’”
5-25-17 Newly-evolved microbes may be breaking down ocean plastics
Newly-evolved microbes may be breaking down ocean plastics
There is less plastic in our oceans than expected because life is evolving the ability to biodegrade it, one team is claiming. Plastic. There should be hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the stuff floating around in our oceans. But we are finding less than expected – perhaps because living organisms are evolving the ability to break it down. Plastic production is rising exponentially, so ever more of it should be ending up in the oceans, says Ricard Sole, who studies complex systems at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. But surveys of areas where floating plastic accumulates, such as the North Atlantic gyre, are not finding nearly as much plastic as expected. In fact, there’s only a tenth to a hundredth as much plastic as expected – and the amount of floating plastic does not appear to be increasing. “The trend should be there,” Sole says. This lack of trend cannot be explained by physical processes, according to his team’s mathematical models. Instead, they propose that there has been a population boom in microbes that have evolved the ability to biodegrade plastic. Other researchers agree that surveys are finding far less plastic in the oceans than expected. However, they say there are several other possible explanations for this “missing plastic”.
5-24-17 Can hydroponic lettuce save coal country?
Can hydroponic lettuce save coal country?
One radical West Virginia farmer is bringing life back to his struggling hometown. Joel McKinney, 33, is thick and tall, with tattooed arms and a backward baseball cap. There's a restless demeanor exuding from beneath the militaristic dude-ness he must have picked up during his time in the Navy. He slides open the greenhouse door and a warm draft washes out. On the north side of the greenhouse are two long rows of 8-foot-tall bright white PVC towers standing at attention. From each PVC pipe explodes scores of violently purple and green heads of lettuce growing vertically up the tube. Each plant sits askew in a little cup fitted into its respective hole in the tower. A steady trickle of electricity and water reverberate in the warm tunnel. These are McKinney's hydroponic lettuce towers. "People are so stuck on traditional agriculture, and that's fine, it's all great. But I'm not growing out, I'm growing up," he says. "What I'm doin' with the towers, it's not just about hydroponics to me. It's not just about growing food. To me, this thing embraces change." The vibrant, futuristic setup is entirely unexpected in a place like McDowell, and that's kinda the point for McKinney. McDowell is a remote coal county tucked away in rural West Virginia. Back in the late '50s when coal was booming, McDowell's population was over 100,000. In 2017 that number has dropped below 20,000. It has made headlines over the last decade for its daunting economic hardships, rampant opioid use, and most recently, its overwhelming support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. But these headlines fail to cover creative people like McKinney who are responding to those circumstances. (Webmaster's comment: A true hero with the America spirit lost by many Americans who feel they are owed high wages for unskilled labor.)
5-24-17 East Africa’s drought threatens iconic wildebeest migration
East Africa’s drought threatens iconic wildebeest migration
Fewer rains and dried-out riverbeds could mean more conflict with humans and livestock, and have a devastating impact on Africa’s wildlife, reports Adam Popescu. The wildebeest look tired. Skittish at the slightest sound, their hooves perpetually pound the dusty plain until they kick up a cloud that obscures the hundreds of animals forming the herd. Under the dust, the short grass is yellow and grey, if it’s there at all. How do these animals find sustenance amid this sparseness, I wonder? Where is the water? “Drought,” answers Ngiimba, my Maasai guide. “More than a year now. Killed over 50 per cent of livestock.” I’m in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, a sprawling wilderness the size of Belgium. And though there is wildlife seemingly everywhere – lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, wildebeest – Ngiimba’s words hint at trouble. More than 90,000 tourists flock here every year to see the Serengeti’s great annual migration, in which as many as 2 million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles travel thousands of kilometres between Tanzania and Kenya. The grazers cross rivers and arid scrub along the way, and leave a trail of droppings in their wake that keeps soils rich in nutrients, giving life to the land. But there’s a story that travel sites and Instagram posts don’t share. Although biodiversity here ranks among the world’s highest, Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – and rising temperatures can cut crop yields by as much as 20 per cent. Factor in an already depleted ecosystem and an infrastructure unable to handle a fast-growing population, and East Africa faces a bleak future.
5-23-17 Unimpeachable logic says Trump shouldn’t quit Paris climate pact
Unimpeachable logic says Trump shouldn’t quit Paris climate pact
President Donald Trump should keep the US in the Paris Agreement on climate and embrace it as a great deal for his nation's economy, says Owen Gaffney. US president Donald Trump is reportedly going to decide within days whether to keep his election promise to quit the Paris climate agreement. Leaving would be an illogical act of self-harm. His decision is due after meeting the leaders of other major advanced economies at the G7 summit later this week in Italy. Under the Paris deal, nations agreed to report regularly, openly and transparently on their efforts to reduce emissions to try to keep the rise in global temperature “well below” 2°C. If efforts are minimal, it’s reported for all to see. The deal’s strength is in the psychology of public commitment. Expectation and peer pressure are key to keeping nations on track. If Trump decides to stay in but in name only, this may have little impact beyond US borders, as long as the US does not attempt to derail progress elsewhere. But if he quits, there are worries this could instigate contagion, as other nations get edgy and flee too, although this is unlikely: major emitters – Europe, China and India – have said they will stand firm. A US departure may also hit the Green Climate Fund, a pot of money set up by the Paris deal to aid poorer nations’ efforts to develop low-carbon economies. The US is the biggest donor and has pledged $3 billion.
5-23-17 EU nations set to wipe out forests and not account for emissions
EU nations set to wipe out forests and not account for emissions
The drive for biofuels that international treaties wrongly consider to be emissions-free is driving plans to boost tree harvests in Europe, forgetting about associated emissions. It looks like greenwash. European nations publicly keen to boost their climate credentials by switching to “green” biomass are accused of working behind the scenes to expunge their carbon emissions from burning wood in power stations from national emissions statistics. “If we don’t measure emissions when trees are cut, we won’t measure them at all,” says Hannah Mowat of FERN, a European NGO working to save the continent’s forests, who has followed the EU negotiations on the issue. Under international climate treaties such as the Paris Agreement, burning biomass like wood is defined as carbon-neutral, even though it emits as least as much carbon as fossil fuels. The assumption is that new trees will be grown to take up the carbon emitted from the burning. If countries reduce their forest cover – as a result of harvesting trees for biomass burning or anything else – the carbon loss should show up in national statistics under a complex accounting process known as LULUCF, for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry. But measuring carbon stocks on the land and in forests is an inexact science, and critics say the LULUCF rules are wide open to accounting errors.
5-21-17 Could driverless cars be bad for the environment?
Could driverless cars be bad for the environment?
Self-driving cars could be very good for the air — or very bad. Of all the questions swirling around the rise of self-driving cars, from how safe they'll be to how we regulate them, one essential question is often overlooked: What will self-driving cars mean for the environment? Backers of the technology argue that autonomous vehicles will drive more efficiently than humans do — no more slamming on breaks or gunning it at yellow lights — so they'll save gas and reduce pollution. But early research reveals a wide range of emissions possibilities for driverless cars. A 2016 report found that automated vehicles could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by 200 percent. "We are on a path to refine those numbers, as are other researchers, because it was quite a startling future," says Ann Schlenker at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, one of the Department of Energy-affiliated labs that authored the report. In a big garage downstairs from Schlenker's office, about half a dozen cars are hooked up to testing equipment. Argonne researchers have found that features already offered in some cars, like adaptive cruise control and automated shifting into electric mode, do save gas. "All of those early automation features do indeed improve the environmental signature," Schlenker says. Argonne research has also found that truck "platooning" could improve fuel economy between 8 and 15 percent. Platooning, or driving in tight formation to reduce drag, may be possible with the improved safety features of automated vehicles. Other features on fully automated cars could reduce fuel consumption even more.
5-21-17 Norway to boost protection of Arctic seed vault from climate change
Norway to boost protection of Arctic seed vault from climate change
Norway is boosting the flood defences of its Global Seed Vault on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard after water entered the entrance tunnel last year. The storage facility, deep inside a mountain, is designed to preserve the world's crops from future disasters. Unseasonably high temperatures last year caused the permafrost to melt, sending water into the access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the facility is to have new waterproof walls in the tunnel and drainage ditches outside. The vault stores seeds from 5,000 crop species from around the world. Dried and frozen, it is believed they can be preserved for hundreds of years. Although most countries keep their own supplies of key varieties, the Global Seed Vault acts as a back-up. If a nation's seeds are lost as a result of a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe, the specimens stored in the Arctic could be used to regenerate them. Scientists at the facility describe the vault as the most important room in the world. Government spokeswoman Hege Njaa Aschim told the BBC that the reason the vault was built on Svalbard was because the permafrost was thought to be permanent. She said the problems emerged last October when the temperatures, instead of being -10C or colder, were hovering around 0C. "It was like a wet summer in Norway," she told the BBC.
5-19-17 Don't tell the President: US team lauded at climate talks
Don't tell the President: US team lauded at climate talks
Assailed by "enemies" on all sides, the most "unfairly" treated politician in the history of ever has at least had the consolation of knowing that his emissaries to the latest UN climate talks just finished in Bonn have followed his dictum to the letter. Or have they? The new White House, in case you missed it, takes a very different view on climate change to a majority of countries in the world. The Donald Trump-era perspective is that climate change is essentially an exaggerated threat, that coal, oil and gas are tremendous, and that the Paris agreement is a bad deal for America and should be "cancelled". Given that almost all the small US delegation to Bonn were people who have previously been involved in climate discussions under the Obama administration, it must have been quite the mental u-turn to suddenly have to keep repeating the mantra in discussions here: "Our position is under review." However, President Trump may be a little distressed to hear that instead of a stony faced resistance to the warmist hordes in Bonn, the US team has actually been seen as playing quite a positive role. In fact, one of the areas of discussion that made the most progress in these talks was, shock horror, driven by the US. "What we have seen is a generally constructive team," said Yamide Dagnet from the World Resources Institute, an observer at these talks. "One of the US team was co-facilitator with China of the transparency discussion - this is one of the building blocks of the Paris agreement that made the most progress during this session. So we are quite pleased that there was still a constructive engagement." The skilled negotiators from 180-plus countries involved in these talks have been doing their best to send soothing signals to Washington that everyone would be better off if the US was to stay in the game.
5-19-17 China claims breakthrough in mining 'flammable ice'
China claims breakthrough in mining 'flammable ice'
China has for the first time extracted gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered key to future global energy supply. Chinese authorities have described the success as a major breakthrough. Methane hydrates, also called "flammable ice", hold vast reserves of natural gas. Many countries including the US and Japan are working on how to tap those reserves, but mining and extracting are extremely difficult. The catchy phrase describes a frozen mixture of water and gas. "It looks like ice crystals but if you zoom in to a molecular level, you see that the methane molecules are caged in by the water molecules," Associate Professor Praveen Linga from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore told the BBC. Officially known as methane clathrates or hydrates, they are formed at very low temperatures and under high pressure. They can be found in sediments under the ocean floor as well as underneath permafrost on land. Despite the low temperature, these hydrates are flammable. If you hold a lighter to them, the gas encapsulated in the ice will catch fire. Hence, they are also known as "fire ice" or "flammable ice". By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrates break down into water and methane - a lot of methane. One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel.
5-19-17 Decoding Antarctica's response to a warming world
Decoding Antarctica's response to a warming world
A tangle of tubes, cables, and actuators - Mebo looks as though it could morph at any moment into one of those Transformer robots from the movies. The 10-tonne machine is in fact a seabed drilling system, and a very sophisticated one at that. Deployed over the side of any large ship but driven remotely from onboard, it's opening up new opportunities to take sediment samples from the ocean floor. MeBo was developed at the MARUM research facility in Bremen, Germany, and has not long returned from a pathfinding expedition to the West Antarctic. In the iceberg-infested waters of the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE), it obtained the very first cores to be drilled from just in front of some of the mightiest glaciers on Earth. Chief among these are Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier, colossal streams of ice that drain the White Continent and which are now spilling mass into the ocean at an alarming rate. There's concern that deep, warm water is undercutting the glaciers, possibly tipping them into an unstoppable retreat. And that has global implications for significant sea-level rise. It was MeBo's job to help investigate whether this really could be happening.
5-19-17 Ocean, icebergs, and 400 tons of plastic
Ocean, icebergs, and 400 tons of plastic
Our discarded plastic is reaching even the icy northern waters of the Arctic Ocean. Once thrown away, plastic doesn't just disappear — it can take centuries to biodegrade, after all — but it can end up in the most unexpected places, far from the humans who first used it. The Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans are all home to gigantic swirls of tiny plastic particles. Now an international team of researchers have found the same kind of massive plastic pollution in the icy remoteness of the Arctic Ocean. A recent paper in Science Advances estimates there are some 300 billion bits of plastic floating in the Arctic Ocean, totaling about 400 tons of debris — though the actual figure could be as high as 1,200 tons. Compared with the other plastic garbage patches, that actually isn't so big. But the other oceans are all relatively close to billions of people, so it's no surprise their patches would be larger. The plastic in the Arctic, on the other hand, is primarily found in the Greenland and Barents Seas, which are far from any major population centers. The plastic must have traveled huge distances to end up there. The recent Tara Oceans expedition across the polar regions was able to sample plastic concentrations throughout the Arctic. While much of the polar waters remain more or less free of debris — there's still enough frozen ice to block the northward movement of the floating plastic — parts of the Greenland and Barents Seas had as many as hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer.
5-19-17 UN looks to protect birds from green energy threats
UN looks to protect birds from green energy threats
The global boom in renewable energy is posing new threats to birds say experts. At the UN climate conference in Bonn, researchers said wind turbines and power lines were a particular problem for migratory soaring birds. Shutting down wind farms on demand is one of the methods being tested to protect these birds from collisions. Other ideas being tried include placing highly visible deflectors every 20m on power lines. The Rift Valley and Red Sea flyways in Egypt are among the world's busiest corridors with huge numbers of migrating birds travelling between Europe and Africa twice a year. Around 1.2 million birds of prey, 500,000 white storks and 66,000 white pelican migrate each year along this particular flyway. Some will cover 10,000km on their journey.
5-18-17 Trump 'can't escape climate change' impacts says Fiji PM
Trump 'can't escape climate change' impacts says Fiji PM
Fiji's Prime Minister has issued a coded warning to Donald Trump about the dangers of climate change. The US leader is due to decide on future US participation in the Paris climate agreement after next week's G7 meeting in Italy. But Frank Bainimarama told delegates here that whether you lived in Miami or New York, you wouldn't be able to escape the rising seas. Fiji will lead the next key UN climate talks later this year. This normally low-profile May meeting of UN delegates has been overshadowed to an extent by the ongoing question of future US involvement in the Paris accord. While not addressing Mr Trump or the US directly, Mr Bainimarama told the negotiators that he would bring his own experience as a Pacific islander to his role as head of the Conference of Parties. We who are most vulnerable must be heard, whether we come from the Pacific or other Small Island Developing States, other low-lying nations and states or threatened cities in the developed world like Miami, New York, Venice or Rotterdam," he told negotiators. "But together we must speak out for the whole world - every global citizen - because no-one, no matter who they are or where they live, will ultimately escape the impact of climate change." Other members of the Fijian team hoped that the US would be able to stay in the climate "family", but that progress would be made with or without the Americans.
5-18-17 Narwhals could help us measure melting glaciers underwater
Narwhals could help us measure melting glaciers underwater
A project off Greenland will tag whales with sensors to measure sea temperatures and ice melt in hard-to-reach places, improving predictions of sea-level rise. An iconic whale species will soon be aiding climate change research. Narwhals are spending more time near melting sea ice and researchers hope to exploit this new behaviour by tagging the mammals with temperature sensors to help us accurately monitor underwater sea ice melt for the first time. Sea-level rise may be the greatest threat we face from global warming. One key factor in how much the water will rise is Greenland’s ice sheet, a frozen expanse that is 2400 kilometres long and up to 1100 kilometres across, and covers 80 per cent of this vast island. But this ice sheet is not as frozen as it once was. Warming conditions are causing melting from above, which then speeds up melt below the surface, a one-two punch that accelerates overall glacier loss. Eight per cent of the world’s fresh water is trapped in this ice sheet. As it thaws, sea levels rise, salinity drops and weather fluctuates, threatening billions of coastal dwellers around the world. Researchers estimate that sea levels would rise 7 metres if the entire ice sheet melted. But it is hard to measure exactly how fast the ice from glaciers flowing off Greenland is melting underwater, which could give an indication of the ice sheet’s overall status.
5-18-17 Rising seas could double the number of severe coastal floods
Rising seas could double the number of severe coastal floods
An increase in sea level of between just 5 and 10 centimetres could make devastating weather events come every 25 years rather than every 50 years. Just 35 years from now, severe coastal flooding could hit twice as often as it does now – if the seas rise by between just 5 and 10 centimetres. Such a hike would make 50-year weather events happen twice as often, according to work by Sean Vitousek, a coastal scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his colleagues. A 50-year event is an increase in sea level so large that it’s only likely to happen twice a century. Sea levels are actually projected to rise by more than this – estimates put it at between 10 and 20 centimetres over the next few decades. “It doesn’t take a ton of sea level rise to significantly change the frequency at which you have flooding,” says Vitousek. Extremely high water levels are sometimes caused by storm surges and low pressure atmospheric systems, when the easing of pressure on the sea allows water levels to rise. But normal tides and waves also play a part.
5-18-17 Unshackled, big auto will keep choking the world on diesel fumes
Unshackled, big auto will keep choking the world on diesel fumes
We now know diesel vehicles pollute more than they should to deadly effect everywhere, but the real scandal is government foot-dragging, says Olive Heffernan. Two years ago, the health implications of fumes pumped out by diesel cars exploded into the public consciousness with the revelation that Volkswagen was cheating emissions tests. Now it seems that duping regulators with “defeat devices” – software designed to lower exhaust readings during tests – is just the tip of the iceberg. This week we learnt that diesel vehicles – including cars, lorries, trucks and buses – in much of the world emitted 50 per cent more nitrous oxide (NOx) than they should have in 2015. That equates to 4.6 million more tons of the gas than official certification suggests. Those figures come from research published in Nature that compared real-world emissions to those under test conditions in parts of the world that account for 80 per cent of diesel vehicle sales. For those in the know, this will be no surprise. Almost all diesel vehicles exceed certified emissions on the road, even though they have passed regulatory tests. In no small part, that’s because the tests are outmoded and inadequate. The astounding thing about this regulatory gaffe is the public health burden. At least 38,000 premature deaths resulted from that extra NOx in 2015 alone, says the study. This toll stems from the gas reacting with other chemicals in the atmosphere to produce nasty byproducts harmful to health. For example, it boosts ground-level ozone – which worsens respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis – and ultra-fine particles, which can trigger heart disease and stroke.
5-18-17 Hundreds of newly-discovered plants may yield new crops or drugs
Hundreds of newly-discovered plants may yield new crops or drugs
Even as we discover promising new wild relatives of key crops and medicinal plants, some of them are already endangered by pests and climate change. More than 1,700 new plants have been discovered in the past year, including species that could help provide food in the future, a major report reveals. Among 1,730 new species are five new types of manihot, wild relatives of cassava, from Brazil, which could help develop new varieties of the third-most important food crop in the tropics that are resilient to drier conditions and disease. The second annual State of the World’s Plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, also revealed nine new species of climbing vine Mucuna, used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, have been found. Seven new species of Aspalathus, which provides redbush or rooibos tea, have been discovered, as has a new parsnip species in Turkey. Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, said the discovery of wild relatives to foods was important because crops had been bred for high yields and had often lost their genetic diversity and resilience to drought and pests. “Crop wild relatives might not have the yields, but they have survived thousands of years in multiple climate conditions and, in their genomes, they have the genes that will enable resilience,” she said. “We need to be able to take these genes and breed these genes back into our crops to make resilient crops in the future.”
5-18-17 Treasure trove of new plant discoveries revealed
Treasure trove of new plant discoveries revealed
Almost 2,000 new species of plant have been discovered in the past year, according to a report by The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Many have potential as food crops, medicines or sources of timber. However, scientists say some of the newly-discovered plants are already at risk of extinction. They are developing new ways to speed up the discovery and classification of plants to help safeguard them for future generations. The second annual assessment of the State of the World's Plants by scientists at Kew found that 1,730 plants were recorded as being new to science in 2016. They include 11 new species from Brazil of the Manihot shrub known for its starchy root, cassava. Seven species of the South African plant best known for red bush or rooibos tea were discovered, of which six are already threatened with extinction. Other discoveries include new relatives of Aloe Vera, widely used in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said the new discoveries hold "huge promise" for the future.
5-17-17 OPEC is dead
OPEC is dead
Oil prices have plummeted since the Great Recession. The price of a barrel of oil peaked at nearly $150 in the summer of 2008. Today, the price has skidded below $50. It's an understatement to say that this is a major development. It has had enormous financial consequences, helping to juice an otherwise sputtering global economy. It has had environmental consequences, of course. And it has had geopolitical consequences, since many countries depend on oil for a big chunk of their revenue, particularly authoritarian countries that use oil money to keep the people happy despite the authoritarianism. It's the last point that really counts. The countries that most benefit from high oil prices are not happy about the new normal. Indeed, the slide in oil prices has plunged Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela into economic crises that could have major political consequences. The follow-on effects are manifold: It's a good bet that part of the motivation for Vladimir Putin's troublemaking around the world is to shore up his popularity at home, which has taken a beating because of the economic crisis (not to mention Russia's rampant corruption). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is opening up and reforming its financial system and its economic governance, since it can no longer afford to keep everyone in the country on the dole. Venezuela is in a state of utter collapse because the Chavez regime had replaced a functioning economy with a house of cards of handouts, with largesse both for the poor and for regime insiders — all funded by oil money. The point is, a lot of countries want to prop up global oil prices. And they used to have a way to do that: OPEC.
5-17-17 When it’s hot, plants become a surprisingly large source of air pollution
When it’s hot, plants become a surprisingly large source of air pollution
Trees and shrubs emit more chemicals during heat waves that can react to form ozone. Tree-lined streets in Berlin, shown, offer a lot of benefits for city residents. But during heat waves, the trees, along with other plants, can also contribute to poor air quality, a new study suggests. Planting trees is often touted as a strategy to make cities greener, cleaner and healthier. But during heat waves, city trees actually boost air pollution levels. When temperatures rise, as much as 60 percent of ground-level ozone is created with the help of chemicals emitted by urban shrubbery, researchers report May 17 in Environmental Science & Technology. While the findings seem counterintuitive, “everything has multiple effects,” says Robert Young, an urban planning expert at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with the study. The results, he cautions, do not mean that programs focused on planting trees in cities should stop. Instead, more stringent measures are needed to control other sources of air pollution, such as vehicle emissions. Benefits of city trees include helping reduce stormwater runoff, providing cooling shade and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. But research has also shown that trees and other shrubs release chemicals that can interact with their surrounding environment, producing polluted air. One, isoprene, can react with human-made compounds, such as nitrogen oxides, to form ground-level ozone, a colorless gas that can be hazardous to human health. Monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes also react with nitrogen oxides, and when they do, lots of tiny particles, similar to soot, build up in the air. In cities, cars and trucks are major sources of these oxides.
5-17-17 Paris climate deal is 'lifeline' for world's poorest countries
Paris climate deal is 'lifeline' for world's poorest countries
The world's poorest nations say the Paris climate agreement is their "lifeline" and must be strengthened. The Climate Vulnerable Forum, (CVF) representing 48 countries, said the deal was crucial to their survival. In a swipe at President Trump's oft-used phrase, they said that "no country would be great again" without swift action. Thousands of delegates are meeting here in Bonn to develop the rule book for the Paris deal. Around one billion people live in countries that are part of the CVF. The group firmly supports the idea, enshrined in the Paris agreement, that countries would do all in their power to keep temperatures from increasing more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. "Keeping to 1.5 degrees is quite simply a matter of survival," said Debasu Bayleyegn Eyasu from Ethiopia, which holds the presidency of the CVF. "For all of us, the Paris agreement is our lifeline." Other speakers highlighted the fact that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current US position on climate change.
5-17-17 What the end of the atomic renaissance means for nuclear power
What the end of the atomic renaissance means for nuclear power
The next generation of nuclear reactors was meant to bring cheaper, safer power. Where are they, and can they save the industry from bankruptcy and closure? IT’S not a great time to be a nuclear reactor engineer. Plants are closing all over the world, even before the end of their usable lives. The most recently shut was a £15 billion power station in Cumbria, UK. In the US, the only four reactors being built are years late and billions over budget. Should the four Westinghouse models under construction in South Carolina and Georgia ever be finished, it’s hard to say who will service them. Westinghouse Electric, their manufacturer and one of the last private companies building nuclear reactors, filed for bankruptcy on 29 March. What happened? Just four years ago, we were supposed to be entering a nuclear renaissance. The US had started building its first reactors in 30 years to much fanfare. The Bush and Obama administrations increased spending on nuclear energy R&D by billions of dollars. Radical new designs for the next generation of reactors were supposed to spread safer, cleaner, sustainable energy around the globe. Instead, we seem to be stuck with a dwindling supply of mid-20th century models. “Even if they finish those [Westinghouse] reactors, they will not be monuments to the nuclear renaissance,” says economic analyst Mark Cooper at Vermont Law School. “They will be mausoleums to the end of nuclear power.” Can the next generation of reactors still save the day? Between 1996 and 2016, the share of global electricity generated by nuclear power dropped from 17.6 to 10.7 per cent.
5-17-17 Corals that grow faster in warm water could beat climate change
Corals that grow faster in warm water could beat climate change
The unique history of the Red Sea means that reefs in its northern part may be able to adapt to higher water temperatures, at least for a while. Parts of the Great Barrier Reef and many other coral reefs around the world are already dying because of global warming. But if the fabulous ones in the northern Red Sea are protected from pollution, their unique evolutionary history means they might survive – and even thrive – late into this century despite the rising heat. Corals normally expel the algae living within them – a process called bleaching – if stressed by water 1°C warmer than the usual summer maximum for several weeks. However, a coral common in the northern part of the Red Sea can thrive even at temperatures 2°C higher than the present maximum in the area. When the coral (Stylophora pistillata) was subjected for six weeks to conditions expected from 2050 to 2100, it grew even faster than it does now. “The coral did not bleach,” says team member Thomas Krueger at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “The health of the algal partner actually improved.”
5-17-17 Cities need 'hedges as well as trees' for environment
Cities need 'hedges as well as trees' for environment
Hedges are often better than trees at soaking up air pollution among tall buildings, research has suggested. A paper in the journal Atmospheric Environment says tall trees are good at absorbing pollution in more open areas. But hedges can trap toxins at exhaust pipe level, so reduce people's direct exposure to harmful pollutants. Lead author Prof Prashant Kumar said councils should try to plant low hedges between pedestrians and the street if pavements are wide enough. He and his partners in the EU and US are still researching the best pollution-busting plants, and the optimum height for the hedge. But any gardener in a major city who has trimmed a privet hedge, for instance, will attest that it is full of dust and pollutants that the tight-knit foliage has filtered from the air.
5-16-17 Higher temperatures could trigger an uptick in damselfly cannibalism
Higher temperatures could trigger an uptick in damselfly cannibalism
As youngsters, damselflies sometimes engage in good old-fashioned cannibalism, when larger nymphs make a meal out of smaller ones. A new study shows that rising temperatures could exacerbate this phenomenon. A warmer climate could put some damselflies in distress, as others get bigger and hungrier. Because of differences in hatching time, nymphs — the immature form of the insects — vary in size. Sometimes when ponds are overcrowded, other food options are scarce or size differences are significant, bigger, older nymphs nosh on the little nymphs. While temperature doesn’t typically affect when damselflies hatch, it does affect how fast they grow. So a team at the University of Toronto tested whether a warmer world would also be a damselfly-eat-damselfly one. Using damselfly nymphs (Lestes congener) hatched in the lab, researchers put nymphs of various sizes in two different temperature environments, one a balmy 18° Celsius and the other a toastier 24° Celsius.
5-16-17 Remote island has 'world's worst' plastic rubbish density
Remote island has 'world's worst' plastic rubbish density
An uninhabited island in the South Pacific is littered with the highest density of plastic waste anywhere in the world, according to a study. Henderson Island, part of the UK's Pitcairn Islands group, has an estimated 37.7 million pieces of debris on its beaches. The island is near the centre of an ocean current, meaning it collects much rubbish from boats and South America. Researchers hope people will "rethink their relationship with plastic". The joint Australian and British study said the rubbish amounted to 671 items per square metre and a total of 17 tonnes. "A lot of the items on Henderson Island are what we wrongly refer to as disposable or single-use," said Dr Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania.
5-15-17 Remote Pacific island found buried under tonnes of plastic waste
Remote Pacific island found buried under tonnes of plastic waste
A tiny, otherwise pristine island is smothered by our blast from the past: vast amounts of decades-old plastic from around the world. Nowhere is safe from plastic. A tiny South Pacific island 5000 kilometres from the nearest human occupation has the highest density of washed-up plastic rubbish known anywhere in the world. Henderson Island is an uninhabited, 5-kilometre-wide speck of land halfway between Australia and South America. A recent expedition led by Jennifer Lavers at the University of Tasmania in Australia found 38 million items of rubbish weighing a total of 18 tonnes spread across its beaches. Until recently, a major build-up of marine plastic was thought to mainly affect the North Pacific Ocean, where a swirling current called the North Pacific Gyre traps floating debris to form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But in 2013, a similar garbage patch was reported in the South Pacific. This patch is also delineated by a circular current, called the South Pacific Gyre. Water sampling in the region found up to 400,000 plastic particles per square kilometre, which is close to the density in the North Pacific garbage patch. Lavers and her colleagues have now found that Henderson Island, which sits on the western edge of the South Pacific Gyre, acts like a sink for this floating garbage patch. Its beaches are carpeted with an average of 239 items of rubbish per square metre – the highest density recorded in the world. Of these items, 99.8 per cent are plastic. Most are fragments of plastic, but common intact goods include plastic cutlery, bottles, bags, pens, straws, cigarette lighters, razors and toothbrushes, as well as fishing equipment such as buoys, nets and lines.
5-15-17 Diesel fumes lead to thousands more deaths than thought
Diesel fumes lead to thousands more deaths than thought
Cars, lorries and buses that drive on diesel churn out far more air pollution than standard testing procedures suggest, even without any emissions cheating devices. Diesel driven cars, lorries and buses churn out far more air pollution than standard testing procedures suggest, leading to many thousands of unreported deaths, scientists claim. The excess emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) exhaust gases can be linked to 38,000 premature deaths worldwide, according to the new research. This is in addition to the World Health Organisation’s estimate of 3.7 million deaths caused by outdoor air pollution. The US scientists argue that there is too little awareness of the impact of “real world” vehicle air pollution. NOx can damage lung tissue but also reacts with chemicals in the atmosphere to produce ground-level ozone and ultra-fine particles, both of which are harmful. Ozone irritates the airways and aggravates lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, while inhaling fine particles is strongly linked to heart and artery disease. The study found that diesel vehicles around the world produced 4.5 million tons more NOx than they should do under international emission standards. Heavy duty vehicles such as lorries and buses were identified as the major culprits.
5-15-17 Can biofuels save us from climate apocalypse?
Can biofuels save us from climate apocalypse?
Climate trolls say biofuels are a boondoggle. Don't believe them. If humanity has any hope of stopping the civilization-threatening climate change crisis, gas-powered cars have to go. But how are people supposed to get around without them? Public transit is one answer, as are electric cars. And then there are biofuels, which present the tempting halfway prospect of carbon-neutral automobiles that can use technology very similar to that which already exists. Perhaps we can get some more use out of the huge economic complex built up around gas engines ... New York Times columnist Bret Stephens scoffed at biofuels in a recent column. But let's take stock of the state of the research and the industry. Is this a promising area for climate policy, or some kind of muddle-headed green boondoggle, as Stephens suggests? The basic idea behind biofuels is to take agricultural products — or byproducts of other processes — and turn them into liquid fuels, generally either ethanol or diesel. Some plant or another grows using sunlight and carbon dioxide, you harvest and transform it into some workable fuel, and burn it in a modified internal combustion engine. The idea is theoretically sound. If done right, producing and burning biofuels should release only a little more carbon dioxide than was pulled out of the air by the plant in the first place. But as in so many other areas of policy, effectiveness depends on details and implementation.
5-12-17 Polar bears shift from seals to bird eggs as Arctic ice melts
Polar bears shift from seals to bird eggs as Arctic ice melts
The habitat overlap of polar bears and their main prey, ringed seals, is disappearing and the bears are instead getting closer to nesting birds. Polar bears are ditching seafood in favour of scrambled eggs, as the heat rises in the Arctic melting the sea ice. A changing coastline has made it harder for the predators to catch the seals they favour and is pushing them towards poaching goose eggs. This is according to a team led by Charmain Hamilton of the Norwegian Polar Institute that monitored the movements of local polar bears and seals before and after a sudden decline in sea ice in 2006, which altered coastal areas in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The researchers attached tracking devices to 60 ringed seals and 67 polar bears overall, which allowed them to compare their movements before and after the ice collapse. Before the melt, when they were hunting on stable sea ice, the polar bears had a big advantage over their favoured prey. “Both sexes of all age classes successfully hunt seals by stalking or ‘still hunting’,” says Hamilton. However, on a melting coastline punctuated by broken-up icebergs, the odds become stacked in the seal’s favour.
5-12-17 Lack of dust makes China's air pollution much worse
Lack of dust makes China's air pollution much worse
Airborne dust is normally seen as an environmental problem, but the lack of it is making air pollution over China considerably worse. A new study suggests less dust means more solar radiation hits the land surface, which reduces wind speed. That lack of wind in turn leads to an accumulation of air pollution over heavily populated parts of China. The researchers found that reduced dust levels cause a 13% increase in human-made pollution in the region. Hundreds of millions of people across China continue to be impacted by air pollution from factories and coal-fired power plants. Studies suggest that the dirty air contributes to 1.6 million deaths a year, about 17% of all mortalities. But this new research says that the human-induced pollution is being made worse or better by naturally occurring dust that blows in from the Gobi desert. Using models to simulate 150 years of wind and dust patterns in the region, the researchers found that the dust deflects significant amounts of sunlight. Without it, more heat from the Sun hits the land. Differences in the temperatures between land and sea cause the winds to blow. Without the dust, the land warms up more and that changes the temperature differential with the sea leading to weaker breezes - and more air pollution.
5-12-17 Stunning images reveal glacial landscapes under the oceans
Stunning images reveal glacial landscapes under the oceans
New atlas offers a window into Earth’s glacial past. Wide troughs found under 250 meters of water in the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, were shoveled out by the broad bases of icebergs broken from ice shelves, confirming the existence of those shelves. The footprints of long-gone glaciers and icebergs are now frozen in time in a stunning new collection of images of Earth’s seafloor. The Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms is a comprehensive, high-resolution atlas of underwater landscapes that have been shaped by glaciers, largely in polar and subpolar regions, and provides a comparative look at how glaciers, ice and related climate shifts transform Earth. Kelly Hogan, a marine geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey and an editor of the atlas, presented it April 26 in Vienna at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union. Most of the more than 200 images were generated from research vessels using multibeam bathymetry, which renders the seafloor surface in 3-D, exposing a region’s glacial history. For example, the distinctive asymmetry of 20,000-year-old glacial deposits called drumlins in the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden, suggests that ice flowed south, toward a larger glacier in the Baltic Sea. Other images reveal the tracks of icebergs that once plowed and scribbled the ocean floor, such as those seen in the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The tracks may look random, but they tell tales of past currents and water depth.
5-12-17 Arctic warming far faster than thought
Arctic warming far faster than thought
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, speeding the melting of polar ice and causing global sea levels to rise higher and more rapidly than previously predicted. That’s the worrying conclusion of a landmark new study by over 90 leading climate scientists, who warn that the rapid thaw will have “major consequences for ecosystems and society.” The study for the intergovernmental Arctic Council notes that from 2011 to 2015 temperatures in the region increased at a faster rate than at any time since records began around 1900. It projects the Arctic Ocean will be nearly free of summer sea ice by 2030 and cautions that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on current trends, global sea levels will rise at least 29 inches by 2100—almost double the minimum estimate by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Experts say a feedback loop is accelerating warming. Sunlight is reflected by ice and snow, but as the polar ice melts, more heat from the sun’s rays is absorbed by newly exposed areas of the Arctic Ocean, which in turn becomes warmer and melts more ice. Rising sea temperatures could alter the jet stream, triggering extreme weather changes across North America, Europe, and Asia. “The Arctic is unraveling,” conservationist Rafe Pomerance tells Nature.com. “The fate of [the region] has to be moved out of the world of scientific observation and into the world of government policy.”
5-12-17 Arctic summit: Trump to make 'right decision for the US' on climate
Arctic summit: Trump to make 'right decision for the US' on climate
The US will consider its interests first as it reviews its climate change policy, the secretary of state says. Rex Tillerson told a meeting of the eight Arctic nations in Alaska that the US would not rush to make a decision and would consider their views. President Donald Trump has expressed doubts over the human role in climate change and has said he may pull the US out of the Paris Accord to fight it. Meanwhile, other Arctic countries have called for a cut on greenhouse gases. They signed an agreement which stated there was a need for urgent global action. Climate change was the biggest issue at the biennial meeting of the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, which was overshadowed by the uncertainties over Mr Trump's policy. Mr Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, told the meeting that the administration was reviewing how it would approach climate change. "We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns," he said. "We're not going to rush to make a decision. We're going to work to make the right decision for the United States." Mr Trump is to decide whether the US will leave or reduce its commitments to the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which was negotiated by around 200 nations and signed in 2015.
5-11-17 We are on track to pass 1.5°C warming in less than 10 years
We are on track to pass 1.5°C warming in less than 10 years
Business as usual would cause the planet to warm above the aspirational 1.5°C limit agreed at the UN Paris meeting as early as 2026. Climate change in a “Trump world” in which the Paris agreement isn’t implemented could see the goal to limit warming to 1.5°C breached within a decade. We could exceed that limit as early as 2026, according to an analysis for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Our paper, by showing the proximity of the 1.5°C level, should be seen as a wake-up call for governments and a catalyst for strong action,” Benjamin Henley at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told New Scientist. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in December 2015, commits nations to keeping warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” Henley and his colleague Andrew King used climate models to predict what would happen if the “business as usual” scenario – in which the Paris agreement aspirations were not implemented and emissions continued unabated – played out. They found that Earth would experience rapid warming.
5-11-17 Arctic summit: Alaskan fears amid the vanishing ice
Arctic summit: Alaskan fears amid the vanishing ice
It's springtime in Alaska and a gentle drip-drip and occasional creak and crack tells you that the winter ice on the shore of the Bering Sea is melting fast. In the little town of Nome ("there's no place like Nome," as they say here) folk reckon that these thaws are coming earlier, summers are longer and the ice is thinner. To them climate change is not just a theory. "When I was younger this shore-fast ice was upwards of eight feet," says Austin Ahmasuk who has been gazing out at this icy water since the day he was born. "Now its wintertime maximum is four feet thick or so." Mr Ahmasuk works with Kawerak, a consortium of 20 local tribes including Inupiaq, St Lawrence Island Yupik and Central Yup'ik peoples - trying to maintain old traditions in a new world. "In Alaska," he says, "we are witnessing the disappearance of the cryosphere - ice - in many parts where it occurred in all of its forms: permafrost, river ice, ocean ice." The resulting oceanic changes are, he says, "mind-blowing".
5-11-17 SOS Ivanka! Can 'first daughter' save Paris climate deal?
SOS Ivanka! Can 'first daughter' save Paris climate deal?
Among the diplomats meeting here in Bonn, there's a recognition that the person who's really key to the future progress of climate talks is not in Germany but in the White House some 6,500km (4,000 miles) away. It's not you Mr Trump, it's your official first daughter! One delegate here trilled: "What are we going to do about Ivanka?" He wasn't alone. In most of the conversations I've had here in Bonn, one name is mentioned with a nodding mixture of reverence and hope. For rich and poor countries, she's seen by many as the best bet for keeping the US in the Paris climate agreement. But is this the true state of affairs? Or just the delusion of delegates, who, in fairness, don't get out much. "It's crazy times, and we're trying to influence with all the tools and tactics at our disposal," said Liz Gallagher from environmental think tank, E3G, and a long time participant in these talks. (Webmaster's comment: The world is placing its hopes on a totally incompetent and science ignorant daughter of Trump hoping she will go back home and with her mindless smile sweet talk daddy into supporting the Paris climate deal.)
5-11-17 Chomsky: Republican Party 'most dangerous organisation on earth'
Chomsky: Republican Party 'most dangerous organisation on earth'
BBC Newsnight's Evan Davis challenges academic and political activist Noam Chomsky, who argues the Republican Party is the most dangerous organisation in human history.
5-10-17 Buddha's birthplace faces serious air pollution threat
Buddha's birthplace faces serious air pollution threat
The historic site of Buddha's birthplace in Nepal faces a serious threat from air pollution, scientists and officials have warned. Recent data collected from air quality monitoring stations in five places across the country show Lumbini is highly polluted. The warnings have come amid expanding industrialisation near the sacred site. It is already located in a pollution hotspot on the Gangetic plains. For the month of January, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Lumbini, in southwest Nepal, was measured at 173.035 micrograms per cubic metre. The reading for the neighbouring town of Chitwan was 113.32 and the capital, Kathmandu, which is known for its high pollution levels, was at 109.82.
5-10-17 UN examines fossil fuel influence in climate talks process
UN examines fossil fuel influence in climate talks process
Campaigners say there should be greater scrutiny of industry bodies that are involved in UN climate talks. Environmental groups allege that fossil fuel industries are funding a number of business and industry participants in these talks. These groups should be restricted, say the campaigners, because they say their goal is to slow down or derail progress. Business representatives say that the discussion is an attempt at censorship. At this meeting in Bonn, the UN has convened a special workshop on the role of observer organisations that make up a significant proportion of the attendees at these events. Some countries including India, China, Indonesia and Ecuador are calling for clearer and tighter rules around potential conflicts of interest. A recent report from Corporate Accountability International gave details of what the group claimed were the connections between fossil fuel industries and business non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with links to the UN climate talks process. "There are over 270 business and industry NGOs accredited to the UNFCCC," Jesse Bragg from Corporate Accountability International told BBC News. "Many of these groups represent the interests of fossil fuel companies around the world." "What many parties are saying now is that we need to take a look at what voices we want to have heard in the climate policy making process." (Webmaster's comment: Inviting climate change deniers who deny the science of climate change to climate change conferences is a sure way to defeat the purpose of the conferences. It makes no sense. The deniers represent those who have caused the problem and have no wish to correct it.)
5-10-17 Snowball Earth melting led to freshwater ocean 2 kilometres deep
Snowball Earth melting led to freshwater ocean 2 kilometres deep
A freshwater layer up to 2 kilometres deep floated on our planet’s oceans for some 50,000 years after the end of an extreme ice age. A little more than 600 million years ago, you could have drunk from the ocean. After an extreme ice age known as snowball Earth, in which glaciers extended to the tropics and ice up to a kilometre thick covered the oceans, the melt formed a thick freshwater layer that floated on the super-salty oceans. Those freshwater surface seas lasted far longer than thought, according to research by Dorian Abbot, a geologist at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues. Their mathematical models showed that it took around 50,000 years for the two layers to fully merge. “This is interesting because the modern ocean mixes on a timescale of only about 1000 years,” says Abbot. The much slower mixing was due to the huge density and temperature differences between the layers. During the snowball phase, half the oceans’ water ended up as snow and ice. The remaining seas were twice as salty as today, and near their freezing point. Once the ice melted, driven by a runaway greenhouse effect caused by volcanic eruptions, it formed a freshwater layer up to 2 kilometres thick. The extreme carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere caused the layer’s surface temperature to rise as high as 50°C. The winds and tides needed a long time to mix this light, hot, freshwater layer with the dense, cold, salty layer because of their extreme differences.
5-9-17 Industry experts may replace dismissed EPA advisory scientists
Industry experts may replace dismissed EPA advisory scientists
The Trump administration has dismissed several scientists from the advisory board of the US Environmental Protection Agency and may replace them with people from industry. The turmoil continues at the US Environmental Protection Agency. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt (pictured above) has dismissed half the members of the 18-strong Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), an advisory panel for the research arm of the agency that evaluates the quality of the science and engineering research at the EPA. The scientists were all at the end of a three-year term. It is common for panel members to be reappointed for a second term, and the dismissed members were told by EPA staff that they would be kept on for another term. “Today, I was Trumped,” tweeted Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.” An EPA spokesperson, J.P. Freire , told The New York Times that the agency may consider filling the now-vacant posts with members from industries affected by the EPA’s regulations. “Advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency’s work. EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees – including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel – and carry out a competitive nomination process,” Freire told New Scientist. Since taking office, Pruitt has made it clear that he aims to withdraw from or repeal climate regulations put in place under the Obama Administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement, and questioned the validity of scientifically proven causes of climate change. (Webmaster's comment: Goodby Environmental Protection, Welcome More Pollution and Global Warming!)
5-9-17 Climate talks cool on idea of accommodating the US
Climate talks cool on idea of accommodating the US
Participants in UN climate talks have expressed reservations about making changes to the Paris climate agreement just to keep the US in the treaty. Speculation has increased that President Trump may withdraw the America over fears it could hamper his oil and gas reforms. There have been suggestions that the US might stay in, if it was allowed to lower its carbon targets. But delegates here say countries should raise not cut their commitments. "Having the world's efforts to tackle climate change dictated by a small group of ideological climate deniers, in the world's richest country, is clearly a recipe for disaster." Reports suggest that Ivanka Trump will head a review of the US role in the Paris climate agreement. (Webmaster's comment: Ivanka is a Trump mouthpeice and a mental lightweight. What could she possibly contribute!)
5-9-17 Seeing the light: How India is embracing solar power
Seeing the light: How India is embracing solar power
India unveiled the world's biggest solar farm earlier this year and has quadrupled its solar capacity in the last three years, bringing electricity to millions of off-grid households. But what are the innovations that could see solar replacing fossil fuels completely? This one small example is emblematic of how India is going solar in a very big way. In November, the country unveiled the world's largest-ever solar farm at Kamuthi, in Tamil Nadu. It stretches across 2,500 acres, and its 2.5 million solar modules are cleaned each day by a team of robots, themselves solar-powered. While countries like Britain and Germany have seen new solar installations slow after the withdrawal of government subsidies, India and China are ramping up their installations. India quadrupled its capacity in the last three years to 12GW (gigawatts) - 1GW can power about 725,000 homes. This will almost double again this year, with India adding 10GW in 2017; another 20GW is in the pipeline. China is installing solar panels at a similar clip; its capacity leapt to 77GW last year, up from 43GW. As recently as 2010, there was only 50GW of solar capacity installed in the entire world. "This installation of solar power is much higher than anyone could've believed just a few years ago," says Josefin Berg, senior analyst for the IHS solar research group. "The cost of the technology has dropped much faster than anyone anticipated," she says, "but the main decline has been in the technology advances."
5-8-17 The cities of the future could have solar sidewalks
The cities of the future could have solar sidewalks
is summer will see the planned opening of a solar-powered sidewalk on the campus of Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. The 1,200-foot array should be able to generate about 15,000 kilowatt-hours a year — enough to power one and a half average American houses — even as students walk all over it. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Thompson Rivers professor Michael Mehta said a major goal of the project is to get people to rethink where solar energy can be gathered. The very fact solar power plants are sometimes called solar farms points to the problem: Many such projects are in rural areas that could otherwise be used for agriculture. Mehta and his colleagues on the Solar Compass Project want urban environments to be put to work gathering solar energy, instead. Building a high-tech sidewalk can potentially do more than just take in the sun's energy, according to Mehta. He said the panels could also carry fiber-optic signals or be used to display messages and reroute travelers in response to changing conditions. But the main goal for now will be proving the sidewalks can successfully take in power. Mehta told the paper that the 64-panel array should produce enough power to keep 40 computers running eight hours a day for an entire year.
5-8-17 Trump shadow hangs over climate talks opening
Trump shadow hangs over climate talks opening
Climate negotiators meeting in Bonn have begun their work amid on-going concern about future US participation in the Paris Agreement. These latest talks are aimed at developing the rules for implementing the accord signed in the French capital in 2015. But there is a growing worry that President Trump might soon pull out of the historic deal. Some delegates say such a move would be a body blow for the landmark deal. The May meeting of the UN climate talks body is normally a pretty low-key affair but this is the first gathering of delegates since Donald Trump was inaugurated. Many are worried that it could also be the time the new president decides to pull the plug on US participation in the Paris deal. "This was supposed to be a highly technical and uneventful meeting to flesh out some of the details in the Paris Agreement. But, obviously, the speculation coming out of Washington is now at the top of our minds," said Thoriq Ibrahim, minister of environment and energy for the Maldives and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States. "We continue to believe that the agreement is not only central to averting the worst impacts of the climate crisis, including the loss of entire nations to sea-level rise, but also our ability to address problems that can only be solved by the international community working together." During the presidential campaign, Mr Trump railed against the Paris climate agreement. He said he was going to "cancel" a deal that has now been ratified by more than 140 countries and legally entered into force last November.
5-8-17 UK government subsidises coal sector with £356 million a year
UK government subsidises coal sector with £356 million a year
Despite pledges to phase out coal, UK and several other EU countries still provide various tax benefits to the coal sector, according to a new report. The coal sector benefits from £356 million in subsidies a year in the UK despite the Government’s pledge to phase out use of the highly-polluting fossil fuel, a report suggests. The multimillion-pound support is part of £5.3 billion (€6.3 billion) given to the coal industry a year by 10 European countries which account for 84 per cent of the continent’s carbon dioxide emissions, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said. In a new report, the international development think tank rated the UK poor on transparency and on phasing out subsidies for coal mining and coal-fired power. The British government has said it will not undertake a fossil fuel subsidy peer review under a process by the G20 leading nations, because it denies the country provides any fossil fuel subsidies, the report said. But the UK mining sector has various tax benefits and there is reduced VAT (tax) on fuel, including electricity from coal, the report said. There are also subsidies paid to coal-fired power stations under schemes to ensure secure electricity supplies, which undermines the carbon price put in to push up the cost of highly-polluting power. These schemes, the capacity market and supplementary balancing reserve, benefit coal plants to the tune of almost £200 million a year, the report estimates.
5-5-17 Solar Energy vs Coal
More than 373,000 Americans worked in solar energy last year, compared with 160,000 in the coal industry, including 54,000 coal miners.
5-5-17 Pollution reaches bloodstream
Pollution reaches bloodstream
Tiny airborne pollutants from power plants, cars, and trucks may be able to get through the lungs’ filter system and work their way into the bloodstream, new research suggests. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. asked 14 healthy volunteers to inhale air filled with harmless gold nanoparticles. They found that these nanoparticles were detectable in the participants’ blood within 15 minutes and were still in their blood and urine three months later. When the researchers then tested 12 people who were due to undergo surgery to clear blocked arteries, they found that the gold nanoparticles accumulated in the fatty plaques that grew inside the patients’ blood vessels. If the reactive compounds found in air pollution act in the same way, they could increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health issues. “There is no doubt that air pollution is a killer,” Jeremy Pearson from the British Heart Foundation charity tells Reuters?.com. “This study brings us a step closer to solving the mystery of how air pollution damages our cardiovascular health.”
5-5-17 Trash in the Arctic Ocean
Trash in the Arctic Ocean
The world’s seas have long been littered with trillions of tiny pieces of plastic—and a lot of it is ending up in the Arctic Ocean. The first major survey of the region’s icy waters found that the planet’s northernmost ocean is clogged with about 300 billion pieces of debris from things like plastic bottles, bags, and fishing lines. Carried there from the North Atlantic by a major ocean current, this seaborne junk has few ways to escape the “dead-end” ocean, reports The New York Times. The pollution is different from the “trash patches” that have accumulated in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans; rather than collecting in certain areas, the debris in the Arctic is spreading more evenly throughout the sea. “We don’t fully understand the consequences the plastic is having or will have in our oceans,” says study leader Andrés Cózar Cabañas. “What we do know is that these consequences will be felt at greater scale in an ecosystem like this.” Cabañas says further research is needed to determine whether ocean currents could eventually enable the plastic to work its way out of the region.
5-5-17 Plastic-eating caterpillars
Scientists may have found an unlikely candidate to clean up the mounds of non-biodegradable plastic trash in the world’s landfills: the humble wax worm. Federica Bertocchini, a developmental biologist and amateur beekeeper in Spain, first came up with the idea after finding her beehives infested with the beeswax-loving caterpillar larvae of wax moths. She put the grubs in a plastic bag—whereupon they immediately ate their way out. Plastic and wax have similar chemical structures. Bertocchini posited that in evolving to digest wax, wax worms may have also gained the ability to break down polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic. She took her theory to biochemists at the University of Cambridge, who found that 100 wax worms could gulp down 92 milligrams of polyethylene in about 12 hours and degrade plastic bags much faster than any known method. “If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process,” study co-author Paolo Bombelli tells CNN?.com, “its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable.”
5-4-17 Sea creatures’ sticky ‘mucus houses’ catch ocean carbon really fast
Sea creatures’ sticky ‘mucus houses’ catch ocean carbon really fast
New deepwater laser tool measures filtering power of giant larvaceans’ snot bubbles. The pale inner house as well as a big, stickier outer envelope of a larvacean’s shelter could be important in ocean carbon cycles. Filmy, see-through envelopes of mucus, called “houses,” get discarded daily by the largest of the sea creatures that exude them. The old houses, often more than a meter across, sink toward the ocean bottom carrying with them plankton and other biological tidbits snagged in their goo. Now, scientists have finally caught the biggest of these soft and fragile houses in action, filtering particles out of seawater for the animal to eat. The observations, courtesy of a new deepwater laser-and-camera system, could start to clarify a missing piece of biological roles in sequestering carbon in the deep ocean, researchers say May 3 in Science Advances.
5-4-17 Peace and quiet is becoming more elusive in U.S. wild areas
Peace and quiet is becoming more elusive in U.S. wild areas
Human-made cacophony doubles volume of background noise in many places, study finds. Alcatraz Island is a former prison now managed by the federal government as a protected natural area and historical site. Long-term audio recordings taken in places like this one are helping scientists understand just how much human noise affects natural places. In 63 percent of America’s protected places — including parks, monuments and designated wilderness areas — sounds made by human activity are doubling the volume of background noise. And in 21 percent of protected places, this racket can make things 10 times noisier. Enough clatter from cars, planes and suburban sprawl is seeping into wild places to diminish animals’ ability to hear mating calls and approaching predators, a team of researchers based in Colorado reports in the May 5 Science. Human noise doesn’t always have to be loud to override natural sounds, though. Some places are so quiet to begin with that even the smallest amount of human noise can dominate, the researchers found.
5-4-17 How to make a carbon tax insanely popular
How to make a carbon tax insanely popular
In the pantheon of policies to address climate change, few are more ambitious than a carbon tax. The basic idea is to slap a fee an every ton of carbon pumped out by the burning of fossil fuels, usually charged at the point where the coal, oil, or natural gas is extracted. The cost of that fee then filters through the economy, arriving finally in the bills of consumers and raising the price of any form of energy that emits carbon dioxide. What's great about a carbon tax is that it cuts directly to the heart of the problem: The cost of future damage from climate change isn't reflected in the price of fossil fuels. The idea behind the tax is that if the damage was reflected in the price, the markets would naturally adapt, evolving to rely more and more on green energy. This gives carbon taxes a certain cross partisan appeal: Liberals and leftists concerned with climate change can unite with center-right types who prefer market-friendly solutions. In fact, a group of prominent Republicans and conservatives — including former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker, and economist Gregory Mankiw — is making a renewed push for a carbon tax right now.
5-3-17 Arctic oil and gas must remain off limits for good, Trump
Arctic oil and gas must remain off limits for good, Trump
The US president's executive order seeking to overturn a ban on fossil fuel exploration in Arctic waters is unsafe and irresponsible, says Owen Gaffney. With his executive order to open up the Arctic to drilling, Donald Trump is skating on thin ice. The president’s attempt to overthrow Barack Obama’s “permanent” block on exploitation of oil and gas there will attract a barrage of legal challenges, and rightly so. For starters, the law Obama used includes no provision to reverse a block. So, cautious good news for planet Earth, but it is complex and legal opinions differ. Are oil companies clamouring at the Oval Office door to grab leases? Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke admitted that there have been no requests. Shell’s exploration of waters off Alaska collapsed in 2015 amid falling oil prices. The Arctic is unforgiving. It is remote and becoming increasingly unpredictable, so building the infrastructure to extract fossil fuels, transport them and clean up after an inevitable regional disaster would take a decade or more. A big investment at a time when oil should be phasing out to usher in a lower carbon era. But infrastructure challenges are not the sole reason drilling is such a bad idea. Here’s the big picture and the long view.
5-3-17 Cutting through the smog: Is pollution getting worse?
Cutting through the smog: Is pollution getting worse?
The quality of air varies from country to country and in some places pea-soupers are becoming more frequent, in others, the air is getting ever cleaner. n rapidly growing economies, the amount of pollution in the air is undeniably rising, but it is a different story in most rich countries. Take, for instance, PM2.5 particulates – believed to account for most of the health burden of air pollution (see “What’s in the air“). Worldwide, average concentrations rose 11 per cent between 1990 and 2015, according to a report by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, both in the US. The trend reflects large increases in India, Bangladesh and China: concentrations in the US, the European Union, Canada and Australia fell over the same period. Media reports on air pollution in the West frequently don’t mention the major improvements made since the 1950s. But the rate of progress has slowed and Europe, including the UK, is showing no signs of meeting WHO guidelines for clean air any time soon. “The data from monitoring sites across western Europe shows PM2.5 levels are going down,” says Gavin Shaddick of the University of Bath, UK, who develops air pollution models for the WHO. “But they are not falling quickly enough.”
What’s in the air
- Particulate matter (PM)
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
- Ground-level ozone (O3)
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
- Ammonia (NH3)
5-3-17 Cutting through the smog: What to do to fight air pollution
Cutting through the smog: What to do to fight air pollution
Tackling our air problems starts with traffic control, but individual action to reduce energy use and intensive farming would also help clean our air. “Unlike finding a cure for cancer, we know how to tackle this problem because we’ve done it before,” says Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia. “The new laws introduced in the UK in the wake of 1952 [the pea-souper smog that killed 12,000 Londoners] and the way California has set standards to force industry to innovate and become cleaner point the way.” Still, solutions evade us. In the West, transport is the main cause for concern. Per capita car ownership roughly doubled between 1970 and 2012 in most of North America, western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Cities have tried to keep cars off the road in several ways. Paris only allows vehicles with odd or even licence plate numbers on certain days. Freiberg in Germany has focused on providing cheap, efficient public transport. London and Stockholm have introduced congestion charges.
5-2-17 Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf forks
Crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf forks
A new rift has branched out from the 180-kilometer-long crack (shown) along Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf, new satellite maps reveal. While the main crack hasn’t lengthened since mid-February, scientists estimate that it widens by more than a meter a day. The 180-kilometer-long crack threatening one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves has branched out, new satellite observations reveal. The main rift in the Larsen C ice shelf hasn’t grown longer since February. But radar mapping shows that a second crack has split off from the main rupture like a snake’s forked tongue, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported May 1. That second branch, which stretches around 15 kilometers, didn’t exist on radar maps taken six days earlier, the scientists say. If either branch makes it to Larsen C’s edge, the shelf could calve off a 5,000-square-kilometer hunk of ice, creating one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, says glaciologist Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in Wales. “The new branch is heading off more toward the ice front, so it’s more dangerous and more likely to cause this calving event to occur” than the existing branch, he says.
5-2-17 Antarctic iceberg crack develops fork
Antarctic iceberg crack develops fork
The crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf that looks set to spawn a giant berg has suddenly forked. Satellite imagery of the 180km-long fissure acquired in recent days shows a clear branching behaviour at its tip. Quite what this means for the future evolution of the crack and the putative 5,000-sq-km berg remains to be seen. Larsen C is a floating projection of ice pushing east from the Antarctic Peninsula. It covers an area of the Weddell Sea the size of Wales. The berg, when it calves, will remove about a quarter of the total shelf extent and could leave the remaining structure in a less stable configuration. Scientists are concerned that Larsen C may be developing in a similar way to its siblings, Larsen A and Larsen B, which eventually collapsed at the turn of the century following their own big calving events. The 10km-long fork does not increase the length of the rift; it merely gives it a two-pronged tip. The new branch has opened on the seaward side of the main crack.
5-2-17 The New York Times' staggering own goal on climate change
The New York Times' staggering own goal on climate change
Why did the paper of record hire a climate denier and then let him write a smarmy, illogical defense of his views? Over the weekend, The New York Times found itself in a lot of hot water over the climate change views of its new columnist, Bret Stephens. The former Wall Street Journal editor has long espoused a sort of breezy science denial-lite, so liberal Times readers (i.e. most of them) reacted with stunned disbelief that the paper would waste the most valuable op-ed space in America on not only a third boring conservative white man, but one who downplays climate change, the most important problem in the world. Stephens reacted by making his very first effort a defensive, smarmy column, full of gaping logical holes and disastrous scientific errors, about how the left was being mean to him over climate change. Many liberals were enraged enough to cancel their subscriptions over it. It's both an excellent illustration of warped thinking about climate change, and how upper-class liberals' need for civil discourse can lead to staggering own goals. Stephens' column is one of those classics calling for debate about something without actually debating it. Instead of outlining his disagreements with the consensus view about climate change itself, he skips directly to the meta-debate about how it's bad that people are trying to run him out of polite society for pooh-poohing an existential threat to human civilization. He bemoans over-certainty on the part of climate activists, who are supposedly wildly exaggerating the threats of climate change and the strength of climate science conclusions.
5-2-17 Radical idea could restore ice in the Arctic Ocean
Radical idea could restore ice in the Arctic Ocean
It’s not rocket science, just a lot of windmills and pumps. Warmer conditions in the Arctic are melting sea ice. Now is the time to develop ways to save the ice, a scientist argues. Leave it to a researcher who studies icy moons in the outer solar system to come up with an out-there scheme to restore vanishing sea ice in the Arctic. Ice is a good insulator, says Steven Desch, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe. That’s why moons such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus, among others, may be able to maintain liquid oceans beneath their thick icy surfaces. On Earth, sea ice is much thinner, but the physics is the same. Ice grows on the bottom surface of floating floes. As the water freezes, it releases heat that must make its way up through the ice before escaping into the air. The thicker the ice, the more heat gets trapped, which slows down ice formation. That’s bad news for the Arctic, where ice helps keep the planet cool but global warming is causing ice to melt faster than it can be replaced. The answer to making thicker ice more quickly? Suck up near-freezing water from under the ice and pump it directly onto the ice’s surface during the long polar winter. There, the water would freeze more quickly than underneath the ice, where it usually forms. In theory, Desch says, the pumps used for this top-down approach to ice growth could be driven by technology no more sophisticated than the windmills that have long provided water to farms and ranches on the Great Plains.
5-1-17 Plan to regrow receding Swiss glacier by blowing artificial snow
Plan to regrow receding Swiss glacier by blowing artificial snow
An ambitious plan to save a melting glacier in the Swiss Alps with showers of artificial snow will be tested this summer. Glacier dying? Snow problem! At least that’s the theory behind a pioneering – and outlandish – attempt to save a landmark glacier in Switzerland. The idea is to create artificial snow and blow it over the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland each summer, hoping it will protect the ice and eventually cause the glacier to regrow. “The major effect of the snow is reflection of sunlight,” says Johannes Oerlemans of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who came up with the plan. Without this covering, the sunlight would begin to melt the ice, but “as long as there’s snow on top, the ice beneath is unaffected,” he told the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria, on 27 April. This would be the first large-scale attempt to do this anywhere in the world. (Webmaster's comment: Nuts! The are 198,000 glaciers in the world. And the energy needed to fix just that one glacier will create more CO2 to warm the earth even more. Nuts!)
5-1-17 Lakes worldwide feel the heat from climate change
Lakes worldwide feel the heat from climate change
Warming waters are disrupting freshwater fishing and recreation. Oceans aren’t the only bodies of water affected by climate change. Lake Huron and many lakes worldwide could experience ecological, recreational and economic impacts from warming. About 40 kilometers off Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, in the waters of Lake Superior, rises the stone lighthouse of Stannard Rock. Since 1882, it has warned sailors in Great Lakes shipping lanes away from a dangerous shoal. But today, Stannard Rock also helps scientists monitor another danger: climate change. Since 2008, a meteorological station at the lighthouse has been measuring evaporation rates at Lake Superior. And while weather patterns can change from year to year, Lake Superior appears to be behaving in ways that, to scientists, indicate long-term climate change: Water temperatures are rising and evaporation is up, which leads to lower water levels in some seasons. That’s bad news for hydropower plants, navigators, property owners, commercial and recreational fishers and anyone who just enjoys the lake. When most people think of the physical effects of climate change, they picture melting glaciers, shrinking sea ice or flooded coastal towns (SN: 4/16/16, p. 22). But observations like those at Stannard Rock are vaulting lakes into the vanguard of climate science. Year after year, lakes reflect the long-term changes of their environment in their physics, chemistry and biology. “They’re sentinels,” says John Lenters, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
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