72 Global Warming News Articles
for September of 2017
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9-29-17 Volkswagen diesel emissions fixing bill hits $30bn
Volkswagen diesel emissions fixing bill hits $30bn
The diesel emissions cheating scandal will cost Volkswagen an extra $3bn (€2.5bn), because engines are proving "far more technically complex and time consuming" to adapt the company said. The additional cost, for fixing engines in the United States, takes the total bill to $30bn. Two years after the problems first emerged, Volkswagen is still struggling to put the crisis behind it. Separately Munich prosecutors made an arrest in connection with the scandal. German media reports have named the person taken into custody as Wolfgang Hatz, former board member at VW unit Porsche. However there has been no official confirmation of his identity. Mr Hatz was head of Research and Development at VW-owned Porsche and had held other roles in the VW group, including in engine development at Audi. He was suspended after the diesel emissions test-cheating was exposed. He then left the company. Last year Porsche said no evidence had been found against him. Mr Hatz was reportedly close to former VW chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, who has denied any knowledge of the "defeat devices" which allowed vehicles to artificially reduce emissions during tests before their existence was exposed publicly. Another former Audi executive, Giovanni Pamio, was taken into custody earlier this year, at the request of the US Department of Justice. One man has so far been jailed in connection with the scandal: Volkswagen engineer James Liang received a 40 month sentence in a US court last month. (Webmaster's comment: And how many executives are doing jail time? So far NONE!)
9-30-17 How Helsinki is weaning drivers from their cars
How Helsinki is weaning drivers from their cars
City officials are using a mixture of technology and urban planning to encourage people to use their cars less. Countries from the U.K. to China are rolling out extraordinary plans to eliminate fossil-fuel-guzzling automobiles. But one Nordic capital city is mixing tech and urban planning to make sure citizens do not need a car at all. Finland's capital Helsinki is growing quickly as it attracts labor from the countryside and overseas. Instead of building more freeways to accommodate the growth, however, officials are trying to make public transit so good that people just give up driving. "Our aim is to use more positive measures to mix walking, cycling, and public transport to make it more attractive for people to travel that way," said Anni Sinnemäki, deputy mayor for transportation. "We have parking restrictions in the city center and are not widening roads for cars. But it is about positive measures to attract people to public transport." Johanna Koskinen, 24, a student who lives in the suburb of Vuosaari, likes the idea if it means extending subway hours. "Cars are expensive in Finland anyway. A lot of people out here can't really afford to run one," Koskinen said. "The metro already makes Vuosaari pretty accessible, but right now it closes at 11:30 p.m. If we are going to reduce car use even more downtown, they need to make sure that people like us don't lose out." Helsinki already has high transit ridership. Little more than 1 in 5 commuters drive cars. But Sinnemäki and others believe the city can further reduce traffic that produces carbon emissions and undercuts quality of life. "We want to bring our target of carbon neutrality by 2050 forward," said Sinnemäki, whose Green Party made big gains in municipal elections in April after promising major changes in transit. "That means having an ambitious transport policy, energy efficiency, renewables, and improvements to the city social environment where people can meet each other and socialize at the same time."
9-28-17 Tropical forests have flipped from sponges to sources of carbon dioxide
Tropical forests have flipped from sponges to sources of carbon dioxide
A closer look at the world’s trees reveals a loss of density in the tropics. Severely degraded forests, such as this one in Bolivia, are helping convert the “lungs of the planet” into carbon emitters. The world’s tropical forests are exhaling — and it’s not a sigh of relief. Instead of soaking up climate-warming gases on balance, these so-called “lungs of the planet” are beginning to release them. A new study based on analyses of satellite imagery of tropical Asia, Africa and the Americas suggests that tropical forests contribute more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they remove. Much of that carbon contribution is due to deforestation, the conversion of forests to urban spaces such as farms or roads. But more than two-thirds comes from a less visible source: a decline in the number and diversity of trees in remaining forests, researchers report online September 28 in Science. Tropical forests are a bulwark against rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, taking up carbon and storing it as stems, leaves and roots. Deforestation’s effect is clear; it cuts the number of trees that take up CO2. But even seemingly intact forests can be degraded or disturbed by selective logging, environmental change, wildfires or disease.
9-27-17 A few cold drops falling through a cloud could create a downpour
A few cold drops falling through a cloud could create a downpour
One raindrop that is less than 4°C cooler than the surrounding cloud can trigger a rapid burst of microdroplets, which can spawn a sudden rainstorm. A lab-made cloud has thrown light on a mysterious rain-creating phenomenon first witnessed decades ago. Atmospheric scientists haven’t fully understood the mechanism by which a single cold droplet or ice shard can trigger abrupt rain or snowfall – as it did in an experiment in the 1940s when scientists dropped chunks of dry ice from an aeroplane through cumulus clouds. Now, Prasanth Prabhakaran at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Germany and his colleagues have used an artificial cloud in a box to simulate the phenomenon, finding that a falling drop of cold water can trigger the growth of minuscule droplets along its path. In real clouds, water drops generally grow by sticking to aerosol particles. But Prabhakaran and his colleagues created artificial clouds in which liquid droplets at high pressure can grow on their own without the need for any aerosols, whose addition would also have made the cloud difficult to model.
9-26-17 Energy from evaporating water could rival wind and solar
Energy from evaporating water could rival wind and solar
Water evaporating from lakes and reservoirs could provide a huge amount of electricity, but scaling up the technology will be tricky. A vast source of renewable energy has been sitting under our noses. Evaporating water could supply enormous volumes of clean electricity, if we can only harness it. Evaporation is the process by which liquids turn into gases, generally when they are heated up. Every day, vast amounts of water evaporate from lakes and rivers, powered by heat energy from the sun. The scale of this energy is considerable. Water that evaporates from existing lakes and dams in the US – excluding the Great Lakes – could provide up to 2.85 million megawatt hours of electricity per year, according to Ozgur Sahin of Columbia University and colleagues. That is the equivalent of two-thirds of US electricity generation in 2015. In 15 of the 47 US states studied, the potential power exceeds demand. Covering freshwater bodies with engines that harness evaporation would halve water lost in this way, the team says. In seven US states, this would save more water than the entire state consumes. But the calculations assume that all the water is covered – which we would not want to do. Evaporation engines could also be put in other areas, from irrigated fields and greenhouses to sheltered bays, says Sahin. But first an evaporation engine needs to be built. Sahin’s team has created several miniature prototypes. The prototypes are all based on materials that shrink as they dry, such as tape coated with bacterial spores. The spores curl as they dry, shortening the tape. “They work like a muscle,” says Sahin. “They can push and pull with a lot of force.”
9-26-17 Botanic gardens 'best hope' for saving endangered plants
Botanic gardens 'best hope' for saving endangered plants
The world's botanic gardens contain about a third of all known plants and help protect 40% of endangered species, a study has found. Scientists say that with one in five of the world's plants on the brink of extinction, botanic collections hold the key to saving rare plant life. In the first detailed study of plants grown in botanical gardens, they recorded more than 100,000 species. Efforts are needed to target some of our rarest plants, they say. "This is the first time that we have carried out a global assessment to look at the wide range of plants grown, managed and conserved in botanic gardens," said Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General of the charity Botanic Gardens Conservation International. "So, for the first time we know what we have and, perhaps more importantly, what is missing from botanic gardens." Tropical plants were under-represented in the inventory of species. Meanwhile, primitive plants such as mosses were fewer in number compared with exotic specimens such as orchids and lilies. "Botanic gardens maintain in their living collections and seed banks an astonishing array of plant diversity, " Dr Smith explained. "We think gardens should be making much more of what they can uniquely grow that no other garden or experts have ever grown before." (Webmaster's comment: How has it come about a few "plant zoos" is all that stands between unique plant surivival and thousands of plant extinctions?)
9-25-17 Don't forget about Flint
Don't forget about Flint
The Flint water crisis is far from over. Beyond the headlines, the horrors continue. If you want to understand what some of us mean when we say that Washington, D.C., doesn't care about the post-industrial America of poverty, drug abuse, and spiritual despair, what even President Trump means when he talks about "American carnage," get off exit 7 on I-475 in Michigan and head down Court Street until you get to the Flint Children's Museum on the campus of Kettering University. In many ways, the museum — with its cheerful twin yellow towers popping out from either side of the large brick structure in a kind of invitation to exuberance — resembles many other institutions of its kind. Just about every medium-sized city has a place like this. There are colorful hands-on exhibits on circuits, bridge-building, and gravity; a pretend post office and grocery store; a climbing wall; a "Tot Spot" with rubber tumbling mats and age-appropriate toys. But there is one thing that isn't quite right. Even for a public building in a city whose population has been declining steadily since 1970, the place will seem unusually quiet. Another thing you will notice almost immediately is that the drinking fountains are all turned off or torn up and covered with signs. It's possible that there would be more children here, that my daughters would not have been able to enjoy the run of the place on a weekday afternoon in the middle of July, if it were not for the fact that as many as 276 infants were poisoned and died in their mother's wombs in the city of Flint between April 2014 and October 2015. That sickening statistic comes from a new working paper, which reports that during the period in which municipal water in this city was drawn from the Flint River rather than Lake Huron, fertility rates dropped by 12 percent and fetal death rates increased by nearly 60 percent. Health of children at birth was also affected. Older children have been diagnosed with severe cognitive disabilities, behavioral disorders, deafness, late puberty, and other impairments directly attributable to drinking and regularly bathing in water with a lead content of 400 parts per billion (the maximum, if hardly desirable, permitted concentration is 15). Adults have suffered from memory loss, thinning hair, and erratic blood pressure.
9-24-17 This small town represents the worst-case scenario for our climate future
This small town represents the worst-case scenario for our climate future
As waters rise around the globe, this tiny town offers a terrifying vision of our future if we don't act. The likelihood of a storm this powerful was just 0.1 percent. In just a few hours, it dumped nearly nine inches of rain on Richwood. The Cherry River rose over its banks, and this small city's steep streets funneled torrents of water to the city below. Eighty homes were destroyed; 100 were damaged. The high school and middle school were wrecked. Pavement was shredded; water and sewer pipes twisted and erupted. Roads became rivers. And none of it had to happen. This was Richwood's seventh major flood since 1932. In 2004, West Virginia issued a Flood Protection Plan — 365 pages of recommendations for preventing future flooding that died in the legislature after funding was denied. In 2008, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study found that floodwalls could be erected in Richwood for $59 million, but that this 2,000-person town was not significant enough to merit the expense. Instead, the federal government will have to spend at least $130 million to repair the damage. Floods are getting bigger. The 2014 National Climate Assessment found that, since 1958, the very largest rainfalls have increased 71 percent from Maine to West Virginia, and 37 percent in Midwest states, from Minnesota to Missouri. While coastal flooding captures the attention of the media, inland floods tend to do greater damage and claim more lives. Many occur in rural communities or poorer parts of cities with no funds for flood protection, forcing the federal government to pick up the tab. Richwood's year of disaster and recovery tells a common story of despair, confusion, and collateral consequences.
9-22-17 Big Antarctic iceberg edges out to sea
Big Antarctic iceberg edges out to sea
The giant berg A-68 looks finally to be on the move. Recent weeks have seen it shuffle back and forth next to the Antarctic ice shelf from which it broke away. But the latest satellite imagery now indicates the near-6,000 sq km block is swinging out into the Weddell Sea. A wide stretch of clear water has opened up between the berg's southern end and the remaining Larsen shelf structure, suggesting A-68 is set to swing around and head north. This is the direction the Weddell currents should take the iceberg. Polar experts expect the trillion-tonne block to essentially bump along the shelf edge until it reaches the great eastward movement of ocean water known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This would then export what is one of the largest bergs ever recorded out into the South Atlantic. (Webmaster's comment: This iceberg is as large as the state of Connecticut.)
9-22-17 Plan to save Great Barrier Reef from encroaching farm pollution
Plan to save Great Barrier Reef from encroaching farm pollution
A major project is underway to protect Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from being smothered and poisoned by agricultural runoff. The sky above is grey and drizzly, but the wetlands are still beautiful to behold. Flocks of magpie geese settle on the glassy water, honking and nibbling at bright green tufts of sedge. I’m at Mungalla Station, a cattle property in far north Queensland. Here, a large-scale conservation project is underway. Its aim: to help save the Great Barrier Reef 20 kilometres away, out at sea. The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site, and one that is known to be in dire trouble. The obvious threats are climate change and coral bleaching, both of which could kill swathes of the corals. But another major problem is agricultural run-off. About 10 million tonnes of sludge from farms wash onto the reef each year, smothering the coral, says Mungalla’s director Jacob Cassady. Cassady is a member of the local Nywaigi people, who took over Mungalla when it was returned to them by the Indigenous Land Corporation in 1999. At that time, the property had been damaged by more than a century of cattle farming. Overgrazing had caused soil erosion, native vegetation had been cleared, and the wetlands along the coast were choked with invasive weeds. This presented a big threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Sediments, pesticides and fertilisers were leaking into the wetlands and out to sea, poisoning and smothering reef organisms like coral, fish and turtles. To restore Mungalla, the Nywaigi owners kept one section for cattle farming and allowed the rest to grow wild. Much of the area is now thickly forested and full of squawking bird life.
9-22-17 When the water rises
When the water rises
Severe flooding is becoming increasingly common in the U.S.—and more destructive.
What’s behind the increase? Climate change. Rising sea levels—the result of glaciers and ice caps melting in warmer temperatures—make storm surges along coastal areas much worse. Warmer oceans also evaporate faster, and warmer air can hold more moisture, meaning big storms can absorb and dump larger volumes of water. And higher sea temperatures give brewing storms more energy to feed off; when Harvey formed over the Gulf of Mexico, sea-surface temperatures were as much as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average. Some climate scientists believe global warming has also weakened the prevailing winds that move weather systems around, exacerbating heavy rainstorms, heat spells, droughts, and other extremes. That phenomenon might explain why Harvey “stalled” over Houston for five days. With temperatures and sea levels still rising—oceans are expected to rise by 8 feet by 2100—flooding is only going to get worse. “We are not going to stop these events from occurring,” says Alex Kaplan of the reinsurance company Swiss Re. “They are going to become more frequent, and we should plan for that scenario.”
- How bad is the problem?
- What’s behind the increase?
- Which areas are most vulnerable?
- Why build in flood zones?
- Are solutions possible?
- Deactivating a hurricane
Deactivating a hurricane: Hurricanes are extraordinarily powerful, releasing as much heat energy as a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. But some scientists think there may be ways to stop or weaken them. Several companies have developed systems that use pumps to replace warm surface water—from which hurricanes derive their strength—with cooler water from the ocean depths. But it would be extremely difficult and costly to transport, say, 100,000 pumps to the required location when a hurricane begins gathering strength. Another possible solution is to use aerosols to make clouds reflect more sunlight in areas where storms are brewing; in theory, this would curb evaporation and prevent the waters below from warming up. Alas, most scientists believe neither ocean cooling nor cloud brightening is practical. Mark Bourassa of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University warns that attempts to interfere with powerful hurricanes could have dangerous unintended consequences. “I’d be really nervous about trying them,” he says.
9-21-17 Hurricanes: A perfect storm of chance and climate change?
Hurricanes: A perfect storm of chance and climate change?
The succession of intense and deadly tropical cyclones that have barrelled across the Atlantic in recent weeks have left many people wondering if a threshold of some sort has been crossed. Is this chain of hurricanes evidence of some significant new frontier in our changing climate? The answer is mostly no, but with worrying undertones of yes. The first thing to note about this season is that it shows the power of science and weather forecasting. Every year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) puts out a hurricane forecast for the season that runs from 1 June to 30 November for the north Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. In August, Noaa updated its predictions, stating that there would be 14-19 named storms and of these, 5-9 would become hurricanes. To date, we've had seven cyclones, with four that have gained category three status or stronger. So this season is unusual but not unprecedented. The bigger picture shows that between 1981 and 2010 the average was six hurricanes per season. What has happened this year is that a number of natural variable factors have come together and helped boost the number and power of these cyclones. In the background, climate change has loaded the dice. This season has been particularly warm in the region of the Atlantic where hurricanes form with temperatures 0.5 to 1.0C above average, according to Noaa. A wetter and stronger monsoon in West Africa and a natural cycle called the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO) have also helped boost the energy available for the massive, swirling heat engines that hurricanes become.
9-21-17 Is the US solar industry about to tear itself apart?
Is the US solar industry about to tear itself apart?
The US solar industry has seen dramatic growth in the past few years, but a request for a rare trade action has led to a fierce fight over the future of the industry - and one that wouldn't exist without the presidency of Donald Trump. Phil Brodhagen runs a solar installation company in Colorado Springs, and his customers - local homeowners and businesses in a military-friendly town - love American-made products. Until they see the price. "They want to go solar, but they do have a limit on how much they can spend." he says. "They'd love an American product, but if they can't afford it, they'll either not get a system at all, or go for the cheaper one." Brodhagen is one of hundreds of business owners across the US paying very close attention to a case in front of the US International Trade Commission. And he's worried about the outcome. "It will hurt this industry," he says. "It's going to be me laying off people as well as everyone else." On Friday, the commission is expected to rule on whether imported solar products have seriously injured US solar product manufacturers, enough to impose higher tariffs on imports worldwide. The petition was brought by two solar manufacturers who are based in the US, but owned by overseas companies. Suniva and SolarWorld have argued their financial troubles - as well as a series of other US solar manufacturer bankruptcies - are due to a massive oversupply of solar cells and panels imported from overseas, primarily from Chinese companies. (Webmaster's comment: America simply can not compete. Even with America charging a high import tax on Chinese solar cells and panels.)
9-21-17 Another lost tribe feared massacred – how can we save the rest?
Another lost tribe feared massacred – how can we save the rest?
Should we leave uncontacted tribes alone or try to usher them into the modern world to protect them from violence and disease, wonders Curtis Abraham. While gathering food along a river in a remote stretch of Brazil’s vast Amazon region, members of an uncontacted tribe ran into gold prospectors. The prospectors reportedly killed 10 of them and, after drinking in a bar, bragged about it. International outrage followed, and federal prosecutors opened an investigation after a complaint was lodged by FUNAI, the Brazilian government agency on indigenous affairs. As well as anger, this has inevitably raised the perennial question of whether uncontacted tribes should be left alone or ushered into the modern world to help protect them. Although it’s hard to know exactly how many such groups are at risk, there are thought to be more than 100 around the world, mostly in forests in Central Africa, South America and New Guinea. Earlier sightings and signs of dwellings spotted from the air offer clues. Over the past couple of years, several such peoples have been documented for the first time in South America. Uncontacted peoples still have a strong relationship to the land they live on. For many, the mountains, rivers and forests are alive. But pressure is growing. Outsiders often want to exploit that land for timber, mining, dams, road-building, ranching and settlement. Resulting contact often leads to violence. In 2014, the Sapanawa Indians of Brazil came out of the forest after outsiders, possibly illegal loggers, massacred many of their elderly. According to Survival International, a charity that campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples, the number of people killed was so high that the tribe couldn’t bury them all.
9-22-17 The extinction of parasites
The extinction of parasites
Climate change could wipe out up to one-third of the Earth’s 3.5 million known parasite species over the next 53 years. That might sound like a good thing, but scientists warn that the extinction of pests such as tapeworms, fleas, and ticks could dramatically alter the delicate balance of ecosystems around the world, The New York Times reports. An international team of scientists mapped the global distribution and habitats of 457 different species of parasites and analyzed how climate change could affect them. Up to 30 percent of parasite species, they concluded, may be extinct by 2070. A mass die-off could produce many undesirable consequences: Where parasites help control their hosts’ populations, those populations could grow out of control, the way deer did when wolves left their habitats. Other parasites might flourish in the absence of competition. Still others could migrate to new ecosystems, invading new species. An example: the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus spreading north into the U.S. Colin Carlson, lead author of the study, said parasites are “a huge and important part of ecosystems,” and warned that extinctions will have consequences we can’t foresee.
9-21-17 Intense storms provide the first test of powerful new hurricane forecast tools
Intense storms provide the first test of powerful new hurricane forecast tools
Instruments are slated to improve predictions of path and intensity. Hurricane Irma passed by Cuba on September 8, 2017, as a Category 4 storm before making landfall in the Florida Keys on September 10, 2017. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has already proven to be active and deadly. Powerful hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma and Maria are also providing a testing ground for new tools that scientists hope will save lives by improving forecasts in various ways, from narrowing a storm’s future path to capturing swift changes in the intensity of storm winds. Some of the tools that debuted this year — such as the GOES-16 satellite — are already winning praise from scientists. Others, such as a new microsatellite system aiming to improve measurements of hurricane intensity and a highly anticipated new computer simulation that forecasts hurricane paths and intensities, are still in the calibration phase. As these tools get an unprecedented workout thanks to an unusually ferocious series of storms, scientists may know in a few months whether hurricane forecasting is about to undergo a sea change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-16 satellite is perhaps the clearest success story of this hurricane season so far. Public perceptions of hurricane forecasts tend to focus on uncertainty and conflicting predictions. But in the big picture, hurricane models adeptly forecasted Irma’s ultimate path to the Florida Keys nearly a week before it arrived there, says Brian Tang, an atmospheric scientist at the University at Albany in New York.
9-21-17 Canada MP sorry for Catherine McKenna 'climate Barbie' remark
Canada MP sorry for Catherine McKenna 'climate Barbie' remark
A Canadian Conservative MP has apologised after referring to environment minister Catherine McKenna as "climate Barbie". Gerry Ritz made the comment on Twitter during an online exchange over a climate-change report. The tweet provoked a furious response from Liberal MPs and others, and was later deleted. Mr Ritz apologised, saying his comments were "not reflective of the role the minister plays." He had taken to Twitter following a report about targets set out in the Paris climate-change accord not being met by major industrialised nations. In a reply to other Twitter users, he had written: "Has anyone told our climate Barbie!" Mrs McKenna fired back: "Do you use that sexist language about your daughter, mother, sister?" "We need more women in politics. Your sexist comments won't stop us," she added. In parliament, House leader Bardish Chagger said there was "no room for that kind of ignorance in Canadian politics". "Sexism is unacceptable," echoed Heritage Minister Melanie Joly. (Webmaster's comment: Right-Wingers, Conservatives and Republicans are all the same. Global Warming Deniers and Anti-Women!)
9-20-17 Hurricane Maria confirms dire warnings for 2017 hurricane season
Hurricane Maria confirms dire warnings for 2017 hurricane season
As Hurricane Maria continues to cause destruction, predictions that 2017 could be the worst hurricane season since 2010 are being borne out. Hurricane Maria is still on the rampage, pummelling Puerto Rico and compounding the misery caused earlier this month by Hurricane Irma. Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico at around 11.15 UK time this morning, and has pummelled the island all day, despite being downgraded from a category five to category four hurricane. “Maria’s core is moving over Puerto Rico, with life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts continuing over the island,” warned the US National Hurricane Center this morning. “Everyone in Puerto Rico should follow advice from local officials to avoid life-threatening flooding from storm surges and rainfall.” Over the next few days, Maria could bring dangerous wind, storm surges and heavy rainfall to the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the south-east Bahamas, the NHC says.Maria smashed into Dominica on Monday, killing at least seven and flattening houses throughout the island. The island lost nearly all its communication systems after Maria destroyed phone lines and the island’s broadcast service. Then on Tuesday, Maria ploughed through St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose remains offshore from the US east coast. The NHC forecasts that it will cause some direct impacts in parts of New England over the next couple of days, with tropical storm warnings issued for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Swells generated by the large cyclone could also affect Bermuda, creating dangerous surf and rip currents.
9-20-17 Hurricane Maria makes landfall in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria makes landfall in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria, the devastating storm pushing north-west through the Caribbean, has landed in Puerto Rico. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it arrived in Yabucoa in the east of the US territory, producing winds of 150 mph (250 km/h). The hurricane is now around 32km (20 miles) west of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital. On the island of Dominica, which was badly hit on Monday, seven people are reported to have been killed. Aerial footage over the island shows flattened houses and the death toll on Dominica is likely to rise, with details remaining scant as communication links are down. On Tuesday, Maria ploughed through St Croix in the US Virgin Islands, home to around 55,000 people. Shortly before making landfall in Puerto Rico, the storm was downgraded from category five to category four by the NHC. Maria was similarly downgraded on Tuesday only to be upgraded again to category five. The governor of Puerto Rico has told the island's 3.5 million people to seek shelter. "The wind sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs!" photographer and storm chaser Mike Theiss posted on Twitter.
9-19-17 Hurricane Maria regains strength after battering Dominica
Hurricane Maria regains strength after battering Dominica
The latest major Atlantic hurricane of the season, Maria, has powered back to category five strength after pounding the Caribbean island of Dominica. It weakened to a four after wreaking "widespread damage" on the island but is now packing maximum sustained winds of 260km/h (160mph) again. The storm is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, this season's other category five hurricane. Maria is now heading towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The governor of Puerto Rico, a US territory, has told the island's 3.5 million people to seek shelter.
9-19-17 Paris climate aim 'still achievable'
Paris climate aim 'still achievable'
The 2015 Paris agreement's ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C remains within reach, a study suggests. The study is one of several to address the "carbon budget", which - among other things - determines how much CO2 the planet can emit and still reach a given limit for global warming. It indicates the 2015 target, perceived by some as tough, could be met with very stringent emissions cuts. It used computer models that project climate behaviour into the future. The aim of the Paris deal was "holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5C." But scientists admit they were taken by surprise by the ambition of this aim in the agreement. The results of the work with computer models have been published in Nature Geoscience. This type of work, which involves projecting the behaviour of the climate into the future, necessarily contains uncertainties. But the study authors say: "Pursuing 'efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C' is not chasing a geophysical impossibility". Co-author Michael Grubb, from University College London, said: "This paper shows that the Paris goals are within reach, but clarifies what the commitment to 'pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C' really implies."
9-19-17 The list of diseases linked to air pollution is growing
The list of diseases linked to air pollution is growing
As governments decide what to do about air quality, studies connect an array of health problems to dirty air. U.S. pollution levels have come way down since the 1970s, but there’s still enough smog to raise the risk for cardiovascular deaths. Researchers are also drawing new connections between dirty air and metabolic and brain disorders. To the residents of Donora, Pa., a mill town in a crook of the Monongahela River, the daily haze from nearby zinc and steel plants was the price of keeping their families fed. But on October 27, 1948, the city awoke to an unusually sooty sky, even for Donora. The next day, the high school quarterbacks couldn’t see their teammates well enough to complete a single pass. The town was engulfed in smog for five days, until a storm finally swept the pollution out of the valley. By then, more than one-third of the population had fallen ill and 20 people were dead. Another 50 perished in the following months. After the Donora tragedy, the federal government began to clamp down on industries that release pollutants into the air. Environmental advocates in the coming decades fought for, and won, tighter regulations. As a result, combined emissions of six common air pollutants have dropped by about 70 percent nationwide since the 1970 passage of the Clean Air Act, which regulates U.S. emissions of hazardous air pollutants. In 35 major U.S. cities, the total number of days with unhealthy air has fallen by almost two-thirds just since 2000. “It’s one of the great success stories of public health,” says Joel Kaufman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle. Our bodies feel the difference. One study, reported in JAMA last year, followed 4,602 children in Southern California between 1993 and 2012 to see how lung health correlated with three common air pollutants. As levels of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter fell over time, so did the number of children who reported a daily cough, persistent congestion and other symptoms of irritated lungs. At the start of the study, 48 percent of children with asthma had reported bronchitis symptoms in the previous year. In communities with the greatest drop in pollutants during the study period, bronchitis prevalence fell by as much as 30 percent in children with asthma.
9-19-17 Lightning storms triggered by exhaust from cargo ships
Lightning storms triggered by exhaust from cargo ships
The world's busiest shipping lanes have twice as many bolts of lightning as nearby areas, and ships pumping soot into the air seem to be responsible. SHIPS spewing soot into the pristine ocean air are causing extra lightning strikes along busy maritime routes. It is a bizarre example of how human activities can change the weather. When Joel Thornton at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues looked at records of lightning strikes between 2005 and 2016 from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, they noticed there were significantly more strikes in certain regions of the east Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, compared with the surrounding areas. Unusually, they occurred along two straight lines in the open ocean, which coincided with two of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Along these paths there were twice as many lightning strikes as in nearby areas. “We were quite sure the ships had to be involved,” says Thornton. But they still had to eliminate other factors that influence storm intensity, such as wind speeds and temperatures. Once these had been ruled out, the team concluded that aerosols from the ships’ engine exhausts were the culprit. Aerosol particles act as seeds, around which water vapour condenses into cloud droplets. In clean air there aren’t many seeds, so the cloud drops quickly grow and fall as rain. But when there are a lot of seeds, like over busy shipping routes, a greater number of small cloud drops form. Since these are light, they rise up high into the atmosphere and freeze, creating clouds rich in ice. It is this that leads to more intense thunderstorms: lightning only occurs if clouds are electrically charged, and this only happens if there are lots of ice crystals.
9-18-17 Thousands likely to be killed by Hurricane Irma’s deadly legacy
Thousands likely to be killed by Hurricane Irma’s deadly legacy
Toxic chemicals released by floodwaters, stress, infection and dangerous working conditions will all contribute to hurricane death toll years after winds die. About 200 people are thought to have been killed by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the Caribbean and southern US. But many more will feel knock-on health effects in the coming weeks and years: from infections and toxic chemicals released by the floodwaters, from stress, and even as a result of working to rebuild shattered cities. The immediate death toll has fortunately fallen far short of the 1800 people who died when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, partly because of better emergency preparation. But thousands are still at risk. So far, most health reports have come from the US, the wealthiest country affected. “As with Katrina, we’re seeing an increase in diarrhoeal and respiratory illnesses in evacuation centres,” says Peter Hotez at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey hit on 25 August. Common respiratory viruses spread faster and cause worse disease among crowded, stressed people. Floodwater is one of the main hazards. Sewage washed into floodwater is laden with E. coli and other microbes that can cause diarrhoea, including the cholera-causing bacterium Vibrio cholera in places such as Haiti where it is present. People who wore contact lenses in the floodwater are also at risk of corneal infection. Floodwater also spreads skin infections, such as that caused by waterborne bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, which can worsen to sepsis, a severe blood infection. “That was a killer after Katrina,” says Hotez. Chronic conditions can worsen among people who have been displaced from their homes, as those with diabetes, heart disease, psychiatric disorders or HIV are separated from medications and the refrigeration they may need. After other disasters, between 30 and 40 per cent of all displaced people have developed depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
9-18-17 No, climate science isn’t wrong, and yes, global warming is real
No, climate science isn’t wrong, and yes, global warming is real
A study suggests we can emit three times more carbon than we thought and still avoid 1.5°C of global warming - but the results are not as straightforward as they seem. THE Paris Agreement aspires to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But is this target at all realistic? Climate scientists had estimated that this means we can emit no more than 70 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) after 2015. At current emission rates, we will pass this threshold by 2022. Now, a study is claiming that we can emit 200 GtC – nearly three times as much, pushing the deadline back to 2035. “Keeping to 1.5 [degrees] just went from impossible to very difficult,” says team member Joeri Rogelj at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Predictably, this has led to some newspapers crowing that climate researchers have got it all wrong, and global warming is not a threat. So is this new study right? The first issue is how you define the pre-industrial temperature. The study uses the period 1861 to 1880, when we start to have decent temperature measurements. The UK Met Office’s record of average global surface temperatures suggests the 2010s will be 0.9°C above this period, leaving only 0.6°C of wiggle room. But there had already been about 0.2°C of warming by 1870, according to Michael Mann of Penn State University, which would mean there is just 0.4°C to go. “When a proper pre-industrial baseline is used, 1.5°C is virtually impossible,” he says. Then there is the issue of why this study gives a much larger carbon budget. The team says it relied on improved climate models and more recent data.
9-18-17 Now we know how much glacial melting ‘watermelon snow’ can cause
Now we know how much glacial melting ‘watermelon snow’ can cause
Algae that tinge snow red are to blame for about a sixth of the snowmelt at an Alaskan ice field. Algae turn the snow pink and red on parts of Alaska’s Harding Icefield. New research finds that the pink snow melts faster than clean snow. Microbes are pushing glacial snow into the red. An algae species that grows on glaciers gives the snow a crimson hue, which increases the amount of sunlight that the snow soaks up and makes it melt faster, new measurements confirm. On Alaska’s Harding Icefield, these microbes are responsible for about a sixth of the snowmelt in algae-tinged areas, researchers report September 18 in Nature Geoscience. The finding suggests that future climate simulations, unlike current ones, should account for the effects of these algae when making predictions about glacial melt. The pink color, sometimes called watermelon snow, is caused by Chlamydomonas nivalis algae and related species. C. nivalis thrives in cold water, and “snowfields and glaciers are, in some sense, an aquatic environment,” says study coauthor Roman Dial, a biologist at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Blooms pop up in the spring and summer, but the algae can come back year after year. Recent research has suggested that darkening of the snow by these algae or other microbes might make it melt faster. That melt might spur even more algae growth, starting a feedback loop of accelerated melting, scientists have proposed. But this is the first time algae’s effect on snowmelt has been directly tested.
9-18-17 Could we store carbon dioxide as liquid lakes under the sea?
Could we store carbon dioxide as liquid lakes under the sea?
We need to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to slow down climate change, and perhaps deep-sea trenches would be a good place to put it. Here is a radical solution to dangerous climate change: create lakes of liquid carbon dioxide on the seabed, and keep the greenhouse gas out of the air. As well as cutting our emissions of carbon dioxide, it is becoming increasingly likely that we will have to actively remove the gas from the air to keep Earth’s temperature at a safe level – which is now agreed to be no more than 1.5 °C above that in preindustrial times. But where should we put the carbon? Most attention has focused on burying it underground, perhaps by injecting it into depleted oil and gas fields. This approach has been tested and seems to work, but it is unclear whether people will accept this fix. Now Steve Goldthorpe, an energy analyst based in New Zealand, has suggested a radical alternative: dump the carbon dioxide in deep ocean trenches, where it can sit permanently as a liquid lake. The crucial point, says Goldthorpe, is that once the carbon dioxide reaches a depth of about 3000 metres, its density exceeds that of water – so it will naturally sink to the bottom and stay there.
9-18-17 Paris climate deal: Trump open to staying in, Tillerson says
Paris climate deal: Trump open to staying in, Tillerson says
Donald Trump is open to staying in the Paris accord on climate change, his secretary of state has said, just hours after the White House insisted there would be "no change" to US policy. Rex Tillerson said the US would stay in the agreement "if we can construct a set of terms that we believe is fair". His comments come despite the White House earlier denying reports it was softening its stance on the accord. In June Mr Trump announced the US would withdraw from the pact. The president said the move was part of his "solemn duty to protect America", painting the agreement as one which aimed to hobble the US economy in favour of countries like China and India. Mr Trump also said he would "begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States". Speaking to US network CBS, Mr Tillerson suggested the US might not leave at all. (Webmaster's comment: The biggest contributor to global warming wants a better deal. They don't want to pay for the damage they're doing!)
9-18-17 Hurricane Maria to become major storm near Caribbean islands
Hurricane Maria to become major storm near Caribbean islands
Maria is expected to become a dangerous major hurricane as it nears the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. It has been upgraded to a category two hurricane, and is forecast to hit the islands late on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says. It is moving roughly along the same path as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month. Hurricane warnings have been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique. A hurricane watch is now in effect for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, St Martin, St Barts, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla. Some of these islands are still recovering after being hit by Irma - a category five hurricane which left at least 37 people dead and caused billions of dollars' worth of damage.
9-17-17 Paris climate deal: US denies it will stay in accord
Paris climate deal: US denies it will stay in accord
The US has insisted it will leave the Paris climate accord, despite reports that it may be softening its stance. Following a meeting of environment ministers on Saturday, the EU climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, said Trump officials had indicated the US would either stay in the 2015 accord or review its terms. But the White House insisted there had been "no change" in the US position. In June President Donald Trump said the US would withdraw from the deal. He said it was part of his "solemn duty to protect America" and he would seek a new deal that would not disadvantage US businesses. But opponents say withdrawing from the accord is an abdication of US leadership on a key global challenge. The Paris agreement commits the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C. Only Syria and Nicaragua did not sign up to the deal. (Webmaster's comment: We can be so proud that we are aligned with the Syrian government. China and the European Union will rule the future, not the United States! We will probably collapse into a religious dictatorship like those in the middle east.)
9-15-17 The economics of denial
The economics of denial
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Upton Sinclair said this nearly a century ago, but it continues to explain much, including many Americans' adamant refusal to accept the reality of climate change. In the past three weeks, two monstrous hurricanes of historic intensity devastated large swathes of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Climate change didn't cause Harvey and Irma, but climatologists suspect a warming planet made these killer hurricanes more destructive. (Total damage: upwards of $200 billion.) It's simple physics: Hurricanes draw their energy from warm ocean waters, and the Gulf, Caribbean, and southern Atlantic are significantly warmer right now than their historic norms. Warmer air also can carry more moisture. Harvey dumped more rain on Houston — about 50 inches — than any storm in U.S. history. Irma howled at 180 mph for 37 hours, a record, and was the second Category 4 storm to hit the U.S. in three weeks. Coincidence? Perhaps. But this is where paychecks, motivated reasoning, and tribal politics enter the picture. As Ron Brownstein points out at CNN this week, the U.S. can be divided into "high carbon" and "low carbon" states. High carbon states produce large amounts of oil, gas, and coal, and rely on industries that burn lots of fossil fuels. They are invariably "red" or Republican. Low carbon states, located mainly on the coasts, have economies that depend mostly on financial, service, and information-age companies. They are blue. In red states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Texas, the per-capita carbon dioxide emission levels also are much higher, because they're largely rural and people rely on cars and machinery. In 2016, President Trump carried 20 of the 21 states with the highest per capita carbon emissions. In these states, the implications of accepting climate change are understandably alarming — more alarming, evidently, than even two Category 4 hurricanes.
9-15-17 World hunger is on the rise again due to climate change and war
World hunger is on the rise again due to climate change and war
After falling for over a decade, the number of people going hungry has risen again - and climate change and war are to blame. Global hunger is on the rise for the first time in over a decade, thanks to a toxic combination of localised wars aggravated by climate extremes. In 2016, the number of undernourished people increased year on year for the first time since 2003, when a peak of 947 million people (14.9 per cent of the world’s population) were undernourished. There were 815 million undernourished people in 2016 (11 per cent), up from 777 million in 2015 (10.6 per cent). More than half of those hungry in 2016 – 489 million people – were in countries affected by conflicts. These have rapidly become more numerous, increasingly in tandem with droughts, floods and other climate-related shocks. “There’s no doubt that there’s a clear interaction between climate change and conflict,” says Marco Sánchez Cantillo at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which has just published these figures in a report entitled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”. “They work together to accelerate and deepen the severity of hunger.” For example, the report blames droughts triggered by the cyclical climate phenomenon called El Niño for aggravating the conflicts and food shortages in Somalia, Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. It also links conflict-related food crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan with other climate shocks including flooding, droughts not related to El Niño, landslides and cyclones. Together, these problems left 53.5 million people without a reliable source of Prolonged droughts are proving to be particularly potent triggers of conflict, says Cantillo. “They lead to severe food crises and famines, like those this year in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria,” he says. “They can lead to competition for scarce resources and increase prices, setting up a vicious cycle that spirals down into more food insecurity.”
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair said this nearly a century ago, but it continues to explain much, including many Americans’ adamant refusal to accept the reality of climate change. In the past three weeks, two monstrous hurricanes of historic intensity devastated large swathes of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Climate change didn’t cause Harvey and Irma, but climatologists suspect a warming planet made these killer hurricanes more destructive. (Total damage: upwards of $200 billion.) It’s simple physics: Hurricanes draw their energy from warm ocean waters, and the Gulf, Caribbean, and southern Atlantic are significantly warmer right now than their historic norms. Warmer air also can carry more moisture. Harvey dumped more rain on Houston—about 50 inches—than any storm in U.S. history. Irma howled at 180 mph for 37 hours, a record, and was the second Category 4 storm to hit the U.S. in three weeks. Coincidence?
9-15-17 Talking points
A cruise ship’s diesel engine can burn through 150 tons of fuel each day, which would emit as much sulfur dioxide and fine particles as 1 million cars. The cruise lines are resisting installing soot filters to screen out the particulates, which can damage human health.
Fear of brain injury has produced a major decline in student participation in high school football in Northern states; in Michigan, for example, participation has dropped 21.3 percent since 2006. But in 12 states, mostly in the South, there are more boys playing football today than a decade ago.
58% believe that “Dreamers” illegally brought to this country as children should be allowed to become citizens. Another 18% believe they should be allowed to become legal, but not citizens. Only 15% think they should be deported. Even among those who voted for Trump, 66% believe the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country.
9-15-17 Real news
Real news, after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners that dire forecasts of Hurricane Irma’s impact were a liberal media plot to create “fear and panic” and “advance this climate change agenda.” He had to cancel his Friday show and flee Florida.
9-13-17 Why China’s green ambitions will make it the next world leader
Why China’s green ambitions will make it the next world leader
As the US under Donald Trump turns its back on climate change, China's globalisation agenda could catalyse a green revolution that will make it a superpower. RENEWABLE energy is having its moment in the Chinese sun. The country’s investment in solar, wind and other clean energy technology has soared from $8 billion in 2005 to $103 billion in 2015. China now spends more on developing renewable energy than the US and Europe combined. Most of this investment has been domestic, but China is now looking to sell its green tech to the rest of the world. In doing so, the nation steps into the climate leadership void left by the US under President Donald Trump. As Trump pursues an “America First” strategy and sings the praises of “beautiful, clean coal”, China is looking for ways to collaborate with other countries on tackling climate change. “Multilateral trade negotiations make progress only with great difficulty and the implementation of the Paris [climate] agreement has met with resistance,” China’s president Xi Jinping said last week at a meeting of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations. “Some countries have become more inward-looking, and their desire to participate in global development cooperation has decreased.” To strengthen relations with other nations, China has begun one of the largest-ever trade initiatives, known as the Belt and Road. This links it to 68 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa along the historic Silk Road trade routes. Many climate analysts hope this will drive uptake of China’s cheap renewables in the region and reduce nations’ reliance on fossil fuels, but there are also fears it could expand the country’s powerful coal industry. So, as China adopts the stance of a true global power, will it help or hinder the worldwide renewables movement? China is well placed to lead a clean energy push. Its enormous manufacturing capacity means it can churn out millions of cheap solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines each year. The country now owns five out of six of the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturers and half of the 10 largest wind turbine manufacturers. Greenpeace estimates that every hour, China installs at least one wind turbine and enough solar panels to cover a football pitch.
9-12-17 How hurricanes and other devastating disasters spur scientific research
How hurricanes and other devastating disasters spur scientific research
Engineer Jon Sinnreich of the University of Florida and colleagues work on a portable tower used to measure wind speeds during Hurricane Irma. Scientific data from hurricanes and other natural disasters help inform efforts to prepare for future crises. Every day, it seems like there’s a new natural disaster in the headlines. Hurricane Harvey inundates Texas. Hurricane Irma plows through the Caribbean and the U.S. south, and Jose is hot on its heels. A deadly 8.1-magnitude earthquake rocks Mexico. Wildfires blanket the western United States in choking smoke. While gripping tales of loss and heroism rightly fill the news, another story quietly unfolds. Hurricanes, droughts, oil spills, wildfires and other disasters are natural labs. Data quickly gathered in the midst of such chaos, as well as for years afterward, can lead to discoveries that ultimately make rescue, recovery and resilience to future crises possible. So when disaster strikes, science surges, says human ecologist Gary Machlis of Clemson University in South Carolina. He has studied and written about the science done during crises and was part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Strategic Sciences Group, which helps government officials respond to disasters.
9-12-17 Air pollution changes what bugs colonise our airways
Air pollution changes what bugs colonise our airways
Higher levels of pollutants in the air correlate with reduced diversity of bacteria in our nose, hinting at a possible mechanism for why pollution causes disease. Could the effects of air pollution be mediated by the mix of bugs in our airways? It seems that exposure to pollutants correlates with differences in the species of bacteria living in our respiratory tracts. This may be a hidden link between pollution and disease. Numerous studies have shown that air pollution raises our risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. Even in the UK, which has relatively clean air, pollution is blamed for up to 50,000 premature deaths a year. Why this link exists, however, is unclear. To look into one possible cause, Jacopo Mariani and his colleagues at the University of Milan, Italy, took nasal swabs from 40 people living in and around Milan to investigate whether pollution affected the types of bacteria that colonise our airways. Just like the gut, our airways contain a community of microbes, most of which are harmless. In fact, some probably offer us benefits. The team used genetic sequencing to identify the bacteria present, and compared these types with levels of air pollution recorded by nearby monitoring stations. Higher levels of particulates in the air from three days before sampling correlated with a lower diversity of bacteria in the nasal swabs. This could be a bad thing, says Mariani, because decreased diversity might affect the functions that bacteria provide to the host.
9-12-17 The Caribbean will be recovering from Hurricane Irma for years
The Caribbean will be recovering from Hurricane Irma for years
Florida escaped the worst of hurricane Irma, but islands like Puerto Rico and Cuba were hit hard – and they face a hard road back to prosperity. As Hurricane Irma continues to head north, now downgraded to a “tropical depression”, it leaves behind a trail of destruction across the Caribbean and southern Florida. Caribbean islands including St Martin, Puerto Rico, Barbuda and Cuba were hit hardest. At the time of writing, 37 people in the Caribbean and 10 in the US are thought to have been killed by the hurricane. On the island of Barbuda more than 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed. The French and UK governments have sent aid workers, food and medical equipment to their overseas territories to start the long process of reconstruction there. Many of these islands are strongly reliant on tourism and will continue to feel the economic impact of Irma for a long time into the future. For many places across the region, the priority will be to ensure residents have access to safe drinking water, food and shelter. After the hurricane comes an increased risk of disease, partly because stagnating water attracts mosquitoes that can carry diseases like dengue fever. In Haiti the concern is that cases of cholera will increase; in the wake of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, the affected parts of Haiti experienced a 50 per cent increase in cholera cases thanks to a lack of clean drinking water. Another priority will be to restore power to the millions of people that have been without electricity for several days. At its peak, Irma knocked out power to at least two-thirds of Florida: some 6.5 million homes. Much of Puerto Rico may be without electricity for four months.
9-12-17 Extreme wildfires in the US could lead to long-term lung damage
Extreme wildfires in the US could lead to long-term lung damage
This year’s exceptional wildfire season could drag on until December, and the resulting air pollution poses a serious risk to people’s health. There is no relief on the horizon for beleaguered citizens in California, Montana, Oregon and other western states besieged by an abnormally large profusion of forest fires. Nationally, wildfires this year have scorched 3.3 million hectares. That is roughly the size of Maryland, and way ahead of the 2.25-million-hectare annual average up to September seen between 2006 and 2016. The US National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Idaho says there are currently 64 very large fires. Montana has been worst hit, suffering 25, and Oregon now has 17. And it looks like there is more to come. Most western states will remain at risk throughout September. “Fuel moisture levels and fire danger indices in these areas are at near-record to record levels for severity,” warns the NIFC. In August, rainfall was 25 per cent below average in western states – and temperatures were 2 to 6°C higher than normal. As part of its wildfire outlook for the rest of the year, the NIFC predicts fires this month in parts of Idaho, Nevada and Utah. There, grasses were two to three times more profuse than usual, but have since dried out. The NIFC says states such as Montana are so bone dry that they could still be at risk in October. Fires are also likely as late as December in central Texas and most of Oklahoma, following a predicted dry spell in late autumn. Charities supporting lung health warn that people exposed to smoke and other pollution from the fires are at higher risk of short and long-term lung damage. Children, whose lungs are still immature, and the elderly are most at risk.
9-11-17 Florida suffers coast-to-coast battering by Hurricane Irma
Florida suffers coast-to-coast battering by Hurricane Irma
After striking the Caribbean islands and leaving several close to uninhabitable, Hurricane Irma has made landfall in Florida and caused untold damage. Hurricane Irma has pummelled Florida, packing winds up to 130mph, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline. The 644-kilometre-wide storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then marched up its western coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side. Irma’s core was nearing the heavily-populated Tampa and St. Petersburg area early on Monday, moving inland in a much-weakened state. While it arrived in Florida a category four hurricane, by nightfall it was down to category two with winds of 160km/h. Meanwhile, more than 160,000 people waited in shelters statewide as Irma headed up the coast. Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, said authorities had only scattered information about the storm’s toll, but he remained hopeful. “I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet,” he said. In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 3 metres was recorded, appliances and furniture were seen floating away and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats. County administrator, Roman Gastesi said crews would begin house-to-house searches to check on survivors and an airborne relief mission led by C-130 military cargo planes is gearing up to bring emergency supplies to the Keys.
9-11-17 Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear
Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear
Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time. The cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms has halved since the last 2015 auction for clean energy projects. Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a subsidy of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23. This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing subsidies of £92.50 per megawatt hour. Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not available. The figures for offshore wind, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins. In the auction in 2015, offshore wind farm projects won subsidies between £114 and £120 per megawatt hour. Emma Pinchbeck, from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK, told the BBC the latest figures were "truly astonishing". "We still think nuclear can be part of the mix - but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same." Bigger turbines, higher voltage cables and lower cost foundations, as well as growth in the UK supply chain and the downturn in the oil and gas industry have all contributed to falling prices. The newest 8 megawatt offshore turbines stand almost 200 metres high, taller than London's Gherkin building. But Ms Pinchbeck said the turbines would double in size in the 2020s. However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed. On last year's figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time." EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a "diverse, well-balanced" mix of low-carbon energy.
9-11-17 The guardians of the rainforest
The guardians of the rainforest
The Brazilian government has tasked more than 1,000 armed agents with protecting the rainforest from exploitation. It still may not be enough. Since 1978, the Amazon has lost some 289,000 square miles to cattle ranchers, soy producers, loggers, and industrial activity. Such rapid deforestation sparked a global "Save the Rainforest" movement in the late '80s and '90s that led to T-shirts, posters, concerts, and celebrity-led foundations. Such attention proved successful. In 1989, Brazil, which is home to roughly two-thirds of the rainforest, launched the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (known as "Ibama") — a federal agency equipped with a fierce legion of armed environmental police. Deforestation immediately began to slow. Then, in 2004, the government increased forest patrol again, cracked down on illegal harvesting activity, and offered incentives to farmers who otherwise survived off milling Amazonian lands. Together with market forces, which made Amazon staples like beef and soy less profitable, these initiatives reduced deforestation by nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2012. But despite the conservation efforts of the 1990s and aughts, deforestation has spiked once again. In 2016, 3,085 square miles of forest were destroyed — a remarkable 29 percent increase from the previous year and nearly double the losses from 2012. There are many reasons why: The global demand for soy products — often planted over burned-down forestland after cattle ranchers have grazed it beyond use — has spiked in recent years. Brazil is also being hit with one of its most brutal recessions in decades.
9-10-17 Hurricane Irma: Massive storm bears down on Florida
Hurricane Irma: Massive storm bears down on Florida
Residents of mainland Florida are bracing for Hurricane Irma to hit, as conditions in the south of the state deteriorate. The category four storm with sustained winds up to 130mph (209km/h) moved away from the Florida Keys and should make landfall on the west coast in hours. High winds and storm surges are affecting the Miami area, but Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was "very concerned" about the west coast. More than 1m homes are without power. More than 6.3 million people in Florida were told to evacuate, with warnings of a "life-threatening" storm surge. Irma has already devastated parts of the Caribbean with at least 27 deaths. Extreme winds and storm surges continued in the Lower Florida Keys area, which includes Key West. All residents had been ordered to leave. Some surges could reach 15ft (4.6m). One official had warned staying on the islands would be "almost like suicide".
9-10-17 China looks at plans to ban petrol and diesel cars
China looks at plans to ban petrol and diesel cars
China, the world's biggest car market, plans to ban the production and sale of diesel and petrol cars and vans. The country's vice minister of industry said it had started "relevant research" but that it had not yet decided when the ban would come into force. "Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry's development," Xin Guobin told Xinhua, China's official news agency. China made 28 million cars last year, almost a third of the global total. Both the UK and France have already announced plans to ban new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040, as part of efforts to reduce pollution and carbon emissions. Chinese-owned carmaker Volvo said in July that all its new car models would have an electric motor from 2019. Geely, Volvo's Chinese owner, aims to sell one million electric cars by 2025. (Webmaster's comment: China again leads the way. America isn't even on the map.)
9-9-17 Hurricane Irma: Cuba hit with strong winds and heavy rain
Hurricane Irma: Cuba hit with strong winds and heavy rain
Hurricane Irma is lashing Cuba with strong winds and heavy rain after devastating several Caribbean islands. The hurricane made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago, in Cuba's north-east, as a category five storm. But the Bahamas have largely been spared after Irma changed track. In Florida, 5.6 million people, or 25% of the US state's population, have been told to leave as the storm approaches. At least 20 people are known to have died so far across the Caribbean. Irma hit the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago late on Friday, threatening nearby coastal towns and villages. It was the first category five hurricane to hit Cuba in decades. It weakened to category four by Saturday morning but is expected to strengthen again as it approaches Florida. At 12:00 GMT, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 209km/h (130mph), the National Hurricane Center in the US said. It has brought vast amounts of rainfall to parts of Cuba, with extensive flooding reported in the fishing village of Caibarien.
9-8-17 Hurricane Irma will be 'devastating' to US - Fema head
Hurricane Irma will be 'devastating' to US - Fema head
Hurricane Irma will "devastate" either Florida or neighbouring states, the head of the US federal emergency agency has said. Brock Long said parts of Florida would be without power for days, and more than 100,000 people may need shelter. Meanwhile there are reports of serious looting on the hurricane-hit Caribbean island of St Martin. Hurricane Irma has left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean, affecting an estimated 1.2m people. It has been downgraded to a category four storm, but officials warn that it remains "extremely dangerous". The US National Weather Service says that Irma was expected to bring wind speeds of around 165mph (270km/h) over the weekend. Some 500,000 people were told to leave south Florida with Irma due on Sunday. "Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the southeastern states," Mr Long said. "The entire southeastern United States better wake up and pay attention," he added. The death toll rose continued to rise on Friday in the Caribbean, where at least 14 people were killed in the wake of the deadly storm. In St Martin, an island resort divided between France and the Netherlands, at least four people had died and 50 others were injured. French officials there said six out of 10 homes were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable.
9-8-17 How Hurricane Irma could destroy Florida's economy
How Hurricane Irma could destroy Florida's economy
"This is a record-breaker. Unprecedented. Catastrophic." That's how Jim Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, described Hurricane Irma to Wired. At the time of this writing, Irma is a Category 5 hurricane, roughly the size of Texas, with top sustained winds over 185 miles per hour. It has already devastated Caribbean communities, and wreaked havoc on the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Now Irma is barreling toward Florida, with a population of 21 million and an economy worth $927 billion annually. Irma is projected to make landfall sometime this weekend. It might slam directly into the Florida peninsula, or cut north along the East Coast. But either case could be catastrophic: Irma is now one of the most powerful and dangerous hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. Hurricane essentials are flying off store shelves in Florida with such speed that Walmart and Lowe's are having trouble keeping up. Evacuations have already begun in Miami-Dade County and the Keys. And while the state has plenty of gasoline stored up, panicked citizens are still creating temporary shortages by lining up at gas station pumps in anticipation of Irma's arrival. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has already declared a pre-emptive state of emergency, announced that tolls would be suspended across the state, and activated 7,000 National Guard troops. President Trump also signed an emergency declaration freeing up additional federal resources. Some estimates say Irma could inflict $125 billion to $200 billion in economic losses on Florida. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina — which devastated New Orleans in 2005 — did $160 billion in damage. Hurricane Harvey, which barreled into Texas barely a week ago, flooding Houston in the process, could cost $180 billion when all is said and done. Irma could potentially top them both.
9-8-17 Hurricane Irma tears across Caribbean leaving chaos in its wake
Hurricane Irma tears across Caribbean leaving chaos in its wake
The tropical storm has left a trail of devastation across the region, reducing islands to wreckage and leaving at least 14 people dead. Hurricane Irma has left death and destruction in its wake across the Caribbean. It is now heading for Cuba and the Bahamas, and ultimately Florida. Medical supplies and other aid were due to be flown to the worst affected areas on Friday, following a pledge from the British Government of £32 million towards the relief effort. Parts of Puerto Rico could be without electricity for three or four months, because much of its electrical infrastructure has been damaged and it does not have the money to repair it. The Turks and Caicos Islands government declared a national shutdown as the category five storm continued to tear across the Caribbean, with life-threatening wind, rain and a storm surge expected into Saturday. The British Virgin Islands, which saw houses reduced to their foundations and many roads impassable following the “devastating” storm, has declared a state of emergency. Images posted on social media showed entire structures razed to the ground, with debris scattered across the streets. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said aircraft carrying around 100 personnel, made up of engineers, marines and medical specialists, will take rations and medical supplies to the area. It has been difficult to gauge the full effect of the storm due to communication lines coming down but the Department for International Development, which is co-ordinating aid, has sent advisers to Antigua, Barbados and Jamaica to assess damage. A spokeswoman for the department said people are being evacuated from Barbuda to Antigua in advance of Hurricane Jose hitting in the coming days.
9-8-17 Air pollution takes a toll on solar energy
Air pollution takes a toll on solar energy
Tiny particles in the air and deposited on panels can block sunlight. By blocking sunlight and dirtying solar panels, air pollution — as in this image of Shanghai on October 12, 2015 — can hamper the production of solar energy. Air pollution is a drag for renewable energy. Dust and other sky-darkening air pollutants slash solar energy production by 17 to 25 percent across parts of India, China and the Arabian Peninsula, a new study estimates. The haze can block sunlight from reaching solar panels. And if the particles land on a panel’s flat surface, they cut down on the area exposed to the sun. Dust can come from natural sources, but the other pollutants have human-made origins, including cars, factories and coal-fired power plants. Scientists collected and analyzed dust and pollution particles from solar panels in India, then extrapolated to quantify the impact on solar energy output in all three locations. China, which generates more solar energy than any other country, is losing up to 11 gigawatts of power capacity due to air pollution, the researchers report in the Aug. 8 Environmental Science & Technology Letters. That’s a loss of about $10 billion per year in U.S. energy costs, says study coauthor Mike Bergin of Duke University. Regular cleaning of solar panels can help. Cleaning the air, however, is harder.
9-8-17 Box jellyfish will destroy future oceans by gobbling up the food
Box jellyfish will destroy future oceans by gobbling up the food
As the oceans become more acidic thanks to greenhouse gas emissions, box jellyfish will eat far more copepods – the foundations of marine food webs. As the oceans become more acidic, box jellyfish may start eating a lot more. Their greedy appetites could have a huge impact on marine ecosystems. Some of the carbon dioxide we release is dissolving in the oceans, where it becomes carbonic acid – making the oceans less alkaline and more acidic. Scientists are scrambling to identify which species will be most impacted. They are particularly concerned about organisms that play pivotal roles in marine food webs, because if they disappear, entire ecosystems may collapse. Copepods are particularly critical. These tiny crustaceans are the most abundant animal on earth by mass. They swarm in vast numbers in some regions of the ocean, where larger animals feast on them. What happens to copepods affects all that depend on them, “which is pretty much everything,” says Edd Hammill of Utah State University in Logan. Previous studies have found copepods may be fairly resistant to ocean acidification. However, these have largely focused on single species, so community-level effects may have been missed. To find out, Hammill and his colleagues collected zooplankton and one of their gelatinous predators, the box jellyfish Carybdea rastoni, from the waters around Australia. They kept the plankton in tanks containing either ambient seawater or seawater acidified at levels predicted for 2100, then added box jellyfish to half of the tanks. After 10 days, they counted what survived.
9-8-17 Mexico on tsunami alert after biggest earthquake in 85 years
Mexico on tsunami alert after biggest earthquake in 85 years
The US Geological Survey reported the earthquake's magnitude as 8.1, making it the biggest earthquake in Mexico since 1932. A major earthquake off Mexico’s southern coast has killed at least five people, sparking tsunami warnings. Further dangerous aftershocks are also expected. The US Geological Survey reported the earthquake’s magnitude as 8.1, making it the biggest earthquake in Mexico since 1932. The USGS said the quake struck at 11.49pm local time on Thursday and its epicentre was 165 kilometres west of Tapachula in Chiapas, not far from Guatemala. It had a depth of 69.7 kilometres. The quake was so strong that it caused buildings to sway violently in Mexico’s capital, more than 1,000 kilometres away. Houses toppled and the quake produced tsunami waves and sent people running into the streets in panic. President Enrique Pena Nieto said 62 aftershocks followed the quake and it was possible one as strong as 7.2 could hit in the next 24 hours. “The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily,” said resident Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco said three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women who died when a house and a wall collapsed. He urged people living near the coast to leave their homes as a protective measure. “There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.”
9-8-17 Mexico's strongest quake in century strikes off southern coast
Mexico's strongest quake in century strikes off southern coast
An earthquake described by Mexico's president as the country's strongest in a century has struck off the southern coast, killing at least 33 people. The quake, which President Enrique Peña Nieto said measured 8.2, struck in the Pacific, about 87km (54 miles) south-west of Pijijiapan. Severe damage has been reported in Oaxaca and Chiapas states. A tsunami warning was initially issued for Mexico and other nearby countries, but later lifted. The quake, which struck at 23:50 local time on Thursday (04:50 GMT Friday), was felt hundreds of miles away in Mexico City, with buildings swaying and people running into the street. The tremors there were reported to have lasted up to a minute. President Peña Nieto said some 50 million Mexicans would have felt the tremor and that the death toll might rise. Twenty-three people are reported dead in Mexico's Oaxaca state, 17 of them in the town of Juchitán, state Governor Alejandro Murat said. Another seven people were reported killed in Chiapas and two children died in Tabasco state, one a baby who died when power was cut to a respirator. At least one person was killed in Guatemala, its president has said. Social media images showed collapsed buildings in Oaxaca, including in the city of the same name, and in Juchitán, where the municipal palace and a number of other structures were levelled.
9-7-17 Wildfires ravage western US states
Wildfires ravage western US states
Thousands of firefighters are battling numerous blazes in California, Oregon, Washington and Montana.
9-7-17 Hurricane Irma’s epic size is being fuelled by global warming
Hurricane Irma’s epic size is being fuelled by global warming
The monster storm has the second strongest wind speeds ever recorded for an Atlantic hurricane, and its growth was fuelled by warming waters. It’s a monster. As the eye of Hurricane Irma approached the tiny island of Barbuda this morning, wind speeds soared to 250 kph before the instrument broke. At the time of writing, all contact with the island had been lost and it is unclear how the 1600 inhabitants have fared. But already reports of severe destruction are coming in from other islands in Irma’s path. The destruction could be extreme. Hurricane Irma has the strongest winds of any hurricane to form in the open Atlantic, with sustained wind speeds of 295 kph. It is also huge. The strongest winds are limited to a relatively small area around its centre, but hurricane-force winds of 118 kph or more extend out 85 kilometres from its eye. Irma could yet grow stronger and is going to graze or directly hit many densely-populated islands in the Caribbean before possibly making landfall in Florida on Sunday – but there is still a lot of uncertainty about its path and intensity this far ahead. So why did Irma grow so strong? Most likely because climate change is making Atlantic waters ever warmer. Tropical cyclones are fuelled by warm surface waters of around 26°C or more. They draw in moist air from all around them, and as it rises, the water vapour condenses out and releases latent heat, which drives further uplift. Irma’s clouds are 20 kilometres high. However, as tropical cyclones grow stronger they churn up the ocean and bring deeper water to the surface. Usually this deeper water is cooler, and cuts off the energy supply. The strongest hurricanes, then, can only grow if warm waters extend down to depth of 50 or 100 metres – conditions normally only found in the Gulf or Caribbean. In 1990, Hurricane Allen reached 305 kph winds, fuelled by these warmer waters. In 2017’s warmer world, Irma began growing way out in the Atlantic, thanks to sea surface temperatures that were more than 1°C above average.
9-7-17 Eight low-lying Pacific islands swallowed whole by rising seas
Eight low-lying Pacific islands swallowed whole by rising seas
As sea levels have risen due to climate change, uninhabited islands in Micronesia have vanished beneath the waves - but some last longer than others. At least eight low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean have disappeared under rising seas. Sea levels are currently climbing by an average of 3 millimetres per year around the world due to climate change. But they are creeping up even faster in the western Pacific, where a natural trade wind cycle has caused an extra build-up of water over the last half-century. In Micronesia and the Solomon Islands, which lie in the western Pacific, sea levels have risen by up to 12 millimetres per year since the early 1990s. In 2016, a study led by Simon Albert at the University of Queensland in Australia found that five of the Solomon Islands had been lost since the mid-20th century. Now, Patrick Nunn at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia has observed a similar phenomenon in Micronesia. His team conducted coastal surveys, spoke to local people and reviewed satellite images for the island of Pohnpei and several low-lying islands scattered throughout the surrounding reef. Pohnpei shows surprisingly little coastal erosion, probably because it is relatively high above sea level and ringed by mangrove forest, says Nunn. “Mangroves provide a buffer by absorbing wave energy and trapping sediment,” he says. Three small islands on the west side are also well-preserved, possibly because they are sheltered from strong winds and waves by the main island, says Nunn. A nearby coral atoll – Ant Atoll – also has very little erosion, which is probably because an adjacent lagoon acts like a sediment trap. However, several of the other low-lying reef islands – mostly to the south of the main island – have shrunk considerably or disappeared entirely.
9-7-17 Stop saying economic growth will rescue us from climate change
Stop saying economic growth will rescue us from climate change
nce climate change has become a top-tier issue, there has been a cohort of Americans arguing that action to address the problem is unnecessary. There are the straight-up science deniers, who posit climate change as some sort of hoax, others who admit warming but deny that humans are responsible, and others who admit human-caused global warming but argue that whatever climate policy is under discussion is bad. Today, the most intellectually respectable version of this school of thought — which for unfathomable reasons is now given wide circulation by two separate columnists at The New York Times — is the idea that we can buy our way out of any problems caused by climate change. Climate policy won't be necessary, by this view, because we're getting richer faster than damages are getting more expensive. As Americans in Houston recover from the worst rainstorm in American history, and Americans in Puerto Rico endure a brutal pummeling from the most powerful hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic basin, it's worth putting this idiotic notion to bed. The New York Times' Bret Stephens was, of course, the most recent advocate of this perspective in a characteristically muddled and lazy column. At one point, he argues that it "isn't just better regulation" saving rich countries from natural disasters, and then later in the exact same paragraph, admits that actually enforcing regulations does help. But extraordinarily sloppy drafting aside, the meat of the argument is that greater wealth helps avert damage from natural disasters of all sorts: "The best lesson the world can take from Texas is to follow the path of its extraordinary economic growth on the way to environmental resilience." It's in keeping with more detailed arguments from so-called "lukewarmer" Oren Cass that climate policy is simply unnecessary, because future wealth will be so abundant that we'll be able to easily repair any damages.
9-6-17 Europe’s last wildernesses are under threat – can we save them?
Europe’s last wildernesses are under threat – can we save them?
A glut of new dams and motorways in eastern and south-eastern Europe will bring prosperity, but could mean unique flora and fauna will soon be gone for good. EUROPE’s last bastions of true wilderness – and the unique animals that roam in them – are under threat. A rush to build dams and motorways in eastern and south-eastern Europe in the name of economic development means rare flora and fauna could soon be gone for good. Environmental campaigners are up in arms, but these projects have the potential to greatly improve the lives of people living in the region. Is it fair to make them bear the cost of maintaining Europe’s last truly wild places, when richer Western Europeans devastated their own wildernesses long ago? Or are there benefits to wildernesses beyond the environment? The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines wilderness as “usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence, without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition”. But not all wilderness areas in Europe are either mapped or have formal legal protection. This process is normally done by a country’s environment ministry, says Cristian-Remus Papp at WWF Romania, but due to a lack of capacity, funding or perhaps just interest, it isn’t always happening in eastern Europe.
9-6-17 Hurricane Irma wreaks major damage in Caribbean
Hurricane Irma wreaks major damage in Caribbean
Hurricane Irma has destroyed buildings and caused major flooding on several French island territories in the Caribbean. The four "most solid" buildings on Saint Martin, shared by France and the Netherlands, were destroyed, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said. Communications between Paris and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are down. The category five hurricane, the highest possible level, has sustained wind speeds reaching 300km/h (185mph). The most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade first hit Antigua and Barbuda, before moving on to Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy (also known as St Barts). It is expected to move on towards Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In the US, Florida's Key West area has ordered a mandatory evacuation, with landfall expected at the weekend. The French government said earlier it was worried about thousands of people who had refused to seek shelter on the islands. In a statement, the interior minister said France was sending three emergency teams to the islands, two from France and one from Guadeloupe.
9-6-17 Houston got rich on urban sprawl, and now it’s paying the price
Houston got rich on urban sprawl, and now it’s paying the price
Unfettered economic growth guaranteed Houston's vulnerability to a natural disaster that hit the poorest hardest, says analyst Owen Gaffney. In the aftermath of hurricane Harvey, controversial New York Times columnist Bret Stephens concluded: “The best lesson the world can take from Texas is to follow the path of its extraordinary economic growth on the way to environmental resilience.” Perhaps he missed the pictures, but the fourth largest city in the US is under water. The 75-trillion litre deluge damaged 185,000 homes, destroyed 9000 and forced 42,000 people into shelters. If the estimated cost of $180 billion proves right, Harvey will become the most expensive natural disaster in US history. Stephens’ thesis – that economic growth offsets environmental catastrophe – is wrong. Unfettered economic growth guaranteed Houston’s vulnerability to natural disaster. The city’s economic growth was fuelled by a bonfire of development regulations. Starting in the 1990s, an explosion in construction led to rapacious economic growth. Buildings went up on flood plains and green areas were paved over. People were given incentives to live in flood-prone areas. But this wealth was not spread evenly. About 70 per cent of flood damage from the hurricane is not covered by any insurance. The poorest will be hit hardest. Low-income families often live on cheaper land in flood-prone areas. And no matter how much money you have, you can’t afford scientific ignorance. Texan Republican Congressman John Culberson said: “No one could have ever predicted or expected a catastrophe of this magnitude to descend on the Houston area.” Well, except the experts, who saw Houston as a sitting duck.
9-6-17 Rising temperatures threaten heat-tolerant aardvarks
Rising temperatures threaten heat-tolerant aardvarks
A counterintuitive climate tale of knock-on effects due to hotter, dryer conditions. Night is normal aardvark time to search for dinner. When nocturnal aardvarks start sunbathing, something’s wrong. If the animals are desperate enough to bask like some cold, sluggish turtle, it’s because they’ve got the chills. Robyn Hetem, an ecophysiologist, has the body temperature data to prove it — collected from late 2012 into 2013, the hottest summer the arid Kalahari region in South Africa had seen in more than 30 years. Hotter, drier conditions are predicted to become the norm for southern Africa as the climate changes. Now Hetem and colleagues have used that foretaste of change to show that higher temperatures might hammer the normally heat-tolerant aardvarks by shrinking the animals’ food supply. Aardvarks live their burrow-digging lives just about anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa except the desert. The toothless night-foragers dine by slurping insect colonies. One of Hetem’s students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg spent two years collecting hundreds of aardvark droppings and can confirm that Orycteropus afer in the Kalahari eat only termites and ants. Yet the solitary, long-snouted, knee-high mammals are more closely related to elephants than to any pointy-nosed South American anteater.
9-5-17 Hurricane Irma: Caribbean braces for 'extremely dangerous' storm
Hurricane Irma: Caribbean braces for 'extremely dangerous' storm
Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a category five - the highest category - making it "extremely dangerous" as it crosses the Caribbean. It has sustained winds of up to 280km/h (175mph), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, advising islands in its path to speed up preparations. It is projected to bring storm surges, life-threatening winds and torrential rainfall to the Leeward Islands. Florida, where it is due to arrive on Sunday, has declared an emergency. Residents in two other US states, Texas and Louisiana, are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck as a category four storm, causing heavy rain and destroying thousands of homes. However the NHC warned that it was too early to forecast Irma's exact path or effects on the continental US. Irma, which has been moving at a speed of 22km/h (14mph), is set to reach the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, within the next 24 hours, the centre added. (Webmaster's comment: Trump says global warming isn't real so Irma must be fake news!)
9-4-17 Los Angeles wildfires: City battles 'largest fire in history'
Los Angeles wildfires: City battles 'largest fire in history'
Hundreds of Los Angeles residents have been allowed to return home, as the largest wildfires in the city's history appear to be easing. The fires, covering about 5,000 acres (about 8 square miles), started in La Tuna Canyon on Friday, triggering a state of emergency. "We've turned the corner, but this is not over," Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Sunday as he warned of "strong" winds. At least three homes have been destroyed and four people are reported to have been injured. The evacuations around the Glendale and Burbank suburbs were lifted on Sunday as rain and cooler temperatures helped firefighters to tackle the blaze, the Los Angeles Fire Department tweeted. But Mr Garcetti, who earlier described the blaze as "the largest fire in the history of LA city in terms of its acreage", told reporters on Sunday that the situation remained dangerous. "We do not have this fire contained," Mr Garcetti said, adding: "But we do have a good sense of, in the next day or two, how we can bring this fire to rest."
9-3-17 Wildfires sweep areas of California
Wildfires sweep areas of California
LA faces 'largest fire in history'! Tens of thousands evacuated as wildfires sweep parts of California. (Webmaster's comment: Another disaster in the making. News of it eclipsed by Hurricane Harvery.)
9-3-17 North America’s largest recorded earthquake helped confirm plate tectonics
North America’s largest recorded earthquake helped confirm plate tectonics
‘The Great Quake’ tells the story of the 1964 Alaska temblor. In 1964, the largest recorded earthquake in North American history shook Alaska to its core (damage in Anchorage, shown) and provided proof of tectonic plate movement. In the early evening of March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake roiled Alaska. For nearly five minutes, the ground shuddered violently in what was, and still is, the second biggest temblor in recorded history. Across the southern part of the state, land cracked and split, lifting some areas nearly 12 meters — about as high as a telephone pole — in an instant. Deep, house-swallowing maws opened up. Near the coast, ground turned jellylike and slid into bays, dooming almost everyone standing on it. Local tsunamis swamped towns and villages. Not many people lived in the newly formed state at the time. If the quake had struck in a more developed place, the damage and death toll would have been far greater. As it was, more than 130 people were killed. In The Great Quake, Henry Fountain, a science journalist at the New York Times, tells a vivid tale of this natural drama through the eyes of the people who experienced the earthquake and the scientist who unearthed its secrets. The result is an engrossing story of ruin and revelation — one that ultimately shows how the 1964 quake provided some of the earliest supporting evidence for the theory of plate tectonics, then a disputed idea.
9-1-17 How deep water surfaces around Antarctica
How deep water surfaces around Antarctica
3-D maps of upwelling could help climate scientists understand heat, carbon absorption. Off the coast of the western Antarctic Peninsula, upwelling of relatively warm, deep water has been linked to the melting of ice shelves, which help buttress the region’s glaciers. There’s no signpost to mark it, but about 3,000 meters underwater off the southeast coast of South America, a stream of deep water from the Atlantic Ocean spills into the Southern Ocean. Now new maps reveal in 3-D how the path of that water, called the North Atlantic Deep Water, spirals southeastward and up toward the surface around Antarctica. The incoming water, part of the global conveyor belt of currents circulating throughout the oceans, is relatively warm and salty compared with the rest of the Southern Ocean. Researchers marshaled ocean temperature and salinity data to broadly map the deep water’s path (see map, below left). The data show that some of the water upwells close to the continental shelf along the western Antarctic Peninsula. Such intrusions have been linked to the melting of ice shelves. For a detailed look at what controls the upwelling, the researchers turned to high-resolution climate and ocean simulations to track virtual particles traveling in the deep water. For example, two particles enter in water from the Atlantic and spiral clockwise toward the surface.
9-1-17 Fallen leaves could be turned into devices that store energy
Fallen leaves could be turned into devices that store energy
A new way to recycle dead leaves could produce better electronic components and avoid the pollution caused by burning biowaste. Northern China has a smoky problem caused by autumn leaves, but now there could be a fix: simply turn them into devices that store energy. Many roads in this part of China are lined with trees of the genus Paulownia, sometimes called phoenix trees. Despite the government’s disapproval, many locals burn the fallen leaves, worsening the country’s notorious air pollution. In Beijing alone, about 2 million tonnes of leaves and other plant waste are burned every year. Now, Hongfang Ma at the Qilu University of Technology in Jinan and her colleagues have figured out how to turn phoenix tree leaves into organic capacitors. These could be used like batteries to store energy, potentially avoiding some of that air pollution into the bargain. The process of making organic capacitors does release a little carbon dioxide, but not nearly as much as would be emitted if you let the same quantity of material burn or decay, says Caroline Burgess Clifford at Penn State University. “Any type of use of any waste material is a good thing.” The researchers cleaned and dried the leaves before grinding them into a fine powder. They then dispersed the powder in water and heated the mixture at 220°C for 12 hours before filtering out any ash or contaminants. This process leaves behind a brown powder of carbon microspheres. Adding the microspheres to a potassium hydroxide solution and heating it again at up to 800°C corroded their surfaces, leaving behind a black powder covered in minuscule pores. The pores give the microspheres a high surface area, which allows capacitors made of the material to store more charge.
9-1-17 Texas governor says Houston recovery a 'multi-year project'
Texas governor says Houston recovery a 'multi-year project'
Houston's recovery from Hurricane Harvey flooding will be a "multi-year project", Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said. "This is going to be a massive, massive clean-up process," he told the ABC News programme Good Morning America. President Donald Trump is to propose an initial $5.9bn (£4.56bn) for recovery efforts, but the Texas authorities say the state might need more than $125bn. More than 40 people have died in the storm and its aftermath. Recovery efforts in Houston are under way as the water recedes but search-and-rescue teams continued their work in the nearby city of Beaumont, Mr Abbott said on Friday. Officials in Beaumont, a city of about 120,000 people near the Louisiana border, said Harvey's flooding has cut off their drinking water supply. Brad Penisson, a captain with the Beaumont fire and rescue department, said on Friday the city was setting up water distribution stations to ensure residents had clean drinking water. (Webmaster's comment: The water supply, lakes, rivers and land have been competely contaminated by human and animal waste. E Coli levels are at 8,000 times safe levels.)
9-1-17 The cities in the firing line for the next Hurricane Harvey
The cities in the firing line for the next Hurricane Harvey
Of five cities set to see the worst losses from flooding by 2050, three are in the US. Yet the country is unprepared for worsening weather brought by climate change. “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” This was the extraordinary tweet from the US National Weather Service as the flooding from Hurricane Harvey began. Harvey may have been unprecedented, but it certainly was not unexpected. Houston frequently experiences flooding and experts have repeatedly warned that worse could be to come as the world gets warmer. And yet Houston was shockingly unprepared, not least because its flood control directors think talk of climate change is a plot to prevent development, and its planning system fails to prevent building in the most at-risk areas. It is only a matter of time before more “unprecedented” flooding hits the US. Next in the firing line could be other major cities such as Miami, New York and Boston. Yet relatively little is being done. On the contrary, just days before Harvey struck, Donald Trump rescinded rules that mean federal infrastructure projects must take into account flood risks related to climate change. “The policy direction is to go backwards,” says Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC. The US should be investing more in flood protection for its growing population and sprawling cities, he says. And climate change will only bring increasingly severe flooding events. Global warming may not have caused Hurricane Harvey to form, but it made the storm worse. Abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico fuelled the hurricane’s rapid intensification, enabling it to pump extraordinary amounts of moisture into the air over Texas.
9-1-17 Energy: The Gulf Coast’s battered refineries
Energy: The Gulf Coast’s battered refineries
Hurricane Harvey “has thrown the energy market into disarray,” said Jessica Summers in Bloomberg.com. Gasoline prices surged to a two-year high this week as the storm pounded oil refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Gas futures for September climbed to $1.90 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, meaning prices for consumers are likely to rise in the weeks to come. So far, the storm has knocked out nearly a quarter of the nation’s refining capacity, with nearly every major Texas and Louisiana refinery partly or completely shut down because of damage or for safety reasons. That includes Motiva Enterprises’ refinery in Port Arthur, Texas—the biggest in the country. The aftermath of the storm could bring questions about the Gulf Coast’s future as an energy hub, said Clifford Krauss and Hiroko Tabuchi in The New York Times. The Texas and Louisiana coasts, which contain much of the nation’s chemical production, are exceedingly vulnerable to storms that “experts say are becoming more extreme because of climate change.” Energy companies will have to weigh the cost of upgrading their infrastructure versus the cost of relocating. “The hurricane did what terrorists could only dream of” in terms of exposing our energy vulnerability, said Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute.
9-1-17 Mine the Amazon
Mine the Amazon
Struggling with its deepest recession in decades, Brazil has opened up a huge swath of the Amazon rain forest to gold and copper mining, drawing condemnation from environmental groups. The area, which at 18,000 square miles is more than twice the size of New Jersey, was set aside in 1984—but as a mineral reserve, not to protect the environment. The government says that illegal mining has been rampant there, and that by legalizing the practice they will be able to regulate it and impose environmental controls. After a public outcry this week, the government said it would ensure that no lands where indigenous tribes live would be mined. Opposition Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues called the government’s decree the “biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years.” (Webmaster's comment: Raping what's left of the natural world for profit.)
9-1-17 Protected lands downsized
Protected lands downsized
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week proposed reducing the size of at least three recently established national monuments in Utah and Oregon, which could open the lands to new mining or drilling. Most drastically affected would be Utah’s 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument—established under former President Obama and home to thousands of cultural and archaeological sites—which Zinke would pare down to approximately 160,000 acres. He also suggested shrinking Utah’s 1.9 million–acre Grand Staircase–Escalante and the 113,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou monument in Oregon. In a statement, Zinke said the 1906 Antiquities Act should not be used “to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, [or] burden private land.” Navajo and other Native American groups have vowed to sue over the downsizings.
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