57 Global Warming News Articles
for June of 2018
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Trump is a clear and present danger
to the United States and to the Planet!
6-30-18 Trump urges Saudis to raise oil output 'by two million barrels'
US President Donald Trump has urged Saudi Arabia to sharply increase its oil production to combat the rising cost of fuel. Mr Trump tweeted that he had asked Saudi ruler King Salman to raise oil output by up to two million barrels a day. "Prices to [sic] high! He has agreed!" the president added. Mr Trump said the move was needed due to "turmoil and dysfunction in Iran and Venezuela". Oil prices rose last week, partly due to US plans to reimpose sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer. The Opec oil producers' group agreed to increase output, as did Russia, but this failed to reassure markets. The Saudi Press Agency confirmed that President Trump and King Salman had spoken by phone, giving few details. It said they had discussed the need to "preserve the stability of the oil market". The statement did not confirm that Saudi Arabia had agreed to the two million barrels a day figure. Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest exporter of oil and produced about 10 million barrels a day in May. It is reported to have between 1.5 million and two million barrels a day of spare capacity - but experts told The Wall Street Journal it might not be keen to meet the president's request. (Webmaster's comment: More Oil, more Carbon Dioxide, more Global Warming! All thanks to Trump!)
6-30-18 DR Congo: Oil drilling allowed in wildlife parks
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has decided to allow oil exploration in two protected wildlife parks, Virunga and Salonga. The move is strongly opposed by environmental activists, who say drilling would place wildlife at risk and contribute to global warming. Around one-fifth of Virunga national park will be opened to oil drilling. The parks are home to bush elephants, critically endangered mountain gorillas and the bonobo, an endangered ape. Both parks are Unesco World Heritage Sites, with Salonga national park covering 36,000 sq km (13,900 sq miles) of the Congo Basin - the world's second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. The government has defended its right to authorise drilling anywhere in the country, saying in a statement that it is mindful of protecting animals and plants in the two parks. The cabinet said it had approved commissions charged with preparing plans to declassify parts of the parks, including 1,720 sq km (664 sq miles), or 21.5%, of eastern Congo's Virunga, the continent's oldest wildlife reserve. (Webmaster's comment: Our billboards say it all! Parks are doomed by the desire for executive profits.)
6-29-18 The coming coastal flooding crisis
Hundreds of thousands of homes along U.S. coastlines are at risk of devastating flooding over the next 30 years as global warming causes oceans to rise, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Using sea level projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and home-price data from the online real estate company Zillow, the nonprofit group found that up to 311,000 homes—together worth about $120 billion—could be inundated every two weeks by 2045 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t sharply curtailed. By the end of the century, when some com puter models say global sea levels could be 6.5 feet higher, as many as 2.4 million homes collectively worth some $1 trillion could be at risk of chronic flooding. Low-lying states would be the worst afflicted, with researchers estimating that 1 million homes in Florida will be either unlivable or flooded regularly, as well as 250,000 in New Jersey and 143,000 in New York. This grim scenario could cause house prices to plummet along the East Coast, leaving residents owing more to mortgage companies than their home is worth. “The impact could well be staggering,” Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the UCS, tells TheGuardian.com. “You can imagine people walking away from mortgages, away from their homes.”
6-28-18 Earth’s rivers cover 44 percent more land than we thought
Satellite maps suggest that these waterways traverse about 773,000 square kilometers. All of the world’s rivers and streams together cover more area than the U.S. state of Texas. A new estimate based on global satellite images shows that these waterways squiggle their way across about 773,000 square kilometers of land — or just over half a percent of Earth’s nonglaciated land surface. That’s roughly 44 percent more than previously estimated, researchers report online June 28 in Science. Such data are important for understanding Earth’s climate and the way it is changing. More river surface area means more contact between water and air, so rivers are probably exchanging more carbon dioxide with the atmosphere than currently assumed.
6-28-18 Young will pick up climate change bill, advisers warn
Young people will be left to pick up the bill for climate change because politicians are dodging the issue, a UK report warns. The government must act faster to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road traffic, homes and farming, the Committee on Climate Change says. Without action, the coming generation will have to pay much more to curb emissions in a heating world. The government says it is committed to being a world leader on climate change. It will introduce its low-carbon transport plan soon. The advisers are "acutely concerned" at the UK's lack of progress in cutting the carbon emissions overheating the planet. The committee says the UK made a good start with the power industry but emissions cuts have effectively stalled in the past five years. electric cars now than to have to rush the technology in years to come. (Webmaster's comment: Unless it's causing immediate problems for them personally human beings will always put off problem solutions until the future.)
6-28-18 UK is not on track to meet its own climate targets, says report
The UK is not on course to meet its own targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s and 2030s, says the UK’s Climate Change Committee. The UK is not on course to meet its own targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s and 2030s. And the longer it delays taking the necessary action the more it will cost to meet those targets, says the UK’s Climate Change Committee. The good news is that the UK has greatly reduced emissions from electricity generation, says the chair of the committee, John Gummer (Lord Deben). Overall, the UK’s emissions are down 43 per cent compared with 1990 levels. The bad news is that little progress has been made in transport, farming and buildings. “The success in the power sector has masked failure in other areas,” he says. In 2008, the UK enshrined in law a target of cutting emissions 80 per cent by 2050. It also set itself interim targets and established the Climate Change Committee to report on its progress. Ten years on, the latest progress report is out. “This report makes it very clear that this government is not doing enough,” says Gummer. He also launched scathing attacks on the housing and the car industries. “The [housing] industry should be ashamed of itself. It is producing homes that cheat the people they are sold to,” Gummer says. If new homes are not built to the highest standards, people end up paying higher heating bills for as long as the homes last, he says. As for the car industry, it has shown it cannot be trusted. So plans to reduce emissions from road vehicles need to be backed by tough regulations and strict enforcement are needed to ensure that vehicles meet standards. The UK has said it plans to stop the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040, but the deadline needs to be closer to 2030 to meet emissions targets, Gummer says.
6-27-18 Fire crews prepare ‘heavy attack’ on massive moorland wildfire
Pockets of fire continue to burn across a six-kilometre area of Saddleworth Moor today as 50 firefighters worked to contain the situation. Fire crews will launch a heavy attack to combat a vast moorland blaze which led to the evacuation of a number of homes. Pockets of fire continue to burn across a six-kilometre area of Saddleworth Moor today as 50 firefighters worked to contain the situation amid the ongoing heatwave. The fire initially broke out on Sunday afternoon before it reignited on Monday and has since worsened. On Tuesday people in the Calico Crescent area of Carrbrook, in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, were advised to leave their properties as firefighters battled flames nearby. A major incident was declared and the Army remains on standby as Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) put in a plan of action to douse the fire. Leon Parkes, GMFRS assistant chief fire officer, said: “Fire crews have been working in tremendously difficult conditions in the heat and smoke. We are doing an assessment on the scene this morning and then we will be putting a plan of attack together for the rest of the day. “We’ve got over six kilometres of affected area – there is fire occurring in pockets around the outskirts. So we have got a belt of fire and obviously the wind direction at the time will have an affect on that.” On Facebook, Greater Manchester Police’s Saddleworth division posted that an estimated 2,000 acres of moorland had been destroyed in the fire which had spread as far as Tintwistle in Derbyshire.
6-26-18 Palm oil: Are your beauty products killing orangutans?
Does your lipstick threaten the future of one of our closest living relatives, the orangutan? 100,000 orangutans killed in 16 years! Is that slobbering slice of pizza you're having in front of the World Cup on TV worth the life of a tiger? Pizza, biscuits, and beauty treatments are some of the thousands of products that contain palm oil, which threaten iconic species through deforestation. But this new study says that planting alternative oils could pose an even bigger danger to living things. Palm oil has often been held up as a truly terrible blight on the environment, responsible for the clearing of tropical forests and posing huge threats to iconic species. But this report says the reality is very complex. While palm oil is only responsible for 0.4% of global deforestation it is having dramatic impacts in some locations in Indonesia and Malaysia, causing 50% in some locations. Simply banning palm wouldn't work say the authors because the world will still need vegetable oils. What's also worrying say the authors is that efforts to boost demand for responsibly sourced palm oil haven't worked so far. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet and is believed to be in around 50% of all the products founds in supermarkets and shops. It comes from the reddish pulp of the fruit found on oil palms, particularly the African oil palm - known as Elaeis guineensis. The top two producers of palm oil are Indonesia and Malaysia, generating tens of millions of tonnes annually in an industry worth upwards of $40bn. The oil is important for lipstick for example because it holds colour well, has no taste and doesn't melt at high temperatures. It's found in shampoos, soaps, ice cream and instant noodles amongst thousands of others.
6-26-18 Plastic garbage patch: Medical tests 'inspired me to investigate'
Experienced sailor Emily Penn has set out with an all-female crew to investigate the world's largest accumulation of marine plastic. Her team will carry out scientific experiments on the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", now said to be three times the size of France. Ms Penn said her own medical tests had convinced her of the potential toxic impacts of plastic, especially for women. Data will be shared with universities. In March this year, scientists published their latest estimate of the size of what's officially termed the North Pacific Gyre - this moving mess of plastic is better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is formed by winds and ocean currents that swirl the material around, in the same way that water spirals down a drain. The study concluded that the amount of discarded plastic in the garbage patch was up to 16 times greater than previous estimates. As well as counting the amount in the seas, scientists are now moving on to examine how poisonous plastics can be to animals and humans. This mission will gather data on plastics in the seas, in the air and in the sediments that will be shared with universities in the UK, the US, Canada and Switzerland. For Emily Penn, it is the potentially toxic impact of the breakdown of plastics in the ocean by seawater and sunlight that is of great concern. These tiny fragments contain chemicals which are similar to the sex hormone oestradiol and this can impact fertility in animals and humans. "The more I learned about the chemicals that we were finding in the oceans, I started to understand that many are endocrine disruptors, they mimic hormones and they are starting to get inside our bodies," she told BBC News from Hawaii where the mission will start. "When I tested my own body for some of these chemicals we are finding in the ocean and in plastic, I then found them inside me as well," she said. "During pregnancy, it's critical that you don't have these hormone disruptors inside you; we can pass them on to our children through childbirth and breastfeeding. "It was that journey for me, that got me on the women's track because I realised it was a very women-focused issue because of the toxic nature of what we were facing."
6-26-18 Illegal Chinese refrigerator factories are selling banned CFCs
Last month it was revealed that someone somewhere was still manufacturing banned CFCs. Now it appears that illegal factories in China are the source. Last month it was revealed that someone somewhere was illegally manufacturing a banned ozone-destroying chemical. Now it appears that small factories in China are the source. According to investigators at the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency and the New York Times, companies in China are buying a banned chlorofluorocarbon called CFC-11 to make foam insulation for fridges. Small illegal factories are springing up to supply this demand, and simply move elsewhere if they are discovered and shut down. Fridge makers told the investigators that they have been buying CFC-11 because it is cheaper than the main legal alternative, HCFC-141b, which is in short supply in China. Levels of ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere have been slowly declining since the 1990s, after they were phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer, which protects life by reducing levels of ultraviolet light, was on course to recover fully by mid-century. But the rate of decline in CFC-11 has halved since 2012, researchers reported in May. Last month, some researchers suggested that some of this change could be down the careless recycling of discarded refrigerators in China. Now this new investigation suggests it is being made illegally too. This could delay the recovery of the ozone layer by a decade or more.
6-25-18 An entire Arctic ecosystem could vanish within the next decade
The Barents Sea, home to a diverse array of wildlife, could be completely gone in just a few years – perhaps the most dramatic impact of climate change yet seen. An entire Arctic ecosystem suddenly started shrinking within the last 10 years and could be gone within another decade. The collapse could be the largest, fastest impact of climate change seen to date. “It could happen within the next few years, or within 10 or 20 years,” says lead author Sigrid Lind of the Institute of Marine Research in Tromsø, Norway. “We can’t say precisely.” The region in question is the Barents Sea, a stretch of ocean covering 1.6 million square kilometres between the Arctic Ocean and the north coasts of Norway and Russia. The Barents Sea has always had two distinct zones: a warmer zone to the south, and a colder zone to the north, fed seasonally with sea ice that drifts south from thicker ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. The northern zone has a unique Arctic-like ecosystem supporting polar bears, seals and ice plankton. It is this region that seems to be collapsing. Lind and her colleagues compiled data collected from the Barents Sea by Norwegian and Russian research vessels over the past 50 years, to see how the Sea’s makeup has changed. The cold northern zone exists because the sea there is divided into three unusually distinct horizontal layers. The surface layer supports sea ice in the winter. Below that is a middle “Arctic layer”, where fresh water from melting ice settles. At the bottom is the “Atlantic” layer, a tongue of warm water from the Atlantic.
6-25-18 Wildfire spreads across Northern California
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters battle the blazes.
6-25-18 Rotterdam oil spill: Hundreds of birds hit after Dutch leak
Hundreds of swans, geese, cormorants and gulls have been caught in an oil spill after a tanker crashed into a jetty in the port of Rotterdam. The Bow Jubail ruptured its hull, pouring 220 tonnes of oil into the harbour on Saturday and officials immediately tried to contain the spill. Rescue workers have been overwhelmed by the number of contaminated birds. Volunteers have converged on the area to help clean them. Rotterdam is Europe's biggest port. On Sunday, hundreds of birds covered in oil were being taken to wildlife shelters in Rotterdam, The Hague and Hook of Holland. However, by Monday the sheer numbers prompted state water company officials to set up a help centre in a car park at Maassluis. "Swans are pretty big birds. They need a lot of space and a lot of people," said spokeswoman Elske ten Have. At least 800 birds have been contaminated over a 10km (six-mile) radius, reports say. Hundreds are still thought to be in the water. "I haven't yet seen a swan untouched by the oil. It's a real catastrophe," adviser Claude Velter told local TV. Harbour master René de Vries told Dutch TV he could not remember a spill on such a scale in the past decade. "Rotterdam was a clean harbour until Saturday and we want to keep it that way."
6-23-18 Crude oil pours into river from derailed train in US
Around 30 train carriages came off the tracks, which are thought to have been weakened by recent flooding in Iowa state.
6-23-18 Marine plastic: Hundreds of fragments in dead seabirds
New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team. Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food. The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment. The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks - as they left their nests - to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and "give them a chance to survive". The birds nest in burrows on Lord Howe Island, which is more than 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. While chicks wait in the burrow, the parents head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their offspring. "These birds are generalist predators," explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. "They'll eat just about anything they're given. That's what's allowed them to thrive - a lack of pickiness. "But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic from non-plastic, so they eat it." Parent birds unwittingly feeding plastic to their chicks means that the birds emerge from their burrows with stomachs filled with plastic, and with insufficient nutrition to enable them set out to sea and forage for themselves. But when the birds first head out of the burrow, the research team have been stepping in to help. "If the amount of plastic is not so significant, we use a process called lavage, where we flush or wash the stomach - without harming the bird," explained Dr Lavers.
6-22-18 Antarctic ice melting faster
Antarctica’s ice sheets are melting three times faster than they were just a decade ago, according to a major new study, and the resulting sea-level rise could have devastating consequences for coastal cities around the world. A team of 84 scientists from 44 international organizations assessed the ice loss with a range of techniques, including satellite surveys, computer simulations, and measurements taken on the ground. They found that Antarctica shed about 3 trillion tons of ice from 1992 to 2017, causing an increase in global sea levels of roughly three-tenths of an inch. That might not seem like a lot, but 40 percent of that increase came in the last five years alone. Most of the ice loss is occurring in West Antarctica, where warming ocean waters are melting the ice sheet from below. The continent’s ice sheets are now disappearing so quickly that they could add 6 inches to global sea-level rise by 2100. And Antarctica isn’t the only contributor to rising oceans—Greenland also lost an estimated 1 trillion tons of ice from 2011 to 2014. “This has to be a cause for concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities,” study lead author Andrew Shepherd tells The Guardian (U.K.).
6-22-18 Hurricanes get slower, deadlier
Hurricanes and typhoons are crawling across the planet at a slower pace, amplifying the devastation they cause when they make landfall, new research shows. A scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found a 10 percent slowdown in tropical cyclones around the world between 1949 and 2016. That trend is even more dramatic in the North Atlantic, where hurricanes slowed by 20 percent over land. Slow-moving storms rain more over a given area and pummel that area for longer with their winds, as Houston discovered last year with Hurricane Harvey, which dropped nearly 50 inches of rain over four days. “Every one of the hazards that we know tropical cyclones carry with them, all of them are just going to stick around longer,” study author James Kossin tells The Washington Post. Kossin believes the slowdown is likely the result of climate change. As the planet warms, the difference in temperature and atmospheric pressure between the poles and the tropics is reduced, which slows the wind currents that carry tropical storms.
6-22-18 Water crisis
India is experiencing the worst water crisis in its history, a new government report says, and millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk. Already, 600 million people—half the country’s population—lack sufficient access to clean water, and 200,000 die every year as a direct result. By 2030, the country’s demand is expected to be twice the supply, thanks to global warming, unchecked development, and an antiquated and overstressed system of leaky pipes. In the mountain resort city of Shimla, where taps recently ran dry, fights broke out as residents lined up with plastic buckets to get water from tanker trucks.
6-22-18 Beef is bad for us in more than one way
The production of beef is responsible for roughly 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, making it the single biggest food contributor to climate change. Global beef demand is projected to nearly double by 2050, driven by population growth in China and India.
6-22-18 Why does India's air look different from space?
There is something very distinct about the air over India and the surrounding countries in South Asia. It is the presence of formaldehyde - a colourless gas that is naturally released by vegetation but also from a number of polluting activities. The elevated concentrations have been observed by Europe's new Sentinel-5P satellite, which was launched last October to track air quality worldwide. It is information that will inform policies to clean up the atmosphere. Compared to the major constituents like nitrogen and oxygen, the formaldehyde signal is actually very small; in every billion air molecules just a few will be CH2O. But it can be a signifier of more general pollution problems, says Isabelle De Smedt from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB). "The formaldehyde column is composed of different sorts of volatile organic compounds, and the source can be from vegetation - so, from natural origin - but also from fires and pollution," she told BBC News. "It depends on the region but 50-80% of the signal is from some biogenic origin. But above that you have pollution and fire. And the fire can be from coal burning or wildfires, but in India, yes, you have a lot of agricultural fires." India also uses considerable quantities of wood in the home for cooking and heating. When volatile organic compounds are brought together with nitrogen dioxide (NO2, from fossil fuel burning) and sunlight, reactions will produce ground-level ozone. This is a severe respiratory irritant that can lead to significant health problems.
6-22-18 Why is the UK running out of CO2 and what will it mean?
UK beer, fizzy drinks and meat producers have all warned of CO2 shortages disrupting supplies and have called on the government to act. So what's going on, and how bad is it? A carbon dioxide (CO2) shortage has led to fears of disruption to food and fizzy drink supplies in the UK. Beer, fizzy drinks and meat producers have all warned of possible shortages and The British Poultry Council (BPC) has asked the Government and gas producers to give them priority over supplies to “keep the food chain moving”. Trade journal Gas World said the shortage had been described as the “worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide (CO2) business in decades”. So what’s going on?
- What is the problem?
- Is this just in the UK?
- Why has this happened now?
- CO2 is obviously needed for fizzy drinks, but why are food producers so concerned?
- How worried should we be?
- How long is the shortage expected to last?
6-20-18 Capitalism broke the planet. Here’s how it’s going to fix things
The environment and high finance are strange bedfellows – but a new movement is raising billions to fight climate change. A breakthrough – or green hogwash? A MID-LIFE crisis brought Sean Kidney his epiphany. “My father died and I had a stroke,” he says. “It was a wake-up call about what I was doing to create a world my kids could survive in.” Kidney had been a consultant on top Australian pension funds, but now he vowed to put his skills to use in a new way: combatting climate change. Finance and the environment are traditionally uneasy bedfellows, but they have been getting cosier of late. Buoyant returns from green investments, plus the ever clearer financial repercussions of climate inaction, have drawn vast flows of money into projects to combat and mitigate global warming. It’s also spawning alternative types of investment designed to help save the planet. Could capitalism succeed where governments have largely failed – or is this all green hogwash? The fixation on fast returns makes finance seemingly ill-equipped to cope with a long-term problem like climate change. Traders’ algorithms make money over timespans of milliseconds; CEOs can be hired and fired based on quarterly returns; even central banks tend to work on two or three-year cycles when setting monetary policy. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, acknowledged as much in a speech in 2015. Climate change is a “tragedy of the horizon”, he said at Lloyd’s, the London-based insurer. “Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.” Since then, however, a new wind has begun blowing. Low-carbon technologies have continued to mature, with solar energy in particular graduating from high-cost niche to financial superstardom, thanks in part to generous initial subsidies. In 2017, solar investment exceeded that for coal, natural gas and nuclear power put together, according to a UN report.
6-19-18 How trying to stay cool could make the world even hotter
Air conditioning systems that keep homes, offices and shops cool on hot days are rapidly gaining in popularity in a warming world. But is all the extra electricity they use going to exacerbate climate change or can design efficiencies prevent this? The world is getting hotter, indeed 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, say climatologists. It's no wonder demand for air conditioning systems is going through the roof. The energy they consume is likely to triple between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. This would mean that by 2050, the world's air conditioners would be using the current electricity capacity of the US, the European Union and Japan combined. So scientists and tech companies are trying to make cooling systems more efficient. Researchers at Stanford University, for example, have developed a system that uses cutting edge materials and "nano-photonics". They've invented a wafer-thin, highly reflective material that radiates heat even in direct sunlight. The infrared, thermal energy is radiated at a wavelength that slips through the Earth's atmosphere into space, rather than being absorbed by it. In tests, the researchers found that it could be used to cool water flowing through pipes beneath panels of the material. That water, cooled on average to a few degrees lower than the outside air temperature, could then be used to cool a building. And this is achieved without any electricity at all. The researchers have set up SkyCool Systems to try to commercialise the technology. "It would be reasonable to expect that future air conditioners could be twice as good as what we're seeing now," says Danny Parker at the University of Central Florida's solar energy centre.
6-15-18 Not Cool for 34 years
Earth as a whole has not had a “cooler than average” month since December 1984.
6-15-18 Forest closed
Federal officials closed San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado indefinitely this week because of wildfires and extremely dry conditions. The 416 Fire has burned more than 23,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes. Roads passing through the forest will remain open, but trails, campgrounds, and other public areas will be shut down. It’s the second major forest closure in as many weeks, with officials shutting down Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico due to extreme fire danger. Together, the two forests are larger than the state of Connecticut. Parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona are veritable tinderboxes after a winter with little snowfall and an abnormally hot spring. “It’s a big inconvenience and a big economic hit to the area,” said Cam Hooley, a public affairs officer for the San Juan National Forest. “We don’t do it lightly.”
6-15-18 India facing the 'worst water crisis in its history'
India is facing its worst-ever water crisis, with some 600 million people facing acute water shortage, a government think-tank says. The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India's 29 states, says the crisis is "only going to get worse" in the years ahead. It also warns that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 despite increasing demand. This would also threaten food security as 80% of water is used in agriculture. Indian cities and towns regularly run out water in the summer because they lack the infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home. Rural areas are also badly affected by a lack of access to clean water. They cannot rely on groundwater due to erratic rains and the fact that the groundwater is increasingly used for farming when monsoon rains are delayed or insufficient. Around 200,000 Indians die every year because they have no access to clean water, according to the report. Many end up relying on private water suppliers or tankers paid for the by the government. Winding queues of people waiting to collect water from tankers or public taps is a common sight in Indian slums. As cities and towns grow, the pressure on urban water resources is expected to increase - the report estimates that demand will be twice as much as available supply by 2030. Water scarcity would also account for a 6% loss in India's gross domestic product (GDP).
6-14-18 India Delhi residents choke as dust blankets capital
Residents of India's capital Delhi are battling high pollution levels and extreme temperatures due to an unusual dust haze covering the city. People have been complaining about breathing problems, with many saying the city has become unliveable. The state government has responded by banning all construction and deploying the fire brigade to sprinkle water across the city. People have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible. "In this case, dust has become a carrier of toxic pollutants. Pollution levels are 8-9 times higher than normal. And when we breathe, we are taking in toxic substances, which can have serious health repercussions," Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the Centre For Science and Environment, told BBC Hindi. Delhi is already one of the most polluted cities in the world but the recent weather pattern has caused more problems for its residents. Many have taken to social media to share their concerns and are urging the government to do something about it. Experts say dust storms originating from the nearby desert state of Rajasthan are to blame. "This phenomenon is not uncommon in the pre-monsoon season," Dr Kuldeep Srivastava of the meteorological department told the BBC. "But this time the haze has stayed unusually longer because of the delay in the arrival of seasonal monsoon rains." The air quality worsens every year in November and December as farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop stubble to clear their fields. Pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization's safe limits in some areas of Delhi last year. The air quality improved in the following months but has gone back to "severe" from "moderate" in June this year.
6-14-18 EU will limit the use of palm oil as car fuel but won’t stop it
The European Union will make only minor tweaks to “renewable” energy policies that are actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions and driving deforestation. It’s a planet-wrecking fudge. The European Union’s own scientific reports have shown that its renewable energy policies are actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions and driving deforestation. Yet it is only going to tweak some of the offending policies, rather than make the sweeping reforms required. In particular, Europeans now burn more palm oil in their cars and trucks than they eat in food. The growing demand for palm oil is driving the destruction of the rich rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia, including those home to orangutans. The European parliament had called for a complete ban from 2021. But in a deal agreed early this morning, the parliament and EU member states merely agreed to limit the use of palm oil, rather than halt it altogether. “It’s a disgrace that Europeans could be burning palm oil for another 12 years,” says Laura Buffet of the campaign group Transport & Environment. “But the battle is not over. Each European government can in 2021 decide to ditch palm oil and other food-based biofuels.” What’s more, the biggest source of “renewable” energy in the EU is not wind or solar, but biomass, mainly wood. While small-scale use of wood can be sustainable and help cut emissions, wildlife campaigners say the EU is using wood on such a massive scale that it is increasing emissions and driving deforestation both in the EU and elsewhere. There is growing evidence that they are right.
6-13-18 Why tidal power won’t solve the world’s renewable energy needs
There are widespread calls for the UK government not to abandon a trailblazing tidal power project, but this energy source is no green panacea, says Hans van Haren. The fate of a pioneering £1.3 billion proposal to build a tidal power lagoon on the UK coast at Swansea hangs in the balance. Green energy supporters around the world have championed it as a trailblazer for a massive untapped source of dependable, renewable energy, calling on the UK government to commit to it. However, tidal energy is not the saviour many people imagine it to be. The oceans have always created the impression of infinite potential, for example in terms of food resources and waste disposal, which we now know to be an illusion. In the same vein, a lot of people see the oceans as an attractive source of huge amounts of sustainable energy, including tidal power. Again, this is wrong. In practice, tides can supply only relatively small amounts of energy. And while the environment impact of tidal energy varies depending on how we extract it (tidal lagoons are better than most), it will damage ecosystems. Earth’s tides, created by the tug of the moon and sun, hold about 3.5 terawatts of power. That sounds promising, but it is only about 20 per cent of the world’s power demand. And only a fraction of that 3.5 terawatts can be harnessed: we need water currents with a minimum speed of 1.2 metres per second to turn a turbine. This rules out the vast majority of tidal energy resources because they are in the open ocean where tidal currents are too weak, generally moving at less than 0.1 metres per second.
6-13-18 Alarm as ice loss from Antarctica triples in the past five years
The loss of Antarctica’s ice has been accelerating ominously since 2012, and could lead to big rises in sea level if the rate of loss keeps increasing. The forecasts they are a-changin’. In 2007, the official view was that there would be no net ice loss from Antarctica over the next century. By 2012, it was clear that Antarctic was already losing ice. And now ice loss has tripled, according to the most comprehensive study to date. “There has been a sharp increase, with almost half the loss coming in the last five years alone,” says Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, UK, one of the 84 researchers involved in the study. “The outlook for the future is looking different to what it was.” Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level is still small: just 7.6 millimetres between 1992 and 2017. What’s alarming is that the rate of ice loss is increasing. Up until 2012, Antarctic ice loss was contributing just 0.2 mm per year to sea level, and did not appear to be increasing. “We could not detect any acceleration,” says Shepherd. But since 2012 the rate has tripled to 0.6 mm per year. “I was completely surprised,” says team member Pippa Whitehouse of Durham University, UK. “The threefold increase was out of the range we were expecting.” Ice loss is now tracking close to the worst-case Antarctic scenario set out in the 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which the Antarctic alone contributes 150 mm of sea level rise by 2100. And that worst case is no longer the worst case. There have been a series of alarming findings since that report came out. In particular, a 2016 computer modelling study concluded that Antarctica alone could lose enough ice by 2100 to raise sea level by 2 metres. This means overall sea level could rise by more than 3m by 2100. It will keep rising long after that, perhaps by 20m or more.
6-13-18 Antarctica has lost about 3 trillion metric tons of ice since 1992
Ice loss is accelerating and that’s helped raise the global sea level by about 8 millimeters. Antarctica is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace. In just the last five years, the frozen continent has shed ice nearly three times faster on average than it did over the previous 20 years. An international team of scientists has combined data from two dozen satellite surveys in the most comprehensive assessment of Antarctica’s ice sheet mass yet. The conclusion: The frozen continent lost an estimated 2,720 billion metric tons of ice from 1992 to 2017, and most of that loss occurred in recent years, particularly in West Antarctica. Before 2012, the continent shed ice at a rate of 76 billion tons each year on average, but from 2012 to 2017, the rate increased to 219 billion tons annually. Combined, all that water raised the global sea level by an average of 7.6 millimeters, the researchers report in the June 14 Nature. About two-fifths of that rise occurred in the last five years, an increase in severity that is helping scientists understand how the ice sheet is responding to climate change. “When we place that against the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] sea level projections, prior to this Antarctica was tracking the low end of sea-level-rise projections,” says study coauthor Andrew Shepherd, an earth scientist at the University of Leeds in England. “Now it’s tracking the upper end.” Antarctica currently contains enough frozen water to raise the oceans by 58 meters. Melting ice from the continent is a major driver of the sea level rise that’s threatening coastal communities and ecosystems around the world with flooding as the climate changes (SN: 12/27/14, p. 29).
6-13-18 Antarctica loses three trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years
Antarctica is shedding ice at an accelerating rate. Satellites monitoring the state of the White Continent indicate some 200 billion tonnes a year are now being lost to the ocean as a result of melting. This is pushing up global sea levels by 0.6mm annually - a three-fold increase since 2012 when the last such assessment was undertaken. Scientists report the new numbers in the journal Nature. Governments will need to take account of the information and its accelerating trend as they plan future defences to protect low-lying coastal communities. The researchers say the losses are occurring predominantly in the West of the continent, where warm waters are getting under and melting the fronts of glaciers that terminate in the ocean. "We can't say when it started - we didn't collect measurements in the sea back then," explained Prof Andrew Shepherd, who leads the Ice sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (Imbie). "But what we can say is that it's too warm for Antarctica today. It's about half a degree Celsius warmer than the continent can withstand and it's melting about five metres of ice from its base each year, and that's what's triggering the sea-level contribution that we're seeing," he told BBC News. Space agencies have been flying satellites over Antarctica since the early 1990s. Europe, in particular, has an unbroken observation record going back to 1992. These spacecraft can tell how much ice is present by measuring changes in the height of the ice sheet and the speed at which it moves towards the sea. Specific missions also have the ability to weigh the ice sheet by sensing changes in the pull of gravity as they pass overhead.
6-12-18 Sunshine is making Deepwater Horizon oil stick around
Nearly a decade after the spill, oxygen-rich by-products don’t seem to be going anywhere. In the days and weeks after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sunlight hit the oil slicks on the surface of the water. That triggered chemical reactions that added oxygen to oil molecules that once were just chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These oxygenated hydrocarbons are still sticking around eight years later with little evidence of degradation, researchers report May 29 in Environmental Science and Technology. Chemist Christopher Reddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and colleagues analyzed the oily soup of molecules floating in the Gulf post-disaster. (The Deepwater Horizon spill was the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, leaking more than 3 million barrels.) While investigating how the leaked hydrocarbons broke down over time, the team got a surprise: More than half of the degrading oil by-products found in oil slicks from the spill were these oxygenated hydrocarbons, the researchers reported in 2012. The by-products had gone relatively unnoticed after previous oil spills, and so were mostly unstudied in that context. Now the team has evidence that these oxygenated hydrocarbons aren’t just a major by-product of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but a particularly persistent one. The scientists analyzed more hydrocarbon samples collected from the water surface and from sandy beaches in the area in the years since the spill to see how the molecules have fared. All of the sand samples had roughly the same proportion of oxygenated hydrocarbons between years, suggesting that in the eight years since the disaster, these molecules still haven’t broken down.
6-12-18 Germany recalls contaminated Dutch eggs in fipronil scare
Six German states have been told to pull some 73,000 eggs from sale after residue was detected from an insecticide called fipronil. Agriculture officials in Lower Saxony said the eggs had come from an organic farm in the Netherlands and insisted there was no risk to human health. Fipronil gets rid of lice but the EU bans it on animals such as chickens. Last year millions of eggs were pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe because of a fipronil scare. Officials said they had now detected traces of the insecticide in samples from a packaging depot in the German town of Vechta. The residue was above the permitted EU level of 0.005mg per kg, but it was "well below a rate that would constitute a risk to health", they said (in German). The highest test showed a level of 0.019mg/kg. The eggs came from an organic hen farm and were delivered between 17 May and 4 June. The source of the latest discovery is still being investigated. A second round of tests has been conducted and the results are expected later this week. The Dutch poultry industry was hit hard by last year's insecticide crisis, when millions of eggs had to be removed from sale. Ten farms closed at the time have yet to reopen. Dutch food and consumer safety authority NVWA said it was monitoring whether the detection of fipronil had anything to do with the recent lifting of measures imposed amid fears of bird flu requiring farmers to keep free-range hens indoors. Reports suggested that the insecticide may have originated in contaminated soil at the poultry farm in question.
6-12-18 Rush to save India bird with beak shut by plastic ring
Indian wildlife enthusiasts and forest officials have been trying to rescue a rare bird whose beak has been trapped shut by a plastic ring. The black-necked stork was first spotted with the ring around its beak in a wetland outside the capital Delhi by a group of bird watchers on 7 June. They believe the bird can drink water but say the ring is preventing it from opening its beak further to eat. Rescuers are hoping to catch it before it starves to death. "It has to be weak enough so that it doesn't fly away but if it gets too weak it will die," Pankaj Gupta, a bird watcher and member of the Delhi Bird Foundation, who has been involved with the rescue mission, told the BBC. Mr Gupta said the ring, which he thinks could be from a bottle cap, is likely to have slipped onto the stork's beak when it was hunting in the water and then got stuck there. The stork was first photographed with the ring by Manoj Nair, another bird watcher, who sent the photo to Mr Gupta. Mr Gupta and his colleagues shared the photo widely, which led to a rescue mission being assembled. Efforts to save the stork are being led by members of the Bombay Natural History Society, an organisation that specialises in conservation, with help from local forest officials.
6-11-18 Africa’s 2000-year-old trees of life are suddenly dying off
In the past decade most of the oldest baobabs, many of them sprouted over two millennia ago, have died unexpectedly and few new ones are sprouting. 500 BC. In Rome, King Tarquin the Proud has been sent into exile and there’s a brand new Roman republic. At around the same time, in what is now Zimbabwe, an elephant defecates after feasting on baobab fruits. A seed sprouts in the dung. That tree grew for nearly 2500 years. It grew as the Roman Empire rose and fell, and the Kingdom of Zimbabwe flourished and collapsed, and as British colonisers came and left. The Panke baobab was the oldest flowering tree in the world until 2010 – when it collapsed and died. Sadly, it is not the only one of these venerable trees to die recently. In the past 12 years, 9 of the 13 oldest baobab trees in Africa, and 5 of the 6 largest, have died. The world has lost some of its greatest living treasures, and climate change is the leading suspect. “The loss of the largest and oldest baobabs is a wake-up call for the dramatic climate change which has started to affect many areas of the world, especially southern Africa,” says botanist Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. His team estimates that the number of baobabs in Africa has halved since 1960, due to climate change, logging and the loss of the large mammals that spread the trees’ seeds. “We believe that the African baobab should be considered endangered,” Patrut says. “I’m really shocked,” says Thomas Pakenham, author of the 2004 book The Remarkable Baobab. “It would be a great tragedy if they are dying off. A tremendous loss.” In 2005, Patrut and colleagues in South Africa set out to study the growth patterns of African baobabs (Adansonia digitata).
6-11-18 Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees
A tree regarded as the icon of the African savannah is dying in mysterious circumstances. International scientists have discovered that most of the oldest and largest African baobab trees have died over the past 12 years. They suspect the demise may be linked to climate change, although they have no direct evidence of this. The tree can grow to an enormous size, and may live hundreds if not thousands of years. The researchers, from universities in South Africa, Romania and the US, say the loss of the trees is "an event of an unprecedented magnitude". Revealing the findings in the journal Nature Plants, they say the deaths were not caused by an epidemic. "We suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular," said the team, led by Dr Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. "However, further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition." The researchers have been visiting ancient trees across southern Africa since 2005, using radio carbon dating to investigate their structure and age. Unexpectedly, they found that eight of the 13 oldest and five of the six largest baobabs had either completely died or had their oldest parts collapse. Baobab trees have many stems and trunks, often of different ages. In some cases all the stems died suddenly. "We suspect this is associated with increased temperature and drought," Dr Patrut told BBC News. "It's shocking and very sad to see them dying." The trees that have died or are dying are found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. They are all between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old.
6-11-18 There's still only one way to tackle climate change
Promising news on the climate technology front: Harvard scientist David Keith and his colleagues have published a paper demonstrating a workable, fairly cheap way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Good stuff! However, this is also an opportunity to review the obvious fact that the cheapest, easiest, and most responsible climate policy is to smash down emissions as fast as possible — even taking this new technology into account. As yet, no simple technology is going to save us from ourselves. However, contrary to an Atlantic headline promising that "Climate change can be stopped by turning air into gasoline," this is not remotely a good way to stop climate change. For one thing, this is so far a one-metric ton demonstration plant, and global carbon dioxide emissions were 32.5 billion metric tons in 2017. Simply to process that single year's worth of emissions would cost, by their estimates, between $3.3 trillion and $8.3 trillion — and that doesn't even include the costs to build the gargantuan industrial complex necessary to take that much carbon dioxide out of the air. To actually stop climate change, we would have to remove vastly more than that — and then store it underground somewhere, which wasn't even part of the project. Sensible, small-c conservative climate policy — if we were trying to save money, minimize risks to the United States, and preserve it in as close to its current form as possible — would require developed nations to cut their emissions by something like 10 percent per year. (Or more realistically, just cut as fast as we possibly could.) Technologies like Keith's can help on the margin, by making existing fuel systems less carbon intensive, and perhaps suck some carbon out of the air after some more innovations. I fear it is a lot more likely that stuff like this will be used in a total panic in about 50 years, after we dawdle and whine, only to black in and find Miami miles out to sea. But it remains true that the smart move is to cut emissions now as fast as we can.
6-11-18 The race to save Arctic cities
Climate change is destroying the permafrost beneath villages and towns across the Arctic. As roads buckle and buildings' foundations crack, residents are scrambling to adjust to a warmer world. Russia, buildings are sagging and crumbling. In Greenland, a wildfire broke out last year. And in Alaska, entire villages may be relocated because the land upon which they're built is no longer trustworthy. All across the North, the very ground is changing, and the buildings and roads built upon the thawing permafrost are shifting and cracking. In Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory Nunavut, a good home is hard to find. An efficiency apartment runs around $2,000 a month, while a two-bedroom house will cost about $3,500. These New York prices are shocking in a small, remote town of about 7,500 people. And there still aren't enough homes for everyone. Iqaluit expanded rapidly when Nunavut became an official Canadian territory in 1999. Canada's largest territory is home to many Inuit communities; about 90 percent of the province's residents are indigenous. The government is a major employer in Iqaluit, alongside more traditional activities like fishing, hunting, and carving. Iqaluit's new status as a capital brought a surge of new public-sector workers — along with an accompanying rise in construction of government buildings and houses. Many residents have their housing subsidized either by their employer or by the government, if they are low-income. So prices are unlikely to come down. At the same time, Iqaluit — like its circumpolar neighbors — faces a housing crisis of a different sort. The houses are sinking into the warming earth. The only men's homeless shelter in Iqaluit is perpetually overcrowded. Men share rooms with several bunk beds pressed close together.
6-9-18 Climate change: Pope urges action on clean energy
Pope Francis has said climate change is a challenge of "epochal proportions" and that the world must convert to clean fuel. "Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation," he said. He was speaking to a group of oil company executives at the end of a two-day conference in the Vatican. Firms present included ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Norway's Equinor and Pemex of Mexico. Modern society with its "massive movement of information, persons and things requires an immense supply of energy", he told the gathering. "But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels," he said. "Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty." The world needed to come up with an energy mix that combated pollution, eliminated poverty and promoted social justice, he added. As many as one billion people still lack electricity, he said. Under Pope Francis' leadership, the church has moved to confront the business world on a range of subjects from poverty to tax havens and complex financial securities.
6-8-18 Trump’s shortsighted coal plan
President Trump’s “bonkers” strategy for reviving the coal industry could set a precedent Republicans may come to regret, said Eric Levitz. Trump wants his Energy Department to force utility companies to buy electric power from struggling coal and nuclear plants at uncompetitive rates, on the grounds that bailing out the declining coal industry serves a “national-security interest.” That, of course, is “patently absurd.” Nearly every utility company and energy expert agrees that our energy grid—which largely depends on domestic oil, natural gas, hydro, and other U.S. sources—is perfectly stable as is. Moreover, Trump’s insistence that plants burn dirty, carbon-rich coal “puts the profits of coal magnates above the survival of the planet,” which is heating up fast. If this president’s imperial assertion of executive power “to prop up coal plants” becomes a precedent, “it’s hard to see why a future one couldn’t use it to shut them down.” Imagine what Elizabeth Warren, for example, could do with the authority Trump is audaciously claiming over private companies, trade rules, and tariffs. “If conservatives recoil at the thought of a future Democratic president claiming extraordinary powers to combat climate change, they should implore the current Republican to stop inventing new, extraordinary justifications for exacerbating it.”
6-8-18 Plastic ban
India has announced that it intends to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. The United Nations praised the plan to end the use of plastic bags, cutlery, straws, and bottles, saying that while some 60 countries have announced curbs on plastics, India’s program to halt their use by more than 1.3 billion people is by far the most ambitious. The country generates about 6 million tons of plastic waste every year, much of which is dumped into the ocean and washes onto beaches. Enforcement will be difficult: Ten plastic bans are already in effect in Indian states and cities, yet only two have had significant results. But the government says it is committed. “An unclean environment hurts the poor and vulnerable the most,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
6-7-18 Key 'step forward' in cutting cost of removing CO2 from air
A Canadian company, backed by Bill Gates, says it has reached an important threshold in developing technology that can remove CO2 from the air. Carbon Engineering has published a peer-reviewed study showing that they can capture carbon for under $100 a tonne. This would be a major advance on the current price of around $600 per tonne. The company says their immediate goal is to produce synthetic liquid fuels made from carbon and renewable energy. Technological "fixes" to the carbon emissions driving climate change have always been regarded with some suspicion by scientists. Plans to build solar shields in space or to seed the seas with materials to soak up carbon have been seen as dangerous and a distraction to the more mundane but difficult task of getting people to cut their emissions. However, plans to capture CO2 directly from the air have been regarded as somewhat more substantial - essentially mirroring the actions of trees. The idea was first developed by a scientist called Klaus Lackner in the mid 1990s and since then a small number of technology companies have built expensive prototypes of carbon removing devices. Last year, a Swiss company called Climeworks unveiled a direct air capture installation that extracted carbon and supplied it to a neighbouring greenhouse to fertilise tomatoes and cucumbers. Now, Canadian firm Carbon Engineering say they have taken a big step forward on cutting the costs of direct air extraction. Set up in 2009 with funding from Microsoft's Bill Gates and Canada oil sands financier Norman Murray Edwards, their pilot plant has been running since 2015, capturing about one tonne of CO2 per day. (Webmaster's comment: Only 36,999,999,635 tons per year to go!)
160 CO2 Removal Machines. We'll need 625,000 of these structures to remove the 37 Billion Tons of CO2 that we are currently dumping every year into the atmosphere. That will be 2,500 rows of them 25 miles long!
6-7-18 A manifesto to save Planet Earth (and ourselves)
The impacts of human actions on our home planet are now so large that many scientists are declaring a new phase of Earth’s history. The old forces of nature that transformed Earth many millions of years ago, including meteorites and mega-volcanoes are joined by another: us. We have entered a new geological epoch, called the Anthropocene. As scientists we agree that society has entered a dangerous new time. But what is to be done? In our new book, The Human Planet, published on Thursday, we present a new view of how humans climbed down from the trees of Africa to become a geological superpower. We argue that to avoid ever-larger environmental changes causing a societal collapse, we need to acknowledge the incredible power that modern society possesses and direct it towards a shift to a new type of society in the 21st Century. Our influence is more profound than many of us realize. Globally, human activities move more soil, rock and sediment each year than is transported by all other natural processes combined. The total amount of concrete produced by humans is enough to cover the entire Earth’s surface with a layer two millimetres thick. Micro-plastics are found in every ocean. We have cut down half of Earth's trees, losing three trillion, with extinctions becoming commonplace. Factories and farming remove as much nitrogen from the atmosphere as all of Earth's natural processes, and the climate is changing fast because of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. Beyond these grim statistics, the critical question is: will today’s interconnected mega-civilisation that allows 7.5 billion people to lead physically healthier and longer lives than at any time in our history continue from strength to strength? Or will we keep using more and more resources until human civilisation collapses?
6-6-18 A renewables revolution is afoot – but who will benefit?
Donald Trump's commitment to coal is short-sighted and wrong-headed. A 100 per cent renewable future is coming – and other countries will reap the rewards. LAST week, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Energy to “prepare immediate steps” to prevent the closure of unprofitable coal and nuclear plants. This comes almost a year to the day after he withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement. The move was dressed up as a way of ensuring the country’s electricity grid remains reliable and secure. But given Trump’s campaign promises, and recent reports identifying no immediate threat to US grid reliability, it is hard not to conclude that his true aim is to prop up the dying coal industry. It is a stance as forlorn as it is misguided. In the US as elsewhere, it is because of sound economic reasons, not just environmental concerns, that coal and nuclear are struggling to compete with natural gas and renewables such as wind and solar. Thanks to an explosion of technology designed to counter the variability of wind and solar (see “How to keep the lights on without burning the planet”), the reliability issue is a red herring that’s getting redder. Covering 100 per cent of our energy needs through renewable resources is no longer the impossible dream. The question is whether we can muster the political will to make it happen by mid-century, as we must do if we are to limit dangerous climate warming. Political will is a slippery concept, typically defined only in its absence. While clearly not present at federal level in the US, it is thankfully emerging elsewhere. Individual US states and cities are falling over themselves to commit to ambitious renewables targets, as in Europe. China, meanwhile, is investing heavily to position itself as a global leader in renewable technology, a strategy that will only accelerate its rise.
6-6-18 How to keep the lights on without burning the planet
Ditching fossil fuels to go 100 per cent renewable is a dream within reach – thanks to new tech that keep things humming even when wind and sun aren’t there. TO STAND any chance of halting runaway climate change, we need to squelch carbon emissions down to near zero by mid-century. That means getting off filthy fossil fuels – and fast. Few scientists would disagree with that, but there is precious little consensus on how to do it. Nuclear fission power is expensive and mired in controversy. Nuclear fusion, directly harnessing the kind of reactions that power the sun, remains a distant dream. Meanwhile, renewable energy is too unreliable to meet all our power demands. Or is it? Clean energy technologies have come on leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. More recently, an impassioned debate has broken out among energy experts as to whether “100 per cent renewables” is now within our grasp and, if so, how we get there. “We can really mess this up,” says Dan Kammen, an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Just because we can make the shift doesn’t mean we will.” But the path we need to take – and the hurdles we face – are increasingly clear. The renewables revolution has gathered momentum in recent years thanks to free-falling prices. And as clean becomes cheap, installation is surging. The world added 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy last year – more than any other energy source. Over half of that, 53 GW, was in China, which has long been the world’s biggest consumer of dirty coal. In California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, renewables already provide over a third of electricity and will surpass 50 per cent well before 2030. Germany is aiming to get at least 80 per cent of its power renewably by 2050. Even oil and gas nations are setting ambitious renewables goals – the United Arab Emirates, for instance, plans to shift 44 per cent of its power to renewables by 2050. That’s great, but not enough. Tackling climate change requires more than just revamping the power grid. Converting services that currently run on fossil fuels, from transportation and heating to heavy industry, is also crucial. After increasing energy efficiency across the board, electrifying as many fuel-guzzlers as possible is the cheapest way to limit global warming to the target of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, according to the International Energy Agency.
6-6-18 Tropical cyclones have slowed over the last 70 years
That could mean more rainfall when the storms make landfall. Tropical cyclones don’t move as fast as they used to. The fierce, swirling storms move 10 percent slower, on average, than they did nearly 70 years ago, a new study finds. Such lingering storms can potentially cause more damage by dumping even more rainfall on land beneath them. Atmospheric scientist James Kossin examined changes in how quickly tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, moved across the planet from 1949 to 2016. Storms slowed at different rates depending on the region, with the biggest changes seen in the Northern Hemisphere, Kossin reports in the June 7 Nature. Over that same time period, the average temperature of Earth’s surface rose by about half a degree Celsius. Scientists already predict that average wind speeds will increase in tropical cyclones as ocean waters warm due to global warming (SN: 6/27/15, p. 9). The new study suggests that climate change is also altering how quickly these tropical cyclones travel across land or water. The effect was even more pronounced as storms moved over land, with those originating in the western North Pacific, such as near Japan, slowing by 30 percent. Storms coming in from the North Atlantic – such as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey — are moving 20 percent slower over land, says Kossin, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Madison, Wis.
6-6-18 Pollution hits fungi that nourish trees - study
Scientists are warning that pollution could be starving Europe's trees of vital nutrients by damaging essential fungi. The fungi live on the roots of trees, supplying them with minerals and water. Current pollution limits may not be strict enough to protect the forest fungi, say researchers. Signs of tree malnutrition, such as discoloured or missing leaves, have been seen across Europe's forests. Loss of fungi may be a factor, according to the study, published in the journal, Nature. "If we care about the condition of our forests - what shape they're in - we can't just look above (the ground)," Dr Martin Bidartondo, from the department of life sciences at Imperial College London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told BBC News. "We need to look below - we need to understand how the fungi are nourishing the trees." Fungi can be found living on the roots of trees, providing vital nutrients and water. Known by the truffles and mushrooms formed by some species, they can live for decades beneath the surface, growing to several square metres in size. These fungi, known as mycorrhizal fungi, receive carbon from the tree in exchange for essential nutrients, like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which they take up from the soil. The researchers studied 40,000 roots from 13,000 soil samples at 137 forest sites in 20 European countries, including the UK, over 10 years. They found local air and soil quality have a large impact on mycorrhizae. "Trees need this fungi to get nutrients and water from soil and there are factors like pollution that are affecting this fungi," said Dr Laura M Suz of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a co-researcher on the study. "We need to be aware of it at least because these fungi are essential for the growth and the health of the trees."
6-6-18 A big analysis of environmental data strengthens the case for plant-based diets
The same foods grown in various ways can also have less impact on the planet, scientists say. From beef to beer, coffee to chocolate, there are environmental costs in what humanity chooses to eat and drink. Now a new study that quantifies the impact on the planet of producing and selling 40 different foods shows how these choices make a difference. Agricultural data from 38,700 farms plus details of processing and retailing in 119 countries show wide differences in environmental impacts — from greenhouse gas emissions to water used — even between producers of the same product, says environmental scientist Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford. The amount of climate-warming gases released in the making of a pint of beer, for example, can more than double under high-impact production scenarios. For dairy and beef cattle combined, high-impact providers released about 12 times as many greenhouse gases as low-impact producers, Poore and colleague Thomas Nemecek report in the June 1 Science. Those disparities mean that there is room for high-impact producers to tread more lightly, Poore says. If consumers could track such differences, he argues, purchasing power could push for change. The greatest changes in the effect of a person’s diet on the planet, however, would still come from choosing certain kinds of food over others. On average, producing 100 grams of protein from beef leads to the release of 50 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions, which the researchers calculated as a carbon-dioxide equivalent. By comparison, 100 grams of protein from cheese releases 11 kg in production, from poultry 5.7 kg and from tofu 2 kg.
6-6-18 Europeans now burn more palm oil in their cars than they eat
Palm oil consumption in the EU jumped by 7 per cent in 2017 because it is increasingly used as a biofuel – driving the destruction of orangutans’ habitat. Bad news for orangutans and other denizens of the remaining rainforests in Malaysia and Borneo: palm oil consumption in the European Union rose 7 per cent in 2017 compared with 2016. It’s the rising global demand for palm oil that is driving the clearance of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia to make way for more plantations. EU consumption grew, even though the use of palm oil in foods and cosmetics has fallen slightly. Instead, the increase was almost entirely due to the rising use of biodiesel made from palm oil. Overall, 51 per cent of the palm oil consumed in the EU is now burned in cars and trucks, according to the latest figures from the vegetable oils data company Oilworld. Another 10 per cent is used for heating and generating electricity. Foods and cosmetics now account for just 39 per cent. This is happening because EU laws effectively stipulate that normal diesel must be blended with biodiesels made from vegetable oils, and palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil. Yet the EU’s own studies show that using palm oil as a biofuel increases rather than decreases climate emissions. “Burning palm oil in cars and trucks to meet Europe’s green energy targets must be the single stupidest thing we do in climate policy,” says Laura Buffet of Transport & Environment, which campaigns for cleaner transport in Europe. In January, the European Parliament voted to stop palm oil being used as a biofuel from 2021. But the final decision will be made later this month by the European Commission, which favours using palm oil as a biofuel.
6-6-18 Volkswagen admits it can't cope with new emissions tests
Germany's Volkswagen has warned its main factory in Wolfsburg faces temporary shutdowns later this year, owing to new emissions test standards. It plans "closure days" to prevent a build-up of vehicles that have yet to be approved for sale. From September, more rigorous EU standards apply, designed to replicate real driving conditions more closely. Now VW says it does not have enough testing equipment to cope and fears that a backlog of cars will ensue. At a meeting with unions on Wednesday, chief executive Herbert Diess admitted that meeting the new requirements, and getting new cars approved for sale, was proving a challenge. (Webmaster's comment: If they had spent their millions on reducing emissions and not millions on cheating on the tests they wouldn't be having this problem! Their executives were so greedy and stupid and didn't give a damn about the damage and injury the emissions were doing to people and to the enviroment. They should all be in prison!)
6-5-18 How does plastic move around the oceans?
Every minute of every day, 11 million plastic bags and bottles are bought or in use – and less than 10% are being recycled, according to a United Nations report. BBC Science Editor David Shukman explains how plastic debris travels vast distances across the oceans.
6-5-18 50 nations 'curbing plastic pollution'
Fifty nations are now taking action to reduce plastic pollution, according to the biggest report so far from the UN. It reveals that the Galapagos will ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China is insisting on biodegradable bags. But the authors warn that far more needs to be done to reduce the vast flow of plastic into rivers and oceans. What’s more, they say, good policies to curb plastic waste in many nations have failed because of poor enforcement. Action against plastic waste has many drivers across the world. In the UK it has been stimulated by media coverage. In many developing countries, plastic bags are causing floods by blocking drains, or they’re being eaten by cattle. The report says policies to combat plastic waste have had mixed results. In Cameroon, plastic bags are banned and households are paid for every kilo of plastic waste they collect, but still plastic bags are being smuggled in. In several countries, rules on plastic exist but are poorly enforced. The report presents an A-Z of 35 potential bio substitutes for plastic. It runs from Abaca hemp (from the inedible banana Musa textilis) to Zein (from a maize protein). The list includes rabbit fur, sea grass and foam made with fungus. It mentions QMilch, a firm that create casein textile fibres from waste milk. It also highlights Piñatex, a plastic alternative made from pineapple leaves. Some policy-makers, though, are wary about hyping the potential of bio alternatives. Early optimism by some environmentalists about biofuels backfired when rainforests were felled to grow palm oil to fuel cars.
6-4-18 Carbon 'bubble' could cost global economy trillions
A rapid reduction in demand for fossil fuels could see global economic losses of $1-4 trillion by 2035 according to a new report. Energy efficiency and low carbon technology could cause the downturn, even if governments fail to take new steps to meet the Paris climate goals. The resulting "carbon bubble" could cause losses larger than the 2008 financial crisis, the authors say. The US and Canada would be the biggest losers, the study finds. According to the International Energy Agency (IES), the world invested around $700bn in oil, gas and coal in 2016. While there has been a growing movement for divesting from shares in fossil fuel companies in recent years, the sector still accounts for 6% of global stock markets and 12% in the UK. Research has often focussed on how these investments would be affected if the world takes new action to limit the global rise in temperatures to well under 2C as agreed in Paris in 2015. One recent study found that 20% of the world's power plant capacity could become "stranded assets" if the Paris goal was met. But this new report looks at the impact of low carbon technology in renewable energy, the electrification of transport and greater efficiency in fuel use, on demand for fossil fuel irrespective of whether new climate policies are adopted or not. They also include the impact of a rapid sell off, of oil and gas reserves by producing countries eager to get rid of the fuels before they become worthless. The authors say that by 2035, $1 trillion dollars could be wiped off the global economy if no new actions to limit warming to less than 2 degrees are taken. This could rise to $4 trillion if new policies to restrict emissions further are not set.
6-3-18 Margaret Atwood: 'If the ocean dies, so do we'
The celebrated author Margaret Atwood has told a conference that humanity's future is linked to the survival of ocean ecosystems. Commenting on ocean plastic pollution, she said: "Something has to be done... If the ocean dies; end of us." Ms Atwood was speaking at the Under Her Eye summit in London. The conference, held at the British Library, also heard that climate change disproportionately affects women on a global scale. In addition, their voices are "too rarely heard" in top level climate change discussions. Aiming to tackle key environmental issues "from a female perspective", the event hosted a range of policy makers, artists and scientists. Having written frequently in her novels about the impacts of climate change, Ms Atwood described the conditions which she believes currently disadvantage women. "In a lot of the world women are in fact the food producers, and they're also the people who care for their families. The hotter it gets, the lower your harvest is going to be. If you have a flood, that's going to wipe you out. "Women under those situations are going to suffer disproportionately." Morocco's former Minister of Environment Hakima El Haité agreed, citing the time women and girls spend fetching water - estimated to be over 200 million hours per day globally. "The link between climate change, poverty and women is very, very close," she said. "Women are on the front line of climate change - organising and resisting. Women are an essential part of the solution. [We] have different stories to tell based on our different experience." "It's not enough to challenge an old narrative… you have to replace it with a better one."
6-1-18 Paris climate pullout: the worst is yet to come
President Trump's announcement a year ago that he was withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement may have been the best and worst thing that could have happened to the deal, at the same time. "The most important piece of good news, and it wasn't a foregone conclusion, is that other countries have stayed in and doubled down on their general determination not to walk away, not to let the US 'cancel' the agreement," said former US climate envoy Todd Stern, speaking at a meeting organised by the World Resources Institute in Washington this week. Indeed, in the wake of the President's much debated decision to pull out, the agreement gained rather than lost supporters with Syria and Nicaragua signing on to the deal, leaving the US as the world's solitary wallflower on climate change. This galvanising effect of the President's dismissal of the pact can be seen clearly inside and outside the US. The America's Pledge movement, led by California governor Jerry Brown and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, has pushed cities, states, businesses and universities to commit to reduce their emissions. They point out that in 2017 non-federal climate action and sustained investment in clean energy meant that US emissions of CO2 fell to their lowest level in 25 years. In the year since the President spoke, the US has added 9 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity - enough to power more than 2 million homes. More coal power was "retired" in the first month of 2018 than in the two years between 2009 and 2011. This is not just the actions of a handful of people - US states representing 35% of the population are expected to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions by the end of this year. "If developments on renewables continue as positively as in the past, and new commitments by US states, cities and businesses are implemented, the US could still meet its Paris commitment," said Prof Niklas Höhne, from the NewClimate Institute. Outside the US, the impact of the President's intentions on Paris has also forged a strong, positive response. The UK and Canada launched a global alliance of 20 countries committed to phasing out coal for the production of energy. The UK, Ireland, Norway, Germany, India and China and a host of other nations have also committed to phasing out petrol and diesel cars at various dates between 2024 and 2040. Many countries have also decided that by 2050, they will be carbon neutral.
6-1-18 Glow-in-the-dark trees could be the future of street lighting
Algae holds the secret. "Imagine a city lit by glowing trees instead of streetlights," said Adele Peters at Fast Company. Beachgoers in San Diego were recently treated to the rare natural phenomenon of a bioluminescent algae bloom, making the ocean glow "an electric shade of blue" at night. Researchers in Denmark are attempting to isolate the genes that make such microalgae glow to see whether trees could be genetically engineered with the genes in order to make natural streetlights. Kristian Ejlsted, the CEO of Copenhagen startup Allumen, said if cities could switch out older lighting technology or even newer LED lights for gene-edited glowing trees, energy costs would shrink enormously. The project is still "far from reality," but the company is also developing a lava lamp-like product for home use, "with algae living in a saltwater-nutrient mixture, taking up sunshine during the day and glowing at night."