101 Global Warming News Articles
for July of 2018
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7-31-18 'A horrendous battle': Dry conditions fuel California wildfires
Weather forecasters have warned that dry temperatures fuelling a series of wildfires in California will continue with no rain in sight until next week. The Carr Fire - the deadliest ongoing blaze - is now the seventh most destructive in state history. Meteorologists say the Carr blaze is so strong that it is created its own local weather system with errant winds. More than 11,000 fire crews and 950 trucks have arrived to fight the fires, which have so far claimed six lives. Temperatures for the next several days are forecast to exceed 100F (38C), making fire fighting efforts difficult for first responders already on the ground. "It's a horrendous battle," said Scott McLean with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Tuesday. The Carr Fire has already burned nearly 500 homes, and left six people dead. (Webmaster's comment: And this is just the beginning of California's fire season!)
7-31-18 Largest king penguin colony shrinks 90% in 30 years
The world's largest king penguin colony has shrunk nearly 90% since the 1980s, research suggests. Aerial and satellite images show breeding pair numbers have fallen 88% in the last three decades, an article in the journal Antarctic Science says. The colony lies on the France's uninhabited Œle aux Cochons between Africa and Antarctica in the Indian Ocean. Researchers say there is no clear reason for the decline. The paper says that only 60,000 penguin pairs remain in photos taken in 2015 and 2017, down from half a million pairs recorded on a previous conducted in the 1980s. Second only to the emperor penguin in size, the king penguin breeds on the more temperate islands north of the Antarctic coast. Research published in February says some of the birds populations could be at risk from climate change.
7-31-18 Soggy 2017 was fifth warmest year in UK record
2017 was the fifth warmest year in the UK climate record that stretches back to 1910 according to a new analysis from the Met Office. Their State of the Climate Report says that nine of the ten warmest years on record for the UK have occurred since 2002. The study says that 2017 was more than 1 degree C above the 1961-1990 baseline temperature. Summer rainfall has also increased significantly over the last ten years. Compared to the sun kissed scorcher of a summer that the UK has generally been experiencing this year, 2017 was a rather soggy year with above average rainfall from June through August. Despite the rain, temperatures from February to June were also above average - and the number of days with air frosts was 45, which is nine below average. The overall mean temperature for the 2017 was 9.6 degrees C, which made it the fifth warmest in the UK series dating from 1910, and the eight warmest in the Central England temperature series which dates back to 1659. The authors say if you look at the trend over a decade or more, it is further evidence that the climate is changing both globally and here in the UK.
7-31-18 German heatwave causes beer bottle shortage as sales surge
Germany has baked in one of its warmest months since records began in 1881 - and breweries have been toasting a boost in beer sales as a result. June was 2.4C hotter than average, while July hopped up 3.3C - and cold beer was much in demand. But the sales success is putting brewers under pressure, with many running out of bottles. Breweries have appealed for people to return their empties as soon as possible so they can maintain supply. Glass bottles, used by many beermakers, have a small deposit on them in Germany, and beer drinkers are expected to bring them back to the shop when getting their next round. Cans, used elsewhere in the world, are far less common and many breweries use customised bottles that are tricky to replace. "We need your help," brewery Moritz Fiege wrote on Facebook. "Great weather plus great beer equals a lot of thirst. "Before you go on summer vacation, please quickly bring your Mortiz Fiege empties to the drinks dealer," it added. A spokesman for the national brewers' association said the bottle shortage was "particularly pronounced" this year. German forecasters are predicting daily highs of up to 39C (102F) in the coming days - making it possible that the all-time record of 40.3C could be broken. But the sweltering weather has been good for an industry that was expecting a long, boozy World Cup season - before Germany were unexpectedly dumped out of the tournament in the group stage. (Webmaster's comment: New solution for global warming, drink beer.)
7-30-18 California fire: Deadly blazes continues to grow
California's deadliest current wildfire is getting larger, officials warn, despite thousands of firefighters battling it. "Erratic winds" and dry conditions have caused the Carr fire to grow early on Sunday, firefighters said. It is one of eight major wildfires currently burning in the state. The fire, in the Shasta County in northern California, has killed six people so far, including two children and their great-grandmother. Melody Bledsoe, 70, Emily Roberts, five, and James Roberts, four, died when they were caught in its path as they were about to evacuate their home in the town of Redding, about 150 miles (240km) north of Sacramento, on Thursday. An unidentified fourth body was found in a burnt-out house on Sunday. Two firefighters also lost their lives on Thursday. A third firefighter died battling the Ferguson fire, near Yosemite, on Sunday. The Carr fire, which doubled in size overnight on Friday, was only 5% contained by Sunday morning. It has already burnt more than 48,000 acres (194 sq km) of land and destroyed at least 500 structures. It began on Monday. On Thursday it became a firestorm, jumping across the Sacramento River, according to news agency Reuters.
7-29-18 Carr fire: California blaze kills children and great-grandmother
Two children and their great-grandmother are among five people to have died in a raging wildfire in northern California, reports say. Experts say this has been the worst start to the fire season in 10 years. Two firefighters died on Thursday, 17 people are missing and tens of thousands have fled their homes. The fires in Shasta county are being sucked up by strong winds to form "fire tornados" that are uprooting trees and overturning cars, fire officials say. Firefighters are battling the blaze, which is only 5% contained so far. The blazes, known as the Carr fire, have destroyed at least 500 structures and are threatening thousands of homes. The wildfire began on Monday after a car malfunctioned. It has scorched over 48,000 acres (194 sq km) of land - an area larger than the city of San Francisco. Sherry Bledsoe has confirmed that her grandmother Melody Bledsoe, 70, and her two children Emily Roberts, five, and James Roberts, four, died in the fire, reports say. They were caught in the path of the fire as they were about to evacuate their home in the town of Redding, NBC reported. Two firefighters - fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, and a bulldozer operator who has not yet been named, died trying contain the blaze. More than 3,400 firefighters have been deployed - but the local fire department has warned that hot, dry weather is forecast for the rest of the week, and could make the blaze worse. "We are seeing fire whirls - literally what can be described as a tornado," California department of forestry and fire protection (CalFire) chief Ken Pimlott told reporters. "This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity" by gale-force winds, he said, "uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways."
7-29-18 Typhoon Jongdari: Japan storm cuts power to thousands
A powerful storm has hit central and western Japan, injuring at least 21 people and cutting power to tens of thousands of homes. Typhoon Jongdari (or "skylark" in Korean) brought torrential rain and winds of up to 180km/h (110mph). It made landfall on the country's main island, Honshu, at 01:00 (16:00 GMT Saturday) on Sunday. Weather officials have since downgraded it to a tropical storm, but warn that heavy rain could trigger landslides. Japan's public broadcaster NHK reports that 150,000 homes are without power. As of midday local time, the storm was moving westwards and tens of thousands had been urged to leave their homes. On Saturday, evacuation orders were issued to 36,400 people in the western city of Shobara, and 6,300 in the city of Kure. "We are afraid that people may not be able to evacuate due to strong wind or floods blocking evacuation routes," said Hiroshima's governor, Hidehiko Yuzaki. "I would like people to evacuate in advance so that they can save their lives." Images have shown huge waves crashing on to rocks off the coast south-west of Tokyo, and ferry services have been suspended. Late on Saturday, the rough seas smashed through the window of a hotel restaurant in the tourist town of Atami, injuring five people. "We didn't expect this could happen... Waves gushed into the restaurant as the window glass broke but we are grateful that customers followed evacuation instructions," a hotel employee told AFP. Hundreds of flights were also cancelled over the weekend as the storm neared the coast. Japan is still reeling from one of its worst flooding disasters in decades earlier this month, which saw more than eight million people ordered to leave their homes. More than 4,000 survivors are still living in temporary shelters.
7-29-18 Dutch gritters salt roads during heatwave
The Netherlands is going through a heatwave this week, like much of northwestern Europe, and several councils have chosen a novel way to stop roads from melting in the scorching sun - they've called the gritter lorries out. Road-users in Arnhem were surprised to see the gritters scattering salt at busy junctions this week, but it seems that salt can be used not only to provide traction in freezing conditions but also to stop asphalt from melting, according to the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. The winter visitors have also been seen on the roads of Groningen, Hoorn and Geldermalsen in the last two days, especially at roundabouts where heavy traffic tears the softened asphalt from the road surface. The councils say salt helps by attracting moisture from the ambient air and cooling the asphalt. It also removes excess moisture from the asphalt, making it less sticky. Arnhem council has been monitoring the road-surface temperature with sensors, and decided that when it reached 50 degrees Celsius the moment had come to act. "That's the time for us to start spreading the salt. And if the heatwave continues, the gritters will be out and about more often", a council spokesman told the ANP news agency.
7-28-18 Carr fire: California blaze leaves two dead
A raging wildfire in northern California has killed two firefighters and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The fires in Shasta county are being sucked up by strong winds to form "fire tornados" that are uprooting trees and overturning cars, fire officials say. The blazes, known as the Carr fire, have destroyed at least 500 structures and are threatening thousands of homes. Firefighters are battling the blaze, which is only 5% contained so far. The wildfire began on Monday and has scorched over 48,000 acres (194 sq km) of land - an area larger than the city of San Francisco. "We are seeing fire whirls - literally what can be described as a tornado," California department of forestry and fire protection (CalFire) chief Ken Pimlott told reporters. "This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity" by gale-force winds, he said, "uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways." "These are extreme conditions... we need to take heed and evacuate, evacuate, evacuate." Two firefighters - fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, and a bulldozer operator who has not yet been named, died trying contain the blaze.
7-27-18 Climate change made Europe’s heatwave twice as likely to happen
The current heatwave in northern Europe was made twice as likely by climate change, according to a preliminary analysis. The current heatwave in northern Europe was made twice as likely by climate change, according to a preliminary analysis. Temperatures have soared over much of Europe over the last month, regularly exceeding 30°C and several temperature records have been broken. The conditions have been so extreme that wildfires have broken out in Sweden and the UK. Heatwaves are one of the most likely consequences of climate change. As the average global temperature rises due to higher levels of greenhouse gases, more extreme bouts of high temperatures follow. But heatwaves do happen anyway. To find out if the current heatwave was made more likely by climate change, a team at World Weather Attribution led by Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford, UK has conducted a rapid-response study. They ran climate models with and without our greenhouse gas emissions and tracked how often heatwaves like the current one occurred in both cases. “We estimate that the probability to have such a heat or higher is generally more than two times higher today than if human activities had not altered climate,” the team reports. The intensity of the climate effect varies somewhat from country to country. “In Ireland and Denmark climate models give a very similar increase in probabilities to the observations — roughly a factor two more likely in Dublin and a factor four in Denmark,” the team writes.
7-27-18 Climate change driven by humans made heatwave 'twice as likely'
Climate change resulting from human activities made the current Europe-wide heatwave more than twice as likely to occur, say scientists. Researchers compared the current high temperatures with historical records from seven weather stations, in different parts of Europe. Their preliminary report found that the "signal of climate change is unambiguous," in this summer's heat. They also say the scale of the heatwave in the Arctic is unprecedented. The scale and breadth of the current heat being experienced across Europe has prompted many questions about the influence of global warming on extreme events. To try and see if there is a connection, researchers defined a heatwave as the three warmest consecutive days in a year and looked at data from seven weather stations, in Finland, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. They chose these locations because they all had digitised records dating back to the early 1900s, unlike the UK. The team also used computer models to asses the scale of human-influenced climate change. The researchers found that in the weather stations in the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, climate change has generally increased the odds of the current heatwave by more than two-fold. The scientists said that a similar heatwave is likely to occur in about ten years in southern Scandinavia and Ireland, and in about five years in the Netherlands. "The logic that climate change will do this is inescapable - the world is becoming warmer, and so heatwaves like this are becoming more common," said Dr Friederike Otto, Deputy Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. "What was once regarded as unusually warm weather will become commonplace - in some cases, it already has." she added.
7-27-18 Historic heat wave
Several cities in Central Texas saw all-time-high temperatures this week, with Waco hitting 114 degrees, breaking a 49-year record. The heat wave was expected to last through Friday. Texas, which relies on its own power grid and retired three power-generating coal plants earlier this year, expected record electrical usage as residents cranked up air conditioners day and night—if they did not break down. With some forecasters predicting near 120-degree temperatures in some areas, a wide swath of the southwestern U.S. has been issued an excessive-heat warning. Public health officials told Arizona residents around Phoenix, where 155 people died last year from heat-related causes, to stay hydrated and remain indoors after temperatures reached a record 115 degrees on Monday. The National Weather Service warned that nationwide, “heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer.”
7-27-18 Brutal heat wave
Japan’s government has declared the heat wave that is scorching the country, hitting temperatures of up to 106 degrees and killing at least 80 people, a natural disaster. The relentless heat has baked the country for two weeks, sending more than 22,000 people to the hospital for heatstroke—nearly half of them elderly—and it is likely to continue for at least another week. Youth sports and outdoor festivals have been canceled, and residents have been urged to avoid exertion and sunlight and to drink lots of water. Most Japanese homes are not air-conditioned. AccuWeather founder Joel Myers said that the death toll will likely “climb into the thousands before the heat wave ends.”
7-27-18 Total acreage burned has increased dramatically
Wildfires in the U.S. are getting larger. Although the number of fires every year has stayed relatively consistent since 1985, the total acreage burned has increased dramatically. Wildfires have burned 3,362,431 acres of land in the U.S. so far in 2018. That’s 4 percent more acreage burned than average by this time of the year, and fire management officials say one factor is hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change.
7-27-18 Raging wildfires
Fast-moving wildfires ripped through villages near Athens this week, killing at least 80 people and sending residents running into the ocean to escape. Greece’s Coast Guard, aided by 30 private boats, rescued more than 700 people trapped in the coastal villages of Mati and nearby Kokkino Limanaki, and pulled dozens from the sea. In Mati, rescue workers found the charred remains of 26 people, including children, who were apparently huddled together, clutching one another, as flames engulfed them just yards from the water. Greece has declared a state of emergency as multiple fires continue to burn. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks and tourists alike to flee affected areas. “Properties and material wealth can be replaced,” he said. “Human lives cannot.”
7-27-18 California wildfire tears through homes
One person has died and many others have fled their homes as a wildfire rages in northern California. The fire has crossed the Sacramento River and now threatens properties on the western fringes of the city of Redding. The journey from Guatemala through the Mexico desert had been "Todo bien, gracias a Dios" (all fine, thanks to God), and in May Lilian Martinez Lopes finally crossed into the United States carrying her only son, aged five. The 24-year-old, who had planned to seek asylum here, did not speak a word of English and hoped Google Translate would help in her new life. Her husband had come four years earlier and they planned to reunite in Houston, where he now lived. Then the immigration agents came to her. "They told me, 'We'll take your son to a shelter.'" She was surprised. Nobody had told her that migrant families caught crossing illegally were being separated, part of a "zero-tolerance" policy of the Trump administration. She had little time to say goodbye. She recalled him pleading: "Don't let them take me." Ms Martinez cried. "What could I do?" And she watched her boy go.
7-26-18 Regular heatwaves 'will kill thousands'
The current heatwave could become the new normal for UK summers by 2040 because of climate change, MPs say. The Environmental Audit Committee warns of 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the government doesn't act quickly. Higher temperatures put some people at increased risk of dying from cardiac, kidney and respiratory diseases. The MPs say ministers must act to protect people - especially with an ageing population in the UK. Scientists differ on whether the current global rash of heatwaves is definitely caused by climate change. But all agree that future heatwaves will be hotter and more frequent thanks to carbon emissions. The MPs highlight a warning from the Met Office that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5C by the 2040s. The government says it is committed to cutting carbon emissions, although it is not on track to meet its targets. The MPs say current plans will not stop buildings overheating, and ministers should be smarter about heat-proofing the UK. Tougher rules are needed to ensure homes and transport networks can deal with extreme heat. And local councils should plant trees and keep green spaces to provide cool air.
7-26-18 Our buildings make this heatwave worse – here’s how to cool them down
Many buildings in cool countries are poorly designed to cope with heat, and new homes and offices are even worse. Thousands will die if we don’t fix them . Temperatures in the southern parts of the UK have been pushing 30°C for weeks, and health warnings about the heatwave have been flying. That has attracted some derision from those living in hotter places, such as the city of Darwin in Australia. “In Darwin that’s called winter,” was one mocking response. Yes, it gets much hotter elsewhere. But that is missing the point. Hot places are geared up to cope with heat. By contrast, when temperatures soar in normally cooler cities like London, people commute on crowded trains that breach the temperature limits for transporting livestock, work in buildings with limited cooling systems and struggle to sleep in stuffy houses designed for Victorian winters. Hot summers like this used to be extremely rare in the UK. They will soon be the norm because of climate change – and in 50 years or so a summer like this year’s will be regarded as relatively cool. So unless more is done adapt buildings and transport systems to the heat, summers are going to become ever more miserable for millions – and ever more deadly to the young, the ill and the elderly. “Without further action, the number of heat-related deaths could increase from 2000 per year today to 7000 in the 2050s,” says Kathryn Brown, head of adaptation at the UK Committee on Climate Change. If a flood killed that many people, there’d be a massive outcry, points out Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in the UK. “It’s a scandal that hundreds of people are dying,” he says. “Many of those are preventable deaths.”
7-25-18 Wildfires around the world: The photos that explain the flames
Wildfires have been sweeping through coastal towns east of the Greek capital, Athens. Dozens of people - including families with children - have died as they tried to escape the flames. But fires are also raging in Sweden, as far north as the Arctic Circle, and have caused huge damage in countries including Portugal, the UK and the US in recent months. Fires can occur naturally in woodland or brush, ignited by heat from the sun or a lightning strike. However, the vast majority of wildfires - as many as 90% worldwide - are started by humans, according to experts. The cause could be barbecue charcoal, a discarded cigarette or even arson. As long as there is fuel and oxygen available, the flames can take hold easily. Greece had an unusually dry winter and spring this year, leaving grass and scrubland particularly flammable. As well as a lack of rainfall, wind also determines how devastating the fire will be, depending on its strength and direction. "Burning embers can travel quite far and start new fires that could spread for kilometres if they are big enough," says Smith. Surface fires - burning on a forest floor, for instance - tend to spread slowly and can be more easily controlled. In fact some surface fires can be good, says Cathelijne Stoof, a wild land fire expert based in the Netherlands. "It helps plants regenerate," she adds. "The problem is when the flames can climb up low level branches and get to the tops of the trees. That's when you can't stop it." The most dangerous part of a blaze is called the head fire, explains Thomas Smith. It is driven forward by the wind and is very difficult to fight directly because it has long flame lengths. (Webmaster's comment: But it's hotter and drier than before so we will have more fires!)
7-24-18 Fighting climate change is not going to cost you anything
We can have solar panels and butter. The entire political debate about climate change is backwards. The traditional narrative goes something like this: Fighting climate change is going to cost a ton of money. Therefore any policy program must be rigorously analyzed to figure out if it is the most efficient option. That is the background assumption of the so-called "lukewarmers," who make outrageously dishonest cases for basically ignoring climate change because it will cost too much, but also for the cadre of economists designing revenue-neutral carbon taxes so as to maximize efficiency. Not only is this picture false, climate policy would have the precise opposite effect. A ferociously aggressive program of climate investment would drastically increase overall economic production, and be beneficial on net for nearly every American. Conversely, failing to act to climate change would almost certainly cause spectacular economic devastation. Now, of course it's true that climate policy would require a whole lot of direct spending. We need to build out hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy and storage, modernize the electrical grid, accelerate the development and deployment of electric vehicles, make heating and cooling drastically more efficient, construct national passenger rail, and on and on. More or less the entire economy needs to be overhauled. In a country that was roaring along at full employment and maximum production, that would indeed be an expensive program. But the key fact about the United States (and virtually every other wealthy nation) is that we are not at full economic capacity, and haven't been since 2007 — and that means a big spending program could restore full production. Idle capacity would be brought back online, and capacity that has decayed — as long-term unemployed workers have lost skills, and businesses have shut down or foregone improvements — could be restored by pressing hard on demand. With a labor shortage, idle workers could be retrained, and plants and equipment could be updated. As economist J.W. Mason has calculated, we are something like $3 trillion (or more than the entire GDP of California) below the 1945-2007 output trend. A crash program of investment might not make up that entire gap, but even two-thirds of the way would be an explosion of prosperity for average people.
7-24-18 Warming Arctic could be behind heatwave sweeping northern hemisphere
Deadly heatwaves could continue for weeks, and possibly months, across much of the northern hemisphere, meteorologists predicted this week. This heatwave across much of the northern hemisphere could continue for weeks, and possibly even months. And accelerated warming in the Arctic compared to the rest of the planet could be a key contributor. The heatwaves have killed dozens in Japan and Korea, triggered wildfires in California and Sweden, and led to prolonged dry weather in the UK and across northern Europe, raising temperatures beyond 30°C in Scandanavian sectors of the Arctic Circle. In Greece, the deadliest wildfires in more than a decade have claimed at least 49 lives. “It could persist for weeks, potentially for months,” a spokesperson for the UK Meteorological Office told New Scientist. The outlook was echoed by the German Weather Service, DWD, which warned this week of “a continuation of the drought situation and above-normal temperatures for at least the next two weeks for Northern Europe, from Ireland to the Baltic States and southern Scandinavia”. Last week, temperatures exceeded 30°C in the Scandinavian region of the Arctic Circle, with Norway recording a record high temperature of 33.5°C in Bardufoss, a town just south of Tromsø. More than 50 forest fires raged through Sweden in mid-July. Heatwaves in Japan and South Korea have claimed at least 40 and 10 lives respectively, with high temperatures and dry conditions triggering wildfires in California. In Algeria’s Sahara Desert, a temperature of 51.°C was recorded on 5 July, a record for Africa, and Canada has already seen 18 days exceeding 30°C, compared with nine all last summer.
7-24-18 Japan heatwave declared natural disaster as death toll mounts
Japan's weather agency has declared a heatwave sweeping the country a natural disaster, with at least 65 deaths recorded in the past week. An agency spokesman warned that "unprecedented levels of heat" were being seen in some areas. More than 22,000 people have been taken to hospital with heat stroke, nearly half of them elderly, officials say. On Monday, the city of Kumagaya reported a temperature of 41.1C (106F), the highest ever recorded in Japan. The heatwave shows no sign of abating, forecasters say. In central Tokyo, temperatures over 40C were also registered for the first time. "We are observing unprecedented levels of heat in some areas," spokesman Motoaki Takekawa said, adding that the heatwave was "a threat to life and we recognise it as a natural disaster".
7-24-18 Global heatwave: Your guide to coping with hot weather
The summer has been unusually hot in much of the northern hemisphere. With temperatures well above average in places, we take a look at the ways to cope with the heat. Thousands of people have been taken to hospital and dozens have died in record heat in countries like Japan and Canada in recent weeks. If you are not used to such extreme temperatures, you could be vulnerable to heat exhaustion - so knowing the warning signs is key. You should cool off immediately if you have the following symptoms: headaches, feeling dizzy, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive sweating, cramps, fast breathing and intense thirst. Those most vulnerable include the elderly, people with conditions such as diabetes, young children and people working or exercising outdoors.
- Know the warning signs
- Drink and eat smart
- Embrace the indoors
- Dress cool
- In case of wildfires
7-24-18 At least 49 people killed in Greece’s deadliest wildfires in a decade
The deadliest blazes to hit Greece in more than a decade have seen wildfires fanned by high winds rage through resorts. At least 49 people have been killed and more than 100 injured by wildfires in Greece. The deadliest blazes to hit the country in more than a decade have seen wildfires fanned by high winds rage through holiday resorts near Athens. Fire department spokeswoman said that 156 adults and 16 children have been taken to hospital with injuries. Eleven of the adults are in a serious condition. Strong winds have fanned the flames, with the fires spreading rapidly into inhabited areas, preventing people who are in their homes or in their cars from managing to flee. Greece has requested firefighting help from the European Union, and a military transport plane is arriving with 60 firefighters from Cyprus, while two water-dropping planes are expected from Spain. The death toll was raised after rescue crews reported finding the bodies of more than 20 people huddled together near a beach. The head of Greece’s Red Cross, Nikos Oikonomopoulos, told local television a member of a Red Cross rescue team had told him the crew searching a seaside area north-east of Athens had found 26 bodies, apparently families, huddled tightly together.
7-24-18 Greece wildfires: 60 dead in holiday area
At least 60 people have died in wildfires in the Attica region around Athens, in Greece's worst fire disaster in more than a decade. Flames fanned by strong winds devastated the seaside village of Mati, devouring homes and cars. Rescuers found the bodies of 26 adults and children who had apparently hugged each other as they died, trapped by the inferno just metres from the sea. Many calls have been made to the rescue services looking for missing persons. Mati is located in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps. Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blazes and the authorities are seeking international assistance.
7-23-18 There are more suicides in US and Mexico when the temperature rises
Hikes in average monthly temperatures are linked to higher suicide rates, which means climate change may lead to thousands of extra suicide deaths. An increase in average monthly temperatures of just 1°C seems enough to increase suicide rates. Analysis of data from the US and Mexico suggests that if climate change continues unchecked, rising temperatures could lead to thousands more suicides in these countries by 2050. Marshall Burke at Stanford University in California and his colleagues analysed public health data on more than 850,000 suicides over 36 years in the US and more than 611,000 suicides over 20 years in Mexico. For each degree of average monthly temperature increase, they found that suicide rates rose by an average of 0.7 per cent in the US, and 2.1 per cent in Mexico. “Whether you’re in a really cold place to start with or a really hot place, you’re going to see suicide rates increase as temperatures do,” Burke says. “If you heat up a January, you have the same effect as if you heat up a June. That’s why this is so surprising.” Burke and his team used census data to account for gender, income and geography and found no difference for any factor. They also accounted for the adoption of air conditioning in each US county or Mexican municipality and found that it had no effect. Burke suggests that serotonin, a brain chemical known to affect mental health and regulate body temperature, could be behind the increase. The team predicts that climate change could lead to 40,000 additional suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050.
7-23-18 Ocean acidification could leave fish unable to smell their prey
As the climate warms and carbon dioxide levels rise in the oceans, odours that help fish meet mates and hunt prey will be harder to smell. Fish follow their noses to navigate the world, but that may soon be tricky. As the climate warms and oceans hold more carbon dioxide, fish will have to get 42 per cent closer to an odour source to find mates, hunt prey, or make their way to spawning grounds. That’s what Cosima Porteus at the University of Exeter found when she and her colleagues subjected European sea bass to elevated CO2. They observed sea bass in water that mimics the level of ocean acidification predicted by the year 2100, and measured changes in their olfactory nerve. Porteus and her team exposed the fish to 10 odours: amino acids found in protein, which produce odours fish use to find food; bile acids, which help fish recognize whether another fish of their species is male or female, or sexually active; and a chemical alarm cue that helps them detect predators. The nerve activity was lowered in response to three of the amino acids and the bile, which meant the fish would have to be two to five times closer to the source to smell it. The team found that less information was being taken in by the olfactory nerve, and from there, less information was being transmitted to the brain centre for processing. Finding your way through an acidified ocean would be like walking through the world with foggy glasses. “They would have a hard time finding suitable habitats and finding mates,” Porteus says. Some species need to travel long distances using their sense of smell to navigate, which would get trickier.
7-23-18 Deadly heatwave hits Japan and Korea as temperatures soar past 40°C
Japan has experienced its highest temperature since records began as a deadly heatwave continued to grip large parts of the country as well as neighbouring North and South Korea. Japan has experienced its highest temperature since records began as a deadly heatwave continued to grip large parts of the country as well as neighbouring North and South Korea. The mercury hit 41.1°C (106°F) in Kumagaya, a city in Saitama prefecture about 40 miles north-west of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. This broke the previous record of 41°C in Ekawasaki on the island of Shikoku on August 12 2013. Two lingering high pressure systems have trapped warm and humid air above the region, bringing record high temperatures for nearly two weeks. More than 40 people have died in Japan and about 10 in South Korea. The 10 who died in South Korea succumbed to heatstroke and other heat-related causes, seven of them last week, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said. About 1,040 people have fallen ill because of hot weather from May 20 to July 21, an increase of 61 per cent over the same period last year, it said. South Korea’s highest-ever morning low was recorded in the city of Gangneung, where the temperature was 31°C at 6.45am. The morning low in Seoul was 29.2°C , a record for the country’s capital, according to South Korea’s weather agency. The mercury hit 39.9°C in the south-eastern town of Hayang, the highest temperature in the country so far this year. In North Korea, residents fanned themselves on crowded trolleys or protected themselves from the sun with parasols as temperatures in Pyongyang, the capital, reached 34°C . Weather reports said even higher temperatures were recorded on the country’s eastern coast. Thousands of people in Japan have been rushed to hospitals with heatstroke symptoms during the heatwave. Kyodo News agency has tallied more than 40 deaths. Many of the victims have been elderly people who were not using air conditioning. The temperature reached 39°C on Monday in central Tokyo, the highest temperature this year. The worst of the heatwave is expected to be over this week.
7-23-18 Japan heatwave: Temperature breaks national record
Temperatures in Japan have hit a record high, with officials issuing a fresh warning to stay safe. Japan has for days been in the grip of a deadly heatwave, although the numbers reported killed vary widely from 15 to as high as 40. On Monday, the thermometer peaked at 41.1C (106F) in Kumagaya, near Tokyo, breaking the previous national record of 41C from 2013. More than a dozen cities have seen temperatures of about 40C. Japan's disaster management agency urged people to stay in air-conditioned spaces, drink water and rest to prevent heat exhaustion. "People in areas where temperatures are as high as 35 degrees or higher should be extremely careful" to avoid heatstroke, a meteorological agency official told news agency AFP. "And even at lower temperatures, the heat can be dangerous for small children and elderly people, and depending on the environment and activities you are doing," the official warned. In Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, people took part in an event known as uchimizu, or "water ceremony" - pouring or sprinkling cold water on to the hot pavements in an attempt to cool them.Already this summer, more than 10,000 people have been taken to hospital as a result of the heat, according to the country's Kyodo news agency. On Monday, a number of senior citizens died as a result of the intense heat in prefectures surrounding Tokyo, according to the local authorities. A day earlier, the Tokyo Fire Department dispatched ambulances some 3,125 times within the capital, the largest figure for a day since it began emergency services in 1936, as heatstroke and exhaustion contributed to emergency calls, AFP reports.
7-23-18 The giant iceberg that broke from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf is stuck
The chunk is threatening to destabilize more of the continent’s ice. Curl the fingers of your left hand over your palm and stick out your thumb like a hitchhiker. Now, you have a rough map of Antarctica — with the inside of your thumb playing the part of the Larsen C ice shelf, says glaciologist Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. About a year ago, a massive iceberg roughly the size of Delaware broke off from that ice shelf, and it hasn’t moved much since (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6). The chunk of ice traveled just about 45 kilometers northeast before getting stuck behind an elevated ice promontory called the Bawden ice rise. Researchers monitoring satellite images of the iceberg say it’s been battering Bawden as winds and ocean currents push against the calved ice. That could be a problem, says Anna Hogg, an earth observation researcher at the University of Leeds in England. The Bawden ice rise acts “almost like scaffolding,” providing structure and stability to Larsen C, Hogg says. If it were destabilized, that could potentially lead to the collapse of the rest of the shelf, which could have implications for sea level rise. That hasn’t happened yet. The iceberg may still be able to escape if it can twist around the tip of Bawden. “Currents and winds carry most of the icebergs in the same direction” — toward South Georgia Island, where many Antarctic icebergs eventually thin out and melt away, Scambos says.
7-23-18 Our plastic oceans
One day soon, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. What happens after an endless supply of plastic in consumer products winds up in the sea? Here's everything you need to know:
- How bad is the pollution? A garbage truck's worth of plastic enters the world's oceans every minute. All told, humanity has dumped up to 14 million tons of plastic pollution into the seas, and bits of it can be found from the water's surface down to its most extreme depths.
- Where's it coming from? Since plastic became incorporated into many consumer products in the 1950s, only about 21 percent has been recycled or incinerated. What makes plastic appealing — that it's not only cheap and versatile but also virtually indestructible — makes it a nightmare to dispose of, and about 3 percent of the plastic produced in coastal countries eventually enters the ocean.
- Where does it all go? A lot of it winds up in five huge masses of plastic debris, called gyres, created by currents in the world's oceans. The largest of these swirling plastic stews is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed by winds and currents between California and Hawaii. It's twice the size of Texas and "increasing exponentially," according to a study published earlier this year.
- Is it affecting marine life? Yes, though the impact is not well understood. The Convention on Biological Diversity counts 663 species affected by plastic pollution in the ocean. Researchers find that fish raised in waters with heavy concentrations of microplastics are "smaller, slower, and more stupid" than normal fish.
- Are humans at risk? The evidence is unclear. The polymers in plastics are chemically inert, but some common additives in plastic behave similarly to human hormones, and might do damage in high concentrations. And it's becoming increasingly difficult not to ingest plastics. A study last year found 83 percent of the world's drinking water is contaminated, while this year, researchers found 93 percent of bottled water contains some plastic, often double the amount found in tap water.
- What's being done? There are growing efforts here and abroad to use less plastic, such as the #StopSucking campaign to get rid of disposable plastic straws, and municipal laws banning plastic bags. Unfortunately, the environmental net gain of such efforts is small, and scientists agree that effective remedies to plastic pollution will require global cooperation.
- Reversing the damage: Purging the ocean of plastic sounds like an all but impossible task, given that there are trillions of nanoparticles dispersed in the water, yet there's no shortage of proposals to do just that. A 23-year-old Dutch environmentalist named Boyan Slat has raised more than $30 million for a project called The Ocean Cleanup, which will deploy long floating barriers that he says can trap and remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years. Scientists, however, fear the effect of Slat's design on sea animals and zooplankton living close to the surface.
7-23-18 Recycled packaging 'may end up in landfill', warns watchdog
You try to be virtuous, wiping the curdling yoghurt off a plastic pot, then putting it in the recycling bin. Perhaps you envisage the pot eventually re-incarnated as a frisbee or maybe even a plastic bench. But don’t rest easy. Your pot might get burned or buried in landfill, and you’d never know. The National Audit Office (NAO) says over half of the packaging reported as recycled is actually being sent abroad to be processed. As a result, it says, the government has little idea of whether the recyclables are getting turned into new products, buried in landfill or burned. While an illusion of success has been created by the UK’s system for recycling packaging, the NAO says, the reality may be quite different. The UK is said to have increased recycling from under a third in 1998 to nearly two thirds last year, easily beating the EU target. It sounds good. But the NAO says most of the recorded increase in recycling has been due to the UK exporting its waste problem. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is already on record saying the UK has got to stop exporting its dirt. Reducing waste and using resources better, as well as tackling packaging waste is key to that. The environment department Defra estimates that UK packaging recycling rates have increased from 31% in 1998 to 64% in 2017. That beats the EU target of 55%. But since 2002 the quantity of packaging waste exported has increased six-fold, whilst the quantity recycled in the UK has remained the same. What’s more, the figures don’t take into account the risk of undetected fraud and error. The NAO says there’s nothing to prove that packaging sent for recycling actually gets recycled.
7-21-18 How toxic ash from wildfires could poison our food
When the flames are gone, the danger may not be. after the wildfires ripped through Sonoma County, California, last October, Evan Wiig went into his garden and found his homegrown vegetables covered in a layer of ash. Scattered among this toxic dust were pages of books that had rained down from the sky. It wasn't just Wiig's yard. The burned remains from the wildfire dusted the landscape for miles around. As the immediate shock of the disaster subsided, this visible pollution led people to wonder whether their fresh produce had been contaminated by the smoke. The soot-covered vegetables made an impression because Wiig, as a community organizer with the Farmers Guild and the Community Alliance With Family Farmers, had been one of the people responsible for coordinating a regional food relief effort — in part through dispensing homegrown produce. As more than 100,000 people were evacuated and many lost their homes, one of the main challenges was ensuring that people had enough to eat. Eager to steer people away from a "disaster diet" of canned and processed foods, Wiig had reached out to local farmers, who responded generously and enthusiastically from within the county and beyond, bringing truckloads of fresh produce to the evacuation centers. "Suddenly, people didn't have their kitchens, people were in shelters, people were being taken in by friends and family. You had folks who suddenly had 10 other people to feed in their home, and it was expensive," Wiig says. "There was an immediate need for food, and all these incredible grassroots emergency kitchens started popping up." Yet as ash wafted from the sky, organizers began to confront a new worry: Was the food they were providing safe to eat?
7-21-18 Japan heatwave: Warnings issued amid scorching temperatures
People across Japan have been urged to take precautions against a heatwave that has killed about 30 people. Thousands more have sought hospital treatment for heat-related conditions over the past two weeks. Temperatures reached 40.7C (105F) in central Japan earlier this week, a five-year nationwide peak. In the city of Kyoto temperatures have stood above 38C (100.4F) for seven days in a row for the first time since records began in the 19th Century. The Japanese education ministry told schools to take thorough measures to prevent heat stroke after a six-year-old boy died following an outdoor class in Aichi Prefecture on Tuesday. Japan's meteorological agency urged people to drink sufficient water to prevent heat exhaustion. The temperatures are also complicating flood recovery efforts in western Japan, as many volunteers struggle with the heat. More than 200 people were killed in the floods and mudslides triggered by record rainfall earlier this month.
7-20-18 Oceans of plastic
What happens after an endless supply of plastic in consumer products winds up in the sea?
- How bad is the pollution? A garbage truck’s worth of plastic enters the world’s oceans every minute. All told, humanity has dumped up to 14 million tons of plastic pollution into the seas, and bits of it can be found from the water’s surface down to its most extreme depths.
- Where’s it coming from? Since plastic became incorporated into many consumer products in the 1950s, only about 21 percent has been recycled or incinerated.
- Where does it all go? A lot of it winds up in five huge masses of plastic debris, called gyres, created by currents in the world’s oceans. The largest of these swirling plastic stews is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed by winds and currents between California and Hawaii. It’s twice the size of Texas and “increasing exponentially.”
- Is it affecting marine life? Yes, though the impact is not well understood. The Convention on Biological Diversity counts 663 species affected by plastic pollution in the ocean. Researchers find that fish raised in waters with heavy concentrations of microplastics are “smaller, slower, and more stupid” than normal fish.
- Are humans at risk? The evidence is unclear. The polymers in plastics are chemically inert, but some common additives in plastic behave similarly to human hormones, and might do damage in high concentrations. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to ingest plastics. A study last year found 83 percent of the world’s drinking water is contaminated, while this year, researchers found 93 percent of bottled water contains some plastic.
- What’s being done? There are growing efforts here and abroad to use less plastic, such as the #StopSucking campaign to get rid of disposable plastic straws, and municipal laws banning plastic bags. Unfortunately, the environmental net gain of such efforts is small
- Reversing the damage: Purging the ocean of plastic sounds like an all but impossible task, given that there are trillions of nanoparticles dispersed in the water, yet there’s no shortage of proposals to do just that. But none enjoy wide scientific support.
7-20-18 Worldwide Reach
Large plumes of dust from the Sahara Desert created a haze in the skies of Texas this week amid an intense heat wave. The dust, originating in Chad, was carried thousands of miles west by winds.
7-20-18 Don’t rely on FEMA in disasters
FEMA has “a novel suggestion for Americans as the 2018 disaster season heats up: Don’t rely on us,” said Emily Atkin. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was clearly overwhelmed by the three major hurricanes that devastated parts of the U.S. last year, as it admits in a new report. The FEMA report acknowledges that the agency vastly underestimated how much food, water, and other vital supplies it needed in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, as well as the logistical challenges in distributing that aid. To better cope with future disasters, FEMA says, state and local governments, businesses, and private citizens will have to make their own preparations and take responsibility for recovery. “It’s probably good advice,” since FEMA paid for less than 10 percent of the $265 billion in damage caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; some people in Texas and Puerto Rico still are without homes. Although FEMA refuses to use the term “climate change” in its report, scientists say a warmer, wetter atmosphere is causing disasters to become “more frequent and more damaging.” Unless our society and our government come to grips with that reality, FEMA “will find itself overwhelmed indefinitely.”
7-20-18 Arctic wild goose chase threatens chicks as temperatures rise
Rising temperatures in the Arctic are encouraging Barnacle geese to speed up their migration journeys north every spring, says a new study. But their efforts to go faster are leaving them too drained to lay their eggs early when they arrive. This is bad news for the species as their chicks are hatched too late to take advantage of the best food, so fewer are surviving. The scientists involved say the birds will have to adapt and migrate earlier. Every spring these geese set out from their temperate wintering grounds in the North Sea, often stopping off in the Baltic to rest on their way to their breeding areas in the Russian Arctic. However climate change is seeing spring arrive earlier in the Arctic, something the geese are blissfully unaware of, until about half way through their journeys. "The greening of vegetation as they fly probably gives them information about the earlier spring - as they see things more green that's a cue for them to hurry up, that's what we think," author Bart Nolet from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology told BBC News. In their rush, the geese are not making their normal detour to the Baltic where they refuel. This is leaving them in a bad state when they finally arrive in Russia."The female sits on the eggs for three weeks almost in a row, so she really needs to arrive there with enough body stores - but by skipping a stopover she arrives with too little reserves to start laying immediately," said Prof Nolet. Normally the geese hatch before the spring and can take advantage of what the scientists term "peak food", when the quality and the quantity of foraging are at their height. As they are now missing this moment, fewer goslings are surviving over the summer. To adapt to this critical problem, the geese will have to learn how to leave their wintering grounds earlier. This is difficult as they seem to decide when to fly based on day length, something that isn't changing with the rise in temperatures.
7-20-18 Is UK barbecue charcoal fuelling global deforestation?
A growing taste for al fresco dining is driving record charcoal sales in the UK but is it also fuelling global deforestation and climate change? Last year Britain imported nearly 90,000 tonnes of charcoal. It's much cheaper than sourcing it from within the UK but where is it coming from and at what cost to the environment? The BBC took a random selection of charcoal bags from supermarkets and shops to be tested. The testing was carried out at a specialist laboratory by experts in Hamburg, Germany. Volker Haag is a scientist at Thünen-Institut of Wood Research. He carried out the independent tests to ascertain exactly which species were in the bags. Mr Haag told us: "Within the investigation of the four assortments that you brought to us, we found mixture of timbers which naturally originate in tropical and sub-tropical areas. "For example, we discovered Eucalypt which we find in Australia, also Fabaceae and Acacia, which could be from South America, from Asia or from Africa." Forests in tropical and sub-tropical regions are home to many endangered species which need to be protected for the health of the embattled planet and the fight against climate change.
7-20-18 You’re living in a new geologic age. It’s called the Meghalayan
The Meghalayan is one of three newly designated time intervals dividing the Holocene Epoch. Meghalayan: The newly named current geologic age that started 4,200 years ago. Welcome to the Meghalayan, our geologic here and now. It’s one of three newly designated ages divvying up the Holocene Epoch, a geologic time period kicked off 11,700 years ago by the end of the Ice Age. First came a warming period, now dubbed the Greenlandian Age. Then, about 8,300 years ago, the Northgrippian Age began with a big chill that gripped Earth for about 4,000 years. Finally, the Meghalayan started 4,200 years ago with a devastating, 200-year worldwide megadrought. “It marked a quite serious collapse of human agricultural civilizations,” says Phil Gibbard of the International Union of Geological Sciences, which ratified the new ages June 14 and released an updated geologic time scale July 13. The megadrought triggered human crises and migrations ranging from China to the Middle East to India, where the new age’s namesake is located. A stalagmite from a cave in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya acts as the official time stamp marker for the start of the age. The drought is also recorded in other geologic sediments and at archaeological sites around the world. The Meghalayan is the first formal geologic time interval in Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history that began at the same time as a global, climate-driven cultural event.
7-19-18 If we’re in the Meghalayan, whatever happened to the Anthropocene?
The decision to label our current geological phase the Meghalayan rather than the Anthropocene is misguided, say Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis. One big debate in science is whether the impacts of human actions on earth are now so large that we have entered a new geological time. Called the Anthropocene, its formal designation would mean the old forces of nature that transformed our planet many millions of years ago, including meteorites and mega-volcanoes, are joined by another: us. What geologists call the Holocene Epoch would be over. The exact date would be up for debate, but it would probably be within the past few hundred years. A formal decision on this had been expected. Instead, an announcement by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) declared that we are still officially in the Holocene but that since 4,200 years ago we have in fact been in a sub-period called the Meghalayan Age. Confused? Well join the club. Like Russian dolls, geological time is split into ever finer nested units. Eons are the longest, followed by Eras then Periods then Epochs and finally Ages. The IUGS has ratified a proposal to split up the Holocene Epoch into three Ages. First the Greenlandian Age which runs from the start of the Holocene at 11,700 years ago to 8,326 years ago when the Northgrippian starts. This Age runs to 4,250 years ago when the Meghalayan starts, which continues to the present. They more-or-less define the early, middle and late Holocene. The Meghalayan Age is defined by a mega-drought that caused the collapse of a number of civilisations, including Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and the Yangtze River Valley. Most well-known is the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt, a civilization that had prospered for over 450 years building over 20 giant pyramids. The IUGS has referred to this event as a worldwide collapse of civilization, forgetting the tens of millions of people living in civilisation in the Americas, Africa and elsewhere. The name of the Age comes from the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya where a stalagmite was recovered from a cave that provides chemical evidence of the drought.
7-19-18 Climate change is forcing geese to give up pit stops when they migrate
Barnacle geese are accelerating their migration journeys and taking fewer rest stops along the way to cope with early Arctic springs caused by a warming climate. Barnacle geese are radically changing their migration patterns as a result of the warming climate. Spring in the Arctic is starting earlier and earlier because of rising temperatures, and barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) are speeding up their annual trip in a rush for breeding spots, with devastating consequences for newly hatched goose chicks. In the spring, barnacle geese migrate 3,000 km from the North Sea to their breeding grounds in the Russian Arctic, stopping along the way for food and rest at sites along the Baltic Sea. But scientists now say that the geese are skipping these rest stops to reach the Arctic’s increasingly early spring, arriving at their destination up to almost two weeks ahead of schedule. This rapid, non-stop migration came as a surprise, says Bart Nolet at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. We used to think that geese would not be capable of making this journey without stopovers to refuel, he says. But an early arrival has its own problems: the geese are exhausted and need time to replenish their energies before laying eggs. They traditionally sync the hatching of their chicks with peak food quality, but the early arrival is causing a heightened struggle for food. Under these conditions the baby goose chicks are finding it more difficult to become strong enough to survive the treacherous trip back.
7-19-18 Shallow reef species may not find refuge in deeper water habitats
Coral reefs in the deep are ecologically different than those in shallow water. Deep water reefs are unlikely to be safe harbors for many fish and coral species from shallow reefs threatened by climate change and human activity. Shallow water creatures may have trouble adapting to conditions in the deep, scientists report in the July 20 Science. Plus, deep reefs are facing the same threats that are putting shallower ones at risk. The study deals a blow to the “deep reef refugia” hypothesis. That’s the idea that species from troubled shallow reefs could simply move to reefs at depths of 30 to 150 meters, called mesophotic reefs because they exist at the limits of where sunlight reaches. Even though individuals of a typical shallow water species may be spotted at a wide range of depths, it doesn’t mean the majority of that species could survive living in deeper waters, says study coauthor Luiz Rocha, a zoologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. “When you start looking into details,” Rocha says, “a lot of these species don’t actually live in these depths.” But there was scant data, partly because seeing these species requires scientists to undergo technical diving training. Rocha and his team wanted to figure out which, if any, shallow water species can also thrive in deep water reefs. And the only way to do that was to get wet.
7-19-18 Slowing Gulf Stream current to boost warming for 20 years
The prospect of the Gulf Stream slowing down and even stopping altogether has worried many experts in recent years. Some believed that this would cause a rapid cooling around the world with resulting global chaos. But this new study finds the Gulf Stream go-slow will have a significant impact on planetary temperatures, but not in a chilled out way. Researchers say a slower current will carry less heat down to the deep oceans meaning more will enter the atmosphere. Worries over the fate of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), of which the Gulf Stream is part, were graphically illustrated in the 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow. It focused on a sudden collapse of the Amoc caused by global warming leading to a disastrous freezing and the dawning of a new ice age. So much for Hollywood - the reality according to the corresponding author of this new study is very different. "The headlines have said that the Gulf Stream is collapsing and the Ice Age is coming sooner than scientists think," Prof Ka-Kit Tung from the University of Washington told BBC News. "The answer from our work is no to both of them." Instead Prof Tung and his colleagues have reconstructed what's happened with the flow of the Amoc over the past 70 years. They found a natural pattern with declines, flat periods and increases over the decades. What is the Gulf Stream? It's a powerful ocean current that is part of the Amoc and it flows from the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up along the east coast of the US, before crossing the Atlantic towards Ireland, the UK and Europe.
7-18-18 We cannot breathe easily when deadly air threatens young children
As a silent, faceless killer, air pollution is often ignored, but a young girl's tragic death may finally wake us up to this toxic threat. BEDFORD Street, the home of New Scientist‘s London office, is a fairly narrow road in the heart of busy Covent Garden. Every day, it is clogged by cars, taxis and lorries struggling to navigate a centuries-old path designed for horse and cart, their idling engines spewing out toxic air pollution. This scene is replicated across London and the rest of the UK, where air pollution is said to kill 40,000 people each year. Worldwide, the figure is 7 million. Those numbers are somewhat misleading – no one has “air pollution” on their death certificate – but all our lives are shortened from breathing pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. Despite this, tourists and office workers happily share Bedford Street with a silent killer. As with climate change, we find it almost impossible to perceive the ever-present harm being caused by government inaction on cleaning up our air. A girl named Ella Kissi-Debrah may change that. She lived around 10 kilometres away from Bedford Street, near an extremely busy road in south London. She had severe asthma and died, aged 9, in 2013. Her family are now fighting to have her death officially attributed to illegal levels of air pollution (see “The death of 9-year-old girl may be a tipping point for air pollution“). We have seen how powerful stories can overcome inertia on environmental issues: the growing backlash against plastic was largely driven by the TV show Blue Planet II. Palm oil, too, is in the spotlight, as its production threatens iconic orangutans. Large, faceless numbers, particularly the statistical constructs used by health officials in relation to air pollution, are easy to ignore. The death of a young girl, less so. While Ella’s case is not the first legal action over dirty air, it could be the most important in changing public perceptions, and waking us all up to the growing toxic threat.
7-18-18 The death of 9-year-old girl may be a tipping point for air pollution
The family of Ella Kissi-Debrah want an inquest to rule air pollution as the cause of her death, while other legal cases are challenging government inaction on dirty air. AIR pollution kills 7 million people a year worldwide. In the US, the figure is about 200,000 people. In the European Union, it is a shocking half a million. At least, these are the sorts of figures health authorities release. But they don’t mean we can identify any of the 7 million individuals killed by air pollution each year. Rather, it is a way of representing statistically the years of life lost to air pollution, as most of us will die earlier from the toll it takes on our health. If the family of Ella Kissi-Debrah get their way, though, this might change. Ella was a Londoner with severe asthma who died aged 9 in 2013. An inquest in 2014 found she died of respiratory failure, caused by asthma. Her family want a new inquest to rule that air pollution killed her. “We will be arguing that there’s a real prospect that without air pollution Ella would not have died,” says the family’s lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn. It is an extraordinary case. There have been legal battles over air pollution before, but none like this. So is it possible to attribute an individual death to air pollution? And what would it mean if we can? Ella’s family live next to a very busy road, and she walked or was driven along it to get to and from school. Between 2010 and her death in 2013, she was taken to hospital nearly 30 times with asthma attacks. At the time of the inquest, her family had not given air pollution any thought – no doctor had even mentioned it. But Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, regarded her death as unexplained and kept looking for answers.
7-18-18 The myth of clean natural gas
The rise of fracking has transformed America's fossil fuels sector. With fracked oil and natural gas, the United States has once again become one of the world's top energy producers, nearly matching Saudi Arabia and Russia. Natural gas in particular has gotten wide attention, in part because it is much more carbon-efficient than coal when burned to produce electricity. The slogan was that it could serve as a "bridge fuel" between dirty coal and clean renewables — and thus fight climate change, at least relative to continuing reliance on coal. It's increasingly clear, however, that natural gas is already nearly past its point of maximum usefulness. It should simply be phased out as soon as possible — as soon as coal is gone, it should be next on the chopping block, if not right beside. The first and biggest problem with natural gas is leaks. The fuel is largely composed of methane, and the smaller greenhouse gas footprint of the fuel relies on all that methane actually getting burned. If there are leaks at the wellhead, or the pipelines, or at the power plant, it cuts into the climate change benefit very quickly, because methane is tremendously effective at capturing heat. Measured over 20 years, a given quantity of methane captures about 86 times as much heat as the same amount of carbon dioxide. It turns out there are a ton of such leaks. Comprehensive leak data hasn't been assembled, largely because the energy industry — and now the United States government, but I repeat myself — doesn't want it to be. However, it's a fairly simple procedure to fly a plane over the big drilling fields, test for methane concentrations, figure out a reasonable model of gas dispersal, and calculate a leak rate. Lo and behold, a recent study found (yet again) that leaks are so bad they basically cancel out the climate advantages of natural gas compared to coal (though natural gas still produces fewer poisonous fumes and heavy metals). It's theoretically possible that all these leaks might be plugged. But the industry patently does not want the regulation required to achieve that, and it barely matters in any case. Natural gas is not that much better than coal — it's still releasing a great deal of carbon dioxide, after all.
7-18-18 Cape Town drought was made three times more likely by global warming
The city’s water crisis shows the high cost of failing to adapt to climate change, as it ignored warnings that water demand would exceed supply. Climate change made Cape Town’s recent drought three times more likely, climate models suggest. The water shortage has been so severe that water was limited to no more than 50 litres per person per day and at one stage the city almost had to switch off the water supply. Cape Town’s situation was caused by three years of below average rainfall, starting in 2015. But, until now, it has been unclear exactly how much of a role global warming played. Local rainfall records do not go back very far, so it is not clear how rainfall patterns have changed. However, the drought also affected much of the western Cape region, including places that have rainfall records going right back to the 1930s. So a team brought together by the World Weather Attribution initiative ran several climate models to see how well they match the region’s climate since 1930 – the world as it is. They then ran the best-performing of these models without the 1°C global warming so far – the world as it might have been without climate change. Finally, they ran them again in a world that is 2°C warmer. The team conclude that climate change tripled the risk of such a severe drought, and that the risk will triple again as the world warms by another degree. “For an event related to rainfall, three times is huge,” says team member Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford. “This is the first study we have done where we have seen a significant change in drought risk.”
7-17-18 ‘The Poisoned City’ chronicles Flint’s water crisis
Journalist Anna Clark weaves together history and science to explain the public health disaster. America is built on lead. Networks of aging pipes made from the bluish-gray metal bring water into millions of U.S. homes. But when lead, a poison to the nervous system, gets into drinking water — as happened in Flint, Mich. — the heavy metal can cause irreparable harm (SN: 3/19/16, p. 8). In The Poisoned City, journalist Anna Clark provides a thorough, nuanced account of the public health disaster in Flint — one that, she argues, was magnified by government malfeasance and decades of systemic racism. Trouble first began in April 2014. To save the cash-strapped city some money, Flint’s emergency manager switched the city’s source of water from Detroit’s water system, which drew from Lake Huron, to one that tapped the Flint River. But the city’s water treatment program didn’t include corrosion control, which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said wasn’t necessary — a violation of federal law. The result: Corroded pipes leached lead into drinking water. Residents, forced to use the brown, smelly tap water, developed rashes and lost clumps of hair. Twelve people died from Legionella bacteria, which the corrosive water dislodged from pipes, and dozens more were sickened. Despite residents’ complaints, as well as an independent analysis that found higher-than-allowable lead levels, state officials insisted that the water was safe, even when their own internal records showed it was not. “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax,” said one spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. That’s when one of the book’s heroes, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, enters Clark’s story. About 18 months after Flint switched to its new water source, the percentage of children under age 5 with high blood-lead levels nearly doubled from 2.1 to 4 percent, Hanna-Attisha discovered after taking a close look at Flint kids’ medical records. (Hanna-Attisha’s own account of her experiences, What the Eyes Don’t See, was published in June.)
7-17-18 Weird ‘wind drought’ means Britain’s turbines are at a standstill
Britain is experiencing a prolonged “wind drought” that has slowed or halted the blades on turbines around the country. Britain is experiencing a “wind drought” that has slowed or halted the blades on turbines around the country. July’s wind energy output so far is down 40 per cent when compared to the same period last year – despite more wind turbines having been installed in the interim, according to new figures. “We’ve been typically doing between 2 to 3 gigawatts of wind [generation],” says Rob Gross of Imperial College London, which complied the data, “At a windier time of the year we might be doing 9 or 10.” An unusually prolonged period of high pressure is to blame for the drought, says Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the UK Met Office. The jet stream has remained further north, meaning an area of dense, high pressure air over the UK hasn’t budged. “It’s like a lid, it keeps everything still,” says Madge. “From the forecast looking out over the next couple of weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any significant change on the way.” The price of natural gas, which is being burned more to compensate for the lack of wind, has ticked up slightly. Ireland is facing similar problems with a lack of wind while falling water levels in rivers have also curtailed hydroelectric power generation in July. Climate change might mean that less wind is available for energy production in general during the coming decades. One projection, published in Nature Geoscience in December, suggested that wind power would decrease in the northern hemisphere but increase in the southern hemisphere. This might mean a loss of as much as 18 per cent of wind over the central US by the year 2100, according to the study.
7-16-18 Wildfires are making extreme air pollution even worse in the northwest U.S.
Smoke from blazes ravaging western states is counteracting clean air improvements. The northwestern United States has become an air pollution hot spot — literally. Air quality in states from Nevada to Montana is worse than it was 30 years ago on the days with the most extreme air pollution. Bigger and more frequent wildfires that spew plumes of fine particulate matter into the sky are largely to blame, researchers report July 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By contrast, the rest of the country has seen decreasing trends in similar smog and haze over the last three decades. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, which mandates air quality standards and the regulation of vehicle and factory emissions of particulate matter, is making a difference, says study coauthor Daniel Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell. But the increase in lung-clogging particulate matter from wildfires shows how the effects of climate change — which is, in part, driving the worsening fires — can counteract those gains, Jaffe says. Wildfire smoke is filled with fine particulates, minuscule solids or droplets that can be inhaled into the lungs, exacerbating breathing problems. Children, the elderly and people with asthma are most at risk, but communities near wildfires can temporarily experience levels of pollutants so high that it’s unsafe for anyone to be outside for very long. “When we start to think about people’s health, episodic events matter a lot,” says Gannet Hallar, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who wasn’t part of the study.
7-15-18 What's the most effective way to talk about climate change?
All this gloom and doom might not be helping. Frightening stories about climate change seem to come in a never-ending wave these days. In just the past few months, we've learned that Antarctica is melting three times faster than it was a decade ago, rising seas might flood more than 300,000 U.S. homes twice a month within decades, and that India is facing the worst water crisis in its history. How do our brains respond to this onslaught of negative news? Not well. "Climate change has all the hallmarks of an issue which is difficult for people to engage with psychologically," says Lorraine Whitmarsh, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Cardiff in Wales. People perceive the risks of climate change "as both considerably uncertain and also as being mostly in the future and geographically distant, all factors that lead people to discount them," according to a 2009 American Psychological Association report on the topic. In other words, the worst impacts of climate change feel far away — in both time and place — to many Americans. So while it will increasingly impact all of us, every day, it's hard for us to get worked up about it. So do news stories with frightening projections about the future prod us to action, or make us stick our heads in the sand? It's a debated topic in psychology, and some recent research suggests there's not enough evidence to empirically say whether or not "arousing fear" is an effective way to communicate the risks of climate change. But other psychologists argue we know enough to say scare tactics don't work when it comes to engaging the public. "What we know from psychological studies is that if you overuse fear-inducing imagery, what you get is fear and guilt in people, and this makes people more passive, which counteracts engagement," said Norwegian psychologist and author of What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming. So what does work in effectively communicating the risks of climate change?
7-14-18 Five places that have just broken heat records
Parts of the world are sweltering in record temperatures - and it's not a problem confined only to summer in the northern hemisphere. Records are being broken across the globe - so where have things been particularly bad? And why is this happening?
- Eastern Canada: Cities across the region suffered a deadly heat wave last week, with at least 70 deaths attributed to the record hot spell in Quebec province alone. In Canada's capital Ottawa, in Ontario, the humidity index - the method used there to measure the combined humidity level and temperature - hit 47C (116.6F) on 2 July.
- The Caucasus region: The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, hit an all-time high of 40.5C (104.9F) on 4 July, but the heat has put a significant strain on (often ageing) power grids in other countries nearby.
- Southern California: Record after record fell in southern parts of California last week. Chino, outside LA, saw its hottest-ever temperature - 48.9C (120F).
- Sydney, Australia: Bear in mind that it is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere - but despite this, it is scorching in some places. Last week, the temperature in Sydney topped 24.7C (76.5F) over two days in July for the first time since records began.
- Algeria (maybe): Now, there are grounds to believe Africa's hottest reliable record temperature was registered in Ouargla, northern Algeria, on 5 July: 51.3C (124.3F).
7-14-18 Huge iceberg threatens Greenland village
A huge iceberg has drifted close to a village in western Greenland, prompting a partial evacuation in case it splits and the resulting wave swamps homes. The iceberg is looming over houses on a promontory in the Innaarsuit village but is grounded and did not move overnight, local media say. Local officials say they have never seen such a big iceberg before. Last summer, four people died after waves swamped houses in northwestern Greenland after an earthquake. Those of Inaarsuit's 169 residents living nearest the iceberg have been moved, Danish news agency Ritzau said. "There are cracks and holes that make us fear it can calve anytime," village council member Susanne Eliassen told the local newspaper Sermitsiaq. The village's power station and fuel tanks are close to the shore, she said. Some experts have warned that extreme iceberg events risk becoming more frequent because of climate change. This in turn increases the risk from tsunamis. In June New York University scientists released video footage of a massive iceberg breaking away from a glacier in eastern Greenland.
7-14-18 Earth’s coldest place
Scientists have found out just how cold the coldest place on Earth can get: a truly chilly minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit, NationalGeographic.com reports. That freezing temperature was recorded on an ice sheet deep in Antarctica during the polar winter. The measurement shatters the previous known coldest air temperature: minus 128.6, recorded at Russia’s Vostok weather station, near the South Pole, in 1983. Inhaling air that cold can cause your lungs to hemorrhage after a few breaths, so Russian researchers wore masks that warmed the air when they went outside to check on instruments. A team at the University of Colorado speculated that the temperature was likely even colder at a nearby spot, where the domed East Antarctic ice sheet reaches its apex. The team used satellite measurements to map surface temperatures there and found that the air at human head height was about minus 137, dropping to minus 144 at ground level. “It’s a place where Earth is so close to its limit, it’s almost like another planet,” study leader Ted Scambos says. With Antarctica warming because of climate change, this might be the coldest air temperature scientists will ever record on Earth.
7-13-18 Phoenix is one of the fastest-warming cities
A record 155 people died from heat-related causes in the Phoenix area last year, when there were more than 100 days when temperatures rose above 100 degrees. Phoenix is one of the fastest-warming cities in the U.S., because of climate change and the “urban heat island effect” created by an expanding sprawl of roads, dense development, air-conditioner exhaust, and cars.
7-13-18 Pruitt: The EPA and the damage done
Pruitt leaves behind a devastating environmental legacy, said Umair Irfan in Vox.com. Openly hostile to the EPA’s regulatory mission, he ignored scientific recommendations to ban toxic pesticides and other chemicals, lifted industrial air- and water-pollution controls, purged advisory panels of scientists, and widened loopholes for “heavy polluter” diesel trucks. He even scrubbed the phrase “climate change” from the EPA website. Pruitt obviously had to go, said John Fund in FoxNews.com, but scaling back “the bureaucratic blob that is the EPA” is very much in line with the president’s deregulation agenda. That agenda will be taken up by deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist. Now free from the scandals surrounding Pruitt, “Trump has unburdened himself of a political liability.”
7-13-18 Still making CFCs
Chinese companies are illegally producing a banned chlorofluorocarbon, which can destroy the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from solar ultraviolet radiation, an environmental group said this week. The chemical, CFC-11, has been banned worldwide since 2010, but scientists recently detected a surge in emissions of the outlawed gas in East Asia. Researchers with the U.K.-based Environmental Investigative Agency contacted 21 Chinese factories that make plastic insulation foam and found that 18 routinely used CFC-11 in production—because it is cheaper and more effective than alternatives—and were fully aware of the ban. China said it is investigating the report.
7-13-18 Wittenoom: Tourists urged to stay away from asbestos town
It is the ghost town in Western Australia that was built on an asbestos mine. Now authorities are concerned that curious tourists and thrill-seekers are returning to the outback town of Wittenoom, which was shut down in the 1970s. Local officials issued a notice this week warning people against visiting Wittenoom, located 1,100km (680 miles) north of Perth. The former mining town is officially classified as a contaminated site. Thousands of its former residents and visitors have died from asbestos exposure. The state government has referred to Wittenoom as "the greatest occupational health and safety tragedy in Australia - comparable to the Chernobyl and Bhopal catastrophes." Road signs warn people against visiting the town, which still retains a handful of residents. However, a steady stream of videos and online blog posts in recent years show travellers are not heeding the safety warnings. Earlier this month Ashley White, who is from Western Australia, ventured into the town while travelling through the rugged Pilbara region with his girlfriend. Wittenoom is located on the way to Karijini National Park, a popular attraction known for its gorges and waterfalls. Mr White told the BBC that he had researched the town's asbestos dangers prior to his visit, and that he had read the area's warning signs. However none of it stopped him from exploring the derelict buildings and going up to one of the old mine shafts. "From what I could find, it is the fibres in the air that cause the problems," he said. "There was no wind when we went so I was under the impression that a short visit won't hurt." (Webmaster's comment: Human stupidity will never end.)
7-13-18 Rain forests under threat
The world lost 39 million acres of tropical forest last year, about 40 football fields of trees every minute, according to a new report from the nonprofit Global Forest Watch. That makes 2017 the second-worst year for tropical forests, after 2016, since researchers first began collecting data in 2001. One-third of those losses occurred in Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rain forest, where farmers and ranchers routinely set forest fires to clear land for agriculture. Colombia lost 1 million acres of forest in 2017, 46 percent more than the previous year, as a peace deal between the government and leftist rebels opened the country’s once war-torn Amazon region to a rush of logging, farming, and mining. Forests can help mitigate climate change—trees capture and store atmospheric carbon in their wood and in the soil—but only $1 billion a year is spent on forest conservation. In comparison, $777 billion has been spent since 2010 financing agriculture and other land uses that put forests at risk. This report should be “a wake-up call,” said Mikaela Weisse, an analyst at Global Forest Watch. “What we are doing right now isn’t enough.”
7-13-18 Deadly deluge
Record-shattering rainfall across southwestern Japan forced some 2 million people to evacuate their homes last week. At least 176 were killed as mudslides buried houses and rushing floodwaters swept away cars and people. More than 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. “Many people are still missing,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Others are isolated and waiting for rescue. It’s a battle against time; 54,000 rescue forces are working.” Helicopters and boat crews were rushing to save people stranded on rooftops, including patients at one hospital near a river.
7-13-18 The bottom line
Starbucks is eliminating plastic straws from all of its stores by 2020 to reduce environmental waste. The coffee chain currently uses 1 billion plastic straws annually. The move means the company will also eliminate dome lids from all its beverages, with the exception of Frappuccinos, replacing them with plastic sip lids.
7-13-18 Will Ireland’s vote to divest from fossil fuels make a difference?
Ireland is set to become the first country to sell off all its investments in fossil fuels, but efforts to limit global warming must go much further. On 12 July, Ireland’s parliament voted for a bill that requires the country’s €8 billion investment fund to sell off all coal, oil and gas investments over the next five years. The bill has to be reviewed by a financial committee but is likely to become law soon. Norway announced in 2015 that its massive $5 billion fund would divest, but only from coal. Ireland is set to become the first country to divest from all fossil fuels. The news has been greeted with joy by climate change campaigners. “Ireland’s decision to divest from fossil fuels staggers me. It’s one of the landmark moments in what has become the largest campaign of its kind in history. Such thanks to all who fought,” tweeted Bill McKibben of 350.org, one of the first organisations to campaign for divestment from fossils. Will it actually make a difference in the battle to limit global warming? Naysayers argue that if universities, pension funds and countries sell off their fossil fuel investments, these stocks will just be snapped up cheaply by other investors with no effect on the companies concerned. Divestment just makes less ethical investors richer, they claim. But that is not what happened to those who invested in coal in recent years. Instead, the world’s biggest private coal company, Peabody Energy Holdings, went bust. The sector would be in even worse shape were it not for US president Donald Trump’s efforts to prop up coal. Earlier this year a study found that, in Canada at least, funds that divested have been more profitable.
7-13-18 Brexit 'could damage UK environment'
The environment is still at risk of damage after Brexit, according to a cross-party group of 74 MPs and peers. They say personal reassurances by Environment Secretary Michael Gove are of no value without new legislation. Mr Gove has promised that the environment will be maintained or enhanced after the UK leaves the EU. The group of 74 want a new Clean Air Act. They say they fear that, following Brexit, the government will pass the buck on pollution to councils. They have outlined their concerns in a letter, which has been organised by Geraint Davies, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution. He told BBC News: “Mr Gove talks the talk very impressively. But assurances are worth nothing until they are enacted. “If there’s no deal, then the UK will be on a cliff edge in March. The government failed to meet existing standards, but it will no longer be able to be taken to court. “It could easily pass the buck to local councils to transfer responsibility to them for tackling illegal air pollution." Mr Davies also re-iterated a demand from a joint committee of MPs reporting on air pollution. They said motor manufacturers who have cheated emissions tests should be forced to pay into a clean air fund. “VW were fined heavily in the USA,” he said. “But here, Michael Gove is saying it's better for them to invest the money designing better engines. That doesn’t wash with us.”
7-12-18 Survey: Half of young people want electric cars
Half of young people in the UK would like to own an electric car – compared with just a quarter of their parents, a survey suggests. The research comes from motoring group the AA, which says myths about electric vehicles are putting off many drivers. This matters because cleaning up air pollution and tackling climate change both depend on mass acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs). Young people seem to be more accepting of the technology than older people. But too many still hold needless fears, the AA says. It comes as the government has announced a target for 50% of all new vehicle sales to be in the ultra-low emissions category by 2030. The opinions were revealed in an AA/Populus poll of 10,293 drivers.
- 85% of people overall in the survey said that there aren’t enough public charging points for EVs. There are 16,000 charging points at 5,800 locations and 340 points added monthly. Most drivers will charge their car at home.
- 76% said EVs can’t go far enough on a single charge. Range is improving all the time. Several models have a 250-mile-plus range. Some 95% of car journeys are under 25 miles.
- 76% think EVs are too expensive. Costs are coming down. Grants up to £4,500 are available and EVs are much cheaper to run - at 2p per mile.
- 67% think EVs take too long to charge. Rapid chargers which could charge an EV to around 80% range in around 30 minutes are on the way – ideal for "filling stations".
- 67% think there isn’t enough choice of models. There are 38 cars eligible for plug-in grants from a Renault Zoe to Jaguar I-PACE and more on the horizon, such as the Tesla Model 3.
7-12-18 England’s marshes may start to retreat and disappear in just 20 years
Marshlands in the south east of England could start to disappear in a little over 20 years due to rapid rises in sea levels, scientists have warned. Marshlands in the south east of England could start to disappear in a little over 20 years due to rapid rises in sea levels, scientists have warned. Studying samples from sediments, sea levels over the past 10,000 years were tracked to study how changes have affected salt marshes. Ian Shennan at Durham University and colleagues estimate that marshes in the south east of England could start to disappear from the year 2040, and across all of Great Britain by 2100. The lasting effect of ice removal since the end of the last Ice Age means most of Scotland is rising and southern England is subsiding, which explains the difference in timescales. The study shows that rising sea levels over the last 10,000 years has led to increased water-logging of the salt marshes, killing vegetation that protects them from erosion and resulting in the marshes retreating landwards. Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained by salt water brought in by the tides and can be found along the British coast.
7-11-18 Thought plastic was bad enough? Here’s another reason to worry
We knew marine plastic strangles birds and poisons fish. But it can also pick up some deadly hitch-hikers – with even more profound consequences. JOLEAH LAMB was scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, with a dazzling palette of colours spread out beneath her. Admittedly, a few of those were pieces of plastic. That was a shame, but she didn’t give it much thought during the long hours she spent cataloguing the reef’s health. Then her research took her to the waters around Indonesia. There, the plastic problem was far worse, and she started logging it wherever she found it. “Sometimes a fishing line was so entwined in the coral you would cut yourself or hurt the coral if you tried to get rid of it,” says Lamb. Once her notes read: “diaper, gross!”. It was only later, back in her lab at Cornell University in New York, that she noticed there was a strange connection between the plastic she recorded and patches of diseased coral. Besides strangling seabirds and poisoning fish, plastic may have another surreptitious way of harming the oceans – and perhaps our health too. Now the race is on to find out exactly how this connection works, in the hope that we can sever it. Reefs face many threats these days, not least bleaching, which occurs when stresses like heat cause corals to expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Coral can recover, though, if the algae recolonise. More deadly are a collection of diseases known as white syndrome. They are some of the most serious to have plagued coral recently and they nearly always kill, stripping the coral’s tissue to leave bare skeletons.
7-11-18 Record temperatures mean ancient forts become visible in fields
When the ground is baked by days of sun, markings that indicate the location of ancient settlements begin to emerge in the parched terrain. FOR archaeologists, the UK’s current heatwave is more than just an excuse to kick back and soak up some rays. When the ground is baked by days of sun, markings that indicate the location of ancient settlements begin to emerge in the parched terrain. The outlines of a medieval hilltop fort known as Castell Llwyn Gwinau are clearly visible in a field near the town of Tregaron in Wales. The green circles and lines are created because ancient peoples dug deep trenches to fortify their settlements. Although now filled in, these still act as moisture traps and, in dry conditions, the crops above them become lusher and greener than the surrounding area. The shapes of such forts and farming settlements, some from the Roman and Iron Age periods, are then revealed from the air. Much of the northern hemisphere has been roasting in sustained high temperatures, with records tumbling around the world (see “Record heatwaves are here to stay – welcome to our warming world” for more on why it is happening).
7-11-18 Major sewage pollution incidents increase
Water companies are still not doing enough to protect streams and rivers, the Environment Agency reports. It says whilst general water quality is higher than it's been for 100 years, the number of the worst pollution incidents has actually grown. Most of these involved raw or partly treated sewage flowing into watercourses. The industry body, Water UK, says its members will have invested around £25bn by 2020 to protect the environment. Pollution incidents have continued, though, and often in the past wealthy water utilities appeared to shrug off relatively small pollution fines. Now, after an appeal by the agency, sentencing has been revised and last year fines for pollution totalled £21m. The agency's new report says urgent improvement is especially needed from South West Water. It also says Northumbrian Water hasn't properly controlled pollution from industries in its area. The report says there is no firm pattern among the pollution incidents. The main factors are inadequate monitoring and management, and shortcomings in risk assessment, operational practice and the attitude of staff. Emma Howard Boyd, the agency's chair, told BBC News: "Pollution events cause distress to local communities, blight our rivers and beaches and damage the reputation of the industry. The continuing poor performance of South West Water is unacceptable." Thames Water, meanwhile, was the one company that failed to meet the security of supply measure. This is partly down to on-going failure to plug leaks. The government's infrastructure advisers have warned that more must be done to protect people in the south east from drought as the population grows and the climate warms. Ms Howard Boyd says all firms need to improve their planning for climate change in anticipation of more droughts and more floods through the year.
7-11-18 On board the flying lab testing UK wildfire smoke
Scientists are flying a lab-on-an-aeroplane through the smoke of wildfires in the north of England, testing the air as they go. Fires like the one on Saddleworth Moor are predicted to be more common than usual across the UK and Europe this summer, raising concerns about pollution.
7-11-18 Japan flood: At least 179 dead after worst weather in decades
Japan is still reeling from one of its worst flooding disasters in decades, which has killed at least 179 people and left 70 missing. Torrential rains triggered landslides and floods in central and western areas. More than 8 million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes. The rain has relented but the country is still struggling to deal with the extensive damage left in its wake. This is the highest death toll caused by rainfall in Japan since 1982. Some 270,000 households across the country have had their water supplies cut, and thousands of other homes remain without electricity. The prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi were the hardest hit, with pictures showing extensive damage especially in Okayama. "People believe Okayama is very safe, nobody thought that [a disaster] would happen to this city," Yusuke Fujii, who lives in Osaka but travelled to Okayama to visit his grandmother, told the BBC. "Food is in short supply. We have to eat instant ramen because the supermarkets don't have much food. We can't get much information about flooded roads, evacuation centre and where to get food," said the 24-year-old, who is still in Okayama. Some 8.63m people across 23 prefectures have been ordered to evacuate. Thousands are currently living in temporary shelter in school halls and gymnasiums.
7-10-18 Bloodflowers’ risk to monarchs could multiply as climate changes
Heat and CO2 scenarios suggest a milkweed species becomes toxic or useless to caterpillars. Climate change could make a showy invasive milkweed called a bloodflower even more of a menace for monarch butterflies than it already is. Monarch caterpillars, which feed on plants in the milkweed family, readily feast on Asclepias curassavica. Gardeners in the southern United States plant it for its showy orange blooms, yet the species “is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare,” says Mark Hunter of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) migrating south to Mexico in the fall come across bloodflower bonanzas and don’t bother to keep on flying. Full migration normally prevents a harmful Ophryocistis parasite from building up in the insect population. Cutting the cycle short lets infection flourish. In experiments, bloodflowers grown in outdoor enclosures under high carbon dioxide concentrations, around 760 parts per million, don’t make as much medicinal cardenolide as normal, Hunter and colleagues report July 9 in Ecology Letters. Caterpillars need these compounds to help fight parasites. Levels of two particularly potent forms of cardenolide stayed low. Parasites were more damaging to caterpillars chewing through these futuristic flowers than to those caterpillars fattening on plants grown under current atmospheric conditions.
7-10-18 Japan floods: 155 killed after torrential rain and landslides
At least 155 people have died in floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain in western Japan, says the government. It is the highest death toll caused by rainfall that Japan has seen in more than three decades. Rescuers are now digging through mud and rubble in a race to find survivors, as dozens are still missing. About two million people have been evacuated from the region after rivers burst their banks. Authorities have opened up school halls and gymnasiums to those who have been displaced by the rainfall. There remains a risk of landslides, with rain-sodden hilltops liable to collapse. "I have asked my family to prepare for the worst," 38-year-old Kosuke Kiyohara, who has not heard from his sister and her two sons, told AFP. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cancelled an overseas trip to deal with the flood crisis. More than 70,000 rescue workers, including the fire service and the army, are involved in the relief effort. Flood warnings are still in effect for some of the worst hit areas, including the Okayama prefecture in the southern part of Japan. But more settled weather is expected over the next few days which is likely to help with rescue efforts. "We are checking every single house to see if there are people still trapped inside them. We know it's a race against time, we are trying as hard as we can," an official with the prefecture's government told AFP.
7-9-18 Six pollution policies gutted by Scott Pruitt – and what happens next
Scott Pruitt resigned from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and his successor is likely to continue gutting regulations that limit air and water pollution. He’s finally gone. After a series of scandals, Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resigned last week. But while he may be leaving, he has already managed to gut many of the regulations that are aimed at curbing air and water pollution. What will his successor do differently? And how many of these can be reversed? Over nearly 17 months at the helm, Pruitt oversaw the following actions at the EPA:
- Clean Power Plan repeal. The Clean Power Plan aimed to cut carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030, and limit toxic pollutants like mercury.
- Clean water regulation suspended. The suspension lasts two years, during which time Pruitt has said the EPA will write new regulations.
- Clean Air Act cuts. Under Pruitt, the EPA eliminated part of the Clean Air Act that limits cancer-causing air pollutants produced in chemical manufacturing and mining operations.
- Lowering fuel efficiency standards. In April, Pruitt declared his intent to roll back limits on air pollution produced by cars, and has put fuel efficiency standards under review, effectively suspending them.
- Suspension of chemical facility safety rules. After a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in Texas killed 15 people, the Obama administration put into place requirements for such plants to declare the types and quantities of chemicals they store.
- Refusal to ban pesticides. Under Pruitt, the EPA has reversed a plan to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used widely on US crops, which has been shown to harm brain and nervous system development in young children.
These changes are in various places along the spectrum from proposal to implementation, so they could still be altered. But they will have wide effects that may start now, while enforcement of previous rules is on hold. Health experts have said that the combination of air and water pollution resulting from these and other regulatory roll-backs under the Trump administration is likely to lead to the deaths of 80,000 US residents per decade and lead to respiratory problems for more than 1 million people.
7-9-18 Air pollution is triggering diabetes in 3.2 million people each year
New study quantifies the link between smoggy air and diabetes. Air pollution caused 3.2 million new cases of diabetes worldwide in 2016, according to a new estimate. Fine particulate matter, belched out by cars and factories and generated through chemical reactions in the atmosphere, hang around as haze and make air hard to breathe. Air pollution has been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes (SN: 9/30/17, p. 18), but this study is one of the first attempts to quantify the connection for diabetes. Researchers tracked 1.7 million U.S. veterans for almost a decade to assess their risk of developing diabetes. They also used data from global studies on diabetes risk, as well as air quality data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, to create equations that analyzed the connection between air pollution exposure and diabetes globally. The new estimate, reported in July in The Lancet Planetary Health, holds air pollution responsible for about 14 percent of new cases of diabetes worldwide. Factors such as genetics, weight, activity level and diet also influence the risk of the disease, which is on the rise globally. (The World Health Organization estimates that 422 million people now live with type 2 diabetes — up from 108 million in 1980.)
7-9-18 Starbucks to ban plastics straws in all stores by 2020
Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws from its stores worldwide by 2020 to reduce environmental plastic pollution, the company says. The coffee retailer will phase out single-use straws from its more than 28,000 locations, cutting out an estimated 1bn straws each year. Customers will instead be given plastic lids designed for use without a straw or with non-plastic straws. The use of plastic lids has been criticised by some consumers. The decision was motivated by requests from partners and customers, said Colleen Chapman, vice-president of Starbucks' global social impact in a statement. "Not using a straw is the best thing we can do for the environment." Starbucks' announcement included statements of support from organisations such as the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas programme and the World Wildlife Fund, praising the company for its straw ban. Nicholas Mallos, of the Ocean Conservancy, said the ban was "a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic". The announcement comes just one week after Seattle, Washington - home to Starbucks' headquarters - became the first major US city to ban single-use plastic straws and cutlery in bars and restaurants.
7-9-18 Ozone hole mystery: China insulating chemical said to be source of rise
Cut-price Chinese home insulation is being blamed for a massive rise in emissions of a gas, highly damaging to the Earth's protective ozone layer. The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) found widespread use of CFC-11 in China, even though the chemical was fully banned back in 2010. Scientists have been extremely puzzled by the mysterious rise in emissions. But this report suggests the key source is China's home construction industry. Just two months ago, researchers published a study showing that the expected decline in the use of CFC-11 after it was completely banned eight years ago had slowed to a crawl. There were suspicions among researchers that new supplies were being made somewhere in East Asia. Rumours were rife as to the source. There was a concern among some experts that the chemical was being used to secretly enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons. The reality it seems is more about insulation than proliferation. CFC-11 makes a very efficient "blowing agent" for polyurethane foam, helping it to expand into rigid thermal insulation that's used in houses to cut energy bills and reduce carbon emissions. Researchers from the EIA, a green campaign group, contacted foam manufacturing factories in 10 different provinces across China. From their detailed discussions with executives in 18 companies, the investigators concluded that the chemical is used in the majority of the polyurethane insulation the firms produce. One seller of CFC-11 estimated that 70% of China's domestic sales used the illegal gas. The reason is quite simple - CFC-11 is better quality and much cheaper than the alternatives.
7-9-18 More than 100 dead as floods and landslides devastate south-west Japan
At least 100 people are dead or presumed dead after flooding and mudslides hit south-west Japan. Rescuers were hard at work searching for the more than 60 residents who are still unaccounted for, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area. The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides since late last week. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades. Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have taken people to safety. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that 87 people were confirmed dead and 13 others were without vital signs when they were found. Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe said the government has expended the search and rescue effort, dispatching 73,000 troops and emergency workers. In large parts of Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud over the weekend. The Japan Meteorological Agency said three hours of rainfall in one area in Kochi prefecture reached an accumulated 26.3cm, the highest since such records started in 1976.
7-9-18 Japan floods: At least 100 dead after record rainfall
At least 100 people are thought to have died after record rainfall caused flooding and landslides in western Japan, a government spokesman says. Dozens more are reported to be missing and electricity supplies have been hit. Since Thursday, parts of western Japan have received three times the usual rainfall for the whole of July. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate as rivers burst their banks. "We've never experienced this kind of rain before," a weather official said. Rescuers restarted their search through the mud for any survivors or the bodies of those killed on Monday morning. An official in Okayama prefecture told AFP news agency that water levels were gradually receding and that emergency teams may be able to access the worst-hit areas on foot. The heavy rains began with a typhoon last week that was followed by days of record-breaking torrential rain. In the town of Motoyama, on Shikoku island, 583mm (23in) of rain fell between Friday morning and Saturday morning. Many buildings have collapsed and vast areas have been covered in debris and thick mud.
7-9-18 The 'monster' iceberg: What happened next?
It was a wow! moment. The world's biggest berg, a block of ice a quarter the size of Wales, fell off the Antarctic exactly a year ago. But what then? We've gone back to find out. Weighing a trillion tonnes and covering an area of nearly 6,000 sq km, the colossus dubbed A-68 has kind of spent the past 12 months shuffling on the spot - rather like grandpa trying to get himself out of a tight parking spot at the supermarket. Occasionally, the berg head-butted the floating shelf of ice from which it calved, but made only limited progress in moving north - its expected path out of the Antarctic's Weddell Sea towards the Atlantic Ocean. "An iceberg as massive as A-68 is sluggish, and thus needs time to accelerate," explains Thomas Rackow from Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute. "Compared to much smaller icebergs, A-68 is also less sensitive to offshore winds that could potentially drive the iceberg away from the continent. In fact, since the calving event in early July last year, we could see the iceberg going back and forth due to the prevailing winds." Dr Rackow says the frozen ocean surface probably also played some role in constraining the berg's movement, and wonders if the underside of the berg was catching on the seafloor. It's a thought shared by Suzanne Bevan at Swansea University, UK. "We know so little about the bathymetry (depth) in that area of the Weddell Sea," she told BBC news. Given time, though, A-68 should pick up the pace as the currents grab hold of it. Two largish chunks have detached, one of them sufficiently big to get its own designation (A-68b) in the list of giant bergs kept by the US National Ice Center. The American agency has officially now put A-68 at number six in its all-time ranking.
7-9-18 Can Wyoming's wind be harnessed ... to power California?
Wyoming's economy is dominated by coal, other fossil fuels, and mineral extraction. The formula here has worked — residents in Wyoming enjoy among the highest per capita GDP in the nation. So naturally, there's been some hostility toward new sources of energy that could threaten that. "It's a complicated history with wind," says Jeremiah Rieman, director of economic diversification strategy for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R). "I think you're seeing a change. And certainly we're hearing the message loud and clear, as we go through this economic diversification strategy effort, that wind and renewables need to be a part of that." The push toward wind is playing out in a high-rise office building 100 miles south of Wyoming's capital in Denver. There, TransWest Express is laying out plans to build a 730-mile transmission line across the American West. CEO Bill Miller points to a map and the start of the project — 1,000 wind turbines to be built on a ranch in south-central Wyoming. "It starts there and runs a little bit west and then due south into northwest Colorado," says Miller, tracing a line through Utah and then down south of Las Vegas. If all goes according to plan, in three years Miller says the winds of low-population Wyoming will be bringing electricity to where it's needed in California. "To my knowledge, this is the largest transmission line development that has occurred in this country in probably 50 years." TransWest Express, which is part of the Anschutz Corporation owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz, is looking to harness Wyoming's wind because, well, it's super windy. The winds howl in southeast Wyoming because they're rising at the continental divide, then pushing through a gap in the Rocky Mountains. "So, if you remember your high school physics class there's this thing called the Venturi effect where you narrow something and that naturally speeds up an air flow. And that's really what we have here," says economist Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.
7-9-18 Electric cars: Charge points could be requirement in new build homes
New homes in suburban England would need to be fitted with electric car charging points under a government proposal to cut emissions. Ministers also want new street lights to come with charge points wherever there's on-street parking. Details of a sales ban on new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040 are also expected to be set out. The strategy comes at a time when the government is facing criticism for failing to reduce carbon emissions. The government's target is to reduce the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The proposals, announced by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, aim to make it easier to recharge an electric car rather than refuel petrol or diesel vehicles. Mr Grayling said the proposed measures would mean the UK having "one of the most comprehensive support packages for zero-emission vehicles in the world". "The prize is not just a cleaner and healthier environment but a UK economy fit for the future and the chance to win a substantial slice of a market estimated to be worth up to £7.6 trillion by 2050," he said. (Webmaster's comment: Other nations are doing their bit while United States is in the energy dark ages!)
7-8-18 Japan floods: 'Extreme danger' amid record rainfall
Parts of western Japan hit by deadly floods and landslides are facing unprecedented danger as more downpours are expected, officials warn. "We've never experienced this kind of rain before," a weather official said. More than 60 people are dead and dozens missing after record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks in Hiroshima and other areas. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate. PM Shinzo Abe said rescuers were "working against time". "There are still many people missing and others in need of help," the prime minister told reporters on Sunday. Since Thursday parts of western Japan have received three times the usual rainfall for the whole of July, setting off floods and landslides. Most of the deaths have occurred in Hiroshima prefecture. In the town of Motoyama, 583mm (23in) of rain fell between Friday morning and Saturday morning. Further rain warnings are in effect, with more than 250mm (10 in) predicted to fall in some areas by Monday. An official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency told a news conference: "This is a situation of extreme danger."
7-6-18 Up to 54 deaths linked to southern Quebec heat wave
A heat wave in the southern part of the Canadian province of Quebec has been linked to 54 deaths, officials say. The sweltering weather began last Friday with temperatures hitting 35C (95F), high humidity and, on the last day, a smog advisory. The death toll climbed every day this week, with most of the victims between the ages of 50 to 85. This summer's heat wave was among worst the province has seen in decades, officials say. It lasted two days longer than a similar five-day period of extreme heat in 2010, but heat warnings were lifted overnight on Friday as temperatures began to cool. Temperatures are expected to be seasonal and stay at 30C or below over the next few days, with no humidity. Public health officials said on Friday that coroner investigations will be completed to confirm that the reported fatalities are all heat related. Health officials in Quebec this week urged people to drink plenty of water, reduce physical activity, seek out air conditioning, and stay in the shade. They also asked people to check on elderly or infirm friends and neighbours who may have been vulnerable. The neighbouring province of Ontario was also under heat warnings over the last few days and may too have seen a rise in heat-related fatalities. But Ontario does not track heat related deaths in the same way as Quebec and does not report on potential causes of death without a coroner's investigation. The 2010 heat wave was one of the hottest on record in over 60 years and was linked to some 280 deaths over a period in July. Europe and the US have also experienced the fatal effects of heat in the past. In a lengthy 2003 heat wave, between 20,000 and 35,000 deaths across eight European countries were linked to the extreme weather conditions. In California in 2006, a 10-day heat wave was linked to 140 deaths.
7-6-18 Record heatwaves are here to stay – welcome to our warming world
There’s nothing strange or unexpected about the extreme heat in many parts of the northern hemisphere - it’s exactly what’s expected on a warming planet. Why are we seeing record heat across the northern hemisphere? Because the planet is getting hotter. And we ain’t seen nothing yet – it’s going to get a lot hotter still. Scotland hit 33.2°C on 28 June, for instance, passing the previous record of 32.9°C set in August 2003 – though the Met Office says this reading may actually be due to heat from the engine of a nearby vehicle. And in Oman on 26 June, the temperature never dropped below 42.6°C, even at night. That’s the highest minimum temperature ever recorded. More heat records tumbling is exactly what we expect to see on a warming planet. By contrast, in an unchanging climate, there should be fewer and fewer records broken over time. However, talk of a heatwave across the entire northern hemisphere is misleading, as parts of the hemisphere are cooler than the recent average for this time of year. You can see this for yourself by looking at temperature anomalies on the Climate Reanalyser website. There you will also see that some of the biggest recent heat anomalies have been in parts of Antarctica, where it’s the middle of winter and well below freezing – but much less below freezing than normal. The thing is, average temperatures are much higher than they used to be. Global average surface temperatures have risen by more than 1°C since preindustrial times and have shot up particularly fast in the last five years or so.
7-6-18 Foam pollution kills fish in River Great Ouse
More than 2,000 fish have died after pollution left a river looking like a bubble bath. The foam was first spotted in the River Great Ouse in Brackley, Northamptonshire on Friday, 29 June and travelled onto Buckingham. The Environment Agency said the unidentified substance has now "sufficiently diluted" and is no longer "causing any issues". One Buckingham resident described it as like a "washing machine has exploded". Agency officers have provided the casualty figure, but believe the number of dead fish could be higher as the "pollution has severely impacted the river's ecosystem". They said it may take "years" for the river to recover. The Environment Agency is investigating the incident, and a spokesman said they were waiting for sample results to confirm the pollutants, which may contain detergents. He said: "We believe that the pollutant has now passed through Stony Stratford and into Milton Keynes with no immediate adverse impacts on aquatic life past Thornton, Buckinghamshire." They do not believe there is a risk to humans or animals, but as a precaution are asking people to stay out of the river and keep pets and livestock away from the stretch between Brackley and Milton Keynes until the investigation is complete. Anglers are also being asked not to fish in the polluted areas. (Webmaster's comment: The human assault against nature and wildlife is never ending!)
7-5-18 Polluters exposed by new eye in the sky satellite
What must it be like to live in the Siberian town of Norilsk on a "bad air day"? They say the local smelting industry produces 1% of all the sulphur dioxide (SO2) going into the air globally, something close to two million tonnes a year. SO2 is particularly unpleasant if breathed in; but it also washes out of the sky as "acid rain", damaging plant-life and denuding the quality of water in streams and rivers. The extent of Norilsk's pollution problem is captured in remarkable new maps from Europe's Sentinel-5P satellite. The spacecraft was put up last year to track the gases responsible for dirty air - with SO2 being one of the prime culprits. Assembled in the UK and carrying the Dutch-led Tropomi instrument, S5P promises to be a game-changer in monitoring what's happening in our atmosphere. It has much higher resolution than its predecessors and acquires data on such a scale that its maps can be assembled very quickly. "What's very interesting about the Norilsk data is that they show you the different transport pathways," explained Dr Nicolas Theys from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB). "You can see how the emissions follow the topography, moving around the mountains. People could use this information to better assess the environmental impact in this region." The SO2 concentrations in the air over Norilsk are very large - one-hundred to a thousand times higher than what you would see anywhere in Europe, for example. The city's Norilsk Nickel company has been told to cut emissions by 75% by 2023 (compared with 2015) or face huge fines.
7-5-18 Why are oil prices so high?
Oil prices are giving observers vertigo. They had plateaued for several years, after plummeting in 2014. But for several months now, oil prices have been climbing again. They're not back to their pre-2014 level, but oil prices hit a multi-year high on Monday, just below $79 a barrel. Morgan Stanley expects international prices to hit $85 a barrel in the second half of 2018, which is $7.50 higher than their previous projection. Just what is powering oil's skyrocketing prices? It's a few different things, all of which have combined to cut global oil supplies relative to demand. There's an ongoing conflict in Libya, which has shut down major ports. That's knocked about 850,000 barrels a day out of the global oil market. Venezuela's economy is suffering an absolutely brutal crisis, which has reduced the output of one of the world's biggest oil exporters. Then there's President Trump, who took the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. That means U.S. sanctions will soon be re-imposed on Iranian exports, which could keep as much as half of the country's oil in the ground. Since a lot of oil trading is done with an eye to the future, contracts are already building the coming supply constriction into the price. Of course, there's also the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a group of nations who often take a much more state-run approach to their oil production. Many of them, like Saudi Arabia, rely on oil exports to finance their government budgets. That gives them a pretty serious policy incentive to manage the global oil price: If it gets too low, it can undermine their domestic fiscal policies. And after 2014's precipitous collapse, various OPEC countries wound back production to lower supply and drive the price back up. There's also a wild card here, namely domestic U.S. production.
7-5-18 Call to turn oil rigs into nature reserves
Marine wildlife could benefit if some de-commissioned oil rigs were left on the sea bed, a survey says. This challenges the conventional wisdom that the sea bed should be restored to its pristine state when a rig's life ends. The paper says over the 30-year lifetime of an oil rig, creatures have often colonised the structure to form a reef. It says this artificial habitat can be more valuable than the original seabed. It can also protect sea creatures from fishing. The paper from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, is based on a survey of 40 experts from academia, government and consultancies. Their focus was on the North Sea - but the authors say the principles are applicable anywhere. More than 90% of the experts surveyed said governments should abandon the principle that oil rigs should always be removed. Instead, there should be a more flexible, case-by-case approach to de-commissioning. It warns that the process of removing the rigs can be damaging to the environment in its own right. The paper drew a sceptical response from Greenpeace. Their spokesman Doug Parr told BBC News: "If companies want to propose artificial reefs for ecological benefit there are international legal processes for doing so which will need to be justified to the full range of scientific opinion. "The North Sea is not a natural environment for hard structures and leaving rigs there is a distortion of the ecosystem - a raft of plastic bottles accumulates marine life, but no-one is arguing we should create more. "We should be wary of proposals that look like a convenient way of oil companies avoiding their responsibility to clean up after themselves." But David Johns, head of the Plankton Recorder Survey at the Marine Biological Association and co-author of the paper, said it was time for a re-think.
7-5-18 'Melting road' damages cars in Australia
Melting bitumen has forced drivers in Australia to abandon their vehicles after the tyres became coated with tar. Up to 50 motorists may be entitled to compensation over the incident in Queensland on Tuesday, reports said. "I have never seen anything like it and when the reports started coming through yesterday, it was just incredible," local mayor Joe Paronella told the ABC. The incident has been blamed on a change in weather, and damage to the road after it was resealed last week. Local resident Deborah Stacey said "big globs" of tar had stuck to vehicles, amid hot weather that followed several cooler days and rain. "We had a week of cracked windscreens... then as soon as the sun came out, it started sticking," she told the Courier Mail. The tar meant tyres on several vehicles had to be replaced, and it caused damage to bumper bars and panels. (Webmaster's comment: Just foreshadowing of what's to come.)
7-4-18 Heatwaves show global warming is not just a future threat
Better climate models and fast computers are helping us see how our carbon emissions are already causing severe weather events. EUROPE was hit by a scorching heatwave in 2003. About 70,000 people, mostly very young or very old, died. Given the inexorable rise in global temperatures, suspicions naturally fell on climate change: it is well-established that as greenhouse gas emissions push the mercury up, weather extremes of all types will become more frequent. But it took more than a year for rigorous science to confirm the hunch. Climate change had made the odds of an event of that magnitude at that time at least twice as likely. For years, climate researchers toed the official line that it was impossible to attribute any specific weather event to climate change in real time. The accepted wisdom was that it took too long to do this and so an important distinction was made between statements about long-term trends such as “climate change will make extreme heatwaves more frequent” and trying to attribute any specific weather event to global warming. That approach is rapidly changing, and it needs to. This week, parts of Europe are sweltering. So is New York. And the Australian autumn was unseasonably hot. All these events are in keeping with what we expect from a warmer climate. But are they caused by climate change? Soon we should be able to answer that question quickly, thanks to a collaboration between European meteorological agencies dubbed EUPHEME. The aim is for your daily weather report to include information about how global warming influenced very recent or ongoing events. Those involved in the project say a prototype should be up and running next year. The Australian meteorological bureau is looking to develop a similar programme.
7-4-18 Missing 1.5°C warming target will cost $14 trillion in floods
The cost of rising sea levels caused by global warming could be in the trillions by 2100, unless governments make efforts to adapt. Floods caused by rising sea levels could cost as much as $14 trillion if we fail to keep global warming below 2°C. Svetlana Jevrejeva from the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton and her team predict that the annual cost of warming above 2°C could be equivalent to almost 3 per cent of global GDP by 2100. The costs are calculated based on damage to assets exposed to flooding and the costs of constructing and maintaining sea defences. The team also looked at what missing the targets will do to global sea levels. It found that warming of 1.5°C by 2100 would see a median sea level rise of 0.52m. Breaching the 2°C the target – as is likely – would see this figure jump to 0.63m. Some nations will suffer more than most, particularly China, which has a long coastline and high coastal population, the team says. Larger cities, regardless of wealth, are likely to be better-protected due to their existing infrastructure, whereas island nations and coastal communities in developing nations will suffer the brunt of the flooding. But these rises and floods will impact all coastlines, and every country will need to adapt, says Jevrejeva.
7-4-18 Smoke from moorland wildfires may hold toxic blast from the past
The UK’s largest wildfire for decades is almost under control, but peat burning below the ground risks spewing historical pollution back into the sky. THE UK’s largest wildfire for decades is almost under control after blazing for a week during the country’s longest heat wave since 1976. But with no rain forecast for at least a week, peat burning underground at Saddleworth Moor near Manchester could continue to smoulder, generating hazardous smoke. The same could happen on moorland at Winter Hill (pictured), 50 kilometres away, which burned for five days before being put out. Fire chiefs tackling the Saddleworth blaze say it has consumed up to 20 square kilometres of moor and scrubland. Although surface fires are all but out, peat below ground continues to smoulder and can only be completely extinguished with a two or three-day downpour. “Without rain, it’s very difficult to put out,” says Hugh Coe, a professor of atmospheric composition at the University of Manchester. As it continues to smoulder and burn, the peat reignites sporadic surface fires, and spews potentially hazardous smoke. “The worst hazard is the small-particulate matter, which exacerbates lung problems, asthma, allergy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder,” says Coe. Burning peat debris also gets coated with cancer-causing chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons. But because of extensive toxic fallout from factories a century ago, there could be other hazards. “There’s 100 years’ of pollution buried along with the peat as it formed,” says Coe. This could mean that toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are taking to the air in fly ash.
7-3-18 Poor will suffer more as rising CO2 makes food less nutritious
Falling levels of iron and zinc in food due to soaring carbon dioxide levels will increase the disease burden, hitting poorest countries the hardest. Rising atmospheric levels of CO2 will lead to foods that are lower in vital nutrients such as zinc and calcium. The poorest countries will be hardest hit, increasing inequalities yet further. “This is a huge problem already,” says Christopher Weyant of Stanford University in California. “Rising CO2 leads to a substantial increase in the disease burden.” For decades, biologists have been growing plants in high levels of CO2 to see how it affects them. These studies show that while higher CO2 levels can boost yields of some – but not all – crops, they also reduce the levels of some nutrients. In a high CO2 world, every serving of bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables delivers more starch and sugar but less calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein and other essential nutrients – including iron and zinc. To estimate the impact, Weyant first used data on dietary patterns from 137 countries to work out the existing disease burden from zinc and iron deficiencies. He measured this in terms of disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs. One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of “healthy” life, according to the World Health Organization. If the nutrient content of food remained unchanged, iron and zinc deficiencies would be expected to induce 1073 million DALYs globally between 2015 and 2050, his team’s model suggests. But decreasing zinc and iron level in foods due to rising CO2 will induce an extra 126 million DALYs globally over this period – a rise of 12 per cent.
7-3-18 Smart solar windows could power your home and also keep it cool
This see-through film generates electricity from sunlight and acts as a heat insulator, paving the way for windows that both harvest and save energy. A new solar cell material could create windows that produce electricity and help keep your house cool. The research involved a three-way juggling act. The new material not only had to be transparent like ordinary glass window but also harvest light to make electricity while also blocking it to keep the building cool. So Hin-Lap Yip of the South China University of Technology and his team used transparent polymer solar cells that allow visible light through but convert near-infrared wavelengths into an electric current. Layers of reflective materials were added to deflect the heat-generating portion of infrared light. In tests, the new film transmitted 25 per cent of visible light and converted up to nine per cent of the energy that reached it into electricity. This is lower than the 15 per cent rate typically seen for standard roof mounted solar panels, but the efficiency of polymer solar cells is improving all the time, says Yip. The researchers calculated that electricity bills could be halved if every window of a house was covered with the panels. Other potential uses are for cars and self-powering greenhouses.
7-3-18 Court action to save young from climate bill
An activist group hopes to sue the UK government over climate change, arguing that it is discriminating against the young by failing to cut emissions fast enough. The campaigners - known collectively as Plan B - argue that if the UK postpones emissions cuts, the next generation will be left to pick up the bill. It is seeking permission from a judge to launch formal legal action. The government has promised to review its climate commitments. A spokesperson said it was committed to tackling emissions. But Plan B believes ministers may breach the law if they don't cut emissions deeper - in line with an international agreement made in Paris at the end of 2015 to restrict global temperature rise to as close to 1.5C as possible. A hearing is set to be held on Wednesday at the High Court.The UK is currently committed to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. The government has agreed to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. Plan B says this target is too weak to comply with the global agreement made in Paris. It will argue that the UK is:
- Failing to make a fair contribution to the global challenge of climate change
- Acting irrationally given the severity of the threat
- Acting in a discriminatory fashion towards the young
- Breaching people's fundamental human rights to family life and to property
(Webmaster's comment: We should do the same in the United States!)
7-3-18 Cycling race footage highlights climate change effects on trees
Historical footage of the Tour of Flanders shows that trees have been flowering earlier since the 1980s. Ecologists have reviewed archive footage of the Tour of Flanders cycling race going back three decades to reveal the effects of climate change on trees. The Tour takes place on a 267-kilometre route along Belgian roads in early April every year. While he was watching historical clips of the race online, it occurred to Pieter De Frenne from Ghent University, Belgium, that the footage might provide a valuable record of how the timing of leafing and flowering has changed. “I noticed that that these past editions are often in very cold weather, and the trees in the landscape never have leaves,” he says. So in collaboration with the Belgian broadcaster VRT, De Frenne and his team spent several weeks watching archive footage and gathering data on the trees. “It was great fun,” he says. The data confirmed his suspicions. Before 1990, hardly any trees had grown leaves by the time the Tour took place. After that, more and more trees in the TV footage were already in full leaf, including magnolia, hawthorn, hornbeam and birch trees. “It was very remarkable. The differences we observed were more than we expected,” says De Frenne. This shift coincided with a rise in the average temperatures in the region, by about 1.5°C since 1980. Earlier leafing allows trees to grow faster, but this has knock-on effects for other species, says De Frenne. For example, flowers growing beneath the trees may not get enough sunlight to bloom, and this means less nectar is available for insects.
7-3-18 American wasteland
The almost unfathomable volume of modern Americans' wastefulness would have been astonishing to anyone in any previous civilization throughout human history. A person who lived before the middle of the last century would not have believed it possible for even a very wealthy household to possess in a lifetime what even the poorest Americans throw away in a year. We should thus applaud Seattle for officially becoming the first major U.S. city to ban plastic drinking straws. It's a small step, but one of the few inarguably wholesome public policy decisions that have been made recently by any government at any level. It will also almost certainly be the occasion for a certain amount of libertarian belly-aching, as if sipping from a polypropylene tube instead of lifting a glass to one's lips were a cherished liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the United Nations Charter. But really it ought to be uncontroversial. Similar laws have already been proposed throughout the European Union, in Vancouver, and in the private household of Queen Elizabeth. Some 70 percent of Canadians say that they are in favor of such a ban. Part of the reason there is less grumbling from the public about these things than one might expect — and even a surprising amount of willingness from major corporations to cooperate with and even preempt state and municipal regulations — is that the scale of our culture of waste is matched only by the heedlessness with which we participate in it. No one is especially invested in Styrofoam or plastic forks, but all of us use them without giving it a second thought. In the so-called developed world and increasingly in the "developing" one as well, we have become slaves to a mindless, wasteful, ugly ideal of convenience. We are so used to throwing things away by the millions — one estimate suggests that in this country alone we are burning through as many as 500 million plastic straws every day — that we cannot imagine what it would be like to live any other way.
7-2-18 'The ocean is my home - and it's being trashed'
"If you opened your curtains in the morning and found that the grass was scorched, somebody had dumped a load of rubbish in your garden and animals were eating it - you'd be appalled. But's that's what's happening in the oceans," says Sarah La Grue. "The reefs are being scorched, there's rubbish on beaches and animals are eating it and getting tangled up in it. But we don't generally see much of this because it's in the oceans. Out of sight, out of mind." Sarah is a yachtswoman who lives aboard her boat and is about to set out on a global voyage for science. She and husband, Conor, have a vision to co-ordinate other like-minded sailors into a kind of research fleet to address some of the biggest issues facing our seas. Their project - and the name of their 12m boat - is called Given Time. The idea is to build a community of vessels that can gather data and conduct simple experiments, all at the behest of scientists. Some of this information - water temperature, salinity, and turbidity - can be used to ground-truth oceanographic models and satellite observations. Other data, such as fish tissue samples, can help build a picture of animal health and the waters in which they live. Just documenting places visited would compile "baselines" from which future change can be properly assessed. Sarah's and Conor's open-source, crowd-science project will run off a website and an app. "Beta boats" are being recruited to trial the basic research programme. The intention is that these vessels would then cascade the ideas and skills to other sailors wanting to join the programme.
7-1-18 Plastic bags: Shop assistant 'grabbed by throat' as Australia ban starts
Tempers flared in Australia over the weekend as retailers implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags. One customer reportedly grabbed a shop assistant by the throat, while another called staff "money-grabbing scum". The ban on single-use bags is part of a national push to reduce waste. Retailers in four of six Australian states now face fines for using them. More than 60 countries including the UK have now introduced bans or levies on single-use bags, according to the UN. The UN environment agency estimates that up to 5 trillion single-use bags are consumed worldwide each year. Australian chain Woolworths introduced a ban on the bags on 20 June, ahead of the 1 July deadline, offering reusable bags for 15 cents (£0.08; $0.11) instead. But customer "bag rage" pushed the chain to reverse the policy and offer the reusable bags for free until 8 July. "They just want a little extra help from us to get through the transition," said Claire Peters, Woolworths managing director, in a statement. Another chain, Coles, said it would open every checkout lane on Sunday to reduce queue lengths and put on extra staff to explain the change to customers. "We are taking a proactive step," a Coles spokesperson said. A retail staff union urged customers to treat staff members with respect. "While we understand that some customers may be frustrated by this change, there is absolutely no excuse for abusive or violent behaviour towards retail staff," said Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association. The union surveyed 132 of its members and said 57 reported suffering abuse over the ban. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans each year, according to UN, which has called for single-use bags to be eliminated completely by 2022. (Webmaster's comment: But only 1/3 of the United States has done anything. So enjoy the plastic in your water and food!)