102 Global Warming News Articles
for August of 2018
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Trump is a clear and present danger
to the United States and to the Planet!
9-1-18 Can peer pressure help solve climate change?
Fighting climate change might be as simple as a little suggestion. Psychologists have found a simple trick to reduce meat consumption in restaurants. Tell a customer that other people are increasingly choosing the menu's meatless options, and the customer becomes more likely to order a vegetarian meal. It's a simple but effective intervention that relies on peer pressure and social influence to convince people to rethink their longstanding habits, says Gregg Sparkman, a PhD student in psychology at Stanford University who led the experiment. Essentially, Sparkman's findings show that you can change a person's behavior by highlighting other people's success in changing their behaviors. In another forthcoming study, currently under peer review, Sparkman argues that the same method could be used to help people stop smoking, quit sugary drinks, and even to identify as feminist. "When people see others changing, they envision that, in the future, norms might be even more different — that the trend is probably going to continue," Sparkman says. For the experiment, he persuaded restaurant-goers to imagine a world where people eat less meat, nudging them to change their own habits. "They're reacting to their anticipated view of the world. We call that 'pre-conformity': essentially, people conforming to how they envision the future will be." Convincing people to change their deeply ingrained habits is difficult, and this intransigence has been a persistent problem when it comes to tackling climate change. According to a recent paper in the journal Science, "As the decades since the 1970s have revealed, merely educating people about what actions they can take does not dramatically shift behavior; nor does inspiring fear or guilt." As psychologist Elise Amel and her co-authors point out in the same article, while nearly half of Americans are "concerned" or "alarmed" about global warming, many still routinely fly, drive alone, and keep their homes at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit — all environmentally damaging behaviors that conservatives love to cite when they attempt to discredit climate change activists by pointing to behavior they find hypocritical. There are various reasons why changing behavior is so challenging. One obstacle is the difficulty of prioritizing the long-term benefit to future generations over short-term personal convenience. In addition, Amel et al. point out, adopting sustainable behaviors that we think will be unusual to society at large can provoke fears of disapproval or rejection. While a sense of urgency is important, the authors write, individuals also need to have confidence that solutions are possible before they are inspired to act, or else they risk being paralyzed by despair.
8-31-18 Arctic’s thickest ice breaking up
In another worrying sign of global warming, the strongest and thickest ice in the Arctic has begun to break up for the first time. The waters north of Greenland usually remain completely frozen over throughout the year; scientists had labeled this “the last ice area,” on the assumption it would be the final place in the north to remain frozen. But abnormally warm temperatures this year have melted the ice down, making it thinner—and winds blowing across the Arctic are shifting it away from the coastline. “In the past, most of the ice in the Arctic has been multiyear ice,” Peter Wadhams, an ice scientist at Cambridge University, tells The Independent (U.K.). “Now nearly all the ice in the Arctic is first-year ice.” Wadhams says the phenomenon could have “serious” consequences for wildlife. Polar bears use northern Greenland’s cliffs to create dens for hibernation; when they emerge in spring, they may find their usual hunting grounds have floated away into the ocean.
8-31-18 Coal: Trump puts industry on life support
Who cares about climate change? said Umair Irfan in Vox.com. Amid one of the hottest summers on record, the Trump administration is reversing a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in order to give “some of the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants a few more wheezing gasps of life.” The Environmental Protection Agency wants to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which imposed strict regulations on coal as part of a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Trump’s plan would essentially wipe out those reductions, and put 12 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the Obama plan over the next decade. The EPA admits its new proposal will also result in about 1,400 additional deaths and 48,000 new cases of asthma from air pollution each year—all to buy a few more years for a dying industry. You and the president are both out of touch with reality, said Jon Talton in SeattleTimes.com. Trump brags about “putting coal miners back to work,” but in July, “the entire country had fewer than 53,000 people working in coal mining.” At most, that minuscule workforce has grown by 2,000 people since Trump took office. Automation and open-pit mining “have dramatically reduced the need” for large crews of miners, and many states were turning to cleaner, cheaper natural gas and renewable energy even before Obama’s regulations took effect. For both economic and environmental reasons, the coal industry is beyond salvation—and if we keep burning coal anyway, the planet may be, too.
8-31-18 Climate change
The economic costs of climate change are already hitting the U.S. real estate market. The threat of flooding to coastal properties from rising sea levels has caused housing values in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and five Southeastern states to drop by $14.1 billion since 2005, according to a report by the First Street Foundation.
8-31-18 Quitting to save planet
France’s high-profile environment minister, former TV presenter and eco-activist Nicolas Hulot, resigned live on the radio this week, saying he could not continue in his position knowing the world isn’t doing enough to mitigate climate change. “I don’t want to create the illusion that my presence in government means that we’re up to standard on these issues,” he said. Hulot, who had not told President Emmanuel Macron of his surprise decision, said the last straw for him was attending a meeting with Macron about hunting and finding a hunters’ rights lobbyist there. “This is symptomatic of the presence of lobbies in the circles of power,” he said. “It is a problem for democracy.” Getting the prominent Hulot in the cabinet had been considered quite a coup for Macron.
8-31-18 Why we must buy gas from Russia
U.S. President Donald Trump may sputter and fume, said Hans-Pieter Siebenhaar, but work on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is going ahead. At July’s NATO summit in Brussels, Trump railed against the planned pipeline—which would transport Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany and then to the rest of Europe, bypassing existing land routes over Ukraine and Poland—calling it “a very bad thing” that would make Germany “dependent” on Russia. Trump would prefer that we buy much more expensive U.S. gas, and his administration has threatened sanctions against companies working on the project. But Russian gas makes sense for Europe. Like its neighbors, Germany can no longer risk relying on the increasingly unstable Middle East to meet its energy needs. And if you don’t trust Moscow? Well, the project binds Russian companies not only to German energy firms but also to British-Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV, and France’s Engie. Close trade relations are our key “guarantee of peace and security.” That’s why at last week’s Berlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that the pipeline would aim to be operational in two years. Nord Stream 2 isn’t meant as a slap at the U.S. It’s “a European necessity.”
8-31-18 As temperatures rise, so do insects’ appetites for corn, rice and wheat
For each degree increase, the hungrier pests may do 10 to 25 percent more damage to the crops. With temperatures creeping up as the climate warms, those very hungry caterpillars could get even hungrier, and more abundant. Crop losses to pests may grow. Insects will be “eating more of our lunch,” says Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle. Based on how heat revs up insect metabolism and reproduction, he and his colleagues estimate that each degree Celsius of warming temperatures means an extra 10 to 25 percent of damage to wheat, maize and rice. Their prediction appears in the Aug. 31 Science. Insects already munch their way through 8 percent of the world’s maize and wheat each year, and damage 14 percent of rice, Deutsch says. If Earth’s average global temperature rises just 2 degrees above preindustrial levels, annual crop losses could reach about 10 percent for maize, 12 percent for wheat and 17 percent for rice. That’s a total loss of about 213 million tons for the three grains combined. Unlike mammals and birds, insects heat up or chill as their environment does. As an insect warms, its metabolism speeds up, too. The faster it burns energy, the more ravenously the insect feeds and the sooner it reproduces. The speed-up rates aren’t hugely different across kinds of insects, Deutsch says. So he and his colleagues developed a mathematical simulation of how much insects as a whole would rev up, reproduce and ravage grains in warmer times.
8-31-18 California's climate moon shot
California may be done waiting for everyone else to get their act together on climate change. Earlier this week, by a vote of 44 to 33, the state Assembly passed a bill that would require California to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2045. An equivalent measure already passed the state Senate. A whopping 72 percent of Californians support the measure. All that's left is for Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign the bill. And he's expected to do so. You only have to look at the news to see why. The biggest wildfire in state history has been burning for over a month, scorching some 400,000 acres, killing one firefighter, and clogging cities and towns with smoke. Meanwhile, sea level rise threatens the state's prosperous coastal communities even as skyrocketing temperatures dry up farmland in the Central Valley. So assuming Brown signs the bill, can California actually pull it off? "It's mostly a question of willpower," Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, told Scientific American last year. "From a technological, economic point of view it's possible to do it." Jacobson is one of the lead authors of a 2014 paper that laid out an entire roadmap for how California could do just this. The first step is building the power generation. Jacobson's roadmap envisions 1,200 new solar plants, 25,000 wind turbines, plus a smattering of geothermal, tidal, and wave energy generators. The next step is to ensure this power supply is steady and reliable.
8-31-18 Babies are at risk from air pollution but some pram designs can help
Air pollution is worse for infants than adults. Here are the design features to look for in a pram to protect against it. High prams with canopies that shield a baby’s head could go some way towards reducing exposure to dangerous particle pollution. By kitting out prams with air quality sensors and taking them for a stroll, a team at the University of Surrey are studying how much pollution babies are exposed to and the pram designs that do the best to combat it. They’ve found that higher prams are better, as most particle pollution concentrates at the first metre above road level. Children in prams breathe at an average height of about 0.85 metres, meaning they are exposed to about 60 per cent more pollution than adults. On top of this, particle pollution is more dangerous to infants than adults, says Jonathan Griggs at Queen Mary University of London. Babies breathe faster than adults and they are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution because the protective mechanisms in their lungs are not yet fully developed, he says. When choosing the best pram for defending against pollution, the weather also plays a role. Hot summer air concentrates pollution close to the ground, making seat height an important feature of prams. But when the air is cold, the heat from car exhausts whirls dangerous particles higher in the air, after which they descend. In these cases, prams with some kind of covering, such as canopies or even plastic bad-weather covers, go some way towards protecting children from pollution falling down on them from above.
8-31-18 Warming seas kill coral – but some are beginning to resist the heat
An experiment in 1970 found that coral bleach and die in warming waters. Now a repeat of the experiment suggests some corals are adapting to rising temperatures. Repeating an experiment 47 years after it was originally carried out has revealed some rare good news about coral reefs – some species appear to have become significantly better at surviving temperature increases. In 1970, marine zoologist Steve Coles collected three species of coral from a reef in Kane‘ohe Bay, Hawaii. When he put them in a chamber and gradually heated the water, he found that they simply couldn’t tolerate increases of 1 to 2 degrees. They started to bleach, ejecting the colourful algae that normally live within them. Without these, coral die. But Coles got a different result when he repeated the experiment last year using corals from the same area, raising them to the same temperatures that killed most of the corals in the earlier experiment. This time, it took a few days longer for the corals to begin bleaching, and more than half of them survived. “That was a big surprise, that we could get a 2-degree adjustment in less than 50 years,” Coles says. The finding is in line with anecdotal observations that on some reefs around the world, more corals seem to be surviving after bleaching events. While Coles hasn’t explored the biological mechanisms at play, other research suggests that some corals can adapt to higher temperatures by associating with species of algae that are more tolerant of heat stress.
8-30-18 Pests to eat more crops in warmer world
Insects will be at the heart of worldwide crop losses as the climate warms up, predicts a US study. Scientists estimate the pests will be eating 10-25% more wheat, rice and maize across the globe for each one degree rise in climate temperature. Warming drives insect energy use and prompts them to eat more. Their populations can also increase. This is bound to put pressure on the world's leading cereal crops, says study co-author Curtis Deutsch. "Insect pests currently consume the equivalent of one out of every 12 loaves of bread (before they ever get made). By the end of this century, if climate change continues unabated, insects will be eating more than two loaves of every 12 that could have been made," the University of Washington, US, researcher told BBC News. Prof Deutsch, Joshua Tewksbury and colleagues have conducted a study on a global scale and looked at three different grain crops that are staple foods for billions of people. The study, in the journal Science, uses data from across the globe to make a mathematical prediction that links the response of insects to temperature with the damage that is done to crops when the climate warms up.
8-30-18 Republicans will let Florida drown
Andrew Gillum won a stunning upset victory in the Democratic primary for the Florida governor's race on Tuesday night. He will face off against Ron DeSantis, an unhinged Trump lickspittle who subtly referred to Gillum (a black man) as a monkey the very next morning. It's anybody's guess who will win — Gillum was down by 14 points in the final primary polls — but it's sure to be a heated, bitter race.But in other Florida news, Bloomberg Businessweek published a large investigation into the water supply system in the state's second-largest city, Miami. In brief, the situation is dire. It's a good demonstration of the partisan stakes in American politics — because Republicans will let Florida drown. Gillum — though he is an experienced politician, winning his first race in 2003 — ran largely on the cutting-edge suite of lefty policies, including Medicare-for-all, the overhaul of ICE, and strong climate policy. His issues page attacks President Trump and current Gov. Rick Scott (R) for having "failed to take action against climate change, with Florida having the most property at risk in the nation" and suggests a big investment program to protect the Florida environment and transition quickly to clean energy. That last priority would be perfectly natural not just for a lefty, but for any Florida resident whose head is not cross-threaded onto his spinal column. As the Bloomberg article lays out, Miami (and by extension the whole southern Florida coast) is facing an existential emergency whose slow-moving nature only makes it more threatening. The upper range of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's sea level-rise scenarios would permanently inundate vast swathes of Miami by 2100, and especially its even more exposed neighbor Miami Beach, parts of which already flood every time there is a big "king tide" — and that's leaving aside preliminary studies on the possibility of much greater rise due to a rapid collapse of the ice sheets of Greenland or West Antarctica.
8-30-18 China officials 'faked water tests with bottled water'
China is sending investigators to Hunan province after local officials were accused of faking data at a water monitoring station, state media report. The officials are alleged to have placed sensors intended to measure the water quality of Lujiang River inside bottles of mineral water instead. The river, in Zhuzhou, is badly polluted by sewage water, reports say. There is widespread suspicion that some local officials and companies in China ignore environmental policies. The environment ministry says it is investigating in Zhuzhou and "will seriously punish" any "violations". One monitoring sensor was even placed in a cup of tea instead of the Lujiang River, Xinhua news agency says. Water monitoring currently takes place at 2,050 sites in the country, China Daily reports. The Chinese government has vowed to improve its efforts to monitor and combat pollution - but there continues to be concern about air and water quality in China. In 2016, one government report said more than 80% of rural wells in the north-east contained water unsafe for drinking. Meanwhile, a separate 2017 government survey found more than 13,000 companies in China failed to meet environmental standards.
8-29-18 A warm-water time bomb could spell disaster for Arctic sea ice
If a rapidly-heating layer of water building up under the Arctic wells up to the surface, it may melt all remaining seasonal sea ice in the area. The Arctic is in hot water, literally, following the discovery that heat has been accumulating rapidly in a salty layer of the Arctic Ocean 50 metres down. Currently, it’s being held at that depth by a less dense layer of freshwater overhead, but if the two layers start to mix it could melt all seasonal sea ice, accelerating the already-rapid loss of polar ice cover. Researchers discovered the heat time-bomb after analysing publicly available data on ice cover, and at different depths on sea temperature, heat content and saltiness over the past three decades. The data was gathered around the Canadian Basin, a major basin of the Arctic Ocean fed by waters from the North Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia. Over this timespan, the heat content of the salty layer doubled, from 200 to 400 million joules per square metre, enough to reduce overall Arctic ice thickness by 80 centimetres. The root cause is global warming, which has seen temperatures in the Arctic rise by 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels–twice the global average—leading to record-low sea ice coverage. The researchers found that with sea ice retreating, heat absorption by exposed surface waters has increased fivefold in 30 years, mainly from direct sunlight, which no longer gets reflected by ice.
8-29-18 Biodiversity in crisis: When roads, dams and power lines kill
The world is undergoing an unprecedented building boom, with untold consequences for wildlife. Can the needs of nature and development ever be reconciled? LAST November, a remarkable new species was added to life’s catalogue. The Tapanuli orangutan lives in a small patch of rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a biodiversity hotspot known as the Batang Toru ecosystem. It is just the eighth living species of great ape to be described, besides two previously known orangutans, two gorillas, chimps, bonobos – and us. But triumph is tinged with tragedy. The entire population of Tapanuli orangutans is thought to be fewer than 800. It instantly became the world’s most endangered great ape. Soon it won’t be endangered any more. It will be extinct. Right now, bulldozers and chainsaws are tearing into its habitat. By 2022, if things go to plan, the Batang Toru hydroelectric dam will have destroyed 3.6 square kilometres of prime habitat in the middle of the orang’s home. A 13.5-kilometre tunnel will be dug to carry water from the dam. Access roads will be built, power lines laid and part of the valley flooded. “The associated infrastructure will destroy key habitat with the highest density of orangutans,” says Gabriella Fredriksson, founder of the Pro Natura Foundation, a local conservation charity. The dam will send the orangs “spinning towards extinction”, says her colleague Matt Nowak. The orangutan’s demise is not unstoppable, but the forces that threaten it probably are. The dam is one small piece of a global infrastructure boom that promises to reshape our world over the next decade. This will bring much-needed roads, energy and jobs to some of the world’s poorest people. But it will come at a shocking expense to nature. The question is: can we do things better?
8-29-18 Biodiversity in crisis: Earth’s giant construction projects mapped out
The planet’s largest areas of undisturbed wilderness in Siberia and tropical rainforests are under threat from huge waves of development. Here’s what it looks like. Infrastructure development, especially of roads, has already disturbed pristine ecosystems across the globe (see map). What China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) consists of is unclear: the project has no official map and communications about it lack detail. The “belt” originally referred to new overland links traversing the historic Silk Road across central Asia. The “road”, confusingly, is a shipping route from ports in southern China to Western Europe via South-East Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal. The original Silk Road was a network of overland trade routes passing through ancient, romantic-sounding cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Constantinople. It outlasted the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Mongol empires, but fell into decline in the 18th century. The vision behind its reboot, launched in 2013, is to hyper-accelerate trade and development across Eurasia and beyond. Western critics often see BRI as part of an attempt by China to build a new, Sinocentric world order. Its ambition is certainly unprecedented: some 7000 projects in 70 countries with a projected cost of $8 trillion by 2050. The belt has now expanded to six development corridors radiating out from China. South America and Africa have their own programmes. The potential cost to nature of BRI is incalculable. As a group of conservation biologists wrote in Nature Ecology and Evolution earlier this year, “BRI could have disastrous consequences for biodiversity”.
8-29-18 Floating nuclear plants could herald a new era of cheap, safe energy
The price of renewables is at rock bottom, making nuclear power look pointlessly expensive. But new atomic plants could be cheap - and safer too. In 2015, Buongiorno and his colleagues published their own idea for a floating nuclear plant, which would send electricity to shore along an undersea cable. Floating plants could take advantage of seawater for cooling. Having so much water around them would be particularly useful for cooling during an overheating accident. And the plants are already a reality. Russia launched the first purpose-built facility a few months ago and China has also expressed an interest in building its own fleet. Wanner reckons there is something in it. He agrees that floating plants could have more favourable economics than traditional designs. They offer portability too. Plants could be towed to remote communities or offshore engineering operations. They might even provide a zero-carbon way of supplying the power needed to install wind turbines. At first blush, floating nuclear might sound a terrible idea. What if radioactive material spilled into the ocean? Yet Buongiorno says the plants would enjoy “inherent protection” from earthquakes and tsunamis, the forces that caused the nuclear accident in Fukushima. And he says that, in principle, it is possible to design vessels that are resistant to deliberate attacks, including explosions and small torpedoes.
8-29-18 Puerto Rico increases Hurricane Maria death toll to 2,975
Officials in Puerto Rico now say 2,975 people died following Hurricane Maria - a devastating storm that struck the US island territory in September 2017. The revised death toll is nearly 50 times the previous estimate of 64. Governor Ricardo Rossello "accepted" the findings in a long-awaited independent investigation. The mayor of the capital, San Juan, accused the US government of deliberately downplaying the impact of the storm. Puerto Rico has struggled to repair its infrastructure and power grid since the storm, and is asking US Congress for $139bn (£108bn) in recovery funds. "I'm giving an order to update the official number of deaths to 2,975," Governor Ricardo Rossello told reporters on Tuesday. "Although this is an estimate, it has a scientific basis." In a statement, the White House said the federal government supported the governor's efforts to "ensure a full accountability and transparency of fatalities" in the hurricane. President Donald Trump was criticised for praising the federal response to the hurricane-ravaged island in the weeks following the storm. Critics accused him of showing more concern for residents in Texas and Florida after they were hit by hurricanes.The authorities have faced criticism for underreporting the toll of Maria - the most powerful storm to hit the region in nearly 90 years. Until now, the official figure was 64 - even though the island had previously acknowledged the death toll was probably much higher. In the wake of the disaster, some experts estimated as many as 4,600 deaths. The latest findings - accepted by the island's authorities - were made in a report by experts from George Washington University, which the governor commissioned.
8-28-18 Officials raise Puerto Rico’s death toll from Hurricane Maria to nearly 3,000 people
The tally includes deaths related to the storm through February 2018. The Puerto Rican government has officially updated its tally of lives lost to Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975. That number, reported August 28 in a government-commissioned study by George Washington University in Washington D.C., dwarfs the island’s previous count of 64, which officials later acknowledged was far too low. The study covers September 2017 through February 2018 — two months longer than other recent estimates for the post-hurricane death toll (SN Online: 8/2/18). An absence of clear guidelines for how to certify deaths during a disaster, the researchers found, meant many death certificates didn’t reflect the role of the Category 5 storm, which hit the island on September 20, 2017. Based on mortality data including death certificates, the new 2,975 estimate falls between two other recent counts. One study in May estimated 4,645 deaths from the hurricane through December 2017 by surveying nearly 3,300 randomly selected households in January and February (SN Online: 5/29/18). Another study in August counted 1,139 excess deaths during the same period, by analyzing and comparing monthly death counts from January 2010 through December 2017. In a report to Congress, a draft of which was published in July, Puerto Rican officials unofficially acknowledged that the death toll was likely far higher than 64, based on its counting roughly 1,427 more deaths in the four months after the storm than in the same period in the previous four years.
8-28-18 French minister Nicolas Hulot resigns on live radio in frustration
French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot has resigned on live radio, in a dramatic announcement that caught even President Emmanuel Macron by surprise. The former TV presenter and green activist said he had quit after a series of disappointments in attempts to address climate change and other environmental threats. Mr Hulot said he felt "all alone" in government. The decision was taken on the spot and, he added, even his wife did not know. "I am going to take... the most difficult decision of my life," the minister said in an interview on France Inter radio. "I am taking the decision to leave the government." Mr Hulot said that he had not told Mr Macron or Prime Minister Edouard Philippe of his decision, because he believed they would try to talk him out of it. Mr Hulot is a popular figure in France, and correspondents say his departure is a major blow to Mr Macron, whose ratings are currently poor. Mr Macron responded to the news by saying he respected Mr Hulot's decision, adding that he hoped to be able to count on his support "in another form". Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said he regretted Mr Hulot's resignation. "I don't understand why he is stepping down when we had many successes in the first year that are to his credit," he told BFM TV.
8-27-18 Breathing polluted air may make you worse at maths and language
Air pollutants can creep into your brain as you breathe, deteriorating your brain tissue and damaging your cognitive function – and it’s worse for men. Breathing dirty air harms more than your lungs. It may also lead to cognitive decline, making you worse at maths and damaging your language skills. Xiaobo Zhang at Peking University in Beijing and his colleagues compared cognitive test scores of 31,955 people in China over the age of 10 in 2010 and 2014, and matched the scores with official air quality data from the city where each test subject lived. They found that air pollution impaired both mathematics and verbal test performances, and the decline likely becomes more significant with long term exposure. Men also experienced greater decline in verbal test scores than women. Zhang says this might be because air pollution can reduce the density of the brain’s white matter – tissue associated with language skills. Previous studies have shown that men in tend to use less white matter than women during intelligence tests, which could make them more susceptible to such damage. It might have an outsized impact on elderly people living in polluted areas, Zhang says. “Cognitive decline may affect elderly people’s ability in running daily errands and making high-stake decisions,” he says. “It’s also a risk factor for many diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.” Air pollution may damage the brain through several pathways at once, Zhang says. Other research has shown that pollutants in the air can carry toxins into the brain, insufficient oxygen supply may impair cognitive functions, and prolonged exposure to unclean air can lead to neurological inflammation and disease. Certain pollutants may also lead to psychiatric stress and depression, which can affect cognitive performance.
8-26-18 Finding a solution to Canada's Indigenous water crisis
Many First Nation communities across Canada have been under long-term boil water advisories. One community is trying some innovative solutions. Graduate students from the University of British Columbia report from Lytton, British Columbia. This project is in collaboration with the Global Reporting Centre. Karen Dunstan lifts a large metal pot up to the sink and turns on the tap. The water is crisp, cold and clear, but it isn't clean. When the pot is nearly full, she puts it on the stove to boil. Only then can she and her children have a drink. For more than 20 years, this was part of her morning routine. "You would have flu-like symptoms and have diarrhoea and vomiting from drinking the water [without boiling]," says Dunstan, 53. Like many in her community, she lived under a boil water advisory for decades. Dunstan lives in Lytton First Nation, a rural on-reserve Indigenous community of 945 people in British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province. Lytton is just one among hundreds of First Nations that have suffered from a water crisis in Canada. Despite the fact that Canada has the world's third largest per-capita freshwater reserve, the water many Indigenous communities depend on is contaminated, difficult to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems.
8-25-18 Our ocean currents are changing, and scientists are searching for answers
Last winter, a team of scientists braved the cold of Iceland in order to learn more about our oceans. It's an obscure ocean current in a remote part of the world. But what happens to it as the planet and the oceans warm up could affect the lives of people everywhere. That's why Bob Pickart, a physical oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, traveled to Ísafjörður, Iceland, in the middle of the harsh North Atlantic winter, planning to head into the teeth of some of the worst weather imaginable. The current is called the North Icelandic Jet. It's a ribbon of cold water deep below the surface of the North Atlantic about 75 miles off the coast here, between northwest Iceland and Greenland, and it's a key part of the global ocean circulatory system. But climate change is causing the Arctic to warm up fast, and Pickart says that could disrupt everything. "If conditions get extreme enough that this overturning circulation could start to slow down or potentially halt," Pickart says, "this distribution of heat — that's all gonna change. And you're gonna have some incredible impacts to civilization." Regional climates all over the world could shift. Some places could get way hotter or colder. Others could become drier or wetter. The global ocean circulatory system is a big part of the Earth's climate system, but one that most of us barely notice. It works sort of like our own circulatory system, but instead of moving blood around our bodies, it moves huge amounts of heat all over the planet. It starts at the equator, where the oceans absorb heat from the sun. The warm water flows towards the poles, and once it gets to a place like Iceland, Pickart says, "it becomes really cold and dense. And then you start to get the sinking and ultimately that dense water flows back to the south," where it starts all over again. It takes about 2,000 years for a molecule of water to travel the full loop. But the system is incredibly complex, and parts of it, like the North Icelandic Jet, are barely understood.
8-24-18 Energy: Health costs of Trump’s coal plan
Lifting restrictions on coal-burning power plants could lead to 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030, said Lisa Friedman in The New York Times. The number comes from the Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis of new rules pushed by Trump and agency officials. The deaths would come from “an increase in the extremely fine particulate matter,” which is linked to heart and lung disease. Relaxing the rules would also lead to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems each year. The administration’s proposal would replace stricter Obama-era regulations “designed to fight global warming by forcing utilities to switch to greener power sources.” Expect the environmental policy divide between red and blue states to widen, said Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post. The previous Obama-era rules set strict carbon dioxide limits for each state and encouraged “the shuttering of coal plants.” But conservative state officials may now permit utilities to keep the plants open longer, while liberal states could continue pressing for steep greenhouse gas emission reductions. Coal plants have been shutting down at a rapid clip; half the plants the Sierra Club targeted in 2010 are now shut down or scheduled to close. “Industry officials praised the administration,” as compliance costs should fall by $400 million.
8-24-18 Going the wrong way on energy
Australia is getting hammered by climate change, said Bob Brown, former head of the Green Party, and the government’s new energy plan won’t help. The National Energy Guarantee policy is supposed to provide reliable power with a mix of energy sources that can be fired up as needed. To get there, though, the government is abandoning Australia’s commitments under the Paris agreement on climate change. It has slashed subsidies for green energy sources, including solar and wind power, even as it considers allowing Indian billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani to dig the world’s biggest export coal mine, which would produce annual greenhouse-gas emissions “greater than those of medium-sized countries like Malaysia.” Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg says that the energy plan will save consumers $500 a year each. Yet that doesn’t take into account the price “of the Great Barrier Reef being half dead” and of “death-dealing heat waves in our cities.” Rising sea levels are damaging our coastal infrastructure, and rising temperatures are drying out the Murray-Darling basin, where most of our food is grown. Those costs “will hit everyone’s pocket—from rising insurance premiums to the direct impacts on households, business, and government.” The new policy fails to mitigate global warming or even lower power bills; instead, it offers handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
8-24-18 Hurricane Lane: Hawaii hit by flooding and landslides as storm nears
Hawaii has been hit with strong winds and torrential rain as Hurricane Lane approaches the US state, causing flash flooding and landslides. Schools and offices were closed as residents took shelter from the storm, which was downgraded to category three strength on Thursday. As the hurricane neared the Aloha state on Friday, it brought winds of 120 mph (193 km/h) and heavy rainfall. President Donald Trump earlier declared a state of emergency for Hawaii. The White House said that federal authorities were on standby to provide support and supplies to local and state emergency response efforts. While the storm has been downgraded, the situation remains "dangerous" and severe flooding is a "major concern", the National Weather Service (NWS) tweeted. Lane will also cause dangerous surf heights of up to 25ft (7.6m) in Maui and Oahu by Friday morning. Officials warned of "significant beach erosion" and waves hitting coastal roadways. Meanwhile United Airlines said it had cancelled all Friday flights to and from the main airports on Maui, the second-largest island.
8-23-18 Container ship to break the ice on Russian Arctic route
A Danish vessel setting sail from Vladivostok this week is set to become the first container ship to tackle the Arctic sea route north of Russia. The Venta Maersk, owned by Maersk Line, and carrying 3,600 containers, hopes to reach St Petersburg by late September. That could be up to 14 days faster than the southern route via the Suez Canal. Maersk will collect data on the Northern Sea Route to see if the melting of Arctic sea ice has made the passage economically viable. Maersk said: "The trial passage will enable us to explore the operational feasibility of container shipping through the Northern Sea Route and to collect data." The Venta Maersk, designed as a new "ice-class" container ship, will carry frozen fish and other refrigerated and general cargo. The route stretches from the Bering Strait in the east between Russia and Alaska to Norway in the west. However, Maersk added: "Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing network, which is defined by our customers' demand, trading patterns and population centres."
8-22-18 Scientists create a mineral in the lab that captures carbon dioxide
A new technique might one day help combat global warming. Scientists are one step closer to a long-sought way to store carbon dioxide in rocks. A new technique speeds up the formation of a mineral called magnesite that, in nature, captures and stores large amounts of the greenhouse gas CO2. And the process can be done at room temperature in the lab, researchers reported August 14 at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference, held in Boston. If the mineral can be produced in large quantities, the method could one day help fight climate change. “A lot of carbon on Earth is already stored within carbonate minerals, such as limestone,” says environmental geoscientist Ian Power of Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, who presented the research. “Earth knows how to store carbon naturally and does this over geologic time. But we’re emitting so much CO2 now that Earth can’t keep up.” Researchers have been seeking ways to boost the planet’s capacity for CO2 storage (SN: 6/5/10, p. 16). One possible technique: Sequester the CO2 gas by converting it to carbonate minerals. Magnesite, or magnesium carbonate, is a stable mineral that can hold a lot of CO2 naturally: A metric ton of magnesite can contain about half a metric ton of the greenhouse gas.
8-22-18 Air pollution is shaving a year off our average life expectancy
In some regions, fine particulate matter affects mortality more than breast or lung cancer. Breathing dirty air exacts a price — specifically, months, or even years, off of life. Air pollution shaves a year off the average human life expectancy, scientists report August 22 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. In more polluted regions of Asia and Africa, lives are shortened by 1.5 to two years on average. The study, using 2016 country data from the Global Burden of Disease project, is the first major look at country-specific life expectancy impacts of fine particulate matter — bits of pollution, known as PM2.5, that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or 30 times smaller than the width of an average human hair. And it’s the first to present those impacts in terms of life expectancy, rather than death or disease rates (SN: 11/25/17, p. 5). The approach is aimed at making the risk more relatable, says Joshua Apte, an environmental scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “Talking about mortality figures and large body counts, you see people’s eyes glaze over,” Apte says. “People care not just about whether you die — we all die — but also how much younger are you going to be when that happens.”
8-22-18 California wildfires: Verizon throttled data during crisis
A US mobile network has admitted it should not have slowed California firefighters' data speeds as they tackled what has become the largest blaze in the state's modern history. Santa Clara County's fire chief has complained the company throttled an emergency vehicle's data rate to about 0.5% of its normal level. The limit was enforced despite Verizon being told it was hampering efforts to tackle the wildfire. Verizon said a mistake had been made. However, it highlighted that the fire department had subscribed to a contract that stated data throughput would be cut after a usage limit had been hit. "Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations," a spokeswoman told the Mercury News newspaper. "In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. "We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward." The incident was revealed in court papers filed as part of several states' efforts to reverse a repeal of the US's net neutrality rules. Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District is supporting the challenge on the basis that it relies on dependable internet access.
8-22-18 Hurricane Lane: Hawaii braces for category four storm
The US state of Hawaii is bracing for a dangerous category four hurricane which could hit the islands as early as Wednesday evening. Lane was downgraded to a category four storm, with sustained winds of 155 mph (249km/h), but officials say it is still close to category five strength. Forecasts say the islands will face strong winds and surging waves even if the storm does not make landfall. The last category five storm to come this close to Hawaii was John in 1994. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a hurricane warning for the Big Island and a hurricane watch for the islands of Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai as of Wednesday morning. The Navy announced that ships and submarines based at Pearl Harbour will be sent out to sea where they will be "safely out of the path of the storm". Commanders of ships that are undergoing maintenance and are unable to leave port have been authorised to drop anchor, add additional mooring and storm lines, and disconnect power cable connected them to shore. On the Big Island, the first in Hurricane Lane's path, damaging tropical storm and hurricane-force winds could pick up as soon as Wednesday afternoon or evening. Intense rain and thunderstorms are also expected to reach the Big Island this morning. Maui and Oahu will see similar conditions as early as Thursday. "Life threatening impacts are likely" to hit Hawaii, regardless of whether the storm makes landfall, NWS said in a statement. Authorities warned residents of major flash flooding, landslides and mudslides, "even in areas not usually prone to flooding". Forecasts predict more than 20 inches (50cm) of rainfall. Rip currents, rough surf, and waterspouts are also concerns along the coasts, particularly on the right side of the storm.
8-22-18 Chances of an Atlantic hurricane season busier than 2005’s are slim — for now
2005 had 28 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean; 15 were hurricanes, including Katrina. In 2005, a total of 28 named tropical cyclones churned across the Atlantic Ocean. That set a record that is likely to stand for a while: There is only a 3.2 percent chance of more Atlantic storms forming in any one year, at least under current climate conditions, scientists report August 22 in Science Advances. There were so many Atlantic storms in 2005 that the U.S. National Hurricane Center went through its entire alphabet of names and started on Greek letters. And of the 28 named storms that year, 15 were strong enough to be called hurricanes. But could the Atlantic produce more storms, if the conditions were right? Climate scientist Sally Lavender of CSIRO in Aspendale, Australia, and colleagues examined thousands of years of climate simulations and studied the statistical relationships between those climate conditions and tropical cyclone formation. The likelihood that that Atlantic region could spawn more storms than it did in 2005, at least under current climate conditions, was only 3.2 percent — suggesting that year will hang on to the record for a while. That also makes 2005 “a reasonable benchmark” when it comes to risk management, the researchers say. But, the study looks only at current climate conditions. How the Atlantic storm tally might change in the future isn’t clear, Lavender says. This study also doesn’t consider how destructive future Atlantic storms might be, but previous research suggests that climate change will lead to more intense storms in the future (SN: 6/27/15, p. 9).
8-22-18 More than 350 people in Kerala have died as a result of flooding
Since India’s monsoon season began in June, more than 200,000 people in the southern state of Kerala have had to abandon their homes and move to relief camps. HUNDREDS of people have died as a result of flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Since monsoon season began in June, more than 200,000 people have had to abandon their homes and move to emergency relief camps. “We’re witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala,” Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister for the region, told local news. More than 930 people have died across India this monsoon season. Kerala has been hit particularly hard, with more than 350 killed. Officials say many of the deaths were in landslides triggered by the floods. Kerala has 44 rivers running through it, and the state authorities have been criticised for not gradually releasing water from 80 local dams. Instead, water was only discharged once the reservoirs were full, exacerbating the situation.
8-22-18 Flint water crisis: How AI is finding thousands of hazardous pipes
Artificial intelligence is helping to find the thousands of lead pipes responsible for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. EFFORTS are under way to replace the lead pipes that have been contaminating the water supply in the city of Flint, Michigan. Nobody knows which of the 55,000 properties are directly affected, but an artificially intelligent algorithm can make accurate guesses. The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when city officials began sourcing water from the local river instead of the Detroit water system. The water wasn’t treated properly and corroded lead pipes, causing the heavy metal to leach into drinking water. Residents complained of foul smelling, discoloured water that caused rashes, and were advised to boil tap water before drinking. Paediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha raised the alarm in 2015 when she found herself treating children with abnormally high levels of lead in their blood. A state of emergency was declared and millions of litres of bottled water shipped in. The water supply has now been reconnected to the Detroit water system, but the lead pipes remain. At the height of the crisis, Google funded a project to help map the affected homes. A team of scientists from various fields and institutions volunteered to help, but quickly realised there was little information available, as many records were missing, incomplete or outdated. Jacob Abernethy at Georgia Tech and his colleagues built an AI to predict which homes are likely to be connected to a lead pipe. They drew on work by a separate team that digitised old city plans and more than 140,000 handwritten records of building work in the city.
8-21-18 Nanofibre net draws drinking water from the air for drought-hit people
A new material made from nanofibres can capture hundreds of litres of drinking water from the air and could help drought-hit communities. A nanofibre cloth could help drought-hit communities capture drinking water from the air. Fog nets usually consist of a sheet of polythene mesh strung between two poles. Passing water vapour condenses on the small fibres and trickles down into collection bottles below. However, the yield of these nets is often limited and the water only flows on foggy days. The technology is also restricted to mountainous regions where warm, wet air arriving from the coast is forced up steep slopes, where it cools and condenses as fog. Shing-Chung Josh Wong at the University of Akron in Ohio, US and his team created a new material that they believe will be a large improvement. They used electrospun polymers – a technique which allowed them to create nanoscale fibres. These are tangled around fragments of expanded graphite, like spaghetti around meatballs. The fibres provide a large surface area for droplets to condense onto, and the graphite encourages the water to drip out of the material when it is squeezed or heated. Wong says that harvesters made with these nanofibres could yield up to 180 litres of water per square metre every day. In comparison, a commercial system currently in use in Morocco only produces around 30 litres per square metre per day. As well as squeezing water from the air, the nanofibres also filter out dirt and bacteria, meaning the water is safe to drink. Although the system can work passively, Wong envisions using a small battery to cool an element attached to the material. This would mean the harvester could operate beyond the range of typical fog nets – even in deserts.
8-20-18 A freshwater, saltwater tug-of-war is eating away at the Everglades
Scientists wrestle with how to fight the effects of sea level rise and years of redirecting freshwater flow. The boardwalk at Pa-hay-okee Overlook is a brief, winding path into a dreamworld in Everglades National Park. Beyond the wooden slats, an expanse of gently waving saw grass stretches to the horizon, where it meets an iron-gray sky. Hardwood tree islands — patches of higher, drier ground called hammocks — rise up from the prairie like surfacing swimmers. The rhythmic singing of cricket frogs is occasionally punctuated by the sharp call of an anhinga or a great egret. And through this ecosystem, a vast sheet of water flows slowly southward toward the ocean. The Everglades, nicknamed the river of grass, has endured its share of threats. Decades of human tinkering to make South Florida an oasis for residents and a profitable place for farmers and businesses has redirected water away from the wetlands. Runoff from agricultural fields bordering the national park causes perennial toxic algal blooms in Florida’s coastal estuaries. But now, the Everglades — home to alligators and crocodiles, deer, bobcats and the Florida panther, plus a dizzying array of more than 300 bird species — is facing a far more relentless foe: rising seas. South Florida is ground zero when it comes to sea level rise in the United States. By 2100, waters near Key West are projected to be as much as two meters above current mean sea level. Daily high tides are expected to flood many of Miami’s streets. The steady encroachment of saltwater is already changing the landscape, killing off saw grass and exposing the land to erosion.
8-20-18 California wildfires: Ferguson Fire near Yosemite contained
A huge, deadly wildfire that burned for weeks and threatened the Yosemite National Park in California has finally been contained. The Ferguson Fire has burned through nearly 97,000 acres (39,250 hectares) of land to the south-west of the park since 13 July. More than 3,000 firefighters have battled the blaze. Two have been killed and 19 injured. Most of Yosemite's tourist areas have now reopened. Their closure, mainly due to smoke blowing into the park, damaged the local economy during peak tourist season. The Ferguson Fire is one of several wildfires that have raged across California in recent weeks. But cooler weather and calmer winds have helped give fire crews the upper hand, officials said. "The weather is helping the fires to lay down and they [firefighters] are able to get better containment lines around them," said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round.
8-19-18 Plastic pollution: 'Stop flushing contact lenses down the loo'
Researchers in the US have been investigating the final journeys taken by disposable contact lenses. They found 15-20% of US users simply flick these fiddly lenses down the drain via the bathroom sink or toilet. The Arizona State University study suggests that much of the plastic material then ends up in waste water treatment plants. The lenses are consequently spread on farmland as sewage sludge, increasing plastic pollution in the environment. Around 45m people wear contacts in the US, while rates in other countries vary, with between 5 and 15% of the population in Europe using them. Over the last decade, the use of softer plastic contact lenses has grown rapidly with people using daily, weekly or monthly disposables in greater numbers than ever before. The authors of the study surveyed wearers in the US and found that 15-20% of them flick their lenses down sinks and toilets, meaning they will most likely end up in waste water treatment plants. Much of the waste water material ends up as a digested sludge which is then often spread on farmland. The authors estimate that around 13,000kg of contact lens plastic ends up deposited in this way. "They persist during water treatment, they become part of sewage sludge," Prof Rolf Halden, from the Centre for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State told BBC News. "We know that whatever's in sludge can make its way into runoff from heavy rains, back into surface water and that is a conduit to the oceans; there is the potential of these lenses being taken on quite a journey." The researchers are concerned that this poses an ecological risk and may allow the accumulation of persistent toxic pollutants in vulnerable organisms such as worms and birds. "If earthworms consume the soil and birds feed on it, then you could see that plastic make the same journey as is done by plastics debris in oceans, they are incorporated by biota that are also part of the human food chain," said Prof Halden.
8-19-18 Paper batteries use electron-harvesting bacteria to make electricity
Many small devices require batteries, but they can be expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Paper batteries powered by bacteria may be the solution. A paper battery powered by electron-harvesting bacteria could one day power environmentally friendly disposable devices. Researchers have been working on paper sensors and circuit boards for years, but they have mostly been powered by traditional batteries or simple chemical reactions. Yang Gao and Seokheun Choi at the State University of New York-Binghamton created a paper battery powered by bacteria to do the job instead. The battery is made of waxed paper, with thin layers of metals and polymers printed on top to hold bacteria and harvest electrons. The type of bacteria used are called exoelectrogens, which pull electrons from the molecules that they eat and transfer them to outside of their cells. The battery is freeze-dried to place the bacteria in a dormant state, and it’s packaged with a small pouch of liquid bacteria food. When the device is squeezed, the liquid revives the bacteria and they start eating the organic material from the pouch. Through a series of reactions, electrons from the food are moved through the bacteria, eventually being absorbed into the battery, where they can be used to power small devices. The team presented their work on 19 August at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.
8-18-18 Kerala floods: Troops rush in to help rescue efforts
India's armed services are stepping up efforts to rescue thousands of people stranded by flooding in southern Kerala state that has killed 324 people. Hundreds of troops, and dozens of boats and helicopters are helping to evacuate people from what officials say is the worst flooding there in a century. Many people are still believed to be trapped on rooftops of flooded homes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flew over the worst-hit sites and met state officials to discuss the crisis. There are fears the situation may get worse with more heavy rain and strong winds forecast over the weekend. Nearly 1,000 people have died in total since India's rainy season began in June. Kerala's chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, says the flooding is the worst the state has seen in 100 years. In a tweet, he said that more than 314,000 people were now living in more than 2,000 emergency relief camps set up in the area. But many others remain stuck on trees and rooftops - NDTV says the number is in the thousands, but other news sites puts the figure in the hundreds.
8-16-18 Including population control in climate policy risks human tragedy
Making population issues part of the world's efforts to avert climate change could cause human rights abuses including forced sterilisation, says Ian Angus. Should slowing population growth become part of the international push to tackle climate change? That question is raised by US environmentalists writing in the journal Science. They argue that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to view it as a potential “policy lever” in a warming world. To their credit, the authors advocate only voluntary fertility-reducing measures such as education and access to family planning services. Unfortunately, history shows that such good intentions are not enough to prevent abuses, that voluntary programmes frequently turn into the opposite. In November 2014, a single doctor in Chhattisgarh, India, set a record by sterilising around 140 women over two days. Shortly after, 15 of those women died and 70 more were hospitalised. The doctor reportedly said he had been under pressure to meet targets. That was not an isolated incident. Around the world, thousands of women have suffered and died in the name of arbitrary population quotas. In Bangladesh, which population lobbyists hail as a success story for voluntary birth control programmes, impoverished women were paid to “accept” sterilisation, and the number who accepted rose sharply during periods of high unemployment. In Peru, 350,000 women and 25,000 men, most from the Quechuan and Aymaran indigenous minorities, were sterilised against their will in the 1990s.
8-16-18 A filter that turns saltwater into freshwater just got an upgrade
Making the material smoother prevents it from getting gunked up quickly. Smoothing out the rough patches of a material widely used to filter saltwater could make producing freshwater more affordable, researchers report in the Aug. 17 Science. Desalination plants around the world typically strain salt out of seawater by pumping it through films made of polyamide — a synthetic polymer riddled with tiny pores that allow water molecules to squeeze through, but not sodium ions. But organic matter, along with some other waterborne particles like calcium sulfate, can accumulate in the pockmarked surfaces of those films, preventing water from passing through the pores (SN: 8/20/16, p. 22). Plant operators must replace the membranes frequently or install expensive equipment to remove these contaminants before they reach the filters. Now researchers have made a supersmooth version without the divots that trap troublesome particles. That could cut costs for producing freshwater, making desalination more broadly accessible. Hundreds of millions of people already rely on desalinated water for drinking, cooking and watering crops, and the need for freshwater is only increasing (SN: 8/18/18, p. 14).
8-16-18 Wheat gene map to help 'feed the world'
The starting pistol has been fired in a race to develop "climate change resistant" wheat with the publication of a map of the crop's genes. An international team of scientists has identified the location of more than 100,000 wheat genes. The researchers say the map will accelerate the development of new strains to cope with the increased heat waves expected from climate change. The research has been published in the journal Science. Professor Cristobal Uauy, who is a project leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, described the pinpointing of wheat genes as "a game changer". "We need to find ways to make sustainable production of wheat in the face of climate change and increasing demand," he told BBC News. "This is something we've been waiting for for many years. The whole of human civilisation should be very excited with this because for the first time now we'll be able to make the advances that scientists and plant breeders have wanted to do in wheat in a much more targeted manner and so feed the world in the future."
8-16-18 More than 2 billion people lack safe drinking water. That number will only grow.
As populations grow and climate change shrinks freshwater stores, water scarcity takes center stage. Freshwater is crucial for drinking, washing, growing food, producing energy and just about every other aspect of modern life. Yet more than 2 billion of Earth’s 7.6 billion inhabitants lack clean drinking water at home, available on demand. A major United Nations report, released in June, shows that the world is not on track to meet a U.N. goal: to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone by 2030. And by 2050, half the world’s population may no longer have safe water. Will people have enough water to live? Two main factors are pushing the planet toward a thirstier future: population growth and climate change. For the first, the question is how to balance more people against the finite amount of water available. India has improved water access in rural areas, but remains at the top of the list for sheer number of people (163 million) lacking water services. Ethiopia, second on the list with 61 million people lacking clean water, has improved substantially since the last measurement in 2000, but still has a high percentage of total residents without access. Short of any major but unlikely breakthroughs, such as new techniques to desalinate immense amounts of seawater (SN: 8/20/16, p. 22), humankind will have to make do with whatever freshwater already exists. Most of the world’s freshwater goes to agriculture, mainly to irrigating crops but also to raising livestock and farming aquatic organisms, such as fish and plants. As the global population rises, agricultural production rises to meet demand for more varied diets. In recent decades, the increase in water withdrawal from the ground or lakes and rivers has slowed, whether for agriculture, industries or municipalities, but it still outpaced the rate of population growth since 1940.
8-16-18 Corals on old North Sea oil rigs could help natural reefs recover
Not only are deep-sea coral ecosystems thriving on oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, their larvae may be helping repopulate damaged natural reefs. Environmentalists and fishers want oil and gas structures in the ocean to be completely removed when they are no longer needed – but doing so could actually harm marine wildlife. Not only are deep-sea corals thriving on oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, the larvae they release may be helping repopulate damaged natural reefs elsewhere. The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa, which grows in the North Atlantic in waters deeper than 80 metres, can form vast reefs hundreds of metres high and hundreds of kilometres long. Thousands of animals live on or depend on these reefs. For instance, various sharks lay their eggs in them. But many of these reefs have been badly damaged by trawling and while some are now protected, they are isolated and far apart. However, small colonies of these corals are thriving on oil rigs in the North Sea, creating havens for marine life. “There are corals all over the rigs in the North Sea. They have formed their own ecosystem,” says Lea-Anne Henry of the University of Edinburgh. “The animals we are finding associated with the corals on the rigs are identical to what we are finding in the wild.” Her team has used computer models that to work out where the coral larvae released from the rigs end up. The models simulate both local currents and the swimming behaviour of individual larvae. The result show that the larvae from the rigs could be helping recolonise damaged natural reefs across a huge area. They should be reaching the Aktivneset marine protected area off Norway, for instance. The rigs should also be acting as a stepping stones that allow natural reefs to swap coral larvae, and thus to remain genetically diverse and healthy in the long term.
8-15-18 Send in the lawyers to win the fight against climate change
When all else fails, send in the lawyers. THE coalition for climate action is nothing if not broad. Civil society pushes grass-roots action and civil rights groups make the humanitarian arguments. Economists, financial institutions and big companies increasingly press the economic case for action, rightly seeing in global warming a threat to the world’s prosperity. Even the Pope and the Pentagon have waded in. So far, however, the responses of governments to curb emissions have been half-hearted at best. Now that inaction faces its sternest test – in the courts. Legal action on climate change is not new. In 2007, in the case Massachusetts vs EPA, the US Supreme Court ruled on behalf of 12 states and several cities that the Environmental Protection Agency was obliged by law to regulate emissions of CO2 from cars. For a long time, this was an isolated success. But recent years have seen a rise in strategic lawsuits – ones that could have wide-ranging impacts, by setting a precedent or triggering policy changes. The cases largely involve people taking on governments for their failure to legislate to protect them against climate change, or people directly targeting fossil fuel companies, demanding either compensation for harm done or money to shield them from future damage (see “Meet the ‘climate kids’ suing the US government over global warming”). Most suits are in the US: more than a dozen directly challenge the Trump administration’s actions to deregulate emissions.
8-15-18 Meet the ‘climate kids’ suing the US government over global warming
They claim inaction on climate change has blighted their future – just one of many challenges now hitting the courts. And they might just succeed. HIGH-SCHOOL student Aji Piper goes snowboarding in the mountains behind Seattle – but for how much longer, he wonders. Miko Vergun fears her native Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific could soon be under water. In Alaska, Nathan Baring’s friends can no longer hunt for seals because the ice is too thin. Nine-year-old Levi Draheim, who lives in low-lying, coastal Florida, says of his president: “It’s scary having someone in the White House who doesn’t believe in climate change.” All four are among 21 young people – self-described “climate kids” – who will head for a district court in Eugene, Oregon, in October. Over several weeks, they will face off against federal government lawyers. The plaintiffs will accuse the Trump administration and its predecessors of decades of deceit and wrong-headedness in handling climate change, and will seek an order compelling Washington to devise a plan that will halt and reverse it. Suddenly, legal action over climate change is getting serious. The climate kids’ case is one of a rash of challenges this year, against governments and fossil fuel companies, in which citizens of various countries will try to get the legal system to reboot our response to the most pressing global problem of our time. Climate-change litigation has been tried before, with mixed results. Eleven years ago, judges ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency had a duty to regulate emissions from motor vehicles, following a lawsuit brought by the state of Massachusetts and 11 others. This opened the door for the Obama administration’s aggressive climate policies. But in 2013, a court threw out a claim by an Alaskan coastal village that big oil companies should pay damages because rising tides and melting ice were flooding residents out of their homes.
8-15-18 Canada's British Columbia wildfires prompt state of emergency
A state of emergency has been declared by the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) as it battles more than 560 wildfires. It will be in place across the entire western province for at least 14 days. Hot and dry conditions, with a risk of thunderstorms in some parts of BC, are expected to continue over the coming days. This is the second year in a row the province has battled significant wildfires on parts of its territory. Over 3,000 people are under evacuation orders and another 18,700 are under evacuation alerts. Fires are active throughout entire parts of the province. "Public safety is always our first priority and, as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to any and all resources necessary," said provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in a statement on Wednesday. This is the second state of emergency in 15 years declared by the province over wildfires. Last year, BC was under a 10-week state of emergency to deal with blazes that eventually burned through 1.2m hectares (4,633 square miles) of the province.
8-15-18 Some clouds are formed when a virus makes algae shed their shells
When algae in the ocean get a virus, they shed their exoskeleton and those chalky bits can get flung into the air and trigger the formation of clouds. The clouds over your head may have started around a seed made of a seashell. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton can affect the amount of clouds that form and even how they move. One such species, Emiliana huxleyi – known as Ehux – is a single cell encased in overlapping lacy discs of calcium carbonate. When Ehux is infected with a virus known as EhV, the cell sheds its chalky exoskeleton. Sea spray can fling these frisbee-shaped scales into the air, where they can become the seeds around which air condenses into droplets. “We wanted to see how microbial interactions may be reflected in the aerosol population, which can then affect clouds,” says Miri Trainic at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. She and her team tested the effect of the virus on the phytoplankton using two groups – one infected with EhV, and the other without. The virus is known to break down the phytoplankton’s outer shell. One day after viral infection, they saw the percentage of cells that still had an exoskeleton drop from 91 to 66. The uninfected group saw no decrease. By three days after infection, the concentration of calcite shells had increased three-fold. Trainic and her colleagues also tested how these bits of shell might make their way into the air. They used a bubbling system to mimic sea spray in the tanks where both groups of phytoplankton were held.
8-15-18 Viruses may help phytoplankton make clouds — by tearing the algae apart
Emiliania huxleyi rapidly shed their covering of tiny calcium carbonate plates when infected. When tiny sea algae get sick, they may sneeze the seeds of clouds. Phytoplankton (Emiliania huxleyi) infected with a virus shed the small calcium carbonate plates that make up their shells much more quickly than healthy phytoplankton. Kicked up by thrashing waves into sea spray, those calcium bits may ultimately become part of the complex dance of cloud formation, researchers report August 15 in iScience. This is the first study to suggest the role that viruses, which often infect and kill phytoplankton in the ocean (SN: 7/9/16, p. 12), may play. The finding adds to a growing body of work showing that cloud formation is regulated not just by physical processes, such as evaporation and heat exchange between ocean and atmosphere, but also by biological processes, says marine biologist Roberto Danovaro, who wasn’t involved in the new research. Previous studies in the Southern Ocean have shown that the marine organisms increase the number of cloud-forming droplets lingering in the atmosphere over the ocean there by about 60 percent each year (SN Online: 7/17/15). Phytoplankton may add to cloudiness by contributing gases and particles that can become “seeds” around which water vapor in the atmosphere can condense to form clouds.
8-15-18 As waters rise, coastal megacities like Mumbai face catastrophe
Neglecting to prepare defenses against flooding from rising seas, storm surges or torrential rains risks social and economic chaos. Each year when the monsoon rain sheets down and the tides swell over coastal Mumbai, Saif shutters his soda shop on Juhu Beach and takes shelter up in the rafters. Still, the water invades through the roof and over the concrete floors, sometimes reaching as high as the freezers full of ice cream. For 36-year-old Saif, the coastal megacity’s chronic flooding is stressful. “What would happen if too much water comes?” asks Saif, who, like many in India, goes by one name. “I could get swept up with it.” Last year’s torrential floods killed at least 14 people in Mumbai. And in July 2005, when a meter of rain fell in a single day, flooding cost the city about $1.7 billion in damages. Rebuilding his uninsured shop after the 2005 floods cost Saif about $57,000. He was lucky. When those floodwaters receded after two days, more than 1,000 people had died from drowning, landslides or other flood-related accidents in Mumbai and surrounding areas. “What can we do?” Saif asks. “Who can win against nature?” Such questions are becoming more urgent in coastal cities at mounting risk of climate-driven flooding. Climate change is raising sea levels, while also making storms more severe and bringing heavier rains to some places. For densely populated cities like Mumbai — the financial heart of India, which is the world’s fastest-growing major economy — those risks threaten to throw personal incomes and national economies into chaos.
8-15-18 Why sea level rise varies from place to place
Multiple, overlapping factors can mean big differences in flood risk. In the 20th century, ocean levels rose by a global average of about 14 centimeters, mainly due to melting ice and warming waters. Some coastal areas saw more sea level rise than others. Here’s why:
- Expanding seawater As water heats up, its molecules take up more space, contributing to global sea level rise.
- Glacial rebound Heavy ice sheets covered much of the Northern Hemisphere about 20,000 years ago.
- Sinking land Tectonic activity such as the 2004 magnitude-9.1 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (SN: 8/27/05, p. 136) may tilt the land and alter relative sea level rise, as it did in the Gulf of Thailand.
- Earth's rotation The planet’s rotation deflects fluids in motion, causing ocean water to swirl counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Melting ice sheets Massive glaciers exert a gravitational pull on nearby coastal waters and cause them to rise higher than they otherwise would.
8-14-18 Next few years 'may be exceptionally warm
The next few years could be "anomalously warm", according to a new study. Researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict how average global surface air temperatures will vary over the next few years. The results suggest that the period from 2018 to 2022 could see an increased likelihood of extreme temperatures. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications. The warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2 is not increasing at a perfectly steady rate. In the early years of the 21st Century, scientists pointed to a hiatus in warming. But several analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010. These variations from year-to-year do not affect the long-term trend in warming temperatures. Now, a new method for trying to predict global temperatures suggests the next few years will be hotter than expected. Rather than using traditional climate simulation techniques, Florian Sévellec, from the CNRS in Brest, France, and Sybren S Drijfhout, from the University of Southampton, developed a statistical method to search through simulations of climatic conditions in the 20th and 21st Century and look for situations that are comparable to the present day.
8-14-18 Why forecasting how hot it will be in 2022 is mostly a gimmick
It will never be possible to forecast weather years ahead, but we can predict the average global temperature four years from now. Trouble is, that’s not that useful. Expect a lot more heat in coming years. The world will warm at an even faster rate from 2018 to 2022 than the underlying global warming trend, according to a forecasting method so simple it can run on a laptop. We are fairly good at predicting the weather for the next few days. Long-term forecasts of the climate are also already proving reliable. Yet what would be really useful would be detailed forecasts for the months and years ahead. The chaotic nature of weather means it will never be possible to predict events like heatwaves years in advance, but some aspects of the climate, such as average yearly temperatures, are predictable. There are now 10 groups worldwide, including the UK Met Office, collaborating on multi-year forecasts based on sophisticated supercomputer models of the planet that incorporate the laws of physics. Their 2018 to 2022 forecast maps suggest that the northern hemisphere will keep warming especially fast, and that Australia and South Africa could get much less rain than normal.
8-14-18 Palm oil: A new threat to Africa's monkeys and apes?
Endangered monkeys and apes could face new risks if Africa becomes a big player in the palm oil industry. Most areas suitable for growing the oil crop are key habitats for primates, a study suggests. The researchers, who are examining palm oil's possible effect on Africa's biodiversity, say consumers can help by choosing sustainably-grown palm oil. This may mean paying more for food, cosmetics and cleaning products that contain the oil, or limiting their use. "If we are concerned about the environment, we have to pay for it," said Serge Wich, professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University, and leader of the study. "In the products that we buy, the cost to the environment has to be incorporated." Palm oil comes from the oil palm tree, which is native to West Africa. However, most palm oil is currently grown in Indonesia and Malaysia. Environmentalists say the region's forests have paid the price, with native trees cut down to make way for palm trees. Oil palm expansion is a major driver of deforestation, which in turn threatens wildlife, such as the critically endangered orangutan of Borneo.
8-13-18 Tax haven link to rainforest destruction and illegal fishing
Deforestation in the Amazon and widespread illegal fishing have both been linked to tax havens, according to a new study. Some 68% of the investments tracked in the Amazon came from companies based in countries where no tax is paid. When it comes to illegal fishing, around 70% of known vessels are registered in tax havens. Tax avoidance schemes say the authors, are essentially subsidising the destruction of the environment. While the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers exposed how wealthy individuals and companies dodged personal and corporate taxes, this new study claims to be the first to show that tax havens have a significant environmental impact as well. When it comes to deforestation, these havens play a key role. The analysis shows that of the almost $27bn of foreign capital that was transferred to key companies involved in beef and soy production in the Amazon between 2000 and 2011, more than $18bn was transferred from tax haven jurisdictions. The biggest provider for these activities was the Cayman Islands. "It is not illegal!" said Victor Galaz, the study's lead author, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. "This is part of the internal financing of companies, but we need a better assessment of the environmental consequences of the uses of tax havens both legal and illegal." "What we can see in the data, in these sectors there are subsidiaries placed in tax havens that are providing loans to activities in Brazil and the Amazon. That you can see." Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is also a major blight on the oceans of the world but according to this paper, the vast majority of the boats involved are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction, in particular Belize and Panama.
8-13-18 Ancient natural nuclear reactors show how to store radioactive waste
Billions of years ago, uranium in the Earth’s crust underwent nuclear reactions on its own, and the remnants demonstrate a way to keep nuclear waste under control. Earth’s crust used to be full of radioactive uranium. In some spots, conditions were right for that uranium to undergo chain fission reactions – the same reactions that give us nuclear power today. Now, the remnants of these natural nuclear reactors are helping us figure out how best to store modern radioactive waste. When the isotope uranium-235 is struck by relatively slow-moving neutrons, it breaks apart into smaller elements in a fission reaction, releasing huge amounts of energy. Uranium-235 has a half-life of 700 million years – after that amount of time, half of the atoms will have decayed into lighter elements. This decay means there is not much uranium-235 left in Earth’s crust, which is why we can’t just use uranium mined straight from the ground to power nuclear reactors – we have to enrich it first so it will react. But two billion years ago, before the uranium decayed, there were natural nuclear reactors in Earth’s crust where uranium underwent fission without enrichment. Evan Groopman at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC and his colleagues examined samples from the remnants of one such site in Gabon, called the Oklo reactor, to figure out how the relatively heavy elements left behind from those ancient reactions have moved around since then.
8-13-18 Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world
The Indonesian capital of Jakarta is home to 10 million people but it is also one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. If this goes unchecked, parts of the megacity could be entirely submerged by 2050, say researchers. Is it too late? It sits on swampy land, the Java Sea lapping against it, and 13 rivers running through it. So it shouldn't be a surprise that flooding is frequent in Jakarta and, according to experts, it is getting worse. But it's not just about freak floods, this massive city is literally disappearing into the ground. "The potential for Jakarta to be submerged isn't a laughing matter," says Heri Andreas, who has studied Jakarta's land subsidence for the past 20 years at the Bandung Institute of Technology. "If we look at our models, by 2050 about 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged." It's already happening - North Jakarta has sunk 2.5m in 10 years and is continuing to sink by as much as 25cm a year in some parts, which is more than double the global average for coastal megacities. Jakarta is sinking by an average of 1-15cm a year and almost half the city now sits below sea level. The impact is immediately apparent in North Jakarta. In the district of Muara Baru, an entire office building lies abandoned. It once housed a fishing company but the first-floor veranda is the only functional part left. The submerged ground floor is full of stagnant floodwater. The land around it is higher so the water has nowhere to go. Buildings that are so deeply sunk are rarely abandoned like this, because most of the time the owners will try to fix, rebuild and find short-term remedies for the issue. But what they can't do is stop the soil sucking this part of the city down.
8-13-18 Rock layers show our sun has been in same cycle for 700 million years
Our star gets more and less active in a repeating cycle that lasts 11 years, and ancient rocks suggest it behaved the same way over 700 million years ago. If the first primitive animals crawling around on the seabed had somehow built telescopes, they would have seen something remarkable. The sun would have grown more and less active over an 11-year cycle, just as it does today. That’s because our star has maintained the same steady cycle for more than 700 million years. The solar cycle is most visible as the number of relatively dark sunspots on the sun’s surface. During a solar maximum there are many sunspots, and hardly any during a minimum. Maxima and minima alternate over an 11-year cycle, which has been consistent over hundreds of years of observations, except for occasional “grand minima” during which the cycle is temporarily suppressed. Evidence from the geological record suggests that this cycle has held fairly steady for several hundred million years. The solar cycle during the dinosaur era was similar to that of today. Researchers led by Dongjie Tang and Xiaoying Shi of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing have now reconstructed solar cycles from 810-715 million years ago. At this time, life on Earth was still relatively primitive and there probably weren’t any complex animals. The planet was about to almost entirely freeze over, for the second time in its history, becoming Snowball Earth. To find out what the solar cycle was like, the team studied sedimentary rocks called laminites, found in south China.
8-11-18 California wildfires: Thousands evacuated as Lake Elsinore threatened
More than 21,000 people have been evacuated from the path of a fast-moving wildfire in Southern California. The mandatory evacuation orders were issued as the blaze, dubbed the Holy fire, threatened homes around Lake Elsinore in Orange County. The fire, one of several across the state, has destroyed more than 19,000 acres of forest north of San Diego. Meanwhile, a man suspected of starting the Holy fire has appeared in court accused of arson. Forrest Clark made several outbursts during the hearing in Orange County, at times refusing to show his face, local media reported. His case was adjourned until 17 August and bail set at $1m (£783,000), at which point Mr Clark interjected: "I can handle a million (dollars) right now, easily." Mr Clark was arrested on Tuesday outside his cabin after a brief standoff with officers. Authorities say he intentionally started the fire on Monday after a decade-long dispute with neighbours. According to Orange County officials, Mr Clark had emailed the local volunteer fire chief to threaten "this place will burn". The BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles says high temperatures, gusty winds and tinder dry brush have fuelled the disaster in Orange County.
8-10-18 Blazes keep spreading
Wildfires continued to tear through California this week, with one becoming the largest in state history. That fire, called the Mendocino Complex, was likely started by a spark from a hammer. It has scorched more than 450 square miles, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate. More than 13,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, along with 2,300 members of the National Guard and an Army infantry battalion. Seventeen states have sent help. “You cannot wait for the phone to ring here,” said Mark Ghilarducci, who runs the command center near Sacramento. “You have to be in front of the next disaster.” President Trump claimed that California is diverting “vast amounts of water” into the ocean that could be used to fight the fires. State officials said there was no shortage of water, and what has actually exacerbated the fires is warming from climate change.
8-10-18 A deadly algae bloom
Florida’s southwestern coast is under siege from a fearsome foe: a toxic algae bloom that is killing ocean wildlife and making humans sick. The “red tide” appears almost every year, but this one has lasted since October—several months longer than most, reports The Wall Street Journal. The algae bloom is caused by the runoff of fertilizer, human waste, and other nutrients into the ocean; as it grows, it sucks oxygen out of the water and produces chemicals that harm the nervous systems of turtles, fish, and other animals. Almost 300 turtles have been found dead, sick, or injured in the area since January—twice the yearly average—and some beaches have been covered by a reeking carpet of thousands of dead fish. The bloom’s toxins can also affect people’s respiratory systems; last week alone, more than a dozen people were hospitalized. Heather Barron, from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, in Sanibel, Fla., says the enduring red tide, which shows no sign of abating, will have repercussions on the turtle population and the region’s ecosystem “for decades to come.”
8-10-18 New Zealand becomes the latest country to ban plastic bags
People in New Zealand currently use about 150 plastic bags each a year, but the country now plans to phase them out within the next six months. New Zealand will ban single-use plastic shopping bags next year, the government announced today. Retailers will be given six months to phase out the bags or face fines of up to NZ$100,000 (£52,000). In a press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that plastic was the single biggest subject school children wrote to her about. “We’re taking meaningful steps to reduce plastics pollution so we don’t pass this problem to future generations,” she said. New Zealand currently uses over 750 million single-use plastic bags per year, which is equivalent to about 150 per person. “A mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life,” said Ardern. Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002. China, Israel, South Africa, the Netherlands, Morocco, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Albania and Georgia have since implemented similar bans. Other countries are experimenting with mandatory minimum charges or voluntary phase-outs for plastic bags. For example, the UK has a mandatory 5-pence charge for plastic bags and Australia’s two biggest supermarket chains voluntarily stopped handing out free plastic bags this month.
8-9-18 Organic solar cells set 'remarkable' energy record
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon. The term organic relates to the fact that carbon-based materials are at the heart of these devices, rather than silicon. The square or rectangular solid solar panels that most of us are familiar with, require fixed installation points usually on roofs or in flat fields. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink so they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, they can bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing. Commercial solar photovoltaics usually covert 15-22% of sunlight, with a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% reached in this summer in the UK. Organics have long lingered at around half this rate, but this year has seen some major leaps forward. In April researchers were able to reach 15% in tests. Now this new study pushes that beyond 17% with the authors saying that up to 25% is possible. This is important because according to estimates, with a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce electricity at a cost of less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
8-9-18 California wildfires: Eight images that reveal scale of devastation
Firefighters in California are continuing to battle some of the most destructive wildfires ever to hit the state. The raging Mendocino Complex fire, comprising twin blazes in the state's north, has become California's largest wildfire since records began a century ago. About 100 miles northeast, near Redding, crews are also fighting the Carr Fire, which has destroyed hundreds of homes.
- Keswick, City of Redding
- Lake Keswick
- Lake Redding Estate
- River Ridge
- Shasta Union Elementary School
- Skywalker Drive
- Stanford Hills
8-9-18 Alien grass is making California wildfires three times as frequent
Non-native grasses such as cheatgrass are easier to ignite and can spread fires far more quickly than the native ones. Alien grasses are making wildfires in the US up to twice as large and three times as frequent, the first nationwide study of their impact has found. One species, cheatgrass, is now widespread in California and was involved in last year’s Thomas Fire, the largest recorded in the state until eclipsed by the ongoing Mendocino fire raging since early this week. Like cheatgrass — already documented as a fire hazard at a local level — many of the alien grasses are finer and therefore easier than native species to ignite, and occupy ground within and between patches of native grass. Other species, such as silkreed, grow more than 3 metres high and so can spread a ground fire up into trees. “The invasive grasses can provide horizontal and vertical continuity, which means they can act as an intermediate fuel to carry fire across a distance, or into a canopy,” says Emily Fusco of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who presented the preliminary results of her study on 9 August in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Fusco analysed the impact of nine of the most widespread alien grasses in areas they’ve invaded across the US. Fusco combined this data with ground and satellite fire records, comparing fire frequency and size in infested habitats versus comparable but uninvaded habitats. On average, fires in infested areas were twice as large and up to three times more frequent. All species except one made fires more frequent, and all but two made fires larger.
8-8-18 A plan to spread tiny particles in the stratosphere will involve trade-offs.
Shading Earth by adding a veil of particles to the upper atmosphere may help to offset global warming — but at a cost. Crop yields could decline, as they did following two colossal volcanic eruptions that shot sunlight-blocking sulfur particles high above the cloud layer and into the planet’s stratosphere, researchers report online August 8 in Nature. The study is the first to use real-world data to evaluate the potential consequences of such “stratospheric veil” geoengineering. Adding tiny particles called aerosols to the stratosphere, an approach known as solar radiation management, has been proposed as a way of reducing incoming sunlight to cool the planet and mitigate climate change. Some researchers have suggested that this cooling, as well as the scattering of light by the aerosols, could be beneficial to plants and improve crop yields. But by looking at harvests of maize, soy, rice and wheat following volcanic eruptions in 1982 and 1991, scientists determined that these sulfates decreased total incoming solar radiation enough to hurt crop yields in the aftermaths of those eruptions. The team also made projections for how solar radiation management might affect crops in 2050–2069. Those results suggest that any benefits to crops from cooling would be completely offset by decreased food production as a result of reduced sunlight.
8-8-18 Don’t give up, we can survive even a Hothouse Earth
Bad news on the climate should lead neither to despair nor unfounded optimism. Instead, we need to roll up our sleeves and prepare for life on a drastically changing planet. People tend to have one of two broad reactions to bad news on the climate: hopeless despair and unjustified optimism. Neither reaction is right. We’ve seen this yet again in the response to the Hothouse Earth story this week –the suggestion that once Earth warms by a certain amount, maybe just 2°C, a cascade of tipping points will keep it warming even if our greenhouse gas emissions cease. This paper would probably have got little attention a few months ago. But after months of record heat in many parts of the northern hemisphere, it got massive coverage and terrifying headlines. This then led to a pushback from some climate scientists and campaigners worried about the impact of this kind of coverage. “Yes, the prospect of runaway climate change is terrifying. But this dead world is not our destiny. It’s entirely avoidable,” tweeted Eric Holthaus, a former meteorologist who now writes for Grist, an environmental website. The first thing to say is that the Hothouse Earth paper was an opinion piece in a scientific journal, rather than entirely new research. It’s a possibility, but far from being the mainstream view of climate scientists. But let’s assume it’s right, and that the world will keep on warming once it reaches 2°C above preindustrial. If so, it is simply wrong to claim we can still avert major global warming. The world is currently on track to warm 3 or 4°C even if we don’t trigger a cascade of tipping points.
8-8-18 California’s worst wildfire in history is now the size of Los Angeles
Firefighters are battling high winds and extreme heat as they try to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California. Firefighters have struggled against rugged terrain, high winds and an August heat wave to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California. The blaze, which exploded to be nearly the size of Los Angeles in just 11 days, is centred near the community of Upper Lake, north of San Francisco. Officials say it spread so quickly because of a combination of the extreme heat, topography and abundant vegetation, which had turned into highly flammable fuel thanks to years of drought. Firefighting efforts were also initially hampered by stretched resources, said the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire. When the fire started on July 27, thousands of firefighters were hundreds of miles north battling a massive blaze that spread into the city of Redding, destroying more than 1,000 homes, in addition to a dozen other major blazes. A few days after the Upper Lake fire started, Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Messina told a community meeting that with so many fires already raging in California, “resources are already committed” so officials were forced to prioritise public safety and private property. The flames were raging in mostly remote areas, and no deaths or serious injuries were reported. But at least 75 homes have been lost, and thousands of people have been forced to flee. The blaze, dubbed the Mendocino Complex, was reported to be 20 per cent contained on Tuesday. Its rapid growth at the same time firefighters were battling more than a dozen other major blazes around the state fanned fears that 2018 could become the worst wildfire season in California history.
8-8-18 New South Wales drought now affects entire state
Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), is now entirely in drought, officials have confirmed. A dry winter has intensified what has been called the worst drought in living memory in parts of eastern Australia. NSW produces about a quarter of Australia's agricultural output. It was officially listed as "100% in drought" on Wednesday. The state and federal governments have provided A$576m (£330m; $430m) in emergency relief funding. "There isn't a person in the state that isn't hoping to see some rain for our farmers and regional communities," said NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair. Farmers have told harrowing stories of failing crops, severe water shortages and being unable to feed livestock. Some have spent up to A$10,000 per truckload of hay just to feed their animals, according to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. "It's like you are in jail every day," Queensland farmer Ashley Gamble told the Nine Network. "You turn up here because you've got to turn up. It's just depressing." Stock agent Simon Bourke told the ABC: "We're selling livestock we don't want to sell… down the track there's really not going to be too many cattle or sheep left." Cattle farmer David Graham said he was resigned to waiting for rain, telling the BBC: "In our community you just support each other through the tough times." Suicide rates in rural regions are on average about 40% higher than in urban areas, mental health group Sane Australia has said.
8-7-18 California wildfire will burn for the rest of August, say officials
California's biggest wildfire on record is expected to burn for the rest of the month, fire officials said on Tuesday. The Mendocino Complex fire has already engulfed 290,692 acres (117,639 hectares) - almost the size of Los Angeles. Barely a third of it is under control, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Firefighters are tackling 18 major blazes across the state amid strong winds and low humidity. The fire - which comprises two blazes in the state's north - was declared the biggest in California's history on Monday. Officials had set a target to extinguish the fire by mid-August, but they now say they will need until early September. The fire is raging through a largely rural area, but it has burned 75 buildings and led to thousands of evacuations. A separate blaze - the Carr fire, further north - has killed at least seven people and destroyed more than 1,500 structures. Burning through almost 160,000 acres, it was 47% contained by late Monday. Meanwhile, more fires have been breaking out, adding to the mammoth workload of fire crews. The so-called Holy Fire, in southern California, grew dramatically and rapidly on Monday, with two hikers needing to be airlifted to safety. At least 14,000 firefighters are struggling to contain the multiple outbreaks. The crews have been boosted by US army personnel and more than 1,000 prisoners. The inmates - who are considered low-risk offenders - work on a volunteer basis but they also receive $2 (£1.50) a day, plus $1 an hour. Fire crews from Australia and New Zealand have also flown over to share their expertise in battling bush fires.
8-7-18 Future heatwaves will knock nuclear, gas and coal power plants offline
Power plants are shutting down in the northern hemisphere due to a lack of cool water, and the problem will only get worst in a warming and drier world. As large parts of the northern hemisphere swelter in record heat, yet another consequence of global warming is becoming apparent. Across Europe, several nuclear reactors and at least one coal-fired plant have had to be temporarily shut down, and others have reduced their output. The world gets 80 per cent of its electricity from power plants that needs lots of cool water, which is a major problem in a warming and drier world. If nothing is done, there could be major power outages during the even hotter heatwaves of the near future. Nuclear, gas and coal-fired plants all generate electricity by turning water into steam and using it to drive turbines. The steam then has to be cooled back into water for reuse. Almost all thermoelectric power plants, as they are known, use water taken from rivers or the sea to cool the steam. Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t work if the cooling water is too hot. Last week, for instance, the Ringhals 2 nuclear reactor in Sweden was shut down for a few days because sea temperature exceeded the 25°C design limit. Power plants pumping out warm waste water can also fall foul of conservation laws – if rivers get too hot, wildlife would die en masse, which is not permitted in many countries. This is why four reactors in France had to shut down over the past week. Finally, you can’t cool a power plant if there isn’t enough water. Earlier this year, several coal-fired power plants in India had to be shut down for just this reason.
8-7-18 Summer heat kills off Finland's mosquitoes
The unusually hot summer has ravaged the mosquito population in Finland, but it appears other blood-sucking pests are thriving, it's been reported. With meteorological records being broken across continental Europe, Finnish experts say that the country has experienced its hottest July on record, with one town experiencing heat of 33.7 Celsius (92.6 Fahrenheit). The heat means that mosquitoes, often the bane of Finnish summers, have virtually disappeared from some areas. According to the University of Lapland's Dr Jukka Salmela, the shallow ponds in areas like Lapland - which are their breeding grounds - have largely dried up, meaning that there are far fewer larvae than usual. Dr Salmela, whose field of expertise is biting midges in Lapland, warns that the new conditions have become perfect for horseflies. "It was almost laughable how many horseflies there were," he noted of his experiences in the northern Sodankylä region of Lapland earlier in the summer. The record-breaking summer has also brought bad news for Finland's dairy farmers. Lower yields of hay mean that they may not have enough animal feed for winter, resulting in animals inevitably being sent for slaughter, national broadcaster Yle reports.
8-7-18 Extreme weather finally brings home the reality of climate change
Climate scientists have shied away from attributing heatwaves and floods to global warming – but now there can be no more denying the facts. EUROPE swelters. Greece, California and even the Arctic burn. Following record-breaking flooding, Japan is now being hit by a record-breaking heatwave. No one can say we weren’t warned. The reality of human-made climate change has been apparent for decades to anyone with even a tenuous grip of basic physics and chemistry. Climate science remains an imperfect science. Researchers have been unable to directly attribute specific weather events to a warming planet even as they build evidence of an overall trend, a reticence seized upon by climate denialists as evidence of uncertainty in the science. No longer. It seems likely that climate change made the current European heatwave twice as probable, and that disruption from similar extreme weather is a certainty we must now adapt to (see “Climate change made Europe’s heatwave twice as likely to happen” and “Our buildings make this heatwave worse – here’s how to cool them down”). Less certainly, rumblings of change deep in the north Atlantic Ocean suggest far worse is to come (see “The Atlantic conveyor belt has been slowly shutting down for over a century”). Human-made climate change risks becoming a human tragedy. Those who wilfully deny its reality, or play the fool for the crowd or in defence of vested interests, must be called out.
8-7-18 California wildfire declared 'largest in state's history'
Twin wildfires in California, known as the Mendocino Complex Fire, have grown to become the largest active wildfire in state history, officials said on Monday.The fires have spread rapidly in recent days to burn 283,800 acres of land - an area almost the size of Los Angeles. Firefighters are tackling 16 major blazes across the state amid hot weather, strong winds and low humidity. At least seven people have been killed in the Carr fire in the state's north. Meanwhile US President Donald Trump has reiterated social media comments that the fires' spread is being "made so much worse" by California's environmental laws. (Webmaster's comment: This is the kind of help we've learned to expect from Trump!) Local officials and experts have criticised and dismissed his tweets. More than 14,000 firefighters and hundreds of US army personnel are trying to contain the more than a dozen major fires burning throughout the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley has warned conditions are not going to immediately improve - with temperatures as high as 43C (110F) being forecast for some areas. Officials say the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is made up of two nearby fires being treated as the same incident, has surpassed last year's Thomas Fire to become the largest in state history. Scott McLean, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) described the wildfires as "extremely fast, extremely aggressive, extremely dangerous." "Look how big it got, just in a matter of days... Look how fast this Mendocino Complex went up in ranking. That doesn't happen. That just doesn't happen," he said on Monday. It is only 30% contained so far, with authorities warning it could take another week to get the blaze under control.
8-6-18 Climate change: 'Hothouse Earth' risks even if CO2 emissions slashed
It may sound like the title of a low budget sci-fi movie, but for planetary scientists, "Hothouse Earth" is a deadly serious concept. Researchers believe we could soon cross a threshold leading to boiling hot temperatures and towering seas in the centuries to come. Even if countries succeed in meeting their CO2 targets, we could still lurch on to this "irreversible pathway". Their study shows it could happen if global temperatures rise by 2C. An international team of climate researchers, writing in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says the warming expected in the next few decades could turn some of the Earth's natural forces - that currently protect us - into our enemies. Each year the Earth's forests, oceans and land soak up about 4.5 billion tonnes of carbon that would otherwise end up in our atmosphere adding to temperatures. But as the world experiences warming, these carbon sinks could become sources of carbon and make the problems of climate change significantly worse. So whether it is the permafrost in northern latitudes that now holds millions of tonnes of warming gases, or the Amazon rainforest, the fear is that the closer we get to 2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, the greater the chances that these natural allies will spew out more carbon than they currently now take in. Back in 2015, governments of the world committed themselves to keeping temperature rises well below 2 degrees, and to strive to keep them under 1.5. According to the authors, the current plans to cut carbon may not be enough if their analysis is correct. "What we are saying is that when we reach 2 degrees of warming, we may be at a point where we hand over the control mechanism to Planet Earth herself," co-author Prof Johan Rockström, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, told BBC News. "We are the ones in control right now, but once we go past 2 degrees, we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe. We totally hand over our fate to an Earth system that starts rolling out of equilibrium."
8-6-18 Global warming may become unstoppable even if we stick to Paris target
There could be a planetary threshold beyond which the earth will keep warming even if we stop pumping out more fossil fuels - the so-called 'Hothouse Earth' scenario. We could be on the verge of triggering a series of cascading tipping points that result in the planet warming 4 or 5°C hotter than the pre-industrial benchmark. That, at least, is the view of a group of 16 climate scientists, who have spelled out a scenario in which sea levels would be 10 to 60 metres higher than today. This warming would continue even if we ceased pumping CO2 into the atmosphere – and the threshold could be as low as 2°C. If they are right, it means that the supposed “safe” limit for global warming set out in the Paris agreement might be anything but. “Two degrees may actually be very dangerous,” says Johan Rockstrom of Stockholm University, who is one of the 16. For most of the past half billion years, Earth was much hotter than today, with no permanent ice at the poles: the hothouse Earth state. Three million years ago, as carbon dioxide levels fell, it began oscillating between two cooler states: ice ages in which great ice sheets covered much land in the northern hemisphere, and interglacials like the present. The aim of the Paris agreement is to limit warming to 2°C by 2100. But if Rockstrom and co are right, we might be on the brink of pushing the planet out of the present interglacial state and into the hothouse earth state. This means it might not be possible to stabilise global temperature at this level. Even if we manage to limit warming to 2°C by 2100 – we are currently on course for 3 or 4°C by 2100 – warming would continue over the next few centuries even if all our greenhouse gas emissions ceased.
8-6-18 A weird Pacific cycle could make the Arctic warm up even faster
The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is cyclical, switching from warm to cold phases every 20 years or so. When it switches again it could speed up Arctic warming. The Arctic is already warming up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Now researchers have warned that a little-known natural cycle in the Pacific is entering a phase that could make it heat up even faster. The rapid warming of the Arctic is already causing havoc, causing seasonal sea-ice cover around the Arctic Circle to retreat by record amounts and making life tough for animals such as polar bears. The warming is also disrupting weather patterns, and could be a key factor behind the ongoing heatwave devastating countries throughout the northern hemisphere. A bit like El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is cyclical, switching from warm to cold phases every 20 years or so. Phases of the PDO are dictated by Pacific sea surface temperatures. The warm phase sees higher temperatures in the tropical Pacific and along the western coastline of America, with colder temperatures in the north. The pattern reverses in the cold phase. The upshot is that as the warm phase kicks in, it could amplify warming in the Arctic that’s already twice the rate elsewhere on the planet. “It’s possible it will warm the Arctic even more,” says Lea Svendsen of the University of Bergen in Norway, and head of the team investigating the effect of the PDO. “But we need to wait at least another 10 years or so to find out.”
8-6-18 America in peril
Treat climate change like it is the country's greatest national security threat. Because it is. The American West is once again on fire. Huge blazes in California have destroyed over 1,500 homes and killed at least eight people, with others raging in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Overall, fires burn twice as many acres today as 30 years ago. Wildfires are also raging across Europe, with fires 43 percent above average. At least 70 people in Greece have been killed and hundreds more were temporarily driven into the sea, while Sweden has asked for help with its own infernos. This is just a tiny taste of our coming future if climate change is not halted. Murderous heat waves, drought, vast wildfires, super-powerful storms, floods, and sea level rise will lay waste to great swathes of the American landscape and built infrastructure. It is unquestionably the greatest threat to the nation. As usual, one cannot say that these particular fires are unquestionably the fault of increased global temperatures, because that's not how climate change works. Instead, warming increases the background likelihood of extreme weather events. Global climate models predict that a warmer future will make those extreme events — just exactly the kind of thing we are seeing today — more frequent. Statistical collections are ratifying those predictions, proving beyond question that rising sea levels and heat waves are on the increase, while rarer events like extreme hurricanes are still being tabulated (but initial science is coming in as expected). But basically, the simple intuition that extreme weather is getting worse while warming keeps increasing, and will keep getting worse if the world keeps warming, is certainly correct. Don't let duplicitous climate trolls trip you up on this point. Conservatives (when they aren't denying climate science altogether) portray climate policy as some expensive hippie nonsense that will allow China to race ahead economically. In reality, virtually every other country on Earth is putting forth some kind of climate policy — and none more aggressively than China, which as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter could easily destroy itself on its own. The Chinese state is piling investment into renewable energy, canceling dozens of planned coal power plants, and building out a gigantic new green transportation network across Asia and Africa. They view America's brain-dead inaction on the world's most important problem as an opportunity to consolidate their global influence and emerge as the planet's leading nation. Of course, other countries are more threatened by climate change than the United States. Polynesia may well disappear altogether under the rising seas. But it definitely is a major threat to the United States as well. This is not like Canada or Russia, which might enjoy some questionably countervailing benefit of huge tracts of taiga becoming arable farmland. The U.S. faces mass desertification in the Southwest, the probable loss of much of its farmland, constant battering by superstorms, and either the inundation of trillions of dollars in seaside infrastructure or being forced to build tremendously expensive seawalls around coastal cities.
8-6-18 Two huge Antarctic glaciers are losing much more ice than we thought
The Totten and Moscow University glaciers in east Antarctica have lost billions of tonnes of ice since 2002. Between them they could raise sea levels by 5 metres. Two huge glaciers in east Antarctica have been losing mass rapidly since 2002. The finding means that our forecasts for sea level rise this century will have to be revised upward, but it’s not clear by how much. It is also further evidence that the ice in east Antarctica, which had long been thought to be stable even in the face of climate change, is in fact melting. So far, most of the ice lost from Antarctica has come from west Antarctica – in particular the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out to sea and is exposed to warm water. The Larsen C ice sheet, which infamously cracked in 2017, is in west Antarctica. East Antarctica has been thought to be more stable because it is virtually cut off from the rest of the world by strong winds that spin around Antarctica, preventing heat from entering. So while Antarctica is warming, like every continent, it is not clear how much global warming is needed to melt east Antarctica. The problem is that east Antarctica is so remote. Glaciologists have tried to estimate what is happening there but for decades the data has been all over the place. In 2015 one team even claimed that east Antarctica is gaining ice. Adding to the confusion, the sea ice around Antarctica has grown in recent years – but the sea ice is minuscule compared to the ice sheet on the continent, and in the last two years it has shrunk.
8-6-18 Hydropower dams: What's behind the global boom?
The collapse of a newly built dam in Laos has shone a spotlight on a worldwide construction boom. Many thousands of hydropower dams are either planned or under construction - across South East Asia, South America, the Balkans and Africa. Laos has joined the construction race, with an ambition to become the "battery of South East Asia". "Energy-hungry countries are demanding cheap and clean energy," says Julian Kirchherr, a researcher at the University of Utrecht. The anti-dam movement is now contending with an industry that was temporarily written off by some, but is now making a comeback. Critics point to the inherent dangers of building too many dams, too fast and without sufficient consideration for the consequences. With hydropower dams at the heart of debates about energy and the environment, Reality Check looks at what's behind the dam-building rush. The electricity produced by hydropower dams is presented as the means to get people out of poverty, says Susanne Schmeier, a senior lecturer at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. "People need the electricity. We do need sustainable hydropower. The question is: Who decides how it's done?" Hydropower is the world's largest source of renewable electricity. The dams store river water which, when released, powers turbines and generators to create electricity. More than 3,500 hydropower dams are being planned or built around the world, according to a database maintained by Christiane Zarfl (and others) at the University of Tubingen. This could double by 2030.
8-5-18 Australia's Turnbull: 'Now we are the land of droughts'
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned that the country has become a "land of drought" as he announced further measures to help stricken farmers. The new package will provide an extra $140m (£154m) for lump sum payments to farmers and for mental health support. It brings the total amount of government funding to $576m. Although it is still winter, parts of eastern Australia are experiencing the worst drought in living memory. Ninety-nine percent of New South Wales, which is the country's most populous state and provides around a quarter of the country's agricultural output, is currently in drought. Announcing the additional funding from a farm in the state, Mr Turnbull said: "Now we are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we recognise that. "It's a very volatile and often capricious climate and Australian farmers are resilient, they plan for drought, they are good managers but it can become really overwhelming." ABC News showed Mr Turnbull comforting a local charity worker, who wept as she described the "dire" situation. "I worry every day I go to visit farming families that I'm going to get to someone and it's going to be hours too late, it's literally that bad," she said.
8-4-18 What is the Earth's carrying capacity?
Science suggests that we might not be doing so bad after all. In a recent Nature Sustainability paper, a team of scientists concluded that the Earth can sustain, at most, only seven billion people at subsistence levels of consumption (and this June saw us at 7.6 billion). Achieving "high life satisfaction" for everyone, however, would transgress the Earth's biophysical boundaries, leading to ecological collapse. Despite its seeming scientific precision, the claim is old, not new — the latest iteration of the longstanding assertion that our population and consumption might soon exceed the Earth's fixed "carrying capacity." The concept, tellingly, owes its origin to 19th-century shipping, referring to the payload capacities of steam ships. It jumped from the inanimate to the terrestrial at the end of the 19th century, describing the maximum number of livestock or wild game that grassland and rangeland ecosystems could sustain. Applied to ecology, the concept is problematic. Cargo doesn't multiply of its own volition. Nor can the capacity of an ecosystem be determined from an engineer's drawings. Nonetheless, environmental scientists have, for decades, applied the concept to human societies with a claimed precision that belies its nebulous nature. The ecologist William Vogt was the first to do so in the 1940s, predicting that overuse of agricultural land would lead to soil depletion and then catastrophe. In the late 1960s and early '70s, Paul Ehrlich focused on food production, and the Club of Rome on material resources, while latter-day environmental scientists and activists have focused more on the effects that pollution and habitat destruction will have on the "Earth systems" that human wellbeing depends upon.
8-4-18 Plastic food pots and trays are often unrecyclable, say councils
Most of the plastic food containers that householders wash out after use and put in the recycling bin cannot actually be recycled, it has emerged. The mixture of plastics used in many yoghurt pots, ready meal trays and other containers limits the ability of councils to recycle them. The Local Government Association says that only a third can be recycled. The rest get sent to landfill. Up to 80% of packaging could be made more recyclable, the industry said. The British Plastics Federation said companies are working to use more recyclable containers and called for a financial incentive for manufacturers to use more recyclable plastics. According to the LGA analysis, around 525,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays are used by households in the UK every year, but only 169,000 tonnes of this waste is capable of being recycled. It blames producers for using a mix of polymers, some of them poor quality. The LGA says simple tweaks could make a massive difference, highlighting the case of microwave meals which are often supplied in black plastic material. Black is the only colour that can't be easily scanned by recycling machines, meaning that process becomes unnecessarily complicated. Changing the colour of these items would significantly increase the amount that could be used again. "It's almost criminal to think that some of the plastics being used are difficult to recycle, and black plastic is almost impossible to recycle," Cllr Peter Fleming from the LGA told BBC News. "The only reason we have black plastic being used by manufacturers is that it makes the food look good." When it comes to punnets of fruit and vegetables many are made from up to three different types of plastic, including polystyrene, which can't be recycled.
8-3-18 Climate change: The summer of hell
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” said Tanya Basu in DailyBeast.com. “Climate change is here, and we are living in its burning embers.” The heat wave that gripped the planet in June and July was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Deadly wildfires ravaged the western U.S., while weather stations in southern states registered 23 all-time highs. Records also tumbled across a Europe baked brown by sun and drought, with wildfires even breaking out above the Arctic Circle in Norway. The highest-ever verified temperature in Africa was recorded in Algeria—124.3 degrees Fahrenheit—and in Oman, scientists were stunned by a temperature of 109 at night, the hottest daily low ever recorded on Earth. The heat is front-page news around the world, said Adam Corner in The New York Times, but it’s striking how few people are concerned about climate change. The planet is literally “catching fire before our eyes,” validating decades of predictions from scientists. Why is there no sense of alarm and urgency? Catastrophic change has already begun, said Joel Achenbach in WashingtonPost.com, and “it’s not just heat.” The same climate models that predicted today’s scorching temperatures also predicted that “extreme weather” events such as heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and floods would become more common, more intense, and longer lasting. “Theory, meet reality.” Let’s not forget the historic 2017 hurricane season, which yielded three Category 4 or 5 hurricanes that flattened much of the Caribbean, nearly destroyed Puerto Rico, and submerged Houston. Scientists can’t say with absolute certainty that “the scorchers this summer are climate change’s fault,” said Irineo Cabreros in Slate.com, but they have determined that climate change has more than doubled the probability of intense heat waves occurring. There are also the “consistent, undeniable trends” showing the planet getting hotter “at a blistering rate,” which will undoubtedly “have real, dire consequences.”
8-3-18 Editor’s letter
This summer, forests are bursting into flame all over the world. More than 50 wildfires have scorched a shocked Sweden—some of them north of the Arctic Circle—as temperatures have soared into the 90s amid withering drought. In normally chilly Oslo, the mercury climbed past 86 degrees for 16 consecutive days. The Brits have been gobsmacked by 95-degree weather; it hit 98 in Montreal; and in Japan, 22,000 people were hospitalized when temperatures climbed to a record 106. In Arizona, Southern California, Pakistan, and India, summer’s broiler has been turned up to unbearable levels, past 110 degrees, and people are dying. Heat, drought, and fires of this scale and scope are not normal—or perhaps they now are. Climate change, says Elena Manaenkova of the World Meteorological Organization, “is not a future scenario. It is happening now.” It is human nature to postpone change and sacrifice as long as possible. We don’t act, especially collectively, until a crisis is upon us. This penchant for procrastination is why the national debt of $21.3 trillion is climbing at a rate of nearly $1 trillion a year, and why we’re doing nothing to address the approaching funding shortfalls of Medicare and Social Security. Why deal with such unpleasantness now, when we can push decisions off into the future? So it goes for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The evidence clearly shows that the planet is warming, that the jet stream and other wind patterns have been disrupted, that ancient ice is melting and seas are rising, and that weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves, torrential rains, and flooding have all become more common and more prolonged. And the consequences have just begun. But what’s most important is our comfort today, the next quarter’s GDP, and the re-election of incumbent politicians. Climate change? The national debt? Social Security? Let our children and grandchildren deal with all that. We’ll be dead by then, suckers.
8-3-18 Wildfires spread
Seventeen serious wildfires burned throughout California this week, with new fires erupting as more than 12,300 firefighters struggled to contain the damage. The Carr Fire, which originated near the city of Redding, has burned nearly 113,000 acres, killed six people, destroyed almost 1,000 homes, and forced 40,000 Northern Californians to flee, making it the sixth-most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. The blazes have been exacerbated by drought conditions along with an extreme heat wave; in some places, flames were so intense that they created tornado-like winds. Four men have died fighting the fires. “It’s a horrendous battle,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. In just one week, firefighters responded to over 1,000 wildfires. “When it’s time to leave, leave,” McLean said. “Do not stay.”
8-3-18 Massive dust storm rolls through Phoenix, AZ
The National Weather Service warned the dust storm would cause zero visibility and winds exceeding 60mph.
8-3-18 The unfortunate truth about a carbon tax
It's a nice idea, but too little, too late. Climate policy is back in the headlines. This time, it's a Republican proposing a solution to America's problematic greenhouse gas emission levels. Last week, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) proposed a tax of $23 per metric ton on carbon emissions. Conservative economists and right-wing elites have long tantalized liberal climate activists by suggesting they'd be on board with such a tax. That's made the policy something of a great white whale for bipartisan climate reform. Curbelo himself hails from a Florida district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, so he clearly sees this as a way to appeal for his political survival. But even if this carbon tax were to be approved, it wouldn't be nearly enough to truly tackle climate change. Curbelo's carbon tax would begin at $23 per metric ton in 2020, and would increase by 2 percent per year above inflation after that. If certain reduction thresholds aren't met in a given year, the bill would jack the carbon price up an additional $2 the following year. It would apply to oil, natural gas, and coal, as well as to other chemical and manufacturing processes that release CO2 in industries like steel, aluminum, cement, and glass. In a nod to his fellow Republicans, Curbelo has made it so that his bill would put the EPA's carbon emission rules on hiatus while the carbon tax is in effect. How much would this policy actually reduce carbon emissions? At least one model projects it could bring emissions down to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2032. Curbelo himself points to research from Columbia that suggests a cut between 27 and 32 percent by 2025, and a reduction of as much as 40 percent by 2040. As the Congressman himself likes to note, this would actually go beyond than the goals President Obama set in the Paris Agreement. But we've allowed the climate problem to fester so long that even that isn't nearly enough.
8-3-18 The world on fire
is summer, forests are bursting into flame all over the world. More than 50 wildfires have scorched a shocked Sweden — some of them north of the Arctic Circle — as temperatures have soared into the 90s amid withering drought. In normally chilly Oslo, the mercury climbed past 86 degrees for 16 consecutive days. The Brits have been gobsmacked by 95-degree weather; it hit 98 in Montreal; and in Japan, 22,000 people were hospitalized when temperatures climbed to a record 106. In Arizona, Southern California, Pakistan, and India, summer's broiler has been turned up to unbearable levels, past 110 degrees, and people are dying. Heat, drought, and fires of this scale and scope are not normal — or perhaps they now are. Climate change, says Elena Manaenkova of the World Meteorological Organization, "is not a future scenario. It is happening now." It is human nature to postpone change and sacrifice as long as possible. We don't act, especially collectively, until a crisis is upon us. This penchant for procrastination is why the national debt of $21.3 trillion is climbing at a rate of nearly $1 trillion a year, and why we're doing nothing to address the approaching funding shortfalls of Medicare and Social Security. Why deal with such unpleasantness now, when we can push decisions off into the future? So it goes for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The evidence clearly shows that the planet is warming, that the jet stream and other wind patterns have been disrupted, that ancient ice is melting and seas are rising, and that weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves, torrential rains, and flooding have all become more common and more prolonged. And the consequences have just begun. But what's most important is our comfort today, the next quarter's GDP, and the re-election of incumbent politicians. Climate change? The national debt? Social Security? Let our children and grandchildren deal with all that. We'll be dead by then, suckers.
8-3-18 Europe heatwave: All-time temperature could be broken
Europe is experiencing a further heatwave this summer, with forecasters say the all-time temperature record could be broken in the coming days. The current European record is 48C (118.4F) set in Athens in July 1977. Pictures show shrunken lakes and dry riverbeds, along with people cooling off with water fountains and beach umbrellas. Temperatures are rising in Spain and Portugal, aided by a surge of hot air sweeping in from Africa. Spain's national weather service has put a warning in place until at least Sunday, saying the heatwave will be "especially intense and lasting in the southwest". BBC Weather says the current forecast for southwestern Spain and southern and southeastern Portugal is 47C (116.6F) on both Friday and Saturday. Temperatures in Montpellier were forecast to reach 33C (91.4F), not unusual for the time of the year. Swimmers were finding a reprieve from the heat by leaping into the Mediterranean Sea at Nice, southeastern France. Germany is experiencing dry conditions, resulting in a partially dried Rhine riverbed in Düsseldorf. Dry and cracked sections of the river Danube were to be found in Mariaposching, southern Germany. In the Polish capital Warsaw, people and their pets used public sprinklers to keep cool. Warsaw's city guards gave away water to citizens. At the Colosseum in central Rome, Italy, visitors used fans and parasols to escape the sun and heat as temperatures approached 40C (104F). Italy has issued red alerts across its centre and north, which includes the tourist hotspots of Rome, Florence and Venice.
8-2-18 US eyes freeze of fuel efficiency rules
The Trump administration has proposed freezing rules that require carmakers to build cleaner, more fuel-efficient models. It also wants to stop states such as California being able to set their own standards. Officials said the change to fuel efficiency rules would offer a "much-needed time-out from further costly increases". But advocates criticised the weakening of environmental rules. Under a 2012 plan, carmakers were required to increase the efficiency of their new models each year, achieving about 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The Obama administration estimated that the increased standards would save 12bn barrels of oil. The new proposal would freeze the standards at the 2020 level - about 37 miles per gallon - a change the Trump administration estimates would increase daily fuel consumption by 2%-3% above forecasts. The plan to revise pollution rules has been in the works for more than a year. The proposal unveiled on Thursday is one of several under consideration, but is the favoured option, officials said. The administration is seeking comments on the plan. A final decision is expected this winter. (Webmaster's comment: Absolutely Insane!)
8-2-18 Europe's heat record could be broken in Spain and Portugal
As Europe bakes in another heatwave, forecasters say the all-time temperature record could be broken in the coming days. The current European record is 48C (118.4F) set in Athens in July 1977. Temperatures are rising in Spain and Portugal, aided by a surge of hot air sweeping in from Africa. Forecasters say the heat in some parts could keep rising, breaking national records and even the 41-year-old European record. Spain's national weather service has put a warning in place until at least Sunday, saying the heatwave will be "especially intense and lasting in the southwest". Europe's weather warning group, Meteoalarm, has already issued red warnings - categorised as very dangerous and posing a risk to life - for much of southern Portugal and for the Badajoz province in Spain. BBC weather forecaster Nick Miller said the "dangerous, potentially record-breaking heat" across the Iberian peninsula could see temperatures "soaring into the upper 40s". Portugal's national record is 47.4C (117.3F), set in 2003. Spain's peak of 47.3C (117.1F) was only set in July last year. "Friday and Saturday are likely to be the hottest days with a very real chance of breaking records," forecaster Meteogroup said. Temperatures will climb from 45-46C on Thursday to 47C by the weekend - and "it is quite possible we will break the Spanish and Portuguese national records". Meteogroup said there was a 40% chance of equalling the 48C record from Athens - and "a 25-30% chance that we will break the European temperature record".
8-2-18 Plastic pollution: How one woman found a new source of warming gases hidden in waste
It's your classic movie eureka moment. Young researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer set out to measure methane gas coming from biological activity in sea water. Instead, in a "happy accident" she found that the plastic bottles holding the samples were a bigger source of this powerful warming molecule than the bugs in the water. Now she's published further details in a study into the potential warming impact of gases seeping from plastic waste. "It was a totally unexpected discovery," Dr Royer told BBC News. "Some members of the lab were experimenting with high density polyethylene bottles looking at methane biological production, but the concentrations were much higher than expected." "So we realised that the emissions were not just coming from the biology but from the bottle that we were using for the experiment." After graduating from university in Barcelona, Dr Royer found herself in Hawaii, leading teams of volunteers who were helping to remove plastic from beaches at weekends, while working on the chemistry of the substance during the week. Now she's published her report after spending a year and a half testing different types of plastic in and out of seawater to see if they emit methane and ethylene, which both contribute to the greenhouse effect. Dr Royer found that the most widely-used plastic, the stuff used to make shopping bags, is the one that produces the greatest amount of these warming gases. At the end of the study, after 212 days in the sun, this plastic emitted 176 times more methane than at the start of the experiment. Ironically, when plastics were exposed to air the amount of methane emitted was double the level from sea water.
8-2-18 In pictures: Australia's drought seen from the air
Parts of eastern Australia are suffering their worst drought in living memory as a lack of rainfall in winter hits farms badly. Reuters photographer David Gray captured the view of the dried earth from the air. About 98% of New South Wales is drought-stricken, and two-thirds of neighbouring Queensland. As a result, farmers are having to order in food for their livestock, which raises their costs considerably. The government's aid for drought-hit farmers has now topped A$1bn (£564m; $738m). "I have been here all my life, and this drought is feeling like it will be around a while," farmer Ash Whitney said. Parts of Australia saw the second warmest summer on record between December and February, and the country as a whole saw its driest July since 2002. While touring the worst-hit areas in June, PM Malcolm Turnbull said there was a clear link to climate change. "I don't know many people in rural New South Wales that I talk to that don't think the climate is getting drier and rainfall is becoming more volatile."
8-1-18 How Atlantic upheaval will make future weather even more chaotic
The current that ferries water around the Atlantic stabilises the climate for millions. Now it is getting weaker, which could bring more extreme heatwaves and floods. THE northern hemisphere is roasting. Greece is battling lethal wildfires, and even the UK’s weather has been so hot and dry that record-breaking fires have broken out in its usually damp climes. In Oman on the Arabian peninsula, thermometers registered the hottest night on record anywhere on Earth on 28 June: the temperature never fell below 42.6°C (109°F). Climatologists have been quick to point out that extremes are to be expected in a warming world. But there may be more to it than that. The ongoing European heatwave may have been made worse by a consequence of climate change rearing its head after decades of Cassandra-like warnings. For more than a century, the oceans have been changing right under our noses, as a powerful Atlantic current has weakened. The result, it seems increasingly likely, is more extremes of both heat and cold on both sides of the Atlantic – and the prospect of even more dramatic switches to come. The object of concern is the Atlantic ocean conveyor belt, also known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation or AMOC. It is part of a global network of currents that push all the water in the oceans up and down the length, breadth and depth of the various interconnected basins. From the tropical Atlantic off the coast of South America, warm surface water flows north towards Greenland and western Europe, bringing with it an uncharacteristically warm climate, carried by the Gulf Stream.
8-1-18 It took one brave doctor to expose the Flint water crisis. Here’s how
The people of Flint, Michigan, were drinking poisoned water, and the authorities were doing nothing. That’s when Mona Hanna-Attisha decided to take action. IT’S the morning of 24 September 2015, and Mona Hanna-Attisha is hours away from the biggest moment of her scientific career. Then her phone rings. As she recalls in her new book, it was a representative from her medical school at Michigan State University, calling to say the institution wasn’t in a position to support her in what she was about to do. “I felt like I was being thrown under a bus,” she says. Hanna-Attisha was about to go public with some controversial and horrifying evidence: that the children in Flint, Michigan, were being poisoned by lead in the drinking water. Her revelation went against the state, the scientific consensus – and now her university. Just a month or so earlier, Hanna-Attisha had been urging the children in her care to drink the water in place of unhealthy sugary drinks – she felt it was her duty as an associate professor at MSU’s College of Medicine in Flint and a paediatrician in the city’s Hurley Medical Center. What had changed? Concerns had been growing about Flint’s water supply for well over a year. When car giant General Motors (GM), founded in Flint, began downsizing its operations there in 1978, the city’s economy went into a long decline. In April 2014, as a money-saving measure, the city stopped buying its water supply from nearby Detroit, opting instead to pull water from the Flint river. It wasn’t long before locals began to complain that the water smelled and tasted bad.
8-1-18 Earth Overshoot Day – what to make of this moment of reckoning?
Earth Overshoot Day is a hugely popular way to highlight our global environmental impact. Here are two views on it... CHARLES PONZI is unfairly blamed for the Ponzi scheme, a scam in which you rob Peter to pay Paul. It’s yet another gender bias in history, because fraudster Sarah Howe predated Ponzi by at least 40 years, swindling Boston ladies. Later, Bernie Madoff took the Ponzi crown – he relied on new investments to provide “returns” to earlier investors, taking from the future to pay for the present. In fact, even Madoff has been outdone: our current economies are running the largest Ponzi scheme ever. We are using Earth’s future resources to power present activities. Currently, humanity consumes the planet’s natural resources more quickly than Earth can replenish them. Debt balloons will eventually burst. Our ecological debt shows up as carbon in the atmosphere, collapsing fish stocks, shrinking forests, eroding soils and drying up groundwater. Let me be more precise and give you the numbers. That is what ecological footprint accounting was designed for. These accounts are the most pedestrian science you can imagine. For objectivity, they use UN data. They build on the premise that Earth’s ability to renew its resources is the most limiting material factor for the human economy. The accounts add up demands for biologically productive space, given our needs for food, timber, carbon sequestration and room for infrastructure. The sum of this demand is humanity’s “ecological footprint”, now 20.9 billion hectares. But those surfaces of our planet that can provide for this “biocapacity” amount to 12.2 billion hectares. In other words, we are 9 billion hectares short. This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.7 times faster than ecosystems replenish, akin to using 1.7 Earths. This excessive demand can be turned into a date, Earth Overshoot Day. Essentially, it is the date humanity has used as much as the planet’s ecosystems can handle without going into the red. In 2018, it falls on 1 August, the earliest so far. Currently, carbon emissions are 60 per cent of our footprint. About 150 years ago, that part was negligible. If we want to live up to the Paris Agreement, the carbon footprint should be zero again before 2050.
8-1-18 Plastic bags: Australia anger over Coles 'caving in to tantrums'
It's a question that has prompted a global call to action: how do you best eliminate single-use plastic bags, before they further pollute our oceans? Australia is among places grappling with bans, but it has struck teething pains amid what many have likened to "tantrums" by change-averse customers. Now a major supermarket chain has drawn fury by indefinitely extending its giveaway of new, reusable plastic bags. The grocery giant, Coles, is not having a good day. Coles and rival Woolworths dominate Australia's grocery market. Both recently extended bans on single-use bags, replacing them with reusable bags costing 15 cents (£0.08; $0.11) each. But it prompted "bag rage" - in one instance, a customer reportedly grabbed a shop assistant by the throat. Responding to the backlash a month ago, Coles and Woolworths announced they would offer reusable bags for free in brief "transition" periods. Coles confirmed its second U-turn - the indefinite giveaway - on Wednesday. "Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two, so we are offering complimentary reusable Better Bags to help them complete their shopping," it said in a statement. Environment group Greenpeace said Coles had "caved in far too quickly to a small but vocal minority". It said the decision would only be bad for the environment - a fear echoed by many on social media. (Webmaster's comment: To hell with the environment. We got to have more plastic bags!)
8-1-18 Jellyfish sting dozens as Germany and Sweden battle plague
Ninety people at a single beach in Germany were treated for jellyfish stings in just three days, amid a surge of the creatures in European waters. Regional newspaper Ostsee Zeitung said "tens of thousands" of lion's mane jellyfish washed ashore at the weekend. The lion's mane is the largest jellyfish species, and while its sting is rarely fatal it often requires medical attention. One of the 90 people affected had a severe allergic reaction. Jellyfish numbers have dropped since the weekend peak, but the relief may only be temporary. Germany's lifeguard association said only a few specimens had been counted on Tuesday. But jellyfish tend to drift on currents, meaning water temperatures or a change in the wind could wash them ashore in droves again. Sudden plagues of jellyfish have been spotted across Europe in recent weeks. Sweden's west coast has suddenly found itself home to the clinging jellyfish - a species that Swedish broadcaster SVT said had not been seen there in 88 years. The tiny creatures are barely a few centimetres in diameter, and were only discovered when a marine biologist investigated reports of bathers being stung in the waters off Tjörn.
8-1-18 How Greenland scorched its underside
Greenland has been hiding a secret underneath its 3km-thick ice sheet. From its northwest corner to its southeast coast, the world's biggest island has a band of relatively warm bedrock. Scientists say this confirms Greenland ran over a hotspot of upwelling molten rock tens of millions of years ago as it shifted towards the Arctic. It's like the underside of the island got a good roasting in the distant past and still has the big scar to prove it. That hotspot, by the way, is the one which today is building Iceland in the middle of the North Atlantic. The plume of broiling rock rising from deep inside the Earth has broken through the thin ocean floor at Iceland's location and is now creating new land with regular eruptions of lava. Greenland's warm NW-SE band is reported by a team of researchers led by the US space agency (Nasa) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Their new map of the "geothermal heat flux" is essentially a picture of the variation in warmth escaping from the Earth's interior. It's the most detailed ever produced for the region and is reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
8-1-18 Koreans turn to ice vests and hot soup in record Seoul heat
South Korea's capital city of Seoul has recorded its hottest ever temperature at 39C (102F). More than 28 people have died and 2,266 have suffered heat-related conditions as a result of a sweltering heatwave, according to authorities. Some are beating the heat in pools and fountains, while others have turned to more creative methods - including "ice vests" - in an attempt to cool down. The hot weather is set to continue throughout the week. President Moon Jae-in has called for the heatwave to be declared a form of natural disaster, a move that would allow victims to claim compensation. The government has also set aside 6bn won ($5.3m; £4m) for city and provincial governments to deal with the effects of the weather. Handheld electric fans are one of the most popular items in Korea this summer, but other less common items like "ice vests" (padded vests full of ice cubes or a cooling gel) and portable "neck fans" have also cropped up. Many have flocked to public pools and beaches across the country for more instant relief. And for those who choose to stay in Seoul, fountains around the city are spraying out water to help people keep cool.