11-30-18 IHalf the world’s annual rain falls in just 12 days
More rain in less time could lead to stronger extreme weather events. Half of the world’s annual rain and snow falls on the year’s 12 wettest days. As climate change brings more intense downpours, the same amount of precipitation could take just 11 days by the end of the century, scientists report online November 4 in Geophysical Research Letters. “Climate scientists generally have this notion that precipitation falls unevenly in time,” says climate scientist Angeline Pendergrass of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. She wanted to quantify that unevenness. So Pendergrass and colleague Reto Knutti of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich looked at daily precipitation data from 185 weather stations worldwide from 1999 through 2014, and satellite data for areas in Africa and South America with fewer stations. The team used climate simulations to estimate precipitation up to 2100. As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, leading to more precipitation. While the overall annual number of wet days does not change, more intense deluges mean it would take fewer days to accumulate the same amount of rain and snow, the researchers found. “The increase in precipitation that we see [in simulations] is mostly coming from extreme events, so on days that are already wet, we expect them to get wetter,” Pendergrass says. Studies also suggest that hurricanes will move more slowly (SN: 7/7/18, p. 10), increasing the potential for flooding and damage. Hurricanes making landfall in the United States now are dumping 5 to 10 percent more rainfall than in the pre-industrial era, researchers report in the Nov. 15 Nature. By 2100, these storms could be 15 to 35 percent wetter than they are today — a finding that supports the Geophysical Research Letters study.
11-30-18 Air pollution: Madrid bans old cars to reduce emissions
Spanish authorities have introduced new driving restrictions in the centre of the country's capital, Madrid, aimed at reducing air pollution by up to 40%. The tough measures mean motorists will have to test their vehicles' emissions, with the oldest and most polluting vehicles banned from the city centre. Drivers entering the controlled zone in breach of the rules will ultimately have to pay a fine of €90 (£80). The move is also to help reduce noise and encourage more cycling in the city. Madrid City Council estimates that the project, which was launched on Friday and labelled Madrid Central, will affect about 20% of the cars that enter the city centre. The new rules imposed on Madrid's busy city centre form part of a plan by Spanish authorities to create a cleaner environment by prioritising cyclists, pedestrians, and the use of public transport. Restrictions for those entering the designated low emission zone vary depending on the type of vehicle and its "label", which is issued following emissions tests. For example, hybrid cars with an "eco label" are permitted to drive freely in the centre and use public or designated car parks with no time restrictions.
11-30-18 Climate change: Australian students skip school for mass protest
Thousands of Australian school students have urged greater action on climate change in protests across the country. The students skipped school on Friday to highlight what they say are inadequate climate policies by the Australian government. On Monday, Australian PM Scott Morrison rebuked their plans for "activism" during school hours and insisted his government was tackling climate change. Many students said his remarks had bolstered their resolve to protest. "We will be the ones suffering the consequences of the decisions they [politicians] make today," protester Jagveer Singh, 17, told the BBC. Organisers say they were inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old girl in Sweden who has undertaken similar protests. Australia has committed to reducing its emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris climate agreement. Mr Morrison most recently cited a renewable energy target, a clean energy purchasing fund, and a hydropower project as evidence of Australia's progress. He told parliament on Monday: "What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools." Resources Minister Matt Canavan, meanwhile, angered protesters by saying students would not learn anything from "walking off school and protesting". "The best thing you learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole [welfare] queue because that's what your future life will look like," he told a radio interviewer. Many students held placards criticising the government, and PM Morrison specifically. "I hate ScoMo [Scott Morrison] more than I hate school," one said. Earlier this week, the UN said Australia and many nations were falling short of their emission commitments. Australia had made "no improvement" in its climate policy since last year, according to the emissions gap report. School Strike 4 Climate Action protests have been held in every state capital and 20 regional towns.
11-30-18 Green car tyres can generate energy while monitoring road conditions
A new type of eco-friendly car tyre may be able to convert the static electricity between the tyre and the ground into useful energy that could be used to recharge the car’s battery. Previous research has shown that friction between a standard car tyre and the road accounts for five to 30 per cent of a car’s fuel consumption. Now, Ning Wang at the University of Science and Technology Beijing and his colleagues have designed a new type of eco-friendly tyre that can recycle that wasted energy. Normal tyres are made from rubber and reinforced by a material called carbon black. Wang’s tyres swap the latter for silica fillers that let the tyres grip wet roadways better and can last longer, but they also generate much more static electricity as they roll against the street, which can be bad for the car’s electrical systems. That static electricity can be a boon instead of a problem, the researchers say. By incorporating triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) made of layers of rubber and copper into the tyres, they could capture the electrons causing the static charge and funnel them into the car’s battery. Eventually, Wang says, the researchers hope tyres like this could save 800 kiloJoules of energy per year while also reducing energy waste. The energy generating tyres could also help make driverless cars smarter, says Wang, by measuring road conditions. The current from the TENGs decreases with decreasing tyre pressure and changes based on whether the ground is smooth or bumpy, so it could also be used to monitor both the tyres and roads.
11-30-18 Trump shrugs off grim climate report
President Trump this week dismissed a dire climate report issued by his own administration, one that paints a chilling picture of the economic and environmental damage unchecked climate change could inflict on the U.S. Compiled by 13 federal agencies over two and a half years, the 1,656-page National Climate Assessment was released on Black Friday—several weeks ahead of schedule—in an apparent effort to minimize its impact. The report notes that the U.S. is already suffering the consequences of climate change, which has helped fuel devastating wildfires in California and powerful hurricanes in the South. Climate-related devastation, it says, will only increase in coming decades: Rising seas could displace millions on the East Coast; yields of key crops—including corn, wheat, and soybeans—could decline as temperatures rise; and the Southeast could end up with a fire season. By 2090, climate change could cut up to 10 percent from the country’s gross domestic product, more than double the hit taken during the Great Recession. “The severity of future impacts,” the report said, “will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.” The White House downplayed the report, saying in a statement that it was “based on the most extreme scenario” and promising a “more data-driven” assessment that would offer balance. President Trump was more blunt. “I don’t believe it,” he said of the report, later adding that “people like myself” with “very high levels of intelligence” don’t accept the scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for climate change.
11-30-18 Air pollution and autism
Children whose mothers were exposed to air pollution during pregnancy are more likely to have autism, a new study suggests. Researchers examined the health records of some 130,000 children born in Vancouver between 2004 and 2009, and looked at air pollution records for the same period, reports CNN.com. About 1 percent of the kids were diagnosed with autism by age 5. Children whose mothers were exposed to the highest level of environmental nitric oxide—an airborne, traffic-related pollutant—during pregnancy had up to a 1.07 percent chance of developing the condition, a statistically significant difference. The researchers noted that their study didn’t prove that air pollution caused autism, merely that there was a link between the two. Previous U.S. studies have shown that living close to a busy highway may be associated with autism, but three European studies have found no such correlation. Lead author Lief Pagalan of Simon Fraser University in Canada says that although the causes of autism aren’t yet known, the findings add “to the growing concern that there may be no safe levels of exposure to air pollution.”
11-30-18 Farming the north
Farmers in northern Alberta are cutting down forests to create more cropland, now that climate change allows them to grow corn and soybeans instead of only wheat and canola. Temperatures around the town of La Crête are 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average annually than in 1950, and the growing season is nearly two weeks longer. Farming is now more profitable, too, causing the price of farmland to more than double over the past 10 years. “We’re seeing crops grown in places they’ve never grown before,” Ian Jarvis of the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative told The Wall Street Journal. Canada’s gain is the U.S.’s loss: The entire farm belt is slowly shifting northward.
11-29-18 Climate change: Can 12 billion tonnes of carbon be sucked from the air?
Is it remotely feasible to remove 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air? Every year. For decades to come. That's the challenge posed by the latest conclusions of the UN's climate science panel. It says that only by pulling this heat-trapping gas out of the atmosphere can we avoid dangerous climate change. But according to one leading researcher, there's a bit of a hitch: "We haven't a clue how to do it". The problem is that scientists reckon that even if the world manages to cut emissions of the gas, it will no longer be enough to avoid the worst impacts. We've got to go a step further, they say, and find ways of doing something never attempted before: get rid of the gas that's already out there. And get started on it as soon as possible. On an unimaginable scale. The most headline-grabbing solution is for giant machines to filter the air and strip out the gas, as my colleague Matt McGrath has reported. But although the costs are falling, they remain very high and many wonder whether it's feasible to plaster the planet with so much hardware.
Installation with 160 CO2 Removal Machines
We'll need 625,000 of these structures to remove the 37 Billion Tons of CO2 that we are currently dumping every year into the atmosphere.
That will be 2,500 rows of them 25 miles long!
Forests do the job of soaking up carbon dioxide, because the trees need it to grow, but if they're left to rot or are burned, the gas will be released back out again. There are schemes for fertilising the oceans to encourage plankton to flourish, absorb CO2 and drag it to the ocean floor - but there are risks of unintended consequences. Yet another avenue is to mimic a geological process known as weathering, in which rocks are broken down in a chemical reaction that draws carbon dioxide from the air. This happens all the time naturally but took off in spectacular fashion more than 400 million years ago. In an ancient chain reaction, as land-based plants evolved to become larger, it's believed their roots sought to extract more mineral nutrients from the rocks, eroding them and exposing them to the air. That in turn led to a massive reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere. Could the same effect be repeated?
11-29-18 Climate change: Last four years are 'world's hottest'
The year 2018 is on course to be the fourth warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. It says that the global average temperature for the first 10 months of the year was nearly 1C above the levels between 1850-1900. The State of the Climate report says that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the 2015-2018 making up the top four. If the trend continues, the WMO says temperatures may rise by 3-5C by 2100. The temperature rise for 2018 of 0.98C comes from five independently maintained global data sets. The WMO says that one of the factors that has slightly cooled 2018 compared to previous years was the La Niña weather phenomenon which is associated with lower than average sea surface temperatures. Researchers say now that a weak El Niño is expected to form in early 2019 which might make next year warmer than this one. Regardless of the impacts of these events, scientists say the long-term warming trend has continued in 2018 and they point to sea level rise, ocean acidification and glacier melt as examples of climate change. "We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases 3-5C by the end of the century," he said. "It is worth repeating once again that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it," said Mr Taalas. The WMO report says that for the most recent decade, 2009-2018, the average temperature increase was 0.93C above the pre-industrial baseline which is defined as being between 1850-1900. For the past five years, the average was 1.04C.
11-29-18 We're heading for a new Cretaceous period
Global warming is not the new normal — it's much worse. A lazy buzz phrase — "Is this the new normal?" — has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: It's worse than that. We're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year. We have known since the 1980s what's in store for us. Action taken then to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2005 might have restricted the global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. But nothing was done, and the welter of climate data mounting since then only confirms and refines the original predictions. So where are we now? Last November, the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn reported that warming by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 is now the realistic expectation. With no check on emissions, we are on course to see preindustrial levels of C02 double (from 280 to 560 ppm) by 2050 — and then double again by 2100. In short, we'll be generating climate conditions last experienced during the Cretaceous period (145-65.95 million years ago) when CO2 levels reached over 1,000 ppm. What might that mean, given that we already achieve such levels of CO2in bedrooms at night and in poorly ventilated crowded places, and when we know that, under sustained conditions of such high carbon-dioxide concentration, people suffer severe cognitive problems? As it happens, the Cretaceous is one of my favorite geological periods. It gave us the great chalk hills and cliffs that straddle Europe. It gave us figs, plane trees, and magnolias. It nurtured little mammals, who suddenly blossomed when the then-lords of creation — Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, and their cousins — went extinct at the end of the period. It was also very warm, with global temperatures 3-10 degrees Celsius hotter than preindustrial levels.
11-28-18 Here’s how much climate change could cost the U.S.
A new report tallies the damage from more extreme weather events and growing health risks. The United States is poised to take a powerful economic hit from climate change over the next century. Heat waves, wildfires, extreme weather events and rising sea levels could cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in lost labor, reduced crop yields, health problems and crumbling infrastructure. A report authored by hundreds of U.S. climate scientists from 13 federal agencies presents a stark picture of the country’s fate due to climate change. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released November 23, predicts the U.S. economy will shrink by as much as 10 percent by the end of the century if global warming continues apace. A separate report released November 27 by the United Nations Environment Programme reveals that in 2017, global emissions of carbon dioxide — a major driver of warming — rose for the first time in three years. That suggests that the nations that promised to curb emissions as part of the historic 2015 Paris agreement are falling short (SN: 1/9/16, p. 6). It’s unclear what effect, if any, the reports will have on the U.S. government’s strategy on dealing with climate change and its consequences. President Donald Trump has previously announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement (SN Online: 6/1/17). And on November 26, Trump told reporters that he had read “some of” his scientists’ report. “It’s fine,” he said. But when it comes to the dire predictions of economic losses, he added, “I don’t believe it.”
11-28-18 Putting a price on CO2 is a smokescreen that hides its human cost
Slashing the social cost of carbon emissions reveals the economic charade delaying real action on climate change, says Kevin Anderson. IN 2016, the administration of US president Barack Obama estimated that each tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere caused about $50 of damage. In August, the Trump administration revised that to $1, revealing the charade that has supported decades of inaction on climate change. Few people would agree that a price could be put on our planet, but that is the idea behind this “social cost of carbon”. Such hubris is the preserve of a select group in industrialised countries, who put a dollar value on the devastation that a strengthened hurricane wreaks on distant communities, pricing the people killed, the homes and neighbourhoods destroyed. Added to this is a guess of the cost to our children of living with exacerbated floods and droughts, human migration, the loss of pollinating insects, dieback of forests, sea level rise and so on. Yet an important property of the social cost of carbon is that it can never be so high as to raise fundamental questions of today’s dominant economic model. The massaging of costs to an acceptable level is achieved by two main ruses. First, the effect on poor people is underplayed by valuing such impacts against the low economic “worth” of those enduring them. Second, the effects on future generations are “discounted”, that is, considered less damaging than if those impacts occurred today. Such cost-optimising models have dominated the agenda on how we can mitigate climate change for more than two decades, during which emissions have risen rapidly.
11-28-18 Climate change: EU aims to be 'climate neutral' by 2050
The European Union says it is aiming to become the first major economy to go "climate neutral" by 2050. Under the plan, emissions of greenhouse gases after that date would have to be offset by planting trees or by burying them underground. Scientists say that net-zero emissions by 2050 are needed to have a fighting chance of keeping global temperatures under 1.5C this century. The EU says the move will also cut premature air pollution deaths by 40%. Climate neutrality means your emissions are balanced by methods of removing warming gases from the atmosphere. So the warming emissions that are created by cars and power plants should be counteracted by the greenhouse gases removed from the air by the planting of new forests or through carbon capture technologies which would see the CO2 buried underground. Getting to this point would require large cuts in emissions from the current position. Since 1990 the EU has cut its emissions by over 20% while the economies of member states have continued to grow. They have set themselves much harder targets for 2030 of cutting emissions by 40% - The EU says it will achieve this target but now plans to go much further again by becoming climate neutral by 2050. The EU have set out eight scenarios for member states to cut warming gases - two of these strategies would see Europe become climate neutral. The EU says that this can be done with existing technologies such as solar and wind energy which would have to be ramped up to provide 80% of electricity. Energy efficiency measures such as home insulation would also need to be boosted to reduce energy consumption by half by the middle of the century. "With this plan, Europe will be the world's first major economy to go for net-zero emissions by 2050," said EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. "We have all the tools to be ambitious." The EU believes that the measures will help achieve the goals of the Paris agreement will be expensive but will boost economies by 2% of GDP by 2050 and reduce energy imports by over 70%, saving up to three trillion euros a year. (Webmaster's comment: what about the United States? We have no plan except to make the already rich executives richer even if that means emiting more greenshouse gases!)
11-28-18 EU set to resist air industry attempts to limit climate change action
The aviation industry is trying to stop countries doing more to limit greenhouse gas emissions from flying. But the European Union looks set to formally object to the industry scheme, meaning it will remain free to impose stricter plans. Flying generates more than 2 per cent of CO2 globally, and emissions are expected to double before 2050. Most countries are doing nothing about it, as aviation emissions are excluded from UN climate agreements. EU nations are an exception, as aviation fuel is subject to a carbon tax as part of a carbon trading scheme. In 2016, industry body the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) finally came up with up with its own plan. Rather than limit future emissions, however, the proposed Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), involves offsetting them – that is, paying for schemes that reduce carbon emissions. But offsetting is ineffective. A 2017 EU report concluded that 85 per cent of UN schemes had not delivered the promised reductions. CORSIA would still be better than nothing if it was a first step towards further action, says Andrew Murphy of Transport & Environment, in Brussels, Belgium, which campaigns to make transport greener and healthier. Instead, the aviation industry wants to make it the only action permitted. Any additional measures, such as carbon taxes on jet fuels, would be forbidden.These proposals would allow the air industry to claim it is taking action on climate yet would place no limits on its future growth. Countries had until 1 December to object, and the EU this week looks almost certain to send a formal “Notification of Differences”, says Murphy. EU aviation emissions are projected to rise from 150 megatonnes of CO2 a year today to 150 megatonnes by 2030. The EU’s target is to cut this to 110 megatonnes by 2030. If it was bound to CORSIA alone, it would have no way to achieve this, as offsets are not recognised under EU law.
11-28-18 UK's first carbon capture and storage project 'operational by mid 2020s'
The UK's first carbon capture and storage project should be operational by the mid-2020s, according to ministers. A commitment to develop the technology, which stops greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, was made ahead of a summit in Edinburgh. Research funding has also been announced for a carbon capture scheme in Aberdeenshire. It will see carbon dioxide piped to storage sites under the North Sea. Experts say the technology is an important tool in tackling climate change. The UK government was criticised in 2015 after a £1bn pound competition to develop carbon capture and storage was dropped. Power stations at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and Drax in North Yorkshire were the final contenders for the grant. Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said: "Today at this seminal summit, the UK is setting a world-leading ambition for developing and deploying carbon capture and storage technology to cut emissions. "It shows how determined all countries are to unlock the potential of this game-changing technology that representatives from across the globe are gathered here today in Edinburgh." The Acorn Project will capture about 200,000 tonnes of CO2 from the St Fergus Gas Terminal near Peterhead and transport it for storage to one of three depleted gas fields using existing pipelines. It is to receive £175,000 from the UK government, with match funding from the Scottish government and additional European funding. In additional phases, the project could generate hydrogen from North Sea gas and store the carbon dioxide, which the process creates as a by-product. The hydrogen could then be used to heat people's homes. Existing onshore pipelines could also be utilised to transport CO2 for storage from areas of heavy industry around Grangemouth. Project leader Alan James said: "Scotland can use legacy oil and gas assets to deliver environmental benefits, unlocking CO2 transportation and storage solutions for other carbon capture utilisation and storage projects along the east coast of the UK and in future from Europe. "With the right support, Acorn CCS could be operating in the early 2020's, making a substantial contribution to both UK and European emission reduction targets and helping to establish a commercially viable future for CCUS investment."
11-28-18 Beavers are engineering a new Alaskan tundra
With more dam builders, the area is becoming more hospitable to wildlife. In a broad swath of northwestern Alaska, small groups of recent immigrants are hard at work. Like many residents of this remote area, they’re living off the land. But these industrious foreigners are neither prospecting for gold nor trapping animals for their pelts. In fact, their own luxurious fur was once a hot commodity. Say hello to Castor canadensis, the American beaver. Much like humans, beavers can have an oversized effect on the landscape (SN: 8/4/18, p. 28). People who live near beaver habitat complain of downed trees and flooded land. But in areas populated mostly by critters, the effects can be positive. Beaver dams broaden and deepen small streams, forming new ponds and warming up local waters. Those beaver-built enhancements create or expand habitats hospitable to many other species?—?one of the main reasons that researchers refer to beavers as ecosystem engineers. Beavers’ tireless toils?—?to erect lodges that provide a measure of security against land-based predators and to build a larder of limbs, bark and other vegetation to tide them over until spring thaw?—?benefit the wildlife community. A couple of decades ago, the dam-building rodents were hard to find in northwestern Alaska. “There’s a lot of beaver around here now, a lot of lodges and dams,” says Robert Kirk, a long-time resident of Noatak, Alaska?—?ground zero for much of the recent beaver expansion. His village of less than 600 people is the only human population center in the Noatak River watershed.
11-28-18 Seagrass loss off the coast of Kenya is fuelling climate change
Human activity has devastated a quarter of the seagrass beds along the coast of Kenya, resulting in the destruction of key habitats and contributing to climate change. These aquatic plants grow along the shoreline in shallow ocean. They provide a home for marine animals such as turtles and fish, but also absorb carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Mark Huxham at Edinburgh Napier University, UK, and his colleagues have used satellite images of Kenya to look in detail at seagrass coverage in East Africa, a region that has previously been poorly studied. After comparing the current images of four sites with those from 15 and 30 years ago, the team concluded that Kenya’s seagrass meadows are shrinking by 1.6 per cent every year – equivalent to losing an area the size of 756 football fields annually. The decline shows no sign of slowing. Huxham says human activities are the main drivers of the loss, especially fishing nets, boats and anchors ripping through the meadows. What is more, carbon that would have been locked up by the seagrass at those four sites will end up in the atmosphere instead. The researchers estimated that this amounts to over 2 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, in the region over the past 30 years. Globally, seagrass meadows have been vanishing at a rate of more than 7 per cent a year since 1990, which is comparable to the loss of coral reefs and tropical rainforests. However, the impact could be felt particularly hard in Kenya, because seagrass has strong links to the health of fisheries.
11-27-18 Climate change: CO2 emissions rising for first time in four years (Webmaster's comment: UNTRUE! See the chart below!)
Global efforts to tackle climate change are way off track says the UN, as it details the first rise in CO2 emissions in four years. The emissions gap report says that economic growth is responsible for a rise in 2017 while national efforts to cut carbon have faltered. To meet the goals of the Paris climate pact, the study says it's crucial that global emissions peak by 2020. But the analysis says that this is now not likely even by 2030. For the last nine years, UN Environment have produced an assessment of the latest scientific studies on current and future emissions of greenhouse gases. It highlights the difference between the level of greenhouse gas emissions that the world can sustain to keep temperatures within safe limits, with the levels that are likely based on the promises and actions taken by countries. This year's report records the largest gap yet between where we are and where we need to be. Between 2014 and 2016, global emissions of CO2 from industry and the production of energy were essentially stable while the global economy grew modestly - but in 2017 these emissions went up by 1.2% pushed along by higher GDP. While the rise might seem small, it needs to be seen in context of efforts to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5C, as recently outlined in a key IPCC report. According to the UN, to keep the world below that target, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would have to be 55% lower than today. "There is still a tremendous gap between words and deeds, between the targets agreed by governments worldwide to stabilise our climate and the measures to achieve these goals," said Dr Gunnar Luderer, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the authors of the study. The scientists say that to tackle the gap, nations must raise their ambition five fold to meet the 1.5C goal. Right now, the world is heading for a temperature rise of 3.2C by the end of this century the report says.
11-27-18 Strong chance of a new El Niño forming by early 2019
The World Meteorological Organization says there's a 75-80% chance of a weak El Niño forming within three months. The naturally occurring event causes changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and has a major influence on weather patterns around the world. It is linked to floods in South America and droughts in Africa and Asia. El Niño events often lead to record temperatures as heat rises from the Pacific. According to the WMO update, sea surface temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific have been at weak El Niño levels since October. However the atmosphere has not yet responded to the extra warmth that's produced by the upwelling seas. Scientists have been predicting the likelihood of a new event since May this year, with confidence increasing. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology are now estimating that an El Niño event will start in December. US forecasters are saying there's a 90% chance of the event starting in January. The WMO models are say that a fully fledged El Niño is estimated to be 75-80% likely between December and February 2019. At this point, the WMO says its predictions for the event range from just a warm-neutral condition through to a moderate strength event with sea surface temperatures peaking between 0.8C to 1.2C above average. "The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world," said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO's Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch. "Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures," he said.
11-27-18 Hey, Mike Lee: Climate change is going to fry your state
Congress legally requires the executive branch to release periodical studies of climate change and how it will affect the United States. Thus the National Climate Assessment, which the top scientists from across the federal government collaborate to produce every four years. Naturally, the Trump administration attempted to bury the latest one by releasing it just before a holiday weekend. Luckily, the report (which is quite good) has been getting wide attention anyway. On Meet the Press — perhaps because it is more biased towards conservatives than Fox News Sunday — Chuck Todd had Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on to spout the latest in conservative anti-climate policy propaganda. When Todd asked him about the report, and whether he supports a carbon tax, Lee replied: "all the proposals I've seen so far that would address any of these issues would devastate the U.S. economy and have little or no benefit that is demonstrable from our standpoint." This is a good opportunity to demonstrate how grossly harmful Republican leadership is for the party's constituents. Sen. Lee, if we don't do something about climate change, Utah is going to get creamed. Let's examine this economy Lee pretends to be so concerned about. Now, Utah's economy is fairly prosperous and well-diversified, especially for such a red state. Mormon-style conservatism, with its quasi-theocratic welfare state, low inequality, and open embrace of government policy to serve the public good, contrasts sharply with born-again American evangelical conservatism. It's more like Germany than Mississippi. Climate change threatens all aspects of this. Most obviously, winter sports will die if it gets too warm for snow, or if drought strangles precipitation (or both). Snowpacks have already declined virtually everywhere across the Utah mountain ranges, and much worse is predicted if warming is not checked. Under a business-as-usual projection, a recent study predicted that by 2090 nine-tenths of all ski resorts in the U.S. will not be able to open by Christmas, effectively putting them out of business. Wildfires have also increased greatly due to climate change. The climate report estimates that in Western states from 1980, the cumulative acreage burned is about double what it would have been without any human-caused warming. And nobody wants to go see a national park that is on fire or choked with smoke.
11-27-18 The best pollution masks for cyclists block half of bad particles
City air is a killer. Governments are trying to cut urban pollution by encouraging the use of bikes, but this exposes people who cycle to emissions from the cars of those who don’t. Are anti-pollution face masks the answer? Fulvio Amato at the Institute of Environmental Research and Water Assessment in Barcelona and his colleagues have tested nine commercially available masks aimed at cyclists for filtering out air pollution. The best screened out nearly half of the most harmful tiny particles that cyclists breathe in. Air pollution has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. It may also harm unborn babies and impair cognitive function in children and adults. In 2014, the World Health Organization estimated that air pollution was a factor in 7 million premature deaths worldwide each year. One of the nastiest things swirling around in city air is particulate matter – small particles spat out in exhaust fumes, or tiny fragments of car tyres, brake pads or road surfaces that are shed through wear and tear. Particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5, can damage the lungs and even enter the bloodstream. Amato’s study is the first to test face masks designed for cyclists in an urban environment rather than the lab. The team fitted the masks to dummies and exposed them to inner-city traffic in Barcelona. To simulate the increased respiratory rate of a cyclist, the dummies sucked in air at three different speeds. The best mask reduced the intake of PM2.5 by 48 per cent. It had a filter with three different layers that covered its entire inside surface. The mask was also a better fit to the dummy’s face than the others. The worst mask only had filters over two air intake valves and did not fit well.
11-26-18 Trump on climate change report: 'I don't believe it'
US President Donald Trump has cast doubt on a report by his own government warning of devastating effects from climate change. Asked outside the White House about the findings that unchecked global warming would wreak havoc on the US economy, he said: "I don't believe it." The report found that climate change will cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars annually and damage health. The Trump administration has pursued a pro-fossil fuels agenda. The world's leading scientists agree that climate change is human-induced and warn that natural fluctuations in temperature are being exacerbated by human activity. He told reporters on Monday that he had "read some of" Friday's report, which was compiled with help from US government agencies and departments. Mr Trump said other countries must take measures to cut their emissions. "You're going to have to have China and Japan and all of Asia and all these other countries, you know, it [the report] addresses our country," he said. "Right now we're at the cleanest we've ever been and that's very important to me. "But if we're clean, but every other place on Earth is dirty, that's not so good. "So I want clean air, I want clean water, very important." Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accused the Trump administration of trying to hide the report. (Webmaster's comment: FACT: United States CO2 emissions are 15.53 metric tons per capita while China CO2 emssions are only 6.59 metric tons per capita.)
11-26-18 Trans Mountain: The billion-dollar oil pipeline Canadians own and can’t build
Canada recently spent billions on an oil pipeline in order to triple its capacity. But amid fierce opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans, will the Trans Mountain project ever get built? The Burnaby terminal of the Trans Mountain pipeline is quiet on an autumn afternoon. Long gone is a ramshackle protest camp that sprang up at the entrance gate in February, its residents evicted and the camp torn down over the city's concerns about safety. The tank terminal, at the pipeline's Pacific end, is also now free of protesters, though over 200 people were arrested this year for blockading the construction site. Nestled in suburban Burnaby, British Columbia (BC), there is little sign the pipeline project has become a battlefield. The site is central to a fight over climate change and Canada's economy, the environment and the oil sector - between those who argue the pipeline project could devastate the Pacific coastline and those who say it will fuel the economy for years to come. The current peace is just a lull as sides regroup in the wake of a court rulling that dealt a blow to the project in August. That federal appellate court decision quashed Canada's 2016 approval of the project, saying regulators failed to adequately consult First Nations along the pipeline route and to fully account for the project's impact on the region's endangered killer whales. It was handed down the day Canada finalised its C$4.5bn ($3.4bn; £2.6bn) purchase of the 65-year-old pipeline from Kinder Morgan. The Texas-based energy infrastructure company agreed to sell the infrastructure amid myriad legal and regulatory challenges launched against their expansion plan. The C$7.4bn project would twin the existing 1,150km (715 mile) pipeline and increase capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 per day from Alberta, the heart of Canada's oil industry, to Burnaby, BC. It would add roughly 980km of pipeline, new pump stations, and expand the dock facility and pipeline capacity at the Burnaby marine terminal.
11-26-18 Climate change: UK summers could be over 5C warmer by 2070
In its first major update on climate change in almost 10 years, the Met Office has warned of significant temperature rises in the decades ahead. The UK Climate Projections 2018 study is the most up to date assessment of how the UK may change over this century. It says that under the highest emissions scenario, summer temperatures could be 5.4C hotter by 2070. The chances of a summer as warm as 2018 are around 50% by 2050. One key figure in the report is the rise in summer temperatures - up to 5.4C warmer than the average between 1981-2000. This would only happen, according to the Met Office, if the world was to continue increasing emissions of carbon dioxide rather than reducing them as most governments intend. So for a central location in England like Nottingham, the Met Office says that, under a high emissions future (where greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere over coming decades are at the high end of all possible scenarios), temperatures could rise by between 1.1C to 5.8C. For other central locations in the nations of the UK, there are similar ranges of projected temperature rises. In Scotland, at Pitlochry, the summer rise ranges from 0.6C to 4.8C warmer. Around Aberystwyth in Wales, they range from 0.9C to 5.9C warmer while Cookstown in Northern Ireland could be 0.8 to 4.9C hotter. But even under a low emissions scenario, the Met Office says that the UK will see an increase in the average yearly temperature of up to 2.3C by 2100. Summers as warm as the one just past, are likely to be very common, with a 50% chance of occurring. "With really hot summers like this year's - in the 1990s that was a less than 5% chance of getting those," said Met Office chief scientist Dr Stephen Belcher. "Now we are up to a 15-20% chance. By 2050 that's a normal summer…By late century it depends what we do about greenhouse gases." These warmer summers of the future are likely to be much drier too, with average summer rainfall dropping by 47% by 2070. Winters could be warmer by up to 4.2C but they will also see more rainfall, increasing by up to 35% by 2070, under the worst emissions scenario. Raised sea levels are also one of the consequences of a warmer world and according to the report, they could increase by 1.15 metres in London by 2100. The report says the UK is set to see an increase in both the frequency and magnitude of extreme water levels.
11-25-18 The real estate aftermath of forest fires
Fires are putting more homebuyers in danger. How do we protect them? Economists know that the prices of houses tend to drop in the aftermath of a nearby wildfire. But a new paper reveals good news for those who have invested in vulnerable woodland property: Unless you can literally see the fire scar from your home, these prices rebound within a couple of years. Shawn McCoy and Randall Walsh, economists at the University of Las Vegas and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, unveiled these results in a recent paper, in which they analyze the effects of wildfires on the housing market in Colorado. "When we focus on these areas that are close to the fire but can't see it, after the fire happens, you see a one- to three-year decrease in the price, and an increase in sales rate," Walsh says. For houses that had a continued view of the destruction, Walsh says, the return to pre-fire prices took longer. In other words, homeowners who survive a fire soon cease worrying about the possibility of future fires — unless they're literally confronted with a dead forest every time they look out the window. Perhaps more significantly, their paper shows that this ruined view is not the reason for the decline in house prices. Rather, McCoy and Walsh reveal that properties lose their value because residents briefly become more attuned to the risks of fire, rather than because their homes have lost beautiful forest views. It's a distinction that economists had previously struggled to make, as their models didn't necessarily distinguish between those who lived within visible range of the fire, and those who simply lived in the area, but were shielded from the burn scars by, say, a ridge or a hill.
11-25-18 Engineers are plugging holes in drinking water treatment
Access to clean water still isn’t universal. Off a gravel road at the edge of a college campus — next door to the town’s holding pen for stray dogs — is a busy test site for the newest technologies in drinking water treatment. In the large shed-turned-laboratory, University of Massachusetts Amherst engineer David Reckhow has started a movement. More people want to use his lab to test new water treatment technologies than the building has space for. The lab is a revitalization success story. In the 1970s, when the Clean Water Act put new restrictions on water pollution, the diminutive grey building in Amherst, Mass. was a place to test those pollution-control measures. But funding was fickle, and over the years, the building fell into disrepair. In 2015, Reckhow brought the site back to life. He and a team of researchers cleaned out the junk, whacked the weeds that engulfed the building and installed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of monitoring equipment, much of it donated or bought secondhand. “We recognized that there's a lot of need for drinking water technology,” Reckhow says. Researchers, students and start-up companies all want access to test ways to disinfect drinking water, filter out contaminants or detect water-quality slipups. On a Monday afternoon in October, the lab is busy. Students crunch data around a big table in the main room. Small-scale tests of technology that uses electrochemistry to clean water chug along, hooked up to monitors that track water quality. On a lab bench sits a graduate student’s low-cost replica of an expensive piece of monitoring equipment. The device alerts water treatment plants when the by-products of disinfection chemicals in a water supply are reaching dangerous levels. In an attached garage, two startup companies are running larger-scale tests of new kinds of membranes that filter out contaminants.
11-24-18 Climate change: Report warns of growing impact on US life
Unchecked climate change will cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars and damage human health and quality of life, a US government report warns. "Future risks from climate change depend... on decisions made today," the 4th National Climate Assessment says. The report says climate change is "presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth". The warning is at odds with the Trump administration's fossil fuels agenda. During a blast of icy weather in Washington this week, Donald Trump tweeted, "whatever happened to global warming?" Now, without mentioning the president, his own scientists have answered their boss' question in comprehensive detail. Global warming is here in the US, they say - now. It is already deadly serious and without urgent, dramatic change, it will be catastrophic. This report is striking for two reasons. First, it is not abstract. It gives many specific examples - overwhelmed dams in South Carolina; failing crops in the parched Great Plains; a rise in insect-borne disease in Florida. And, secondly, it majors on the economic impact, in effect challenging the White House's insistence on prioritising economic growth over environmental regulation. With warnings about the effects on crumbling infrastructure, falling crop yields and decreasing labour productivity, the report sounds an alarm that climate change will soon cascade into every corner of American life. The White House said the report - compiled with help from numerous US government agencies and departments - was inaccurate. Spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it was "largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that... there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population". The world's leading scientists agree that climate change is human-induced and warn that natural fluctuations in temperature are being exacerbated by human activity.
11-24-18 Amazon rainforest deforestation 'worst in 10 years', says Brazil
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has hit its highest rate in a decade, according to official data. About 7,900 sq km (3,050 sq miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018 - an area roughly five times the size of London. Environment Minister Edson Duarte said illegal logging was to blame. The figures come amid concerns about the policies of Brazil's newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro. During the 2018 election campaign, Mr Bolsonaro pledged to limit fines for damaging forestry and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency. An aide for the president-elect has also announced the administration will merge the agriculture and environment ministries, which critics say could endanger the rainforest. The latest government data says most of the deforestation occurred in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará, and marked a 13.7% rise over last year's figures. Mato Grosso is the top producer of grains in Brazil, and critics say expanding agriculture is also encroaching on the rainforest. Mr Duarte blamed "an upsurge in organised crime" for the illegal deforestation, and said the country must broaden the fight against "environmental violations and in defence of sustainable development of the biome". Satellite data from the deforestation monitoring project known as Prodes informed the annual survey. While the rate does mark a significant rise from last year, when the rate of deforestation dropped 16% in a 12-month period, it still marks a 72% drop from 2004, when the Brazilian federal government launched measures to combat deforestation. In that year, an area the size of Haiti - more than 27,000 sq km - was cleared from the rainforest.
11-23-18 This village is being swallowed by the sea
Tiny Alaskan towns are at a huge risk because of climate change. But Washington is looking the other way. The sun never really sets on summer nights in the far north, and the endless twilight makes Shishmaref, Alaska, something of a kids' paradise. "There's a lot of kids," says 8-year-old Walter Nayokpuk, emerging from a swirling kid mosh pit in a wide spot of sand between some houses. "And we can be free!" Free to roam in this Iñupiat village of about 600 people on a barrier island near the Bering Strait, just shy of the Arctic Circle. There's a church, a school, two stores, and around 150 houses. For kids, it is a very safe place to play, and grow up. But the paradox of Shishmaref is that it might be both one of the safest and one of the most dangerous places to live in America today: This small community is ground zero for climate change in the Arctic. Shishmaref is the only town on Sarichef Island. And everywhere you go, you can see the waves and hear the constant roar of the ocean. The island is only about a quarter of a mile wide — and it's getting smaller. "It's changed a lot," says Kate Kokeok, who grew up in Shishmaref and now teaches kindergarten here. In decades past, Kokeok says, the sea ice around the island served as a kind of buffer, protecting it from the wind and waves when winter storms blew in. But these days the ice is forming later and later. "It was always frozen at the end of October," Kokeok says. "It no longer is." That means the fierce winter waves that used to break on the ice far away from shore now slam directly into the island. At the same time, the permafrost beneath the town is thawing as temperatures rise, weakening its foundation. The combined effect is a quickly receding coastline. And that's left Kokeok with a lot of memories of places that are now under water. "Like, where the seawall is now, that's where we used to have our playground," she says. "Down that way, that's where like 10 to 15 houses were. And, like, the last house that's there now? There was a house next to it, a road, and then another house ... You can see how much land was lost there."
11-22-18 China-backed coal projects prompt climate change fears
As levels of greenhouse gases reach a new record, concerns are growing about the role of China in global warming. For years, the increase in the number of Chinese coal-fired power stations has been criticised. Now environmental groups say China is also backing dozens of coal projects far beyond its borders. Coal is the most damaging of the fossil fuels because of the quantity of carbon dioxide it releases when it's burned. Last year, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached its highest level for the past 3-5 million years, according to the latest research by the UN's weather agency, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). And last month the UN's climate science panel said that coal must be phased out by 2050 if the world is to have any chance of limiting the rise in temperatures. The Chinese-supported coal projects are under way or planned as far afield as South America, Africa, southeast Asia and the Balkans. Contracts and financing for these facilities are often not fully transparent but campaign groups including Bankwatch have tried to keep track. "You cannot be a world leader in curbing air pollution and at the same time the world's biggest financier of overseas coal power plants," the group's energy coordinator Ioana Ciuta told the BBC. According to Ms Ciuta, efforts to tackle the dirty air of Chinese cities have led many power companies to limit their ambitions for coal-fired power stations in China itself and to target their technology and labour overseas instead. "By having China invest in over 60 countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, it's perpetuating a source of pollution that has been demonstrated to be harmful not just to the climate but also to economies," she said.
11-22-18 Climate crisis as greenhouse gas levels reach record highs
Greenhouse gas levels have reached new record highs, prompting experts to warn that without rapid cuts climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts. Average concentrations of carbon dioxide hit new highs of 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, up from 403.3 ppm in 2016 and 400.1 ppm in 2015, levels not seen for millions of years. Levels of other key greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere also rose, says the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). There is no sign of a reversal in the trend in increasing greenhouse gas levels, which is driving climate change, sea level rises and more extreme weather and making oceans more acidic, the UN experts warned. In its annual bulletin on greenhouse gas levels, the WMO also warned of a resurgence in a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance known as CFC-11, which has been linked to illegal refrigerator factories in China. “The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas. “The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said Taalas. The new IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5°C shows that deep and rapid reductions of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be needed in all sectors of society and the economy,” said IPCC chairman Hoesung Lee.
11-22-18 Climate change: Warming gas concentrations at new record high
Concentrations of key gases in the atmosphere that are driving up global temperatures reached a new high in 2017. In their annual greenhouse gas bulletin, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says there is no sign of reversal in this rising trend. Carbon dioxide levels reached 405 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, a level not seen in 3-5 million years. Researchers also note the resurgence of a banned gas called CFC-11. Concentrations differ from emissions in that they represent what remains in the atmosphere after some of the gases are absorbed by the seas, land and trees. Since 1990 the warming impact of these long lived gases on the climate has increased by 41%. 2017 continues the rise in concentrations of CO2 which are now 46% greater than the levels in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution. The increase from 2016 to 2017 was smaller than the rise from 2015 to 2016, but is close to the average growth rate seen over the last decade. The scientists at the WMO believe that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere right now hasn't been seen in a long, long time. "The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. That's because of the impact of El Niño, the naturally occurring weather phenomenon which peaked in 2015 and 2016. This triggered droughts in some parts of the world, which in turn reduced the ability of forests and vegetation in these areas to soak up CO2, hence more of it stayed in the atmosphere. Not so much. Scientists are very worried that when they measure the chemistry of the atmosphere they find that things are still going in the wrong direction. "I am very concerned that the three greenhouse gases most responsible for climate change (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) are all rising upwards unabated," said Prof Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia. "CO2 concentrations are now well above 400ppm - levels were 321ppm when I was born, that is a big rise in a human lifetime!"
11-22-18 Hydrogen will never be a full solution to our green energy problems
Replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen could help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tricky areas such as heavy goods vehicles. But electrifying our energy supply is the best way to green it, and hydrogen only has a secondary – and perhaps temporary – role to play. So says a report from the Committee on Climate Change, the expert body that advises the UK on how to meet its climate targets. “Hydrogen gives an option to help us decarbonise those really difficult bits of the energy system that otherwise we would really struggle to do, because we can’t electrify everything,” says David Joffe, one of the authors of the report. The report is a blow to the UK’s gas industry, which is promoting the idea that the natural gas widely used for heating homes in many countries should entirely be replaced by hydrogen – made from natural gas. The idea is to capture and store the carbon produced by this process. But many efforts to make carbon-capture-and-storage cheap and practical have foundered. And the report says that even if it could be done it would not eliminate all emissions, and that the resulting gas would be more expensive than natural gas. Instead, it concludes that hydrogen should be used very selectively, such as for heating only on the coldest days, for some industrial processes and for replacing diesel in large vehicles.
11-22-18 We urgently need to switch to hybrid heating for homes, says UK report
People in the UK need to start thinking about connecting an electrical heat pump to the gas boiler that heats the home. Around 10 million homes in the UK need to install such systems by 2035 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says a report from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, the expert body that advises the government on how to meet its climate targets. “We are talking about a large-scale roll-out,” says David Joffe of the CCC, who is currently installing such a system in his own home. Installing these hybrid systems in a house should cut natural gas use by 70 per cent or more. In the longer term, the gas supply could be switched to hydrogen to reduce emissions yet further, and by 2050 electrical heat pumps might entirely replace gas. But greening heating systems won’t be cheap. While the running costs of hybrid systems should be similar, the upfront costs are higher. Joffe says his systems will cost around £7000, with grants available to cover £4000 of that. “People are not going to want to fork out extra money,” he says. Instead, the government needs to act to encourage the adoption of greener heating systems. That could mean changing things to make them much cheaper than the alternatives – or even making them compulsory. “Depending on the development of hydrogen-ready appliances and the cost premium over natural gas boilers, the government should consider mandating hydrogen-ready heating appliances by the mid-2020s similar to the successful mandation of condensing boilers 20 years earlier,” the report states.
11-21-18 We don’t actually rake
. Finns were bewildered this week by President Trump’s claim that the Finnish president told him Finland has no forest fire problems because Finns rake the forest floor. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said that while he did speak about fire prevention with Trump when they met recently in Paris, the topic of raking never came up. Finns mocked the idea by tweeting pictures of themselves raking leaves, with comments like “just 23 million more hectares to go.” In fact, Finland is less prone to large wildfires than California because of its cold, wet climate and the many lakes and rivers dotting the forests.
11-21-18 Ocean warming study error
Scientists who sparked alarm with a report that the planet’s oceans are warming much faster than previously thought have announced that their research contained errors that made their conclusion appear much more certain than it was. The study, which found that the seas have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previous models indicated, was reported by most major news organizations, including The Week. But after an outside researcher examined the study and did his own computations, he challenged the findings, and climate scientist Ralph Keeling admitted the criticism was correct. Keeling said that he and his team hadn’t properly calculated the margin of error in its analysis of how much warmth the oceans have already absorbed, which may determine the severity of climate change. “Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” Keeling tells The Washington Post. Nonetheless, other research has drawn conclusions similar to the most recent study: Oceans are retaining more and more energy as an increasing amount of heat is being trapped in Earth’s atmosphere.
11-21-18 Have no fear of OPEC’s oil power
Just three men now control the worldwide price of oil, said Julian Lee: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Mohammed bin Salman. The U.S. used to worry about the power of OPEC to cut our oil supply. Now Saudi Arabia’s 10.6 million barrels–a-day production is more than one-third of OPEC’s total, and the U.S. and Russia between them pump more oil than OPEC’s 14 other members combined. “All three are pumping at record rates.” Saudi Arabia and Russia raised output in June, amid fears of a shortage. Now those fears are over, and MBS hopes that by cutting production Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries can raise the price of oil to $73.30 a barrel, the number the Saudis need to balance their budget. Most likely, he won’t succeed. Russia’s own budget is less dependent on oil than it used to be, and Putin “shows no great enthusiasm for restricting his production again.” Maybe he’ll decide that “maintaining his improved political relationship” with MBS is worth a small sacrifice. But count on Trump’s opposition—most likely via tweet—being much louder. And U.S. shale can fill any gaps in supply. Between Trump’s wrath, U.S. shale, and Putin’s indifference, the days of skyrocketing oil prices are over.
11-21-18 David Attenborough takes 'people's seat' at climate change talks
Sir David Attenborough has said that a failure to tackle climate change will be a catastrophe for the planet. The naturalist and broadcaster made the comments in an interview with BBC News as he took on a new UN role. He will take up the UN's "people's seat" at the opening of crucial climate change talks in December in Poland. It is a platform from which he will give a speech made up of submitted climate change comments from the public for world leaders. "The people's seat is meant to represent the hundreds of millions of people are around the world whose lives are about to be affected by climate change," Sir David told BBC News. "It will sit there to remind politicians who are working at [this] conference - and administrators and governments - that this is not a theoretical enterprise - they aren't working in a vacuum. They are dealing with real people's futures." Sir David will take up the seat in his role giving the people's address for the opening sessions of the conference. He is launching the campaign with a video inviting viewers to share their thoughts on climate change. Ahead of the conference, people will be invited to submit their experiences and opinions on climate change to an online poll and conversations on social media, using the hashtag #TakeYourSeat. Any comments submitted after that address, the UN says, will become part of the meeting "showing the power of the voice of the people". But while the seat may remind politicians around the table of what is at stake, it will still be up to those around the table to decide what actions are taken. Sir David, though, told the BBC that including voices from people experiencing the reality of climate change was vital: "There are fishermen all round the world who know what changes are taking place," he said. "There are people whose houses have been destroyed by increasingly extreme weather. Summarising what is taking place is an almost impossible job, but it's something that has to be done
11-21-18 Are disposable nappies really so terrible for the environment?
Disposable nappies have been named as the latest plastic good we should ban, but there are problems with compostable and reusable alternatives too. A FRESH stink is being kicked up over the use of nappies. Last month, UK environment secretary Michael Gove ignited controversy by hinting at a crackdown on disposable nappies. Environmentalists welcomed the idea, but time-poor parents baulked at the prospect of having to wash piles of cloth substitutes. Despite feeling soft, the surface layer of disposable nappies is just one of many plastic components. These nappies generate 4 million tonnes of waste a year in the US alone, with each child typically getting through 4000 to 6000 of them. So it is no surprise that they have become the latest in a list of items being targeted for environmental reasons. Governments around the world are already phasing out single-use plastic items such as bags, straws and utensils in an attempt to cut waste. But some parents argue that, when you look at the data, cloth nappies are no better than the standard, disposable variety. Reusable cloth nappies carry a cost to the environment because of the water and energy used during repeated laundering. There are also dozens of new “eco-disposable” products, which their makers claim combine the convenience of disposable nappies with environmental sustainability. But these come with their own flaws. How do the options stack up? To compare different nappies, researchers conduct life-cycle assessments that consider their environmental impact from production to disposal. The first of these was commissioned in the early 2000s by the UK Environment Agency, after prime minister Tony Blair was quizzed about what kind of nappies he would use on his fourth child.
11-20-18 Dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had ingested '6kg of plastic'
A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 6kg (13 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials say. Items found included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops. The carcass of the 9.5m (31ft) mammal was found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park late on Monday. The discovery has caused consternation among environmentalists. "Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. It was not possible to say whether the plastic had caused the whale's death because of its advanced state of decay, she added. In a tweet, WWF Indonesia gave the breakdown of what was found inside the animal: "Hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)." The use of throwaway plastic is a particular problem in some South East Asian countries, including Indonesia. Five Asian nations - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - account for up to 60% of the plastic waste that ends up in oceans, according to a 2015 report by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. Plastics bags are believed to kill hundreds of marine animals there each year. In June, a pilot whale died off southern Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. A report released earlier this year warned that the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in a decade unless litter was curbed. At the end of last year, the UN said marine life was facing "irreparable damage" from the approximately 10 Million Tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the oceans every year.
11-19-18 Climate change: Report raises new optimism over industry
A new report on the potential of heavy industry to combat climate change offers a rare slice of optimism. Sectors like steel, chemicals, cement, aviation and aluminium face a huge challenge in cutting carbon emissions. But a group including representatives from business concludes it is both practical and affordable to get their emissions down to virtually zero by the middle of the next century. The report's been described as wishful thinking by some environmentalists. The group, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), says we can. It calculates that industrial emissions can be eradicated a cost of less than 1% of global GDP, with a marginal impact on living standards. The ETC - a coalition of business, finance and civil society leaders from energy producers and users - supports the aim of the 2015 Paris climate deal of limiting global warming to 1.5C, or at the very least, well below 2C. It sees benefits to society of cutting industrial emissions because this would save the costs associated with pollution and climate change impact. It would also generate economic growth through technological innovation and increased productivity of resources. The commission says this will require rapid improvements in energy efficiency across the whole economy. This should be combined with vastly increased wind and solar electricity to power cars, vans, manufacturing, and a significant part of domestic cooking, heating and cooling. The focus of the report is on the tough nuts of climate change: cement, steel, chemicals, trucking and aviation. These sectors account for close to a third of total global carbon dioxide emissions, but on current trends that is likely to increase just as the rest of the economy is cleaning up. The report says it is technically possible to decarbonise all of them by the middle of the next century. (Webmaster's comment: By then the oceans will be over 60 feet deeper and millions will have died from the heat!)
11-19-18 Wealth cannot save you from climate change
Money and power can protect you from many things in life. In some cases, they can even protect you from individual climate change-fueled natural disasters like the fires ravaging California. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California, for instance, burned down much of the wealthy city of Malibu — but not the home of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who hired private firefighters to save their $60 million home, and also those of everyone on their street. Many pointed to this as evidence for a popular argument that when it comes to climate change, wealthy people and countries will be able to basically escape the worst effects. This is not the case. The dangers of climate change are broad and largely indiscriminate. Now, it is certainly the case that the rich will be less vulnerable on average to climate disasters. With lots of money, one can buy special protective technology, hire expensive private guard labor, move to a different place, or simply rebuild one's property if it gets destroyed. But that doesn't mean you will be invulnerable. Indeed, in this particular case the ultra-wealthy entertainment moguls in Malibu were a lot more vulnerable than working-class people in Los Angeles proper, because many of their sprawling mansions are built up on heavily wooded hillsides. Kanye and Kim just barely managed to save their home, but many other A-list wealthy celebrities lost theirs, including Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Neil Young, and Gerard Butler. Elsewhere, a Union of Concerned Scientists report estimated that by 2100, some $1 trillion in private coastal real estate will be at risk of chronic flooding due to sea level rise. It's a safe bet that the bulk of those properties are owned by the rich.
11-16-18 Finger-pointing as wildfires ravage California
The most destructive wildfire in state history tore through Northern California this week, killing at least 48 people and destroying more than 6,500 residences, while another blaze left two dead in Southern California and had burned nearly 100,000 acres when The Week went to press. The Camp Fire demolished the town of Paradise, 145 miles north of San Francisco, within hours, and hundreds of residents remained missing days later. Thousands of responders struggled to contain the fire, which at one point jumped 140 feet across a seven-lane freeway. In Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the Woolsey Fire lapped at the borders of L.A., destroying 435 structures and spreading devastation from mobile-home parks on the fringes of the city to glittering celebrity-owned mansions in the Malibu area. More than 300,000 Californians were evacuated, as people throughout the state were warned of dangerously smoky air. President Trump approved federal funding for disaster relief, though days earlier he blamed California politicians for enabling the crisis. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests,” he wrote on Twitter. The latest outbreak continues a devastating year for California, where fire season is now year-round. At least 105 Californians have died in wildfires in the past two years, more than in the entire previous decade; this year, upwards of 5,600 fires have burned 2,100-plus square miles. In Paradise, county sheriff and coroner Kory Honea warned that even after evacuees return, “it’s possible that human remains can be found.”
11-16-18 Keystone XL blocked again
A federal judge stayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline last week, ruling the Trump administration didn’t do its due diligence before reversing an Obama-era decision to halt the project. Two days into his presidency, Trump greenlighted the pipeline, which would connect Canadian oil sands with Texas Gulf Coast refineries, transporting up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It would run through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Government lawyers argued the pipeline’s impact on climate change “would prove inconsequential,” in response to a legal challenge from environmental groups. But the judge said the government didn’t provide a “reasoned” explanation for its about-face. Moreover, he ruled the administration used outdated or incomplete information, or simply ignored “inconvenient” facts. The government, he added, “appears to have jumped the gun.”
11-16-18 Unexpected heat in oceans
In another worrying climate-change finding, scientists have discovered that oceans are warming far faster than previously thought. Climate researchers already know that the world’s seas absorb about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But the new study found that every year for the past 25 years, the oceans have taken in 13 zettajoules of heat energy—60 percent more than previously estimated and about 150 times the amount of energy humans produce as electricity annually. The researchers calculated ocean temperatures in a new way: Rather than taking readings from thermometers dotted around the planet, they examined carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the atmosphere. When the world’s waters warm, they absorb less of these gases. If the findings are correct, the direct consequences of warming oceans—melting sea ice, rising sea levels, more powerful storms, coral reef destruction—will also happen faster than previously thought. Study leader Laure Resplandy, from Princeton University, says reversing climate change will now be even harder. “If we start cooling the atmosphere,” she tells BBC.com, “the heat stored in the ocean will eventually come back out.”
11-16-18 Losing the forests
Staggering deforestation in Haiti could soon cause a mass extinction of wildlife, according to a new study. U.S. researchers found that Haiti has lost 99 percent of its primary forest cover since 1988 to logging, agricultural production, and disasters. Of the island’s 50 mountains, only eight now have any primary forest, compared with 43 two decades ago. Haiti’s tropical forests are home to armadillos, macaws, sloths, and panthers, as well as species unique to the country, such as Mozart’s frog. Researchers say that by 2035, no primary forest will remain. Secondary growth can replace the original forests but would support a mere fraction of the biodiversity.
11-16-18 Microbots made from mushroom spores could clean polluted water
Thousands of microrobots controlled by magnets could help remove heavy metals from contaminated water. The microbots are made from iron oxide-coated mushroom spores, and cause heavy metal ions to cling to the pores they come into contact with. Once they’ve been placed into contaminated water, an external magnetic field is used to move the microrobots around. They and the heavy metals clinging to them are then recovered from the water using the same magnet. “These magnetic spores gather into a small area, form a pattern, then we use the magnetic field to do the navigation,” says Li Zhang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Heavy metal is a problem. Toxic metals, including lead, can cause serious health issues, if they leak into water ways. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, lead exposure accounted for 540,000 deaths worldwide in 2016. In an experiment, the microbots reduced the amount of lead in contaminated water from five parts per million (ppm) to 0.9 ppm within 50 minutes of treatment. “That is very far away from the drinking water standard or the environmental quality standard,” says Scott Young at the University of Nottingham. Lead can be at no higher than 0.01 ppm in drinking water in the UK to be considered safe, for example. But Zhang says that the aim of the project isn’t to treat water with higher levels of lead, but to reduce contamination from a lower starting point.
11-16-18 California wildfires: Number of missing leaps to 631
The number of people missing in northern California's devastating wildfire has leapt to more than 600, and seven more bodies have been found, according to local authorities. The missing persons' list has doubled since earlier on Thursday. The Camp Fire, the state's deadliest and most destructive blaze, has killed at least 63 people. Nearly 12,000 buildings have been destroyed. Three more people have also died in the Woolsey Fire, further south. President Donald Trump will travel to California on Saturday to survey the damage and meet those affected. About 9,400 firefighters are currently battling wildfires across the state. The Camp Fire - which broke out eight days ago - swept through a swathe of the north at high speed, leaving residents little time to escape. The official list more than doubled from 300 to 631 on Thursday. At a news briefing, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said this was because investigators had thoroughly cross-checked their information, including emergency calls made since the Camp Fire started on 8 November. "I want you to under He stressed that the number of the missing would most likely fluctuate. "If you look at that list and see your name, or the name of a friend or loved one, please call to let us know," Mr Honea appealed to the public.
11-15-18 Climate change: Worries over CO2 emissions from intensifying wildfires
Rising numbers of extreme wildfires could result in a significant increase in CO2 emissions, scientists warn. That could mean attaining the Paris climate agreement's goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2C could become harder, they say. Present emission-cut pledges by countries are projected to increase the average global temperature rise by more than 3C by the end of the century. That would lead to dangerous climate change impacts, experts say. These include sea level rise, drought, wildfires, among other extreme events. "We can't neglect the emissions from wildfires," says Ramon Vallejo, a scientist specialising on fire ecology with the University of Barcelona. "Particularly now that we are seeing intense wildfires all around the world." Although estimates vary and still carry uncertainties, some experts say wildfires account for up to 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. They are estimated to increase by a few percent to roughly 30% by the end of this century depending on how the climate changes. "It is a double whammy," said William Lau, atmospheric scientist with Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "Big forest fires first lead to significant reduction of forests that suck in CO2 from the atmosphere and the second loss is they cause significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions." A study earlier this year, however, had found that the annual amount of CO2 emitted as a result of wildfires having fallen over the past 80 years. It said the main reason was that large areas of forest and savannah had been converted to land for crops over the past few decades and therefore wildfires had decreased. The research, however, found that the drop was not huge though.
11-15-18 California wildfires: Is smoke toxic to the East Coast?
As firefighters work endlessly to control California's raging fires, experts warn of long-term damage from wildfire smoke that could affect millions - and potentially even those on the east coast. The fires have burned through over 200,000 acres, blanketing parts of California with clouds of thick smoke. So what are the biggest impacts of wildfires and why is the western US state so susceptible to such deadly blazes? Wildfire smoke is comprised of water vapour, carbon monoxide and dioxide, chemicals and very small particulates. Strong winds can carry harmful pollutants for hundreds of miles, and at current levels, the plumes can cause breathing difficulties even in healthy individuals. Those with pre-existing chronic conditions like asthma or heart disease, as well as children, pregnant women and the elderly are most susceptible to negative health effects, according to the National Institutes of Health. Yohannes Tesfaigzi, a senior scientist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in New Mexico, says for those with susceptible lungs, even very low levels of smoke exposure can result in an emergency room visit, and lasting long-term effects. "The particulates generated by wildfires are very fine, therefore they can penetrate to the lung and they're not really filtered out," Mr Tesfaigzi says. He says when wildfires occur in California, particulate levels in the air increase threefold in New Mexico, several states away. A study by Georgia Tech during last year's wildfire season even detected particles at high altitudes on the US east coast. The smoke from 2017's massive blazes had been swept across the country along the jet stream. "These are levels that we would not smell. If you're actually smelling the fire, you're talking much higher levels," Mr Tesfaigzi adds. The types of vegetation burning can affect exactly how harmful the plumes are. Smoke from pine trees, for example, may be carcinogenic and eucalyptus is particularly toxic to humans.
11-15-18 Development near natural areas puts more Californians in the path of wildfires
Wildland-urban interface areas grew 20 percent in the state from 1990 to 2010. In the past week, the Camp Fire has killed at least 56 people and leveled the Northern California town of Paradise. Another wildfire raging through the Los Angeles suburbs, the Woolsey Fire, has already destroyed more than 500 buildings and forced some 250,000 people to evacuate their homes. Such disasters are likely to occur more frequently in the coming years, data from recent years suggest. That’s because urban development is creeping further into woodlands, prairies and other natural areas and putting more communities in the path of wildfires. The ongoing California fires have been fueled by drought and high winds, but it’s their proximity to people that has made them especially deadly and destructive — burning through areas where housing abuts grasslands or forests, or where natural vegetation is mixed in with homes. In California, these “wildland-urban interface areas” expanded almost 20 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to data published in 2017 by the U.S. Forest Service. And the number of homes in that zone increased by almost 34 percent. Urban expansion into natural areas isn’t unique to California. Nationwide, the wildland-urban interface grew about 33 percent from 1990 to 2010, researchers who worked on the Forest Service dataset reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And other Western states that face frequent wildfires have seen even larger leaps: Colorado’s wildland-urban interface areas expanded by 65 percent, Montana by 67 percent and Idaho by 72 percent, over the same period, the Forest Service found.
11-15-18 What climate change will do to the forests
The fires in California are a grim reminder of what the future holds. At the beginning of October, California's fire season was already threatening to be the worst on record. Over 600,000 acres of state land had burned by that point — a total driven by infernos like the Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned 459,000 acres to become the largest fire in California history. The total from the first nine months of 2018 alone was considerably more than the 506,000 acres that had burned on state land in all of 2017, which was itself more than twice as much as burned in 2016. One slim hope for the rest of the year was that fall rains might keep California's trees and vegetation relatively moist. But the rains did not come. Instead, the state got sustained high winds, which dried out the already drought-stressed forests and undergrowth even further. And when a fire got going in the brush, forests, and grasslands of Butte County last week, the result was the deadliest fire in state history. Fed by 30 to 50 mph winds, the Camp Fire grew at a spectacular rate, bearing down on the town of Paradise (population: 27,000) at high speed and blowing a dragon's plume of sparks and embers before it. The speed, the ferocious heat, and the hundreds of smaller fires catching ahead of the main blaze overwhelmed the city's defenses so quickly that despite a carefully-rehearsed evacuation plan, not everyone managed to escape. More than fifty people have already been confirmed dead, with more than 100 still missing. Many were found dead in their cars, trapped in an instant traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape. About 90 percent of Paradise was burned to the ground, destroying over 8,800 structures, mostly homes — and surpassing the previous California record set just last year by the Tubbs fire, which destroyed 5,636 buildings. The Camp Fire has burned 138,000 acres and is still only about 35 percent contained. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire has so far scorched over 98,000 acres in Southern California, including much of the city of Malibu, and killed at least three people. It's a grim reminder of what climate change is going to do to the forests of the world. This type of turbo-wildfire is probably just the beginning.
11-15-18 Environmentalists must embrace nuclear power to stem climate change
The Union of Concerned Scientists has overturned its longstanding opposition to nuclear power. Other green groups should follow suit, says Mark Lynas. Changing your mind on a controversial topic isn’t easy, especially when you have spent decades campaigning against your new position. Which is why the decision by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to drop its long-standing opposition to nuclear power is so important, and why the organisation deserves great credit for having the courage to take this step. The UCS has broken with the anti-nuclear ideology that has been part of the advocacy group’s DNA since the 1960s. The UCS isn’t campaigning for nuclear plants to be built, however. It has simply recognised that coal and gas fired power stations are likely to replace decommissioned nuclear power plants. UCS president Ken Kimmel wrote that the organisation is now calling for “proactive policy to preserve nuclear power from existing plants that are operating safely but are at risk of premature closures for economic reason”. The switch to coal and gas happened most clearly in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out all nuclear power generation has led to an increased reliance on fossil fuels. The sight of this once climate-leading nation bulldozing ancient forests in order to expand open-cast coal mining serves as a warning. This is where hard line anti-nuclear ideology can lead in the real world. The UCS’s report begins by recognising that nuclear is the single largest source of low-carbon electricity in the US. Around the world, about 450 nuclear reactors supplied 10 per cent of global electricity last year, providing low-carbon power to 31 countries. Many US reactors are threatened with closure due to competition from cheap fracked gas and a power market that puts no value on low-carbon electricity.
11-15-18 The race to green domestic heating and prevent climate catastrophe
Household heating systems are huge sources of carbon emissions, but many countries are showing how existing technologies can fix the problem. WINTER is coming to the north. If you live in those climes, chances are you have already switched on your heating. Chances are, too, that your heating burns fossil fuels. If the world is to meet its climate goal of zero net carbon emissions by mid-century, that needs to change – and change fast. “We are two boiler replacements away from 2050,” says researcher Lukas Bergmann of consultancy firm Delta Energy & Environment. It is a huge challenge. In the UK, for example, 85 per cent of homes use natural gas for heating, and a third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions are from heating. Across the world, hundreds of millions of homes, offices and factories will need major, often expensive, upgrades. Many countries have only just begun to notice the problem. “It’s a huge consumer issue,” says Richard Lowes at the University of Exeter in the UK. “Yet if you asked the average person in the street about this, they would have no idea what you are talking about.” The good news is that heating can be greened with existing technology. But can it be greened fast enough? While coal and oil are the worst offenders as heating fuels, even natural gas must go. To help meet the Paris target of limiting warming to well below 2°C, the use of natural gas must be entirely ditched across the European Union by around 2035, according to a study last year co-written by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. “An urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is imperative,” he says. The broad outline of the fix for heating is clear: heat pumps powered by clean electricity in rural and suburban areas, and district heating systems in more densely populated locations.
11-15-18 Antibiotic resistance genes are showing up in Antarctic penguins
Humans have spread antibiotic resistance so far and wide that diverse clusters of microbes with resistance genes are now turning up in the gut microbiome of penguins in Antarctica. Antibiotic-resistance can occur naturally, and microbes with resistance genes have been found in ancient Antarctic soils before. Now we know the microbes are also present in the animals living on those soils. Vanessa Marcelino at the University of Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues compared the diversity of gut microbes carrying antibiotic resistance genes in Gentoo penguins living around two Antarctic bases. Penguins near the busy O’Higgins Base carried more of the genes in their microbiome than those living near the smaller, less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base. “Birds I think are maintaining those genes in the environment and distributing them around,” says Marcelino. The penguins’ microbiomes were examined as part of a broader study into birds that carry microbes with antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers took microbiome samples from 110 ducks and wading birds at sites in Antarctica and Australia. “You swab the bums of the birds,” says Marcelino. RNA sequencing revealed the diversity and expression levels of known antibiotic-resistance genes.
11-15-18 Climate change: Report says 'cut lamb and beef'
The number of sheep and cattle in the UK should be reduced by between a fifth and a half to help combat climate change, a report says. The shift is needed, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) maintains, because beef and lamb produce most farm greenhouse gases. The report foresees an increase in the number of pigs and chickens because these produce less methane. The farm union NFU said it did not agree with reducing livestock numbers. But environmentalists say the recommendations are too timid. The CCC says a 20-50% reduction in beef and lamb pasture could release 3-7m hectares of grassland from the current 12m hectares in the UK. The un-needed grassland could instead grow forests and biofuels that would help to soak up CO2. The committee’s advice on producing less red meat is less radical than NHS Eatwell guidelines on healthy eating, which proposes a reduction in consumption of 89% for beef and 63% for lamb, and a 20% decline in dairy products. BBC News understands that the committee have deliberately taken a more conservative position in order to minimise confrontation with the farmers’ union, the NFU. The chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Chris Stark, told BBC News: “Climate change is going to change the way the UK looks – and we also have to alter the way we use land so we don’t make climate change worse.
11-14-18 Urbanisation made flooding from Hurricane Harvey 21 times as likely
The urbanisation of Houston made Hurricane Harvey dump even more water on the city – because the tall buildings pushed air upwards and caused more rain to fall. Overall, urbanisation increased the flooding risk by a whopping 2100 per cent. The 2017 hurricane caused $125 billion in damage, making it the second costliest tropical storm ever. Now a study has used climate models to compare how much flooding a hurricane like Harvey produces in a virtual version of Houston as it is now, and how much when the city is replaced by farmland. Land covered in vegetation soaks up much of the rain that falls on it. It has long been realised that when roads, buildings and paving replace plants, the water instead flows straight into rivers, meaning the same amount of rain can produce far more flooding downstream. What’s less appreciated is that the presence of high buildings can also increase how much rain falls during a storm. The larger surface “roughness” in urban areas created a “drag effect” on Hurricane Harvey that moved warm surface air further up into the atmosphere, thereby creating conditions favourable for cloud formation and precipitation, says team member Gabriele Villarini at the University of Iowa. “To a certain extent, this is kind of similar to clouds over mountains.” These two factors – higher rainfall and increased run-off – together increased the risk of flooding during Hurricane Harvey 21-fold, the modelling study suggests. Villarini says he cannot say how much each contributed separately. The land around Houston would have been forest and marshes originally, but Villarini thinks the results would have been similar if they had replaced farmland with forests in the models.
11-14-18 South Pole: Rock 'hotspot' causes ice sheet to sag
A "hotspot" is melting the base of the Antarctic Ice Sheet at the South Pole. The area affected is three times that of Greater London. Scientists suspect a combination of unusually radioactive rocks and geothermal springs may be responsible. The warm bedrock is removing some 6mm a year from the underside of the 3km-thick ice sheet, producing a mass of meltwater that then flows away through sub-glacial rivers and lakes towards the continent's coastline. The roughly 100km-by-50km hotspot came to light when researchers examined radar images of the ice sheet at 88 degrees South. This revealed a startling sagging in the ice layers directly above the hotspot. Dr Tom Jordan, from the British Antarctic Survey, and colleagues have detailed the discovery in the journal Scientific Reports. Dr Jordan told BBC News: "We can't be 100% sure because we don't have access to the rocks, but our interpretation is that this heat is coming from granites that contain lots of radioactive elements, such as uranium and potassium. That makes them hotter than you would expect. "But our calculations show this doesn't quite give you enough heat. I think there's a second process. The topography of the bedrock suggests there is faulting and that could allow hot water to circulate up through the rocks, like hot springs." Antarctica is in no danger of melting away as a result of this hotspot. In the grand scheme of things, the area affected and the amount of melting is simply too small to have a significant impact. But the knowledge adds to our understanding of the under-ice hydrology of the continent. There is vast network of sub-glacial rivers and lakes in Antarctica and they influence the way the ice sheet moves above them. Any attempt to model how the frozen landscape might respond to future climate warming has to take account of this water system. The discovery also has a bearing on efforts to drill the most ancient ice on the continent. Scientists are currently looking for places where they could core an unbroken record of snowfall going back more than 1.5 million years. The air bubbles and dust trapped in this ice would provide key insights on the way Earth's atmosphere has changed through time. But any drill site would have to avoid locations with enhanced basal heating because the melting will erase any climate record imprinted in the core.
11-13-18 Climate change may have made the Arctic deadlier for baby shorebirds
What were once relatively safe havens for baby birds are now feasting sites for predators. Climate change may be flipping good Arctic neighborhoods into killing fields for baby birds. Every year, shorebirds migrate thousands of kilometers from their southern winter refuges to reach Arctic breeding grounds. But what was once a safer region for birds that nest on the ground now has higher risks from predators than nesting in the tropics, says Vojtech Kubelka, an evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist at Charles University in Prague. With many shorebird populations dwindling, nest success matters more every year. A longtime fan of shorebirds, Kubelka had heard about regional tests of how predator risk changes by latitude for bird nests. He, however, wanted to go global. Shorebirds make a great group for such a large-scale comparison, he says, because there’s not a lot of variation in how nests look to predators. A feral dog in the United States and a fox in Russia are both creeping up on some variation of a slight depression in the ground. So Kubelka and his colleagues crunched data from decades of records of predator attack rates on about 38,000 nests of various sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds. After a massive literature search, the study zeroed in on the experiences of 237 populations of a total of 111 shorebird species at 149 places on six continents. It’s the first attempt at a global comparison by latitude of predator attack rates on shorebird nests over time, he says. Historical data of predator attack rates worldwide averaged about 43 percent before 1999, but has since reached 57 percent, the team reports in the Nov. 9 Science. The most dramatic upward swoop came from the Arctic nest reports. There, the rate of predator attacks averaged around 40 percent in the last century, jumping to about 65 or 70 percent since 1999. Meanwhile, tropical perils in the Northern Hemisphere changed “only modestly” the researchers say, from around 50 percent to about 55 percent.
11-13-18 Is Saudi Arabia about to spoil one of Trump's favorite talking points?
Don't get used to cheap gas ... One thing President Trump has never lacked is a salesman's ability to hype a deal. And one of the deals Americans most covet is cheap gasoline — which means cheap oil. Since hitting a recent peak of $84 a barrel in early October, oil has plunged around 20 percent in price. True to his nature, Trump has been quick to take credit: "If you look at oil prices, they've come down very substantially over the last couple of months," Trump said last week. "That's because of me." That claim is, at best, debatable. But the president also has more a pressing problem: Saudi Arabia may be about to make oil much more expensive. On Monday, the Saudi oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, said the kingdom would likely have to cut production by around one million barrels a day to keep the price from falling too low. While oil prices are still well below their early-October peak, the news sent them up a noticeable 1.3 percent on Monday. That brought them to just over $71 a barrel. Saudi Arabia has tended to prefer oil prices around $80 a barrel recently — meaning yesterday's announcement signals a longer term tension with the Trump administration. Saudi Arabia doesn't wield the same oil clout it used to. But it's still the second-biggest producer in the world, accounting for 12.7 percent of the global market. Interestingly, the world's biggest producer is now the United States, at 15.3 percent. But U.S. oil production is still more or less market-based. Saudi oil production is state-run and set according to the government’s preferences. On top of that, Saudi Arabia pumps out around a third of all the oil produced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — the international group of state-run oil producers. In short, Saudi Arabia is still the biggest central planner in the oil industry and thus its most powerful decision maker. That's led to a weird passive-aggressive relationship with the U.S. president.
11-13-18 Climate change is here now. We must do something.
We can't ignore it any longer. The death toll from California's devastating Camp Fire has risen to 42, officials announced Monday. This makes it the deadliest wildfire ever in a state that has routinely seen big blazes. Ignore President Trump's tweets blaming state officials for poor forest management. The bigger problem here is climate change. And the horrific death toll is one more piece of evidence in a case that's been building for quite some time: The consequences of a warming planet won't be felt in some far-off future. Climate change is here now, and it is a full-fledged emergency. California has been burning with little respite since the summer. In late July, 14 different fires across the state burned nearly 688,000 acres, destroyed 2,000 structures, and killed 10 people. Now, there are three fires burning, and they are huge. The Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles has burned more than 90,000 acres and left two people dead. The Hill Fire in Ventura County has claimed another 4,500 acres. And of course, The Camp Fire has killed 42 and destroyed 7,000 structures. More than 200 people are missing. As The Washington Post notes, "the Camp Fire tops the Tubbs Fire in its devastation, and the Tubbs Fire, which burned down large swaths of Santa Rosa, set the record less than a year ago." This is no one-off. This is a disaster on top of a disaster. Fires like these are going to keep happening year after year. California Gov. Jerry Brown called this the new abnormal. "And this abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years," he said. "Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they're going to intensify. We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we've got to pull together." Because the climate really is changing. This isn't just anecdotal; we can measure the changes. In California, the days are getting warmer — and the nights are, too. This limits nighttime humidity, which has traditionally made it difficult for big fires to gather strength in the overnight hours. Add to that a declining spring snowmelt and a reduced rainy season, and the result is that California's forests are dry tinder just waiting for a spark. Of course, the damage goes well beyond the California fires. The deadly effects of climate change can be seen around the world. In Florida, sea level rise attributed to climate change has put coastal properties at risk and forced the state and local governments to plan for $4 billion to raise roads, build seawalls, and protect sewage systems. In Alaska, a single village has received a $15 million grant to move its residents to higher ground as rising sea levels and melting permafrost erodes their coastal habitat. Internationally, the number of hungry people grew in 2017 for the third year in a row — a growth scientists attribute to extreme weather events, drought, and other developments brought on by climate change.
11-13-18 California fires: Winds propel fires as death toll rises
Strong winds have been fuelling California's deadly fires as search-and-rescue teams begin the grim task of searching for bodies among the ashes. Winds of up to 40mph (64km/h) are expected throughout Tuesday in the state's south, where the Woolsey Fire is threatening some 57,000 homes. Firefighters in the north are still battling the Camp Fire, which has left at least 42 people dead. Meanwhile, two new fires began in the south on Monday. They started within minutes of each other. The smaller of the two has since been put out, news agency Reuters reports. In the north, the Camp Fire, which has destroyed almost 7,200 homes, surpassed the 1933 Griffith Park disaster to become the deadliest in California's history after 13 more bodies were found, bringing the total killed to 42. The earlier tragedy left 31 dead. Many more people are said to be unaccounted for, with coroner-led search teams preparing to comb the largely incinerated town of Paradise on Tuesday. Three portable morgue, as well as specialist dog units, forensic anthropologists and a "disaster mortuary" have been requested to help with the operation, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Monday. The Woolsey Fire has so far killed two people as it damaged beach resorts including Malibu, a favourite with the rich and famous. More than 300,000 locals have been forced to flee their homes across California. US President Donald Trump has declared a "major disaster" in the state, making federal aid available to affected residents.
11-13-18 Growing demand for oil will lead to shortage and high prices in 2020s
We need to slash greenhouse emissions to limit global warming, the UN warned in October. But the International Energy Agency sees a very different future in its latest report, the World Energy Outlook 2018. Growing energy demand in developing countries will lead to a continued rise in global carbon dioxide emissions. This is even in a “New Policies” scenario in which countries do more than they are doing now to limit emissions, according to the report, which looks at the period up until 2040. “The New Policies Scenario puts energy-related CO2 emissions on a slow upward trend to 2040, a trajectory far out of step with what scientific knowledge says will be required to tackle climate change,” says the report. The biggest growth will be in India, where energy demand will double. Demand in China will grow more slowly but it will still become the biggest consumer of oil in the world. In fact, the continued growth in global demand for oil will lead to shortages and a price spike in the 2020s unless more new oil projects get the go-ahead. “The risk of a supply crunch looms largest in oil,” the report warns. The world is also not on course to meet its sustainable development goals. By 2030, 650 million people will still lack electricity and more than 2 billion will still be cooking with solid fuels, with many continuing to die from air pollution.Globally, devices connected to the internet will help drive a relentless growth in electricity demand, the report says. There is great uncertainty regarding bitcoin mining and autonomous vehicles, which could drive growth even higher. Critics say the IEA’s reports have consistently underestimated growth in renewables. The IEA says the purpose of its reports is to show where existing and proposed policies will take us so governments can see what else needs to be done. And it’s still gloomy about renewables. Even though solar panels are cheaper than ever, the report says there are signs that near-term deployment of new solar capacity might be slowing.
11-13-18 Climate change: Heatwaves 'halve' male insect fertility
Heatwaves can damage the sperm of insects and make them almost sterile, according to new research. Scientists exposed beetles to experimental heatwaves in the laboratory, which resulted in reduced male fertility. The effects could be passed down to the beetles' offspring. Further work could shed light on whether climate change is a factor behind mass declines in insect populations, say researchers. Climate change is affecting biodiversity around the world, but the drivers remain poorly understood. "We don't know whether this explains the widely-recognised collapse in insect biodiversity and abundance, but limits on your ability to reproduce certainly isn't going to help," Prof Matt Gage of the University of East Anglia, which led the study, told BBC News. Researchers studied beetles because their 400,000 species represent about a quarter of all known animal species. A massive decline in insects could have significant consequences for the environment. A recent study in Germany found flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. Similar effects have been seen in the rainforest of Puerto Rico. The new research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing red flour beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters, while females were unaffected. Heatwaves halved the amount of offspring males could produce, and a second heatwave almost sterilised males. Kirs Sales, a co-researcher on the study, said: "Our research shows that heatwaves halve male reproductive fitness, and it was surprising how consistent the effect was." Other research has shown that heat can damage male reproduction in humans as well as other mammals. Heatwaves are predicted to become more common under climate change, with consequences for human and animal health.
11-12-18 Climate change protests leads to '22 arrests' over blockade
Environment activists who have blockaded the UK's energy department in London say 22 people have been arrested during the protest. The Met Police confirmed at least eight protestors have been detained. The UK is seen as a leader in policies to reduce greenhouse gases and will soon be considering tougher targets. But the protesters say research suggests the chance of keeping the global temperature rise under a 2C danger threshold is just one in 20. The demonstrators blocked entry to the offices by lying chained together on the pavement, while some glued themselves to the doors of the department building. Further protests are planned through the week and the demonstrators believe the public will take them seriously, as they are willing to go to jail for their cause. They compare themselves with the suffragettes, the anti-apartheid movement, the followers of Gandhi, and the US civil rights movement, although their critics point out that these groups didn't have the vote. They have declared Saturday as Extinction Rebellion Day – the day they’ll commit acts of civil disobedience in the hope of jolting governments round the world into stronger action. One of the protesters, Gail Bradbrook - a mother of two from Stroud - said: “I want the planet protected for my children. “Change comes when people are willing to commit acts of peaceful civil disobedience. “Fifty people in jail for a short time is likely to bring the ecological crisis into the public consciousness.” The first mass meeting of the organisation last month drew 1,000 people to Westminster and blocked roads for two hours. There were 15 arrests. The organisers insist that this week’s actions will be non-violent. They say if protesters commit an illegal act, they must stay on the spot to face the police.
11-12-18 Car tires and brake pads produce harmful microplastics
These particles can end up in bodies of freshwater and, eventually, the ocean. There’s a big problem where the rubber meets the road: microplastics. Scientists analyzed more than 500 small particles pulled from the air around three busy German highways, and found that the vast majority — 89 percent — came from vehicle tires, brake systems and roads themselves. All together, these particles are classified by the researchers as microplastics, though they include materials other than plastic. Those particles get blown by wind and washed by rain into waterways that lead to the ocean, where the debris can harm aquatic animals and fragile ecosystems, says environmental scientist Reto Gieré of the University of Pennsylvania. He presented the findings on November 6 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Indianapolis. Previous research has estimated that about 30 percent of the volume of microplastics polluting oceans, lakes and rivers come from tire wear. “We all want to reduce CO2 emissions” from vehicle exhaust, Gieré says. “But you can’t stop tire abrasion.” Traffic congestion makes the problem worse. Vehicles traveling at constant speeds, without so much brake use, produced fewer particles, the researchers found. Because some materials, including synthetic rubber, become coated in dust and other tinier bits of debris, they’re not always easy to identify. The researchers figured out what each particle was by examining each of them under a scanning electron microscope and running chemical analyses.
11-12-18 California wildfires: Death toll reaches grim milestone
The death toll in wildfires sweeping California has risen to 31, with more than 200 people still missing, officials have said. Six more people were confirmed killed in the Camp Fire in the north of the state, taking the toll there to 29. That fire now equals the deadliest on record in California - the 1933 Griffith Park disaster in Los Angeles. In the south, the Woolsey Fire has claimed two lives as it damaged beach resorts including Malibu. An estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. With strengthening winds threatening to spread the flames, California Governor Jerry Brown has urged President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster, a move that would harness more federal emergency funds. The appeal came a day after Mr Trump threatened to cut funding for California, blaming the fires on poor forest management. Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, called the president's comments "reckless and insulting".
11-12-18 In pictures: The animals caught in California's wildfires
As deadly wildfires burn across California, communities are counting the toll in not just human losses, but in wildlife and household pets too. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that animal owners in at-risk areas have evacuation plans for animals in place, but because of how urgent some orders were, many were unable to return home for their pets and other animals. Residents have been using social media to spread images of their lost animals around the internet. Dedicated accounts, groups and hashtags have also been set up by online volunteers to help reunite pets with their owners. As tens of thousands of acres burn cross the state, images have emerged of animals being evacuated. On Friday, some residents living close to the Woolsey Fire ravaging the Malibu area took their large animals down to a local beach for protection. Local fire officials opened up Zuma Beach as an evacuation point for large animals, leading to surreal scenes on the usual spot for tourists. Wally Skahlij, a photographer for the Los Angeles Times, took a set of striking photographs on the beach, including one of an owl resting in the sand as the fire engulfed the skyline. Actress Alyssa Milano appealed to her Twitter followers on Friday to try and get help for her five horses to safety. (Webmaster's comment: Thousands of pets and wild animals have died. They are ill-prepared for this kind of disaster.)
11-11-18 Arctic permafrost is starting to thaw. Here's why you should care.
Scientists are exploring how climate change is affecting not just the ice, but our human ways of life. Nyzell and her colleague Jenny Gåling are master's students at Stockholm University. They're here in Abisko, Sweden, to study Arctic permafrost — soil that's been frozen year-round for at least two years — and the gases that seep out into the atmosphere when it thaws. Specifically, they're measuring the gas bubbling up from sediment in lakes like this one, which dots the landscape here. These scientists love the research process and the places it takes them — places like this lake. But the data they're collecting tells a very sobering story. One of the main gases bubbling up and out of this lake is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. As our human-caused carbon pollution causes the planet to heat up, that warming is thawing out Arctic permafrost, which, in turn, is triggering an increase in natural carbon emissions from places like this. In other words, all around the Arctic, climate change caused by human pollution is causing even more of the same greenhouse gases to move from once-frozen soil into the atmosphere. For researchers around the world, that is a very frightening change, because there is a lot of carbon in that soil. "The amount of the amount of carbon that's stored in [Arctic permafrost soil], it's twice the amount that we have in the atmosphere," says Joachim Jansen, lead researcher on this project and a doctoral student at Stockholm University. "And so if that will all be released into the atmosphere, that would mean a huge climatic change." Nobody knows how much of that carbon will actually end up in the atmosphere or how quickly. That's why these researchers are here.
11-11-18 California wildfires: Death toll rises to 25
The death toll in the wildfires raging through California has risen to 25, according to officials. This comes after 14 more bodies were discovered in or near the decimated town of Paradise in the state's north, bringing the number of confirmed dead there to 23. Two more people were killed in the south, near Malibu. An estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has drawn anger by saying that poor forestry management is to blame for the fires. (Webmaster's comment: No matter what Trump says, it's Global Warming that contributes to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.)
11-10-18 California wildfires: 250,000 flee monster flames ravaging state
At least nine people have died in the most destructive wildfires ripping through north and south California. More than 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. Firefighters were powerless in stopping a wildfire destroying the northern town of Paradise, where 35 people are missing. A raging wildfire swept into the southern beach resort of Malibu - home to many Hollywood stars - on Friday. Among the towns under evacuation orders is Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people in a rampage on Wednesday. Authorities say the Camp Fire in the north and the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire in the south are being fanned by strong winds and dry forests. "The magnitude of the destruction of the fire is unbelievable and heartbreaking," said Mark Ghilarducci, of the California governor's office. President Trump has responded by blaming what he called gross mismanagement of the forests and warned of funding cuts. Meteorologists have warned that dangerous conditions may continue well into next week. Where is the Woolsey Fire? The blaze started on Thursday near Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles (64km) north-west of central Los Angeles. Another blaze, the Hill Fire, started at about the same time, also near Thousand Oaks. n Friday, the flames jumped Highway 101 and headed into coastal areas. The fire now covers an area of about 35,000 acres (14,150 hectares). "Fire is now burning out of control and heading into populated areas of Malibu," town officials said in a statement. "All residents must evacuate immediately."
11-9-18 Climate Change: Arctic 'no safe harbour' for breeding birds
The Arctic is no longer the safe haven it once was for nesting birds, a new scientific report warns. Having nests raided by predators is a bigger threat for birds flocking to breed than in the past, it shows. This raises the risk of extinction for birds on Arctic shores, say researchers. They point to a link with climate change, which may be changing the behaviour and habitat of animals, such as foxes, which steal eggs. Prof Tamás Székely of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, UK, described the findings as "alarming". For critically endangered species such as the spoonbill sandpiper, this could be "the last nail in the coffin", he said. "We're seeing the sad implication of climate change," Prof Székely told BBC News, "because our data show that the impact of climate change is involved, driving increased nest predation among these shorebirds - sandpipers, plovers and the likes." Shore birds breed on the ground; their eggs and offspring are exposed, where they can fall prey to predators such as snakes, lizards and foxes. The researchers looked at data collected over 70 years for more than 38,000 nests of 200 bird species, including 111 shore birds, in 149 locations on all continents. They compared data on climate and bird populations and found a link between nest predation and climate change on a global scale, but particularly in the Arctic. Rates of daily nest predation in the Arctic have increased three-fold in the last 70 years. A two-fold increase was found in Europe, most of Asia and North America, while a smaller change was observed in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. Although climate change is thought to be a key driver, the precise mechanisms are unclear, and other factors can't be ruled out.
11-9-18 Antarctic: Nasa shares close-up photos of big PIG iceberg
Scientists this week got their first close-up look at the big new iceberg that's calved from Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in the Antarctic. The block, which has the designation B-46, initially covered 225 sq km. Given the fashion in recent years to compare such bergs with the area of Manhattan Island, that would have made this one roughly three times the size of the famous district in New York. But the Nasa over-flight on Wednesday shows the berg is already breaking up. The US space agency DC-8 was on a routine expedition as part of the IceBridge project, which measures the elevation of ice surfaces with a laser. Researchers onboard were able to point their cameras out the windows of the aircraft and capture some of the scale and beauty of the frozen scene below. The PIG drains a vast area of west Antarctica that is roughly equivalent to two-thirds the area of the UK. The glacier regularly calves large chunks from its floating front, or shelf, which pushes out into the Amundsen Sea. This particular berg came away in October and was first noticed by satellites. The production of bergs at the forward edge of an ice shelf is part of a very natural process. It is how a glacier system like Pine Island maintains equilibrium: the ejection of bergs inevitably follows the accumulation of snowfall inland. That said, the PIG has come under close scrutiny because it has shown evidence of thinning and acceleration. Long-term satellite studies indicate that it has been dumping considerable volumes of ice into Amundsen Bay, pushing up global sea levels.
11-9-18 Keystone XL Pipeline: US judge orders halt on construction
A United States judge has blocked the construction of a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the US. The judge in the state of Montana said the Trump administration had "discarded" facts when it approved the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2017. It had been rejected two years earlier by the Obama administration, mainly on environmental grounds. Speaking outside the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump said the ruling was a disgrace. The state department has now been ordered to do a more thorough review of the effect on issues like the climate. The administration can appeal against the decision. But groups that have been seeking to block the $8bn (£6bn) project are celebrating. Doug Hayes, a lawyer for the Sierra Club environmental group, said the ruling made clear it was time to give up on the "Keystone XL pipe dream". "The Trump administration tried to force this dirty pipeline project on the American people, but they can't ignore the threats it would pose to our clean water, our climate, and our communities," Mr Hayes added. The privately financed pipeline is projected to stretch 1,179-miles (1,897km) from the oil sands of Canada's Alberta province, through Montana and South Dakota, to rejoin an existing pipeline to Texas. But it has been the subject of protests for more than a decade, both from environmentalists and Native American groups, who say it will cut through their sovereign lands. Mr Obama rejected the scheme in 2015 following a recommendation from the Environmental Protection Agency, citing concerns over it increasing US dependence on fossil fuel. However, President Donald Trump reversed the decision shortly after taking office, saying it would bring thousands of jobs. Construction on the US section was due to begin next year.
11-9-18 Could these balls help reduce plastic pollution?
Concern is mounting over the volume of plastics in our oceans and, in particular, how tiny particles of plastic and other synthetic materials are infiltrating every part of our ecosystem. Can technology help address the problem? In October 2009, windsurfing teacher Rachael Miller went to help clean up an island off the coast of Maine in the north-east of the US. There had been a heavy storm and "we found the beach covered in debris", she says, mostly washed up plastic fishing gear. Her husband was incensed. "Marine debris is one of the few things that really make me angry," he said. So Ms Miller, who had studied marine archaeology, decided to devote herself to keeping plastics from ever reaching the ocean.In April, she began selling a special gadget for capturing those tiny bits of synthetic material - called microfibres - that come off our clothes in the wash. Four inches (10cm) in diameter and made from recycled rubber, the Cora Ball imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash.Customers on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter pre-ordered 15,500 of these in 2017.Cora Ball is one of several small start-ups working to keep microplastics and other microfibres out of the water system. The shocking truth is that we could be ingesting 11,000 pieces of plastic a year just through eating shellfish, says Ghent University's Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe. It's a pollution we all contribute to when we wash our clothes. Up to 700,000 microfibres can shed from a typical 6kg (13lb) household load, says Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral marine science researcher at the University of Plymouth in the UK. And a sizable minority can make it into the ocean. So laundry is turning oceans into "a big plastic soup", says Ms Napper.
11-9-18 Delhi air: Eating berries and wearing masks to beat pollution
Every winter, a thick blanket of smog descends on large parts of India and people begin a losing fight against the frightening levels of pollution. Thousands land up in doctors' clinics with breathlessness, fill up hospital beds with lung problems and many are forced to stay off school or work. And with measures announced by the federal and state governments to curb pollution not making any impact, many are finding their own ways of coping. Here are some of the most popular ways Indians try to beat pollution - but do any of them really work? A quick search on Amazon India for air purifiers throws up more than 2,000 results and a cursory glance shows they are not cheap. But in the past few years, many Indians have begun investing in indoor air purifiers in the belief that they will help improve the air quality. In March, a report said the government had bought a total of 140 purifiers to ensure that officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could breathe easy. But are they effective? "Air purifiers work only in an environment that's totally sealed," says Dr Karan Madan, associate professor of pulmonary medicine at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital. So every time you open a door or a window in your home "the indoor air quality immediately mimics the outdoor air quality" - simply put, if the pollution levels outdoors are high, they'll instantly become high indoors too. And the question then is: can you sit pretty much all the time in a room that's completely shut off? "It's not really practical," says Dr Madan.
11-9-18 Iran’s imprisoned conservationists need scientists to speak up
Only science can check Iran’s crackdown on environmentalists, says Kaveh Madani. EARLIER this year, nine Iranian conservationists were arrested by the country’s Revolutionary Guards on charges of espionage. Members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, they are accused of using camera traps to monitor Iran’s ballistic missile programme, collecting sensitive data for “hostile nations”. One of them, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in prison in February. It was reported to be suicide, although his family strongly disputes that. Four have been charged with “corruption on Earth”, which can carry the death penalty under Islamic sharia law. I am an environmentalist myself. At the government’s invitation, I returned to Iran after 14 years to serve as deputy head of its environment department. But just seven months later I went into hiding with my wife, after being arrested, detained and interrogated many times. I was called a bioterrorist, water terrorist and spy for MI6, Mossad and the CIA. The Revolutionary Guards even claimed I was manipulating the weather to create a drought. They criticised me for supporting the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, saying it would limit economic growth.“The Revolutionary Guards claimed that I was manipulating the weather to create a drought”
11-7-18 Destroying a type of cloud may help stabilise climate change
If we ever get desperate enough to try artificially cooling the planet to slow global warming, we might want to think about modifying cirrus clouds. Thinning out these feathery, high-altitude clouds could cool the climate while having a relatively small effect on rainfall. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, scientists are increasingly researching geoengineering: methods to artificially cool the climate. Many of these techniques involve reflecting some of the Sun’s radiation back into space, offsetting the warming effect of greenhouse gases. For example, we could inject aerosol particles into the stratosphere, mimicking the cooling effect of a volcanic eruption. However, tinkering with the climate could have nasty side-effects, triggering droughts in some regions, for instance. So climatologists are trying to figure out how the various methods will play out in practice. Long Cao of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China and his colleagues modelled three geoengineering methods: pumping aerosols in the stratosphere; “marine cloud brightening”, in which low-level clouds over the sea are made whiter and therefore more reflective; and “cirrus cloud thinning”, which reduces the coverage and thickness of high-level cirrus clouds. Cirrus cloud thinning is a relatively new idea, first proposed in 2009. Cirrus clouds are made of tiny ice crystals, so the idea is to spray powder into the air from planes. Ice crystals will form around each grain of powder and become so heavy that they fall, reducing the amount of cirrus.(Webmaster's comment: Talk about grasping a straws! The only thing that's going to work is cutting down bigtime on the CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere!)
11-7-18 Brazil’s next president threatens the people and forests of the Amazon
Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election could be a disaster for the Amazon, but his opponents can unite, say Mary Menton and Felipe Milanez. JAIR BOLSONARO will be the next president of Brazil. He has been labelled a fascist and a threat to human rights; The New Yorker called him “part Donald Trump, part Rodrigo Duterte“. Soon after his victory at the polls, Bolsonaro announced that he would combine the ministries of environment and agriculture, effectively removing the normal checks and balances that help protect Amazonian forests. The country’s National Institute for Space Research estimates that deforestation in Brazil could increase by 268 per cent if Bolsonaro’s policies are all carried out. In the light of this, plus his promise that Brazil will leave the Paris Agreement to limit climate change and renege on commitments to reduce deforestation, his presidency is a matter of global concern. We join many others in being deeply concerned about what his election will mean for Brazil and the people and forests of the Amazon. Indigenous territories in the Amazon have long acted as a buffer against the expansion of agriculture and logging, as well as preventing the development of mining sites. We worry that Bolsonaro sees indigenous peoples and their communally held territories, covering 25 per cent of the Amazon, as a barrier to development. He has said that he supports policies to “emancipate” them. This reflects his nostalgia for the military dictatorship, and his desire to revive its programme to derecognise collective rights and instead individualise indignous land rights. This would allow individuals to sell their lands and open them up to “development”.
11-7-18 Climate change: Bug covered 'bionic mushroom' generates clean energy
US researchers have successfully tested the rather whacky idea of producing electricity from a mushroom covered in bacteria. The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom. The fungus provided the ideal environment to allow the cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of power. The authors say their fossil-free "bionic mushroom" could have great potential. As researchers the world over search for alternative energy sources, there has been a sharp rise in interest in cyanobacteria. These organisms, widely found in the oceans and on land, are being investigated for their abilities to turn sunlight into electrical current. One big problem is that they do not survive long enough on artificial surfaces to be able to deliver on their power potential. That's where the humble button mushroom comes in. This fertile fungus is already home to many other forms of bacterial life, providing an attractive array of nutrients, moisture and temperature. So the scientists from the Stevens Institute of Technology in the US developed a clever method of marrying the mushroom to the sparky bugs. Appropriately enough, they came up with the idea while having lunch! "One day my friends and I went to lunch together and we ordered some mushrooms," said Sudeep Joshi, a postdoctoral researcher and author of the study. "As we discussed them we realised they have a rich microbiota of their own, so we thought why not use the mushrooms as a support for the cynaobacteria. We thought let's merge them and see what happens."
11-6-18 More than 60 prescription drugs are getting into river foodchains
Over 60 common pharmaceuticals have been found in river-dwelling wildlife in Australia, highlighting the need for better wastewater treatment strategies. When we take a drug, a portion sometimes passes through us intact and goes down the toilet. But as most medications are not removed during sewage treatment, they often end up in waterways. To find out if pharmaceutical waste then finds its way into aquatic creatures, Erinn Richmond at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and her colleagues sampled flies, beetles, spiders and other insects from six waterways in the greater Melbourne region. The sites varied from a treated sewage run-off stream to a river in a national park. The researchers detected 69 medications in the insects, including antidepressants, painkillers, antibiotics, and blood pressure-lowering agents. The highest levels were found in insects near wastewater plants, but low levels were also detected in those from more pristine areas. River-borne pharmaceuticals most likely accumulate in flies and beetles while they are underwater larvae, then transfer to spiders that feed on them after they emerge as adults, says Richmond. Other predators like fish, platypuses, birds, bats and frogs may also become cross-contaminated, she says. (Webmaster's comment: And with 7.7 billion people dumping these pharmaceuticals into our water supply this problem is HUGE!)
11-2-18 Weather: UK experiencing hotter days and 'tropical nights' - Met Office
The UK has experienced more weather extremes over the last 10 years when compared with previous decades, a Met Office report has said. The hottest days have become almost 1C hotter, warm spells have increased, while the coldest days are not as cold. The number of so-called tropical nights - when temperatures stay above 20C - is increasing. The Met Office says these changes are consistent with warming driven by human activities. The new study compares UK weather data from the period 1961-1990 with the 10 years between 2008 and 2017. The study finds that on average the hottest day in each year over the recent 10-year period is 0.8C warmer than it was when compared to the earlier decades. The coldest days and nights have also become warmer, with temperatures on average 1.7C milder in recent years. To illustrate just how mild temperatures have been between 2008 and 2017, the report says that a significant area inland from the UK coast had, on average, less than one day per year with temperatures below zero. (Webmaster's comment: The same thing is happening in the United States BUT WE DARE NOT REPORT IT!)
11-2-18 Lengthy warm spells and heavy rainfall are on the rise in the UK
Warm spells and tropical nights are on the rise in the UK as the climate changes, says a report from the Met Office. The duration of warm spells, when temperatures are well above average for the time of year, has more than doubled between the periods 1961 -1990 and 2008 to 2017. Scorching summer days are getting hotter, with the hottest day of each year in the most recent decade on average 0.8°C warmer than each year’s hottest days in the period 1961-1990. The chilliest extremes of the year are not quite as biting as they were in the past, with the lowest temperature of the year 1.7°C milder in the last decade than it was in the three decades up to 1990. Tropical nights — where minimum temperatures do not fall below 20°C — are still rare in the UK, and are largely confined to southern England. But they included in the report as they are likely to become more common in the future as climate change becomes more pronounced. The report finds that while the 1976 heatwave is one of the most significant heatwaves for the UK, tropical nights only really start to stand out after 1995. Between 2008 and 2017 a cluster of tropical nights were recorded in the South East, the Midlands and South Wales. Heavy rainfall is also on the increase, with extremely wet days up 17 per cent in the period 2008-2017, compared to 1961-1990.
11-2-18 Pacific island to ban some sun creams in a bid to save its coral reefs
The Pacific nation of Palau will soon ban many types of sunscreen in an attempt to protect coral reefs. President Tommy Remengesau Jr last week signed legislation that bans “reef-toxic” sunscreen from 2020. Banned sunscreens will be confiscated from tourists who carry them into the country, and merchants selling the banned products will be fined up $1,000. The law defines reef-toxic sunscreen as containing any one of 10 chemicals, including oxybenzone, and states that other chemicals may also be banned. The legislation also requires tour operators to start providing customers with reusable cups, straws and food containers. Remengesau said a big impetus for the ban was a 2017 report which found that sunscreen products were widespread in Palau’s famed Jellyfish Lake, which was closed for more than a year due to declining jellyfish numbers before being recently reopened. He noted findings that “plastic waste, chemical pollution, resource overconsumption, and climate change all continue to threaten the health of our pristine paradise”. Palau’s ban comes after Hawaii in July banned the sale of sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from 2021 in an attempt to protect its reefs. In Hawaii, however, tourists will still be able to bring the banned sunscreen with them into the state or buy it there if they have a doctor’s prescription.
11-1-18 Climate change: Oceans 'soaking up more heat than estimated'
The world has seriously underestimated the amount of heat soaked up by our oceans over the past 25 years, researchers say.. Their study suggests that the seas have absorbed 60% more than previously thought. They say it means the Earth is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions than estimated. This could make it much more difficult to keep global warming within safe levels this century. According to the last major assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's oceans have taken up over 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. But this new study says that every year, for the past 25 years, we have put about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally into the seas - 60% more than previous estimates. That's a big problem. Scientists base their predictions about how much the Earth is warming by adding up all the excess heat that is produced by the known amount of greenhouse gases that have been emitted by human activities. This new calculation shows that far more heat than we thought has been going into oceans. But it also means that far more heat than we thought has been generated by the warming gases we have emitted. Therefore more heat from the same amount of gas means the Earth is more sensitive to CO2. The researchers involved in the study believe the new finding will make it much harder to keep within the temperature rise targets set by governments in the Paris agreement. Recently the IPCC spelled out clearly the benefits to the world of keeping below the lower goal of 1.5C relative to pre-industrial levels. This new study says that will be very difficult indeed.
11-1-18 Is the Arctic set to become a main shipping route?
Climate change is increasingly opening up the Northwest Passage, an Arctic sea route north of the Canadian mainland. Could it herald an era of more cargo shipping around the top of the world? Back in the 19th Century there was a race to map and navigate the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean as a shortcut between the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Explorers would take ships up Greenland's west coast, then try to weave through Canada's Arctic islands, before going down the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. The problem was that even in the summer the route was mostly blocked by impenetrable ice. On one of the best-known expeditions - that of the UK's Sir John Franklin in 1845 - all 129 crew members perished after their two vessels got stuck. Today, more than 170 years later, a warming Arctic means that the route is increasingly accessible for a few months each summer. According to some estimates, Arctic ice is retreating to the extent that the Northwest Passage could become an economically viable shipping route. For shipping firms transporting goods from China or Japan to Europe or the east coast of the US, the passage would cut thousands of miles off journeys that currently go via the Panama or Suez canals. The Canadian government is certainly hopeful that this will be the case. Late last month the country's trade minister Jim Carr said that the route "will in a matter of a generation, probably be available year round". At the moment it is still a risky business, with ice remaining a serious problem. But in 2014 the Nunavik became the first cargo ship to transverse the passage unescorted when it delivered nickel from the Canadian province of Quebec to China.
11-1-18 Coral: Palau to ban sunscreen products to protect reefs
Palau is set to become the first country to impose a widespread ban on sunscreen in an effort to protect its vulnerable coral reefs. The government has signed a law that restricts the sale and use of sunscreen and skincare products that contain a list of ten different chemicals. Researchers believe that these ingredients are highly toxic to marine life, and can make coral more susceptible to bleaching. The ban comes into force in 2020. In a statement, Palau's president Tommy Remengesau said the ban, which would see fines of $1,000 for retailers who violated the law, was timely. "The power to confiscate sunscreens should be enough to deter their non-commercial use, and these provisions walk a smart balance between educating tourists and scaring them away." Scientists have been raising concerns about the impacts of sunscreen products on marine life for many years. They are particularly worried over the role of two ingredients called oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are used as sun protection factors in sun creams as they absorb ultraviolet light. However they are believed to make coral more susceptible to bleaching. Research published in 2015 showed that the oxybenzone could stunt the growth of baby corals and was toxic to several different coral species in laboratory tests. "Oxybenxzone is probably the baddest actor out of the 10 chemicals that have been banned," said Dr Craig Downs, an expert on the impacts of sunscreens on marine life. "It causes corals to bleach at lower temperatures, and it reduces their resilience to climate change." Dr Downs says that when there's a disastrous event like mass coral bleaching, reefs should recover over the following years. That has not been happening in many parts of the world.