9-15-19 This Antarctic robot can provide insight on climate change and life beyond Earth
Meet Icefin. ritney Schmidt, an astrobiologist, sat in a small yellow tent, carefully studying the handful of monitors set up before her. They displayed a live-stream of telemetry data, sonar readings, and a video feed from a robotic vehicle exploring the oceanic underbelly of Antarctica's ice near the United States' McMurdo Station. The exploration is part of an effort to ultimately search for life in the alien ocean of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. The mission will also help us understand the physics of melting glaciers, and prepare for sea-level rise. Europa has an ocean that covers the whole globe and is capped by a thick layer of ice. It is one of the spots humans are most likely to find life beyond Earth. The ice-covered ocean in Antarctica is an apt testing ground for technology we might one day send to Europa. Schmidt and her Georgia Tech team launched the robotic vehicle, named Icefin, through a hole in the 12-foot-thick layer of ice covering the ocean below. The video feed shows a wall of ice stretching down into the abyss. This is the underside of the Erebus Glacier Tongue, a glacier that flows off the nearby land, plows into the frozen ocean, and plunges 1,000 feet down into the water. Every once in a while, some of Antarctica's wondrous marine life swims past. It's an otherworldly environment — and that is exactly the point. "Europa is kind of the reason I get up in the morning," Schmidt said. "Because I'm interested in the question of, 'is there life beyond Earth?'" But Icefin itself will not go to Europa, and any robotic mission to the Jovian moon is probably decades away. While Icefin's great-great-grandchild may become an interplanetary explorer, Icefin itself is tackling another, more immediate, scientific challenge: understanding melting glaciers. Glaciers around the world are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. According to a recent study, 335 billion tons of glacial ice is lost each year, amounting to about 0.04 inches of sea-level rise per year. Just in August, Iceland held a funeral for the first of its glaciers to be lost to global warming. Now, as the ocean warms, its role in melting glaciers from below is the subject of intense research. Schmidt directs Icefin toward a critical juncture underneath the glacier: the grounding line. This is where the glacier lifts off the seabed and starts to float on the ocean. "That's the most dynamic part of the climate system," Schmidt said. "As the ocean warms up, it's eroding that place. And then the grounding line moves back over time and that can make the whole thing unstable." But the grounding line is also deep below the ice, far out of reach of divers and boats. This robot, however, even if still wearing its space-explorer training wheels, is able to reach it.
9-15-19 Microplastics may stop hermit crabs from choosing the best home
Microplastics appear to disrupt the ability of hermit crabs to choose a good home, suggesting pollution in the oceans may harm the species. Up to 10 per cent of the plastics we use end up in the oceans. Much of it breaks down into tiny particles, known as microplastics, which are bad news for marine life. When ingested by filter feeders, fish and other organisms, they can have detrimental effects on health and reproductive success. But few studies have explored how microplastics might influence behaviour. A key decision for hermit crabs is choosing when to abandon their shell and move into a new, bigger one. If microplastics in the water influence the crabs’ cognition you would expect them to take longer to move into a better shell and change shells less often. To test this idea, Andrew Crump and colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast took 64 hermit crabs from around the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, half of which were left for five days in a 4 litre tank containing 50 grams of microplastics. The team removed each crab from its shell, gave it one that was 50 per cent too small, and placed it in an observation chamber with an empty shell of just the right size. Crabs exposed to the microplastics were around half as likely to enter the new shell after 45 minutes as those not exposed. “Maybe microplastics reduced their ability to sense the shell,” says Crump, who presented the research at a conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour in Konstanz, Germany, last month. The impact in the wild may not be as drastic as seen in the experiments, as the concentration of microplastics Crump and his team used was much higher than in the natural environment.
9-14-19 New storm to hit Bahamas two weeks after Hurricane Dorian
A new storm is threatening the Bahamas just two weeks after Hurricane Dorian tore through part of the islands. Tropical Depression Nine strengthened into Tropical Storm Humberto on Friday night. It is currently moving towards Great Abaco, one of the islands worst hit by Dorian. About 1,300 people are missing in the Bahamas following the hurricane, while at least 15,000 are in need of shelter, food and medical care. At 09:00GMT, the US National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 70 miles (110km) east of Great Abaco, with maximum sustained winds of 40mph (65km/h). It was moving north-west at about 7mph and was expected to pass near or over the north-western Bahamas on Saturday and be off the Florida coast later in the weekend. Humberto is expected to bring rainfall of up to 15cm (6in) in some areas of the Bahamas, although no significant storm surge is threatened. The BBC Weather service has advised that Humberto could strengthen into another hurricane over the coming days, although this is not likely to happen until it has passed over the Bahamas. Carl Smith, from the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (Nema), told reporters the storm could hinder the ongoing search for missing people, as well as efforts to get essential supplies to Grand Bahama and Great Abaco - the worst hit islands. "I hope it does not disrupt it," he said. "We have taken precautionary measures to address the potential impact that we may encounter." Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas earlier this month, killing at least 50 people. As the clean-up operation continues, the death toll is expected to rise. Dorian was packing sustained winds of 295km/h (185mph) when it made landfall at Elbow Cay on the Abacos on 1 September. It equalled the highest winds ever recorded for a hurricane at landfall when it struck the Abaco Islands.
9-13-19 Climate change: Electrical industry's 'dirty secret' boosts warming
It's the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, and emissions have risen rapidly in recent years, the BBC has learned. Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, is widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents. But leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the EU in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road. Levels are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom. Cheap and non-flammable, SF6 is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It makes a hugely effective insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations. It is widely used across the industry, from large power stations to wind turbines to electrical sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires. However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). Just one kilogram of SF6 warms the Earth to the same extent as 24 people flying London to New York return. It also persists in the atmosphere for a long time, warming the Earth for at least 1,000 years. The way we make electricity around the world is changing rapidly. Where once large coal-fired power stations brought energy to millions, the drive to combat climate change means they are now being replaced by mixed sources of power including wind, solar and gas. This has resulted in many more connections to the electricity grid, and a rise in the number of electrical switches and circuit breakers that are needed to prevent serious accidents. Collectively, these safety devices are called switchgear. The vast majority use SF6 gas to quench arcs and stop short circuits. "As renewable projects are getting bigger and bigger, we have had to use it within wind turbines specifically," said Costa Pirgousis, an engineer with Scottish Power Renewables on its new East Anglia wind farm, which doesn't use SF6 in turbines.
9-13-19 Climate change may be throwing coral sex out of sync
Spawning is out of whack for at least three species in the Red Sea, researchers say. Bad timing for coral sex might be an underappreciated threat of climate change. Spawning is out of sync for at least three widespread coral species in the Red Sea, says Tom Shlesinger, a marine biologist at Tel Aviv University. And warmer seawater temperatures could be playing a role. Records from the 1980s suggest that whole swaths of corals from particular species typically let colorful egg-sperm bundles float out of their tiny mouths and up into the water on the same few nights a year, Shlesinger says. Released in a big synchronized cloud, the sex cells separate from one another, gaining a chance at fertilization during the brief time that they survive on their own in seawater. It’s “a wonder of nature,” he says. But after four years of recent monitoring, Shlesinger argues that three of the five species studied no longer tightly synchronize their species-wide gamete releases. And few if any new colonies of these kinds of corals are showing up in recent surveys, so the species might dwindle away in the region, Shlesinger and Yossi Loya, also at Tel Aviv University, warn in the Sept. 6 Science. Shlesinger didn’t set out to compare local spawning synchrony. But “it’s something that kind of grabbed me,” he says. After realizing some corals weren’t spawning when expected, “I started going to the sea at night.” By the second year of his questing, he was snorkeling or diving several hours a night during spawning months. Some 150 species of corals mingle in the long, narrow gulf of the Red Sea that stretches northeast past Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where more than 100 coral species can release their gametes together on the same night, the Red Sea’s corals spawn one species or a few at a time on their own special nights.
9-13-19 Plastic packaging: How are supermarkets doing?
Bunches of bananas wrapped in plastic. A pre-peeled orange in a plastic box. Shrink-wrapped cucumbers. Over-packaged food has been bothering shoppers for years and supermarkets have responded by looking for alternatives to all that plastic. But now MPs are saying that the UK needs to move away from all single-use packaging - not just plastic. Using aluminium, glass, paper or compostable plastics as an alternative also has an environmental impact, potentially pushing up energy use and carbon emissions, says a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It says reuse and refill schemes could be part of the solution and wants the government to consider whether official intervention could encourage more shops to offer refillable options. Here we look at how six leading supermarkets are tackling the packaging problem.
9-13-19 Why we are worse than Brazil
Everyone has been shrieking about Brazil’s poor stewardship of the burning Amazon, said Arno Kopecky, but Canada deserves just as much ire. This country has the second-largest intact forest on Earth after the Amazon, and we are wantonly destroying it. The boreal, as it’s called, has been emitting more carbon than it absorbs since 2002. That’s partly because our logging industry chops down 990,000 acres of it each year, “mostly to supply the U.S. with Kleenex and toilet paper.” Worldwide, we place third for loss of intact forests, behind just Russia and Brazil—and if you calculate that loss per capita, “we lead them by a large margin.” But the main reason the boreal has turned “from carbon sink to source” is fire. Last summer, British Columbia lost nearly 3 million acres to blazes that blanketed western Canada in smoke. And because of the drying effects of climate change, the trees aren’t growing back and are increasingly being replaced by grasslands. Worst of all, though, is our “desecration of the last stands of ancient temperate rain forest” anywhere in the world. That rain forest, on British Columbia’s lush coast—home to 1,000-year-old trees—is already 80 percent logged. Unlike Brazil, we don’t need foreign aid to save our forests. We just need the will.
9-13-19 Weak Amazon protections
Seven South American countries signed a pact last week to boost protections for the Amazon basin—a deal sparked by international outrage over fires that have burned thousands of square miles of rain forest this summer. The agreement will see the Amazonian nations set up a disaster response network and bolster satellite monitoring. But environmentalists said the Colombia summit produced few concrete measures to defend the forest known as the Earth’s lungs. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—whose country contains 60 percent of the Amazon—attended by videoconference and griped that foreign leaders’ concerns about the Amazon were driven by “the sole goal of attacking Brazil’s sovereignty.”
9-13-19 Largest ever polar expedition will soon be frozen in drifting sea ice
The biggest scientific project ever to take place in the Arctic is about to kick off. Within days, a ship is set to begin drifting in the sea ice off Siberia, from where it will eventually become locked in the ice for months of the Arctic winter. The Polarstern icebreaker is set to depart from Norway on 20 September – around the same time that researchers are expected to confirm the area of Arctic sea ice has reached the second lowest level on record. The ship is part of an epic endeavour called MOSAIC, which will involve some 600 scientists studying climate change, Arctic wildlife and more over the course of a year. Winter sea ice in the Arctic is too thick even for icebreakers to penetrate. Instead, the expedition will borrow an idea pioneered by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen who in the 19th century took advantage of a major ocean current to drift to the central Arctic. “It doesn’t make sense to fight the ice, rather we are going to work with it,” says the expedition’s leader, Markus Rex of the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. The expedition will be an complex logistical endeavour. The Polarstern, loaded with scientific equipment, fuel and food, will be supported by a fleet of four other icebreakers. For half a year the ice will be impenetrable, so a runway on the ice will operate to fly in supplies. The scientific research will involve a camp on the ice that might stray as far as 50 kilometres from the ship. Scientists will study the atmosphere, the physics of sea ice, and ocean chemistry among much else. The behaviour of the region’s rapidly-declining sea ice, which is expected to disappear entirely over summer in coming decades due to climate change, has been well-studied in summer. But for winter, Rex says there is little data beyond satellite images and basic temperature records from ocean buoys.
9-13-19 'Cocktail of pollutants' found in dolphins in English Channel
Dolphins living in the English Channel are exposed to a "cocktail of pollutants", say scientists. A study found some of the highest recorded levels of toxic chemicals and mercury in the bodies of bottlenose dolphins off the French coast. Researchers say more needs to be done to tackle the "invisible" problem of lingering pollutants in the oceans. The Channel is home to one of the last remaining large European populations of bottlenose dolphins. They found high concentrations of mercury in skin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in blubber. Other industrial chemicals, such as dioxins and pesticides, were also found in blubber samples, which together may act as a "cocktail of pollutants", they said. The chemicals are passed down from mother to calf. "Our results indicated the important transfer of PCBs by females to their young, which may raise concern for the population," said the team of researchers led by Dr Krishna Das of the University of Liege, Belgium. The scientists say the bottlenose dolphin's habitat - an area known as the Normanno-Breton Gulf - should become a special area of conservation to protect the population. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, chimes with data from investigations of strandings, said ZSL's Rob Deaville, of the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme. "As apex predators, bottlenose dolphins are at higher risk of exposure to some of the chemicals mentioned in this study - and as many of the European coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins are relatively small in size, they may therefore be under greater conservation threat," he said. PCBs, used in plastics, paints and electrical equipment, were banned several decades ago, but persist in the environment, where they can build up in the blubber of dolphins and whales. The chemicals have been found in the blubber of bottlenose dolphins washed up on beaches around Europe. One killer whale found dead off Scotland in 2016 contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded.
9-13-19 Decline of migrating birds could be partly due to pesticides
It’s not just bees that are being harmed by the pesticides called neonicotinoids, it’s birds too. A study in Canada has shown that migrating white-crowned sparrows lose weight just hours after eating seeds treated with the neocotinoid imidacloprid, delaying their onward migration by several days. Although the main manufacturer of the pesticide disputes the findings. Birds that arrive late at breeding grounds are less likely to raise young successfully and sometimes don’t breed at all, says Christy Morrissey at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, whose team carried out the study. “This has serious impacts on populations.” In North America, populations of 57 of the 77 bird species associated with farmland are in decline. Morrissey thinks neonicotinoids could be contributing to these declines. However, she does not think that banning these pesticides is the answer. Farmers will just use alternative pesticides that may turn out to be just as bad. Instead, we need to find ways of farming that don’t rely on quick chemical fixes, Morrissey says. Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex agrees. “The regulatory system keeps failing, by allowing new harmful chemicals into use,” he says. “The only long-term solution is to move away from a reliance on pesticides to solve every problem.” Neonicotinoids are applied to seeds before planting to kill insects that feed on the seedlings. They are much less toxic to birds and mammals than insects, so in theory these animals should not get high enough doses to harm them.But lab studies by Morrissey have shown that even low doses of imidacloprid make white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) lose weight. Now her team has caught wild sparrows on a migratory stopover, tagged them with tiny radio transmitters and fed them either imidacloprid or a harmless control.
9-13-19 Birds fed a common pesticide lost weight rapidly and had migration delays
Neonicotinoid insecticides have previously been implicated in declining bee populations The world’s most widely used insecticides may delay the migrations of songbirds and hurt their chances of mating. In the first experiment to track the effects of a neonicotinoid on birds in the wild, scientists captured 24 white-crowned sparrows as they migrated north from Mexico and the southern United States to Canada and Alaska. The team fed half of those birds with a low dose of the commonly used agricultural insecticide imidacloprid and the other half with a slightly higher dose. An additional 12 birds were captured and dosed with sunflower oil, but no pesticide. Within hours, the dosed birds began to lose weight and ate less food, researchers report in the Sept. 13 Science. Birds given the higher amount of imidacloprid (3.9 milligrams per kilogram of body mass) lost 6 percent of their body mass within six hours. That’s about 1.6 grams for an average bird weighing 27 grams. Tracking the birds (Zonotrichia leucophrys) revealed that the pesticide-treated sparrows also lagged behind the others when continuing their migration to their summer mating grounds. The findings suggest that neonicotinoid insecticides, already implicated in dropping bee populations, could also have a hand in the decline of songbird populations across North America. From 1966 to 2013, the populations of nearly three-quarters of farmland bird species across the continent have precipitously dropped. The researchers dosed the birds in the lab with carefully measured amounts of pesticide mixed with sunflower oil. In the wild, birds might feed on seeds coated with imidacloprid. The highest dose that “we gave each bird is the equivalent of if they ate one-tenth of [a single] pesticide-coated corn seed,” says Christy Morrissey, a biologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. “Frankly, these were minuscule doses we gave the birds.”
9-12-19 Protesters suspended from a bridge in Houston
Greenpeace activists suspended themselves over a port in Houston ahead of the Democratic debates to protest against the use of fossil fuels. Houston Ship Channel is a waterway that connects the city with the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Coast Guard temporarily closed a part of the shipping port.
9-12-19 Why are countries failing on their promise to stop deforestation?
Five years ago, countries and businesses committed to halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it entirely by 2030. The 2020 goal was a big, bold target – and one that has fallen flat on its face. Since 2014, the area of forest destroyed annually has got dramatically worse, increasing more than 40 per cent globally. An area of 26 million hectares, roughly the size of the UK, was lost annually between 2014 and 2018, each year unlocking carbon emission equivalent to the EU’s annual footprint, a report by an international group of research institutions and NGOs has found. The vast majority of the deforestation took place in the tropics. The losses mean the 2020 target is now likely impossible to meet. “It’s wake-up call. The situation now is more dire than five years ago,” says Stephanie Roe of the University of Virginia, one of the report authors. So why is the world failing to make good on its promises to stop deforestation? While the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests was endorsed by some big forest countries including Indonesia and a few Brazilian states, along with the US and EU, it notably did not include Brazil. The country has the biggest forests and still has the biggest absolute losses. While it made huge strides in cutting deforestation after the rampant clearances in the noughties, preliminary deforestation data and the fires in the Amazon this year suggest progress is now going into reverse. “There is a clear political agenda to prioritize agriculture and extractive industries and roll back environmental protections,” says Constance McDermott at the University of Oxford. While Latin America is still suffering the biggest absolute forest loss, Africa has seen the most significant change, with tree cover loss up 146 per cent in the past five years. This is largely due to economic growth, particularly in the Congo basin. “There is pressure to allow expansion of palm oil, cocoa and other commercial land uses,” says McDermott. The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suffer from political instability, she says, which research has linked to forest cover.
9-12-19 World 'losing battle against deforestation'
A historic global agreement aimed at halting deforestation has failed, according to a report. An assessment of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) says it has failed to deliver on key pledges. Launched at the 2014 UN climate summit, it aimed to half deforestation by 2020, and halt it by 2030. Yet deforestation continues at an alarming rate and threatens to prevent the world from preventing dangerous climate change, experts have said. The critique, compiled by the NYDF Assessment Partners (a coalition of 25 organisations), painted a bleak picture of how the world's forests continue to be felled. "Since the NYDF was launched five years ago, deforestation has not only continued - it has actually accelerated," observed Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, which co-ordinated the publication of the report. The report says the amount of annual carbon emissions resulting from deforestation around the globe are equivalent to the greenhouse gases produced by the European Union. On average, an area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom was lost every year between 2014 and 2018. Tropical forest loss accounts for more than 90% of global deforestation, with the hotspot being located in Amazon Basin nations of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Craig Hanson, vice-president of food, forest, water & the ocean at the World Resources Institute, described the findings as a "mixed report card". "There are some places in the world where we are suffering dramatic loss of primary forest, so we are losing the battle on stopping deforestation," he told reporters. "In other places, we are finding that there are new trees that are enriching rural landscapes, but we are still seeing a net reduction in the number of forests the world has." Worryingly, say the authors, a new deforestation hotspot in West Africa is emerging. The rate of tree-felling in the Democratic republic of Congo has doubled in the past five years. The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) is a voluntary and a legally non-binding agreement to take action to halt global deforestation. It was first endorsed at the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014, and by October 2017 40 governments, 57 multi-national companies and 58 non-government organizations had endorsed the declaration.
9-12-19 Australia bushfires are now 'hotter and more intense'
It's only the start of the fire season in Australia, but more than 140 bushfires are already raging across Queensland and New South Wales. Experts say they expect the fires this season to be hotter and more intense - and there's a reason behind the trend.
9-12-19 Generator that runs on heat escaping to the sky can charge phones
A device that makes electricity at night using heat radiating from the ground could be used to power lights and mobile phones in remote locations. Over 1 billion people globally – mostly in poor, rural communities – still don’t have access to electricity. Cheap solar cells are increasingly used to power lights, mobile phones and home appliances in these communities, but they only work during the day. Now, Aaswath Raman at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues have invented a device that makes electricity at night using the thermoelectric effect. This effects allows temperature differences to be converted to electricity. Thermoelectric devices have traditionally been used to extract electricity from waste heat from factories and car exhausts, by taking advantage of the temperature difference with the cooler surrounding air. Raman’s team took a different approach. They created a temperature difference using a mechanism called radiative sky cooling, which causes sky-facing surfaces to become colder than the surrounding air as they naturally radiate heat into the sky. This phenomenon explains, for example, why frost can form on grass even when the air temperature is above zero. The researchers constructed a polystyrene box with a black disc on the outside facing upwards and an aluminium block on the inside. The black disc was designed to cool down by losing heat to the sky, while the aluminium block was designed to warm up by absorbing heat from the night air. The two were coupled to a commercial thermoelectric generator that converted the temperature difference to electricity. The system produced 25 milliwatts of energy per square metre when the team tested it on a rooftop in Stanford, California on a clear night with a midnight temperature of 1 degree Celsius. This was enough to switch on an LED light.
9-12-19 This device harnesses the cold night sky to generate electricity in the dark
A prototype powered a small light-emitting diode in a trial run. A new device is an anti-solar panel, harvesting energy from the cold night sky. By harnessing the temperature difference between Earth and outer space, a prototype of the device produced enough electricity at night to power a small LED light. A bigger version of this nighttime generator could someday light rooms, charge phones or power other electronics in remote or low-resource areas that lack electricity at night when solar panels don’t work, researchers report online September 12 in Joule. The core of the new night-light is a thermoelectric generator, which produces electricity when one side of the generator is cooler than the other (SN: 6/1/18). The sky-facing side of the generator is attached to an aluminum plate sealed beneath a transparent cover and surrounded with insulation to keep heat out. This plate stays cooler than the ambient air by shedding any heat it absorbs as infrared radiation (SN: 9/28/18). That radiation can zip up through the transparent cover and the atmosphere toward the cold sink of outer space. Meanwhile, the bottom of the generator is attached to an exposed aluminum plate that is continually warmed by ambient air. At night, when not baking under the sun, the top plate can get a couple of degrees Celsius cooler than the bottom of the generator. Engineer Wei Li of Stanford University and colleagues tested a 20-centimeter prototype of the device on a clear December night in Stanford, Calif. The generator produced up to about 25 milliwatts of power per square meter of device — enough to light a small light-emitting diode, or LED bulb. The team estimates that further design improvements, like better insulation around the cool top plate, could boost production up to at least 0.5 watts per square meter.
9-11-19 Planet Earth has 9 safety limits and we’ve already exceeded 4 of them
A decade ago, Johan Rockström identified the limits to Earth's life support systems. From chemical pollution to climate change, we're veering into the danger zone - so why is he (cautiously) optimistic about the future? HUMANITY can only thrive if our planet is hospitable to us, but what are the limits to its stability? That was the question posed by Johan Rockström in 2009 in the first scientific assessment of the limits to safe living for humans on Earth. He and 28 co-authors called them the planetary boundaries. They warned that if we exceed any of those nine boundaries, we risk destabilising Earth’s life-support systems and plunging the planet into chaos. The good news, they said, is that staying inside them provided a “safe operating space” for humanity. The bad news is that we have already exceeded four of them. The boundaries have drawn plenty of criticism, so does Rockström still stand by the findings? Is he more or less pessimistic about where we are headed? And where do Harley-Davidsons fit in? Johan Rockström: For the past 10,000 years, our planet has been in a uniquely stable state, a warm interglacial era with largely unchanging climate and ecosystems that we call the Holocene. It is the era during which human civilisation has developed, from hunter-gatherers to digital technology. It is all we know. But humanity is now driving changes like global warming and species extinctions. These threaten to push us beyond the thresholds of the life-support systems that have sustained the Holocene. The changes could be abrupt and irreversible. We don’t know where things may end up. If the Holocene is our desired reference point – the stable planet we know and depend on – we need to find out where those thresholds are, thus identifying our safe operating space. That is what our research on planetary boundaries tries to do. We identify nine. There are three that operate at a planetary scale: the oceans, the atmospheric climate system and the stratospheric ozone layer. Each has thresholds beyond which danger lies. There are four more that we call biosphere boundaries. They help regulate the planetary systems. They are biological diversity, the hydrological cycle, land cover such as forests, and the flows of nutrients vital to life, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Finally, we identify two categories of alien things that don’t exist naturally: novel entities including nuclear waste and gender-bending chemicals, and aerosol air pollution, which alters Earth’s energy balance and impacts regional climate systems such as the south Asian monsoon.
9-10-19 COP26: Glasgow to host UN climate change summit in 2020
A major United Nations climate change summit will take place in Glasgow. The UK has won the bid to host the 26th Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, following a partnership with Italy. Up to 30,000 delegates are expected to attend the event at Glasgow's Scottish Events Campus (SEC) at the end of next year. It is designed to produce an international response to the climate emergency. The UK will host the main COP summit while Italy will host preparatory events and a significant youth event, as part of the agreement. Claire Perry, UK nominated president for COP26, said: "In 2020, world leaders will come together to discuss how to tackle climate change on a global scale - and where better to do so than Glasgow, one of the UK's most sustainable cities with a great track record for hosting high-profile international events." The Scottish government's Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the decision to host COP26 in Scotland was right "given our leadership on climate action". She continued: "Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to acknowledge the global climate emergency and the Scottish government has introduced the toughest targets in the UK to ensure our action matches the scale of our climate ambitions. "We look forward to working collaboratively with partners to deliver an ambitious and effective conference that ensures Scotland plays a leading role to help promote the increased global effort to tackle climate change." Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the announcement was a "vote of confidence" from the UK's international partners. He added: "The UK is leading the world in tackling climate change. We're the first major economy to pass laws to end the UK's contribution to global warming. "Since 1990 the UK has reduced its emissions by over 40% while growing the economy by over two thirds." The UK government said it had cut greenhouse gas emissions by 16 million tonnes in the last eight years. Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack said: "The UK government is showing great leadership on this vital issue - becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050."
9-10-19 What it will take to actually fight climate change
Ponder the onrushing disaster of climate change, and the towering task of getting greenhouse gas emissions down in time to avoid existential calamity, and one can be led very easily to an enervating political despair. The battle is basically lost, or so says the famed novelist Jonathan Franzen in a New Yorker essay this week. While we should try to reduce emissions, he writes, "All-out war on climate change made sense only as long as it was winnable." Just like his similar effort from four years ago, Franzen's argument is sloppy, muddled, and premised on elementary factual errors. But it makes a good reason to consider some historical occasions in which human societies have faced and overcome similarly-long odds in the past — like the French Revolution, when ordinary people, pulsing with furious revolutionary energy, flung themselves at seemingly-invulnerable adversaries and won. First, let's examine Franzen's case. He says that "consensus among scientists and policy-makers is that we'll pass this point of no return if the global mean temperature rises by more than two degrees Celsius" which we will almost certainly blow past, and hence the game is basically up. He then reasons that climate policy should not now be too aggressive, because there is often an inherent trade-off between green developments and environmental preservation. "Our resources aren't infinite. Even if we invest much of them in a longest-shot gamble, reducing carbon emissions in the hope that it will save us, it's unwise to invest all of them," he writes, saying some should be saved for humanitarian aid and that renewable mega-projects that threaten ecosystems should not be built. There is just one problem: Neither premise is true. The science on tipping points is very unsettled, but as the University of Exeter's Timothy Lenton (perhaps the top climate researcher on this particular point) explains in a Climatic Change paper, there are lots of potential tipping points, some are a lot more sinister than others, they will be reached at different temperatures, and, while we can't rule out tripping some at under 2 degrees, the likeliest early tripwire is between 2-4 degrees. Now, that is not at all comforting, but it means there is no certain climate doomsday point — every tenth of a degree of warming means worse direct impacts and a greater likelihood of extreme disaster. Second, it is simply false to say there is a trade-off between climate policy and environmental preservation, because unchecked climate change will obliterate the biosphere. One should avoid wrecking key ecosystems, but if the energy payoff is sufficiently high, it still might be worth doing, because if climate change is not stopped the ecosystem will be wrecked anyway. High levels of warming will do orders of magnitude more damage to Franzen's beloved bird population than all the windmills in the world. Climate writer David Roberts carefully explained this to Franzen back in 2015, but apparently it didn't sink in.
9-10-19 Climate change: 'Invest $1.8 trillion to adapt'
Investing $1.8 trillion over the next decade - in measures to adapt to climate change - could produce net benefits worth more than $7 trillion. This is according to a global cost-benefit analysis setting out five adaptation strategies. The analysis was carried out by the Global Commission on Adaptation - a group of 34 leaders in politics, business and science. They say the world urgently needs to be made more "climate change resilient". The commission, led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, argues that it is an urgent moral obligation of richer countries to invest in adaptation measures that will benefit the world. The report says those most affected by climate change "did least to cause the problem - making adaptation a human imperative". Its primary aim is to put climate change adaptation on to the political agenda around the world. And to do this, it sets out "concrete solutions" and an economic plan. There are, it says, five things the world should invest in over the next decade:
- Warning systems: For the vulnerable island and coastal communities in particular, early warnings about storms, very high tides and other extreme weather can save lives. Better weather monitoring and a simple app for fishing communities in the Cook Islands, for example, allows them to plan according to the sea conditions
- Infrastructure: Building better roads, buildings and bridges to suit the changing climate. One project in New York City has set out to paint rooftops white - a heat-reflecting strategy to cool buildings and neighbourhoods
- Improving dry-land agriculture: Something as simple as helping farmers to switch to more drought-resistant varieties of coffee crop could protect livelihoods and prevent hunger
- Restoring and protecting mangroves: Underwater mangrove forests protect about 18 million people from coastal flooding, but they're being wiped out by development. Restoration projects could protect vulnerable communities from storms and boost fisheries' productivity
- Water: Protecting water supplies - and making sure that water's not being wasted - will be vital in a changing climate
9-10-19 World leaders set to discuss how to ramp up climate change efforts
Hopes of a breakthrough in international climate change ambitions are being downplayed for a landmark meeting in New York in a fortnight. The United Nations climate action summit looks set to disappoint the thousands of campaigners who will take to the city’s streets just days earlier. The summit is arguably the most important moment for climate change since the Paris climate deal was agreed in 2015. A key part of the historic agreement was that by 2020, countries would “ratchet up” the carbon-curbing plans they put forward for Paris, which are insufficient to meet the accord’s goals. UN secretary general António Guterres has called on leaders to come to New York with concrete, realistic plans, rather than “beautiful speeches”. He has set the bar high for heads of state, who are expected to include Narendra Modi of India, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkle of Germany, and the UK’s Boris Johnson. Guterres has made four specific requests: carbon neutrality plans for 2050, ways to tackle fossil fuel subsidies, taxing carbon and no new coal power beyond 2020. Three days before the meeting, Greta Thunberg will be among the thousands expected on New York’s streets for a “global climate strike”, with potentially millions more joining worldwide. Two days after the UN summit, scientists will issue a special report on how global warming will affect the planet’s oceans and frozen corners. But despite the spotlight these events will shine on the summit, hopes are relatively low. “I don’t think we should expect some huge breakthrough,” says Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics. A source close to the UK government, who does not want to be named, says: “It is not quite where everybody hoped it would be at this point.” This is partly due to the EU and the US. The leadership role that the latter played ahead of the Paris summit was crucial to unlocking commitments from China, but such leadership has been absent under Donald Trump, who has kickstarted the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris accord in 2020. The EU’s failure this summer to adopt a goal of net zero emissions for 2050 also hurt momentum this year.
9-10-19 Building climate change defences could massively boost world economy
Countries could reap a $7 trillion economic prize by investing in measures such as flood defences and protecting mangrove forests to adapt to a rapidly-changing climate, according to an analysis backed by Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Gates and the head of the World Bank. The first report from the Global Commission on Adaptation argues it is time to rethink climate change adaptation as an opportunity rather than a burden. “Clearly we are seeing climate impacts are here and now. One can’t avoid opening the paper and seeing what is happening around the world,” says Manish Bapna at the World Resources Institute and an author of the report. There is a strong economic case for acting, says Bapna. The commission’s analysis found every dollar invested in adaptation could yield between $2 and $10 in net economic benefits. If $1.9 trillion was spent over ten years globally on making infrastructure more resilient and other measures such as early warning systems for extreme weather, it would result in $7tn of total net benefits. Ban, Gates and Kristalina Georgieva of the World Bank said the world’s adaptation to a warming world has been “gravely insufficient” so far. Meanwhile, “massive wildfires ravage fragile habitats, city taps run dry, droughts scorch the land,” they write in the report’s foreword. Failing to adapt to climate change is not an option, the commission said, pointing out that growth in global agriculture yields could be depressed by nearly a third without action. The report also rejects the “false choice” of choosing between climate mitigation – cutting emissions – and adaptation. “We must do both,” the commission said.
9-10-19 Logging study reveals huge hidden emissions of the forestry industry
The wood industry is a massive source of uncounted carbon emissions, according to a pioneering study in North Carolina. The same is probably true globally. In places where trees are replanted after being cut down, the wood industry is often promoted as being sustainable. But no one is counting all the carbon emissions associated with logging because international rules on how this should be done are wildly inadequate, says economist John Talberth at the Center for Sustainable Economy, an environmental think-tank based in Oregon, US. “The accounting rules were written by loggers for loggers,” he says. “That’s why you hear of agriculture as a big source of emissions, but not logging and wood products.” Each year 80,000 hectares of trees in North Carolina are cut down to produce wood pellets that are then burnt in power plants in the UK, as well as for paper and timber. The state does not count the resulting emissions. But Talberth has calculated them based on data from the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program. His life-cycle analysis takes account of factors such as the carbon released as the roots of cut trees rot in the ground and the fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides applied to tree plantations. The conclusion: logging in North Carolina emits 44 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. That makes it the third largest source in the state, just behind electricity generation and transportation, and far ahead of farming and other industries. Talberth has carried out studies like this before on a small scale. In 2017, he found that logging was the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Oregon. An independent study by Oregon State University came to the same conclusion in 2018.
9-10-19 UK farms plan for going 'carbon neutral'
The farm union NFU has launched a plan to make British agriculture carbon neutral in two decades. Farming creates 10% of the UK’s emissions, and farmers have long been criticised for their failure to tackle their pollution. But the NFU says the industry can reduce gases almost completely by 2040 - a decade ahead of the government’s overall zero emissions target. Environmentalists welcomed elements of the plan. But Friends of the Earth said it was astonished there was no mention of eating less meat. The NFU (National Farmers Union) says its three-part roadmap will produce quality, affordable food while tackling emissions. It rests on improved productivity. increasing the number of trees and hedges, and growing more crops for energy. The union says farmers can cut direct pollution from farming by working smarter to deliver the same value but with fewer emissions. That would mean applying farm chemicals more precisely using satellite technology. It would also see farmers capturing methane from manure to heat people’s homes. Another idea would be to change the diets of sheep and cattle so they don’t belch so much methane. Farmers could also introduce a wider variety of plant species to pastures. The second element of the plan is to capture carbon from the atmosphere by expanding hedges, planting more woods to soak up CO2 and farming in ways that increase the carbon content of the soil. The third element is to increase the numbers of crops grown for energy, like coppiced timber, or crops grown for fibres such as hemp. Some of these plans will be widely welcomed, especially those that will also boost wildlife and flood protection, as well as cutting emissions. Others will prove controversial.
9-9-19 Ancient crystal growths in caves reveal seas rose 16 meters in a warmer world
Findings on the Spanish coast of Mallorca hint at how oceans could respond to climate change. The future of sea level rise may be written into the walls of coastal Spanish caves. Mineral “bathtub rings” deposited inside the limestone Artà Caves on the Balearic island of Mallorca show how high seas rose during the Pliocene Epoch — a time when Earth was about as warm as it’s expected to get by 2100. Those mineral deposits suggest the planet’s seas were around 16 meters higher on average than they are today, researchers report August 30 in Nature. That measurement provides the most precise peek yet into what may come as climate change causes ice sheets to melt and ocean waters to rise — a process that could happen over hundreds to thousands of years. Previous estimates of Pliocene sea levels gave similar results, but relied on more indirect dating methods or failed to incorporate information about the subsequent rise and fall of the Earth’s crust. The Artà analysis, however, takes that rise and fall into account. The new study’s combination of precision dating and corrected sea levels also may help answer a crucial question: How much of Earth’s biggest ice sheet melted during the Pliocene? These sea level measurements suggest that, while smaller ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica melted severely, only the parts of the massive eastern Antarctic ice sheet that jutted into the sea melted during that era, says Alan Haywood, a paleoclimatologist at Leeds University in England who was not involved in the study. It’s still unclear, however, how today’s unique warming patterns will affect ice sheets. “Anything that gives us added information on how sensitive the ice sheets are … is going to be very important,” Haywood says.
9-9-19 Solar panels: Thousands of customers complain
Thousands of people who bought solar panels have complained to a financial watchdog that they are not bringing them the returns they were promised. Many people took out loans to pay for panels on the promise they would save thousands of pounds in electricity costs and make money generating power. They say they have not had the expected savings, and the Financial Services Ombudsman has had 2,000 complaints. Barclays Bank has put aside £38m to deal with potential claims. Brian Thompson from Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, told BBC Inside Out he was contacted by a salesman for PV Solar UK but told him he did not want to take a loan on as he was preparing for retirement. He said he was told the move would provide money towards his pension, which persuaded him, and he took out a loan with Barclays of more than £10,000 over 10 years. Mr Thompson said the payments he was getting back from the power his solar panels sent to the National Grid did not correspond with what he was told. "I had to dip into my savings which I was putting away for retirement to pay the loan off. To me it was lies," he said. An independent survey of Mr Thompson's system showed even after 20 years the income from the panels would not cover the cost of the loan. Barclays offered him some compensation but Mr Thompson said it was not enough. PV Solar UK went into liquidation in 2017. Robert Skillen, who was the director of the firm when Mr Thompson bought his system, said Mr Thompson's panels would make him money. Mr Skillen is now in business claiming to help people who have been missold solar panels. He did not want to be interviewed. Tony Walch, from Bolton, was told he would be better off by £30,000 over 20 years when he bought solar panels from MyPlanet. He said: "They were very, very persuasive. Everything they said was plausible. It was a no-brainer."(Webmaster's comment: Be sure you get claims in writing. Being told can just be lies!)
9-9-19 Brazil worker who protected indigenous tribes killed in Amazon
Police in Brazil are investigating the murder of an official who had worked to protect indigenous people from farmers and loggers attempting to seize land. Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was reportedly shot twice in the head in the city of Tabatinga, near Brazil's borders with Colombia and Peru. Union officials said Mr Santos was shot in front of members of his family. The killing comes amid international outrage over the rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. At least 80,000 fires were recorded there between January and August this year - more than double the number in the same period last year. Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for failing to protect the region. He has often stated support for farmers and loggers working in the region, while criticising environmental campaigners and slashing the budget of the country's environmental agency. The union which represents staff at Brazil's indigenous protection agency, Funai, said Mr Santos had been shot twice in the head as he drove his motorcycle down a busy street. INA officials said he was killed in retaliation for his work at the Vale do Javari reserve, where for years he helped prevent hunters, farmers and loggers illegally entering the area. The reserve is said to be home to the world's highest concentration of uncontacted indigenous tribes. Mr Santos served more than 12 years at Funai, including five as chief of environment services at the Vale do Javari reservation, INA said. The union called on the Brazilian government to demonstrate Brazil "no longer condones violence against those who engage, under the rule of law, in the protection and promotion of indigenous rights". Brazil's land and environmental activists have long been a target for the mining and logging industry. According to the environmental watchdog Global Witness, Brazil was the deadliest country in 2017, with a record 57 such activists killed, of 201 deaths worldwide. Brazil was eclipsed last year by the Philippines, where 30 activists were killed, of 164 worldwide, Global Witness said.
9-8-19 Storm Dorian: Widespread power cuts as winds batter Nova Scotia
Storm Dorian has smashed into the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, toppling trees and cutting power to more than 450,000 homes. Now a post-tropical cyclone, Dorian hit Halifax on Saturday with winds of 100mph (160km/h) and is due to cross into Newfoundland. The Canadian government said the military would help recovery efforts. It comes days after Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas. The death toll there is 43 but expected to increase. The former hurricane has churned northwards up the US eastern seaboard to Canada. The Canadian Hurricane Centre said it had received reports of rainfall as high as 150mm (six inches) in some areas. Video footage from Halifax showed a crane collapsing onto a block of partially built flats. There were no reports of injuries. The storm is expected to pass over northern Newfoundland and eastern Labrador on Sunday. Residents close to the shore have been advised to evacuate as a precaution. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been briefed on the storm. Last Sunday, Dorian struck islands in the north-west Bahamas as a category five hurricane, with winds reaching 185mph (295km/h). On Sunday, ships and aircraft were still helping to move thousands of people from Grand Bahama and the Abacos Islands. Officials believe hundreds of bodies are yet to be found in areas flattened by the winds or smashed by storm surges.
9-8-19 Catherine McKenna: Canada environment minister given extra security
Canada's environment minister says she has been assigned a security detail because of abuse she has received both online and in person. Catherine McKenna said in one recent incident a man in a car pulled up alongside her and her children, swore and called her a "climate Barbie". In Canada, government ministers rarely need high levels of protection. The move comes as other environmental activists, particularly women, report increasing levels of abuse. Climate change has become a major issue in Canada's federal election in October, with the two main parties taking opposing views on the subject. Ms McKenna said she would now have extra protection at certain times, but did not give details. "There are places, yes, that I have to have security now and I don't think that's a great situation," she said, quoted by Canadian Press news agency. "I'm someone who is trying to do my job, live my life, and talk and engage with people, and it makes it harder. I'm not going to let this stop me but I wish it would stop." Online abuse has been going on since she was elected, she added, but in recent months public confrontations have become worse. She said she had received messages that included sexualised insults and threats against her family. In person she has been called an enemy, a traitor and a "communist piece of garbage". "The vocal sexism and hateful comments that are directed to people who work on climate change is unacceptable," she told AFP news agency. Two years ago Canadian Conservative MP Gerry Ritz apologised to Ms McKenna after calling her "climate Barbie". As the climate change debate rages, many activists have found themselves the targets of threats and abuse. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired a global movement, recently completed a voyage across the Atlantic on board an environmentally friendly yacht - but faced a barrage of attacks along the way. (Webmaster's comment: Male brutes will attack any woman for any reason.)
9-7-19 4 inconvenient truths about climate change
It's too late to prevent climate change. We can now only prevent its worst consequences. t this week's climate symposium on CNN, Elizabeth Warren answered a question about whether the government should be regulating lightbulbs in an interesting way. She said, basically, that we're focusing on the wrong thing. There's nothing wrong with more efficient lightbulbs, but it's small beer. That's what the fossil fuel companies want us to be arguing about, because most of the carbon is thrown up by three industries — construction, electric power, and oil — and arguing about lightbulbs takes attention away from those sectors. The obvious inconvenient truth that Warren is pointing out here is that we aren't going to be able to fight climate change with a series of small-change consumer choices. It's going to require massive changes in large industries, which is a heavier political lift. Below the radar, there's another inconvenient truth being implied: that people are really irritated by losing even small conveniences, and so focusing energy on these small-beer fights has a real cost in terms of being able to fight the bigger fights. She's right about both. But those aren't the most inconvenient truths about the fight against climate change. Here are four that we need to start acknowledging more widely if we're going to make the kind of progress we so urgently need.
- Demand for energy is relatively inelastic. One of the reasons why gasoline taxes work so well for generating highway funds is that when the price of gas goes up, the demand for gas doesn't go down that much or that quickly. The reason: There's no substitute for energy. When beef prices spike, people switch to pork or chicken to minimize the negative impact on their lifestyle. But when gas prices spike, they can't stop commuting to work.
- People are selfish in their loss-aversion. It's a well-known fact that humans are loss-averse. We'll spend a lot more to preserve what we have than we will to gain something new; we fear losses more than we desire gains.
- America is only a small part of the climate problem. Obviously, America is a much bigger contributor to climate change than most countries — and we're going in the wrong direction under this administration. But we're no longer the largest single national contributor — that honor belongs to China. And as China grows, and much of the rest of the developing world grows with it, their share of the world's carbon footprint is going to grow as well.
- It's already too late to prevent climate change. Because of all of the above, and because climate change is already happening, we shouldn't be talking about preventing it. We should be talking about preventing the worst consequences. That does mean radically reducing humanity's carbon footprint, of course. But it also means talking seriously about adaptation — and preparing to spend the money it will take to adapt.
9-7-19 Venice Film Festival: Climate protesters hold red carpet sit-in
Hundreds of activists have staged a sit-in on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival in protest at the huge cruise ships they say are damaging the environment. The protest came hours ahead of Saturday's closing ceremony, with guests due to include the Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger. The Italian government recently announced that large cruise ships would be banned from the city's historic centre.
9-7-19 Hurricane Dorian: Hundreds flee chaos in storm-ravaged Bahamas
Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian survivors have fled the Bahamas as thousands more anxiously await evacuation from the devastated islands. The hurricane tore through the islands earlier this week, leaving a trail of destruction and a humanitarian crisis in its wake. The official death toll rose to 43 on Friday, but is expected to increase further, officials told local media. With aid efforts under way, many survivors are scrambling to evacuate. On Friday, crowds desperate to leave amassed in their thousands at ports in Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, two of the worst-hit islands. Frustrations mounted as survivors, carrying what few possessions they had left, complained of "chaotic" and slow evacuations. As Gee Rolle, 44, waited for a private boat with his wife, he criticised the government, telling the Associated Press "only animals can live here". Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, speaking to survivors at the port in Abaco, called for calm and promised more free transport. Later on Friday, Mr Minnis confirmed the death toll had risen to 43, up from 30. In a statement he said: "The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating." Now a category one hurricane, Dorian is currently churning along the Atlantic coast of North America, towards the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Earlier on Friday, hundreds who refused to evacuate Ocracoke Island in North Carolina were stranded when the hurricane made landfall. On Friday, many of the evacuations were carried out by private boats and planes, as the Bahamian government awaited the arrival of other transport. Helicopters and boats had been deployed but could be delayed by severe flooding, the Bahamian Health Ministry said. Around 250 evacuees left Abaco on a boat bound for the Bahamian capital, Nassau. National Voice of the Bahamas radio reported that another boat with hundreds aboard was on its way.
9-6-19 Amazon fires: Seven countries sign forest protection pact
Seven South American countries have agreed measures to protect the Amazon river basin, amid global concern over massive fires in the world's largest tropical forest. Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname signed a pact, setting up a disaster response network and satellite monitoring. At a summit in Colombia, they also agreed to work on reforestation. More than 80,000 fires have broken out in the Amazon rainforest this year. "This meeting will live on as a co-ordination mechanism for the presidents that share this treasure - the Amazon," said Colombian Presiden Iván Duque, who hosted the summit in the city of Leticia. Meanwhile, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra said: "Goodwill alone is not enough anymore." The seven nations also agreed to put more efforts into education and increase the role of indigenous communities. The countries were represented in Leticia by presidents, vice-presidents and ministers. Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took part by videolink because he was preparing for surgery. The number of fires between January and August 2019 is double that of the same period last year, according to the country's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). President Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for failing to protect the region. Environmentalists say his policies have led to an increase in fires this year and that he has encouraged cattle farmers to clear vast swathes of the rainforest since his election last October. Bolivia has also seen fires rage across the forest near its borders with Brazil and Paraguay. Meanwhile, Brazil's leading meat export industry group and agricultural businesses have joined an environmental campaign calling for an end to deforestation in public lands in the Amazon and demanding government action. Several international retailers have said they are suspending purchases of Brazilian leather because of the links between cattle ranching and the fires devastating parts of the Amazon rainforest.
9-6-19 Hurricane Dorian lashes US as Bahamas counts cost
Heavy rains from Hurricane Dorian are battering the south-eastern seaboard of the US after causing at least 30 deaths and much destruction in the Bahamas. Dorian, now a category one storm, has left thousands of homes in South and North Carolina without power as it moves slowly northwards. Forecasters warn that some areas could experience dangerous storm surges. On 1 September, Dorian hit the Bahamas with winds of up to 185mph - equalling the highest ever recorded at landfall. It battered the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, in the north of the archipelago, for two days. Officials say the final death toll in the Bahamas will be staggering. Dorian is expected to weaken slowly over the next few days. It currently has maximum sustained winds of 90mph (150km/h), down from 105mph earlier in the day. Bahamas PM Hubert Minnis called the storm "one of the greatest national crises in our country's history". He expected the number of fatalities to increase. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that at 02:00 local time (06:00 GMT) Dorian was 55 miles (90km) east of Wilmington in North Carolina and moving north-east at about 15mph. The NHC said Dorian would move "near or over" the coast of North Carolina in the next few hours. In South Carolina, more than 250,000 homes and businesses in coastal areas were left without power, officials said. Social media footage showed flooding in the centre of the city of Charleston. Graphics showed waters could rise up to 8ft (2.4m) above ground level on the South Carolina coast, and up to 15in of rain could fall in the coming days. More than 2.2 million people have been ordered to evacuate along the eastern seaboard.
9-6-19 Are forest fires as bad as they seem?
As South American countries meet in Colombia to discuss the fires in the Amazon basin, other parts of the world have also been ablaze. Vast tracts of forest in Russia, Asia and Africa have been burning. The extent of the fires has sparked outrage around the world. But is the scale of these fires unprecedented, or have there been years in which they have been more extensive? With the help of satellite data we have looked at four areas - Brazil, Siberia, Indonesia and Central Africa. And we have concluded that although fires this year have wrought significant damage to the environment, they have been worse in the past. Around 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil. The number of fires between January and August 2019 is double that of the same period last year, data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) suggests. A record-breaking number of fires across Brazil was initially reported. However, this claim did not reflect all the historical data available. Although it is the highest number of fires (for the year to 27 August) for almost a decade, it is actually lower than for most years in the period 2002 to 2010. There is a similar pattern for other areas of Brazilian forestry that are not part of the Amazon basin. If we look at satellite images for the overall area of burnt forest in Brazil's Amazon region each year, again we see very high levels in the early 2000s. For 2019, we have data up to the end of August, and the overall area burnt for those eight months is 45,000 sq km. This has already surpassed all the area burnt in 2018, but appears unlikely to reach the peaks seen in the previous decade. Fires are common during the dry season and can occur naturally, especially during droughts. (Greenpeace comment: Siberia, one of the coldest places on Earth, is on fire. The Amazon, one of the wettest places on Earth, is on fire. Fires are burning across the planet, we need to act fast.)
9-6-19 What Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren get wrong about nuclear power
At the recent climate town hall for the Democratic presidential candidates, both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders displayed an excellent command of the facts, and better still a serious appreciation of the extreme urgency of the subject — particularly in contrast to their rival Joe Biden, who was rambling and unclear (when he wasn't literally bleeding from the eyes). Either Sanders or Warren would be head and shoulders above any previous president on climate, Barack Obama very much included. But both have committed a serious policy error. They both disavowed the use of nuclear power, and worse, said existing nuclear power plants should be gradually dismantled. Sanders touted his (otherwise excellent) climate plan, which would put a "moratorium" on existing nuclear power license renewals. Warren agreed at the town hall, saying "we won't be building new nuclear plants. We will start weaning ourselves off nuclear and replace it with renewables." This is a bad priority for climate policy. Now, it's perfectly understandable where this attitude comes from. Nuclear waste is dangerous and can remain so for tens of thousands of years, and nuclear accidents can be the stuff of nightmares. The idea of dying horribly from some invisible atomic poison one can neither see nor smell tends to grip the imagination, as demonstrated by the huge success of the brilliant HBO series Chernobyl. If nuclear goes wrong, it goes very wrong. As a result, many environmentalists have internalized the idea that nuclear is just as bad as coal, if not worse. But this simply is not the case. Not only does nuclear produce near-zero emissions, even if we grant all the worst estimates of how many people have died from nuclear accidents, the total is utterly dwarfed by the ziggurat of skulls piled up yearly just from the direct effects of carbon pollution. The Chernobyl disaster (the worst nuclear accident by far) killed somewhere between 4,000 and 60,000 people, while Fukushima killed about 1,600. Meanwhile a recent study found about 3.6 million premature deaths caused every year just by fossil-fuel air pollution alone. As Hannah Ritchie calculates, per unit of electricity generated, oil is 263 times more deadly than nuclear, ordinary coal 352 times deadlier, and lignite coal 467 times deadlier. (Then on top of that there are a still-unknown but definitely growing number of climate casualties.)
9-5-19 Greenland: 'It's scary to see the ice melting'
Three young Greenlanders witnessing the ice caps melting have expressed worry about the impact that would make on other countries. Scientists researching the Greenland ice sheet say this summer‘s melting has raised the level of the oceans, adding that the rate of melting is accelerating and will increasingly threaten millions of people living in coastal cities and low-lying areas around the world.
9-5-19 Coral reefs are now spawning out of sync and might fail to reproduce
Corals need to spawn within minutes of each other to reproduce optimally, but some are now days and even months out of whack. Climate change is to blame for this previously unknown threat, researchers say. Each year, whole coral reefs release millions of tiny egg and sperm bundles simultaneously – turning the ocean into a bright underwater blizzard that can sometimes be seen from space. They need to spawn en mass to outfox predators and stop the sex cells from becoming too diluted in the water. Missing the window by minutes leads to reduced fertilisation and missing it by a few hours or days can mean individual corals fail to fertilise at all, according to Tom Shlesinger and Yossi Loya at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Links between global warming and coral bleaching and reef mortality are well-established, but its effect on coral spawning synchronisation is not as well studied. To examine this impact, Shlesinger and Loya compared spawning behaviour on a reef in the Red Sea over recent years with historical data from the 1980s. Between 2015 and 2018, the two researchers conducted 225 night-time surveys, each lasting between 2.5 and 5.5 hours. They meticulously tracked signs of fertility among five of the most abundant coral species. Coral spawning relies on environmental cues: temperature and daylight patterns can help them work out when to get ready to spawn, while the exact night spawning occurs is thought to be triggered by lunar cycles and the exact hour is cued by the sunset. Back in the 1980s, the major breeding season occurred from June to September, with one coral species having a slightly different breeding season to another based on the lunar cycle. This is thought to help prevent nearby corals becoming hybrids.
9-5-19 New Scientist joins the Covering Climate Now initiative
“We must change our attitudes, that message hasn’t got through to everybody,” said the UN secretary general, speaking out on a lack of action on climate change. But these weren’t the words of António Guterres, the incumbent who has called for leaders to present plans rather than “beautiful speeches” at a crunch climate summit on 23 September, but those of Maurice Strong nearly three decades ago. As New Scientist reported at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, governments had reached an agreement on climate change but there was a lack of commitment to it. Since that landmark meeting, New Scientist has followed the twist and turns of international efforts to rein in carbon emissions, from the perceived failings of Copenhagen in 2009 to the success of the Paris deal adopted in 2015. Over the decades, the science has become clearer, and the effects more obvious. That is why we have joined Covering Climate Now, a journalistic collaboration of more than 200 news outlets with a combined audience of nearly half a billion. The initiative commits titles to recognise the importance of the climate crisis with extensive coverage ahead of the upcoming UN climate action summit taking place in New York later this month. Climate change is an issue that affects both science and the world at large. This summer alone, we have reported on the unprecedented fires in the Arctic and those raging in the Amazon, along with bold plans for countries to move to zero emissions. Twenty-seven years on from the Rio summit, the message still hasn’t reached everyone. We are now redoubling our efforts, and we would like to hear from you, our readers, on what stories you would like us to cover. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
9-4-19 Guilt-free online shopping is possible if we reinvent home delivery.
PAUL WRIGHT didn’t know what to expect when he showed up for his new job. For the previous few years he had earned his keep playing online poker. But he was in a relationship now and needed a stable income. With a lengthy gap in his CV, he had decided to take work where there was lots of demand: as a delivery driver for Amazon. It was a rude awakening. One of his first shifts involved driving some 50 kilometres around the north-east of England, including through a toll system, dropping off packages as he went. “By the time you take off the £1.70 toll charge and the petrol for that huge route, it makes your hourly rate terrible,” says Wright. He was driving great distances, criss-crossing the region, yet earning less than he had from the comfort of his living room. The woes of workers in the gig economy have long been making headlines. What is rarely considered is the problems that deliveries create for the environment and life in cities. Vans aren’t just carrying packages and stressed drivers, they are also belching out air pollution and clogging up streets – and that affects us all. It doesn’t have to be this way. If we are smart, we can make deliveries less painful for people like Wright, and less polluting for us all. Making more deliveries on bikes or even by delivery robots could help. Some people want to go even further and completely reinvent the way we do home delivery. Ten or 20 years ago, many of us drove to a supermarket to do food shopping. When you needed a new skirt or shirt, you went to the high street. People only had things delivered when it was really needed, and it had been like that for decades. Online shopping still accounts for only about a tenth of retail sales in many developed countries. But what is important is the pace of growth. In 2015, each UK household placed just over two online orders a month. Next year, the average household is predicted to order something online once a week.
9-4-19 Global shipping needs to clean up its act now – here’s how to do it
Bertrand Piccard co-piloted the first round-the-world solar-powered flight. Now he’s aiming to green one of the world’s dirtiest, yet most crucial industries. THREE per cent. That is how much the shipping industry contributes to total global carbon emissions. It might not sound much for a sector that carries 90 per cent of world trade. But given current predictions for climate change, that number needs to fall drastically, and fast. It isn’t just about greenhouse gases. The shipping industry still uses “bunker fuel” made from the remnants of petrol refining. Loaded with noxious gases and fine particles, it is a major contributor to the 4.2 million people whose deaths are attributed to air pollution globally every year. Some progress has been made already, with an agreement to slash the maximum sulphur content in fuels from 3.5 to 0.5 per cent from 2020. This took the 174 members of the International Maritime Organization 12 years to negotiate. We don’t have that kind of time for the next steps. In 2018, the shipping industry set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 to half what they were in 2008. The world’s largest shipping company, Maersk, set a zero-carbon target for mid-century, and has ploughed more than $1 billion into cutting emissions. Other companies are taking similar steps, installing scrubbers to reduce sulphur emissions, converting boats to run on liquefied natural gas and even fitting sails. The truth is, though, that the technologies to help them hit their most ambitious targets don’t yet exist. If we leave the companies to carry all the responsibility and risk, we shouldn’t be surprised if they abandon their ambitions. To succeed, we must combine easy-to-implement, short-term measures with ambitious, long-term policies and investment.
9-4-19 The deadly hidden risks within the most prominent economic model of climate change
Is climate change a crisis demanding immediate aggressive action to smash down carbon emissions, or is it an annoying inconvenience that can be dealt with slowly over decades? Most climate scientists are in the former camp — as shown in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report advocating for an eye-watering 50-percent cut in emissions by 2030. But many economists are in the latter camp, taking a relatively cavalier attitude about climate change. They have built models showing the economic damage of warming will not be that great, or that the costs of mitigation could be even greater, and therefore we shouldn't be too aggressive in keeping emissions down — which could be even worse than doing nothing, by their lights. As a result, they generally serve to advance policy responses centered around putting a price on carbon, or, in other words, using market mechanisms to gradually wean our existing economic structures off fossil fuels, but foregoing any sort of massive intervention that would disrupt the status quo. These models, however, have some hellishly risky assumptions buried deep in their guts. If we take the economists' advice, we will be taking a terrific gamble with all of human society. The most prominent of these economists is certainly Professor William Nordhaus of Yale, who won the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for his work constructing the most famous economic model of climate change. It's called the Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy, or DICE, and it attempts to account for the interactions of labor, capital, interest rates, etc., in a warming climate.
9-4-19 Greenland's rapidly vanishing glaciers
BBC science editor David Shukman went back to the same spot on the Sermilik glacier, in southern Greenland, that he visited in 2004. The glacier has thinned by 100m in 15 years. Researchers say they're "astounded" by the acceleration in melting and fear for the future of cities on coasts around the world.
9-4-19 Hurricane Dorian: Scale of Bahamas devastation emerges
Rescuers have begun to reach areas of the northern Bahamas devastated by Hurricane Dorian, with aerial images showing a trail of destruction. PM Hubert Minnis said some areas had been "decimated" and expected the current death toll of seven would rise. The hurricane winds that hit the Abaco Islands equalled the highest ever recorded at landfall, and Grand Bahama also suffered severe damage and floods. Dorian has moved off north but still threatens the eastern US seaboard. Although the hurricane has weakened to a category two storm with maximum sustained winds of 105mph (165km/h), it has grown larger in area. Mr Minnis confirmed the death toll had risen from five to seven, but added: "We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information." It was "one of the greatest national crises in our country's history", he said. Lia Head-Rigby, who runs a relief group and overflew the Abacos, said her representatives had told her there were "a lot more dead". "It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," she told the Associated Press news agency. Aerial images over the Abacos, including the town of Marsh Harbour, showed mile upon mile of destruction, with roofs torn off, scattered debris, overturned cars, shipping containers and boats, and high water levels. Opposition leader Philip Brave Davis described the scenes from a flight over the islands as a "horrible sight". Parts of the Bahamas received up to 35in (89cm) of rain. The situation on Grand Bahama is less clear, as Dorian only moved on late on Tuesday after nearly two days of pummelling, cutting many communication lines. Mr Minnis said major relief agencies had yet to get through. Most rescue work was being done on an ad hoc basis by locals using boats and jet skis, but it was being hampered by flooded roads, fallen trees and submerged debris.
9-4-19 Hurricane Dorian may have wiped out at least one bird species
Hurricane Dorian is not only a catastrophe for the people living on the islands in the Bahamas battered by the record-breaking storm. It may also have killed the last few individuals of a bird called the Bahama nuthatch, meaning this species is now extinct. Several other bird species could also have been lost. “Dorian is of course a humanitarian disaster,” says conservation biologist Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia. “It is also likely to be an ecological disaster.” Last year members of her team carried out extensive surveys on Grand Bahama island and found just one Bahama nuthatch. It is now highly likely that this species has been lost, Bell says. The Bahama nuthatch (Sitta insularis) was a small bird that lived in the natural pine forests of Grand Bahama. It used to be common on the island but as the pine forests shrank its numbers fell. By 2009 fewer than 2000 birds remained. After Category 4 Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016 none were seen at all until the survey last year. Now Dorian has delivered an even more severe blow. Not only was the Category 5 storm the joint strongest Atlantic hurricane ever to strike land when it made landfall in the nearby Abaco Islands, Dorian also stalled over the island of Grand Bahama, subjecting it to a prolonged battering and driving a massive storm surge over much of the island. Seven deaths, numerous injuries and extensive damage to buildings had already been reported in the Bahamas as of Wednesday morning, and it is feared the final death toll could be much higher. Bell says several bird species may also have been lost. Besides the nuthatch, the Bahama warbler, the Bahama swallow, the olive-capped warbler and the Bahama yellowthroat are also found mainly or only on Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands.
9-4-19 Hurricane Dorian’s slow pace makes it dangerous and hard to predict
Stalled storms dump extreme amounts of rain as they swirl in place. Hurricane Dorian has been a slow, near-record-breaking, rough beast of a storm. After more than 24 hours of hovering over the northern Bahamas and pummeling the islands with wind, rain and surging seas, Dorian finally got moving again on September 3. It slouched northward toward the U.S. coast as a category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds of about 177 kilometers per hour (110 miles per hour). The second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record (and strongest outside the tropics), Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on September 1 as a powerful category 5 storm, with sustained winds of about 298 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour). The hurricane’s fury was dangerous enough, but then it practically stopped — shifting a mere 40 kilometers as it churned over the Caribbean nation. That’s the second slowest trek for an Atlantic hurricane after 1965’s Hurricane Betsy, a category 4 storm. That snail’s pace has stymied forecasters trying to determine the storm’s path as it heads toward the United States. Dorian’s slog makes it one of several strong but lethargic cyclones in recent decades, a trend that includes 2017’s Hurricane Harvey (SN: 9/28/18), 2018’s Hurricane Florence (SN: 9/13/18) and Cyclone Idai, which struck Mozambique in March. In fact, over the last 70 years, cyclones around the globe have been slowing down, James Kossin, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is based in Madison, Wisc., found in 2018 (SN: 6/6/18). Stalled-out cyclones mean more extreme rainfall — and significantly increased hazard for coastal populations lying in the storms’ paths.
9-3-19 Climate change: Greenland's ice faces melting 'death sentence'
Greenland's massive ice sheet may have melted by a record amount this year, scientists have warned. During this year alone, it lost enough ice to raise the average global sea level by more than a millimetre. Researchers say they're "astounded" by the acceleration in melting and fear for the future of cities on coasts around the world. One glacier in southern Greenland has thinned by as much as 100 metres since I last filmed on it back in 2004. Essentially because its ice sheet is seven times the area of the UK and up to 2-3km thick in places. It stores so much frozen water that if the whole thing melted, it would raise sea levels worldwide by up to 7m. No one is suggesting that could happen for hundreds or even thousands of years but even a small increase in the rate of melting in coming decades could threaten millions of people living in low-lying areas. Bangladesh, Florida, and eastern England are among many areas known to be particularly vulnerable to rises in sea level over the course of the century. And although the island of Greenland is remote, stretching from the north of the Atlantic high into the Arctic, its fate could have major implications for the severity of future flooding and may even alter coastlines and force communities to move inland. One of the scientists studying the ice sheet, Dr Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), says he's unnerved by the potential dangers and that coastal planners need to "brace themselves". "Now that I'm starting to understand more of the consequences, it's actually keeping me awake at night because I realise the significance of this place around the world and the livelihoods that are already affected by sea level rise," he told me.
9-3-19 Dorian batters Bahamas with strong hurricane winds for record time
Parts of Grand Bahama were battered by the strongest winds of hurricane Dorian for up to 15 hours on Monday, driving a storm surge that inundated most of the Caribbean island. No land in or around the Atlantic, and possibly worldwide, has ever been subjected to such powerful hurricane winds for so long in recorded history. By Tuesday, five deaths and extreme damage to infrastructure had been reported in the nearby Abaco Islands, also part of The Bahamas, which were struck first. The full extent of the impact on Grand Bahama is unlikely to become clear for days. When New Scientist went to press, the island was still being hit by extreme weather, even as Dorian weakened from a category 5 to a category 3 hurricane and moved slowly away. Dorian is now forecast to move north up the US east coast. Storm surges and heavy rain are expected to cause extensive damage there even if the eye of the storm remains offshore. The fastest winds in a hurricane occur in the wall of the eye – the clouds around the clear centre of the storm – and drop off rapidly further out. Since a hurricane typically moves at least 15 kilometres an hour, the strongest winds don’t usually last long in any one place. But Dorian isn’t only notable as the joint strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded to strike land. It is also remarkable because it slowed to a near halt over Grand Bahama. This meant that parts of the island remained in the eye wall, with sustained wind speeds of around 300km/h, for between 10 and 15 hours on Monday. There is some evidence that hurricanes are moving more slowly due to global warming, though what part if any this played in Dorian’s stall isn’t yet clear. Grand Bahama was also inundated by a massive storm surge of up to 7 metres, fuelled by the intense winds. Video footage showed the airport turned into an inland sea and waves lapping at the windows of houses.
9-3-19 What is sustainable palm oil?
Palm oil is used in everything from cosmetics to food to soap. There is enormous demand for it. But it is hugely controversial because it involves the clearing of tropical rainforests to grow palm oil plantations. This has led to the loss of biodiversity and habitat for under-threat animals such as the orang-utan. But some companies are signing up to comply with a standard known as "sustainable" palm oil. BBC environment correspondent Claire Marshall explains. There is a generally-agreed global standard set by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is made up of oil palm growers, retailers, NGOs and manufacturers. To become officially "sustainable", a company pledges not to clear any primary forest, to have transparent supply chains, to check how much carbon they are emitting, to limit planting on peatlands, to treat workers fairly, and create wildlife zones. In 2016 75% of the total palm oil imports to the UK were sustainable. Many large retailers and leading brands use it. Chester has declared itself the first sustainable palm oil city in the country. According to the largest player in the sustainable palm oil industry, Sime Darby Plantation, the companies that buy it often don't then make it clear on product labels. One reason could be that because palm oil is so controversial few companies want to be linked to it - even if it's sustainable. Several leading environment charities say the rules aren't strict enough and the sanctions aren't strong enough. A recent report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said there was "limited evidence of the conservation effectiveness." We are unlikely to stop demanding things like ice cream, soap or ready meals. The vast majority of these need vegetable oil to be made - and palm oil is the most productive vegetable oil crop on the planet.
9-3-19 Overnight changes in Mars’ atmosphere could solve a methane mystery
Atmospheric gases may mix differently as the planet’s surface moves in and out of sunshine. Methane released in Gale crater stays in Gale crater. An overnight change in the Martian atmosphere could hold the gas close to the ground until morning, explaining why the Curiosity rover caught a whiff of methane while an overhead orbiter found none. The theory offers “a way for the two measurements to live in harmony with each other,” says planetary scientist John Moores of York University in Toronto. He and his colleagues lay out the theory’s details online August 20 in Geophysical Research Letters. Since 2003, several spacecraft have detected varying amounts of methane on Mars (SN: 1/15/09). NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed in Gale crater in 2012, has found that amounts of the gas rise and fall in a seasonal cycle (SN: 6/7/18). Methane should last no more than about 300 years in the Martian atmosphere before sunlight breaks it down. “To see a seasonal cycle tells you that something is actively producing or destroying methane in the present time,” Moores says. Microbes produce methane on Earth, so finding the gas on the Red Planet has been seen as a possible sign of life — although not a definitive one. Methane “can be produced by abiotic processes,” says Dorothy Oehler, a planetary geologist and astrobiologist with the Planetary Science Institute who is based in Houston. “But even if it’s not directly related to biology, it can enhance habitability for other kinds of microbes. So it’s an important thing to be seeking,” says Oehler, who was not involved in the new study.
9-3-19 How ancient oceans of magma may have boosted Earth’s oxygen levels
Chemical reactions involving iron could have increased oxygen-rich compounds in the mantle. We may have ancient magma oceans to thank for Earth’s breathable air. Shortly after the planet’s formation about 4.5 billion years ago, the mantle somehow became much richer in oxygen than it was originally. That rock began leaking molecules like carbon dioxide and water into the oxygen-poor atmosphere — helping to jump-start conditions suitable for life some 2 billion years before the Great Oxidation Event, when the amount of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere skyrocketed (SN: 2/6/17). The cause of that chemical transition in the mantle has been a mystery. Now, new lab experiments suggest that chemical reactions involving iron in early Earth’s magma oceans tipped the chemical balance of the mantle in favor of more oxygen-rich compounds, researchers report in the Aug. 30 Science. “This is more than a chemical curiosity.… It’s profoundly important because it really sets the stage for all of Earth’s subsequent evolution,” says Jonathan Tucker, a geochemist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the work. “The oxidation state of the Earth, and planets in general, is a very, very important factor controlling habitability.” Early in Earth’s history, the planet was pummeled by planetesimals, which could have created oceans of molten rock that dipped hundreds of kilometers deep into the mantle. Scientists have suspected that intense pressure in such magma oceans forced oxygen-containing ferrous iron to split into two different kinds of iron: one richer in oxygen, called ferric iron, and oxygen-free metal iron. This heavy metallic iron would have sunk into the Earth’s core, leaving the mantle dominated by more oxygen-rich ferric iron.
9-2-19 Wild geese change routes to cope with climate change
Barnacle geese are choosing new feeding sites to cope with climate change, according to Scottish researchers. A team from St Andrews University, along with Norwegian, Dutch and British colleagues, found that the birds were flying further north in the Arctic. The study is one of the first to provide hard evidence that wild animals are inventing new ways to cope with changing habitats. The findings are based on 45 years of observations by experts. The teams found that the migratory birds, which traditionally fuelled up, or staged, just South of the Arctic circle in Norway now mainly staged in northern Norway far above the Arctic circle.Individual geese changed to a new route with other geese learning the new habit from each other, according to the findings. The researchers added that barnacle geese had shifted their migratory route on their journey from the UK to their breeding grounds on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, within the last 25 years. Dr Thomas Oudman of the school of biology at St Andrews, said: "It makes sense that the birds went even further north, because where snow used to be very common there at the time of their arrival in Norway, these days it is often freshly green there: the most nutritious stage. "What surprised us is that it is mainly the young geese who have shifted. The youngsters are responding to a trend they could not have experienced during their short life." Adult geese are also increasingly shifting north, although they often return to the traditional areas in their old age. Dr Oudman added: "These patterns point at a complex social system, which enables the geese to rapidly colonise newly available areas." Contrary to most other migratory birds, barnacle geese flourish even while their natural habitat is rapidly changing.
9-2-19 Hurricane Dorian is joint strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land
Hurricane Dorian is setting unwanted records as it devastates the Bahamas en route to Florida. It put on an unprecedented burst of intensification as it moved over water that is abnormally warm due to global warming, and is tied with a 1935 hurricane as the strongest ever to strike land in the Atlantic. On Sunday, Category 5 Dorian made landfall in Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands of the northern Bahamas with sustained winds of 300 kilometres an hour (185 mph) and gusts of up to 350 kph (220 mph) – the strongest hurricane ever to hit any island in the Bahamas. On Monday morning Dorian was moving over Grand Bahama and the city of Freeport. Its sustained wind speeds have dropped to 270 kph (165 mph), but it remains a Category 5 hurricane. It will be many days before the full extent of the damage becomes clear, but initial reports suggest it will be extreme, with storm surges of several metres in addition to the wind and one death has already been confirmed. The official forecast suggests Dorian will turn north and move up the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas without its centre moving over land. It will weaken as it does so, but storm surges, rainwater flooding and wind are still expected to cause extensive damage along the coast. Hurricane Matthew followed a similar path in 2016 and caused $11 billion in damage. Weather services were also forced to clarify that Alabama is not in danger after President Trump wrongly claimed it was on Twitter. There’s no doubt that global warming has made Dorian more damaging. For starters, local sea level is around 0.2 metres higher than normal already, making storm surges that much higher and more damaging.
9-2-19 Greta Thunberg responds to Asperger's critics: 'It's a superpower'
Teenage climate activist responds to criticism, saying ‘when haters go after your looks and differences ... you know you’re winning’ Greta Thunberg has spoken about her Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis after she was criticised over the condition, saying it makes her a “different”, but that she considers it a “superpower”. Thunberg, the public face of the school climate strike movement said on Twitter that before she started her climate action campaign she had “no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder.” She said she had not been open about her diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum in order to “hide” behind it, but because she knew “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative”. “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” she wrote, using the hashtag #aspiepower./ While acknowledging that her diagnosis has limited her before, she said it “sometimes makes me a bit different from the norm” and she sees being different as a “superpower”. (Webmaster's comment: SHE IS SO SMART!)
9-2-19 Who is afraid of Greta Thunberg?
As the world starts to take note of the teen climate activist, her critics have launched increasingly personal attacks. It was, in a subtle way, a defining moment. After a 15-day trek across the Atlantic Ocean, Thunberg looked exhausted. Still, the 16-year-old climate change activist knew she had to talk about the meaning and purpose of her unorthodox journey with supporters who greeted her on an overcast New York shoreline. Predictably, the tired, petite Swedish schoolgirl faltered, losing her train of thought briefly before apologising. "I'm sorry," she said, "my brain is not working correctly." The crowd applauded. Energised by the encouragement, Thunberg finished her short speech, where she urged the rest of us to "work together, despite our differences" to avert "the biggest crisis humanity has faced … because, otherwise, it might be too late. Let's not wait any longer. Let's do it now." For me, that distinctly human moment crystalised the appeal of Thunberg - a young woman who, distressed at the world's inexorable destruction, was moved to do something about it. Alone, if necessary. She disdains celebrity. She makes no claim to heroism. She rebuffs efforts to idolise her. She isn't calculating or preoccupied with fame or ego. There is no artifice about her. She speaks plainly, without affectation or embroidery. In words and deeds, Thunberg is the embodiment of philosopher Howard Zinn's admonition: "We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power that can transform the world." Of course, the marauding swarm of vitriolic right-wing climate-change deniers see Thunberg - not how the prophetic Zinn envisioned her - but as a tiny, pretentious zealot who threatens the existing order. Their order. Their comforts. Their traditional "way of life". De rigueur, they have set out to discredit and, if possible, to destroy Thunberg with their, by now, familiar and crass modus operandi. They have mocked her. They have belittled her. They have denigrated her. They have insulted her. They have dismissed her. They have questioned her motives. They have suggested she is anti-democratic. They have, in the fetid recesses of the internet, even threatened her. To afford all their fuming, sophomoric attacks the imprimatur of seriousness, they insist - as they always do - that they are the implacable realists, who, unlike starry-eyed leftists, aren't duped by the media's veneration of a youngster peddling doom and gloom over the supposedly still-contested science about whether the end is nigh or not. They would, no doubt, recoil at any suggestion that their furious hostility towards Thunberg is also the product of a calcifying cynicism, seething malevolence or signature cruelty. Rather, they insist, it is an expression of their necessary role as sceptics or contrarians in the noble tradition of their philosophical patron saint in name only, Galileo, who also questioned the prevailing scientific orthodoxy. It is a lie and an insult. They aren't "sceptics" or "contrarians". They are scientifically illiterate bullies who amplify their malice and ignorance with a bullhorn on TV or keyboard on Twitter. They share no intellectual affinity with Galileo. None. Bereft of an argument that could remotely be considered empirically or rationally sound, they traffic in hyperbole and smears designed to pummel Thunberg into an inconsequential afterthought. The teenage revolutionary must be stopped before the climate revolution she leads goes beyond their ability to halt it.
9-2-19 Greta Thunberg has the perfect response to people who tried to mock her looks and appearance
By now, it's a truth widely accepted that Greta Thunberg is a complete inspiration. Now, she's consolidated this status even further with a message to the 'haters' who have mocked her appearance or Asperger diagnosis. The climate change activist, who is 16, took to social media in order to share why she rarely speaks publicly about her Asperger diagnosis. She also discussed some difficult times that she had experienced before becoming a climate change campaigner. In the series of tweets she also took down those who are criticising her for being too young, or her looks and appearance, in a brilliant series of tweets. Taking to the social media platform, she wrote: "When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And - given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower." "I am indeed “deeply disturbed” about the fact that these hate and conspiracy campaigns are allowed to go on and on and on just because we children communicate and act on the science. Where are the adults?" Greta, you're an inspiration to us all, keep being incredible.
9-2-19 Great Barrier Reef now has 'very poor' outlook due to climate change
The Great Barrier Reef’s long-term outlook has been dropped from “poor” to “very poor” in a new report that calls for urgent action on climate change and other threats to the natural wonder. Rising sea temperatures and marine heat waves are doing the most damage to the reef’s health, according to the report written by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Josh Thomas, the group’s CEO, called this a “critical” point in the reef’s history, saying its future depends on action taken now. If nothing is done to stop the current rate of global warming, the reef will be irreparably damaged for future generations, the nearly 400-page document concludes. The finding comes from an analysis of data from scientific institutions, research centres, industry and government agencies – and is the culmination of two years of expert workshops. The report comes after back-to-back years of coral bleaching that have wreaked havoc on the coral reefs. Cyclones and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish – which eat coral – have damaged the reefs too. Such threats are intensifying, and widespread habitat loss and degradation are affecting fish, turtles and seabirds. Only around 60 per cent of the 31 ecosystem health markers assessed in the report were classed as good to very good, and the rest were in poor or very poor condition. Beside climate change, the reef is also suffering due to coastal development, direct human use, such as illegal fishing, and land-based run-off from agriculture. While water quality is improving in some areas, the report’s authors said progress was moving too slowly. The Queensland state government is considering controversial regulations to limit nutrient and sediment run-off from farms – amid reports that only one in ten sugarcane farmers properly manage pollution into reef catchment areas.
9-2-19 Are biodegradable plastics sustainable?
Researchers are on a quest for greener plastics. lastic is kind of a wonder material. It's cheap, light and durable. But the reason it's so great is also why it can be the worst. It's so cheap that it's discarded with nary a thought. It's so durable that it can persist for centuries, filling landfills and spilling into the oceans, where it is eaten and propagates up the food chain. Plastic breaks down into bits of microplastic that fill bird and fish stomachs, causing them to starve, and sops up toxic pollutants, which can poison wildlife when ingested. While we can and should use much less plastic, we probably can't forego it altogether. Plastic packaging, for example, keeps food fresh — crucial for feeding the world. So researchers and companies have been developing biodegradable versions of the material. They're producing these materials from plants and — in pushing toward a future when everything is recycled and nothing is wasted — even food scraps and sewage. Unlike traditional plastics, which retain their chemical structure even when they break down into smaller pieces, these biodegradable plastics decompose into molecules that can safely reintegrate into the environment. "Synthetic plastics break down like rocks — they get smaller and smaller," says Taylor Weiss, a biophysicist at Arizona State University. "Biodegradable plastics break down like wood." But not all biodegradable plastics are created equal, and much of the challenge is to design, or identify, the right material for the job. Many environmentally friendlier plastics are already in the market, including plastic cups and bottles made from plants. Compared with traditional, petroleum-based plastics, these bioplastics are an improvement. They have a smaller carbon footprint — they don't release extra carbon that's been locked up in fossil fuels — and are based on renewable resources. But just because something is made from plants doesn't mean it's biodegradable: Some bioplastics aren't, while some petroleum-based plastics are, says Ramani Narayan, a chemical engineer at Michigan State University.
9-1-19 Hurricane Dorian: Bahamas braces for category five storm
Hurricane Dorian has become a catastrophic category five storm, and is expected to hit the Bahamas with devastating winds and very heavy rain. The "extremely dangerous" storm is expected to slam the north-west of the island chain on Sunday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, before heading to the US east coast. Grand Bahama residents have been evacuating from its predicted path. The storm surge could be as high as 15ft (4.6m), officials warned. Authorities closed some airports in the outlying islands, but the main international airport remains open on Sunday. The storm was about 35 miles east of the Bahamas' Great Abaco Island, moving westward at 8mph (13km/h) with maximum sustained winds of nearly 175mph (280km/h), putting it among the most dangerous in recent history. The core of the hurricane was expected to move over the island soon, and continue near or over Grand Bahama later on Sunday and Monday. After hitting the Bahamas, it was expected to move up the US coast, grazing Florida, which had expected a direct hit but appeared to have been spared the worst by a change in the storm's path. US President Donald Trump said he was monitoring Dorian, which he described as "an extremely dangerous storm" on Twitter. He cancelled a planned trip to Poland, sending Vice-President Mike Pence in his place. Hurricanes, which vary in strength from category one to five on the Saffir-Simpson scale, tend to get stronger as they move over warm waters like those off the coast of Florida. Category five hurricanes, with winds of at least 157mph, are extremely rare, although four other storms - Michael, Maria, Irma and Matthew - have reached this level in the last three years. Forecasters said they expected Dorian to shift eastwards around the middle of the week, putting the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina at risk.
9-1-19 The destruction of the Amazon, explained
The "lungs of the earth" are on fire, and shrinking every day. What are the consequences for the planet? Here's everything you need to know:
- What's happening? Tens of thousands of fires are burning across the vast Amazon basin, consuming 4.6 million acres of irreplaceable rain forest since the beginning of the year. Thick, black smoke, visible from space, wafts over the land, plunging Brazil's largest city, São Paulo, into daytime darkness and filling hospitals with patients in respiratory distress. More than 36,000 of the 77,000 fires in the Amazon this year began in the last month alone.
- Why is the Amazon so important? Home to three million species of plants and animals, the vast rain forest is the most biodiverse region on the planet. Some 400 billion trees absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year — crucial to slowing climate change — and emit about 6 percent of Earth's oxygen. These trees also respire moisture, pulling fresh water from the ground and cycling it into the air, creating one of the atmospheric "rivers" of moisture that regulate rainfall across the planet.
- Why has it gotten so bad? Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right, pro-business former army captain, took office in January with a pledge to open the rain forest to development. "Not one centimeter" more, he vowed, would be set aside for the 1 million indigenous Brazilians who have lived in the rain forest for millennia.
- Why is he doing this? With Brazil's economy struggling, Bolsonaro sees the Amazon as the country's greatest exploitable resource, and he believes that environmentalists are a front for foreign "colonialists" who want to control Brazil. Last week he claimed that the fires were set by nongovernmental organizations trying to make his government look bad.
- What is the international community doing? French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called the Amazon fires an "international crisis," put the issue at the top of this week's G-7 summit. Macron also said he would seek to pull the EU out of Mercosur, a massive trade deal 20 years in the making that is being finalized with Brazil and other Latin American countries.
- What else can be done? If the fires burn out or can be put out, there is plenty that Brazilians can do to mitigate the damage. Indigenous leaders have proposed ways to open their lands to economic development without cutting down trees.
- Loss of ancestral homelands: A million indigenous people call the Amazon forest home, but Bolsonaro thinks their communities are a waste of valuable land. On his second day in office, he tweeted that Indians aren't part of "the real Brazil," saying, "We're going to integrate these citizens and give them value as real Brazilians."
9-1-19 Tiffany Francis-Baker: How forests shaped our literary heritage and inspired a nation
Tiffany Francis-Baker sits on a mossy tree trunk in the soft golden light of a woodland glade, discussing the role of forests in the British psyche. "The woods are a scary place often in old fairytale literature," says the writer-in-residence at the Forestry Commission. "You didn't want to be caught by a wolf or something." She mentions the phrase, "out of the woods", which harks back to our primeval fear of becoming lost in the forest. The expression was first recorded centuries ago and is one of many wood-related sayings that pepper the English language. "Knocking on wood" or "touching wood", for instance, derive from the pagan belief that vengeful spirits inhabited wood and by touching it, you could appease them. Forests have played an important role in our cultural imagination - as well as historically and industrially, says the writer and artist. "They're just very intertwined with our British identity, which I love." Forests have set the stage for some of England's literary heavyweights. For Shakespeare they were a place of both magic and menace; when in Macbeth Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, the protagonist knows he is doomed. More recently, nature writers like Robert Macfarlane, have charted new journeys connecting humans with the landscape. For Tiffany, forests are a place for reflection and inspiration. "The great thing about nature and forests is they're constantly changing - so it's just an endless infinite cycle of inspiration." Commissioned by the Forestry Commission in its centenary year to tell the story of the nation's forests, she has set out to write a literary ballad with a twist, inspired by her love of the romantic poets and their connection with nature.