10-20-19 Brazil environment: Clean-up on beaches affected by oil spill
Thousands of people have taken part in a huge clean-up operation to remove oil and tar from beaches along Brazil's north-eastern coast. Volunteers, as well as government workers, used wheelbarrows, spades and plastic gloves to remove the thick tar from the sand and water. The source of the spill, which was first detected on 2 September, remains a mystery. Experts say this could be the worst disaster for the region's coral reefs. It has affected wildlife and popular beaches including Praia do Futuro in Ceará, Maragogi in Alagoas, and Itacaré and Ilhéus in Bahia. At least 15 sea turtles, two seabirds and one fish have been found dead, the environmental agency Ibama said.It was not clear if the volume of oil was increasing or decreasing and how long the problem, which has affected 187 places in nine states, will last. On Thursday, Ibama President Eduardo Bim said tests had proved the crude oil was produced in Venezuela but officials had not been able to identify the vessel responsible for the leak. This did not mean that Venezuela was responsible for the leak, he added, describing the case as "unprecedented". Venezuela, however, has denied responsibility for the oil. The incident is more challenging than a typical oil spill because the dense crude is not floating on the surface and only appears when it washes up on shore, Mr Bim was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. Floating barriers usually employed to prevent oil from washing ashore have little effect, for example, so the work has been focused on cleaning up the crude as it comes to the coast. In Pernambuco state, 30 tonnes of oil were removed from beaches on Saturday alone. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have accused the federal government of failing to organise a response, saying the spill has caused environmental damage in an area spanning 2,100km (1,300 miles).
10-19-19 Powerful storms may be causing offshore ‘stormquakes’
Strong ocean swells hammer ridges in the seafloor and produce the earthquake-like shaking. Powerful hurricanes can whip the ocean into a frenzy — and that wave energy can be strong enough to hammer the seafloor, producing a novel kind of quake. These stormquakes, as described online October 14 in Geophysical Research Letters, are a newly identified type of interaction between Earth’s atmosphere, ocean and crust. Unlike earthquakes, which are triggered by subsurface shifting within the solid Earth, the driving force behind these seismic signals are ocean waves that have been whipped into deep swells by a hurricane or nor’easter. Stormquakes can be as powerful as a magnitude 3.5 earthquake, a level barely noticeable to people but detectable by seismometers, seismologist Wenyuan Fan and colleagues report. The work is “a really great first start” at understanding a little-studied part of the seismic record, says physical oceanographer Fabrice Ardhuin of the Ocean Physics and Satellite Oceanography laboratory in Brest, France. “It brings something really new.” Scientists have long known that the constant sloshing of ocean waves produces seismic signals at frequencies of about once every few minutes, a phenomenon known as “Earth’s hum” (SN: 9/29/04). Waves can also produces high-frequency signals called microseisms, occurring every five seconds or so. But in between that seismic noise is another band of signals generated in the ocean that occur once every 20 to 50 seconds or so, or at a frequency of between 0.02 and 0.05 hertz. What produces seismic signals within that band hasn’t been so well understood. Initially, Fan, of Florida State University in Tallahassee, and his colleagues set out to look for possible triggers for these signals coming from within the Earth. They analyzed seismic data collected from 2006 to 2015 by a network of moveable seismometers that marched across the country from west to east as part of the USArray. Fan started out by focusing on the data from the Pacific Northwest. He became excited, he says, when he found what he thought were previously undetected offshore earthquakes occurring in that mysterious seismic band
10-18-19 Despite President Trump
U.S. power plants are expected to consume less coal in 2020 than they have in any year since 1978. Despite President Trump’s efforts to revive the industry, coal demand has declined 27 percent since 2016.
10-18-19 California: Darkness, fire, and climate change
California has entered a “new dark age,” said Marcos Bretón in The Sacramento Bee. Last week, the state’s largest public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), left millions of people in the dark after shutting off power to 738,000 homes and businesses in the northern part of the state. Amid an ongoing drought, PG&E said the blackout was necessary to avoid “power lines tumbling in high winds and igniting cataclysmic wildfires.” Schools and universities shuttered, traffic snarled, and one man died after his oxygen machine stopped working. In Los Angeles, a wildfire covering 8,000 acres did break out, forcing 100,000 people to be evacuated. For California, this is all part of “a new normal.” With severe, prolonged droughts now common, wildfires have increased fivefold since the early 1970s. “Climate change isn’t tomorrow. Climate change is now.” There’s plenty of blame to go around, said the Los Angeles Times. Yes, state authorities officially blamed PG&E for last year’s Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. But the utility didn’t approve all the housing development in high-risk, wooded areas or mismanage the state forests, and it didn’t cause climate change. “This bitter meal has been years in the making by many cooks.” Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades, said Justin Gillis in The New York Times. But “we did not listen.” We continued to elect climate-change deniers to high office. We burned “cheap and convenient” fossil fuels for our cars and for electricity. “Now we suffer the consequences.” Expect the situation to keep getting worse, unless our policies change.
10-18-19 Air pollution and baldness
Exposure to air pollution may increase your risk of going bald, according to a new study from South Korea. Airborne pollutants from exhaust pipes and smokestacks have already been linked to internal health problems, including cancer, low fertility, and heart and lung diseases. But this is one of the first studies to suggest those particles could also affect the surface of the body. Researchers exposed human follicle cells to varying concentrations of dust and diesel particulate and then measured the levels of specific proteins in the cells 24 hours later. They found that exposure to the pollutants resulted in reduced levels of beta-catenin, a protein responsible for hair growth. Furthermore, they found that levels of three other proteins that drive hair growth and hair retention decreased with exposure to the pollutants in a “dose-dependent” manner. The study didn’t examine whether the link was more pronounced in men or women, or in certain age groups. Lead researcher Hyuk Chul Kwok says more research is needed to confirm the effect outside the lab, reports The Independent (U.K.). But for those particularly worried about losing their hair, he suggests “limiting time walking on busy streets, especially during rush hour.”
10-18-19 Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda was handcuffed and arrested last week along with 15 other climate change protesters after being told repeatedly to leave the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Fonda, 81, was charged with unlawfully demonstrating, “crowding,” and “obstructing,” police said. The Academy Award winner, famous for her Vietnam War protesting, recently moved to Washington, D.C., so that she could become more active in climate change protesting and lobbying. “Come get arrested with me,” she had told fellow activists.
10-18-19 Battling coastline pollution with plastic-free periods
Four million period products are put down the toilet every day in the UK with some of that ending up on the coastline - but how can it be stopped? One environmental group, Bristol-based City to Sea, has started a campaign to persuade women to swap "conventional" menstrual products for plastic-free or reusable. This follows the results of a new study into how much plastic is in menstrual pads which revealed a single pack contains the same amount of plastic as five carrier bags. They challenged three women to swap - we found out how they got on.
10-17-19 How plastic bags were supposed to help save the planet
The plastic carrier bag has become something of a symbol for the problems caused by plastic pollution. But according to the family of the man who created it, Sten Gustaf Thulin, his design was supposed to help the planet and he'd be shocked and upset to see what it's become. The Thulin family make no money from the sale of the bags. BBC Environment Reporter Laura Foster explains what was supposed to happen and why paper and cotton bags can actually be worse for the environment than plastic ones that are recycled.
10-16-19 Technology’s future isn’t gleaming, it’s dirty and biological
This changes everything | We’ve always thought of tech as conquering nature, but the climate crisis is changing everything – not least what future advances will look like, argues Annalee Newitz. THERE is a long-standing myth that nature is the opposite of technology. Yet now we know that our industrial machines didn’t conquer the wilderness; instead, they caused a climate change catastrophe that might one day wipe us out. Knowing this will dramatically change the way our future technologies look, as well as how we interact with them. Consider the plant tattoo. Last year, a group at Iowa State University revealed flexible water sensors made of graphene that could be taped onto plants. When attached to the undersides of leaves, the devices look like tattoos. They are used to measure how healthy and hydrated crops are, but they could also be adapted for environmental monitoring. Corn fields could become drought prediction systems. At Northumbria University, UK, researchers at the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment are taking this idea further. Earlier this year, they received a grant of £8 million to incorporate sustainable, biological materials into buildings. They will be exploring the idea of walls made from living, self-repairing cells and plumbing systems seeded with microbes that convert waste into fuel. The ventilation systems in these buildings might even include plants with graphene tattoos that monitor air quality. Meanwhile, in medicine, people are using light to manipulate the behaviour of cells in the burgeoning field of optogenetics. Carefully aimed beams of light can activate medicines circulating in the body, or change the behaviour of synapses in the brain. As we cope with environmental and health needs, the realm of nature is becoming nearly indistinguishable from the realm of technology: plants are sensors; light is a form of medicine. Our future won’t be anything like the Apple Store version of tomorrow, with its clean white lines and antiseptic designs. Instead, it will be dirty and full of bacteria. And that will be cutting edge.
10-16-19 Extreme snowfall kept most plants and animals in one Arctic ecosystem from reproducing
Scientists worry climate change could hurt future breeding in Greenland with extreme weather. When Jeroen Reneerkens stepped off the plane in Greenland, all he saw was white. The avian ecologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands was expecting to find snowless tundra teeming with life, as he had each summer for nearly a decade. Reneerkens travels to Zackenberg Research Station in northeast Greenland to study sanderlings — slight, mottled-brown arctic shorebirds — as they and other migratory shorebirds noisily descend on the open tundra to breed each summer (SN: 11/13/18). But when Reneerkens arrived in 2018, he found only snow and silence. “There were no birds singing, even the river was still frozen,” Reneerkens says. “I was shocked.” A study published October 15 in PLOS Biology documents an ecosystem-wide reproductive collapse around Zackenberg in 2018. Most plants and animals, including everything from arctic foxes to tiny Dryas flowers, failed to reproduce that year, because an extremely snowy winter left much of the ground covered with snow well into summer, Reneerkens and colleagues found. Climate scientists predict that, as the globe warms, parts of the Arctic will see more precipitation and more extreme seasonal fluctuations (SN: 9/25/19). If years like 2018 become more common, the authors warn that the consequences for the ecosystem could be drastic. “To see failure at so many levels of the food web is highly unusual,” says Warwick Vincent, an arctic ecologist at Laval University in Quebec City who wasn’t involved in the study. “Climate change is all about extremes, and this is a compelling example of how we’re moving into a world that’s less and less predictable.”
10-16-19 Prince William calls for climate change action on glacier visit
The Duke of Cambridge says more education and political action is needed to tackle climate change, as he visited a melting glacier in Pakistan. The trip to a remote mountain location in the north of the country came on the third day of the royal tour. The duke and duchess were shown how the Chiatibo Glacier had retreated rapidly in recent years due to global warming. Prince William said communities "vulnerable to change" needed more awareness of climate change. The duke said young people were "starting to get engaged", adding that a "positive conversation" around the issue was needed. The couple arrived by helicopter to the Hindu Kush mountain range in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. On a visit to a flood-hit area in the Chitral region, they spoke with a young woman who was named after the duke's late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales - and has a son of her own called William. Princess Diana was visiting the area around the time she was born in 1991, a translator later explained. The woman is now part of an emergency response team of volunteers funded by UK aid. On their arrival Catherine was presented with a traditional Chitrali hat - almost identical to one William's mother received on her visit 28 years ago. The duke was also presented with a book commemorating his mother's trip to the area. Global warming has seen the Chiatibo Glacier in Broghil National Park retreat by some 10 metres a year due to higher temperatures melting the ice. The first threat from the glacier melting is flooding to communities down stream, while the second is removing the water supply completely - which provides for 200 million people in Pakistan. Glacier expert Dr Furrukh Bashir said he hoped the duke and duchess' visit would raise awareness of the issue. Following their trip to the glacier, the couple remained in the region to meet with communities affected by global warming.
10-15-19 Extreme snow stopped plants and animals breeding in parts of Greenland
Increasingly extreme Arctic weather could threaten the survival of wildlife, biologists are warning. In 2018, it snowed so heavily that many areas remained covered in snow well into the summer, preventing almost all plants and animals from breeding. “If this is a one-time event, it’s not an issue,” says Niels Martin Schmidt at Aarhus University in Denmark. Arctic wildlife can cope with occasional bad years, he says. But he fears that this kind of extreme weather could become much more common, potentially leading to the extinction of some species. “This could be a glimpse into the future,” says Schmidt. He is part of a team that has been monitoring ecosystems around Zackenberg in north-east Greenland for more than 20 years. The growing season there is very short – just July and August – so if the ground remains covered by snow it has a major impact. “The window for plant growth is very narrow,” he says. During the past 23 years, on average only 4 per cent of land has still been covered by snow by the third week of July – the height of summer. In 2018, it was 45 per cent. For the first time since monitoring began, almost all plants and animals – including Arctic foxes and musk ox – failed to breed. Some migratory birds starved to death as they waited for the snow to melt. There was heavy snow across much of the Arctic in 2018, not just north-east Greenland, says team member Tomas Roslin at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. “It was fairly widespread,” he says. While many people assume that a warming world means less snow, this isn’t the case in colder regions. Cold air can’t hold much moisture, limiting snowfall. As the Arctic warms and the sea ice shrinks more each summer, the atmosphere there gets moister, meaning more snow can fall when conditions are right.
10-15-19 US green economy has 10 times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry
The green economy has grown so much in the US that it employs around 10 times as many people as the fossil fuel industry – despite the past decade’s oil and gas boom. The fossil fuel sector, from coal mines to gas power plants, employed around 900,000 people in the US in 2015-16, government figures show. But Lucien Georgeson and Mark Maslin at University College London found that over the same period this was vastly outweighed by the green economy, which provided nearly 9.5 million jobs, or 4 per cent of the working age population. The pair defined the green economy broadly, covering everything from renewable energy to environmental consultancy. Their analysis showed the green economy is worth $1.3 trillion, or about 7 per cent of US GDP. The figures don’t cover the presidency of Donald Trump, who promised to protect coal mining jobs and exploit oil and gas resources. But Maslin says the figures show that Trump’s policy is economically misguided. “The Trump administration with the ‘America first’ approach of ‘fossil fuels are good’, is stupid when it comes to economics. If you want to be a hard-nosed neoliberal economist you would say, ‘Let’s support the green economy as much as possible.’” The US stopped recording green job statistics several years ago, but these suggested 3.4 million people worked in the sector in 2011. Maslin and Georgeson used a much broader set of 26 sub-sectors including wind and solar power, marine pollution controls, carbon capture, biodiversity and air pollution. Maslin says the figures have been underestimated in the past, partly because the green economy is so diffuse.
10-15-19 How deadly disease outbreaks could worsen as the climate changes
The dangers posed by fruit bats and mosquitoes are rarely mentioned among the potential impacts of major environmental changes such as deforestation and climate change. But two studies this week shine a light on how environmental destruction could lead to a greater spread of deadly human diseases via animals and other organisms, with serious consequences for future public health. The 2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people directly, and knock-on effects, such as diverted resources, caused thousands more deaths. Worryingly, climate change could cause an increase in Ebola rates over the next 50 years, a team of UK and US researchers has found after creating a model that successfully reproduced past Ebola outbreaks. In the worst-case future warming scenarios that they modelled, the maximum area where “spillovers” can occur – when the Ebola virus jumps from an animal to a human – will increase by nearly 15 per cent compared with today. That could expose new parts of west and central Africa to the disease. “By changing the environment, we are going to directly impact our health,” says David Redding at University College London. One way in which climate change will affect where there is a risk of diseases such as Ebola spreading is by making new areas into suitable homes for disease-carrying species. For example, if the trees that fruit bats – believed to be a reservoir for the Ebola virus – rely on can grow in a new area, the bats can follow. Global warming isn’t the only environmental change that could increase disease risk. Humanity’s clearances of the Amazon rainforest seem to be driving up the spread of malaria to people, suggests research by Andrew MacDonald and Erin Mordecai at Stanford University in California.
10-15-19 Extinction Rebellion protests continue in London despite ban
Extinction Rebellion activists are continuing protests despite a London-wide ban by police. The group says it has taken initial steps towards a judicial review of the ban. Lawyers and politicians have also criticised the move. Meanwhile, climate change protesters targeted the Department for Transport and MI5 on Tuesday morning. A government spokeswoman said protests "should not disrupt people's day-to-day lives". Extinction Rebellion's co-founder, Gail Bradbrook, was arrested after climbing on to the entrance of the Department for Transport on Tuesday morning. Police also cleared further protesters from outside the building. Activists have also been arrested on Millbank outside MI5's headquarters, where a small group had gathered. Two men briefly sat in the middle of the road before being moved by officers. The Metropolitan Police began clearing protesters from Trafalgar Square on Monday evening following the announcement of new restrictions under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which required activists to stop their protests in central London by 21:00 BST or risk arrest. The force said it decided to impose the rules after "continued breaches" of conditions which limited the demonstrations to Trafalgar Square. Extinction Rebellion said it had taken the "first steps" towards a judicial review of the Met's "disproportionate and unprecedented attempt to curtail peaceful protest". "Our lawyers have delivered a 'Letter before Action' to the Met and asked for an immediate response," a statement read. Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer working for the movement, said the letter warned police to withdraw the order, giving them a deadline of 14:30 BST to respond, or else the group would file a claim in the High Court.
10-15-19 Extinction Rebellion protests should be embraced, not banned
The move to haul climate change protesters off London’s streets reflects a scientifically and economically illiterate political and media elite in denial about the issue. My lunchtime runs in London have been joyfully car-free of late, thanks to climate activists blocking key streets. But that’s not why I’m writing this defence of the protests, which were banned last night. The reason is that, along with student climate strikes, the Extinction Rebellion movement has helped propel environmental issues to be one of the top public concerns. Meanwhile, the backlash has drawn out its critics’ scientific illiteracy and failure to grasp the scale of the challenge posed by climate change, laying bare why the protests, not just in the UK, but across Europe, Australia and elsewhere, are necessary. Extinction Rebellion triggered a fair bit of criticism with its first wave of protests earlier in the year. But the latest response has been far more hostile. “It is certainly more voluminous and bile-filled now,” says Leo Hickman of Carbon Brief, which monitors UK media coverage of climate change. Prime minister Boris Johnson set the tone when he spoke of “importunate nose-ringed climate change protesters” and “uncooperative crusties”. The Daily Telegraph branded the group a “millenarian death cult”. The Sun fumed: “Do they know our share of global greenhouse gases is now just 1.2 per cent?” The Daily Mail even trotted out the old “global warming is good for you” trope. Perhaps the attacks are a sign people have realised the protests aren’t just a fun sideshow, but are setting the agenda. Maybe that is why Andrea Leadsom, the minister responsible for energy policy, has joined the criticisms by saying people blocking roads in London are protesting in “the wrong country” because the UK has cut emissions hugely since 1990. That is utterly missing the point. The point is the future.
10-15-19 Lebanon calls for help as forest fires spread
Lebanon has asked for international help battling hundreds of forest fires that broke out on Monday and have spread abroad. The blazes - the worst in decades - started in Lebanon's western mountains, amid a heatwave and strong winds. Heavy smoke was seen over Beirut and the city of Sidon, and one volunteer firefighter reportedly died. Two forestry workers have also died in the north-western region of Latakia, according to Syrian state media. Eight more were injured in the flames, Sana news agency said. Lebanon's Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said the government had contacted several countries for help, and tweeted images of a Cypriot plane dropping water. Riot police equipped with water cannon were called to the Mount Lebanon region early on Tuesday after fire engines were overwhelmed. It is unclear how the fires began. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri is reported to have said that if they were set intentionally, those responsible "will pay a price". The volunteer firefighter is said to have died in the Chouf region, south-east of Beirut. The area is the site of the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, which has a large Lebanon cedar forest - the tree on the country's national flag.Lebanon's civil defence authority has tweeted regular updates about the fight against the fires. Army and air force units are helping throughout the country.
10-15-19 Huge fire blankets can protect houses from destructive wildfires
A series of tests has confirmed that wrapping wooden structures like houses in huge fire blankets can protect them from fast-moving wildfires. In one test, a wooden shed wrapped in a fire blanket survived a forest fire. The idea of wrapping houses in fire-resistant materials to protect them goes back to at least 1944, when a patent on this was filed, says Fumi Takahashi at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Such fire blankets are now sold commercially. US Forest Service firefighters also carry personal shelters – like tiny tents – made of fire-resistant material to use as a last resort when trapped by flames. They have routinely been wrapping historic forest cabins in this material, too, when wildfires threaten them. It seems to work, says Takahashi, but has never been scientifically tested. So he teamed up with the Forest Service and others to do a series of escalating tests. The team started with wooden bird houses exposed to a fire in a room, then door-sized wooden panels on a hillside exposed to a grass fire and finally a wooden shed subjected to a forest fire deliberately started by the fire service in an area where controlled burns are carried out routinely. You can see how it fared in the video below. The best-performing blankets were fabrics made of fibreglass or amorphous silica laminated with heat-reflecting aluminium foil. These can provide up to 10 minutes of protection from intense heat, which can be enough to save a structure from fast-moving wildfires. Takahashi hopes the findings will inspire the development of even better fire blankets that can protect buildings against more intense fires. But finding ways of quickly covering houses will also be necessary to make this approach practical. It can take several hours to properly wrap even a small structure, but householders might not get that much warning.
10-15-19 Electronic devices 'need to use recycled plastic'
Plastic in waste electronics (e-waste) is an environmental time bomb that has been overlooked, say campaigners. Plastic accounts for about 20% of the 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced each year, which is expected to more than double to 110m tonnes by 2050. A UN-supported campaign is calling on consumers to favour electronic devices that use recovered plastic. The PolyCE campaign, funded by the European Commission, also calls on manufacturers to use less plastic. "The amount of e-waste increasing annually is tremendous," warned Ruediger Kuehr, director of the Sustainable Cycles Programme at the United Nations University. "At the moment, we are generating roughly 50 million tonnes per year globally, and it is expected that it will reach 110 million tonnes in 2050 if we do not change our existing business and consumption practices." Dr Kuehr explained that, currently, most of the plastic in electronic devices was not designed for recovery or recycling. As a result, it ended up untreated in landfill sites. "That means, if we were confronted with a long line of trucks fully loaded with the plastic from e-waste, there would be more than 62,000 trucks stretching from Rome to Frankfurt," he told BBC News. "What is astonishing in all of this is that the recovery rate is so low. We can do substantially better." One driver for the unprecedented growth in e-waste includes the notion of "leap-frog" technology. This may involve parts of the world going straight to communicating and working on mobile networks (in some cases straight to 5G). In this way, they skip the extensive and costly infrastructure associated with landline infrastructure. This means that more than half of the world's population now have access to the internet or a mobile phone. This means that there has been an explosion in the volume of demand for electronic devices, such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
10-15-19 Central heating boilers 'put climate change goals at risk'
The UK will not meet its climate change targets without a revolution in home heating, a think tank says. A report from the cross-party Policy Connect says gas central heating boilers also threaten the UK’s clean air goals. But a poll conducted among MPs suggests that most do not consider pollution from home heating to be a priority. That is despite the fact 14% of UK greenhouse gases come from our homes, a similar level to emissions from cars. In major cities gas boilers are also a main source of nitrogen dioxide emissions. The government wants low-carbon heat systems to be standard for all new homes built after 2025. But that will still leave the vast majority of existing homes in the UK with polluting heat systems. A spokesman for the Treasury said a plan to support the move to sustainable heating systems would go out to consultation later this year. The task is huge. Policy Connect says more than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 to meet UK climate goals. The think tank says many innovations need to be pursued. They include smart systems and controls; more use of the "internet of things"; hydrogen boilers; biogas; electric heat and direct infrared heat among others. Policy Connect said future heating systems might also need to supply home cooling as UK temperatures rise along with climate change. It recommends that the government creates an Olympic-style body to take on the challenge. The report’s lead author, Joanna Furtado, said: “The next five years are critical for heat decarbonisation in new and existing homes and for meeting our climate targets. “We need to spark a national conversation on heat as MPs and consumers are still in the dark on the savings greener home heat solutions could offer."
10-15-19 What's in the government's new environment bill?
A bill to tackle environmental priorities is to be published by the government later. It aims to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution, restore wildlife, and protect the climate. Environmentalists have welcomed several of the proposals, especially on restoring nature. But they say on other green issues ministers are going backwards - and they're anxious to see details of the new policies. Under EU rules, for instance, the government has faced heavy fines for failing to meet air quality standards. With Brexit set to remove the stick of these rules, an independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, is being created to hold the government to account. Ministers say the watchdog won't be able to fine the government if it fails to uphold its commitments - but will ensure it is held to account, with the ability to stop projects and hold authorities in contempt of court if they breach environmental standards. But campaigners fear that the new watchdog could be muzzled, tamed and stripped of funding. Conservative peer Lord Randall - a green adviser to former prime minister Theresa May - told BBC News that the Treasury appeared to have relaxed its objections to a powerful independent watchdog. But he said it would still be useful if the new body could fine the government for environmental transgressions. "I can see it might look silly if one government body fines another, but it would be a very powerful weapon," he said. Crucially, policy details of the bill have not yet been released.
10-14-19 Astronomer Royal: We're destroying the book of life before reading it
The future of humanity may be at a crucial turning point, say Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. In a wide-ranging talk at New Scientist Live in London on Sunday, Rees said that inaction may lead to a “catastrophic setback to civilisation”. Speaking about energy policy, artificial intelligence and space exploration, Rees called for accelerated research into low-carbon energy sources and the need for urgent climate action. “Extinction rates are rising. We’re destroying the book of life before we’ve read it,” said Rees. “The biomass in humans, cows and domestic animals is 20 times that in wild mammals.” Public pressure is an important driver of political decision-making, said Rees. “That’s why we should welcome public demonstrations,” he said. Rees added that the UK will benefit economically by investing in alternative energy sources, including nuclear fusion. “Prioritising clean energy research as much as defence research or medical research, we can aspire to make a much more than 2 percent difference to the world’s CO2 emissions,” he said. Speaking about the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of humanity, Rees warned that AI systems will become more intrusive and pervasive. “Records of our movements, our health, and our financial transactions will be in the cloud, managed by a multinational quasi-monopoly,” said Rees.These collections of data are already “shifting the balance of power from governments to globe-spanning conglomerates”, and the responsibility will fall to governments to redistribute wealth to preserve healthy societies, he said. Autonomous robots will likely transform our lives, Rees added, but whether they will be “idiot savants” or superhuman in ability remains to be seen.
10-14-19 High levels of air pollution seem to be linked to early miscarriages
High levels of air pollution may increase the chance of a missed miscarriage, according to data from pregnant women living and working in Beijing, China. “We have clear evidence and accumulating knowledge that there is a true association [between air pollution and miscarriage],” says Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who wasn’t involved in the study. A missed or silent miscarriage is when a fetus dies or stops developing during pregnancy, usually without any symptoms. Such miscarriages tend to happen in the first trimester, and can be picked up on 12-week scans. Little is known about what causes them. Growing evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution could affect the development of a fetus. To find out if air pollution levels might be linked to missed miscarriages, Liqiang Zhang at Beijing Normal University and his colleagues assessed the health records of around 255,000 pregnant women in Beijing. The team also collected data on the levels of four air pollutants recorded by air monitoring stations close to where each woman lived and worked. As well as tracking levels of tiny particles, such as soot, the researchers noted the amount of sulphur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. Just under 7 per cent of the women – about 17,500 individuals – experienced a missed miscarriage during their first trimester. Women who were older than 39 and those who worked as farmers or in blue-collar jobs seemed to be at greater risk. The researchers found that those exposed to higher levels of air pollution had an increased risk of experiencing a missed miscarriage, although they didn’t directly test if pollution causes miscarriage. The finding builds on a recent study of women in the US, which also found a link between air pollution exposure and miscarriage risk.
10-14-19 Renewables overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity mix for first time
UK wind turbines, solar farms and other renewable sources of energy generated more electricity this summer than coal and gas power stations, marking the first quarter in history that renewables have eclipsed fossil fuels in the country. In a significant milestone, an analysis by climate website Carbon Brief found that renewables generated 29.5 terawatt-hours across July to September, versus 29.1 TWh from fossil fuels. “It is no longer a question of whether renewables can form the backbone of the UK grid, generating more electricity than any other source – it is a question of when they get there and how quickly and how far they continue to expand beyond that. That in itself is a massive change,” says Simon Evans at Carbon Brief. “This milestone highlights the fact that the UK’s electricity system is in the midst of a stunning transformation, which is only set to continue,” he says. Over the period, 40 per cent of UK electricity generation came from renewables. Half of that amount came from wind farms and the rest was from biomass, solar and hydropower. By comparison, gas power stations provided 38 per cent of electricity, with coal supplying just 1 per cent. Nuclear’s share was around 20 per cent.The speed at which renewables have come to rival and – during summer months when energy demand is lower – outstrip fossil fuels in the UK has been remarkably fast. A decade ago, renewables supplied just 6.7 per cent of electricity. Since 2010, electricity generation from renewables has quadrupled. Most of the growth has been from onshore windfarms and, in the past two years, new offshore windfarms that span hundreds of square kilometres, such as the Hornsea One wind farm currently being built off the Yorkshire coast. In the process, coal power has been almost entirely squeezed off the grid. The government has backed renewables with subsidies while penalising coal with taxes, in order to help meet its binding carbon targets.
10-13-19 How does religion influence our thoughts on climate change?
Religious studies scholar Willis Jenkins explores the entanglement of religion and climate change. "We are the belongings of the world, not its owners," wrote writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry in 1969. Whether or not you agree might depend, in part, on your religion. More than 80 percent of Americans view themselves as religious, spiritual, or both, and 84 percent of the global population identifies as part of a religious group. These alliances can profoundly affect how we view the world and our place in it — including our attitudes toward climate change and what humanity's response should be. Religion can mean a lot of things. It can refer to a body of official teachings (for example, Catholic Christianity or Vajrayana Buddhism), it can refer to shared cultural practices and worldviews (for example, Indigenous traditions or consumer capitalism), or it can simply refer to feelings of connection to something greater than oneself. But no matter how it's defined, it informs individuals' views on how to steward the Earth, share space with other species and react to climate change, says Willis Jenkins, a religious studies scholar at the University of Virginia. Without understanding such entanglements with religion, he says, there's no hope of understanding climate change's cultural dimensions. Jenkins, with co-authors Evan Berry of American University and Luke Beck Kreider of the University of Virginia, described how religion influences views on climate change in the 2018 Annual Review of Environment and Resources. He spoke with Knowable Magazine about the biblical idea of dominion, "petro-Islam", and indigenous views of Earth stewardship. This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
10-13-19 Microplastics: Seeking the 'plastic score' of the food on our plates
Microplastics are found everywhere on Earth, yet we know surprisingly little about what risks they pose to living things. Scientists are now racing to investigate some of the big unanswered questions. Daniella Hodgson is digging a hole in the sand on a windswept beach as seabirds wheel overhead. "Found one," she cries, flinging down her spade. She opens her hand to reveal a wriggling lugworm. Plucked from its underground burrow, this humble creature is not unlike the proverbial canary in a coal mine. A sentinel for plastic, the worm will ingest any particles of plastic it comes across while swallowing sand, which can then pass up the food chain to birds and fish. "We want to see how much plastic the island is potentially getting on its shores - so what is in the sediments there - and what the animals are eating," says Ms Hodgson, a postgraduate researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London. "If you're exposed to more plastics are you going to be eating more plastics? What types of plastics, what shapes, colours, sizes? And then we can use that kind of information to inform experiments to look at the impacts of ingesting those plastics on different animals." Microplastics are generally referred to as plastic smaller than 5mm, or about the size of a sesame seed. There are many unanswered questions about the impact of these tiny bits of plastic, which come from larger plastic debris, cosmetics and clothes. What's not in dispute is just how far microplastics have travelled around the planet in a matter of decades. "They're absolutely everywhere," says Hodgson, who is investigating how plastic is making its way into marine ecosystems. "Microplastics can be found in the sea, in freshwater environments in rivers and lakes, in the atmosphere, in food." Even in this remote spot, plastic pollution is visible on the beach. Prof David Morritt who leads the Royal Holloway University research team points out blue twine and bits of plastic bottles that wash up with the seaweed at Kames Bay. Where it's coming from is the "multi-million-dollar question", he says, holding up a piece of blue string.
10-12-19 Jane Fonda arrested at Washington climate protest
US actress Jane Fonda has been arrested while participating in a climate change protest in Washington DC. The 81-year-old was filmed being escorted away by police officers as she protested outside the US Capitol building with Oil Change International, a group advocating for clean energy. She warned that she would be getting involved in the protests and was inspired "by the incredible movement our youth have created". Ms Fonda has a history of protesting. She was one of 16 people to be arrested, according to CBS News. They were all charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding. Ms Fonda said on her website that she had moved to Washington DC to be "closer to the epicentre of the fight for our climate". She vowed to protest every Friday until January to demand for action to be taken to address climate change. Ms Fonda labelled the protests "Fire Drill Fridays". Every evening before her protests, a panel of experts will take part in a live stream explaining the crisis to viewers, Ms Fonda said. According to the Washington Post, she has invited leaders of Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement - a group of young people who want to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process. The actress has had a history of activism. She was pictured speaking at the global climate strike in Los Angeles last month. In 2016, she spent Thanksgiving among the protesters at Standing Rock, demonstrating against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
10-12-19 Amazon fires: What's the latest in Brazil?
Dark clouds of smoke smothered cities in Brazil as parts of the Amazon burned at a rate not seen in years, and the world responded with outrage. For a few weeks in August, the world's eyes were fixed on Brazil and its government's response. But what is the latest with the fires now, almost two months on? And why might the problem be worse than it first appeared? When the burning of the Amazon was at its peak in August, there were thousands of individual fires, almost three times as many that month - 30,901 - compared with the same period last year. What caused this? Forest fires do happen in the Amazon during the dry season between July and October. They can be caused by naturally occurring events, like lightning strikes, but this year most are thought to have been started by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing. This matters because the Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. The world reacted with fury to the fires - there were protests in dozens of cities, threats of financial penalties, and broad condemnation of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies. In late August, Mr Bolsonaro deployed the army to the Amazon and ordered a 60-day ban on setting fires to clear land there. The measures had an effect - the number of fires in the Amazon dropped by a third between August and September. The pace has slowed even more this month, and is likely to do so even more now that annual rains have started. There are signs, though, that the situation is worse than it appears. This is because the burning of the rainforest isn't the biggest problem - deforestation is. Traditionally, Amazon rainforest is felled, left to dry and then set on fire. By the time the moratorium came in, vast deforestation had already taken place. The only thing the ban prevented was more burning. "They reduced the level of burning, but not the level of deforestation," says Ane Alencar, the science director of the non-profit Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam). "By the end of August, most of the deforestation in the current year had already happened." (Webmaster's comment: Destroying our world, one act of stupidity after another.)
10-11-19 Climate change: Big lifestyle changes are the only answer
The UK government must tell the public small, easy changes will not be enough to tackle climate change, warn experts. Researchers from Imperial College London say we must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights, and ditch gas boilers at home. The report, seen by BBC Panorama, has been prepared for the Committee on Climate Change, which advises ministers how to cut the UK's carbon footprint. It says an upheaval in our lifestyles is the only way to meet targets. The government has passed a law obliging the country to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. It is "going further and faster than any other developed nation to protect the planet for future generations", a government spokesperson told BBC Panorama. "If we can go faster, we will." But the new report warns major shifts in policy across huge areas of government activity are needed to keep the public onside. Chris Stark, the Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change, tells Panorama the government's plan for cutting emissions is "not nearly at the level of ambition required". "Every bit of policy now needs to be refreshed," he warned in an interview with BBC Panorama. The new report, called Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero, amounts to an extensive "to-do" list for government. It says subsidies for fossil fuels have to go and taxes on low-carbon technologies must be cut. At the same time, consumers need to be given far more information on the environmental consequences of their actions. It also urges the government to consider introducing a carbon tax, increasing the prices of carbon-intensive products and activities. It is an ambitious agenda but necessary, the report says, if Britain is to achieve its Net Zero ambitions. "These changes need not be expensive or reduce well-being," the report concludes, "but they will not happen at the pace required unless policy first removes obstacles to change in markets and consumer choice." (Webmaster's comment: The problem is getting the rest of the world to go along. In the United States the it's the almost total lack of caring about others that defeats any collective action.)
10-11-19 Crabs are being found in the Thames with stomachs full of plastic
Crabs in the Thames river in the UK have been found to be ingesting “shocking” amounts of plastic and may be passing it on in high doses to other marine species, researchers have found. A UK team surveying the river looked at 55 shore crabs and 57 mitten crabs and discovered that almost every one had plastics in either the stomach, intestines or gills. Much of the plastic was so tightly wound and tangled together inside the gastric mill, the relatively small stomach inside these crabs, that the plastic fibres completely filled it. “What is particularly shocking is not only are they filling the stomach but they can be made up of over 100 fibres [in each crab], so they are very highly contaminated,” said Alexandra McGoran of London’s Natural History Museum, speaking at New Scientist Live today. In one crab, McGoran found the telltale chequered pattern of a sanitary pad, meaning that in this case she was able to identify exactly where the plastic had come from. She says sanitary pads are a common contaminant. Unlike fish in the Thames, many of which have been found to have ingested plastic which then quickly passes through their system, plastic seems to remain inside crabs. “We find crabs are a very unusual sink for plastic, they seem to retain a lot of them for potentially a long time. We don’t know if they are predated on, and if that high dose is delivered to other animals,” says McGoran. However, she did find some fish had eaten juvenile crabs, so if those crabs were as contaminated as adult ones, that would see the fish consuming a large amount of plastic.
10-11-19 Plastic pollution: How Ibiza is tackling its problem with waste
Ibiza generated half a tonne of waste per person this year, which is 14% higher than the rest of Europe. According to figures from the Ibiza Preservation Foundation, this is double the amount per person than Spain produces as a whole. Part of the problem is that Ibiza thrives on its tourism, and in 2018 more than four million people landed on its beaches - a quarter of these were from the UK. But, campaigners say, after all the cars, crowds and yachts disappear, a huge strain is left on resources, nature, and the beauty of Ibiza. Plastic ends up in the sea and on the beaches which is harmful to the marine environment and endangered species. DJ and producer Blond:ish is popular on the Ibiza clubbing scene, but she is also well known for being a sustainability campaigner in the music industry. When she is not behind the desks, she uses her time to educate DJs, clubs and clubbers about single-use plastics, in the hope that one day she will DJ at zero-plastic shows. She says the music industry is a big source of waste, which is a particular problem on a tiny island like Ibiza. "In the summer, we can play every day and the footprint can be huge. DJing is actually a really small part of it, really we are just travellers." Blond:ish says DJs can often travel from island to island, country to country, playing sets and urges the industry to "take small steps like offsetting our carbon". "We are partying in paradise, and paradises have sensitive ecosystems which can't withstand the city lifestyle," says Blond:ish. Through her campaign group, Bye Bye Plastic, Blond:ish also encourages artists to go plastic-free on their riders, which is the food and drink they request for backstage and in the DJ booths when they play. She said: "Bye Bye plastic upgraded our riders to be single-use plastic-free." She says this is a "tiny step" but that if DJs, agents and clubbers all pitch in, it will eventually influence the clubs.
10-10-19 Californians cope with mass power cuts
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) estimates around two million people are without electricity after the utility company cut the power. This is the largest power outage in California's history and is meant to prevent the spread of wildfires. PG&E says they're starting to restore power in areas where the weather is improving.
10-9-19 Return of warm water 'blob' in the Pacific threatens marine life
The reappearance of a vast ‘blob’ of abnormally warm water in the Pacific, around seven times the size of Alaska, has raised the prospect of serious impacts on marine ecosystems and the weather. The marine heatwave stretches up the US and Canadian west coast, covering a similar extent to a mass of warm water in the region between 2014 and 2016, dubbed ‘the blob’. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which reported the new patch this week, notes the last blob caused toxic algal blooms and massive die-offs of marine life. “There’s definitely already been impacts and there’s likely to be further,” says Andrew Leising at NOAA. Algal blooms have already been seen off Washington state. Simon Boxall at the University of Southampton, UK, says: “We do sometimes see anomalous warm or cold blobs in our oceans so shouldn’t necessarily assume the end of the world is coming. However, the fact it’s becoming more frequent will have an impact on ecosystems.” He adds: “In the long term, if this is happening regularly, it could be we are seeing a difference because of climate change. It is something that needs to be watched carefully. It will bring changes to the area both in terms of ecology and weather.” Scientists have different definitions of marine heatwaves, says David Ferreira at the University of Reading, UK. But typically, rises of 2-4°C over a region for a prolonged time would be considered a marine heatwave, he says. While such blobs can’t be attributed to climate change, warmer average global temperatures create the conditions for them to appear, says Ferreira. “In the context of global warming, the warmer the background temperature the higher the probability you might get a blob.” The climate phenomenon El Nino may also play a role in the formation of blobs, Leising adds.
10-10-19 'Molar Berg' does a quick Antarctic pirouette
The EU's Sentinel-2 satellite system got a great view of Antarctica's newest giant iceberg on Wednesday. Cloudless skies over the east of the continent meant the 315-billion-tonne block could be seen in all its glory. The 1,636 sq km frozen chunk broke off the Amery Ice Shelf two weeks ago and has already spun around by 90 degrees. The block has been nicknamed "Molar Berg" by scientists because it calved from next to a segment of ice that looks from space like a "Loose Tooth". This moniker is, however, unofficial. The US National Ice Center runs the recognised nomenclature for icebergs and it has given the hulking mass the designation D28. Antarctica's nearshore winds and currents tend to push the big bergs in a westerly direction. Often they will play "bumper cars", bashing the coastline and knocking other lumps out of the ice shelf and themselves. And by the looks of it, Molar Berg is heading straight for a head-on collision with another part of Amery. With Antarctica's long "polar night" coming to an end and the Sun getting ever higher in the sky, the Sentinel-2 system is once again tracking changes across the continent. As an optical sensor, the two-spacecraft system can only see lit portions of the Earth's surface. In the dark days of winter, radar satellites like the Sentinel-1 system are the only way to keep abreast of developments.
10-9-19 Some corals ‘killed’ by climate change are now returning to life
Reef-building corals can make unexpected recoveries from climate change-induced destruction. It turns out that some corals only look dead when exposed to unusually warm water. Instead, the coral’s polyps shrink and retreat into their hard skeleton, making the reef appear dead, before recolonising the skeleton when conditions are better. It is a survival strategy never seen before in today’s corals – but it may not help the corals as the climate continues to change. Corals have been hard hit by warming waters. Reefs worldwide, including the Great Barrier Reef, are edging towards collapse. The slow-growing endangered species Cladocora caespitosa is particularly vulnerable to destruction with little indication so far as to whether it can recover. By monitoring colonies of C. caespitosa in the Mediterranean Sea for 16 years, Diego Kersting and Cristina Linares at the University of Barcelona, Spain, have observed that recovery is possible. They discovered that seemingly dead corals can in fact regrow in the wake of heat damage caused by climate change. Some made an almost full recovery. When the polyps that make up a C. caespitosa colony are hit by warm weather, Kersting and Linares found that they shrink and recede deep within the coral skeleton. To the eye the hard coral looks devoid of life. But given time these tiny polyps – the characteristic “tentacles” on coral – can regrow. We already knew that ancient corals could do this, as their fossils contain the fossilised remains of tiny skeletal structures that formed when the polyps regrew. Until now, however, it wasn’t clear whether today’s corals could. “We can see why and when this strategy is put in place and how the recovery process evolves through time,” says Kersting.
10-9-19 If we label eco-anxiety as an illness, climate denialists have won
No planet B | The UK media reports a “tsunami” of cases of eco-anxiety in children. It is no medical condition, though, it is a rational response to the state of the climate, says Graham Lawton. LAST week I had a sobering conversation with an editor from one of the BBC’s flagship science programmes. He had been reading my column and wanted to pick my brains about emerging environmental issues. After half an hour chewing over the dire state of the climate and biodiversity, he asked me: how do you cope? How do you sleep at night knowing all of this? I admit that I sometimes lose sleep, usually when I’m working on a story that brings me face to face with the realities of climate breakdown or biodiversity loss. I worry for my sons’ future and I feel a profound sense of loss, guilt, anger and helplessness. Recently I have come to suspect that I have eco-anxiety. In fact, a psychotherapist has told me I almost certainly do. But I’m not seeking help and I’m not worried about it, because I know there is no such condition – although not for the reason you might think. The concept of eco-anxiety has been discussed in academic circles for years but burst into the wider world last month when sections of the UK media reported a “tsunami” of eco-anxiety in children. Apparently, they are increasingly asking doctors, therapists and teachers for help coping with their fears. Some are even being prescribed psychiatric drugs. The response to this story was predictable. Many commentators saw the opportunity for an anti-green pile-on. Instead of calling for action on climate change, they shot the messengers. Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikes and the teachers who encourage them were accused of stoking panic. Take-home message: eco-anxiety is a made-up condition.
10-9-19 Hundreds of temperature records broken over summer
Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer, according to an analysis of temperature records. The records were broken in 29 countries for the period from 1 May to 30 August this year. A third of the all-time high temperatures were in Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands. The analysis was carried out by the California-based climate institute Berkeley Earth. Over the summer, there were 1,200 instances of places in the northern hemisphere being the hottest they'd ever been in a given month. The data included measurements from weather stations in the northern hemisphere that had at least 40 years of observations. Some of this data has not yet been subjected to formal review by weather agencies. These reviews, to check for problems that might have produced false readings, sometimes cause a small fraction of the records to be discounted. Heatwaves in Europe in June and July sent temperatures soaring, smashing a number of local and national records. France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C, while the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported new highs. This summer was notable for the very large number of all-time temperature records set in Europe, according to Dr Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist at Berkeley Earth. "Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs," he told the BBC. The extent of the hot spells on the continent is clearly visible when looking at a breakdown of when the most temperature records were broken. In late July, all-time temperature records were set in a number of European countries including the UK.Elsewhere, more than 30 all-time records were broken in the US, according to the Berkeley Earth data. In Japan, where 11 people who died as a result of the summer heatwave, 10 all-time temperature record highs were set.
10-9-19 Northern California braced for mega power cut
A power company has started cutting electricity to around 800,000 homes, businesses and other locations in Northern California, in an attempt to prevent wildfires. Large swathes of the San Francisco Bay Area - though not the city itself - are expected to be affected. The region’s utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has warned the shut down could last several days. The move has drawn anger from some residents. With weather forecasts predicting high winds, the move is intended to prevent the risk of fallen power lines igniting the kind of wildfires that have devastated large areas of the state in previous years. "The conditions are ripe: dry fuel, high winds, warm event. Any spark can create a significant event," said Ray Riordan, director of the Office of Emergency Management in San Jose, during a press conference on Tuesday. The huge “Camp Fire" in the town of Paradise last year burned 150,000 acres and left 86 people dead. An investigation determined that poorly maintained PG&E equipment was to blame for starting the blaze - the deadliest in California’s history. The firm was also blamed for deadly fires in 2017. Subsequent lawsuits led the publicly-traded company to declare bankruptcy in 2019, a process which is still ongoing. PG&E is the sole provider of gas and electricity for much of Northern California, and so the vast majority of consumers in the region do not have an alternative source of power. “We have experienced an unprecedented fire season the past two years,” said Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokeswoman, speaking to BBC partner CBS News. "And what we learned from that is that we need to be taking further steps to ensure the safety of our customers and the communities that we serve. Public safety power shut off is one of the many steps that we're taking."
10-9-19 Too much groundwater pumping is draining many of the world’s rivers
Over half of pumped watersheds could pass a critical ecological threshold by 2050. Humankind’s collective thirst is slowly desiccating landscapes worldwide, a study of groundwater finds. Water stored in aquifers underground makes up the vast majority of accessible freshwater on Earth. Its abundance has fueled forays into drier locales, such as California’s Central Valley, enabling a boom in crop production (SN: 7/23/19). And overall, about 70 percent of the groundwater being used worldwide goes to agriculture. But surface waters — rivers and streams — rely on groundwater, too. When people pump too much too quickly, natural waterways begin to empty, compromising freshwater ecosystems. A study in the Oct. 3 Nature finds that this ecological tipping point, what scientists call the environmental flow limit, has already been reached in 15 to 21 percent of watersheds tapped by humans. Most of those rivers and streams are in drier regions like parts of Mexico and northern India where groundwater is used for irrigation. If pumping continues at current rates, the authors estimate that by 2050, anywhere from 42 to 79 percent of pumped watersheds will have crossed this threshold. “It’s really quite alarming,” says Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. “Groundwater and surface waters are intimately connected, and too much pumping creates a ticking time bomb.” A healthy aquifer buttresses ecosystems against seasonal fluctuations in water availability, providing stability for resident plants and animals. But if too much groundwater is pumped, surface waters begin to seep into the aquifer, draining the life from many river and stream habitats. (Webmaster's comment: With 7.7 Billion people needing water what do you expect!)
10-8-19 UN agency meant to be limiting flying emissions votes to block action
The UN agency that is supposed to be trying to limit soaring CO2 emissions from aviation has effectively voted to block meaningful action to achieve this. “It’s a serious and unnecessary setback,” says Andrew Murphy at Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment. “It should not have been allowed to happen.” Globally, almost nothing is being done to stop aviation emissions soaring. Jet fuel on international flights is not taxed at all – an effective subsidy. However, for flights within the European Union, airlines do have to buy allowances to cover the CO2 emissions as part of the EU’s carbon trading scheme. Under an international scheme called CORSIA, due to be phased in from 2021, countries will have to “offset” the growth in emissions after 2020 – for instance, by paying for tree planting. The airline industry says this will allow “carbon-neutral” growth. But offsetting is widely regarded as ineffective – there’s no way to be sure the trees would not have been planted anyway, and will still be growing in 20 or 50 years. A 2017 EU report concluded that 85 per cent of official UN offsets failed to reduce emissions. On 4 October, delegates at the International Civil Aviation Organization – the UN agency setting up CORSIA – voted that the scheme “should be the only market-based measure applied to international flights”. This vote does not in itself have any legal force. But it may provide a basis for airlines to challenge the EU’s carbon trading scheme. The vote is likely to lead to airlines suing the EU over their inclusion in the scheme, says Murphy. If the EU lost the case, it would be a green light for business as usual for the airlines, he says. Flying already generates more than 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions, and the amount is expected to double before 2050. And we might be greatly underestimating the impact. One recent study claimed the warming effect of the contrails left by aircraft is even greater than that of the CO2 they emit.
10-8-19 'Ozone hole vigilance still required'
The recovery of the ozone layer over Antarctica cannot be taken for granted and requires constant vigilance. That's the message from Dr Jonathan Shanklin, one of the scientists who first documented the annual thinning of the protective gas in the 1980s. This year's "hole" in the stratosphere high above the White Continent is the smallest in three decades. It's welcome, says Dr Shanklin, but we should really only view it as an anomaly. The better than expected levels of ozone have been attributed to a sudden warming at high altitudes, which can occasionally happen. This has worked to stymie the chemical reactions that usually destroy ozone 15-30km above the planet. "To see whether international treaties are working or not, you need to look at the long term," Dr Shanklin told BBC News. "A quick glance this year might lead you to think we've fixed the ozone hole. We haven't. And although things are improving, there are still some countries out there who are manufacturing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals that have been responsible for the problem. We cannot be complacent." Dr Shanklin, along with Joe Farman and Brian Gardiner, first alerted the world in 1985 that a deep thinning was occurring in the ozone layer above Antarctica each spring. Ozone filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The team's discovery, confirming the theoretical predictions of others, led to the Montreal Protocol. This international treaty phased out most of the chlorine- and bromine-containing chemicals involved in ozone depletion. At the time, these substances were being used widely as refrigerants, cleaning agents, and as the propellants in aerosol cans.
10-7-19 Extinction Rebellion: Worldwide demonstrations and arrests
Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion activists have been arrested as protests take place across the globe. The protesters want governments to take immediate and drastic action to address climate change. Protests by climate change activists are expected in some 60 cities over the next two weeks.
10-7-19 UK scientists join the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests
Hundreds of climate change activists took to the streets of London this morning for a planned two-week protest organised by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion. New Scientist spoke to several scientists who are members of the group and will be taking part in the protests to find out what prompted them to take direction action. Charlie Gardner, a conservation scientist at the University of Kent, says he joined the organisation because he felt that his professional responsibility extended beyond “just studying and describing” the impact of climate change on biodiversity. “We know what to do to save species, but the UK government is not giving us the funding to do it. I’ve done everything I possibly can professionally and personally, but none of that has worked, it’s all been a drop in the ocean. For me as a scientist this is necessary – and it is going to work.” Gardner is encouraging other scientists who are not able to join the protests to support the movement by writing in scientific publications, starting local activism groups and lobbying their institutions and employers to declare a ‘climate emergency’. Extinction Rebellion’s latest move is a planned campaign of civil disobedience across London, taking action including blocking major streets and bridges in the city centre, occupying government department buildings, and holding a mass sit-in at London’s City Airport. The group say that there will also be simultaneous protests in 60 cities around the world. Extinction Rebellion claim the action will be on a much larger scale than its protests in central London in April, when 11 days of protests brought parts of the capital to a standstill and led to more than a thousand arrests. Jennifer Rudd, a scientist at a UK university, says she had no choice but to join Extinction Rebellion “given everything I know about climate change”.
10-7-19 Extinction Rebellion: Arrests at Sydney and Amsterdam protests
Dozens of Extinction Rebellion activists have been arrested as protests take place across the globe. Thirty people were charged with committing offences in Sydney after hundreds blocked a road, while activists surrounded a government building in Wellington, New Zealand. Fifty people were detained in Amsterdam for erecting a tent on a main road. Protests by climate change activists are expected in some 60 cities over the next two weeks. The group is also causing disruption in London, where more than 130 people were arrested on Monday. Extinction Rebellion wants governments to take immediate and drastic action to address climate change. "We have tried petitions, lobbying and marches, and now time is running out," Australian activist Jane Morton told the AFP news agency. "We have no choice but to rebel until our government declares a climate and ecological emergency and takes the action that is required to save us." Australia's government has been criticised for its lack of action in tackling climate change but it insists that it is doing its part to reduce global carbon emissions. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said last week that names and photos of Extinction Rebellion protesters should be widely distributed to "shame" them. More than 20 activists have already been detained in London, with organisers vowing to shut down key sites in the city including the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Similar protests in the UK earlier this year brought major disruption to London and resulted in more than 1,100 arrests. Protests are expected to spread across dozens of cities, including Delhi and New York, in the days and weeks ahead as activists call for urgent environmental action. Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) wants governments to declare a "climate and ecological emergency" and take immediate action to address climate change. It describes itself as an international "non-violent civil disobedience activist movement".
10-7-19 What is Extinction Rebellion and what does it want?
Environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion says it will start a two-week protest on Monday. In London, it aims to "peacefully occupy the centres of power and shut them down" and protests are also planned in world cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Sydney. But who are Extinction Rebellion's supporters and what are they hoping to achieve? Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) wants governments to declare a "climate and ecological emergency" and take immediate action to address climate change. It describes itself as an international "non-violent civil disobedience activist movement". Extinction Rebellion was launched in 2018 and organisers say it now has groups willing to take action in dozens of countries. The group uses an hourglass inside a circle as its logo, to represent time running out for many species. In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has three main demands: The government must declare a climate "emergency",The UK must legally commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, A citizens' assembly must be formed to "oversee the changes". Reducing CO2 emissions to almost zero in six years' time would be extremely ambitious. Severe restrictions on flying would be needed. Diets would have to change, by drastically cutting back on meat and dairy. And there would have to be a massive increase in renewable energy, along with many other radical changes. But those involved with Extinction Rebellion say the future of the planet depends on it. "We have left it so late that we have to step up in a semi-miraculous way to deal with this situation," said co-founder Gail Bradbrook. However, the group doesn't say what the solutions to tackle climate change should be. Instead, it wants the government to create a "citizens' assembly", made up of randomly selected people representing a cross-section of society. Its members would decide how to solve the climate crisis, with advice from experts.
10-6-19 In a climate crisis, is geoengineering worth the risks?
More research on such tech as ocean seeding and space mirrors is needed, some scientists say. Geoengineering ideas — tinkering with the climate to delay or halt the worst effects of global warming — have been around for decades. Few such ideas have progressed past the thought experiment stage, due in part to concerns that the cure could be worse than the disease. But as dire warnings about climate change’s impacts increasingly dominate the news, geoengineering may once again be getting a closer look. “We should investigate geoengineering in case we can’t change our behaviors fast enough to ward off the worst of climate change,” Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang notes on his campaign website. Yang’s campaign, alone among the candidates, proposes funding large-scale government research into massive climate intervention projects such as giant solar radiation-reflecting space mirrors or seeding the ocean with iron to promote blooms of carbon-sequestering algae. Not everyone is sure this is a good idea. When it comes to ocean seeding, for example, “there is considerable uncertainty and disagreement … whether this would do more harm than good,” says David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Vast algal blooms could alter the geochemistry of the deep ocean, he adds. “It is with great caution that anyone should be deliberating altering the nutrient balance of the sea for any reason.” Similarly, proposals to tinker with incoming solar radiation to cool the planet might significantly shift weather patterns and negatively affect crops. What hints scientists do have about the possible effects of geoengineering come from “natural experiments” such as massive volcanic eruptions that briefly but intensely alter atmospheric or ocean conditions (SN: 9/6/19). Despite decades of discussion and simulating, or modeling, the impact of human-made geoengineering projects, there are still few real-world data — and there is little funding available for scientists interested in obtaining more data.
10-4-19 Earth’s oceans in peril
Climate change has already had such a devastating effect on the world’s oceans that future damage from rising and warming seas is now unavoidable, according to a new United Nations report. Since 1970, oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat generated by carbon pollution in the atmosphere, as well as much of the carbon dioxide itself. This has triggered profound changes in oceanic chemistry. Upper layers of open ocean are holding less oxygen and becoming more acidic, wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems. The frequency of marine heat waves, blamed for mass die-offs of coral reefs and other ocean habitats, has doubled since the 1980s. Even if humanity manages to massively slash carbon emissions in coming decades, the negative effects of climate change will continue, the report found. In the best-case scenario, sea levels are still expected to rise by 1 to 2 feet over the next century because of melting glaciers and sea ice. Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, tells NPR.org, “That means, no matter what we do, we have to figure out how are we going to adapt to these changes.”
10-4-19 Figures haven't changed
Oil, natural gas, and coal account for 81 percent of the world’s energy consumption—a figure that hasn’t changed in 30 years despite the rapid growth of renewables such as solar and wind power.
10-4-19 Microplastics in your tea
When you sip a cup of gourmet tea, you could be swallowing billions of plastic particles. That’s the finding of researchers at Canada’s McGill University who examined the “silken” tea bags used by many premium brands, reports the National Post (Canada). Unlike traditional paper tea bags, silken tea bags are made of plastic and are often pyramid-shaped, to give the tea leaves more room to expand. But when these tea bags are steeped in hot water, they quickly start to break down. Scientists observed that a single silken bag can release some 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles—about 13 to 16 micrograms of plastic per cup. Though that might not sound like much, it’s thousands of times higher than the microplastic content of other foods. Table salt, which has been found to have a high concentration of microplastics, has 0.005 micrograms per gram. Little research has been conducted on how microplastics affect human health, but study co-author Laura Hernandez suggests people use “tea bags or loose-leaf tea, which eliminates the need for this single-use plastic packaging.”
10-4-19 India shelves crackdown on single-use plastic
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on the nation to work towards ending the use of plastic. It comes after India shelved a blanket ban on single-use plastics saying it was too disruptive during an economic slowdown - the proposal had already spooked businesses and manufacturers.
10-4-19 Climate change: Polarstern icebreaker begins year-long Arctic drift
German Research Vessel Polarstern has found a location to begin its year-long drift in Arctic sea-ice. The ship, which will head the North Pole's biggest scientific expedition, will settle next to a thick ice floe on the Siberian side of the ocean basin. The precise location is 85 degrees north and 137 degrees east. Hundreds of investigators will use it as a base from which to probe the impacts of climate change at the top of the world. "After a brief but intensive search, we've found our home for the months to come," said expedition leader Prof Markus Rex, from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). "It may not be the perfect floe but it's the best one in this part of the Arctic and offers better working conditions than we could have expected after a warm Arctic summer." RV Polarstern set out on its MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) mission two weeks ago. It travelled from the Norwegian port of Tromsø, supported by other icebreakers in search of a suitable piece of ice where it could set up a camp. Sixteen possible locations were scouted with the aid of satellite imagery and helicopters. A metres-thick floe measuring roughly 2.5km by 3.5km was eventually chosen. The international expedition considers itself lucky to have identified its home so soon after departing Tromsø. This summer's warmth has produced the second smallest Arctic sea-ice extent in the satellite era. As a consequence, the ice capping the ocean surface is very thin. The floes, though, are now succumbing to the winter freeze-up. The Sun no longer rises above the horizon at the ship's location and it won't be long before the 24-hour darkness of "polar night" descends on the MOSAiC expedition. RV Polarstern will soon be locked solid in the ice.
10-4-19 Why remaking heavy industry is a crucial part of any Green New Deal
Crudely put, America and the world have until 2050 to eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions if we want to minimize the worst risks of global warming. That's not necessarily as daunting as it seems: For about 70 percent of human energy use — areas like transportation, electricity generation, heating and cooling residential and commercial buildings — zero-carbon technology is already here. We just have to put it in place. Other sectors are tougher nuts to crack. In particular, heavy industry accounts for about a fifth of U.S. carbon emissions, and a quarter of the globe's. Think of steel-making, cement making, smelting aluminum for electronics, or manufacturing chemical products like ammonia — a critical ingredient in making everything from fertilizer to pharmaceuticals to plastics. "Industry is what we categorize as a 'hard to abate sector,'" Mark Paul, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute who recently co-authored a paper on comprehensively decarbonizing the American economy, told The Week. "We don't necessarily have all of the technology at our fingertips right now to fully and rapidly decarbonize industry." Nor is heavy industry important simply for its carbon footprint. It also produces a lot of other forms of pollution that lead to disease and death; eliminating fossil fuels from heavy industry will eliminate those pollutants, too. At the same time, it's not as if the world's need for steel and chemical products is shrinking. And heavy industry can be a prominent source of both good-paying blue collar jobs as well as the sorts of tradable goods that can keep smaller rural economies afloat. Transforming heavy industry, rather than merely reducing it, will be key. Obviously, these sectors draw on a lot of electrical power, and that can be decarbonized. What makes them tricky is that individual plants and factories also burn plenty of fossil fuels on site too: Steel production relies on furnaces; the cement and glass industries require kilns; chemical products involve boilers; paper and pulp industries require both steam production and heat to dry their products.
10-4-19 Climate strikes: Why Russians don't get Greta's message
For 30 Fridays on the trot, a young Russian violinist has stood in central Moscow in a one-person protest. Arshak Makichyan is not picketing about free elections, police violence or political prisoners. His big concern is the planet and his inspiration is Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. "This is about our future," the 24-year-old explains, echoing the teenage campaigner. He says he began to read about climate change after seeing her protests, and realised the threat. "Russia is the world's fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and our government won't act without pressure. So it's important to strike for the climate." But it seems many Russians have a problem with Greta. Social media users have insulted her and this week President Vladimir Putin patronised the teenager, suggesting someone should "explain" just how the adult world works. "I'm sure Greta is a kind and very sincere girl," he added. There's a lot of talk of mysterious forces "controlling" her and column inches asking the eternal Russian question "who benefits" from her activism. It is possible they just don't get it. Environmental activism is not big in Russia, where many feel they have more pressing things to fret about. High prices, poverty and corruption all regularly top the lists of concerns, way above climate change. Then there's the fact that politicians often hail the economic benefits of global warming: opening up the Northern Sea Route, for example, for both shipping and energy exploration in the Arctic. Russia is a major fossil fuel exporter, of course. And the idea of getting warmer is unlikely to worry people too much - not in a country where for half of the year your nostril hairs freeze as soon as you step into the street.
10-3-19 Giant boom traps plastic waste from the oceans for the first time
A pioneering Dutch experiment to try collecting plastic rubbish from the oceans has successfully caught floating debris for the first time. Boyan Slat, the founder of The Ocean Cleanup, said that after a failed effort last year, his giant v-shaped boom system had overcome technical challenges to start removing waste. “We are now catching plastics”, he told journalists yesterday. “We now have a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics.” The proof of concept comes three years after Slat tested a prototype in the North Sea, in a bid to offer a solution to tackling the hundreds of thousands of floating tonnes of plastic being carried by gyres in the mid-Pacific. Arjen Tjallema of The Ocean Cleanup told New Scientist the feat had proved the sceptics wrong. “This shows our technology is actually capable of collecting plastics. This is a big milestone – there is a feasible solution to the problem.” An attempt by the group failed last year, after the boom failed to keep a consistent speed on the ocean’s surface, allowing plastic to drift free. A part of the system also broke off, forcing a return to port. A redesigned system was launched in June, and has an underwater parachute to create drag and slow it down. However, while plastic debris was channelled into the boom after this improvement, it escaped by overtopping the yellow buoys that make up the system. Tjallema says the answer was relatively simple – the group simply stuck three of the buoys on top of one another, taking the height to around half a metre above the waves. Waste was collected in the past month.
10-2-19 How many trees are there on Earth? Mission to measure planet's biomass
Trees are our biggest ally against climate change - but we've never been sure how big. New space-based technology is revealing their potential for the first timeP.EXCITEMENT in the room was palpable on the morning of 5 December last year. The day before, the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to supply the International Space Station had been delayed for 24 hours. That followed the discovery on board of mouldy food – not bound for the ISS crew but to feed some mice set to join them. Now, a crowd had gathered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the rescheduled lift off. Stowed along with the mice and fresh feed were experiments, including a remote-sensing system called GEDI – pronounced like the Jedi in Star Wars. GEDI – the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation – turns out to be a particularly precious cargo. It is a NASA mission designed to provide the first three-dimensional look at the world’s forests. Surprisingly, given our achievements in space, we still have only a vague idea of how much living matter is on Earth. We do know that trees make up the bulk of it. We also know that forestation and deforestation contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. So, the unprecedented information that GEDI gathers on trees will be essential for understanding climate change. The SpaceX launch was just the beginning. GEDI is in the vanguard of a new wave of innovative sensors that will assess the world’s plant life and how it is changing – how much carbon, for instance, is lost to the atmosphere when trees are destroyed as a result of catastrophic events such as wildfires, hurricanes and logging. These eyes in the sky will be invaluable in efforts to protect and regenerate forests, too. At last, we are starting to get a holistic picture of our green planet – and what we risk losing if we don’t take action.
10-2-19 A solar-powered airship is being built to transport cargo more greenly
Airships were once considered the future of flight. Now, they are being touted as a greener method of transport. A solar-powered airship being built by UK-based firm Varialift Airships could eventually be used as a low-emissions way to freight cargo internationally. On a transatlantic flight between the UK and the US, the airship would use 8 percent of the fuel of a conventional jet aeroplane, says Varialift CEO Alan Handley. Airships – lighter-than-air vehicles that rely on gas to lift them into flight – were common until the 1940s, when they were supplanted by jet engine aeroplanes. The advantage of airships is that they don’t require dedicated runways to take off and land, meaning that they can travel to areas with poor infrastructure. “We can take it to point A to point B where it’s required, without any transfer from aircraft to lorries,” says Handley. They are, however, far slower than jet engines. Handley says the Varialift airship would travel at roughly half the speed of a Boeing 747, which has a cruising speed of around 900 kilometres per hour. Made from a solid aluminium exterior, it would be capable of carrying 50 tonnes of cargo. The airship contains tanks filled with compressed helium, which it relies on for buoyancy. When the helium is transferred from the tanks into a larger chamber, it expands and pushes air out, thereby generating lift. Once it reached a height of around 10,000 metres, it would be propelled forward by a combination of two solar-powered and two conventional jet engines. Because there is no on-board battery, the solar-powered engines would be limited to daylight hours. Varialift has not yet begun constructing a production model. At an airfield at Châteaudun, France, they are currently building a pilot training prototype that is 140 metres long, 26 metres wide and 26 metres high. It is set to be completed in the next nine months.
10-1-19 315 billion-tonne iceberg breaks off Antarctica
The Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica has just produced its biggest iceberg in more than 50 years. The calved block covers 1,636 sq km in area - a little smaller than Scotland's Isle of Skye - and is called D28. The scale of the berg means it will have to be monitored and tracked because it could in future pose a hazard to shipping. Not since the early 1960s has Amery calved a bigger iceberg. That was a whopping 9,000 sq km in area. Amery is the third largest ice shelf in Antarctica, and is a key drainage channel for the east of the continent. The shelf is essentially the floating extension of a number of glaciers that flow off the land into the sea. Losing bergs to the ocean is how these ice streams maintain equilibrium, balancing the input of snow upstream. So, scientists knew this calving event was coming. What's interesting is that much attention in the area had actually been focussed just to the east of the section that's now broken away. This is a segment of Amery that has affectionately become known as "Loose Tooth" because of its resemblance in satellite images to the dentition of a small child. Both ice areas had shared the same rift system. But although wobbly, Loose tooth is still attached. It's D28 that's been extracted. "It is the molar compared to a baby tooth," Prof Helen Fricker from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography told BBC News. Prof Fricker had predicted back in 2002 that Loose Tooth would come off sometime between 2010 and 2015. "I am excited to see this calving event after all these years. We knew it would happen eventually, but just to keep us all on our toes, it is not exactly where we expected it to be," she said. The Scripps researcher stressed that there was no link between this event and climate change. Satellite data since the 1990s has shown that Amery is roughly in balance with its surroundings, despite experiencing strong surface melt in summer.
10-1-19 Jet fuel from thin air: Aviation's hope or hype?
"This is the future of aviation," Oskar Meijerink tells me in a café in Rotterdam airport. His company, in partnership with the airport's owners, is planning the world's first commercial production of jet fuel made, in part, from carbon dioxide (CO2). Based at the airport, it will work by capturing CO2, the gas which contributes to global warming, from the air. In a separate process, electrolysis splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is mixed with the captured CO2 to form syngas, which can be transformed into jet fuel. The pilot plant, which aims to produce 1,000 litres of jet fuel a day, will get its energy from solar panels. The partners in the project hope to produce the first fuel in 2021. They argue that their jet fuel will have a much smaller CO2 impact than regular fuel. "The beauty of direct air capture is that the CO2 is reused again, and again, and again," says Louise Charles, from Climeworks, the company which provides the direct air capture technology. Oskar admits that the fuel has a long way to go before it is competitive. "The main element is the cost," Oskar Meijerink, from SkyNRG, concedes. "Fossil jet fuel is relatively inexpensive. Capturing CO2 from the air is still a nascent technology and expensive. Other companies are working on similar direct capture systems, including Carbon Engineering in Canada and US-based Global Thermostat. But environmental campaigners are highly sceptical. "It sure does sound amazing. It sounds like a solution to all of our problems - except that it's not," said Jorien de Lege from Friends of the Earth. "If you think about it, this demonstration plant can produce a thousand litres a day based on renewable energy. That's about five minutes of flying in a Boeing 747. "It'd be a mistake to think that we can keep flying the way that we do because we can fly on air. That's never going to happen. It's always going to be a niche."
10-1-19 Island reveals rising tide of plastic waste
A remote island in the southern Atlantic Ocean has helped reveal the scale of the problem of plastic waste facing our seas. Some 75% of bottles washed ashore on Inaccessible Island, in the South Atlantic, were found to be from Asia - with most made in China. Researchers said most of the bottles had been made recently, suggesting they had been discarded by ships. An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. But this figure just covers land-based sources. The team from South Africa and Canada, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), said that it had been assumed that most of the debris found at sea was coming from the land. However, the scientists said the evidence suggested otherwise. "When we were [on the island, called Inacessible Island] last year, it was really shocking how much drink bottles had just come to dominate," explained lead author Peter Ryan, director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. During litter surveys on the island, which is a World Heritage Site, the scientists examined 3,515 debris items in 2009 and 8,084 debris items in 2018. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinking bottles were the most common type of debris and had the fastest growth rate among debris, increasing at 14.7% each year since the 1980s. The oldest container, found in 2018, was a high-density polyethylene canister manufactured in 1971. Yet most bottles were date-stamped within two years of washing ashore. "Once you get into it you can learn quite a lot even from bottles that don't have labels on," Prof Ryan added. "They've got dates on, they've got manufacturer's marks and once you know different manufacturers you can work out where they come from," he told BBC News. "What was really shocking was how the origin had shifted from largely South American, which is what you would expect from somewhere like Inaccessible Island because it's downwind from South America to predominantly Asian. "In fact, during the three months that we were on the island it was 84% of the bottles that washed up were from Asia."
10-1-19 Dutch tractor protest sparks 'worst rush hour'
Tractor-driving farmers taking to the streets to demand greater recognition have caused the worst ever Dutch morning rush hour on Tuesday, according to motoring organisation ANWB. There were 1,136km (700 miles) of jams at the morning peak, it said. Farmers reacted angrily to claims that they were largely responsible for a spiralling nitrogen emissions problem. A report has called for inefficient cattle farms to be shut down and some speed limits lowered to cut pollution. Farming groups believe they are being victimised while the aviation industry is escaping scrutiny. Organisers were hoping for some 15,000 farmers to join a protest in a field in the centre of The Hague and tractors arrived early on Tuesday, knocking down fences to get there. Three people were arrested, according to public broadcaster NOS, as reports said 500 tractors had already reached their destination at Malieveld an hour before the demonstration was set to start. Amid the placards carried by the tractors was one simple hashtag: "No farmers no food." One reporter said Malieveld was already full and the tractors kept coming. Hague mayor Pauline Krikke warned of an "unsafe situation". But the main disruption was across the country as tractors snarled up motorways and main roads. A convoy on one motorway in the southern province of Brabant swerved from left to right to prevent traffic getting past. It was not just the farmers who took to the streets but their children too, as they headed to a Christian primary school on toy tractors in the eastern farming town of Ommen. The Dutch top court, the Council of State, ruled in May that Dutch rules for granting building and farming permits breached EU law on protecting nature from nitrogen emissions such as ammonia and nitrous oxide, prompting a halt in thousands of projects including new roads, housing blocks and airports.
10-1-19 We've totted up all Earth's carbon - and 99 per cent is underground
Earth contains 1.85 billion billion tonnes of carbon, according to a 10-year research project. If it were all combined into a single sphere, it would be larger than many asteroids. The new estimate comes from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a huge international research programme established in 2009. Its main goal has been to estimate the scale of the carbon cycle, “from where carbon gets released in volcanic eruptions and fractures, to where it goes into the atmosphere, gets filtered down into the biosphere and gets buried as sediment and rock”, says Celina Suarez at the University of Arkansas. This has involved everything from measuring the release of carbon dioxide gas from volcanoes to studying diamonds (a solid form of carbon) from deep in the mantle. The observatory has also looked at carbon isotopes in rocks laid down at different times to understand how the carbon cycle has changed over time. While carbon’s movements around the planet are well understood, estimating the total amounts in each bit of the world has been a monumental job. “All the work the DCO has been doing in the past 10 years has been trying to document actual numbers of where this carbon is stored,” says Suarez. “The majority of carbon is very deep in the mantle and in the core,” says Suarez. In contrast, the carbon in the air, land and ocean amounts to just 43.5 trillion tonnes – less than 1 per cent of the total. Throughout the last 500 million years, the period when complex animal life has existed on Earth, the carbon cycle has been in balance for more than 99 per cent of the time. “What comes out goes back in,” says Suarez. However, four periods are known when the cycle has become unbalanced for about a million years, for example because of major volcanic eruptions releasing more carbon to the air. “Those occurrences are correlated to mass extinction events,” says Suarez. For example, the end-Permian extinction 252 million years ago killed 80 to 90 per cent of species, and was almost certainly caused by volcanic eruptions.
10-1-19 Here’s where Earth stores its carbon
Asteroid impacts, giant lava outflows and now humans have released enormous amounts of carbon. Human-driven carbon pollution is wreaking havoc on the global climate, from bleaching tropical corals to melting polar ice caps. But the amount of carbon in Earth’s oceans and atmosphere barely scratches the surface of the planet’s vast carbon reservoirs. Over the last decade, researchers affiliated with the international Deep Carbon Observatory have taken inventory of where Earth keeps its carbon, and how carbon cycles throughout the planet. Although Earth’s carbon cycle has generally kept all but the tiniest bit of carbon stashed underground, asteroid impacts and massive volcanic eruptions have occasionally released catastrophic amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Investigating these historic upsets, outlined in a series of papers published online October 1 in Elements, may lend insight into the consequences of rampant carbon pollution today. About 43,500 billion metric tons of carbon is found aboveground — peanuts, compared with the 1.845 billion billion tons stockpiled in Earth’s mantle and crust. Estimates for the carbon content of Earth’s core are murky, but “core carbon is pretty locked up,” says Deep Carbon Observatory geologist Celina Suarez of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Mantle carbon, on the other hand, continually escapes through volcanoes and mid-ocean ridges, and sinks back down with subducting tectonic plates. Typically, “what [carbon] comes out goes back in,” Suarez says. But analyses of carbon in rock from different times in Earth’s history have revealed events that severely upended Earth’s balanced carbon budget. Among these cataclysms was the Chicxulub asteroid strike thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. The impact vaporized carbon-rich rock, releasing hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (SN: 11/2/17).
10-1-19 Hurricane Lorenzo hit Category 5 farther east than any other storm
Cold water and winds usually prevent tropical storms from powering up in the North Atlantic. Hurricane Lorenzo broke records when it briefly strengthened to a Category 5 storm, with winds whipping near 260 kilometers per hour, as it spun over the eastern Atlantic Ocean on September 28. No other tropical cyclone that has formed in the Atlantic has reached such intensity that far northeast since record-keeping began in 1851. The previous record-holder didn’t even stand a chance of holding onto its crown: Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the Carolinas in 1989, first reached Category 5 status 965 kilometers farther west, according to Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Normally, the water in the northeastern part of the Atlantic is too cold and the winds too variable to allow a hurricane to get so strong, says Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. High wind shear — differing wind speeds at different altitudes — rips these tropical cyclones apart before they can pick up too much speed. “But in this particular instance, there wasn’t very much shear. And consequently, it was able to reach Category 5 intensity,” he says. Lorenzo “had the perfect ingredients for a short amount of time” (SN: 5/18/12). Now weakened to a Category 2 with winds of 165 km/h, Lorenzo is headed toward the Azores Islands. It is expected to make landfall there on October 2, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts, lashing the westernmost islands with high winds and heavy rains before being downgraded.