1-31-20 Microplastic pollution reduces animal life at the bottom of lakes
Hotspots of microplastics can significantly reduce the number of certain animals vital to the ecosystems at the bottom of lakes, ponds and canals. We know our waterways are being contaminated by plastic particles, but we don’t know if this is harming the animals that live at the bottom of freshwater bodies of water, which are a crucial source of food for larger species. Now, a study has found that exposing a family of worms called Naididae to a high concentration of microplastics roughly halved their number. Losing the Naididae worms matters, says study author Paula Redondo-Hasselerharm at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. “The worms have an important role in the ecosystem: they incorporate the organic matter, they participate in the nutrient cycling of the system,” she says. Redondo-Hasselerharm and her colleagues set up an experiment that mimicked plastic pollution in the Rhine river. They set up trays containing worms in a layer of sediment beneath fresh water in which between 0 and 5 per cent of the weight of sediment contained microplastics. After three months, there was no effect on the worms in the sediment, but after 15 months the worms in sediment containing the highest concentrations of plastics had experienced “significant negative effects” on the abundance of different species of worms, the authors concluded. Exactly how the microplastics harm the worms isn’t clear. Redondo-Hasselerharm says it is possible they ingest the microplastic and it remains within them, reducing their ability to eat and grow, and potentially killing them. At lower concentrations of plastic – between 0.005 and 0.05 per cent – didn’t have a negative impact on the worms, and these are the levels that are more similar to the Rhine. But the apparently harmful level of 5 per cent microplastics may be found elsewhere in some plastic pollution hotspots, says Redondo-Hasselerharm, who believes they may be found more often in fresh water in the future.
1-31-20 Plague of locusts
Billions of desert locusts are chomping their way across East Africa in the worst swarms that the region has experienced in decades. One megaswarm in Kenya covers some 930 square miles and could contain up to 200 billion locusts. Over the past few months, the insatiable insects have eaten at least 175,000 acres of cropland in Ethiopia and Somalia and more than 1 million acres in Kenya. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything,” said Kenyan farmer Ndunda Makanga. Unusually heavy rains in October and November drove the population explosion—locusts like to lay their eggs in moist soil—and when the rainy season begins in March, the insects’ numbers could swell by a factor of 500.
1-31-20 Australia fires: State of emergency declared for Canberra region
Authorities in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have declared a state of emergency as massive bushfires rage south of Canberra. It is the worst fire threat to the territory in nearly two decades, officials said. The main blaze, in the territory's south, is burning over more than 18,500 hectares. Residents in suburbs of Canberra have been urged to "remain alert" for potential evacuations. "The ACT is now facing the worst bushfire threat since the devastating fires of 2003," Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters on Friday. "There's now no higher priority for the ACT government at this time than the bushfire threat." The small territory, located between Sydney and Melbourne, has about 400,000 residents. In 2003, bushfires in the suburbs of Canberra killed four people, injured another 500 and destroyed or damaged 470 homes. Similar weather conditions were being recorded on Friday, authorities said. Mr Barr warned the fires "may become uncontrollable" as temperatures climbed to 40C and were fuelled by strong winds. He said the worst blaze was just south of the district of Tuggeranong, a 20-minute drive south of Parliament House in Canberra. He added the state of emergency - which gives extra power and resources to fire authorities - would be in place for "as long as Canberra is at risk". Fires have raged near the city for weeks. Last Thursday, Canberra's airport was shut down when a blaze threatened to breach its perimeter. Three US firefighters died on the same day after their aircraft crashed over a fire zone near the city, in the Snowy Mountains region. Earlier this week, photos of bushfires in the area turning skies red were shared widely on social media. It prompted authorities to issue warnings against "disaster tourism", following several reports of people driving near active fire zones to take pictures.
1-31-20 Plastic pollution: 'Hidden' chemicals build up in seabirds
Plastic pollution can build up in the bodies of seabirds, adding to the threats they face in the wild, according to a new study. Researchers fed plastic pellets to nesting chicks to look at the direct effects of plastic exposure. They found chemicals from plastic ended up in the birds' liver and fatty tissues at levels thousands of times higher than normal. Monitoring of wild seabirds, including albatrosses, revealed similar findings. With nearly half of the world's seabird species in decline, and 28% classed as globally threatened, chemical pollution is a "pervasive and growing threat", said the researchers. The work was led by Shouta Nakayama from Hokkaido University, Japan. "These findings provide direct evidence of seabird exposure to plastic additives and emphasise the role of marine debris ingestion as a source of chemical pollution," they wrote in the journal Current Biology. Given current trends, it is estimated that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic waste by 2050. Birds can mistake plastic floating on the water for food, which can cause injury or death. The effects of toxic chemicals absorbed by the body are less clear. The next step is to find out whether chemicals in plastic will have detrimental effects on reproduction and survival, said Dr Samantha Patrick of the University of Liverpool, who is not connected with the study. Studies examining the direct consequences of ingestion are crucial to understand the "hidden" effects of plastics on seabirds, she said. "This study demonstrates that plastics do lead to raised levels of contaminants in seabird chicks," she explained. "This is an important step forward in our understanding of how plastics affect marine species."
1-30-20 Climate forecast says we may break the record for warmest year by 2025
A new world record for hottest year may be set before 2025, according to the UK Met Office, which says there is an outside chance temperatures will temporarily overshoot the toughest target of the Paris climate deal. The past decade was the warmest on record, with the title of warmest year held by 2016, when climate change and the El Niño phenomenon drove temperatures 1.16°C above pre-industrial levels. In a new forecast using 20 computer models, the Met Office says today there is a more than 66 per cent chance that the 2016 record will be beaten between 2020 and 2024. “It’s really a sign the planet is warming. To get another [record] in the next five years is consistent with the warming trend,” says Doug Smith at the Met Office. The group’s forecast shows that any one year between 2020 and 2024 is likely to be between 1.06°C and 1.62°C warmer, meaning it could be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target world leaders have pledged to “pursue efforts” to avoid. However, one year above the threshold would be symbolic rather than a sign the Paris target has been irrevocably breached. For the Paris goals, the consistent annual norm across several years is what matters. The chance of one year before 2025 being more than 1.5°C warmer is also low, less than 10 per cent, in the Met Office analysis. Still, if the milestone did come to pass, Smith says: “It would be the first indication that we are starting to get close [to the Paris limit].” The global average masks the fact that some regions are already being hit by much hotter temperatures. In 2019, Australia had its hottest year ever, at 1.52°C above average, and Europe had its warmest year too, at 3.2°C above average.
1-30-20 Greta Thunberg to trademark 'Fridays for Future'
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg says she is trademarking her name and the #FridaysForFuture movement to stop people from impersonating her. In 2018, Ms Thunberg's school strike grew into a global movement that became known as #FridaysForFuture. Millions of people in countries such as Australia, Ghana, Germany and the UK have taken part in the protests. She said on Instagram that people had tried to sell products and collect money in the movement's name. "My name and the #Fridaysforfuture movement are constantly being used for commercial purposes without any consent whatsoever," the 17 year old said. Ms Thunberg has also applied to trademark Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate), the phrase used on her protest sign that she has carried around the world to #FridaysForFuture protests. She added that people had tried to impersonate her "in order to communicate with high profile people, politicians, media and artists". Ms Thunberg also announced she has set up a non-profit foundation to handle the financial side of #FridaysForFuture. It will manage money raised from donations and book royalties. "The foundation's aim will be to promote ecological, climatic and social sustainability as well as mental health," she told her Instagram followers. Ms Thunberg has become a strong voice for action on climate change. However, her message on tackling rising temperatures has not been well received by everyone. Earlier this month US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the teenager to go away and study economics before lecturing investors. Last December she was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.
1-30-20 Bill proposes ban on plastic waste exports
Exporting polluting plastic waste to developing countries will be banned or restricted under a new law. The rule presented to the UK Parliament is aimed at protecting poorer nations against becoming the dumping ground for unwanted rubbish. The latest trade data shows that some 356,233 tonnes of plastic waste was sent for recycling from the UK to developing countries in 2018. The plastic often ends up dumped in waterways. This has resulted in many developing countries sending back waste to rich nations. The revised Environment Bill also rules that firms producing packaging must take more responsibility for products and materials they put on the market. Environmentalists say the bill should also include measures to reduce the amount of plastic produced in the first place. Other powers in the bill include the promise of legally-binding targets to reduce air pollution from ultra-fine particles known as PM2.5s. There’s also a framework for long-term legal targets to support nature and improve the quality of air and water. Green groups have welcomed much of the bill but they say that, in some ways, it still leaves environmental protection weaker than under the EU. They are especially concerned about the role of a proposed new “independent” environmental watchdog that will replace the over-seeing power of the EU and hold ministers to account for their policies after Brexit. The EU can threaten to fine nations that fail to meet environmental laws – that threat forced the UK to tackle air pollution more seriously. The new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) won’t have the power to fine the government. What’s more, its members will be appointed by ministers, so critics say it won’t be fully independent. The government says it will still hold ministers to account – including on the issue of the UK meeting its 2050 Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target.
1-30-20 Tiny meteorites suggest ancient Earth had a carbon dioxide–rich atmosphere
High levels of CO2 could have produced observed chemical alterations in cosmic dust. Earth’s atmosphere 2.7 billion years ago may have been more than two-thirds carbon dioxide. That finding comes from a new study that simulates how the ancient atmosphere may have interacted with bits of cosmic dust falling through the sky. Such a carbon dioxide–rich atmosphere may also have created a powerful greenhouse gas effect, researchers suggest January 22 in Science Advances. That, in turn, could help answer a decades-old conundrum known as the “faint young sun paradox:” how liquid oceans could have existed on Earth when the sun was about 30 percent dimmer than it is now (SN: 4/18/13). Estimates for atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Archean Eon, which lasted from 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago, vary widely. “Current estimates span about three orders of magnitude, from about 10 times more than now to a thousand times more,” says Owen Lehmer, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. So scientists have hunted for data that can shrink that range. Enter a group of 59 micrometeorites found embedded in 2.7-billion-year-old limestone from the Pilbara region of northwest Australia. These carefully preserved meteorites were first described in a 2016 study in Nature, and are still the oldest fossil meteorites ever found, by about 900,000 years. As such, they offer a rare glimpse into the atmosphere of a lost world. The tiny bits of rock, no wider than a human hair, zoomed through the atmosphere of ancient Earth. Made of iron and nickel, the micrometeorites heated up as they plummeted, melting and then refreezing before landing in the ocean and sinking to the seafloor. There, they became slowly entombed in limestone.
1-29-20 Climate change: Worst emissions scenario 'misleading'
The worst-case scenario for emissions of CO2 this century is no longer plausible, say researchers. Referred to as "business as usual", the scenario assumes a 500% increase in the use of coal, which is now considered unlikely. Climate models suggest that this level of carbon could see warming of up to 6C by 2100, with severe impacts. Researchers say that on current trends, a rise in temperatures of around 3C is far more likely. About 10 years ago, ahead of the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers developed four different scenarios to describe how carbon emissions might change over the rest of this century. One of these clumsily titled "Representative Concentration Pathways" (RCPs), was called RCP8.5 and it was intended to show the impact of very high emissions consistent with a five fold increase in the use of coal and virtually no policies to limit CO2 emissions. RCP8.5 was first developed by energy researchers to help with their modelling. According to the authors of this paper, they didn't do a good job of communicating the limitations of this approach to climate scientists who wanted to use it to see what would happen with temperatures. Rather than being seen as something that only had a 3% chance of becoming reality, it became known as the "business-as-usual" scenario, by climate scientists and has been used in more than 2,000 research papers since. "What we're arguing is that we've been misusing the worst climate change scenario," said author Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute in California. "Obviously, a lot has changed since 2005 or so when the scenario was created. A lot of clean technology prices have fallen, by factors of five, while global coal use peaked in 2013. And it's been flat since then." "So what originally was a sort of worst-case (scenario) with less than 10% chance of happening is today, exceedingly unlikely."
1-29-20 Australia fires: Footage shows speed fires can spread
The footage from 4 January, only released now, shows how quickly a bushfire spreads in New South Wales, Australia.
1-29-20 The seabed is sinking under the weight of water from melting ice caps
The seabed is sinking by about 0.1 millimetres a year, thanks to the weight of the water from melting ice caps. “Greenland and Antarctica are melting much faster [than they were previously], so we can expect much higher ocean deformation in the future,” says Bramha Dutt Vishwakarma at the University of Bristol in the UK. He and his colleagues calculated how much the extra mass in the ocean is deforming the seabed, and what this means for sea levels. They found it will only have a tiny effect on future sea level rise, because the seas are rising about 3 millimetres per year – far faster than the seabed is sinking. Sea level rise is the result of climate change, which is in turn driven by our greenhouse gas emissions. Over the coming centuries, sea levels are expected to rise several metres. As the climate warms, so does seawater, and when water warms it expands – causing the sea to rise. In the 20th century, this thermal expansion was the main driver of sea level rise, says Jonathan Bamber at the University of Bristol, who collaborated on the work. That meant the mass of the oceans stayed about the same, even as their volume grew. Now, the warmer climate is melting ice in glaciers and the great ice caps, which means more water is flowing into the sea. “Since the mid-1990s, both West Antarctica and Greenland have been contributing,” says Bamber. That means the mass of the oceans has been increasing ever since, pushing down on the seabed, which is now being forced downwards like a sheet of Silly Putty with lead weights on top. Both researchers emphasise that the finding will make no meaningful difference to future sea level rise. While the sinking seabed will slow sea level rise, the effect is too small to be meaningful.
1-29-20 Snotsicles and snowdrifts: Extreme climate science
"Snotsicle" - distinctly unattractive masses of frozen snot - are just some of the challenges of doing science in a place as extreme as the Antarctic. Scientists fear the Thwaites Glacier could be beginning a process of catastrophic collapse. There is more than three metres of potential sea level rise in the ice of West Antarctica, enough to swamp many of the great cities of the world and drive hundreds of millions of people from their homes. The BBC's chief environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt travelled with a team of scientists who are part of a $50m (£38m) joint US-UK project. But, as he discovered, doing science in one of the most extreme environments on Earth is not easy.
1-28-20 Problems in social science are being used to discredit climate science
A conference in California next week says it aims to make scientific studies more reliable, but critics fear the event is a new tactic used by those who question the reality of climate change. The event, called Fixing Science, is being run by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a non-profit organisation based in New York. The conference’s programme focuses on the reproducibility crisis – the claim that science has an increasing problem with poorly performed or even fraudulent studies – with a portion dedicated to how that applies to both economics and climate change. In recent years, psychology and medicine have suffered a series of embarrassing incidents, where well-established results collapsed under scrutiny. Many scientists believe we must reform how science is organised to avoid such errors. So it is no surprise that the upcoming conference has attracted a number of high-profile experts on reproducibility. On the surface, identifying flawed studies “looks like a very good mission”, says Philipp Schmid at the University of Erfurt in Germany, who studies science denial. He isn’t attending the conference. But he says there may be more to the NAS’s conference than that. “They use the findings from these areas to downplay climate change, which kind of shows that they have a specific agenda when writing their reports,” says Schmid. The NAS has published reports attacking sustainability initiatives, including campaigns seeking to persuade universities to divest their fossil fuel investments. A 2018 NAS report on reproducibility said that climate scientists seek to “demonize carbon dioxide”. NAS president Peter Wood says the world is warming, but “whether that is caused by human activity is a matter of significant dispute”.
1-28-20 Haunting image of trapped sea turtle wins underwater photo award
Photographer Shane Gross captured a haunting photo of a turtle caught in a fishing line while diving near the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. He hopes the image will bring more awareness of the effects of ghost fishing and plastic pollution.
1-28-20 Antarctica melting: Journey to the 'doomsday glacier'
The images are murky at first. Sediment sweeps past the camera as Icefin, a bright yellow remotely operated robot submarine, moves tentatively forward under the ice. Then the waters begin to clear. Icefin is under almost half a mile (600m) of ice, at the front of one the fastest-changing large glaciers in the world. Suddenly a shadow looms above, an overhanging cliff of dirt-encrusted ice. It doesn't look like much, but this is a unique image - the first ever pictures from a frontier that is changing our world. Icefin has reached the point at which the warm ocean water meets the wall of ice at the front of the mighty Thwaites glacier - the point where this vast body of ice begins to melt. Glaciologists have described Thwaites as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. It is massive - roughly the size of Britain. It already accounts for 4% of world sea level rise each year - a huge figure for a single glacier - and satellite data show that it is melting increasingly rapidly. There is enough water locked up in it to raise world sea level by more than half a metre. And Thwaites sits like a keystone right in the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - a vast basin of ice that contains more than 3m of additional potential sea level rise. Yet, until this year, no-one has attempted a large-scale scientific survey on the glacier. The Icefin team, along with 40 or so other scientists, are part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a five-year, $50m (£38m) joint UK-US effort to understand why it is changing so rapidly. The project represents the biggest and most complex scientific field programme in Antarctic history.
1-28-20 Antarctica melting: Journey to the 'doomsday glacier'
Glaciologists have described Thwaites Glacier as the "most important" glacier in the world, the "riskiest" glacier, even the "doomsday" glacier. Scientists from the UK and US are studying the glacier's changes as part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.
1-28-20 Who is Greta Thunberg, the #FridaysForFuture activist?
One day in late August 2018, Greta Thunberg took up position outside Sweden's Parliament for the first time. She held a simple sign, black letters on a white board, that said "School Strike for Climate." "It felt like I was the only one who cared about the climate and the ecological crisis," she told the BBC. The 15-year-old was by herself, but not for long. Within a year, her school strike, carried on through all weather, had inspired millions of young people around the world to take to the streets and demand action on climate change. As thousands of students again protest in major global cities, here's a look at what we know about the teenager who started it all. Ms Thunberg, the elder of two girls, was born on 3 January, 2003. She grew up in Stockholm with her mother Malena Ernman, an opera singer and former Eurovision Song Contest participant, and her actor father Svante Thunberg. Her father is a descendant of Svante Arrhenius, a scientist who came up with a model of the greenhouse effect. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903. Ms Thunberg said her parents were "as far from climate activists as possible" before she made them aware of the issue. She persuaded her parents to become vegan, and in 2016 convinced her mother to stop flying, despite her mother frequently travelling overseas for work. They have co-written a book with their daughter called Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis. It is set to be released in March. Ms Thunberg has Asperger's Syndrome, a developmental disorder, and has described it as a gift and a superpower. She says she first learned about climate change when she was eight and couldn't understand why people weren't taking action. "I remember thinking it was very strange that we were capable of changing the entire face of the Earth and the precious thin layer of atmosphere that makes it our home. Because if we were capable of doing this, then why weren't we hearing about it everywhere?" she wrote in the Guardian.
1-27-20 Climate change: UK has 'one shot' at success at Glasgow COP26
If the Glasgow climate conference fails to deliver, it could mark the end of the global approach to tackling the problem. COP26 in November will see around 200 world leaders meet to agree a new, long term deal on rising temperatures. But according to Claire O'Neill, the president of COP26, the UK has "one shot" at making it a success. She told a BBC documentary that if Glasgow fails, people will question the whole UN approach. COP26 marks a critical moment for the UN in the long running effort to find a global solution to climate change. As part of the Paris climate deal, agreed in 2015, countries are meant to update their carbon cutting plans by the end of this year. So far, 114 say they have done this, or are in the process of doing so this year. Another 120 countries have now told the UN that they have either agreed on plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or are working towards that goal. While this represents some progress, a key part of the Glasgow meeting will be trying to push countries to go even further. In December, there was widespread dismay after countries failed to agree on more ambitious steps at the Madrid conference of the parties known as COP25. The messy compromise in the Spanish capital has also left a raft of complex issues unresolved, including the use of carbon markets, plus the question of compensation for loss and damage suffered by poorer nations from storms and rising sea levels. Underpinning the lack of progress in Madrid was the huge gap between big emitters such as Brazil, Australia, India, China and US and an alliance of countries wanting to go much faster including the European Union, small island states and vulnerable nations. Former UK minister Claire O'Neill has been tasked with presiding over COP26 and delivering an agreement acceptable to all.
1-27-20 Climate Change: Tough questions at first UK assembly
From the corners of Britain, members of the first UK "citizens’ assembly" on climate change descended on Birmingham. There was Sharron-Ann, in pink fun fur coat - a young mum with children at home in Scotland. Journalists were only allowed to speak to assembly members who had expressly volunteered to meet the media - and most of them did not offer their surname. So we met Mark from Manchester, Tracey, a carer from Northern Ireland, and Ibrahim, a GP from Surrey. They are among 110 members of the public chosen to reflect the nation in diversity of age, ethnicity, geography and opinion. And they include those who are unworried by climate change, along with others who are positively alarmed. After four weekends they will make recommendations to MPs on how the UK can fulfil its law on cutting emissions to virtually zero by 2050. You might have thought a climate conference would be a meat-free zone, given the impact of belching cows and sheep on the atmosphere. But this aims to be an extraordinary gathering of “ordinary” people, with no preaching. That means lamb with couscous in the restaurant, along with honey-glazed chicken and sweet potatoes, as well as a vegan option. In the nearby conference hall - with panoramic views over Birmingham's snaking road system - members heard talks from climate experts, and got the chance to ask questions. These included: “Which is better for the environment - British beef or an avocado from Peru?" “What do you think should be the balance of business and government action on climate change?" “How committed are other countries to net zero?” And, “Is there an argument for letting climate change happen?” Several questions were about fairness - about who should do most to address climate change, and how the actions the UK takes are fairly distributed across generations and income groups.
1-26-20 Sir David Attenborough says fixed-term parliaments lead to lack of climate focus
The UK's fixed-term parliaments could see politicians failing to prioritise climate change, veteran naturalist Sir David Attenborough has suggested. He told the first citizens' assembly on climate having a five-year government leads to a lack of long-term planning. The 110-strong assembly in Birmingham will meet over four weekends to examine options for how the UK can meet its greenhouse gas emission targets. Sir David said he was "extremely grateful" to those taking part. It is hoped their recommendations - to be published in April - will help inform Parliament and the government on policies to reach net zero emissions. Sir David said one of the problems with Parliament having a fixed length of five years is that the effects of climate change may only be felt much later. "It is very difficult to persuade politicians that they should give money and time and attention and worry about an issue which is not going to come to a climax - and people won't know if it is successful or not successful - for 10 years hence, 15 years hence," he said. He told the group: "So the fact you are here is extremely important because it shows you can put pressure on your members of Parliament to take this issue seriously." "I believe that the question we are facing is of the upmost importance," he added. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 requires an election be held every five years, unless two-thirds of MPs vote for an early poll. he citizens' assembly, commissioned by six parliamentary select committees, is being asked to examine how the UK meets its legal target to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by 2050. The 110 members of the assembly will learn from experts about climate change, and discuss and make informed decisions on options for meeting the net zero goal during sessions in Birmingham.
1-26-20 Greenwashing Davos
The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web: "Davos is cloaked in white, but its agenda is green," said Peter Coy at Bloomberg Businessweek. Don't snicker. Yes, there was the typical swarm of private jets to whisk "some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people" into Switzerland, where they paid $70,000 a ticket, plus $140,000 if they wanted to rent a chalet for the week. But climate change and the environment topped the agenda at the World Economic Forum, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Many sessions were devoted to climate change, with a particular emphasis placed on ending "free-riding," or the tendency for businesses to shirk their own climate efforts "while benefiting from the efforts others make." Seeing the hypocrisy in having billionaires jet in for lectures about their carbon footprints, the conference tried to be as green as possible. Attendees got "shoe grips" to help them "walk the snowy promenade between meetings rather than take cars," said Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson at the Financial Times. The conference rooms were "decorated with seaweed-based paint and carpets made from end-of-life fishing nets." Also discouraged: paper maps of the Alpine town. Along with the new eco-conscious sensibility, Davos has invited speakers to match, said Lionel Laurent at Bloomberg. Among the 2020 attendees were Greta Thunberg and Micah White, the co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement. How's that? "Davos has shrewdly realized that offering a stage to an anti-Davos crowd can work in its favor." Davos "was supposed to be 'canceled' by now." Instead, it's going strong as imitators have failed. Even the do-gooders have realized that "everyone who matters is here — even if they disagree." Ah yes, "100 billionaires descending, often by private jet, on an exclusive Swiss ski resort" to wring their hands over climate change will surely solve the world's problems, said Walter Russell Mead at The Wall Street Journal. The new era of Davos feels like "Marie Antoinette and her friends dressing up as shepherdesses to celebrate the simple life." As always, the "Davoisie" are confident that goodwill and "technocratic competence" will win the day. Have they failed to notice that outside this rarified gathering no one is listening?
1-25-20 Can we just build better plastics?
Worldwide, less than 10 percent of the plastic we use gets recycled. Most ends up in a landfill. And much of that eventually makes its way out to sea, clogging up our oceans. And here's the extra bad news: Global demand for plastic is projected to triple by midcentury. Here's the problem with plastic: It's super useful, lightweight and strong, and smooth and flexible. Back when Dustin Hoffman's legendary character in the movie, The Graduate was entering the workforce a half-century ago, the career advice was simple: "Just one word: Plastics!" But the guy giving advice to the young college graduate probably wasn't thinking of all the junk we'd still be stuck with two generations later. Plastic toys, straws, and tiny ketchup pouches — things that make life more convenient — can take hundreds of years to degrade. Here's the other problem. Plastic isn't just plastic. There are hundreds of different kinds. Think of a flexible plastic baggie versus a water bottle versus rigid plastic for your computer keyboard. Most of us just toss it all in a blue recycling bin and say: "Should be OK." "The industry has started calling that wish-cycling," said Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute in California. "Especially with curbside recycling that uses this single-stream process where we put all our recyclables in one bin, the expression we use a lot is that, 'You can't unscramble an egg.'" And when recycling gets contaminated, it becomes trash, bound for the landfill. Still, even if you deliver a pristine batch of plastic bottles to the recycler, there's another hurdle. "Plastics are inherently susceptible to some decrease in their properties when they're recycled," said Sue Selke, director of the Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability at Michigan State University. There are only so many times a plastic bottle can be melted down and reused before it degrades too far in quality.
1-24-20 Plague of hail
Australia can’t catch a break from the weather. Even as wildfires continued to blaze across much of the drought-parched country, a series of strong storms blew through the southeast this week, dumping baseball-size hailstones that smashed office windows and car windshields in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. “It was like Armageddon,” said Canberra resident Hilary Wardhaugh. Powerful winds whipped up giant dust storms in rural parts of New South Wales, darkening the daytime sky. And in some areas, an inch of rain fell in only 30 minutes, causing flash floods. Despite the welcome rain, the fire danger continues. Since September, bushfires have killed at least 30 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and consumed 38,000 square miles of land, an area nearly the size of Virginia.
1-24-20 Australia’s fires may accelerate a jump in CO2 forecasted in 2020
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what matters when it comes to climate change, and the UK’s Met Office is forecasting a near-record increase in 2020. The yearly rise in CO2 may be 2 per cent higher than it would otherwise be because of the wildfires that have been burning for months in Australia. These fires are estimated to have emitted between 0.4 and 0.7 gigatonnes of CO2, says Richard Betts at the Met Office. That is a huge amount, though not as much as the fires in Indonesia in 1997 to 1998, which may have produced between 3 and 9 gigatonnes. Before the industrial age began, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were around 280 parts per million (ppm). When Charles Keeling began measuring them at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in the 1950s, they were around 315 ppm and increasing by less than 1 ppm per year. In 2019, the average level recorded at Mauna Loa was 411.5 ppm. During the past decade, levels have risen by more than 2 ppm per year on average. Betts and his colleagues have forecasted that the average level at Mauna Loa will rise to 414.2 ppm in 2020. He began forecasting the yearly increase in CO2 in 2016, and so far, his team’s projections have been accurate. CO2 levels are rising because of the 37 gigatonnes of CO2 from fossil fuels that are now emitted every year. However, only half the CO2 we emit remains in the atmosphere. The rest is taken up by the oceans and by plants. The annual CO2 increase therefore varies greatly depending on global weather patterns that affect plant growth. The Pacific Ocean is expected to be extra warm in 2020, leading to warmer and drier weather over many land areas that should result in 10 per cent more CO2 than usual staying in the atmosphere. A fifth of that extra 10 per cent will be due to the Australian wildfires alone.
1-24-20 Canadian start-up GHGSat to make global methane map
A Canadian start-up, GHGSat, is promising to release a high-resolution map of methane in Earth's atmosphere by the year's end. The company has one spacecraft in orbit currently to monitor the trace gas. Another two are expected to go up in the next few months. Montreal-based GHGSat tracks oil and gas operations, alerting owners to any leaks of methane from their facilities. The global map should make its debut at November's big UN climate conference. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and like carbon dioxide is increasing its concentration in the atmosphere. Quite why that is, though, is not fully understood. Emissions associated with fossil-fuel use are a major factor, but there are also many natural sources of the gas that require a more complete explanation. While GHGSat is focused on selling observations of methane, it believes it can also make a very useful contribution to open science with its planned free-to-use visualisation. The company's first satellite, launched in 2016, delivers 12km by 12km spot measurements of methane in the air. Features larger than 50m across can be sensed. The soon-to-fly spacecraft are designed with finer vision still, with a resolution of 25m per pixel. To make the visualisation, GHGSat says its analytics team will combine the firm's own satellites' observations with all other publicly available datasets. These include the measurements of methane gathered by the big space agencies and from ground sensors. The resulting map will be unveiled in the UK next November at "COP26", the Glasgow conference where world leaders will be expected to come up with plans for deeper cuts in the gases that heat the planet. "This free visualisation will be on a grid averaging 2km by 2km over land all around the world. That pretty much will be the state of the art when it comes to the visualisation of methane," said GHGSat President and CEO, Stephane Germain. "Certainly, it will be complementary to what existing systems are doing, such as the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF); and the European Space Agency (Esa) with its Tropomi satellite, of course. "They're doing things on a larger scale globally, and they're in the forecasting business as well. We're not going to try to do that; we are simply going to be looking at concentrations on a rolling basis on a 2km grid-scale." In time, a visualisation of carbon dioxide concentrations will be added as well.
1-24-20 Climate change: 'We're not perfect', says Marion Cotillard on Antarctica trip
Actor Marion Cotillard has travelled to Antarctica with Greenpeace to learn about how climate change, plastic waste and industrial fishing are damaging wildlife. "As pristine as it looks, even a remote place like this one is impacted by harmful human activities," she said. Speaking to the Victoria Derbyshire programme during her trip, she explained what she's learned and talks about the "big" environmental issue facing the film industry.
1-23-20 What does Trump actually believe on climate change?
US President Donald Trump's position on climate change has been in the spotlight again, after he criticised "prophets of doom" at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At the event, which had sustainability as its main theme, and activist Greta Thunberg as its star guest, Mr Trump dismissed "alarmists" who wanted to "control every aspect of our lives" - while also expressing the US's support for an initiative to plant one trillion trees. If you judge the president based on his words alone, his views on climate change appear contradictory - and confusing. He has called climate change "mythical", "nonexistent", or "an expensive hoax" - but also subsequently described it as a "serious subject" that is "very important to me".
1-23-20 Trump rolls back US water pollution controls
The Trump administration is set to scrap protections for America's streams and wetlands, repealing Barack Obama's Waters of the United States regulation. The move, expected Thursday, will dismantle federal protections for more than half of wetlands and hundreds of small waterways in the US. The White House says the change will be a victory for American farmers. But critics say the change will be destructive - part of Mr Trump's wider assault on environmental protections. Under the new regulations, landowners and property developers will be able to pour pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants directly into the nation's waterways for the first time in decades, after millions of miles of the country's streams and wetlands lose protections. The administration's new rules, expected to be finalised today, replace the Waters of the United States regulations put in place during the Obama administration. Mr Trump vowed as soon as he took office to repeal the regulations. The president has angered environmental activists and conservationists since he took office by siding with the agriculture and mining industries in rolling back environmental protections. Speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention in Texas on Sunday, the president called the existing waterways rules "disastrous". "That was a rule that basically took your property away from you," he told the assembled farmers. The White House says that farmers will be a primary beneficiary of the change. Farmers rejected the protections, claiming they were too broad and required the industry to go to great lengths to protect small bodies of water on their properties. But the administration's own data shows that real estate developers and those in other non-farming industries are poised reap the greatest rewards was the president's rollback, by applying for permits to encroach on previously protected waterways, the Associated Press reported. The new rules are already facing court challenges from environmental groups and Democratic-led states. "This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen," Blan Holman, a federal water policy specialist at the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the New York Times. "This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the '70s and '80s that Americans have relied on for their health," he said.
1-23-20 Greta Thunberg: US treasury chief attacks activist
Greta Thunberg should go away and study economics before lecturing investors, the US treasury secretary has said. Steven Mnuchin said the activist's call for investors to divest fossil fuels showed a lack of understanding about the economy and jobs. "After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us," he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump dismissed the "prophets of doom". Mr Trump said that campaigners were too pessimistic and should concentrate their fire on countries where emissions are rising. He did not say which countries. Mr Mnuchin continued the criticism on Thursday. In response to a question about Ms Thunberg's call for fossil fuels to be scrapped, Mr Mnuchin said: "Is she the chief economist?" He added: "For people who call for divestment, there are significant economic issues - issues with jobs." The treasury secretary also raised hopes about a US-UK trade deal being signed this year. He said a deal was "an absolute priority" for the president. "We expect to complete that with them [UK] this year," he added. On the subject of the UK's post-Brexit trade negotiations with the US and the EU, Mr Mnuchin said: "What I saw coming out was that they wanted to accomplish both these deals in 2020. That's obviously an aggressive timetable." He said he could not comment on the EU talks, but he could comment on a UK-US deal. "That's an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that with them this year, which we think will be great for them and great for us," he added.
1-23-20 Smoke from Canadian wildfires caused pollution spikes in New York City
Spikes in air pollution in New York City have been traced to smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of kilometres away. The finding suggests city residents will face many similar pollution episodes in the coming decades. “When people are making predictions about climate change, they’re predicting increases in wildfires, so this sort of pollution is likely to become more common,” lead author Haley Rogers of Yale University said in a statement. Rogers and her colleagues studied two periods of unusually severe air pollution in Connecticut and New York City on 16-17 and 27-29 August 2018. Measurement stations detected high levels of three pollutants: carbon monoxide, tiny particles called PM2.5 and black carbon – otherwise known as soot. The researchers studied satellite images to gauge how far the clouds of pollution spread. They then used a weather model to simulate wind patterns at the time and estimate where the pollution came from. The first cloud of pollution arrived from western Canada, where wildfires were burning several days earlier. The second came from south-eastern US, where there had also been wildfires. “There are other studies on the long-distance transport of forest fires, but not to New York City,” says Drew Gentner, who leads the Yale University team that studies air quality. Air pollution from wildfires “is not a typical problem one would think about for New York City and the region”, he says. Air pollution can cause health problems including long-term lung damage. However, it isn’t yet possible to estimate the public health impact of the pollution that drifted to New York City, says Gentner. “The resulting health impacts from a given quantity of particulate matter exposure is a very active area of research,” he says. Similarly, it is unclear what constitutes a minimum safe level of exposure for health.
1-23-20 Make airlines and oil firms pay for tree-planting boom, says UK report
Oil companies and airlines should pay for a colossal tree-planting drive to fight climate change as soon as next year, the UK government’s climate advisers have urged. The proposal to grow more trees, which draw carbon out of the atmosphere and store it, is one of the eye-catching ideas presented by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) today in a report on the big changes in farming and land use necessary for the UK to hit its 2050 net zero emissions target, which was enshrined in law last year. The report calls for a fifth of farmland to be used to store carbon instead of producing food, a rapid expansion of crops grown for energy, and measures to encourage the public to eat 20 per cent less beef, lamb and dairy. To meet the net zero target, emissions from land use will have to fall 64 per cent by 2050, equivalent to a total of 37 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. Trees and forestry could deliver around half the reduction. Land use, including agriculture, forestry and peatland, accounts for 12 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. One of the committee’s key proposals is taking 22 per cent of farmland out of food production and turning it over to other uses such as tree-planting. The UK currently produces half its own food, so other changes would be needed to keep everyone fed. The CCC thinks the answer is a big increase in agricultural productivity – which it argues is feasible as the UK already lags other countries on this – plus a shift in diets and an end to food waste. The way farmers work will need to change, too. That includes relatively simple ideas such as avoiding soil compaction to more innovative ones, such as breeding cows to belch less methane. Many of the ideas are similar to those suggested by farmers themselves. “It really is time we ended this adversarial discussion between climate and farming,” says Chris Stark at the CCC.
1-23-20 Fed by human-caused erosion, many river deltas are growing
Deforestation and river damming are changing the shape of these landforms around the globe. River deltas, the fans of sediment sweeping out from the mouths of rivers, are gaining ground. Globally, delta land area increased by 54 square kilometers per year from 1985 to 2015, scientists report January 23 in Nature. A quarter of that gain is due to deforestation freeing soil from the grip of tree roots, allowing rivers to carry more of it downstream. Geomorphologist Jaap Nienhuis of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues examined 10,848 deltas to quantify humans’ impact. Three primary forces shape deltas: rivers delivering sediment; tides pushing or pulling sediment; and waves redistributing sediment along the coast. Humans exert a lot of control over how much sediment a river carries: While deforestation feeds the flow of soil, dams plug it up. First, the team predicted how delta shape would change over 30 years in a world without significant human influence. It then compared those predictions to actual land area. On balance, land gains due to deforestation exceeded losses due to damming, the team found. In about 1,500 deltas, soil erosion due to deforestation increased sediment loads by more than 50 percent. Those changes were greatest among deltas in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, where 57 percent of the new delta land area appeared over the 30-year period. Dams reduced sediment supply by more than 50 percent in 970 other deltas. North America was the only continent to show a net loss of delta area, partly due to damming along the Mississippi River (SN: 4/4/18). These gains and losses occurred despite rising seas. But much of the new delta area probably will be submerged by 2100, the team notes (SN: 9/25/19). Planned new dams and sand mining for construction are likely to further erode land gains.
1-22-20 Space mission to reveal 'Truths' about climate change
The UK is going to lead a space mission to get an absolute measurement of the light reflected off Earth's surface. The information will be used to calibrate the observations of other satellites, allowing their data to be compared more easily. Called Truths, the new spacecraft was approved for development by European Space Agency member states in November. Proponents of the mission expect its data to help reduce the uncertainty in projections of future climate change. Scientists and engineers met on Tuesday to begin planning the project. Industry representatives from Britain, Switzerland, Greece, the Czech Republic and Romania gathered at Esa's technical centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire. The agency has allocated €32.4m (£27.7m) for the initial design phase, with the scientific lead on the mission to be taken by Britain's National Physical Laboratory. NPL is the UK's "keeper of standards". It holds references for the kilogram, the metre, the second and all other units used in the international system (SI) of measurement. The lab is the place you go, for example, if you want a precise description of the intensity of a light source - something it's able to gauge using a device called a cryogenic radiometer. And the aim of the Truths mission is to get one of these instruments into orbit. Working in tandem with a hyperspectral camera, the radiometer will make a detailed map of the sunlight reflected off Earth's surface - off its deserts, snowfields, forests and oceans. The map should be of such exquisite quality that it's expected to become the standard reference against which all other imaging spacecraft will want to adjust and correct their own observations. This ought to make it a much simpler task to compare the pictures from different satellites, not just from those missions flying today but also from the ones that have long since been retired and whose data now sits in archives.
1-22-20 Weathering With You's climate change love story is a little too easy
Makoto Shinkai's protagonists find love in the midst of climate catastrophe — but we don't see what happens next. Makoto Shinkai's new anime film Weathering With You offers love and magic in a world ravaged by climate change. But, despite the beauty the film finds in destruction, it never fully answers the question of what happens to love in a world that's sinking. In Weathering With You, Shinkai's followup to the critically acclaimed record-breaking box-office success Your Name, a high-school student named Hodaka runs away from home to try to make a living in Tokyo, but the city is plagued by seemingly endless rain. Getting a job with a small publishing company that deals in conspiracy theories and the occult, he learns about weather maidens, girls who have the ability to change the weather, and then meets one, a teenage girl named Hina. Together, Hodaka and Hina form a business where they take requests from people who want the touch of sunshine that Hina can summon — for weddings, parties, outdoor markets — for payment. But when the two get tailed by cops and Hina reveals that her body is transforming as a result of her powers, the weather in Tokyo turns apocalyptic, and our protagonists struggle to find shelter from the authorities and the natural disaster brewing outside. Though climate change is never explicitly mentioned in the film, the issue is unquestionably part of the story's DNA. Shinkai himself has stated that he created this film with our climate crisis in mind. But the film adheres to its central component of magic as the cause and resolution of the disaster. A priest reveals that the strange weather attacking the city is not as unique an occurrence as people would believe; it is perhaps a singular event in recorded history, but there exists a long history before that, when the weather went wild. In those instances, the priest reveals, weather maidens, who are linked to the skies, served as sacrifices, and the weather returned to normal. Later in the film, as the streets flood and it starts to snow — despite it being late summer — Hina decides to sacrifice herself to fix the weather, and the skies immediately clear, and the sun comes out. Magic is everywhere — not simply in the movie's narrative but in its design: drops of water glisten and sparkle, the sun breaks through the clouds with impossibly bright slivers of light, a prism of colors in brisk pinks, purples, and blues. And we see the world of the sky, a kind of inverse mirror world of liquid sea creatures and a spring green field of grass.
1-22-20 'Mops and buckets' won't do anything to save us from climate disaster
Hurricane Sandy brought a 14-foot tide of water through the streets of New York City and devastation along the coast of New Jersey in 2012. Over 50 people were killed. FEMA estimated a cost of $70.2 billion, making it at the time the second costliest hurricane is U.S. history. In the seven years since, the recovery has progressed slowly. Many homeowners have struggled to navigate a complex and inadequate system of government aid and insurance money. In the wake of Sandy, many have considered the future climate change-driven risks to the city, including rising seas and the potential for more destructive storms. Proposals to mitigate these dangers have ranged from wetland restoration, buy-out programs, and oyster reefs that could protect New York City from flooding. In a nation that loves big infrastructure projects, one proposal has captured significant attention: building a six-mile long barrier to protect the city. The idea has been discussed for years but early last week The New York Times wrote an article confirming that the barrier is one of five projects being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers. Presumably it was this article that led President Trump to tweet his own plan for protecting the largest city in America: "mops and buckets." There's plenty to parse in the tweet. The $200 billion price tag is an exaggeration from the $119 billion reported by the Times. He denies the city's increasing flood risk. And concerns about the aesthetics of a wall are intriguing given his propensity for other walls, not just at the U.S.-Mexico border but also a sea wall to protect his golf course in Ireland. This doesn't mean there aren't valid and very serious questions about the most effective and just approach to protecting New York and New Jersey from flooding. But these serious questions deserve to be answered with serious solutions. "Mops & buckets" is dismissive and reminiscent of the president throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It is also a dangerous return to the antiquated, reactive approach historically taken to emergency management.
1-21-20 Davos billionaires are happy to let the world burn
Everyone's favorite rally of neoliberal oligarchs is taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland. The World Economic Forum, "known for preaching the gospel of touchy-feely stakeholder capitalism against a backdrop of $43 hot dogs, $10,000 hotel rooms, and several hundred trips by private plane," as Lionel Laurent writes at Bloomberg, is struggling to maintain its #brand while global politics descends into fascism and the climate crisis gathers strength. The Davos conference demonstrates only one thing: If the billionaire stranglehold over global politics is not broken, we are all going to fry in a future climate hell. For one thing, President Trump is getting a distinctly more friendly reception this time than at previous Davos conferences. Sure, the man may be a boorish, corrupt accused rapist who was just impeached for trying to rig the 2020 election, but taxes are low, the markets are booming, and Wall Street is largely free from burdensome regulators. Oligarchs can accommodate themselves to just about anything that doesn't directly threaten their pocketbooks. Nevertheless, a few still have some glimmerings of a conscience — which probably explains why somebody arranged for climate activist Greta Thunberg to attend one of the discussion panels. Oligarchs always want to have some well-scrubbed youth at their conferences to talk about the importance of "raising awareness" about "the issues," preferably in order to gather some private charity donations. The ultra-wealthy are happy to kick a few pennies to supplicant nonprofit organizations to eradicate guinea worm or whatever. It makes their near-chokehold over global politics seem softer and more reasonable. But Thunberg offered the Davos robber barons no such moral alibi. Instead she attacked the attendees like she always does at such events. She said world leaders are "cheating and fiddling around with numbers" with untested schemes to get emissions down by scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere. She correctly scoffed at a new plan joined even by Trump to supposedly plant 1 trillion trees (so as to absorb carbon) as inadequate. "Planting trees is good of course, but it’s nowhere near enough," she said. "It cannot replace mitigation."
1-21-20 Davos: Trump decries climate 'prophets of doom' with Thunberg in audience
US President Donald Trump has decried climate "prophets of doom" in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where sustainability is the main theme. He called for a rejection of "predictions of the apocalypse" and said America would defend its economy. Mr Trump did not directly name the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was in the audience. Later, she excoriated political leaders, saying the world "in case you hadn't noticed, is currently on fire". Environmental destruction is at the top of the agenda at the annual summit of the world's decision-makers, which takes place at a Swiss ski resort. In his keynote speech, Mr Trump said that it was a time for optimism, not pessimism, in a speech that touted his administration's economic achievements and America's energy boom. Speaking of climate activists, he said: "These alarmists always demand the same thing - absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives." They were, he said, "the heirs of yesterday's foolish fortune tellers". He was speaking hours before his impeachment trial gets under way in the US Senate. Soon after he spoke, Ms Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist who has led a global movement of school strikes calling for urgent environmental action, opened a session on "Averting a Climate Apocalypse". "I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing... climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying? "Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else." She strongly criticised politicians and business leaders for what she said were continuous "empty words and promises". "You say: 'We won't let you down. Don't be so pessimistic.' And then, silence."
1-21-20 Davos: 'Forget about net zero, we need real zero' - Greta Thunberg
Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg has spoken as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The teenager warned that net zero carbon emissions is not enough and that while planting trees is good, much more needs to be done.
1-21-20 New solar power source and storage developed
A new form of combined solar power generation and storage is being developed for the UK. It couples thin, flexible, lighter solar sheets with energy storage to power buildings or charge vehicles off-grid. The company behind it, Solivus, plans to cover the roofs of large industrial buildings with the solar fabric. These include supermarket warehouses and delivery company distribution centres. But Solivus also plans to manufacture solar units or "arcs" for home use. The aim is to create local, renewable energy, to give people and business their own power supply and help the UK towards its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The solar material is a carbon-based sheet, which the company describes as an "organic photovoltaic" (OPV). It's a material that absorbs sunlight and produces energy. The layered film can be bent into shapes or glued on to flat or curved, vertical or horizontal, surfaces - where panels could not be used or fixed on without damaging the integrity of a building. The firm says the film is one-tenth of the weight of traditional panels in frames - 1.8kg per m2 - contains no rare earth or toxic materials, and lasts for 20 years. It puts its efficiency in a lab at about 13% but says that stays stable as temperatures rise in natural sunlight - a problem with traditional solar panels, although they can function at an average of 15-18% efficiency. The film collects a wider spectrum of light than other panels, manufacturer Heliatek says, while still working on grey days. The plan is that the energy produced will be stored locally, in an electric vehicle battery, or potentially a flywheel battery, which can quickly release its charge. The combination is the brainchild of Jo Parker-Swift, who has a background in biological sciences and has grown and sold two businesses that worked with NHS trusts.
1-20-20 People urgently fleeing climate crisis cannot be sent home, UN rules
People fleeing immediate danger due to the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, the UN has said. The landmark ruling centres on the case of Ioane Teitiota, whose home - the Pacific Island of Kiribati - is threatened by rising sea levels. Mr Teitiota applied for protection in New Zealand in 2013. The UN rejected his claim, saying he wasn't in immediate danger, but the wording of its ruling allows others to claim asylum based on climate change. Sending asylum seekers home when their lives are threatened by the climate crisis "may expose individuals to a violation of their rights" - specifically, it said, their right to life. "Given that the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such a country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realised," its decision added. The UN ruling - which is non-binding - is the clearest warning to countries that they may be breaching a person's human rights if they send them back to a country at immediate risk of climate-related danger. But it found against Mr Teitiota's specific claim, which was that his and his family's lives were endangered in Kiribati. Mr Teitiota told the UN's Human Rights Committee that he lived on the island of South Tarawa, which was struggling with overcrowding. The population of the island increased from 1,641 in 1947 to about 50,000 in 2010, because rising sea levels had made neighbouring islands uninhabitable. This had led to social tension, unrest and violence, he said. Mr Teitiota added that crops were already being ruined on Kiribati, and that the island was likely to become uninhabitable within the next 10 to 15 years. Speaking to BBC News in 2015, Mr Teitiota had likened his situation to that of refugees escaping conflict: "I'm the same as people who are fleeing war. Those who are afraid of dying, it's the same as me." But courts in New Zealand rejected his claim - a decision that has now been upheld by the UN.
1-20-20 Michelin sustainable rubber criticised for deforestation
Tyre giant Michelin and green group WWF have been criticised by researchers over a rubber plantation in Indonesia that was billed as protecting the environment, but which villagers say has caused deforestation, destroyed elephant habitat and resulted in land grabs. In 2015, Michelin began work on the 66,000 hectare plantation on the island of Sumatra, partnering with WWF as an adviser, to source rubber from an area that Michelin had said had been ravaged by logging and fires. The French company, one of the world’s biggest buyers of rubber, promised the plantation would be “deforestation-free”, “protect flora and fauna” by creating a buffer zone for wildlife and generate 16,000 jobs. But a visit by German researchers to the nearby village of Muara Sekalo in the province of Jambi has unearthed a very different account of the project’s impact. Farmers from the village, and women working for one of the plantation’s partners, told the team that forests had been cleared to establish the rubber trees. Villagers also reported that the plantation had destroyed the habitat of elephants, leading more of the animals to approach the village and become more aggressive, destroying farmers’ plantations. Several farmers were said to have eventually abandoned their plots as a result. Some of the villagers reported losing land to the plantation, often because they only held rights through custom, not official deeds recognised by government ministries. One village elder said of land with trees his ancestors had grown: “I feel like it is not fair to give the land to the company, but then we don’t have any proof of the ownership but the trees.” “The main point is really the mismatch between the framing of sustainable development on the one side and what’s happening on the ground on the other,” says Fenna Otten at the University of Gottingen, Germany, who visited the village at the end of 2017.
1-20-20 Our current food system can feed only 3.4 billion people sustainably
Our current food system can feed only 3.4 billion people without transgressing key planetary limits, according to an analysis of the global farming system. However, reorganising what is farmed where – along with some changes in diets – would enable us to feed 10 billion people on a sustainable basis, suggests the analysis. “We should not go any further in the direction of producing food at the cost of the environment,” says Dieter Gerten at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, an author of the study. In 2009, researchers identified nine so-called planetary boundaries: limits that we shouldn’t exceed if we want to maintain Earth’s life-support systems. Gerten’s team looked at the four boundaries that are relevant to farming: not using too much nitrogen, which causes dead zones in lakes and oceans; not taking too much fresh water from rivers; not cutting down too much forest; and maintaining biodiversity. The team’s conclusion is that half of food production today violates these limits. However, this analysis is also the first to provide insights into where, geographically, these limits are being transgressed. By changing what is farmed where, the team says it would be possible to feed 10 billion people within the four limits. This would involve rewilding farms in areas where more than 5 per cent of species are threatened; reforesting farmland where more than 85 per cent of tropical forest has been cut down; reducing water withdrawal for irrigation and other purposes where too much is taken; and decreasing nitrogen fertilisation where levels in surface water are too high. Farms could be expanded in areas where these limits are not being exceeded. It could, for example, mean restricting fertiliser use in parts of eastern China and central Europe, and expanding it in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the western US.
1-20-20 Australia fires: Storms wreak damage but bushfires 'far from over'
Storms have brought heavy rain to fire-hit regions of eastern Australia - but authorities warn the nation's bushfire crisis is still "far from over". More than 80 blazes were still burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria on Monday, despite downpours. Melbourne and Canberra have been hit by heavy storms, with hail as big as golf balls falling in some areas. Hundreds of emergency calls were made as hail smashed office windows and car windshields in the nation's capital. Further severe storms were also forecast for Sydney and Brisbane late on Monday. Victoria, NSW and Queensland experienced heavy rainfall and floods in recent days, bringing relief to some blaze zones. But strong winds have also generated dust clouds, temporarily blacking out the sky in NSW towns such as Orange and Dubbo. Dozens of communities across Australia's south-east are still reeling from fires which have been described as the most destructive on record. Since September, blazes have killed at least 30 people, destroyed over 2,000 homes and burnt through 10 million hectares of land - an area almost the size of England. The crisis has been exacerbated by record temperatures, a severe drought and climate change. On Monday, Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews said recent rain had proved "very helpful" to bushfire-affected communities. But he added that storms had also hindered some fire- fighting efforts, and caused a landslide on a highway. "Ultimately, we need to remain vigilant. It's 20 January - the fire season is far from over," Mr Andrews told reporters. Mr Andrews said there was still a "massive fire edge" of more than 1.5 million hectares from blazes which had flared up in the state's east on New Year's Eve. "We haven't yet reached the peak fire season in parts of southern Australia. History shows us that February is extremely dangerous," said Dr Richard Thornton from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre.
1-20-20 Single-use plastic: China to ban bags and other items
China, one of the world's biggest users of plastic, has unveiled a major plan to reduce single-use plastics across the country. Non-degradable bags will be banned in major cities by the end of 2020 and in all cities and towns by 2022. The restaurant industry will also be banned from using single-use straws by the end of 2020. China has for years been struggling to deal with the rubbish its 1.4 billion citizens generate. The country's largest rubbish dump - the size of around 100 football fields - is already full, 25 years ahead of schedule. In 2017 alone, China collected 215 million tonnes of urban household waste. But national figures for recycling are not available. China produced 60 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2010, followed by the US at 38 million tonnes, according to online publication Our World in Data based at the University of Oxford. The research was published in 2018 and said the "relative global picture is similar in projections up to 2025". The National Development and Reform Commission on Sunday issued the new policy, which will be implemented over the next five years. Plastic bags will be banned across all cities and towns in 2022, though markets selling fresh produce will be exempt until 2025. The production and sale of plastic bags that are less than 0.025mm thick will also be banned. The restaurant industry must reduce the use of single-use plastic items by 30%. Hotels have been told that they must not offer free single-use plastic items by 2025. This isn't China's first campaign against the use of plastics. In 2008, the country banned retailers from giving out free plastic bags, and banned the production of ultra-thin plastic bags. And in 2017, China - once the world's largest importer of plastic waste - announced that it would ban the import of foreign plastic waste.
1-20-20 China's struggle to move away from coal
China is a country caught in the middle of a global struggle: to develop but also be green. It currently uses about as much coal as the rest of the world put together but it's also a world leader in wind and solar production. According to the International Energy Agency, between 2019 and 2024 China will account for 40% of the global expansion in renewable energy. However, as its economy slows down it is now re-opening some coal mines and the country’s Premier Li Keqiang has urged energy officials to promote coal-fired power. So is China addicted to coal?
1-19-20 The tricky task of tallying carbon
More than 60 years ago, atmospheric scientist Charles David Keeling began regular measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. In the heart of the Pacific and far from the largest human sources of the gas, Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory was an ideal location for these measurements. Within just two years, Keeling had detected two patterns in the data. The first was an annual rise and fall as the seasons came and went. But the second — a year-by-year increase — suggested something alarming: a rise in carbon dioxide produced by the widespread burning of fossil fuels. In 1965, Keeling's measurements were incorporated into a report for U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that described carbon dioxide from fossil fuels as "the invisible pollutant" and warned of its dangers. Since then, global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have continued to rise, as have the concerns over the changes that such an atmospheric shift brings. Observations are still taken at Mauna Loa today, and the resulting "Keeling Curve" reveals that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by almost a third since the first measurements were taken. The world's average temperature has already warmed by around 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, driving increases in everything from sea levels to the frequency of extreme weather events. For those groups and nations striving to limit global warming, accurately tracking carbon emissions will be key to assessing progress and validating international agreements. But how do scientists do that? And how does the amount released into the air relate to what scientists end up measuring at outposts such as Mauna Loa? A comprehensive tally of carbon released is essential not just for assessing which countries are pulling their weight and meeting agreed targets. It's also key to improving understanding of carbon's natural cycle and to more precisely quantifying the link between humankind's emissions and the planet's temperature. But calculating, much less measuring, global carbon dioxide emissions remains an immense technical challenge, since almost every human activity is implicated in the molecule's release.
1-18-20 Taking climate change to the courts
In September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana dumped a foot and a half of rain on the Philippines in just 24 hours. In the capital, Manila, muddy, sewage-filled floodwater trapped Veronica "Derek" Cabe's family on the roof of their home. "My family huddled together on the rooftop of our two-story house as the floodwaters sped past," said Cabe, an environmental activist. "They could see bodies, animals, and even a coffin. It was like a horror movie." Cabe got stuck a few miles away from her family. She was getting text message updates from them, but couldn't reach them. "The fact that they were trapped in a life-and-death situation, and I had no idea how to help them was the worst nightmare that I've ever had," Cabe told The World. Since that day, the Philippines has been slammed by storms again and again. In 2012, tropical storm Washi killed about 1,300 people. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,000 people. These kinds of storms and other disasters are expected to grow more intense as the climate warms. The bushfires raging across Australia are an example of how damages from climate change are likely to grow in the future. Cabe is among those looking for someone or something to hold accountable for the damage caused by these catastrophes. "What are we going to do, are we just going to count the dead bodies?" Cabe said. "There should be someone that should be accountable to this." In 2015, Cabe signed onto a petition that asked the Philippines Commission on Human Rights to do just that. The commission agreed to investigate whether big oil and gas companies could be held legally responsible for harm caused by climate change. And the case is not unique. Citizens, nonprofit organizations and governments around the world are increasingly turning to the courts in their search for accountability.
1-17-20 Climate change: Can Glasgow go carbon neutral?
A number of British cities aim to go carbon neutral by 2030 to fight climate change. Glasgow – which will host a major United Nations climate change summit in November 2020 – is one of them. But bringing the carbon footprint of a whole city down to zero requires big changes. So what can be done, and how quickly?
1-17-20 A tenth of a degree
Last year was the second-hottest year on record, and it trailed the hottest, 2016, by only a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. There was above-average warming in most regions, with exceptional warming in the Arctic, Europe, southern Africa, and Australia. The five past years have been the five warmest on record.
1-17-20 Environmental regulation: A major rollback
President Trump is proposing “stark changes to the nation’s oldest and most established environmental law,” said Lisa Friedman in The New York Times. In an escalation of his three-year effort “to roll back clean air and water protections,” the president plans to revise the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to narrow the range of infrastructure projects that require an environmental impact statement for approval. Such assessments offer federal regulators detailed analyses of the environmental consequences of building a given bridge, pipeline, highway, or power plant in deciding whether to give it a thumbs-up. The revision would also “set hard deadlines of one year to complete reviews of smaller projects and two years” for larger ones. The new regulation, which requires a 60-day comment period before going into effect, will likely be challenged in court. Trump called it a necessary step to quicken “an outrageously slow” process. Yes, research has shown that the average impact statement took 4.5 years to complete between 2010 and 2017, said Yessenia Funes in Gizmodo?.com. But “considering the facts” takes time and is surely preferable to greenlighting a project that could “infringe on critical wildlife habitat, harm water resources, or destroy culturally sensitive areas.” Do we want to return to the pre-regulatory era, when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire? Instead of wrecking this “key pillar of environmental protection,” Trump should fight for sufficient funds to hire “enough employees to finish reviews in a timely fashion.” Most Americans want a sensible middle ground on regulation, said Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post. The economy shouldn’t be “paralyzed” by “regulatory overkill.” But “broad support” remains for sensible regulation of the environment, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, and cars. “Free market” forces don’t always produce results in the public’s best interest.
1-17-20 BlackRock: Climate change will reshape finance
T he CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm, pledged to make fighting climate change the core goal of his company’s future investment decisions, said Attracta Mooney and Owen Walker in the Financial Times. In his “annual finger-wagging letter to chief executives” this week, BlackRock head Larry Fink said that climate change would lead to “a fundamental reshaping of finance.” He vowed to increase the range of BlackRock’s sustainable investment products, begin excluding companies that rely heavily on thermal coal production, and become “more transparent over the firm’s engagement and voting at investee companies” as a way to pressure them to develop climate initiatives. Let’s see Fink put his firm’s money—more than $6 trillion—where his mouth is, said Rachel Koning Beals in MarketWatch?.com. Last year, BlackRock “supported fewer than 12 percent” of the sustainability resolutions that shareholders voted on. Fink says that will change, but climate advocates “will be watching to see if his pledge to hold companies accountable will materialize.” They also want to see just how far Fink will go in designing environmentally responsible funds. Investors have welcomed socially conscious funds but drawn the line at dropping fossil fuels. “Exiting the stocks of gunmakers has been a fairly simple move; splitting with oil has not.”
1-17-20 Can Microsoft's 'moonshot' carbon goal succeed?
Tech giant Microsoft has announced two bold ambitions: firstly, to become carbon negative by the year 2030 - meaning it will be removing more carbon from the air than it emits - and secondly, to have removed more carbon by 2050 than it has emitted, in total, in its entire history. In an interview with the BBC's Chris Fox, Microsoft president Brad Smith admitted that the plan was a "moonshot" - a very big idea with no guaranteed outcome or profitability - for the company. He stressed there was simultaneously a sense of urgency and a need to take the time to do the job properly. He also said that the tools required don't entirely exist yet. Mr Smith talked about tree planting, and direct air capture - a way of removing carbon from the air and returning it to the soil - as examples of available options. "Ultimately we need better technology," he said. But don't expect Microsoft to roll up its sleeves: "That's not a business we will ever be in but it's a business we want to benefit from," he added, announcing a $1bn Climate Innovation Fund, established with the intention of helping others develop in this space. He expects support from the wider tech sector, he said, "because it's a sector that's doing well, it can afford to make these investments and it should." But historically, isn't it also one of the worst offenders? CES in Las Vegas, the huge consumer tech show, has just ended. It was attended by 180,000 people most of whom probably flew there, to look at mountains of plastic devices clamouring to be the Next Big Thing. From gas-guzzling cars and power-hungry data centres to difficult-to-recycle devices and the constant consumer push to upgrade to new shiny plastic gadgets - the tech sector's green credentials are not exactly a blueprint for environmental friendliness despite much-publicised occasional projects.
1-17-20 Air pollution weakens bones
It could be time to add weaker bones to the list of ailments linked to air pollution, reports New Scientist. Recent studies have connected airborne pollution to problems in the lungs, heart, uterus, and eyes, as well as to mental health issues. In a new study, researchers took air quality readings at 23 locations outside the Indian city of Hyderabad, and examined the bone mass of more than 3,700 people in nearby villages. What they found, says project coordinator Cathryn Tonne, from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, was “a quite consistent pattern of lower bone mineral content with increasing levels of air pollution.” Most previous research on this issue has focused on older people in wealthy countries, which tend to have lower levels of pollution. But the participants in this study were exposed to three times the World Health Organization’s safe limit of PM2.5, a fine particulate form of pollution. Lower bone density reduces bone strength, which increases the risk for fractures. The study didn’t examine why air pollution may have this effect on bone density, but it might be a result of inflammation caused by the airborne particles.
1-17-20 Australia fires: 'Apocalypse' comes to Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island in South Australia has been likened to a Noah's Ark for its unique ecology. But after fierce bushfires tore through the island this week, there are fears it may never fully recover. "You see the glowing in the distance," says Sam Mitchell, remembering the fire that threatened his home, family, and animals last week. "The wind is quite fast, the glowing gets brighter - and then you start to see the flames." Sam runs Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and lives there with his wife and 19-month-old son, Connor. As the flames approached, an evacuation warning was issued. Within 20 minutes, "everyone was gone". But Sam - and four others - stayed behind. "You can't move 800 animals including water buffaloes, ostriches and cassowaries [an ostrich-like bird]," he says. "We decided that if we can't move them we'll see if we can save them. We had the army helping us. Somehow, we were spared. It burnt right around us." The fire, on 9 January, was the second major blaze to ravage Kangaroo Island in less than a week. Two men had died in a blaze on 4 January. Authorities believe they were overrun by flames as they drove along the highway. The fires on Kangaroo Island have been shocking for their speed and extreme behaviour. After his park was spared, Sam soon realised that the eastern town of Kingscote - where he'd sent his son - was under threat. "I thought I was sending him to safety," he says. "It turns out the fire missed us and was heading in their direction." The fire came dangerously close to Kingscote but did not impact the town. While talking to me, Sam keeps a close eye on his son, who's now back in the park. "It's so hard to see him playing innocently when there are fires all around us," he says. Driving through the fire trail in Kangaroo Island, there are rows upon rows of blackened trees, some still burning from inside. The scorched earth smoulders and smoke fills the air.
1-17-20 Climate change: What can I do about it and other questions
"The moment of crisis has come" in efforts to tackle climate change, Sir David Attenborough has warned. He spoke as BBC News launched a year of special coverage on global warming. Here are our answers to a range of readers' questions. Climate change will need to be tackled by governments worldwide, through measures like the 2005 Kyoto Protocol. This brought nations together for the first time in a single agreement on tackling climate change. But everyone has a carbon footprint. This is the amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide - which contributes to global warming - released into the atmosphere by people's actions. This can be reduced in a number of ways. According to a recent report by a group of international scientists, transport is responsible for 34% of a household's carbon footprint in high-income countries like the UK. The report calls for a major programme of investment in the rail and bus network, with lower ticket prices and investment in safer cycling. Home heating presents another challenge and opportunity. It is responsible for 21% of a household's carbon footprint. This could be cut by turning down the thermostat, having better-insulated houses and changing to low-carbon heating systems. According to the United Nations, the current world population is about 7.7 billion and could reach 9.7 billion in 2050. This population growth drives higher demand for food, greater energy consumption and more competition for resources. And it increases the production of the gases that cause global warming. And a recent major study, by a global group of 11,000 scientists, concluded that the world needs to stabilise its population. The study has attracted quite a deal of controversy, but its authors say such action is needed if the world is to avoid what they call "a catastrophic threat" from climate change. (Webmaster's comment: Even though China as a nation has more C02 emissions, per person United States is the worst!)
1-16-20 Sir David Attenborough blasts inaction on climate change
The naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned that "the moment of crisis has come". In an interview with the BBC, the broadcaster said the growing awareness of the emergency should force governments to act.
1-16-20 Microsoft says it will cut emissions to be carbon negative by 2030
Microsoft has big climate ambitions. On 16 January, the company announced an initiative to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it and its suppliers emit annually by 2030. Company officials said that by 2050, Microsoft intends to remove from the atmosphere the equivalent of all the carbon it has emitted since its foundation in 1975. “The world today is confronted with an urgent climate crisis,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at an event on 16 January. “Each of us is going to need to take action, and that includes businesses… As a global technology company, we have a particular responsibility to do our part.” This year, Microsoft expects to emit 16 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, said Brad Smith, the company’s president. Since 2012, Microsoft has technically been carbon neutral, meaning its emissions are balanced out by investments that counteract emissions, like preserving forests. But a post on the official Microsoft blog pointed out that “neutral is not enough to address the world’s needs”. Widespread carbon neutrality may slow climate change, but it will not stop it. Microsoft’s plan includes running all of its data centres and buildings on renewable energy by 2025, increasing internal incentives to lower emissions in each division of the business, and putting incentives in place for suppliers to become greener. The exact path to becoming carbon negative isn’t as clear. “It will start with more nature-based approaches, because that’s what is generally available and affordable today,” said Smith. “But what we’ll look forward to doing, and what the world needs, is new technology.” Planting trees isn’t enough on its own, but the technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere on a large scale hasn’t been developed yet.
1-16-20 Microsoft makes 'carbon negative' pledge
Microsoft has pledged to remove "all of the carbon" from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975. Chief executive Satya Nadella said he wanted to achieve the goal by 2050. To do so, the company aims to become "carbon negative" by 2030, removing more carbon from the environment than it emits. That goes beyond a pledge by its cloud-computing rival Amazon, which intends to go "carbon neutral" by 2040. "When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough," said Microsoft president Brad Smith. "The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world's climate," he added in a blog. "If we don't curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic." The company also announced it was setting up a $1bn (£765m) climate innovation fund to develop carbon-tackling technologies. When a business says it is carbon neutral, it aims to effectively add no carbon to the atmosphere. It can do this by: 1. balancing its emissions, for example by removing a tonne of carbon from the atmosphere for every tonne it has produced. 2. offsetting its emissions, for example by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere in the world. 3. not releasing greenhouse gases in the first place, for example by switching to renewable energy sources. Until now, most companies have focused on offsetting emissions to achieve neutrality. This often involves funding projects in developing economies to reduce carbon emissions there, for example building hydroelectric power plants, encouraging families to stop using wood-based stoves, and helping businesses make use of solar power. These reductions are then deducted from the main company's own output. The result of this slows carbon emissions rather than reversing them. To be carbon negative a company must actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. Microsoft says it will do this using a range of carbon capture and storage technologies.
1-16-20 2019 was the second-warmest year on record
The year marked the end of the world’s hottest decade in 140 years. The year 2019 is officially the second warmest in the 140-year record of modern temperatures compiled by both NASA and the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, scientists said January 15. The five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2014 — making 2019 the end to the hottest decade ever recorded. The more important takeaway from the data is not how each of the last five years is ranked, but “the consistency of the long-term trends that we’re seeing,” climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said during a news conference. “The top five years are the last five years, [and] the last decade is the warmest,” said Schmidt, who is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Furthermore, since the mid-20th century, “every decade has been warmer than the last, and not by a small amount.” From January to December 2019, the mean global temperature was 0.95 degree Celsius higher than the long-term average from 1901 to 2000, and about 0.98 degrees warmer than the average global temperature from 1951 to 1980. During the hottest recorded year, 2016, global average temperatures were 0.99 degrees above the mid-century mean. But temperatures that year were influenced by a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation weather pattern (SN: 8/21/19), which historically increases the average global temperature, the researchers noted in the news conference, held during the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Boston. El Niño had an impact on 2019 temperatures too, but it was much smaller than in 2016, Schmidt said. If El Niño wasn’t a factor, 2017 would have been the hottest year on record, with 2019 coming in third. The heat last year broke records in cities around the world (SN: 12/16/19) and helped fuel wildfires from the Arctic to Australia (SN: 8/2/19; SN: 1/9/20). The extent of sea ice in the Arctic was the third-lowest in records going back to 1979 in September 2019, after 2012 and 2007.
1-16-20 Sir David Attenborough warns of climate 'crisis moment'
"The moment of crisis has come" in efforts to tackle climate change, Sir David Attenborough has warned. According to the renowned naturalist and broadcaster, "we have been putting things off for year after year". "As I speak, south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing," he said. Sir David's comments came in a BBC News interview to launch a year of special coverage on the subject of climate change. Scientists say climate change is one of several factors behind the Australian fires; others include how forests are managed and natural patterns in the weather. Sir David told me it was "palpable nonsense" for some politicians and commentators to suggest that the Australian fires were nothing to do with the world becoming warmer. "We know perfectly well," he said, that human activity is behind the heating of the planet. He's highlighting the fact that while climate scientists are becoming clearer about the need for a rapid response, the pace of international negotiations is grindingly slow. The most recent talks - in Madrid last month - were branded a disappointment by the UN Secretary-General, the British government and others. Decisions on key issues were put off and several countries including Australia and Brazil were accused of trying to dodge their commitments. "We have to realise that this is not playing games," Sir David said. "This is not just having a nice little debate, arguments and then coming away with a compromise. "This is an urgent problem that has to be solved and, what's more, we know how to do it - that's the paradoxical thing, that we're refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken." Back in 2018, the UN climate science panel spelled out how the world could have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most dangerous temperature rises in future.
1-16-20 Our Planet Matters: Climate change explained
The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies. This year, climate change has been linked to Australian bushfires, torrential rains in Indonesia and record-breaking temperatures in Europe - but just what is climate change?
1-16-20 The ‘Blob,’ a massive marine heat wave, led to an unprecedented seabird die-off
From 2015–2016, 62,000 dead common murres washed onto U.S. and Canadian Pacific coast beaches. Common murres are arguably the most successful seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere. The penguinlike seafarers can crisscross vast expanses of ocean faster than any other northern seabird, and can dive the length of two American football fields to snatch small fish. But from 2015 to 2016, this superstar bird experienced an unprecedented die-off. Over that period, about 62,000 emaciated, dead or dying murres (Uria aalge) washed onto beaches from Southern California to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, a new study finds. What’s more, colonies throughout this range failed to reproduce during and shortly after the same time. All together, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the region’s total population was wiped out, researchers report January 15 in PLOS ONE. The cause? A gargantuan, extended marine heat wave nicknamed the Blob whose impact reverberated throughout the food web, the scientists say. Warmer ocean temperatures shifted the range and makeup of plankton communities and amped up the metabolic demands of all fish, shrinking one of the ecosystem’s key food supplies and starving out murres. “This study leaves no stone unturned to see what might be affecting these birds,” says Andrew Leising, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., who wasn’t involved in the study. The team synthesized a diverse range of data to reveal “the stressors that resulted from the heat wave that combined to really put the smackdown on the forage fish these birds rely on,” he says. When John Piatt, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska, first heard reports of large numbers of starving or dead murres washing ashore in Northern California and Washington in the summer of 2015, he wasn’t sure if the events were connected. Occasional die-offs of murres aren’t unusual. But within months, citizen scientists all along the U.S. and Canadian coast began encountering dead murres 10 to 1,000 times as often as normal. Piatt recalls thinking “this is too coincidental not to be related.”
1-15-20 Marine heatwave known as 'the blob' killed a million US seabirds
A million seabirds that died along the US west coast were probably the victims of an unprecedented marine heatwave in the Pacific. Such events are expected to become more frequent due to climate change. About 62,000 common murres (Uria aalge) washed ashore from summer 2015 to spring 2016 between Alaska and California, most having apparently starved. Researchers extrapolate that this means around a million died in total. “The amazing question is, how could a million die over 6000 kilometres, pretty much all at the same time, and what could cause it,” says John Piatt at the US Geological Survey. Members of the species have died en masse in the past, but in far smaller numbers and only at a local level. The magnitude of deaths from 2015 to 2016 is also unusual because the murres are so well adapted to its environment: they are fast and capable of diving deep for their main diet of fish. The killer appears to have been ‘the blob’, a vast, record-breaking patch of warm water that occurred off the west coast of North America between late 2013 and 2016. Looking at surveys of the beached murres, sea surface temperatures and fisheries data, Piatt and his colleagues say the most plausible explanation is that the birds were outcompeted, as the warmer waters caused cold-blooded species such as cod to eat far more fish in an effort to regulate their temperature. Murres need to eat half their body mass each day, while cod only need to eat 1 per cent of their body mass, and the birds die after 3 to 5 days without food. “It’s very convincing, and I would actually say it’s fairly conclusive. There’s very little else that could have caused the extensive effects they document,” says Andrew Leising at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
1-15-20 Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record
The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies. According to Nasa, Noaa and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850. The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend. 2016 remains the warmest year on record, when temperatures were boosted by the El Niño weather phenomenon. Today's data doesn't come as a huge surprise, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) signalling at the start of last December that 2019 likely marked the end of the warmest decade on record. The Met Office, which is involved in producing the HadCRUT4 temperature data, says that 2019 was 1.05C above the average for the period from 1850-1900. Last year saw two major heat waves hit Europe in June and July, with a new national record of 46C set in France on 28 June. New records were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and in the UK at 38.7C. In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree. While the three different research agencies all have slightly different figures for the past 12 months, the WMO has carried out an analysis that uses additional data from the Copernicus climate change service and the Japan Meteorological Agency. They conclude that in 2019, the world was 1.1C warmer than in the pre-industrial period. "Our collective global temperature figures agree that 2019 joins the other years from 2015 as the five warmest years on record," said Dr Colin Morice, from the Met Office Hadley Centre. "Each decade from the 1980s has been successively warmer than all the decades that came before. 2019 concludes the warmest 'cardinal' decade (those spanning years ending 0-9) in records that stretch back to the mid-19th century."
1-15-20 The wildfires and melting ice that science warned us about are here
News reports of long-predicted disasters are starting to sound familiar. Scientists, too, must carry on repeating calls for rapid cuts to carbon emissions. IN OUR issue of 31 August last year, we ran news stories on record-breaking wildfires raging across the globe from the Amazon to the Arctic. Meanwhile, our features section highlighted the uncertain long-term future of Arctic sea ice. This week, Australia is burning, and new research highlights the Amazon’s higher future wildfire risk (see “Area of Amazon affected by wildfires predicted to grow by 2050” ). Meanwhile, one of our features focuses on scientists studying the Thwaites glacier, a crucial and highly vulnerable part of the West Antarctic ice sheet (see “Antarctica’s doomsday glacier is melting. Can we save it in time?” ). Now, as then, there are concerns that humanity could be closer than previously assumed to precipitating dangerous climate tipping points. Our apologies if any of this is beginning to sound familiar. The truth is, all of these stories are chronicles of disasters foretold. As we reported last week, we have known about increased wildfire risk, as a consequence of climate change, for a decade or more. And climate models disagree only on the speed of future ice-sheet melting, not that it will happen. As two of this week’s contributions to our culture section suggest, we are vulnerable components of a complex, interdependent natural world that will far outlast us (see “Here’s how we can learn from other animals to create a better Earth” and “Aquarela documentary reveals water’s raw power in terrifying detail” ). But although we aren’t masters of it, we can be masters of our own destiny within it. More investigations such as those of the Thwaites glacier are vital for assessing and preparing for our future. So too is clear-headed assessment of schemes to reduce our impact on the natural world – for example the recent claims that food produced from renewable energy and air can replace the products of conventional farms (see “Can we really save the planet by making food ‘from air’ without farms?” ).
1-15-20 Antarctica's doomsday glacier is melting. Can we save it in time?
A massive research effort is under way to understand Antarctica's Thwaites glacier before it is too late. If it collapses, it could trigger catastrophic sea level rise, putting London and New York at risk. “YOU are very aware that if something goes wrong, it goes very wrong very quickly,” says Joanne Johnson, speaking from her tent near Thwaites glacier in one of the remotest parts of Antarctica. At the time, she and three colleagues were alone, more than 1600 kilometres from the nearest research station. Strong winds had pounded them and it had snowed heavily, making the terrain even more perilous. On the bright side, it was mercifully mild, at -5°C. Until now, fewer than 50 people have been to this part of West Antarctica, less than have been to space. By the end of this month, 100 will have visited. The reason why is simple: Thwaites is a potential climate time bomb that we need to learn much more about. This vast glacier is about the size of Great Britain. While it has been shrinking since the early 1990s, ice loss has almost doubled over the past 20 years. It is shedding a dizzying 35 billion tonnes a year. On its own, its collapse would raise seas by around 65 centimetres. That is worrying enough in the context of the 19-cm rise in the whole of the 20th century. But the bigger worry is that this glacier buttresses the entire West Antarctic ice sheet. If Thwaites goes, the fear is it will trigger a wider collapse of ice – enough to raise seas by a calamitous 3.3 metres within a few hundred years. This is why it deserves its reputation as the world’s most dangerous glacier, says Sridhar Anandakrishnan at Pennsylvania State University. “What happens at Thwaites affects the whole ice sheet.”
1-15-20 Australia's fire-driven storms are pumping smoke into the stratosphere
Thunderstorms generated by the Australian bushfires are very likely to have pumped as much smoke into the stratosphere as a volcanic eruption. Blazes across the country in the past few weeks have been so intense they have generated their own weather. They create rising air mixed with ash and smoke that results in thunderstorm clouds above the fires called pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCbs). Some of these are strong enough and rise high enough to have channelled smoke into the stratosphere, a plume of which has crossed the Atlantic Ocean in an eastward direction. NASA says this plume has now made a full circuit around the Earth. There were at least 20 pyroCbs between 28 and 31 December, and more on 4 January, some of which injected smoke into the stratosphere. The scale of the smoke in the stratosphere has now been calculated by David Peterson at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who is presenting his preliminary findings to the American Meteorological Society at a meeting in Boston later today. “It’s very likely on a volcanic scale,” he says. “The big thing here is really the impact that this is having on the stratosphere.” Although not of the scale of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the largest in modern history, the effect is similar to a more moderate eruption, Peterson says. In 2017, Peterson found that Canadian wildfires put as much smoke as a volcano into the stratosphere. He is now working to apply the same technique to the Australian fires and thunderstorms. “At this point I can tell you that this event is one of the largest, it’s very near the top. I can’t say for sure if it’s the biggest,” he says, in terms of the amount of smoke injected into the stratosphere. While it is well known that a volcanic eruption can put enough aerosols into the atmosphere to have a cooling effect, the different chemistry of pyroCbs means the impacts of the fires on global temperatures aren’t yet entirely clear.
1-15-20 Exclusive: UK considering ambitious new climate plan soon after Brexit
The UK government is looking to announce a new, more ambitious blueprint to reduce its carbon emissions soon after the country leaves the European Union on 31 January, New Scientist understands. The move would be seen as a sign the UK wants to show leadership on climate change post-Brexit and to encourage other governments to follow suit ahead of it hosting a major UN climate summit in Glasgow this November. Current carbon cutting plans submitted by world leaders under the Paris climate agreement put us on course for at least a 3°C rise in global temperatures, which scientists say would have devastating impacts. Campaigners, vulnerable countries and the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres have all called on leaders to submit new, stronger plans before Glasgow, as part of the Paris accord’s “ratchet mechanism”. The idea is to help close the gap between 3°C and the Paris deal’s goal of remaining well below 2°C of warming. As it stands, the UK’s international commitment is to cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 based on 1990 levels, as set out in a joint plan submitted by the EU nearly five years ago. But Brexit means the UK will no longer be part of the EU’s climate plan, or “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) in the jargon of international climate talks, and it will need to submit a fresh one to the United Nations. Officials are considering doing so as soon as February, UK government sources say. The plan would be one of the first of a new wave of “enhanced NDCs” that help to close the gap between the current disastrous trajectory of warming and the more limited warming if the Paris targets are met. Only two tiny emitters, the small Pacific island state of the Marshall Islands and Suriname in South America, have submitted enhanced NDCs so far.
1-15-20 COP26: Climate summit may cost 'several hundred million pounds'
The cost of a UN climate change conference in Glasgow could be "several hundred million pounds", police say. Up to 90,000 people - delegates, observers, heads of state and media - are expected to attend COP26, over 12 days in November. A Scottish Police Authority report says it will be the largest mobilisation of police officers in the UK. Scottish ministers say they expect the UK government to cover the "core costs" including emergency services funding. But a spokesperson added there was a "lack of clarity" from Westminster over the issue. Costs associated with a Nato summit in Wales in 2014 have been used to draw up the estimated cost of this year's conference. The report says: "Taking into consideration the planning assumptions and based on previous major summits/conferences (e.g. Nato Summit Wales 2014), the initial costings demonstrate that the event will cost potentially several hundred million pounds. "Detailed financial planning is being developed and dialogue remains ongoing with the Cabinet Office relative to the cost recovery model that will be utilised." Police said the safety and wellbeing of conference attendees, the wider public and any protesters would be their "paramount" concern. The COP26 will be the largest summit the UK has held, with up to 200 world leaders expected for the final weekend of talks. It will be held at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) but other venues across the city will also host functions and meetings for heads of state and other dignitaries. The SPA report also reveals the SEC will be handed over to the UN for the duration of the conference. Known as the "blue zone", it will become international territory, subject to international law."Discussions are ongoing with senior law officers and the UN to determine how Police Scotland will record and investigate any crimes which occur in the blue zone," the report says. It adds that COP26 attendees will peak at 15,000 on the busiest day, but the overall figure could rise to 90,000 over the period of the conference, which runs from 9-20 November.
1-15-20 Reconnecting with nature 'triggers' eco-actions
People who have access to nature or urban green spaces are much more likely to behave in environmentally friendly ways, a study suggests. Researchers used a representative sample of 24,000 people in England for their study of green behaviour. The findings also showed that people who were not exposed to green spaces were less likely to adopt green behaviours, such as recycling. The findings will appear in the journal Environment International. The team of scientists from South-West England found that the link between access to green spaces and a greater level of green behaviour was true across the social board, whether it was older people, younger people, rich or poor, male or female. "The message that we want to get out is that reconnecting with nature may promote sustainable behaviour," explained co-author Ian Alcock from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter. Dr Alcock explained that previous studies had highlighted a link that if people had more connections to nature, they were more likely to make more green choices. "But the evidence came from small-scale experiments and from small-scale surveys," he told BBC News. "What we wanted to do was to test that idea on a large scale, so we took a large nationally representative sample of the population of England. People who took part in the study were asked a range of questions, such as whether they recycled, bought eco-friendly brands, bought local or seasonal produce etc. "People who made more nature visits were more likely to engage in recycling and more likely to engage in green travel and were more likely to engage in environmental volunteering. "The take-home message for policymakers is that we should encourage these active exposures to nature in order to encourage greater environmentalism. "What this suggests to us, from a policy viewpoint, is that there should be efforts to increase contact through improving both social participation also through the physical infrastructure, through promises to improve access to natural spaces in urban settings.
1-14-20 Analysis confirms that climate change is making wildfires worse
Climate change has already increased the risk of wildfire globally, according to a new review of research that suggests the weather conditions that led to the Australian wildfires will become more common in future. In light of the ongoing wildfire crisis in Australia, Richard Betts at the UK Met Office in Exeter and his colleagues reviewed 57 peer-reviewed studies about the link between climate change and wildfire risk. All the studies found that climate change increases the frequency or severity of fire-favourable weather conditions. The review found that fire weather seasons have lengthened globally between 1979 and 2013. Fire weather generally involves hot temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall in the preceding days and weeks, and windy conditions. Climate models also suggest that more extreme conditions and longer fire seasons come as a result of climate change, rather than fluctuations due to natural variation, the review reported. The recent extreme weather in Australia – 2019 was both its hottest and driest year on record – will become the “new normal” if the world continues a trajectory of warming close to 3°C, said Betts at a press briefing on Monday. Under Met Office modelling of 2°C of global warming, south-eastern Australia is predicted to experience an extra 20 to 30 days per year of fire conditions rated as “severe” or worse on the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index, said Betts. In severe fire conditions, fires that start may become uncontrollable. In the worst conditions, which have been seen in Australia this wildfire season and are rated “catastrophic”, fires cannot be controlled and pose a threat to life and property. Extraordinary situations like the current conditions in Australia will continue to occur when natural large-scale fluctuations, such as a strong Indian Ocean Dipole, combine with a warming climate, said Corinne Le Quéré at the University of East Anglia, UK, who called into the briefing. “The fact that there is a natural explanation by no means lessens the strong and negative impact that climate change is having,” she said.
1-14-20 Climate change: Australia fires will be 'normal' in warmer world
UK scientists say the recent fires in Australia are a taste of what the world will experience as temperatures rise. Prof Richard Betts from the Met Office Hadley Centre said we are "seeing a sign of what would be normal conditions under a future warming world of 3C". While natural weather patterns have driven recent fires, researchers said it's "common sense" that human-induced heating is playing a role. Last year was Australia's warmest and driest year on record. UK researchers have carried out a rapid analysis of the impact of climate change on the risk of wildfires happening all over the world. Their study looked at 57 research papers published since the last major review of climate science came out in 2013. All the studies in the review showed links between climate change and the increased frequency or severity of fire weather. This is defined as those periods of time which have a higher risk of fire due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and high winds. The signal of human-induced warming has become clearer in different parts of the world with the passage of time. A paper published last year suggests the impact of climate change could be detected outside the range of natural variability in 22% of land that's available for burning. "Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire," said Dr Matthew Jones, from the University of East Anglia, and the lead author of the review. "This has been seen in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia."
1-14-20 China sinkhole: Six killed as ground swallows bus
At least six people have been killed and 16 injured after an enormous sinkhole swallowed a bus and a number of pedestrians in central China. The incident occurred on Monday evening outside a hospital in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. CCTV footage showed an explosion inside the sinkhole shortly after the bus and bystanders fell inside on Monday evening. Several deadly sinkholes have been reported in China in recent years. The footage from the latest incident shows the moment people waiting at a bus stop are forced to flee as the ground underneath the bus starts to cave in. A number of people gather to try to rescue the bus passengers, but are engulfed by the sinkhole as it suddenly widens. Sinkholes in China are often blamed on construction works and the rapid pace of development in the country. In 2018, four people were killed after a sinkhole opened up on a busy pavement in the city of Dazhou, south-west China. In 2013, a similar incident killed five people at an industrial estate in the southern city of Shenzhen.
1-13-20 Climate change-related injuries will kill thousands in the US
The US is likely to see more than 2000 extra deaths a year from car accidents, suicide, drowning and other fatal injuries because of climate change, even if the world manages to hold temperature rises to the Paris climate deal’s target of 2°C. Research on deaths due to climate change usually focuses on older people who might be at a higher risk of heart and lung problems. Many older people were among the estimated 35,000 people who died in the 2003 Europe heatwave. But a team led by Robbie Parks at Imperial College London has found one way in which rising temperatures will increase death rates among younger people. The researchers examined government figures on the 6 million people who died after an injury between 1980 and 2017 in the US, excluding Hawaii and Alaska. Combining the data with monthly temperature spikes above the long-term average over the period, they found that in a future year that is anomalously hot by 1.5°C – the Paris accord’s toughest target – there will be 1601 extra deaths from injuries each year. If temperatures rise by the worst-case Paris goal of 2°C, the number climbs to 2135. “Climate change as a health issue goes beyond the physical and goes to the behavioural and the mental,” says Parks, who says the projected increase in deaths isn’t insignificant. Notably, the extra deaths would fall overwhelmingly – 84 per cent – on men, with most of them aged between 15 and 64. The biggest number of extra deaths would be related to transport, such as car crashes, followed by suicide. There will also be a smaller rise in deaths from drowning. The study doesn’t show why younger men will be affected more, but it may be down to more reckless behaviour causing unintentional deaths such as drowning, says Parks.
1-13-20 Australia fires: What's being done to fight the flames?
Large parts of Australia have been devastated by the worst wildfires the country has seen in decades, with huge blazes tearing through bush, woodland and national parks. Record-breaking temperatures and months of drought have helped the fires burn an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km) of land since 1 July. What are the Australian authorities doing to stop the fires and could anything have been done to prevent them? Bushfire conditions eased over the weekend, giving fire crews a period of temporary respite. But authorities say the huge fires will persist until there is substantial rainfall. More hot weather is expected next week and the risk was far from over, they said. Thousands of firefighters are still battling blazes across large swathes of Australia - ranging in size from small fires to infernos burning across hectares of land. Entire towns have been engulfed and residents across several states have lost their homes. At least 28 people have died. State and federal authorities have been working together to try to stem the spread. While they have managed to contain some within a matter of days, the biggest blazes have been burning for months. At least 3,700 firefighters are on the ground at any one time across the country during the worst periods, according to the country's state fire services. Most are in the worst-hit states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. When fires have been at their worst, about 2,700 firefighters have been battling the blazes at any one time in NSW alone. Ben Shepherd, of the NSW Rural Fire Service, said his colleagues had dealt with 4.2m hectares of burning land this season, compared with the typical 300,000 hectares. "It's been an incredibly long campaign," he said. Fire crews across the country have been joined by 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists who are assisting with search and rescue and clean-up Further support coming from the US, Canada, and New Zealand, who have sent additional teams and equipment to help.
1-13-20 Captured carbon dioxide could be used to help recycle batteries
Captured carbon dioxide could be used to extract useful metals from recycled technology such as smartphone batteries rather than just being buried underground. The technique could help make it more economical to capture the greenhouse gas before it enters the atmosphere. “By simultaneously extracting metals by injecting CO2, you add value to a process that is known to be cost-intensive,” says Julien Leclaire at the University of Lyon, France. Carbon dioxide is the main cause of modern climate change, so many people have attempted to develop technologies to capture it when it is emitted from power plants and other major sources. The gas can then be stored underground. The problem is that such carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expensive. “No one wants to pay the price for it,” says Leclaire. To make CCS more appealing, Leclaire’s team has found a use for the gas. His team collected CO2 from a car exhaust, cooled it, then pumped it into a mix of chemicals called polyamines. The CO2 combined with the polyamines to make many molecules of differing shapes and sizes. The team found that this process could sort out mixtures of metals, because one metal would dissolve in the liquid while another would form a solid. In a series of experiments, they successfully separated lanthanum, cobalt and nickel – all of which are used in batteries, smartphones, computers and magnets. If the process can be scaled up, it could be a more environmentally friendly way to recycle batteries and other electrical equipment, says Leclaire. This is normally done using highly reactive chemicals such as acids, which are potentially polluting. Replacing them with CO2 should lead to a much lower environmental footprint, he says.
1-13-20 Australian fires have incinerated the habitats of up to 100 threatened species
Scientists warn of an ecological catastrophe as crucial habitats of rare plants and animals burn. Until last week, the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo was one of Australia’s conservation success stories. Thanks to a recovery program that began in 1995, its wild population increased from 150 to 400, and its status was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered. Now it’s part of an unfolding horror story. Fires have raged across nearly 50 percent of Kangaroo Island, a 4,400-square-kilometer isle off the coast of the state of South Australia, destroying the habitat of the great majority of the birds. It’s unclear how many glossy black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus) survived. For those that escaped the flames, food may be scarce; it eats the seeds of single tree species in its habitat, the drooping she oak. Many years of hard work have gone up in smoke and “it’s a big step backwards for the recovery team,” says Daniella Teixeira, a conservation biologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who has studied and worked to protect the birds for the last four years. Even if just a quarter of the population has been killed, the subspecies could end up back on the critically endangered list, she says. Similar stories are playing out across Australia, where, as of January 12, months of wildfires had burned nearly 11 million hectares — an area larger than the nation of Guatemala. More than 2,200 homes have gone up in flames and 29 people have been killed, and there are still two months of bushfire season left to go. Already, the toll on animals and plants, many of which are evolutionarily unique and endemic to the continent, is mind-boggling.
1-12-20 Federer responds to climate change critics over Credit Suisse links
Tennis star Roger Federer has responded to climate change critics - including campaigner Greta Thunberg - by saying he takes the issue very seriously. Activists oppose Federer's sponsorship deal with Credit Suisse over its links to the fossil fuel industry. Some appeared in court this week after refusing to pay a fine for playing tennis inside Credit Suisse offices in 2018 to highlight Federer's deal. Federer did not address the deal directly in his statement. The activists - most of them students - appeared in court in Renens, Lausanne, on 7 January to appeal against the fine. Some supporters gathered outside holding banners which read: "Credit Suisse is destroying the planet. Roger, do you support them?" Greta Thunberg - the Swedish teenager who has become the public face of worldwide protests against government policies on climate change - joined the criticism against Federer and Credit Suisse when she retweeted a post from activists 350.org Europe. The post said loans by Credit Suisse to companies investing in fossil fuels were incompatible with action on climate change and urged Federer to "wake up". In his response, the 20-time Grand Slam champion who is in Melbourne for the Australian Open, said: "I take the impacts and threat of climate change very seriously, particularly as my family and I arrive in Australia amidst devastation from the bushfires." Federer said he had "a great deal of respect and admiration for the youth climate movement" and was "grateful to young climate activists for pushing us all to examine our behaviours and act on innovative solutions". "We owe it to them and ourselves to listen. I appreciate reminders of my responsibility as a private individual, as an athlete and as an entrepreneur, and I'm committed to using this privileged position to dialogue on important issues with my sponsors." For its part, Credit Suisse has said it is "seeking to align its loan portfolios with the objectives of the Paris Agreement [to combat climate change] and has recently announced in the context of its global climate strategy that it will no longer invest in new coal-fired power plants".
1-12-20 Australia bushfires: The race to save animal casualties
Vets have been joined by volunteers to help with the treatment of animals injured in the bushfires on the wildlife haven of Kangaroo Island, Australia. Two people and tens of thousands of animals were killed as fires swept through valued habitats, destroying areas it's estimated cover up to half of the island.
1-11-20 An ecologist on the future of Australia's wildlife
Australian firefighters used a break from searing temperatures last Tuesday to strengthen containment lines around huge wildfires as the financial and environmental costs of the crisis mounted. More than 25.5 million acres of land — an area the size of South Korea — have been razed by bushfires across the country in recent weeks, according to the latest data, with the southeast particularly hard hit. Imagery posted online from the Himawari 8 Japanese satellite and NASA's Earth Observatory showed plumes of smoke from the fires reaching as far as South America. The devastating bushfires are exacting a heavy human toll — at least 24 people have died since September. Wild animals have fared much worse. The University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman stunned people recently with his estimate that 480 million animals have been injured or killed in Australia's bushfires. A few weeks later, the fires have spread even farther, and he's updated the impact to include 1 billion animals. "The 480 million estimate was made a couple of weeks ago, and the fires have now burnt over a large area of the further country. That means over 800 million mammals, birds, and reptiles have been affected by the fires. Australia-wide, it's probably over a billion," Dickman said. "I think there's nothing quite to compare with the devastation that's going on over such a large area so quickly. It's a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected." Dickman spoke to The World's Patrick Winn about the conditions animals in Australia are now facing. Patrick Winn: Give us a better idea, not to be morbid, but how these creatures are dying. Are we talking about actually being burned to death? Smoke inhalation or starvation? What are the different scenarios here? Chris Dickman: Death by flames is the most obvious. Some of the images of koalas bring home what that's like most vividly. At the fire front, firefighters have talked about the shrieks of koalas, just screams of pain as they die. It's just horrendous. For others, perhaps those in tree hollows or perhaps those who haven't been able to go too deeply under the ground, smoke inhalation will be a real problem. For the others, it's probably a slower demise. For the species that go underground and then reemerge after the fires have gone through, there's really nothing except ash on the surface. So, it's very difficult to find resources.
1-10-20 Wildfires could flip parts of the Amazon from a carbon sponge to a source by 2050
Curbing new deforestation could help avoid the alarming tipping point, simulations suggest. A double whammy of climate change and deforestation could double the area burned by wildfires in the southern Brazilian Amazon forest, simulations suggest. That increase in fires could burn up to 16 percent of the region by 2050 and release enough carbon dioxide to flip parts of the forest from carbon dioxide sponge to source — exacerbating greenhouse gas warming rather than combating it. Avoiding new deforestation, however, could slow or prevent that transition, researchers report January 10 in Science Advances. Scientists previously have warned that these two effects — climate change and deforestation — may already be drying out parts of the Amazon, reducing its ability to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide and making it more susceptible to wildfires (SN: 8/23/19). How the wildfires themselves might exacerbate the problem and increase emissions isn’t usually included in climate simulations. But the blazes play a role: Combusting trees and underbrush releases CO2 directly to the atmosphere. And the heat-driven breakdown of plant matter can add other climate-warming gases such as methane, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Trees felled by fire and slowly decomposing also emit CO2 for years. In the new study, researchers led by forest ecologist Paulo Brando of the University of California, Irvine, simulated how several different climate and deforestation scenarios would alter the future area, intensity and greenhouse gas emissions of fires in the southern Brazilian Amazon. When it comes to burned area and fire intensity, the most important variable, the team found, was drought — in particular, the dampness of the understory layer of plants and soil. Even under moderate future greenhouse gas emissions, fires in the region will be more severe due to shifting climate patterns that will tend to dry out the region.
1-10-20 Australia: A lack of leadership as nation burns
Welcome to hell on earth, said The Australian in an editorial. After three years of drought and record temperatures, Australia has exploded into flames in the worst bushfire season in living memory. At least 24 people have been killed by the blazes, which began in September and have consumed some 15 million acres—more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 California wildfires. With at least 1,300 homes reduced to cinders and thousands of people displaced, the government last week took the unprecedented step of calling up 3,000 military reservists to help battle the flames and conduct evacuations. Two naval vessels rescued 1,000 locals and vacationers stranded on a beach for days as fire encircled the remote coastal town of Mallacoota—the largest peacetime maritime evacuation in Australia’s history. The “selfless dedication and herculean work” of fire crews—many of whom are volunteers—police, medics, and military personnel in the face of this inferno have been “little short of miraculous.” But the Australian summer still has months to go, and much more will be demanded of our exhausted emergency service workers. The “elephant in the room is climate change,” said Ellen Whinnett in the Courier-Mail. Morrison refuses to consider weaning the economy from dependence on fossil fuels, saying that as the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas, Australia simply can’t afford to shutter those industries. It’s not just Morrison’s Liberals who are struggling with climate change—no Australian party has a coherent response to the conundrum. Australia produces less than 2 percent of global emissions, so even if we went to zero we wouldn’t save the planet. Yet as a wealthy country, we should be “showing leadership.” “What’s unfolding right now is really just a taste of the new normal,” said Australian climate scientist Joëlle Gergis in TheGuardian.com. I fear that we’ve reached a tipping point in human-caused climate change and that “weather conditions considered extreme by today’s standards will seem sedate in the future.” We urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a rapidly destabilizing world. “There genuinely is no more time to waste. We must act as though our home is on fire—because it is.”
1-10-20 Australia fires: Employee brands News Corp coverage 'irresponsible'
An employee of Australian media organisation News Corp has lashed out at the company for "irresponsible" coverage of the current bushfires engulfing parts of the country. News Corp owns The Australian, Sydney's Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun. Emily Townsend, a commercial finance manager at the organisation, said coverage of the crisis had diverted attention away from climate change. Bushfires have ravaged many parts of the country for weeks. At least 27 people have died. Ms Townsend sent the email after an all-staff message was sent from executive chairman Michael Miller sharing bushfire-related incentives. She said the email regarding fundraising and other support initiatives did not "offset the impact News Corp reporting has had over the past few weeks". "News Corp's decision to take this approach in such a devastating time for our country, communities and the environment is a step too far for any of us stakeholders to ignore and continue with our daily tasks without thinking for a minute about what we are contributing to," she added. News Corp is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. The Australian has been criticised for its coverage of the fires. In one article it said the blazes were "nothing new". It did say that climate change could not be ruled out as a cause before adding: "Climate change or no, these are some of the costs of being in one of the most fire prone regions in the world." It also was supportive of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's decision to take a holiday to Hawaii. A commentary piece said: "We can't blame him for wanting to take a well-earned break with his family, skip Monday's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook surplus backtrack or escape the smoke from the bushfires surrounding Sydney." Mr Miller told the Sydney Morning Herald Ms Townsend resigned in December and was due to leave shortly. "The dedication and professionalism of our journalists and photographers have kept the community - particularly those Australians affected directly - informed and supported," he added.
1-10-20 Area of Amazon affected by wildfires predicted to grow by 2050
Amazon wildfires are predicted to worsen, doubling the amount of an important region of forest affected by 2050. The result could be to convert the Amazon from a carbon sink into a net source of carbon dioxide emissions. Paulo Brando at the University of California, Irvine and his colleagues developed a model to predict how climate change and deforestation in the southern Brazilian Amazon, a wildfire hotspot, are likely to influence wildfires and their associated greenhouse gas emissions. The model predicts a doubling in the area burned by wildfires from approximately 3.4 million hectares across the 2000s to about 6.8 million hectares in the 2040s, in the worst case scenario of deforestation and rapid climate change. By 2050, the total area burned is predicted to reach 23 million hectares – 16 per cent of the existing forests in that part of Brazil. “We have to reduce deforestation to tackle the biggest problem,” says Brando. In Brazil, 100 per cent of wildfires are started by people, often as part of agricultural practices, he says. “We can do better than we are doing right now.” “Unlike Australia where bushfires can propagate, in the Amazon they only propagate to a few hundred metres because the forest is very wet,” says Carlos Nobre at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, who wasn’t involved in the study. But it is getting hotter and drier due to climate change and other factors, which means the Amazon is likely to become more vulnerable to spreading wildfires in future, says Nobre. The Amazon removes between one and two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, equivalent to 2.5 to 5 per cent of global emissions. If wildfires increase, eventually the total emissions resulting from fire will exceed 2 billion tonnes, turning the Amazon into a net carbon source.
1-10-20 Permafrost in meltdown
The permafrost that covers much of the world’s frozen far north is thawing so rapidly and releasing so much carbon into the atmosphere that the Arctic may now be a major contributor to climate change. That is the conclusion of the latest annual Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reports Vox.com. Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil that encompasses about 25 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere. It acts as a massive freezer, locking away up to 1,760 billion tons of organic carbon from dead plants and animals. But as temperatures rise in the Arctic—the past six years were the warmest recorded in the region—long-dormant microbes in the icy ground are waking up and converting that organic material into planet-warming carbon dioxide and methane. NOAA estimates that melting permafrost now releases up to 2.2 billion net tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year—the equivalent of Russia’s annual emissions. Those emissions fuel climate change, which melts more permafrost, which in turn generates more warming. “The accelerating feedback from changing permafrost ecosystems to climate change,” the report states, “may already be underway.”
1-10-20 …just don’t count on electric cars
I’m skeptical that electric cars will represent “the green wave of the transportation future,” said Charles Lane. Electric-car boosters of the past decade have told us that “because gas-powered cars account for between one-sixth and one-fifth of U.S. carbon emissions, electrifying them could make a big difference.” That makes sense, but only if electric cars get adopted en masse. That won’t happen until “they can do everything gas-powered vehicles do—including the ability to go hundreds of miles without refueling, and refueling easily—at a comparable cost.” Until then, they will remain “a niche product” for the wealthy. State and federal governments have bestowed billions in subsidies for electric-car sales and production, “yet as of March 2019, there were 1.18 million electric vehicles on the road,” two-thirds of which were owned by households earning $100,000 or more. Chevrolet discontinued its Volt after selling only about 150,000 since 2011. Other companies are ramping up electric offerings, but it’s a “response to regulatory pressure,” not to consumer demand. I admit I have underestimated the staying power of Tesla, and it did sell 300,000 of its Model 3s in 2019. Owners swear by it. But “the median global forecast by industry experts is 125 million EVs on the road worldwide by 2030.” I’m taking the under.
1-10-20 Trash crisis
Peru is asking tourists to quit buying bottled water to take on treks to Machu Picchu, because local authorities are struggling to cope with the 5 tons of trash dumped every day at the 15th-century Inca citadel. A nearby plant crushes 1 ton of plastic bottles a day into dense plastic blocks that can be hauled out of the mountaintop area on trains—there are no roads up to the protected site—but it can’t keep up with the waste. Two years ago, UNESCO threatened to withdraw World Heritage status from the site because so much litter was ending up in the rivers, contaminating the surroundings. Since then, authorities have begun installing bottle-filling stations and are urging tourists to carry reusable bottles.
1-10-20 Can we really save the planet by making food 'from air' without farms?
It is being claimed we could save the planet by turning renewable energy and air directly into food and rewilding all the farmland that is no longer needed. Could it really work? In a TV documentary called Apocalypse Cow, and a Guardian column, environmentalist and journalist George Monbiot says food grown in vats using renewable energy could transform food production. He highlights a Finnish company called Solar Foods that makes food from air. The process starts by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen then provides energy for bacteria to use to turn carbon dioxide and nitrogen in air into protein-rich organic matter, more efficiently than plants grow using photosynthesis. “The land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly 20,000 times greater,” Monbiot writes. “Everyone on Earth could be handsomely fed, and using a tiny fraction of its surface.” Monbiot is absolutely right about the destructiveness of food production – but his numbers appear off. The head of Solar Foods, Pasi Vainikka, tells me that the efficiency figure Monbiot cites applies only to the area of land taken up by the factories. If the energy were derived from solar, says Vainikka, then it would be only 10 times more land efficient than farmed soya. Sadly, this suggests a claim reported by Monbiot in 2018 that all the protein the world now eats could be cultivated in an area smaller than Ohio is rather wide of the mark. But we do need to do something about the impact of our food and even a small reduction in farmland could make a big difference. Habitat loss is the single biggest killer of wildlife, for instance, and it is largely due to farming. Farming and land clearance also produces a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. And organic farming is even worse than the conventional kind.
1-10-20 Australia bushfire crews battle mega blaze near Snowy Mountains
Gale force winds have fanned two of Australia's massive bushfires into a feared "mega blaze", with authorities warning of worse weather to come. It had been feared for days that fire would spill over the New South Wales-Victoria border in the Snowy Mountains. Forecasts are for more heat, strong winds and dry lightning. In South Australia, firefighters also battled infernos on Kangaroo Island. In parts of both states, residents were told to leave their homes. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people across Australia took part in climate change protests on Friday. In cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, demonstrators turned out to press the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make a quick transition away from fossil fuels. Across many parts of the country deadly forest fires that have raged for weeks are threatening to advance again as temperatures soar. The winds mean fires could spread quickly and unpredictably this weekend. The mega blaze south of the Snowy Mountains came after two fires at Dunns Road and East Ournie Creek joined up, following another massive fire merger nearby earlier in the week. An area totalling nearly 600,000 hectares (1.5m acres) - about four times the size of Greater London - is now ablaze. New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service spokesman Anthony Clark said a "finger" of the East Ournie Creek blaze had collided with the fire at Dunns Road on Friday evening. Mr Clark said a number of small fires started by lightning strikes had merged and grown, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "It provides a challenge for firefighters as, when they merge, it increases the size and opens up more uncontained perimeter." Fires in NSW have destroyed about 1,000 homes since the New Year and more than 150 bushfires are burning there. But the danger is equally great further south in Victoria. Victoria's Country Fire Authority issued several emergency warnings on Friday, telling people to evacuate before it became too dangerous.
1-10-20 Turks and Caicos corals: Disease threatens barrier reef
From the air, the turquoise hues of the Turks and Caicos Islands' vast barrier reef appear as an expanse of blistering beauty. One of the largest reef systems on Earth, it teems with wildlife like friendly wild dolphins, and attracts more than a million tourists a year. But underneath the water's stunning surface lurks a deadly disease, silently ravaging the corals which keep its denizens alive and protect the islands' pristine coastline from storms and erosion. Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has been dubbed the biggest threat facing the tiny British territory's marine environment, and the most virulent coral sickness the world has ever seen. "This is a serious problem, if not a crisis," says Don Stark of local NGO the TC Reef Fund (TCRF). "We've already lost many coral heads - and they're not coming back." It is not just these islands, 600 miles (965km) south-east of Miami, that are affected. Since the disease first appeared off the Floridian coast in 2014, where it has now impacted 100,000 acres (40,500ha), it has made its way through the Caribbean into several countries including Jamaica, Belize, the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. Its rapid-fire spread and high mortality rate have seen it wipe out some of the region's most important reef-building corals, sparking additional fears for tourism and those who rely on the ocean for a living. Exacerbating concerns in Turks and Caicos is a long wait for the local government to grant the TCRF permission to begin intervention work. More than 1,200 people recently signed a petition demanding the group be given the go-ahead to start administering antibiotics, a process which has seen success in Florida. Mr Stark says the NGO has had equipment on the ground since September. The absence of a permit means it is powerless to do anything but "watch corals die". Meanwhile, the disease has spread to four islands across the Turks and Caicos archipelago.
1-10-20 Plants are growing higher up Mount Everest as the climate warms
More plants are living higher on the slopes of Mount Everest and surrounding mountains than 25 years ago, according to a study of satellite data. The extra growth may have wider impacts, particularly on the flow of water into the rivers that flow down from the Himalayas, says Karen Anderson of the University of Exeter, UK. “If the ecology is changing, that will have impacts on the hydrology. Nobody’s considered that before.” Anderson’s team used data from NASA’s Landsat satellites to study high-altitude vegetation in the Himalayas between 1993 and 2018. They focused on the subnival zone: the highest of the regions above the treeline that has seasonal, but not permanent, snow cover. Subnival plants are small and include grasses, shrubs and mosses. The researchers found that the Himalayan subnival zone is vast, with an area at least 5 times that covered by permanent ice and snow. However, because it is difficult to reach, it hasn’t been studied much. “There’s hardly any ecological data from this region at all,” says Anderson. By tracking which regions showed up green in satellite images, the team found that subnival vegetation has increased since 1993. The biggest increase occurred between 5000 and 5500 metres above sea level. It isn’t clear precisely why the plants are colonising higher ground. “My initial guess would be that the primary driver is temperature limitation being removed,” says Anderson. The Himalayas are warming particularly rapidly, due to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, so elevations that were once too cold for plants may now be tolerable. Modelling studies have suggested that plants will move uphill for this reason. Anderson says the extra carbon dioxide in the air could also be helping the plants grow.
1-10-20 Plant life 'expanding over the Himalayas'
Vegetation is expanding at high altitudes in the Himalayas, including in the Everest region, new research has shown. The researchers found plant life in areas where vegetation was not previously known to grow. A team used satellite data from 1993 to 2018 to measure the extent of plant cover between the tree-line and the snow-line. The results are published in the journal Global Change Biology. The study focused on the subnival region - the area between the tree-line (the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing) and the snow line (the boundary between snow-covered land and snow-free land). Subnival plants are mainly small grasses and shrubs. "The strongest trend in increased vegetation cover was between 5,000 metres and 5,500 metres altitude," said Dr Karen Anderson, from Exeter University, lead author of the report. "At higher elevations, the expansion was strong on flatter areas while at lower levels that has been observed on steeper slopes." Using Nasa's Landsat satellite images, the researchers divided the heights into four "brackets" between 4,150m and 6,000m. It covered different locations in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, ranging from Myanmar in the east to Afghanistan in the west. In the Everest region, the study found a significant increase in vegetation in all height brackets. Other researchers and scientists working on glaciers and water systems in the Himalayas have confirmed the expansion of vegetation. "It (the research) matches the expectations of what would happen in a warmer and wetter climate," said Prof Walter Immerzeel, with the faculty of geosciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. "This is a very sensitive altitudinal belt where the snowline is. A withdrawal of the snowline to higher altitudes in this zone provides opportunity for vegetation to grow."
1-10-20 Can we really save the planet by making food 'from air' without farms?
It is being claimed we could save the planet by turning renewable energy directly into food and rewilding all the farmland that is no longer needed. Could it really work? In a Guardian column and a TV documentary called Apocalypse Cow, environmentalist and journalist George Monbiot says food grown in vats using renewable energy could transform food production. He highlights a Finnish company called Solar Foods, which makes food from air. It feeds bacteria hydrogen, providing energy the bacteria use to turn carbon dioxide and nitrogen in air into protein-rich organic matter. “The land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly 20,000 times greater,” Monbiot writes. “Everyone on Earth could be handsomely fed, and using a tiny fraction of its surface.” Monbiot is absolutely right about the destructiveness of food production – but his numbers appear off. The head of Solar Foods, Pasi Vainikka, tells me that the efficiency figure Monbiot cites applies only to the area of land taken up by the factories. If the energy required were derived from solar, says Vainikka, then it would be only 10 times more land efficient than farmed soya. Sadly, this suggests Monbiot’s claim in 2018 that all the protein the world now eats could be cultivated in an area smaller than Ohio is rather wide of the mark. But we do need to do something about the impact of our food and even a small reduction in farmland could make a big difference. Habitat loss is the single biggest killer of wildlife, for instance, and it is largely due to farming. Farming and land clearance also produces a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. And organic farming is even worse than conventional farming. Food production is also not very efficient. Almost all the food we eat is derived from photosynthesis. This will be true for lab-grown meat as well, if fed nutrients obtained from plants.
1-9-20 Australia fires: Victoria extends 'state of disaster' as threat intensifies
The Australian state of Victoria has again declared a state of disaster ahead of forecast "dangerous, dynamic" conditions in a massive bushfire zone. Despite a national bushfire crisis raging since September, the south-eastern state is only entering what is considered to be its worst fire months. Blazes have already burnt 1.2 million hectares in Victoria and claimed three lives. Nationally, 27 people have died. The danger is predicted to be greatest on Friday due to hot, volatile weather. "I know we have not seen this much fire activity this early in the season," state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday. "But I also make the point: I don't think we've seen as co-ordinated, as effective a response to that unprecedented fire activity as we have seen in these last few weeks." There are also warnings for South Australia and New South Wales (NSW), where fires continue to endanger lives and homes. Australia saw its hottest and driest year on record in 2019 due to two specific weather phenomena and climate change, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Thursday. Authorities have urged people to leave the state's Alpine and eastern regions, including fire-ravaged East Gippsland, ahead of Friday. Temperatures are forecast to climb as high as 41C (106F) and be accompanied by dangerous winds and dry lightning - storms without rain. This will exacerbate fires and possibly ignite new ones, officials say. It is also feared a large fire could merge with another in neighbouring NSW to create a "mega blaze". Premier Andrews added the danger was hard to predict given there was "so much fire in the landscape with such a massive fire edge". He extended a seven-day state of disaster by another 48 hours, an order which gives emergency officials additional powers. In South Australia, authorities called for evacuations in Vivonne Bay - a town on Kangaroo Island - as a blaze continued to burn out of control. Two people and an estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island last week. The island is renowned for its unique mix of animal species.
1-9-20 Here’s how climate change may make Australia’s wildfires more common
Extreme wildfires down under are linked to a weather pattern that starts in the Indian Ocean. Australia’s fire season normally peaks in late January — but as of January 2020, wildfires have already been raging in the country for four months, especially in the east. So far, the fires have destroyed more than 1,300 homes, burned about 6 million hectares and killed at least 24 people. Those wildfires are being fueled by a combination of record high temperatures, long-term drought, very low air and soil moisture going into the normal fire season, and human negligence. But climate change, scientists say, could make such extreme, deadly blazes three times as common by the end of the century. It’s difficult to directly identify the fingerprints of climate change in the blazes. But for years, Australia’s fire managers have kept an eye on one culprit that’s behind particularly hot, dry years in eastern Australia and that may be affected by global warming: an oscillating El Niño–like ocean-atmosphere weather pattern that begins in the Indian Ocean. Like El Niño, this “Indian Ocean dipole” pattern has positive, negative and neutral phases, depending on whether eastern or western Indian Ocean waters are warmer than average. The more extreme the temperature difference between the ocean’s eastern and western regions, the stronger the phase. When the Indian Ocean dipole is in a particularly strong positive phase — as it was in 2019 — it correlates to some of Australia’s worst fire seasons, says climate scientist Wenju Cai of CSIRO who is based in Melbourne, Australia. Global warming is likely to make such extreme positive phases much more common, Cai says. In a 2014 study in Nature, he and colleagues simulated future sea-surface temperature changes in the Indian Ocean in a world where greenhouse gas emissions continue on a “business-as-usual” track (SN: 1/7/20). The team found that, under that scenario, the frequency of extreme positive-phase events could increase from about once every 17 years to about once every six years.
1-9-20 Plastic packaging ban 'could harm environment'
Consumer pressure to end plastic packaging in shops could actually be harming the environment, a report says. Firms are swapping to other packaging materials which are potentially even worse for the environment, the cross-party Parliamentary group warns. Glass bottles, for instance, are much heavier than plastic so are far more polluting to transport. Paper bags tend to have higher carbon emissions than plastic bags – and are more difficult to re-use. The change in packaging materials has been prompted by concern from shoppers about the impact of plastic waste in the oceans. But the authors of the report, called Plastic Promises, say the consequences of using new materials have not been properly assessed. Several supermarkets, for instance, are selling more drinks in coated cartons under the assumption that they can be recycled. In fact, the Green Alliance says, the UK only has the facilities to recycle a third of the coated containers in circulation. The group has been working with recycling organisations to survey shops’ anonymous responses to public anxiety about plastic polluting the oceans. Its spokeswoman, Libby Peake, told BBC News: “A lot of shops are selling packaging described as biodegradable or compostable. “In fact the items might only be composted in an industrial composter – and, even then, some items might not be fully digested.” The report says: “Over 80% of consumers think biodegradable or compostable plastic is environmentally friendly, but there is little understanding of what the terms mean and how the material should be dealt with. “Our interviewees wanted a clearer approach to where it should be used and how it should be marked to avoid confusing consumers and potentially causing more problems.” The retailers worried that confusion could potentially harm the environment if people either put "compostable" plastic in with conventional plastic, or littered it, wrongly assuming it would biodegrade like an apple core.
1-8-20 Australia’s fires are a wake-up call - let’s reduce fossil fuel use
The bushfire tragedy is a poignant reminder that Australia, and the rest of the world, must get serious about climate change and reduce fossil fuel reliance. AT FIRST, Australia’s leaders said the fires were normal. Prime Minister Scott Morrison called them “business as usual”. The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, described those linking the fires to climate change as “inner city raving lunatics”. More recently, Morrison has made a point of acknowledging the link between reducing emissions and protecting environments against worsening bushfire seasons. But he has continued to insist that his government’s current environmental policies are good ones. In fact, the Liberal Australian government has long prevaricated on meaningful climate action. As treasurer in 2017, Morrison notoriously brought a lump of coal into the Australian House of Representatives to taunt those arguing for a transition away from fossil fuels. Today, the country has no goal for net-zero emissions, and continues to be a leading global exporter of coal and gas. The fires this season have already emitted an estimated 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, roughly two-thirds of Australia’s annual industrial emissions budget. Their catastrophic wider toll – loss of human life and wildlife, environmental ruin, destruction of property and long-term health effects of smoke inhalation – is only starting to be revealed (see “Australian government report predicted severe wildfires 11 years ago“).There has been generous support for the Australian Red Cross, state fire services and the WIRES Wildlife Rescue charity. Prominent figures, including Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Chris Hemsworth, Shane Warne and Ashleigh Barty, have pledged large donations. But meaningful change, to prevent similar and worse catastrophes in the future, can only be enacted by government.
1-8-20 The worst wildfires can send smoke high enough to affect the ozone layer
Pyrocumulonimbus clouds can send soot and other damaging particles 23 kilometers into the air. For the first time, scientists have seen exactly how towering clouds that rise from intense wildfires launch smoke high into the atmosphere, where it can linger for months and mess with the protective ozone layer. Cooler air closer to Earth’s surface normally keeps smoke from rising too high. But as dozens of fires raged in western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2017, they created their own giant storm clouds called pyrocumulonimbus, or pyroCb, clouds. Within two months, these clouds had lofted smoke 12 to 23 kilometers up into the stratosphere, researchers report in the Aug. 9 Science. Solar radiation heating soot in the smoke helped it reach those soaring heights. Using satellites, weather balloons and ground-based remote sensing, the team tracked the smoke over the Northern Hemisphere, measuring the levels of organics and black carbon, or soot. Smoke persisted in the stratosphere for about eight months, says Pengfei Yu, a climate scientist at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. Although smoke has been observed in the stratosphere before, this “mother of all pyroCbs” offered the first direct observation of a process called “self-lofting,” says coauthor Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. The observations confirmed what simulations had suggested would happen if large amounts of smoke were injected into the stratosphere via a nuclear war, the team says. “Nature did the experiment for us,” Robock says, confirming the “nuclear winter” scenario, in which smoke in the stratosphere from a city burning would have far-reaching and long-lasting climatic consequences, including blocking out sunlight and affecting ozone.
1-8-20 Climate change: Arctic ice melt makes permafrost vulnerable
The absence of sea ice in the Arctic is closely connected to the melting of permafrost, according to a new study. Permafrost contains massive amounts of carbon which are likely to be released as climate change heats up the world. When this carbon enters the atmosphere as CO2 and methane gas, it will itself contribute to warming the globe. But scientists have now found a historical link between sea ice in the Arctic and the presence or absence of permafrost. They say the expected disappearance of Arctic summer ice will speed up the loss of this permanently frozen ground. Around a quarter of the northern hemisphere is covered in permafrost. It's defined as any type of ground that has been frozen continuously for two years or more. In this solid state, the normal microbial decomposition of organic materials is stalled, and the carbon dioxide and methane that's normally produced stays in the ground. This means that in the permanently frozen regions of Siberia, Canada, Greenland and Alaska store about double the amount of carbon that's up in the atmosphere. But as the Earth warms, and the soils starts to get hotter, the microbes become active and the greenhouse gases drift upwards once again. Scientists worry that climate change brings a real threat of a vicious cycle, where warming releases the gases from the frozen ground, and this in turn makes the heating much worse. This new study suggests that rising global temperatures are not the only threat to permafrost. The team explored remote caves close to the current permafrost boundary in Siberia. The "challenging" fieldwork was aimed at finding ancient stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones, which are formed by the presence of liquid water. These permanent records only grew when the permafrost was absent. Looking back 1.5 million years, the scientists were able to correlate stalagmite formation more closely with the absence of sea ice than with warmer temperatures.
1-8-20 Ocean acidification may not make fish act weird after all
New research upends earlier work on how ocean acidification might affect reef fish behavior. Climate change threatens coral reef fishes in myriad ways, but maybe not in all the ways we thought. Some studies have suggested that ocean acidification, one consequence of climate change, might warp fish behavior. But new research shows that fish may be far more resilient. Scientists predict that as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and oceans absorb even more, the waters will increasingly acidify. About a decade ago, a series of high-profile studies alarmed biologists with reports of severe behavioral impairments in coral fishes exposed to mildly acidified water. Larval fish lost the ability to smell predators and became dangerously hyperactive and confused when exposed to ocean acidification levels projected for 2100 if fossil fuel use continues at current levels (SN: 7/6/10). Research into the effects of ocean acidification then ballooned, becoming one of the most studied subjects in marine science. But a three-year attempt to replicate and improve upon some of those earlier studies paints a starkly different picture. Tests of over 900 individuals from six different species of coral reef fish showed that exposure to acidified waters had no significant adverse effects on fish activity or predator avoidance, researchers report January 8 in Nature. “Climate change is a huge threat to reef fishes,” says Timothy Clark, a comparative physiologist at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. But “the acidification levels we’ll see by the end of this century aren’t going to have any real impact on fish, even beyond just coral reef fish.” Other biologists question such strong statements. The study is the most robust yet to find no effect from acidification, and the researchers’ “data is unimpeachable,” says Andrew Esbaugh, a comparative physiologist at University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in this study nor in those this study sought to replicate. But because the study looked only at six reef fish species, “their conclusion that acidification won’t affect fish behavior is a bit of an overreach,” he says.
1-8-20 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record
Last year was Australia’s hottest, driest year ever, according to the annual climate statement of the national Bureau of Meteorology. The conditions have intensified the current wildfires, which are the worst on record. The average daytime maximum temperature across Australia in 2019 was 30.7°C , the highest since records began in 1910 and 2.1°C above the usual average. The extreme temperatures were spread across most of the country. Australia also had six of its hottest single days on record in 2019. On 18 December – the most extreme of these days – the average daytime maximum across Australia was 41.9°C. The hottest temperature recorded anywhere in Australia in 2019 was in Nullarbor in South Australia, where it reached 49.9°C on 19 December. This fell just shy of Australia’s hottest-ever recorded temperature – 50.7°C – which occurred at Oodnadatta in South Australia on 2 January 1960. Australia’s average rainfall total in 2019 was 277 millimetres, the lowest since records began in 1900 and about 40 per cent below normal. Severe drought affected large parts of the country. “Since we’ve been keeping records, we’ve never seen an overlapping hottest year on record and driest year on record,” says Karl Braganza at the Bureau of Meteorology. This has driven the unprecedented fires that have ripped through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia since September, he says. The hot, dry conditions in 2019 were caused by a climate phenomenon called a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which was unusually strong, as well as human-induced climate change, says Andrew Watkins at the Bureau. Since the beginning of last century, global warming has raised Australia’s average temperature by just over 1°C. This doesn’t sound like much, but it means that Australia’s extreme temperature days are also a degree hotter, which is why records keep being broken, says Watkins.
1-8-20 Australian government report predicted severe wildfires 11 years ago
A 2008 report commissioned by the Australian government predicted that climate change would cause the fire season to start earlier and be more intense after about 2020. OUTSIDE Batlow in New South Wales, the scorched remains of wildlife and livestock lie pressed against fences, where they tried in vain to escape the flames that ripped through the area on 4 January. Along with the other billion-or-so other animals that have already perished in Australia’s worst wildfires on record, they will be buried in mass graves dug by the army. Australians, myself included, are in a state of shock. At least 24 people have died, more than 2000 homes have been gutted, and 8 million hectares – an area the size of Scotland – have burned. For months now, the brown and red skies and smell of smoke have been a constant reminder of the tragedy unfolding around us. The fires are being driven by record-breaking hot, dry conditions, which make vegetation more likely to catch fire when exposed to ignition sources like lightning strikes or discarded cigarettes. On 8 January, the Bureau of Meteorology announced that 2019 was both Australia’s driest and warmest year on record. On 18 December, the country had its hottest ever single day, when the average maximum temperature reached 41.9°C. Despite these extremes, the Australian government has acted almost as if nothing unusual is happening. In November, deputy prime minister Michael McCormack told ABC Radio that “we’ve had fires in Australia since time began”. He dismissed the role of climate change in the current fires as the “ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies”.But Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick at the University of New South Wales says there is no doubt that climate change is a driving factor. “We can certainly say it has contributed to the length and severity of this fire season,” she says. In 2008, a report commissioned by the Australian government predicted that from about 2020, global warming would cause Australia’s fire seasons to start earlier, end later and be more intense. “We knew this was going to happen,” says Perkins-Kirkpatrick.
1-8-20 The aviation industry has a plan to make planes green. It won't work
The aviation industry is finally waking up to the fact that it is painted as a major climate villain, but only slower growth can provide deep cuts in carbon emissions. IT IS a bad time to be working in aviation. The past year has seen Greta Thunberg travel the world while shunning planes, climate protesters occupying airports and the Flygskam (flight shame) movement on the rise. The aviation industry has been under pressure to cut its climate change impact for some time, but the pressure is growing. At a meeting near Geneva airport in Switzerland last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that, without faster action on emissions, the industry faces a shift in public attitudes and countries unilaterally imposing environmental taxes. France has already put a modest eco-tax on outward-bound flights beginning this month, and Sweden imposed one last April. Even the UK, the third biggest departure country in terms of aviation carbon dioxide emissions, saw frequent flyer taxes proposed in the recent general election battle. Environment pressures don’t yet pose an existential threat to the industry, but it is anxious. The problem isn’t so much current aviation emissions, even though at between 2 and 3 per cent of the global figure they account for more emissions than the whole of Germany. The real issue is the rate of growth. China and India’s flight numbers are increasing 10 per cent a year. Global aviation CO2 emissions have climbed 27 per cent in the past five years, to 936 million tonnes in 2019 (see “Up, up and away“). There are signs that Greta and Flygskam are having an impact. Emissions from flights in Sweden – a proxy for flight numbers – fell in the first half of 2019. Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the IATA, rejects the idea that Flygskam is solely to blame, arguing that it isn’t possible to tease out its effects from those of Sweden’s aviation tax and weak economic growth. However, figures from the Netherlands show the same trend, and recent numbers reveal that flights between German cities were down 12 per cent in November compared with a year before, while rail trips were up.7
1-8-20 Iran attack: Oil prices rise after Iraq missile attacks
Oil prices have risen after two bases hosting US troops in Iraq were hit by ballistic missiles. Brent crude was up by 1.4% at $69.21 per barrel in the middle of the Asian trade, easing back from earlier gains. So-called safe haven assets, like gold and the Japanese yen, also rose on the news. At the same time global stock prices were sent lower on concerns over the growing conflict in the Middle East. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index fell by 1.3%, and Hang Seng in Hong Kong was down 0.8%. Iranian state television said the attack was a retaliation for the killing of the country's top commander Qasem Soleimani. The attack happened just hours after the funeral service for Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike on Friday. His death had raised concerns that the conflict between the US and Iran could escalate further. That could disrupt shipping in the world's busiest sea route for oil, the Strait of Hormuz. Around a fifth of global oil supply passes through the strait which connects the Gulf with the Arabian Sea. The Strait of Hormuz is vital for the main oil exporters in the Gulf region - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, and Kuwait - whose economies are built around oil and gas production. Iran also relies heavily on this route for its oil exports. Qatar, the world's biggest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), exports nearly all its gas through the strait. After the latest attacks, the US aviation regulator banned American airlines from flying over Iraq, Iran and neighbouring countries. The ban includes the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the decision was in response to heightened military activity, and increased political tension in the region. Before the latest guidance, the FAA had already prohibited US airlines from flying below 26,000 feet (7,925 metres) over Iraq and from flying over an area of Iranian airspace above the Gulf of Oman since Iran shot down an American drone in June 2019. At the same time Singapore Airlines has said that all of its flights would now be diverted from Iranian airspace.
1-8-20 Planting a trillion trees really can help us fight climate change
A trillion new trees isn’t the only climate solution, but it is the cheapest and it would make a huge difference if we do it right, says ecologist Tom Crowther. TWO years ago, British ecologist Tom Crowther set up a lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland with the aim of doing high-impact science to show how and where we can restore the planet. His 30-strong team is already making waves. Crowther’s lab typically starts by counting things – from trees to nematodes – before bringing the numbers together to see global trends and quantify the effects of potential interventions. Last July, his team made headlines around the world for claiming we have space to plant a trillion trees in areas of new forest amounting almost to the size of the US, and that doing so would be one of the most effective ways to address climate change. The media loved it, but pushback from Crowther’s fellow academics was huge. Some grassland ecologists feared that the “tree counter” wanted to plant over their savannahs. Others said his proposed forests could end up having a warming effect by altering how sunlight is reflected, or that he had got his carbon numbers wrong. Crowther recognises these concerns, and is working to address them with ambitious new research. Fred Pearce: Where did the trillion trees idea come from? Tom Crowther: A friend of mine was working for an organisation that wanted to plant a billion trees to save the climate. But they didn’t know if that was a lot or a little. So we started collecting data on tree density around the world. In 2015, we published the first ever attempt to answer a seemingly obvious question. We found there were probably 3 trillion trees on the planet today, nearly eight times more than previously thought. How accurate is that figure? Not very. There is a lot of uncertainty. I am sure the error bar probably runs from around 2 trillion to 4 trillion. Within that, we are quite confident, however. And we can have a trillion more trees? Yes, I think so. If you ignore urban and agricultural areas, and places that have climates unsuitable for trees, we estimate that forests would naturally grow on an additional 900 million hectares around the world, which is probably room for 1.2 trillion trees. We also estimate that, when fully mature, these ecosystems could potentially store 100 to 200 billion extra tonnes of carbon.
1-7-20 How to travel by train - and ditch the plane
A string of horrifying climate-related disasters has brought a distinctly environmental theme to many people's New Year resolutions. Many have chosen to reduce their carbon footprint by flying less, or cutting out planes completely. Flygskam - the Swedish word for "flight-shame" - has become commonplace. In August, Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg set an example by crossing the Atlantic in a zero-emissions yacht. If she had made the return journey from the UK to New York by air, she would have emitted 11% of the average annual emissions for someone in the UK, or the total caused by someone living in Ghana for a year. The aviation industry contributes about 2% of the world's carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and this is predicted to rise, with air passenger numbers expected to double by 2037. More than 22,500 people have pledged to go flight-free in 2020, but in Europe, where cheap air travel reigns supreme, it's not an easy decision to make. Some governments are getting on board with flygskam and introducing measures to promote train travel. Last week, Germany announced it would cut long distance rail fares by 10% - the first price decrease in 17 years. Austria's new green/conservative coalition has promised to expand its rail network and increase the tax on flights - a step towards meeting its target to be carbon-neutral by 2040. Many of Europe's night train services have gradually been phased out, but Sweden plans to reintroduce a sleeper service to the European mainland. And this summer, Luxembourg will be the first country to make all public transport free, in a bid to reduce traffic congestion in cities. The couple travelled from Vienna to Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and China before arriving in Hanoi. They slept on night trains, then in the mornings left their luggage at the station and spent the day wandering around whatever city they found themselves in, before returning to board another sleeper. Elias said he met more local people during that 16-day journey than the whole four-and-a-half months he spent travelling around South-East Asia. "In trains, people have time, they really want to get to know you," he said. "In hostels, you are always around tourists."
1-7-20 Climate models agree things will get bad. Capturing just how bad is tricky
Scientists still aren’t sure what the worst-case scenario for Earth’s future climate looks like. Earth’s climatic future is uncertain, but the world needs to prepare for change. Enter climate simulations, which re-create the physical interactions between land, sea and sky using well-known physical laws and equations. Such models can look into the past and reconstruct ancient ice ages or hothouse worlds with the help of data gleaned from rocks and ice cores. But climate scientists also use these simulations to envision a range of different possible futures, particularly in response to climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. These Choose Your Own Adventure–type scenarios aim to predict what’s to come as a result of different emissions levels over the next few decades. That means putting upper and lower boundaries on answers to questions such as: How hot will it get? How high will the seas rise? The good news is that climate simulations are getting better at re-creating even the subtlest aspects of climate change, such as the complicated physics of clouds, the impact of aerosols and the capacity for the ocean to absorb heat from the atmosphere. But there’s also bad news: More information doesn’t always mean more clarity. And that is now feeding into uncertainty about just how bad the “worst-case scenario” might be for Earth’s climate. Five years ago, the probable worst-case climate scenarios were worrisome enough. Under a so-called “business-as-usual” scenario, in which humankind takes no action to abate greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100 the planet was projected to warm between 2.6 degrees and 4.8 degrees Celsius relative to the average Earth temperature from 1986 to 2005 (SN: 4/13/14). Global mean sea level was thought likely to increase by up to a meter in that same scenario, according to the 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
1-6-20 Sea levels in Bangladesh could rise twice as much as predicted
Bangladesh and parts of India could be hit by sea level rise almost twice as high as previously thought due to land subsiding, even if the world takes ambitious action on climate change. DescriptionAlready prone to flooding and drought, Bangladesh has long been seen as vulnerable to a warming world, with a tenth of the delta that the country occupies just a metre above sea level. Now an analysis by Mélanie Becker at the University of La Rochelle, France, and her colleagues has found that parts of the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna delta will experience sea level rise of up to 140 centimetres by 2100. This is far more than the rise of 34 to 74 centimetres that the UN’s climate science panel predicted for the region in 2014. The research also assumes that global carbon emissions will be cut drastically, with temperature rise limited to 1.8°C, rather than the 3°C or greater increase that the world is currently on track for – meaning the actual sea level rise could be much higher. “Unfortunately, we can suppose that the sea level rise in Bangladesh by 2100 could be higher than 100 to 140cm under a 3°C scenario,” says Becker. Kyle Davis at the University of Delaware, who wasn’t involved in the research, says the new prediction seems plausible, and climate change adaptation measures in Bangladesh should factor in the most severe impacts from warming. “These findings reinforce the urgency for climate action in order to avoid the worst climate change impacts,” he says. The international team arrived at the projections after examining 101 records for tide and stream gauges across the delta, including some in the Indian state of West Bengal. They found that water levels rose by 3 millimetres a year on average between 1968 and 2012, faster than the global sea level rise of 2 millimetres annually. Factoring in satellite records, they estimated land subsidence was at 1 to 7 millimetres a year between 1993 and 2012.
1-4-20 Peak oil demand could arrive much sooner than expected, says oil firm
The world’s appetite for oil could peak within five years, according to one of Europe’s biggest oil and gas firms – much earlier than most rival oil companies expect. Luis Cabra at Repsol, which last month became the first major oil company to declare a target of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, said peak demand could arrive soon as countries begin to act on climate change. Global oil demand is expected to inch up by around one per cent this year, reaching just over 100 million barrels per day, according to the International Energy Agency. Most oil companies expect that demand won’t peak until the mid-2030s. However, Cabra says that “the demand of oil will peak maybe five to ten years’ time from now, and then oil demand will be reduced, and accordingly we will adapt to this situation”. Such a timeline is closer to the aggressive ones laid out by some think tanks, such as Carbon Tracker. Still, Cabra says people shouldn’t expect the Spanish oil giant to move out of hydrocarbons by the end of the decade. “We have a view that oil will still be needed in the future.” Today, Repsol spends about 17 per cent of its annual capital expenditure on low-carbon operations, a figure it hopes will rise to 25 per cent by 2025. Like other big oil firms moving into green energy, Repsol is targeting wind and solar power, including embryonic technologies, such as a floating wind farm off the Portugese coast that became operational this week. The company also has its eye on hydrogen production, which could be used to decarbonise energy and industry. While most hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels, Repsol plans to start making “green hydrogen” at its refineries later this year, produced using water and electrolysers when renewable electricity supplies are high.
1-5-20 India yak deaths: 'For humans to survive, yaks must too'
Hundreds of yaks starved to death during an unusually severe winter last year in the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim. Now, herders and officials are concerned about the fate of the remaining population. Only 76,000 yaks are left in India and efforts are being made to stop their numbers from shrinking further. Officials say more yak deaths could be catastrophic as the animal is intrinsic to the culture and economy of India's Himalayan states.
1-4-20 Australia fires: Emergency workers say worst yet to come
Australians are bracing for a dangerous and unpredictable night as bushfires are expected to worsen. New South Wales (NSW) fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned of "volatile" conditions that could intensify the fires. Hundreds of fires burned on Saturday, damaging power lines and cutting out electricity in thousands of homes. Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 23 people. Dozens of people are missing and some 1,500 homes have already been lost this fire season. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced 3,000 reserve troops will be deployed to help tackle raging bushfires across the country. He has been criticised for posting an advert on Twitter showing how the government is responding to the crisis, accompanied by an upbeat backing track. It follows a hostile reaction from Australians who accuse him of not responding to the bushfire crisis appropriately. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was "very volatile situation" and "we are yet to hit the worst of it". "We are discouraging people from moving from where they are, given the serious threats and the fact that we have so many fires at an emergency level," she was quoted by ABC as saying. Some fire crews have been pulled out of the Snowy Mountains in the state of Victoria due to worsening conditions, The Guardian reports. Skies reddened and darkened in areas of south-eastern Australia as wind gusts exacerbated the fires. Temperatures surpassed 40C (104F) in some areas. In Penrith, west of Sydney, temperatures reached 48.9C (120F). Some reports suggest it was for a time the hottest place on Earth. Almost a million more acres were reported to have burned in the state of Victoria alone, according to ABC News.
1-4-20 'Coming towards us like a monster': High winds increase Australia fire fears
Skies have reddened and darkened in areas of south-eastern Australia as wind gusts exacerbated fires already burning in the area. The BBC's Phil Mercer witnessed a dust storm, as authorities feared it would make the job of firefighters much harder and more dangerous.
1-4-20 Climate change is bringing earlier springs, which may trigger drier summers
Longer growing seasons mean more soil moisture is lost through evapotranspiration, a study says. The early arrival of spring is often cause for celebration in northern climates. But it may come at the cost of drier, hotter days in some areas in summer. As winter wanes and leaves start to peek out from branches, trees increasingly draw water from the soil and move it into the sky — a process known as evapotranspiration. But when this greening starts earlier in the calendar year, scientists worry that more moisture could be sucked from the soil than if the season starts later. Now, analyses of satellite data and climate simulations show that earlier spring greening can leave soils drier in summer across much of the Northern Hemisphere. That, in turn, could lead to more frequent and intense summer heat waves, researchers report January 3 in Science Advances. As the climate warms, scientists expect to see earlier springs and longer growing seasons. One study found that, already, the growing season in the Northern Hemisphere has been extended by about 10 days on average over the last three decades. “More green on the ground causes evapotranspiration to go up,” says Chris Huntingford, a climate modeler at the U.K. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, England. But it wasn’t clear if a local increase in water being pumped into the atmosphere due to evapotranspiration would be offset by rain falling back to Earth, or whether certain geographic areas might be more affected than others. So Huntingford, climate researcher Xu Lian at Peking University in Beijing and their colleagues analyzed satellite data of vegetation cover and soil dryness across the Northern Hemisphere from 1982–2011. Across much, but not all, of the top half of the globe, they found that earlier spring greening was associated with soils being drier in summer than in years when spring arrived later.
1-3-20 Greta Thunberg changes Twitter name to 'Sharon' after game show error
Greta Thunberg has changed her name to Sharon on Twitter, in honour of a game show contestant who appeared to have no idea who she was. While appearing on BBC's Celebrity Mastermind, actor Amanda Henderson was asked to name the teenage climate activist. Looking stumped, Henderson shook her head and guessed: "Sharon." A clip of her answer - and host John Humphrys' deadpan response - has been viewed more than five million times. The video soon made its way back to Ms Thunberg herself, and on Friday afternoon she changed her name on Twitter. Ms Thunberg also changed her bio to reflect that she has turned 17 - as Friday was also her birthday. She celebrated her birthday by going to the weekly Fridays for Future climate protest outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm. Ms Thunberg has been known to have fun with her Twitter profile. Last month, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill, Greta, Chill!" In response, Ms Thunberg edited her bio to say she was "a teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend". Earlier that week, she changed her bio to say she was a "pirralha" - the Portuguese word for brat - after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro criticised her for highlighting the plight of Brazil's indigenous people. "Greta's been saying Indians have died because they were defending the Amazon," Mr Bolsonaro had told reporters. "It's amazing how much space the press gives this kind of pirralha." In October she changed her bio to "a kind but poorly informed teenager" - which was exactly how Russian President Vladimir Putin had described her at a conference in Moscow. In September President Trump posted a video of her speaking emotionally at the UN conference and sarcastically commented: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future." She changed her bio accordingly: "A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future". (Webmaster's comment: She's laughing at Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, and Henderson.)
1-3-20 China has made huge strides cleaning up its polluted rivers
China has made huge strides in cleaning up its rivers and lakes over the past 15 years, suggesting clampdowns on pollution are working. While major rivers such as the Yangtze still suffer from pollution, a comprehensive new study found that government policies since 2001 have significantly improved average inland water quality nationwide. Between 2003 and 2017, the annual mean chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of the level of pollutants in the water, fell by 65 per cent. Levels of ammonia, which can run off from farmland, dropped more sharply, by 77 per cent. Dissolved oxygen, which shows how much oxygen is available to river life, improved by 14 per cent. The researchers also looked at discharges of pollution from factories, farms and other sources over the period, and found that reductions almost entirely explained the advances in water quality. “Our results confirm the effectiveness of massive environmental efforts, notwithstanding rapid urbanisation and economic growth,” says Ting Ma at the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research in Beijing. Independent Chinese experts said the findings supported official reports by the Chinese environment ministry, and that the state’s policies appear to be working. One example is a revision to China’s water pollution prevention law, which increased fines for polluters, says Sunan Shen at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, who wasn’t involved in the study. Still, difficulties remain. While pollution from industry and urban homes is down, discharges from rural homes have received less attention and rising pollution from livestock farming poses an “increasing challenge”, the authors say.
1-3-20 Air pollution exposure may make our bones become weaker
The number of health effects linked to air pollution keeps growing. We already know dirty air is associated with problems in the lungs, heart, uterus and eyes and could potentially affect mental health – and now weaker bones can be added to the list. Researchers took readings of levels of PM2.5, a fine particulate form of pollution, at 23 sites outside Hyderabad in India. Then they worked with more than 3700 people – with an average age of 35.7 – in nearby villages to explore whether exposure to the air pollution was correlated with changes in the bone mineral content of their hips and spines, a measure of bone strength used to diagnose osteoporosis. “What we see overall is a quite consistent pattern of lower bone mineral content with increasing levels of air pollution,” says Cathryn Tonne at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. People in the area were exposed to average PM2.5 annual levels of 32.8 micrograms per cubic metre. This is three times higher than the safe limit recognised by the World Health Organization. After adjusting for other possible factors – including wealth – Tonne and colleagues found every extra 3 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 was associated with an average reduction in bone mineral density for both men and women of 0.011 grams per square centimetre in the spine, and 0.004 g/cm2 in the hip. Black carbon, a subset of PM2.5, was also associated with lower bone mass. More than half of the people in the study live in homes where food is cooked using solid biomass fuels, which release the pollutants. But no link to bone mass was found for those who used biomass as their main cooking fuel, and would have been exposed to indoor air pollution from it. This suggests it is the general exposure to air pollution in the ambient air that is responsible for the link.
1-3-20 H2Go Power seeks to power drones with a 'happy gas'
When you think about hydrogen and flight, the image that comes to mind for most is the Hindenburg airship in flames. But in a lab deep in the basement of Imperial College in London, a young team has built what it believes is the future of air travel. H2Go Power is seeking a patent to store the explosive gas cheaply and safely. Until now, storing hydrogen required ultra-strong and large tanks which could withstand pressures of up to 10,000 pound-force per square inch (psi). That is hundreds of times greater than what you would find in a car tyre. But, while studying for her PhD in Cambridge, Dr Enass Abo-Hamed came up with a revolutionary structure which could store hydrogen as a stable solid without compression. "The pressure involved is similar to what you'd get in a coffee machine," she says. The university paired her with materials scientist, Luke Sperrin, to try to find commercial applications for the innovation - and H2Go Power was born. The aluminium reactor weighs less than a bag of sugar. The small gas cylinder has an intricate network of 3D-printed aluminium tubes inside. The hydrogen remains stable and solid in these structures until "coolant" is pumped through the tubes, warming them and releasing hydrogen gas to the drone's fuel cell. Hydrogen (H2) is pumped into one side of the fuel cell through a catalyst which frees electrons, creating electricity. Oxygen (O) is then pumped into the other side of the fuel cell and combines with the left over, positively-charged hydrogen atoms (H+). The only final waste product is water vapour (H2O). Until recently, a major hurdle to affordable hydrogen technologies was the cost of producing hydrogen gas. Splitting water molecules into hydrogen used a lot of energy which usually came from fossil fuel sources. However, the widespread availability of renewable energy and improvements in electrolysis - the chemical process of separating elements using electricity - have brought down the financial and environmental cost of producing hydrogen for fuel. But, Dr Abo-Hamed points out, even if their drone fell out of the sky, the hydrogen would remain stable in its solid form inside the reactor.
1-3-20 Amazon 'threatens to fire' climate change activists
A group of Amazon employees has said the company has threatened to fire some of them for speaking out on environmental issues. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said the workers were told they were in violation of company policies. It comes after employees joined calls for the e-commerce giant to do more to tackle climate change. The company said its policy on employees making public comments is not new and covers all of its workers. In a Twitter post, the group said some employees had been contacted by Amazon's legal and human resources teams and questioned about public comments they had made. The statement went on to say: "Some workers then received follow-up emails threatening termination if they continue to speak about Amazon's business." Amazon told the BBC the rules were not new, adding: "We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company's logo." It continued: "As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed." Amazon Employees for Climate Justice is a group of the company's workers "who believe it's our responsibility to ensure our business models don't contribute to the climate crisis". The group has called on Amazon to achieve zero emissions by 2030, limit its work with fossil fuel companies, and stop funding for politicians and lobbyists who deny the existence of climate change. Amazon, like many other big companies, has faced increasing pressure from both the public and its own workers to take bolder steps to address its impact on the environment. In May thousands of Amazon employees used the company's annual shareholders meeting to call on chief executive Jeff Bezos to formulate a broad climate change initiative for the business. (Webmaster's comment: Being outspoken about climate change can cost you your job!)
1-3-20 Climate deniers are cooking themselves — and everyone else
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that climate change is something only hippies should care about. By this view, commonly expressed by conservative politicians, fixing climate change is only for bleeding-hearts who care more about hugging trees than making money. But this is completely wrong. Climate change will wreck the environment, and in the process it will wreck human society as well — causing many deaths and billions of dollars in damage, as we're seeing now as Australia is battered by the worst wildfires in its history. People who deny or downplay climate change are broiling themselves and everyone else alive. Some extreme weather events have a complex array of causes, and it is hard to tie them definitively to climate change. Hurricane formation, for instance, involves winds, ocean temperatures and the difference between atmospheric temperatures, the spin of the earth, and many other factors, so it is a tricky business to pin worse storms on global warming. (Nevertheless, a growing body of research does indeed point to climate change as a key cause of increasing hurricane severity.) But that is not true at all of the Australian bushfires. Fires get worse when things are hot, dry, and windy, and climate change has provided all of those conditions in abundance. The continent has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (a bit over 1 degree Celsius) since the 1970s, and in keeping with the predictions of climate models, Australia has experienced steadily worse droughts and heat waves over the last 30 years. The current drought may end up being the worst in history — this spring was the driest ever recorded on the continent, and back on December 18 it set a new record for the hottest day ever measured with an average temperature across the entire country of 105.6 degrees. So far this Australian fire season, almost 15 million acres have been burned, at least 18 people have died, a further 17 are missing, and over 1,200 homes have burned down. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, and thousands more are still trapped in hazardous locations. Australia's largest cities have repeatedly suffocated under smoke plumes — on December 11, Sydney recorded particulate pollution 11 times worse than the "hazardous" level, and at time of writing capital city Canberra had the second-worst air in the world. Meanwhile, the ongoing drought has devastated Australian farmers.
1-3-20 Jakarta floods: Cloud seeding used to try to stop rain
Indonesian authorities are turning to the technique of cloud seeding to try to stop more rain falling in the flood-hit capital Jakarta. Planes have been sent to inject chemicals into clouds in an effort to alter precipitation. Jakarta and surrounding districts have struggled to cope since a storm on New Year's Eve left large areas underwater. At least 43 people are known to have died, with some 192,000 evacuated, and more rain is expected. According to Reuters news agency, two planes have been sent up to shoot salt flares into the clouds, which will hopefully make them break before they reach the Jakarta region. "All clouds moving towards the Greater Jakarta area, which are estimated to lead to precipitation there, will be shot with NaCl (sodium chloride) material," Indonesia's technology agency BPPT explained in a statement. The Indonesian disaster management agency said it was using inflatable boats to rescue stranded families. A dozen people remain missing. By Friday morning, the clean-up operation was under way. On Thursday, authorities had used hundreds of pumps to try to lower water levels in residential areas and around public infrastructure, like the railways. But even in areas where the water has receded, mud and debris are preventing many residents from returning home. Floods are common in the city around this time of year, and are among the reasons President Joko Widodo plans to move the capital to East Borneo in the next few years. Mr Widodo blamed the severity of current disaster on delays in flood control infrastructure projects. It is the worst flooding in the area since 2013. Jakarta, home to millions of people, is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world and experts say it could be entirely submerged by 2050.
1-3-20 Belching in a good way: How livestock could learn from Orkney sheep
The northernmost Orkney island, North Ronaldsay, is home to just 50 people and 2,000 sheep. Since the 19th Century, when islanders built a stone wall to confine the flock to the shoreline, it has survived on seaweed alone - and it now seems that this special diet could hold the key to greener, more climate-friendly livestock farming. "It's a bit like doing a jigsaw," laughs Sian Tarrant as she heaves another large stone on to the wall. "Only there are no straight edges and some of these pieces are really heavy." The wind, which has been viciously squally all morning, punches at our faces and blasts the smaller slates on Sian's rock pile until they shudder and rattle like teeth. "My contract is for three years," she tells me, securing her flying hair under her bobble hat. "I really hope I can finish repairing the wall by then!" Twenty-eight-year-old Sian is North Ronaldsay's great hope. Back in the summer, she successfully answered an advertisement to become the island's sheep warden, but shepherding is not her only responsibility - she must also repair the 21km dry stone dyke that circles the island just above the shoreline. It's this wall that has stopped her flock from eating grass, and made it utterly unique. "But I will admit," she says, wiping her eyes which the wind is relentlessly needling, "until I started researching I had no idea how special the sheep were." Dr Kevin Woodbridge, the island's retired GP and member of the Sheep Court - the management body that oversees the flock - has never been in any doubt of this. Short-tailed, small and coloured white, grey or chocolate brown, the sheep are descendants of the most primitive breeds of ruminants, Kevin says, and have been living on the island for thousands of years. At the sound of our boots on the pebbles, the timorous flock wheels round and shoots off, leaping bits of rope and debris left by the tide. Kevin laughs and tells me, a little self-consciously, that he's sure the sheep are more intelligent than most and certainly more devious. "I mean, just look at this wild habitat they live in," he says, nodding at the rocky beach and the sulky steel-grey sky with its bulging, herniating clouds. "You have to be pretty adaptable to survive this." And the sheep certainly have adapted. Since 1832, when the islanders decided to build the 2m-high dyke to keep the sheep from pasture they needed for cows, the flock's diet has been restricted to seaweed foraged from the shore. They are one of only two groups of animals on Earth that exist purely on seaweed; the other is a marine iguana which lives in the Galapagos Islands.
1-3-20 Climate change: Last decade UK's 'second hottest in 100 years'
A series of new records for high temperature were broken in the UK in 2019, concluding a record-breaking decade, the Met Office has said. The last decade was the second hottest in the past 100 years in the UK, with eight new high-temperature records set. Four new UK records were set last year alone, including the highest winter and summer temperatures ever recorded. Dr Mark McCarthy, from the Met Office in Exeter, said it was "a consequence of our warming climate". The 2010s were the second hottest and second wettest of the "cardinal" decades (those spanning years ending 0-9) in the last 100 years of UK records. In both cases, the 2010s were slightly behind 2000-2009, which holds the record for the hottest and wettest decade. The Met Office said this was partly because of a cold year in 2010, but added that such years occur much less frequently now than in the past. Last year, a maximum of 21.2C was reached on 26 February, in London - the hottest February day ever recorded. On 25 July, temperatures then reached 38.7C in Cambridge - the UK's highest-ever recorded temperature. The third record-breaker for 2019 was for the highest daily minimum temperature in February - a temperature of 13.9C recorded on 23 February in the Scottish Highlands. The hottest December day is also likely to have been exceeded last week, with a provisional temperature of 18.7C recorded in the Highlands of Scotland on 28 December - although the figure still needs to be validated. Overall, the UK was warmer, wetter and sunnier than average in 2019, the Met Office said. It said 2019 was provisionally the 11th warmest year on record, with a mean temperature of 9.42C, putting it just outside the top 10 - all of which have all occurred since 2002.
1-2-20 Norway records warmest ever January day at 19C
Western Norway is experiencing a rare heatwave for early January, at a time when temperatures should normally be below freezing. The highest temperature of 19C (66F) - more than 25C above the monthly average - was measured in the village of Sunndalsora. This makes it Norway's warmest January day since records began. While many were enjoying the warm weather, there are concerns that it is another example of climate change. "It's a new record for warm weather here... People [have been] out in the streets in their T-shirts today," Yvonne Wold, mayor of the municipality of Rauma, who had taken a dip in the sea earlier in the day, told the BBC. "A lot of people are usually skiing at this time. Not exactly much of that today," she added. While the hot weather was a novelty, Ms Wold said there were concerns about the bigger picture of rising temperatures. BBC forecaster Peter McAward said the previous January high in Sunndalsora was 17.4C. It also breaks the record for any winter month (December to February) in Scandinavia, he adds. While temperatures have been warmer in Scandinavia in December, he says the exceptionally warm day in Sunndalsora was down to its specific location. "The main cause for the record-breaking temperatures at this particular site was from a foehn wind," he says. Foehn winds are warm gusts that occur on the downwind side of mountain ranges. The area also held the December (18.3C) and February (18.9C) Norway maximum records.
1-2-20 Climate change hope for hydrogen fuel
A tiny spark in the UK’s hydrogen revolution has been lit – at a university campus near Stoke-on-Trent. Hydrogen fuel is a relatively green alternative to alternatives that produce greenhouse gases. The natural gas supply at Keele University is being blended with 20% hydrogen in a trial that's of national significance. Adding the hydrogen will reduce the amount of CO2 that’s being produced through heating and cooking. Critics fear hydrogen will prove too expensive for mass usage, but supporters of the technology have high hopes. Using natural gas for heating generates about a third of the UK emissions that are driving global warming. But the only product of burning hydrogen is water. As a fuel, hydrogen functions in much the same way as natural gas. So staff in the university canteen say cooking on the 20% hydrogen blend has made no difference to their cooking regime. The project – known as HyDeploy - is the UK’s first live trial of hydrogen in a modern gas network. Keele was chosen because it has a private gas system. Its hydrogen is produced in an electrolyser - a device that splits water (H2O) into its constituents: hydrogen and oxygen. The machine is located in a glossy green shipping container in the corner of the university’s sports field. The gas distribution firm Cadent, which is leading the project, says that if a 20% blend were to be rolled out across Britain, it would reduce emissions of CO2 by six million tonnes - equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road. The hydrogen could be generated pollution-free by using surplus wind power at night to split water molecules using electrolysis. The 20% proportion was chosen because it’s an optimal blend that won’t affect gas pipes and appliances. Currently, the UK has only small supplies of hydrogen, but the firm says increasing production would offer a quick way of cutting emissions from heating.
1-2-20 Chinese air quality regulations could put an end to 'new car smell'
Air pollutants that generate “new car smell” have been found at levels up to 10 times regulatory limits inside some models. But new Chinese rules could put an end to the odour, which is generated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that are readily released as gases by the materials that make up dashboards, seat covers and other fittings. China, Japan and South Korea regulate VOC levels, in part because many people in Asia have less of the enzyme that breaks down both alcohol and one of the key VOCs released by car interiors, acetaldehyde. While the odour is popular in the US and Europe, surveys in China have found more than one-tenth of car buyers complained about it. Difficulties in measuring VOCs have hampered tests inside cars, but new instruments allowed UK-based testing firm Emissions Analytics to check three models. During tests of a Hyundai i10, concentrations of methanol, a common solvent, rose from 18 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) to 935µg/m3, a level that Emissions Analytics says could prove an irritant. Acetaldehyde also jumped between 4 and 6 minutes of testing, from 50 to 550µg/m3, or 10 times the limit allowed in China and Japan. For an unnamed Renault car and Peugeot model, the spikes weren’t as pronounced, but ethanol jumped to higher than expected levels. Acetaldehyde and methanol levels in the Peugeot were also higher after the 24-minute test finished. “The message is still that research is at an early stage and needs further investigation, but clearly the cabin contains a cocktail of health hazards, which needs a common approach to understand and potentially regulate,” says Nick Molden at Emissions Analytics. While campaigners, regulators and the car industry have focused on the emissions from car exhausts after the dieselgate scandal, in which Volkswagen installed devices on its cars to fool emissions tests, scant attention has been paid to interior air quality.
1-1-20 Australia fires: Death toll rises as blazes destroy 200 homes
Bushfires have killed at least eight people in south-eastern Australia since Monday, while two others remain unaccounted for. The latest fires, which raced towards the coast this week, have also destroyed more than 200 homes. Seven people have been confirmed dead in New South Wales and one in Victoria. Conditions have eased slightly, and a major road that was closed in Victoria was reopened for two hours on Wednesday to allow people to leave. But many people remain in fire-hit areas. In one town, police dropped off 1.6 tonnes of drinking water by boat. Family members of Mick Roberts, a 67-year-old Victorian missing since Monday, confirmed that he had been found dead in his home in Buchan, East Gippsland. "Very sad day for us to (start) the year but we're a bloody tight family and we will never forget our mate and my beautiful Uncle Mick," his niece Leah Parson said on Facebook. The deaths bring the total fire-related fatalities across Australia this season to at least 18, with warnings this could rise further. Of the homes destroyed in this week's blazes, 43 were in East Gippsland, Victoria, while another 176 were in New South Wales. Earlier on Wednesday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said 916 homes had been destroyed this season, with another 363 damaged, and 8,159 saved. In Mallacoota, Victoria - where thousands fled to the beach on Tuesday - police boats arrived with 1.6 tonnes of water for residents. They also brought food, a paramedic and medical supplies. At the same time, police warned people in Sunbury, Victoria - about 40km (25 miles) north-west of Melbourne - to leave the area, as an emergency fire warning was in place. The smoke from Wednesday's fires was visible more than 2,000km (1,200 miles) away from the South Island of New Zealand, where the haze tinted the sky orange.
1-1-20 Palau is first country to ban 'reef toxic' sun cream
The Pacific nation of Palau has become the first country to ban sun cream that is harmful to corals and sea life. From Wednesday, sun cream that includes common ingredients, including oxybenzone, is not allowed to be worn or sold in the country. Palau's President Tommy Remengesau said: "We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life." The island nation markets itself as a "pristine paradise" for divers. A lagoon in Palau's Rock Islands is a Unesco World Heritage site. The country has a population of around 20,000 dotted across hundreds of islands. The ban - which was announced in 2018 - prohibits sun cream containing any of 10 ingredients. The list includes oxybenzone and octinoxate, which absorb ultraviolet light. The International Coral Reef Foundation said the banned chemicals were "known environmental pollutants - most of them are... incredibly toxic to juvenile stages of many wildlife species". Mr Remengesau told the AFP news agency: "When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too. "Toxic sunscreen chemicals have been found throughout Palau's critical habitats, and in the tissues of our most famous creatures. "We don't mind being the first nation to ban these chemicals, and we will do our part to spread the word." The number of sun creams containing the harmful chemicals is declining. In 2018, experts said it was found in about half of creams and lotions. When the US state of Hawaii announced a similar ban - which comes into effect in 2021 - major brands were quick to say their products were "reef bill compliant". Other places to announce bans include the US Virgin Islands - where the law takes effect in March - and the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire.