2-15-20 Meet the consultant helping business go zero waste
After Catherine Conway had to shut down her package-free business for financial reasons, she seized the opportunity to help others learn from her mistakes. "Most of us are here because we want to save the world," Catherine Conway tells the group of about a dozen women assembled in a co-working space in East London. "But how many of you actually have retail experience?" A few women raise their hands. Others look around sheepishly. "OK, so a couple," Conway says. "Here's the reality check — if you don't have a long-term, financially stable business, you can't help anyone." The participants — who all happen to be women — have traveled from all over the world to attend this one-day workshop with Conway. One participant flew in from the United Arab Emirates and another from Northern Ireland. They are experiencing a dose of Conway's tough love, but more importantly, they are here to learn about running a zero waste business. If you've never heard that term before, it's basically an entire store that is like the bulk section in your local market, where customers bring in their own containers and there is little to no plastic packaging. Conway, who is the founder of a consulting firm called Unpackaged, is a bit of a guru in this department. "The kind of people who want to run these businesses tend to be idealistic," she says. "I was 100 percent like that myself." Back in 2006, Conway, frustrated by the useless packaging all around her, opened a stand where you could refill dry goods and cleaning products. They expanded into a shop, then a restaurant. She was putting in long, grueling hours, but the restaurant just wasn't making money. "We struggled for a year and then we had to close down," Conway remembers. "It was awful. I lost my own money, I lost investors' money. It was really, really, really painful." After her loss, Conway took some time and eventually realized she could help other people learn from her mistakes. Now, when Conway holds workshops for people who want to start zero waste businesses, she talks to them about everything from basic business principles to identifying a customer base to specific considerations for this type of store — like how to clean bulk containers and what to do when a customer accidentally overfills their bag of oatmeal. She warns them about challenges they might not have thought about — like the fact that dealing with bulk goods is incredibly physically demanding.
2-14-20 Coastal erosion: The homes lost to the sea
As sea level rise, a senior figure in the Environment Agency says he wants the country to start "difficult conversations" about which areas should be protected and which should not. Science editor David Shukman has been investigating the dilemma of where to save and where to retreat.
2-14-20 Highest in recorded history
The temperature in Antarctica reached its highest in recorded history on Feb. 6: a springlike 65 degrees. Scientists recently announced that January was the warmest month globally in recorded history.
2-14-20 Crucial glacier under threat
Scientists have discovered unusually warm ocean water beneath a gigantic glacier in West Antarctica—a find that explains the ice shelf’s increasingly rapid melt and that raises alarms about sea-level rise around the world. The Florida-size Thwaites Glacier has lost more than 600 billion tons of ice in recent decades and is now shedding up 50 billion tons a year. To find the cause, a team of glaciologists drilled through nearly 2,000 feet of ice to the “grounding line,” the point where the glacier shifts from resting on bedrock to spreading out over the sea as an ice sheet. Water temperatures there were about 32 degrees Fahrenheit—3.6 degrees above the freezing point in that location. “That is really, really bad,” joint project leader David Holland, from New York University, tells The Washington Post. “That’s not a sustainable situation.” Thwaites is of particular concern to scientists because it has an unusually wide, 75-mile front to the ocean, and because its unstable configuration makes it more susceptible to melting. What’s more, Thwaites and a neighboring glacier are holding back ice that if it melted would raise global sea levels by about 10 feet—enough to put many coastal cities underwater.
2-14-20 Wildfire smoke may cause life-long harm
Smoke from wildfires may have long-term health effects, according to US research on juvenile monkeys. An analysis shows that their immune systems were lower than normal, 12 years after they were naturally exposed to wildfire smoke. There are also indications that the animals passed on the defect to their offspring. The findings have prompted an investigation into the impact of wildfires on the health of children. The results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle by Prof Lisa Miller from the University of California, Davis. They are particularly pertinent given the recent spate of wildfires in Australia, California and Brazil. Such fires are likely to become more common as a result of the drier conditions in many parts of the world, predicted by climate change models. Prof Miller told BBC News that she now has enough evidence from her analysis of monkeys to look into how recent wildfires may have affected the health of children in Northern California. "I believe very strongly that we now have enough evidence to move to the clinic. My plan is to look at records from paediatric populations and find evidence of increased asthma, increased respiratory, viral and bacterial infections, increased use of antibiotics and longer recovery times from illness." Prof Miller's analysis is based on a study of rhesus monkeys kept at UC Davis's outdoor National Primate Centre. In 2008 the 4,000 or so animals located there were exposed to smoke from a wildfire in Trinity and Humbolt Counties, 200 miles north of Davis - as was the city's human population. Prof Miller saw this as a unique opportunity to assess the impact of the smoke on the monkeys, especially the young animals. She took blood samples and tested their lung function over the next 12 years. She discovered that the juvenile monkeys had stiffer lungs and weaker immune systems to those not exposed to smoke. Prof Miller also found that not only did these symptoms persist for the duration of her study - but were passed down to the next generation, and transferred to the offspring of female monkeys.
2-14-20 Coastal floods warning in UK as sea levels rise
Coastal communities face "serious questions" about their long-term safety from rising seas, a senior Environment Agency official has warned. People have become used to a 'myth of protection', according to John Curtin, head of floods and coastal management. "We are in a cycle of thinking we can protect everywhere always", he told BBC News. His warning follows research suggesting polar melting is accelerating and raising the height of the oceans. And a major UN study last year said extremes of coastal flooding are set to become far more frequent. Mr Curtin is taking a long view about how climate change is set to increase the level of the sea and alter the coastline. As a leading specialist in flood defence in England, he wants to trigger a public debate about how to respond. He believes that since the 1960s, when huge concrete embankments were built along many stretches of shore, several generations have grown up taking coastal protection for granted. Now, he says, there's an urgent need for 'difficult conversations' about how to respond to the prospect of much higher seas. In some locations that will mean bigger, stronger defences but in others the conclusion may be that it's better for people to move inland. "If the seas rise by another metre, they get more stormy, there are some places that are really vulnerable. "We might need to look at where people live eventually." Mr Curtin was speaking as he guided me around a new flood scheme in Boston in Lincolnshire, a town repeatedly hit by North Sea storm surges in recent decades. Each surge was higher than the last - in 1953, in 1978 and in 2013 - and every time the response was to improve coastal defences by raising embankments. The most recent flood hit 500 homes and 300 businesses and caused £1m worth of damage to Boston's famous St Botolph's church, known locally as the Stump. It led to a massive project to defend the town with a tidal barrier, now under construction at a cost of more than £100m. A smaller version of the Thames Barrier which protects London, the scheme involves a steel wall that can be raised into position to hold back the sea if a storm surge is forecast.
2-14-20 50 years ago, protests and promises launched the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Declining oil production poses dangers to the massive structure. Nobody has ever done what the engineers designing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are faced with: the need to carry hot oil through the Arctic. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, expected to be completed in 1972, will carry 600,000 barrels of oil a day across Alaska. Despite protests by environmental activists and Native Americans, the pipeline was completed in 1977. In the mid-1980s, the pipeline moved about 25 percent of all U.S.-produced oil and could deliver more than 2 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But U.S. oil production has declined since 1988, so the flow has slowed. That allows the oil to cool en route and water to pool in the system, raising fears of corrosion, ruptures and oil spills. The 1,288-kilometer pipeline must by law be dismantled and removed if it’s shut down. But after hundreds of thousands of hectares in Alaska were auctioned off in December for oil development, and with millions more still set to be auctioned, a shutdown may not come anytime soon.
2-14-20 Antarctic island hits record temperature of 20.75C
Antarctica has exceeded 20C for the first time, after researchers logged a temperature of 20.75C (69F) on an island off the coast of the peninsula. Brazilian scientist Carlos Schaefer told AFP they had "never seen a temperature this high in Antarctica". But he warned the temperature, logged on 9 February, was just one reading and not part of a long-term data set. The continent also hit a record last week, with a temperature reading of 18.3C on the Antarctic Peninsula. This latest reading was taken at a monitoring station on Seymour Island, part of a chain of islands off the same peninsula, at the northernmost point of the continent. Although the temperature is a record high, Mr Schaefer emphasized that the reading was not part of a wider study and so, in itself, could not be used to predict a trend. "We can't use this to anticipate climatic changes in the future. It's a data point," he said. "It's simply a signal that something different is happening in that area." According to the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO), temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by almost 3C over the past 50 years, and that about 87% of the glaciers along its west coast have "retreated" in that time. Over the past 12 years, the glaciers have shown an "accelerated retreat", it adds. Last month was also Antarctica's warmest January on record. The previous record for the entire Antarctic region - which includes the continent, islands and ocean that are in the Antarctic climatic zone - was 19.8C, logged in January 1982. Last July, the Arctic region hit its own record temperature of 21C, logged by a base at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
2-13-20 Antarctic ice melt could push sea levels to rise 1.5 metres by 2100
Melting Antarctic ice could cause sea levels to rise 58 centimetres by the end of the century under a worst-case climate scenario, an increase three times bigger than the world saw in the 20th century from all sources. Adding other sources of sea level rise as the world warms, including Greenland ice melt and global water expansion, and seas could climb about 1.5 metres by 2100, according to researchers. “Antarctica is potentially the biggest contributor [to sea level rise] and 58 centimetres is so far the highest number we’ve got,” says Anders Levermann at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led an international team modelling future melting of ice shelves. “We know sea level is going to consume eventually a number of coastal cities and regions we hold dear. That will likely be in a few hundred years. What we show here is this could come earlier than we thought,” says Levermann. His team combined 16 ice sheet models – up from just three in a similar exercise six years ago – with uncertainties in how the world will warm in response to carbon emissions, and how ocean currents will transport heat to the Southern Ocean. The group found that if carbon emissions go largely unchecked and temperatures rise by almost 5°C by 2100, Antarctica would have a more than 90 per cent likelihood of causing sea level rise between 6 and 58 centimetres by the end of the century. The median was 17 centimetres. This analysis assumed ice in Antarctica retreats in a linear fashion, rather than in ways that accelerate the collapse, such as the creation of unstable ice cliffs. As such, the projections could be an underestimate. Andy Smith at the British Antarctic Survey, who wasn’t involved in the research, says the new projections seem reasonable, when considered with previous findings.
2-13-20 Ancient people tried to stop rising seas with spears or fiery boulders
The last time humans came up against rising seas due to major global warming, they tried to protect themselves by putting up physical barriers and possibly appealing to divine powers to hold back the water. Following the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago, Earth warmed by about 3 to 5°C over thousands of years, probably due to a slight change in its orbit that increased sunshine exposure. This melted ice sheets that once covered much of North America and northern Europe and raised global seas.
2-13-20 Millions of hairy tarantula skins could be used to mop up oil spills
A sea of floating, dead tarantula skins might be an arachnophobe’s nightmare, but the moults of these spiders could help mop up ocean oil spills. The skins of spider skins have “very strong” water-repelling properties, says Tomasz Machalowski at Poznan University of Technology in Poland, one of the team behind the concept. This means they could be useful for cleaning-up oil spills, as the materials used need to attract oil but also repel water.
2-13-20 The Deepwater Horizon oil spill spread much farther than once thought
Simulations show the extent of toxic oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 disaster. Nearly a decade after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, computer simulations suggest that the toxic pollution extended much farther than satellite images first indicated. Those images, taken after the spill dumped nearly 800 million liters of oil into Gulf waters, helped to determine which areas would be temporarily closed for fishing (SN: 4/3/15). Scientists’ observations since then had suggested that the oil had spread farther (SN: 7/31/14). The new analysis confirms that fact with computer simulations, which considered ocean currents, oil evaporation and other factors to map the spill’s true expanse. Satellites appear to have overlooked at least 30 percent of the hazardous pollution, says biological oceanographer Claire Paris-Limouzy of the University of Miami. The simulations uncovered vast ocean swaths where oil concentrations were high enough to endanger marine life, but dilute enough to have been overlooked by satellites, Paris-Limouzy and colleagues report online February 12 in Science Advances. Water and sediment samples from around the Gulf supported the findings. Satellite images had shown oil mostly in a northern and central patch of the Gulf. But the simulations suggest toxic levels of oil pollution cast a much wider stain on the ocean. Fishery closures covered about 94 percent of the polluted region observed by satellites, but only about 70 percent of the hazardous area identified by the new analysis — missing spots near Texas and Florida. Some of those waters remained closed to fishing for years. Computer simulations could similarly estimate toxic but invisible portions of future oil spills, providing better guidance on where to close fisheries or send cleanup crews.
2-12-20 Deepwater Horizon spill may have been a third bigger than estimated
The US’s worst ever oil spill, at a BP rig a decade ago, may have been almost a third larger than previously thought. The finding, published today, comes as the oil giant launched a new bid to burnish its environmental credentials. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 saw nearly 800 million litres of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, which satellite tracking suggested covered an estimated 149,000 square kilometres. But an analysis suggests that the real extent of the spill may have been 30 per cent greater, because much of the oil was invisible to satellites. The study also found that the oil extended much deeper than satellites had detected, with toxic concentrations 1.3 kilometres down. A US team arrived at this estimate using data from 25,000 samples of water and sediment from the area, much of it only released in recent years by BP, in addition to satellite and aerial images. It used these to model how far the oil is likely to have spread, accounting for ocean currents, temperature and the biodegradation of oil. The results suggest the spill reached as far as the West Florida shelf, Texas shores and Florida Keys. “The environmental damage extends substantially beyond what was previously estimated both in space and time,” says Claire Paris-Limouzy at the University of Miami, Florida. While these previously undetected hydrocarbons weren’t picked up by satellites, they were found at levels “potentially lethal and sublethal” to marine organisms at different depths. “The impact on marine life was, and still is, larger than expected,” says Paris-Limouzy. The spill has been linked to deaths of dolphins, lobsters and smaller animals such as sea cucumbers. While the researchers say their analysis should change perceptions of the disaster and the risk from future spills, they note that satellites are still the quickest, main way of detecting oil spills and directing clean-ups.
2-12-20 The huge problem of food waste could be twice as big as we thought
Consumers around the world could be wasting more than twice as much food as thought, according to an analysis that says previous estimates have been gross underestimates. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in 2011 that around a third of food is lost or wasted. This report is considered to have played a key role in food waste reduction becoming one of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals. But the widely cited estimate appears to be wrong when it comes to the amount of food people waste at home because it fails to account for affluence, and how much more the rich waste than poorer people. “The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up. I hope it’s a wake-up call,” says Monika van den Bos Verma at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. She and her team took an unusual approach to calculate global food waste. Due to a scarcity of comparable national data on such waste around the world, they instead inferred it. First, they compared how much food is produced – based on UN data on its availability – and how much is eaten, as calculated by the energy people need to consume and World Health Organization data on body mass from 63 countries. Finally, they used World Bank data to factor in affluence. The result: an average person wastes around 527 kilocalories (kcal) a day. That is about one-fifth of the 2500 kcals the average man needs to maintain a healthy body weight, according to the UK’s National Health Service, or a quarter of the daily recommended intake for a woman. The previous FAO estimate of food waste per person only came to 214 kcals a day. The new figures are for 2005, due to data availability and to allow a comparison to the UN research. Van den Bos Verma found that food waste starts to become a serious issue when people reach a total spending power of $6.70 a day.
2-12-20 We're worse with food waste than we think
Common estimates for global food waste are too low, according to Dutch researchers, who suggest every person in the world is wasting about 500 calories of food a day. Without waste, we could feed five people instead of four, they said. The study found food waste goes up with the increase of money in our pockets, possibly reaching more than twice the levels we thought previously. Reducing food waste is a key challenge in fighting climate change. Wasted and lost food accounts for almost 10% of all our greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Stopping food waste is a win for consumers and it's definitely a win for the planet, said Dr Monika van den Bos Verma of Wageningen University in The Netherlands. "Throwing food out in your dustbin is like throwing a five euro note out - why would you do that?" Previous estimates have put global food waste at 214 calories per day per person (214 kilocalories/day/capita - a kilocalorie is another word for what's commonly called a calorie). The researchers looked in detail at the issue of food waste, using data from the FAO, World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO). Food waste started to rise above a daily income of about seven dollars per day. And while the FAO estimated food waste to be 214 calories per day per person in the world in 2015, their model for the same year gave a figure of 527 calories. "What we estimate is that FAO's original estimate of 214 kilocalories per capita per day is actually a vast underestimate of the global food waste as we measure it, because we have a factor two larger estimate of 527 kilocalories per capita per day," said Dr Thom Achterbosch, also of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Food waste is more of a problem in richer countries than we think but it's also going to rise faster in poorer countries, he added. "From what we currently have in our kitchens we could feed five persons instead of four if we don't waste," he said.
2-12-20 Oil giant BP says it will cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050
BP has become the biggest oil and gas company to promise to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, said today that it was “no longer enough” to provide reliable and affordable energy, it had to be cleaner too. “For BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change,” he said in a statement. The company said it would need to “fundamentally transform” itself to meet its net zero ambition. However, the pledge doesn’t cover emissions produced when oil and gas is burned by the firm’s customers, which amounts to BP’s biggest contribution to climate change. The company also made no promise to rein in hydrocarbon exploration and production over the next decade, which is expected to increase significantly. It is also unclear how and when BP might transition into renewables. The company said today that the share of its $16bn-plus annual spending that goes on non-oil and gas work will rise over time, but gave no figures or dates. The company came 7th in a recent ranking of oil companies’ investments in low-carbon projects. Campaigners said key questions weren’t answered by BP. “How will they reach net zero? Will it be through offsetting? When will they stop wasting billions on drilling for new oil and gas we can’t burn?” said Charlie Kronick at Greenpeace UK, in a statement. Repsol of Spain last year became the first oil and gas company to set a net zero goal. More details on how BP will deliver its ambition are expected in September.
2-12-20 BP boss plans to 'reinvent' oil giant for green era
New BP boss Bernard Looney has said he wants the company to sharply cut net carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. Mr Looney said the 111-year-old company needed to "reinvent" itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy. BP will have to fundamentally reorganise itself to help make those changes, said Mr Looney, who took over as chief executive last week. It follows similar moves by rivals, including Royal Dutch Shell and Total. Mr Looney said: "The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero. "Trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world's energy system." "This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change - this is the right thing for the world and for BP." He outlined his plans in a keynote speech on Wednesday. "Providing the world with clean, reliable affordable energy will require nothing less than reimagining energy, and today that becomes BP's new purpose," he said. "Reimagining energy for people and our planet." On Instagram, which Mr Looney recently signed up to, he said "Rest assured - a lot of time - and listening - has gone into this." "All of the anxiety and frustration of the world at the pace of change is a big deal. I want you to know we are listening. Both as a company - and myself as an individual." In the long term, BP's plans will involve less investment in oil and gas, and more investment in low carbon businesses. However, in the short term large investment in oil and gas will continue. The company said it wanted to be "net zero" by 2050 - that is, it wants the greenhouse gas emissions from its operations, and from the oil and gas it produces, to make no addition to the amount of greenhouse gases in the world's atmosphere by that date. It also wants to halve the amount of carbon in its products by 2050.
2-12-20 Deforested parts of Amazon 'emitting more CO2 than they absorb'
Up to one fifth of the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it absorbs, new research suggests. Results from a decade-long study of greenhouse gases over the Amazon basin appear to show around 20% of the total area has become a net source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One of the main causes is deforestation. While trees are growing they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; dead trees release it again. Millions of trees have been lost to logging and fires in recent years. The results of the study, which have not yet been published, have implications for the effort to combat climate change. They suggest that the Amazon rainforest - a vital carbon store, or "sink", that slows the pace of global warming - may be turning into a carbon source faster than previously thought. Every two weeks for the past 10 years, a team of scientists led by Prof Luciana Gatti, a researcher at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), has been measuring greenhouse gases by flying aircraft fitted with sensors over different parts of the Amazon basin. What the group found was startling: while most of the rainforest still retains its ability to absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide - especially in wetter years - one portion of the forest, which is especially heavily deforested, appears to have lost that capacity. Gatti's research suggests this south-eastern part of the forest, about 20% of the total area, has become a carbon source. "Each year is worse," she told Newsnight. "We observed that this area in the south-east is an important source of carbon. And it doesn't matter whether it is a wet year or a dry year. 2017-18 was a wet year, but it didn't make any difference." A forest can become a source of carbon rather than a store, or sink, when trees die and emit carbon into the atmosphere. Areas of deforestation also contribute to the Amazon's inability to absorb carbon.
2-12-20 The U.S. power grid desperately needs upgrades to handle climate change
Reliability fears stoke calls to action. Derek Krause likes to be prepared. The 59-year-old retired fire chief used to teach courses on how to be self-sufficient in the wake of a natural disaster. So last October, when he and his wife arrived home to find their Oakland, Calif., neighborhood blacked out, Krause was ready with solar panels and battery backup. Most people weren’t so fortunate. While solar power kept Krause’s lights on and refrigerator and Wi-Fi running over the three-day outage, the neighbors drove around in search of ice and lined up to buy generators. “My wife said, ‘It’s sort of like the movie The Purge,’ ” Krause recalls. “Your security system doesn’t work, your garage doesn’t work, your phone doesn’t work, and streetlights and the traffic signals don’t work. Good luck; you’re on your own.” That October outage was part of a series of deliberate blackouts that plunged millions of Californians into darkness. Pacific Gas and Electric shut off the power to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires in dry, windy conditions (SN Online: 11/1/19). It was one of many examples of how the U.S. power grid fails to stand up against weather hazards. In July 2019 in New York, the energy company Con Edison unplugged tens of thousands of customers to avoid equipment damage due to overheating during a heat wave. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey — whose severity has been linked to human-driven climate change — ripped through Houston and cut power to more than 300,000 customers (SN: 1/20/18, p. 6). More than half of major U.S. power outages from 2000 to 2016 were caused by natural hazards like hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires, according to research reported July 2018 in Reliability Engineering & System Safety. Climate change is making such extreme weather more likely and more intense (SN Online: 12/10/19). The aging U.S. power grid is not expected to hold up well to the coming climate stresses: “Americans will likely experience longer and more frequent power interruptions,” the American Society of Civil Engineers predicted in a 2017 report.
2-12-20 Antarctica's big new iceberg: Up close with B49
A US research ship is the first vessel to encounter the giant new iceberg knocked off the edge of Antarctica. The RV Nathaniel B Palmer passed within a few kilometres of B49, as it's been designated - the largest of a group of ice fragments ejected by Pine Island Glacier (PIG) over the weekend. B49 itself covers just over 100 sq km; the other pieces total about 200 sq km. Dr Robert Larter took a picture of the big berg from the deck of the Palmer, which he then posted on Twitter. The British Antarctic Survey scientist is part of a major US-UK expedition that is investigating the nearby Thwaites Glacier. Both streams - PIG and Thwaites - move enormous amounts of ice off the west of the continent into the Amundsen Sea. The fronts of these glaciers actually float where they meet the ocean, even though they are hundreds of metres thick. And every so often, the leading edges will calve great chunks of ice. Researchers have become concerned at the speed with which the PIG and Thwaites are losing ice. Satellite records show the glaciers have speeded up in recent decades. They've also thinned and their fronts have pulled back towards land. Warm ocean water is said to be infiltrating the glaciers' undersides and melting them. In addition, the PIG appears to be calving bergs at an accelerating rate. Dr Larter said B49 and its "PIGlets" represented the seventh largest tabular iceberg calving event from Pine Island Glacier this century. A tabular berg is big, wide and flat. "The interval between them is decreasing," he wrote on Twitter. "Sequence since November 2001: 71 months, 73 months, 22 months, 25 months, 15 months, 14 months." The Palmer ship is trying to learn about the history of Thwaites Glacier on its present cruise. It's collecting seafloor sediments, which, when they're inspected in the lab, should reveal details such as the past position of the front of the glacier and the climate conditions that persisted at the time.
2-11-20 Extreme hot days and nights to soar by 2100 even in best-case scenario
Climate change may make summer nights a lot sweatier, and potentially even deadly. The number of extremely hot days followed by intensely hot nights could jump to 32 days – four times as many as there are currently – in northern hemisphere summers by 2100, even if the world acts to check global warming. In the worst-case warming scenario, which is seen as unlikely, the number leaps to 69 days, or three-quarters of summer days.
2-11-20 Sir David Attenborough to explore threat to 'perfect planet'
Sir David Attenborough is to present a new five-part series based on how natural forces - including oceans and volcanoes - allow the planet to thrive. A Perfect Planet will show how wild animals such as white wolves and bears adapt to whatever the environment throws at them. Sir David said that "to preserve our perfect planet we must ensure we become a force for good". The final episode will focus on the impact of humans on the environment. "Our planet is one in a billion, a world teeming with life. But now, a new dominant force is changing the face of Earth: humans," said Sir David. Charlotte Moore, BBC director of content, described Perfect Planet as "a breathtaking series celebrating the intricate systems that allow our planet to thrive, bringing together a unique perspective with groundbreaking camera technology". Other wildlife to feature in the series in their natural habitat include the vampire finches of the Galapagos and China's golden snub-nosed monkeys. The series will go out on BBC One later this year. Also on the horizon for the BBC is a series featuring the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The yet untitled show will follow Thunberg's "international crusade" to tackle climate change, focusing on her campaign work as well as the 17-year-old's "journey into adulthood". Thunberg will be seen meeting with scientists, politicians and business people to explore the evidence around global temperature rises. Rob Liddell, executive producer, said: "Climate change is probably the most important issue of our lives so it feels timely to make an authoritative series that explores the facts and science behind this complex subject. "To be able to do this with Greta is an extraordinary privilege, getting an inside view on what it's like being a global icon and one of the most famous faces on the planet." Transmission details for Thunberg's series have not been announced.
2-11-20 Noise pollution from ships may scare Arctic cod from feeding grounds
As shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, fish are racing to get out of the way. The noise of shipping vessels traveling through northern Canadian waters is causing Arctic cod to sacrifice much of their foraging and feeding in order to flee the area until ships move away, researchers report. The findings — the first to gauge how shipping noise could affect Arctic fish — are cause for concern as climate change increases ice melt (SN: 12/11/19), drawing more shipping traffic to the region, researchers say in the study, which will be included in the April issue of Ecological Applications. Scientists previously have reported negative effects from ship noise on marine mammals, such as porpoises (SN: 2/13/18) and beaked whales (SN: 3/25/11). “The results were staggering,” says Aaron Fisk, a biologist at the University of Windsor in Canada. Fish are known to use sound for foraging, avoiding predators, navigating and communicating (SN: 9/30/14), and noise pollution could threaten those behaviors, he says. “Hearing is more important to fish than we realize.” Fisk and his colleagues used cameras to record ship locations in August and September of 2012, while acoustic tags tracked 77 schooling Arctic cod in Resolute Bay, off Cornwallis Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The team then compared the fish location data with footage of the passing ships to determine whether the fish were moving in response to the vessels. When no ships were present, the cod stayed in one area of a 30-meter-deep depression in the bay. But when a ship passed — creating sounds as loud as 147 decibels underwater, similar to the noise from a motorcycle engine and nearly double the bay’s ambient noise — the fish abandoned their normal feeding behavior. They fled the disturbance, swimming up to 350 meters away for periods of up to 30 minutes. That means the fish were spending more energy swimming, and less time gaining calories, Fisk says.
2-11-20 Will Australia’s forests bounce back after devastating fires?
Scientists are worried about ecosystems not used to such frequent, blistering blazes. Some of the world’s most ancient rainforests lie in the north of the Australian state of New South Wales. Continually wet since the time of the dinosaurs, these forests once covered the supercontinent Gondwana. Today, vestiges harbor many endemic and evolutionarily unique plants and animals. “Normally vibrant, green and lustrous,” these forests “feed your soul,” says Mark Graham, an ecologist with the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, who is based in the region. “You step into them and breathe deeply, and you are at peace.” Typically moist, these environments don’t burn. But unprecedented fires have now ravaged more than 11 million hectares in eastern Australia, penetrating these strongholds that rarely, if ever, faced fires before. Last year was Australia’s hottest and driest year in 120 years. Made vulnerable by a record drought and heat wave, more than 50 percent of the vast area that makes up the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area has gone up in flames, Graham says. “There’s now concern about the long-term viability of these globally significant forests.” Drier types of Australian forest, which have some fire tolerance, could be taking a beating too in the wake of blazes that, as researchers report January 8 in Global Change Biology, are becoming more intense and frequent with climate change. “Most of our eucalyptus forests and woodlands have had a long history of fire,” says John Woinarski, a conservation biologist at Charles Darwin University in Darwin. But, like their wetter counterparts, “they’re burning, in many cases, not long after the last major fire in these environments.” Overall, more than 50 percent of the entire ranges of about 115 threatened plant and animal species have gone up in smoke, many in eucalypt forests in the continent’s southeast, Australian officials reported January 20. The question now is: Can these areas, especially the forests that are the foundation of so many Australian ecosystems, recover, or are they forever changed?
2-10-20 Record-breaking hot years look set to continue through the next decade
The recent streak of record-breaking hot years is set to continue throughout the next decade. It is likely that every year from 2019 to 2028 will be one of the 10 warmest on record. The recent streak of record-breaking hot years is set to continue throughout the next decade. It is likely that every year from 2019 to 2028 will be one of the 10 warmest on record. “After the last five years, we’ve really separated ourselves from the past,” says Anthony Arguez at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. “It looks pretty likely that we’re going to have a whole lot of top 10 years.”
2-9-20 Climate change: Why are US senators wearing this symbol?
Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, created a graphic that represents how the world is becoming warmer. US Democrat senators Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Van Hollen wore it as a badge at the State of the Union address.
2-8-20 Brazil's Amazon: Deforestation high in January despite rainy season
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest doubled in January compared with a year ago, reaching a five-year record for the month, officials say. Destruction at this time of the year tends to slow down as the rainy season makes access to areas more difficult. But instead of falling to the same low levels as in the past, deforestation remained high, official data showed. Critics say far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric encourage illegal activities. Deforestation in the Amazon - a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming - soared last year, the first of President Bolsonaro in office. His environmental policies have been widely condemned, but he has rejected the criticism, saying Brazil remains an example for conservation. More than 280 sq km (108 square miles) were cleared in January, an increase of 108% on January of last year, according to the space research agency Inpe - a record for the month since data started being collected in 2016. One square kilometre roughly equals 200 football pitches. Climatologist Carlos Nobre, a scientist and researcher at São Paulo University (USP), said there was a risk that deforestation this year could surpass the level recorded in 2019. At the peak of the dry season last year - between July and September - destruction was above 1,000 sq km per month. "It's very worrying the increase in January 2020. It suggests that the factors that caused the increase in deforestation in 2019 are still very active. It's time for an effective and comprehensive action to control and contain illegalities in the Amazon," he told G1 website (in Portuguese). Mr Bolsonaro has previously criticised the environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, for what he described as excessive fines, and his first year in office saw a sharp drop in financial penalties being imposed for environmental violations. At the same time, the agency remains underfunded and understaffed. One unnamed field operative for Ibama told Reuters news agency: "We see a huge difference [in deforestation]... We thought there would be a drop off because of the weather and all that, but it didn't happen."
2-8-20 Why is there less snow on Scotland's mountains this year?
inter in Scotland conjures up images of the snow-topped mountains which attract visitors in their droves every year for walking, climbing and snowsports. But enthusiasts say they have noticed a difference in recent years, with milder weather leading to less snow cover. It has snowed this year, and is expected to do so again when Storm Ciara hits Scotland in the coming days, but lots of what has fallen has melted in thaws or been stripped away by strong winds. Ben Dolphin, president of Ramblers Scotland and a winter walking enthusiast, said it wasn't unusual for conditions to vary from year to year on the hills. But he added: "I don't know any Scottish winter enthusiast who'd feel at ease with what's happened for the last two years, or who would think those winters fit into the 'normal' pattern of mild and cold winters. "It's not just the lack of snow, it's the high night-time temperatures, and the longevity and persistence of mild weather patterns." He said warm air was being drawn up from the Azores for weeks at a time. "These recent winters do feel different. I've been up here a lot over the years, always in January or February, and I've never seen it looking as snowless as this." Lee Schofield, of Highland and Islands Weather, offers free weather observations to tourists visiting the Cairngorms. He said temperatures in his home village of Carrbridge were 3.5 degrees higher last month than they were in January 2019. "That is a considerable difference and well above the normal we would expect to see," he said. "Between Christmas and New Year a very warm plume of air brushed past the north west and this set new December high temperature records for the UK." Mr Schofield added that Achfary in north west Sutherland recorded 18.7C one night - which was higher than the area's average maximum temperature in summer.
2-8-20 Lyme disease cases may rise 92 per cent in US due to climate change
Climate change could spur a 92 per cent increase in new cases of Lyme disease in the US by the end of the century, even if the world manages to limit warming to the commitments of the Paris climate deal. The number of people in the US being infected has been steadily rising in recent years, and there is no human vaccine for the disease, which can lead to lifelong health problems if not treated early. So far, the evidence for climate change’s influence on the ticks that infect humans with Lyme disease has been unclear. Now, Erin Mordecai at Stanford University in California and her colleagues have looked at past temperature and rainfall in the US to estimate their impact on Lyme disease cases in the US between 2000 and 2017. The team controlled for other possible drivers, including changes in forest cover and public awareness of tick-borne disease, as measured by online interest through Google Trends. The results were used to model what could happen in the future, and suggested that even if temperature rises are held to 1.8°C, below the 2°C goal of Paris, annual Lyme disease cases will jump by an extra 34,183 by 2100, a 92 per cent increase on levels seen in the last decade. Numbers are expected to significantly climb much earlier – 27,630 extra cases are expected by 2050. “These results indicate that substantial future increases in US Lyme disease burden are likely,” the team writes. Worryingly, the team says the results are likely to be conservative because they assume no human population growth. When that is factored in, the number of extra future cases nearly doubles. Richard Ostfeld at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, says the study largely backs up earlier research suggesting that climate change will make Lyme disease incidence worse in the US. “The methods seem credible, and the effort to control for non-climatic variables – such as public awareness, land use change – is laudable,” he says.
2-7-20 Wine grapes feel the heat
Enjoy drinking Riesling and Pinot Noir while you can, because the grapes used to make those wines and other historic varieties may soon be devastated by climate change. That’s the dispiriting conclusion of a new study that examined how rising temperatures may affect viticulture, reports USA Today. Using long-term records, international researchers built a model of where 11 of the most popular wine grapes could be grown under a range of different climate-change scenarios. They concluded that if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the postindustrial average by 2100—a rise the world is on track to surpass—more than half the world’s wine-growing land will be lost. With a 7.2-degree increase, 85 percent will be wiped out. The study says vintners can mitigate the damage by using more resilient grapes: Grenache rather than Pinot Noir in Burgundy, for example. But that would alter the distinctive flavor of wines from classic regions. Co-author Benjamin Cook, from Columbia University, says wine is “the canary in the coal mine for climate-change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive.”
2-7-20 Climate change: Loss of bumblebees driven by 'climate chaos'
"Climate chaos" has caused widespread losses of bumblebees across continents, according to scientists. A new analysis shows the likelihood of a bee being found in any given place in Europe and North America has declined by a third since the 1970s. Climbing temperatures will increasingly cause declines, which are already more severe than previously thought, said researchers. Bumblebees are key pollinators of many fruits, vegetables and wild plants. Without them, some crops could fail, reducing food for humans and countless other species. Dr Tim Newbold of University College London (UCL) said there had been some previous research showing that bumblebee distributions are moving northwards in Europe and North America, "as you'd expect with climate change". He added: "But this was the first time that we have been able to really tie local extinctions and colonisations of bumble bees to climate change, showing a really clear fingerprint of climate change in the declines that we've seen." Bumblebee declines are already more severe than previously thought, said lead researcher Peter Soroye of the University of Ottawa in Canada. "We've linked this to climate change - and more specifically to the extreme temperatures and the climate chaos that climate change is producing," he said. Bumblebees are among the most important plant pollinators. Declines in range and abundance have been documented from a range of causes, including pesticides, disease and habitat loss. In the new study, researchers looked at more than half a million records of 66 bumblebee species from 1901 to 1974 and from 2000 to 2014. They found bumblebee populations declined rapidly between 2000-2014: the likelihood of a site being occupied by bumblebees dropped by an average of over 30% compared with 1901-1974.
2-6-20 Climate change is killing off bumblebees in Europe and North America
Climate change has significantly increased the likelihood of bumblebees being driven to extinction in some areas of North America and Europe. Research five years ago showed how warming had shrunk the bees’ habitat across the two regions. However, it is difficult to separate the direct effects of climate change on the bees’ chance of local extinction from other environmental pressures, such as their habitats vanishing. To fill that gap, Tim Newbold at University College London and his colleagues analysed the temperature and rainfall records at more than 15,000 sites where at least one of 66 bumblebee species had been spotted between 2000 and 2014. They found that due to changes in climatic conditions, the probability of a site being occupied by bumblebees fell by an average of 46 per cent in North America and 17 per cent in Europe, relative to the long-term average last century. “This is the clearest signal so far of climate change already having had quite an important effect on the extinction and colonisation of bumblebee species,” says Newbold. The results were as he expected. The bees are large and furry as an adaptation to cold climates, so those in southern Europe and the south of North America, which were already at their upper temperature limits, were much more likely to go extinct and much less likely to colonise a new area. To ensure it was climate change driving the shifts, the researchers controlled for changes in land use and the fact there are far more records of bumblebees in recent years. Still, one limitation is that record-keeping is patchy in places. Losing bumblebees means losing pollinators essential to food production. Although they don’t pollinate the crops we rely on for the bulk of our calories, they provide much of the variety in our diets, pollinating nuts, berries and squashes. If climate change continues, it will drive even stronger bumblebee declines in the future, says Newbold. Warming is one of many threats to these insects, says Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex, UK. “Bumblebees also suffer from many other pressures, particularly habitat loss and exposure to pesticides, and it seems likely that a rapidly warming future climate may be the final straw for many of them.”
2-6-20 India climate activist Licypriya Kangujam on why she took a stand
She is only eight, but Licypriya Kangujam has already been campaigning for action to tackle climate change in her native India for two years. The young activist has pushed for new laws to curb India's high pollution levels and wants climate change lessons to be mandatory in schools. "I cry when I see children lose their parents or become homeless due to the dangers of disasters", she says. But, she adds: "If you call me Greta of India, you are not covering my story." Referring to Greta Thunberg, whose Fridays for Future school strike has grown into a global movement, Licypriya says that while she has much in common with the Swedish teenager, "I have my own identity, story". "I already began a movement to fight climate change before Greta started," she tells the BBC via email, adding that the two are "good friends" who "respect each other". The pair both attended the UN climate change conference, also known as COP25, in the Spanish capital Madrid in December. Residing in India's north-eastern state of Manipur, Licypriya says she was a small child when she accompanied her father on fundraising events for victims of a powerful and deadly earthquake in Nepal in 2015. But it was after attending a UN disaster conference in Mongolia with him in 2018 that she felt the need to get involved in activism. "I got lots of inspiration and new knowledge from the people giving speeches. It was a life-changing event," she says. "My heart feels sore for people who cannot help themselves when disaster strikes." In response, Licypriya set up Child Movement, a body that aims to raise awareness "to protect the planet by tackling climate change and natural disasters". Licypriya has also campaigned, often alone, for new laws to help address the issue of poor air quality across India. She has even designed what she calls her Sukifu device - a symbolic survival kit for the future she created to emphasise the need to curb air pollution in the country.
2-6-20 Climate change: Clean tech 'won't solve warming in time'
Breakthrough technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen cannot be relied on to help the UK meet its climate change targets, a report says. The government had hoped that both technologies would contribute to emissions reductions required by 2050. But the report’s authors say ministers should assume that neither carbon capture and storage (CCS) nor hydrogen will be running "at scale" by 2050. They say the government must start a debate on other, controversial steps. These actions, which they say would need to be implemented in the near-term, include cutting down on flying and eating red meat. UK law dictates that, by 2050, carbon emissions will be virtually halted, and any remaining emissions will have to be compensated for by activities such as tree planting. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has regularly expressed the belief that technology would mostly solve the problem. But the authors say that if new tech does emerge at scale by 2050, the government should treat it as a bonus, not an expectation. Both of the new technologies in question have their supporters in politics and in industry. Hydrogen technology entails generating hydrogen from natural gas, or from water. CCS entails capturing CO2 emissions from power stations or industry, and burying them in rock formations or finding uses for the CO2. Both are expensive. A few years ago, government economists predicted that gas plants equipped with CCS would be producing 30% of the UK’s clean electricity in the future. Nuclear and renewables would produce another 30% each. Tom Burke, an expert on climate change, forecast at that time that only CCS could save the climate. When I reminded him yesterday, he admitted: “I was wrong”. The equation radically changed because the nuclear renaissance didn’t happen; the government pulled funding from CCS projects; and the cost of renewables plummeted.
2-6-20 Climate change may be speeding up ocean circulation
Since the 1990s, wind speeds have picked up, making surface waters swirl faster. Winds are picking up worldwide, and that is making the surface waters of the oceans swirl a bit faster, researchers report. A new analysis of the ocean’s kinetic energy, measured by thousands of floats around the world, suggests that surface ocean circulation has been accelerating since the early 1990s. Some of that sped-up circulation may be due to naturally recurring ocean-atmosphere patterns, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, researchers report February 5 in Science Advances. But the acceleration is greater than can be attributed to natural variability alone — suggesting that global warming may also be playing a role, says a team led by oceanographer Shijian Hu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao. The connected system of massive currents that swirl between the world’s oceans, sometimes called the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, redistributes heat and nutrients around the globe and has a powerful effect on climate. Winds dominate mixing in the surface ocean: Prevailing winds in the tropics, for example, can push water masses aside, allowing deeper, nutrient-rich waters to surge upward. In the deeper ocean, differences in water density due to salt and heat content keep the currents flowing (SN: 1/4/17). For example, in the North Atlantic Ocean, surface currents carry heat north from the tropics, helping to keep northwestern Europe warm. As the waters arrive at the Labrador Sea, they cool, sink and then flow southward, keeping the conveyor belt humming along. How climate change might affect this Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, has garnered headlines, as some simulations have predicted that global warming would lead to a slowdown in which could eventually bring a deep chill to Europe. In 2018, paleoceanographer David Thornalley of University College London and colleagues reported evidence that the AMOC has weakened over the last 150 years, although the question remains uncertain (SN: 1/31/19).
2-6-20 'A turtle inspired us to tackle plastic pollution'
A couple who saw the “scary” impact of plastic pollution while travelling want to encourage others to make “simple changes”. Tommie Eaton and Rebecca Dudbridge, from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, were so shocked after seeing a turtle amid a “wave of plastic” that they started a business selling toothbrushes with recyclable bamboo handles. It’s estimated eight million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year. The couple say people should not “focus on the negatives”, but instead make “one step at a time”.
2-5-20 World's biggest iceberg makes a run for it
The world's biggest iceberg is about to enter the open ocean. A68, a colossus that broke free from the Antarctic in 2017, has pushed so far north it is now at the limit of the continent's perennial sea-ice. When it calved, the berg had an area close to 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq mi) and has lost very little of its bulk over the past two and a half years. But scientists say A68 will struggle to maintain its integrity when it reaches the Southern Ocean's rougher waters. "With a thickness to length ratio akin to five sheets of A4, I am astonished that the ocean waves haven't already made ice cubes out of A68," said Prof Adrian Luckman from Swansea University, UK. "If it survives for long as one piece when it moves beyond the edge of the sea-ice, I will be very surprised," he told BBC News. A68 split from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017. For a year, it hardly moved, its keel apparently grounded on the seafloor. But the prevailing winds and currents eventually began to push it northwards along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and during this summer season the drift has undergone a rapid acceleration. The iceberg, currently at 63 degrees South latitude, is following a very predictable course. When it pops above the tip of the peninsula, the massive block should be swept northwards towards the Atlantic - a path researchers refer to as "Iceberg Alley". Many of Antarctica's greatest bergs even make it as far - and beyond - the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia at roughly 54 degrees South. The biggest ever recorded iceberg in the modern era was the 11,000-sq-km block called B15, which calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000. One of its last remnants, now measuring "just" 200 sq km, is halfway to the South Sandwich Islands, east of South Georgia. Objects this big have to be constantly monitored because they pose a risk to shipping. Satellite images, like the ones shown on this page, are the obvious way to do this.
2-5-20 Net zero goals are galvanising action on climate change at long last
More countries are setting targets to reach net zero carbon emissions. Though it has its problems, this approach shows promising signs of sparking serious action. HERE’S a trivia question for you. What do Bhutan and Suriname have in common? If you said that they are the only countries that, in effect, add no greenhouse gases to the air, a state of grace known as net zero, then well done – though you might want to get out more. Even if you aren’t a climate obsessive, net zero is a phrase you have probably heard. Greta Thunberg talked about it last month at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Last year, the UK and France became the first major economies to legally commit to achieving it; both chose 2050 as year zero. Sweden and New Zealand have also enacted similar net zero targets. Eleven other countries have legislation in the pipeline, with Finland aiming for 2035 and Norway and Uruguay an even more ambitious 2030. Smaller political entities such as states and cities are increasingly declaring net zero targets, as are big companies. Net zero doesn’t change what we have to do, but seems to be focusing minds in a way that vague global temperature goals have failed to do. On the surface, net zero seems a good idea and a straightforward one. Wherever possible, stop emitting greenhouse gases, and have enough carbon dioxide-absorbing trees to counter any remaining emissions, or capture those emissions and bury them. Unlike temperature goals, net zero sounds unequivocal. It draws on very solid science – the concept of a carbon budget: the amount of extra CO2 (or other greenhouse gases) we can emit without cooking Earth. It is clearly a useful way of framing the challenge and aiming for solutions. Simple. But, as with all things climate-related, there is devil in the detail – and a good deal of wiggle room.
2-5-20 Hundreds of millions of locusts are forming swarms bigger than cities
The worst invasion by desert locusts in decades has hit Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The swarms are destroying crops and could cost millions of dollars to contain. THIS farmer can only watch in dismay as locusts in swarms of biblical proportions devour her crops outside Katitika village in Kenya. It is the worst invasion by desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in decades to hit Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, destroying crops in an area already facing food insecurity. Somalia has declared a national emergency. Hundreds of millions of locusts are forming swarms bigger than cities. Stopping them will require the aerial spraying of pesticides, which could cost $70 million, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It fears locust numbers could grow some 500-fold when rains arrive in March, bringing new vegetation. An adult can eat its body weight in food daily, and a Paris-sized swarm can eat as much in a day as half the population of France, according to the FAO. Desert locusts are usually solitary, but rain after drought can cause a surge in vegetation, and locust breeding. As the wingless nymphs, known as hoppers, get crowded together, the stimulus of frequent physical contact triggers changes to their colour and behaviour. Hoppers change colour as they become gregarious. Flying adults also change colour, turning pink if immature or yellow if mature. The locusts here look immature, so can’t yet produce a new generation.
2-5-20 We need nuclear power to fight climate change, but is it doomed?
The rise of renewable energy means nuclear power is on the decline, despite many people thinking it still has an important role in the fight against climate change. NUCLEAR power is meant to play a key role in holding global warming below a rise of 1.5°C, but the world’s nuclear plants are quietly starting to show their age – and some people are wondering if we should give up on them altogether. The UK has eight nuclear plants, a cornerstone of the country’s energy system, but two – Hunterston B on the west coast of Scotland and Dungeness B in south-east England – have been silent since 2018. Hunterston, which started generating electricity in 1976, has been offline because of concerns over cracks in the graphite bricks that control the nuclear reaction, although one reactor could come back online late this month. Dungeness, generating since 1983, has been down for repairs to pipes carrying steam, and isn’t due back until April at best. This picture isn’t confined to the UK. There are 415 reactors operating around the world, supplying 10 per cent of the world’s electricity supply, but that is down from a high of around 17.5 per cent in 1996, according to a report published last month. For the first time, the average reactor age passed the 30-year mark. Five reactors shut down last year, while construction started on just two new reactors. The number being built globally stood at 46 by mid-2019, a decadal low, with 10 of them in China. “To me it’s very clear now that the renewal rate of nuclear power is too small to be sustainable. So this species will die out,” says Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear consultant and a lead author of the report, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019. That has big ramifications for climate change. The UK’s growth in low-carbon electricity production stalled in 2019, after a decade of progress, thanks to the nuclear plant issues, a recent analysis by Carbon Brief found.
2-5-20 We can’t let Boris Johnson politicise crucial COP26 climate talks
Oops, he did it again. The most pressing global issue of our time has again been reduced to a tawdry political row. When Boris Johnson failed to show at a TV debate on climate change during the 2019 UK general election, the fallout wasn’t days of talk on the best ways to slash emissions, but whether Channel 4 had conspired to block the Conservative party and if the channel should lose its public funding. Yesterday, a prime ministerial speech to launch the UK-hosted COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow this November – the most important climate talks since COP21 in Paris in 2015 – was again overshadowed by political Punch and Judy. Johnson’s top adviser sacked the president of COP26, Claire O’Neill, leading to a withering broadside in which she accused Johnson of “not getting” climate change. Johnson failed to answer journalists’ questions yesterday on who would succeed her. Last night, we learned that former prime minister David Cameron has rejected the job, as has former foreign secretary William Hague, seen by veteran climate change campaigners as an ideal candidate. But to reduce this to a reshuffle politics story is to utterly miss the big picture. The world is dangerously off track from the top Paris goal of holding warming to 1.5°C. We are in for 3°C or more of warming, which would be devastating for us and the ecosystems we rely on. The Glasgow meeting is meant to elicit tougher carbon-cutting plans from the nearly 200 countries signed up to the Paris deal, to close that calamitous gap. “This is not about me, it’s not about the prime minister,” said O’Neill yesterday. “What the world needs us to do is break out of this incrementalism and start us moving forward on where we need to be, which is in a really rapid decarbonisation way.” I couldn’t agree more.
2-4-20 Petrol and diesel car sales ban brought forward to 2035
A ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest, under government plans. The change comes after experts said 2040 would be too late if the UK wants to achieve its target of emitting virtually zero carbon by 2050. Boris Johnson unveiled the policy as part of a launch event for a United Nations climate summit in November. He said 2020 would be a "defining year of climate action" for the planet. The summit, known as COP26, is being hosted in Glasgow. It is an annual UN-led gathering set up to assess progress on tackling climate change. Sir David Attenborough said at the launch event at London's Science Museum that he was looking forward to COP26 and found it "encouraging" that the UK government was launching a "year of climate action". "The longer we leave it... the worse it is going to get," he said. "So now is the moment. It is up to us to organise the nations of the world to do something about it." In a statement made ahead of the launch, Mr Johnson said the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars would come even earlier than 2035, if possible. Hybrid vehicles are also now being included in the proposals, which were originally announced in July 2017. People will only be able to buy electric or hydrogen cars and vans, once the ban comes into effect. The change in plans, which will be subject to a consultation, comes after experts warned the previous target date of 2040 would still leave old conventional cars on the roads following the clean-up date of 2050. The Scottish government does not have the power to ban new petrol and diesel cars but has already pledged to "phase out the need" for them by 2032 with measures such as an expansion of the charging network for electric cars. Mr Johnson said the 2050 pledge was necessary because the UK's "historic emissions" meant "we have a responsibility to our planet to lead in this way".
2-4-20 COP26: PM 'doesn't get' climate change, says sacked president
The prime minister admitted he "doesn't really get" climate change, the former head of this year's key summit on the issue has said. The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November - but Boris Johnson sacked president Claire O’Neill on Friday. Mrs O'Neill told the BBC there was a "huge lack of leadership and engagement" from the government. But senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said Mr Johnson was dedicated to environmental issues. Mr Gove told BBC Radio 5 Live that the prime minister described his political outlook as that of a "green Tory" when they first met 30 years ago. "Ever since then I've seen his dedication to ensuring that we fight to ensure that our Earth is handed on in a better state to the next generation," he said. But Ms O'Neill, the former Conservative minister for energy and clean growth, said people should be wary of the prime minister's promises. "My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises - whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees, or indeed family members - is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money's in the bank," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "The prime minister has made incredibly warm statements about this over the years. He's also admitted to me that he doesn't really understand it. He 'doesn't really get it', I think is what he said." She said the UK's climate efforts were at "Oxford United levels when we need to be Liverpool if we are going to do what the world actually needs us to do". In a letter to Mr Johnson after she was sacked, Mrs O'Neill accused him of promising money and people, but failing to deliver either. Mrs O'Neill wrote: "The cabinet sub-committee on climate that you promised to chair, and which I was to attend, has not met once. "In the absence of your promised leadership… departments have fought internal Whitehall battles over who is responsible and accountable for (the conference)". She said at this stage, the UK should have clear actions to communicate to the diplomatic network, an agreed plan of ministerial international engagements led by the prime minister and a roadmap for the proposed "year of action". "As of last Friday, we did not," she said.
2-4-20 Climate change: Australian TV audience boos sceptical senator
In an incident that has got Australia talking, Senator Jim Molan was booed while speaking on a panel TV discussion on the bushfire crisis. The Liberal Party politician was talking about climate change on ABC's Q&A programme, and cast doubt on whether it was caused by human activity. Mr Molan later said he wasn't "relying on science" for his views, and defended the government's climate change policy. Government critics say human-induced climate change has been a major contributing factor to the bushfires, and that action must be taken to address rising global temperatures.
2-3-20 Tackling air pollution may accidentally trigger serious health issues
Cities tackling one major air pollutant risk inadvertently making things worse by fuelling the growth of another, potentially more harmful type of pollution. Many urban areas around the world are in breach of World Health Organization guidelines on PM2.5, particulate matter with a maximum diameter of 2.5 micrometres. Vehicles are a common source of this kind of pollution. But simply reducing levels of PM2.5 pollution may not improve the safety of urban air. A Chinese-US team has found that PM2.5 plays a key role in suppressing the formation of another type of pollution in built-up areas – “ultrafine particles”. These have a diameter of under 50 nanometres, and an emerging body of work has linked them to health concerns including birth defects. The new study shines a light on how ultrafine particles form in the real world. While most previous work on the subject has been lab-based, the researchers attempted to reflect the complex chemistry of city air with tests by a Beijing road, as well as within an enclosed chamber with a car running. They found high concentrations of PM2.5 in polluted air suppress the formation of ultrafine particles. That’s because the larger particles capture the smaller ones as they form. The team also concluded the creation of the ultrafine particles is fuelled by another pollutant released by cars: volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In other words, cities need to simultaneously cut PM2.5 and VOCs from cars, or risk unintentionally making ultrafine particle pollution worse. Failure to do both at the same time could be “ineffective and can even exacerbate this problem”, the researchers say. “I’ve said before that great care is needed to avoid inadvertently worsening the situation by reducing the mass of airborne particulate matter, only to increase… the numbers and the toxicity of the ultrafine [particles] as a result,” says Barbara Maher at Lancaster University, UK, who wasn’t involved in the research.
2-3-20 Cycling through Europe's deadliest air
Cities in parts of Europe have been suffering from some of the worst air quality in the world. Winter smog has become a big issue in the Western Balkans. Serbia is the country with the highest rate of pollution-related deaths in Europe, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Jasna Cizler is a cycling campaigner in the capital Belgrade, who believes two-wheeled transport holds the key to cleaner air.
2-2-20 Somalia declares emergency over locust swarms
Somalia has declared a national emergency as large swarms of locusts spread across east Africa. The country's Ministry of Agriculture said the insects, which consume large amounts of vegetation, posed "a major threat to Somalia's fragile food security situation". There are fears that the situation may not be brought under control before the harvest begins in April. The UN says the swarms are the largest in Somalia and Ethiopia in 25 years. Meanwhile, neighbouring Kenya has not seen a locust threat as severe in 70 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, Somalia is the first country in the region to declare an emergency over the infestation. In January, the FAO called for international help in fighting the swarms in the Horn of Africa, warning that locust numbers across the region could grow 500 times by June. The swarms spread into east Africa from Yemen across the Red Sea, after heavy rainfall in late 2019 created ideal conditions for the insects to flourish. Locusts can travel up to 150km (93 miles) in a day. Each adult insect can eat its own weight in food daily. In December, a locust swarm forced a passenger plane off course in Ethiopia. Insects smashed into the engines, windshield and nose, but the aircraft was able to land safely in the capital, Addis Ababa.
2-1-20 A new roadmap shows how the U.S. could be carbon-neutral by 2050
Reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires heavy investment in technology, starting now. The United States can reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2050 — but only if the country invests swiftly and deeply in emerging technologies that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Federal funding of a range of carbon removal technologies, amounting to as much as $6 billion per year over the next 10 years, could put the U.S. on a path toward carbon neutrality by mid-century, according to a report released January 31 by the World Resources Institute, based in Washington, D.C. Being carbon-neutral means that the amount of U.S. emissions of carbon — primarily from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas— is fully offset by the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Navigating a realistic path to carbon neutrality is tricky, though, with many scientific, economic and political uncertainties surrounding the available technologies. But by combining many different strategies for carbon removal, the report envisions that the United States could ramp up to removing up to 2 metric gigatons of CO2 a year from the atmosphere by 2050. This roadmap to carbon neutrality would devote about two-thirds of that initial decade of funding, or $4 billion a year, to support tree restoration projects across the United States. Strategies to integrate trees into croplands and pasturelands, for example, are already well understood. By starting with the trees, the report suggests, the nation could ultimately remove as much as 7 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 — more than any other carbon removal pathway. Other carbon removal technologies have the potential to remove even more CO2 than tree planting, but would require significant federal investment to become commercially viable, the report notes. Depending on how mature the technology is, some of the proposed funding would go to, for example, tax credits to support emerging technologies such as direct air capture, in which CO2 is pulled directly from the ambient air using giant fans (SN: 12/17/18). This technology has been tested in pilot projects but has not yet made the leap to commercial-scale development.
2-1-20 How U.K. communities are trying to go plastic-free
Is it feasible? The quiet path runs through a small forest of lush bamboo. Birds chirp overhead. It's easy to forget that this little garden is right in the middle of Canary Wharf, one of the main financial districts in central London. Last year, Canary Wharf was labeled the first plastic-free commercial district in the world, an accreditation awarded as part of the Plastic Free Communities program, which was developed by a group of surfers in rural Cornwall. But this shopping center and other communities with this designation actually aren't quite plastic-free — yet. Martin Gettings, the head of sustainability at Canary Wharf Group, calls the area "a little green oasis in the heart of a busy city." It's one of many eco-friendly measures going on in this multibillion-dollar commercial estate — though, if you don't know where to look, you could miss them. In the mall, for example, there are seven water bottle refill stations as well as a machine where you can return bottles and cans for a voucher, which Gettings says is the first of its kind in the U.K. For the past few years, Gettings has been crafting initiatives to cut down on plastic waste in Canary Wharf. "It all culminated in World Environment Day this [past] year where we were announced as the world's first plastic-free commercial center and the first district in London to achieve this status," he says. This accreditation, given to Canary Wharf on June 5, 2019, comes from the group Surfers Against Sewage or SAS. To get it, Canary Wharf had to hit a number of targets showing their commitment to reducing plastic. Gettings considers this the start of the journey. "Achieving status and having a certificate on the wall doesn't mean anything," he says. "What's important is that the behaviors and the culture that we've created carry on."
2-1-20 Australia fires: Residents told to seek shelter in Canberra region
A bushfire near the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) grew to more than 35,000 hectares on Saturday, as officials closed a major motorway. Residents in some areas around the capital, Canberra, were warned that it was "too late to leave" and they should try to seek shelter. Six fires in the ACT and nearby parts of New South Wales (NSW) state were burning out of control, officials said. Hot and windy conditions are expected to last through the weekend. Since September, bushfires in Australia have killed at least 33 people and destroyed thousands of homes. More than 11 million hectares of land have been scorched so far. The ACT declared a state of emergency on Friday - the first in the area since deadly fires in 2003. People living in affected areas are being urged to fill up their bathtubs, buckets and sinks, so that when the fire arrives, they have access to water - to extinguish flames and to drink. "The issue we have with the fire activity is that the fire itself is generating its own weather pattern and that, combined with the wind direction, is what is driving that intensity in the fire," ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said. "The conditions will potentially become more dangerous and the fire may pose a threat to lives directly in its path," she added. Images of the Monaro Highway in the ACT, which has been closed, show the skies above it turning bright orange-red from the fire raging nearby. The ACT, a small territory located between Sydney and Melbourne, has about 400,000 residents. Fires have raged near Canberra for weeks. Last Thursday, the city's airport was shut down when a blaze threatened to breach its perimeter.
2-1-20 Fewer worms live in mud littered with lots of microplastics
Scientists tracked how animals fared in the polluted sediment for over a year. Despite growing concerns over tiny bits of plastic filling the world’s waterways, the long-term environmental effects of that debris remain murky. Now an experiment on freshwater sediment communities exposed to microplastics for over a year helps clarify how harmful this pollution can be. Researchers embedded trays of sediment littered with different amounts of polystyrene particles — ranging from 0 to 5 percent plastic — in the bottom of an outdoor canal where bugs, snails and other critters colonized the mud. After 15 months, fewer organisms were found living in the trays with 5 percent polystyrene than in trays with less plastic, largely because fewer Naididae worms lived in the most polluted mud. The trays with 0 to 0.5 percent microplastic averaged between about 500 and 800 worms per tray, while mud with 5 percent plastic averaged fewer than 300, researchers report January 31 in Science Advances. That reduction in Naididae worms suggests that severe microplastic pollution can throw freshwater ecosystems out of whack (SN: 4/5/18). This family of worms serves as prey for other freshwater animals and plays a key role in the carbon cycle by decomposing organic matter. “It’s a really important piece of work,” says Richard Thompson, who studies environmental effects of plastic pollution at the University of Plymouth in England but was not involved in the study. “Most of our understanding about the impacts of small pieces of plastic comes from laboratory studies” over several weeks. The new experiment gets closer to assessing microplastic’s long-term, real-world effects, he says. The 5 percent plastic concentration where researchers saw a major drop in the Naididae worm population is more pollution than is typically found in freshwater sediment, says study coauthor Bart Koelmans, who studies aquatic ecology at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.
2-1-20 Unusual cyclones over the last 2 years created Africa’s locust plague
Huge swarms of locusts plaguing eastern Africa are the result of extreme weather events over the last two years. Swarms of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are rampaging through several countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The locusts are devastating pastures and cropland, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in a statement that the swarms are unprecedented: “Ethiopia and Somalia have not seen desert locust swarms of this scale in 25 years, while Kenya has not faced a locust threat of this magnitude in 70 years.” “There was one [swarm] in north-east Kenya that was 40 kilometres long and 60km wide,” says Keith Cressman, the FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer in Rome, Italy. Desert locusts are a kind of grasshopper. They are normally solitary, but if food is plentiful, they breed rapidly and gather into swarms that eat everything in their path. The current swarms began when cyclones that formed in the Indian Ocean drenched the southern Arabian desert. In May 2018, Cyclone Mekunu hit the Arabian peninsula. Then in October that year, Cyclone Luban struck almost the same place. The region is “hundreds and hundreds of towering sand dunes,” says Cressman, and “there were lakes forming between the sand dunes.” The water brought vegetation, which allowed the desert locusts to feed and reproduce rapidly. By early 2019, it was drying out and the locusts left. Some went north to Iran, which saw its first swarms in 50 years, while others moved south-west into Yemen. They might have been stopped there, but Yemen had no resources to tackle them because of its ongoing civil war, says Cyril Piou of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development in Montpellier.