6-30-20 UK could see 40°C (104F) days every few years by 2100 as climate warms
The risk of days with sweltering 40°C heat in the UK could rise significantly by the end of the century without action to drive down greenhouse gas emissions, the UK’s Met Office has warned. Climate change caused by human activity is already pushing temperatures to new heights, with 38.7°C in Cambridge in July 2019 the highest ever recorded in the UK. Those new records prompt the question of whether 40°C heat is on the horizon for the UK, with heatwaves posing a potentially severe risk to people’s health. Researchers at the Met Office Hadley Centre have used a detailed, local-scale data set based on observations to assess the likelihood of future hot spells in the face of high or medium levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the chances of temperatures reaching 40°C anywhere in the UK are extremely low. But if emissions continue at high levels, worsening climate change, the UK could see days with 40°C heat every three to four years on average by 2100. Temperatures exceeding 35°C in the UK currently occur once every five years on average, but that could rise to every other year with high emissions. If the world takes action on emissions in line with commitments in the international Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the risk of extreme heat in the UK would be much lower, according to the team. The south-east of the UK is the most likely place to eventually see 40°C temperatures, with 35°C temperatures already becoming increasingly common in the region. But the study also found that areas in the north, where it is extremely rare to see days that reach 30°C, may exceed that temperature at least once a decade by 2100. “We found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the south-east of England,” says Nikolaos Christidis at the Met Office.
6-30-20 Climate change: UK could hit 40C (104f) 'regularly' by end of this century
Sweltering temperatures of up to 40C could be a regular occurrence in the UK by 2100 if carbon emissions stay very high says the Met Office. The current record stands at 38.7C, set in Cambridge last July. This new study says there is an "increasing likelihood" of going beyond this figure, because of the human influence on the climate. Under the worst emissions scenario, the 40C mark could occur every three and a half years by the end of this century. The past two summers have seen periods of significant and uncomfortable heat across much of the UK and Europe. Met Office researchers are clear that these hot summers occurred partly as a result of warming gases originating from human activities. In fact, the use of energy, transport and all the other carbon that we've been producing made the heatwave of 2018 around 30 times more likely. The Met Office's new modelling study says that this human influence on UK temperatures is going to continue. "We find that the likelihood of extremely warm days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the South-East of England," the report finds. The scale of the impact, though, is still very much in our hands. Right now the chances of any part of the UK hitting 40C are extremely low - it could occur once every 100 to 350 years. This changes significantly by the end of the century, depending on how much more carbon is emitted. The researchers say the chances of hitting that high mark are "rapidly accelerating" with a 40C day occurring every 3.5 years, under a very high emissions scenario. Under a more modest carbon projection, the 40C mark happens about once every 15 years. "If we think about the climate that we would have had, had we not emitted any greenhouse gases, and something like 40C looks looks well nigh impossible, because it is so extreme," said Prof Peter Stott from the Met Office, one of the paper's authors.
6-29-20 BP sells petrochemicals business to Ineos in $5bn deal
BP has sold off its petrochemicals business in a move designed to help it become a lower carbon firm. The $5bn (£4.1bn) deal with Ineos will see BP all but pull out of a sector expected to contribute to demand for oil over the coming decades. BP boss Bernard Looney said the sale of the business, which employs 1,700 people, "will come as a surprise". Campaign group Greenpeace UK said the sale money "must be invested in a transition to renewable energy." BP is in the process of mapping out a major shift in direction it announced in February, when it said it planned to sharply cut carbon emissions by 2050. Further details of how it plans to get there are expected in mid-September. BP has also been looking at its assets to decide which ones to sell in the light of this strategy and a decline in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Strategically, the [petrochemicals] overlap with the rest of BP is limited and it would take considerable capital for us to grow these businesses," Mr Looney said in a statement. "As we work to build a more focused, more integrated BP, we have other opportunities that are more aligned with our future direction," he added. The business includes stakes in manufacturing plants in the UK, the US, Trinidad and Tobago, Belgium, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. The petrochemical plants attached to BP's oil refineries in Gelsenkirchen and Mulheim in Germany will not be sold. The International Energy Agency said in 2018 that it expected plastics and other petrochemical products to help boost global oil demand up to 2050, off-setting slower consumption of motor fuel. However, in June BP forecast lower oil prices for decades to come as governments speed up plans to cut carbon emissions in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Earlier this month, it announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs after a slump in demand for oil due to Covid-19.
6-29-20 Wildfire raging in Nevada turns Las Vegas sky red
A wildfire raging in Mount Charleston, Nevada, has sent up a large plume of smoke visible from nearby Las Vegas. The fire started as a 10-acre (four hectares; 0.04 sq km) brush fire on Sunday afternoon. By the early evening local parks officials said it had engulfed about 5,000 acres (20 sq km). Ray Johnson, US Forest Service fire prevention officer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the wind was too strong for firefighters to work safely.
6-29-20 Nornickel: Russia probes new pollution at Arctic mining firm
Russian officials are investigating a mining company in the Arctic over the pumping of waste water from one of its processing plants into nearby countryside. Norilsk Nickel said it had suspended staff involved in the violation. The pumping has now reportedly stopped. It is a new pollution incident involving the firm, known as Nornickel. Emergency workers are struggling to contain a huge diesel spill from a fuel depot owned by the company. A local ecologist and reporters from Russia's independent daily Novaya Gazeta filmed foamy water being pumped into Arctic tundra from the reservoir at the Talnakh enrichment plant near Norilsk. Security guards tried to stop them filming. The reporters said the waste water was believed to contain heavy metals - nickel, cobalt and copper - and sulphuric acid, which the firm has denied. In a statement, Nornickel said "those responsible at the plant have been suspended" for "allowing a flagrant violation of the operational rules at the plant's tailings reservoir". "Nornickel has launched an investigation into what happened, and the firm is working with the ministry of natural resources and the emergencies ministry," it said. Russia's Investigative Committee (SK), which probes serious crimes, has launched its own investigation into the incident. According to Nornickel, the waste water does not contain toxic tailings from its mining operation. The firm says the "purified" water had been pumped away from the reservoir to prevent overspill, while admitting that it was not acceptable practice. Novaya Gazeta reports that the waste water entered the Kharaelakh river, which flows into Pyasino lake. The diesel spill in late May involved about 21,000 tonnes, some of which contaminated the lake. Stretches of the Ambarnaya river, flowing to the lake, turned red from the diesel.
6-29-20 Extra £14bn needed a year for climate, report says
An extra £14bn is needed each year to help the UK meet its climate commitments, a new think tank report suggests. Green Alliance says the cash is needed for clean transport, nature restoration, and low-carbon buildings. Over the past three years, it says that £9bn has been spent on projects that actually increase CO2, like roads. It comes as large UK firms make a promise to "kick-start a new approach" and "put the environment first". The Green Alliance think tank insists though that the funding issue must be solved in the prime minister’s economic recovery speech expected on Tuesday. Its calculations are based on the government’s own assessment of major projects in the pipeline released on 16 June. The government said it is determined to meet carbon targets, but the report draws attention to ministers' plans to spend £28bn on roads. The authors cast doubt on whether the government should spend any more money at all on projects that increase CO2 emissions. Chris Venables, head of politics at Green Alliance, said of Tuesday's expected speech: "This is a once in a generation opportunity for the prime minister to create the foundations of a healthier, more resilient economy. "For ‘Project Speed’ (the prime minister's infrastructure review) to be successful, it must be the most ambitious climate infrastructure project ever, creating jobs in every corner of the UK. "It can’t mean a bonfire of regulations locking in polluting activities for decades to come.” The report supports analysis by the the Trades Union Congress defining the best value for money from job-creating schemes. Road-building was judged poorly. The calculations judge projects based on jobs created per pound of public investment. Best value are said to be: retrofitting buildings and creating cycle lanes, which are given a score of 20. Electric ferries, battery factories and reforestation score 19; decarbonising industry, new electric UK buses, 18; and upgrading railways, installing electric vehicle chargers, and environmental restoration, 17. Broadband expansion scores 15, but road-building, by comparison, scores just 10.
6-27-20 Washing machines' microplastic filters 'untested'
Filters can cut the volume of ocean-bound microplastic fibres released by washing machines, a study has shown. However, until now, filters have not been tested under scientific conditions to prove their effectiveness. In the first study of its kind, scientists found that the majority of fibres were removed but up to a third were still getting though. Each year, an estimated 50 billion garments are washed in machines around the globe. Mark Browne from the University of New South Wales, and colleagues Macarena Ros and Emma Johnston, observed: "Facilities that treat sewage divert some fibres to sludge, but no current method of filtration eliminates their environmental release." One possible solution was to stop the release of the microfibres from washing machines by using commercially available filters. However, the team found that there was "insufficient scientific peer-reviewed evidence assessing their ability to retain fibres from washed clothes". In 2011, Dr Browne and his team showed that when clothes were worn and washed, they were releasing up to 1,900 fibres during each wash. In order to understand how the filters performed, the team set up an experiment to test the effectiveness of the devices. "We washed replicate cotton and polyester garments in replicate domestic front-loaded washing-machines with and without replicate filters (micro- and millimetre-sized pores)," Dr Browne explained. "[We] then quantified the masses of the fibres retained by the filters and those released in the effluent." The team found that the filters "significantly reduced" the amount of cotton and polyester fibres in the effluent, up to 74%, compared with effluent from appliances with no filters. However, a sizeable proportion of the microfibres were still eluding the filtration systems, the team found. Dr Browne observed: "Given the diversity of clothes, polymers, appliances and filters currently sold to consumers, our work shows the value of increasing the rigour (e.g. more levels of replication) when testing filters." He added that the study showed that there was a "need for further studies that test an even greater diversity of materials and methods in order to meet the growing demand for knowledge from governments, industry and the public".
6-26-20 Major fires hit the Amazon and the Arctic for the second year in a row
For the second year running, vital ecosystems are in flames. Several major fires in the Amazon have been spotted ahead of the rainforest’s typical fire season, and it seems likely that 2020 will see worse blazes than the ones which triggered international outcry last year. Fires are also raging across frozen tundra in the Arctic, sending smoke around the world and releasing CO2. These too could match or eclipse last year’s record-breaking blazes there. Worldwide, this is shaping up to be an average year for forest fires, in stark contrast to these two ecosystems that are crucial to the global climate. Since 28 May, 10 major fires have been identified in the Amazon using a new real-time satellite system that detects smoke from burning biomass. All are in Mato Grosso state, Brazil’s agricultural powerhouse. The US group that detected them, Amazon Conservation, found many of last year’s fires were in recently-deforested areas – and the same holds true for the new ones. Conservationists blamed last year’s fires and a spike in deforestation on illegal loggers emboldened by rhetoric from the Brazilian government and weak regulatory enforcement. Burning in the Amazon this year is likely to be more severe because a drought is expected from July to September. “Last year, the fires in August were bad but there was no widespread drought. This year, fire impacts are likely to be worse,” says Kátia Fernandes at the University of Arkansas. Douglas Morton at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland forecasts a more active fire season than usual for the southern Amazon, because of warm temperatures in the tropical part of the Atlantic. He says the fires spotted in the past few weeks are in line with the high deforestation rates seen in the past year. CO2 emissions from Mato Grosso so far this year have been higher than the same period last year.
6-26-20 We have recorded the biggest lightning flashes ever
The biggest lightning flash on record has been identified. More than twice the size of the previous record, it spanned 709 kilometres – about the distance from London to Geneva. A second flash has set a world record for longest duration. It went on for 16.7 seconds, also doubling the previous record. “We identified two new lightning flashes that are substantially bigger than anything we’ve ever seen before,” says Randall Cerveny at Arizona State University. Until recently, lightning was primarily tracked using ground-based sensors that detect radio waves from these flashes. In 2017, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) used this data to certify two world records. A lightning flash over Oklahoma in 2007 spanned 321 kilometres, while a 2012 flash over France lasted 7.74 seconds. However, in 2016, the US launched the world’s first lightning-mapping satellite. This gives much more comprehensive coverage of Earth’s surface. Two flashes detected from space have now been certified by the WMO as covering the longest distance and having the longest duration respectively. The 709-kilometre flash occurred on 31 October 2018 over southern Brazil and part of north-east Argentina. The satellite image revealed dozens of branches from the core flash. On 4 March 2019, the 16.7-second flash occurred over northern Argentina. Both were cloud-to-cloud flashes and so didn’t hit the ground. The flashes were so huge because of the powerful “mesoscale convective systems” that develop over the plains of South America, says Cerveny. “They’re aggregate individual superstorms that merge together into massive big storms,” he says. Similar huge storms form over North America’s Great Plains. Within the storm clouds, enormous electrical charges can build up, ultimately discharging over huge distances through the air.
6-26-20 Two lightning megaflashes shattered distance and duration records
The bolts captured by satellites more than doubled the previous records. Two extreme bolts of lightning have smashed previous records for lightning duration and distance. A bolt that lit up the sky over Argentina on March 4, 2019, lasted a mind-boggling 16.73 seconds, more than twice as long as the previous record holder, the World Meteorological Organization announced June 25. Meanwhile, a lightning bolt on October 31, 2018, set the new record for length. It stretched for 709 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, across part of Brazil and into Argentina, a length more than twice that of the previous record. Previous assessments of flash duration and extent were collected by Lightning Mapping Arrays, ground-based networks of antennas and GPS receivers. Until now, the records were held by a 2007 flash in Oklahoma that stretched over 321 kilometers horizontally, and a 2012 flash in France that lasted almost eight seconds (SN: 10/17/16). The recent “megaflashes,” by contrast, were verified using satellite images, such as from the GOES-16 and GOES-17 satellites. Using satellite data makes it possible to detect extremes that were previously unobserved or outside the limits of detection of ground-based arrays, according to WMO. The new records will be logged in the WMO archive of world weather and climate extremes, will also be published online in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
6-26-20 UK nitrogen dioxide pollution levels hit 10-year low during lockdown
The UK-wide coronavirus lockdown led to a drop in nitrogen dioxide levels, with the air pollutant reaching low concentrations not seen in the past decade. Jonathan Higham at the University of Liverpool, UK, and his colleagues analysed air pollution data from the UK government’s Automatic Urban and Rural Network between the start of the lockdown on 23 March through to 28 April. The network comprises 300 sensors distributed around the UK. Each hour, they collect information including the levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, along with measures of tiny particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10. All are potentially harmful to human health. On average, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide levels in the UK have been decreasing for the past decade. The team found that during part of the lockdown period, the average daily UK concentration of nitrogen dioxide dropped to less than 5 micrograms per cubic metre. The findings are in keeping with satellite data that has previously found significant drops in atmospheric nitrogen dioxide over parts of continental Europe and the US, coinciding with lockdown measures. Nitrogen dioxide has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. In 2018, approximately 3 million tonnes of nitrogen dioxide were produced in the UK, 30 per cent of which came from road traffic. The team also found that lockdown measures had no significant impact on the levels of PM2.5 and PM10 in the UK, and that the production of sulphur dioxide actually increased to a five-year high. The reason for the rise is still unclear, says Higham. Sulphur dioxide gas, much of which is produced by domestic heating and coal-fuelled power stations, can also be created from ozone in the atmosphere, which is in turn influenced by humidity. As such, the UK’s unusually dry weather over the past several months may be a factor, says Higham.
6-25-20 Increase car taxes to help climate, advisers say
Car taxes should be increased to help fund the battle against climate change, government advisers say. They say ministers should bring forward the date for ending sales of new conventional cars from 2035 to 2032. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the chancellor should also consider increasing the tax on gas for home heating. It says the changes should be made as the UK looks to recover from the Covid-19 crisis by creating jobs. The CCC also recommends the country aim to cut carbon emissions as part of a “green recovery“. It says the government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change society for the better. A government spokesperson said that tackling climate change should be at the heart of the UK's economic recovery. But the committee insists that ministers must send the right economic messages to consumers. The CCC chair, Lord Deben, says it makes sense to raises fuel prices when the cost of oil is low - and use the proceeds to subsidise low-emissions vehicles. He said: “It seems perfectly clear that we should increase the tax on the very low oil prices we have at the moment. We need to make people who choose the right way to do so cheaper than those who choose the wrong way.” The committee was more cautious about increasing the price of heating gas, and Lord Deben said the poor must be protected from high prices. But it said the Treasury’s forthcoming review of climate policies must tackle the issue, as home heating must shift from gas towards low-carbon alternatives. Another sector in urgent need of investment is the cooling of people’s homes, the report says. As much of the UK swelters, the CCC warns that elderly and sick people are vulnerable to overheating, with hospitals, care homes, prisons, and flats in the south of England particularly at risk. It projects that annual heat-related deaths could more than double by 2050 to 5,000 – that’s even if emissions targets are achieved. It says refurbishing homes would improve lives and reduce emissions whilst also creating thousands of “green” jobs.
6-25-20 Massive Saharan dust cloud shrouds the Caribbean
A huge cloud of Saharan dust has darkened the skies over parts of the Caribbean. The dust has been moving from Africa over the Atlantic Ocean. On Sunday it reached Puerto Rico and has since covered Cuba and parts of Mexico. The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are suffering their worst haze for at least a decade, and health officials in Cuba are warning it could increase respiratory problems. The dust cloud is also affecting parts of southern Florida, including the city of Miami. Dust and sandstorms are not uncommon in the desert regions of the world. Winds can whip the dust - up to 2,000 million tonnes every year - high up into our atmosphere and it gets transported many miles away from the source. The dust and sand provide a source of nutrients for ocean ecosystems but can also affect the weather and the health of humans with respiratory problems. Dust coming off the Sahara into the Atlantic is a common occurrence and is known as the Dry Air Saharan Layer. Later in the hurricane season it can inhibit the growth of tropical storms developing around Cape Verde and the mid-Atlantic. Over the last week however we've had an unusually large area of dust travelling right across the Atlantic affecting Central and North America. This is going to hang around over the weekend. Meanwhile another large area of dust has been seen on satellite images moving out of the Sahara and travelling across the Atlantic. Poor visibility and air quality is forecast to continue in parts of the Caribbean and Central America over the coming week.
6-25-20 UK weather: What is the UV Index and why could it break UK records?
The UK could experience a record UV level of nine on Thursday as the temperature continues to rise. So what is UV and why could records be broken now? The UV Index (or UVI) is a standard international measure of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the Sun - which penetrates the Earth's atmosphere and can cause sunburn. Index values start at zero and then can rise above 10. The higher the UVI, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eyes - and also the less time it takes for harm to occur. Levels of UV radiation vary throughout the day. Highest readings occur in the four-hour period around solar noon, which - depending on where you are and whether daylight saving time is applied - is between 12:00 and 14:00. Countries close to the equator can experience very high UV levels in the middle of the day throughout the year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nairobi in Kenya can see UV levels above 10 all year. Majorca in Spain, will normally hit nine in June and July. But the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic never usually gets above five in December and January - when it's summer in the southern hemisphere. UV levels increase in the spring across the UK, reaching a peak in late June. In this current spell of fine weather, we could see some of the highest UV levels ever recorded. "Normally they're about six or seven in the summer months," says BBC Weather's Matt Taylor. "Today we could hit a nine in some parts of southern England and South Wales." There are a number of factors - not just because most of the UK is cloud-free at the moment. "We've just passed the summer solstice so the sun is particularly high in the sky," says Taylor. "We've also seen ozone depletion at exceptional levels across the northern hemisphere during the winter and spring, mainly due to natural weather patterns. "And with much of the northern hemisphere being under lockdown recently, pollution levels are lower. That stops the UV being scattered quite so much."
6-24-20 Lightning is silently killing forests – and it's going to get worse
Lightning sparks wildfires, causes pollution and destroys some of the planet’s most important trees. Climate change could see its incidence - and impact - increase. WEAVING through the sweaty tangles of a Panamanian forest, Steve Yanoviak is hunting a killer. Its prey isn’t the monkeys, bats or multicoloured birds that cram the branches, but the foundations of the forest itself – its trees. Each day, this killer strikes thousands of times around the world, but leaves no evidence behind. “Tropical trees die standing. They bear no scars,” says Yanoviak. Catching it in the act takes monumental effort. That’s because the likely culprit isn’t a living organism, but instead a familiar force of nature: lightning. Yanoviak, an ecologist at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, is just one of many researchers around the globe confronting the profound, underappreciated effects that lightning has on the natural world. It ignites wildfires that reset ecosystems. It can boost greenhouse gases, and unleashes other pollutants in an instant. And in the tropics, it is the grim reaper that singles out the most magnificent of ancient forest trees for destruction. What’s more, lightning is probably on the increase, and that’s because of us. Climate change seems to be driving up the frequency of strikes, while population growth and changes in land use are exacerbating their effects. The toll on both the human and natural spheres has sparked a new urgency in getting to grips with this everyday phenomenon. It all begins harmlessly enough, with moisture-laden hot air that rises from the warm surface of Earth. As it cools, water vapour condenses around microscopic particles – things like dust, pollen, sea salt and smoke – to form droplets and clouds. As they rise and cool further, these droplets turn to ice. Lighter ice particles rise to the top of the cloud and tend to lose electrons, becoming positively charged, while heavier falling particles tend to gain electrons and become negatively charged. The electric potential between the two mounts until giant sparks form within the cloud to restore balance.
6-24-20 Clouds may explain why climate models are predicting a warmer future
Climate scientists have been trying to work out why new computer models have begun projecting a potentially much hotter future as CO2 levels rise. A new analysis gives our best idea yet – it seems to be to do with clouds. Ahead of the next major UN climate science panel reports in 2021, researchers have found their sixth generation of climate models show a much wider range for the future temperature than before, up from 1.5 to 4.5°C to 1.8 to 5.6°C. Those estimates are for when “equilibrium climate sensitivity” (ECS) occurs, a theoretical point when the climate system comes into equilibrium after CO2 levels have doubled. “There is definitely not one single common cause. But quite a lot of the models at the high end have introduced new, more sophisticated models of clouds and aerosols. That does seem to be the driver of the new, higher sensitivity,” says Catherine Senior at the UK’s Met Office. The results imply climate sensitivity – how much the planet will warm based on a given increase in CO2 – is higher than previously thought. More realistic representation of clouds and aerosols seems the likely reason, according to Gerald Meehl at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and colleagues, who looked at 37 of the new models. Higher climate sensitivity – as measured here by ECS, though there are other approaches – matters because it implies a smaller “carbon budget”, the amount of CO2 humanity can emit without triggering very dangerous warming. Older models assumed the water in supercooled clouds, largely found in the Southern Ocean, was ice, which would have a cooling effect on the climate. Now, because of better understanding due to observations from aircraft, the water is being treated as liquid despite being below freezing, which removes some or all of its cooling effect. “That’s definitely more physically realistic,” says Bill Collins at the University of Reading in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the study. However, he cautions that it is still an open question as to how well climate models can estimate climate sensitivity.
6-24-20 Black Lives Matter could also help fight environmental injustices
The Black Lives Matter movement is primarily about social justice, but it will tackle environmental injustices too, says Graham Lawton. I WANTED to join the recent Black Lives Matter protests in London, but I also didn’t want to be in close proximity to thousands of other people for hours on end. My fear of catching the coronavirus won out and so I demoted myself to social justice warrior (armchair division) and watched on TV. The protests are principally a fight for social justice. But I also view them through another lens. Black Lives Matter may not look like an environmental movement, but I think deep down it is one, too. If – when – it achieves its objectives, the world will not only be more socially just, but more sustainable, as well. The causes of social and environmental justice first crossed paths in the US in the 1970s when activists from both camps realised that they were fighting many of the same battles. Pollution and other forms of environmental degradation disproportionately affected certain sections of society: poorer people, working class people, people of colour, Native Americans and immigrants. Their neighbourhoods also lacked green space and access to nature. It isn’t hard to fathom why this link exists. It is another manifestation of the unequal distribution of wealth and power in society. Rich people can afford to buy their way out of degraded neighbourhoods, and have the political clout to resist the incursion of polluting industries. Much has been made of the link between today’s racial injustices and historical slavery. According to Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance in Washington DC, environmental injustices also began with slavery. The rapacious exploitation of humans enabled the rapacious exploitation of the environment, and just as the legacy of slavery endures in racism, so it endures in the economic model that regards the environment as a resource to be plundered, not preserved.
6-23-20 Australia’s wildfires killed 90 per cent of small ground-based animals
One of the first wildlife surveys conducted following Australia’s worst wildfires on record has found almost no small, ground-dwelling animals in burnt areas. At the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, fires tore along Australia’s drought-stricken east coast and burned more than 5 million hectares of forest in the state of New South Wales alone. In February and March, Frank Lemckert at environmental consulting firm Eco Logical Australia led a survey funded by WWF Australia of seven sites within the fire-ravaged areas of Gibraltar Range National Park and Torrington State Conservation Area in northern New South Wales. To detect wildlife, the team visually inspected each of the seven sites for an hour and left bait and motion-sensing cameras out for 16 days. The researchers spotted “good numbers” of birds and large mobile animals such as kangaroos and wallabies, which may have escaped to adjacent areas when the fires swept through and returned when vegetation began to re-sprout, says Lemckert. However, the only small, ground-dwelling animals that were detected during the entire survey were five skink lizards, a swamp rat and one unidentified mammal. “Normally, you would see lots of skinks running around in the leaf litter, and bandicoots, bush rats and antechinus, but we really didn’t see much of anything,” says Lemckert. Based on comparisons with historical records and his own experience, Lemckert estimates that over 90 per cent of small, ground-dwelling animals have been lost in the surveyed areas. They were probably too small to flee from the rapidly moving fires, he says. It is too early to know if any species have been wiped out for good because they may turn up in future surveys, says Lemckert. Conservationists have been given hope this week by recent sightings of the critically endangered smoky mouse – which was feared lost during the fires – in Kosciuszko National Park in southern New South Wales.
6-24-20 A Siberian town hit 100 degrees, setting a new record for the Arctic Circle
The new high comes as a six-month heat wave grips the region. The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk is known for its extreme cold: Winter temperatures often dip below –50° Celsius. But on June 20, temperatures in the town soared to a high of 38° C (100.4° Fahrenheit). If confirmed by the World Meteorological Association, that marks the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle. Verkhoyansk has experienced extreme heat before: On July 25, 1988, the town hit a then-record of 37.3° C (99.1° F). The new high, which smashes that 32-year record, comes on the heels of a historically hot May around the globe, and especially in Siberia, which is in the grips of an ongoing heat wave. Globally, May was 0.63 degrees C warmer than average May temperatures from 1981 to 2010, enough to set a new record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. But in parts of Siberia, particularly in northwestern Siberia, May temperatures were as much as 10 degrees C higher than average. The anomaly was so marked that the region’s heat wave would represent a 1 in 100,000 year event — at least in a world without climate change, climate scientist Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, tweeted on June 9. With climate change, however, such Arctic heat waves are expected to become more common, along with melting permafrost and increasing wildfires (SN: 8/2/19). The new benchmark highlights how the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. Average temperatures in Siberia from December to May were also the warmest on record going back to 1979, according to Copernicus. When combined with data from NASA going back to 1880, the researchers suggest, this six-month period is likely unprecedented within the last 140 years.
6-23-20 UK citizens' assembly shows big support for green covid-19 recovery
Around four-fifths of a citizens’ assembly on climate change in the UK wants the government’s coronavirus economic recovery measures to also help the country meet its target of slashing carbon emissions to net zero. Further economic stimulus policies are expected from the UK government later this year, and prime minister Boris Johnson has said “we owe it to future generations to build back better”, hinting that some policies could have a green hue. Grants of £6000 for scrapping petrol and diesel cars in favour of electric ones are among the ideas that have been floated. Green groups have called for a suite of actions, from insulating homes to encouraging cycling. There seems to be broad support for such plans, according the first report out today from the UK Climate Assembly, which was created by MPs last year. Asked if economic recovery measures should help achieve net zero, 79 per cent agreed, with 9 per cent disagreeing and the rest unsure. “Any money spent bailing out dying fossil fuel industries is money wasted on industries that won’t survive anyway,” one member wrote. Rebecca Willis at the University of Lancaster, UK, says the results show a “striking consensus” on the nature of any economic recovery. She says one common thread in members’ response was: “We are now in a huge process of change and previous certainties are no longer with us.” The assembly only consists of 108 people. However, Jim Watson at the University of Sussex, UK, says its views are significant because the members are well-informed on net-zero issues after months of discussions, and were selected to be representative of UK demographics, including different levels of concern on climate change. Of the 108 members, 92 per cent also agreed that government and employers should encourage people to make lifestyle changes – such as less business travel – to meet net zero. Only 4 per cent disagreed, with the remainder unsure. “Home working should be encouraged: saves time, less commuting; businesses having seen it is possible,” one member wrote.
6-22-20 Siberia's record-breaking heat is a loud alarm bell on climate change
The extreme record-breaking heat that has baked Siberia for several months should serve as an “incredibly loud alarm bell” of the need to adapt to climate change, say researchers. Thawing permafrost leading to the Norilsk oil spill – one of the worst in Russia’s history – “zombie fires” resurrected from blazes last year and dramatic levels of snowmelt are among the consequences. The temperatures, while mostly still cold by the standards of someone living in London or New York, have been unprecedented. The Russian meteorological agency says the region has been the warmest in 130 years. The town of Verkhoyansk recorded 38°C on Saturday which would be the highest recorded anywhere in the Arctic if verified. May as a whole was 10°C above average in some areas of Siberia. However, unusually high temperatures have been recorded as far back as last December, averaging about 8°C above normal over the period, according to California-based non-profit Berkeley Earth. Major temperature data sets held by NASA and others all closely agree. Zeke Hausfather at Berkeley Earth says the “crazily high temperatures” are unlike anything seen in the past and probably couldn’t have happened without climate change. He says roughly 3°C of the 8°C is down to climate change – because Siberia has warmed faster than the 1°C globally – and about 5°C is driven by natural variability. “What we can say strongly is this sort of 8°C anomaly would have been incredibly unlikely, probably almost impossible, without the 3°C-plus warming we’ve seen in the region already,” says Hausfather. It is worth remembering that Siberia has some of the greatest natural variability in temperatures anywhere on the planet, says Samantha Burgess at the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “It often has warm and cold anomalies. What’s particularly interesting is this warm anomaly is quite extreme,” she says. (Webmaster's comment: United States science does not report global warming news. It is politically unpopular to do so! And Trump doesn't like it!)
6-22-20 Arctic Circle sees 'highest-ever' recorded temperatures
Temperatures in the Arctic Circle are likely to have hit an all-time record on Saturday, reaching a scorching 38C (100F) in Verkhoyansk, a Siberian town. The record still needs to be verified, but it appears to have been 18C higher than the average maximum daily temperature in June. Hot summer weather is not uncommon in the Arctic Circle, but recent months have seen abnormally high temperatures. The Arctic is believed to be warming twice as fast as the global average. Verkhoyansk, home to about 1,300 people, sits just inside the Arctic Circle, in remote Siberia. It has an extreme climate with temperatures plunging in January to an average maximum of -42C and then surging in June to 20C. But a persistent heatwave this year in the Arctic Circle has worried meteorologists. In March, April and May, the Copernicus Climate Change service reported that the average temperature was around 10C above normal. Earlier in June, parts of Siberia recorded 30C, while in May, Khatanga in Russia - situated in the Arctic Circle at 72 degrees north - set a new May temperature record of 25.4C. "Year-on-year temperature records are being broken around the world, but the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth," said Dr Dann Mitchell, associate professor in atmospheric science at the University of Bristol. "So it is unsurprising to see records being broken in this region. We will see more of this in the near future." Warming in the Arctic is leading to the thawing of once permanently frozen permafrost below ground. This is alarming scientists because as permafrost thaws, carbon dioxide and methane previously locked up below ground is released. These greenhouse gases can cause further warming, and further thawing of the permafrost, in a vicious cycle known as positive feedback. The higher temperatures also cause land ice in the Arctic to melt at a faster rate, leading to greater run-off into the ocean where it contributes to sea-level rise. There is also an element of positive feedback here, says BBC Weather, because the loss of highly reflective white ice means that the ground and sea absorb more heat. This leads to more warming. The impact of wildfires are also a consideration. Last summer, they ravaged parts of the Arctic. Although they are common in summer, high temperatures and strong winds made them unusually severe.
6-22-20 There's a big problem with the tree-planting climate strategy
Can we stop climate change by planting trees? President Trump seems to think so — he endorsed the idea of planting one trillion trees around the world at the Davos forum in Switzerland in January, apparently on the advice of billionaire Marc Benioff. It's unclear whether this trillion-tree initiative is going anywhere. But the general idea is just part of a developing climate policy strategy based on forests. Corporations, countries, and some U.S. states have begun working up systems that would take up carbon from the atmosphere, usually through a market system allowing companies to purchase offsets for their emissions in the form of trees. However, as a new Science paper by University of Utah climate scientist William Anderegg and several other authors shows in detail, the offset model is likely to backfire and make climate change worse. Forests can and should be part of climate policy — but only if the best science is carefully taken into consideration, something that is unlikely to happen along the current track. Let me start with the idea of carbon offsets. These are simply some mechanism where an entity takes some action to compensate for its greenhouse gas emissions. California, for instance, has a cap-and-trade emissions market system that allows people to purchase or sell carbon credits. An airline might buy credits to compensate for the emissions of its planes — from farmers who capture their methane emissions, or landowners in proportion to the amount of carbon their forests are estimated to take up out of the atmosphere, typically over the next 100 years. As the study outlines, any kind of forest offset is fraught with fundamental problems. Most importantly by far, climate change itself poses a dire threat to forests around the world, for several reasons. First is increased fire, which has been seen around the world thanks to climate change, notably in California, Australia, and Russia. Second is drought, also closely linked to climate change (indeed, the Southwest U.S. has seen the worst drought since the 1500s thanks to warming), and predicted to get worse the more warming increases. Third is "biotic agents" like beetle infestations — pine bark beetles, for instance, have devastated forests across the American West and Canada in part because winters are no longer reliably cold enough to kill them off. Fourth, general climate disruptions — stuff like extreme weather, rising oceans, or changes in the biosphere — can obliterate forests. Finally, human activities like logging or clearing forest for farmland must of course be taken into account. Every one of these dangers raises the chance that these forest offsets will not pan out. If some company buys an emission credit in the form of a forest that ends up burning down, or being devoured by pests, or dying of drought, the carbon will come right back out into the atmosphere. "As investments go, these are very risky," Anderegg told The Week in an interview. California, as one example, does not explicitly take climate risks into account in its offsets system, but they do have a general risk "buffer pool" containing about 8-10 percent extra offsets for the dangers mentioned above. That is not even close to big enough. For wildfires alone, the 100-year forest risk has increased from about 4 percent from 1984-2000 to about 8 percent from 2001-2017. The risk is higher in western states — especially California — that are more vulnerable to drought, and will increase dramatically in coming years as the climate continues to warm.
6-22-20 Climate change: Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good'
Rather than benefiting the environment, large-scale tree planting may do the opposite, two new studies have found. One paper says that financial incentives to plant trees can backfire and reduce biodiversity with little impact on carbon emissions. A separate project found that the amount of carbon that new forests can absorb may be overestimated. The key message from both papers is that planting trees is not a simple climate solution. Over the past few years, the idea of planting trees as a low cost, high impact solution to climate change has really taken hold. Previous studies have indicated that trees have enormous potential to soak up and store carbon, and many countries have established tree planting campaigns as a key element of their plans to tackle climate change. In the UK, promises by the political parties to plant ever larger numbers of trees were a feature of last year's general election. In the US, even President Donald Trump has rowed in behind the Trillion Trees Campaign. Legislation to support the idea has been introduced into the US Congress. Another major tree planting initiative is called the Bonn Challenge. Countries are being urged to restore 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030. So far, around 40 nations have endorsed the idea. But scientists have urged caution against the headlong rush to plant new forests. They point to the fact that in the Bonn Challenge nearly 80% of the commitments made to date involve planting monoculture plantations or a limited mix of trees that produce specific products such as fruit or rubber. The authors of this new study have looked closely at the financial incentives given to private landowners to plant trees. These payments are seen as a key element of increasing the number of trees significantly. The study looked at the example of Chile, where a decree subsidising tree planting ran from 1974 to 2012, and was widely seen as a globally influential afforestation policy. The law subsidised 75% of the costs of planting new forests.
6-20-20 Greta Thunberg: Climate change 'as urgent' as coronavirus
Greta Thunberg says the world needs to learn the lessons of coronavirus and treat climate change with similar urgency. That means the world acting "with necessary force", the Swedish climate activist says in an exclusive interview with BBC News. She doesn't think any "green recovery plan" will solve the crisis alone. And she says the world is now passing a "social tipping point" on climate and issues such as Black Lives Matter. "People are starting to realise that we cannot keep looking away from these things", says Ms Thunberg, "we cannot keep sweeping these injustices under the carpet". She says lockdown has given her time to relax and reflect away from the public gaze. Ms Thunberg has shared with the BBC the text of a deeply personal programme she has made for Swedish Radio. In the radio programme, which goes online this morning, Greta looks back on the year in which she became one of the world's most high-profile celebrities. The then 16-year-old took a sabbatical from school to spend a tumultuous year campaigning on the climate. She sailed across the Atlantic on a racing yacht to address a special UN Climate Action summit in New York in September. She describes world leaders queuing to get pictures with her, with Angela Merkel asking whether it was okay to post her photo on social media.The climate campaigner is sceptical of their motives. "Perhaps it makes them forget the shame of their generation letting all future generations down", she says. "I guess maybe it helps them to sleep at night." It was in the UN that she delivered her famous "how dare you" speech. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words", she told the world leaders gathered in the UN Assembly. She appeared on the verge of tears as she continued. "People are dying," she said, "and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?" She knew it was a "lifetime moment" and decided not to hold anything back, she says now. "I am going to let my emotions take control and to really make something big out of this because I won't be able to do this again".
6-20-20 What has Greta Thunberg been doing in lockdown?
The Swedish environmental activist spoke to the BBC about how she's been spending the last few months. There was no compulsory lockdown in Sweden, unlike the measures seen elsewhere in Europe. But in line with government advice, most people took to voluntary social distancing and working from home.
6-19-20 Machine learning helped demystify a California earthquake swarm
New data show the spread of the tiny quakes through complex fault networks over time. Circulating groundwater triggered a four-year-long swarm of tiny earthquakes that rumbled beneath the Southern California town of Cahuilla, researchers report in the June 19 Science. By training computers to recognize such faint rumbles, the scientists were able not only to identify the probable culprit behind the quakes, but also to track how such mysterious swarms can spread through complex fault networks in space and time. Seismic signals are constantly being recorded in tectonically active Southern California, says seismologist Zachary Ross of Caltech. Using that rich database, Ross and colleagues have been training computers to distinguish the telltale ground movements of minute earthquakes from other things that gently shake the ground, such as construction reverberations or distant rumbles of the ocean (SN: 4/18/19). The millions of tiny quakes revealed by this machine learning technique, he says, can be used to create high-resolution, 3-D images of what lies beneath the ground’s surface in a particular region. In 2017, the researchers noted an uptick in tiny quake activity in the Cahuilla region that had, at that point, been going on for about a year. Most of the quakes were far too small to be felt but were detectable by the sensors. Over the next few years, the team used their computer algorithm to identify 22,000 such quakes from early 2016 to late 2019, ranging in magnitude from 0.7 to 4.4. Such a cluster of small quakes, with no standout, large mainshock, is called a swarm. “Swarms are different from a standard mainshock-aftershock sequence,” which are typically linked to the transfer of stress from fault to fault in the subsurface, Ross says. The leading candidates for swarm triggering come down to groundwater circulation or a kind of slow slippage on an active fault, known as fault creep.
6-15-20 Smoke from Australian fires rose higher into the ozone layer than ever before
As one plume rose to record heights, it wrapped itself in unusual winds. Australia’s most recent wildfire season was so severe that smoke from the fires reached new heights in the atmosphere — and showed some very weird behavior while it was up there. A particularly intense series of bushfires in southeastern Australia from December 29 to January 4 spurred the formation of huge pyrocumulonimbus, or pyroCb, clouds (SN: 10/22/10). Those fire-fueled thunderstorms launched between 300,000 and 900,000 metric tons of smoke into the stratosphere, which was more than any seen from a previous inferno. One especially large, long-lasting smoke plume rose to a record altitude while spinning and wrapping itself in rotating winds. Those winds have never been observed around similar plumes, researchers report online May 30 in Geophysical Research Letters. This vast puff of smoke, which still hasn’t fully dissipated, spanned roughly 1,000 kilometers — about the width of Montana. That made it one of the largest, if not the largest, wildfire smoke plume that satellites have ever seen in the stratosphere, says atmospheric scientist Jessica Smith of Harvard University, who was not involved in the study. “Any perturbation to the stratosphere has implications for … stratospheric ozone,” which shields Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation (SN: 4/7/20). It remains to be seen whether a blob of pyroCb smoke like this could leave a chemical scar on the stratosphere. But observing the plume’s behavior may give insight into what could happen if much more smoke — say, from a nuclear war — were pumped into the atmosphere. Mike Fromm, a meteorologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and colleagues kept tabs on the unusual pyroCb smoke plume with satellites and weather balloons. One of the most striking things about the plume is how high it rose, says coauthor George “Pat” Kablick III, an atmospheric scientist also at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. In less than two months, it was buoyed up from the lower stratosphere, about 15 kilometers off the ground, to over 31 kilometers high.
6-15-20 BP faces hit of up to $17.5bn as it forecasts lower oil prices
BP has forecast lower oil prices for decades to come as governments speed up plans to cut carbon emissions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It has cut price forecasts by about 30%, and expects Brent crude to average $55 a barrel from now until 2050. As a result, the oil giant says it will revise down the value of its assets by between $13bn and $17.5bn (£13.8bn). BP said it would have to become a "leaner, faster-moving and lower cost organisation". Last week, the firm announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs following a global slump in demand for oil. Countries across the globe have ordered people to stay indoors and not travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a slump in demand for oil. As a result, the cost of oil fell to less than $20 a barrel at the peak of the crisis, less than a third of the $66 it cost at the start of the year. For a brief period buyers were actually paid to take delivery of crude oil amid a shortage of storage. The price has since partly recovered to around $37 a barrel. BP says it has "a growing expectation that the aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy and energy system, as countries seek to 'build back better' so that their economies will be more resilient in the future". The BBC's environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, said: "The North Sea is difficult and expensive to exploit, so this is clearly a business-based decision by BP. "But the ramifications for the climate are potentially very significant. Experts have been warning for years that firms have already discovered far more oil than we can afford to burn if we want to protect the climate. "This, in part, is a reflection of that new reality. We'll see how other firms respond."
6-13-20 How giving cash to poor families may also save trees in Indonesia
A poverty reduction program is associated with a 30 percent drop in deforestation. Last year marked the third year in a row of when Indonesia’s bleak rate of deforestation has slowed in pace. One reason for the turnaround may be the country’s antipoverty program. That initiative is associated with a 30 percent reduction in tree cover loss in villages, researchers report June 12 in Science Advances. In 2007, Indonesia started phasing in a program that gives money to its poorest residents under certain conditions, such as requiring people to keep kids in school or get regular medical care. Called conditional cash transfers or CCTs, these social assistance programs are designed to reduce inequality and break the cycle of poverty. They’re already used in dozens of countries worldwide. In Indonesia, the program has provided enough food and medicine to substantially reduce severe growth problems among children. But CCT programs don’t generally consider effects on the environment. In fact, poverty alleviation and environmental protection are often viewed as conflicting goals, says Paul Ferraro, an economist and behavioral scientist at Johns Hopkins University. That’s because economic growth can be correlated with environmental degradation, while protecting the environment is sometimes correlated with greater poverty. However, those correlations don’t prove cause and effect. The only previous study analyzing causality, based on an area in Mexico that had instituted CCTs, supported the traditional view. There, as people got more money, some of them may have more cleared land for cattle to raise for meat, Ferraro says. Such programs do not have to negatively affect the environment, though. Ferraro and Rhita Simorangkir, an applied microeconomist at the National University of Singapore, wanted to see if Indonesia’s poverty-alleviation program was affecting deforestation. Indonesia has the third-largest area of tropical forest in the world and one of the highest deforestation rates, especially of primary forests — undisturbed, mature tropical forests that are important for biodiversity and carbon storage, among other benefits (SN: 6/9/20; SN: 7/17/19).
6-12-20 Anti-poverty scheme linked to lower deforestation rates in Indonesia
A poverty alleviation programme has been linked with reducing forest loss in Indonesian villages by nearly a third, in a country with the world’s highest deforestation rate. The Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH), which started dispersing money directly to poor households in 2008, wasn’t designed for conservation. However, researchers found evidence linking it to lower rates of deforestation in the villages where people received the payments. “We find that both environmental and poverty alleviation goals can be achieved under certain conditions,” says Rhita Simorangkir at the National University of Singapore. Working with Paul Ferraro at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, she looked at satellite data on forest cover near almost 7500 villages in which people received funds between 2008 and 2012. The pair discovered that forest loss was 30 per cent down in villages that received the money earlier, compared with similar PKH-eligible villages that didn’t receive the money until later. The actual forest area saved is relatively small, at 5.5 hectares per year for each village. But Simorangkir says even marginal gains are welcome, and notes that around half the forest saved is primary forest. Retaining such untouched forest can make it harder for large-scale farmers to light the vast fires that blight the country’s forests each year, she adds. Fred Stolle at the US-based Global Forest Watch points out that primary forest stores more carbon than other forests and is richer in biodiversity. Figures published by Global Forest Watch last week show that, globally, a football pitch-sized area of primary forest was lost every 6 seconds in 2019. Stolle says the Indonesia study has “major implications for tropical forest countries battling poverty in the rural forest frontier and high deforestation”. Simorangkir and Ferraro think there are two reasons the PKH has a side effect of cutting deforestation. First, it provides some financial insurance, meaning subsistence farmers don’t have to clear more forest for income in years with bad weather. Second, these farmers buy goods from elsewhere rather than making them out of materials from the nearby forest. The deforestation doesn’t appear to be displaced: the researchers found no evidence of spikes in nearby villages.
6-11-20 50 years ago, scientists were getting a better glimpse inside storms
Excerpt from the June 27, 1970 issue of Science News. Meteorologists, it has been said, too often are forced to combine inadequate observations with unsupportable assumptions…. To draw more information from the atmosphere and the hearts of storms, meteorologists are turning to a host of electronic aids. Laser beams, microwaves and sound, radio and infrared waves are all being used. Improvements to radar and satellite technologies have enhanced researchers’ abilities to forecast severe storms. Data collected from airplanes flying through hurricanes and thunderstorms have helped clarify how the storms form and provided insights into the strength and speed of storm winds (SN: 6/2/12, p. 26). In the early 2010s, the U.S. radar network, which tracks nationwide storm activity, added dual-polarized radar technology to strengthen estimates for rain or snowfall in locations across the United States. In terms of satellites, GOES-16, launched by the United States in 2016, provides images at four times better resolution than previous GOES satellites (SN Online: 9/21/17).
6-10-20 Taming nuclear fusion is hard, but there are new reasons for optimism
EVEN Boris Johnson has got in on the act. UK scientists were on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature nuclear fusion reactors for export, the prime minister told his party faithful last year, announcing a £200 million funding boost, adding: “I know they have been on the verge for some time. It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.” Another variant of that gag appears in our survey of recent developments in the field (see page “Why cracking nuclear fusion will depend on artificial intelligence”). Nuclear fusion’s reputation as a technology whose time never quite arrives precedes it, often by decades. And not without reason. JET-EUROfusion, the UK-based collaboration to which the prime minister was referring, traces its origins to the then European Community’s decision to fast-track fusion research in 1971. ITER, the grand international fusion project initiated in 1988, won’t actually be doing fusion until the mid-2030s. Harnessing the reaction that powers the sun is clearly hard. But while fusion’s past invites scepticism, its present gives grounds for renewed optimism. The UK government announcement, though welcome, may have had more to do with signalling a continued commitment to big international science post-Brexit. More significant is the private money now flowing into fusion. That is both a symptom and a cause of a blossoming of fusion projects besides the established players. Meanwhile, as we report, computational developments, not least the application of artificial intelligence to the problem of making fusion feasible, could be a game changer. If the science and the economics can be sorted, that leaves the politics, a perennial source of fusion’s woes. That seems to be changing. Covid-19 has brought a renewed focus on how we can operate more sustainably in a warming world. Among many pressing calls on public and private funds, developing the biggest source of clean energy we know of must surely have a great claim. Suitably incentivised, human ingenuity has a habit of overcoming seemingly insuperable hurdles. The name ITER was chosen in part because it is Latin for “the way”. That ways to fusion exist isn’t in dispute – the question is whether we can finally find the will.
6-10-20 Why cracking nuclear fusion will depend on artificial intelligence
The promise of clean, green nuclear fusion has been touted for decades, but the rise of AI means the challenges could finally be overcome. THE big joke about sustainable nuclear fusion is that it has always been 30 years away. Like any joke, it contains a kernel of truth. The dream of harnessing the reaction that powers the sun was big news in the 1950s, just around the corner in the 1980s, and the hottest bet of the past decade. But time is running out. Our demand for energy is burning up the planet, depleting its resources and risking damaging Earth beyond repair. Wind, solar and tidal energy provide some relief, but they are limited and unpredictable. Nuclear fission comes with the dangers of reactor meltdowns and radioactive waste, while hydropower can be ecologically disruptive. Fusion, on the other hand, could provide almost limitless energy without releasing carbon dioxide or producing radioactive waste. It is the dream power source. The perennial question is: can we make it a reality? Perhaps now, finally, we can. That isn’t just because of the myriad fusion start-ups increasingly sensing a lucrative market opportunity just around the corner and challenging the primacy of the traditional big-beast projects. Or just because of innovative approaches, materials and technologies that are fuelling an optimism that we can at last master fusion’s fiendish complexities. It is also because of the entrance of a new player, one that could change the rules of the game: artificial intelligence. In the right hands, it might make the next 30 years fly by. Nuclear fusion is the most widespread source of energy in the universe, and one of the most efficient: just a few grams of fuel release the same energy as several tonnes of coal. These vast quantities of energy have their origins in something vanishingly small: the nucleus of an atom. Consisting of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons orbited by negatively charged electrons, the nucleus makes up the bulk of an atom’s mass.
6-9-20 Five key questions about energy after Covid-19
The pandemic has seen carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fall as fossil fuel use has collapsed. But will these changes be permanent? From electricity giveaways to the virtual end of fracking, the global lockdown has seen huge changes in the way we create and consume energy. Carbon emissions have dropped dramatically and the air is clearer over major cities as car traffic has disappeared. But as demand for energy picks up once again, there are some large, unresolved questions about how we power our lives in the years to come. Many experts believe this is the moment to shift our power generation and transport system to sustainable, climate-friendly alternatives. To get to that place, some key questions need to be resolved. Is free electricity part of our future? One of the most extreme changes brought about by the Covid-19 crisis is the glimpse it has given us of how our electricity systems might work in years to come. An important aspect of that is the idea, seen during the pandemic, that there are times when consumers are paid to use energy. During the coronavirus lockdown, electricity consumption was down across Europe by around 15%. But because of a very sunny and windy spring, supplies of renewable energy boomed. Wholesale electricity across Europe is priced on an hourly basis for the day ahead, so abundant supplies and weak demand saw prices go below zero at times. Negative prices were once a rarity, but they plunged into the negative 66 times in April in the UK. On Tuesday 21 April, UK prices were in the negative from 09:00 to 16:00. They dipped to just under minus £84 per Megawatt hour at one o'clock. For grid operators worried about too much power in the system, it's often easier for them to pay customers to use the power than to shut down the generators. Consumers who had signed up to flexible, real time tariffs with one UK energy supplier found themselves encouraged to use electricity when it went negative.
6-9-20 Climate Basics: CO2 explained
CO2 - or carbon dioxide - is at the heart of the world's changing climate. Reality Check's Chris Morris explains why.
6-9-20 Russian Arctic oil spill pollutes big lake near Norilsk
Diesel oil from a huge spill in Russia's Arctic north has polluted a large freshwater lake and there is a risk it could spread into the Arctic Ocean, a senior Russian official says. Emergency teams are trying to contain the oil, which has now travelled about 20km (12 miles) north of Norilsk from a collapsed fuel tank. It is the worst accident of its kind in modern times in Russia's Arctic region, environmentalists and officials say. The oil started leaking on 29 May. So far about 21,000 tonnes have contaminated the Ambarnaya river and surrounding subsoil. Investigators believe the storage tank near Norilsk sank because of melting permafrost, which weakened its supports. The Arctic has had weeks of unusually warm weather, probably a symptom of global warming. The power plant where it happened is run by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. Lake Pyasino serves as the basin for the Pyasina river, which flows to the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. From October to June that river is usually ice-bound. "The fuel has got into Lake Pyasino," said Alexander Uss, governor of Krasnoyarsk region. "This is a beautiful lake about 70km [45 miles] long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. "Now it's important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina river, which flows north. That should be possible." Clean-up teams have removed about 23,000 cubic metres (812,000 cubic feet) of contaminated soil, Ria Novosti news reports. The pollution "will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks", said Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia. Greenpeace has compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. Russian prosecutors have ordered checks at "particularly dangerous installations" built on permafrost.
6-9-20 Britain goes coal free as renewables edge out fossil fuels
Britain is about to pass a significant landmark - at midnight on Wednesday it will have gone two full months without burning coal to generate power. A decade ago about 40% of the country's electricity came from coal; coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all. When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network. The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down. The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since. The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year. The figures apply to Britain only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid. But it reveals just how dramatic the transformation of our energy system has been in the last decade. That the country does not need to use the fuel that used to be the backbone of the grid is thanks to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade. Two examples illustrate just how much the UK's energy networks have changed. A decade ago just 3% of the country's electricity came from wind and solar, which many people saw as a costly distraction. Now the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, as well as the largest single wind farm, completed off the coast of Yorkshire last year. At the same time Drax, the country's biggest power plant, has been taking a different path to renewable energy. The plant, which is also in Yorkshire, generates 5% of the country's electricity. A decade ago, it was the biggest consumer of coal in the UK but has been switching to compressed wood pellets. "We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future," explains Will Gardiner, the chief executive of the power group. "It has been a massive undertaking and then the result of all that is we've reduced our CO2 emissions from more than 20 million tonnes a year to almost zero." He says the plant now uses seven million tonnes of pellets sourced from commercial forests in the US a year and says Drax will phase out coal entirely by March next year.
6-9-20 Could the coronavirus crisis finally finish off coal?
The coronavirus crisis has changed the way we use energy, at least for now. But could the global pandemic finally finish off coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels? The Covid-19 crisis has been an extraordinary and terrifying time for us all, but it has been a fascinating period to cover environmental issues. We've all enjoyed the unusually clean air and clear skies. They are the most obvious evidence that we have been living through a unique experiment in energy use. Locking hundreds of millions of us down in our homes around the world has led to an unprecedented fall in energy demand, including for electricity. And that has, in turn, revealed something very striking about the economics of the energy industry: the underlying vulnerability of coal, the fuel that powered the creation of the modern world. Like a tide withdrawing, the Covid-19 crisis has exposed just how fragile the financial foundations of this dirtiest of all fossil fuels have become. Some industry observers are even saying that coal may never recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Let's look at the evidence stacking up around the world. Britain's electricity grid will not have burnt any coal for 60 days - as of midnight on Wednesday 10 June. That is by far the longest period since the Industrial Revolution began more than 200 years ago. When I spoke to the National Grid, they said they weren't expecting a coal generator to be turned back on anytime soon. In the US, more energy was consumed from renewables than from coal for the first time ever this year, despite President Donald Trump's efforts to support the industry. By contrast, only a decade ago, almost half of US electricity came from coal. Even in India, one of the fastest growing users of coal, demand for the fuel has fallen dramatically, helping deliver the first reduction in the country's carbon dioxide emissions for 37 years. The proximate cause is the lockdown. But what has been fascinating energy economists is that coal has overwhelmingly borne the brunt of the collapse in electricity demand. And this is a global phenomenon.
6-9-20 Coronavirus: New Zealand cuts research in Antarctica to keep it virus free
New Zealand's research institute in Antarctica is scaling back the number of projects planned for the upcoming season, in an effort to keep the continent free of coronavirus. The government agency, Antarctica New Zealand, told the BBC it was dropping 23 of the 36 research projects. Only long-term science monitoring, essential operational activity and planned maintenance will go ahead. The upcoming research season runs from October to March. "As Covid-19 sweeps the planet, only one continent remains untouched and [we] are focused on keeping it that way," said Antarctica New Zealand in a statement. The organisation's chief executive Sarah Williamson said the travel limits and a strict managed isolation plan were the key factors for keeping Scott Base - New Zealand's research facility - virus free. "Antarctica New Zealand is committed to maintaining and enhancing the quality of New Zealand's Antarctic scientific research. However, current circumstances dictate that our ability to support science is extremely limited this season" she said. One director at the Antarctic Research Centre said the decision was "not a huge surprise". "It's certainly the right call in our minds," Associate Professor Rob McKay told news outlet Scoop. "Antarctica's an isolated environment - if you had a medical emergency with a high number of people sick, you just don't have the capacity to deal with it. And with close-quarter, confined environments, it's kind of like living on a cruise ship down there." Earlier in April, Australia announced that it would scale back its activity in the 2020-21 summer season. This included decreasing operational capacity and delaying work on some major projects.
6-7-20 Food waste increases during the pandemic — compounding an existing problem
The pandemic threw off the "short-term balance" in the food supply chain, leaving consumers to deal with shortages in ways they haven't had to before. ong before COVID-19 disruptions forced dairy farmers to dump millions of gallons of milk into fields and farmers to plow under fields of vegetables, a third of all food produced globally was going to waste, with huge consequences for world hunger and the climate. In less affluent countries, a lot of food becomes spoiled on the way to market, but in the U.S. and other rich economies, most wasted food is thrown out at home because it has rotted in the fridge or on the counter. And the numbers are huge. On a yearly basis, food waste accounts for more than three gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions. Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food, worth nearly $1 trillion, spoils or is thrown away. With the closure of many restaurants and schools amid the pandemic, interruptions in food supply chains have led to even more food waste. According to John Mandyck, chief executive officer of the Urban Green Council and co-author of the book Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger, and Climate Change, when we complain about food waste, particularly in the wealthy world, "we're actually pointing the finger in the wrong place." "Our food production and distribution in the United States is very well-calibrated. Our problem is with consumers in the United States," Mandyck said. "The number one place we waste food in the United States is at the household level. We did that before the pandemic, we're doing that during the pandemic, and we will do that after the pandemic." Food is the number one item in U.S. landfills, Mandyck points out, and it doesn't come from farmers. It comes "from our waste bins." The pandemic has also revealed what Mandyck calls the "short-term balance" in the food supply chain, and because this balance has been thrown off, consumers are dealing with shortages in ways they haven't had to before. "For a long time," Mandyck said, "we've thought that grocery stores were these magical places where we buy yogurt, we don't use it, we throw it away, we go back to the grocery store, and guess what? — the yogurt is back on the shelf — like it magically appeared." Now, people are starting to ask, "Why isn't the yogurt there?" The answer, Mandyck says, is that there's a long distribution chain to get the yogurt to the shelf and if one part of that chain gets disrupted, shortages can occur and food goes to waste. Consumer food waste is "a rich country dilemma," Mandyck said. "Food is relatively inexpensive in the United States. If we throw away the 99-cent yogurt because we were confused about the date label, we simply go back and get another 99-cent yogurt. We have to have consumer education and awareness to understand the scale and consequences of what happens when we throw away that food. We have to have public policies that encourage us not to do that and that means encouraging date labels that are rational and make sense." Europe has created some successful campaigns over the last decade to encourage consumers to waste less food. In the United Kingdom, for example, a consumer campaign called Love Food, Hate Waste reduced household waste by 20 percent. Viewed on an international level, however, two-thirds of the global food supply is lost at the production and distribution level, Mandyck points out. This is an emerging economy problem.
6-6-20 French nonprofit warns 'COVID waste' could harm the environment
Opération Mer Propre, or Operation Clean Sea, is a nonprofit group that cleans the waters of France's Mediterranean coast. In addition to the usual waste they find, they're now picking up masks and gloves. s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions start to ease in France, more people are hitting the beaches in the south — and they're leaving behind litter. In addition to the usual fast-food wrappers, plastic bottles, and cigarette butts littered across the Côte D'Azur, beach-goers may now find the waste of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last week, a group of marine divers of the French nonprofit group, Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea), discovered single-use masks and latex gloves in the waters of Antibes, a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea coast. The group, which routinely clears litter from bodies of water in France, was granted access to beaches to restart cleaning as soon as confinement measures started relaxing in France on May 11, said Joko Peltier, one of the cofounders. The team found five masks and four pairs of gloves one day. The next day, eight masks and six pairs of gloves. "It's not a lot," Peltier told The World in French. "But the moment lockdown restrictions started easing up [in Antibes], and the waste was thrown on the ground, it all ended up in the sea the next day." In a Facebook video shared nearly 5,000 times, Laurent Lombard, another cofounder of OMP, scuba dives into the bed of the French Mediterranean, picking up tossed gloves and surgical masks. It looks like an eerie caution against this "future pollution of COVID waste," as Peltier calls it. Éric Pauget, a member of parliament who represents the region, agrees. He wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron urging the interior minister to issue fines of 300 euros, or about $332, to those who litter their protective equipment in public places. Used, thrown away masks are not only an environmental risk, he wrote, but a health concern during the pandemic. "The presence of the virus potentially contaminates the surface of these thrown away masks," Pauget wrote. "This presents a serious health threat to public cleaners and to children who could accidentally touch them. In addition, the friable polypropylene nanoparticles making up these masks that protect humans risk a lasting effect on our ecosystems and their biodiversity."
6-5-20 There might not be as many microplastic fibres in oceans as we feared
Most of the microfibres polluting our oceans – which have long been assumed to be plastic – are actually natural fibres like cotton and wool. But we don’t yet know whether these fibres pose the same health risks to marine organisms. Textile microfibres are major contributors to marine pollution because they are readily shed from clothes during general wear and tear and laundering, and drift through the air or wash down drains into waterways. A single machine wash of polyester clothing, for example, releases half a million textile microfibres. Previous ocean surveys have tended to count all microfibres as plastic, based on the assumption that natural fibres like cotton and wool biodegrade too quickly to persist in marine environments. However, when Peter Ryan at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and his colleagues analysed 2000 microfibres drawn from several oceans, they found that only 8 per cent were plastic fibres like polyester or nylon. The rest were natural fibres including cotton, which made up 50 per cent of the total, and wool, which made up 12 per cent, and others like silk, hemp and linen. The team used a technique called infrared spectroscopy to analyse microfibres, which were 1 millimetre long on average, in 916 seawater samples collected from the Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. The finding is surprising because almost two-thirds of textiles manufactured today are synthetic. It is possible that natural fibres degrade more slowly than previously thought, and that most of the cotton and wool fibres currently floating in oceans are pollution from previous decades when they were the most common textiles used in clothing, says Ryan. Natural fibres are often dyed and coated in chemicals like flame retardants when they are used to make clothes, which may reduce their biodegradability, says Ryan. An intact dyed cotton waistcoat has previously been discovered in a 133-year-old shipwreck, for example.
6-5-20 Arctic Circle oil spill: Russian prosecutors order checks at permafrost sites
Russian prosecutors have ordered checks at "particularly dangerous installations" built on permafrost after a huge oil spill in the Arctic. An emergency was declared after 20,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into a river when a tank at a power plant near the city of Norilsk collapsed last Friday. Initial Russian inquiries suggest ground subsidence as the cause. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which is the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. Delays over reporting the collapse prompted criticism from President Vladimir Putin and the power plant's director, Vyacheslav Starostin, has been taken into custody. The Russian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case over pollution and alleged negligence. Arctic permafrost has been melting in exceptionally warm weather for this time of year. Russia's chief prosecutor, Igor Krasnov, gave orders for regional and environmental prosecutors to conduct a "thorough check" of "particularly dangerous installations" located on "territories exposed to permafrost melting". The aim is to prevent a repeat of the incident at the plant near Norilsk. A spokesman for Mr Krasnov's department told Russian media prosecutors would assess companies' adherence to safety laws, environmental monitoring and measures to prevent emergencies. The effectiveness of state monitoring would also be assessed, he said. The term permafrost is used for ground that is frozen continuously for two or more years. Some 55% of Russia's territory, predominantly Siberia, is permafrost and home to its main oil and gas fields. A 2017 report to the Arctic Council, an international forum which includes Russia, warned that because of global warming and melting ice, foundations in permafrost regions could no longer support the loads they did as recently as the 1980s. A recent report by Bloomberg news agency points out that Russia's newer oil infrastructure takes account of the changing climate: storage tanks on the Yamal Peninsula, for instance, are mounted on piles.
6-5-20 UN launches push for net-zero emissions by 2050
Business leaders, cities and investors are being urged to back a UN campaign aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Race to Zero is part of the diplomatic push to increase ambition in the lead up to the COP26 international climate change summit in Glasgow next November. It is the first major event since it was confirmed the summit was being postponed due to coronavirus. Nestlé and Rolls-Royce are among the first to endorse the campaign. Around a third of the world's GDP is already committed to the principles of Race to Zero, the UN estimates. UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa warned that the coronavirus pandemic must not lead to delays in committing to emissions cuts. She said: "While we had little warning about Covid-19, we had years of warning about climate change. "We must act now to avoid the tragedy that runaway climate change would cause. It is entirely within our power to do this. "If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is that society can, where necessary, pull together to address a global challenge." In a virtual launch that was troubled with technical problems, a speech by COP26 president Alok Sharma - who is also the UK business secretary - was cut short. Mr Sharma was making his first public appearance since taking ill at the dispatch box of the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said: "By working together we can absolutely make progress much faster. "I do believe that COP26 can be that moment when the world unites behind a fairer recovery from the effects of Covid-19, a recovery that ultimately delivers for both our people and of course our planet." One of the world's biggest manufacturers of plane engines, Rolls-Royce, has committed to the campaign. Last month, the company announced 9,000 job losses because of the impact of Covid-19. Chief executive officer, Warren East, told the launch: "Our business historically has all been about fossil fuels but over the last few years we have been tilting the balance towards the journey to zero carbon. "We are probably best known in aviation and that is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise. But that ambition is at the heart of how we make ourselves competitive in the future."
6-5-20 Only a fifth of ice-free land on Earth has very little human influence
Humans have spread to most parts of the planet, and now researchers have calculated that only a fifth of ice-free land on Earth is free of our influence. A team of researchers led by Jason Riggio at the University of California Davis and analysed four separate maps showing global human influence around the world at different times between 2009 and 2015. They then created one composite global map highlighting areas where people have the least influence. The researchers defined areas of very low human influence as land that is either not occupied or used by people, or that only contains low density populations of indigenous peoples. These are primarily wilderness areas where humans are visitors, not residents, they say. After excluding the estimated 10 per cent of Earth that is currently ice-covered land such as Antarctica and most of Greenland, or glaciers elsewhere in the world, and calculating the level of agreement between the four maps, they found that 21 per cent of the remaining land on Earth has very low human influence. Low human influence land – areas that aren’t heavily used or occupied by people, such as pastoral landscapes with low densities of people and livestock – makes up about 46 per cent of the Earth’s non-ice covered land. Most of the low human influence areas on the planet are really cold, high or dry areas of land, such as arctic landscapes, montane areas or deserts. In contrast, only about 10 per cent of grass lands and dry forests have low human influence, says Riggio. The analysis suggests “the overall trend is that we continue to lose natural landscapes and overall human influence is increasing globally,” says Riggio. “A global human influence map is critical to understand the extent and intensity of human pressures on Earth’s ecosystems,” says Riggio. Highlighting the few remaining areas on Earth with little human impact could also help governments and organisations to plan and prioritise which area areas of the world to protect.
6-5-20 Rapid sea level rise could drown protective mangrove forests by 2100
New research finds the limit of the tangled forests’ famous resilience. Mangrove forests can only take so much. The famously resilient, salt-tolerant and twisty trees have so far managed to keep pace with rising sea levels, providing a valuable buffer to coastal communities against pounding storm surges. Now, researchers have found the forests’ limit. Mangroves cannot survive in seas rising faster than about 7 millimeters per year, the scientists report in the June 5 Science. Sea levels are rising globally at an average rate of about 3.4 millimeters per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (SN: 9/25/19). But over the next few decades, that rate is projected to accelerate to between 5 millimeters per year and 10 millimeters per year by 2100, scientists say. That could drown the forests, which act as a buffer protecting many coastlines around the globe by reducing erosion from tides and dampening the energy of storm waves sweeping ashore. And mangroves come with additional boons, says Neil Saintilan, a biogeographer at Macquarie University in Sydney. They provide a safe nursery habitat for tropical fish and help reduce atmospheric levels of the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide. Mangroves are carbon-sequestering engines, drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and swiftly burying it in soils. From about 8,600 to 6,000 years ago — a period of particularly rapid expansion for the mangroves — this coastal ocean–based “blue-carbon” storage by the mangrove forests amounted to about 85 pentagrams of carbon, enough to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the time by about 5 parts per million, Saintilan and colleagues estimate. Currently, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is about 417 ppm.
6-4-20 CO2 levels hit record high despite emissions dip from coronavirus
Lockdowns and economic slowdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have had no visible impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, according to new data which shows levels of the greenhouse gas last month hit record highs. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have been marching upwards for decades due to humanity’s activities. Figures published today by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California show a new monthly high of 417 parts per million (ppm) on average in May, up from 414.8 ppm last year. Monthly concentrations only breached the symbolic 400 ppm milestone six years ago, and growth has accelerated in the past decade. While the covid-19 crisis is expected to cut global emissions by the biggest amount since the second world war, that fall is likely to have little effect on the atmospheric CO2 that is driving climate change. Richard Betts at the UK Met Office says: “It’s not surprising. The analogy I use is filling a bath from a tap. The water from the tap is the emissions and the water level in the bath is the concentrations. We’re still putting CO2 into the atmosphere, it’s just building up slightly less fast than before. What we need to do is turn the tap off.” In a statement, the Scripps team said the fall in emissions from the pandemic was not big enough to stand out against natural variations in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 caused by changes in soil, plants and the weather. Although CO2 emissions dropped by 17 per cent in early April, even bigger drops of 20-30 per cent would needed to be sustained for a year to slow the growth of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, said the team. By the end of the year, the Met Office expects concentrations to be up 2.48 ppm on 2019 levels, a small difference to the 2.8 ppm expected before the virus outbreak. “It’s certainly not large enough to affect the climate,” says Betts.
6-4-20 Demands grow for 'green industrial revolution'
Greenpeace has joined a growing list of organisations demanding that the UK government puts protecting the environment at the heart of any post-Covid-19 economic stimulus package. The campaign group has produced a detailed "manifesto" with measures to boost clean transport and smart power. The document follows a comparable call from some of Britain's most powerful business leaders earlier this week. Last week, the prime minister also expressed a similar ambition. Boris Johnson said he wanted to see a "fairer, greener and more resilient global economy" after Covid-19 and that "we owe it to future generations to build back better". The manifesto also contains measures to support the protection of nature, green buildings and the creation of an economy in which virtually everything is reused. Greenpeace says the crisis has given Britain a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to transform life, travel and work. It added that the plan would create hundreds of thousands of secure jobs. On Monday, more than 200 chief executives of some of the UK's top firms - including HSBC, National Grid, and Heathrow airport - signed a letter to the prime minister asking him to use the Covid-19 lockdown as a springboard to "deliver a clean, just recovery". Many people may be surprised how similar the recommendations of these two very different interest groups are. Both Greenpeace and the chief executives are asking the government to prioritise investments in low carbon technologies and calling for the decarbonisation of the British economy to be speeded up. Both say they want to see a focus on sectors that best support the environment. Both are demanding that financial support for ailing businesses must come with a requirement for them to commit to take action to reduce their impact on the environment. Greenpeace's manifesto is, however, considerably more detailed. It is a 62-page document with specific policy, spending and tax measures covering most of the British economy. It calls on the government to deliver its 2050 net zero emissions goal before 2045.
6-4-20 Arctic Circle oil spill prompts Putin to declare state of emergency
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. The spill happened when a fuel tank at a power plant near the Siberian city of Norilsk collapsed last Friday. The power plant's director Vyacheslav Starostin has been taken into custody until 31 July, but not yet charged. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, which is the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. The Russian Investigative Committee (SK) has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence, as there was reportedly a two-day delay in informing the Moscow authorities about the spill. Ground subsidence beneath the fuel storage tanks is believed to have caused the spill. Arctic permafrost has been melting in exceptionally warm weather for this time of year. President Putin expressed anger after discovering officials only learnt about the incident on Sunday. Russian Minister for Emergencies Yevgeny Zinichev told Mr Putin that the Norilsk plant had spent two days trying to contain the spill, before alerting his ministry. The leaked oil drifted some 12km (7.5 miles) from the accident site, turning long stretches of the Ambarnaya river crimson red. In a televised video conference on Wednesday, Mr Putin criticised the head of the company over its response. "Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact?" he asked the subsidiary's chief, Sergei Lipin. "Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media?" The region's governor, Alexander Uss, had earlier told President Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday after "alarming information appeared in social media". The spill has contaminated a 350 sq km (135 sq mile) area, state media report.
6-3-20 Two-sided solar panels that track the sun produce a third more energy
Double-sided solar panels that tilt based on the sun’s position could boost the amount of energy collected. The two approaches existed independently before, but researchers have now looked at the effects of combining them. Carlos Rodríguez-Gallegos at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore and his colleagues found that double-sided solar panels that track the sun would produce 35 per cent more energy and reduce the average cost of electricity by 16 per cent. The goal for any solar panel is to absorb as much energy from the sun as possible, says Rodríguez-Gallegos. At present, solar panels around the world are predominantly installed with a fixed orientation, and absorb light only from one side. The advantage of using two-sided solar panels is that they can also absorb energy that is reflected by the ground onto their rear side, says Rodríguez-Gallegos. Two types of sun-tracking solar panels exist. Single-axis trackers follow the sun over the course of a day, moving from east to west. Dual-axis trackers also follow the sun over the course of a year, changing position according to the seasons, because the sun’s elevation is higher in summer and lower in winter. In their analysis, the team calculated the global energy generated by a variety of combinations of different solar panel set-ups. They analysed global weather data from NASA’s orbiting Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System instrument and then estimated the total energy generated in different set-ups. The team found that double-sided panels would produce 35 per cent more energy when combined with single-axis trackers, and 40 per cent more in combination with dual-axis trackers. The group also factored in the costs involved in the materials, construction and maintenance of these solar panels, which differs between countries.
6-3-20 Huge amounts of carbon from forest fires ends up in the ocean
Wildfires and blazes lit by humans have been found to be sending huge amounts of carbon into our oceans via rivers every year. When trees and other vegetation are incompletely burned, they release black carbon into the air, which can last for centuries on land and even longer in oceans. Now we have the best global picture yet of how much of the stuff is making its way to the sea: around a third of all the black carbon produced by fires. Unlike the two-thirds that stays on the land, the carbon ending up in the oceans will stay there much longer, says Matthew Jones at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “Once it reaches the oceans, it has potential for storage over millennia and tens of millennia. That’s why we care about it. It’s almost locked up for the distant future,” he says. Jones and his colleagues looked at 409 measurements of black carbon dissolved in the waters of 34 major rivers globally, plus many smaller rivers, including far more data from the tropics than previous efforts. They then modelled how it will travel to the oceans. “It’s quite spectacular how long-lived this material is and how much does end up in the environment,” says Jones. The team found that the amount of black carbon being carried by rivers varies substantially around the world, with the rivers in the tropics carrying twice what those in cooler, temperate regions do. When compared with emissions from humanity’s fossil fuel use, the actual amount reaching the oceans is relatively small – about 43 teragrams of black carbon each year, equivalent to the Netherlands’ annual carbon dioxide emissions. Nonetheless, says Jones, understanding how black carbon is being moved around is vital for building better climate models and for our understanding of the global carbon cycle.
6-2-20 Climate change: older trees loss continue around the world
Older, carbon-rich tropical forests continue to be lost at a frightening rate, according to satellite data. In 2019, an area of primary forest the size of a football pitch was lost every six seconds, the University of Maryland study of trees more than 5 metres says. Brazil accounted for a third of it, its worst loss in 13 years apart from huge spikes in 2016 and 2017 from fires. However, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo both managed to reduce tree loss. eanwhile, Australia saw a sixfold rise in total tree loss, following dramatic wildfires late in 2019. As well as storing massive amounts of carbon, primary, tropical rainforests, where trees can be hundreds or even thousands of years old, are home to species such as orangutans and tigers. The tropics lost 11.9 million hectares (46,000 square miles) of tree cover, the study found, 3.8 million in older, primary forest areas - the third highest loss of primary trees since 2000 and a slight increase on 2018. "The level of forest loss that we saw in 2019 is unacceptable," Frances Seymour, from the World Resources Institute, said. "And one of the reasons that it's unacceptable is that we actually already know how to turn it around. "If governments put into place good policies and enforce the law, forest loss goes down. "But if governments relax restrictions on burning, or [are] signalling that they intend to open up indigenous territories for commercial exploration, forest loss goes up." Speaking about the losses in Brazil, Mikaela Weisse, from Global Forest Watch, said: "We also noted several new hotspots of primary forest loss within indigenous territories, especially in the state of Pará that were linked to land grabbing and to mining. "These incursions are particularly worrisome given that indigenous peoples have been some of the best conservers of forests in Brazil and around the world." Indonesia, however, saw losses remain at historically low levels for the third year in a row, thanks, it seems, to strong government action.
6-2-20 Coronavirus: Public told to cut water use amid surge in lockdown demand
Water companies are urging people to use water more carefully during the coronavirus lockdown. They are asking people to avoid hoses and sprinklers, and not to fill paddling pools. However, so far a full hosepipe ban has not been imposed. Companies are responding to a double water whammy from the record dry spring and a surge in demand as people spend more time at home during the lockdown. February this year was the wettest on record and you might have thought the UK had enough H2O - following a drenching winter, rivers and reservoirs were full. But then it barely rained for three subsequent months – another record. Then came coronavirus and lockdown meant people stayed home in the sunshine. Christine McGourty, chief executive of Water UK, which represents water companies, told BBC News: “We’re seeing truly incredible surges of demand. “People's patterns of using water have changed with the weather - and more people at home because of Covid. “It's things like paddling pools and sprinklers that are the biggest challenge. So we’re just asking people to save a little bit of water and that’ll make a huge difference.” In some places water demand is said to be 25% higher than normal. Reservoirs are still in a healthy state, but some firms can’t get enough water to the taps and pressure is dropping. Meanwhile the long-term weather forecast suggests more dry summer months to come. Farmers are fearing potential drought. In fact, experts say, consumers, industries, water firms and the farmers themselves need to find ways of living with less water as the climate changes.
6-2-20 Extinction crisis 'poses existential threat to civilisation'
Human impacts on the places on Earth with the most richness of life have brought hundreds of wild animals to the brink of extinction, a study shows. The likes of logging and poaching have pushed 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to the point where they're hanging by a thread, research found. This is yet more evidence that the world's undergoing a sixth mass extinction, scientists argue. Species are disappearing at more than 100 times the natural rate, they say. And unlike other mass extinctions, caused by volcano eruptions or asteroid collisions, we only have ourselves to blame. Prof Gerardo Ceballos of the National University of Mexico in Mexico City, said regional ecosystems are facing collapse. "We have entered the sixth mass extinction," he told BBC News. "Based on our research and what we're seeing, the extinction crisis is so bad that whatever we do in the next 10 to 50 years is what will define the future of humanity." Prof Ceballos worked on the study with two other well-known conservation scientists, Stanford University's Prof Paul Erhlich, and Dr Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, US. Using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species and Birdlife (the bird authority for the IUCN), they identified at least 515 species that are on the brink of extinction, with fewer than a thousand individuals left. The animals are found on every continent save Antarctica, in places highly impacted by humans, primarily in the tropics and subtropics. They include the Golden Lion Tamarin, Ethiopian Wolf, Javan Rhinoceros, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Yellow-eared Parrot, Gharial and Green Poison Frog. The scientists describe the extinction crisis as an existential threat to civilisation, along with climate change and pollution, to which it is tied. And they say they have a "moral imperative" to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity, which they say is still rather ignored by most people. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
6-2-20 Climate change: older trees loss continue around the world
Older, carbon-rich tropical forests continue to be lost at a frightening rate, according to satellite data. In 2019, an area of primary forest the size of a football pitch was lost every six seconds, the University of Maryland study of trees more than 5 metres says. Brazil accounted for a third of it, its worst loss in 13 years apart from huge spikes in 2016 and 2017 from fires. However, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo both managed to reduce tree loss. Meanwhile, Australia saw a sixfold rise in total tree loss, following dramatic wildfires late in 2019. As well as storing massive amounts of carbon, primary, tropical rainforests, where trees can be hundreds or even thousands of years old, are home to species such as orangutans and tigers. The tropics lost 11.9 million hectares (46,000 square miles) of tree cover, the study found, 3.8 million in older, primary forest areas - the third highest loss of primary trees since 2000 and a slight increase on 2018. "The level of forest loss that we saw in 2019 is unacceptable," Frances Seymour, from the World Resources Institute, said. "And one of the reasons that it's unacceptable is that we actually already know how to turn it around. "If governments put into place good policies and enforce the law, forest loss goes down. "But if governments relax restrictions on burning, or [are] signalling that they intend to open up indigenous territories for commercial exploration, forest loss goes up." Speaking about the losses in Brazil, Mikaela Weisse, from Global Forest Watch, said: "We also noted several new hotspots of primary forest loss within indigenous territories, especially in the state of Pará that were linked to land grabbing and to mining. "These incursions are particularly worrisome given that indigenous peoples have been some of the best conservers of forests in Brazil and around the world." Indonesia, however, saw losses remain at historically low levels for the third year in a row, thanks, it seems, to strong government action.
6-1-20 ‘Tree Story’ explores what tree rings can tell us about the past
A new book invites readers into the world of dendrochronology. Once you look at trees through the eyes of a dendrochronologist, you never quite see the leafy wonders the same way again. Peel away the hard, rough bark and there is a living document, history recorded in rings of wood cells. Each tree ring pattern of growth is unique, as the width of a ring depends on how much water was available that year. By comparing and compiling databases of these “fingerprints” from many different trees in many different parts of the world, scientists can peer into past climates, past ecosystems and even past civilizations. Humans’ and trees’ histories have long been intertwined. In her new book Tree Story, tree ring researcher Valerie Trouet examines this shared past as she describes the curious, convoluted history of dendrochronology. It’s a field that was born a little over a century ago, almost as a hobby for an astronomer at the University of Arizona. Andrew Douglass was interested in tree rings for what they might tell him about how past solar cycles influenced Earth’s climate. He began amassing a tree ring collection dating back to the mid-15th century. Then Douglass began examining an even older source of data: ancient wooden beams from Puebloan ruins in the U.S. Southwest. By linking the patterns in the beams to his own tree ring samples, he created a long chronological history for the region — and so the science of dendrochronology was born. Through this new dating technique, Douglass also solved a long-standing mystery, calculating ages for the different Puebloan sites ranging from the 10th to the 14th century. Trees rings have documented other pivotal moments in human history, Trouet explains. Unusually wet years from 1211 to 1225 may have given a boost to grasses in central Asia’s steppe — fodder for Genghis Khan’s mounted forces and key to the rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident left its mark in the strangely aligned wood cells of surviving pine trees. Wood patterns in a violin crafted by Antonio Stradivari (and worth an estimated $20 million) authenticated not only the violin’s age but its geographic origins.
6-1-20 Make Covid-19 recovery green, say business leaders
More than 200 top UK firms and investors are calling on the government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment. They say efforts to repair the economy should support the government's commitment to tackle the climate change crisis. They believe ministers should use the Covid-19 lockdown as a springboard to propel a green economy. The signatories to the letter include Lloyds Bank, Asda, Siemens and Sky. The proposals outlined by firms such as Mitsubishi, Signify and Yorkshire Water in a letter to the prime minister include: 1. Driving investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries. 2. Focusing support on sectors that can best support the environment, increase job creation and foster the recovery - whilst also decarbonising the economy. 3. Putting strings on financial support to ensure firms getting bailout cash are well managed, and in step with climate goals. In a speech on Thursday Boris Johnson briefly committed himself in principle to the so-called Green New Deal slogan "Building Back Better" for a more resilient society. And there are rumours that the Treasury is planning cash for labour-intensive home insulation, and further investment in electric vehicles. But the signatories to the letter urge ministers to publish detailed plans that will put the UK back on track to meet the medium-term climate goals, from which it's slipping. They come from both multinational and national businesses across industry sectors including energy, finance, consumer goods, retail, construction, water and communication. Their letter says: “Measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate the economy have the potential to be more effective in supporting jobs and economic growth. "They'll also support our long-term climate goals and deliver better outcomes in other key areas of public interest, such as public health and wellbeing. “Investments in projects such as building renovation, offshore wind, electric vehicles, environmental improvements and low carbon industrial clusters have the potential to bring investment and job creation across multiple regions of the UK." The initiative has been co-ordinated by The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG). It told BBC News: “Clearly the immediate focus has been on keeping the economy going and, understandably, there will need to be some urgent support measures that have not had significant 'strings attached'. “But as long-term support measures are introduced, there should be measures within them to ensure that the money is going to well-managed companies supportive of the UK's long term goals.