Evolution and Global Warming are facts, not theories!

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2019 Science Stats

61 Global Warming News Articles
for February of 2021
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2-26-21 We are nowhere near keeping warming below 1.5°C despite climate plans
The world is wildly off track meeting the Paris Agreement goal of holding temperature rises to 1.5°C, despite a recent series of more ambitious national climate plans by the European Union, the UK and other countries, a United Nations assessment has found. While new carbon-cutting proposals will bend the curve of global emissions, they are still nowhere near the cuts required to stave off the devastating consequences of breaching the 1.5°C threshold. A UN analysis of plans from 74 countries, accounting for almost a third of global emissions, found they would reduce those nations’ emissions by 0.5 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that global emissions must fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 to stand a chance of staying below 1.5°C. “With everything countries have put on the table, emissions would be stable as opposed to cut in half. That’s a huge gap. All countries need to go back and see if they can do more,” says Niklas Höhne at the non-profit Climate Action Tracker. “The orders of magnitude are completely wrong. It’s a super small change so far. If we continue along this path, then I think 1.5°C is no longer reachable by 2030,” he says. In a statement, Patricia Espinosa at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which conducted the analysis, said the pledges to date leave the world “very far” from a path to the Paris goals. She also called on countries that have already submitted a new plan to come up with more ambitious ones. The UN assessment, published on 26 February, paints a bleak picture of the world’s prospects for stopping dangerous levels of warming. Under the Paris accord in 2015, all countries were expected to “ratchet up” their emissions plans in 2020 with new ones, but in many cases that hasn’t happened. Several countries, including Australia, Japan and South Korea, submitted new plans with no extra ambitions than in 2015.

2-26-21 Climate change: Carbon emission promises 'put Earth on red alert'
The world will heat by more than 1.5C unless nations produce tougher policies, a global stocktake has confirmed. Governments must halve emissions by 2030 if they intend the Earth to stay within the 1.5C “safe” threshold. But the latest set of national policies submitted to the UN shows emissions will merely be stabilised by 2030. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called it a red alert for our planet. He said: "It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris (Climate) Agreement. "The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets." Dr Niklas Hohne from the New Climate Institute told BBC News: "There is a huge gap to fill if we are serious about 1.5C (the threshold nations have agreed not to pass). "Global emissions have to be halved – but with current proposals they will only be stable. That’s really not good enough." Some nations have not even submitted a climate plan, and some – such as Australia – are judged to have offered no substantial improvement on previous proposals. Emissions from those countries doing little or nothing extra comprise 10-15% of global emissions. Mexico and Brazil have attracted criticism for not doing more. There are some positive signs, though. The EU, for instance, made the biggest jump from a target of a 40% cut to a 55% cut, based on 1990 levels. "The target could have been more, but it’s a good step in the right direction," Dr Hohne said. He also applauded Nepal, Argentina and the UK, which aims to reduce emissions by 68% by the target date of 2030, based on 1990 levels. He held up the UK's governance of climate policy as an example to the rest of the world. Britain has a Climate Change Act which sets ambitions into law, overseen by an independent body. The UK plans to be producing virtually no emissions by 2050 – the so-called Net Zero target. “It's a robust system that helps give longer term certainty," Dr Hohne said. "It sends a strong signal to investors."

2-26-21 K-pop superstars Blackpink in climate change message
K-pop superstars Blackpink have emerged as the latest force in the global fight against climate change. The all-female group, who have billions of fans around the world, have decided to speak out just months before a major conference on climate change will be held in Britain. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written to thank them for supporting the UN Climate Summit known as COP26.

2-26-21 Amazon rainforest plots sold via Facebook Marketplace ads
Parts of Brazil's Amazon rainforest are being illegally sold on Facebook, the BBC has discovered. The protected areas include national forests and land reserved for indigenous peoples. Some of the plots listed via Facebook's classified ads service are as large as 1,000 football pitches. Facebook said it was "ready to work with local authorities", but indicated it would not take independent action of its own to halt the trade. "Our commerce policies require buyers and sellers to comply with laws and regulations," the Californian tech firm added. The leader of one of the indigenous communities affected has urged the tech firm to do more. And campaigners have claimed the country's government is unwilling to halt the sales. "The land invaders feel very empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals," said Ivaneide Bandeira, head of environmental NGO Kanindé. Anyone can find the illegally invaded plots by typing the Portuguese equivalents for search terms like "forest", "native jungle" and "timber" into Facebook Marketplace's search tool, and picking one of the Amazonian states as the location. Some of the listings feature satellite images and GPS co-ordinates. Many of the sellers openly admit they do not have a land title, the only document which proves ownership of land under Brazilian law. The illegal activity is being fuelled by Brazil's cattle ranching industry. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at a 10-year high, and Facebook's Marketplace has become a go-to site for sellers like Fabricio Guimarães, who was filmed by a hidden camera. "There's no risk of an inspection by state agents here," he said as he walked through a patch of rainforest he had burnt to the ground. With the land illegally cleared and ready for farming, he had tripled his initial asking price to $35,000 (£25,000). Fabricio is not a farmer. He has steady middle-class job in a city, and views the rainforest as being an investment opportunity. The BBC later contacted Fabricio for his response to its investigation but he declined to comment.

2-26-21 National Trust to plant blossom trees in cities
The National Trust is planning to plant dozens of blossoming trees, including cherry, hazel and plum, at different sites around the UK. As part of the plan, a circle of 33 trees will be planted across the capital, one representing each borough and the City of London. Designs are being finalised for groves in Nottingham, Newcastle and Plymouth - and other sites will follow. The project will help improve access to nature for those in towns and cities. The idea is to try to create a UK equivalent of Japan's concept of "Hanami" - the annual celebration of flowers, and the coming of spring. Research carried out for the National Trust last year showed that almost half a million people live in "grey deserts " with no trees or green spaces nearby. Hilary McGrady, director general of the Trust, said the project was in its infancy, but "from little acorns great things grow". She added: "I want this to be just as valid as planting vast tracts of trees on mountains - it's just as valid for every individual to want to plant a tree in their garden or their city. "At the heart of it, now more than ever, people need a little bit of soft beauty in their world, and remembering why nature matters." According to numerous studies carried out after the first lockdown, being around nature is crucial to people's mental and physical health. However, according to conservation group WWF, the UK is one of the most "nature depleted countries in the world". Ms McGrady said the National Trust would be calling on the government to create solid commitments to protecting the natural world, ahead of hosting the global climate conference - known as COP 26 - in November. "We need them to start to put money and action where their mouths are - we need some tangible targets. We want, by 2030, for the government to have halted the decline in nature. We have every opportunity to hold their feet to the fire," she told BBC News. Ms McGrady added: "Covid has taught us lots of lessons, including the importance of nature. The public are behind it."

2-26-21 Brunt Ice Shelf: Big iceberg calves near UK Antarctic base
A big iceberg approaching the size of Greater London has broken away from the Antarctic, close to Britain's Halley research station. Surface instruments on the Brunt Ice Shelf confirmed the split early on Friday. There is currently no-one in the base, so there is no risk to human life. The British Antarctic Survey has been operating Halley in a reduced role since 2017 because of the imminent prospect of a calving. The berg has been measured to cover 1,270 sq km - nearly 490 square miles. Halley is positioned just over 20km from the line of rupture. BAS has an array of GPS devices on the Brunt. These relay information about ice movements back to the agency's HQ in Cambridge. Scientists will be inspecting satellite imagery when it becomes available. They will want to see that no unexpected instabilities emerge in the remaining ice shelf platform that holds Halley. Prof Adrian Luckman has been tracking satellite images of the Brunt in recent weeks and predicted the calving. "Although the breaking off of large parts of Antarctic ice shelves is an entirely normal part of how they work, large calving events such as the one detected at the Brunt Ice Shelf on Friday remain quite rare and exciting," the Swansea University remote-sensing expert said. "With three long rifts actively developing on the Brunt Ice Shelf system over the last five years, we have all been anticipating that something spectacular was going to happen. "Time will tell whether this calving will trigger more pieces to break off in the coming days and weeks. At Swansea University we study the development of ice shelf rifts because, while some lead to large calving events, others do not, and the reasons for this may explain why large ice shelves exist at all," he told BBC News. It is on the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is the floating protrusion of glaciers that have flowed off the land into the Weddell Sea. On a map, the Weddell Sea is that sector of Antarctica directly to the south of the Atlantic Ocean. The Brunt is on the eastern side of the sea. Like all ice shelves, it will periodically calve icebergs. The last major chunk to have come off in this area was in the early 1970s.

2-26-21 Motor industry lobbied for a loophole in UK fossil fuel car ban
The UK government made headlines last year with its plan to ban new petrol and diesel model cars by 2030, but campaigners were disappointed that there would be an exemption for some fossil-fuelled cars. Now documents released under freedom of information laws reveal that the concession came after the trade body for UK car-makers argued that the vehicles are used in a green way by drivers – a claim that independent researchers dispute. The UK car-makers’ trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) also provided the government with forecasts for the take-up of electric cars that ultimately proved too low. UK prime minister Boris Johnson last November announced the ban as the centrepiece of a major series of measures on climate change, but the government made an exemption for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) by allowing them to be sold for five years after the ban. Such hybrids typically run for at least 30 kilometres on a battery before switching to a petrol or diesel engine, but have been found to emit much more carbon dioxide in real world use than manufacturers’ official figures, because of how much drivers end up relying on their engines. However, the SMMT told the government ahead of the ban that the cars deserved to be treated differently from other petrol and diesel cars. “The important role that PHEVs can play in reducing CO2, both now and in the future, must not be forgotten,” the SMMT said in a briefing paper to the prime minister’s office, released to New Scientist after a freedom of information request. The group cited data from an unnamed car manufacturer suggesting that 63 per cent of PHEV owners charged their cars once per day. “Having paid a premium price for these vehicles, consumers benefit in taking every opportunity to charge the electric motor to benefit from the fuel savings,” the document said.

2-25-21 Plastic bottles holding 2.3 litres are least harmful to the planet
Using plastic bottles that contain the most liquid for the lowest packaging weight could help reduce plastic waste. Plastic pollution is a huge problem for the world, with much plastic waste reaching the oceans where it can affect marine life. In recognition of this, many researchers are developing strategies to tackle the plastic waste problem. Now, Rafael Becerril-Arreola at the University of South Carolina and his colleagues have come up with a relatively simple method to make a difference: change the packaging size to maximise its capacity for a given weight of plastic. “We realised we could establish a relationship between supermarket beverage sales and plastic waste,” says Becerril-Arreola. “I saw the opportunity to create an impact, and I took it.” Becerril-Arreola and his team focused on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common material in plastic bottles. They weighed 187 empty bottles of different sizes from bestselling drink brands to determine the weight of plastic required to produce a bottle of a given capacity. They also compared this against PET waste and drink sales in Minnesota between 2009 and 2013, as the state government there reliably collects waste statistics and its bottled drink consumption is close to the US national average. The researchers found that the most efficient bottles – those with the greatest capacity relative to the weight of plastic used to make the bottle – had a volume between 0.5 and 2.9 litres. Bottles of this size are typically bought for on-the-go use or social gatherings. Bottles that were smaller (under 0.4 litres) or larger (over 3 litres) used more plastic in relation to each bottle’s capacity. The highest efficiency was seen with bottles with a volume of 2.3 litres. The data from Minnesota supported this: PET waste was lower during periods when, for reasons that were unclear, the proportion of bottles of about 2.3 litres sold was unusually high. In contrast, during periods in which unusually high proportions of smaller bottles were sold, waste seemed to increase.

2-25-21 Woolly mammoths were hit by climate change but humans wiped them out
The extinction of woolly mammoths was caused by a combination of climate change and human hunting, according to a study that simulated the processes that drove their demise. The work suggests that these mammoths wouldn’t have died out when they did if it weren’t for humans. “In the absence of humans, we would expect woolly mammoths would have persisted for an extra 4000 years in some areas,” says Damien Fordham at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. The model also predicts that the mammoths survived longer than currently thought in several remote locations in northern Eurasia, which suggests there may be plenty more remains to be discovered. “People should be sending out expeditions to find fossil material,” says Fordham. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were the last surviving species of mammoth. Having roamed Eurasia for several hundred thousand years, their habitat gradually shrank until the last population was confined to Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, where they died out about 4000 years ago. Why mammoths went extinct is a long-standing mystery. One idea is that modern humans hunted them too heavily, but not everyone accepts this. It has also been argued that the warming climate played a key role by shrinking their tundra habitat. Similar arguments rage about the extinctions of other large “megafauna”. “You will find some people who adamantly argue that it’s only climate or only humans,” says Fordham. But he says the debate has shifted towards it being a combination of the two. The question is exactly how it played out. To find out, Fordham’s team simulated the Eurasian woolly mammoth population’s late history – from 21,000 years ago until their extinction. The model included shifts in the climate, which was warming up after the coldest part of the last glacial period, and which affected vegetation by forcing the mammoths’ tundra home northwards. It also incorporated modern humans moving into Eurasia and hunting the mammoths.

2-24-21 Climate change helped some dinosaurs migrate to Greenland
A drop in CO2 levels helped massive plant eaters trek from South America to Greenland. A drop in carbon dioxide levels may have helped sauropodomorphs, early relatives of the largest animal to ever walk the earth, migrate thousands of kilometers north past once-forbidding deserts around 214 million years ago. Scientists pinpointed the timing of the dinosaurs’ journey from South America to Greenland by correlating rock layers with sauropodomorph fossils to changes in Earth’s magnetic field. Using that timeline, the team found that the creatures’ northward push coincides with a dramatic decrease in CO2, which may have removed climate-related barriers, the team reports February 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The sauropodomorphs were a group of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs that included massive sauropods such as Seismosaurus as well as their smaller ancestors (SN: 11/17/20). About 230 million years ago, sauropodomorphs lived mainly in what is now northern Argentina and southern Brazil. But at some point, these early dinosaurs picked up and moved as far north as Greenland. Exactly when they could have made that journey has been a puzzle, though. “In principle, you could’ve walked from where they were to the other hemisphere, which was something like 10,000 kilometers away,” says Dennis Kent, a geologist at Columbia University. Back then, Greenland and the Americas were smooshed together into the supercontinent Pangea. There were no oceans blocking the way, and mountains were easy to get around, he says. If the dinosaurs had walked at the slow pace of one to two kilometers per day, it would have taken them approximately 20 years to reach Greenland. But during much of the Late Triassic Epoch, which spans 233 million to 215 million years ago, Earth’s carbon dioxide levels were incredibly high — as much as 4,000 parts per million. (In comparison, CO2 levels currently are about 415 parts per million.) Climate simulations have suggested that level of CO2 would have created hyper-arid deserts and severe climate fluctuations, which could have acted as a barrier to the giant beasts. With vast deserts stretching north and south of the equator, Kent says, there would have been few plants available for the herbivores to survive the journey north for much of that time period.

2-23-21 Climate change: West Antarctica's Getz glaciers flowing faster
Wherever you look in West Antarctica right now, the message is the same: Its marine-terminating glaciers are being melted by warm seawater. Scientists have just taken a detailed look at the ice streams flowing into the ocean along a 1,000km-stretch of coastline known as the Getz region. It incorporates 14 glaciers - and they've all speeded up. Since 1994, they've lost 315 gigatonnes of ice - equivalent to 126 million Olympic swimming pools of water. If you put this in the context of the Antarctic continent's contribution to global sea-level rise over the same period, Getz accounts for just over 10% of the total - a little under a millimetre. "This is the first time anyone has done a really detailed study of this area of West Antarctica. It's very inaccessible to people to go and do field work because it's so mountainous; most of it hasn't ever been stepped on by humans," explained Heather Selley, a glaciologist at the Nerc Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, UK. "But it's really important we understand what's going on there - to recognise its glaciers are speeding up and the reason why," she told BBC News. Selley and colleagues examined two and a half decades of satellite radar data on ice velocity and thickness. To this analysis, they added information about ocean properties immediately offshore of Getz - along with the outputs of a model that put the local climate in context over the period. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveal an unambiguous linear trend. On average, the speed of all 14 glaciers in the region increased by almost a quarter between 1994 and 2018, with the velocity of three central glaciers increasing by more than 40%. One particular ice stream was found to be flowing 391m/year faster in 2018 than it was in 1994 - a 59% increase in just two and a half decades. The probable cause, once again, is what researchers call "ocean forcing". Relatively warm deep ocean water is getting under the glaciers' floating fronts and melting them from below.

2-23-21 Disha Ravi: India activist, 22, granted bail by court
An Indian court has granted bail to a 22-year-old climate activist who was arrested for sharing a document intended to help farmers protesting against new agricultural laws. Police said Disha Ravi was a "key conspirator" in the "formulation and dissemination" of a protest "toolkit". They have accused her of sedition and conspiracy - charges she has denied. Activists have called her arrest a warning to those who want to show support for anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting for three months against new laws, which they say will benefit only big corporations. These protests have come to represent one of the biggest challenges faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Ms Ravi, one of the founders of the Indian branch of the Fridays for Future climate strike, was arrested by Delhi police on 13 February from her home in the southern city of Bangalore. She was flown to Delhi where she appeared before a magistrate and was remanded in custody. In a statement posted on social media, police said she had "collaborated" to "spread disaffection against the Indian state". They said she was an editor of a document - "toolkit" - and had shared it with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who had tweeted it. On Saturday, a Delhi court asked the Delhi police whether it had any evidence against Ms Ravi or "are we required to draw inferences and conjectures". The police were opposed to Ms Ravi's bail application. Her lawyer told the court that "having a difference of opinion does not amount to sedition". He asked the court whether, for example, it would be fair to consider someone who preferred "Kung Fu to yoga" a "Chinese spy" as a result. Police said the toolkit suggested there was a conspiracy in the run-up to a huge rally on 26 January, which saw protesting farmers clash with the police. In court, Ms Ravi broke down and told the judge she had merely edited two lines of the document. But police said she had shared the document with Ms Thunberg and then asked her to remove it after it was "accidentally" leaked.

2-22-21 Brazil is using the pandemic to weaken environmental protections
Brazil’s government has passed 57 major legislative acts that weaken environmental protections in the country, and 49 per cent of these were enacted in the seven months since the covid-19 pandemic was declared in March. Erika Berenguer at the University of Oxford and her colleagues analysed legislation in the 21 months after January 2019, when President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration took power, finding that September 2020 was the month with the highest number of acts that limited environmental protections. “The way that they are changing the law is through legislative acts that don’t need to go through congress,” says Berenguer, noting that the head of Brazil’s lower house during this period wasn’t an ally of Bolsonaro. In May 2020, Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, made the government’s intentions clear, calling for further deregulation of environmental policy while public attention was focused on the covid-19 pandemic. Reuters reported Salles’s remarks at a ministers’ meeting: “We need to make an effort while we are in this calm moment in terms of press coverage, because they are only talking about COVID, and push through and change all the rules and simplify norms.” A number of the legislative acts are aimed at dismantling federal institutions in charge of environmental protection. One provides amnesty for deforestation in the Atlantic Forest on Brazil’s east coast, while another reduces protections for coastal mangrove ecosystems. Berenguer says she was shocked by the breadth of the changes, which include acts that reclassify pesticides as less toxic and reduce the amount of biodiesel that must be added to diesel. The researchers also found a 72 per cent drop in environmental fines during the pandemic, despite an increase in deforestation of the Amazon during the same period.

2-21-21 The boom in 'green' energy
Climate change and falling prices are driving a revolution in solar, wind, and other renewables. Climate change and falling prices are driving a revolution in solar, wind, and other renewables. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Can renewables replace fossil fuels? Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectricity are already overtaking fossil fuels as the dominant means of power generation in some parts of the developed world. In 2019, 72 percent of power plant additions utilized renewables, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). For the first time, the European Union generated more electricity (38 percent) from renewables in 2020 than from fossil fuels (37 percent). The U.S. still relies heavily upon oil (37 percent), natural gas (32 percent), and coal (11 percent), but the country is on pace this year to generate more energy from renewables than from coal. Overall, renewables now account for roughly 11 percent of U.S. energy prod
  2. What's driving the transformation? Cost-effectiveness. Solar panel producers have steadily achieved greater efficiencies in manufacturing and in generating more power from each individual solar cell. This has led to vast reductions in price, so that solar and wind power now have surpassed coal — and even natural gas — as the cheapest forms of power generation.
  3. How did prices fall? The space and satellite industries, which rely heavily on solar power, drove the engineering. In 1956, the cost of a solar panel capable of generating the same amount of power as just one of today's panels would have approached $600,000. From 1976 to 2019, the price of a single watt of solar capacity fell 99.6 percent to just $0.38.
  4. Are emissions down? While emissions are slowing in the Western world, global CO2 emissions have risen from nearly 32 billion tons in 2009 to almost 37 billion in 2019, according to the Global Carbon Project, as developing nations such as India and China modernize and produce more energy, mostly through fossil fuels. In 1990, 81 percent of the world's total energy consumption came from oil, gas, and coal. Last year, the figure was still 80 percent — and largely because of a global slowdown brought on by the pandemic.
  5. Why not? Unlike fossil-fuel power plants, solar and wind power plants only generate electricity when the sun shines and the wind blows. The batteries needed to store power for the proverbial cloudy day are improving rapidly but are still not cheap enough — or able to store power for long enough periods — to rely heavily on.
  6. Auto companies going electric: Automakers are betting that electric vehicles (EVs) are the future. The switch is being powered by continued improvements in the lithium-ion battery packs that fuel these cars.

2-21-21 Israel pollution: Tar globs disfigure coast after oil spill
Large globs of tar have washed up on much of Israel's Mediterranean coastline in what officials are calling one of the worst environmental disasters to hit the country. Thousands of volunteers and soldiers are helping to clear the pollutant which is damaging wildlife. Israel is trying to track the source of the pollution, which is thought to have come from a ship spilling oil. The general population has been told to avoid the beaches. Dozens of tonnes of tar have been found on many stretches of Israel's 190km (120 miles) Mediterranean coastline and there are fears it will take months, or even years to clean up. NGOs have reported turtles and birds covered in oil. The pollution is "one of the most serious ecological disasters" in Israel's history, according to the Nature and Parks Authority. The source is thought to be an oil spill produced during a storm on 11 February from a ship some 50km (30 miles) off the coast. Satellite imagery and wave patterns are being used to trace the ship responsible. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said nine ships were being investigated. The Israeli government is considering legal action to win compensation which could run to millions of dollars. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been inspecting the damage at one of the beaches. Last Thursday, a 17m-long (55ft) fin whale was found dead on a beach in southern Israel, and the Nature and Parks Authority said an autopsy had found an oil-based product - a black liquid - in its system. However, an official said it was too early to say whether the liquid came from the same oil spill.

2-19-21 Soil safely filters 38 million tonnes of human waste each year
Nature sanitises around 38 million tonnes of human waste per year – the equivalent of around £3.2-billion-worth of commercial water treatment. Alison Parker at Cranfield University in the UK and colleagues looked at 48 cities in Africa, Asia, North America and South America. They analysed how much human waste is produced and where it ends up by reviewing existing data from interviews, observations and direct field measurements. The team looked at waste management not connected to sewers. This included pit latrines and septic tanks where waste is primarily contained on-site – in a hole below the ground for pit latrines and in box tanks for septic tanks. Liquid waste from pit latrines and excess water from septic tanks can gradually filter through soil – a process that cleans it before it reaches groundwater. However, this doesn’t happen in cities where the water table is shallow or where large volumes of waste are discharged in a crowded area. Instead, the liquids can contaminate ground water, posing a health risk. With 892 million people, predominantly in low and middle income countries, using this type of waste management, the researchers estimate that nature safely treats around 38 million tonnes of human waste per year. The team did not look at how much waste is not safely treated. More than 4 billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation services, with one-third living in low income countries. Unsafe sanitation is responsible for 775,000 deaths each year. “Sanitation that involves the ground naturally treating waste can be part of the solution,” says Parker. However, pit latrines, septic tanks and other natural waste management options only work if the soils can filter the waste or if the waste dumped in rivers can be diluted safely without causing harm to the environment, which is not always the case.

2-19-21 Climate Change: How much did it cost US economy in 2020?
The year 2020 saw a record number of costly hurricanes, wildfires, and storms, resulting in billions of dollars in damages. Since records began in 1980, billion-dollar climate disasters have become much more frequent, and in total have cost the US economy $1.875tn over four decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The United States officially rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement on Friday, reversing the withdrawal by Donald Trump.

2-19-21 Color-coded radar maps reveal a patchwork of California wildfire destruction
Research flights over the Los Angeles area tell a story of plant loss and regrowth. Each year in California, thousands of wildfires ravage hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. Deciphering how well large swaths of vegetation recover over time can be tough from the ground. New radar maps now reveal the patchwork of plant destruction and regrowth in the wake of more than a decade of fires in Angeles National Forest and other areas near Los Angeles. A NASA research plane equipped with radar instruments, known as UAVSAR, flew over Southern California multiple times from 2010 to 2020 to produce a detailed map of the terrain below. By sending microwave pulses toward the Earth’s surface and measuring the signals that bounce back, the instruments can detect changes of a few millimeters in surface height. They’re also sensitive to moisture, says Yunling Lou, a radar engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The resulting maps can distinguish areas with trees and shrublike chapparal from bare earth. Lou and her colleagues are developing an approach to color-code the maps by year to track large-scale changes in vegetation and monitor the recovery of forests and shrubland after destructive wildfires. Areas with vegetation show up as red in 2010, green in 2017 and blue in 2020. When the three maps are laid atop each other, they tell a story of loss and regrowth. For instance, the 2016 Fish Fire destroyed vegetation that was present in 2010 and didn’t grow back by 2017 or 2020, so it still appears red in a composite map. The area affected by the 2020 Bobcat Fire appears in yellow: Vegetation was present in 2010 and 2017 (red and green combine to make yellow) but not 2020. “So much of the Angeles National Forest was impacted by fire at some point and you have patches that are in different stages of regeneration,” says Naiara Pinto, a landscape ecologist at JPL. The color-coding method could allow researchers to identify factors, such as vegetation and soil types, that affect why distinct areas regenerate at different speeds. Such maps could also potentially be used to identify burned regions without vegetation and at risk for landslides.

2-19-21 Earth's magnetic field flipping linked to extinctions 42,000 years ago
The most recent reversal of Earth’s magnetic field may have been as recent as 42,000 years ago, according to a new analysis of fossilised tree rings. This flip of the magnetic poles would have been devastating, creating extreme weather and possibly leading to the extinction of large mammals and the Neanderthals. Earth’s magnetic field extends into space and is most concentrated at the north and south poles. The magnetic poles wander and occasionally reverse around every 200,000 to 300,000 years, but we have little evidence on how this impacts our planet. Alan Cooper at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide and his colleagues have now provided some answers. They came up with the most accurate date yet of Earth’s last magnetic field reversal called the Laschamp event, which they estimate occurred between 41,560 and 41,050 years ago and lasted less than 1000 years. The team calculated this using radiocarbon analysis of tree rings from an ancient, fossilised kauri tree (Agathis australis) preserved in northern New Zealand wetlands. “The tree lived right through the Laschamps and we used the shift in radiocarbon, carbon-14, in the atmosphere to detect exactly when the magnetic field collapsed,” says Cooper. The Earth’s magnetosphere – the region around the planet dominated by Earth’s magnetic field – weakens when the magnetic poles reverse. Cooper and his team estimate Earth’s magnetic field was just 6 per cent of current levels during the Laschamp event. When the magnetic field weakens, more cosmic rays enter the atmosphere and transform certain atoms into radioactive carbon-14, raising levels of this isotope. By measuring the levels of carbon-14 in each tree ring of the kauri tree, they were able to accurately date the Laschamp event.

2-19-21 A magnetic field reversal 42,000 years ago may have contributed to mass extinctions
The weakening of Earth's magnetic field correlates with a cascade of environmental crises. A flip-flop of Earth’s magnetic poles between 42,000 and 41,000 years ago briefly but dramatically shrank the magnetic field’s strength — and may have triggered a cascade of environmental crises on Earth, a new study suggests. With the help of new, precise carbon dating obtained from ancient tree fossils, the researchers correlated shifts in climate patterns, large mammal extinctions and even changes in human behavior just before and during the Laschamps excursion, a brief reversal of the magnetic poles that lasted less than a thousand years. It’s the first study to directly link a magnetic pole reversal to large-scale environmental changes, the team reports in the Feb. 19 Science. During a reversal, Earth’s protective magnetic field, which shields the planet from a barrage of charged particles streaming from the sun, can lose strength (SN: 1/28/19). So some researchers have suggested that these flip-flops may be linked to extinction events (SN: 11/19/20). But evidence for this has proven elusive. In fact, “the general belief had been that geomagnetic changes had no impact on climate or anything else,” says Alan Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at BlueSky Genetics in Adelaide. One reason for that belief is a dearth of precise dates for the timing and duration of the geomagnetic event to correlate with environmental, ice core and magnetic rock records. Enter New Zealand’s kauri tree, among the most ancient in the world. The country’s swampy bogs preserve the relics of kauri trees dating as far back as the Laschamps excursion. Cooper and his colleagues obtained cross-sections from four ancient trees recovered from a swamp at Ng­awha Springs in northern New Zealand, and analyzed them for carbon-14, a radioactive form of carbon. (This is the first paper Cooper has led since he was fired from the University of Adelaide in December 2019 for misconduct, allegations which he has denied.)

2-18-21 Humans have severely affected fish biodiversity in half of all rivers
Fish biodiversity in freshwater systems, such as lakes and rivers, has been declining since the beginning of the industrial revolution – so much so that researchers now estimate human activity has severely affected the fish biodiversity in more than half of the world’s rivers. Our planet’s rivers and lakes provide a habitat for nearly 18,000 fish species, despite covering less than 1 per cent of Earth’s surface. Sébastien Brosse at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, and his colleagues have been collecting data from 2456 river basins across the world for more than a decade. These basins host over 14,000 fish species, which is more than 80 per cent of the global freshwater fish pool. Brosse and his team created an index to measure the changes in fish biodiversity in these rivers and how they have been affected by human activity. Previous measures of biodiversity typically only assessed the number of different species in a particular ecosystem. This new index also measures the function of each freshwater species and their evolutionary relationships. Using these measures, each river basin was given a score between 0 and 12 – the higher the score, the higher the change in biodiversity as a result of human activity. The team found that 53 per cent of the river basins had a score higher than 6, meaning their fish biodiversity had been severely affected by human activities, especially after the industrial revolution. Unsurprisingly, these were located mostly in high-income countries, such as western Europe and North America, where humans have heavily manipulated rivers. Just 14 per cent of river basins in the study have been little affected by human activity, but these only provide a habitat for one-fifth of the world’s freshwater fish species.

2-18-21 Using mountains as 'water batteries' could cut UK's nuclear power need
Turning more of the UK’s mountains into massive “water batteries” could substantially reduce the need for new nuclear power stations and save the country hundreds of millions of pounds, researchers have estimated. New pumped hydro projects, which use off-peak electricity to pump water uphill and release it later to generate electricity, could save the UK energy system between £44 million and £690 million a year by 2050, according to a report by a team at Imperial College London. The exact figure hinges on how much of the storage technology is built as the UK rapidly increases its reliance on variable wind and solar power. Most of the savings stem from having to invest in fewer new power stations, followed by fewer new pylons and a reduction in the costs National Grid bears to balance electricity supply and demand. The study says that by storing cheap wind power in this way and dispatching it at times of need, each 1000 megawatts of pumped hydro could replace 750 MW of nuclear power, or a gas plant fitted with carbon capture. “There is massive variation in wind power – this is where this long duration storage comes in,” says Goran Strbac, who modelled the savings. In a statement, the Scottish government welcomed the report and said it showed “the value of pumped hydro storage in a net-zero power system”. Whether the UK needs new nuclear to reach its carbon goals is a burning question. The government is weighing up financial support for a £20 billion nuclear power station in Suffolk that could be built by French energy firm EDF and which would have a capacity of 3200 MW. The Imperial College London research was commissioned by UK-based energy firm SSE, which last October won planning permission for a pumped hydro scheme up to 1500 MW. But the company says energy market policies aren’t yet in place to give enough certainty for it to raise the nearly £1.5 billion needed to build the Coire Glas project in the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William, Scotland. Almost all the UK’s existing 2800 MW of pumped hydro sites are in Scotland and Wales.

2-17-21 Our impact on Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity – in graphics
If we are to begin to rebalance our relationship with nature, we must first establish how out of kilter things are. But ecosystems are complex and no single measure can capture all the changes human activities have caused. Nevertheless, there are various ways of auditing biodiversity and humanity’s impact on it, from extinctions and species richness to land use and how much of the planet is set aside for nature. Almost all of them paint a worrying picture. Perhaps the most eye-catching metric of humanity’s impact is in our acceleration of the rate of extinctions. The background or natural rate is 0.1 to 2 extinctions per million species per year. Data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species suggests a rate of 34 extinctions per million species per year now. It documents at least 680 extinctions and a further 750 possible extinctions among 112,400 species in the past 500 years, with mammals and amphibians hardest hit among vertebrates. In recent years, warming, acidifying oceans have caused a drop in coral species. Looking at how many species are considered vulnerable or endangered, the group under the most pressure is the cycads, a group of tropical palm-like plants. Two other plant groups, dicots and conifers, are also up there. The Red List covers fewer than 5 per cent of the world’s known species. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says that a further half a million terrestrial species of animals and plants may already be doomed to extinction. There are many taxonomic groups for which no firm conclusions can be drawn due to insufficient data. One is insects. A recent review concluded that, “Although a flurry of reports has drawn attention to declines in insect abundance, biomass, species richness, and range sizes, whether the rates of declines for insects are on par with or exceed those for other groups remains unknown.”

2-17-21 Covid-19 is a wake-up call to stop abusing the ecosystems we depend on
FOR a government-backed report, the recently published Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury in 2019, is blunt in its critique of mainstream economic thinking. “We may have increasingly queried the absence of Nature from official conceptions of economic possibilities, but the worry has been left for Sundays,” the distinguished University of Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta writes in his preface. “On week-days, our thinking has remained as usual.” The naturalist David Attenborough is still blunter about the consequences in the report’s foreword. “We are facing a global crisis. We are totally dependent upon the natural world. It supplies us with every oxygen-laden breath we take and every mouthful of food we eat. Yet we are currently damaging it so profoundly that many of its natural systems are now on the verge of breakdown.” Our understanding of the web of dependencies that link us to the natural world is perhaps 30 or 40 years behind the science of climate change. But we know enough to declare our assault on Earth’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems a crisis of similar magnitude – one that no government, company or individual can now afford to ignore. This special issue on the state of the natural world and how we can restore it appears in this context (see Rescue plan for nature: How to fix the biodiversity crisis). It is the first of a series of features on biodiversity, produced in association with the United Nations Environment Programme, that will appear over the coming weeks. It reflects a renewed focus on all aspects of our environmental impact as the world seeks to build back better from the covid-19 pandemic. This crisis has been a wake-up call that human health and wealth are dependent on the health of the ecosystems around us. Clean water and air, fertile soils, reduced risk of diseases jumping from animals to us, and all the other “ecosystem services” that a healthy natural world gives us for free aren’t “nice-to-have” fripperies. For all our sakes, we must work to resolve the crisis we have precipitated – every day of the week.

2-17-21 Rescue plan for nature: How to fix the biodiversity crisis
We’ve been ravaging the planet’s ecosystems for too long, but crucial decisions this year could be the turning point that help us restore our relationship with nature. WE HAVE repeatedly been pressing the snooze button on the issue, but covid-19 has provided perhaps the final wake-up call. “2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature,” said António Guterres, the UN secretary general, in an address to the One Planet Summit of global leaders in Paris last month. “Until now, we have been destroying our planet. We have been abusing it as if we have a spare one.” The numbers are stark, whichever ones you choose. More than 70 per cent of ice-free land is now under human control and increasingly degraded. The mass of human-made infrastructure exceeds all biomass. Humans and domesticated animals make up more than 90 per cent of the mammalian mass on the planet. Our actions threaten about a million species – 1 in 8 – with extinction (see “Biodiversity: A status report“). All that has happened in a blink of an eye, geologically speaking. “If you compare Earth’s history to a calendar year, we have used one-third of its natural resources in the last 0.2 seconds,” Guterres said in Paris. Following a lost decade, and a year-long pandemic-induced delay to negotiations, a new international agreement to conserve the world’s biodiversity is due to be signed later this year, with many other initiatives also starting up. The signs are that covid-19, a scourge caused by our dismissive regard for nature, might finally have focused minds. The question is, what needs to be done – and can we do enough in time? Our relationship with nature started to sour around the start of the industrial revolution, but only really veered off the rails as the Great Acceleration kicked in after the second world war. In this period, booming population and trade and higher levels of prosperity led to an exponential growth of pretty much every measure of humanity’s planetary impact: resource extraction, agricultural production, infrastructure development, pollution, and habitat and biodiversity loss.

2-17-21 Elizabeth Mrema interview: We have to be optimistic about biodiversity
Crunch talks later this year will determine whether we can reduce our impact on Earth’s ecosystems – and there are positive signs, says the diplomat in charge of the processV. Graham Lawton: What do we know about when the Convention for Biological Diversity talks are going to happen in Kunming? Elizabeth Mrema: We’re still in consultations with our hosts, China. The dates that had been announced were the last two weeks of May, but looking at how the situation is, May is tomorrow! But not just that: before our conference, we have subsidiary bodies that need to meet to negotiate and prepare for all the decisions that will be taken. These important discussions will guide the world for the next 10 years. We cannot negotiate virtually, we need to meet in person. This is a crunch year all round, with other key negotiations taking place and the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Yes, 2021 is the super year for all three Rio conventions: biological diversity, climate change and land degradation. The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration brings them all together. With ecological restoration, you are talking of an impact on land degradation but also on biodiversity, also on climate. This decade will be the decade of convergence of the conventions. There is enormous potential for synergies. What is the state of global biodiversity? The science is very clear. In terms of species loss, land degradation, deforestation, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive alien species, impacts of chemicals, scientists are giving us a consistent message: we have undermined nature. And the solutions are to go back to nature. The biodiversity targets from the 2010 Aichi Convention on Biological Diversity were all missed. How will the new ones be different? I know, we are all worried. If Aichi has failed, what makes us think that the new framework will be better? But we learned lessons. We failed the targets because we assumed implementation was the role of governments. We missed Indigenous people, local communities, youth, women. We missed the private sector – finance, business, industry. The World Economic Forum recently found that half of global GDP depends on nature. The private sector would not want to lose this, and so it is coming on board. This was not the case in the last 10 years.

2-17-21 Ten conservation success stories when species came back from the brink
The blue whale, the mountain gorilla and the European bison are among the animals that have avoided extinction, showing what works to preserve the world’s wildlife. LOOK at how we missed all 20 of the past decade’s biodiversity targets, or shocking graphs of animals threatened with extinction, and it is easy to be disheartened about the fate of the natural world. “There’s lots of doom and gloom stories around about biodiversity,” says Stuart Butchart at the conservation body BirdLife International. “It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down.” Butchart’s work suggests that isn’t the full picture, however. He was part of a team that recently estimated that conservation initiatives had prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993. Given that 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have gone extinct in that time, the researchers concluded that extinction rates would have been up to four times higher without action. “I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” says Friederike Bolam at Newcastle University, UK, the study’s lead author. Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve big “charismatic” species, such as the giant panda, that readily attract attention and funding. But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in successful conservation work: removal of invasive species, management of hunting and protection of important habitats. “Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will,” says Butchart. Even so, targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question. For now, here are 10 conservation success stories from around the globe that give some idea of what works.

2-17-21 Some online food shoppers make healthier choices if they are ‘nudged’
In a small UK trial, some 28 per cent of online food shoppers were willing to buy a healthier version of a product when they were presented with the choice, showing the power of “nudging”. One in 5 British families now do at least some of their grocery shopping online, with many switching to supermarket websites due to the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers funded by Public Health England, an executive agency of the UK government, conducted a trial with 900 participants to see if suggesting healthier alternatives during online shops could improve diets. “The logic is if we can nudge the shopper at the point of purchase to slightly healthier options, that means slightly healthier options in the home,” says Suzanna Forwood at Anglia Ruskin University, UK. Trial participants were asked to buy the 12 items on a shopping list. Whenever they put a high-calorie food into their shopping basket, they were presented with a lower-calorie alternative. These were offered if they cost roughly the same or less, and contained at least 24 fewer kilocalories per 100 grams. The average shopper was offered three swaps, of which around 1 in 8 were accepted. Shoppers didn’t always agree to alternatives – 28 per cent of the participants accepted a swap, indicating that shoppers declined some offers but accepted others. “People are not as willing to say yes as you think they might,” says Forwood, who says future work will explore why that is the case. Accepted swaps reduced calorie content in the average shopping basket by around 30 calories. How the swaps were presented – whether they accentuated the health benefits or the cost benefits, or indicated that other people were making similar swaps – didn’t materially affect choices.

2-17-21 Exclusive: On board the mission to one of the world’s largest icebergs
It is a relief when we finally see the iceberg emerging, first as a line on the ship’s radar and then as a wall of ice emerging from a foggy horizon, stretching further than we can see. This is the remains of iceberg A-68, the third largest iceberg ever recorded, which broke away from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf in 2017. After drifting northwards, A-68 was on a collision course with the island of South Georgia in December 2020 before being swept back into deeper water south of the island. It has begun to disintegrate and is no longer a continuous island of ice. There are now 12 named iceberg fragments from A-68 and countless smaller icebergs. The largest of these, dubbed A-68A, is 50 kilometres long and 200 metres thick in places, and covers an area of around 900 square kilometres, similar to that of the Isle of Mull in the UK. Ships have to be very cautious around icebergs due to the damage that can be caused by the hard, freshwater ice, so we keep a distance of 1 nautical mile from the largest icebergs, and the crew navigate carefully around the smaller pieces. But we can still hear when larger parts break off, even above the sounds of the ship’s engines and machinery. Whether in one piece or dozens, A-68 could have a large impact on the ocean and ecosystems around South Georgia, which sustain large colonies of penguins and seals, as well as whales. The cooling and freshening that takes place as the giant iceberg breaks up and melts might affect the lifeforms at the very bottom of the food chain: tiny algae called phytoplankton. At the same time, large icebergs can also stir up nutrients from the deep, increasing biological productivity in their wake. To find out, I am here in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, on the research ship RRS James Cook. We will monitor the temperatures, salinities and plankton concentrations in the water, and compare the findings to long-term data from oceanographic studies in the region.

2-17-21 Rescue plan for nature: How to fix the biodiversity crisis
We’ve been ravaging the planet’s ecosystems for too long, but crucial decisions this year could be the turning point that help us restore our relationship with nature. WE HAVE repeatedly been pressing the snooze button on the issue, but covid-19 has provided perhaps the final wake-up call. “2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature,” said António Guterres, the UN secretary general, in an address to the One Planet Summit of global leaders in Paris last month. “Until now, we have been destroying our planet. We have been abusing it as if we have a spare one.” The numbers are stark, whichever ones you choose. More than 70 per cent of ice-free land is now under human control and increasingly degraded. The mass of human-made infrastructure exceeds all biomass. Humans and domesticated animals make up more than 90 per cent of the mammalian mass on the planet. Our actions threaten about a million species – 1 in 8 – with extinction (see “Biodiversity: A status report“). All that has happened in a blink of an eye, geologically speaking. “If you compare Earth’s history to a calendar year, we have used one-third of its natural resources in the last 0.2 seconds,” Guterres said in Paris. Following a lost decade, and a year-long pandemic-induced delay to negotiations, a new international agreement to conserve the world’s biodiversity is due to be signed later this year, with many other initiatives also starting up. The signs are that covid-19, a scourge caused by our dismissive regard for nature, might finally have focused minds. The question is, what needs to be done – and can we do enough in time? Our relationship with nature started to sour around the start of the industrial revolution, but only really veered off the rails as the Great Acceleration kicked in after the second world war. In this period, booming population and trade and higher levels of prosperity led to an exponential growth of pretty much every measure of humanity’s planetary impact: resource extraction, agricultural production, infrastructure development, pollution, and habitat and biodiversity loss.

2-17-21 Some frogs stop being able to jump if they become dehydrated
When some frogs lose too much water they also lose their ability to jump – more evidence of the problems they face with climate change. Dan Greenberg at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, and his colleague Wendy Palen experimented with three species: the coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei), which lives near cold mountain streams, the desert-adapted great basin spadefoot toad (Spea intermontana) and the Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla), which can adjust to various habitats. The researchers measured the animals’ jumping distances after placing them in environmental chambers to control their body temperature and dehydration levels. They found that the more dehydrated the amphibians were, the shorter the distance they could cover in one jump. Once dehydration had led the frogs to lose 30 per cent of their body weight – 45 per cent for the toad – they stopped jumping entirely. The pair also found that a combination of dehydration and temperature increases – ranging from 15 to 30°C, depending on the species – led to even shorter jumps. All the frogs and toads rapidly recovered their jumping ability after being placed back in water, says Greenberg. The researchers think they may know why dehydration has this effect. Dehydration disrupts the ion exchanges in the cells as well as the supply of nutrients and removal of waste within the muscles, affecting their function, says Greenberg. It can also make the blood more viscous, challenging the heart’s pumping efficiency, and making physical movement more difficult. The pair think the effect might apply to other animals that have less control over body temperature such such as insects, arthropods and reptiles. The findings highlight the importance of considering water loss, in addition to increased heat, when estimating the impact of global warming on frogs and other animals, says Greenberg.

2-15-21 Bill Gates: Solving Covid easy compared with climate
Fifty-one billion and zero - the two numbers Bill Gates says you need to know about climate. Solving climate change would be "the most amazing thing humanity has ever done", says the billionaire founder of Microsoft. By comparison, ending the pandemic is "very, very easy", he claims. Mr Gates's new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, is a guide to tackling global warming. Don't underestimate the scale of the challenge, he told me when we spoke last week. "We've never made a transition like we're talking about doing in the next 30 years. There is no precedent for this." Fifty-one billion is how many tonnes of greenhouse gases the world typically adds to the atmosphere each year. Net zero is where we need to get to. This means cutting emissions to a level where any remaining greenhouse gas releases are balanced out by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. One way to do this is by planting trees, which soak up CO2 through their leaves. Mr Gates' focus is on how technology can help us make that journey. Renewable sources like wind and solar can help us decarbonise electricity but, as Mr Gates points out, that's less than 30% of total emissions. We are also going to have to decarbonise the other 70% of the world economy - steel, cement, transport systems, fertiliser production and much, much more. We simply don't have ways of doing that at the moment for many of these sectors. The answer, says Mr Gates, will be an innovation effort on a scale the world has never seen before. This has to start with governments, he argues. At the moment, the economic system doesn't price in the real cost of using fossil fuels. Most users don't pay anything for the damage to the environment done by pollution from the petrol in their car or the coal or gas that created the electricity in their home. "Right now, you don't see the pain you're causing as you emit carbon dioxide," is how Mr Gates puts it. That's why he says governments have to intervene.

2-15-21 Robots deployed at A68A mega-iceberg remnants
UK scientists have arrived at the remains of what was once the biggest iceberg in the world to investigate their impacts on the environment. A68A, which for a long time had an area equal to a small country, gradually fragmented after drifting away from Antarctica into the South Atlantic. The RSS James Cook approached the biggest remaining segment on Sunday. It deployed a robotic glider that will measure seawater salinity, temperature and chlorophyll close to the ice. This is information that will tell the scientists how the still significant blocks could be affecting local marine life. The research ship doesn't need to stay in the vicinity because the technology built into the underwater robots means they can be piloted remotely back in the UK. "We have developed a world leading web application to pilot and manage the data from long-range ocean robots," said Maaten Furlong, from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). "It uses satellite data to assist in piloting the gliders which can be deployed from anywhere in the world. We use a variety of different glider types that can be fitted with a bespoke combination of sensors as required by different science campaigns." NOC is working with the British Antarctic Survey on the glider investigation. The joint team aimed to put a second glider in the water on Monday. The James Cook has to be cautious, however. It is not an ice-breaker and the waters around the berg remnants are infested with smaller ice chunks that could do damage to its hull. A68A has spent several months now drifting around the South Atlantic island of South Georgia, a haven to countless penguins, seals and an increasing number of great whales. Researchers want to understand how large ice masses could affect the productivity of the waters off the British Overseas Territory. One the one hand, icebergs can be a positive because they disperse rocky debris picked up in the Antarctic which then fertilises the ocean. On the other hand, their great bulk can also be a negative by blocking predators' access to prey, or by dumping so much fresh meltwater they disrupt some of the normal processes in the marine food web.

2-15-21 Disha Ravi: The jailed Indian activist linked to Greta Thunberg
In India's southern city of Bangalore, Disha Ravi was a cheerful, familiar figure among local climate activists. The sprightly 22-year-old helped clean up lakes, plant trees and campaigned against plastic. She attended workshops, walked the streets demanding climate action, loved animals and spoke out against sexism and capital punishment. A vegan and the sole-earning member in her family, she worked with a local company that makes plant-based food. Ms Ravi is also one of the founders of the local wing of Fridays For Future, a global movement begun by climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Here, she participated in campaigns to preserve the lion-tailed macaque in an Indian bio-diversity spot, and stall a hydro power plant, among other causes. Living in a low-lying neighbourhood in a city which would get easily flooded during rains, she worried about climate change. Bangalore, she said, was experiencing severe rainfall and flooding these days. She had lived in the family home for 13 years, and found that the city had never experienced such heavy rains as it had in recent years. Ms Ravi did not mince her words. "People of colour are suffering from the climate crisis first-hand - a lot of people don't give us attention that we need. The fact that you would choose to listen to a white person on the same issue rather than a person of colour, to me, is environmental racism," she told Vogue magazine last year. Friends and fellow campaigners say she is a law-abiding activist. During a recent campaign to save trees in her city, Ms Ravi went to the police and sought permission. "We have interacted during many campaigns to protect the environment. I always noticed she never transgressed the law," said Tara Krishnaswamy, a veteran activist. At the weekend, Ms Ravi was arrested after sharing a document intended to help farmers protest against new agriculture reform laws. The police say she was a "key conspirator" in the formulation and dissemination" of the document. The so-called "toolkit", which suggested ways of helping the farmers, was tweeted by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. "The call was to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India," the police said. They say Ms Ravi "collaborated" with separatist groups to "spread disaffection against the Indian state".

2-15-21 Wind turbine emoji request ends in sad face for climate campaigners
The body in charge of creating new emojis has rejected a bid for a wind turbine version, leaving climate campaigners sad faced. There are a handful of emojis relating to energy and climate change, including a high voltage one and an oil drum, but despite calls from individuals and companies including EDF Energy, there is no wind turbine symbol to represent one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of renewable power. UK charity Possible and trade body RenewableUK applied last March to the Unicode Consortium, the body that controls which new emojis are approved each year, for a turbine icon. “Emojis are increasingly part of how we talk to each other, so it only seems sensible that our vocabulary should include symbols relating to climate change. We’d noticed for a while people calling for a wind turbine emoji,” says Alice Bell at Possible. But the proposal was rejected by the consortium’s emoji subcommittee, on the grounds a windmill emoji is already being looked at. “Another proposal for a more traditionally shaped ‘windmill’ is currently under review and consideration. This would essentially duplicate most of the reasons for adding a wind energy device, and the committee would not add two such emoji as they are too similar,” the consortium wrote in an email sent to Possible and seen by New Scientist. The consortium didn’t respond to a request for comment. Bell says she was puzzled by the decision. “Windmills and wind turbines are very different tech. Moreover, people would use these emojis in entirely different contexts,” she says. One of the criteria for a new emoji is expected usage levels, based on volumes of search results. For now, the consortium has paused emoji applications due to the pressure on its contributors from the coronavirus pandemic, but when it restarts Bell hopes it will reconsider the decision and offer other climate-themed emojis too.

2-13-21 French Polynesia's pearl farmers combat climate change with sustainable practices
Some pearl producers in French Polynesia are implementing innovative sustainable farming practices that help ensure the oceans they work in stay healthy and thriving. earls cultured in the lagoons of the many islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia are world-renowned for their unique and illustrious colors. Tahitian pearls, as they are commonly known, are found in many different colors: black, pink, green, blue, and brown, with shades in between. Before the coronavirus pandemic set in, the gems accounted for a majority of the French Pacific island territory's exports — making pearls the second-biggest driver there, after tourism. But some pearl producers in French Polynesia are contributing in another major way: by implementing innovative sustainable farming practices that help ensure the oceans in which they work stay healthy and thriving. "I don't even like the word 'eco-friendly.' I just feel like it's just good sense," said Josh Humbert, owner of Kamoka Pearl Farm. "If we work in a way that works with the environment, our pearls are more beautiful and for us, that's the most important thing." The environment has always been the priority at this small, family-owned farm established in 1990 by Josh Humbert's father, Patrick Humbert, on the Ahe Atoll — a small strip of coral peeking out of the water about 300 miles away from French Polynesia's main island of Tahiti. For example, most pearl farms power-wash their oysters to keep them clean of algae and other buildup (something that must be done to keep them happy and healthy). But this practice does environmental damage by spraying the debris into the water, causing it to accumulate in the lagoon. Josh Humbert quickly realized there was another way: let the fish already in the lagoon clean the oysters. "So, what's that done is it's enabled our reef's entire ecosystem to thrive basically," Josh Humbert said. "So, what we've seen is that the fish population is increasing in our waters the 30 years that we've been here." Kamoka claims to be the world's first farm that started using the mother of pearl from their own used oysters to create nuclei, the small core inserted into an oyster to form a cultured pearl. Most other pearl farms use nuclei from other species, such as the washboard mussel found in the Mississippi River, according to Celeste Brash, farm co-owner, Lonely Planet travel writer and Josh Humbert's wife. "So, we're using our own waste," she said. The crew at the farm also works very hard to be as nonpollutant and self-sustainable as possible. This involves catching and eating a lot of fish, keeping up a massive garden, using organic soap, bathing in rainwater, and raising their own chickens for eggs. "Obviously, we'd love to be 100 percent self-sustainable and if we can do that, we would be, but every step is such a challenge," Brash said. Still, most commercial farms wouldn't be taking all of the other extra steps they're taking, she said. Science has confirmed that happy oysters living in a happy environment make better pearls — but that's becoming even harder with the rapidly changing climate. Josh Humbert says their main concern right now is ocean acidification or the increase in carbon dioxide in the water due to the burning of more fossil fuels. "If the ocean becomes more acidic, corals won't grow more easily and that's detrimental to the coral reef. And for us local people, we go out fishing and we live on the reefs, so it's important to us," said Keitapu Maamaatuaiahutapu, a Tahiti-based oceanographer at the University of French Polynesia and a former minister of marine resources. Meanwhile, coral bleaching, sea level rise, and warming ocean waters is happening. And if "the temperature [of the ocean] goes up too high, you can't use the lagoon for aquaculture," he said.

2-12-21 Biden warms up to the Green New Deal
President Biden has made some encouraging modest steps on climate change in his first weeks in office. He's rejoined the Paris climate accords; canceled the Keystone XL pipeline; and issued new executive orders restricting fossil fuel development on federal land, undoing Trump's cuts to emission regulations, and so on.. Currently the Biden administration is focused on getting the urgently needed coronavirus relief package passed. But already the next round of potential legislation is under discussion. The logical candidate would be a massive green investment package to fight climate change and provide jobs, and reportedly some voices in the administration and among congressional Democrats are pushing in this direction. Whether Biden can get behind such a plan, and design and implement it well, may determine if his presidency is remembered as a success. As Noam Scheiber writes in The New York Times Magazine, Democratic policymakers and economists have been dusting off part of Franklin Roosevelt's old New Deal playbook. The slogan in the 1930s was "relief, recovery, and reform," and it's the second word getting attention now (the first, of course, applies perfectly to the pandemic). The basic idea is to use government regulations and money to kick-start a surge of new American investment in zero-carbon manufacturing and infrastructure — solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, and so forth — both directly through state action and by standing up a green infrastructure bank to leverage private capital. This would slash emissions by replacing carbon-fueled infrastructure and also provide millions of good-paying jobs that will revitalize left-behind communities in the process. Essentially, we're talking about the basic framework of the Green New Deal, despite Biden disavowing the specific plan put forward by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others during the 2020 campaign (which included many more radical ideas as well). As Louis Hyman writes in the Times, this idea really is quite close to much of what happened during the New Deal — which was as much about leveraging private markets as it was about direct government spending. In the early '30s, there were gobs of private capital just sitting around. Thanks to the Depression and extreme income inequality, money pooled at the top of the income ladder, but had nowhere to go because the masses did not have the spending power that would justify fresh investment. New Dealers jump-started the process of economic circulation by structuring and insuring new lending markets for homes, rural electrification, and various types of business. Then that same process of investment (together with public works, relief spending, and taxes on the rich) helped create the income that made the loans profitable. The conditions for doing something like this today are very promising. For instance, the cost of solar and wind power have plummeted at a staggering rate — between 2009 and 2019, the price of new solar has fallen by 89 percent, and the price of onshore wind by 70 percent. It is now cheaper to invest in new renewables than in new coal power in every major energy market in the world, and soon it will be cheaper to build new renewables than continue to operate existing coal plants. The wind and solar share of total U.S. electricity production has soared from 1.9 percent in 2009 to 10.5 percent last year. However, as solar and wind continue to ramp up, they will run into bottlenecks due to America's aging power grid, which was not designed for that kind of semi-erratic power production. As David Roberts explains at Vox, the federal government is ideal for carrying out the upgrades, interconnections, and storage additions that would make a fully zero-carbon electricity sector possible.

2-12-21 Shell in Nigeria: Polluted communities 'can sue in English courts'
The UK Supreme Court has ruled that polluted Nigerian communities can sue oil giant Shell in English courts. The decision is a victory for the communities after a five-year battle and overturns a Court of Appeal ruling. The Niger Delta communities of more than 40,000 people say decades of pollution have severely impacted their lives, health and local environment. Shell had argued it was only a holding company for a firm that should be judged under Nigerian law. The Supreme Court, the UK's final appeal court for civil cases, ruled that the cases brought by the Bille community and the Ogale people of Ogoniland against Royal Dutch Shell were arguable and could proceed in the English courts. Royal Dutch Shell did not dispute that pollution had been caused, but argued it could not be held legally responsible for its Nigerian subsidiary. Shell is responsible for about 50% of the delta's oil production. Last year the Court of Appeal agreed with the company, but the Supreme Court said on Friday that that decision was flawed. The communities, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argued Shell owed a common law duty of care to individuals who had suffered serious harm as a result of the systemic health, safety and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries. Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader said the ruling was a "watershed" for "impoverished communities seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account". The firm said the amount of compensation sought had yet to be determined. This is the latest case to test whether multinational companies can be held accountable for the acts of overseas subsidiaries. Amnesty International welcomed the ruling. Mark Dummett, director of Amnesty International's Global Issues Programme, said the fight had not yet been won, but added: "This landmark ruling could spell the end of a long chapter of impunity for Shell and for other multinationals who commit human rights abuses overseas."

2-11-21 Toxic air puts six million at risk of lung damage
About six million people aged over 65 in England are at high risk of lung damage and asthma attacks because of toxic air, according to a new report. It finds that older people and those with lung disease who are most vulnerable to the effects of pollution are often the most exposed. The new document is from the British Lung Foundation (BLF) and Asthma UK. It comes as MPs also demand the government sets tougher targets for air pollution. Improving air quality needs to be "at the core" of the UK's post-pandemic rebuild, say members of a House of Commons committee that focuses on environmental issues. The new report by two of the UK's leading respiratory charities finds that a quarter of all care homes and a third of all GP practices and hospitals in England are in places where particulate pollution exceeds the limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to the new report. The focus is on exposure to fine particulate matter. This consists of tiny particles known as PM2.5s which have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres across - that is one-four-hundredth of a millimetre, or about 3% of the diameter of a human hair. PM2.5 particles are so small they can lodge in the lungs and even pass into the bloodstream. There's evidence they can damage blood vessels and other organs. Particulate pollution affects us all, but older people are more likely to suffer lung disease or have weakened lungs from aging. There are no safe limits for PM2.5s, but the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that concentrations should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre. The BLF and Asthma UK report used data on PM2.5s collected in 2019. They found air pollution blackspots across the country that affected care homes. In 36 local authorities, every single care home is located in areas with PM2.5 levels above the limits recommended by the WHO. These include Epping Forrest, Luton, Thurrock, Reading, Slough, Spelthorne, Broxbourne, Dartford and Watford.

2-11-21 A drop in CFC emissions puts the hole in the ozone layer back on track to closing
A reduction in illegal pollution from China is driving the decline, new data suggest. Good news for the ozone layer: After a recent spike in CFC-11 pollution, emissions of this ozone-destroying chemical are on the decline. Emissions of trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, were supposed to taper off after the Montreal Protocol banned CFC-11 production in 2010 (SN: 7/7/90). But 2014 to 2017 saw an unexpected bump. About half of that illegal pollution was pegged to eastern China (SN: 5/22/19). Now, atmospheric data show that global CFC-11 emissions in 2019 were back down to the average levels seen from 2008 to 2012, and about 60 percent of that decline was due to reduced emissions in eastern China, two teams report online February 10 in Nature. These findings suggest that the hole in Earth’s ozone layer is still on track to close up within the next 50 years — rather than being delayed, as it would have been if CFC-11 emissions had remained at the levels seen from 2014 to 2017 (SN: 12/14/16). One group analyzed the concentration of CFC-11, used to make insulating foams for buildings and household appliances, in the air above atmospheric monitoring stations around the globe. The team found that the world emitted about 52,000 metric tons of CFC-11 in 2019 — a major drop from the annual average of 69,000 metric tons from 2014 to 2018. The 2019 emissions were comparable to the average annual emissions from 2008 to 2012, Stephen Montzka, an atmospheric chemist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., and colleagues report. The new measurements imply that there has been a significant decrease in illicit CFC-11 production within the last couple of years, the researchers say, probably thanks to more rigorous regulation enforcement in China and elsewhere.

2-11-21 Ozone layer 'rescued' from CFC damage
A steady decline in the levels of ozone-harming CFC chemicals in the atmosphere has resumed, scientists say. This follows a recent, dangerous pause in that downward trajectory, which could have slowed the healing of Earth's protective ozone layer. occurring in Eastern China. Stopping that production appears to have set the ozone layer's healing process back on track. The ozone layer is a thin part of the Earth's atmosphere that absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. When it is depleted, more of this UV radiation can reach the surface - causing potential harm to humans and other living things. Ultraviolet rays can damage DNA and cause sunburn, increasing the long-term risk of problems such as skin cancer. CFCs stand for chlorofluorocarbons. This family of chemicals has seen widespread use in refrigeration and as propellants in aerosol cans. Their role in destroying the ozone layer has been known since the 1980s. The conclusions of a chemistry-based detective story, based on work carried out over several years by an international team of researchers, are published in two papers in the journal Nature. The first paper reveals that global emissions - of one particular type of CFC, trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) - decreased in 2019 at a rate that is consistent with the global ban on CFC production. That ban was put in place by the 1987 Montreal Protocol - an environmental treaty signed by almost every country that banned the production of these ozone-depleting chemicals from 2010. "Things seemed to be going to plan," explained Dr Luke Western, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Bristol. But in 2018, a study revealed that "the concentration of CFCs in the atmosphere wasn't falling as quickly as we would expect". "That's where it all started - we wanted to know what was happening," said Dr Western. "The work I was involved in showed that this [extra CFC-11] was primarily coming from East China."

2-10-21 Recent drop in emissions from China may speed up ozone layer recovery
The ozone layer may recover more quickly than first thought, thanks mostly to reduced emissions from China of a banned ozone-depleting gas. Luke Western at the University of Bristol, UK, and his colleagues analysed data on atmospheric levels of the banned ozone-depleting gas trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, and found that emissions from eastern China declined after 2017. Emissions in 2019 were 10,000 tonnes less than the average annual emissions between 2014 and 2017, says Western. Another study, led by Steve Montzka at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado, which estimated global CFC-11 emissions, also found a decline worldwide in 2019 – a trend that seems to be continuing. “Initial concentration trends in 2020 look similar to those in 2019,” says Montzka. The decline in CFC-11 emissions from eastern China accounts for around 60 per cent of this recent worldwide decline, says Western. The hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica has been healing in recent years largely because of the Montreal Protocol agreed internationally in 1987, which banned the production of ozone-depleting substances including CFC-11. But studies in 2018 and 2019 indicated that full recovery of the ozone layer was likely to be delayed, because of illegal production of CFC-11 in China between 2014 and 2017. The reduced emissions from China since 2017 mean this feared delay could now be avoided, say both Montzka and Western. “If the new emissions had continued at the levels we saw in 2014 to 2017, we could have seen ozone recovery, back to 1980 levels, delayed by a few years,” says Western. “As it stands, we hope that we have avoided any substantial delay to ozone recovery.” “It’s pleasing to see that the mechanisms of the Montreal Protocol – combining the knowledge of scientists, industry experts, policy makers and national authorities – enabled a rapid and effective response to its first major violation,” says Western.

2-10-21 Net zero has taken the world by storm in a rare climate win
The concept of net zero has rapidly taken hold in the public consciousness and it is having a big impact on pledges to cut carbon, writes Graham Lawton ONE of the concepts that climate science has bequeathed the wider world is the tipping point: a description of how a complex system can change gradually, almost imperceptibly, then suddenly flip into a new, stable state. Climate tipping points tend to be things we really don’t want to go past, such as the irreversible conversion of the Amazon rainforest to savannah or, heaven forfend, the Gulf Stream shutting down. Like in the climate disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. That one ends especially badly. The existence of climate tipping points and where they lie, however, remain uncertain. Climate scientists have rowed back from the Gulf Stream one, for example, though are increasingly concerned about unstoppable methane release from melting permafrost. More recently, though, the tipping point concept has found a new application in climate science as a way to explain, and possibly engineer, social change. The way changes in attitude creep along at a glacial pace before suddenly bursting forth to take root across society is a classic tipping point. This process is useful because it moves ideas that were once on the fringes of mainstream opinion rapidly to the centre; ideas such as the need for deep economic and technological changes to avoid a real-life climate disaster movie. Whether by accident or design, we recently passed one such social tipping point. In narrow terms, it is the sudden, widespread embrace of net zero. In broader terms, it means final realisation from all levels of society that we must take radical action or face dire, possibly terminal, consequences. A year ago, when I first wrote about it in this column, net zero was creeping into the mainstream. Greta Thunberg was talking about it; two countries – Suriname and Bhutan – had achieved it, and four more, including the UK, had passed laws to aim for it. A dozen or so others were thinking about it.

2-10-21 Three things to know about the disastrous flood in India
A collapsing glacier or a landslide might be at fault, with climate change playing a role. A flash flood surged down a river in India’s Himalayan Uttarakhand state on February 7, killing at least 30 people and washing away two hydroelectric power stations. As rescue workers search for more than 100 people who are still missing, officials and scientists are trying to unravel the causes of the sudden flood. Did a glacier high up in the mountains collapse, releasing a huge plug of frigid meltwater that spilled into the river? Or was the culprit a landslide that then triggered an avalanche? And what, if any, link might these events have to a changing climate? Here are three things to know about what might have caused the disaster in Uttarakhand. 1. One possible culprit was the sudden break of a glacier high in the mountains. News reports in the immediate wake of the disaster suggested that the floodwaters were caused by the sudden overflow of a glacial lake high up in the mountain, an event called a glacial lake outburst flood. 2. A landslide may be to blame instead. Other researchers contend that the disaster wasn’t caused by a glacial lake outburst flood at all. Instead, says Daniel Shugar, a geomorphologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, satellite images snapped during the disaster show the telltale marks of a landslide: a dark scar snaking through the white snow and clouds of dust clogging the air above. “You could see this train of dust in the valley, and that’s common for a very large landslide,” Shugar says. 3. It’s not yet clear whether climate change played a role in the disaster. The risk of both glacial lake outburst floods and freeze-thaw-related landslides in Asia’s high mountains has increased due to climate change. At first glance, “it was a climate event,” Prakash says. “But the data are still coming.”

2-9-21 Deaths from fossil fuel air pollution are double what we thought
Air pollution from burning fossil fuels has been linked to 8.7 million premature deaths a year worldwide, more than double the previous estimate. The new figures also suggest there are around three times as many deaths from dirty air in the UK as listed in official figures. Researchers say the bigger short-term health impact should add urgency to ongoing efforts to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, in addition to the need to act because of the longer-term threat those fuels pose as drivers of climate change. The number of premature deaths globally from fine particles released by burning coal, oil and gas – known as PM2.5 – has previously been estimated at 4.2 million. Eloise Marais at University College London, who worked on the new estimate, says the higher toll she and her colleagues calculated appears to be a consequence of their model factoring in recent studies that provide a better account of the health impact not only of high concentrations of PM2.5 but also of very low concentrations. Another factor is that more detailed figures have now been made available from Asia, Europe and North America. “Everything is trending towards a much more severe health outcome associated with air pollution exposure than we once thought,” says Marais. The new estimate means that 75 per cent of all premature deaths linked with air pollution globally are down to PM2.5 from fossil fuels, so Marais thinks the research should add “greater urgency” to efforts to cut fossil fuel use. “It highlights that there’s an important near-term consequence of fossil fuels,” she says. To produce their estimates, the researchers used the latest data on fossil fuel emission sources, such as power plants, and simulated how air pollution would spread in regions. Next, they checked how those results compared with actual observations of PM2.5. The health impacts of exposure to the particles were then modelled using regional data on populations and deaths.

2-8-21 Large variation in daily temperatures linked to lower economic growth
Economic growth is lower in regions that experience bigger swings in day-to-day temperatures, revealing a potential new cost of climate change that boosts the case for green investments and fossil fuel taxes. Larger fluctuations in annual temperatures are known to damage economies by harming farming and other sectors, but the effect of daily differences in temperature is less well-studied. The impact is significant, according to a study by a team in Germany and the US that analysed daily temperatures and subnational economic data collected across 76 countries between 1979 and 2018. Globally, the researchers found that each extra 1°C in day-to-day temperature variability was linked to a cut in the regional economic growth rate by at least 5 percentage points in any given year. That is a big change, even at a regional level where annual rates can swing by 16 percentage points each year. “What we show is if those high-frequency changes in the weather are going to change with climate change, that is going to have considerable impacts for the economy,” says Maximilian Kotz at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The average economic hit masks differences around the globe. The cost was lower in places that experience large seasonal changes in temperature, such as Russia and Canada, than regions in the tropics, which don’t have such big seasonal swings. Kotz thinks that is because people living in places with hot summers and cold winters have ways of coping that are useful for abrupt daily changes too. The team found that at subnational levels, the economic harm of daily temperature changes was roughly the same in low-income countries as it was in high-income ones, suggesting affluence isn’t a protection against big daily temperature swings.

2-8-21 Climate change is making US hay fever season longer and more intense
Hay fever season has become longer and more intense in North America over the past 30 years, thanks to the way plants are responding to climate change. “This is an in-our-backyard example of climate change affecting us and human health already,” says William Anderegg at the University of Utah. “It’s not something that’s in the future or decades away.” He and his colleagues analysed data from 60 long-term pollen-count stations around the continent, which recorded pollen in the air on sheets of sticky paper from 1990 to 2018. They found that over that time, pollen seasons have lengthened by roughly 20 days, and the amount of pollen in the air has grown by 21 per cent. They defined the pollen season in a given area as the time during which pollen concentrations exceeded the 30th percentile in relation to the data from other pollen stations. Their analysis found that hotter weather can account for half of the extension in pollen seasons, and 8 per cent of the increase in pollen concentrations. Warmer temperatures signal to plants that it is time to reproduce, leading to pollen seasons that typically start in the spring. Longer periods of high temperatures extend the time for pollination. The rise in pollen concentration with every season isn’t as well understood. The jump may be due to the longer growing period itself, or to a combination of more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures that makes it easier for plants to photosynthesise, says Anderegg. With more carbon and more energy, plants can invest more in pollen, says Anderegg. Surprisingly, he says, the greatest increases in pollen were seen in the south-eastern and mid-western US, even though temperatures are rising faster further north. On the whole, pollen season may become less predictable, as both high temperatures and droughts become more common, says Anderegg.

2-8-21 ‘Under a White Sky’ explores whether we must tinker with nature to save it
In her latest book, Elizabeth Kolbert examines gene drives, geoengineering and other interventions. In 1900, the city of Chicago completed a 45-kilometer-long canal that altered the hydrology of two-thirds of the United States. That wasn’t the intention, of course. The plan was to reverse the flow of the Chicago River to divert waste away from the city’s source of drinking water: Lake Michigan. The engineering feat worked, but it also connected the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, two of the world’s largest — and until then, isolated — freshwater ecosystems, allowing invasive species to pour through the opening and wreak ecological havoc. Elizabeth Kolbert opens Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future with this parable of humans’ hubristic attempts to control nature. We’ve put our minds toward damming or diverting most of the planet’s rivers, replacing vast tracts of natural ecosystems with crops, and burning so much fossil fuel that 1 in 3 molecules of atmospheric carbon dioxide came from human action, she writes. We’ve warmed the atmosphere, raised sea levels, erased countless species and forged an uncertain future for humankind and the planet. Our collective ingenuity got us into this mess, and Kolbert explores whether that same ingenuity can get us out. This is “a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems,” she writes. A fitting follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize–winning The Sixth Extinction (SN: 2/22/14, p. 28), the book will satisfy readers keen on a skeptical survey of how innovation could save coral reefs or turn climate-warming carbon into stone. Kolbert takes a firsthand look at many of these interventions. She begins on a boat, traveling up the Chicago canal to inspect electric barriers meant to keep invasive Asian carp from forever altering the Great Lakes. Asian carp were introduced to the Mississippi River basin in the 1960s as a biological Weedwacker to control invasive plants. But the carp have swum amok throughout the basin and are now knocking at the door of Lake Michigan. Simply closing the canal would protect the lakes, but that’s largely dismissed as being too disruptive to the city. Instead, humans innovate. “First you reverse a river,” Kolbert writes. “Then you electrify it.”

2-8-21 MPs criticise government home insulation programme
The slow pace of progress achieved by a government scheme aimed at tackling climate change and keeping homes warm in winter has been criticised by MPs. Ministers admit the Green Homes Grant has issued only 21,000 vouchers towards the cost of installing insulation. At the current rate it would take more than 10 years to meet the government's target of vouchers to 600,000 homes, the Environmental Audit Committee says. The government says it is striving to improve its performance. The scheme offers to fund up to two-thirds of the cost of installing insulation, heat pumps and draught proofing. But householders often cannot get through to accredited tradespeople on the scheme because they are overwhelmed with calls. And the MPs say delays in the grants system are often hampering insulation firms from getting paid by the government for the work they have done. Some firms are pulling out of the scheme altogether. The committee says part of the problem is a severe shortage of engineers. Many such posts were closed when the government turned off the tap of grants for home insulation in 2013. The MPs want Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce a multi-year extension to the scheme in his Budget on 3 March to give confidence to the industry to train more installers and engineers. This demand is echoed by the government's advisory climate change committee, which says ministers need to spend £4bn a year into the next decade to tackle the problem. The chancellor has currently committed £1bn for one year. The issue underpins the UK's international credibility as head of this November's UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The UK cannot meet its own carbon emissions targets unless it radically cuts emissions from homes. Homes warmed by gas central heating will need to shift to low-carbon sources in the coming decades - most likely heat pumps which act like a fridge in reverse to heat the home.

2-7-21 Global demand for carbon offsets to combat emissions is growing — but the supply is unreliable
As countries and companies set net-zero carbon emissions goals, investing in carbon-offset projects is a popular but controversial solution. It may seem like a huge feat to get large companies to reach the ambitious goal of net-zero carbon emissions. But it is possible — at least in theory — to make them carbon-neutral by banking on carbon offsets. The carbon offsets idea is relatively simple: Companies pay others to remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to counteract their own emissions. That's what Disney had in mind in 2009 when they spent millions of dollars to help protect a forested area in the Amazonian region of Peru, which had high rates of deforestation. "What's being traded is an agreed-upon idea of a ton of carbon," said Lauren Gifford, an offsets expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "No one's handing anyone anything." The market for carbon offsets is worth at least $5 billion globally and is expected to become a lot bigger as companies and countries set ambitious goals for net-zero carbon emissions. But experts worry that offsets can be an unreliable solution for reducing atmospheric carbon — and can hurt more than they help. Most carbon offsets on the market now come in the form of forest protection and regrowth, as was the case for Disney's offset project in the Alto Mayo region of Peru. "Part of that Disney money was meant to retrain folks, get them to not cut down trees, get them to do more small-scale, sustainable agriculture so that they're not moving when the soil was no longer fruitful," said Gifford, whose PhD dissertation focused on Disney's offsetting in Peru. Offsets can seem like a win-win: make companies look environmentally responsible and raise money for forest conservation. Disney's investments helped the company market itself as eco-friendly, and they won recognition for their work in Peru, including being named the "most socially responsible company" by a private consulting firm. Disney is not alone. An increase in net-zero emissions promises is driving demand. "There are so many companies coming out there, not just companies, but also countries and governments that are committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not before," said John Davis, a commercial director with South Pole, a Swiss-based environmental consultancy that specializes in offsets. But there is not enough supply to meet that demand, said Gabriel Labbate, from the United Nations Environment Program. "It is true that in the last two years, there has been an increased interest from the private sector to find high-quality offsets, and there are not many," he said. Labbate's team recently launched the Green Gigaton Challenge, which aims to secure hundreds of offset projects around the world to help meet growing demand. It's also very difficult to determine whether these projects actually reduce carbon emissions. When scrutinized — many projects, like Disney's in Peru — fall short, according to Gifford. Conflict between local people, the government, and nongovernmental organizations managing the offset project eventually erupted into violence. "If you have that level of conflict, your resources are not going to avoid deforestation or improve the way a forest is managed," Gifford said. A Bloomberg investigation last year found that the amount of Peruvian forest actually saved was hard to gauge because Disney's estimates relied on murky math. "It seems like deforestation has gone down slightly in the region, but not as rapidly as Disney had hoped," Gifford said.

2-6-21 Solar energy empowers young women in Yemen
Ten women in Yemen's Abs district have built and now run a solar microgrid. The project was set up in 2019 with the help of the UN Development Programme. The women now run the station as their own business, providing affordable, renewable energy to a community living near a war zone. As a result of the project’s success, there are plans to build 100 microgrids around the country, employing more local women. Station manager Iman Ghaleb Hadi Al-Hamali explains how the work has given the group confidence and hope.

2-5-21 Denmark to build 'first energy island' in North Sea
A project to build a giant island providing enough energy for three million households has been given the green light by Denmark's politicians. The world's first energy island will be as big as 18 football pitches (120,000sq m), but there are hopes to make it three times that size. It will serve as a hub for 200 giant offshore wind turbines. It is the biggest construction project in Danish history, costing an estimated 210bn kroner (£24bn; €28bn: $34bn). Situated 80km (50 miles) out to sea, the artificial island would be at least half-owned by the state but partly by the private sector. It will not just supply electricity for Danes but for other, neighbouring countries' electricity grids too. Although those countries have not yet been detailed, Prof Jacob Ostergaard of the Technical University of Denmark told the BBC that the UK could benefit, as well as Germany or the Netherlands. Green hydrogen would also be provided for use in shipping, aviation, industry and heavy transport. Under Denmark's Climate Act, the country has committed to an ambitious 70% reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to becoming CO2 neutral by 2050. Last December it announced it was ending all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen said the country was simply "changing the map". "This is gigantic," Prof Ostergaard told the BBC. "It's the next big step for the Danish wind turbine industry. We were leading on land, then we took the step offshore and now we are taking the step with energy islands, so it'll keep the Danish industry in a pioneering position." Green group Dansk Energi said that while the "dream was on the way to becoming a reality" it doubted the North Sea island would be up and running by the planned 2033 start date. But Danish politicians across the spectrum have given their backing to the plan. Former energy minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen of the Social Liberal party said energy islands had begun "as a radical vision" but there was now a broad agreement to turn it into a reality. A smaller energy island is already being planned off Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, to the east of mainland Denmark. Agreements have already been signed for electricity to be provided from there to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

2-5-21 Noise pollution 'drowns out ocean soundscape'
Noise from shipping, construction, sonar and seismic surveys is "drowning out" the healthy ocean soundscape, scientists say. And an "overwhelming body of evidence" has revealed the harm human-made noise does to marine life. "We've degraded habitats and depleted marine species," said Prof Carlos Duarte, who led the study, said. "So we've silenced the soundtrack of the healthy ocean and replaced it with the sound that we create." Writing in the journal Science, Prof Duarte, at King Abdullah University, Saudi Arabia, and his colleagues point out that sound waves can travel thousands of miles through the ocean. "Sound is a fundamental cue for feeding, navigation, communication and social interaction in the ocean," he told BBC News. A great deal of the decades of research into ocean sound has focused on marine mammals such as humpback whales that communicate across vast distances with complex and mysterious songs. But Prof Duarte said there was evidence even newly hatched fish larvae were now unable to hear "the call of home" when drifting in the vast ocean. "We now know that [these tiny larvae] hear the call from their habitat and follow it," he said. "And that call is no longer being heard." Marine scientist Dr Heather Koldewey, from the Zoological Society of London, said that the underwater realm was a "a cacophony of sound as animals meet, greet, breed, and use noise in a variety of ways". "It's is an important yet overlooked aspect of what constitutes a healthy ocean," she added. But the scientists pointed out that the global lockdown revealed how quickly and easily the problem of noise pollution could be solved. "Last year, when 60% of all humans were in lockdown, the level of human noise [in the ocean] reduced by about 20%," said Prof Duarte. "That relatively modest reduction was enough for a wave of observations. "Large marine mammals - the easiest to observe - were seen near coastlines and in waterways that they'd not been seen in for generations."

2-4-21 An upwelling of rock beneath the Atlantic may drive continents apart
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge may play a more active role in plate tectonics than thought. An upsurge of hot rock from deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean may be driving the continents on either side apart. The Americas are moving away from Europe and Africa by a few centimeters each year, as the tectonic plates underlying those continents drift apart. Researchers typically think tectonic plates separate as the distant edges of those plates sink down into Earth’s mantle, creating a gap (SN: 1/13/21). Material from the upper mantle then seeps up through the rift between the plates to fill in the seafloor. But new seismic data from the Atlantic Ocean floor show that hot rock is welling up beneath a seafloor rift called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from hundreds of kilometers deep in Earth’s mantle. This suggests that material rising up under the ridge is not just a passive response to tectonic plates sliding apart. Rather, deep rock pushing toward Earth’s surface may be driving a wedge between the plates that helps separate them, researchers report online January 27 in Nature. A better understanding of plate tectonics — which causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — could help people better prepare for these natural disasters (SN: 9/3/17). Matthew Agius, a seismologist at Roma Tre University in Rome, and colleagues glimpsed what’s happening beneath the Mid-Atlantic Ridge using 39 seismometers on the seafloor near a spot along the ridge between South America and Africa. Those sensors monitored rumbles from earthquakes around the world for about a year. Because the seismic waves from those quakes traveled deep through Earth’s mantle on their way to the seismometers, the recorded tremors contained clues about the location and movement of material far below the seafloor. In those signals, Agius’ team saw hints of material from Earth’s lower mantle, more than 600 kilometers below the seafloor, welling up toward the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. “This was completely unexpected,” Agius says, and it could be a powerful force for pushing apart the tectonic plates on either side of the rift.

2-3-21 A hydrogen fuel revolution is coming – here's why we might not want it
Hydrogen is widely touted as a green fuel for everything from cars and planes to heating homes. But all too often it has a dirty secret. IF HYDROGEN is the future, it has been for quite some time. In his 1875 novel The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne imagined the element replacing coal as a fuel, split out of water to “furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light”. Similar noises were made in the 1970s oil crisis, when hydrogen was touted as an alternative fuel for cars. And then there was US president George W. Bush in 2003, latching on to a new enthusiasm for hydrogen vehicles during the first wave of real concern about climate change. “We can make a fundamental difference for the future of our children,” he said. Now hydrogen is back – again. From the US to Australia, and the European Union to China, the past year has seen an almost daily torrent of multibillion-dollar government funding pledges, tests of new technologies from trains and planes to domestic boilers, industry statements and analyses, and championing by leaders such as UK prime minister Boris Johnson. “We’re finding it hard to keep up with,” says Simon Bennett at the International Energy Agency. “The idea of a hydrogen economy is not new,” says Martin Tengler at analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Now we’re in another hype cycle. The question is: is it different, or not?” Tengler is one of many who thinks it is. Meanwhile, another question hangs much heavier than hydrogen in the air: is it really a clean, green fuel to help combat climate change? Or does the significant lobbying of fossil-fuel interests for a hydrogen economy indicate other priorities? Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe and the most abundant. On paper, it has a lot going for it as a fuel. Although it rarely exists on its own on Earth, it can be produced using clean electricity to split essentially inexhaustible water, producing only oxygen as a by-product.

2-2-21 US cities under-report carbon emissions by 18 per cent on average
Many cities in the United States are underestimating their impact on the climate. A comparison of self-reported data from 48 US cities against independent estimates of fossil-fuel emissions has found that the urban centres are under-reporting their carbon emissions by 18.3 per cent on average. Kevin Gurney at Northern Arizona University and his colleagues have developed an automated measurement system known as Vulcan, which can estimate fossil-fuel emissions at specific geographic points and over large areas. Vulcan makes its estimates based on dozens of publicly available data sets, including local air quality emission reports, energy statistics, traffic data as well as measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The team compared Vulcan’s estimates of greenhouse gas emissions between 2010 and 2015 with those reported in 48 city inventories. This revealed large discrepancies, with some cities under-reporting their emissions by 145.5 per cent. The cities used different methods to account for airborne, on-road and marine emissions. “They’re not using a consistent methodology, or even conception of what their emissions are,” says Gurney. He cites heating as an example: while most buildings in the US are heated by natural gas or electricity, some use heating oil. “Heating oil statistics are difficult to get. What happens is cities will often just not include the heating oil in their total building estimates,” says Gurney. There is no suggestion that cities are under-reporting their emissions in bad faith. “They’re very well intentioned,” says Gurney. The findings also suggest that some cities are actually overestimating their emissions. Benicia in California and Flagstaff in Arizona – the city where Gurney works – may be over-reporting emissions by 60 per cent.

2-2-21 Prosperity comes at 'devastating' cost to nature
A landmark review has called for transformational change in our economic approach to nature. The long-awaited review by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, of the University of Cambridge, says prosperity has come at a "devastating" cost to the natural world. The report proposes recognising nature as an asset and reconsidering our measures of economic prosperity. It is expected to set the agenda on government policy going forward. At its heart is the idea that sustainable economic growth requires a different measure than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). "Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature's goods and services with its capacity to supply them," Prof Dasgupta said in a statement. "It also means accounting fully for the impact of our interactions with nature across all levels of society." Covid-19 has shown us what can happen when we don't do this, he added. "Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better." The Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity was commissioned by the UK Treasury in 2019, the first time a national finance ministry has authorised a full assessment of the economic importance of nature. The report, which has been compared with the influential 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, sets out the ways in which we should account for nature in economics and decision-making. Recommendations include: 1. Making food and energy systems sustainable through technological innovations and policies that change prices and behavioural norms, 2. Investing in programmes that provide community-based family planning, 3. Expanding and improving access to protected areas, 4. Implementing large-scale and widespread investment in nature-based solutions to address biodiversity loss, 5. Introducing natural capital into national accounting systems.

2-2-21 Biodiversity report urges nations to consider nature an economic asset
A major report on the economics of biodiversity urges governments to look beyond traditional measures of goods and services produced in order to address the “massive deterioration” of the natural world over the past 70 years. The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury and likened to the influential 2006 Stern review on climate change, paints a dire picture of biodiversity loss. It also warns that our destruction of nature in turn threatens economies, by negatively affecting essentials such as clean water and medicines. However, Partha Dasgupta at the University of Cambridge, who led the review, says the situation can be turned around by adopting new measures of success other than gross domestic product, such as China’s use of the gross ecosystem product, which accounts for the value of natural ecosystems as well as artificial natural resources, such as farmland or urban green land. Food production must be “fundamentally restructured” to reduce our impact on nature, says Dasgupta, not just with technology – for example, the use of genetically modified crops to improve yields – but by changing behaviour, such as wasting less food. He highlights the benefits of shifting diets away from meat, but stops shy of advocating for people to eat less meat. The third key recommendation is to change institutions he says have failed to address these issues: Dasgupta singles out education and finance. He suggests “there is every reason” universities should require new students to take a basic ecology course, much like US universities once made students take a course on the history of Western civilisation. Dasgupta’s report comes 11 years after a landmark study on the economics of biodiversity called for urgent action. In the decade since, governments around the world failed to meet any of the 20 targets they set to arrest biodiversity loss.

2-2-21 Ship exhaust studies overestimate cooling from pollution-altered clouds
‘Ship tracks’ are too short-lived to accurately reflect how aerosol-cloud interactions might alter the climate. Among the biggest questions for climate change forecasters is how atmospheric aerosols shape clouds, which can help cool the planet. Now, a new study finds that one promising strategy for understanding how aerosols and clouds interact can overestimate the cooling ability of pollution-generated clouds by up to 200 percent, researchers report in the Jan. 29 Science. “Clouds in general, and how aerosols interact with the climate, are a big uncertainty in climate models,” says Franziska Glassmeier, an atmospheric scientist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Scientists know that aerosols — both natural, as from volcanoes, and human-caused, as from pollution — can change a cloud’s thickness, ability to scatter sunlight or how much rainfall it produces. But these complicated physical effects are difficult to simulate, so scientists have sought real-world examples to study these effects. Enter ship tracks. Exhaust belched out of massive cargo ships crossing the oceans can form these bright lines of clouds. The tiny exhaust particles act as cloud nuclei: Water vapor condenses on the particles to form cloud droplets, the watery stuff of clouds. Ship tracks are “this prime example where we can see this cause and effect,” Glassmeier says. “Put in particles, and you can see the clouds get brighter.” Brighter clouds means that they are reflecting even more sunlight back into space. Visible and measurable by satellite, the tracks offer a potential window into how larger-scale industrial pollution around the globe might be altering the planet’s cloudscape — and perhaps how such clouds might affect the climate. Satellite-derived analyses of ship tracks involve measuring the density of the water droplets in the clouds from the images, and calculating how the brightness of the clouds changes over time.

2-2-21 'I got my Florida school district to convert to electric buses'
Middle school student Holly Thorpe's science fair project measured CO2 levels inside and outside school buses - and her findings were a catalyst for the change. The funding for the electric school buses is coming from the Volkswagen Settlement Fund, which provides money for zero emission vehicles after the company admitted it cheated emission tests.

2-1-21 Now and then: Iceland's vanishing glaciers
Iceland's Skaftafellsjokull is a spur from the nation's Vatnajokull ice cap, which is Europe's largest glacier. In 1989, photographer Colin Baxter visited the glacier during a family holiday and took a picture of the frozen landscape. Colin's son, Dr Kieran Baxter, returned to the exact location 30 years later. It had dramatically retreated, with scientists estimating it had shrunk by about 400 square kilometres, which is about the size of the Isle of Wight, as a result of climate change. "I grew up visiting these amazing places and inherited an understanding of the quiet power of these landscapes," said Dr Kieran Baxter, a lecturer at the University of Dundee. "It is personally devastating to see them change so drastically in the past few decades. "On surface appearances, the extent of the climate crisis often remains largely invisible but here we can see clearly the gravity of the situation that is affecting the entire globe," Dr Baxter observed. Globally, the world's glaciers are considered to be among the most visual indicators of how the world's climate is warming. According to US scientists, glaciers have - on average - lost the equivalent of a 24m-slice of ice since 1980. Measuring the actual decline of glaciers is difficult on a global scale as there are a range of factors that affect the rate of melting, such as altitude, precipitation, exposure to the elements, like wind and sunlight. Glaciers' ages also differ vastly. Some are just a few centuries old, whereas other have been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years. The longevity of glaciers provide a valuable record of past climates, and how the current situation compares with past events. Scientists drill into the glaciers' ice and extract a "core". These cores provide a continuous "proxy" year-by-year record of past climates. By analysing components of the ice, such as trapped air bubbles within the ice, researchers can build up a picture of past atmospheric characteristics, such as how much CO2 was in the air, temperature variations, vegetation. This allows scientists to build up a picture of past climates, how it has changed and what we can expect in the future.


61 Global Warming News Articles
for February of 2021

Global Warming News Articles for January of 2021