Nov 15, 18 05:03 PM
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Mednews announcements of latest treatments, medicines and discoveries
Nov 14, 18 10:29 AM
cancer a fight we can win
Oct 15th 2018
At least 36 dead in Uganda landslides as school disappears beneath mud
Rescuers search for 200 children after lives, homes and livestock are swept away following torrential rains in Bududa district
Landslides have left at least 36 people dead in Uganda with rescue workers warning the death toll will rise.
Hundreds have lost homes and livestock after torrential rains caused the River Suume to burst its banks, triggering landslides that devastated two villages in the mountainous eastern district of Bududa on Thursday afternoon.
Sowed Mansur, the regional police spokesperson, said 36 bodies had been retrieved by Friday morning. In Maludu, part of a primary school has disappeared under the mud, leaving more than 200 pupils missing.
The local media put the death toll at 40, with an estimated 400 people still missing, and dozens of injured survivors have been hospitalised. Search and rescue efforts continue.
“The heavy downpour and muddy ground is making our rescue efforts for the missing people and recoveries of bodies difficult. The teams carrying relief and necessary assistance can’t access the scene, since a connecting bridge was washed away,” said Mansur.
“Both animals and people were swept away in this disaster,” said Uganda Red Cross Society in a statement. “Our community volunteers did their best to rescue some people from the debris.”
President Yoweri Museveni wrote in a tweet: “I have received the sad news of landslides wreaking havoc in Bududa district, killing a yet to be specified number of residents. The government has dispatched rescue teams to the affected areas.”
“The government will look at the other options available to stop further occurrences of these disasters,” he added.
A government minister claimed people had been advised to leave the area.
“We had earlier predicted about a problem [landslides] in Bududa. We warned and advised those living in endangered areas to leave. But they ignored, resisted and insisted to stay. Now this tragedy has struck with devastating effects,” said Hillary Onek, minister for disasters preparedness and relief.
“Some of them were shifted from there but went back. We are going to see how to safeguard the people at risk of the rains and landslides.”
In 2010, the government resettled hundreds of people who survived landslides in Bududa to the mid-western district of Kiryandongo, but many returned. At least 300 people were killed and thousands were forced to flee after a landslide buried three villages in March 2010.
The prime minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, said the government was helping more than 500 people affected by the disaster.
“Government has dispatched relief supplies including food, blankets, tents, tarpaulins, jerrycans and saucepans,” said Rugunda.
More than 100,000 people remain at a risk of landslides in the mountainous Elgon and Rwenzori sub-regions, with up to 20,000 of them likely to be displaced in the next four months, according to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Oct 11th 2018
Venomous sea creatures on the rise thanks to climate change
Human beings might have to cope with an increasing amount of venomous bites, stings, and other brush ups with poison due to climate change. That’s according to a new study, coming at the same time that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning that negative impacts from a warming world are coming faster than expected.
According to a massive new analysis of poisonous or venomous aquatic animals, dangerous species might become increasingly common in new ranges. Species whose ranges might shift polewards due to warmer water include lionfish, sea snakes, crown-of-thorns starfish and a number of different types of venomous jellies.
“These species have human interest because they’re poisonous but they reflect the broader patterns that we’re seeing—range shifts, abundance changes, either declines or increases—and that is upsetting the balance of what we would normally see in the ecosystem,” says Isabelle Neylan, a PhD student in marine sciences at the University of California, Davis and a coauthor of the study recently published in Wilderness and Environment Medicine.
She and her coauthors scoured medical, environmental and ecological research on the effect of climate change on poisonous and venomous creatures as well as various modeling studies and poison center data. The recent paper actually represents the second part of the research—the first study published earlier this year focused on the effect climate change might have on poisonous and venomous land creatures.
She says that most species may not necessarily see an increase in abundance, but will see their ranges shift as waters become too warm closer to the equator, pushing them northwards or southwards following their ideal temperature niches. However, not all species will experience this evenly as some will not be able to cope with these range shifts.
“The big pattern is that there isn’t necessarily a pattern,” says Neylan, who conducted these studies while she was a research technician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, adding that each species may experience unique challenges in terms of changes in distribution or population.
Lions, jellies, and starfish oh my
One group of animals that are most likely to increase both in range and abundance due to warmer waters and changes in the acidity level of the ocean are jellyfish. These include the deadly irukandji and box jellyfish, which have been responsible for increasing amounts of deaths in Australia and may be moving southwards into more populated areas as the climate warms.
“Box jellyfish are very venomous—possibly the most venomous in the world pound-for-pound,” says Timothy Erickson, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University and a coauthor of the study with Neylan.
Jennifer Purcell, a research associate at Western Washington University, has studied the spread of jellyfish but was not involved in this recent study. She says that the reproduction of jellies increases in warmer waters.
“It’s not just a couple [species]—it’s really the majority of jellyfish that have been looked at which increase their abundance,” she says.
She agrees that jellyfish might be a problem due to climate change, but adds that other factors may be at play in the spread of these species such as humans releasing or moving them around, either on purpose or inadvertently.
“The jellyfish is maybe their strongest case but I do worry that they picked out some sensational species to try to make an important sounding story,” she says.
While they initially spread to Florida due to their release by pet owners, lionfish have begun to spread up the Atlantic coast to Georgia and the Carolinas. These fish, which apparently actually taste quite good themselves, can decimate small fish and marine creature populations and pack a painful sting for humans who encounter them.
Crown-of-thorns starfish have begun spreading from their traditional range in the Indo-Pacific waters southwards into the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia due to an increase in temperature in those waters. These voracious toxic starfish can eat through entire reef systems. For the people who accidentally run into them while swimming or other activities, they can cause pain, inflammation, and infection.
Other fish like porcupinefish have also been sighted in new areas, but the authors note a lack of data on how climate change is affecting the range or abundance of one of the fish which humans have the most run ins—stingrays. They call for more research into the ranges and effects of shifting weather patterns on stingrays, stonefish, and blue-ringed octopus in order to understand potential problems in the future.
A toxic situation
Not all toxic aquatic species will fare well due to climate change. While sea snakes have also been found in new ranges or in increasing abundance in South Korea, California, and Hawai’i, the researchers report that the abundance of some of the most poisonous snakes in the world on land or water is decreasing worldwide.
Poison frogs may fare the worst due to their sensitivity to temperature shifts. And it’s not just a drop in abundance. Neylan also notes that some species are going extinct due to a combination of climate change and pathogens like the chytrid fungus, which is also spreading due to climate change.
“Diversity is going down overall and that’s a bad thing,” Neylan says, adding that when species like lionfish move into new ranges with little or no predators, they can negatively impact ecosystems.
“Any change in the ecosystem has rippling effects,” Neylan says.
Erickson says that with the spread of poisonous creatures into new ranges, hospitals and health care systems may not know how to cope with the influx of potential sting or bite victims.
This could lead to increasing costs of health care. “Some of the antidotes are very expensive,” Erickson says, adding that these problems will likely strike poorer countries even harder as a result.
Where possible, he says that hospitals may have to have better plans in place for getting the antidotes they lack. He also notes the need for better public information about what kind of immediate steps to take, such as putting vinegar on jellyfish stings or hot water for stingray and lionfish stings.
According to the researchers, the problem is only going to be exacerbated in the future as more and more people move into coastal areas. They note that by the end of the century, 50 percent of the world’s population will be living within 60 miles of a coastline.
“There are more and more people going in the water,” Purcell agrees.
“We are a part of our environment and our ecosystem. Changes affect us and we change what’s happening in our ecosystem,” Neylan says.
Major climate report describes strong risk of crisis by 2040
A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.” (The New York Times) To keep temperatures from rising to more than 1.5C in the long term, countries need to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, with steep cuts in other greenhouse gases such as methane. (Press Association)
Oct 7th 2018
Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news
A much-awaited report from the U.N.'s top climate science panel will show an enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of warming.
n Incheon, South Korea, this week, representatives of over 130 countries and about 50 scientists have packed into a large conference center going over every line of an all-important report: What chance does the planet have of keeping climate change to a moderate, controllable level?
When they can’t agree, they form “contact groups” outside the hall, trying to strike an agreement and move the process along. They are trying to reach consensus on what it would mean — and what it would take — to limit the warming of the planet to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, when 1 degree Celsius has already occurred and greenhouse gas emissions remain at record highs.
“It’s the biggest peer-review exercise there is,” said Jonathan Lynn, head of communications for the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It involves hundreds or even thousands of people looking at it.”
The IPCC, the world’s definitive scientific body when it comes to climate change, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a decade ago and has been given what may rank as its hardest task yet.
It must not only tell governments what we know about climate change — but how close they have brought us to the edge. And by implication, how much those governments are failing to live up to their goals for the planet, set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
1.5 degrees is the most stringent and ambitious goal in that agreement, originally put there at the behest of small island nations and other highly vulnerable countries. But it is increasingly being regarded by all as a key guardrail, as severe climate change effects have been felt in just the past five years — raising concerns about what a little bit more warming would bring.
“Half a degree doesn’t sound like much til you put it in the right context,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “It’s 50 percent more than we have now.”
The idea of letting warming approach 2 degrees Celsius increasingly seems disastrous in this context.
Parts of the planet, like the Arctic, have already warmed beyond 1.5 degrees and are seeing alarming changes. Antarctica and Greenland, containing many feet of sea-level rise, are wobbling. Major die-offs have hit coral reefs around the globe, suggesting an irreplaceable planetary feature could soon be lost.
It is universally recognized that the pledges made in Paris would lead to a warming far beyond 1.5 degrees — more like 2.5 or 3 degrees Celsius, or even more. And that was before the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, decided to try to back out.
“The pledges countries made during the Paris climate accord don’t get us anywhere close to what we have to do,” said Drew Shindell, a climate expert at Duke University and one of the authors of the IPCC report. “They haven’t really followed through with actions to reduce their emissions in any way commensurate with what they profess to be aiming for.”
The new 1.5 C report will feed into a process called the “Talanoa Dialogue,” in which parties to the Paris agreement begin to consider the large gap between what they say they want to achieve and what they are actually doing. The dialogue will unfold in December at an annual United Nations climate meeting in Katowice, Poland.
But it is unclear what concrete commitments may result.
At issue is what scientists call the ‘carbon budget’: Because carbon dioxide lives in the atmosphere for so long, there’s only a limited amount that can be emitted before it becomes impossible to avoid a given temperature, like 1.5 degrees Celsius. And since the world emits about 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, if the remaining budget is 410 billion tons (for example), then scientists can say we have 10 years until the budget is gone and 1.5 C is locked in.
Unless emissions start to decline — which gives more time. This is why scenarios for holding warming to 1.5 degrees C require rapid and deep changes to how we get energy.
The window may now be as narrow as around 15 years of current emissions, but since we don’t know for sure, according to the researchers, that really depends on how much of a margin of error we’re willing to give ourselves.
And if we can’t cut other gases — such as methane — or if the Arctic permafrost starts emitting large volumes of additional gases, then the budget gets even narrower.
“It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees Celsius, said Shindell, bluntly. “This would be a really enormous lift.”
So enormous, he said, that it would require a monumental shift toward decarbonization. By 2030 — barely a decade away — the world’s emissions would need to drop by about 40 percent. By the middle of the century, societies would need to have zero net emissions. What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels, he said.
“It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts … This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”
And that’s just the point — 1.5 degrees is still possible, but only if the world goes through a staggering transformation.
An early draft (leaked and published by the website Climate Home News) suggests that future scenarios of a 1.5 C warming limit would require the massive deployment of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air and bury it below the ground. Such technologies do not exist at anything close to the scale that would be required.
“There are now very small number of pathways [to 1.5C] that don’t involve carbon removal,” said Jim Skea, chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III and a professor at Imperial College London.
It’s not clear how scientists can best give the world’s governments this message — or to what extent governments are up for hearing it.
An early leaked draft of the report said there was a “very high risk” that the world would warm more than 1.5 degrees. But a later draft, also leaked to Climate Home News, appeared to back off, instead saying that “there is no simple answer to the question of whether it is feasible to limit warming to 1.5 C . . . feasibility has multiple dimensions that need to be considered simultaneously and systematically."
None of this language is final. That’s what this week in Incheon — intended to get the report ready for an official release on Monday — is all about.
“I think many people would be happy if we were further along than we are,” the IPCC’s Lynn said Wednesday morning in Incheon. “But in all the approval sessions that I’ve seen, I’ve seen five of them now, that has always been the case. It sort of gets there in the end.”
Sept 20th 2018
Melting Arctic Permafrost Releases Acid that Dissolves Rocks
As temperatures rise in the Arctic, permafrost — permanently frozen ground — is defrosting at an alarming rate. But the permafrost isn't the only thing in the Arctic that's melting.
Exposed rock that was once covered in ice is dissolving, eaten away by acid. And the effects of this acid bath could have far-reaching impacts on global climate, according to a new study.
Icy permafrost is rich in minerals, which are released when the ice melts. The minerals then become vulnerable to chemical weathering, or the breakdown of rock through chemical reactions, scientists recently reported. They investigated areas once covered by permafrost in the western Canadian Arctic, finding evidence of weathering caused by sulfuric acid, produced by sulfide minerals that were released when the permafrost melted. [See Stunning Photos of Earth's Vanishing Ice]
Another type of naturally occurring chemical erosion is caused by carbonic acid, and it also dissolves Arctic rock. But although carbonic-acid weathering locks carbon dioxide (CO2) in place, sulfuric-acid erosion releases CO2 into the atmosphere, and it does so in quantities that were not previously accounted for, researchers wrote in the study.
Dramatic changes are underway in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as any other location on Earth. Sea ice is rapidly dwindling, which reduces the ocean's heat-reflecting cover, accelerating the rise of ocean temperatures. And polar bears, which depend on sea-ice cover to hunt for seals, are losing their hunting grounds, and have a harder time finding enough to eat.
On land, melting permafrost is shaping new landscapes, through a process called thermokarst — a term for thawing-driven erosion that originated in Russia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Thermokarst creates land formations such as lakes, pits and sinkholes, and it was previously unknown how this process could affect weathering of exposed minerals, and how that might then impact CO2 release, according to the study.
"These processes may influence the permafrost carbon-climate feedback, but have received little attention," the scientists reported.
Over geologic timescales, weathering caused by carbonic acid can help to regulate climate, by trapping CO2 and restricting its transfer into the atmosphere. But the researchers found that thermokarst in regions that were rich in sulfides drove production of sulfuric acid, rather than carbonic acid, and thereby released quantities of CO2.
An estimated 1,400 billion tons of carbon are stored in permafrost, Live Science previously reported, and as thawing continues and thermokarst activity intensifies, sulfide-rich regions will continue to transfer CO2 from its icy tomb. However, how that will balance out against the permafrost regions that still produce carbon-trapping carbonic acid is unknown, according to the study.
Aug 14th 2018
Climate Change Is Forcing Earth Toward a 'Hothouse' Point of No Return
“I do hope we are wrong.”
The fires blazing throughout Europe and California are being fed by unusually hot temperatures and dry conditions.
They’re just one example of how extreme environmental changes in one area can cause extreme environmental changes in another. Collectively, these powerful “feedback loops” are making the global climate crisis much worse.
Now a group of scientists is warning that the Paris climate agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is not aggressive enough to protect the planet from catastrophic consequences. The reason, according to the Guardian, is because even more powerful feedback loops will be triggered upon reaching this temperature threshold.
In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors map out a range of anticipated climate feedback loops.
For example, as the oceans continue to warm, coral reefs and all the environmental benefits they provide will continue to disappear, causing marine ecosystems to further deteriorate. As precipitation patterns shift, some regions are getting more rainfall, inundating forested areas to the point where they can no longer absorb as much greenhouse gas emissions. And as ice sheets melt, more sun is being absorbed by surrounding oceans, leading to warming waters and more ice melt.
Each of these processes, and many more, have the potential to significantly increase global warming.
Permafrost thaw alone will release so much methane that global temperatures could rise 0.9 degrees Celsius, according to the report.
“I do hope we are wrong, but as scientists we have a responsibility to explore whether this is real,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and lead author of the report, told the Guardian. “We need to know now. It’s so urgent. This is one of the most existential questions in science.”
Popular climate theories have held that the Earth’s climate will stabilize once humans stop releasing greenhouse emissions, the Guardian notes. But this new paper argues that rising temperatures are triggering so many environmental chain reactions that the Earth will continue to warm and morph long after human emissions cease.
In other words, the emissions of today are locking in environmental changes decades in the future. Consequently, once the planet warms 2 degrees Celsius, it may be pushed into feedback loops that eventually lead to 4 degrees of warming.
At that point, the planet will essentially be in a “hothouse” phase, the authors argue, inhospitable to human life because of extreme storms, droughts, heat waves, fires, and much more. In fact, researchers have estimated that by the year 2100 there will be more than 2 billion climate change refugees.
The world is already getting a glimpse of this potential reality as extreme storms pound coastlines, fires ravage forests, and deserts continue to expand.
“In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight,” Dr. Phil Williamson, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, told the Guardian. “The authors argue that we need to be much more proactive in that regard, not just ending greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible, but also building resilience in the context of complex Earth system processes that we might not fully understand until it is too late.”
May 16th 2018
Feb 5th 2018
(Bloomberg) -- Plan B is coming out of the shadows in the global-warming debate. The question on the table: With hope dimming that humankind can effectively curb carbon emissions, is it time to strong-arm nature to turn the thermostat down?
To scientists who study geoengineering, this is within the realm of possibility. The idea is to manipulate the climate, by planting millions of trees to clear the air or -- at the other extreme -- creating a mirror of chemicals in the heavens to reflect the sun’s heat away from Earth. Some of the schemes are outlandish, if not downright scary. A small though increasingly vocal band of experts in the field contends the options must at least be explored.
Scientists including David Keith at Harvard University and Antonio Busalacchi of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research are advocating that more resources be devoted to the discipline.
“Suddenly all sorts of people who five years ago would have said, ‘Shut up, this is too controversial, I don’t want to talk about it,’ now agree something should happen,” said Keith, a professor of applied physics and public policy and a member of a team planning a field experiment this year to test whether shooting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere might limit solar radiation.
As it is, he said, “there is very little research going on.” There is ferocious debate about the efficacy -- and ethics -- of climate intervention, even among academics who specialize in it. What’s bringing it to the fore is a recognition the international community probably won’t meet its markers for cutting back on the man-made gases that, according to the consensus, contribute to rising temperatures.
“We are past a point of no return in the quest to avoid dangerous warming,” said Clive Hamilton, the author of 2013’s “Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering” and a professor at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia. “Have we reached the geoengineering tipping point? I don’t see it yet, but it will come.”
Some geoengineering ideas don’t have big frills: painting roofs white to reflect infra-red rays, for instance. The private sector and governments have pursued small-scale weather massaging, such as when China used rockets to divert rainfall from the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony.
Then there are the massive, planet-wide endeavors being investigated on paper and in the lab: spraying marine clouds with saltwater to make them paler so they’ll bounce more sunlight back into space or injecting microbubbles into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for the same effect; thinning out cirrus clouds with biological agents to allow heat to escape into the atmosphere; using powdered iron sulphate to fertilize oceans and stimulate phytoplankton growth that will draw carbon dioxide from the skies.
“It is the extremely risky ones that are getting all the attention,” Hamilton said. They’re “so full of dangers it is surprising people take it seriously.”
In theory, geoengineers could even mimic the climatological effects -- without the deadly consequences -- of a massive volcanic eruption like the one at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that spurred a 0.5 degree Fahrenheit drop in global temperatures.
Tim Kruger, manager of the Geoengineering Programme at the University of Oxford, said he knows how complicated, and often frightening, his field can seem. But sensible alternatives must be considered because governments that signed the Paris Agreement “have seemingly not internalized what it would take to achieve it.”
The Paris accord commits to holding the increase in the average global temperature “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5 degrees.
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is at work on a report that is expected to throw cold water on hope for the 1.5 degree goal without some manner of geoengineering. Even 2 degrees is widely viewed as unobtainable, particularly with President Donald Trump having pledged the U.S. will pull out of the climate pact.
According to Neil Craik of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, “the only way to get to 2 degrees is by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” Can that really be done? The European Academies Science Advisory Council recently cast doubt on the prospect. It’s something the world needs to fully investigate, Craik said, because it it isn’t clear “we can get removal to work at the scales necessary.”
‘Throwing in the Towel’
For many, climate intervention means “throwing in the towel,” UCAR’s Busalacchi said. “There’s been a healthy dose of resistance in the research community. If attention is diverted to geoengineering, that would mean taking the focus off mitigation and reduction in greenhouse gases.”
There are plenty of reasons to be wary. Beyond the unknown effects on the ecosystem and humankind, investments in geoengineering could siphon money from developing renewable energy and less-polluting vehicles, said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American director for ETC Group, a nonprofit that analyzes technology’s impact on society.
Those efforts have carbon-reducing track records while geoengineering is “magical thinking,” she said. Maybe, but according to Busalacchi, with the race on to prevent climate-change disaster, now’s the time to “consider and have all tools on the table.”
--With assistance from Eric Roston
Jan 22nd 2018
Large Dams Fail on Climate Change and Indigenous Rights
Brazil has flooded large swaths of the Amazon for hydro dams, despite opposition from Indigenous Peoples, environmentalists and others. The country gets 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower. Brazil's government had plans to expand development, opening half the Amazon basin to hydro. But a surprising announcement could halt that.
In an interview with O Globo, Mines and Energy Executive Secretary Paulo Pedrosa said the government is reconsidering hydro construction in the face of societal pressure, environmental damage and increasingly competitive renewable energy options.
We can see parallels in Canada, where large hydro projects have been pushed through despite similar opposition and concerns.
With an October election in Brazil, things could change, but we hope whatever government holds power will recognize there are better options than large-scale hydro. We also hope the BC government will reconsider its decision to proceed with Site C.
Hydropower isn't as "green" as many people once thought, and climate change creates new challenges. Decades of research show greenhouse gas emissions from large hydroelectric projects can be substantial, especially if carbon dioxide emitted during steel and concrete manufacturing and construction activities is accounted for.
Decomposing materials in reservoirs emit methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 over the short term. A 2016 study confirmed findings of studies from Canada and elsewhere going back decades that methane emissions from hydro dams are far greater than previously estimated. Minimum emissions are similar to those from generating electricity using natural gas. And receding glaciers and changes in precipitation patterns from global warming put hydro dams at risk because of lower water levels.
Large-scale hydro also causes enormous environmental and social damage, including farmland and habitat destruction, changes to waterways and water tables, and displacement of Indigenous Peoples. Where large areas of land are flooded, mercury in fish increases several-fold, making this traditional source of protein risky to eat.
In Canada, large-scale projects such as Site C in BC and Muskrat Falls in Labrador run counter to our commitments to combat climate change and respect Indigenous Peoples' rights. Both projects are over budget and years behind schedule.
Canada's auditor general recently found the current mid-century climate strategy won't meet our international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent between 2005 and 2050.
These facts and rapid improvements in electricity generation suggest Canada should rethink its climate strategy. Renewable energy options can generate needed electricity for lower cost and in a timelier manner, as a recent Site C analysis shows. Conservation measures can reduce energy needs.
Solar and wind power have increased in efficiency and decreased in cost at several times the rates estimated a decade ago. The lowest electricity cost in Canada is from an Alberta wind farm, which will supply 600 MW of electricity at an average cost of 3.7 cents per kWh, at least three times lower than Site C power.
Fears that solar and wind are unpredictable have been nullified by recent developments in mega-storage batteries. In November, Tesla installed a 100-MW battery in Australia's outback to handle power outages and daily demand fluctuations. In contrast to recent hydroelectric projects, it was delivered ahead of schedule and on budget.
Despite Natural Resources Canada's identification of enormous geothermal resources in Canada, this power source has scarcely been considered, except for shallow heat pumps for individual dwellings and buildings. Many oil and gas wells in Western Canada reach hot water, which might be used either directly or to map underground isotherms that allow efficient drilling for geothermal power. Expertise for drilling geothermal wells already exists in the oilpatch, facilitating the transfer of jobs from old fossil fuel technology to less carbon-intensive industries.
Provincial and federal government ministers have touted continued development of oilsands, LNG-fired electricity and pipelines as interim activities needed to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. As the auditor-general's report demonstrates, these activities will prevent Canada from fulfilling its international obligations to reduce emissions. We have neither need nor time for transitional industries.
Brazil's announcement sets an example. Canada must also meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and improve relations with Indigenous Peoples. To do so requires avoiding the massive hydro development that Canada's mid-century climate plan would require and instead rapidly transition to modern energy sources
Jan 20th 2018
Coca-Cola to recycle 100% packaging
NEW YORK — Coca-Cola announced long-term recycling goals Friday, including attempting to recycle a bottle or can for every beverage it sells by 2030.
The soda maker and other consumer products companies have been under pressure from customers and environmental advocates to stop using plastic packaging, and fast-food giant McDonald's unveiled new recycling goals of its own just this week.
Coca-Cola Co. said it will work with local governments and environmental groups to meet the recycling goals. It plans to recycle bottles and cans from other companies, too.
"The world has a packaging problem - and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it," CEO James Quincey said in a statement Friday.
Greenpeace, which has criticized Coca-Cola before, said the company should focus on reducing the amount of plastic it produces, rather than just recycling more.
"We can't recycle our way out of this mess," said Greenpeace campaigner Louise Edge, in a statement.
Unlike other materials, plastics never break down in the environment and end up in tiny forms that are eaten by animals and end up in food, environmental groups say. A report issued last summer showed that global industry has produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950, and enough is still in circulation to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash.
Quincey defended Coca-Cola's recycling goals, saying on a call with reporters that recycling and reusing plastics for bottles will reduce waste. The Atlanta-based company is also looking to reduce the amount of plastic it uses in bottles.
Quincey wouldn't say how much the company plans to spend on the recycling goals, but said the initiative would pay for itself in the long run if the company uses more recycled materials for its packaging.
McDonald's raised its packaging recycling targets this week, saying it aims to use all recycled or other environmentally friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025. It also wants all of its 37,000 restaurants worldwide to recycle customer waste by that year.
That would be up from 50 percent of its packaging that now comes from recycled or other environmentally friendly sources and about 10 percent of its restaurants that recycle customer waste.
Quincey said the timing of the announcements was a coincidence, but that Coca-Cola would work with McDonald's since its drinks are sold at the chain's restaurants.
The moves may also reflect more pressure from outside forces. McDonald's said that packaging waste was the top environmental issue that customers wanted to see addressed. And Larry Fink, CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, published a letter to CEOs this week saying that the questions companies must ask themselves include, "How are we managing our impact on the environment?"
Jan 7th 2018
Edward Teller in 1959
It was a typical November day in New York City. The year: 1959. Robert Dunlop, 50 years old and photographed later as clean-shaven, hair carefully parted, his earnest face donning horn-rimmed glasses, passed under the Ionian columns of Columbia University’s iconic Low Library. He was a guest of honor for a grand occasion: the centennial of the American oil industry.
Over 300 government officials, economists, historians, scientists, and industry executives were present for the Energy and Man symposium – organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business – and Dunlop was to address the entire congregation on the “prime mover” of the last century – energy – and its major source: oil. As President of the Sun OilCompany, he knew the business well, and as a director of the American Petroleum Institute – the industry’s largest and oldest trade association in the land of Uncle Sam – he was responsible for representing the interests of all those many oilmen gathered around him.
Four others joined Dunlop at the podium that day, one of whom had made the journey from California – and Hungary before that. The nuclear weapons physicist Edward Teller had, by 1959, become ostracized by the scientific community for betraying his colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer, but he retained the embrace of industry and government. Teller’s task that November fourth was to address the crowd on “energy patterns of the future,” and his words carried an unexpected warning:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. But I would [...] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [....] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [....] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you can’t smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [....] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.
How, precisely, Mr. Dunlop and the rest of the audience reacted is unknown, but it’s hard to imagine this being welcome news. After his talk, Teller was asked to “summarize briefly the danger from increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere in this century.” The physicist, as if considering a numerical estimation problem, responded:
At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent [about 360 parts per million, by Teller’s accounting], if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels. By that time, there will be a serious additional impediment for the radiation leaving the earth. Our planet will get a little warmer. It is hard to say whether it will be 2 degrees Fahrenheit or only one or 5.
But when the temperature does rise by a few degrees over the whole globe, there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise. Well, I don’t know whether they will cover the Empire State Building or not, but anyone can calculate it by looking at the map and noting that the icecaps over Greenland and over Antarctica are perhaps five thousand feet thick.
At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent [about 360 parts per million, by Teller’s accounting], if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels. By that time, there will be a serious additional impediment for the radiation leaving the earth. Our planet will get a little warmer. It is hard to say whether it will be 2 degrees Fahrenheit or only one or 5.
And so, at its hundredth birthday party, American oil was warned of its civilization-destroying potential.
Talk about a buzzkill.
How did the petroleum industry respond? Eight years later, on a cold, clear day in March, Robert Dunlop walked the halls of the U.S. Congress. The 1967 oil embargo was weeks away, and the Senate was investigating the potential of electric vehicles. Dunlop, testifying now as the Chairman of the Board of the American Petroleum Institute, posed the question, “tomorrow’s car: electric or gasoline powered?” His preferred answer was the latter:
We in the petroleum industry are convinced that by the time a practical electric car can be mass-produced and marketed, it will not enjoy any meaningful advantage from an air pollution standpoint. Emissions from internal-combustion engines will have long since been controlled.
Dunlop went on to describe progress in controlling carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbon emissions from automobiles. Absent from his list? The pollutant he had been warned of years before: carbon dioxide.
We might surmise that the odorless gas simply passed under Robert Dunlop’s nose unnoticed. But less than a year later, the American Petroleum Institute quietly received a report on air pollution it had commissioned from the Stanford Research Institute, and its warning on carbon dioxide was direct:
Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and these could bring about climatic changes. [...] there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe. [...] pollutants which we generally ignore because they have little local effect, CO2 and submicron particles, may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.
Thus, by 1968, American oil held in its hands yet another notice of its products’ world-altering side effects, one affirming that global warming was not just cause for research and concern, but a reality needing corrective action: “Past and present studies of CO2 are detailed,” the Stanford Research Institute advised. “What is lacking, however, is [...] work toward systems in which CO2 emissions would be brought under control.”
This early history illuminates the American petroleum industry’s long-running awareness of the planetary warming caused by its products. Teller’s warning, revealed in documentation I found while searching archives, is another brick in a growing wall of evidence.
In the closing days of those optimistic 1950s, Robert Dunlop may have been one of the first oilmen to be warned of the tragedy now looming before us. By the time he departed this world in 1995, the American Petroleum Institute he once led was denying the climate science it had been informed of decades before, attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and fighting climate policies wherever they arose.
This is a history of choices made, paths not taken, and the fall from grace of one of the greatest enterprises – oil, the “prime mover” – ever to tread the earth. Whether it’s also a history of redemption, however partial, remains to be seen.
American oil’s awareness of global warming – and its conspiracy of silence, deceit, and obstruction – goes further than any one company. It extends beyond (though includes) ExxonMobil. The industry is implicated to its core by the history of its largest representative, the American Petroleum Institute.
It is now too late to stop a great deal of change to our planet’s climate and its global payload of disease, destruction, and death. But we can fight to halt climate change as quickly as possible, and we can uncover the history of how we got here. There are lessons to be learned, and there is justice to be served.
Benjamin Franta (@BenFranta) is a PhD student in history of science at Stanford University who studies the history of climate change science and politics. He has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and is a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Dec 23rd 2017
General Science News ? Helpfull ?
Scientific breakthroughs of 2017 truly spanned a gamut, manifesting themselves in nearly every discipline—cosmology, biology, and anthropology, to name a few. They ranged from astonishing revelations about Jupiter's famous rings to discovering a new continent on our own planet. Human cellular and embryonic sciences were in the limelight: Researchers fixed a disease-causing gene in human embryos in one experiment and grew human cells in pig embryos in another. Here on Earth, scientists achieved the first ever teleportation (of a particle). Far away, cosmic forces forged an enormous amount of gold, literally of galactic proportions—200 times the mass of our planet. Here are the top 10 most notable science stories of 2017.
1. WE FOUND SEVEN EARTH-LIKE PLANETS ORBITING A DIM STAR.
So far, most planet-hunting efforts were focused on brighter stars and bigger planets. Trappist-1 is the first planetary system found to revolve around a smaller, dimmer star—and its discovery holds the potential to uncover many more exoplanets.
2. WE CUT A DISEASE-CAUSING MUTATION FROM HUMAN GENES.
Scientists have successfully used a gene-editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9, to clip out a mutated gene in human embryos, replacing it with a healthy copy. Called MYBPC3, the defective gene causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that can lead to sudden death in young people. While this was a stunning medical success, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique remains controversial among doctors, ethicists, and sociologists, who are concerned that attempts to build a better human could lead to dismal medical and social outcomes. When the study was published, an international committee of genetics experts issued a statement advising against editing any embryo intended for implantation into future mothers.
A different group of scientists managed to convert CRISPR into a fast, sensitive, and cheap diagnostic instrument for a range of diseases. Called SHERLOCK (for Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing), this method turns CRISPR into a tool that can sniff out specific genetic information, such as abnormal RNA. Surprisingly inexpensive, SHERLOCK can cost less than a buck per sample, and can hunt down the RNA of disease agents like dengue fever or Zika virus, and even search for mutations that can cause cancer.
3. THE LARSEN C ICE SHELF BROKE, BECOMING ONE OF THE LARGEST ICEBERGS EVER.
A giant piece of ice the size of Delaware broke off the Larsen ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea. Weighting a trillion tons, it's one of the largest icebergs ever recorded.
Over the last few decades, the Larsen ice shelf went through major changes. The sections called Larsen A and B collapsed in 1995 and 2002. More recently, a rift along the Larsen C section was detected, and it grew slowly over two years—until it was hanging by a thread, and then finally split off.
The scientists say that while climate change is responsible for melting sea ice around the world, this particular fracture may have been inevitable. Ice shelves naturally break up as they extend further out into the ocean. Neither will the massive iceberg cause a sea level rise as it melts—the same way ice cubes melting in your gin and tonic do not increase the volume of water in that glass.
4. WE ACHIEVED TELEPORTATION (OF PHOTONS, AT LEAST).
Purely the stuff of science fiction until now, teleportation became possible this year. Although not yet able to teleport an entire human, Chinese scientists said they managed to teleport a photon particle from the ground to a satellite 870 miles away.
How does it work? Teleportation is transmitting the state of a thing rather than the thing itself. It's not unlike a fax machine, which sends information as various marks on a paper sheet rather than the sheet itself.
If you combine this idea with the concept of quantum entanglement, in which two particles are created at the same time and place, so they effectively have the same existence, you can shoot one of the particles far away, but they will remain entangled—meaning if one changes, its remote twin will change too. So it's not a Star Trek–type of teleportation, where you can transfer objects or people from one place to another, but more like having a doppelganger tethered to you far away.
Instead of sending marks on a paper sheet to a receiving-end fax machine, the Chinese scientists transmitted a bunch of photons. The team created 4000 pairs of quantum-entangled photons and fired one photon from each pair in a beam of light towards a satellite that can detect the quantum states of these single photons sent from the ground.
So why all the excitement if we still can't teleport people? For one thing, quantum teleportation offers possibilities of creating un-hackable communications networks. Any attempts to eavesdrop on a quantum system or intercept the info being sent would cause detectable disturbances.
5. WE DISCOVERED A WHOLE NEW CONTINENT.
You'd think Earth was completely mapped out by now, but this year, an international team of scientists discovered an entirely new continent down under. Called Zealandia, this eighth continent broke off Australia millions of years ago, containing New Zealand and New Caledonia, an island further up north. More than 90 percent of Zealandia is underwater, which is why it managed to evade geographers for so long.
The team drilled cores 4000 feet underwater and gathered more than 8000 rock and sediment samples and several hundred fossils. They discovered microscopic remains of organisms that lived in warm, shallow seas as well as spores and pollen from terrestrial plants, revealing that in the past parts of Zealandia used to be above sea level.
Besides their historical importance, these findings will help us understand the planet's future prospects. The fossilized records of Zealandia's past will provide more insight into the movement of Earth's tectonic plates and the global climate system, and contribute to the computer models used to predict future climate flukes.
6. WE FOUND A MYSTERIOUS VOID IN THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA.
Using a new type of tomography that employs subatomic particles called muons, scientists generated 3D images of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the biggest in Egypt. The images, generated as part of the ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, revealed a surprising void, suggesting an inner structure.
Despite being studied for more than a century, the Great Pyramid of Giza, built more than 4500 years ago as a burial place of pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), is still full of mysteries waiting to be discovered. Muons, which are byproducts of cosmic rays, pass through stones better than x-rays or other similar technology do, so they work very well for peeking inside the inaccessible ancient structures. According to the images, the void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it—the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long area that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi described it. The discovery marks the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.
7. WE GREW HUMAN CELLS IN PIGS.
Researchers from the Salk Institute successfully managed to grow human cells inside pig embryos. The goal was to better understand how to develop functional and transplantable tissue or organs.
The project actually consisted of two parts. During the first part, researchers created a cross between a rat and a mouse by implanting rat cells into mouse embryos. During the second part, the team used the same technique with human cells and non-human animal hosts—such as cows or pigs, since their organs are closer in size to our own. The second feat was harder to achieve since people and pigs are further apart from each other than mice and rats are, and pig embryos develop faster than human ones.
While the experiment was successful, the technology remains very controversial, as many experts fear it could potentially lead to human-animal chimeras.
8. WE WERE WRONG ABOUT JUPITER AND SENT CASSINI ON A SUICIDE MISSION TO SATURN.
The Juno mission aimed at exploring Jupiter, which reached the target in 2016, proved that much of what we thought we knew about this planet is wrong. Turns out Jupiter's famous bands do not continue to the north and south poles. Instead, the poles are characterized by chaotic swirls and ovular features, which are Texas-sized ammonia cyclones. Ammonia, which emanates from Jupiter's great depths, plays a role in the planet's atmosphere and weather, but its levels vary greatly between different areas. Scientists still don't know whether Jupiter has a core, but they know that the pressure inside the gas giant is so strong that hydrogen, which normally is a gas, has been squeezed into a metallic fluid. The other mystery Juno may help shed some light on is Jupiter's magnetosphere, which generates spectacular auroras that are different in nature from Earth's Northern Lights.
In September, scientists deliberately sacrificed the Cassini spacecraft, which ran out of fuel after decades-long exploration of our other cosmic neighbor, Saturn. Launched in 1997 and reaching its target seven years later, Cassini tremendously expanded our knowledge about Saturn, its satellites, and our entire solar system. Thanks to Cassini, we assessed the composition of Saturn's rings and discovered that it has six moons. More interestingly, it expanded our assumptions about the habitable planets' range. We learned that a moon named Titan holds methane lakes, which could harbor a different form of life, and may have subsurface water oceans, possibly with hydrothermal vents akin to those in the Earth's undersea crusts. Now that Cassini's mission is over, all eyes are on Juno.
9. WE WATCHED TWO NEURON STARS COLLIDE AND SPEW ENOUGH GOLD TO MAKE 200 EARTHS.
Astronomers watched a never-before-witnessed cosmic phenomenon: two dead stars merging into one. It was a head-on collision of two neutron stars, which are superdense remains of previously exploded stars.
As the two stars smashed into each other in a distant galaxy 130 million light-years from Earth, they emitted gravitational waves which began traveling outward like ripples on a pond. When the waves began their cosmic journey 130 million years ago, Earth was still ruled by dinosaurs, and the complex equipment necessary to observe this phenomenon didn't exist. However, the existence of such waves was predicted by Einstein, so by the time they reached Earth, the scientists were ready with their detectors—two in the United States and one in Italy.
Moments after the detectors noticed the waves, advanced space telescopes registered a high-energy light burst. Hours later, astronomers spotted a bright new point up in the sky, emitting infrared and ultraviolet light, followed by x-rays and radio waves days later. These observations informed scientists about a "kilonova" hypothesis, which postulates that neutron star collisions generate and spew out heavy elements like gold, silver, platinum, and uranium. The blast is believed to have created some 200 Earth-masses of gold, scientists say.
10. WE DISCOVERED HUMANS ARE 100,000 YEARS OLDER THAN WE THOUGHT.
Until this year, modern humans were thought to have originated between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, according to the oldest-known fossils of Homo sapiens found in Ethiopia. But recently unearthed remains of five early H. sapiens were dated at 300,000 years old, making our species 100,000 years older than we thought.
The new fossils were found in Morocco, on the other side of the African continent and further north than Ethiopia. Researchers now think that our ancestors may not have originated in any one specific spot in Africa, but rather evolved across the entire continent.
Before the Sahara became a desert, it sprouted forests and plains, making it possible for early humans to travel across the continent. The early hominids were likely following and hunting herds of gazelles or other animals, evolving new cognitive skills along the way, which enabled them to create more complex tools and develop advanced social behaviors. So as they spread across Africa, these early humans acquired the very traits that later came to define our species.
Nov 22nd 2017
Now, a new $35 million partnership between turbine maker MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and Clemson University aims to jumpstart the U.S. market by testing the world’s most powerful wind turbine at the school’s state-of-the-art facility. This test partnership will allow MHI Vestas, a joint venture between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Danish turbine maker Vestas, to get a real-world understanding of how the V164-9.5 MW turbine’s gearbox and bearings can withstand the ocean environment over a 20-year period, as well as gaining insights to improve the service and reliability of the technology. One V164 turbine can power more than 8,300 homes.
“We’re trying to do a sort of stress test – we want to test what would actually happen within a short time frame of operations,” said Jakob Søbye, Senior Director of Technology at MHI Vestas. “From there we’ll be relying on data we capture – temperature, pressure, various technical components that allow us to make changes to the gearbox in the future and adapt from the experiences we are having.”
Once on the fringe of the U.S. renewable energy market, offshore wind power is beginning to go mainstream as the technology has improved and costs have fallen. Aggressive state targets to generate power from renewable energy are also fueling the market. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the Empire state to draw 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030, including 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power, the largest commitment in the country.
In a surprising move, the U.S. signed a deal with Denmark on Oct. 26 to expand cooperation on offshore wind power, giving a boost to European renewable energy players. Wind power is booming in Europe, and in 2016 it overtook coal to become the EU’s second largest form of power capacity after gas.
To be sure, the U.S. offshore wind industry still faces significant barriers: cost remains an issue as well as limited availability of facilities to test, pilot, and service infrastructure; there’s been some public opposition over turbines’ effect on ocean views; and murky rules and permitting challenges have gotten in the way of making progress beyond a few small projects.
Finding the Right Facility
The Clemson announcement marks the first time that MHI Vestas will be bringing their test operations to the United States. Currently, the company runs testing operations for offshore wind turbines in Denmark and in the United Kingdom. Senior Director of Technology Søbye stressed the need to test all of the main components within the United States at a proper facility.
Clemson’s space in the Energy Innovation Center fit the bill. In November 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Clemson University in South Carolina the largest grant in the university’s history to build and operate a facility to test next-generation wind-turbine drivetrain technology. The $98 million testing facility was funded by a $45 million Energy Department grant that was matched by $53 million of public and private funds. The 82,000-square-foot center can test drivetrains on two test rigs: one up to 7.5 megawatts and the other up to 15 megawatts.
“We had a look around for sites and, from a capacities point of view, decided to partner with Clemson because of their current work and commitment to advancing conversation and testing of renewable energy sources,” said Søbye.
The process will not be simple, according to Flemming Ougaard, chief operating officer at MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, citing regulatory and cost concerns in addition to the actual operations of production.
“I think one of the big challenges we have in the U.S., is that every state seems to have a little bit of their own rules and regulations,” said Ougaard. “It could be an issue that the U.S. needs to function more as one market. We see this as an investment, a good faith way of believing in the market and advancing it from within – but it’s going to take time to get everything right, just like it took a long time in Europe.”
Nov 9th 2017
The platform overlooking the Panama Canal’s Pacific exit is buzzing with energy on a muggy October afternoon. Tourists cram together, jostling for the best views of the blue container ship gliding by in the gray-green water below. The ship’s crewmembers wave from aboard the 690-foot-long vessel, smiling as they end their eight-hour, 48-mile journey.
An employee brandishing a wireless microphone — the canal’s hype man — leads the crowd in a series of cheers, his voice as bombastic as a sports announcer’s. “Let’s give them a round of applause!” he booms in Spanish and then English. The visitors heartily oblige, clapping for the sailors aboard the Greek ship named Em Corfu.
Next in line is a colossal Japanese carrier that just unloaded cars on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Its blue metal sides block out the sky. Behind that comes a red tanker hauling liquefied natural gas produced in the United States to terminals in Mexico.
Watching ships pass through the century-old Panama Canal offers a glimpse into our modern economy. Every day, vessels converge here to move billions of dollars’ worth of food, fuel, cars, clothing, raw materials, and electronics to the far corners of the world.
It’s awe-inspiring. But it’s also fairly alarming.
About 90 percent of everything we buy will travel on ships like these at some point. And all of these behemoths burn fossil fuel, contributing significantly to the warming atmosphere and shifting climate patterns.
Many cargo ships still use “bunker fuel” — the sludgy dregs of the petroleum refining process. The noxious blend is dirt-cheap, making it possible to charge next to nothing to ship goods internationally. All of which means our unbridled consumerism hitches a ride on some of the dirtiest vehicles on earth. (At least they hold tons of stuff, right?)
The industry’s reliance on high-carbon fuel poses a major stumbling block for global efforts to rein in pollution. A few companies are ramping up investment in pilot projects that use renewable fuels and cleaner technologies. And a vocal minority within the industry is clamoring for a maritime climate policy to spur more innovation. But on the whole, there’s widespread reluctance to adopt meaningful change.
Clean shipping advocates plan to spotlight the sector’s emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which opens today in Bonn, Germany. Known as COP23, the gathering marks two years since the world agreed in Paris on a landmark climate accord — one that the Trump administration plans to abandon. The agreement, however, excluded pollution from international shipping and aviation in its targets to limit global warming. Officials had argued that those industries don’t easily fit into national or regional emissions schemes — and so they were left to regulate themselves.
Experts say regulatory action and big, bold investments will be essential to curbing the shipping industry’s contribution to global warming. Left unchecked, its carbon footprint is expected to soar in coming decades — just as emissions from cars and power plants flatline or decline. That means shipping could cancel out progress in other sectors.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the industry’s main regulator, suggeststhat carbon emissions from shipping could shoot up as much as 250 percent by 2050 as the world’s population grows and economies expand. At that point, the European Parliament estimates the industry could produce 17 percent of global emissions, up from less than 3 percent today.
But Tristan Smith, a leading shipping researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute, notes companies still have little reason to spend their time and money building a greener cargo fleet. “A very large proportion of the sector is really not interested in doing anything until the very last minute that the regulation hits,” he says.
From the Panama Canal, a string of heavily congested highways leads to Panama City’s glitzy downtown core. At a high-rise convention center in early October, hundreds of seafarers, naval officers, and industry officials have gathered for an IMO-sponsored event.
Jorge Quijano, administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, tells the crowd the canal is doing its part to “bring about a sense of responsibility with our planet.” In January, he explains, it launched a program to reward shippers that meet high energy-efficiency standards or use low-sulfur and lower-carbon fuels, including cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas. Companies that do so can boost their standing in the canal’s ranking system for determining who gets priority access to the waterway.
The industry finds initiatives like these, which encourage upgrades but not drastic overhauls, generally palatable — they promote good behavior without overtly punishing status quo ships.
But shipping executives like John Lyras bristle at the notion of setting ambitious sector-wide targets for reducing shipping emissions and total fuel consumption. Such efforts, he argued earlier this fall, won’t make any sense until cleaner maritime technologies actually exist at commercial scale.
“If we really want to reduce CO2 emissions to zero today we can do it in two ways: We can stop trading, or we can go back to sail,” the Greek shipowner said while speaking on a panel at the International Chamber of Shipping’s conference in London.
The pushback from executives like Lyras comes as more progressive voices are increasingly clamoring for the introduction of so-called “zero-emissions” ships, which don’t directly produce any greenhouse gas emissions. A research consortium comprised of major shipping companies and academic institutes asserts such vessels must start entering the mainstream cargo market by 2030. By 2050, the group says, nearly all operating cargo ships must generate zero emissions in order to fall in line with the Paris agreement goal of keeping global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.
Proponents say it can happen if the industry doesn’t drag its feet. “We’re not saying you have to decarbonize right now,” says Smith of University College London. “You just have to start the process of figuring it out.”
Over the next two weeks in Germany, U.N. negotiators and thousands of other participants will gather to discuss not only promising ship technologies but also strategies to convince an old-fashioned industry to embrace new ideas.
Diane Gilpin, who’s helping organize a pro-climate shipping event that will take place on the cruise ship Rhine Fantasy, tells Grist about the sector’s reluctance to go green. Gilpin once worked to introduce mobile devices to British corporations. Now, she’s leading an effort to build a 100 percent renewable cargo vessel. She says the shipping industry’s apprehension reminds her of the late ‘90s and early 2000s when many people saw the cell phones they’re now wholly consumed by as frivolous and costly.
“Because we never had cell phones before, we didn’t think we needed them,” she explains. Gilpin describes her current work trying to change the shipping industry as “a human challenge in having people accept change.”
The most prominent options for powering a ship without fossil fuels include hydrogen, batteries, sustainably produced biofuels, and wind-assisted technologies that can reduce fuel use. All of these are being used or tested in small-scale vessels — primarily passenger ferries or supply boats that keep close to shore. But if any are going to gain favor in the mainstream shipping industry, today’s reigning champion — ultra-cheap bunker fuel — will need a price tag that reflects its true environmental cost.
According to a recent report by the global shipping services company Lloyd’s Register and University College London, about 75 percent of companies agree that forcing shippers to pay for carbon emissions is required to make a zero-emissions fleet a reality. The IMO would likely oversee such a program, and it plans to adopt an interim strategy for reducing greenhouse gases caused by shipping in April 2018. But the regulatory body doesn’t expect an agreement on actual pollution targets until 2023.
The IMO is made up of 172 member countries. Getting all of them, as well as the world’s top shipping groups, to sign on to a set of goals would undoubtedly be a hard-fought and controversial process. Take as proof the latest round of IMO talks in October, which included discussion of slashing carbon emissions by 2100. A group of Pacific island and European nations pushed for drastic cuts by mid-century, while Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, and the International Chamber of Shipping proposed a far less aggressive approach.
As country representatives went back and forth, InfluenceMap, a nonprofit that tracks corporations’ impact on climate policy, published a report accusing shipping lobbying groups of holding “unmatched power” over IMO decisions. Those groups resoundingly denounced the report, and IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim defended the organization’s neutrality. But one shipping executive — Andrew Craig-Bennett, who works for the U.K. subsidiary of Chinese shipping giant Cosco — stirred the pot even further in a widely shared opinion piece.
“We can feel nothing but contempt and disgust at the prostitutes employed by our racket to try to put one over on the general public,” he wrote with a sailor-worthy flourish.
Ultimately, the most effective driver for steering shipping away from its high-carbon path may come from outside the industry. The customers who place their goods on the ships are likely the best lever for forcing the sector to go green.
That’s the solution Maurice Meehan sees as a key way forward. Meehan is director of shipping operations at the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit founded by Virgin’s Richard Branson to promote business-oriented climate solutions. He previously worked with shipping giant Maersk.
As he explains, companies that produce all the T-shirts, smartphones, sneakers, and goods that are shipped around the world have substantial leverage with their logistics providers. If climate-conscious companies push their shippers to do more about reducing vessels’ carbon footprints, the industry would have to change. Dirtier ships would face a competitive disadvantage if manufacturers got serious about slashing supply-chain emissions.
“That’s a great approach,” Meehan says by phone from Copenhagen on a call in September. “Now you’ve got shipping going, ‘Whoa, wait, if we don’t have plans to meet the target our customer has set, we’re not going to be in the market in a few years?’”
Meehan says his team is talking with big users of cargo ships, such as apparel companies, to help them target shipping-related emissions. As part of that, Carbon War Room is developing tools to make it easier for companies to choose vessels with lower emissions and better efficiency — or at least ensure their products aren’t loaded onto the worst offenders.
But this approach is still in its early days, Meehan says. Most brands and shipping companies alike remain reluctant to do anything that would raise the cost of transporting goods or the final price tag. That’s largely because end users — you and me — still prefer buying a lot of cheap stuff.
If the Panama Canal illustrates the shipping sector’s climate challenge, it’s also a showcase for the industry’s progress to date. Alexis Rodriguez, the environmental protection specialist for the Panama Canal Authority, says many of the newer vessels passing through the canal today “have more efficient engines and more efficient designs.”
A container ship navigates through the Cocoli Locks in the expanded Panama Canal in late June. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos
On a recent morning, he pulled his spotless black minivan into the parking lot of the Cocoli Locks, the Pacific entrance to the newly expanded canal system. The $5.25 billion, nine-year expansion can accommodate colossal “mega ships,” like the 1,200-foot-long Theodore Roosevelt, that couldn’t pass through the original locks.
We’re here to greet a forest green container ship named Ever Living. The vessel, which is bringing Asian-made goods to ports on the U.S. East Coast, has an “optimized” hull design made from lightweight steel that makes it easier to move through water and thus cuts down on fuel use. Once docked, the ship can plug into shore-side electrical power and turn off its oil-burning engines, a process known as “cold ironing” that reduces local air pollution. Thanks to its larger-than-average size, Ever Living can also, in theory, burn less fuel and release fewer emissions for every unit of goods it carries, compared to smaller vessels.
Such upgrades are positive signs, but green fleet advocates like University College London’s Tristan Smith say a bigger, sustained push is required. Recent shipping datashows that efficiency gains might not be enough to offset rising fuel consumption and emissions in a growing industry.
Better designs and data analytics barely move the needle when it comes to decarbonizing the global shipping industry, Smith explains. “I would call them marginal improvements in efficiency, which do a tiny amount to get us nowhere near where we need to go.”
For shipping to play its part in fighting climate change, vessels crossing this canal and traversing the world’s waters will need a more radical redesign — and in just a few decades’ time. Delivering on demand for lower-emissions vessels could be the industry’s most arduous journey of all.
Nov 5th 2017
The largest government report on climate science clearly indicates that human activity has contributed to climate change and higher global temperatures. The national climate assessment has been prepared by experts from 13 institutions.
In June of 2017, The New York Times received a draft copy of a government report on climate change prepared by a team of scientists from 13 federal institutions that included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the Department of Energy, as well as a number of academic institutions. The report is called the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), a 600-page first volume in the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4).
As previously covered by Futurism, the CSSR makes a very strong case about how climate change is a human-made phenomenon and it’s “extremely likely” that the “dominant cause” of global warming has been human activity, the CSSR reads.
The CSSR notes that the past 115 years have been “the warmest in the history of modern civilization,” according to a recent report by NPR who also obtained a copy of the report. Temperatures are expected to continue rising if there is no significant effort to reduce carbon emissions. The report says that global average temperatures “will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gas (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally.”
The CSSR has already been submitted to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has remained unfilled under the Trump Administration. This means that the report is one step closer to finally being released publicly, despite recent reports on how the current administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might remove any mention of climate change from official websites.
Nevertheless, experts see the CSSR as a clear indication of the reality of climate change, despite contradictory statements from both U.S. President Donald Trump, who once called climate change a hoax, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who said in a CNBC interview in March that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do.”
“This is good, solid climate science,” Richard Alley, a Penn State University geoscientist who reportedly contributed to the report’s conclusions on sea level rise, told NPR. “This has been reviewed so many times in so many ways, and it’s taking what we know from … a couple of centuries of climate science and applying it to the U.S.” The CSSR, Alley said, “does a better job of seeing the human fingerprint in what’s happening.”
For Rachel Licker of the Union of Concerned Scientists, also in an interview with NPR, “The Climate Science Special Report is like going to a doctor and being given a report on your vital signs.” Licker also noted that the authors of the NCA4 and the CSSR reviewed 1,500 scientific studies and reports before drawing conclusions.
As part of a Congressional act, the last climate assessment of this kind was published in 2014. This more current report is the first to demonstrate a strong correlation between warming temperatures and human activity. Alley said that there seems to be no indication that the report has been soft-pedaled or that the science behind it has been downplayed to be uncertain. “I think the authors really are interested in seeing [the report] used wisely by policymakers to help the economy as well as the environment,” he told NPR.
Sept 19th 2017
The worst impacts of climate change can still be avoided, senior scientists have said after revising their previous predictions.
The world has warmed more slowly than had been forecast by computer models, which were “on the hot side” and overstated the impact of emissions, a new study has found. Its projections suggest that the world has a better chance than previously claimed of meeting the goal set by the Paris agreement on climate change to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, makes clear that rapid reductions in emissions will still be required but suggests that the world has more time to make the changes.
Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his past prediction had been wrong.
He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.
Professor Grubb told The Times yesterday: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as [John Maynard] Keynes said. It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”
The latest study found that a group of computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted a more rapid temperature increase than had taken place. Global average temperature has risen by about 0.9C since pre-industrial times but there was a slowdown in the rate of warming for 15 years before 2014.
Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”
He added that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”. Too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.
According to the models, keeping the average temperature increase below 1.5C would mean that the world could emit only about 70 billion tonnes of carbon after 2015. At the present rate of emissions, this “carbon budget” would be used up in three to five years. Under the new assessment, the world can emit another 240 billion tonnes and still have a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature increase below 1.5C.
“That’s about 20 years of emissions before temperatures are likely to cross 1.5C,” Professor Allen said. “It’s the difference between being not doable and being just doable.”
Professor Grubb said that the fresh assessment was good news for island states in the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which could be inundated by rising seas if the average temperature rose by more than 1.5C.
Other factors pointed to more optimism on climate change, including
China reducing its growth in emissions much faster than predicted and the cost of offshore windfarms falling steeply in Britain.
Professor Grubb called on governments to commit themselves to steeper cuts in emissions than they had pledged under the Paris agreement to keep warming below 1.5C. He added: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”
The Met Office acknowledged yesterday a 15-year slowdown in the rise in average temperature but said that this pause had ended in 2014, the first of three record warm years. The slowing had been caused by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a pattern of warm and cool phases in Pacific sea-surface temperature, it said.
When 194 nations met in Paris in 2015 and agreed to try to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5C, many scientists dismissed the goal as unattainable (Ben Webster writes).
They said it would be politically and economically impossible to cut emissions fast enough and that the world would have to prepare for worse droughts and heatwaves and islands disappearing beneath rising seas.
Now it turns out the scientists were being too pessimistic and had been led astray by computer models.
Other factors have also contributed to the new, more optimistic assessment, including the cost of renewable energy and China’s emissions growth both falling faster than almost anyone had predicted.
Computer models remain the best way to work out how quickly we need to cut emissions to avoid climate change, but scientists could be nimbler at revising them when actual readings diverge from predictions.
Sept 3rd 2017
The team’s research also stresses that Britons will have to change their ideas about the seafood they eat as favourites will disappear from UK waters. Haddock and cod are being forced polewards as ocean temperatures rise, while flatfish like sole and plaice have nowhere suitable to go. At the same time, cuttlefish and sardines are being caught in rising numbers and are destined to become the fish of the future for Britain.
The latest report, published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, provides a crystal ball that could highlight which parts of our coastlines will be most vulnerable to climate change triggered by rising atmospheric levels of greenhouse gas emissions produced by cars, factories and power plants. Sea temperatures around Britain have already risen by more than 1.5C in the past 30 years because of these changes, and scientists have warned this trend could continue for much of the rest of the century.
“In a few decades the temperature of our seas is likely to be roughly the same as those found in the waters around Portugal at the turn of the last century – so we can expect to find the kind of marine life that existed there in British seas in the near future,” said marine biologist Professor Stephen Simpson, of Exeter University. “Apart from cuttlefish and sardines – which are already moving into our waters – we can expect fish like red mullet and john dory to be more common. By contrast the haddock is already disappearing from the southern North Sea, while plaice and sole are also becoming less and less prevalent. Fortunately, cod appears to be more resilient.”
Marine biologists have warned in the past that profound changes will affect the seas surrounding the British Isles but it is still not known exactly when and where the changes will occur.
The new study – by government marine scientists collaborating with Met Office and Exeter and East Anglia university researchers – was carried out to make more accurate predictions about what will happen in our seas as the planet heats up.
“We need to be more precise about the changes that lie ahead,” Simpson said. “At present we are catching more and more fish that is traditional fare for the continent, and we are exporting them back to these countries. At the same time the cod, haddock and sole we used to catch in our own waters are now being caught in remoter fisheries, such as those round Iceland, and are being sold back to us. That is a serious imbalance which, as Brexit approaches, we have to get right.”
The point was backed by the paper’s lead author, Dr Bryony Townhill, of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas): “Knowing which species are likely to spread, and to where, means that we can focus efforts to understand their potential impact and explore opportunities to prepare or mitigate them.”
The team used advanced oceanographic and climate modelling systems to forecast environmental conditions in the waters round the UK and found that many non-native species, which have already had significant impacts in other nations, could soon become established in the UK. Native species of mussels, fish or oysters could be displaced, while harbours and boats – and also cooling ducts for power stations – could be fouled or blocked, they concluded.
One invader highlighted in the report is the club tunicate – a soft-bodied creature from Asia that Simpson described as looking like “a floating plastic bag”. It has reached UK waters and is very likely to spread round our coast. Not only does it out-compete shellfish in particular for food – causing great harm to mussel beds, for example – but it releases toxins that can trigger respiratory attacks in humans. Other hazards that could take advantage of our warming waters are wireweed and the acorn barnacle. Both compete for food and space with local species and foul harbours and ships.
By contrast, the report points out that shellfish such as the Manila clam and the American razor clam have considerable potential to form the basis of commercially valuable farms if they become established in our waters.
“We have to be prepared for these sorts of creatures arriving and spreading in our waters,” Simpson added. “They have enormous potential for good – and to cause harm. In the past, many different species used to get washed into our waters but could not survive the cold of a UK winter. Those cold conditions have become a thing of the past, however. Life in our seas is changing.”
Sept 1st 2017
In a report commissioned by the city last year, the Boston Research Advisory Group concluded that the rate of rising sea levels in Boston will likely exceed the global average through 2100, with the most likely estimates pegging the rise between 2.5 and 7.4 feet. By 2050, modeling indicates a likely sea level rise of 7.5 to 18 inches in Boston, with as much as 30 inches considered possible.
This comes after Boston sea levels rose about 0.11 inches per year between 1921 and 2015, according to the report.
The Boston Green Ribbon Commission predicts a 100-year storm could flood 2,000 buildings and impact 18,000 people by 2030, threatening property valued at $20 billion. By 2070, those predictions jump to 12,000 buildings and $85 billion worth of property.
Austin Blackmon, Boston’s chief of environment and open space, said much of that damage could be done by more common storms — those expected once in a decade instead of once in a century.
“What you’ll ultimately start seeing is a lot of damage from storms that you can expect much more frequently,” Blackmon said.
A team at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Sustainable Solutions Lab has been studying the feasibility of building a hurricane barrier to wall off Boston Harbor from storm surges, similar to systems in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and one under development in Venice.
Three different scales are contemplated — a barrier that would run from the tip of Logan International Airport to South Boston, one that would encompass the Harbor Islands, and one stretching as far out as the coast of Hull. Rough cost estimates are pegged at more than $10 billion.
Blackmon said studies of the ecological effects of the barriers and economic impact to the booming Conley Shipping Terminal in Southie are being studied.
“When you put up a barrier like that, you basically stop the tidal flow, and it makes it more difficult to get access to the harbor,” he said.
For now, the city is creating “shovel-ready” project ideas to protect the East Boston Greenway, the area of the city deemed most vulnerable to storm surges in the short term. The city plans to release a report in October outlining ways to install green space and berm in the area to protect it, Blackmon said. The section of Charlestown near Ryan Playground also has pressing needs, he said.
Emanuel said he worries about a disaster scenario he calls “the double whammy” — where a fast-moving hurricane pushes a surge of fresh water down the Charles River, causing it to spill over.
“At the moment the Charles River is only 1.8 feet over the level of high tide in Boston Harbor,” he said. “If you had a three-foot surge, and you had a day of very heavy rain preceding the hurricane, which is what happened in 1938, you could have a lot of fresh water trying to come down the Charles River. And it has no place to go, and it floods Back Bay and MIT and East Cambridge pretty badly.”
Aug 31st 2017
We don't know how much the epic flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas has been influenced by human pollution of the atmosphere, but the storm has likely been worse than it would’ve been generations ago, before we started pumping massive amounts of carbon into the air.
“Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused [global] warming,” writes leading atmospheric scientist Michael Mann, of Penn State University.
It’s a variation of an increasingly common story around the world, and it comes down to simple physics. Carbon pollution traps more of the sun’s heat — more energy — in the air and oceans. Warmer water leads to more evaporation. Warmer air can hold more water. And more water in the air “creates the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding,” Mann says.
The trend is similar with heat and drought.
“[Recent] heat waves in India, Pakistan, China, Europe, Africa, Americas — in almost every case now we see that our emissions are making the events more intense or longer-lasting,” says Katharine Mach, who runs the Environment Assessment Facility at Stanford University.
Bottom line, says Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, “climate change just makes all of the weather events a little more extreme than they otherwise would be.”
The calamitous events of this week in Texas might suggest that we’re at the mercy of this new era of supercharged weather. But Mach, who focuses on how countries and communities around the world can respond to the growing threats from climate change, says it doesn’t have to be that way. She says many places are taking the threats of increasing severe weather events very seriously and rising to the challenge.
The Netherlands, for example, “has a top-to-bottom risk management approach” to climate threats, she says. France responded to a deadly extreme heat wave in 2003 by developing an early warning system and setting up cooling centers, which Mach says helped the country better ride out another heat wave three years later.
And then there’s New York City after superstorm Sandy.
“That event in many ways was a trigger for building back better,” Mach says. The region has been “thinking about everything from flood insurance, retreat among some communities, raising up boilers in hospitals so that critical infrastructure is safe, and even reimagining what the cityscape might look like so that it's more resilient.”
But Mach says ambitious action on climate isn’t restricted to high income countries.
Bangladesh, for instance — among the world’s poorest countries — has responded to the growing threat from cyclones that regularly hit the country by “developing protective structures so that they can raise up livestock and keep them safe, and also tapping the power of communities to provide early warning when a storm is coming.”
Mach calls those changes “very compelling” and says they have made a big difference in storm mortality in the country.
She says similar strides are being made in parts of Africa.
“We ... see it in terms of community-based adaptation across the African continent,” Mach says. “Some of the most ambitious city-scale action, for example, has happened in Durban, South Africa. We see communities ... coming together to think about what does [climate change] mean for planning for increased risk of flooding in some places, increased risk of drought in others. And [these are] communities that are already more on the margin,” compared to here in the US.
A big theme in adaptation, Mach says, is that “not all poor people are vulnerable and not all vulnerable people are poor.”
And not all places that have the resources to respond well to the threat have been. Texas itself is a prime example. It’s one of the most vulnerable places in the country to the effects of climate change, from raging floods to searing heat. But the state’s leaders have generally rejected any concern about climate change, and the state has taken very little action to prepare for it.
“We're already too late in some respects,” former state environmental regulator Larry Soward told The World in 2014.
Soward served under former Texas governor Rick Perry, who while in office rejected the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change, and who now leads the US Department of Energy. But Soward parted ways with the Texas Republican establishment on climate change.
“If we don't start doing something today, we are going to have significant costs, in economic damage, property, lives, environmental damage, that could have been avoided to some extent, ” he said at the time.
Texas’s reluctance up to now to squarely face the risks of climate change drives home another key lesson from Mach’s work: that the barriers to climate change adaptation aren’t just about resources.
“In some places it's very much [about] financial capital,” she says, “do locations have the money. In other cases, the barriers… are more social or ideological, for example not paying attention to the way that risks are changing even if the scientific capacity is there to evaluate them.”
And Mach says the US federal government is moving in that direction.
“President Trump just rolled back an Obama era effort ... to take into account flood risk for federal infrastructure,” Mach says. “That kind of backsliding it's not smart management or ambitious management in a changing climate.”
Neena Satija of the Texas Tribune contributed to this report
Aug 30th 2017
NOW IS EXACTLY the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes.
Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you’ll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is. How no one saw it coming, so no one could adequately prepare.
What you will hear very little about is why these kind of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that “record-breaking” has become a meteorological cliche. In other words, you won’t hear much, if any, talk about climate change.
This, we are told, is out of a desire not to “politicize” a still unfolding human tragedy, which is an understandable impulse. But here’s the thing: every time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It’s a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult. Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.
The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).
It’s also worth noting that the Harvey coverage has been highly political since well before the storm made landfall. There has been endless talk about whether Trump was taking the storm seriously enough, endless speculation about whether this hurricane will be his “Katrina moment” and a great deal of (fair) point-scoring about how many Republicans voted against Sandy relief but have their hands out for Texas now. That’s politics being made out of a disaster — it’s just the kind of partisan politics that is fully inside the comfort zone of conventional media, politics that conveniently skirts the reality that placing the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the need for decisive pollution control has been a deeply bipartisan affair.
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to put politics on hold until the immediate emergency has passed. Then, when everyone was safe, we’d have a long, thoughtful, informed public debate about the policy implications of the crisis we had all just witnessed. What should it mean for the kind of infrastructure we build? What should it mean for the kind of energy we rely upon? (A question with jarring implications for the dominant industry in the region being hit hardest: oil and gas). And what does the hyper-vulnerability to the storm of the sick, poor, and elderly tell us about the kind of safety nets we need to weave, given the rocky future we have already locked in?
With thousands displaced from their homes, we might even discuss the undeniable links between climate disruption and migration — from the Sahel to Mexico — and use the opportunity to debate the need for an immigration policy that starts from the premise that the U.S. shares a great deal of responsibility for the key forces driving millions from their homes.
But we don’t live in a world that allows for that kind of serious, measured debate. We live in a world in which the governing powers have shown themselves all too willing to exploit the diversion of a large-scale crisis, and the very fact that so many are focused on life-and-death emergencies, to ram through their most regressive policies, policies that push us further along a road that is rightly understood as a form of “climate apartheid.” We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, when Republicans wasted no time pushing for a fully privatized school system, weakening labor and tax law, increasing oil and gas drilling and refining, and flinging the door open to mercenary companies like Blackwater. Mike Pence was a key architect of that highly cynical project — and we should expect nothing less in Harvey’s wake, now that he and Trump are at the wheel.
We are already seeing Trump using the cover of Hurricane Harvey to push through the hugely controversial pardoning of Joe Arpaio, as well as the further militarization of U.S. police forces. These are particularly ominous moves in the context of news that immigration checkpoints are continuing to operate wherever highways are not flooded (a serious disincentive for migrants to evacuate), as well as in the context of municipal officials tough-talking
In short, the right will waste no time exploiting Harvey, and any other disaster like it, to peddle ruinous false solutions, such as militarized police, more oil and gas infrastructure, and privatized services. Which means there is a moral imperative for informed, caring people to name the real root causes behind this crisis — connecting the dots between climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police. We also need to seize the moment to lay out intersectional solutions, ones that dramatically lower emissions while battling all forms of inequality and injustice (something we have tried to lay out at The Leap and which groups, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, have been advancing for a long time.)
And it has to happen right now – precisely when the enormous human and economic costs of inaction are on full public display. If we fail, if we hesitate out of some misguided idea of what is and is not appropriate during a crisis, it leaves the door wide open for ruthless actors to exploit this disaster for predictable and nefarious ends.
It’s also a hard truth that the window for having these debates is vanishingly small. We won’t be having any kind of public policy debate after this emergency subsides; the media will be back to obsessively covering Trump’s tweets and other palace intrigues. So while it may feel unseemly to be talking about root causes while people are still trapped in their homes, this is realistically the only time there is any sustained media interest whatsoever in talking about climate change. It’s worth recalling that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord — an event that will reverberate globally for decades to come — received roughly two days of decent coverage. Then it was back to Russia round-the-clock.
A little more than a year ago, Fort McMurray, the town at the heart of the Alberta boom in tar sands oil, nearly burned to the ground. For a time, the world was transfixed by the images of vehicles lined up on a single highway, with flames closing in on either side. At the time, we were told that it was insensitive and victim-blaming to talk about how climate change was exacerbating wildfires like this one. Most taboo was making any connection between our warming world and the industry that powers Fort McMurray and employed the majority of the evacuees, which is a particularly high-carbon form of oil. The time wasn’t right; it was a moment for sympathy, aid, and no hard questions.
But of course by the time it was deemed appropriate to raise those issues, the media spotlight had long since moved on. And today, as Alberta pushes for at least three new oil pipelines to accommodate its plans to greatly increase tar sands production, that horrific fire and the lessons it could have carried almost never come up.
There is a lesson in that for Houston. The window for providing meaningful context and drawing important conclusions is short. We can’t afford to blow it.
Talking honestly about what is fueling this era of serial disasters — even while they’re playing out in real time — isn’t disrespectful to the people on the front lines. In fact, it is the only way to truly honor their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.
Aug 18th 2017
Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, a 1989 treaty and global effort to eliminate the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), we’ve successfully repaired the Earth’s ozone. This legislative win, according to a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, had the happy side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and blunting some of the effects of climate change overall.
As climate policy manager and economist Rachel Cleetus told Gizmodo, “This is something that’s been talked about for a while, this dual benefit of the Montreal Protocol limiting damage to the ozone layer, also curtailing climate change. It’s because all these ozone depleting substances are also very potent global warming gases.”
In the ’80s, climate scientists realized CFCs and HCFCs – heat-catching chemicals most commonly used as refrigerator coolants – were tearing holes in our planet’s atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol drew upon this evidence to enact laws that would have global repercussions, but it wasn’t until this latest study the rest of us learned about the benefits the United States has since incurred.
Head researcher and study writer Lei Hu used the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s atmospheric monitoring network to determine that eliminating these pollutants had the same effect as cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 170 million tons each year from 2008 to 2014. Hu and her team further estimated that maintaining the Montreal Protocol could help the U.S. cut an additional 500 million tons of CO2 by 2025 – that’s about a quarter of the emissions we need to cut in order to fulfill the Paris climate agreement, Gizmodo reports.
Which is all to say global legislative efforts do make a significant impact when it comes to battling climate change. Obviously, we should be engaging in more of these efforts — not less, as the Trump administration intends to do. Pulling out of the Paris agreement, undermining the EPA, obfuscating climate data, cozying up to Big Oil moguls, and rolling back regulations is not how you go about addressing the world’s most pressing problem. Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe we can move forward with or without the fringe group of climate change deniers. By getting more politically engaged, scientists can influence policy for the betterment of us all. Local politicians can uphold their support of the Paris accord. And as individuals, we can all do our part by spreading facts, not fear. Emboldened by the evidence that cooperative agreements actually work, we can only move forward.
Aug 13th 2017
By 2100, the world will be different.
A newly published study estimates that there's a 95% chance global temperatures will rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That's the level that's frequently considered the tipping point beyond which the consequences of climate change become catastrophic.
The goal of the Paris Agreement was to set emissions standards that could keep the world from hitting that point -- ideally less than a 1.5-degree increase -- though experts noted that global reductions would have to be even more aggressive to truly accomplish that aim.
But according to the authors of the new study, it's extremely unlikely that we'll be able to stay below the 2-degree threshold.
Even if we do take action on emissions, the authors suggest, we'll still probably see a median temperature rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius. That's based on their expectations for global population growth, rising GDP per capita, and the amount of carbon dioxide that can be expected to be emitted based on those GDP levels.
That's significantly higher than the temperature rise that many experts said would lead to drastic consequences.
'If not hell, then a place with a similar temperature'
"Huge swaths of the world will be living in places that by the end of the century will have heat waves so deep that people won't be able to deal with them, you have sea level rising dramatically, to the point that most of the world's cities are drowning, the ocean turning into a hot, sour, breathless soup as it acidifies and warms," environmentalist and author Bill McKibben recently told Business Insider.
McKibben's predictions for what that warm world would look like weren't pretty.
"If not hell, then a place with a similar temperature," he said. "We have in the Earth's geological record some sense of what happens when you run carbon levels up to the levels we're running them now -- it gets a lot hotter."
The gases we've put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels so far already guarantee that the world will continue to get warmer.
Another paper published July 31 argued that it's fairly likely we've already "committed to" around 1 degree C of warming -- and that there's a 13% chance we've already guaranteed 1.5 degrees. Even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, that course might already be set.
"Our estimates are based on things that have already happened, things we can observe, and they point to the part of future warming that is already committed to by past emissions," Thorsten Mauritsen, lead author of that paper, said in a press release. "Future carbon dioxide emissions will then add extra warming on top of that commitment."
Reasons for hope
It might be tempting to respond to these predictions by throwing up our hands, further condemning future generations to suffer the consequences. But that ignores the most important thing that these two new papers highlight: By the calculations of these researchers, it is still possible to make changes that could prevent us from hitting these levels of warming.
Despite decades of inaction on climate, there are movements now that offer some encouragement. Activists around the world are pushing countries to take steps that could prevent warming from getting too out of hand. In the US, cities and states have vowed to try to meet the country's Paris Agreement goals despite the fact that President Donald Trump plans to pull the US out of that accord.
There are also a growing number of lawsuits around the globe that argue governments are violating their citizens' constitutional rights by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its dangerous consequences.
There are even natural economic trends towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels.
These efforts may not stop the world from warming 2 degrees. But they could -- or might at least limit warming to 2.5 degrees instead of 4.
Some researchers, like climate scientist James Hansen, think we may need to develop "negative emissions" technologies that would allow us to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it away. There are even last-ditch geoengineering schemes that might offer ways to buy more time to deal with the problem (though many experts hope it never gets to that point).
But if we want to prevent the most dire effects of rising global temperatures, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. These two new papers highlight just how urgent that threat is.
Aug 9th 2017
Scientists tally the environmental impact of feeding meat to our cats and dogs. It’s huge
You’ve heard about the carbon footprint, but what about the carbon paw-print? According to a new study, U.S. cats’ and dogs’ eating patterns have as big an effect as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, reveals how our furry, four-legged companions’ consumption of meat and other animal products adds a sizable, and largely overlooked, climate cost.
When it comes to environmental effects, meat-eating takes the cake. A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that producing a kilogram of chicken results in about 3.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide, while a kilogram of pork comes with 24 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The same amount of beef, however, can be responsible for up to 1,000 kilograms of CO2 — a worrisome figure given that this greenhouse gas is largely responsible for the significant warming of the Earth’s climate. That’s not even counting the livestock’s water usage footprint, which dwarfs that of agricultural crops.
It’s a growing concern given that developed countries such as the U.S. consume lots of animal protein, and that developing countries that are economically on the rise seem to be increasing their share of meat consumption too.
But one sleepless night about five years ago, UCLA geographer Gregory Okin realized something: Those environmental assessments rarely if ever took into account the consumption by dogs and cats. The thought gave him pause — perhaps even paws.
“Because I couldn’t sleep, I got up and just kind of started throwing some numbers together,” he said. “It’s evolved a lot since then.”
He calculated the likely number of calories needed by the United States’ pet dogs and cats, who number around 163 million, and examined the ingredients in pet food and tallied up which ones were derived from animals.
The results? Cats’ and dogs’ overall caloric consumption was about 19% that of humans in the U.S.
“Just to put that in context, that’s about the same amount of calories that the country of France consumes and so that whet my appetite a little bit,” Okin said.
Notably, dogs and cats actually consumed about 33% of the animal-derived calories that humans did, perhaps because their diets are generally more meat-heavy than ours, Okin said. On the other end, they also produce about 30% of the feces that humans do (and much of that gets thrown in the trash in plastic bags, instead of treated the way that human waste is).
In short, Okin concluded, American dogs and cats eat enough animal product to account for about 64 million tons of methane and nitrous oxide, two other powerful greenhouse gases. That’s about the same impact on our warming climate as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.
“Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of pet ownership in the U.S. has considerable costs,” Okin wrote in the paper. “As pet ownership increases in some developing countries, especially China, and trends continue in pet food toward higher content and quality of meat, globally, pet ownership will compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices.”
Okin stressed that he wasn’t advocating giving up beloved furry friends — far from it. But for people who want to be aware of their environmental impact so that they can try to reduce it, it’s probably worth knowing the full effect of their household, canines and felines included.
There’s also a movement toward putting more meat in pet foods, perhaps driven by what Okin called the “humanization” of pet products. But dogs aren’t pure carnivores. They’re omnivorous, having developed the ability to readily digest starches — possibly from the trash heaps that accumulated around ancient human encampments. So dogs, at least, could potentially get even more of their required protein from non-animal sources than pet owners may commonly think.
“I certainly hope these kinds of numbers will encourage the market to consider adding those as market choices, and I also think that individuals can make choices,” Okin said.
Aug 5th 2017
Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”
It’s not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body.
This sort of disposition toward ecological-based distress does not pair well with a president who has denied the reality of the basis for this anxiety. Donald Trump has called climate change a fabrication on the part of “the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He has also led the United States to become the only G20 country that will not honor the Paris Climate Accord, and who has appointed fossil-fuel advocates to lead the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.
For people who experience climate-related anxiety, this all serves as a sort of exacerbation by presidential gaslight. The remedy for a condition like this is knowing what can be done to mitigate environmental degradation, from within in a country singularly committed to it.
Helen Harwatt is a researcher trained in environmental nutrition, a field focused on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability. She’s interested in policy, but realistic about how much progress can be expected under the aforementioned leadership. So she and colleagues have done research on maximizing the impacts of individuals. As with so many things in life and health, that tends to come down to food.
Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.
That is, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.
“I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have,” Harwatt told me. There have been analyses in the past about the environmental impacts of veganism and vegetariansim, but this study is novel for the idea that a person’s dedication to the cause doesn’t have to be complete in order to matter. A relatively small, single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact—more so than downsizing one’s car, or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.
To understand why the climate impact of beef alone is so large, note that the image at the top of this story is a sea of soybeans in a silo in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The beans belong to a feed lot that holds 38,000 cattle, the growth and fattening of which means dispensing 900 metric tons of feed every day. Which is to say that these beans will be eaten by cows, and the cows will convert the beans to meat, and the humans will eat the meat. In the process, the cows will emit much greenhouse gas, and they will consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in meat, meaning far more clearcutting of forests to farm cattle feed than would be necessary if the beans above were simply eaten by people.
This inefficient process happens on a massive scale. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. (In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, collections of pus, in the meat.) According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.
This means much less deforestation and land degradation if so many plant crops weren’t run through the digestive tracts of cattle. If Americans traded their beef for beans, the researchers found, that would free up 42 percent of U.S. crop land.
“The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn’t have to be policy-driven,” said Harwatt. “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef.”
She and her colleagues conclude in the journal Climatic Change: “While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the ‘beans for beef’ scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts.”
The beans for beef scenario is, it seems, upon us.
“I think it’s such an easy-to-grasp concept that it could be less challenging than a whole dietary shift,” said Harwatt. The words vegetarian and vegan have stifled some people’s thinking on what it means to eat well—to consume responsibly, conscientiously. Rather the beans for beef scenario is the dietary equivalent of effective altruism—focusing on where efforts will have the highest yield. “It’s kind of a worst-first approach, looking at the hottest spot in the food system in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, and what could that be substituted with without losing protein and calories in the food system? And at the same time, gaining health benefits.”
In addition to the well-documented health benefits of a plant-based diet, this case also brings empowerment, or at least reprieve. Regardless of a person’s degree of ecoanxiety, there is some recourse in knowing how far individuals can go to make up for a regressive federal administration simply by eating beans.
July 26th 2017
Here is something that it may be possible for millions of you to easily do.
We can cut dramatically the amount of methane released from cows
just by simply eating less Beef.
July 24th 2017
The Government and Energy regulator Ofgem estimate that consumers could save between £17bn and £40bn by 2050.
Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark unveiled details of the first phase, known as the Faraday Challenge, on Monday.
This includes a £45m competition to establish a centre for battery research which he said would help make the UK a world leader in the design, development and manufacture of electric batteries.
This will be spearheaded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to bring the best minds and facilities together to create a 'battery institute' to make products more accessible and affordable.
A three-month consultation earlier this year on an industrial strategy to increase UK productivity and growth attracted more than 1,900 written responses from businesses and organisations.
A shift to cleaner energy and technologies such as electric cars has made the design, development and manufacture of batteries a top industrial priority.
Mr Clark said: "A smarter energy system will create new businesses and high-skilled jobs, while making sure our infrastructure is able to cope with demand."
Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, said battery storage was a "game-changer" in the ability to produce clean power from renewables.
"These technologies give us flexibility to run on solar when the sun isn't shining, and be powered by wind when it is still.
"It will support the transition to electric cars and enable our homes to be more efficient - which means cheaper, as well as cleaner and greener energy."
Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the strategy was "a positive next step for the electricity sector".
"It makes sense to encourage behavioural changes in this way. Apart from potentially saving consumers money, it also allows us to make better use of our resources.
She added: "Continued development across the energy system from multiple renewable and low emissions technologies remains vital to making the best use of our limited resources and meeting our long term emissions targets."
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey claimed the announcement was a "damp squib".
"The Government's promise of investment in battery technology is simply a re-announcement of funding promised back in April as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and their record of supporting emerging green industries is abysmal," she said.
July 9th 2017
1. 1.How much is the planet warming up?
2 degrees is actually a significant amount. As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or more than 1 degree Celsius, since 1880, when records began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica. The number may sound low. We experience much larger temperature swings in our day-to-day lives from weather systems and from the changing of seasons. But when you average across the entire planet and over months or years, the temperature differences get far smaller – the variation at the surface of the Earth from one year to the next is measured in fractions of a degree. So a rise of 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century is actually high. The substantial warming that has already occurred explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day. Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.
2. 2.How much trouble are we in?
For future generations, big trouble. The risks are much greater over the long run than over the next few decades, but the emissions that create those risks are happening now. This means the current generation of people is dooming future generations to a more difficult future. How difficult? Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to resemble that of today, although gradually getting warmer, with more of the extreme heat waves that can kill vulnerable people. Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will most likely grow hotter and drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface, and therefore may be more intense. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging, as is already happening. Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities. All of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out, but experts cannot rule out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw civilization into chaos much sooner. Bolder efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely.
3. 3.Is there anything I can do about climate change?
Fly less, drive less, waste less. You can reduce your own carbon footprint in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food and eat less meat. Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both. If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass; some people even give these as holiday gifts. In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, and the money goes into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms. Leading companies are also starting to demand clean energy for their operations. You can pay attention to company policies, patronize the leaders, and let the others know you expect them to do better. In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.
5. 4.What’s the optimistic case?
Several things have to break our way. In the best case that scientists can imagine, several things happen: Earth turns out to be less sensitive to greenhouse gases than currently believed; plants and animals manage to adapt to the changes that have already become inevitable; human society develops much greater political will to bring emissions under control; and major technological breakthroughs occur that help society to limit emissions and to adjust to climate change. Some technological breakthroughs are already making cleaner energy more attractive. In the United States, for instance, coal has been losing out to natural gas as a power source, as new drilling technology has made gas more abundant and cheaper; for a given amount of power, gas cuts emissions in half. In addition, the cost of wind and solar power has declined so much that they are now the cheapest power source in a few places, even without subsidies. Unfortunately, scientists and energy experts say the odds of all these things breaking our way are not very high. The Earth could just as easily turn out to be more sensitive to greenhouse gases as less. Global warming seems to be causing chaos in parts of the natural world already, and that seems likely to get worse, not better. So in the view of the experts, simply banking on rosy assumptions without any real plan would be dangerous. They believe the only way to limit the risks is to limit emissions.
5.Will reducing meat in my diet really help the climate? Yes, beef especially. Agriculture of all types produces greenhouse gases that warm the planet, but meat production is especially harmful — and beef is the most environmentally damaging form of meat. Some methods of cattle production demand a lot of land, contributing to destruction of forests; the trees are typically burned, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other methods require huge amounts of water and fertilizer to grow food for the cows. The cows themselves produce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that causes short-term warming. Meat consumption is rising worldwide as the population grows, and as economic development makes people richer and better able to afford meat. This trend is worrisome. Studies have found that if the whole world were to start eating beef at the rate Americans eat it, produced by the methods typically used in the United States, that alone might erase any chance of staying below an internationally agreed-upon limit on global warming. Pork production creates somewhat lower emissions than beef production, and chicken lower still. So reducing your meat consumption, or switching from beef and pork to chicken in your diet, are moves in the right direction. Of course, as with any kind of behavioral change meant to benefit the climate, this will only make a difference if lots of other people do it, too, reducing the overall demand for meat products.
7. 6.What’s the worst case?
There are many. That is actually hard to say, which is one reason scientists are urging that emissions be cut; they want to limit the possibility of the worst case coming to pass. Perhaps the greatest fear is a collapse of food production, accompanied by escalating prices and mass starvation. It is unclear how likely this would be, since farmers are able to adjust their crops and farming techniques, to a degree, to adapt to climatic changes. But we have already seen heat waves contribute to broad crop failures. A decade ago, a big run-up in grain prices precipitated food riots around the world and led to the collapse of at least one government, in Haiti. Another possibility would be a disintegration of the polar ice sheets, leading to fast-rising seas that would force people to abandon many of the world’s great cities and would lead to the loss of trillions of dollars worth of property and other assets. In places like Florida and Virginia, towns are already starting to have trouble with coastal flooding. Scientists also worry about other wild-card events. Will the Asian monsoons become less reliable, for instance? Billions of people depend on the monsoons to provide water for crops, so any disruptions could be catastrophic. Another possibility is a large-scale breakdown of the circulation patterns in the ocean, which could potentially lead to sudden, radical climate shifts across entire continents.
8. 7.Will a technology breakthrough help us?
Even Bill Gates says don’t count on it, unless we commit the cash. As more companies, governments and researchers devote themselves to the problem, the chances of big technological advances are improving. But even many experts who are optimistic about technological solutions warn that current efforts are not enough. For instance, spending on basic energy research is only a quarter to a third of the level that several in-depth reports have recommended. And public spending on agricultural research has stagnated even though climate change poses growing risks to the food supply. People like Bill Gates have argued that crossing our fingers and hoping for technological miracles is not a strategy — we have to spend the money that would make these things more likely to happen.
9. 8.How much will the seas rise?
The real question is not how high, but how fast. The ocean is rising at a rate of about a foot per century. That causes severe effects on coastlines, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say. The risk is that the rate will accelerate markedly. If emissions continue unchecked, then the temperature at the Earth’s surface could soon resemble a past epoch called the Pliocene, when a great deal of ice melted and the ocean rose by something like 80 feet compared to today. A recent study found that burning all the fossil fuels in the ground would fully melt the polar ice sheets, raising the sea level by more than 160 feet over an unknown period. Many coastal experts believe that even if emissions stopped tomorrow, 15 or 20 feet of sea-level rise is already inevitable. The crucial issue is probably not how much the oceans are going to rise, but how fast. And on that point, scientists are pretty much flying blind. Their best information comes from studying the Earth’s history, and it suggests that the rate can on occasion hit a foot per decade, which can probably be thought of as the worst case. Even if the rise is much slower, many of the world’s great cities will flood eventually. Studies suggest that big cuts in emissions could slow the rise, buying crucial time for society to adapt to an altered coastline.
11. 9.Are the predictions reliable?
They’re not perfect, but they’re grounded in solid science. The idea that Earth is sensitive to greenhouse gases is confirmed by many lines of scientific evidence. For instance, the basic physics suggesting that an increase of carbon dioxide traps more heat was discovered in the 19th century, and has been verified in thousands of laboratory experiments. Climate science does contain uncertainties, of course. The biggest is the degree to which global warming sets off feedback loops, such as a melting of sea ice that will darken the surface and cause more heat to be absorbed, melting more ice, and so forth. It is not clear exactly how much the feedbacks will intensify the warming; some of them could even partly offset it. This uncertainty means that computer forecasts can give only a range of future climate possibilities, not absolute predictions. But even if those computer forecasts did not exist, a huge amount of evidence suggests that scientists have the basic story right. The most important evidence comes from the study of past climate conditions, a field known as paleoclimate research. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has fluctuated naturally in the past, and every time it rises, the Earth warms up, ice melts and the ocean rises. A hundred miles inland from today’s East Coast of the United States, seashells can be dug from ancient beaches that are three million years old, a blink of an eye in geologic time. These past conditions are not a perfect guide to the future, because humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the air far faster than nature has ever done. But they show it would be foolish to assume that modern society is somehow immune to large-scale, threatening changes.
12. 10.Why do people question the science of climate change?
Hint: ideology. Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science. This ideological position has been propped up by money from fossil-fuel interests, which have paid to create organizations, fund conferences and the like. The scientific arguments made by these groups usually involve cherry-picking data, such as focusing on short-term blips in the temperature record or in sea ice, while ignoring the long-term trends. The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives. As the arguments have become more strained, many oil and coal companies have begun to distance themselves publicly from climate denialism, but some are still helping to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.
13. 11.Is crazy weather tied to climate change?
In some cases, yes. Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened a recent drought in California. In many other cases, though, the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. That is partly from a lack of good historical weather data, but it is also scientifically unclear how certain types of events may be influenced by the changing climate. Another factor: While the climate is changing, people’s perceptions may be changing faster. The Internet has made us all more aware of weather disasters in distant places. On social media, people have a tendency to attribute virtually any disaster to climate change, but in many cases there is little or no scientific support for doing so.
15. 12.Will anyone benefit from global warming?
In certain ways, yes. Countries with huge, frozen hinterlands, including Canada and Russia, could see some economic benefits as global warming makes agriculture, mining and the like more possible in those places. It is perhaps no accident that the Russians have always been reluctant to make ambitious climate commitments, and President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly questioned the science of climate change. However, both of those countries could suffer enormous damage to their natural resources; escalating fires in Russia are already killing millions of acres of forests per year. Moreover, some experts believe countries that view themselves as likely winners from global warming will come to see the matter differently once they are swamped by millions of refugees from less fortunate lands.
16. 13.Is there any reason for hope?
If you share this with 50 friends, maybe. Scientists have been warning since the 1980s that strong policies were needed to limit emissions. Those warnings were ignored, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were allowed to build up to potentially dangerous levels. So the hour is late. But after 20 years of largely fruitless diplomacy, the governments of the world are finally starting to take the problem seriously. A deal reached in Paris in late 2015 commits nearly every country to some kind of action. President Trump decided in 2017 to pull the United States out of that deal, saying it would unfairly burden American businesses. But other countries are promising to go forward with it anyway, and some states and cities have defied Mr. Trump by adopting more ambitious climate goals. Religious leaders like Pope Francis are speaking out. Low-emission technologies, such as electric cars, are improving. Leading corporations are making bold promisesto switch to renewable power and stop forest destruction. What is still largely missing in all this are the voices of ordinary citizens. Because politicians have a hard time thinking beyond the next election, they tend to tackle hard problems only when the public rises up and demands it.
17. 14.How does agriculture affect climate change?
It’s a big contributor, but there are signs of progress. The environmental pressures from global agriculture are enormous. Global demand for beef and for animal feed, for instance, has led farmers to cut down large swaths of the Amazon forest. Brazil adopted tough oversight and managed to cut deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent in a decade. But the gains there are fragile, and severe problems continue in other parts of the world, such as aggressive forest clearing in Indonesia. Scores of companies and organizations, including major manufacturers of consumer products, signed a declaration in New York in 2014 pledging to cut deforestation in half by 2020, and to cut it out completely by 2030. The companies that signed the pact are now struggling to figure out how to deliver on that promise. Many forest experts consider meeting the pledge to be difficult, but possible. They say consumers must keep up the pressure on companies that use ingredients like palm oil in products ranging from soap to lipstick to ice cream. People can also help the cause by altering their diets to eat less meat, and particularly less beef.
18. 15.Will the seas rise evenly across the planet?
Think lumpy. Many people imagine the ocean to be like a bathtub, where the water level is consistent all the way around. In fact, the sea is rather lumpy — strong winds and other factors can cause water to pile up in some spots, and to be lower in others. Also, the huge ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica exert a gravitational pull on the sea, drawing water toward them. As they melt, sea levels in their vicinity will fall as the water gets redistributed to distant areas. How the rising ocean affects particular parts of the world will therefore depend on which ice sheet melts fastest, how winds and currents shift, and other related factors. On top of all that, some coastal areas are sinking as the sea rises, so they get a double whammy.
19. 16.What are ‘carbon emissions?’
Here’s a quick explainer. The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called “carbon emissions,” just for shorthand. That is because the two most important of the gases, carbon dioxide and methane, contain carbon. Many other gases also trap heat near the Earth’s surface, and many human activities cause the release of such gases to the atmosphere. Not all of these actually contain carbon, but they have all come to be referred to by the same shorthand. By far the biggest factor causing global warming is the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. That process takes carbon that has been underground for millions of years and moves it into the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide, where it will influence the climate for many centuries into the future. Methane is even more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but it breaks down more quickly in the air. Methane comes from swamps, from the decay of food in landfills, from cattle and dairy farming, and from leaks in natural gas wells and pipelines. While fossil-fuel emissions are the major issue, another major creator of emissions is the destruction of forests, particularly in the tropics. Billions of tons of carbon are stored in trees, and when forests are cleared, much of the vegetation is burned, sending that carbon into the air as carbon dioxide. When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods designed to limit greenhouse emissions or to make them more expensive so that people will be encouraged to conserve fuel.
July 8th 2017
Two climate scientists suggest they’ve come closer to resolving a critical debate about how quickly human activity will heat up the planet. The answer isn’t good news.
It’s almost universally understood that the Earth will continue to get warmer for the foreseeable future. The rate at which the planet warms, however, won’t remain the same, report Cristian Proistosescu and Peter Huybers of Harvard University. They say it’s likely to speed up.
Some parts of the planet heat up more slowly than others, they explain. But as more time passes, regions once less affected by global warming will get hotter. Thus the bulk of planetary warming this century may actually be back-loaded onto its final decades.
The analysis, published Wednesday in Science Advances, addresses the gap between two long-battling camps struggling to understand how quickly the world will warm. One group looks at the historical record and projects into the future all the warming that has already been known to occur, mainly through direct observations. Those studies have found that, once there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there was prior to the industrial revolution (a level expected to be reached later this century), the temperature may rise between 1.6 degrees and 3 degrees Celsius (2.9 degrees to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Those estimates, while unnerving, are significantly lower than the projections generated by climate models held up by the other group. These are built from equations supplied by Earth physics and allow scientists to do something they can’t do in the real world—simulate how the planet behaves under various conditions over enormous periods of time. Computer models are the lab rats of climate science.
The contradictory evidence posited by the two camps was canonized in 2013, when the most authoritative climate-science group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, broke with its own practice and declined to provide a single “best estimate” of warming. Instead it punted, providing only a range (from 1.5C to 4.5C) that extended the low end of the conflict below previous assessments.
Why does this fight over a few degrees really matter? It’s crucial to estimate the warming rate as precisely as possible because the answer will dictate how aggressively global policymakers respond to the problem.
Each scientific camp, though, relies on different analytical methods, making comparisons difficult. The new study seeks to address that problem by breaking down previous studies into smaller components—an attempt to provide an “apples to apples comparison,” Proistosescu said.
The authors conclude that it’s worth considering two speeds of climate change. So far, the world has been in “fast” mode, in which regions likeliest to heat up fastest are showing the greatest increases in temperature. That includes land in the Northern Hemisphere. When it comes to analyzing global warming in the fast lane, both the observation camp and modeling camp agree, Proistosescu said.
There is also a “slow” mode. Such places as the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and the Southern Ocean, which are colder relative to much of the rest of the world, take longer to warm. But warm they will. As the atmosphere traps more heat, their temperature will rise, and the overall rate of planetary warming will accelerate. Warming projections based only on historical observations assume the pace of climate change will remain the same; the new study says that as time goes on, things may get worse faster.
Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that new paper provides independent backing for recent work from his unit and elsewhere. He concludes that projections of future warming derived from recorded temperature trends “are biased low.”
“Fixing that makes things line up much better,” Schmidt said.
Debate persists, however. Nicholas Lewis is an independent climate scientist who has published studies about climate sensitivity. He said he read the new paper before publication and tried to replicate its findings. Among many technical criticisms, eight models analyzed in the new study, he said, varied in quality. A better-quality range for the observation-only camp reaches from 1.65C to 1.9C, he said.
Meanwhile, Proistosescu's apples-to-apples analysis spans a more dangerous range, from 1.6C to 4C.
Part of the distance between the two camps may come from professional or philosophical differences over the utility of physics-based models to provide insight into the path of warming. There's no substitute for direct observation. Yet models strongly suggest the past has limited predictive value in circumstances moving—geologically speaking—this quickly.
June 14th 2017
For the world leaders, negotiators and advisers who gathered in Paris in November 2015, the news that the US is withdrawing from the COP 21 climate accord must have felt like a body blow.
For my generation? There’s a chance the story got scrolled past, filtered out, buried on a newsfeed, or missed altogether.
For those of us that did read it, it’s easy to feel a sort of detached but familiar disappointment. In some ways it’s just another amendment to a non-legally binding agreement that’s been written and re-written in the background for most of our childhoods, from 1995 in Berlin to 2015 in Paris.
That’s not how it should be. The news should be a starting gun for a new wave of activism, action and change. Because, while the world leaders signing accords in conference halls are important, the real change is going to come from us. Call us millennials or Gen Z or Net Gen, we’re the consumers, employees, employers and future leaders who will see the devastating effects of climate change.
We are also the most connected generation in history, with the capacity to arrange coordinated global protests like the Women’s March in a matter of days, to create a $2.5m Love Army for the Somali drought in a few weeks, or to commit to calling out #everydaysexism for half a decade.
And yet, many of the NGOs, charities and global campaigns are failing to mobilise us.
It’s easy to understand why they aren’t getting through to us – recent research shows that only 11% of the globe’s NGOs employ a designated full-time or part-time social media manager.
That means they’re losing the 28% of young people that use social media as their primary news source. It means they’re missing out on the 43% of millennials that are driven to make financial donations through social channels, the one in two who’ll share ideas with their friends online, or most importantly the one in three willing to donate their time.
Young people aren’t a “nice to have” when it comes to sustainability action and climate change. We’re 27% of the global population – how we choose to work, eat, drink and spend our money will change the whole ballgame.
Take the United Nations Ocean Conference. It’s the UN’s first ocean-focused conference, and it has come at the right time.
Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific was found by marine scientists to have the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world.
Videos of the 18 tonnes of plastic piling up on an island otherwise untouched by humans, shared millions of time across social media, are a visceral reminder of the consequences of our one-use throw-away attitude to plastic consumption.
Plastic is deadly for fish and marine life, threatening the food supply of the 1 billion people who depend on it as their principle food source and damaging the global food chain for us all.
38 million pieces of plastic waste found on uninhabited South Pacific island
If we don’t act soon the World Economic Forum predicts that plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.
Henderson Island has put the issue of plastics pollution on the global agenda – now it’s time for systematic behaviour change.
The key to success of the UN Ocean Conference won’t lie in agreements made or accords signed. What we need are innovative solutions – that will capture the attention and imagination of my generation.
The only way to seriously cut plastic consumption is by activating young people to bring about change. That’s change, not just as consumers, but as the people now entering management roles at the big businesses, manufacturers and retailers with the power to innovate supply chains and start evolving the world’s relationship with plastics and fossil fuels.
It might sound like an unachievable feat, but there’s good news. As the likes of Pepsi and Heineken have noticed (however controversial or limited their outputs) this generation wants to make change.
While many headlines have been written about the eight-second attention span of the social media-obsessed, there is another way of looking at it – it’s also a highly developed eight-second filter.
This generation has more information thrown at them in a day than people living a hundred years ago would come across in a month. We’ve become highly adept at prioritising content, and when content is important, we engage and act.
Throwing budget at social media channels isn’t a fix-all – this campaign will also be led by the brands, businesses and communities that tackle the issue with creativity and innovation.
How to campaign online: 15 dos and don'ts
It’s vital that we update and rethink our approach to climate and conservation, to make it the issue that mobilises this new tide of activists.
We’re probably locked into a planet that’s on track to warm by 2 degrees; temperature fluctuations are already causing widespread food shortages, unprecedented heatwaves and unpredictable weather.
The populations of small islands and developing states are faced with the prospect of becoming climate refugees, as rising seawater levels are threatening widespread flooding, contaminating drinking water supplies and destroying arable land.
My generation was born into a world where climate change is an immutable fact, not a theory to deny or accept, but a global threat, the effects of which we can see. We’ve got to make this the issue we tackle and overcome.
Daisy Kendrick is a 23-year old environmental campaigner and founder of We Are The Oceans
June 4th 2017
Elon Musk is making good on his promise to leave President Trump’s White House advisory councils, he said today on Twitter. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO promised Wednesday he would step down from his official advisory roles with the administration should Trump go through with his plan to leave the Paris Climate Accord. Trump announced the U.S. would be removing itself form the agreement on Thursday.
Musk cited climate change and the downsides of leaving the Paris agreement both for the world and for the U.S. as his reasoning. The prolific tech entrepreneur said previously that he has attempted to convince the President to support of the Paris agreement, through his council involvement and through White House connections.
Prior to this decision, Musk served on Trump’s economic advisory board, as well as his manufacturing jobs initiative council. He’s received criticism from supporters for his close relationship with the administration in the past, particularly in the face of Trump’s executive order on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and subsequent doubling down on that position by the White House.
Musk held fast even following Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s departure from Trump’s economic advisory council, when Kalanick left following the issuance of the immigration order. Musk noted then that he believed “engaging on critical issues [would] on balance serve the greater good” as his reasoning for sticking with the council at the time.
May 26th 2017
Scientists have discovered a low-cost, efficient catalyst for splitting water to create hydrogen. This means that the world's cleanest form of energy, hydrogen, may be more easily and cheaply produced.
Physicists at the University of Houston have discovered a low-cost, efficient, and easily available catalyst that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The catalyst is far more efficient than other options that have previously been employed, and because it is grown from ferrous metaphosphate on a conductive nickel foam platform, it is both more durable and cheaper to produce.
“Cost-wise, it is much lower and performance-wise, much better,” lead author and Anderson professor of physics Zhifeng Ren, M.D. told the University of Houston News. “Some catalysts are outstanding but are only stable for one or two hours. That’s no use.”
Breaking water down into its components — oxygen and hydrogen — is theoretically simple, but practically complex. The process demands two separate reactions, each with its own electrode; one reaction evolves hydrogen, and one evolves oxygen. While hydrogen is the component that is sought after in this process, it can’t be attained without producing oxygen — and that’s the issue. Efficient oxygen catalysts, unlike the readily available hydrogen catalysts, are hard to find, and that’s where this discovery comes into play.
The evolution of oxygen usually depends upon electrocatalysts that use
expensive “noble metals” such as ruthenium, platinum, or iridium. “In this
work, we discovered a highly active and stable electrocatalyst based on
earth-abundant elements, which even outperforms the noble metal based ones,”
Principal investigator Shuo Chen told the UH News. “Our discovery
may lead to a more economic approach for hydrogen production from water
March 26th 2017
How much sun is good for our health?
With summer right around the corner, you might be plotting to soak up some sun and get a good dose of vitamin D. But since UV rays do contribute to deadly skin cancers such as melanoma, it’s a good idea to consider how much vitamin D you actually need. Luckily, researchers from Spain can shed some, um, light on the topic.
In a new study titled “How much sun is good for our health?” researchers from the Solar Radiation Research Group at Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) studied how much sun exposure it takes to get the recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Their findings, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, show that 10 to 20 minutes of sun is adequate in the spring and summer, but during the winter months, we need to spend almost two hours outside to get our fill of vitamin D. Very few foods contain vitamin D (though some do, and you can check our list of them here), which makes it even more important to shoot for more sun exposure, especially if you’re showing these subtle signs of not getting enough vitamin D.
To arrive at their conclusions, lead study author María Antonia Serrano, a scientist at the UPV, and her colleagues, analyzed ultraviolet solar irradiance (UVER) for four months of the year from 2003 to 2010 in the city of Valencia, which receives a large dose of UV radiation throughout the year, tracking the time it took to cause erythema (the reddening of skin caused by burns).
They found that in January, with 10 percent of the body exposed, people need 130 minutes to obtain the recommended daily dose of vitamin D. In July, on the other hand, with 25 percent of the body exposed, people need only around 10 minutes. In October, 30 minutes was enough. Part of the reason for this is that we wear more clothing in the wintertime, which means less surface area to be exposed to sunlight.
“It is also essential to bear in mind that we have considered the usual percentage of the body exposed for the season,” Serrano says. “If more skin is exposed, exposure time can be reduced.”
Clothing wasn’t the only factor that influenced vitamin D levels. The study also found that age actually plays an important role in turning UV radiation into vitamin D. Older people are less able to produce vitamin D, with middle-aged adults having just 66 percent of the vitamin D-production potential that children have.
If these findings seem intimidating, don’t worry too much. If you aren’t able to get enough vitamin D from the sun, you can take supplements, though you should read this first to make sure you’re doing it safely. You can also check out our list of other ways to get vitamin D outside of the summer months.
Either way, with sunny summer months right around the corner, getting healthy levels of vitamin D shouldn’t be something to sweat.
Nov 15th 2016
As the discussion around climate change shifts from theoretical predictions to real consequences, there remains a gap between the scientific community and the general public: While the vast majority of scientists believe humans are responsible for our warming planet, around one-third of Americans disagree. Now, researchers have asked whether teachers could do something to change that, and the answer is, well, yes and no: Teachers' beliefs about the existence of climate change influence their students, but their beliefs about the causes of climate change do not.
"Our findings suggest convincing teachers that climate change is real, but not necessarily human caused, may have profound impacts on students," North Carolina State University biologists Kathryn Stevenson, Nils Peterson, and Amy Bradshaw write in PLoS One.
For their study, Stevenson, Peterson, and Bradshaw focused on schools in coastal North Carolina, an area likely to be hard hit by the rising sea levels associated with climate change. Ultimately, 24 teachers in the region agreed to participate in the research, and the study authors surveyed not only the teachers, but also 369 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders about their knowledge of — and beliefs about — climate change.
Nine in 10 students had a teacher who believed climate change is indeed happening, although nearly all of those teachers thought a mix of human and natural causes was to blame. Only 12 percent of students had a teacher who thought climate change was real and believed humans were largely to blame. Eighty-two percent of students knew climate change was real, yet only 30 percent knew that humans were responsible.
The real question, however, is how much teachers' beliefs affect their students. The answer: quite a lot, when it comes to believing in climate change. The study found that, for every increase of 10 percent in teachers' confidence that climate change is indeed real, students' confidence increased by an average of 2.4 percent. While that may not seem like a lot, teachers' personal convictions had the same impact on students as did actual knowledge of climate change facts.
Nov 9th 2016
Climate taxes on meat and milk would lead to huge and vital cuts in carbon emissions as well as saving half a million lives a year via healthier diets, according to the first global analysis of the issue.
Surcharges of 40% on beef and 20% on milk would account for the damage their production causes people via climate change, an Oxford University team has calculated. These taxes would then deter people from consuming as much of these foods, reducing both emissions and illness, the team said.
Food production causes a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming, largely from the raising of cattle and other livestock. These emissions are increasing as people around the world become richer and eat more meat.
Marco Springmann, from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, who led the study, said: “It is clear that if we don’t do something about the emissions from our food system, we have no chance of limiting climate change below 2C.
“But if you’d have to pay 40% more for your steak, you might choose to have it once a week instead of twice.”
The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, evaluated the tax required for each food type to compensate for the climate damage its production causes. Beef has a heavy footprint, due to the deforestation and methane emissions associated with cattle and the grains they are fed, and needed a 40% tax on average across the world.
The scientists then assessed how much less of each food type would be eaten as a result of the taxes. They examined different tax regimes and found the optimum arrangement in terms of both emissions and health was to combine the taxes with subsidies for healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, and payments to people to compensate for price increases. This ensured poorer people did not end up with worse diets as the result of taxation.
This optimum tax plan would reduce climate emissions by 1 billion tonnes a year – the same as the entire global aviation industry. This huge potential cut in emissions surprised Springmann, as did the heavy impact of dairy products.
Changes to how food is produced and consumed have largely been ignored in the battle against climate change, due to public sensitivity about their food choices, fears about increasing hunger in poorer parts of the world and the lack of straightforward measures to tackle the problem.
“If people see any food price rise, they get angry, so you have to explain why you are doing it,” said Springmann, adding that a successful food tax policy could spend all the money it raised on ensuring people could afford healthier diets. He said a tax in Denmark on unhealthy saturated fats, where the government simply kept all the revenue, was aborted after a year. But in Mexico, a sugar tax on soft drinks has been successful after the funds were spent on free drinking water in schools.
Most of the foods with big climate impacts also happen to be unhealthy when eaten in large quantities, such as beef and dairy. Therefore, if climate taxes cut consumption, fewer people would die from related diseases such as heart disease, strokes and cancers. In the US, for example, people eat three times the recommended level of meat. The researchers found climate taxes would save more than half a million early deaths every year, largely in Europe, the US, Australia and China.
However, cutting the demand for meat and dairy would not be easy, said Rob Bailey, research director at UK thinktank Chatham House: “The challenge is political. As the new research demonstrates, in many countries there is a very strong public health and climate case for dietary change, but it isn’t happening. Governments are reluctant to ‘interfere’ in people’s lifestyle choices for fear of a public backlash and criticism for ‘nanny statism’, as well as the reaction from powerful interests in the food industry and agricultural lobby.”
Bailey said there was currently little pressure on governments to act, partly because the public understanding of the link between diet and climate change is low. But, when people are informed, they find meat taxes far less unpalatable than is supposed, he said.
Calls to cut meat-eating, by the UN and high-profile figures including climate change experts and the economist Lord Stern, have so far been both rare and controversial.
The new research found the taxes needed to compensate for climate damage were 15% on lamb, 8.5% on chicken, 7% on pork and 5% on eggs. Vegetable oil required a large tax of 25%, but this was due to the low initial price of the product, making a relatively modest surcharge look high.
These tax levels were global averages but there was significant variation with, for example, the beef tax being higher in Latin America, where cattle-raising produces more emissions than in other regions. The optimum tax plan also had regional variations, including limiting climate taxes to beef in the lowest income countries, to ensure people there were still able to afford decent diets.
Springmann said it was critical to find a way to cut the environmental impact of food production: “Either we have climate change and more heart disease, diabetes and obesity, or we do something about the food system.”
Nov 9th 2016
Sugary drinks could be banned from England's hospitals as the NHS attempts to tackle the obesity problem affecting its staff.
NHS England is considering a ban on the sale of drinks with added sugar or, alternatively, making vendors pay a levy to be allowed to sell such drinks on NHS premises.
The rules would cover fizzy drinks but also sweetened milk, sweetened coffee and fruit juice with added sugar.
It is estimated that more than half of the health service's 1.3 million employees are overweight or obese and NHS England says this is not just bad for their own health but also affects their credibility when they advise patients to lose weight.
Chief executive Simon Stevens said: "Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it's time for the NHS to practice what we preach.
"Nurses, visitors and patients all tell us they increasingly want healthy, tasty and affordable food and drink options.
"So, like a number of other countries, we're now calling time on hospitals as marketing outlets for junk food and fizzy drinks."
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said the idea was "brilliant", adding that staff "know full well the ravages caused by sugary drinks on a patient's health".
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: "It's hard to see how a ban on soft drinks can be justified given that the sector has led the way in reducing consumers' sugar intake - down by over 17% since 2012."
Mr Stevens is to announce the consultation later on Wednesday at a conference in London and, if adopted, the plan could be in place next year.
Money raised would go towards staff health and wellbeing programmes.
Any levy would be in addition to plans for a new tax on the soft drinks industry that was announced by the Government in March.
Three MoU agreements were signed in Bangkok last week for solar power research and development projects to improve the region’s infrastructure for renewable energy.
Signed as part of the Engineering
Expo 2016 at Bangkok's International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC), the
agreements have the unified goal to help boost Thailand as the Asia centre of
solar power. The signatories are King Mongkut's Institute of Technology
Ladkrabang (KMITL), Banpu, Techen Technologies (Thailand) and Huawei
This collaboration between the four entities was in response to the increasing power energy demand across Asia, said Assoc Prof Dr Komsan Maleesee, KMITL's dean |of the faculty of engineering. It originated from a shared vision to research and develop energy technology |following dynamic technologies as well as the global |energy trend, he said.
Sept 20th 2016
It’s time for industry and governments to take much-needed steps to bring this major emissions source under control, especially as air traffic continues to increase. Guest author David Suzuki explains why.
In July, Solar Impulse 2 became the first airplane to fly around the world without using fuel. At the same time, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been working on electric planes. These developments mean air travel and transport could become more environmentally friendly, with less pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and planes would be quieter.
As promising as solar and electric planes may be, these technologies still have a way to go and won’t likely usher in a new era of airline travel soon. That’s unfortunate, because aircraft are major sources of pollution and climate-altering greenhouse gases, contributing the same amount of emissions as Germany, about 2 percent of the global total. As air transport becomes increasingly popular, experts project aircraft emissions could triple by 2050.
Analysis by UK-based Carbon Brief found that, under business as usual, a growing commercial aviation industry could contribute 27 percent of allowable emissions between 2015 and 2050 if the world is to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement’s aspirational 1.5 degrees C target for global average temperature increase — and that other factors, such as nitrogen oxide and water vapor emissions and contrails, could exacerbate climate impacts.
Air travel is also an area where there’s a huge discrepancy between those who benefit and those who suffer. The wealthiest 3 – 5 percent of the world’s population are the biggest users of international aviation, while the impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on the world’s poorest.
Despite their emissions, airplanes haven’t been included in climate change accords like the Paris Agreement. That’s changing: A new deal to impose limits on aircraft emissions will be considered for approval at the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assembly in Montreal from September 27 to October 7. Many fear the proposed agreement dose not go far enough
Earlier this year, the ICAO technical committee agreed on efficiency standards for new aircraft. Although improving each new plane’s efficiency will help slow growth in aviation’s carbon pollution, the numbers of new planes taking to the skies means overall emissions will skyrocket without other measures. In 2013, ICAO committed to agree, by the time of the upcoming 2016 assembly, on a market-based measure to keep net emissions from international flights from rising above 2020 levels.
This pledge means all but the least-emitting countries would require their airlines to stabilize emissions at 2020 levels. Airlines that exceed the cap would have to buy offsetting emission reductions from companies that cut their carbon pollution below it. That framework is on the table for the assembly, but it’s been watered down significantly. Any country can opt in or out of the system until 2027, and targets until then are voluntary. That creates uncertainty over whether countries like China will join.
If ICAO’s 191 member nations fail to reach a strong aviation agreement in Montreal, it could undermine the world’s ability to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate goals. In the absence of a robust international agreement on aviation carbon pollution, ICAO member nations would be left to implement their own policies, which could result in an ineffective, piecemeal approach.
The nonprofit civil society member organizations of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation are urging ICAO to enact a “climate deal which meets the 2020 goal, has the widest possible participation, has environmental and social safeguards for the offsets and alternative fuel used and increases ambition in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement.”
Although the greater stability international agreements would provide over scattered domestic policies and regulations means the aviation industry is mostly on-board, governments have been reluctant to sign on to strong measures.
It’s time for industry and governments to take much-needed steps to bring this major emissions source under control, especially as air traffic continues to increase. We can hope that new technologies such as solar-powered and electric planes will develop quickly enough to make a difference, and we can try to limit our personal use of air travel, and buy high-quality carbon offsets when we do fly, but international agreements are crucial.
Let’s urge government representatives to come up with a strong, enforceable agreement that helps meet the Paris Agreement objectives. If that speeds up development of planes that produce no emissions or far fewer than current aircraft, even better.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Sept 13th 2016
We've been seeing evidence for years of how climate change and pollution are affecting coral reefs. The warmer waters and rising acidification have lead to coral bleaching and often coral death. When corals suffer, the life that depends on them is affected too.
Coral reefs make up only 0.2 percent of our oceans, but they are home to over 25 percent of all marine fish species plus other species like sea turtles. Reefs protect shorelines from major storms and provide food and jobs to people who live near them. Essentially, coral reefs are incredibly important to both the health of oceans and well-being of humans.
There have been lots of different types of efforts for preserving and rebuilding coral reefs, most of them requiring lots of time and meticulous labor by divers, but one island in the Caribbean has found a new approach: 3D printing.
The Harbour Village Beach Club on the island of Bonaire has teamed up with ocean preservationist Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the famous Jacques Cousteau, to use the additive manufacturing technology to restore the reefs. The island and Cousteau will work together to design and print artificial corals that are identical in size, shape, texture and even chemical makeup of the native corals.
The artificial corals will attract baby coral polyps to live in and build on them as well as attract organisms that live around coral reefs like algae, anemones, octopi, crabs and fish.
“3D printed corals can generate real change and establish real growth for reefs, one of the key attractions for visitors and divers alike in Bonaire,” said Cousteau to theCaribbean Journal. “This technology is less labor-intensive than current coral restoration processes, creating a larger impact in a shorter amount of time.”
The team hasn't picked the exact locations for the restoration yet, but they will do the printing on the island at the Harbour Village’s Ocean Learning Center, which serves as an ocean preservation think tank. They hope that this project will be a successful example for other areas around the world.
Aug 22nd 2016
Katoatau has been dancing at weightlifting competitions for a couple years now. In Rio, he told Reuters why: “Most people don’t know where Kiribati is. I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world. I wrote an open letter to the world last year to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels. I don’t know how many years it will be before it sinks.”
In that letter, which he wrote with the help of his coach, Paul Coffa, Katoatau despaired over the threat climate change posed to his homeland and other low-lying Pacific islands, and pleaded for international support to preserve Kiribati:
I have never felt so helpless in my life[.] As a sportsman I have offered everything to my country but I cannot save it. On behalf of all the people who will die for the country that will no longer exist and for the culture which will long be forgotten, I am asking for your help.
Last year I built myself the only home I could afford—a tebuia, a traditional hut—right next door to my parents. A few months later, it was destroyed by waves. …
The schools I have visited in Kiribati and the thousands of children I have met aspire to be something great. How do I lie to them and say their dreams are possible when our nation is disappearing?
I beg the countries of the world to see what is happening to Kiribati. The simple truth is that we do not have the resources to save ourselves. We will be the first to go.
Katoatau, who lives and trains in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, told Vicelast year that young people in Kiribati now “see weightlifting as a way out of the country.”
June marked 14th month of record heat for land and oceans with average global temperature reaching 1.3C above the pre-industrial era
Melting ice on the Chilkat river, Alaska, January 2016. The northern hemisphere has posted unusually high temperatures. Photograph: Michele Cornelius/Alamy
The world is on track for its hottest year on record and levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have reached new highs, further fuelling global warming, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has said.
June marked the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans, the United Nations agency said on Thursday. It called for the speedy implementation of a pact reached last December to limit climate change by shifting from fossil fuels to green energy by 2100.
The average temperature in the first six months of 2016 was 1.3C warmer than the pre-industrial era in the late 19th century, according to Nasa.
“This underlines more starkly than ever the need to approve and implement the Paris climate change agreement, and to speed up the shift to low carbon economies and renewable energy,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas.
Hottest ever June marks 14th month of record-breaking temperatures
US agencies Nasa and Noaa say last month was 0.9C hotter than the 20th century average and the hottest June since records began in 1880
Under December’s Paris agreement, nearly 200 governments agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times, while “pursuing efforts” for a ceiling of just 1.5C. Temperatures are already nudging towards that lower limit.
“The heat has been especially pronounced in the Arctic, resulting in a very early onset of the annual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice,” the WMO said.
David Carlson, director of the WMO’s climate research programme, told a news briefing: “What we’ve seen for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming. We would have thought it would take several years to warm up like this. We don’t have as much time as we thought.”
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will shatter the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm) this year and will not fall below it in our lifetimes, according to a new Met Office study.
Carbon dioxide measurements at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii are forecast to soar by a record 3.1ppm this year – up from an annual average of 2.1ppm – due in large part to the cyclical El Niño weather event in the Pacific, the paper says.
The surge in CO2 levels will be larger than during the last big El Niño in 1997/98, because manmade emissions have increased by 25% since then, boosting the phenomenon’s strength.
The Met Office also attributes around a fifth of the current El Niño’s severity to forest fires, which were started by humans and exacerbated by drought.
The paper’s lead author, Professor Richard Betts of the Met’s Hadley Centre and Exeter University, said the fact that the 400ppm threshold had been breached a year earlier than expected carried a warning for the future.
“Once you have passed that barrier, it takes a long time for CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by natural processes,” he said. “Even if we cut emissions, we wouldn’t see concentrations coming down for a long time, so we have said goodbye to measurements below 400ppm at Mauna Loa.”
The leap across the 400ppm watershed at the Hawaiian observatory will not change any climate change fundamentals. Rather, it marks a psychological rubicon, and reminder of the clock ticking down on global warming.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that CO2 concentrations must be stabilised at 450ppm to have a fair chance of avoiding global warming above 2C, which could carry catastrophic consequences.
Doing that that will require a 40-70% emissions cut by 2050, compared to 2010 levels, and zero emissions by the end of the century.
However, despite the Paris agreement last December and a boost in renewable energy that has at least temporarily checked the growth in global emissions , the world is on track to substantially overshoot the target.
“We could be passing above 450ppm in roughly 20 years,” Betts said. “If we start to reduce our global emissions now, we could delay that moment but it is still looking like a challenge to stay below 450ppm. If we carry on as we are going, we could pass 450ppm even sooner than 20 years, according to the IPCC scenarios.”
Climate modelling is a complex and delicate science, but confidence in the latest projections is high among the Met Office experts.
CO2 concentrations follow seasonal flows, reaching an annual maximum in May and a minimum in September, when tree foliage acts as a sink, breathing in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Last November, the Met Office predicted that mean concentrations of atmospheric CO2 in May 2016 would reach 407.57ppm, with a 0.5ppm margin of error. In fact, they reached 407.7.
Prof Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a co-author on the paper, said: “Back in September last year, we suspected that we were measuring CO2 concentrations below 400 ppm for the last time. Now it is looking like this was indeed the case.”
The study was published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The Arctic is on track to be free of sea ice this year or next for the first time in more than 100,000 years, a leading scientist has claimed.
Provisional satellite data produced by the US National Snow & Ice Data Centre shows there were just over 11.1 million square kilometres of sea ice on 1 June this year, compared to the average for the last 30 years of nearly 12.7 million square kilometres.
This difference – more than 1.5 million square kilometres – is about the same size as about six United Kingdoms.
Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, told The Independent that the latest figures largely bore out a controversial prediction he made four years ago.
“My prediction remains that the Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year,” he said.
“Even if the ice doesn’t completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year. I’m convinced it will be less than 3.4 million square kilometres [the current record low].
“I think there’s a reasonable chance it could get down to a million this year and if it doesn’t do it this year, it will do it next year.
“Ice free means the central part of the Arctic and the North Pole is ice free.”
Most of the remaining ice within the Arctic Circle would be trapped among the myriad of islands along Canada’s north coast.
The last time the Arctic was clear of ice is believed to be about 100,000 to 120,000 years ago.
The rapid warming of the polar region has been linked with extreme weather events such as “bomb cyclones”, flooding in the UK and out-of-season tornadoes in the United States.
And the sea ice off the north coast of Russia, which normally insulates the water below to keep it cool, is no longer present for much of the year, allowing the sea to get significantly warmer than before.
Scientists have monitored greenhouse gas methane – once frozen on the sea bed – bubbling up to the surface at an alarming rate.
According to one study published in the journal Nature by Professor Wadhams and others, this could produce an average rise in global temperature of 0.6 degrees Celsius in just five years.
“That would be a very, very serious upward jerk to global warming,” Professor Wadhams said, saying the prospect was “frightening”.
Less sea ice also means the surface of the Earth is darker, so it absorbs more of the sun’s energy.
“When the sea ice retreats, it changes the whole situation. People are right to be concerned about the sea ice retreat and disappearance mainly because of all these other feedbacks,” Professor Wadhams added.
Sea ice is usually at its lowest in September and starts to build again when the winter sets in.
Dr Peter Gleick, a leading climatologist, said he had “no idea” if Professor Wadhams’ prediction was correct.
And he added: “If it's wrong, this kind of projection leads to climate sceptics and deniers to criticize the entire community.”
However Dr Gleick said Professor Wadhams was right to sound a warning about the rising temperatures in the region, saying it was “extraordinarily disturbing even in a world of disturbing news about accelerating climate change”.
“An ice-free - and even an ice-reduced - Arctic is leading to global impacts on weather and ecosystems, and most importantly, that the changes in the Arctic presage dramatic fundamental changes in climate throughout the globe,” he said.
“We're on a runaway train, scientists are blowing the whistle, but politicians are still shovelling coal into the engine.”
Professor Jennifer Francis, of Rutgers University in the US, who has studied the effect of the Arctic on the weather in the rest of the northern hemisphere, was also sceptical about Professor Wadhams' prediction, saying it was “highly unlikely” to come true this year.
She said she thought this would not happen until sometime between 2030 and 2050.
But Professor Francis stressed: “We are definitely looking at a very unusual situation up in the Arctic.
“The ice is very low and there have been record-breaking low amounts of ice in January, February, March, April and now May, so this is very worrisome.
“I think we are going to see perhaps a new record [in September], that’s very possible.”
Thailand reports hottest temperatures for 40 years
last month was the hottest April on record globally – the seventh month in a row that has broken the monthly record.
The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded.
It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists began talking about a “climate emergency”.
Figures released by Nasa over the weekend show the global temperature of land and sea was 1.11C warmer in April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980.
It all but assures that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, and probably by the largest margin ever.
The current blast of hot air around the globe is being spurred by a massive El Niño, which is a release of warm water across the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not the biggest El Niño on record and that spike in temperatures is occurring over a background of rapid global warming, pushing temperatures to all-time highs.
“The interesting thing is the scale at which we’re breaking records,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It’s clearly all heading in the wrong direction.
“Climate scientists have been warning about this since at least the 1980s. And it’s been bloody obvious since the 2000s. So where’s the surprise?” said Pitman.
Pitmans said the recent figures put the recent goal agreed in Paris of just 1.5C warming in doubt. “The 15C target, it’s wishful thinking. I don’t know if you’d get 1.5C if you stopped emissions today. There’s inertia in the system. It’s putting intense pressure on 2C,” he said.
The record temperatures were wreaking havoc with ecosystems around the world. They’ve triggered the third recorded global coral bleaching, and in Australia 93% of the reefs have been affected by bleaching along the 2,300km Great Barrier Reef. In the northern parts of the reef, it’s expected the majority of coral is dead, and on some reefs over 90% of the coral is dying.
A recent analysis showed the bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was made 175 times more likely because of climate change, and the conditions that caused it would be average in fewer than 20 years.
The April figures come as the symbolic milestone of CO2 concentrations of 400 parts per million (ppm) have been broken at the important Cape Grim measuring station in Tasmania, Australia.
Reflecting on the CO2 concentrations, Pitman said: “The thing that’s causing that warming, is going up and up and up. So the cool ocean temperatures we will get with a La Niña are warmer than we’d ever seen more than a few decades ago … This is a full-scale punching of the reef system on an ongoing basis with some occasionally really nasty kicks and it isn’t going to recover.”
Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could dramatically curb water scarcity in the Mediterranean region, help save tropical reefs, allow more wheat to grow in West Africa, and significantly shorten heat waves, according to a new study by European researchers.
As global leaders have wrangled over how to prevent warming the planetmore than 2 degrees, leaders in vulnerable Pacific Island and West African nations have argued that this goal was too lax. Last December, climate negotiators meeting in Paris agreed that the world should seek to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, although that goal would be tough to reach and the benefits were difficult to quantify. On Friday, heads of states of about 160 nations will sign the climate agreement.
The new research published Thursday offers what may be the most detailed glimpse yet of the difference half a degree can make.
Using multiple sets of climate models, the scientists examined nearly a dozen climate indicators–including sea-level rise, rice and soy production, and extreme weather events–to analyze how the two temperature scenarios would affect 25 regions around the globe. While the models don't agree on precisely what will happen, the researchers reported consistent trends suggesting that capping warming at the lower range could substantially reduce harm from climate change in many places.
"We have a bit of uncertainty at all levels of this–we can't tell you exactly what's going to happen at 2 degrees," co-author Jacob Schewe, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany. The study was published in Earth Systems Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union. "This is about testing whether or not there is a significant difference between the two goals. And the answer is yes, some robust differences emerge."
This new research was underway before the Paris talks. It's among some of the earliest to attempt to parse how different the world might look if global leaders hit the more stringent target.
"Two degrees comes with a lot of impact, but there was limited information about what happens at 1.5 degrees," said lead author Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, a science advisor to Climate Analytics, a policy institute in Berlin. "We hoped to help fill this gap."
What scientists found were global "hot spots," where substantial trouble could be minimized by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
For instance, in parts of Australia, Central America, northern Africa and southern Europe, supplies of fresh water could decline substantially if mean temperatures rise 2 degrees above what they were at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Curbing that temperature rise by half a degree could reduce the loss of water that feeds rivers and streams in all of those regions–by almost half in the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. These places already are struggling with water shortages.
"Even a small reduction in water in a country that already has a problem with water management is a pretty big deal," Schewe says.
Soybean yields in the Amazon region are projected to decline as temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees but the declines would be far worse at 2 degrees. Meanwhile, wheat production is likely to grow under both scenarios in high latitude regions, but plummet far more at 2 degrees in many equatorial regions, further exacerbating food scarcity.
Some scientists not affiliated with the research agreed the study revealed huge contrasts.
"Half a degree C may not sound like much, but it makes a world of difference in climate impacts," says Stanford University earth scientistRob Jackson. "We'd have fewer and less severe droughts, floods, and heatwaves. Arctic systems and coral reefs would be healthier, too."
Between warming temperatures and ocean acidification almost all tropical coral reefs face the likelihood of severe degradation if temperatures rise 2 degrees. But a significant minority of these fish nurseries, which help support a quarter of the world's fisheries and provide food for millions of people, would stand a better shot at survival with a 1.5 degree temperature rise.
Meanwhile, significant sea level rise–which some fear may be almost unavoidable, given recent research about the instability of the West Antarctic ice sheet–could at least be slowed this century if warming is reduced to 1.5 degrees, allowing society more time to prepare for the changes to come.
"For me the relevant question really is: Is it worth it to go for 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees?" Schewe says. "And for me this study is one step toward answering that question."
Finding a way to reach that 1.5 degree target, however, is another issue entirely. Many scientists have suggested that capping warming at 2 degrees would require a monumental effort, including removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Research by Jackson suggests that the threshold to prevent a rise beyond 1.5 degrees may be reached within a decade.
"The policy window for limiting warming to 1.5 C is closing," Jackson says. "The Paris agreement is a good start, but there's a lot more work to be done, and it needs to happen quickly."
climate deal on track for early start
By KARL RITTER and CARA ANNA
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — About 160 countries are expected to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change Friday in a symbolic triumph for a landmark deal that once seemed unlikely but now appears on track to enter into force years ahead of schedule.
U.N. officials say the signing ceremony Friday will set a record for international diplomacy: Never before have so many countries inked an agreement on the first day of the signing period.
That could help pave the way for the pact to become effective long before the original 2020 deadline — possibly this year— though countries must first formally approve it through their domestic procedures.
"We are within striking distance of having the agreement start years earlier than anyone anticipated," Brian Deese, an adviser to President Barack Obama, said in a speech last week at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
The U.S. and China, which together account for nearly 40 percent of global emissions, have said they intend to formally join the agreement this year. It will enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions have done so.
"There's incredible momentum," former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Program, told The Associated Press. "We're moving as quickly as possible to action."
She said her agency is working with more than 140 countries on climate change-related issues, and that financing to make the Paris Agreement a reality is "critical, and let's hope everyone lives up to commitments made."
The agreement, the world's response to hotter temperatures, rising seas and other impacts of climate change, was hammered out in December outside Paris. The pact was a major breakthrough in U.N. climate negotiations, which for years were bogged down with disputes between rich and poor countries over who should do what to fight global warming.
The mood was so pessimistic after a failed 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, that U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said she thought a global deal wouldn't happen in her lifetime. Now she expects the Paris Agreement to take effect by 2018.
Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding but countries must update them every five years.
That's because scientific analyses show the initial set of targets that countries pledged before Paris don't match the long-term goal of the agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with pre-industrial times. Global average temperatures have already climbed by almost 1 degree C. Last year was the hottest on record.
"Even if the Paris pledges are implemented in full, they are not enough to get us even close to a 2-degree pathway," said John Sterman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I don't think people understand how urgent it is."
The latest analysis by Sterman and colleagues at the Climate Interactive research group shows the Paris pledges put the world on track for 3.5 degrees C of warming. A separate analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a European group, projected warming of 2.7 degrees C.
Either way, scientists say the consequences could be catastrophic in some places, wiping out crops, flooding coastal areas and melting glaciers and Artic sea ice.
Small island nations and other vulnerable countries managed in Paris to get others to agree to an aspirational goal of keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C, which many analysts say won't be possible without removing vast amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
"In Paris they reached what was possible diplomatically and maybe went a little bit beyond it," Sterman said. "I think we should celebrate it. But the physics of the climate are relentless."
There is some good news. Global energy emissions, the biggest source of man-made greenhouse gases, were flat last year even though the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency. Some say that shows countries are finally driving their economies forward without burning massive amounts of oil, coal and gas.
Still, those fossil fuels are used much more widely than renewable sources like wind and solar power.
After signing the agreement, countries need to formally ratify it. Procedures for doing that vary among countries. The U.N. says about 10 countries, most of them small island developing states, will deposit their instruments of ratification on Friday and that the world body will have a better idea by the end of the day which other countries intend to ratify the agreement this year.
The Obama administration says the deal is consistent with existing U.S. law and doesn't require the approval of the Republican-controlled Senate, where it would likely face stiff resistance. The administration is expected to treat the deal as an executive agreement, which needs only the president's approval.
Analysts say that if the Paris Agreement enters into force before Obama leaves office in January, it would be more complicated for his successor to withdraw from the deal, because it would take four years to do so under the rules of the agreement.
Also, there would be "a strong negative reaction globally that any administration would have to take into account," said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute in Washington.
U.N. officials say most countries attending Friday's signing ceremony in New York will be represented by their head of state or government. Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the United States.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is encouraging countries to use the signing to announce timelines for implementing the agreement, U.N. officials say. Those who don't sign the agreement Friday have a year to do so.
The U.N. says the previous record for opening-day signatures for an international agreement stands at 119. That record is from the signing of the Law of the Sea Treaty in 1994.
April 13th Meat
Over the last decade or so, the media have slowly but steadily fed the public information about the staggering impact of our meat-eating habits on the environment, and on climate change in particular. For instance,one recent study found that a global transition toward low-meat diets could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050. From scientific reports and articles in magazines, to viral Facebook videos to documentaries like Cowspiracy and Meat the Truth, the news about the exorbitant contribution of a carnivorous to the greenhouse problem is clearly spreading.
However, despite all these messages, new research by my colleagues and myself shows that most people are still not aware of the full extent of meat’s climate impacts. We examined how citizens in America and the Netherlands assess various food and energy-related options for tackling climate change. We presented representative groups of more than 500 people in both countries with three food-related options (eat less meat; eat local and seasonal produce; and eat organic produce) and three energy-related options (drive less; save energy at home; and install solar panels). We asked them whether they were willing to make these changes in their own lives, and whether they already did these things. While a majority of the surveyed people recognized meat reduction as an effective option for addressing climate change, the outstanding effectiveness of this option, in comparison to the other options, was only clear to 6% of the US population, and only 12% of the Dutch population.
That is remarkably low! Considering that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, wouldn’t we want people to know the power of a simple solution that is in their own hands?
In terms of communication efforts for behavioral change, the outstanding effectiveness of reducing meat consumption could be a game-changer: knowing that it makes such a big difference may motivate people to change. This is particularly so, because the research results also show a direct relationship between this knowledge and people’s willingness to consume less meat as well as their actual meat consumption. So knowledge does seem to be power, in this case.
However, to put that last finding in perspective, this may not be a causal relationship. People who already eat less meat may be more open to hear and retain information on the climate impacts of meat, while people who eat lots of meat may be more inclined to deny or downplay it. That is, behaviors may inform knowledge as much as knowledge informs behavior. And as many studies have shown, although knowledge is an important aspect of behavioral change, it alone is rarely enough for people to change their lifestyles. Changing behaviors as intimate and culturally engrained as people’s daily dietary habits therefore demands a careful consideration of the psychological and cultural dynamics at play.
Currently, most communications around meat and climate change are in the category of ‘the pointing finger’, thereby creating guilt, shame, and stigmatization among committed carnivores, and activating psychological mechanisms of denial and downplay. Stating that eating meat is ‘bad’ therefore doesn’t seem to work that well.
However, for people who already identify as environmentalists, this strategy can be very effective. They tend to embrace this message, especially if the finger is pointed at an external other they are suspicious of (e.g., ‘the capitalist system’, ‘the meat-industry’). We see this in the success of Cowspiracy, which readily convinced countless people to ‘go vegan.’ Many of these people have a postmodern worldview, are aligned with environmental values, and are suspicious of the corporate influences in our economic system ~ so the message is easy to digest.
However, if these communications are hoping to convince the rest of the population, we urgently need to move beyond finger pointing tactics. This counts particularly for people with more traditional and modern worldviews, who generally don’t identify as environmentalists or hold strong green values. Perhaps this is the reason environmental organizations have been remarkably silent on the issue of meat consumption, and why the topic is still often lacking in discussions on climate change. Since we haven’t quite figured out how to communicate it in a non-paternalistic, non-judgmental way, most institutions stay away from meddling in affairs as personal as what is on one’s plate.
We seem to be in dire need of an inspiring and empowering narrative about climate change and the impact of our diets. The good thing is, the situation around meat is empowering, as it puts the power back in our own hands (and mouths). We are not at the mercy of the system, but have substantial influence ourselves. Likewise, it is that the most effective way by far for individuals to do their part tends to also lead to better health, weight control, creativity in the kitchen, and animal welfare. While environmental behaviors often involve sacrifices, the meat-reduction option offers a range of personal benefits.
According to a 2015 Chatham House Report “Changing climate, changing diets”, people in industrialized countries consume on average around twice as much meat as experts deem healthy. In the US the multiple is nearly three times. Adoption of a healthy diet would therefore generate over a quarter of the emission reductions needed by 2050! The invitation for people is thus not to give up their delicious steak and become vegetarian (something they may consider ‘extreme’), but rather to do something that serves themselves: eat a little less meat and get healthier. Become ‘flexatarian’, as people call this new trend. For a world that is also struggling with obesity and many other health problems, the news couldn’t be better; address two massive problems for the efforts of one.
In addition, this meat-reduction option fits seamlessly with an era in which the ‘consciousness movement’ increasingly influences mainstream culture. People pay more attention to the origins of their food, value their connection with nature, and generally show more concern for their health and well-being, including food habits and body awareness. We see this for example in the countless yoga studios popping up in big cities, the 'hipness' of organic food, the super foods that are nowadays also found in conventional supermarkets, and struggling fast food corporations like MacDonald’s. It also resonates with the ubiquitous search for 'balance'. This means that the cultural evolution of society is moving in the right direction: we have the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, working in favor of us.
This is of crucial importance. As many authors have argued, the greatest potential for a shift towards sustainable lifestyles is through a change in culture and worldview—a shift in assumptions about human nature, our relationship with the (natural) world around us, and our aspirations for the ‘good life’. Food touches on social habits and norms; plays a role in mediating power and status; is often key to social participation and acceptance; and is expressive of collective values and identity. Consumption and lifestyles therefore tend to be shaped more by people collectively than individually. The most effective strategies thus engage people in groups, and give them opportunities to develop their understanding and narratives about food in dialog together.
One of my master students, Lena Johanning, translated this idea by developing postcards that humorously depict "flexitarian" superheroes on the front, with an invitation for a veggie dinner on the back, coupled with some amazing fact about meat and climate change. In that way, she framed plant-based dinners not only as environmentally effective, but also as fun and social, an opportunity for people to get together and explore.
Developing a range of approaches, including framing plant-based dinners around creative cooking and the deliciousness of vegetables, around the health and weight loss benefits, or around what it means for animals and our connection with nature, could be an effective way to speak to a wide range of people. Although no studies have been done to scientifically examine such approaches, considering what is at stake, it is certainly worth the experiment. Then, policy makers and environmental organizations can start to tap into and reinforce the changing culture andZeitgeist. In that way, the change can start to accelerate, supporting us to collectively get better at creating the world we want.
March 17th UK
Speaking in the Commons, energy minister Andrea Leadsom said government believed it was necessary "to take the step of enshrining the Paris commitment to net zero emissions in UK law". "The question is not whether but how we do it. And there are an important set of questions to be answered before we do," she said. "This is an example once again of the House demonstration on a cross-party basis a determination to tackle climate change." The statement was welcomed by the cross-party group of MPs which pressed for the climate law to be tightened. Ex-Labour leader and former Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband told BBC News: "This will send a signal to other countries this is the right thing to do. "We very much welcome what they (ministers) have done - now we've got to make sure the government deliver on it."
Almost half of Australian voters say policies on climate change, renewable energy and the Great Barrier Reef will influence the way they vote at the next federal election, according to new polling shared exclusively with Guardian Australia.
The nationwide poll of 1,048 people over the weekend found 47% of people agreed or strongly agreed that “climate change and renewable energy will influence the way I vote at this year’s federal election”.
Similarly, 44% of respondents said they either agreed or strongly agreed that measures to protect the Great Barrier Reef would influence their vote – again, more than double the 20% who disagreed.
And voters appeared particularly concerned about the impact of the Carmichael coalmine, which will be the biggest in the country if it goes ahead. In all, 65% said they were quite worried, very worried or extremely worried about the impact the mine would have on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef. Only 15% said they were not worried at all and 20% were not aware of the plans.
“Today’s polling shows that, when voters go to the polls in the second half of the year, they’ll be concerned about climate change,” said Simon Sheikh, the founder and managing director of Future Super. “That should be an extraordinary wake-up call for the government.
“In the last few months the government has tried ignoring the issue of climate change. It has undermined the jobs of climate scientists at the CSIRO and thrown its support behind polluting projects like the Adani coalmine. Today’s polling reveals they are on the wrong side of every one of those issues.”
Sheikh said the number of people who were switching to Future Super, which is the only super fund in Australia that avoids all investments in fossil fuels, is further evidence for how much people care about the issue. He said the fund reached $130m under management, within 18 months of launching.
The Australian Conservation Foundation is fighting the federal government’s approval of Adani’s Carmichael coalmine in court, arguing the carbon emissions from the coal it produces will put the Great Barrier Reef at risk. It will create more annual emissions than New York City, according to calculations done last year.
“Any politician who wants to be taken seriously on climate change and Great Barrier Reef protection cannot support Adani’s proposal to dig the biggest coalmine in Australia’s history,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“What’s clear from this polling is Australians care about the Great Barrier Reef, they are increasingly worried about the damage climate change is doing to it and they will use their votes in this year’s federal election to demand a better deal for the reef.
“Burning coal is warming the planet and warmer oceans are bleaching the reef. People can see the connection and they want better from their government.”
The Queensland parliament, with the support of both Labor and the Liberal-National party, recently passed a motion supporting Adani’s efforts to get the required regulatory approvals passed, Sheikh said.
“With 65% of Australians expressing their concerns over the impact the mine will have on our climate and on the Great Barrier Reef, both Labor and the Coalition appear to be on the wrong side of this issue,” he said.
The survey also asked respondents what they thought of the statement: “The federal government was right to cut jobs, including those of climate scientists at the CSIRO.” A total of 49% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with only 20% agreeing or strongly agreeing.
“With temperature records being smashed in 2014, 2015 and in the first two months of 2016, it’s little wonder that voters are deeply concerned about the issue once again,” Sheikh said.
Australia's chief scientist has warned the planet is "losing the battle" against climate-change, after new data showed February set a "completely unprecedented" record for the hottest month since global records began.
The data released by NASA compared each month going back to 1880 against average temperatures between 1951 and 1980, and confirmed preliminary analysis that February was the hottest month on record.
"You wouldn't want to dismiss it. There is genuine reason for concern," Dr Alan Finkel said during an appearance on the ABC's Q&A program, which focused on science and also discussed AI and gender equality.
"For all the effort we are putting into trying to avoid increases of emission, we are losing.
"What we are doing with solar, wind, changing practices, behavioural practices and things like that, we're not winning the battle."
Meteorologist Dr Jeff Masters said although the absolute hottest month on record was July 2015, July and August tend to be 4C hotter than January and February because the large land mass in the Northern Hemisphere cools the planet during the northern winter.
Writing on the Weather Underground blog, Dr Masters and his co-author Bob Henson said February was exceptional because it was 1.35C hotter than the long-term average, while July was only 0.75C hotter than average.
"Perhaps even more remarkable is that February 2015 crushed the previous February record [set during the peak of the 1997-98 El Nino] by a massive 0.47C," they wrote.
The previous record was January this year, at 1.14C hotter than average, which broke the December 2015 record of 1.10C.
NASA's data also showed that although October 2015 was the first month since 1880 to be more than 1C warmer than average, every month since October has exceeded that mark.
The last month to be colder than average was September 1992, and the last year with two months colder than average was 1978.
Warming 'completely unprecedented', world now in a climate emergency
Dr Masters and Mr Henson described February's result as "an extraordinary margin to beat a monthly world temperature record by," and an "ominous milestone".
"This result is a true shocker, and yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature and climate-change resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases," they said.
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and a visiting professorial fellow at the University of NSW, told Fairfax Media the warming was "completely unprecedented."
"We are in a kind of climate-change emergency now," he said.
"Governments have promised to act and they need to do better than what they promised in Paris."
The COP21 climate conference in Paris signed an agreement in December 2016 that repeated a 2C target but said the world should pursue a target of limiting warning to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
However, Dr Masters said the world is already 1C warmer than the late nineteenth century, and heat stored in the oceans has already committed us to at least another 0.5 degrees of atmospheric warming.
"In short, we are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2.0C warming over pre-industrial levels," he said.
Dr Masters said the next several months should remain well above the long-term average, and 2016 may top 2015 as the warmest year in global record-keeping
2015 was the hottest year on record by the widest ever margin, according to data released by two government agencies in the United States.
Nasa and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration say the global average was nearly 15 degrees Celsius, more than 0.2 degrees warmer than in 2014.
Nasa scientist Compton Tucker said the figures were hard to ignore.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere grew more in past 12 months than at any time in the past 56 years.
Measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii went up by more than three parts per million(ppm) in 2015.
Scientists say the spike is due to a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather pattern.
They argue that the data increases the pressure on global leaders to sign and ratify the Paris Climate Agreement.
Mauna Loa is the world's oldest continuous atmospheric measurement station, with records dating back to the later 1950s.
It is regarded as the most important site in the global monitoring network, recording the see-saw, rise and fall of carbon in the atmosphere over a year.
Plants and trees tend to absorb more CO2 during the spring and lose it as autumn approaches and leaves die off.
For the past decade the average increase in carbon dioxide at the station has been 2ppm. But in 2015 the level grew by 3.05ppm - In the year to February 2016, the level went up by 3.76ppm.
The global climate phenomenon, El Niño, is believed to have played a role in the rise.
Scientists at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) say that the previous biggest increase was in 1998, also an El Niño year.
The weather event drives drought in many parts of the tropics and in 2015 this led to forest fires in Indonesia and other locations which pumped large amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere.Image copyright NOAA Image caption Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere fluctuate with the seasons but the overall trend is upward
"The impact of El Niño on CO2 concentrations is a natural and relatively short-lived phenomenon," said Petteri Taalas from the WMO.
"But the main long-term driver is greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. We have the power and responsibility to cut these," he added.Pressure to sign
The latest figures show that in January and February this year the levels of CO2 at Mauna Loa went through the symbolic 400ppm level.
Prior to 1800, say the US National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), atmospheric levels were 280ppm.
"Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years," said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of Noaa's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.
"It's explosive compared to natural processes."
The scientists say the latest figures should encourage global leaders to make progress on the Paris Climate Agreement.
The UN is hoping that prime ministers and presidents will turn up in large numbers at a signing ceremony in New York in April, and that the treaty will become operational this year.
"This should serve as a wake-up call to governments about the need to sign the Paris Climate Agreement and to take urgent action to make the cuts in CO2 emissions necessary to keep global temperature rises to well below 2C," said the WMO's Petteri Taalas.
Scientists will be closely monitoring atmospheric levels this year to see if there is any decrease as El Niño fades over the next few months.
A few questions for climate change sceptics who believe that climate change is only due to nature.
Do you admit that climate change is happening?
Do you think man has had any influence on climate change?
do you object to government subsidies for clean energy?
do you have any sympathy for those suffering from climate change?
do you work for a company that may be changed by climate change regulations?
do you have any financial interest in a company that may be changed by climate change regulations?
do you support a political party who are climate change sceptics?
do you think climate change regulations will affect you financially?
do you think you are suffering any health problems due to climate change?
do you think you will suffer any health problems due to climate change in the future?
do you admit that man has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide?
do you admit that this has affected the amount of heat radiated back to space?
do you admit there is an increase in species extinctions due to climate change?
do you think these extinctions are a bad thing?
do you admit to any outside reason for you being a climate change sceptic?
do you think climate change will have a bad effect on your children and grandchildren?
do you think deforestation influences climate change?
do you think climate change is inevitable?
do you think climate change is controllable?
Do you have strong religious views on climate change?
Do you think your opinions are influenced by fear of the future?
Sir David Attenborough has warned that humanity is doing its "damnedest" to stop the world recovering from the effects of climate change.
People "can't afford to be fatigued" about the threat of global warming, the 89-year-old broadcaster said, and the situation can, at best, get "less worse".
His comments come shortly after world leaders agreed a deal to cut global greenhouse emissions following climate talks in Paris.
The lifelong naturalist had been very vocal in the build-up to the summit, saying the world faced a "hideous problem".
© David Parry/PA Wire Sir David Attenborough says recovering from the effects of climate change is almost impossible. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph magazine, Sir David said improvement can only be achieved through "very, very" hard work.
Referring to the problems facing the environment, he said: "Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to worry about it? But you can't afford to be fatigued.
"If we're lucky and we work very, very hard, they're going to get less worse."
His latest documentary series, Great Barrier Reef, screens in Australia next year, just weeks before Tourism Australia launches a major push to promote Australia's coastal and aquatic experiences.
Jan 6th 2016
Los Angeles was drenched on Tuesday by the first major storm of the year, which caused moderate flooding and damaged some roads. Rain is expected to continue throughout the week, and a slew of storms are set to follow, worrying officials.
The Los Angeles Times reports that at least four Climate-change storms are lined up back-to-back across the Pacific, stretching from Asia to the California coast, and all are expected to bring deluges to the drought-stricken metropolis.
Climatologist Bill Patzert told the newspaper this "relentless" onslaught could be bad news as water begins to penetrate topsoil hardened by a half-decade of drought. Mudslides and flash flooding, reminiscent of the strongest on record 1997-1998 El Niño, come next.
Areas primed for mudslides and flooding include those damaged by California's years-long onslaught of wildfires, which now lack vegetation that usually keeps soil in place.
The truth about Climate-change is out there.
It is reported that the temperature over the North Pole will be above freezing for only the second time since records began, this is due to particular storm conditions and is just temporary.
The Paris Climate-change conference
The biggest shame is that they let the shipping industry and the aircraft industry with a no change for now policy.
More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas.
"It's rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world," French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time).
After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.
Two weeks of marathon deal-making, which started with high hopes, ended with a surprisingly ambitious pact. Its 31 pages commit wealthier nations to provide billions of dollars to poor countries to battle rising seas and extreme weather, and called on every nation to begin a rapid transition toward clean energy.
It remains to be seen how well nations will follow through on these pledges – and whether the newly aggressive goals can be achieved. But as a blueprint for the future, diplomats were clearly proud of their efforts, and even many skeptical climate activists praised the unexpected boldness of portions of the agreement.
"Countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate-change crisis," said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, "Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”
Here are highlights of the deal–some surprises, some snubs, what it means, and where it takes us:SURPRISES
Aside from the fact that there's an agreement at all, perhaps nothing was more unexpected than the ambitiousness of its goal: Negotiators came to Paris with a mission to stop the rise of greenhouse gases before they cause irreversible harm to the planet. Countries previously had set a target of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But the new accord commits the planet to limiting global temperature rise to "well below 2 degrees Celsius." And it adds that nations will do so while also "pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees."
In the new climate pact, countries agreed Saturday to begin rapidly scaling back land-clearing and deforestation, particularly in rainforests such as this stretch of the Mato Grosso region of the Brazilian Amazon. The Amazon is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the burning of fossil fuels.
Photograph by GEorge Steinmetz, National Geographic Creative
Given the years of failed efforts, few delegates would have expected such language. What changed? Scientific reality. Recent research suggests sea level rise, particularly for low-lying Pacific Ocean nations like the Marshall Islands or Kiribati, is likely to swamp entire nations, even if warming is limited to 2 degrees.
The 1.5 target will not be legally binding but “it's the fire under the agreement that helps spur an acceleration of everything we do," says Liz Gallagher, with E3G, an international activist group promoting a transition to sustainability. Island Nations Another surprise was the growing clout and influence of Pacific Ocean states and small developing countries–such as South Africa–whose unity and consistent moral outrage helped forge a coalition that no one would have imagined a few years ago. Developed nations, including the United States and some in the European Union, joined their push for more aggressive action. The group called itself the Higher Ambition Coalition, and delegates entered the hall during their last meeting wearing coconut fronds on their lapels. Before delegates began debating the final document, Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, posted a picture of himself on Twitter rocking an infant with a message: “My tenth grandchild. This is who I am fighting for today.” Ratcheting of Ambition Before arriving in Paris, 187 countries, representing more than 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, submitted plans to reduce their emissions in coming decades. Those plans come nowhere close to reaching the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees – let alone 1.5 degrees. In fact, analysis by two teams–one in Germany, one associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–say the plans, if followed, would lead to between 2.7 degrees or 3.5 degrees of warming. But on Saturday delegates agreed that countries will need to start ratcheting up those long-term plans far sooner than expected. Beginning in 2018, delegates will have to start coming back together to evaluate their progress, and by 2020, new, more ambitious plans would be expected from many. The idea is that Saturday’s agreement and advances in technology could so thoroughly change the marketplace for renewables such as wind, solar and wave energy that it may well be possible for countries to make their transitions even faster–and cheaper.
In the middle of the last decade, after years of failed efforts, global momentum on the transition to clean energy stalled. In recent years it came back, but few would have expected Saturday's agreement to so forcefully speak of a desire to end fossil fuel emissions entirely. The document calls for reaching "peak" emissions in a few decades and then moving toward zero emissions in coming decades, even if that means depending on technologies that draw carbon dioxide out of the air.
The Sierra Nevada’s snowpack is at a 500-year low. Skiers, hikers, farmers, forests, and virtually every other living thing in California are feeling the effects of the low snowpack. Scientists say climate change is expected to intensify droughts like the one that has devastated California for the past four years.
Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic Creative
What was clear, above all, however, was that countries gathered in Paris considered it essential that the world move beyond the fossil fuel era. We could see that just in the push for a 1.5 degree limit on warming.
Put another way, says Kumo Naido, with Greenpeace, "That single number...will cause consternation in the board rooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states."
The oil giant has been one of the most reluctant parties to any climate agreement, often using its clout in the Middle East to drag others away from the negotiating table. While Saudi Arabia participated in the process in Paris, it also threw up roadblocks from time to time, trying to maintain its grip as a major source of energy for the world.
Now, with oil prices in a slump, and its economy battered more than usual, Saudi Arabia will face a dramatic transition rivaled by few.
In recent years, activists like former NASA scientist James Hansen and author Bill McKibben have attacked fossil fuels at every turn, arguing against the Keystone pipeline or the export of coal to Asia through ports in the Pacific Northwest. They've pushed universities and foundations to divest from coal and oil in their holdings–winning some battles and losing others. Critics often complained that each individual battle didn't seem to add up to much, but the activists were consistent. They argued again and again that more fossil fuels needed to stay in the ground in order to keep the world safe. That strategy helped keep climate change on the agenda and today, it appears, diplomats from nearly 200 countries more or less decided to agree with them.
Moving from a fossil-fuel dominated world to one powered by clean-energy is not easy or simple. And it has been frustrating for many in the business world to figure out where to put their energies–and their cash. From hedge fund managers and bankers to energy financiers, many had asked over and over again for some sense of what the future holds. Some were sympathetic to activists urging a divestment from coal and other fossil fuels, but also had obligations to shareholders. They needed assurances that stepping out of investments in coal or oil would be wise.
Now, finally, they know.
Germany got 44 percent of its electricity from coal last year—about 26 percent from lignite, or brown coal. This mine, the Welzow-Süd opencast mine, has been mining lignite since 1959. The use of hard coal has declined substantially, but not the use of lignite. That’s a major reason Germany isn’t on track to meet its own greenhouse gas target for 2020.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli, National Geographic Creative
"What they wanted was a signal about the way the future economy would be shaped," says Michael Jacobs, a political scientist with New Climate Economy, which works with the World Bank and others to push for a transition to renewables. "This is a signal that the world is on an irreversible, irrevocable downward trend in emissions. I think this is remarkable."
The French Government
Throughout the week, delegates and negotiators continually praised President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for the way they led the negotiations. Where other negotiations failed, the French repeatedly found ways to make even the most frustrated countries feel empowered. But they also pushed and pushed everyone for a deal, even warning early on Saturday that their children and grandchildren would remember this day if they failed to come together.
Roger Harrabin, an analyst with the BBC, said earlier in the week that Fabius "has used his first-name terms with delegates to create the atmosphere of a family trying to solve a common problem. He will go down in history as one of the great diplomats if he pulls off this extraordinary deal, affecting the politics and economics of every nation in the world.”
History has been made in Paris – but perhaps not the kind of history we hoped. The climate summit in Paris may come to be remembered as the moment when the world’s leaders let the last hope of limiting warming to 2 °C slip away from us.
The Paris agreement, which covers the period 2020 to 2030, is a better deal than many expected, and if countries stick both to the spirit and the letter of the agreement, it could give us a good chance of limiting global warming to under 4 °C and perhaps even under 3 °C.
But this is far from certain. The Kyoto Protocol was hailed as a dramatic turning point when it was agreed in 1997 but most now regard it as a failure.
Many scientists have welcomed the stated aim in the Paris agreement not just of trying to keep warming under 2 °C but endeavouring to limit it to 1.5 °C – a more ambitious goal than expected before the summit. However, they point out that what is in the agreement does not go nearly far enough to achieve these aims. The strongest criticism has come from renowned climate scientist James Hansen.Worthless
“It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises,” Hansen said today. “As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
It has long been clear that what countries were offering to do as part of a deal was not nearly enough to keep us under 2 °C. In the lead-up to Paris, this was not only been acknowledged but stressed by many involved in the process, including UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres.
This has not changed. “The emissions cuts promised by countries are still wholly insufficient,” says Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, who studies global emissions.
However, the agreement does contain a “ratchet mechanism”. Countries will have to say every five years what they are doing tackle climate change review – what will now be called their nationally determined contribution. Each successive NDC “will represent a progression beyond” the country’s previous one. This wording did not appear in earlier versions of the agreement, in which the language was weaker.
The idea is that this will ensure countries rapidly “ratchet up” their ambitions. But the gulf between what is being done and what is required is huge, and nothing in the deal compels countries to make much greater efforts required. While the deal is being described as legally binding, countries can withdraw from it without consequences, as Canada did from the Kyoto Protocol.Now or never
And time has nearly run out for limiting warming to 2 °C. “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late,” climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in the UK told New Scientist on Friday. “It’s a very small window.”
As for 1.5 °C, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”, according to Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency, housing changes,” he said. “Even international aviation and shipping that were excluded from this report will need to be tackled within the next few years.”
Few regard this as a realistic prospect, not least because no politician would be prepared to take the drastic and costly measures required. “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5 °C is simply incompatible with democracy,” Michael Grubb of University College London told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.
But unless such drastic action is taken in the next few years we are headed for a very different world, one in which seas will rise by more than 5 metres over the coming centuries, and one in which droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will ravage many parts of the world.
There has been much praise for the way the French have organised the summit and handled the negotiations.
The deal in Paris may well have been the best deal possible. But the protesters outside the summit are right when they say it will not save the planet.
“The bureaucrats have a better grasp of what is politically possible, and the protesters of what is physically necessary,” says Anderson. “What do you want to bet on, science or politics?”
COP21: World awaits landmark climate-change deal
There were cheers as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the 2C objective Organisers of climate talks in Paris have released details of a proposed landmark deal to curb climate change.France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the final draft of the agreement aimed to limit warming to "well below 2C".The final document has been presented to international delegates in Paris after two weeks of talks.If endorsed, the global climate pact would represent "a historic turning point", said Mr Fabius.French President Francois Hollande, who joined the meeting on Saturday, called the proposal unprecedented.COP 21 Live: Follow events in Paris "The decisive agreement for the planet is here and now,'' Mr Hollande told countries. "France calls upon you to adopt the first universal agreement on climate.''And UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world diplomats to "finish the job". "We must protect the planet that sustains us,'' he said. "We need all our hands on deck.''
Nearly 200 countries are attempting to strike the first climate deal to commit all countries to cut emissions, which would come into being in 2020.
Ministers will now decide whether or not to approve the agreement when discussions resume this afternoon.
The following measures are proposed:
• To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century
• To keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C
• To review progress every five years
• $100 billion a year in climate-change finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.
Ahead of a meeting to discuss adoption of the plan, a 24-nation group including India, China and Saudi Arabia said it was "happy" with the agreement.
"We think it is balanced," the bloc's spokesman, Gurdial Singh Nijar said, according to AFP news agency.
And the European Union climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, tweeted that the EU too supported the proposed deal on climate-change.
Media captionProtesters wore red in Paris symbolising the red lines they do not want negotiators to cross Image copyright EPA Image caption Demonstrations in Paris as the summit draws to a close
At the scene: BBC environment correspondent Matt McGrath in Paris
Small island states will be pleased that the draft agreement suggests that global temperatures should be kept well below 2C and the best efforts of the world should be made to keep those temperatures below 1.5C. The way the world will achieve these aims is a little more unclear.
The issue of transparency became a major sticking point between the US and China and the new text is a carefully balanced compromise between the desire of the Americans to have a single system that allows international oversight and inspection and the Chinese demand that developing countries should not have to face the same level of scrutiny straight away.
Laurent Fabius told the meeting that the rich would provide finance worth $100bn a year from 2020, and that this figure would be a "floor" although the figure itself is in the decision text and not in the agreement.
Developing nations and many campaigners will be pleased to see a section on loss and damage, although that text specifically removes the question of compensation for countries hit by climate-change related weather events.
Hopes are running high for a "historic" deal but countries could still raise objections.
The UN summit has gone over time as countries try to overcome divisions over ambition, money and trust.
The spokesman of the UN climate-change body behind the meeting said positions had "narrowed enormously" ahead of the presentation of the final climate-change deal draft.
WWF-UK chief executive David Nussbaum said there were indications of a clear vision in the strong long-term goal.
"The Paris deal is not just about reducing emissions, but also about protecting vulnerable places and people," he said.
But Oxfam said the deal is set to short-change the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.
Executive Director Helen Szoke said: "Only the vague promise of a new future climate-change funding target has been made, while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall a climate-change catastrophe."
Prof Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia and director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate-Change Research, said while the text recognised the imperatives of the science community to tackle climate-change there was still a lot of work ahead to make it happen.
"The emissions cuts promised by countries now are still wholly insufficient, but the agreement as a whole sends a strong message to businesses, investors and citizens that new energy is clean and fossil fuels belong to the past."
The last hours of the talks culminate a four-year drive to produce the first international pact asking all countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries will meet later on Saturday to decide whether or not to adopt the agreement.
Countries calling for an ambitious agreement at the Paris climate summit must insist that language on aviation and shipping emissions be reinserted or the prospects of keeping global warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, will be fatally undermined, green groups have warned. The latest draft deal, issued days before talks are due to end, dropped any mention of the two international transport sectors, which fall outside national reduction targets and therefore require an explicit reference in the agreement.
This site is a must see
Posted by Tim Profeta of Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University on June 25, 2015
The White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new peer-reviewed report saying inaction on climate change is a dire threat to human health and the economy. It specifically estimates the physical monetary paybacks across 20 sectors of the United States by year 2100 if world leaders successfully limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Among its findings: agricultural losses could be reduced by as much as $11 billion, there could be as many as 57,000 fewer deaths from poor air quality and as much as $110 billion in lost labor hours could be avoided. If nothing is done by 2100, the United States will see thousands of additional deaths annually related to extreme temperatures and poor air quality. “The results are quite startling and very clear,” said Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy. “Left unchecked, climate change affects our health, infrastructure and the outdoors we love. But more importantly the report shows that global action on climate change will save lives.” The Washington Post notes one major concern with the study—citing a recent International Energy Agency analysis—though several major new international commitments could move the world in the right direction, the planet is almost certainly not going to hit its 2 degree target. The report follows the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical—acknowledging that climate change is largely caused by humans—sparking bipartisan reaction. A review of surveys by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University found the majority of Catholic Republicans agreed that global warming is happening. EPA Clean Power Plan Under Fire A White House official this week said the final version of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan would retain its ambitious 30 percent cut in emissions (subscription). Slated to be finalized in August, the rule would limit emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act by giving states flexibility in how they can meet interim state-level emissions rate goals (2020–2030) and a final 2030 emissions rate limit. Bills to scale back its intended benefits were the subject of House hearings this week. One in particular, the Ratepayer Protection Act—which Obama threatened to veto—was passed with a 247-180 vote by House Republicans Wednesday. It would pause implementation of the rule until all legal challenges have been settled. It also would allow states to opt out if the rule leads to rate increases. Manufacturers on Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass the bill. A letter from the National Association of Manufacturers noted that the “rule has the potential to substantially increase the costs of electricity for manufacturers and could threaten the reliability of the electric grid in many parts of the country.” But a report from Public Citizen suggests the Clean Power Plan will actually be beneficial to consumers and the economy generally. 2015 on Pace to Be Warmest Year on Record The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the Japanese Meteorological Agency last week reported that the first five months of this year are the hottest since recordkeeping began in 1880, putting 2015 on track to top 2014 as the warmest year on record. In May, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, 0.14 degrees above the previous record set in May 2014. According to NOAA, record warm sea-surface temperatures in the northeast and equatorial Pacific Ocean as well as areas of the western North Atlantic Ocean and Barents Sea north of Scandinavia contributed to the anomalous heat so far in 2015. “The oceans have been what’s really been driving the warmth that we’ve seen in the last year and a half to two years,” said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Education. “We’ve seen really large warmth in all of the major ocean basins. So, if there’s anything unusual or weird, I guess, about what we’re seeing, it’s the fact that the entire global ocean is participating in this really extreme warmth that we’ve seen in the last couple years.” The current El Niño event could help keep temperatures at record or near-record levels for the remainder of the year, but climate scientists are cautious about saying whether 2015 will definitely be a record breaker for heat. “We expect that we are going to get more warm years, and just as with 2014, records will be broken increasingly in the future. But perhaps not every year,” said Gavin Schmidt, who leads NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Today, something incredible happened in the Netherlands. In a landmark court case, in which NGO Urgenda along with 900 concerned Dutch citizens sued the government for failing to act on climate change, the Dutch court ruled in their favour. It was a brave and necessary verdict.
The Netherlands is widely known for being progressive on social issues (gay marriage, soft drugs etc) but we are unfortunately far from that when it comes to tackling climate change. The wet and soggy lowlands have been lagging behind on renewables, with only 4% – one of the lowest in Europe.
But today's verdict is a game-changer in the fight against climate change. The Dutch court ruling is clear: The government has a legal duty to protect its people against the threat of climate change. Litigation against governments who fail to take climate change seriously will spread around the world.
The implications will be felt for years to come. The Hague Court ordered the government to cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. That is an additional 10% CO2 reduction in the next five years.
The Netherlands is not the only country failing to take the necessary measures to tackle dangerous climate change. The arguments made in this landmark ruling are applicable to other countries, and in the run-up to the Paris climate conference, governments around the world should take note.
And this is just the beginning. There is a case being brought in Belgium, and Greenpeace hopes to bring about a similar action in the Philippines, which suffered terribly from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Greenpeace, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and other local NGOs are requesting the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to open a critical investigation into the responsibility of big carbon polluters for human rights violations that have or will result from the impacts of climate change.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia launched the demand for the investigation on World Environment Day by asking Filipinos and others to show their support for the investigation by signing on to this petition.
Faiza Oulahsen is a Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands.
June 24th 2015
And heat in Pakistan
Power cuts, angering residents
The death toll from an ongoing heatwave in Pakistan's southern Sindh province has passed 700, local media said, as mortuaries reached capacity.
Dawn newspaper said at least 744 people had died in Karachi and 38 in other areas, citing a government official.
The Edhi Welfare Organisation told the AFP news agency that their morgues had received hundreds of corpses and were now full.
Officials have been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the crisis.
"More than 400 dead bodies have so far been received in our two mortuaries in past three days," Edhi spokesperson Anwar Kazmi told AFP. "The mortuaries have reached capacity."
On Tuesday as temperatures reached 45C (113F), Pakistan's PM Nawaz Sharif called for emergency measures and the army was deploying to help set up heat stroke centres.
Media caption One labourer told the BBC: ''It's so hot that I can barely speak''
There is anger among local residents at the authorities because power cuts have restricted the use of air-conditioning units and fans, correspondents say.
Matters have been made worse by the widespread abstention from water during daylight hours during the fasting month of Ramadan.
On Tuesday, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it had received orders from Mr Sharif to take immediate action to tackle the crisis.
This came as Sindh province Health Secretary Saeed Mangnejo said 612 people had died in the main government-run hospitals in the city of Karachi during the past four days. Another 80 are reported to have died in private hospitals.
Thousands of people are being treated in the Sindh province, and some of them are in serious condition
Many of the victims are elderly people from low-income families.
Thousands more people are being treated, and some of them are in serious condition.
Hot weather is not unusual during summer months in Pakistan, but prolonged power cuts seem to have made matters worse, the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani reports.
Sporadic angry protests have taken place in parts of Karachi, with some people blaming the government and Karachi's main power utility, K-Electric, for failing to avoid deaths, our correspondent adds.
The prime minister had announced that there would be no electricity cuts but outages have increased since the start of Ramadan, he reports.
Media caption Dr Seemi Jamali, director of Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, said her team was under ''tremendous pressure'' treating heatstroke patients
There's anger on the street about the government's slow response to the crisis. The provincial PPP government appeared aloof and unresponsive. The federal government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif woke up to the tragic deaths on the third day.
While politicians blamed each other for not doing enough, the army - always keen to seize opportunities to demonstrate its soft power - sprang into action to set up "heat stroke relief camps".
By the fourth day, a campaign was launched to reiterate steps people should take in sizzling temperatures.
Many in Karachi feel that had the authorities moved proactively many lives could have been saved.
The hope now is that with the expected pre-monsoon rains later in the week the weather will improve. That will certainly provide much-needed respite to millions affected by the heatwave, but it won't change the chronic underlying problems this ever-growing city of 20 million faces - a dysfunctional infrastructure and poor governance.How the body copes with extreme heat
The body's normal core temperature is 37-38C.
If it heats up to 39-40C, the brain tells the muscles to slow down and fatigue sets in. At 40-41C heat exhaustion is likely - and above 41C the body starts to shut down.
Chemical processes start to be affected, the cells inside the body deteriorate and there is a risk of multiple organ failure.
The body cannot even sweat at this point because blood flow to the skin stops, making it feel cold and clammy.
Heatstroke - which can occur at any temperature over 40C - requires professional medical help and if not treated immediately, chances of survival can be slim.
There are a number of things people can do to help themselves. These include:
Karachi resident Iqbal told the BBC on Monday that no-one in his family could go outside to work because of the temperature and that everyone in their area preferred to stay at home.
"In our area, there is no electricity [since the] morning. We have complained several times, but there is no response from K-Electric," he said.
Curtains to protect against the heat are in great demand
According to Pakistan's metrological office cooler weather is forecast from Tuesday.
The all-time highest temperature reached in Karachi is 47C, recorded in 1979.
Last month, nearly 1,700 people died in a heatwave in neighbouring India.
Despite all the vested interests saying climate-change is not our doing, we all know who is at fault.
We know the science behind it and we can understand the greenhouse effect, the skeptics have put out masses of information saying it's only nature, this is at a cost of millions of pounds because they know there are many billions at stake in their profits.
I am about to guide you to some informative talks by some informed researchers who are quite rightly concerned about what we are condemning our grandchildren to.
If you want more evidence than this just google
Ted talks on climate-change
Here are some ideas on how we could reduce our carbon footprint.
Some of these are pretty drastic but we believe this is the sort of action we need to take urgently.
We need to reduce the world's population or at worst control it, so how do we do that?
We must control how many children are born into this world, we could adopt the age-old Chinese principle of one family one child and this is certainly a good start, but it needs to be worldwide.
And how do we enforce this, the most humane way is by taxes and benefit control, then there is enforced sterilisation, and voluntary sterilisation should be the first step.
We could take out all restrictions on suicide, if you don't want to live here any more than you should be encouraged and assisted in your attempts to go to a better place.
The terminally ill and those in constant pain which cannot be controlled should have the option of assisted suicide.
A painless death option should be given to all prisoners on death row.
We should encourage the living will option of withdrawing medication should the patient be in a coma, you can specify when this should apply.
There used to be a slogan years ago when fuel was short which asked the question, is your journey really necessary?, it's time we use this slogan again; probably the most damaging of our personal activities is flying, the thousands of commercial aircraft speeding around the world all the time are one of the biggest polluters of our atmosphere so I ask again is your journey really necessary?
This same question could be applied to a lesser degree to land travel, most land travel is a necessary part of our busy lives what we need to think about is how much of this we could eliminate or at least do in a less damaging way, it's healthier to walk anyway.
A very small percentage of the population are able to go on cruise liners and if you consider they might be flying or driving around in their luxury cars if they weren't on board, let's say Best of luck to them.
If you have any ideas please email firstname.lastname@example.org
What do you think about these ideas?
Have you got any of your own?