Author: Kieran Cooke

About Kieran Cooke

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues

Rising US heat spurs urban rats’ numbers

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

Football’s Euro finals will hurt the climate

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

Changing rainfall poses dilemma on dams

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

Car giant plumps for carbon neutrality

Germany’s major automotive supplier chooses to go for carbon neutrality as it joins the climate change fast lane.

LONDON, 15 May, 2019 − Bosch, the German engineering conglomerate which is the world’s largest supplier to the car industry, says it is aiming for full carbon neutrality by next year, in order to meet the challenge posed by climate change.

Volkmar Denner, Bosch’s chief executive, says it’s vital that companies act now in order to stop the planet from overheating and endangering global stability.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”, Denner said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.

“If we are to take the Paris Agreement seriously, then climate action needs to be seen not just as a long-term aspiration. It needs to happen here and now.”

Bosch says that at present it emits around 3.3 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide each year, while its annual energy consumption is equivalent to the combined total of the power used by all private households in the cities of Berlin and Munich.

Offsetting emissions

The company says it plans to use renewables for as much as 40% of its energy supply and increase overall energy efficiency. It says what it describes as “unavoidable CO2 emissions” will be compensated for, or offset, by supporting projects such as wind power in the Caribbean and forest conservation in countries in Africa.

Bosch calculates that the move towards making its operations carbon-neutral will cost €2 billion, though half of this amount will be saved by introducing new energy efficiency measures.

Bosch supplies a wide range of products to the car industry, with spark plugs and diesel injection systems among its leading products. It is one of Germany’s most successful manufacturing companies, with record sales of nearly €80bn last year and profits of more than €5bn.

In common with others in the automotive sector, Bosch is having to adapt to changing times; many countries have announced plans to ban fossil fuel vehicles over the coming decades.

Legislators in Germany have approved proposals to ban all such vehicles by 2030 and reduce the country’s total CO2 emissions by 95% by mid-century.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”

Diesel-powered vehicles, which are considered to be a main cause of increasing pollution and health problems in many countries, are already seeing big declines in sales. Hamburg became the first city in Germany to ban older diesel-engined cars; other cities and towns are imposing similar restrictions. Meanwhile, there’s a big push to develop the electric car market.

Though Germany’s automotive sector is one of the biggest and most successful in the world, it has come under considerable pressure recently due to a series of scandals associated with false vehicle emission readings and tests.

In 2015 the US’s Environmental Protection Agency accused the German car maker VW of deliberately manipulating testing software in millions of its vehicles in order to give low emissions readings. Bosch, a supplier to VW, was also accused of falsifying data, charges it denied.

Other manufacturers in Germany and in other countries became caught up in the scandal; Angela Merkel, the country’s Chancellor, said German car companies had “excessively exploited loopholes” in regulations and had to rebuild trust. − Climate News Network

Germany’s major automotive supplier chooses to go for carbon neutrality as it joins the climate change fast lane.

LONDON, 15 May, 2019 − Bosch, the German engineering conglomerate which is the world’s largest supplier to the car industry, says it is aiming for full carbon neutrality by next year, in order to meet the challenge posed by climate change.

Volkmar Denner, Bosch’s chief executive, says it’s vital that companies act now in order to stop the planet from overheating and endangering global stability.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”, Denner said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.

“If we are to take the Paris Agreement seriously, then climate action needs to be seen not just as a long-term aspiration. It needs to happen here and now.”

Bosch says that at present it emits around 3.3 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide each year, while its annual energy consumption is equivalent to the combined total of the power used by all private households in the cities of Berlin and Munich.

Offsetting emissions

The company says it plans to use renewables for as much as 40% of its energy supply and increase overall energy efficiency. It says what it describes as “unavoidable CO2 emissions” will be compensated for, or offset, by supporting projects such as wind power in the Caribbean and forest conservation in countries in Africa.

Bosch calculates that the move towards making its operations carbon-neutral will cost €2 billion, though half of this amount will be saved by introducing new energy efficiency measures.

Bosch supplies a wide range of products to the car industry, with spark plugs and diesel injection systems among its leading products. It is one of Germany’s most successful manufacturing companies, with record sales of nearly €80bn last year and profits of more than €5bn.

In common with others in the automotive sector, Bosch is having to adapt to changing times; many countries have announced plans to ban fossil fuel vehicles over the coming decades.

Legislators in Germany have approved proposals to ban all such vehicles by 2030 and reduce the country’s total CO2 emissions by 95% by mid-century.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”

Diesel-powered vehicles, which are considered to be a main cause of increasing pollution and health problems in many countries, are already seeing big declines in sales. Hamburg became the first city in Germany to ban older diesel-engined cars; other cities and towns are imposing similar restrictions. Meanwhile, there’s a big push to develop the electric car market.

Though Germany’s automotive sector is one of the biggest and most successful in the world, it has come under considerable pressure recently due to a series of scandals associated with false vehicle emission readings and tests.

In 2015 the US’s Environmental Protection Agency accused the German car maker VW of deliberately manipulating testing software in millions of its vehicles in order to give low emissions readings. Bosch, a supplier to VW, was also accused of falsifying data, charges it denied.

Other manufacturers in Germany and in other countries became caught up in the scandal; Angela Merkel, the country’s Chancellor, said German car companies had “excessively exploited loopholes” in regulations and had to rebuild trust. − Climate News Network

Irish schools fail to teach climate change

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Life within The Wall keeps The Others at bay

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

Cocoa fuel combats climate change

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

Chernobyl’s legacy imperils many thousands

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

Savage heat engulfs temperate Tasmania

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network