Author: Richard Sadler

About Richard Sadler

Richard Sadler, a former BBC environment correspondent, is a freelance environment and science journalist. He has written for various UK newspapers, including the Guardian, Sunday Times and Ecologist.

UK tidal project could spark global revolution

Tidal lagoon graphic

The UK is poised to exploit tidal energy, a new renewable source that is cheaper than nuclear and more reliable than wind.

LONDON, 22 February, 2017 – Ambitious plans have been drawn up for a network of “tidal lagoons” around the UK coast that could provide up to a quarter of the country’s electricity – and there is potential to roll out the technology in many parts of the world.

Tidal lagoons work by using a wall to capture a body of water in the sea or a tidal estuary pushed in on the rising tide. The water drives turbines as the tide comes in, and then, as the tide falls, the turbines are reversed and the energy from the falling tide is harnessed again.

As Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the earliest English poets put it: “Time and tide wait for no man.” Unlike with wind and solar, the amount of energy being produced from tides is predictable months in advance and is now being recognised as a major renewable resource.

More tidal lagoons

Planning approval has already been given for a £1.3bn pathfinder project at Swansea Bay, south Wales, described by developers as “a scalable blueprint for a new, global, low-carbon power industry”. Another nine lagoons are planned around tidal hotspots in the Severn estuary and north-west England/north Wales. These would have the potential to generate 25,000MW of electricity – enough to provide 12% of the UK’s electricity needs.

The company behind the proposals, Tidal Lagoon Power, already has teams working in northern France and India, and is studying opportunities in Mexico and Canada’s Atlantic coast. Further tidal lagoon markets may exist in South America, China, south-east Asia and Oceania.

Tidal power is recognised by the EU’s Joint research Centre as a key contributor to the continent’s future energy mix. Its main attraction is that, unlike other renewable energy sources, it does not require the wind to blow or the sun to shine.

Parts of the UK have tidal ranges in excess
of 15 metres, so that’s a heck of a drop of water
and that’s happening twice a day”

An oceanographer at Southampton University, Dr Simon Boxall, says the technology has improved to the point where tidal energy was a “no-brainer”, with the latest bi-directional turbines capable of generating power on both incoming and outgoing tides. He says that with sufficient investment it could provide up to a quarter of UK electricity needs within 20 years.

We can always rely on tides – they come in and they go out, and they will continue doing so for thousands of years. Parts of the UK have tidal ranges in excess of 15 metres, so that’s a heck of a drop of water and that’s happening twice a day – or four times a day when you count the water coming in and going out,” says Dr Boxall.

The other great advantage is that the tides aren’t the same in different locations, so if you’ve got a network of tidal power stations you are always generating electricity: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

In December a former UK Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, published an independent review, concluding: “Power from tidal lagoons could make a strong contribution to UK energy security, as an indigenous and completely predictable form of supply.”

He said the UK was well-placed to take a global lead, and with economies of scale and mass manufacture of turbines, turbine housing and other components costs could be substantially reduced.

Cheap electricity

To be viable the new industry would require subsidies, with a guaranteed premium price for electricity generated. However, Hendry calculates that in the long term tidal lagoons will work out cheaper than wind and “significantly less expensive” than nuclear. And they could go on generating for 140 years – providing clean, subsidy-free energy long after other energy plants have been decommissioned.

The technology is not without its drawbacks. Artificial lagoons can cause increased silting-up of shipping lanes. Tidal estuaries are also important for wading birds, marine mammals and migratory fish, and conservation groups have warned that the ecological impacts of tidal lagoons are not well understood and that any roll-out of lagoons in the UK should be conditional on the Swansea project being tried and tested. Backers of the technology say management practices can be adapted to address such concerns – and they point out that lagoons can provide environmental benefits, acting as artificial reefs for marine wildlife.

The UK government is expected to announce a final decision on the Swansea Bay project within the next few months. – Climate News Network

The UK is poised to exploit tidal energy, a new renewable source that is cheaper than nuclear and more reliable than wind.

LONDON, 22 February, 2017 – Ambitious plans have been drawn up for a network of “tidal lagoons” around the UK coast that could provide up to a quarter of the country’s electricity – and there is potential to roll out the technology in many parts of the world.

Tidal lagoons work by using a wall to capture a body of water in the sea or a tidal estuary pushed in on the rising tide. The water drives turbines as the tide comes in, and then, as the tide falls, the turbines are reversed and the energy from the falling tide is harnessed again.

As Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the earliest English poets put it: “Time and tide wait for no man.” Unlike with wind and solar, the amount of energy being produced from tides is predictable months in advance and is now being recognised as a major renewable resource.

More tidal lagoons

Planning approval has already been given for a £1.3bn pathfinder project at Swansea Bay, south Wales, described by developers as “a scalable blueprint for a new, global, low-carbon power industry”. Another nine lagoons are planned around tidal hotspots in the Severn estuary and north-west England/north Wales. These would have the potential to generate 25,000MW of electricity – enough to provide 12% of the UK’s electricity needs.

The company behind the proposals, Tidal Lagoon Power, already has teams working in northern France and India, and is studying opportunities in Mexico and Canada’s Atlantic coast. Further tidal lagoon markets may exist in South America, China, south-east Asia and Oceania.

Tidal power is recognised by the EU’s Joint research Centre as a key contributor to the continent’s future energy mix. Its main attraction is that, unlike other renewable energy sources, it does not require the wind to blow or the sun to shine.

Parts of the UK have tidal ranges in excess
of 15 metres, so that’s a heck of a drop of water
and that’s happening twice a day”

An oceanographer at Southampton University, Dr Simon Boxall, says the technology has improved to the point where tidal energy was a “no-brainer”, with the latest bi-directional turbines capable of generating power on both incoming and outgoing tides. He says that with sufficient investment it could provide up to a quarter of UK electricity needs within 20 years.

We can always rely on tides – they come in and they go out, and they will continue doing so for thousands of years. Parts of the UK have tidal ranges in excess of 15 metres, so that’s a heck of a drop of water and that’s happening twice a day – or four times a day when you count the water coming in and going out,” says Dr Boxall.

The other great advantage is that the tides aren’t the same in different locations, so if you’ve got a network of tidal power stations you are always generating electricity: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

In December a former UK Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, published an independent review, concluding: “Power from tidal lagoons could make a strong contribution to UK energy security, as an indigenous and completely predictable form of supply.”

He said the UK was well-placed to take a global lead, and with economies of scale and mass manufacture of turbines, turbine housing and other components costs could be substantially reduced.

Cheap electricity

To be viable the new industry would require subsidies, with a guaranteed premium price for electricity generated. However, Hendry calculates that in the long term tidal lagoons will work out cheaper than wind and “significantly less expensive” than nuclear. And they could go on generating for 140 years – providing clean, subsidy-free energy long after other energy plants have been decommissioned.

The technology is not without its drawbacks. Artificial lagoons can cause increased silting-up of shipping lanes. Tidal estuaries are also important for wading birds, marine mammals and migratory fish, and conservation groups have warned that the ecological impacts of tidal lagoons are not well understood and that any roll-out of lagoons in the UK should be conditional on the Swansea project being tried and tested. Backers of the technology say management practices can be adapted to address such concerns – and they point out that lagoons can provide environmental benefits, acting as artificial reefs for marine wildlife.

The UK government is expected to announce a final decision on the Swansea Bay project within the next few months. – Climate News Network

Video demand drives up global CO2 emissions

Sitting back and watching your favourite streamed TV series may seem harmless enough – but video demand is leaving a hefty carbon footprint.

LONDON, 31 January, 2017 – The internet is fast becoming a major source of global carbon emissions – and the main cause is video demand, the increasing popularity of “real time” streamed video content.

Video streaming to internet-enabled TVs, game consoles and mobile devices already accounts for more than 60% of all data traffic – and the latest forecasts suggest this will rise to more than 80% by 2020.

Increasingly, viewers across the world are watching films and TV series in real time through subscriptions to Netflix or Amazon, while social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are offering more and more streamed video content for free.

This is driving a dizzying increase in the amount of information that needs to be stored and transmitted by power-hungry data centres.  Up until 2003 the world had accumulated a total of five exabytes – five billion gigabytes –  of stored digital content. By 2015 that amount was being consumed every two days, as annual consumption reached 870 exabytes.

As more video is streamed and more of the world’s population goes online, annual data traffic is forecast to reach 2,300 exabytes by 2019

Pressure for renewables

The IT sector already consumes around 7% of electricity worldwide, and as data traffic rises, demand from data centres alone could reach 13% of global electricity consumption by 2030. 

Now leading video content providers are coming under increasing pressure to show what proportion of their power derives from fossil fuels.

A recent report by Greenpeace USA acknowledges that social media platform Facebook has made significant progress towards its target for 100% of its electricity to come from renewables, following support from millions of its users for Greenpeace’s  2011 “Unfriend coal” campaign. Google and Apple receive praise for progress towards similar commitments made in 2012.

However, major providers of video streaming content including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are criticised for sourcing more than half of their energy from coal or natural gas.

“The dramatic increase in the number of data centres … dominated by utilities that have little to no renewable energy is driving a similarly dramatic increase in the consumption of coal and natural gas”

Cloud computing market leader Amazon Web Services is credited for taking important steps towards renewables but censured for lack of transparency and heavy reliance on new data centres in the state of Virginia powered mainly by fossil fuels.

Elsewhere the lack of access to renewable energy from monopoly utilities in East Asia is seen as a major obstacle towards creating a renewably-powered internet in the region. 

The report concludes: “The dramatic increase in the number of data centres … dominated by utilities that have little to no renewable energy is driving a similarly dramatic increase in the consumption of coal and natural gas.”

Attempting to express the effect of increasing internet traffic in terms of emissions is fraught with difficulty, but one study, published in the journal Environmental Research Lettershas calculated that in 2011 Americans streamed 3.2 billion hours of video.

This would have consumed 25 petajoules of energy (estimated at about the annual consumption of 175,000 US households), resulting in 1.3 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions.

Efficiency limits

The lead author, Arman Shehabi, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said the IT sector had so far managed to offset its soaring electricity needs by designing more energy-efficient data centres. But there was a limit to how far energy efficiency could go.

“The growth in video streaming is enormous just based on the size of the companies that are providing these services – but they are still reaching only a small part of the global population and we can imagine that’s going to just keep increasing,” he said.

“You’re still going to have this growth of more and more servers needed. We’ve seen some good efficiency measures but we’re getting close to the end of that – we can’t go out much further – and with video streaming there’s no end in sight.”

He added that another major driver of future growth in data traffic would be the Internet of Things –  remote digital sensors, devices and driverless cars connected to the internet. – Climate News Network

Sitting back and watching your favourite streamed TV series may seem harmless enough – but video demand is leaving a hefty carbon footprint.

LONDON, 31 January, 2017 – The internet is fast becoming a major source of global carbon emissions – and the main cause is video demand, the increasing popularity of “real time” streamed video content.

Video streaming to internet-enabled TVs, game consoles and mobile devices already accounts for more than 60% of all data traffic – and the latest forecasts suggest this will rise to more than 80% by 2020.

Increasingly, viewers across the world are watching films and TV series in real time through subscriptions to Netflix or Amazon, while social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are offering more and more streamed video content for free.

This is driving a dizzying increase in the amount of information that needs to be stored and transmitted by power-hungry data centres.  Up until 2003 the world had accumulated a total of five exabytes – five billion gigabytes –  of stored digital content. By 2015 that amount was being consumed every two days, as annual consumption reached 870 exabytes.

As more video is streamed and more of the world’s population goes online, annual data traffic is forecast to reach 2,300 exabytes by 2019

Pressure for renewables

The IT sector already consumes around 7% of electricity worldwide, and as data traffic rises, demand from data centres alone could reach 13% of global electricity consumption by 2030. 

Now leading video content providers are coming under increasing pressure to show what proportion of their power derives from fossil fuels.

A recent report by Greenpeace USA acknowledges that social media platform Facebook has made significant progress towards its target for 100% of its electricity to come from renewables, following support from millions of its users for Greenpeace’s  2011 “Unfriend coal” campaign. Google and Apple receive praise for progress towards similar commitments made in 2012.

However, major providers of video streaming content including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are criticised for sourcing more than half of their energy from coal or natural gas.

“The dramatic increase in the number of data centres … dominated by utilities that have little to no renewable energy is driving a similarly dramatic increase in the consumption of coal and natural gas”

Cloud computing market leader Amazon Web Services is credited for taking important steps towards renewables but censured for lack of transparency and heavy reliance on new data centres in the state of Virginia powered mainly by fossil fuels.

Elsewhere the lack of access to renewable energy from monopoly utilities in East Asia is seen as a major obstacle towards creating a renewably-powered internet in the region. 

The report concludes: “The dramatic increase in the number of data centres … dominated by utilities that have little to no renewable energy is driving a similarly dramatic increase in the consumption of coal and natural gas.”

Attempting to express the effect of increasing internet traffic in terms of emissions is fraught with difficulty, but one study, published in the journal Environmental Research Lettershas calculated that in 2011 Americans streamed 3.2 billion hours of video.

This would have consumed 25 petajoules of energy (estimated at about the annual consumption of 175,000 US households), resulting in 1.3 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions.

Efficiency limits

The lead author, Arman Shehabi, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said the IT sector had so far managed to offset its soaring electricity needs by designing more energy-efficient data centres. But there was a limit to how far energy efficiency could go.

“The growth in video streaming is enormous just based on the size of the companies that are providing these services – but they are still reaching only a small part of the global population and we can imagine that’s going to just keep increasing,” he said.

“You’re still going to have this growth of more and more servers needed. We’ve seen some good efficiency measures but we’re getting close to the end of that – we can’t go out much further – and with video streaming there’s no end in sight.”

He added that another major driver of future growth in data traffic would be the Internet of Things –  remote digital sensors, devices and driverless cars connected to the internet. – Climate News Network

Record rains scuttle UK floods strategy

floods york

The floods that hit the UK last winter were the most extreme on record – and they may be a sign of worse to come.

LONDON, 5 December, 2016 − The UK has been warned that it needs to carry out a complete overhaul of its flood defence strategy following the devastating floods that hit northern Britain and Northern Ireland last winter.

A comprehensive review of the impact of a series of prolonged downpours between November 2015 and January 2016 concludes that there is an urgent need to adapt engineering designs and flood management strategies.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme study, carried out by scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the British Hydrological Society, is published today on the anniversary of Storm Desmond − the most destructive of several named storms during three months of “remarkably persistent and exceptionally mild cyclonic” activity.

Wettest and warmest

The scientists rank last winter’s floods alongside the floods of 1947 as the two largest flood events for at least 100 years.

Last December was the wettest and warmest since 1910, with record river flows logged at 24 monitoring stations. In the English Lake District, a record of 341mm was set for the level of rainfall in 24 hours.

Potentially more worrying, the 2015/2016 floods appear to be part of a trend over recent decades for more frequent extreme winter rainfall events.

This is consistent with analysis by the UK Meteorological Office suggesting that storms bringing extreme wet weather are seven times more likely as a result of climate change.

“ Recent modelling studies do point towards
human-induced warming having a role
to play in these and other recent floods ”

The authors of the latest study stop short of attributing the 2015/2016 floods to climate change, pointing out that identifying trends can be challenging because records are held over a relatively short timespan.

However, they acknowledge that average temperatures across the UK have increased by more than 1°C over the last 100 years, with a particularly steep rise since the early 1960s.  This is reflected in rising sea levels and a corresponding increase in the risk of tidal flooding.

They cite a preliminary study released shortly after the December 2015 floods, suggesting that extreme rainfall events such as those associated with Storm Desmond were 40% more probable as a result of anthropogenic warming.

And they point to new data from the UK Benchwork Network of gauging stations, showing that in western parts of the UK there has been a steady increase in high winter river flows from the 1950s to 2013.

Lead author Terry Marsh, senior hydrologist at CEH, says: “At a national scale, the winter floods of 2015/16 were the most extreme on record. The November to January period was the wettest three-month sequence in the UK rainfall series – which begins in 1910.

Insurance bill

“The associated flooding was both extensive and repetitive, and total river outflows from Great Britain following the passage of Storm Desmond in December exceeded the previous maximum by a substantial margin.”

Storm Desmond alone caused an estimated insurance bill of more than £1.3 billion when it struck on the 5th and 6th of December last year.

A total of 16,000 houses and factories in England were flooded. Across northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, floods caused landslides, road and rail closures and damage to more than a hundred river bridges.

The report’s co-author, Jamie Hannaford, principal hydrologist at CEH, says: “There is much natural year-to-year variability, which makes it hard to attribute observed trends to climate change.

“Nevertheless, recent modelling studies do point towards human-induced warming having a role to play in these and other recent floods.” – Climate News Network

The floods that hit the UK last winter were the most extreme on record – and they may be a sign of worse to come.

LONDON, 5 December, 2016 − The UK has been warned that it needs to carry out a complete overhaul of its flood defence strategy following the devastating floods that hit northern Britain and Northern Ireland last winter.

A comprehensive review of the impact of a series of prolonged downpours between November 2015 and January 2016 concludes that there is an urgent need to adapt engineering designs and flood management strategies.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme study, carried out by scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the British Hydrological Society, is published today on the anniversary of Storm Desmond − the most destructive of several named storms during three months of “remarkably persistent and exceptionally mild cyclonic” activity.

Wettest and warmest

The scientists rank last winter’s floods alongside the floods of 1947 as the two largest flood events for at least 100 years.

Last December was the wettest and warmest since 1910, with record river flows logged at 24 monitoring stations. In the English Lake District, a record of 341mm was set for the level of rainfall in 24 hours.

Potentially more worrying, the 2015/2016 floods appear to be part of a trend over recent decades for more frequent extreme winter rainfall events.

This is consistent with analysis by the UK Meteorological Office suggesting that storms bringing extreme wet weather are seven times more likely as a result of climate change.

“ Recent modelling studies do point towards
human-induced warming having a role
to play in these and other recent floods ”

The authors of the latest study stop short of attributing the 2015/2016 floods to climate change, pointing out that identifying trends can be challenging because records are held over a relatively short timespan.

However, they acknowledge that average temperatures across the UK have increased by more than 1°C over the last 100 years, with a particularly steep rise since the early 1960s.  This is reflected in rising sea levels and a corresponding increase in the risk of tidal flooding.

They cite a preliminary study released shortly after the December 2015 floods, suggesting that extreme rainfall events such as those associated with Storm Desmond were 40% more probable as a result of anthropogenic warming.

And they point to new data from the UK Benchwork Network of gauging stations, showing that in western parts of the UK there has been a steady increase in high winter river flows from the 1950s to 2013.

Lead author Terry Marsh, senior hydrologist at CEH, says: “At a national scale, the winter floods of 2015/16 were the most extreme on record. The November to January period was the wettest three-month sequence in the UK rainfall series – which begins in 1910.

Insurance bill

“The associated flooding was both extensive and repetitive, and total river outflows from Great Britain following the passage of Storm Desmond in December exceeded the previous maximum by a substantial margin.”

Storm Desmond alone caused an estimated insurance bill of more than £1.3 billion when it struck on the 5th and 6th of December last year.

A total of 16,000 houses and factories in England were flooded. Across northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, floods caused landslides, road and rail closures and damage to more than a hundred river bridges.

The report’s co-author, Jamie Hannaford, principal hydrologist at CEH, says: “There is much natural year-to-year variability, which makes it hard to attribute observed trends to climate change.

“Nevertheless, recent modelling studies do point towards human-induced warming having a role to play in these and other recent floods.” – Climate News Network

Global ‘bright spots’ offer climate hope

Climate

Scientists show how humans can improve poor people’s lives by reversing practices that destroy the environment and fuel climate change.

LONDON, 15 October, 2016 − We are constantly bombarded with bad news about climate change and the state of the planet – to the point where problems can seem so great that we feel powerless to do anything about them.

But an international group of scientists is seeking to change that by collating examples from around the world of “bright spots” – practical, community-based initiatives that enhance people’s health and wellbeing, while at the same time protecting their environment and benefiting the climate.

Over the last two years, researchers have analysed 100 of more than 500 such case studies submitted to the newly established Good Anthropocene website. They range from an initiative in Indonesia, in which forest people are offered healthcare in exchange for conserving natural resources, to a not-for-profit company in the Netherlands manufacturing modular, easily repairable mobile phones.

Human impact

Scientists from McGill University in Canada, Stockholm University in Sweden and Stellenbosch University in South Africa have studied some of the common factors behind successful projects. Their research, in a new paper titled Bright Spots: Seeds of a good Anthropocene, is published in the Ecological Society of America journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The term “Anthropocene” refers to the geological epoch that began when human activities first started to have a global impact on the Earth’s ecology.

The report notes that anthropogenic change is compromising the future of the biosphere − the area of the planet’s surface and atmosphere that supports all life − and threatening the planetary conditions necessary for human societies to flourish. However, it asserts that the future does not need to be bleak.

Among the initiatives highlighted are Health in Harmony, an award-winning project providing low-cost healthcare to marginalised communities in Indonesian Borneo in exchange for a commitment to protect natural resources and reduce deforestation.

I’m excited about this project because it offers environmental scientists a chance
to start looking at things positively”

Over the last five years, this has lead to a 68% reduction in illegal logging in Gunung Palung National Park, home to carbon-rich peat and one of the few remaining significant populations of orangutans. Over the same period, there has been a significant improvement in the general health of people living around the park.

Another success story is the Satoyama Project in Japan, which has helped revive traditional low-impact farming, where migration of wild animals can take place between ponds, rice paddies, grasslands and forests. City dwellers are collaborating with rural communities by staying on farms, carrying out voluntary manual work, offering financial support and helping to market eco-friendly products.

By contrast, Fairphone is a small Dutch non-profit company manufacturing mobile phones without using “conflict minerals” − materials mined in unstable parts of the world where human rights abuses are common.

The Fairphone is designed so that worn-out parts can be easily repaired or replaced, reducing the need for phones to be thrown away – and reducing demand for further mining of raw materials.

Big change

Lead author Dr Elena Bennett, associate professor at McGill University’s School of the Environment, thinks there is great potential for bright spots, or “seeds of good anthropocene”, to be replicated around the world.

“I’m excited about this project because it represents a big shift for environmental scientists to start looking at things positively,” she says.We tend to be very focused on problems, so to look at examples of the sustainable solutions that people are coming up with – and to move towards asking ‘What do the solutions have in common? – is a big change.”

Dr Bennett adds: “This is also a move away from the typical academic perspective of looking at things in a top-down way, where we the scientists determine the definitions.

“We have encouraged people who are involved in the projects to define what makes a project ‘good’ − partly because we didn’t want to be driven by our northern European or North American sensibilities. We wanted to see a variety of ideas about what people want from the future.”
Climate News Network

Scientists show how humans can improve poor people’s lives by reversing practices that destroy the environment and fuel climate change.

LONDON, 15 October, 2016 − We are constantly bombarded with bad news about climate change and the state of the planet – to the point where problems can seem so great that we feel powerless to do anything about them.

But an international group of scientists is seeking to change that by collating examples from around the world of “bright spots” – practical, community-based initiatives that enhance people’s health and wellbeing, while at the same time protecting their environment and benefiting the climate.

Over the last two years, researchers have analysed 100 of more than 500 such case studies submitted to the newly established Good Anthropocene website. They range from an initiative in Indonesia, in which forest people are offered healthcare in exchange for conserving natural resources, to a not-for-profit company in the Netherlands manufacturing modular, easily repairable mobile phones.

Human impact

Scientists from McGill University in Canada, Stockholm University in Sweden and Stellenbosch University in South Africa have studied some of the common factors behind successful projects. Their research, in a new paper titled Bright Spots: Seeds of a good Anthropocene, is published in the Ecological Society of America journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The term “Anthropocene” refers to the geological epoch that began when human activities first started to have a global impact on the Earth’s ecology.

The report notes that anthropogenic change is compromising the future of the biosphere − the area of the planet’s surface and atmosphere that supports all life − and threatening the planetary conditions necessary for human societies to flourish. However, it asserts that the future does not need to be bleak.

Among the initiatives highlighted are Health in Harmony, an award-winning project providing low-cost healthcare to marginalised communities in Indonesian Borneo in exchange for a commitment to protect natural resources and reduce deforestation.

I’m excited about this project because it offers environmental scientists a chance
to start looking at things positively”

Over the last five years, this has lead to a 68% reduction in illegal logging in Gunung Palung National Park, home to carbon-rich peat and one of the few remaining significant populations of orangutans. Over the same period, there has been a significant improvement in the general health of people living around the park.

Another success story is the Satoyama Project in Japan, which has helped revive traditional low-impact farming, where migration of wild animals can take place between ponds, rice paddies, grasslands and forests. City dwellers are collaborating with rural communities by staying on farms, carrying out voluntary manual work, offering financial support and helping to market eco-friendly products.

By contrast, Fairphone is a small Dutch non-profit company manufacturing mobile phones without using “conflict minerals” − materials mined in unstable parts of the world where human rights abuses are common.

The Fairphone is designed so that worn-out parts can be easily repaired or replaced, reducing the need for phones to be thrown away – and reducing demand for further mining of raw materials.

Big change

Lead author Dr Elena Bennett, associate professor at McGill University’s School of the Environment, thinks there is great potential for bright spots, or “seeds of good anthropocene”, to be replicated around the world.

“I’m excited about this project because it represents a big shift for environmental scientists to start looking at things positively,” she says.We tend to be very focused on problems, so to look at examples of the sustainable solutions that people are coming up with – and to move towards asking ‘What do the solutions have in common? – is a big change.”

Dr Bennett adds: “This is also a move away from the typical academic perspective of looking at things in a top-down way, where we the scientists determine the definitions.

“We have encouraged people who are involved in the projects to define what makes a project ‘good’ − partly because we didn’t want to be driven by our northern European or North American sensibilities. We wanted to see a variety of ideas about what people want from the future.”
Climate News Network

Warming set to raise the pollen count

Hay fever and asthma are likely to become a much greater health issue in Europe as warming stimulates plants producing allergenic pollen.

LONDON, 4 September, 2016 – Allergic diseases already cause misery for hundreds of millions of people, with serious implications for public health budgets in both developed and developing countries.

But new research suggests their prevalence will reach epidemic proportions over the coming decades – because, in a changing climate, allergenic pollen-producing plants will thrive.

A study funded by the European Union focuses on common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), a highly-invasive plant originally from North America that grows in fields, roadsides and gardens. It is one of the main triggers of seasonal allergies – close behind dust mites and rye grass – and is now spreading fast in Europe and Australia.

Once established, ragweed is quick to colonise, especially where ground has been newly disturbed. It is particularly harmful for public health because each plant can produce as many as a billion pollen grains per season, which can travel hundreds of miles on the wind.

Allergy rates

Researchers from the University of East Anglia, UK, and several European institutes have investigated the likely impact of climate change on ragweed distribution and resulting allergy rates for Europe’s population.

They created maps of estimated ragweed pollen counts over the pollen season and combined them with data on where people live and levels of allergy in the population.

Their findings suggest the number of Europeans sensitised to ragweed pollen will double in the next 35 years from 33 million to 77 million. Those sensitised will be at high risk of developing allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma, as well as other allergic conditions such as conjunctivitis and eczema.

“Ragweed pollen allergy will become a major health problem across Europe, expanding into areas
where it is currently uncommon”

The study predicts that a warming climate will allow the plant to expand its range northward from hot spots in the Balkans, Austria and northern Italy into Germany, France and Poland. By 2041-2060, it is expected to spread across the whole of Europe, apart from Scandinavia, the Baltic states and most of Spain and Ireland.

To make matters worse, a longer summer growing season and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will extend the pollen season and allow individual plants to grow more vigorously, producing still more pollen.

The most noticeable change will be felt in countries such as France, Germany and Poland, where at present few people have become sensitised to ragweed pollen. The UK and the Netherlands may also be affected.

Lead author Iain Lake, reader in the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, says: “Ragweed pollen allergy will become a major health problem across Europe, expanding into areas where it is currently uncommon.

“Control of ragweed is essential for public health, and as an adaptation strategy in response to climate change.”

But it may be possible to control it effectively with land management that minimises soil disturbance, combined with stricter controls on transport of crops and other goods that may be contaminated with ragweed seeds.

Extremely resilient

This may not be straightforward because, apart from its exceptional reproduction rates, ragweed is also extremely resilient.

Studies have shown it can become resistant to herbicide. It quickly re-sprouts after cutting, and its dormant seeds can survive a long time in the ground.The allergenic impacts of climate change will not be limited to ragweed. Previous research suggested that warmer conditions tend to boost the production and release of a wide range of allergenic pollens and fungal spores.

“Generally, when it is warmer plants tend to do better – they produce more pollen and so on,” Dr Lake says. – Climate News Network

Hay fever and asthma are likely to become a much greater health issue in Europe as warming stimulates plants producing allergenic pollen.

LONDON, 4 September, 2016 – Allergic diseases already cause misery for hundreds of millions of people, with serious implications for public health budgets in both developed and developing countries.

But new research suggests their prevalence will reach epidemic proportions over the coming decades – because, in a changing climate, allergenic pollen-producing plants will thrive.

A study funded by the European Union focuses on common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), a highly-invasive plant originally from North America that grows in fields, roadsides and gardens. It is one of the main triggers of seasonal allergies – close behind dust mites and rye grass – and is now spreading fast in Europe and Australia.

Once established, ragweed is quick to colonise, especially where ground has been newly disturbed. It is particularly harmful for public health because each plant can produce as many as a billion pollen grains per season, which can travel hundreds of miles on the wind.

Allergy rates

Researchers from the University of East Anglia, UK, and several European institutes have investigated the likely impact of climate change on ragweed distribution and resulting allergy rates for Europe’s population.

They created maps of estimated ragweed pollen counts over the pollen season and combined them with data on where people live and levels of allergy in the population.

Their findings suggest the number of Europeans sensitised to ragweed pollen will double in the next 35 years from 33 million to 77 million. Those sensitised will be at high risk of developing allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma, as well as other allergic conditions such as conjunctivitis and eczema.

“Ragweed pollen allergy will become a major health problem across Europe, expanding into areas
where it is currently uncommon”

The study predicts that a warming climate will allow the plant to expand its range northward from hot spots in the Balkans, Austria and northern Italy into Germany, France and Poland. By 2041-2060, it is expected to spread across the whole of Europe, apart from Scandinavia, the Baltic states and most of Spain and Ireland.

To make matters worse, a longer summer growing season and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will extend the pollen season and allow individual plants to grow more vigorously, producing still more pollen.

The most noticeable change will be felt in countries such as France, Germany and Poland, where at present few people have become sensitised to ragweed pollen. The UK and the Netherlands may also be affected.

Lead author Iain Lake, reader in the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, says: “Ragweed pollen allergy will become a major health problem across Europe, expanding into areas where it is currently uncommon.

“Control of ragweed is essential for public health, and as an adaptation strategy in response to climate change.”

But it may be possible to control it effectively with land management that minimises soil disturbance, combined with stricter controls on transport of crops and other goods that may be contaminated with ragweed seeds.

Extremely resilient

This may not be straightforward because, apart from its exceptional reproduction rates, ragweed is also extremely resilient.

Studies have shown it can become resistant to herbicide. It quickly re-sprouts after cutting, and its dormant seeds can survive a long time in the ground.The allergenic impacts of climate change will not be limited to ragweed. Previous research suggested that warmer conditions tend to boost the production and release of a wide range of allergenic pollens and fungal spores.

“Generally, when it is warmer plants tend to do better – they produce more pollen and so on,” Dr Lake says. – Climate News Network

Forest restoration gets a cutting edge

Degraded tropical forests throughout the world could be effectively restored by using a simple and inexpensive technique to speed up natural regeneration.

LONDON, 28  July, 2016 – Research by scientists from the UK and Tanzania has revealed that assisted ecological restoration can lead to dramatic increases in growth of new and established trees – helping to mitigate climate change and boost biodiversity.

All that is required, they say, is effective control of lianas, the fast-growing, woody climbing vines that, left to their own devices, quickly take over forest in which most or all of the merchantable timber has been cut, and crowd out emerging tree seedlings.

Trials carried out over five years in Tanzania’s Magombera forest – one of the world’s most threatened habitats – compared tree growth on plots where lianas were left undisturbed with those where they were cut back twice a year.

The results are remarkable, with a 765% increase in net biomass gain on plots where lianas were managed. Crucially, the trials suggest this can be achieved without affecting species diversity.

Faster growth

As a solution to forest degradation, natural regeneration assisted by liana management could be far more effective than tree planting. It produces faster growth rates and the right mix of naturally occurring species – and it can be carried out at a fraction of the cost.

Another potential benefit is that young trees in liana-managed areas appear to be more resilient to the wildfires that often set back regeneration in degraded forest.

The study, published in the African Journal of Ecology, combines results from the Magombera trial with data from other published research on liana management in tropical Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

It concludes: “Incorporating our data into a first quantitative review of previous studies, we found that tree growth, recruitment and net growth rates were all consistently higher where lianas were either absent or removed.”

It is estimated that up to 60% of remaining tropical forests worldwide have been degraded by logging. Of this, 1.4 billion hectares, or 5.4 million square miles (8.7m km2), have been identified as suitable for restoration.

“We’re talking about a sixfold to sevenfold increase in net biomass, so the implications for global carbon sequestration are potentially profound

However, without intervention, trees in degraded areas where lianas are established could take hundreds of years to grow because lianas outcompete saplings for light and nutrients, causing reduced growth, sap flow, fecundity, leaf production and survival.

The authors note that assisted ecological restoration has so far been attempted only on a very small scale. They say there is an urgent need to develop landscape-scale restoration techniques that are practical and affordable for economically-disadvantaged nations.

The lead author, Dr Andrew Marshall, senior lecturer in the environment department at the University of York, UK, says that exclusion of lianas during the early stages of regeneration in many logged-over areas could provide the solution.

He told Climate News Network: “No one has until now combined data from all over the world to see what the general trend is. If you combine the results from our study with other research in Panama and Brazil, we’re talking about a sixfold to sevenfold increase in net biomass, so the implications for global carbon sequestration are potentially profound.”

Dr Marshall, who is also director of conservation science at Flamingo Land Zoo in Yorkshire, England, stressed that lianas were an important part of tropical forest ecosystems, acting as a bridge between trees for monkeys and other mammals and helping to enrich forest soil through nutrient recycling.

Extremely resilient

However, the evidence showed that they were extremely resilient, and that pruning did not affect subsequent growth or species composition.

“We are not advocating that you go out to all the forests in the world, cut all the lianas and wait for the trees to grow back, because that’s going to have a huge impact on the ecosystems,” he said.

“More likely, it’s going to need a more sort of mosaic approach where you can basically manage small areas until the forest comes back, let the lianas regrow, and then go to another area.”

As a strategy for forest regeneration, liana management appears to be far more cost-effective than tree planting.

For the Tanzania experiment, vine stems or branches that obstructed tree seedlings were cut with secateurs, and then cut back again every six months.

It is estimated it would take four people 12 months to manage the seven square mile (11 km2) Magombera Forest, costing US$6,000 a year for labour and equipment – or $5.45 per hectare. In comparison, forest restoration using tree planting in neighbouring Uganda cost $1,200 per hectare. – Climate News Network

Degraded tropical forests throughout the world could be effectively restored by using a simple and inexpensive technique to speed up natural regeneration.

LONDON, 28  July, 2016 – Research by scientists from the UK and Tanzania has revealed that assisted ecological restoration can lead to dramatic increases in growth of new and established trees – helping to mitigate climate change and boost biodiversity.

All that is required, they say, is effective control of lianas, the fast-growing, woody climbing vines that, left to their own devices, quickly take over forest in which most or all of the merchantable timber has been cut, and crowd out emerging tree seedlings.

Trials carried out over five years in Tanzania’s Magombera forest – one of the world’s most threatened habitats – compared tree growth on plots where lianas were left undisturbed with those where they were cut back twice a year.

The results are remarkable, with a 765% increase in net biomass gain on plots where lianas were managed. Crucially, the trials suggest this can be achieved without affecting species diversity.

Faster growth

As a solution to forest degradation, natural regeneration assisted by liana management could be far more effective than tree planting. It produces faster growth rates and the right mix of naturally occurring species – and it can be carried out at a fraction of the cost.

Another potential benefit is that young trees in liana-managed areas appear to be more resilient to the wildfires that often set back regeneration in degraded forest.

The study, published in the African Journal of Ecology, combines results from the Magombera trial with data from other published research on liana management in tropical Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

It concludes: “Incorporating our data into a first quantitative review of previous studies, we found that tree growth, recruitment and net growth rates were all consistently higher where lianas were either absent or removed.”

It is estimated that up to 60% of remaining tropical forests worldwide have been degraded by logging. Of this, 1.4 billion hectares, or 5.4 million square miles (8.7m km2), have been identified as suitable for restoration.

“We’re talking about a sixfold to sevenfold increase in net biomass, so the implications for global carbon sequestration are potentially profound

However, without intervention, trees in degraded areas where lianas are established could take hundreds of years to grow because lianas outcompete saplings for light and nutrients, causing reduced growth, sap flow, fecundity, leaf production and survival.

The authors note that assisted ecological restoration has so far been attempted only on a very small scale. They say there is an urgent need to develop landscape-scale restoration techniques that are practical and affordable for economically-disadvantaged nations.

The lead author, Dr Andrew Marshall, senior lecturer in the environment department at the University of York, UK, says that exclusion of lianas during the early stages of regeneration in many logged-over areas could provide the solution.

He told Climate News Network: “No one has until now combined data from all over the world to see what the general trend is. If you combine the results from our study with other research in Panama and Brazil, we’re talking about a sixfold to sevenfold increase in net biomass, so the implications for global carbon sequestration are potentially profound.”

Dr Marshall, who is also director of conservation science at Flamingo Land Zoo in Yorkshire, England, stressed that lianas were an important part of tropical forest ecosystems, acting as a bridge between trees for monkeys and other mammals and helping to enrich forest soil through nutrient recycling.

Extremely resilient

However, the evidence showed that they were extremely resilient, and that pruning did not affect subsequent growth or species composition.

“We are not advocating that you go out to all the forests in the world, cut all the lianas and wait for the trees to grow back, because that’s going to have a huge impact on the ecosystems,” he said.

“More likely, it’s going to need a more sort of mosaic approach where you can basically manage small areas until the forest comes back, let the lianas regrow, and then go to another area.”

As a strategy for forest regeneration, liana management appears to be far more cost-effective than tree planting.

For the Tanzania experiment, vine stems or branches that obstructed tree seedlings were cut with secateurs, and then cut back again every six months.

It is estimated it would take four people 12 months to manage the seven square mile (11 km2) Magombera Forest, costing US$6,000 a year for labour and equipment – or $5.45 per hectare. In comparison, forest restoration using tree planting in neighbouring Uganda cost $1,200 per hectare. – Climate News Network