Author: Tim Radford

About Tim Radford

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

Polar concerns rise as ice now melts ever faster

An Antarctic glacier gathers pace. In the north, the Arctic ice thins faster. Racing climate heat is feeding polar concerns.

LONDON, 15 June, 2021 − An Antarctic glacier has begun to move more quickly towards the open ocean, as the shelf of sea ice that once held it back starts to collapse. The water in that one glacier is enough to raise global sea levels by half a metre. And that’s not all that’s raising polar concerns across the scientific world.

At the other end of the Earth global heating is accelerating the loss of Arctic ice. A new study reports that the thinning of sea ice in three separate coastal regions could now be happening twice as fast.

Both findings are linked to the inexorable rise in global average temperatures as the profligate use of fossil fuels heightens the ratio of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic scientists have been worrying about warming in Antarctica for years. And they have been anxiously watching the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica for decades.

Glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace towards the sea, to be held in check, in the polar oceans, by vast shelves of sea ice. Between 2017 and 2020 the ice shelves have undergone a series of collapses and lost one fifth of their area, possibly because the glacier has been accelerating.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic”

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said Ian Joughin, of the University of Washington in the US.

“The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

He and his colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that the Pine Island glacier has already become Antarctica’s biggest contributor to sea level rise. The pace of flow remained fairly steady from 2009 to 2017, but they found that data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite system showed an acceleration of 12% in the past three years.

The Pine Island glacier contains roughly 180 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 metres. Researchers had calculated that it might take a century or more for slowly-warming polar waters to thin the ice shelves to the point where they could no longer stem the glacier flow. But it now seems that the big player in the shelf ice collapse is the glacier itself, as the flow rate increases.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks possibly like it could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven sub-surface change playing out over more than 100 or more years,” said Pierre Dutrieux of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”

Snow fall dwindles

Abrupt change, too, may be on the way in the Arctic Ocean. British researchers used a new computer simulation to explore measurements from Europe’s CryoSat-2 satellite. The scientists report in the journal The Cryosphere that the thinning of ice in the Laptev and Kara Seas north of Siberia, and the Chukchi Sea between Siberia and Alaska, has stepped up by 70%, 98% and 110% respectively.

Sea ice diminishes each summer and forms again each winter; each successive summer reveals an ever-greater loss, as the ice itself thins and the area covered by ice dwindles.

Calculations of ice thickness have always allowed for the falls of fresh winter snow. But since the formation of sea ice has been later every year, there has been less time for the snow to accumulate. Such things make a difference.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic,” said Robbie Mallett, of University College London.

“It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive the summer melt.” − Climate News Network

An Antarctic glacier gathers pace. In the north, the Arctic ice thins faster. Racing climate heat is feeding polar concerns.

LONDON, 15 June, 2021 − An Antarctic glacier has begun to move more quickly towards the open ocean, as the shelf of sea ice that once held it back starts to collapse. The water in that one glacier is enough to raise global sea levels by half a metre. And that’s not all that’s raising polar concerns across the scientific world.

At the other end of the Earth global heating is accelerating the loss of Arctic ice. A new study reports that the thinning of sea ice in three separate coastal regions could now be happening twice as fast.

Both findings are linked to the inexorable rise in global average temperatures as the profligate use of fossil fuels heightens the ratio of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic scientists have been worrying about warming in Antarctica for years. And they have been anxiously watching the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica for decades.

Glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace towards the sea, to be held in check, in the polar oceans, by vast shelves of sea ice. Between 2017 and 2020 the ice shelves have undergone a series of collapses and lost one fifth of their area, possibly because the glacier has been accelerating.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic”

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said Ian Joughin, of the University of Washington in the US.

“The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

He and his colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that the Pine Island glacier has already become Antarctica’s biggest contributor to sea level rise. The pace of flow remained fairly steady from 2009 to 2017, but they found that data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite system showed an acceleration of 12% in the past three years.

The Pine Island glacier contains roughly 180 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 metres. Researchers had calculated that it might take a century or more for slowly-warming polar waters to thin the ice shelves to the point where they could no longer stem the glacier flow. But it now seems that the big player in the shelf ice collapse is the glacier itself, as the flow rate increases.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks possibly like it could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven sub-surface change playing out over more than 100 or more years,” said Pierre Dutrieux of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”

Snow fall dwindles

Abrupt change, too, may be on the way in the Arctic Ocean. British researchers used a new computer simulation to explore measurements from Europe’s CryoSat-2 satellite. The scientists report in the journal The Cryosphere that the thinning of ice in the Laptev and Kara Seas north of Siberia, and the Chukchi Sea between Siberia and Alaska, has stepped up by 70%, 98% and 110% respectively.

Sea ice diminishes each summer and forms again each winter; each successive summer reveals an ever-greater loss, as the ice itself thins and the area covered by ice dwindles.

Calculations of ice thickness have always allowed for the falls of fresh winter snow. But since the formation of sea ice has been later every year, there has been less time for the snow to accumulate. Such things make a difference.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic,” said Robbie Mallett, of University College London.

“It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive the summer melt.” − Climate News Network

Pathway to global climate catastrophe is clear

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

Global heating causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths

In a heatwave, global warming driven by fossil fuels becomes an act of self-harm. It causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths.

LONDON, 1 June, 2021 − As temperatures rise, so do the numbers of people dying from heat stroke and other temperature-related health conditions. And now statisticians can separate the extra hazard delivered by global heating: 1 in 3 heat-related deaths now occurs because of the profligate use of fossil fuels for the last century.

The additional stress of heat caused entirely by human action now claims 172 lives in Rome every year; 189 in Athens, 177 in Madrid and even 82 Londoners. Across the Atlantic, the extra greenhouse gas kills 141 New Yorkers annually and 136 in Santiago, Chile. In Bangkok, 146 perish because of anthropogenic heat stress; in Tokyo, 156, in Ho Chi Minh City, 137.

Extreme heat kills: it can do so in at least 27 different ways. Extremes of heat are a summer hazard even in temperate climate zones. Annual averages might suggest pleasantly warm conditions, but that’s not a reliable guide: summers have always arrived with the risk of sometimes murderous heat.

But all the evidence from past decades suggests that global average temperatures have risen by at least one degree Celsius in the last hundred years. And with that rise in temperature, so has the risk of more prolonged, more intense and more frequent extremes of heat risen too.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change”

An international consortium of 68 researchers reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that daily temperature readings and mortality tables from 732 centres in 43 countries revealed what rising levels of mercury driven by human activity so far could do for mortality and morbidity associated with heat.

The findings are likely to be conservative: some tropical regions with the highest risk of extreme heat and very high rates of population growth were excluded because the daily death figures were not available.

Not surprisingly, the proportion of death from heat extremes attributable to climate change varied: from 20% to more than 75%, delivering an average of 37%, or one death in three. And these extra deaths occurred between 1991 and 2018. That is, climate change is silently claiming lives already.

The study is not the first to try to quantify the extra cost of global heating driven by fossil fuel use. Extreme events happen anyway: climate change tends to make them more extreme, and in May researchers tried to estimate the extra lives lost and the additional homes flooded during one terrible storm made even more terrible by human-triggered sea level rise.

Worse to come

There is now a huge body of evidence to suggest that more frequent and more devastating extremes of heat are on the way.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change or adapt,” said Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the first author.

“So far the global average temperature has only increased by about 1°C, which is a fraction of what we could face if emissions continue to grow unchecked.”

And her co-author Antonio Gasparrini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “The message is clear: climate change will not just have devastating impacts in the future, but every continent is already experiencing the dire consequences of human activities on the planet. We must act now.” − Climate News Network

In a heatwave, global warming driven by fossil fuels becomes an act of self-harm. It causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths.

LONDON, 1 June, 2021 − As temperatures rise, so do the numbers of people dying from heat stroke and other temperature-related health conditions. And now statisticians can separate the extra hazard delivered by global heating: 1 in 3 heat-related deaths now occurs because of the profligate use of fossil fuels for the last century.

The additional stress of heat caused entirely by human action now claims 172 lives in Rome every year; 189 in Athens, 177 in Madrid and even 82 Londoners. Across the Atlantic, the extra greenhouse gas kills 141 New Yorkers annually and 136 in Santiago, Chile. In Bangkok, 146 perish because of anthropogenic heat stress; in Tokyo, 156, in Ho Chi Minh City, 137.

Extreme heat kills: it can do so in at least 27 different ways. Extremes of heat are a summer hazard even in temperate climate zones. Annual averages might suggest pleasantly warm conditions, but that’s not a reliable guide: summers have always arrived with the risk of sometimes murderous heat.

But all the evidence from past decades suggests that global average temperatures have risen by at least one degree Celsius in the last hundred years. And with that rise in temperature, so has the risk of more prolonged, more intense and more frequent extremes of heat risen too.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change”

An international consortium of 68 researchers reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that daily temperature readings and mortality tables from 732 centres in 43 countries revealed what rising levels of mercury driven by human activity so far could do for mortality and morbidity associated with heat.

The findings are likely to be conservative: some tropical regions with the highest risk of extreme heat and very high rates of population growth were excluded because the daily death figures were not available.

Not surprisingly, the proportion of death from heat extremes attributable to climate change varied: from 20% to more than 75%, delivering an average of 37%, or one death in three. And these extra deaths occurred between 1991 and 2018. That is, climate change is silently claiming lives already.

The study is not the first to try to quantify the extra cost of global heating driven by fossil fuel use. Extreme events happen anyway: climate change tends to make them more extreme, and in May researchers tried to estimate the extra lives lost and the additional homes flooded during one terrible storm made even more terrible by human-triggered sea level rise.

Worse to come

There is now a huge body of evidence to suggest that more frequent and more devastating extremes of heat are on the way.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change or adapt,” said Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the first author.

“So far the global average temperature has only increased by about 1°C, which is a fraction of what we could face if emissions continue to grow unchecked.”

And her co-author Antonio Gasparrini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “The message is clear: climate change will not just have devastating impacts in the future, but every continent is already experiencing the dire consequences of human activities on the planet. We must act now.” − Climate News Network

Timber homes are a good investment for the future

Timber homes could do more than just save energy, and stall climate change. They could be a sound investment.

LONDON, 31 May, 2021 − Finnish engineers have an encouraging message for householders: wood is good, something worth thinking about for the future. They don’t just mean that a wooden structure preserves carbon that would otherwise become a greenhouse gas again. They mean that timber homes are a worthwhile investment.

That is because they studied real estate sales in two suburbs of Helsinki, between 1999 and 2018. They found that multi-storied timber-built homes changed hands at 8.85% more in value than apartments and houses made of bricks and mortar, or concrete and steel.

The sample is small − timber homes added up to only 2.23% of all sales − and the housing market is not simple. But the results are clear: home-buyers think wood is good.

“At first glance, multi-storey housing blocks made out of wood appear to be cheaper on average but when we look more closely at the data and control for location, we see that it’s economically advantageous to use wood,” said Seppo Junilla, of Aalto University.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon”

“The results show that wood-based housing is almost 10% more expensive per square metre than concrete-based housing in the same areas.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability that the global building and construction sector now accounts for almost 40% of global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile more than half the planet now lives in cities, and governments have begun to commit to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

A standing forest represents stored atmospheric carbon. A felled tree is potentially carbon on the way back to carbon dioxide again − unless that timber can be used and preserved.

Finland’s Ministry of Environment aims by 2025 to have 45% of new multi-storied buildings made from wood. The technology already has its fans: researchers have more than once proposed that wood would be a sound basis for high-density housing while at the same time making an active  contribution to helping to slow climate change driven by global heating fired by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement manufacture.

Eco-friendly preference

The first step is to encourage builders and purchasers to see this not just as good for the environment, but − in nations with rich forests − good business as well. It depends on location, and market. In Finland, by law, a felled tree must be replaced by a new planting, so timber construction would not reduce forest area overall.

“Our previous research shows that if you buy a flat you’re more concerned about its environmental footprint than if you rent. An owner typically invests more in ways to improve performance, like energy-saving options.

“This principle seems to hold true here: buyers are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly choice, even if they can’t afford to live in the most expensive neighbourhoods of the city,” Professor Junnila said.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon − by definition they don’t have the vast amounts of nature needed to sink carbon. The good news is that some international investment companies have already realised the potential of timber construction, and we can only expect this interest to grow.” − Climate News Network

Timber homes could do more than just save energy, and stall climate change. They could be a sound investment.

LONDON, 31 May, 2021 − Finnish engineers have an encouraging message for householders: wood is good, something worth thinking about for the future. They don’t just mean that a wooden structure preserves carbon that would otherwise become a greenhouse gas again. They mean that timber homes are a worthwhile investment.

That is because they studied real estate sales in two suburbs of Helsinki, between 1999 and 2018. They found that multi-storied timber-built homes changed hands at 8.85% more in value than apartments and houses made of bricks and mortar, or concrete and steel.

The sample is small − timber homes added up to only 2.23% of all sales − and the housing market is not simple. But the results are clear: home-buyers think wood is good.

“At first glance, multi-storey housing blocks made out of wood appear to be cheaper on average but when we look more closely at the data and control for location, we see that it’s economically advantageous to use wood,” said Seppo Junilla, of Aalto University.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon”

“The results show that wood-based housing is almost 10% more expensive per square metre than concrete-based housing in the same areas.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability that the global building and construction sector now accounts for almost 40% of global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile more than half the planet now lives in cities, and governments have begun to commit to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

A standing forest represents stored atmospheric carbon. A felled tree is potentially carbon on the way back to carbon dioxide again − unless that timber can be used and preserved.

Finland’s Ministry of Environment aims by 2025 to have 45% of new multi-storied buildings made from wood. The technology already has its fans: researchers have more than once proposed that wood would be a sound basis for high-density housing while at the same time making an active  contribution to helping to slow climate change driven by global heating fired by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement manufacture.

Eco-friendly preference

The first step is to encourage builders and purchasers to see this not just as good for the environment, but − in nations with rich forests − good business as well. It depends on location, and market. In Finland, by law, a felled tree must be replaced by a new planting, so timber construction would not reduce forest area overall.

“Our previous research shows that if you buy a flat you’re more concerned about its environmental footprint than if you rent. An owner typically invests more in ways to improve performance, like energy-saving options.

“This principle seems to hold true here: buyers are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly choice, even if they can’t afford to live in the most expensive neighbourhoods of the city,” Professor Junnila said.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon − by definition they don’t have the vast amounts of nature needed to sink carbon. The good news is that some international investment companies have already realised the potential of timber construction, and we can only expect this interest to grow.” − Climate News Network

Fossils show oblivion’s malign impact on nature

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

Fossil fuel use leads to worse and longer droughts

Human reliance on fossil fuels is resulting in worse and longer droughts. It’s a familiar message across the world.

LONDON, 27 May, 2021 − Researchers have been busy trying to find out more about why many parts of the world are experiencing worse and longer droughts. Californian scientists had cleared up any confusion about Californian droughts. And about droughts in the rest of the Americas, the Mediterranean, western and southern Africa and east Asia.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollution from human causes tend to increase the frequency of drought, the intensity of drought and the maximum duration of drought worldwide.

“There has always been natural variability in drought events around the world, but our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” said Felicia Chiang, of the University of California Irvine, and now at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

She and colleagues write in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation to explore drought characteristics, first with “natural” conditions, and then with extra help from atmospheric greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, along with tiny atmospheric particles from power plants, car exhausts and fire to clear land and burn waste.

The “natural-only” simulations showed no regional changes from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries. But once the researchers tested their simulation with more atmospheric carbon dioxide, sulphur particles and soot, they could see statistically significant increases in drought hotpots in southern Europe, Central and South America and other regions.

“Our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases”

Researchers have been warning for years of the danger of increasing drought with ever-higher global average temperatures. The eastern Mediterranean recently went through its worst drought in 900 years, while California has been afflicted by devastating heat, prolonged dry spells and dreadful forest fires.

Drought has been so frequent in the Amazon that one scientist has warned that the entire rainforest ecosystem might collapse. So the latest study is just another confirmation of a familiar story.

“Knowing where, how and why droughts have been worsening around the world is important, because these events directly and indirectly impact everything from wildlife habitats to agricultural production to our economy,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a co-author at UC Irvine.

And a third contributor, his colleague Omid Mazdiyasni, now with the Los Angeles county department of public works, added: “If droughts over the past century have been worsened by human-sourced pollution, then there is a strong possibility that the problem can be mitigated by limiting these emissions.” − Climate News Network

Human reliance on fossil fuels is resulting in worse and longer droughts. It’s a familiar message across the world.

LONDON, 27 May, 2021 − Researchers have been busy trying to find out more about why many parts of the world are experiencing worse and longer droughts. Californian scientists had cleared up any confusion about Californian droughts. And about droughts in the rest of the Americas, the Mediterranean, western and southern Africa and east Asia.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollution from human causes tend to increase the frequency of drought, the intensity of drought and the maximum duration of drought worldwide.

“There has always been natural variability in drought events around the world, but our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” said Felicia Chiang, of the University of California Irvine, and now at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

She and colleagues write in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation to explore drought characteristics, first with “natural” conditions, and then with extra help from atmospheric greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, along with tiny atmospheric particles from power plants, car exhausts and fire to clear land and burn waste.

The “natural-only” simulations showed no regional changes from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries. But once the researchers tested their simulation with more atmospheric carbon dioxide, sulphur particles and soot, they could see statistically significant increases in drought hotpots in southern Europe, Central and South America and other regions.

“Our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases”

Researchers have been warning for years of the danger of increasing drought with ever-higher global average temperatures. The eastern Mediterranean recently went through its worst drought in 900 years, while California has been afflicted by devastating heat, prolonged dry spells and dreadful forest fires.

Drought has been so frequent in the Amazon that one scientist has warned that the entire rainforest ecosystem might collapse. So the latest study is just another confirmation of a familiar story.

“Knowing where, how and why droughts have been worsening around the world is important, because these events directly and indirectly impact everything from wildlife habitats to agricultural production to our economy,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a co-author at UC Irvine.

And a third contributor, his colleague Omid Mazdiyasni, now with the Los Angeles county department of public works, added: “If droughts over the past century have been worsened by human-sourced pollution, then there is a strong possibility that the problem can be mitigated by limiting these emissions.” − Climate News Network

The very expensive human cost of climate change

Storms devastate. Climate change makes them more devastating. Now we know how much the human cost of climate change really is.

LONDON, 25 May, 2021 − We know already that the human cost of climate change is immense. Now we can put a figure on it. Nine years on, New Yorkers have a clearer idea of the direct cost of human-driven climate change to them during just one stormy weekend in October 2012.

They became poorer by $8.1 billion, say researchers from Princeton, New Brunswick and Hoboken in New Jersey, and Boston in Massachusetts, just because of sea level rise powered first by global heating fuelled by profligate combustion worldwide of coal, oil and gas, and then by a superstorm called Hurricane Sandy.

Researchers can also number the additional people who suffered damages inflicted precisely because of human-driven climate change on that one long, painful weekend: 71,000.

“This study is the first to isolate the human-contributed sea level effects during a coastal storm and put a dollar sign to the additional flooding damage,” said Philip Orton, of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, one of the authors.

“With coastal flooding increasingly impacting communities and causing widespread destruction, pinpointing the financial toll and lives affected by climate change will hopefully add urgency to our efforts to reduce it.”

“If we were to calculate the cost of climate change across all flooding events that figure would provide clarity on the severe damage we are inflicting on our planet”

There would have been damage anyway: Sandy was a powerful hurricane that slammed into the northeast US coast so hard it set the earthquake alarms ringing. The destruction attributed to Sandy is more than $62 billion, as one of the worst storms in history at the New York bight arrived with the evening high tide to cause devastation and disruption in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut.

It also killed 43 people in New York City and destroyed thousands of homes and around a quarter of a million cars, vans, buses and trucks.

And now a study in the journal Nature Communications reasons that anthropogenic or human-powered sea level rise must have accounted for at least 13% of the total bill. That is because global heating from greenhouse gas emissions seems to have raised mean sea levels in the New York region by around 10 cms over the last century or so. In fact, Sandy arrived with the highest water level in at least 300 years in the New York metropolitan area.

The researchers set themselves the target of identifying precisely the impact of climate change on sea level rise in that region. To do that, they had to subtract the change that could be explained by coastal subsidence: as a consequence of heavy construction and groundwater abstraction, coastal settlements everywhere are likely to subside.

Knowing the threat

Then they combed maps of the damage, contour data and insurance data to arrive at a specific contribution by sea level rise linked to climate change: at the very least, they judged, $4.7bn, at the most $14bn, and so they compromised on $8bn.

They then numbered the humans who might not have been hit by flooding had there been no climate change: they calculated at least 40,000, and no more than 131,000, before settling on 70,000 additional victims.

Such exercises matter: city planners, coastal defence agencies, insurers and seaside property-holders need to know the scale of extra risk conferred by climate change. There will be more storm damage and flooding, and the new methodology could be adapted to other vulnerable cities.

US coasts already face more frequent floods, rising seas promise more such superstorms and − once again because of global heating − the north-eastern US seaboard can expect to be in the track of fiercer hurricanes.

“If we were to calculate the cost of climate change across all flooding events − both nuisance floods and those caused by extreme storm events − that figure would be enormous,” Dr Orton said. ”It would provide clarity on the severe damage we are inflicting on ourselves and on our planet.” − Climate News Network

Storms devastate. Climate change makes them more devastating. Now we know how much the human cost of climate change really is.

LONDON, 25 May, 2021 − We know already that the human cost of climate change is immense. Now we can put a figure on it. Nine years on, New Yorkers have a clearer idea of the direct cost of human-driven climate change to them during just one stormy weekend in October 2012.

They became poorer by $8.1 billion, say researchers from Princeton, New Brunswick and Hoboken in New Jersey, and Boston in Massachusetts, just because of sea level rise powered first by global heating fuelled by profligate combustion worldwide of coal, oil and gas, and then by a superstorm called Hurricane Sandy.

Researchers can also number the additional people who suffered damages inflicted precisely because of human-driven climate change on that one long, painful weekend: 71,000.

“This study is the first to isolate the human-contributed sea level effects during a coastal storm and put a dollar sign to the additional flooding damage,” said Philip Orton, of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, one of the authors.

“With coastal flooding increasingly impacting communities and causing widespread destruction, pinpointing the financial toll and lives affected by climate change will hopefully add urgency to our efforts to reduce it.”

“If we were to calculate the cost of climate change across all flooding events that figure would provide clarity on the severe damage we are inflicting on our planet”

There would have been damage anyway: Sandy was a powerful hurricane that slammed into the northeast US coast so hard it set the earthquake alarms ringing. The destruction attributed to Sandy is more than $62 billion, as one of the worst storms in history at the New York bight arrived with the evening high tide to cause devastation and disruption in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut.

It also killed 43 people in New York City and destroyed thousands of homes and around a quarter of a million cars, vans, buses and trucks.

And now a study in the journal Nature Communications reasons that anthropogenic or human-powered sea level rise must have accounted for at least 13% of the total bill. That is because global heating from greenhouse gas emissions seems to have raised mean sea levels in the New York region by around 10 cms over the last century or so. In fact, Sandy arrived with the highest water level in at least 300 years in the New York metropolitan area.

The researchers set themselves the target of identifying precisely the impact of climate change on sea level rise in that region. To do that, they had to subtract the change that could be explained by coastal subsidence: as a consequence of heavy construction and groundwater abstraction, coastal settlements everywhere are likely to subside.

Knowing the threat

Then they combed maps of the damage, contour data and insurance data to arrive at a specific contribution by sea level rise linked to climate change: at the very least, they judged, $4.7bn, at the most $14bn, and so they compromised on $8bn.

They then numbered the humans who might not have been hit by flooding had there been no climate change: they calculated at least 40,000, and no more than 131,000, before settling on 70,000 additional victims.

Such exercises matter: city planners, coastal defence agencies, insurers and seaside property-holders need to know the scale of extra risk conferred by climate change. There will be more storm damage and flooding, and the new methodology could be adapted to other vulnerable cities.

US coasts already face more frequent floods, rising seas promise more such superstorms and − once again because of global heating − the north-eastern US seaboard can expect to be in the track of fiercer hurricanes.

“If we were to calculate the cost of climate change across all flooding events − both nuisance floods and those caused by extreme storm events − that figure would be enormous,” Dr Orton said. ”It would provide clarity on the severe damage we are inflicting on ourselves and on our planet.” − Climate News Network