Category Archives: General

Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

heat

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Polar ice melt raises sea level dangers

polar ice

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate, and sea levels are creeping up.

LONDON, 19 March, 2020 – Greenland and Antarctica, the two greatest stores of frozen water on the planet, are now losing polar ice at a rate at least six times faster than they were at the close of the last century.

The fact that polar ice is melting ever faster has been clear for a decade, but the latest research is authoritative.

To establish the rate of loss, 89 polar scientists from 50 of the world’s great research institutions looked at data from 26 separate surveys between 1992 and 2018, along with information from 11 different satellite missions.

Gloomiest forecasts

And the finding is in line with the worst-case scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If this rate of increase continues, sea levels at the close of this century will be at least 17 centimetres higher than the gloomiest official forecasts so far.

Between 1992 and 2017, the global sea level rose by 17.8 millimetres, as 6.4 trillion tonnes of polar ice turned to water and trickled into the oceans – 10.6 mm from Greenland and 7.2 mm from Antarctica.

In the last decade of the last century, the northern and southern icecaps dwindled at the rate of 81 billion tonnes a year. In the last decade, this had risen to 475 billion tonnes a year. This means that a third of all sea level rise is now caused by the loss of polar ice.

The most recent assessment by the IPCC is that, by 2100, sea levels will have risen by 53 cms, putting 360 million people who live at sea level at some risk.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100”

But the latest finding from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) scientists is that seas will rise even higher, and even more people will have to move.

“Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Andrew Shepherd, professor of Earth observation at the University of Leeds, UK, as he and colleagues published their findings of Greenland losses in Nature journal.

“If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track the worst-case climate warning scenario, they will cause an extra 17 cms of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would mean 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100. These are not unlikely events with small impacts; they are already under way and will be devastating for coastal communities.”

Global picture

Professor Shepherd and his IMBIE colleagues established almost two years ago that Antarctica was losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate, but the Greenland survey completes the global picture.

And it remains a picture in which the Arctic seems to be warming at an accelerating rate and sea levels seem to be rising ever faster.

This is not just because the polar ice caps are melting, but also because, almost everywhere, mountain glaciers are in retreat, and the oceans are expanding as sea temperatures rise in response to the steady warming of the planetary atmosphere. – Climate News Network

India finally takes climate crisis seriously

India

With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last focusing on the dangers of global warming.

NEW DELHI, 18 March, 2020 – After decades of concentrating on economic development and insisting that global warming was mainly a problem for the more industrially-developed countries to solve, Indian industry is at last facing up to dangers posed to its own future by climate change.

More than 40 organisations – including major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra and Wipro through their various philanthropic organisations, plus academic thinktanks, business schools, aid agencies, and the government’s scientific advisers – have come together to co-operate on climate solutions.

The umbrella organisation, called the India Climate Collaborative (ICC), also includes international institutions such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the MacArthur Foundation.

Climate disasters

Although there have been many individual initiatives in India on climate change, and there has been government support for renewables, particularly solar power, efforts so far have been fragmented.

State and national governments, individual departments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and academics have all worked separately, and sometimes in opposition to each other.

The scale of the task facing India is underlined by the fact it has taken two years to get the ICC up and running. However, with India ranked fifth in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and facing one climate disaster after another – sometimes simultaneous extreme weather events – these organisations have agreed that the issue can no longer be ignored.

“It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own.”

Commenting on the launch, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said: “It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own. Business, government and philanthropy must collaborate within and among themselves themselves to drive results quickly and at scale. The India Climate Collaborative can make this happen.”

The ICC has identified three critical risk factors for India:

The first is that an astonishing 700 million people are still dependent on agriculture and they are the most vulnerable to an erratic climate.

The second is that around the country’s approximately 7,500 km coastline are several major cities. Many of these important economic hubs, which include all the country’s main ports, are a metre or less above current sea level.

Third, even with the increasingly rigorous focus on renewable energy, there is continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for producing electricity, which is still in short supply.

According to the India Philanthropy Report 2019, private funds in India, mostly raised through non-government philanthropy, provided about Rs 70,000 crore ($9.5 billion) in 2018 for the social sector, mostly focusing on key aspects such as health, education and agriculture.

However, only a small proportion was spent on climate change, and so the ICC aims to raise the current spending of about 7 % to at least 20 %.

Another hindrance to India’s many plans for adaptation or mitigation is the lack of capacity among government departments. Something as basic as preparing workable proposals for funding action is a tough task for many state governments.

The ICC plans to conduct technical training as “there are gaps to be filled to take care of the talent shortfall, and there is overall lack of capacity.”

One of the first training exercises is planned for state-level bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and in the western state of Rajasthan.

Cross-purposes

There is some concern that while the India government is represented on the ICC by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, its Principal Scientific Adviser, there is no representation from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), which represents the country at the climate talks.

Critics claim that this is particularly worrying because the various government departments are already seen as not working together, or often working at cross-purposes.

There are also fears that there is lack of community involvement, particularly the farmers, who are the largest single group most affected by adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.

However, Shloka Nath, executive director of the ICC and head of Sustainability and Special Projects at the Tata Trust, says the ICC plans to work with the MoEFCC to reach representatives of civil society and bring them into the process.

“It is through them [the ministry] that we plan to reach out to the community,” she says. “The people will be very much involved.”

Despite these shortcomings, Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), welcomes the idea. He says: “It is for the first time that Indian companies are understanding climate change and willing to invest in it.” – Climate News Network

With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last focusing on the dangers of global warming.

NEW DELHI, 18 March, 2020 – After decades of concentrating on economic development and insisting that global warming was mainly a problem for the more industrially-developed countries to solve, Indian industry is at last facing up to dangers posed to its own future by climate change.

More than 40 organisations – including major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra and Wipro through their various philanthropic organisations, plus academic thinktanks, business schools, aid agencies, and the government’s scientific advisers – have come together to co-operate on climate solutions.

The umbrella organisation, called the India Climate Collaborative (ICC), also includes international institutions such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the MacArthur Foundation.

Climate disasters

Although there have been many individual initiatives in India on climate change, and there has been government support for renewables, particularly solar power, efforts so far have been fragmented.

State and national governments, individual departments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and academics have all worked separately, and sometimes in opposition to each other.

The scale of the task facing India is underlined by the fact it has taken two years to get the ICC up and running. However, with India ranked fifth in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and facing one climate disaster after another – sometimes simultaneous extreme weather events – these organisations have agreed that the issue can no longer be ignored.

“It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own.”

Commenting on the launch, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said: “It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own. Business, government and philanthropy must collaborate within and among themselves themselves to drive results quickly and at scale. The India Climate Collaborative can make this happen.”

The ICC has identified three critical risk factors for India:

The first is that an astonishing 700 million people are still dependent on agriculture and they are the most vulnerable to an erratic climate.

The second is that around the country’s approximately 7,500 km coastline are several major cities. Many of these important economic hubs, which include all the country’s main ports, are a metre or less above current sea level.

Third, even with the increasingly rigorous focus on renewable energy, there is continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for producing electricity, which is still in short supply.

According to the India Philanthropy Report 2019, private funds in India, mostly raised through non-government philanthropy, provided about Rs 70,000 crore ($9.5 billion) in 2018 for the social sector, mostly focusing on key aspects such as health, education and agriculture.

However, only a small proportion was spent on climate change, and so the ICC aims to raise the current spending of about 7 % to at least 20 %.

Another hindrance to India’s many plans for adaptation or mitigation is the lack of capacity among government departments. Something as basic as preparing workable proposals for funding action is a tough task for many state governments.

The ICC plans to conduct technical training as “there are gaps to be filled to take care of the talent shortfall, and there is overall lack of capacity.”

One of the first training exercises is planned for state-level bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and in the western state of Rajasthan.

Cross-purposes

There is some concern that while the India government is represented on the ICC by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, its Principal Scientific Adviser, there is no representation from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), which represents the country at the climate talks.

Critics claim that this is particularly worrying because the various government departments are already seen as not working together, or often working at cross-purposes.

There are also fears that there is lack of community involvement, particularly the farmers, who are the largest single group most affected by adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.

However, Shloka Nath, executive director of the ICC and head of Sustainability and Special Projects at the Tata Trust, says the ICC plans to work with the MoEFCC to reach representatives of civil society and bring them into the process.

“It is through them [the ministry] that we plan to reach out to the community,” she says. “The people will be very much involved.”

Despite these shortcomings, Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), welcomes the idea. He says: “It is for the first time that Indian companies are understanding climate change and willing to invest in it.” – Climate News Network

Wastewater flushes away a river of wealth

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network

Timber buildings can help to slow global heating

Tomorrow’s town planners could take a leaf from nature’s book with timber buildings. More than a leaf: the whole tree and all the cuttings as well.

LONDON, 4 February, 2020 − European and US scientists have a root-and-branch answer to the challenge of tomorrow’s cities: switch to wood, construct timber buildings and reduce the risk of even more devastating global temperature rise.

Their reasoning is bold and simple: it takes energy to make steel and cement, which must be mined or quarried, a process that puts the remaining wilderness at risk.

Forests represent stored atmospheric carbon. If timber from the planet’s forests could be used to construct the houses and offices needed for the additional 2.3 billion urban dwellers expected by the year 2050, then that would mean that the great cities could become sinks or repositories of stored carbon.

And new trees could grow in the space left by the harvested timber to add to the world inventory of stored carbon. The new towns and cities could become a kind of bank vault in which to save up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year that might otherwise have spilled into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been releasing into the atmosphere all of this carbon that had been stored in forests and in the ground,” said Galina Churkina, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

“We wanted to show that there can be a vision for returning much of this carbon back into the land.”

Strong fire-resistance

Wood is a fuel. It burns well. Paradoxically tree trunks, and treated timber assembled from laminates, do not. Structural timbers may char in a fire, but this has been shown to make them more resistant to burning. Experiment and research has shown that buildings of engineered timber up to 18 stories in height can be resistant to fire.

In effect, atmospheric carbon, turned into high-strength wood fibre by photosynthesis, could be made as safe as reinforced concrete. But, according to a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability, in 2014 the making of cement spilled 1,320 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and steel manufacture added another 1,740 million tonnes.

And between 2005 and 2015, mining in Brazil alone was responsible for 9% of the loss of all Amazon forest land during that decade: the act of prospecting for or extracting mineral commodities destroyed 12 times more than the areas stipulated in the mining leases.

The Potsdam scientists are not the first to suggest wood as an alternative to bricks and mortar, or bamboo as a replacement for cement, steel and glass. But their analysis may be the most detailed so far of a new way to confront the challenge of tomorrow’s climate-tested cities.

The researchers built a series of scenarios to test their hypothesis. New city structures must be built to accommodate an additional million or more humans every week for the next three decades. The proportion now expected to be fashioned from timber is half of 1%.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth”

A five-storey house made from laminated timber could store 180 kilos of carbon a square meter: that is three times the biomass above ground in natural forests. If construction from wood was stepped up to 10%, new construction could store 10 million tonnes of carbon a year; if the world switched to 90% this figure could rise to almost 700 million tonnes.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study and a founder director of the Potsdam Institute.

“They take CO2 out of our atmosphere and smoothly transform it into oxygen for us to breathe and carbon in their trunks for us to use. There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of.

“Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilisation calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s town planners could take a leaf from nature’s book with timber buildings. More than a leaf: the whole tree and all the cuttings as well.

LONDON, 4 February, 2020 − European and US scientists have a root-and-branch answer to the challenge of tomorrow’s cities: switch to wood, construct timber buildings and reduce the risk of even more devastating global temperature rise.

Their reasoning is bold and simple: it takes energy to make steel and cement, which must be mined or quarried, a process that puts the remaining wilderness at risk.

Forests represent stored atmospheric carbon. If timber from the planet’s forests could be used to construct the houses and offices needed for the additional 2.3 billion urban dwellers expected by the year 2050, then that would mean that the great cities could become sinks or repositories of stored carbon.

And new trees could grow in the space left by the harvested timber to add to the world inventory of stored carbon. The new towns and cities could become a kind of bank vault in which to save up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year that might otherwise have spilled into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been releasing into the atmosphere all of this carbon that had been stored in forests and in the ground,” said Galina Churkina, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

“We wanted to show that there can be a vision for returning much of this carbon back into the land.”

Strong fire-resistance

Wood is a fuel. It burns well. Paradoxically tree trunks, and treated timber assembled from laminates, do not. Structural timbers may char in a fire, but this has been shown to make them more resistant to burning. Experiment and research has shown that buildings of engineered timber up to 18 stories in height can be resistant to fire.

In effect, atmospheric carbon, turned into high-strength wood fibre by photosynthesis, could be made as safe as reinforced concrete. But, according to a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability, in 2014 the making of cement spilled 1,320 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and steel manufacture added another 1,740 million tonnes.

And between 2005 and 2015, mining in Brazil alone was responsible for 9% of the loss of all Amazon forest land during that decade: the act of prospecting for or extracting mineral commodities destroyed 12 times more than the areas stipulated in the mining leases.

The Potsdam scientists are not the first to suggest wood as an alternative to bricks and mortar, or bamboo as a replacement for cement, steel and glass. But their analysis may be the most detailed so far of a new way to confront the challenge of tomorrow’s climate-tested cities.

The researchers built a series of scenarios to test their hypothesis. New city structures must be built to accommodate an additional million or more humans every week for the next three decades. The proportion now expected to be fashioned from timber is half of 1%.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth”

A five-storey house made from laminated timber could store 180 kilos of carbon a square meter: that is three times the biomass above ground in natural forests. If construction from wood was stepped up to 10%, new construction could store 10 million tonnes of carbon a year; if the world switched to 90% this figure could rise to almost 700 million tonnes.

“Trees offer us a technology of unparalleled perfection,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study and a founder director of the Potsdam Institute.

“They take CO2 out of our atmosphere and smoothly transform it into oxygen for us to breathe and carbon in their trunks for us to use. There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of.

“Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilisation calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Climate migrants still face ‘immense disaster’

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ultra-fast computers could avert global disaster

The world can be saved. It needs global co-operation, careful research and the building of ultra-fast computers.

LONDON, 13 December, 2019 – The way to steer the planet safely away from overwhelming climate crisis may sound familiar, though it’s staggeringly ambitious: just use incredibly powerful and ultra-fast computers.

Studies in two separate journals have called for new thinking about global change. One warns that only a genuine accommodation with nature can save humankind from catastrophic change. The other argues that present understanding of the trajectories of global heating is so uncertain that what is needed is a global co-operation to deliver what scientists call exascale supercomputer climate modelling: exascale means calculations at rates of a billion billion operations a second.

There’s a snag: nobody has yet built a working exascale computer, though several groups hope to succeed within a few years. But when it’s done it could transform the prospects of life on Earth.

“We cannot save the planet – and ourselves – until we understand how tightly woven people and the natural benefits that allow us to survive are,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, one of the authors of a paper in the journal Science.

“We have learned new ways to understand these connections, even as they spread across the globe. This strategy has given us the power to understand the full scope of the problem, which allows us to find true solutions.”

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”

And Tim Palmer of Oxford University, an author of a perspective paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has called for a new and international investment in sophisticated climate modelling, exploiting a new generation of computers, in much the same way that physicists at CERN in Geneva co-operated to explore the sequence of events in the first microsecond of creation.

“By comparison with new particle colliders or space telescopes, the amount needed, maybe around $100 million a year, is very modest indeed. In addition, the benefit/cost ratio to society of having a much clearer picture of the dangers we are facing in the coming decades by our ongoing actions, seems extraordinarily large,” he said.

“To be honest, all is needed is the will to work together across nations, on such a project. Then it will happen.”

The point made by authors of the Science study is that humankind depends acutely on the natural world for at least 18 direct benefits: these include pollination and the dispersal of seeds, the regulation of clean air, and of climate, and of fresh water, the protection of topsoils, the control of potential pests and diseases, the supplies of energy, food and animal fodder, the supplies of materials and fabrics and yields of new medicines and biochemical compounds.

Massive change

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”, the authors warn.

“Human actions have directly altered at least 70% of land surface; 66% of ocean surface is experiencing cumulative impacts; around 85% of wetland area has been lost since the 1700s and 77% of rivers longer than 1000 km no longer flow freely from source to sea.”

There was a need for “transformative action” on a global scale to address root economic, social and technological causes and to avert catastrophic decline of the living world. “Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task harder”, they warn.

But in a world of rapid change – with species at increasing risk of extinction and global heating about to trigger catastrophic climate change – there is still the challenge of working out what the implications of any change might be.

The argument is that human society must change, and so too must the scientific community. Climate modelling might deliver broad answers, but researchers would still need to be sure what might work best in any particular circumstances, and that would require new and vastly more complex levels of mathematical calculation and data interpretation.

Space-race urgency

Professor Palmer and his colleague Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg call for better understanding of the need for change.

“What is needed is the urgency of the space race aimed, not at the Moon or Mars, but rather toward harnessing the promise of exascale supercomputing to reliably simulate Earth’s regional climate (and associated extremes) globally”, they argue.

“This will only be possible if the broader climate science community begins to articulate its dissatisfaction with business as usual – not just among themselves, but externally to those who seek to use the models for business, policy, or humanitarian reasons.

“Failing to do so becomes an ethical issue in that it saddles us with the status quo: a strategy that hopes, against all evidence, to surmount the abyss between scientific capability and societal needs.” – Climate News Network

The world can be saved. It needs global co-operation, careful research and the building of ultra-fast computers.

LONDON, 13 December, 2019 – The way to steer the planet safely away from overwhelming climate crisis may sound familiar, though it’s staggeringly ambitious: just use incredibly powerful and ultra-fast computers.

Studies in two separate journals have called for new thinking about global change. One warns that only a genuine accommodation with nature can save humankind from catastrophic change. The other argues that present understanding of the trajectories of global heating is so uncertain that what is needed is a global co-operation to deliver what scientists call exascale supercomputer climate modelling: exascale means calculations at rates of a billion billion operations a second.

There’s a snag: nobody has yet built a working exascale computer, though several groups hope to succeed within a few years. But when it’s done it could transform the prospects of life on Earth.

“We cannot save the planet – and ourselves – until we understand how tightly woven people and the natural benefits that allow us to survive are,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, one of the authors of a paper in the journal Science.

“We have learned new ways to understand these connections, even as they spread across the globe. This strategy has given us the power to understand the full scope of the problem, which allows us to find true solutions.”

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”

And Tim Palmer of Oxford University, an author of a perspective paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has called for a new and international investment in sophisticated climate modelling, exploiting a new generation of computers, in much the same way that physicists at CERN in Geneva co-operated to explore the sequence of events in the first microsecond of creation.

“By comparison with new particle colliders or space telescopes, the amount needed, maybe around $100 million a year, is very modest indeed. In addition, the benefit/cost ratio to society of having a much clearer picture of the dangers we are facing in the coming decades by our ongoing actions, seems extraordinarily large,” he said.

“To be honest, all is needed is the will to work together across nations, on such a project. Then it will happen.”

The point made by authors of the Science study is that humankind depends acutely on the natural world for at least 18 direct benefits: these include pollination and the dispersal of seeds, the regulation of clean air, and of climate, and of fresh water, the protection of topsoils, the control of potential pests and diseases, the supplies of energy, food and animal fodder, the supplies of materials and fabrics and yields of new medicines and biochemical compounds.

Massive change

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”, the authors warn.

“Human actions have directly altered at least 70% of land surface; 66% of ocean surface is experiencing cumulative impacts; around 85% of wetland area has been lost since the 1700s and 77% of rivers longer than 1000 km no longer flow freely from source to sea.”

There was a need for “transformative action” on a global scale to address root economic, social and technological causes and to avert catastrophic decline of the living world. “Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task harder”, they warn.

But in a world of rapid change – with species at increasing risk of extinction and global heating about to trigger catastrophic climate change – there is still the challenge of working out what the implications of any change might be.

The argument is that human society must change, and so too must the scientific community. Climate modelling might deliver broad answers, but researchers would still need to be sure what might work best in any particular circumstances, and that would require new and vastly more complex levels of mathematical calculation and data interpretation.

Space-race urgency

Professor Palmer and his colleague Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg call for better understanding of the need for change.

“What is needed is the urgency of the space race aimed, not at the Moon or Mars, but rather toward harnessing the promise of exascale supercomputing to reliably simulate Earth’s regional climate (and associated extremes) globally”, they argue.

“This will only be possible if the broader climate science community begins to articulate its dissatisfaction with business as usual – not just among themselves, but externally to those who seek to use the models for business, policy, or humanitarian reasons.

“Failing to do so becomes an ethical issue in that it saddles us with the status quo: a strategy that hopes, against all evidence, to surmount the abyss between scientific capability and societal needs.” – Climate News Network

60-year drought ended ancient Assyrian empire

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

India builds homes to resist climate-linked floods

floods

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Vineyards battle to keep the Champagne cool

Champagne

As rising temperatures threaten the vines that produce Champagne, concerned growers are fighting to adapt to the very real threat of climate change.

LONDON, October 15, 2019 – With the average temperature already having risen 1.1C in the last 30 years in the Champagne region of France, the 5,000 producers of the world famous vintages fear for their future.

Earlier springs and heatwaves are affecting harvest times and, more importantly, the characteristics of the grapes – for example, less acidity and more alcohol threaten the distinctive taste of the wine.

But realising that a 2C to 3C rise in temperature could cause “catastrophic changes” to the region, and that the famous wine could eventually disappear altogether, the vintners are breeding new vines and adapting growing methods to suit the new climate in a bid to preserve their industry.

“We feel we are under very high pressure from climate change and are very concerned that we must adapt to preserve our industry,” Thibaut Le Mailloux, director of communications for the growers of the champagne region, Comité Champagne, told Climate News Network.

At the same time, he said, realising the havoc that climate change will bring, the growers have become intensely environmentally aware, dramatically changing old habits to make their industry sustainable.

With the grape harvest now beginning at the end of August, 18 days earlier than the traditional picking time, the growers have been aware for some time that serious change was under way.

At first, the better weather, earlier springs and less frosts, together with warmer summers, helped producers, and there have been more vintage years. However, champagne is a cool wine region and, as the characteristics of the grapes began to change, it was clear that maintaining the quality of the wines could be a problem.

New Champagne varieties

The growers began an intense 15-year vine-breeding programme. They planted thousands of seeds and, using modern technology as well as traditional plant breeding methods, are selecting new varieties that produce the right grapes but are also resistant to diseases so that pesticides are now longer needed.

They hope to produce five new Champagne varieties from the original 4,000 seeds.

In addition to new vines, the growers are changing the methods of tending their vines, growing them further apart and leaving more leaves on the plants to shade the grapes and so preserve the quality.

With strict rules in place banning irrigation of the limestone soils that give Champagne its character, the growers are relieved that the average rainfall in the region appears so far to be unaffected by climate change.

However, to make the most of the available moisture, new methods of growing grass between the rows of vines and ploughing between them are helping.

Apart from the efforts to save the vintages, the growers are working hard on their environmental impact, said Le Mailloux.

“Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now”

“With a high-end product like this, consumers expect that you take care of the planet. Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now. They are also, as growers, scientifically literate too, so they understand the problem and what needs to be done.”

With a total of 16,000 growers in the Champagne region, the statistics of their achievements so far are impressive. They have set up what they call an industrial ecology programme.

They produce 120,000 tons of vine wood a year, of which 80% is ground up and returned to the soils with humus as natural fertiliser, and the rest is burned for energy to save fossil fuels.

So far, 90% of waste is sorted and recycled or used to create energy, and 100% of by-products such as industrial alcohol are used in cosmetics, healthcare and food sector.

A 7% reduction in bottle weight of champagne has an emissions reduction of 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Carbon footprint

Le Mailloux said the industry is keenly aware that the largest part of its carbon footprint is in the packaging, shipping and delivery of its bottles all over the world.

Since delivery is not time-sensitive, the industry has already experimented with delivering champagne by sailing ship across the Atlantic. They hope eventually to use a combination of sail and electric boats.

The organisation already claims to have cut their carbon footprint by 20% per bottle, and aims to reduce it by more than 75% by 2050. They have already cut herbicide use by 50% and aim to stop altogether by 2025. All champagne growers should qualify for environmental certification by 2030 – from 20% now.

“Our industry is under threat and so is the whole planet, so we want to show that we are doing our best to keep the temperature from exceeding the 1.5C threshold,” Le Mailloux said. – Climate News Network

As rising temperatures threaten the vines that produce Champagne, concerned growers are fighting to adapt to the very real threat of climate change.

LONDON, October 15, 2019 – With the average temperature already having risen 1.1C in the last 30 years in the Champagne region of France, the 5,000 producers of the world famous vintages fear for their future.

Earlier springs and heatwaves are affecting harvest times and, more importantly, the characteristics of the grapes – for example, less acidity and more alcohol threaten the distinctive taste of the wine.

But realising that a 2C to 3C rise in temperature could cause “catastrophic changes” to the region, and that the famous wine could eventually disappear altogether, the vintners are breeding new vines and adapting growing methods to suit the new climate in a bid to preserve their industry.

“We feel we are under very high pressure from climate change and are very concerned that we must adapt to preserve our industry,” Thibaut Le Mailloux, director of communications for the growers of the champagne region, Comité Champagne, told Climate News Network.

At the same time, he said, realising the havoc that climate change will bring, the growers have become intensely environmentally aware, dramatically changing old habits to make their industry sustainable.

With the grape harvest now beginning at the end of August, 18 days earlier than the traditional picking time, the growers have been aware for some time that serious change was under way.

At first, the better weather, earlier springs and less frosts, together with warmer summers, helped producers, and there have been more vintage years. However, champagne is a cool wine region and, as the characteristics of the grapes began to change, it was clear that maintaining the quality of the wines could be a problem.

New Champagne varieties

The growers began an intense 15-year vine-breeding programme. They planted thousands of seeds and, using modern technology as well as traditional plant breeding methods, are selecting new varieties that produce the right grapes but are also resistant to diseases so that pesticides are now longer needed.

They hope to produce five new Champagne varieties from the original 4,000 seeds.

In addition to new vines, the growers are changing the methods of tending their vines, growing them further apart and leaving more leaves on the plants to shade the grapes and so preserve the quality.

With strict rules in place banning irrigation of the limestone soils that give Champagne its character, the growers are relieved that the average rainfall in the region appears so far to be unaffected by climate change.

However, to make the most of the available moisture, new methods of growing grass between the rows of vines and ploughing between them are helping.

Apart from the efforts to save the vintages, the growers are working hard on their environmental impact, said Le Mailloux.

“Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now”

“With a high-end product like this, consumers expect that you take care of the planet. Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now. They are also, as growers, scientifically literate too, so they understand the problem and what needs to be done.”

With a total of 16,000 growers in the Champagne region, the statistics of their achievements so far are impressive. They have set up what they call an industrial ecology programme.

They produce 120,000 tons of vine wood a year, of which 80% is ground up and returned to the soils with humus as natural fertiliser, and the rest is burned for energy to save fossil fuels.

So far, 90% of waste is sorted and recycled or used to create energy, and 100% of by-products such as industrial alcohol are used in cosmetics, healthcare and food sector.

A 7% reduction in bottle weight of champagne has an emissions reduction of 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Carbon footprint

Le Mailloux said the industry is keenly aware that the largest part of its carbon footprint is in the packaging, shipping and delivery of its bottles all over the world.

Since delivery is not time-sensitive, the industry has already experimented with delivering champagne by sailing ship across the Atlantic. They hope eventually to use a combination of sail and electric boats.

The organisation already claims to have cut their carbon footprint by 20% per bottle, and aims to reduce it by more than 75% by 2050. They have already cut herbicide use by 50% and aim to stop altogether by 2025. All champagne growers should qualify for environmental certification by 2030 – from 20% now.

“Our industry is under threat and so is the whole planet, so we want to show that we are doing our best to keep the temperature from exceeding the 1.5C threshold,” Le Mailloux said. – Climate News Network