Category Archives: General

Dinosaurs’ deaths may be guide to today

Evidence from the dinosaurs’ deaths 65 million years ago might just provide a lesson to learn about the lasting damage now being done by humanity.

LONDON, 5 June, 2018 – US geologists have identified the moment of the dinosaurs’ death in the Earth’s deep past as the time when the climate changed, even faster and more severely than it is changing as a consequence of human action.

That fateful moment occurred on the day around 65 million years ago when a vast comet or asteroid smashed into Earth over what is now Chicxulub in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and brought the Cretaceous era to a close.

The scientists used tiny bits of fish scales, teeth and bones to compose a temperature chart for the last 50,000 years of the Cretaceous, and the first 100,000 years of the Palaeogene, when planet Earth changed forever.

The planetary average temperatures rose around 5°C and stayed perilously hotter for at least another 100,000 years, and in the course of this the last dinosaurs disappeared, as if violently wiped out in one short episode.

There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century

Theorists predict that an impact with something 10kms or so across arriving at a minimum of 20 kms a second would have delivered a ferocious blast of heat, a huge ejection of rock and dust into the upper atmosphere, a darkening of the skies, an all-year-round winter that might have endured for a decade, and then dramatic warming as the air filled with carbon dioxide from blazing forests around the planet.

The researchers report in the journal Science that they see this fateful celestial traffic accident as “an unusually relevant natural experiment to compare to modern climatic and environmental changes.”

The evidence comes from a series of shallow marine marls deposited 65 million years ago in what is now Tunisia: these strata contain fragments of fish, and the phosphate compounds in the hard fragments contain oxygen isotopes that in turn can answer questions about the atmospheric temperatures at the time the ancient fish swam in ancient oceans.

And in this series of sediments is a thin red layer rich in the kind of evidence to be expected from a colossal impact with an interplanetary fireball.

No abrupt cooling

What the scientists did not find was evidence of a sudden, brief dramatic cooling, but they didn’t expect to. But they did find, they say, evidence that “matches expectations for impact-initiated greenhouse warming.”

The impact probably extinguished three fourths of all life on Earth. As so often happens in research, a second, almost simultaneous study in a different publication of a different series of geological sediments – in North Dakota in the US – yielded more details about the Cretaceous calamity.

Plant fossils, pollen and spores, according to a report in the journal Current Biology, confirm indirectly that not only were the world’s forests incinerated during and after the impact, but perhaps all tree-dwelling birds of the time.

Today’s finches, falcons and guinea fowl all seem on separate evidence to have evolved from the ancestors of the kiwi, the ostrich, the cassowary and other ground-dwellers.

Because Earth is a once-only experiment, the only lessons for how climate change happens without human help are to be found in the deep past. But the past is a mysterious and sometimes enigmatic landscape.

Modern speed-up

Climate change happens because of tectonic plate movements, or shifts in planetary orbit, or dramatic losses of oxygen in the oceans, but these changes often happen imperceptibly, over very long periods.

But the change associated with the human expansion and the profligate combustion of fossil fuels – sometimes called the Great Acceleration – in the last 200 years is far, far faster.

Thanks to evidence from the last days of the Cretaceous, though, climate scientists have found an accelerated change even faster than anything humans have yet managed.

So the latest study provides, the scientists say, “a perspective on the response of Earth systems to extremely rapid global perturbations.” So far, that is all it provides: a perspective. There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century. – Climate News Network

Evidence from the dinosaurs’ deaths 65 million years ago might just provide a lesson to learn about the lasting damage now being done by humanity.

LONDON, 5 June, 2018 – US geologists have identified the moment of the dinosaurs’ death in the Earth’s deep past as the time when the climate changed, even faster and more severely than it is changing as a consequence of human action.

That fateful moment occurred on the day around 65 million years ago when a vast comet or asteroid smashed into Earth over what is now Chicxulub in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and brought the Cretaceous era to a close.

The scientists used tiny bits of fish scales, teeth and bones to compose a temperature chart for the last 50,000 years of the Cretaceous, and the first 100,000 years of the Palaeogene, when planet Earth changed forever.

The planetary average temperatures rose around 5°C and stayed perilously hotter for at least another 100,000 years, and in the course of this the last dinosaurs disappeared, as if violently wiped out in one short episode.

There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century

Theorists predict that an impact with something 10kms or so across arriving at a minimum of 20 kms a second would have delivered a ferocious blast of heat, a huge ejection of rock and dust into the upper atmosphere, a darkening of the skies, an all-year-round winter that might have endured for a decade, and then dramatic warming as the air filled with carbon dioxide from blazing forests around the planet.

The researchers report in the journal Science that they see this fateful celestial traffic accident as “an unusually relevant natural experiment to compare to modern climatic and environmental changes.”

The evidence comes from a series of shallow marine marls deposited 65 million years ago in what is now Tunisia: these strata contain fragments of fish, and the phosphate compounds in the hard fragments contain oxygen isotopes that in turn can answer questions about the atmospheric temperatures at the time the ancient fish swam in ancient oceans.

And in this series of sediments is a thin red layer rich in the kind of evidence to be expected from a colossal impact with an interplanetary fireball.

No abrupt cooling

What the scientists did not find was evidence of a sudden, brief dramatic cooling, but they didn’t expect to. But they did find, they say, evidence that “matches expectations for impact-initiated greenhouse warming.”

The impact probably extinguished three fourths of all life on Earth. As so often happens in research, a second, almost simultaneous study in a different publication of a different series of geological sediments – in North Dakota in the US – yielded more details about the Cretaceous calamity.

Plant fossils, pollen and spores, according to a report in the journal Current Biology, confirm indirectly that not only were the world’s forests incinerated during and after the impact, but perhaps all tree-dwelling birds of the time.

Today’s finches, falcons and guinea fowl all seem on separate evidence to have evolved from the ancestors of the kiwi, the ostrich, the cassowary and other ground-dwellers.

Because Earth is a once-only experiment, the only lessons for how climate change happens without human help are to be found in the deep past. But the past is a mysterious and sometimes enigmatic landscape.

Modern speed-up

Climate change happens because of tectonic plate movements, or shifts in planetary orbit, or dramatic losses of oxygen in the oceans, but these changes often happen imperceptibly, over very long periods.

But the change associated with the human expansion and the profligate combustion of fossil fuels – sometimes called the Great Acceleration – in the last 200 years is far, far faster.

Thanks to evidence from the last days of the Cretaceous, though, climate scientists have found an accelerated change even faster than anything humans have yet managed.

So the latest study provides, the scientists say, “a perspective on the response of Earth systems to extremely rapid global perturbations.” So far, that is all it provides: a perspective. There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century. – Climate News Network

Shifts in Earth’s crust link to climate change

Researchers think there may be an ancient link between catastrophic climate change and the forces that build mountains: shifts in the Earth’s crust.

LONDON, 23 May, 2018 – Movements of the Earth’s crust may mean that global warming driven by greenhouse gases from power stations and vehicle exhausts isn’t the only threat to life the world faces.

About 700 million years ago, global temperatures fell so low that glaciers may have reached the equator. Snowball Earth may have all but extinguished life on the planet. But the only life at the time was microbial and dispersed in the oceans.

The planet survived: volcanic eruptions may have darkened the ice and pumped more carbon dioxide and steam into the atmosphere, and the world warmed again.

But, say two Texan scientists, the frozen plane in what geologists call the Neoproterozoic era may have been precipitated at the start by the first dramatic movements in the Earth’s crust or lithosphere, known as plate tectonics. That is, shifts in climate and shifts in the Earth’s crust could be linked.

Unique surface

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently,” said Robert Stern, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

All other rocky planets so far observed are shielded by a single “lid”: one outer sphere of rock that seals any liquid or molten interior. But the Earth’s surface is alive, continuously interacting with the atmosphere and the oceans, and perhaps making life itself possible, as well as precarious.

Professor Stern and Nathan Miller at the University of Texas at Austin report in the journal Terra Nova that there could be at least 22 ways in which the movement of tectonic plates could have delivered a calamitous drop in planetary temperatures, and they propose that until about 700 or 800 million years ago, the planet’s crust was rigid.

Only in the Neoproterozoic did the tectonic plates start moving, to grind into each other, build mountains, set the rocks quivering, ignite eruptions and set up weather systems that accelerated erosion and drew down carbon dioxide into rock carbonates, eventually to trigger a dramatic form of global cooling.

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently”

Research like this is tentative: the authors offer a hypothesis to be challenged, rather than a theory to be confirmed. But research like this is fundamental: to understand the subtleties of the present climate, now inexorably being altered by human action, it is necessary to understand change in the past as well, and to establish the principles that control the planet’s overall climate history.

In the same spirit, other scientists have confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions could in theory make the planet uninhabitable, that the presence of life on Earth means the planet could perhaps never freeze entirely and that the changes already wrought by humanity make another Ice Age less likely.

The Texas study’s most radical proposal is a new date for the commencement of tectonic activity, relatively late in the planet’s history. The idea that Earth was all but covered with ice has been confirmed in various ways. What is new is the suggestion that the movements of the Earth’s surface might have triggered a climate convulsion.

“In the present day, climate is in the news because we’re changing it by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Professor Stern. “But imagine a time when Earth didn’t have plate tectonics, and it then evolved to have plate tectonics – that would have been a major shift in the Earth’s operating system, and it would have had a huge effect on climate, too.” – Climate News Network

Researchers think there may be an ancient link between catastrophic climate change and the forces that build mountains: shifts in the Earth’s crust.

LONDON, 23 May, 2018 – Movements of the Earth’s crust may mean that global warming driven by greenhouse gases from power stations and vehicle exhausts isn’t the only threat to life the world faces.

About 700 million years ago, global temperatures fell so low that glaciers may have reached the equator. Snowball Earth may have all but extinguished life on the planet. But the only life at the time was microbial and dispersed in the oceans.

The planet survived: volcanic eruptions may have darkened the ice and pumped more carbon dioxide and steam into the atmosphere, and the world warmed again.

But, say two Texan scientists, the frozen plane in what geologists call the Neoproterozoic era may have been precipitated at the start by the first dramatic movements in the Earth’s crust or lithosphere, known as plate tectonics. That is, shifts in climate and shifts in the Earth’s crust could be linked.

Unique surface

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently,” said Robert Stern, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

All other rocky planets so far observed are shielded by a single “lid”: one outer sphere of rock that seals any liquid or molten interior. But the Earth’s surface is alive, continuously interacting with the atmosphere and the oceans, and perhaps making life itself possible, as well as precarious.

Professor Stern and Nathan Miller at the University of Texas at Austin report in the journal Terra Nova that there could be at least 22 ways in which the movement of tectonic plates could have delivered a calamitous drop in planetary temperatures, and they propose that until about 700 or 800 million years ago, the planet’s crust was rigid.

Only in the Neoproterozoic did the tectonic plates start moving, to grind into each other, build mountains, set the rocks quivering, ignite eruptions and set up weather systems that accelerated erosion and drew down carbon dioxide into rock carbonates, eventually to trigger a dramatic form of global cooling.

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently”

Research like this is tentative: the authors offer a hypothesis to be challenged, rather than a theory to be confirmed. But research like this is fundamental: to understand the subtleties of the present climate, now inexorably being altered by human action, it is necessary to understand change in the past as well, and to establish the principles that control the planet’s overall climate history.

In the same spirit, other scientists have confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions could in theory make the planet uninhabitable, that the presence of life on Earth means the planet could perhaps never freeze entirely and that the changes already wrought by humanity make another Ice Age less likely.

The Texas study’s most radical proposal is a new date for the commencement of tectonic activity, relatively late in the planet’s history. The idea that Earth was all but covered with ice has been confirmed in various ways. What is new is the suggestion that the movements of the Earth’s surface might have triggered a climate convulsion.

“In the present day, climate is in the news because we’re changing it by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Professor Stern. “But imagine a time when Earth didn’t have plate tectonics, and it then evolved to have plate tectonics – that would have been a major shift in the Earth’s operating system, and it would have had a huge effect on climate, too.” – Climate News Network

Planetary climate influence has age-old effect

There is such a thing as planetary climate influence which changes the Earth over aeons. Now scientists know just how it happens.

LONDON, 14 May, 2018 – There is now firm evidence in the ancient rocks of planetary climate influence – a climate cycle that lasts for 405,000 years. This confirmation of celestial clockwork – the swing in planetary climate happens because the Earth’s orbit is periodically distorted by the combined tug of Venus and Jupiter – has been tracked back through evidence in the rocks for the last 215 million years.

The 405 kiloyear cycle is only one of a series of cycles that change the levels of sunshine received by Earth on its journey around the sun. Researchers have also known about and documented periodic shifts over cycles of 21,000 years, 41,000 years and 100,000 years, all of them also driven by astronomical change. But the 400,000 year-plus pattern of change, they say, is the most predictable, and most regular.

And although these changes have been known to have affected the pattern of the Ice Ages, the latest study pushes the influence of the longest of them back in time to a date even before the emergence of the dinosaurs.

“There are other, shorter orbital cycles, but when you look into the past, it’s very difficult to know which one you’re dealing with at any one time, because they change over time. The beauty of this one is that it stands alone. It doesn’t change. All the other ones move over it,” said Dennis Kent, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Rutgers University, in the US.

“It’s an astonishing result because this long cycle, which had been predicted from planetary motions through about 50 million years ago, has been confirmed through at least 215 million years ago.

”All the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle”

“Scientists can now link changes in the climate, environment, dinosaurs, mammals and fossils around the world to this 405,000 year cycle in a very precise way.”

Such studies are fundamental explorations of the machinery of climate. By understanding how conditions changed in the distant past, researchers can better appreciate the speed and danger of climate change today, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that return to the atmosphere greenhouse gases locked up in the rocks for more than 100 million years.

And the importance of the latest research – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – is that it highlights at least some of the machinery of ancient change and at the same time makes it easier to interpret other evidence in the fossil record.

The planet’s orbit around the sun is an ellipse: sometimes it is almost but not quite a circle, and sometimes the orbit is elongated, which means that the total sunshine that hits the planet changes. This is not the only factor: the planet wobbles on its axis, and its tilt relative to the sun changes over a long cycle as well, and all these things affect climate.

Planetary pull

But the most dramatic change occurs every 400,000 years or so, when the elliptical shape is elongated by as much as 5% as a consequence of the gravitation pull of other planets as they loop around the sun, to points where they can tug at Earth.

And Professor Kent and his colleagues have been able to read evidence of this regular cycle in huge cores of rock drilled from a geological feature in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and rock cores from ancient sediments beneath New York and New Jersey.

The first samples provided the radio-isotopes that geologists use to precisely date rocks. The second confirmed a pattern of wet and dry periods over long cycles of time. And since both sets of rocks contained palaeo-magnetic evidence of the north and south poles’ periodical reversals, researchers were able to calibrate the evidence and arrive at an accurate calendar of changing climate conditions, every 405 millennia.

The study reveals nothing very significant about the effect of long-term astronomical influences on climate change today. Right now Earth’s orbit is near to a circle. In the absence of human interference, Earth should be nearing the end of a long-term warming trend and, according to the astronomical clockwork, should be heading for another Ice Age. Professor Kent is not so sure.

“Could happen. Guess we could wait around and see,” he says. “On the other hand all the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle.” – Climate News Network

There is such a thing as planetary climate influence which changes the Earth over aeons. Now scientists know just how it happens.

LONDON, 14 May, 2018 – There is now firm evidence in the ancient rocks of planetary climate influence – a climate cycle that lasts for 405,000 years. This confirmation of celestial clockwork – the swing in planetary climate happens because the Earth’s orbit is periodically distorted by the combined tug of Venus and Jupiter – has been tracked back through evidence in the rocks for the last 215 million years.

The 405 kiloyear cycle is only one of a series of cycles that change the levels of sunshine received by Earth on its journey around the sun. Researchers have also known about and documented periodic shifts over cycles of 21,000 years, 41,000 years and 100,000 years, all of them also driven by astronomical change. But the 400,000 year-plus pattern of change, they say, is the most predictable, and most regular.

And although these changes have been known to have affected the pattern of the Ice Ages, the latest study pushes the influence of the longest of them back in time to a date even before the emergence of the dinosaurs.

“There are other, shorter orbital cycles, but when you look into the past, it’s very difficult to know which one you’re dealing with at any one time, because they change over time. The beauty of this one is that it stands alone. It doesn’t change. All the other ones move over it,” said Dennis Kent, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Rutgers University, in the US.

“It’s an astonishing result because this long cycle, which had been predicted from planetary motions through about 50 million years ago, has been confirmed through at least 215 million years ago.

”All the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle”

“Scientists can now link changes in the climate, environment, dinosaurs, mammals and fossils around the world to this 405,000 year cycle in a very precise way.”

Such studies are fundamental explorations of the machinery of climate. By understanding how conditions changed in the distant past, researchers can better appreciate the speed and danger of climate change today, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that return to the atmosphere greenhouse gases locked up in the rocks for more than 100 million years.

And the importance of the latest research – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – is that it highlights at least some of the machinery of ancient change and at the same time makes it easier to interpret other evidence in the fossil record.

The planet’s orbit around the sun is an ellipse: sometimes it is almost but not quite a circle, and sometimes the orbit is elongated, which means that the total sunshine that hits the planet changes. This is not the only factor: the planet wobbles on its axis, and its tilt relative to the sun changes over a long cycle as well, and all these things affect climate.

Planetary pull

But the most dramatic change occurs every 400,000 years or so, when the elliptical shape is elongated by as much as 5% as a consequence of the gravitation pull of other planets as they loop around the sun, to points where they can tug at Earth.

And Professor Kent and his colleagues have been able to read evidence of this regular cycle in huge cores of rock drilled from a geological feature in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and rock cores from ancient sediments beneath New York and New Jersey.

The first samples provided the radio-isotopes that geologists use to precisely date rocks. The second confirmed a pattern of wet and dry periods over long cycles of time. And since both sets of rocks contained palaeo-magnetic evidence of the north and south poles’ periodical reversals, researchers were able to calibrate the evidence and arrive at an accurate calendar of changing climate conditions, every 405 millennia.

The study reveals nothing very significant about the effect of long-term astronomical influences on climate change today. Right now Earth’s orbit is near to a circle. In the absence of human interference, Earth should be nearing the end of a long-term warming trend and, according to the astronomical clockwork, should be heading for another Ice Age. Professor Kent is not so sure.

“Could happen. Guess we could wait around and see,” he says. “On the other hand all the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle.” – Climate News Network

Long-lived civilisation may be a dream

Astrobiology, the search for alien life, has a lesson for us here on Earth: our hope for a long-lived civilisation may not be sustainable.

LONDON, 19 April, 2018 – Humanity’s cherished hope that we are building a long-lived civilisation may be nothing more than a pipe-dream. Human endeavour, two scientists argue, may carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.

The two astrophysicists have turned one of the great questions in science into a way of examining the down-to-earth consequences of global warming, the pollution of the oceans with indestructible polymers, and the wholesale destruction of species in the last 300 years.

They put an innocent question: if there had been an advanced technological and industrial civilisation on Earth several hundred million years ago, how could anyone know? What marks would have been left by a race of intelligent reptiles with motorised transport, housing estates, international trade and an arms race?

In what they call the Silurian hypothesis – a reference not to the geological period long before the first creatures crawled from the sea onto the empty continents, but to a 1970 episode of the British television serial Dr Who – they turn to the only testbed available to contemporary Earthlings: the evidence of the Anthropocene, the geologists’ name for a new era that could be considered to have commenced with the Industrial Revolution.

“Burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

If some alien or distant-future civilisation set out to study the Earth’s geological record, what signs would humans have left in the strata?

And almost immediately, their study confronts a paradox. “The longer human civilisation lasts, the larger the signal one would expect in the record. However, the longer a civilisation lasts, the more sustainable its practices would need to have become in order to survive,” they write in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

But the more sustainable a society, the smaller the footprint its agriculture, manufacture or energy generation would have made, and the smaller the signal in the geological record.

So the researchers, Adam Frank from the University of Rochester, New York and Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set out to calculate the future signature of long-vanished human society.

Signs of change

They conclude that the burning of fossil fuels has already changed the carbon cycle in a way that would be recognisable in records of carbon isotopes. Global warming – a consequence of that fossil fuel combustion – would be detectable in the rocks.

Global agriculture would be signalled by increases of erosion and sedimentation rates over time, and plastic pollutants would be detectable for perhaps billions of years. And all-out thermonuclear war – were it to happen – would leave behind some unusual radioactive isotopes.

“As an industrial civilisation, we’re driving changes in the isotopic abundances because we’re burning carbon,” said Professor Frank. “But burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

The latest study is not the only one to contemplate the paradox of a self-destroying civilisation. Last year an Arkansas mathematician considered the silence of the extraterrestrials.

Nothing heard

For 40 years, humans have been listening for the noise of other intelligent civilisations in the galaxy, and have heard nothing. Maybe, he suggested in the same journal, modern humans are typical of technological civilisations, and destroy either their planet, or themselves, almost as soon as they exploit technology.

Perhaps, he suggests, a technological civilisation that lasted for millions of years would not be typical.

The latest study, in essence, pursues the same logic. Human advance for the moment is not sustainable. The people of the Anthropocene have already tipped 12 billion tonnes of indestructible plastics into landfills, and created a technosphere that totals about 30 trillion tonnes. And by 2050, humans will have built another 25 million km of roads.

“You want to have a nice, large-scale civilisation that does wonderful things but that doesn’t push the planet into domains that are dangerous for itself, the civilisation,” said Professor Frank. “We need to figure out a way of producing and using energy that doesn’t put us at risk.” – Climate News Network

Astrobiology, the search for alien life, has a lesson for us here on Earth: our hope for a long-lived civilisation may not be sustainable.

LONDON, 19 April, 2018 – Humanity’s cherished hope that we are building a long-lived civilisation may be nothing more than a pipe-dream. Human endeavour, two scientists argue, may carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.

The two astrophysicists have turned one of the great questions in science into a way of examining the down-to-earth consequences of global warming, the pollution of the oceans with indestructible polymers, and the wholesale destruction of species in the last 300 years.

They put an innocent question: if there had been an advanced technological and industrial civilisation on Earth several hundred million years ago, how could anyone know? What marks would have been left by a race of intelligent reptiles with motorised transport, housing estates, international trade and an arms race?

In what they call the Silurian hypothesis – a reference not to the geological period long before the first creatures crawled from the sea onto the empty continents, but to a 1970 episode of the British television serial Dr Who – they turn to the only testbed available to contemporary Earthlings: the evidence of the Anthropocene, the geologists’ name for a new era that could be considered to have commenced with the Industrial Revolution.

“Burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

If some alien or distant-future civilisation set out to study the Earth’s geological record, what signs would humans have left in the strata?

And almost immediately, their study confronts a paradox. “The longer human civilisation lasts, the larger the signal one would expect in the record. However, the longer a civilisation lasts, the more sustainable its practices would need to have become in order to survive,” they write in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

But the more sustainable a society, the smaller the footprint its agriculture, manufacture or energy generation would have made, and the smaller the signal in the geological record.

So the researchers, Adam Frank from the University of Rochester, New York and Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set out to calculate the future signature of long-vanished human society.

Signs of change

They conclude that the burning of fossil fuels has already changed the carbon cycle in a way that would be recognisable in records of carbon isotopes. Global warming – a consequence of that fossil fuel combustion – would be detectable in the rocks.

Global agriculture would be signalled by increases of erosion and sedimentation rates over time, and plastic pollutants would be detectable for perhaps billions of years. And all-out thermonuclear war – were it to happen – would leave behind some unusual radioactive isotopes.

“As an industrial civilisation, we’re driving changes in the isotopic abundances because we’re burning carbon,” said Professor Frank. “But burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

The latest study is not the only one to contemplate the paradox of a self-destroying civilisation. Last year an Arkansas mathematician considered the silence of the extraterrestrials.

Nothing heard

For 40 years, humans have been listening for the noise of other intelligent civilisations in the galaxy, and have heard nothing. Maybe, he suggested in the same journal, modern humans are typical of technological civilisations, and destroy either their planet, or themselves, almost as soon as they exploit technology.

Perhaps, he suggests, a technological civilisation that lasted for millions of years would not be typical.

The latest study, in essence, pursues the same logic. Human advance for the moment is not sustainable. The people of the Anthropocene have already tipped 12 billion tonnes of indestructible plastics into landfills, and created a technosphere that totals about 30 trillion tonnes. And by 2050, humans will have built another 25 million km of roads.

“You want to have a nice, large-scale civilisation that does wonderful things but that doesn’t push the planet into domains that are dangerous for itself, the civilisation,” said Professor Frank. “We need to figure out a way of producing and using energy that doesn’t put us at risk.” – Climate News Network

Why you haven’t seen us recently – Part Two

Sorry that, yet again, we haven’t been available for a few days. We’ll be back very soon.

LONDON, 30 March, 2018:  For the second time this month we have been unable to post anything for several days. We’re sorry to have vanished without a word: the reason was another technical problem.

The good news is that it is now being fixed, and we should be publishing again as usual from early April. The glitch removed our last three posts: we’re replacing these, complete with new images and revised dates. We’re redoubling our efforts to try to ensure that interruptions like this don’t happen. Thank you for your patience.

The Editors

Sorry that, yet again, we haven’t been available for a few days. We’ll be back very soon.

LONDON, 30 March, 2018:  For the second time this month we have been unable to post anything for several days. We’re sorry to have vanished without a word: the reason was another technical problem.

The good news is that it is now being fixed, and we should be publishing again as usual from early April. The glitch removed our last three posts: we’re replacing these, complete with new images and revised dates. We’re redoubling our efforts to try to ensure that interruptions like this don’t happen. Thank you for your patience.

The Editors

Climate refugees may reach many millions by 2050

Climate refugees, people fleeing climate change’s impacts by moving to new homes, may number over 140 million by 2050, the World Bank reports.

LONDON, 20 March, 2018 – The number of climate refugees – people migrating to escape the effects of the warming climate – could reach many millions in barely 30 years from now, the World Bank says.

The total is a conservative one: it is based on just three regions of the developing world, and considers only people migrating within their own countries, not those seeking a new life abroad.

A World Bank Group report says the worsening impacts of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could mean that by 2050 more than 140 million people had moved within their own countries’ borders, creating a human crisis and threatening development.

But concerted action – including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and robust development planning at country level – could sharply reduce this worst-case scenario, the report says – by as much as 80%, or more than 100 million people.

In another perspective on climate migration, other analysts argue that it can be a valid way of adapting to a warmer future.

Wake-up call

The Bank’s researchers say their report is the first and most comprehensive study of its kind to focus on the link between slow-onset climate change impacts, internal migration patterns, and development in three developing regions.

It defines climate migrants as people forced to move from parts of their countries where life is increasingly unsustainable because of worsening problems like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise and storm surges. They would be additional to the millions of people already moving within their countries for economic, social, political or other reasons.

The World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgieva, says the report is a wake-up call to countries and development institutions. “We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” she said.

“Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends.

“It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable.”

“As a means of survival for us and our animals, we are forced to continuously migrate despite all the risks involved”

The research team was headed by World Bank lead environmental specialist Kanta Kumari Rigaud and included colleagues from the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

They looked at three potential climate and development scenarios, comparing the most “pessimistic” (high greenhouse gas emissions and unequal development paths) with “climate-friendly” and “more inclusive development” scenarios in which climate and national development action increases in line with the challenge.

Across each scenario, they applied demographic, socio-economic and climate impact data at a 14-square kilometre grid-cell level to model probable shifts in population within countries.

This approach identified major “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration – areas from which people are expected to move, and urban, peri-urban and rural areas to which they will try to move.

Crisis not inevitable

“Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” said Dr Rigaud. “We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources.

“But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now.”

But there is an argument that migration is anyway a successful way of adapting to climate change, and that all governments should legalise and regulate temporary climate migration, both within and between countries

Alex Randall, co-ordinator of the UK-based Climate and Migration Coalition, writes in an opinion article on Al-Jazeera:  “Governments should be harnessing, rather than preventing, the use of migration as a climate adaptation strategy.

Prevention no answer

“Governments must begin to understand that allowing this to happen, making it legal and facilitating it, is their best option. The alternative is trying to prevent it and creating a crisis,” he argues.

Randall quotes Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad, who says: “Migration has now become an inevitable method of adaptation for us … As a means of survival for us and our animals, we are forced to continuously migrate despite all the risks involved.”

Randall says: “Governments often fail to understand that people will migrate, even if a safe, legal option doesn’t exist. They have a stark choice ahead of them.

“They can either facilitate safe, legal migration. Or they can attempt to stop people moving and create crises like the one that is currently unfolding along Europe’s southern coastline.” – Climate News Network

Climate refugees, people fleeing climate change’s impacts by moving to new homes, may number over 140 million by 2050, the World Bank reports.

LONDON, 20 March, 2018 – The number of climate refugees – people migrating to escape the effects of the warming climate – could reach many millions in barely 30 years from now, the World Bank says.

The total is a conservative one: it is based on just three regions of the developing world, and considers only people migrating within their own countries, not those seeking a new life abroad.

A World Bank Group report says the worsening impacts of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could mean that by 2050 more than 140 million people had moved within their own countries’ borders, creating a human crisis and threatening development.

But concerted action – including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and robust development planning at country level – could sharply reduce this worst-case scenario, the report says – by as much as 80%, or more than 100 million people.

In another perspective on climate migration, other analysts argue that it can be a valid way of adapting to a warmer future.

Wake-up call

The Bank’s researchers say their report is the first and most comprehensive study of its kind to focus on the link between slow-onset climate change impacts, internal migration patterns, and development in three developing regions.

It defines climate migrants as people forced to move from parts of their countries where life is increasingly unsustainable because of worsening problems like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise and storm surges. They would be additional to the millions of people already moving within their countries for economic, social, political or other reasons.

The World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgieva, says the report is a wake-up call to countries and development institutions. “We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” she said.

“Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends.

“It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable.”

“As a means of survival for us and our animals, we are forced to continuously migrate despite all the risks involved”

The research team was headed by World Bank lead environmental specialist Kanta Kumari Rigaud and included colleagues from the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

They looked at three potential climate and development scenarios, comparing the most “pessimistic” (high greenhouse gas emissions and unequal development paths) with “climate-friendly” and “more inclusive development” scenarios in which climate and national development action increases in line with the challenge.

Across each scenario, they applied demographic, socio-economic and climate impact data at a 14-square kilometre grid-cell level to model probable shifts in population within countries.

This approach identified major “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration – areas from which people are expected to move, and urban, peri-urban and rural areas to which they will try to move.

Crisis not inevitable

“Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” said Dr Rigaud. “We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources.

“But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now.”

But there is an argument that migration is anyway a successful way of adapting to climate change, and that all governments should legalise and regulate temporary climate migration, both within and between countries

Alex Randall, co-ordinator of the UK-based Climate and Migration Coalition, writes in an opinion article on Al-Jazeera:  “Governments should be harnessing, rather than preventing, the use of migration as a climate adaptation strategy.

Prevention no answer

“Governments must begin to understand that allowing this to happen, making it legal and facilitating it, is their best option. The alternative is trying to prevent it and creating a crisis,” he argues.

Randall quotes Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad, who says: “Migration has now become an inevitable method of adaptation for us … As a means of survival for us and our animals, we are forced to continuously migrate despite all the risks involved.”

Randall says: “Governments often fail to understand that people will migrate, even if a safe, legal option doesn’t exist. They have a stark choice ahead of them.

“They can either facilitate safe, legal migration. Or they can attempt to stop people moving and create crises like the one that is currently unfolding along Europe’s southern coastline.” – Climate News Network

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster.

CAPE TOWN, 15 March, 2018 – The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing. – Climate News Network

 

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster.

CAPE TOWN, 15 March, 2018 – The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing. – Climate News Network

 

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

Why you haven’t seen us

Sorry we haven’t been available for a few days. We’ll be back very soon.

LONDON, 9 March, 2018:  We have not been able to post anything for several days. We’re sorry to have vanished without a word: the reason was, again, a technical problem.

The good news is that that has now been fixed, and we should be publishing again as usual from Monday 12 March. We’re working to try to ensure that interruptions like this happen very rarely in future. Thank you for your patience.

The Editors

 

Sorry we haven’t been available for a few days. We’ll be back very soon.

LONDON, 9 March, 2018:  We have not been able to post anything for several days. We’re sorry to have vanished without a word: the reason was, again, a technical problem.

The good news is that that has now been fixed, and we should be publishing again as usual from Monday 12 March. We’re working to try to ensure that interruptions like this happen very rarely in future. Thank you for your patience.

The Editors

 

Global warming hits cricket for six

Cricket, one sport with a devoted following in the United Kingdom, faces a doubtful future as the climate changes.

LONDON, 19 February, 2018 – If you love to play or follow cricket, watch out. Climate change is thundering down the pitch and could seriously affect the way the game is played in the years ahead.

In some parts of the UK the game is already being disrupted by changes in climate. More matches are being postponed or cancelled. Intense rainfall followed by long dry periods is wreaking havoc with pitches. Spectators are drifting away.

“Climate change is becoming a huge factor”, says Dan Cherry, director of operations at Glamorgan cricket club in Wales.

“If we don’t take it seriously, it will fundamentally change the game. It’s simple: the less cricket we play at every level the fewer people will watch it, the less they will come to the ground and pay to enter, the less chance there is for young people to be inspired to take up the game.”

Game Changer, a report by the Climate Coalition group in association with the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds in the north of England, looks at the way climate change is affecting various sports in the UK.

“Of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be hardest hit by climate change”, says the report.

Matches curtailed

“Whether Mumbai, Melbourne, Antigua or Lancashire, cricket is defined almost entirely by climatic conditions – if they change, so does the essence of the game.”

The report says increased rainfall and more extreme weather events are already causing problems for cricket in the UK, with the number of international matches which have had to be abandoned or shortened due to adverse weather conditions doubling over the last five years.

“Wetter winters and more intense summer downpours are disrupting the game at every level”, says the report.

Other sports in the UK are also being affected. Rising sea levels together with more intense sea storms which eat away at coastal land are causing serious problems for some of the UK’s leading golf courses.

Montrose, on Scotland’s east coast, is one of the world’s oldest golf courses. Researchers have found that the shoreline near the course has moved inland by 70 metres over the last 30 years.

“Whether Mumbai, Melbourne, Antigua or Lancashire, cricket is defined almost entirely by climatic conditions – if they change, so does the essence of the game”

“As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go”, says Chris Curnin, director at Montrose.

“Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem, but it’s already eating away at our course.”

Scotland is home to some of the world’s most famous links or coastal golf courses, such as Montrose and St. Andrews, further down the east coast. Changes in climate are making playing conditions ever more difficult.

“Trends associated with climate change are resulting in periods of course closures, even during summer, with disruption seen to some professional tournaments”, says Steve Isaac, director of sustainability at the Royal & Ancient, the governing body for golf outside the US and Mexico.

“We are witnessing different types and timings of disease, pest and weed outbreaks. The future threats are very real, with course managers having to show adaptation if we are to maintain current standards of course condition. It is something we take very seriously.”

Fewer now play

The report also looks at how changes in climate are affecting football in the UK. It says that with more intense thunderstorms pitches become quickly flooded and more senior and junior level matches have to be called off. As a result there is less overall participation in the game.

In late 2016 Sport England said there had been a 180,000 drop in the number of people playing football weekly compared to a decade earlier.

The report says sport is now a US$600 billion global business. Revenues are likely to be severely hit by climate change, and thousands of jobs in the industry are at risk.

The worldwide skiing industry is already feeling the effects of a warming world.

Skiing resorts in Europe and the US are having to increasingly rely on artificial snow. In 2014 the winter Olympics, held in Sochi in Russia, was largely dependent on artificial snow.

The 2022 winter Olympics, to be held near Beijing in China, is likely to be the first ever such event where natural snow will be wholly absent. – Climate News Network

Cricket, one sport with a devoted following in the United Kingdom, faces a doubtful future as the climate changes.

LONDON, 19 February, 2018 – If you love to play or follow cricket, watch out. Climate change is thundering down the pitch and could seriously affect the way the game is played in the years ahead.

In some parts of the UK the game is already being disrupted by changes in climate. More matches are being postponed or cancelled. Intense rainfall followed by long dry periods is wreaking havoc with pitches. Spectators are drifting away.

“Climate change is becoming a huge factor”, says Dan Cherry, director of operations at Glamorgan cricket club in Wales.

“If we don’t take it seriously, it will fundamentally change the game. It’s simple: the less cricket we play at every level the fewer people will watch it, the less they will come to the ground and pay to enter, the less chance there is for young people to be inspired to take up the game.”

Game Changer, a report by the Climate Coalition group in association with the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds in the north of England, looks at the way climate change is affecting various sports in the UK.

“Of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be hardest hit by climate change”, says the report.

Matches curtailed

“Whether Mumbai, Melbourne, Antigua or Lancashire, cricket is defined almost entirely by climatic conditions – if they change, so does the essence of the game.”

The report says increased rainfall and more extreme weather events are already causing problems for cricket in the UK, with the number of international matches which have had to be abandoned or shortened due to adverse weather conditions doubling over the last five years.

“Wetter winters and more intense summer downpours are disrupting the game at every level”, says the report.

Other sports in the UK are also being affected. Rising sea levels together with more intense sea storms which eat away at coastal land are causing serious problems for some of the UK’s leading golf courses.

Montrose, on Scotland’s east coast, is one of the world’s oldest golf courses. Researchers have found that the shoreline near the course has moved inland by 70 metres over the last 30 years.

“Whether Mumbai, Melbourne, Antigua or Lancashire, cricket is defined almost entirely by climatic conditions – if they change, so does the essence of the game”

“As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go”, says Chris Curnin, director at Montrose.

“Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem, but it’s already eating away at our course.”

Scotland is home to some of the world’s most famous links or coastal golf courses, such as Montrose and St. Andrews, further down the east coast. Changes in climate are making playing conditions ever more difficult.

“Trends associated with climate change are resulting in periods of course closures, even during summer, with disruption seen to some professional tournaments”, says Steve Isaac, director of sustainability at the Royal & Ancient, the governing body for golf outside the US and Mexico.

“We are witnessing different types and timings of disease, pest and weed outbreaks. The future threats are very real, with course managers having to show adaptation if we are to maintain current standards of course condition. It is something we take very seriously.”

Fewer now play

The report also looks at how changes in climate are affecting football in the UK. It says that with more intense thunderstorms pitches become quickly flooded and more senior and junior level matches have to be called off. As a result there is less overall participation in the game.

In late 2016 Sport England said there had been a 180,000 drop in the number of people playing football weekly compared to a decade earlier.

The report says sport is now a US$600 billion global business. Revenues are likely to be severely hit by climate change, and thousands of jobs in the industry are at risk.

The worldwide skiing industry is already feeling the effects of a warming world.

Skiing resorts in Europe and the US are having to increasingly rely on artificial snow. In 2014 the winter Olympics, held in Sochi in Russia, was largely dependent on artificial snow.

The 2022 winter Olympics, to be held near Beijing in China, is likely to be the first ever such event where natural snow will be wholly absent. – Climate News Network

Fairer world may mean more modest dreams

To achieve a fairer world, humans must think again about how they manage the only planet at their disposal.

LONDON, 16 February, 2018 – A sustainable planet may not be attainable, and a fairer world may require us to temper our dreams. Justice, equity, sanitation and even clean water may be within the reach of all, but only if many of the planet’s seven billion humans give up the dream of high life satisfaction as well.

To achieve that difficult-to-define state of mind would require the resources of between two and six planet Earths, according to a new study in a new journal that takes the concept of sustainability and applies some planetary arithmetic.

“We examined international relationships between the sustainability of resource use and the achievement of social goals, and found that basic needs, such as nutrition, sanitation, and the elimination of extreme poverty, could most likely be achieved in all countries without exceeding global environmental limits,” said Daniel O’Neill, who directs the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the same is not true for other social goals that go beyond basic subsistence such as secondary education and high life satisfaction. Meeting these goals could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level.”

Sustainability missed

Dr O’Neill and his co-authors report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they matched measurable human needs, biophysical capacities of the planet, and the data made available by 151 nations to arrive at their calculations.

The biophysical or planetary boundaries – climate change, land-use change, freshwater consumption and so on – that have underwritten the last 11,000 years of human civilisation are increasingly well documented. There is widespread agreement on basic nutrition and sanitation and other social objectives that represent average human needs.

The next step was to compare all the available national data and see who was achieving what, and how sustainably.

No nation right now meets the basic needs of its citizens without over-using biophysical resources, they found. Only 40 nations out of 134 could deliver a healthy life expectancy of 65 years; only 37 out of 141 provided improved sanitation for 95% of their citizenry; and in only 68 out of 106 countries did 95% earn more than US$1.90 a day.

Left in the dark

Secondary school education was available to 95% of the population only in 37 out of 117 countries, and out of the 151 countries in the sample, there were only 59 where 95% of the people had access to electricity.

“Although wealthy nations like the US and the UK satisfy the basic needs of their citizens, they do so at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable,” said William Lamb, of the Mercator Research Institute on global commons and climate change in Berlin, and a co-author.

“In contrast, countries that are using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people.”

The Nature Sustainability study quotes, as a basic need, a supply of 2700 kilocalories per person per day. The only way this could be provided for the nine billion people expected by 2050 would require radical change, according to a study in Nature Communications.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of agriculture and an essential resource to ensure human needs in the 21st century, such as food, feed, fibre, clean water and clean air”

Adrian Muller of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture at Frick in Switzerland and colleagues report that total conversion to organic agriculture would mean finding between 16% and 33% more land for farming needs.

To go organic without destroying forest or ploughing up wilderness would require a 50% drop in food wastage. It would also mean that land now used to grow fodder for animals would have to be turned to crops, which in turn means lower meat and dairy production. Animals now provide 38% of dietary protein. In the global organic garden, the supply would drop to 11%.

Dr Muller and his colleagues are not the first to argue that a change in planetary diet and more thoughtful use of land could mean fair shares for all in a much more crowded world.

But organic productivity depends very much on care for the planet’s topsoil, and another study by European scientists in Nature Communications suggests that soil is being washed away at an unprecedented rate.

Swept away

In this century alone – between 2001 and 2012 – an estimated 35.9bn metric tons of soil was displaced each year, mostly washed away by rainfall. Overall, 2.5% of this soil loss has happened as forests have been cleared for agriculture.

The greatest increases in soil loss have been in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. That is, the nations with the least developed economies have experienced the highest rates of soil erosion, according to a team from the University of Basel in Switzerland, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the UK’s Centre for Hydrology and Ecology.

“Healthy soil,” the authors point out, “is the foundation of agriculture and an essential resource to ensure human needs in the 21st century, such as food, feed, fibre, clean water and clean air.”

The good news within the research is that they provide the most detailed inventory yet of soil loss, and their estimate is below earlier projections – one UN calculation put it at 75 billion tons loss each year.

The more troubling news is that China, with the highest population, is also home to the largest and most intensively eroded region, followed by Brazil and the African Equatorial territories.

But, the researchers argue, while agriculture now is part of the problem, with changes in practice, it could also become part of the solution. – Climate News Network

To achieve a fairer world, humans must think again about how they manage the only planet at their disposal.

LONDON, 16 February, 2018 – A sustainable planet may not be attainable, and a fairer world may require us to temper our dreams. Justice, equity, sanitation and even clean water may be within the reach of all, but only if many of the planet’s seven billion humans give up the dream of high life satisfaction as well.

To achieve that difficult-to-define state of mind would require the resources of between two and six planet Earths, according to a new study in a new journal that takes the concept of sustainability and applies some planetary arithmetic.

“We examined international relationships between the sustainability of resource use and the achievement of social goals, and found that basic needs, such as nutrition, sanitation, and the elimination of extreme poverty, could most likely be achieved in all countries without exceeding global environmental limits,” said Daniel O’Neill, who directs the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the same is not true for other social goals that go beyond basic subsistence such as secondary education and high life satisfaction. Meeting these goals could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level.”

Sustainability missed

Dr O’Neill and his co-authors report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they matched measurable human needs, biophysical capacities of the planet, and the data made available by 151 nations to arrive at their calculations.

The biophysical or planetary boundaries – climate change, land-use change, freshwater consumption and so on – that have underwritten the last 11,000 years of human civilisation are increasingly well documented. There is widespread agreement on basic nutrition and sanitation and other social objectives that represent average human needs.

The next step was to compare all the available national data and see who was achieving what, and how sustainably.

No nation right now meets the basic needs of its citizens without over-using biophysical resources, they found. Only 40 nations out of 134 could deliver a healthy life expectancy of 65 years; only 37 out of 141 provided improved sanitation for 95% of their citizenry; and in only 68 out of 106 countries did 95% earn more than US$1.90 a day.

Left in the dark

Secondary school education was available to 95% of the population only in 37 out of 117 countries, and out of the 151 countries in the sample, there were only 59 where 95% of the people had access to electricity.

“Although wealthy nations like the US and the UK satisfy the basic needs of their citizens, they do so at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable,” said William Lamb, of the Mercator Research Institute on global commons and climate change in Berlin, and a co-author.

“In contrast, countries that are using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people.”

The Nature Sustainability study quotes, as a basic need, a supply of 2700 kilocalories per person per day. The only way this could be provided for the nine billion people expected by 2050 would require radical change, according to a study in Nature Communications.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of agriculture and an essential resource to ensure human needs in the 21st century, such as food, feed, fibre, clean water and clean air”

Adrian Muller of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture at Frick in Switzerland and colleagues report that total conversion to organic agriculture would mean finding between 16% and 33% more land for farming needs.

To go organic without destroying forest or ploughing up wilderness would require a 50% drop in food wastage. It would also mean that land now used to grow fodder for animals would have to be turned to crops, which in turn means lower meat and dairy production. Animals now provide 38% of dietary protein. In the global organic garden, the supply would drop to 11%.

Dr Muller and his colleagues are not the first to argue that a change in planetary diet and more thoughtful use of land could mean fair shares for all in a much more crowded world.

But organic productivity depends very much on care for the planet’s topsoil, and another study by European scientists in Nature Communications suggests that soil is being washed away at an unprecedented rate.

Swept away

In this century alone – between 2001 and 2012 – an estimated 35.9bn metric tons of soil was displaced each year, mostly washed away by rainfall. Overall, 2.5% of this soil loss has happened as forests have been cleared for agriculture.

The greatest increases in soil loss have been in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. That is, the nations with the least developed economies have experienced the highest rates of soil erosion, according to a team from the University of Basel in Switzerland, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the UK’s Centre for Hydrology and Ecology.

“Healthy soil,” the authors point out, “is the foundation of agriculture and an essential resource to ensure human needs in the 21st century, such as food, feed, fibre, clean water and clean air.”

The good news within the research is that they provide the most detailed inventory yet of soil loss, and their estimate is below earlier projections – one UN calculation put it at 75 billion tons loss each year.

The more troubling news is that China, with the highest population, is also home to the largest and most intensively eroded region, followed by Brazil and the African Equatorial territories.

But, the researchers argue, while agriculture now is part of the problem, with changes in practice, it could also become part of the solution. – Climate News Network