Category Archives: Health

African city heat is set to grow intolerably

Up to a third of urban dwellers could soon face extreme African city heat and humidity. Risks could at worst multiply 50-fold.

LONDON, 11 June, 2019 – An entire continent faces lethal conditions for many of its people: by 2090, one person in three can expect African city heat in the great conurbations severe enough to expose them to potentially deadly temperatures.

That is: the number of days in which the apparent temperature – a notional balance of thermometer-measured heat and maximum humidity – could reach or surpass 40.6°C will increase dramatically, and the days when individuals could be at risk could in some scenarios multiply 50-fold.

The scientists selected this “apparent” temperature of 40.6°C because it is significantly beyond the natural temperature of the human body, which must then be kept cool by perspiration. This is possible in arid climates.

But as humidity goes up – and with each 1°C rise in temperature, the capacity of the air to hold moisture rises by 7% – cooling by perspiration becomes less efficient.

So at this notionally-defined apparent temperature, people who cannot retreat to air-conditioned or cooler, shadier places could die. Heat kills: researchers recently counted 27 ways in which extreme temperatures could claim lives.

“If we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging”

And more, and more intense and prolonged heat waves are on the way, and with them episodes of potentially extreme humidity. By 2100, according to some studies, certain regions of the planet could become dangerous habitat.

European scientists report in the journal Earth’s Future that they considered the hazard for just one, rapidly-growing continent: Africa. They selected 173 cities of more than 300,000 people in 43 nations across a range of climates, from Algiers on the Mediterranean to the burgeoning monsoon cities of the equatorial west coast, such as Lagos and Kinshasa, the drier east African states, and the relatively mild townships of Southern Africa.

They then considered how much cities might grow, by migration or birth-rate increases, and how they might develop. Then they factored in a range of climate scenarios and looked at possible forecasts for the years 2030, 2060 and 2090.

They found that because of population growth, the numbers of days on which people could be at risk – measured in person-days (one person working for one full day) – would in any case increase.

Sharper rise

“In the best case, 20 billion person-days will be affected by 2030, compared with 4.2bn in 2010 – a jump, in other words, of 376%” said Guillaume Rohat, of the University of Geneva, who led the study. “This figure climbs to 45bn in 2060 (up 971%) and reaches 86bn in 2090 (up 1947%).

And that is the best-case scenario. When the researchers factored in the steepest population increases, the most rapid growth of the cities and the worst disturbances in climate, the figures rose more sharply. By 2030, 26 billion, a fivefold increase, could be at risk, 95bn in 2060 and 217 bn in 2090. This is an increase of 4967%, or nearly 50-fold.

The researchers assumed that not everybody in their 173 cities would be exposed to dangerous levels of heat. Were that to happen, the number of person-days could hit 647 billion. But the researchers made a conservative estimate of one in three people who would be exposed to a minimum temperature of 40.6°C.

Research of this kind makes assumptions about how the climate is going to change, and separately about how nations are going to develop, how populations are going to grow and change, and how governments are going to respond to the climate emergency, and the authors recognise the problems.

Conservative conclusions

The sample is biased towards the larger cities. Their calculations don’t include predictions for capital investment. But the researchers say their conclusions are if anything conservative. They do not, for instance, factor in the notorious urban heat island effect that tends to make cities 3°C or more hotter than the surrounding countryside, and therefore even more dangerous.

The good news to emerge from the study is that concerted action, by governments and civic authorities, can reduce the risk. Were nations to stick to an agreement made by 195 of them in Paris in 2015, and keep global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C, the final exposure hazard would be reduced by 48%.

“This proves that if we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging,” said Rohat.

“We can see the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: access to education, a drop in the number of children per woman, developments in the standard of living and so on.” – Climate News Network

Up to a third of urban dwellers could soon face extreme African city heat and humidity. Risks could at worst multiply 50-fold.

LONDON, 11 June, 2019 – An entire continent faces lethal conditions for many of its people: by 2090, one person in three can expect African city heat in the great conurbations severe enough to expose them to potentially deadly temperatures.

That is: the number of days in which the apparent temperature – a notional balance of thermometer-measured heat and maximum humidity – could reach or surpass 40.6°C will increase dramatically, and the days when individuals could be at risk could in some scenarios multiply 50-fold.

The scientists selected this “apparent” temperature of 40.6°C because it is significantly beyond the natural temperature of the human body, which must then be kept cool by perspiration. This is possible in arid climates.

But as humidity goes up – and with each 1°C rise in temperature, the capacity of the air to hold moisture rises by 7% – cooling by perspiration becomes less efficient.

So at this notionally-defined apparent temperature, people who cannot retreat to air-conditioned or cooler, shadier places could die. Heat kills: researchers recently counted 27 ways in which extreme temperatures could claim lives.

“If we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging”

And more, and more intense and prolonged heat waves are on the way, and with them episodes of potentially extreme humidity. By 2100, according to some studies, certain regions of the planet could become dangerous habitat.

European scientists report in the journal Earth’s Future that they considered the hazard for just one, rapidly-growing continent: Africa. They selected 173 cities of more than 300,000 people in 43 nations across a range of climates, from Algiers on the Mediterranean to the burgeoning monsoon cities of the equatorial west coast, such as Lagos and Kinshasa, the drier east African states, and the relatively mild townships of Southern Africa.

They then considered how much cities might grow, by migration or birth-rate increases, and how they might develop. Then they factored in a range of climate scenarios and looked at possible forecasts for the years 2030, 2060 and 2090.

They found that because of population growth, the numbers of days on which people could be at risk – measured in person-days (one person working for one full day) – would in any case increase.

Sharper rise

“In the best case, 20 billion person-days will be affected by 2030, compared with 4.2bn in 2010 – a jump, in other words, of 376%” said Guillaume Rohat, of the University of Geneva, who led the study. “This figure climbs to 45bn in 2060 (up 971%) and reaches 86bn in 2090 (up 1947%).

And that is the best-case scenario. When the researchers factored in the steepest population increases, the most rapid growth of the cities and the worst disturbances in climate, the figures rose more sharply. By 2030, 26 billion, a fivefold increase, could be at risk, 95bn in 2060 and 217 bn in 2090. This is an increase of 4967%, or nearly 50-fold.

The researchers assumed that not everybody in their 173 cities would be exposed to dangerous levels of heat. Were that to happen, the number of person-days could hit 647 billion. But the researchers made a conservative estimate of one in three people who would be exposed to a minimum temperature of 40.6°C.

Research of this kind makes assumptions about how the climate is going to change, and separately about how nations are going to develop, how populations are going to grow and change, and how governments are going to respond to the climate emergency, and the authors recognise the problems.

Conservative conclusions

The sample is biased towards the larger cities. Their calculations don’t include predictions for capital investment. But the researchers say their conclusions are if anything conservative. They do not, for instance, factor in the notorious urban heat island effect that tends to make cities 3°C or more hotter than the surrounding countryside, and therefore even more dangerous.

The good news to emerge from the study is that concerted action, by governments and civic authorities, can reduce the risk. Were nations to stick to an agreement made by 195 of them in Paris in 2015, and keep global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C, the final exposure hazard would be reduced by 48%.

“This proves that if we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging,” said Rohat.

“We can see the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: access to education, a drop in the number of children per woman, developments in the standard of living and so on.” – Climate News Network

Compound heat waves have double impact

And now, a new climate hazard: compound heat waves. US scientists on a double whammy: rising mercury, followed swiftly by more of the same.

LONDON, 3 June, 2019 – Be ready for climate hazard in a new form – the compound heat waves that hit you, leave you, and come back again.

As the world warms, say US scientists, the risk of economically devastating, physically debilitating and potentially lethal extremes of heat will multiply, and in unexpected ways.

Researchers picture a world in which the most vulnerable – those already ill or elderly, housed in substandard buildings in crowded cities – are laid low and gasping by several days of extreme heat. Even if the temperatures drop a little, the buildings in which they live will still “store” heat to intolerable levels.

And then, unexpectedly, the extremes of heat return. Hospitals could be overwhelmed. Electric grids might experience overload. Harvests could wither. And the weakest could dehydrate and die.

“Averaged over time, heat waves are the most deadly type of disaster in the United States, in addition to causing many emergency room visits, lost working hours and lower agricultural yields,” said Jane Baldwin of Princeton University in the US.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated”

“However, if you look at the deadliest heat waves in Europe and the United States, many have more unusual temporal structures with temperature jumping above and below extremely hot levels multiple times.”

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that as the planet warms overall, the number of places where potentially deadly heat waves will hit will inevitably rise.

If humans go on burning fossil fuels at ever-increasing levels, then heat waves usually experienced once a century could return every few years, to become the “new normal.”

By 2100, most people on the planet could be at risk some of the time as heat extremes become more severe, and more frequent.

In some parts of the world, the combination of high humidity and high temperature really could kill after a few hours, and new research has started to assess the probability of potential famine, simply because devastating extremes of heat could endanger crop yields on two continents in the same year.

Gauging probabilities

Heat extremes can kill – the 2010 heat wave in Russia is estimated to have caused around 56,000 extra deaths – and US scientists recently counted 27 ways that sweltering heat can claim lives and devastate families.

The Princeton study, in the journal Earth’s Future, is a preliminary look simply at the probabilities of back-to-back heatwaves. Policymakers, city authorities and medical chiefs need to know what new hazards global heating can bring, and the study is, the scientists say, just a first step.

But it identifies the precise problems that come with severe temperatures, especially for the already vulnerable, even in the world’s richest cities, such as New York.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated for a number of days,” Dr Baldwin said. A swift return of the big heat could multiply the stresses.

And her co-author Michael Oppenheimer said: “We want to know how the effects of compound heat waves will differ from – and amplify – the already severe consequences for human health, infrastructure stability and crop yield that we see from single event heat waves.” – Climate News Network

And now, a new climate hazard: compound heat waves. US scientists on a double whammy: rising mercury, followed swiftly by more of the same.

LONDON, 3 June, 2019 – Be ready for climate hazard in a new form – the compound heat waves that hit you, leave you, and come back again.

As the world warms, say US scientists, the risk of economically devastating, physically debilitating and potentially lethal extremes of heat will multiply, and in unexpected ways.

Researchers picture a world in which the most vulnerable – those already ill or elderly, housed in substandard buildings in crowded cities – are laid low and gasping by several days of extreme heat. Even if the temperatures drop a little, the buildings in which they live will still “store” heat to intolerable levels.

And then, unexpectedly, the extremes of heat return. Hospitals could be overwhelmed. Electric grids might experience overload. Harvests could wither. And the weakest could dehydrate and die.

“Averaged over time, heat waves are the most deadly type of disaster in the United States, in addition to causing many emergency room visits, lost working hours and lower agricultural yields,” said Jane Baldwin of Princeton University in the US.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated”

“However, if you look at the deadliest heat waves in Europe and the United States, many have more unusual temporal structures with temperature jumping above and below extremely hot levels multiple times.”

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that as the planet warms overall, the number of places where potentially deadly heat waves will hit will inevitably rise.

If humans go on burning fossil fuels at ever-increasing levels, then heat waves usually experienced once a century could return every few years, to become the “new normal.”

By 2100, most people on the planet could be at risk some of the time as heat extremes become more severe, and more frequent.

In some parts of the world, the combination of high humidity and high temperature really could kill after a few hours, and new research has started to assess the probability of potential famine, simply because devastating extremes of heat could endanger crop yields on two continents in the same year.

Gauging probabilities

Heat extremes can kill – the 2010 heat wave in Russia is estimated to have caused around 56,000 extra deaths – and US scientists recently counted 27 ways that sweltering heat can claim lives and devastate families.

The Princeton study, in the journal Earth’s Future, is a preliminary look simply at the probabilities of back-to-back heatwaves. Policymakers, city authorities and medical chiefs need to know what new hazards global heating can bring, and the study is, the scientists say, just a first step.

But it identifies the precise problems that come with severe temperatures, especially for the already vulnerable, even in the world’s richest cities, such as New York.

“Surveys of low income housing in places such as Harlem have found that after a heat wave has ended, temperatures indoors can remain elevated for a number of days,” Dr Baldwin said. A swift return of the big heat could multiply the stresses.

And her co-author Michael Oppenheimer said: “We want to know how the effects of compound heat waves will differ from – and amplify – the already severe consequences for human health, infrastructure stability and crop yield that we see from single event heat waves.” – Climate News Network

Trees’ shade can cool cities by 5°C

Urban planners need more than just a leaf from nature’s book. To cool sweltering citizens they should exploit the whole woodland canopy and use the trees’ shade.

LONDON, 11 April, 2019 − Tomorrow’s sweltering cities could be tamed, thanks to their trees’ shade. Leafy figs and magnolias, beeches and birches, planes and chestnuts in the sterile tarmac and cement world of the great modern city could deliver canopies that could bring temperatures down by more than 5°C in the hottest of the heatwave summers.

And researchers now know this, not because they tested it with computer simulations, and not because they interpreted the radiation signal from satellite studies. They know it because one scientist fitted one bicycle with its own tiny weather station and took the temperature every five metres along 10 rides or transects, each along roughly seven kilometres of highly built-up city infrastructure.

To make sure of her readings, Carly Ziter of the University of Wisconsin-Madison repeated each ride between three and 12 times at different times of the day

And the conclusion: the city streets were hot as sunlight slammed down on the hard, impervious surfaces of street, pavement, flyover and square. But where there was green sward or shade from a tree, the temperature dropped.

“The trees we plant now or the areas we pave now are going to be determining the temperatures of our cities in the next century”

In those patches where two or more trees met and two-fifths of the sky was screened by foliage, the temperature dropped by an average of 3.5°C and sometimes − especially where the number of trees and their proximity delivered ever more shade − by up to 5.7°C.

Trees not only deliver shade, they transpire. That is, they exhale water through the stomata in their leaves and provide a second outdoor air-conditioning mechanism. The difference, too, between shade and sunlight temperatures can set up an air flow.

The results, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “suggest strategies for managing urban land-cover patterns to enhance resilience to cities’ warming.” In other words, trees are good things to plant, anywhere, but especially in the concrete jungle.

Once again, this is no surprise. Researchers have been looking at what might be called the green response to urban warming for years, and found that urban tree cover can add as much as $500m to the economies of the great cities.

Urban trees don’t just deliver shade, they can soak up atmospheric carbon in ways that match any rainforest giant, and the simple presence of trees in suburban roads can add appreciably to property values as well as simple amenity.

Hotter cities

And tomorrow’s cities will need help from the trees. More than half of the world’s population is already crammed into cities, and all cities are plagued by what is known as the urban heat island effect: that is, because of lighting, central heating, air conditioning, traffic, tarmac, tiles and slate, metro systems, and light industry, cities can be hotter than the surrounding countryside by 3°C or more.

With global warming so far on track to reach a global average of 3°C higher than at any time in human history by the century’s end – when cities will be even more crowded as population soars – city planners need a low-cost answer to what promises to be the serious and potentially lethal health hazard of ever more intense and prolonged heatwaves.

And not only do trees deliver cool shade: there is even research to suggest that they do better in the warmer cities. The Madison studies offer fine detail to something most city dwellers know intuitively. Cities need green spaces and tree-lined avenues. The next step is to work out how best to use such findings.

“It’s not really enough to just kind of go out and plant trees, we really need to think about how many we are planting and where we’re planting them. We’re not saying planting one tree does nothing, but you’re going to have a bigger effect if you plant a tree and your neighbour plants a tree and their neighbour plants a tree,” Dr Ziter said.

“The trees we plant now or the areas we pave now are going to be determining the temperatures of our cities in the next century.” − Climate News Network

Urban planners need more than just a leaf from nature’s book. To cool sweltering citizens they should exploit the whole woodland canopy and use the trees’ shade.

LONDON, 11 April, 2019 − Tomorrow’s sweltering cities could be tamed, thanks to their trees’ shade. Leafy figs and magnolias, beeches and birches, planes and chestnuts in the sterile tarmac and cement world of the great modern city could deliver canopies that could bring temperatures down by more than 5°C in the hottest of the heatwave summers.

And researchers now know this, not because they tested it with computer simulations, and not because they interpreted the radiation signal from satellite studies. They know it because one scientist fitted one bicycle with its own tiny weather station and took the temperature every five metres along 10 rides or transects, each along roughly seven kilometres of highly built-up city infrastructure.

To make sure of her readings, Carly Ziter of the University of Wisconsin-Madison repeated each ride between three and 12 times at different times of the day

And the conclusion: the city streets were hot as sunlight slammed down on the hard, impervious surfaces of street, pavement, flyover and square. But where there was green sward or shade from a tree, the temperature dropped.

“The trees we plant now or the areas we pave now are going to be determining the temperatures of our cities in the next century”

In those patches where two or more trees met and two-fifths of the sky was screened by foliage, the temperature dropped by an average of 3.5°C and sometimes − especially where the number of trees and their proximity delivered ever more shade − by up to 5.7°C.

Trees not only deliver shade, they transpire. That is, they exhale water through the stomata in their leaves and provide a second outdoor air-conditioning mechanism. The difference, too, between shade and sunlight temperatures can set up an air flow.

The results, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “suggest strategies for managing urban land-cover patterns to enhance resilience to cities’ warming.” In other words, trees are good things to plant, anywhere, but especially in the concrete jungle.

Once again, this is no surprise. Researchers have been looking at what might be called the green response to urban warming for years, and found that urban tree cover can add as much as $500m to the economies of the great cities.

Urban trees don’t just deliver shade, they can soak up atmospheric carbon in ways that match any rainforest giant, and the simple presence of trees in suburban roads can add appreciably to property values as well as simple amenity.

Hotter cities

And tomorrow’s cities will need help from the trees. More than half of the world’s population is already crammed into cities, and all cities are plagued by what is known as the urban heat island effect: that is, because of lighting, central heating, air conditioning, traffic, tarmac, tiles and slate, metro systems, and light industry, cities can be hotter than the surrounding countryside by 3°C or more.

With global warming so far on track to reach a global average of 3°C higher than at any time in human history by the century’s end – when cities will be even more crowded as population soars – city planners need a low-cost answer to what promises to be the serious and potentially lethal health hazard of ever more intense and prolonged heatwaves.

And not only do trees deliver cool shade: there is even research to suggest that they do better in the warmer cities. The Madison studies offer fine detail to something most city dwellers know intuitively. Cities need green spaces and tree-lined avenues. The next step is to work out how best to use such findings.

“It’s not really enough to just kind of go out and plant trees, we really need to think about how many we are planting and where we’re planting them. We’re not saying planting one tree does nothing, but you’re going to have a bigger effect if you plant a tree and your neighbour plants a tree and their neighbour plants a tree,” Dr Ziter said.

“The trees we plant now or the areas we pave now are going to be determining the temperatures of our cities in the next century.” − Climate News Network

Indian voters demand environmental clean-up

A huge exercise in democracy starts on 11 April as 900 million Indian voters turn out, many seeking a cleaner environment.

CHENNAI, 10 April, 2019 − Candidates promising to fight for clean drinking water and a halt to pollution are likely to gain the support of millions of Indian voters.

Environmental issues, particularly clean water and air, traffic congestion and better public transport, are among the top priorities of urban voters as they prepare to vote in the world’s largest general election.

In India it is no longer religion or caste that tops the poll of issues that concern voters, but policies that affect their daily lives, still blighted by some of the worst pollution in the world which is also contributing to climate change and the shortage of clean water.

Although for both rural and urban voters job opportunities and the need to make a living are the number one priority, a whole list of environmental issues are more important than terrorism or strong military defence, both of which appear to be of little concern to the electorate.

With air pollution a major cause of illness and death in both town and country, the voters are also demanding better hospitals and health care centres to help them with breathing difficulties.

The elections start on 11 April, and with 900 million people able to vote it will not be until 23 May that the result is finally declared in 29 states to elect the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, which in turn elects the prime minister for a five-year term. Astonishingly, there will be 84 million new voters, those who have reached the age of 18 since the last general election.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution . . . We won’t let go of her goal’’

In rural areas, where a majority of Indian voters still live, new jobs are still the main priority, but voters’ next five issues involve agriculture, especially the availability of water, and loans and subsidies to help farmers to buy seeds, fertiliser and electricity.

An enormous survey among nearly 300,000 voters conducted by ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms),  a non-government organisation which campaigns for election reforms, has found that Indian voters will opt for candidates who will bring in solutions for basic environmental needs rather than those addressing terrorism.

This trend has encouraged one current Lok Sabha candidate, environmentalist T. Arul Selvam, who says the culture of voting based on the performance of their candidate in battling environmental degradation will improve governance at the ground level.

“The ADR survey shows that there is a positive trend among voters who earlier considered religion and caste as important factors in casting their votes. The drinking water crisis remains unaddressed in scores of villages and urban areas across the country.

“Negligence in preserving water bodies is the origin of the water crisis in this nation. People were fed up with politicians who did not care enough to protect nature, which eventually added problems during calamities like floods and drought,’’ he said.

Smelter opponents shot

Arul Selvam recalled protests held by voluntary groups for more than 100 days in Tamil Nadu, a state in the southern part of India seeking the closure of nuclear power plants and the Sterlite copper smelter, the centre of recent controversy.

“These days people are ready to unite to save nature because their daily survival is becoming tough. People are forced to pay a heavy price for drinking water and food.

“Increasing medical bills for people living in industrial areas are a major cause of concern. These instances have brought a change in voting behaviour among the people’’.

Arul Selvam’s views were echoed when Climate News Network met families who had lost children who were fired on by police during the protest against the smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district.

Thirteen protestors were killed by police in May 2018 when they sought the closure of the copper plant, accusing the owners of degrading land, air and water resources.  Now the families say that their relatives and many in the villages in Thoothukudi, a port city, have decided to vote for a party that promises permanent closure of the plant and action against pollution that has affected them for over two decades.

Permanent closure sought

“My daughter was shot in her throat. We fought against pollution caused by Sterlite. Now the plant has been closed down temporarily. We want to vote for a political party that will ensure permanent closure of this plant and save our town from pollution.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution. She told me many died in our village due to cancer and also suffered severe asthma problems because of pollution. We won’t let go of her goal,’’ says Vanitha, mother of Snowlin, aged 19, who was killed during the shooting.

Some politicians welcome the new priorities of voters in these elections. J. Jayavardhan, India’s youngest member of parliament, elected by the South Chennai constituency, says he is happy to see the survey result with voters “going green.”

“It’s an emerging trend in India among people to go green in their lives and taking small steps for sustainable living. Though this seems to be a small number now, it will grow in a phased manner. Voters considering candidates based on environmental conservation show how pollution has affected their daily lives.

“I am campaigning for cloth bags and waste segregation at source and opened compost plants in my constituency. This has impacted residents here to cut down on usage of plastic bags and to use composting facilities in their neighbourhood.’’ − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Paul Brown wrote this report with our Chennal correspondent.

A huge exercise in democracy starts on 11 April as 900 million Indian voters turn out, many seeking a cleaner environment.

CHENNAI, 10 April, 2019 − Candidates promising to fight for clean drinking water and a halt to pollution are likely to gain the support of millions of Indian voters.

Environmental issues, particularly clean water and air, traffic congestion and better public transport, are among the top priorities of urban voters as they prepare to vote in the world’s largest general election.

In India it is no longer religion or caste that tops the poll of issues that concern voters, but policies that affect their daily lives, still blighted by some of the worst pollution in the world which is also contributing to climate change and the shortage of clean water.

Although for both rural and urban voters job opportunities and the need to make a living are the number one priority, a whole list of environmental issues are more important than terrorism or strong military defence, both of which appear to be of little concern to the electorate.

With air pollution a major cause of illness and death in both town and country, the voters are also demanding better hospitals and health care centres to help them with breathing difficulties.

The elections start on 11 April, and with 900 million people able to vote it will not be until 23 May that the result is finally declared in 29 states to elect the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, which in turn elects the prime minister for a five-year term. Astonishingly, there will be 84 million new voters, those who have reached the age of 18 since the last general election.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution . . . We won’t let go of her goal’’

In rural areas, where a majority of Indian voters still live, new jobs are still the main priority, but voters’ next five issues involve agriculture, especially the availability of water, and loans and subsidies to help farmers to buy seeds, fertiliser and electricity.

An enormous survey among nearly 300,000 voters conducted by ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms),  a non-government organisation which campaigns for election reforms, has found that Indian voters will opt for candidates who will bring in solutions for basic environmental needs rather than those addressing terrorism.

This trend has encouraged one current Lok Sabha candidate, environmentalist T. Arul Selvam, who says the culture of voting based on the performance of their candidate in battling environmental degradation will improve governance at the ground level.

“The ADR survey shows that there is a positive trend among voters who earlier considered religion and caste as important factors in casting their votes. The drinking water crisis remains unaddressed in scores of villages and urban areas across the country.

“Negligence in preserving water bodies is the origin of the water crisis in this nation. People were fed up with politicians who did not care enough to protect nature, which eventually added problems during calamities like floods and drought,’’ he said.

Smelter opponents shot

Arul Selvam recalled protests held by voluntary groups for more than 100 days in Tamil Nadu, a state in the southern part of India seeking the closure of nuclear power plants and the Sterlite copper smelter, the centre of recent controversy.

“These days people are ready to unite to save nature because their daily survival is becoming tough. People are forced to pay a heavy price for drinking water and food.

“Increasing medical bills for people living in industrial areas are a major cause of concern. These instances have brought a change in voting behaviour among the people’’.

Arul Selvam’s views were echoed when Climate News Network met families who had lost children who were fired on by police during the protest against the smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district.

Thirteen protestors were killed by police in May 2018 when they sought the closure of the copper plant, accusing the owners of degrading land, air and water resources.  Now the families say that their relatives and many in the villages in Thoothukudi, a port city, have decided to vote for a party that promises permanent closure of the plant and action against pollution that has affected them for over two decades.

Permanent closure sought

“My daughter was shot in her throat. We fought against pollution caused by Sterlite. Now the plant has been closed down temporarily. We want to vote for a political party that will ensure permanent closure of this plant and save our town from pollution.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution. She told me many died in our village due to cancer and also suffered severe asthma problems because of pollution. We won’t let go of her goal,’’ says Vanitha, mother of Snowlin, aged 19, who was killed during the shooting.

Some politicians welcome the new priorities of voters in these elections. J. Jayavardhan, India’s youngest member of parliament, elected by the South Chennai constituency, says he is happy to see the survey result with voters “going green.”

“It’s an emerging trend in India among people to go green in their lives and taking small steps for sustainable living. Though this seems to be a small number now, it will grow in a phased manner. Voters considering candidates based on environmental conservation show how pollution has affected their daily lives.

“I am campaigning for cloth bags and waste segregation at source and opened compost plants in my constituency. This has impacted residents here to cut down on usage of plastic bags and to use composting facilities in their neighbourhood.’’ − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Paul Brown wrote this report with our Chennal correspondent.

Mosquito risk to health may double by 2100

As the world warms, the horizons also widen for the mosquito risk to health, putting another billion people in jeopardy.

LONDON, 1 April, 2019 − Within 80 years the health of twice as many people as today could face a serious mosquito risk − and not only in the tropics.

One billion people are already in danger of mosquito-borne disease. As the world warms and climates become more hospitable to the insects that transmit dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika and other fearful viruses, that number could double by the end of the century.

And as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus extend their range to the north and the south, and higher up the hill regions, tropical infections that already kill millions will spread into the temperate zones.

“Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security . . .  after the Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015, we’re especially worried about what comes next”

At some point in the next 50 years, according to a study in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, one billion people could become newly exposed not just to dengue and yellow fever, but to emerging diseases such as chikungunya, Zika, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis, all carried by just two species of mosquito.

“Climate change will have a profound effect on the global distribution and burden of infectious diseases,” the authors warn. “Current knowledge suggests that the range of mosquito-borne diseases could expand dramatically in response to climate change.”

As temperatures go up – the planet is already 1°C warmer on average than it has been for most of human history, thanks to profligate use of fossil fuels to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and is on course to hit 3°C warmer by 2100 – so does the scope for disease transmission by insects that flourish in a range of temperatures.

No let-up

Infections could begin to happen year-round in the tropics, and some people could be at risk during the warmer seasons almost everywhere else. Infections, too, could become more intense.

Rising temperatures open up new ranges for carriers of potentially lethal disease, and the latest study takes a closer look at what climate models predict about disease transmission by just two species.

“These diseases, which we think of as strictly tropical, have been showing up already in areas with suitable climates, such as Florida, because humans are very good at moving both bugs and their pathogens around the globe,” said Sadie Ryan, a medical geographer at the University of Florida, who led the study.

Mosquitoes grounded?

And her co-author Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said: “Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security. Mosquitoes are only part of the challenge, but after the Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015, we’re especially worried about what comes next.”

Paradoxically, rising temperatures could be good news for some at-risk populations: both the Anopheles mosquito that carries the malaria parasite and the Aedes that is host to a number of diseases are most dangerous within a range of temperatures: as the thermometer rises, it could become too hot for malaria transmission in some places, or even too hot for mosquitoes.

“This might sound like a good news, bad news situation, but it’s all bad news if we end up in the worst timeline for climate change,” said Dr Carlson. “Any scenario where a region gets too warm to transmit dengue is one where we have different but equally severe threats in other health sectors.” − Climate News Network

As the world warms, the horizons also widen for the mosquito risk to health, putting another billion people in jeopardy.

LONDON, 1 April, 2019 − Within 80 years the health of twice as many people as today could face a serious mosquito risk − and not only in the tropics.

One billion people are already in danger of mosquito-borne disease. As the world warms and climates become more hospitable to the insects that transmit dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika and other fearful viruses, that number could double by the end of the century.

And as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus extend their range to the north and the south, and higher up the hill regions, tropical infections that already kill millions will spread into the temperate zones.

“Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security . . .  after the Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015, we’re especially worried about what comes next”

At some point in the next 50 years, according to a study in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, one billion people could become newly exposed not just to dengue and yellow fever, but to emerging diseases such as chikungunya, Zika, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis, all carried by just two species of mosquito.

“Climate change will have a profound effect on the global distribution and burden of infectious diseases,” the authors warn. “Current knowledge suggests that the range of mosquito-borne diseases could expand dramatically in response to climate change.”

As temperatures go up – the planet is already 1°C warmer on average than it has been for most of human history, thanks to profligate use of fossil fuels to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and is on course to hit 3°C warmer by 2100 – so does the scope for disease transmission by insects that flourish in a range of temperatures.

No let-up

Infections could begin to happen year-round in the tropics, and some people could be at risk during the warmer seasons almost everywhere else. Infections, too, could become more intense.

Rising temperatures open up new ranges for carriers of potentially lethal disease, and the latest study takes a closer look at what climate models predict about disease transmission by just two species.

“These diseases, which we think of as strictly tropical, have been showing up already in areas with suitable climates, such as Florida, because humans are very good at moving both bugs and their pathogens around the globe,” said Sadie Ryan, a medical geographer at the University of Florida, who led the study.

Mosquitoes grounded?

And her co-author Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said: “Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security. Mosquitoes are only part of the challenge, but after the Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015, we’re especially worried about what comes next.”

Paradoxically, rising temperatures could be good news for some at-risk populations: both the Anopheles mosquito that carries the malaria parasite and the Aedes that is host to a number of diseases are most dangerous within a range of temperatures: as the thermometer rises, it could become too hot for malaria transmission in some places, or even too hot for mosquitoes.

“This might sound like a good news, bad news situation, but it’s all bad news if we end up in the worst timeline for climate change,” said Dr Carlson. “Any scenario where a region gets too warm to transmit dengue is one where we have different but equally severe threats in other health sectors.” − Climate News Network

Hunger is growing as the world warms faster

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − Climate News Network

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − Climate News Network

The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global upset

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

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

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

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

Simmering revolution

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

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

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

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

Temporary influence

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global upset

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

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

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

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

Simmering revolution

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

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

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

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

Temporary influence

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Food security at risk as web of life unravels

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Chernobyl’s legacy imperils many thousands

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is the safety factor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsessed with secrecy

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

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

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

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

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

Reports suppressed

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

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

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

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

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

Frightened into silence

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

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

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

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

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

Unsafe for 20,000 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is the safety factor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsessed with secrecy

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

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

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

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

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

Reports suppressed

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

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

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

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

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

Frightened into silence

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

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

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

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

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

Unsafe for 20,000 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing nuclear waste legacy defies disposal

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network