Tag Archives: Australia

Rare trees saved from Australia’s wildfires

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Buried amid the horrific news from Australia about climate change and out-of-control wildfire was a positive story: the saving of rare trees.

CHICAGO, 5 February, 2020 − An Associated Press story  titled Firefighters in Australia save unique prehistoric trees brought a scarce gleam of hope: “Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildfire bore down… the firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist, and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for two months edged closer.”

This news had particular significance to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the successful protection of this endangered species could hint at things to come − if we play our cards right.

For another, I know the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (though I have not been to that grove of trees − whose exact location has been kept a secret by botanists ever since it was first discovered in 1994.)

I spent four years down-under, first as an American researcher on a Fulbright grant to see what we in the States could learn from looking at the Australian experience, and then as a roving foreign correspondent for science-related US magazines such as International Wildlife, Scientific American, and the journal Science, among others.

My job was to travel over the land down-under, reporting on natural history, the environment, and science in the Great South Land for publications back home in the States − as well as magazines like Australian Geographic.

Easy to miss

Which was how I became acquainted with the Blue Mountains, a lesser-known area about 120 miles west of Sydney. They’re a surprisingly steep, thickly wooded, and easily overlooked mountain chain, much like an Aussie version of our Appalachians. And much like the Appalachians, their deep ravines held up westward exploration and expansion for a long time. But there the parallels end.

Walking in Australia’s Blue Mountains is an unworldly experience. There are no squirrels or chipmunks; instead, parrots occupy that ecological niche. My edition of the Field Guide to the Birds of Australia lists 23 different species of parrots alone.

Just a short list of the formal names of some of the individual species gives an idea of the colorful diversity you can see: Blue-winged, Orange-bellied, Golden-shouldered, Scarlet-chested, Red-rumped, and Turquoise parrots. Not to mention Elegant, Paradise, Superb, and King parrots.

And instead of smelling pine trees, your nose registers the scent of eucalypts. Look up at the stars at night, and there’s not a single familiar constellation; instead you see celestial objects like the Jewel Box Cluster − while hearing the mocking laugh of kookaburras.

Even the food tastes different − in place of pepperoni or sausage, toppings at the Australian Pizza Kitchen in Canberra include emu and kangaroo (I prefer the kangaroo).

“These trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs”

And some of the trees in parts of the Blueys − as they’re called − resemble nothing so much as short stumps with ferns popping out of their sides willy-nilly; everything looks so primeval you half-expect to see escapees from Jurassic Park poking their snouts out.

Indeed, in far-north Queensland I and my parents were to be stalked by a full-grown, adult male cassowary, defending his mate. We took shelter behind a large tropical tree, trying to keep the trunk between us and the approximately 200-pound, 6-foot-tall creature as it circled around.

This pervasive feeling of encounters with the primeval is appropriate. Australia is a very ancient land, which used to be part of what geologists call Gondwana − when most of the world’s landmasses were linked together in the distant past.

But while the other landforms went on to become continents such as South America and Africa, Australia remained a giant island continent, cut off from the rest of the planet. And species that died out elsewhere continued to thrive, and evolve, here.

(Just why species do so well on islands, and why evolution seems to speed up on them, is something that kept Charles Darwin busy. An entire field of island biogeography has sprung up to delve into its mysteries.)

Human rarities

Even now, some parts of Australia are so isolated that the wildlife has seldom seen humans. So far as researchers can tell, no Aborigines, Melanesians, Micronesians, Polynesians, or Caucasians ever settled on Australia’s Lord Howe Island until 1834; consequently, the wildlife never learned to be afraid of humans.

When I went there, you could stand at the foot of Lord Howe’s tallest mountain, call up to the providence petrels nesting as much as a hundred feet above, and watch the birds glide down to land at your feet. If you’re really good, you may be able to touch them, or at least have one land on your outstretched arm.

Due to these vagaries of isolation, ancient and unique species seem to abound in Australia − though they can be easily overlooked. Drive along the highway outside Shark Bay in the state of Western Australia, and you’ll spot weird dark, mushroom-shaped, rock-like structures in the shallows of the hyper-salty water; they’re actually living mats of blue-green algae known as stromatolites − Greek for “layered rock.”

Stromatolites are one of the oldest forms of life that we know of, essentially unchanged since their ancestors flourished 3.5 billion years ago. They were previously known to us only from fossils, until first discovered in this region in the 1980s.

So it’s not entirely surprising that Wollemi Pines should survive in the wild, undetected, a relatively short drive from Sydney for so many years; after all, these trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs − though they now exist in the wild in only one place in the world, with fewer than 100 adult specimens known.

Survivors for sale

What was surprising was that these wild specimens were saved from the wildfires, in a complex operation that involved firefighters being lowered from helicopters into the narrow steep-sided ridges where the trees dwell, along with planes strategically bombing the advancing firefront with fire retardant.

And well in advance of events these past months, authorities had covered their bets by doing all they could to increase the species’ chance of survival. Since 2006, a propagation program has made these trees available to botanical gardens so their numbers could be increased; I’ve subsequently run across Aussies who have grown the plants from seeds in their living rooms. (In Australia, seedlings can even be ordered online,  and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney offer information on Wollemi care, conservation, and research.)

More than that, when it looked like the wildfires were in imminent danger of destroying the only existing stand of these trees in the wild, leaders had the foresight to rely on the recommendations of scientists, firefighters, and other experts as to how to proceed. They then worked out a plan and put it into action − actively dealing with the problem rather than denying it existed.

In short, in the time since the Wollemi Pines were discovered, government agencies, nonprofit organisations, private enterprise and volunteer efforts successfully worked together over decades to protect the trees from extinction.

Which makes one wonder, once again, what we in the States could learn from observing the Australian experience. − Climate News Network

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Buried amid the horrific news from Australia about climate change and out-of-control wildfire was a positive story: the saving of rare trees.

CHICAGO, 5 February, 2020 − An Associated Press story  titled Firefighters in Australia save unique prehistoric trees brought a scarce gleam of hope: “Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildfire bore down… the firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist, and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for two months edged closer.”

This news had particular significance to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the successful protection of this endangered species could hint at things to come − if we play our cards right.

For another, I know the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (though I have not been to that grove of trees − whose exact location has been kept a secret by botanists ever since it was first discovered in 1994.)

I spent four years down-under, first as an American researcher on a Fulbright grant to see what we in the States could learn from looking at the Australian experience, and then as a roving foreign correspondent for science-related US magazines such as International Wildlife, Scientific American, and the journal Science, among others.

My job was to travel over the land down-under, reporting on natural history, the environment, and science in the Great South Land for publications back home in the States − as well as magazines like Australian Geographic.

Easy to miss

Which was how I became acquainted with the Blue Mountains, a lesser-known area about 120 miles west of Sydney. They’re a surprisingly steep, thickly wooded, and easily overlooked mountain chain, much like an Aussie version of our Appalachians. And much like the Appalachians, their deep ravines held up westward exploration and expansion for a long time. But there the parallels end.

Walking in Australia’s Blue Mountains is an unworldly experience. There are no squirrels or chipmunks; instead, parrots occupy that ecological niche. My edition of the Field Guide to the Birds of Australia lists 23 different species of parrots alone.

Just a short list of the formal names of some of the individual species gives an idea of the colorful diversity you can see: Blue-winged, Orange-bellied, Golden-shouldered, Scarlet-chested, Red-rumped, and Turquoise parrots. Not to mention Elegant, Paradise, Superb, and King parrots.

And instead of smelling pine trees, your nose registers the scent of eucalypts. Look up at the stars at night, and there’s not a single familiar constellation; instead you see celestial objects like the Jewel Box Cluster − while hearing the mocking laugh of kookaburras.

Even the food tastes different − in place of pepperoni or sausage, toppings at the Australian Pizza Kitchen in Canberra include emu and kangaroo (I prefer the kangaroo).

“These trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs”

And some of the trees in parts of the Blueys − as they’re called − resemble nothing so much as short stumps with ferns popping out of their sides willy-nilly; everything looks so primeval you half-expect to see escapees from Jurassic Park poking their snouts out.

Indeed, in far-north Queensland I and my parents were to be stalked by a full-grown, adult male cassowary, defending his mate. We took shelter behind a large tropical tree, trying to keep the trunk between us and the approximately 200-pound, 6-foot-tall creature as it circled around.

This pervasive feeling of encounters with the primeval is appropriate. Australia is a very ancient land, which used to be part of what geologists call Gondwana − when most of the world’s landmasses were linked together in the distant past.

But while the other landforms went on to become continents such as South America and Africa, Australia remained a giant island continent, cut off from the rest of the planet. And species that died out elsewhere continued to thrive, and evolve, here.

(Just why species do so well on islands, and why evolution seems to speed up on them, is something that kept Charles Darwin busy. An entire field of island biogeography has sprung up to delve into its mysteries.)

Human rarities

Even now, some parts of Australia are so isolated that the wildlife has seldom seen humans. So far as researchers can tell, no Aborigines, Melanesians, Micronesians, Polynesians, or Caucasians ever settled on Australia’s Lord Howe Island until 1834; consequently, the wildlife never learned to be afraid of humans.

When I went there, you could stand at the foot of Lord Howe’s tallest mountain, call up to the providence petrels nesting as much as a hundred feet above, and watch the birds glide down to land at your feet. If you’re really good, you may be able to touch them, or at least have one land on your outstretched arm.

Due to these vagaries of isolation, ancient and unique species seem to abound in Australia − though they can be easily overlooked. Drive along the highway outside Shark Bay in the state of Western Australia, and you’ll spot weird dark, mushroom-shaped, rock-like structures in the shallows of the hyper-salty water; they’re actually living mats of blue-green algae known as stromatolites − Greek for “layered rock.”

Stromatolites are one of the oldest forms of life that we know of, essentially unchanged since their ancestors flourished 3.5 billion years ago. They were previously known to us only from fossils, until first discovered in this region in the 1980s.

So it’s not entirely surprising that Wollemi Pines should survive in the wild, undetected, a relatively short drive from Sydney for so many years; after all, these trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs − though they now exist in the wild in only one place in the world, with fewer than 100 adult specimens known.

Survivors for sale

What was surprising was that these wild specimens were saved from the wildfires, in a complex operation that involved firefighters being lowered from helicopters into the narrow steep-sided ridges where the trees dwell, along with planes strategically bombing the advancing firefront with fire retardant.

And well in advance of events these past months, authorities had covered their bets by doing all they could to increase the species’ chance of survival. Since 2006, a propagation program has made these trees available to botanical gardens so their numbers could be increased; I’ve subsequently run across Aussies who have grown the plants from seeds in their living rooms. (In Australia, seedlings can even be ordered online,  and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney offer information on Wollemi care, conservation, and research.)

More than that, when it looked like the wildfires were in imminent danger of destroying the only existing stand of these trees in the wild, leaders had the foresight to rely on the recommendations of scientists, firefighters, and other experts as to how to proceed. They then worked out a plan and put it into action − actively dealing with the problem rather than denying it existed.

In short, in the time since the Wollemi Pines were discovered, government agencies, nonprofit organisations, private enterprise and volunteer efforts successfully worked together over decades to protect the trees from extinction.

Which makes one wonder, once again, what we in the States could learn from observing the Australian experience. − Climate News Network

Wildfire risk can be reduced with agroforestry

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

Australia’s sunshine could spare its blazing forests

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Greenhouse gases drive Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Global climate treaty is not working

Three out of four nations have yet to start to honour the global climate treaty. The world waits, the seas go on rising – and greenhouse gases too.

LONDON, 13 November, 2019 – Three nations in every four that vowed in the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end have failed to deliver pledges that will reduce emissions by even 40% by 2030.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations agreed that action was vital. Since then only 36 countries have taken steps to meet the targets they agreed, according to a new study by the Universal Ecological Fund. And one nation has announced that it will withdraw altogether from the agreement.

“The comprehensive examination found that with few exceptions, the pledges of the rich, middle income and poor countries are insufficient to address climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, once chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was present at the Paris meeting, and co-author of the study. “Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late.

“Even if all climate pledges, which are voluntary, are fully implemented, they will cover less than half of what is needed to limit the acceleration of climate change in the next decade.”

“The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future”

What happens now will affect the planetary climate and its ocean systems for much longer than that for at least the next two centuries. Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the impact to come even if all nations were to honour all the pledges made in Paris.

They agree that the global emissions of greenhouse gases since Paris and by 2030 would alone be enough to raise global sea levels by 20 cms: half of that from China, the US, the EU, India and Russia, the top five emitters. But they add a much more ominous long-term warning

“Our results show that what we do today will have a huge effect in 2300. 20 cms is very significant; it is basically as much sea-level rise as we’ve observed over the entire 20th century. To cause that with only 15 years of emissions is quite staggering”, said Alexander Nauels, of Climate Analytics, who led the study.

“The true consequences of our emissions on sea level rise unfold over centuries, due to the slow pace at which the ocean, polar ice sheets and glaciers respond to global warming. The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future.”

And as if to add force to the need for drastic action, a new US and German study has warned that even if nations honour their pledges by 2030, sea levels around the world will go on rising, and stay at higher levels for thousands of years.

Leaking permafrost

As the polar ice retreats, and rising tides batter the shores of the Arctic Ocean, vast volumes of carbon dioxide so far imprisoned  in the permafrost of the polar coasts – 34% of all the world’s coastlines  – could escape to accelerate further warming and of course yet greater sea level rise.

Climate scientists have been wrestling for decades with what they call the carbon budget – the accounting of all the ways in which carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere and out of it again – and missed another potentially dangerous source of the greenhouse gas.

As glaciers retreat and the frozen coasts and soils thaw, this could begin to seep into the atmosphere. Laboratory experiments suggest it will seep even faster as sea levels rise and waves grow more powerful. For every gram, dry weight, of eroded permafrost, more than 4 grams of carbon dioxide would escape into the atmosphere.

“Carbon budgets and climate simulations have so far missed coastal erosion in their equations even though it might be a substantial source of carbon dioxide,” says George Tanski of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author.

“Our research found that the erosion of permafrost coastlines can lead to the rapid release of significant quantities of CO2, which can be expected to increase as coastal erosion accelerates, temperatures increase, sea ice diminishes and stronger storms batter Arctic coasts.”

Early warning

That the Paris Agreement was backed up by pledges that might fail to contain global warning to an ideal target of 1.5°C was clear from the start, and scientists who looked at the promises made at the time warned that unless they were increased, they committed the world to a warming of at least 3°C above the long term average for most of human history.

The latest study from the Universal Ecological Fund now finds that not only are the pledges not enough; some are not being honoured. China and India pledged to reduce the intensity of their emissions relative to gross domestic product, but since their economies continue to grow, so will their emissions.

China already contributes more than 26% of all global emissions, India 7%. The US, which contributes 13% of all greenhouse emissions, is to quit the Paris Agreement in 2020, and has in any case reversed much of its climate legislation. Russia, which contributes 4.6% of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, has submitted no pledges.

Europe’s 28 nations, and seven others, have promised to reduce emissions by 40% by 2040. Of the remaining 152 nations, responsible for more than 36% of all emissions, 127 have submitted conditional plans, but rely upon technical assistance and funding from the wealthy nations to execute these. But the US and Australia have stopped making contributions to such funding.

Almost 70% of emissions are from fossil fuels: successful action would require the closure of 2,400 coal-fired power stations. In fact, 250 new coal-fired power stations are now under construction. The message is that governments are doing too little, too slowly, leaving horrendous future consequences. – Climate News Network

Three out of four nations have yet to start to honour the global climate treaty. The world waits, the seas go on rising – and greenhouse gases too.

LONDON, 13 November, 2019 – Three nations in every four that vowed in the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end have failed to deliver pledges that will reduce emissions by even 40% by 2030.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations agreed that action was vital. Since then only 36 countries have taken steps to meet the targets they agreed, according to a new study by the Universal Ecological Fund. And one nation has announced that it will withdraw altogether from the agreement.

“The comprehensive examination found that with few exceptions, the pledges of the rich, middle income and poor countries are insufficient to address climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, once chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was present at the Paris meeting, and co-author of the study. “Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late.

“Even if all climate pledges, which are voluntary, are fully implemented, they will cover less than half of what is needed to limit the acceleration of climate change in the next decade.”

“The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future”

What happens now will affect the planetary climate and its ocean systems for much longer than that for at least the next two centuries. Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the impact to come even if all nations were to honour all the pledges made in Paris.

They agree that the global emissions of greenhouse gases since Paris and by 2030 would alone be enough to raise global sea levels by 20 cms: half of that from China, the US, the EU, India and Russia, the top five emitters. But they add a much more ominous long-term warning

“Our results show that what we do today will have a huge effect in 2300. 20 cms is very significant; it is basically as much sea-level rise as we’ve observed over the entire 20th century. To cause that with only 15 years of emissions is quite staggering”, said Alexander Nauels, of Climate Analytics, who led the study.

“The true consequences of our emissions on sea level rise unfold over centuries, due to the slow pace at which the ocean, polar ice sheets and glaciers respond to global warming. The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future.”

And as if to add force to the need for drastic action, a new US and German study has warned that even if nations honour their pledges by 2030, sea levels around the world will go on rising, and stay at higher levels for thousands of years.

Leaking permafrost

As the polar ice retreats, and rising tides batter the shores of the Arctic Ocean, vast volumes of carbon dioxide so far imprisoned  in the permafrost of the polar coasts – 34% of all the world’s coastlines  – could escape to accelerate further warming and of course yet greater sea level rise.

Climate scientists have been wrestling for decades with what they call the carbon budget – the accounting of all the ways in which carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere and out of it again – and missed another potentially dangerous source of the greenhouse gas.

As glaciers retreat and the frozen coasts and soils thaw, this could begin to seep into the atmosphere. Laboratory experiments suggest it will seep even faster as sea levels rise and waves grow more powerful. For every gram, dry weight, of eroded permafrost, more than 4 grams of carbon dioxide would escape into the atmosphere.

“Carbon budgets and climate simulations have so far missed coastal erosion in their equations even though it might be a substantial source of carbon dioxide,” says George Tanski of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author.

“Our research found that the erosion of permafrost coastlines can lead to the rapid release of significant quantities of CO2, which can be expected to increase as coastal erosion accelerates, temperatures increase, sea ice diminishes and stronger storms batter Arctic coasts.”

Early warning

That the Paris Agreement was backed up by pledges that might fail to contain global warning to an ideal target of 1.5°C was clear from the start, and scientists who looked at the promises made at the time warned that unless they were increased, they committed the world to a warming of at least 3°C above the long term average for most of human history.

The latest study from the Universal Ecological Fund now finds that not only are the pledges not enough; some are not being honoured. China and India pledged to reduce the intensity of their emissions relative to gross domestic product, but since their economies continue to grow, so will their emissions.

China already contributes more than 26% of all global emissions, India 7%. The US, which contributes 13% of all greenhouse emissions, is to quit the Paris Agreement in 2020, and has in any case reversed much of its climate legislation. Russia, which contributes 4.6% of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, has submitted no pledges.

Europe’s 28 nations, and seven others, have promised to reduce emissions by 40% by 2040. Of the remaining 152 nations, responsible for more than 36% of all emissions, 127 have submitted conditional plans, but rely upon technical assistance and funding from the wealthy nations to execute these. But the US and Australia have stopped making contributions to such funding.

Almost 70% of emissions are from fossil fuels: successful action would require the closure of 2,400 coal-fired power stations. In fact, 250 new coal-fired power stations are now under construction. The message is that governments are doing too little, too slowly, leaving horrendous future consequences. – Climate News Network

Rugby stars are losing their Pacific islands

Whatever happens on the pitches, rugby stars from the Pacific islands face a battle back home to save their ancestral lands from rising sea levels.

LONDON, 1 October, 2019 – Players from the Pacific islands are performing a prominent role in the intense battles at present going on at the rugby world cup in Japan.

Away from the rough and tumble on the pitch, the players are facing an even bigger challenge back home as their island nations come under increasing threat from climate change, in particular from ever-rising sea levels.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of the catastrophic effect rising sea levels – mainly caused by the melting of ice at the poles – will have on billions of people living in coastal areas and in island states around the world.

In the low-lying island nations of the Pacific, climate change is already having an impact. Coastal communities are frequently inundated by rising seas. Salty seawater poisons precious supplies of fresh water.

Crops are lost and homes damaged. Warming seas are killing off coral reefs, a key source of fish and an industry on which many islanders depend for their living.

Exploited

A report by the charity Christian Aid, focusing on the rugby world cup, says that while Pacific island teams Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are playing a central role in the tournament in Japan, they are, at the same time, being exploited and harmed by the actions of bigger and richer nations involved, including Australia, New Zealand and England.

The report points out that Pacific island states are among the lowest emitters of climate-changing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet they are among those suffering most from a warming world.

Samoa emits 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year. The equivalent figure for Australia is 16.5 tonnes and for host Japan is 10.4 tonnes.

Jonny Fa’amatuainu is a former Samoan international who has also played for rugby clubs in England, Wales and Japan.

“As a Pacific Island rugby player, tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart. My grandparents and other families who lived in a village on the coast of Samoa moved inland two years ago because of climate change”, he says.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight”

“The Pacific Islands are the soul of our sport and we have produced some of the most dynamic and exciting players on the planet … climate change is a crisis these countries did not cause yet it’s a fight they are suffering from the most.

“It’s a fight they need the help of the rugby community to win.”

The Christian Aid report says climate change threatens to undermine the Pacific Islands’ economies. Tourists will stop visiting and young people will be forced to leave, with up to 1.7 million likely to move from their homes in the region over the next 30 years.

Cyclone Gita, which devastated many parts of Tonga last year, was the strongest storm to hit the nation since records began. The report says global warming means such storms will be more frequent across the region in the years ahead.

The study also highlights the way in which many Pacific island rugby players are treated, being paid wages only a fraction of those earned by their counterparts in richer countries. The teams are also often excluded from various international tournaments.

Foot-dragging

“Climate change is the ultimate injustice issue and nowhere is that captured more clearly than among the nations taking part in the rugby world cup”, says Katherine Kramer of Christian Aid, the author of the report.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight.

“The main culprits for causing the climate crisis are European nations as well as major coal burners like Australia, the US and Japan.

“Not only have they caused the current dire situation, but they are dragging their feet on making the needed transition to a zero-carbon economy.” – Climate News Network

Whatever happens on the pitches, rugby stars from the Pacific islands face a battle back home to save their ancestral lands from rising sea levels.

LONDON, 1 October, 2019 – Players from the Pacific islands are performing a prominent role in the intense battles at present going on at the rugby world cup in Japan.

Away from the rough and tumble on the pitch, the players are facing an even bigger challenge back home as their island nations come under increasing threat from climate change, in particular from ever-rising sea levels.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of the catastrophic effect rising sea levels – mainly caused by the melting of ice at the poles – will have on billions of people living in coastal areas and in island states around the world.

In the low-lying island nations of the Pacific, climate change is already having an impact. Coastal communities are frequently inundated by rising seas. Salty seawater poisons precious supplies of fresh water.

Crops are lost and homes damaged. Warming seas are killing off coral reefs, a key source of fish and an industry on which many islanders depend for their living.

Exploited

A report by the charity Christian Aid, focusing on the rugby world cup, says that while Pacific island teams Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are playing a central role in the tournament in Japan, they are, at the same time, being exploited and harmed by the actions of bigger and richer nations involved, including Australia, New Zealand and England.

The report points out that Pacific island states are among the lowest emitters of climate-changing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet they are among those suffering most from a warming world.

Samoa emits 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year. The equivalent figure for Australia is 16.5 tonnes and for host Japan is 10.4 tonnes.

Jonny Fa’amatuainu is a former Samoan international who has also played for rugby clubs in England, Wales and Japan.

“As a Pacific Island rugby player, tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart. My grandparents and other families who lived in a village on the coast of Samoa moved inland two years ago because of climate change”, he says.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight”

“The Pacific Islands are the soul of our sport and we have produced some of the most dynamic and exciting players on the planet … climate change is a crisis these countries did not cause yet it’s a fight they are suffering from the most.

“It’s a fight they need the help of the rugby community to win.”

The Christian Aid report says climate change threatens to undermine the Pacific Islands’ economies. Tourists will stop visiting and young people will be forced to leave, with up to 1.7 million likely to move from their homes in the region over the next 30 years.

Cyclone Gita, which devastated many parts of Tonga last year, was the strongest storm to hit the nation since records began. The report says global warming means such storms will be more frequent across the region in the years ahead.

The study also highlights the way in which many Pacific island rugby players are treated, being paid wages only a fraction of those earned by their counterparts in richer countries. The teams are also often excluded from various international tournaments.

Foot-dragging

“Climate change is the ultimate injustice issue and nowhere is that captured more clearly than among the nations taking part in the rugby world cup”, says Katherine Kramer of Christian Aid, the author of the report.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight.

“The main culprits for causing the climate crisis are European nations as well as major coal burners like Australia, the US and Japan.

“Not only have they caused the current dire situation, but they are dragging their feet on making the needed transition to a zero-carbon economy.” – Climate News Network

Very heavy rain bouts are on the way

Here is the long-term forecast. Rain will become more torrential, flash floods more frequent. Very heavy rain is a simple response to global temperatures.

LONDON, 19 June, 2019 – Canadian scientists have examined an exhaustive collection of rain records for the past 50 years to confirm the fears of climate scientists: bouts of very heavy rain are on the increase.

They have measured this increase in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the US Midwest and Northeast, northern Australia, Western Russia and parts of China.

Between 2004 and 2013, worldwide, bouts of extreme rainfall rain increased by 7%. In Europe and Asia, the same decade registered a rise of 8.6% in cascades of heavy rain.

The scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they excluded areas where the records were less than complete, but analysed 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations that monitor rainfall worldwide. They found that from 1964 to 2013, the frequency of catastrophic downpours increased with each decade.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade”

“By introducing a new approach to analysing extremes, using thousands of rain records, we reveal a clear increase in the frequency of extreme rain events over the recent fifty years when global warming accelerated,” said Simon Papalexiou, of the University of Saskatchewan’s college of engineering.

“This upward trend is highly unlikely to be explained by natural climate variability. The probability of this happening is less than 0.3% under the model assumptions used.”

As temperatures rise, evaporation increases. A warmer atmosphere can absorb more moisture: capacity increases by 7% with each extra degree Celsius on the thermometer. Moisture absorbed into the atmosphere will inevitably fall again.

Flash flood threat

The world has warmed by at least 1°C in the last century, thanks to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and hydrologists, engineers and planners have been warning  for years that human settlements and low-lying terrains have a rainfall problem, in the form of flash floods that can overwhelm sewage treatment plants and increase water contamination: rain-induced floods have claimed half a million lives since 1980.

Such floods – and other studies have confirmed their increase – trigger landslides, wash away crops, overwhelm buildings and bridges, flood homes and block road transport.

And they could be expected to increase even more because of the phenomenal growth of the world’s cities, covering more ground with brick, tile, cement and tarmacadam, to reduce the available marsh, forest and grassland that usually absorbs much of any downpour.

Scientists have measured alarming increases in rainfall in urban Australia, linked the catastrophic floods delivered by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 over Houston in Texas to global warming, and warned more and worse is on the way.

Start planning now

“If global warming progresses as climate model projections predict, we had better plan for dealing with frequent heavy rain right now.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade,” Dr Papalexiou said.

“We know that rainfall-induced floods can devastate communities, and that there are implications of increasing bouts of heavy rain for public health, agriculture, farmers’ livelihoods, the fishing industry and insurance, to name but a few.” – Climate News Network

Here is the long-term forecast. Rain will become more torrential, flash floods more frequent. Very heavy rain is a simple response to global temperatures.

LONDON, 19 June, 2019 – Canadian scientists have examined an exhaustive collection of rain records for the past 50 years to confirm the fears of climate scientists: bouts of very heavy rain are on the increase.

They have measured this increase in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the US Midwest and Northeast, northern Australia, Western Russia and parts of China.

Between 2004 and 2013, worldwide, bouts of extreme rainfall rain increased by 7%. In Europe and Asia, the same decade registered a rise of 8.6% in cascades of heavy rain.

The scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they excluded areas where the records were less than complete, but analysed 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations that monitor rainfall worldwide. They found that from 1964 to 2013, the frequency of catastrophic downpours increased with each decade.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade”

“By introducing a new approach to analysing extremes, using thousands of rain records, we reveal a clear increase in the frequency of extreme rain events over the recent fifty years when global warming accelerated,” said Simon Papalexiou, of the University of Saskatchewan’s college of engineering.

“This upward trend is highly unlikely to be explained by natural climate variability. The probability of this happening is less than 0.3% under the model assumptions used.”

As temperatures rise, evaporation increases. A warmer atmosphere can absorb more moisture: capacity increases by 7% with each extra degree Celsius on the thermometer. Moisture absorbed into the atmosphere will inevitably fall again.

Flash flood threat

The world has warmed by at least 1°C in the last century, thanks to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and hydrologists, engineers and planners have been warning  for years that human settlements and low-lying terrains have a rainfall problem, in the form of flash floods that can overwhelm sewage treatment plants and increase water contamination: rain-induced floods have claimed half a million lives since 1980.

Such floods – and other studies have confirmed their increase – trigger landslides, wash away crops, overwhelm buildings and bridges, flood homes and block road transport.

And they could be expected to increase even more because of the phenomenal growth of the world’s cities, covering more ground with brick, tile, cement and tarmacadam, to reduce the available marsh, forest and grassland that usually absorbs much of any downpour.

Scientists have measured alarming increases in rainfall in urban Australia, linked the catastrophic floods delivered by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 over Houston in Texas to global warming, and warned more and worse is on the way.

Start planning now

“If global warming progresses as climate model projections predict, we had better plan for dealing with frequent heavy rain right now.

“Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade,” Dr Papalexiou said.

“We know that rainfall-induced floods can devastate communities, and that there are implications of increasing bouts of heavy rain for public health, agriculture, farmers’ livelihoods, the fishing industry and insurance, to name but a few.” – Climate News Network

Wilderness – saved today, sold tomorrow

While scientists call for more protection for wild things, governments have removed protection from wilderness areas the size of Mexico.

LONDON, 5 June, 2019 – Nature is losing ground even where it is supposedly protected: the wilderness is under increasing pressure.

The world’s protected areas – places of greater safety for the millions of trees, shrubs, flowers, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds that survive from millions of years of evolution – are being downgraded, reduced or developed at an increasing rate.

New research shows that since 1892, the formally protected areas of wilderness have in effect lost 2 million square kilometres. This is an area of land and water greater than the state of Mexico, and only slightly smaller than Saudi Arabia.

Of these losses, almost four-fifths have occurred since the year 2000, and most openly in the US and the region of Amazonia. In the United States alone, 90% of such proposed downsizing and degradation events have been proposed in the past 18 years, and 99% of these have been for industrial scale development.

And a new study in the journal Science warns that decisions by President Trump to “downsize” two national monuments – known as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante – will reduce the protected terrain by 85% and 51% respectively.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk”

In Brazil, the government proposes to “roll back” more than 183,000 square kilometres (45,000 million acres) of protected forest and other habitat. This is an area about the size of the US state of North Dakota.

“We are facing two global environmental crises: biodiversity loss and climate change. To address both, governments have established protected areas with the intent of conserving nature in perpetuity. Yet our research shows that protected areas can be rolled back and are not necessarily permanent,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a social scientist at George Mason University in the US, who led the study.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk.”

The finding – backed by a worldwide team of more than 20 researchers – comes only weeks after scientists warned yet again of the losses of perhaps a million species because of environmental destruction and climate change.

They have repeatedly warned that wildlife needs greater protection and that conservation areas are being lost.

Wilderness offers solutions

And researchers have once again confirmed that wilderness areas remain the best way to protect species while slowing climate change.

Although the US and Brazil have made conspicuous reductions in wildlife protected areas, Brazil was just one of seven Amazonian countries that have “rolled back” 245 state-designated protected areas between 1961 and 2017. Australia removed 13,000 square kilometres from protection and undermined protection for another 400,000 sq km.

The United Kingdom rolled back more than 46,000 sq km in 61 places, all to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Cambodia authorised industrial agriculture in 120 instances covering nearly 10,000 sq km, and Kenya downsized 14,000 square kilometres of forest and game reserve.

Not all changes to protected areas have been necessarily harmful, and not all designated areas in any case offered sustained protection. But, the researchers warn, the rates of protected area loss are accelerating, and more than 60% of such events have been associated with industrial-scale resource extraction.

The researchers argue that it should be as difficult to “roll back” protected areas as it is to establish them in the first place. – Climate News Network

While scientists call for more protection for wild things, governments have removed protection from wilderness areas the size of Mexico.

LONDON, 5 June, 2019 – Nature is losing ground even where it is supposedly protected: the wilderness is under increasing pressure.

The world’s protected areas – places of greater safety for the millions of trees, shrubs, flowers, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds that survive from millions of years of evolution – are being downgraded, reduced or developed at an increasing rate.

New research shows that since 1892, the formally protected areas of wilderness have in effect lost 2 million square kilometres. This is an area of land and water greater than the state of Mexico, and only slightly smaller than Saudi Arabia.

Of these losses, almost four-fifths have occurred since the year 2000, and most openly in the US and the region of Amazonia. In the United States alone, 90% of such proposed downsizing and degradation events have been proposed in the past 18 years, and 99% of these have been for industrial scale development.

And a new study in the journal Science warns that decisions by President Trump to “downsize” two national monuments – known as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante – will reduce the protected terrain by 85% and 51% respectively.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk”

In Brazil, the government proposes to “roll back” more than 183,000 square kilometres (45,000 million acres) of protected forest and other habitat. This is an area about the size of the US state of North Dakota.

“We are facing two global environmental crises: biodiversity loss and climate change. To address both, governments have established protected areas with the intent of conserving nature in perpetuity. Yet our research shows that protected areas can be rolled back and are not necessarily permanent,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a social scientist at George Mason University in the US, who led the study.

“Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk.”

The finding – backed by a worldwide team of more than 20 researchers – comes only weeks after scientists warned yet again of the losses of perhaps a million species because of environmental destruction and climate change.

They have repeatedly warned that wildlife needs greater protection and that conservation areas are being lost.

Wilderness offers solutions

And researchers have once again confirmed that wilderness areas remain the best way to protect species while slowing climate change.

Although the US and Brazil have made conspicuous reductions in wildlife protected areas, Brazil was just one of seven Amazonian countries that have “rolled back” 245 state-designated protected areas between 1961 and 2017. Australia removed 13,000 square kilometres from protection and undermined protection for another 400,000 sq km.

The United Kingdom rolled back more than 46,000 sq km in 61 places, all to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Cambodia authorised industrial agriculture in 120 instances covering nearly 10,000 sq km, and Kenya downsized 14,000 square kilometres of forest and game reserve.

Not all changes to protected areas have been necessarily harmful, and not all designated areas in any case offered sustained protection. But, the researchers warn, the rates of protected area loss are accelerating, and more than 60% of such events have been associated with industrial-scale resource extraction.

The researchers argue that it should be as difficult to “roll back” protected areas as it is to establish them in the first place. – Climate News Network

Human impact on climate is 100 years old

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network