Tag Archives: climate change

Faster glacier melting raises hunger threat

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

Now ticks flee the heat by taking to the mountains

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Human activity alters Earth’s spin on its axis

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it survive

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

Cool homes and hot water are there on the cheap

Would you like cool homes and hot water without paying to power them? They’re already working in the laboratory.

LONDON, 27 April, 2021 − It sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of: fit equipment to provide cool homes and hot water, and then pay nothing in running costs.

US scientists have worked out how to install the equivalent of 10 kilowatts of cooling equipment without even switching on the electricity. It’s simple: paint the place white. Not just any old white, but a new ultrawhite pigment that can reflect back into the sky more than 98% of the sunlight that falls on it.

And another US team has devised a passive cooling system that could be turned into a roofing material able to lower room temperatures by 12°C by day and 14°C at night, while capturing enough solar power to heat household water to about 60°C.

Each innovation is still at the demonstration stage; neither is likely to be commercially available soon. But each is a fresh instance of the resourcefulness and ingenuity at work in the world’s laboratories to address what is soon going to be one of the hottest topics of the planet: potentially lethal extremes of summer heat as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels.

The problem could grow to nightmare proportions. Researchers have warned that in the next fifty years, up to 3bn people could face temperatures now experienced only by those who live in the Sahara desert.

Increased energy appetite

By 2100, some half a billion people could face heat extremes of 56°C − about the hottest recorded anywhere so far − and people in the cities may face even higher hazard levels.

Air-conditioning systems driven by electricity might cool the homes of the well-off, but they also heighten the demand for energy, and will raise the temperature in the streets. And once again, the poorest people in the most crowded cities will be most at risk.

So for years researchers have been examining new and sometimes ancient techniques for passive cooling. Researchers in Indiana have already devised a pigment that could reflect more than 95% of the sunlight that hits it. Now, in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, they report that their latest paint formulation based on barium sulphate particles can deflect up to 98.1% of the light away, while releasing infrared heat as well.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts,” said Xiulan Ruan, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, and one of the authors. “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

And at the University of Buffalo, New York state, electrical engineers have experimented with a passive system that under direct sunlight can not only lower the temperature of the chamber it shields: it can also capture enough solar power to heat water.

“It can retain both the heating and cooling effects in a single system with no electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire”

Right now, they say in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, their mirror-based system is no more than 70cms squared, but it could be scaled up to cover rooftops.

It could not only reduce the need for fossil fuels to generate heat and power cooling systems; it could also one day help those with little or no access to electricity.

The mirrors, based on silver and silicon dioxide, absorb sunlight, and then convert it to heat which is funnelled into an emitter that sends the warmth back into the sky. In outdoor tests it reduced temperatures by 12°C; in the laboratory, it achieved a cooling of more than 14°C.

“Importantly, our system does not simply waste the solar input energy. Instead, the solar energy is absorbed by the solar spectral selective mirrors and it can be used for solar water heating,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, an electrical engineer at Buffalo.

“It can retain both the solar heating and radiative cooling effects in a single system with no need of electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire.” − Climate News Network

Would you like cool homes and hot water without paying to power them? They’re already working in the laboratory.

LONDON, 27 April, 2021 − It sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of: fit equipment to provide cool homes and hot water, and then pay nothing in running costs.

US scientists have worked out how to install the equivalent of 10 kilowatts of cooling equipment without even switching on the electricity. It’s simple: paint the place white. Not just any old white, but a new ultrawhite pigment that can reflect back into the sky more than 98% of the sunlight that falls on it.

And another US team has devised a passive cooling system that could be turned into a roofing material able to lower room temperatures by 12°C by day and 14°C at night, while capturing enough solar power to heat household water to about 60°C.

Each innovation is still at the demonstration stage; neither is likely to be commercially available soon. But each is a fresh instance of the resourcefulness and ingenuity at work in the world’s laboratories to address what is soon going to be one of the hottest topics of the planet: potentially lethal extremes of summer heat as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels.

The problem could grow to nightmare proportions. Researchers have warned that in the next fifty years, up to 3bn people could face temperatures now experienced only by those who live in the Sahara desert.

Increased energy appetite

By 2100, some half a billion people could face heat extremes of 56°C − about the hottest recorded anywhere so far − and people in the cities may face even higher hazard levels.

Air-conditioning systems driven by electricity might cool the homes of the well-off, but they also heighten the demand for energy, and will raise the temperature in the streets. And once again, the poorest people in the most crowded cities will be most at risk.

So for years researchers have been examining new and sometimes ancient techniques for passive cooling. Researchers in Indiana have already devised a pigment that could reflect more than 95% of the sunlight that hits it. Now, in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, they report that their latest paint formulation based on barium sulphate particles can deflect up to 98.1% of the light away, while releasing infrared heat as well.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts,” said Xiulan Ruan, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, and one of the authors. “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

And at the University of Buffalo, New York state, electrical engineers have experimented with a passive system that under direct sunlight can not only lower the temperature of the chamber it shields: it can also capture enough solar power to heat water.

“It can retain both the heating and cooling effects in a single system with no electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire”

Right now, they say in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, their mirror-based system is no more than 70cms squared, but it could be scaled up to cover rooftops.

It could not only reduce the need for fossil fuels to generate heat and power cooling systems; it could also one day help those with little or no access to electricity.

The mirrors, based on silver and silicon dioxide, absorb sunlight, and then convert it to heat which is funnelled into an emitter that sends the warmth back into the sky. In outdoor tests it reduced temperatures by 12°C; in the laboratory, it achieved a cooling of more than 14°C.

“Importantly, our system does not simply waste the solar input energy. Instead, the solar energy is absorbed by the solar spectral selective mirrors and it can be used for solar water heating,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, an electrical engineer at Buffalo.

“It can retain both the solar heating and radiative cooling effects in a single system with no need of electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire.” − Climate News Network

A warmer, drier world’s deeper wells spell trouble

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

UN declares 2021 is ‘year for action’ on climate

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network

Many creatures of the deep face a stifling future

The oceans will go on warming and rising for five centuries. Some creatures of the deep will have less room to breathe.

LONDON, 22 April, 2021 − Even if humans stopped all use of fossil fuels immediately, and drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans would go on warming. And as the waters warmed, their burden of dissolved oxygen would continue to dwindle, stifling many creatures of the deep.

This could continue for another 500 years, at the end of which oxygen loss in the seas would have multiplied fourfold. Since oxygen is vital to almost all complex life on Earth, and since the ocean − covering 70% of the globe and reaching in places to depths of almost 11 kilometres − provides by far the oldest and biggest breathing space for living things, that could commit many creatures to a slow, stifling end, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are soluble in seawater. The colder the water, the greater the capacity for dissolved gases, which ultimately is why polar seas are vastly and massively richer in life than tropical waters. But the latest study of the long-term consequences of carbon dioxide emissions offers a bleak picture for the future.

As the planet has warmed, so have the seas. As the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere has increased, so has the acidity of the ocean. And as the ocean waters have warmed, the levels of dissolved oxygen have fallen.

In the last 50 years, the ocean has on average lost 2% of its dissolved oxygen. That’s an average figure. In some parts of the water column, the loss has been much higher, directly as a consequence of global warming. And this loss will continue until around 2650.

“The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ will become reality for many centuries to come”

Andreas Oschlies of the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel in Germany used a climate model of the Earth system to work out what would happen to the ocean in the long term if all carbon dioxide emissions stopped right now.

He says: “The results show that even in this extreme scenario, the oxygen depletion will continue for centuries, more than quadrupling the oxygen loss we have seen to date in the ocean.”

Most of this loss will be at depths of 2000 metres or more, partly because ocean circulation is becoming more sluggish in response to climate change. So the deepest parts of the ocean could lose more than a tenth of all the oxygen it once held before the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the accelerated use of coal, oil and gas to drive national economies. And that would be bad news for the creatures that swim and replicate at depth: some of them could face a decline of up to 25%.

And if nations could achieve the impossible and halt all emissions now, surface air temperatures would stabilise rapidly. But the oceans would go on absorbing the extra carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Between now and 2650, according to the calculations of Professor Oschlies, the ocean would go on absorbing another 720 billion tonnes of the gas. This is larger than all the CO2 the oceans have taken up till now: an estimated 634 billion tonnes.

Too little air

But the atmospheric heat the oceans will absorb in the next five centuries is likely to be three times the heat already absorbed up till now. This warmth alone − because warm water is less dense than cold water − will mean another 16cms of unavoidable sea level rise. And as the waters warm, the oxygen levels in that water will continue to diminish: by 2650 it will have fallen by 7.4% compared with oxygen levels a century or more ago. And this is more than three times the loss that has already happened.

Those sea creatures that had adapted over a million years to one set of oxygen levels are going to face a problem: there won’t be enough oxygen dissolved in the deep seas to support all of them. Some regions of the ocean will slowly become “dead zones”.

Oceanography is a costly science, and most of the ocean is unexplored: humans have mapped the surface and plundered the coastal waters but have yet to explore the depths in much detail over vast tracts of the planet’s largest living room.

There’s a lot more research to be done, before researchers can be sure of the ways in which human action is about to irrevocably change the submarine world. But the outlook so far is ominous.

Professor Oschlies warns: “The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan of the American Lung Association − ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ − will become reality for many centuries to come.” − Climate News Network

The oceans will go on warming and rising for five centuries. Some creatures of the deep will have less room to breathe.

LONDON, 22 April, 2021 − Even if humans stopped all use of fossil fuels immediately, and drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans would go on warming. And as the waters warmed, their burden of dissolved oxygen would continue to dwindle, stifling many creatures of the deep.

This could continue for another 500 years, at the end of which oxygen loss in the seas would have multiplied fourfold. Since oxygen is vital to almost all complex life on Earth, and since the ocean − covering 70% of the globe and reaching in places to depths of almost 11 kilometres − provides by far the oldest and biggest breathing space for living things, that could commit many creatures to a slow, stifling end, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are soluble in seawater. The colder the water, the greater the capacity for dissolved gases, which ultimately is why polar seas are vastly and massively richer in life than tropical waters. But the latest study of the long-term consequences of carbon dioxide emissions offers a bleak picture for the future.

As the planet has warmed, so have the seas. As the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere has increased, so has the acidity of the ocean. And as the ocean waters have warmed, the levels of dissolved oxygen have fallen.

In the last 50 years, the ocean has on average lost 2% of its dissolved oxygen. That’s an average figure. In some parts of the water column, the loss has been much higher, directly as a consequence of global warming. And this loss will continue until around 2650.

“The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ will become reality for many centuries to come”

Andreas Oschlies of the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel in Germany used a climate model of the Earth system to work out what would happen to the ocean in the long term if all carbon dioxide emissions stopped right now.

He says: “The results show that even in this extreme scenario, the oxygen depletion will continue for centuries, more than quadrupling the oxygen loss we have seen to date in the ocean.”

Most of this loss will be at depths of 2000 metres or more, partly because ocean circulation is becoming more sluggish in response to climate change. So the deepest parts of the ocean could lose more than a tenth of all the oxygen it once held before the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the accelerated use of coal, oil and gas to drive national economies. And that would be bad news for the creatures that swim and replicate at depth: some of them could face a decline of up to 25%.

And if nations could achieve the impossible and halt all emissions now, surface air temperatures would stabilise rapidly. But the oceans would go on absorbing the extra carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Between now and 2650, according to the calculations of Professor Oschlies, the ocean would go on absorbing another 720 billion tonnes of the gas. This is larger than all the CO2 the oceans have taken up till now: an estimated 634 billion tonnes.

Too little air

But the atmospheric heat the oceans will absorb in the next five centuries is likely to be three times the heat already absorbed up till now. This warmth alone − because warm water is less dense than cold water − will mean another 16cms of unavoidable sea level rise. And as the waters warm, the oxygen levels in that water will continue to diminish: by 2650 it will have fallen by 7.4% compared with oxygen levels a century or more ago. And this is more than three times the loss that has already happened.

Those sea creatures that had adapted over a million years to one set of oxygen levels are going to face a problem: there won’t be enough oxygen dissolved in the deep seas to support all of them. Some regions of the ocean will slowly become “dead zones”.

Oceanography is a costly science, and most of the ocean is unexplored: humans have mapped the surface and plundered the coastal waters but have yet to explore the depths in much detail over vast tracts of the planet’s largest living room.

There’s a lot more research to be done, before researchers can be sure of the ways in which human action is about to irrevocably change the submarine world. But the outlook so far is ominous.

Professor Oschlies warns: “The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan of the American Lung Association − ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ − will become reality for many centuries to come.” − Climate News Network

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

Building back better needs radical change − by us

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

The RTA 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” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

The RTA 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” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.