Tag Archives: climate change

Hotter worlds cut humans’ size − and their brains?

In a greenhouse world, humans’ size could shrink. And there is a hint of hazard to thinking capacity as well.

LONDON, 14 July, 2021 − As global temperatures rise, humankind might be about to shrink small − and possibly even think small. New research has once again linked creatures’ stature, including humans’ size, with climate conditions and, less certainly, brain size.

The finding is consistent with a biological proposition called Bergmann’s Rule, although it is more an observation than a rule: that members of a species tend to be bigger in colder climates than in warm ones.

British and German researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they measured 300 fossils of the genus Homo found across the globe and combined their measurements with a reconstruction of the world’s regional climates for the last million years: that is, for each fossil, they were able to pinpoint the place and the temperatures in which it flourished.

And they found that humankind, whether Homo neanderthalensis or the older versions of Homo sapiens, has tended to fluctuate significantly in height and weight over the last million years, and this fluctuation is strongly linked with the temperature. When climates were cold and harsh, body sizes were larger. In warmer regimes, they were smaller.

Over the same period, brain size changed dramatically, but not in step with body size: still, the researchers could see an indirect environmental influence on brain size, possibly linked to the range of nutrients in altered environments.

Shrink for safety

“Our study indicates that climate − particularly temperature − has been the main driver of changes of body size for the past million years,” said Andrea Manica, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Cambridge, and one of the authors.

“We can see from people living today that those in warmer climates tend to be smaller, and those living in colder climates tend to be bigger. We now know that the same climatic influences have been at work for the last million years.”

In colder climates, a larger size means more mass in relation to surface area: that is, in cold weather, large creatures lose body heat more slowly. Conversely, in hot climates, smaller animals can adjust their core temperatures by shedding heat more easily.

The finding is consistent with other studies of change over time in step with temperature. More than eight years ago, US and British scientists suggested that those species that could successfully “dwarf” would be at an advantage in an increasingly hotter world: those humans that survived what could be catastrophic climate change and ever higher temperatures could shrink to the size of J R R Tolkien’s fictional Hobbits.

“Climate − particularly temperature − has been the main driver of changes of body size for the past million years”

It was a warning, not an observation, but since then, as global average temperatures have crept up by little more than 1°C Celsius in the last century, chamois in the Italian Alps have grown on average smaller.

Another team of researchers checked the bulk of North American bison in two regions: those in grazing South Dakota were significantly heavier than their relatives much further south in Oklahoma.The team warned that this finding had costly implications for cattle farmers in an ever-warming world.

Brazilian scientists had already identified what they called “nutritional dwarfism” in north-eastern Brazil, where sustained drought four decades ago left millions in near-starving conditions. A generation of children in the region grew to an average adult height of 1.35 metres.

Diet and food supply are not separable from climatic conditions, so when it comes to brain size, the links are harder to establish. But the fossil measurement data seemed to suggest that brain size was larger when humans lived in ecologically stable areas, or in open steppes and grassland. Such people hunted large animals, which might have fuelled brain growth.

The human brain is a greedy organ: it consumes one-fifth of human energy intake. Quite how and why humans have evolved such big brains is a subject of continuous debate.

Puzzling brains

“We found that different factors determine brain size and body size − they are not under the same evolutionary pressure,” said Manuel Will, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and another author.

“There is an indirect environmental influence on brain size in more stable and open areas: the amount of nutrients gained from the environment had to be sufficient to allow for the maintenance and growth of our large and energy-demanding brains.”

Human body size is still adapting: those in colder climates tend to be on average larger than those in the tropics. Brain size in humans however may have been shrinking since the end of the last Ice Age almost 12,000 years ago.

Why is not known: it might be explained by changes in human culture and social attitude; it might be connected with the invention of learning technologies. A library becomes in effect brainpower outsourced. Greater dependence on computers might drive down brain size even more. But nobody knows.

“It’s fun to speculate about what will happen to body and brain sizes in the future,” said Professor Manica, “but we should be careful not to extrapolate too much based on the last million years, because so many factors can change.” − Climate News Network

In a greenhouse world, humans’ size could shrink. And there is a hint of hazard to thinking capacity as well.

LONDON, 14 July, 2021 − As global temperatures rise, humankind might be about to shrink small − and possibly even think small. New research has once again linked creatures’ stature, including humans’ size, with climate conditions and, less certainly, brain size.

The finding is consistent with a biological proposition called Bergmann’s Rule, although it is more an observation than a rule: that members of a species tend to be bigger in colder climates than in warm ones.

British and German researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they measured 300 fossils of the genus Homo found across the globe and combined their measurements with a reconstruction of the world’s regional climates for the last million years: that is, for each fossil, they were able to pinpoint the place and the temperatures in which it flourished.

And they found that humankind, whether Homo neanderthalensis or the older versions of Homo sapiens, has tended to fluctuate significantly in height and weight over the last million years, and this fluctuation is strongly linked with the temperature. When climates were cold and harsh, body sizes were larger. In warmer regimes, they were smaller.

Over the same period, brain size changed dramatically, but not in step with body size: still, the researchers could see an indirect environmental influence on brain size, possibly linked to the range of nutrients in altered environments.

Shrink for safety

“Our study indicates that climate − particularly temperature − has been the main driver of changes of body size for the past million years,” said Andrea Manica, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Cambridge, and one of the authors.

“We can see from people living today that those in warmer climates tend to be smaller, and those living in colder climates tend to be bigger. We now know that the same climatic influences have been at work for the last million years.”

In colder climates, a larger size means more mass in relation to surface area: that is, in cold weather, large creatures lose body heat more slowly. Conversely, in hot climates, smaller animals can adjust their core temperatures by shedding heat more easily.

The finding is consistent with other studies of change over time in step with temperature. More than eight years ago, US and British scientists suggested that those species that could successfully “dwarf” would be at an advantage in an increasingly hotter world: those humans that survived what could be catastrophic climate change and ever higher temperatures could shrink to the size of J R R Tolkien’s fictional Hobbits.

“Climate − particularly temperature − has been the main driver of changes of body size for the past million years”

It was a warning, not an observation, but since then, as global average temperatures have crept up by little more than 1°C Celsius in the last century, chamois in the Italian Alps have grown on average smaller.

Another team of researchers checked the bulk of North American bison in two regions: those in grazing South Dakota were significantly heavier than their relatives much further south in Oklahoma.The team warned that this finding had costly implications for cattle farmers in an ever-warming world.

Brazilian scientists had already identified what they called “nutritional dwarfism” in north-eastern Brazil, where sustained drought four decades ago left millions in near-starving conditions. A generation of children in the region grew to an average adult height of 1.35 metres.

Diet and food supply are not separable from climatic conditions, so when it comes to brain size, the links are harder to establish. But the fossil measurement data seemed to suggest that brain size was larger when humans lived in ecologically stable areas, or in open steppes and grassland. Such people hunted large animals, which might have fuelled brain growth.

The human brain is a greedy organ: it consumes one-fifth of human energy intake. Quite how and why humans have evolved such big brains is a subject of continuous debate.

Puzzling brains

“We found that different factors determine brain size and body size − they are not under the same evolutionary pressure,” said Manuel Will, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and another author.

“There is an indirect environmental influence on brain size in more stable and open areas: the amount of nutrients gained from the environment had to be sufficient to allow for the maintenance and growth of our large and energy-demanding brains.”

Human body size is still adapting: those in colder climates tend to be on average larger than those in the tropics. Brain size in humans however may have been shrinking since the end of the last Ice Age almost 12,000 years ago.

Why is not known: it might be explained by changes in human culture and social attitude; it might be connected with the invention of learning technologies. A library becomes in effect brainpower outsourced. Greater dependence on computers might drive down brain size even more. But nobody knows.

“It’s fun to speculate about what will happen to body and brain sizes in the future,” said Professor Manica, “but we should be careful not to extrapolate too much based on the last million years, because so many factors can change.” − Climate News Network

Livestock’s harmful climate impact is growing fast

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network

Wind power bids to save the North Sea oil industry

Can the world’s largest floating offshore wind farms help the North Sea oil industry to cut carbon emissions? Should they?

LONDON, 12 July, 2021 – In one sense it is a renewable energy scheme that ticks all the wrong boxes. The idea is to help the North Sea oil industry survive longer by saving oil rigs money.

In another way the development is a great leap forward. Altogether 200 turbines are planned in two offshore wind farms that, without any public subsidy, will produce as much power as three large nuclear power stations.

The floating farms will be able to provide the forest of oil platforms in the North Sea with all the electricity they need, and also to produce surplus energy to supply large amounts of green hydrogen for sale.

The developer, Cerulean Winds, believes the key to the scheme’s success lies in the oil industry’s current need to use expensive gas piped to its platforms to generate the electricity needed to light and power its operations and pump the oil ashore. By selling the industry cheaper wind energy, it judges that it can make a profit without government subsidy, thereby avoiding months of negotiation and red tape.

Hearts and minds

Electricity generated direct from floating turbines near the oil fields would both undercut the current cost of generation and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of the offshore oil industry – something the industry has pledged to do and is desperate to achieve, to avoid not only further public opposition, but also carbon taxes.

The platform operators are committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027, so buying carbon-free electricity would be a significant help.

The project will cost £10 billion (US$13.8bn), and the developers hope to be installing the turbines by 2024-2026, an ambitious timetable for such a huge project compared with the 10-20 years needed to plan and build a nuclear power station.

One farm will be sited in the Central Graben area of the North Sea, almost halfway to Norway, and the second west of Shetland.

“The UK oil and gas industry’s emissions have to be cut significantly to make production greener”

The development will far exceed the UK’s current target of 1GW of floating wind power by 2030. If it is successful it will cut installation costs substantially, paving the way for even bigger projects. Cerulean says it wants to install 14 to 15MW turbines – far larger than anything currently deployed.

One key aspect of the project is its ability to produce more power than the oil platforms will need, with the surplus going to produce green hydrogen (using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen) for which there is a growing market.

Green hydrogen’s problem has been that it is more expensive than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, so-called grey hydrogen, which is carbon-intensive and needs unproven carbon capture and storage technology to make its production acceptable to the environment movement.

The future of what is called the hydrogen economy is still uncertain, but Cerulean predicts it will be able to produce enough green hydrogen to yield export potential worth £1bn.

Race against time

It says speed is essential for the project because its success depends on selling its electricity to the oil industry in time to for that to reach its carbon reduction targets. So it has already submitted proposals to the Scottish Government for seabed leases.

The dubious carrot it is offering the UK and Scottish governments is the prospect that it can help to keep the North Sea oil and gas industry producing fossil fuels for longer. Cerulean believes that if the industry can avoid carbon taxes and penalties for its emissions, it will be able to continue production.

Dan Jackson and Mark Dixon, the founders of the company, are industry veterans. Jackson says the UK has world-leading targets for the energy transition but needs a sense of urgency and “joined-up thinking.”

If oil platforms do not cut their pollution by the mid-2020s, he believes, increased emission penalties through carbon taxes will see many North Sea fields becoming uneconomic and facing shut-down.

Greener production?

“That would seriously compromise the UK oil and gas industry’s role in home-grown energy security,” he says. “It must remain a vital element in the transition journey for decades to come, but emissions have to be cut significantly to make the production greener.”

Cerulean says many of the current 160,000 jobs would be protected by its plan, with potentially 200,000 new roles in the wind and hydrogen industry within five years.

It is, many energy analysts would say, a brave company, perhaps even a foolhardy one. Not only are most climate scientists adamantly opposed to the continued use of fossil fuels. So too, increasingly, is the market. From that perspective, Cerulean’s joined-up thinking may very soon need to stretch a whole lot further. – Climate News Network

Can the world’s largest floating offshore wind farms help the North Sea oil industry to cut carbon emissions? Should they?

LONDON, 12 July, 2021 – In one sense it is a renewable energy scheme that ticks all the wrong boxes. The idea is to help the North Sea oil industry survive longer by saving oil rigs money.

In another way the development is a great leap forward. Altogether 200 turbines are planned in two offshore wind farms that, without any public subsidy, will produce as much power as three large nuclear power stations.

The floating farms will be able to provide the forest of oil platforms in the North Sea with all the electricity they need, and also to produce surplus energy to supply large amounts of green hydrogen for sale.

The developer, Cerulean Winds, believes the key to the scheme’s success lies in the oil industry’s current need to use expensive gas piped to its platforms to generate the electricity needed to light and power its operations and pump the oil ashore. By selling the industry cheaper wind energy, it judges that it can make a profit without government subsidy, thereby avoiding months of negotiation and red tape.

Hearts and minds

Electricity generated direct from floating turbines near the oil fields would both undercut the current cost of generation and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of the offshore oil industry – something the industry has pledged to do and is desperate to achieve, to avoid not only further public opposition, but also carbon taxes.

The platform operators are committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027, so buying carbon-free electricity would be a significant help.

The project will cost £10 billion (US$13.8bn), and the developers hope to be installing the turbines by 2024-2026, an ambitious timetable for such a huge project compared with the 10-20 years needed to plan and build a nuclear power station.

One farm will be sited in the Central Graben area of the North Sea, almost halfway to Norway, and the second west of Shetland.

“The UK oil and gas industry’s emissions have to be cut significantly to make production greener”

The development will far exceed the UK’s current target of 1GW of floating wind power by 2030. If it is successful it will cut installation costs substantially, paving the way for even bigger projects. Cerulean says it wants to install 14 to 15MW turbines – far larger than anything currently deployed.

One key aspect of the project is its ability to produce more power than the oil platforms will need, with the surplus going to produce green hydrogen (using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen) for which there is a growing market.

Green hydrogen’s problem has been that it is more expensive than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, so-called grey hydrogen, which is carbon-intensive and needs unproven carbon capture and storage technology to make its production acceptable to the environment movement.

The future of what is called the hydrogen economy is still uncertain, but Cerulean predicts it will be able to produce enough green hydrogen to yield export potential worth £1bn.

Race against time

It says speed is essential for the project because its success depends on selling its electricity to the oil industry in time to for that to reach its carbon reduction targets. So it has already submitted proposals to the Scottish Government for seabed leases.

The dubious carrot it is offering the UK and Scottish governments is the prospect that it can help to keep the North Sea oil and gas industry producing fossil fuels for longer. Cerulean believes that if the industry can avoid carbon taxes and penalties for its emissions, it will be able to continue production.

Dan Jackson and Mark Dixon, the founders of the company, are industry veterans. Jackson says the UK has world-leading targets for the energy transition but needs a sense of urgency and “joined-up thinking.”

If oil platforms do not cut their pollution by the mid-2020s, he believes, increased emission penalties through carbon taxes will see many North Sea fields becoming uneconomic and facing shut-down.

Greener production?

“That would seriously compromise the UK oil and gas industry’s role in home-grown energy security,” he says. “It must remain a vital element in the transition journey for decades to come, but emissions have to be cut significantly to make the production greener.”

Cerulean says many of the current 160,000 jobs would be protected by its plan, with potentially 200,000 new roles in the wind and hydrogen industry within five years.

It is, many energy analysts would say, a brave company, perhaps even a foolhardy one. Not only are most climate scientists adamantly opposed to the continued use of fossil fuels. So too, increasingly, is the market. From that perspective, Cerulean’s joined-up thinking may very soon need to stretch a whole lot further. – Climate News Network

Extreme heat and cold kill five million every year

Five million people die annually of ever more extreme temperatures. And this is happening now on five continents.

LONDON, 9 July, 2021 − Extremes of hot and cold weather now claim around five million lives a year worldwide. Deaths related to heatwaves have been on the increase this century, and global heating driven by fossil fuel combustion will make things worse, according to new research.

A second study in the same journal warns that, even in Europe, there will be a rapid increase in heat-related mortality − unless mitigation measures are introduced immediately.

In the first study, scientists in China, Australia, the UK and Moldova report in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health that they looked at death statistics and temperature readings from 570 locations in 43 nations on five continents between the years 2000 and 2019, a period when average global temperatures rose by 0.26°C a decade.

They found that 9.43% of global deaths could be attributed to either very hot or very cold temperatures: that means 74 excess deaths for every 100,000 people. During that time, cold-related deaths fell by 0.51%; heat-related deaths increased by 0.21%. Worldwide, they estimate, the statistics translate to 5,083,173 deaths per year.

“The total number of temperature-attributable deaths will stabilise in the coming years, but … this will be followed by a very sharp increase”

The last 20 years have been the hottest since records began. The news comes close upon lethal heat extremes in Canada, and Oregon and Utah,  and other parts of the US southwest.

High temperatures can and do kill: one group counted 27 ways to die of rising temperatures. Nor should such calculations come as a surprise: researchers have repeatedly warned of potentially murderous extremes linked to global heating driven by ever-rising ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

These extremes will last longer, extend over wider regions and reach more intense temperatures in the coming decades.

More than half of all deaths linked to abnormal temperatures were in Asia, but Europe had the highest excess death rates per 100,000 people due to heat exposure.

Mediterranean at risk

A second study in The Lancet Planetary Health confirms the hazard even in a climate zone usually considered temperate. Researchers from Spain, France and Switzerland looked at death and temperature data for 16 European countries between 1998 and 2012, to conclude that more than 7% of all deaths registered during this period could be linked to temperature: extreme cold was 10 times more likely to kill than extreme heat.

But, the scientists warn, by mid-century this trend could be reversed. A disproportionate number of people in the Mediterranean basin could be especially at risk, according to projections based on three different climate scenarios.

“All of the models show a progressive increase in temperatures and, consequently, a decrease in cold-attributable mortality and an increase in heat-attributable deaths,” said Èrica Martínez, of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, who led the research.

“The difference between the scenarios lies in the rate at which heat-related deaths increase. The data suggest that the total number of temperature-attributable deaths will stabilise and even decrease in the coming years, but that this will be followed by a very sharp increase, which could occur some time between the middle and the end of the century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.” − Climate News Network

Five million people die annually of ever more extreme temperatures. And this is happening now on five continents.

LONDON, 9 July, 2021 − Extremes of hot and cold weather now claim around five million lives a year worldwide. Deaths related to heatwaves have been on the increase this century, and global heating driven by fossil fuel combustion will make things worse, according to new research.

A second study in the same journal warns that, even in Europe, there will be a rapid increase in heat-related mortality − unless mitigation measures are introduced immediately.

In the first study, scientists in China, Australia, the UK and Moldova report in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health that they looked at death statistics and temperature readings from 570 locations in 43 nations on five continents between the years 2000 and 2019, a period when average global temperatures rose by 0.26°C a decade.

They found that 9.43% of global deaths could be attributed to either very hot or very cold temperatures: that means 74 excess deaths for every 100,000 people. During that time, cold-related deaths fell by 0.51%; heat-related deaths increased by 0.21%. Worldwide, they estimate, the statistics translate to 5,083,173 deaths per year.

“The total number of temperature-attributable deaths will stabilise in the coming years, but … this will be followed by a very sharp increase”

The last 20 years have been the hottest since records began. The news comes close upon lethal heat extremes in Canada, and Oregon and Utah,  and other parts of the US southwest.

High temperatures can and do kill: one group counted 27 ways to die of rising temperatures. Nor should such calculations come as a surprise: researchers have repeatedly warned of potentially murderous extremes linked to global heating driven by ever-rising ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

These extremes will last longer, extend over wider regions and reach more intense temperatures in the coming decades.

More than half of all deaths linked to abnormal temperatures were in Asia, but Europe had the highest excess death rates per 100,000 people due to heat exposure.

Mediterranean at risk

A second study in The Lancet Planetary Health confirms the hazard even in a climate zone usually considered temperate. Researchers from Spain, France and Switzerland looked at death and temperature data for 16 European countries between 1998 and 2012, to conclude that more than 7% of all deaths registered during this period could be linked to temperature: extreme cold was 10 times more likely to kill than extreme heat.

But, the scientists warn, by mid-century this trend could be reversed. A disproportionate number of people in the Mediterranean basin could be especially at risk, according to projections based on three different climate scenarios.

“All of the models show a progressive increase in temperatures and, consequently, a decrease in cold-attributable mortality and an increase in heat-attributable deaths,” said Èrica Martínez, of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, who led the research.

“The difference between the scenarios lies in the rate at which heat-related deaths increase. The data suggest that the total number of temperature-attributable deaths will stabilise and even decrease in the coming years, but that this will be followed by a very sharp increase, which could occur some time between the middle and the end of the century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.” − Climate News Network

Waste plastic deluge could soon prove irreversible

The waste plastic deluge fouling the world’s beaches could be more than just an eyesore. It could be a toxic timebomb.

LONDON, 8 July, 2021 − European researchers have warned that the wave of pollution engulfing the globe could be nearing a tipping point. The waste plastic deluge could become an irreversible crisis.

Somewhere between 9 and 23 million tonnes of polymers get into the rivers, lakes and seas of the world every year. Even more may be getting into the terrestrial soils and by 2025 − unless the world changes its ways − these levels of pollution will have doubled.

And, the researchers warn, the uncertain and as yet unknown effects of weathering on such volumes of plastic could bring what has been called “a global toxicity debt” as drinking bottles, bits of fishing gear, coffee cups and carrier bags become covered with microbial life; as plastic particles foul the sea’s surface, become suspended in the water column, and build up in the sediments of the ocean.

Plastic waste has now been found everywhere: on the world’s highest mountains, in the deepest oceanic trenches, on the beaches of desolate islands in the Southern Ocean, in the Arctic ice, and in the tissues of living creatures, from seabirds to whales.

Worsening climate crisis

“Right now we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution. So far we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it,” said Matthew Macleod of Stockholm University in Sweden.

“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous. The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment.”

Professor Macleod and colleagues warn in the journal Science that alongside threats to wildlife, and the potential hazard of environmental poisoning, there could be a number of other hypothetical consequences.

Plastic pollutants could exacerbate climate change by disrupting the traffic of carbon between the natural world and the atmosphere, and they could heighten biodiversity loss in the already over-fished oceans.

Researchers do not yet know of the long-term non-toxicological effects of plastic pollution on carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and sediment fertility, and biodiversity. Nor has there been any assessment of the potential for delayed toxic effects as the plastic polymers are altered by weathering.

“The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment”

And if there are such effects, then they could persist, to trigger what the scientists call a “tipping point”, long after people have stopped discarding plastic waste into the environment.

“The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe that when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled,” said Mine Tekman, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and a co-author.

“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning the export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”

And her colleague Annika Jahnke of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany warned: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups, and weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro- and nano-plastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals that were intentionally added to the plastic and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.

“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.” − Climate News Network

The waste plastic deluge fouling the world’s beaches could be more than just an eyesore. It could be a toxic timebomb.

LONDON, 8 July, 2021 − European researchers have warned that the wave of pollution engulfing the globe could be nearing a tipping point. The waste plastic deluge could become an irreversible crisis.

Somewhere between 9 and 23 million tonnes of polymers get into the rivers, lakes and seas of the world every year. Even more may be getting into the terrestrial soils and by 2025 − unless the world changes its ways − these levels of pollution will have doubled.

And, the researchers warn, the uncertain and as yet unknown effects of weathering on such volumes of plastic could bring what has been called “a global toxicity debt” as drinking bottles, bits of fishing gear, coffee cups and carrier bags become covered with microbial life; as plastic particles foul the sea’s surface, become suspended in the water column, and build up in the sediments of the ocean.

Plastic waste has now been found everywhere: on the world’s highest mountains, in the deepest oceanic trenches, on the beaches of desolate islands in the Southern Ocean, in the Arctic ice, and in the tissues of living creatures, from seabirds to whales.

Worsening climate crisis

“Right now we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution. So far we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it,” said Matthew Macleod of Stockholm University in Sweden.

“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous. The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment.”

Professor Macleod and colleagues warn in the journal Science that alongside threats to wildlife, and the potential hazard of environmental poisoning, there could be a number of other hypothetical consequences.

Plastic pollutants could exacerbate climate change by disrupting the traffic of carbon between the natural world and the atmosphere, and they could heighten biodiversity loss in the already over-fished oceans.

Researchers do not yet know of the long-term non-toxicological effects of plastic pollution on carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and sediment fertility, and biodiversity. Nor has there been any assessment of the potential for delayed toxic effects as the plastic polymers are altered by weathering.

“The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment”

And if there are such effects, then they could persist, to trigger what the scientists call a “tipping point”, long after people have stopped discarding plastic waste into the environment.

“The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe that when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled,” said Mine Tekman, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and a co-author.

“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning the export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”

And her colleague Annika Jahnke of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany warned: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups, and weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro- and nano-plastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals that were intentionally added to the plastic and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.

“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.” − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide will dry world’s rainforests

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

Arctic’s coldest sea ice is vulnerable to melting

Every year an ice floe as big as Austria simply vanishes. That’s climate change, as the Arctic’s coldest sea ice risks melting.

LONDON, 6 July, 2021 − The frozen world is dwindling fast. New research suggests that the cryosphere − the area of the planet covered by snow and ice − is dwindling by around 87,000 square kilometres every year. This is an area bigger than Austria, almost as big as Hungary, or Jordan. Even the Arctic’s coldest sea ice is threatened.

A second, separate study warns that what glacier scientists call the Last Ice Refuge − the tract of Arctic Ocean that will stay frozen when the rest of it becomes open water during some summers in the next decades − is itself at risk: the coldest and most secure reaches of sea ice just north of Greenland and Canada could be vulnerable to summer melt.

That the polar regions and the high-altitude frozen rivers and lakes are at risk is not news: climate scientists have been warning for decades of accelerating melt in Antarctica, ever-higher losses of ice mass from Greenland, and a loss of northern polar sea ice so comprehensive that by 2050, much of the Arctic Ocean could be clear blue water most summers.

The cryosphere matters: it is a reservoir of two-thirds of the planet’s fresh water. Its gleaming white surface acts as planetary insulation: most of the sunlight that falls upon it is reflected back into space. As the ice thins and retreats, the exposed darker ocean below it warms up, to accelerate global heating and trigger yet more ice loss.

“In years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect”

Scientists from Lanzhou University in China report in the journal Earth’s Future that they tried to look at the picture of change on a planetary scale. The cryosphere has always expanded and shrunk with the seasons in both hemispheres. Scientists calculated the daily extent of all the world’s snow and ice cover and then averaged it to get yearly estimates.

The Arctic is perhaps the fastest-warming zone on the planet and the northern hemisphere cover has been losing 102,000 sq kms a year, every year. This is an area bigger than Iceland, or Eritrea. The southern hemisphere ice however has been expanding by about 14,000 sq kms a year − think of the Bahamas − to offset a little of the loss.

The researchers also found that much of the cryosphere was now frozen for shorter periods: the day of first freezing now happens about 3.6 days later than it did in 1979, and the ice thaws 5.7 days earlier than it did 40 years ago.

But until now, one stretch of Arctic sea ice had shown no particular signs of change. When glaciologists repeatedly warned that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by mid-century, they meant that the region would be down to its last million sq km of ice floe. This would be the last stronghold of the frozen world: the last place where seals, walruses and polar bears could find the surfaces they needed for survival.

Essential Refuge

But researchers aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern observed that the ice cover of the Wandel Sea off Greenland and Canada in the summer of 2020 was at a record low. This was a surprise, because at the beginning of the season it had been as dense as ever.

Permanent ice is a matter of life and death to the Arctic’s apex mammal predators: seals haul out onto the ice, to become potential prey for polar bears. Walruses use the ice as a platform for foraging. As the summer sea ice thins and shrinks a little more every year over the rest of the Arctic, the Last Ice Refuge becomes ever more important for their survival as species. The big question is: were the weather conditions unusual, or was this a sign of global heating?

“During the winter and spring of 2020 you had patches of older, thicker ice that had drifted into there, but there was enough thinner, newer ice that melted to expose open ocean,” said Axel Schweiger of the University of Washington in the US, who led the research.

“That began a cycle of absorbing heat energy to melt more ice, in spite of the fact that there was some thick ice. So in years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect.” − Climate News Network

Every year an ice floe as big as Austria simply vanishes. That’s climate change, as the Arctic’s coldest sea ice risks melting.

LONDON, 6 July, 2021 − The frozen world is dwindling fast. New research suggests that the cryosphere − the area of the planet covered by snow and ice − is dwindling by around 87,000 square kilometres every year. This is an area bigger than Austria, almost as big as Hungary, or Jordan. Even the Arctic’s coldest sea ice is threatened.

A second, separate study warns that what glacier scientists call the Last Ice Refuge − the tract of Arctic Ocean that will stay frozen when the rest of it becomes open water during some summers in the next decades − is itself at risk: the coldest and most secure reaches of sea ice just north of Greenland and Canada could be vulnerable to summer melt.

That the polar regions and the high-altitude frozen rivers and lakes are at risk is not news: climate scientists have been warning for decades of accelerating melt in Antarctica, ever-higher losses of ice mass from Greenland, and a loss of northern polar sea ice so comprehensive that by 2050, much of the Arctic Ocean could be clear blue water most summers.

The cryosphere matters: it is a reservoir of two-thirds of the planet’s fresh water. Its gleaming white surface acts as planetary insulation: most of the sunlight that falls upon it is reflected back into space. As the ice thins and retreats, the exposed darker ocean below it warms up, to accelerate global heating and trigger yet more ice loss.

“In years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect”

Scientists from Lanzhou University in China report in the journal Earth’s Future that they tried to look at the picture of change on a planetary scale. The cryosphere has always expanded and shrunk with the seasons in both hemispheres. Scientists calculated the daily extent of all the world’s snow and ice cover and then averaged it to get yearly estimates.

The Arctic is perhaps the fastest-warming zone on the planet and the northern hemisphere cover has been losing 102,000 sq kms a year, every year. This is an area bigger than Iceland, or Eritrea. The southern hemisphere ice however has been expanding by about 14,000 sq kms a year − think of the Bahamas − to offset a little of the loss.

The researchers also found that much of the cryosphere was now frozen for shorter periods: the day of first freezing now happens about 3.6 days later than it did in 1979, and the ice thaws 5.7 days earlier than it did 40 years ago.

But until now, one stretch of Arctic sea ice had shown no particular signs of change. When glaciologists repeatedly warned that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by mid-century, they meant that the region would be down to its last million sq km of ice floe. This would be the last stronghold of the frozen world: the last place where seals, walruses and polar bears could find the surfaces they needed for survival.

Essential Refuge

But researchers aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern observed that the ice cover of the Wandel Sea off Greenland and Canada in the summer of 2020 was at a record low. This was a surprise, because at the beginning of the season it had been as dense as ever.

Permanent ice is a matter of life and death to the Arctic’s apex mammal predators: seals haul out onto the ice, to become potential prey for polar bears. Walruses use the ice as a platform for foraging. As the summer sea ice thins and shrinks a little more every year over the rest of the Arctic, the Last Ice Refuge becomes ever more important for their survival as species. The big question is: were the weather conditions unusual, or was this a sign of global heating?

“During the winter and spring of 2020 you had patches of older, thicker ice that had drifted into there, but there was enough thinner, newer ice that melted to expose open ocean,” said Axel Schweiger of the University of Washington in the US, who led the research.

“That began a cycle of absorbing heat energy to melt more ice, in spite of the fact that there was some thick ice. So in years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect.” − Climate News Network

Melting tropical glaciers sound an early warning

Climate change means melting tropical glaciers are losing frozen landscapes of great beauty − and high value to millions.

LONDON, 5 July, 2021 − The world’s remotest water towers are in retreat. The snows of Kilimanjaro in Africa are diminishing: between 1986 and 2017 the area of ice that crowns the most famous mountain in Tanzania has decreased by 71%. A tropical glacier near Puncak Jaya in Papua in Indonesia has lost 93% of its ice in the 38 years from 1980 to 2018. Melting tropical glaciers are together sounding an ominous warning.

The frozen summit of Huascarán, the highest peak in the tropics, in Peru has decreased in area by 19% between 1970 and 2003. In 1976, US scientists first took cores from the ice cap of Quelccaya in the Peruvian Andes: by 2020, around 46% had gone.

The darkening summits of the highest tropical mountains have a message for the world about the rate of climate change. “These are in the most remote parts of our planet − they’re not next to big cities, so you don’t have a local pollution effect,” said Lonnie Thompson of Ohio University.

“These glaciers are sentinels, they’re early warning systems for the planet and they are all saying the same thing.”

Millennial climate records

He and colleagues report in the journal Global and Planetary Change that they analysed the impact of warming on what they call “rapidly retreating high-altitude, low-latitude glaciers” in four separate regions of the planet: Africa, the Andes in Peru and Bolivia, the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas of Asia, and the mountains of Papua province in Indonesia on the island known as New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific.

Each of the sample glaciers has yielded cores of ice that preserve, in their snow chemistry and trapped pollen, a record of many thousands of years of subtle climate change. And, since 1972, Earth observation satellites such as Nasa’s Landsat mission have monitored their surfaces.

In a world now heating as a response to greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, where once snow had fallen, there is now rain to wash away the high-altitude ice. Glaciers serve as sources of fresh water for farmers and villagers in the tropical mountain zones: they also provide the river melt for many millions downstream.

The latest research confirms something climate scientists already knew: that almost everywhere, mountain ice is in retreat, with potentially devastating consequences for local economies. And the culprit is climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel combustion.

“These glaciers are sentinels, they’re early warning systems for the planet and they are all saying the same thing”

The Ohio researchers say: “Since the beginning of the 21st century the rates of ice loss have been at historically unprecedented levels.”

Within two or three years, the high snows near Puncak Jaya − these have powerful religious and cultural significance for the local people − will have gone.

But, the scientists argue, it is not too late to slow or stop the rate of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and to slow or stop the retreat of many tropical glaciers.

“The science doesn’t change the trajectory we’re on,” said Professor Thompson. “Regardless of how clear the science is, we need something to happen to change that trajectory.” − Climate News Network

Climate change means melting tropical glaciers are losing frozen landscapes of great beauty − and high value to millions.

LONDON, 5 July, 2021 − The world’s remotest water towers are in retreat. The snows of Kilimanjaro in Africa are diminishing: between 1986 and 2017 the area of ice that crowns the most famous mountain in Tanzania has decreased by 71%. A tropical glacier near Puncak Jaya in Papua in Indonesia has lost 93% of its ice in the 38 years from 1980 to 2018. Melting tropical glaciers are together sounding an ominous warning.

The frozen summit of Huascarán, the highest peak in the tropics, in Peru has decreased in area by 19% between 1970 and 2003. In 1976, US scientists first took cores from the ice cap of Quelccaya in the Peruvian Andes: by 2020, around 46% had gone.

The darkening summits of the highest tropical mountains have a message for the world about the rate of climate change. “These are in the most remote parts of our planet − they’re not next to big cities, so you don’t have a local pollution effect,” said Lonnie Thompson of Ohio University.

“These glaciers are sentinels, they’re early warning systems for the planet and they are all saying the same thing.”

Millennial climate records

He and colleagues report in the journal Global and Planetary Change that they analysed the impact of warming on what they call “rapidly retreating high-altitude, low-latitude glaciers” in four separate regions of the planet: Africa, the Andes in Peru and Bolivia, the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas of Asia, and the mountains of Papua province in Indonesia on the island known as New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific.

Each of the sample glaciers has yielded cores of ice that preserve, in their snow chemistry and trapped pollen, a record of many thousands of years of subtle climate change. And, since 1972, Earth observation satellites such as Nasa’s Landsat mission have monitored their surfaces.

In a world now heating as a response to greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, where once snow had fallen, there is now rain to wash away the high-altitude ice. Glaciers serve as sources of fresh water for farmers and villagers in the tropical mountain zones: they also provide the river melt for many millions downstream.

The latest research confirms something climate scientists already knew: that almost everywhere, mountain ice is in retreat, with potentially devastating consequences for local economies. And the culprit is climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel combustion.

“These glaciers are sentinels, they’re early warning systems for the planet and they are all saying the same thing”

The Ohio researchers say: “Since the beginning of the 21st century the rates of ice loss have been at historically unprecedented levels.”

Within two or three years, the high snows near Puncak Jaya − these have powerful religious and cultural significance for the local people − will have gone.

But, the scientists argue, it is not too late to slow or stop the rate of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and to slow or stop the retreat of many tropical glaciers.

“The science doesn’t change the trajectory we’re on,” said Professor Thompson. “Regardless of how clear the science is, we need something to happen to change that trajectory.” − Climate News Network

Orkney’s renewable energy to fuel foreign needs

The tough climate of the North Atlantic is an ideal proving ground for Orkney’s renewable energy boom.

LONDON, 2 July, 2021 − A surplus of electricity from renewable sources is a luxury that many communities in a world threatened by climate change might wish for. This is the happy situation of Orkney, a wind-swept archipelago 10 miles (16 kms) north of the Scottish mainland on the edge of the Atlantic. Orkney’s renewable energy, a success at home, may soon be supplying consumers further afield.

Using a combination of wind, sun, tides and waves, the islands have been producing more than 100% of the electricity the residents need since 2013, and have now reached 130%.

The islanders are exploiting their renewable riches by developing a variety of pioneering schemes. Many are being installed by Scottish engineering companies that hope they will be scaled up and will benefit the rest of Europe, and of the entire world.

Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, which is successfully testing wave and tidal machines. But the islands are also pioneering other technologies and putting the surplus electricity to good use.

Spare power is already used to make hydrogen and oxygen. The Orcadians plan to use hydrogen to power the fleet of small boats they need to connect the populations of nine of the largest inhabited islands, and the fleet of larger ferries linking them to mainland Scotland.

“Where you have a coastline and some waves, there is an opportunity”

The 22,000 people of the islands have enthusiastically embraced renewable energy, with more than 1,000 households generating their own power, covering over 10% of the population. There is also a high take-up of electric vehicles – 267 at the last count.

The Orkney Islands Council is pushing for an interconnector linking Orkney and the mainland to export its surplus energy, which a recent report suggests could be worth up to £807 million (€938m) annually to the local economy.

This would mean building more wind turbines in the outlying islands, and also connecting tidal and wave energy installations to the grid.

The Orkney Renewable Energy Forum promotes all forms of renewables on the islands and details more than a dozen pioneering projects that have come to Orkney for testing.

Costs to dive

Because of the frequently stormy weather and exposure to the Atlantic rollers, Orkney has been attractive for companies needing especially to test novel wave power machines and undersea turbine installations. The sheer number of experiments allows Orkney to claim to be a world leader in the field.

Underwater turbines, known also as tidal stream turbines, were first tried in the islands. They exploit strong undersea currents and are now a proven technology. MeyGen began by successfully installing four 1.5 megawatt turbines between Orkney and the mainland. They performed better than expected, and a much larger development is now under way.

Although the United Kingdom has now left the European Union, the tidal technology developed in Orkney and Shetland – the island group to the north – is destined for wider European use. The EU has ambitious targets for generating tidal energy and companies are racing to exploit the many undersea tidal resources along the Atlantic and North Sea coastlines.

They believe that costs will fall as the technology develops, and predictable tidal currents will produce the regular output highly desirable for keeping electricity grids stable.

Wave machines, however, have not been so successful. Although some have clearly worked and produced power, the last push to full commercial deployment has proved difficult, and some companies have gone bankrupt.

South Seas beckon

Engineers have not given up, however, and the latest wave machine, 20 metres long and weighing 38 tonnes, has been towed to the islands and is currently being installed before tests start.

There are ambitious plans to connect it to the grid to prove that the technology lives up the maker’s claims that hundreds of such machines could power millions of homes.

Cameron McNatt of Mocean Energy, which is developing the machine, has high hopes for Orkney’s renewable energy. He said: “Scotland and the North Sea are really good proving grounds for this technology, and where you have a coastline and some waves, there is an opportunity.

“We anticipate our technology being used all over the world. Outside of Europe, the United States is a big target market for us, as is Australia and the Oceania region.” − Climate News Network

The tough climate of the North Atlantic is an ideal proving ground for Orkney’s renewable energy boom.

LONDON, 2 July, 2021 − A surplus of electricity from renewable sources is a luxury that many communities in a world threatened by climate change might wish for. This is the happy situation of Orkney, a wind-swept archipelago 10 miles (16 kms) north of the Scottish mainland on the edge of the Atlantic. Orkney’s renewable energy, a success at home, may soon be supplying consumers further afield.

Using a combination of wind, sun, tides and waves, the islands have been producing more than 100% of the electricity the residents need since 2013, and have now reached 130%.

The islanders are exploiting their renewable riches by developing a variety of pioneering schemes. Many are being installed by Scottish engineering companies that hope they will be scaled up and will benefit the rest of Europe, and of the entire world.

Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, which is successfully testing wave and tidal machines. But the islands are also pioneering other technologies and putting the surplus electricity to good use.

Spare power is already used to make hydrogen and oxygen. The Orcadians plan to use hydrogen to power the fleet of small boats they need to connect the populations of nine of the largest inhabited islands, and the fleet of larger ferries linking them to mainland Scotland.

“Where you have a coastline and some waves, there is an opportunity”

The 22,000 people of the islands have enthusiastically embraced renewable energy, with more than 1,000 households generating their own power, covering over 10% of the population. There is also a high take-up of electric vehicles – 267 at the last count.

The Orkney Islands Council is pushing for an interconnector linking Orkney and the mainland to export its surplus energy, which a recent report suggests could be worth up to £807 million (€938m) annually to the local economy.

This would mean building more wind turbines in the outlying islands, and also connecting tidal and wave energy installations to the grid.

The Orkney Renewable Energy Forum promotes all forms of renewables on the islands and details more than a dozen pioneering projects that have come to Orkney for testing.

Costs to dive

Because of the frequently stormy weather and exposure to the Atlantic rollers, Orkney has been attractive for companies needing especially to test novel wave power machines and undersea turbine installations. The sheer number of experiments allows Orkney to claim to be a world leader in the field.

Underwater turbines, known also as tidal stream turbines, were first tried in the islands. They exploit strong undersea currents and are now a proven technology. MeyGen began by successfully installing four 1.5 megawatt turbines between Orkney and the mainland. They performed better than expected, and a much larger development is now under way.

Although the United Kingdom has now left the European Union, the tidal technology developed in Orkney and Shetland – the island group to the north – is destined for wider European use. The EU has ambitious targets for generating tidal energy and companies are racing to exploit the many undersea tidal resources along the Atlantic and North Sea coastlines.

They believe that costs will fall as the technology develops, and predictable tidal currents will produce the regular output highly desirable for keeping electricity grids stable.

Wave machines, however, have not been so successful. Although some have clearly worked and produced power, the last push to full commercial deployment has proved difficult, and some companies have gone bankrupt.

South Seas beckon

Engineers have not given up, however, and the latest wave machine, 20 metres long and weighing 38 tonnes, has been towed to the islands and is currently being installed before tests start.

There are ambitious plans to connect it to the grid to prove that the technology lives up the maker’s claims that hundreds of such machines could power millions of homes.

Cameron McNatt of Mocean Energy, which is developing the machine, has high hopes for Orkney’s renewable energy. He said: “Scotland and the North Sea are really good proving grounds for this technology, and where you have a coastline and some waves, there is an opportunity.

“We anticipate our technology being used all over the world. Outside of Europe, the United States is a big target market for us, as is Australia and the Oceania region.” − Climate News Network

Ireland presses UN to agree a global fracking ban

Campaign groups urging the United Nations to adopt a global fracking ban say they have won the backing of Ireland.

This report slightly updates one published on 17 May by The Energy Mix, and republished here by courtesy of them.

OTTAWA, 30 June, 2021 − A grassroots group from Ireland which has been seeking to persuade the Irish government to call for a global fracking ban at the UN General Assembly in mid-September, just six weeks before this year’s UN climate conference, COP-26, convenes in Glasgow, is making progress.

“Ireland has not yet agreed to such an initiative, so it is vitally important that the Irish government can witness that this move would have broad societal support,” wrote Johnny McElligott of Safety Before LNG, in an appeal early last month obtained by The Energy Mix.

But on 18 May the Irish government published the world’s first policy statement against fracked gas imports, a move which Safety Before LNG says requires the government to agree to propose a resolution at the UN calling for a global fracking ban. Organisations can sign the Global Ban on Fracking petition in English, French or Spanish.

The national government had earlier expressed “Ireland’s willingness to tackle powerful fracked gas vested interests head on, and express solidarity and empathy with communities in Pennsylvania, Texas, Northern Ireland, Namibia, Botswana, Argentina, and worldwide affected by, or threatened with, the scientifically-proven harmful process of fracking,” McElligott had said.

“But we want Ireland to go even further by calling for a Global Ban on Fracking at the UN,” so that grassroot groups will no longer have to “reinvent the wheel each time the fracking companies come into new territories.”

Rapid action possible

It may be a very long shot, trying to push a notoriously process-driven, global institution to exert pressure on a global climate conference known for moving at a glacial pace − when it moves at all.

But the first step is to get a UN member state to propose a resolution, and “Ireland is uniquely well-positioned to lead the effort against fracked gas,” wrote Friends of the Earth Ireland, with a “strong legislative ban on fracking” already in place, the import ban coming up, and legislation recently introduced to pull the state investment fund out of fossil fuels.

Building on that history, “Ireland can move very quickly on this because it is possible to bring forward a UN General Assembly resolution at any time,” McElligott told The Mix. Groups lodged the request with Green-affiliated Climate Action Minister Éamon Ryan on Earth Day, 22 April, and “as Ireland has already banned fracking, then it would only be calling for the same in a UN resolution,” he added.

“If a large number of groups from all over the world sign this petition of support for a UN resolution on banning fracking, it will be a clear message to the Irish government to answer the call that it cannot ignore.”

Once a resolution reached the General Assembly, “a resolution coming from a global-south and a  global-north member state would send a clear message, and we believe that a strong global campaign will deliver at least the 50%-plus majority that we need,” he added.

“The fracking companies will try to come back if they get half a chance. We are not safe until everybody is safe”

“If groups campaigning for human rights, climate mitigation, environmental protection, and public health engage with this campaign, we have a very realistic hope of success.”

A successful General Assembly resolution ahead of COP-26 “would bring the elephant in the room − which is methane leakage from fracking − front and centre,” McElligott added.

The push for the Irish government to back the resolution “follows on from an open letter to the UN Secretary-General in 2019, signed by over 450 grassroots groups, organisations, celebrities, and scientists from around the world, which demanded that the UN champion efforts to stop fracking,” Friends of the Earth says.

“Since then, a core group of these international campaigners has been doing a lot of the background work in finding a Member State that would propose this resolution at the UN,” McElligott explained, while a group of specialists in human rights law prepared a draft resolution that could be presented at the UN in support of a global fracking ban.

Despite the focus on international institutions, Safety Before LNG’s motivations are decidedly local as well as global. “The communities that live in the Lough Allen gas basin in Ireland believe they are not safe until there is a global ban,” McElligott wrote.

Pressure on COP-26

“The company that initially tried to frack in Ireland has now applied for a fracking licence in Northern Ireland, where legislation to ban fracking has still not gotten across the line.”

Despite the national ban in 2017, “our experience fighting the fracking companies over the years has taught us that they will try to come back if they get half a chance, so we all feel under threat. We are not safe until everybody is safe.”

In Canada, Environnement Vert Plus spokesperson Pascal Bergeron said a UN resolution “could be a major game changer, and affect gas pipeline and LNG projects, among others, all across North America.” But not by prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a strong stand against fracking at the General Assembly.

“I expect him to say how they can make fracking better and climate-friendly, which will always remain false” when fossil gas “can only contribute to the increase of GHG levels in the atmosphere,” he said.

But “a UN resolution against fracking will put pressure on all heads of state who wish to appear to be making climate their priority. If the UN rules against fracking, Trudeau and President Joe Biden will have to tie their climate commitments to policies of rapid fossil fuel exploitation decline at COP-26.” − Climate News Network (by courtesy of  The Energy Mix)

Campaign groups urging the United Nations to adopt a global fracking ban say they have won the backing of Ireland.

This report slightly updates one published on 17 May by The Energy Mix, and republished here by courtesy of them.

OTTAWA, 30 June, 2021 − A grassroots group from Ireland which has been seeking to persuade the Irish government to call for a global fracking ban at the UN General Assembly in mid-September, just six weeks before this year’s UN climate conference, COP-26, convenes in Glasgow, is making progress.

“Ireland has not yet agreed to such an initiative, so it is vitally important that the Irish government can witness that this move would have broad societal support,” wrote Johnny McElligott of Safety Before LNG, in an appeal early last month obtained by The Energy Mix.

But on 18 May the Irish government published the world’s first policy statement against fracked gas imports, a move which Safety Before LNG says requires the government to agree to propose a resolution at the UN calling for a global fracking ban. Organisations can sign the Global Ban on Fracking petition in English, French or Spanish.

The national government had earlier expressed “Ireland’s willingness to tackle powerful fracked gas vested interests head on, and express solidarity and empathy with communities in Pennsylvania, Texas, Northern Ireland, Namibia, Botswana, Argentina, and worldwide affected by, or threatened with, the scientifically-proven harmful process of fracking,” McElligott had said.

“But we want Ireland to go even further by calling for a Global Ban on Fracking at the UN,” so that grassroot groups will no longer have to “reinvent the wheel each time the fracking companies come into new territories.”

Rapid action possible

It may be a very long shot, trying to push a notoriously process-driven, global institution to exert pressure on a global climate conference known for moving at a glacial pace − when it moves at all.

But the first step is to get a UN member state to propose a resolution, and “Ireland is uniquely well-positioned to lead the effort against fracked gas,” wrote Friends of the Earth Ireland, with a “strong legislative ban on fracking” already in place, the import ban coming up, and legislation recently introduced to pull the state investment fund out of fossil fuels.

Building on that history, “Ireland can move very quickly on this because it is possible to bring forward a UN General Assembly resolution at any time,” McElligott told The Mix. Groups lodged the request with Green-affiliated Climate Action Minister Éamon Ryan on Earth Day, 22 April, and “as Ireland has already banned fracking, then it would only be calling for the same in a UN resolution,” he added.

“If a large number of groups from all over the world sign this petition of support for a UN resolution on banning fracking, it will be a clear message to the Irish government to answer the call that it cannot ignore.”

Once a resolution reached the General Assembly, “a resolution coming from a global-south and a  global-north member state would send a clear message, and we believe that a strong global campaign will deliver at least the 50%-plus majority that we need,” he added.

“The fracking companies will try to come back if they get half a chance. We are not safe until everybody is safe”

“If groups campaigning for human rights, climate mitigation, environmental protection, and public health engage with this campaign, we have a very realistic hope of success.”

A successful General Assembly resolution ahead of COP-26 “would bring the elephant in the room − which is methane leakage from fracking − front and centre,” McElligott added.

The push for the Irish government to back the resolution “follows on from an open letter to the UN Secretary-General in 2019, signed by over 450 grassroots groups, organisations, celebrities, and scientists from around the world, which demanded that the UN champion efforts to stop fracking,” Friends of the Earth says.

“Since then, a core group of these international campaigners has been doing a lot of the background work in finding a Member State that would propose this resolution at the UN,” McElligott explained, while a group of specialists in human rights law prepared a draft resolution that could be presented at the UN in support of a global fracking ban.

Despite the focus on international institutions, Safety Before LNG’s motivations are decidedly local as well as global. “The communities that live in the Lough Allen gas basin in Ireland believe they are not safe until there is a global ban,” McElligott wrote.

Pressure on COP-26

“The company that initially tried to frack in Ireland has now applied for a fracking licence in Northern Ireland, where legislation to ban fracking has still not gotten across the line.”

Despite the national ban in 2017, “our experience fighting the fracking companies over the years has taught us that they will try to come back if they get half a chance, so we all feel under threat. We are not safe until everybody is safe.”

In Canada, Environnement Vert Plus spokesperson Pascal Bergeron said a UN resolution “could be a major game changer, and affect gas pipeline and LNG projects, among others, all across North America.” But not by prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a strong stand against fracking at the General Assembly.

“I expect him to say how they can make fracking better and climate-friendly, which will always remain false” when fossil gas “can only contribute to the increase of GHG levels in the atmosphere,” he said.

But “a UN resolution against fracking will put pressure on all heads of state who wish to appear to be making climate their priority. If the UN rules against fracking, Trudeau and President Joe Biden will have to tie their climate commitments to policies of rapid fossil fuel exploitation decline at COP-26.” − Climate News Network (by courtesy of  The Energy Mix)