Tag Archives: climate change

Unique climate change has no natural cause

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

Humans cause Antarctic ice melt, study finds

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

European Union helped to cool 2003 heatwave

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

Animals adapt to climate heat, but too slowly

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Only a climate revolution can cool the world

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

Elephants’ diets help forests to thrive

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Keep climate teaching real and honest

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Microbes hold the balance in climate crisis

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)