Tag Archives: climate change

Climate change caused havoc 2000 years ago

An Alaskan volcano once spurred climate change, darkening Mediterranean skies, launching a famine and possibly changing history.

LONDON, 1 July, 2020 – Once again, geologists have shown that climate change can be linked to some of the most dramatic moments in human history: civil strife in the Roman Republic that ended with the fall of a Greek dynasty in Egypt and the rise of the Roman Empire.

The summers just after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE (Before the Christian Era) were among the coldest in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years, and this sudden prolonged chill can be linked to lost harvests, famine, the failure of the all-important Nile flood and the death of the Roman Mark Antony and the last of Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra.

The trigger for that cold shadow over the Mediterranean theatre of history? Summer and autumn temperatures fell to as much as 7°C below normal because on the far side of the hemisphere an Alaskan volcano erupted in 43 BCE to hurl colossal quantities of soot and sulphates into the stratosphere and dim the sun’s radiation for much of the next decade.

And the evidence? Deposits of volcanic ash in the Arctic ice cores that can be linked directly to one once-smoking crater in the Aleutian islands now known as Okmok, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Average temperatures fell dramatically. Summer rainfall in southern Europe rose by 50% to 120% above normal. Autumn rainfall rose fourfold.

“To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth contributed to the demise of the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating”

The rest is history: literally. Roman and Chinese chronicles surviving from that time record what scientists call “unusual atmospheric phenomena” as well as “widespread famine.”

Less directly, records of lead pollution preserved in the annual layers of ice in Greenland tell a story of economic decline, reflected in what might be the reduction of mining and smelting of lead and silver during the last years of the Roman Republic.

And the effect on the hemisphere’s climate was also recorded in the annual flow and flood of the River Nile, a regular inundation that enriched the grain harvest of the Nile Valley, and supplied bread for Rome and its sister cities.

The research was led by Joe McConnell of the US Desert Research Institute in Nevada. “To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating,” he said. “It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2000 years ago.”

And one of his co-authors, Joseph Manning of Yale University, said: “We know that the Nile River did not flood in 43 BCE and 42 BCE – and now we know why. The volcanic eruption greatly affected the Nile watershed.”

Climate’s role

That mass migration, conflict and the collapse of once-stable regimes can be linked to climate change is not news: researchers have repeatedly found that drought, cold and harvest failure can be matched with the collapse of ancient empires in the Middle East and in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Just 1500 years ago volcanic eruptions have been timed to the famine, the Plague of Justinian, and other turmoil in the Byzantine empire. Professor Manning had already linked a failure of the Nile flood to the collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Neither the volcanic eruption nor the consequent climate disruption can be said to have “caused” ancient power struggles. But a backdrop of instability,  hunger and famine can be linked to conflict, and climate is now seen as an inseparable factor. Cold, heavy rain at the wrong season can ruin any harvest.

“In the Mediterranean region, these wet and extremely cold conditions during the agriculturally important spring through autumn seasons probably reduced crop yields and compounded supply problems during the ongoing political upheavals of the period,” said Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford, another author.

“These findings lend credibility to reports of cold, famine, food shortage and disease described by ancient sources.” – Climate News Network

An Alaskan volcano once spurred climate change, darkening Mediterranean skies, launching a famine and possibly changing history.

LONDON, 1 July, 2020 – Once again, geologists have shown that climate change can be linked to some of the most dramatic moments in human history: civil strife in the Roman Republic that ended with the fall of a Greek dynasty in Egypt and the rise of the Roman Empire.

The summers just after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE (Before the Christian Era) were among the coldest in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years, and this sudden prolonged chill can be linked to lost harvests, famine, the failure of the all-important Nile flood and the death of the Roman Mark Antony and the last of Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra.

The trigger for that cold shadow over the Mediterranean theatre of history? Summer and autumn temperatures fell to as much as 7°C below normal because on the far side of the hemisphere an Alaskan volcano erupted in 43 BCE to hurl colossal quantities of soot and sulphates into the stratosphere and dim the sun’s radiation for much of the next decade.

And the evidence? Deposits of volcanic ash in the Arctic ice cores that can be linked directly to one once-smoking crater in the Aleutian islands now known as Okmok, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Average temperatures fell dramatically. Summer rainfall in southern Europe rose by 50% to 120% above normal. Autumn rainfall rose fourfold.

“To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth contributed to the demise of the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating”

The rest is history: literally. Roman and Chinese chronicles surviving from that time record what scientists call “unusual atmospheric phenomena” as well as “widespread famine.”

Less directly, records of lead pollution preserved in the annual layers of ice in Greenland tell a story of economic decline, reflected in what might be the reduction of mining and smelting of lead and silver during the last years of the Roman Republic.

And the effect on the hemisphere’s climate was also recorded in the annual flow and flood of the River Nile, a regular inundation that enriched the grain harvest of the Nile Valley, and supplied bread for Rome and its sister cities.

The research was led by Joe McConnell of the US Desert Research Institute in Nevada. “To find a volcano on the other side of the Earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating,” he said. “It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2000 years ago.”

And one of his co-authors, Joseph Manning of Yale University, said: “We know that the Nile River did not flood in 43 BCE and 42 BCE – and now we know why. The volcanic eruption greatly affected the Nile watershed.”

Climate’s role

That mass migration, conflict and the collapse of once-stable regimes can be linked to climate change is not news: researchers have repeatedly found that drought, cold and harvest failure can be matched with the collapse of ancient empires in the Middle East and in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Just 1500 years ago volcanic eruptions have been timed to the famine, the Plague of Justinian, and other turmoil in the Byzantine empire. Professor Manning had already linked a failure of the Nile flood to the collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Neither the volcanic eruption nor the consequent climate disruption can be said to have “caused” ancient power struggles. But a backdrop of instability,  hunger and famine can be linked to conflict, and climate is now seen as an inseparable factor. Cold, heavy rain at the wrong season can ruin any harvest.

“In the Mediterranean region, these wet and extremely cold conditions during the agriculturally important spring through autumn seasons probably reduced crop yields and compounded supply problems during the ongoing political upheavals of the period,” said Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford, another author.

“These findings lend credibility to reports of cold, famine, food shortage and disease described by ancient sources.” – Climate News Network

Ancient coal fires led to prehistoric extinctions

Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.

LONDON, 29 June, 2020 – Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.

In a new study in the US journal Geology, US, Canadian and Russian scientists report that in the course of six expeditions to collect rock samples from a formation known as the Siberian Traps they repeatedly found samples of charred wood and fragments of burnt coal.

“Our study shows that the Siberian Traps magmas combusted large quantities of coal and organic matter during eruption”

Geologists have identified five major extinctions of life in the past, and biologists now argue that – because of human action – a sixth has begun. But the worst of these was the Permian: the oceans acidified to lethal levels as carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere soared, and tropical ocean temperature reached fever pitch at 40°C.

Altogether, 96% of marine species disappeared, and 70% of land creatures. The event closed the Permian era, and ushered in the Triassic, and the beginning of the dinosaurs.

For geologists, the past is the key to the present: what happened once can happen again. And it now seems that the fuel that generated the high temperatures and acidic oceans was coal, laid down in the 50 million years of the Carboniferous that ended with the arrival of the Permian.

The Permian catastrophe has puzzled palaeontologists for decades, and the latest finding is not likely to be the end of the argument. Catastrophic climate change has been linked to most of the ancient extinctions. High carbon levels in the late Permian atmosphere have been implicated from the start.

Spur to action

Highly acidic seas – the oceans are the oldest, largest and richest of life’s habitats – have been named as prime suspect. Damage to the ancient ozone layer has also been cited. But in all cases, the cause of the sudden surge in atmospheric carbon has been up for debate: humans are implicated in climate change now. But what caused it then?

The answer: slowly slurping fiery magma (molten rock) from ancient volcanic sources, enough to cover 7 million square kilometres; enough to amount to 4 million cubic kilometres of once-smoking basalt that spilled over vast areas of old forest, buried peat and deeper fields of coal.

“Our study shows that the Siberian Traps magmas intruded into and incorporated coal and organic material. That gives us direct evidence that the magmas also combusted large quantities of coal and organic matter during eruption,” said Linda Elkins-Tanton, of Arizona State University, who led the research.

“Seeing these similarities gives us extra impetus to take action now, and also to further understand how the Earth responds to changes like these in the longer term.” – Climate News Network

Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.

LONDON, 29 June, 2020 – Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.

In a new study in the US journal Geology, US, Canadian and Russian scientists report that in the course of six expeditions to collect rock samples from a formation known as the Siberian Traps they repeatedly found samples of charred wood and fragments of burnt coal.

“Our study shows that the Siberian Traps magmas combusted large quantities of coal and organic matter during eruption”

Geologists have identified five major extinctions of life in the past, and biologists now argue that – because of human action – a sixth has begun. But the worst of these was the Permian: the oceans acidified to lethal levels as carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere soared, and tropical ocean temperature reached fever pitch at 40°C.

Altogether, 96% of marine species disappeared, and 70% of land creatures. The event closed the Permian era, and ushered in the Triassic, and the beginning of the dinosaurs.

For geologists, the past is the key to the present: what happened once can happen again. And it now seems that the fuel that generated the high temperatures and acidic oceans was coal, laid down in the 50 million years of the Carboniferous that ended with the arrival of the Permian.

The Permian catastrophe has puzzled palaeontologists for decades, and the latest finding is not likely to be the end of the argument. Catastrophic climate change has been linked to most of the ancient extinctions. High carbon levels in the late Permian atmosphere have been implicated from the start.

Spur to action

Highly acidic seas – the oceans are the oldest, largest and richest of life’s habitats – have been named as prime suspect. Damage to the ancient ozone layer has also been cited. But in all cases, the cause of the sudden surge in atmospheric carbon has been up for debate: humans are implicated in climate change now. But what caused it then?

The answer: slowly slurping fiery magma (molten rock) from ancient volcanic sources, enough to cover 7 million square kilometres; enough to amount to 4 million cubic kilometres of once-smoking basalt that spilled over vast areas of old forest, buried peat and deeper fields of coal.

“Our study shows that the Siberian Traps magmas intruded into and incorporated coal and organic material. That gives us direct evidence that the magmas also combusted large quantities of coal and organic matter during eruption,” said Linda Elkins-Tanton, of Arizona State University, who led the research.

“Seeing these similarities gives us extra impetus to take action now, and also to further understand how the Earth responds to changes like these in the longer term.” – Climate News Network

Markets reel as oil major opts to downgrade itself

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

Ocean warming spurs marine life to rapid migration

Far from the sunlight and even at the lowest temperatures, ocean warming is making marine life uncomfortable.

LONDON, 15 June, 2020 – Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.

The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.

The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.

The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet’s living space.

And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet’s largest habitat.

“Marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now”

Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.

This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.

Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don’t care for their local temperature shifts.

They call this “climate velocity”. They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 metres, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century.

Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 metres down to 1000 metres – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.

Faster migrants

The finding is indirectly supported by a second and unrelated study on the same day in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. French scientists looked at studies of more than 12,000 kinds of the migrations of bacteria, plant, fungus and animal to find that sea creatures are already floating, swimming or crawling towards the poles six times faster than those on land, as a response to global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels.

So shifts in range can be interpreted as an indicator of the stress on the ocean habitats. This creates complications for conservationists arguing for internationally protected zones – protected from fishing trawl nets, and from submarine mining operations – because, if for no other reason, not only are ocean creatures moving at different speeds at different depths; some of the shifts are in different directions.

“Significantly reducing carbon emissions is vital to control warming and help take control of climate velocities in the surface layers of the ocean by 2100”, said Anthony Richardson of the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the authors.

“But because of the immense size and depth of the ocean, warming already observed at the ocean surface will mix into deeper waters. This means that marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now.

“This leaves only one option – act urgently to alleviate other human-generated threats to deep sea life, including seabed mining and deep-sea bottom-fishing.” – Climate News Network

Far from the sunlight and even at the lowest temperatures, ocean warming is making marine life uncomfortable.

LONDON, 15 June, 2020 – Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.

The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.

The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.

The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet’s living space.

And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet’s largest habitat.

“Marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now”

Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.

This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.

Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don’t care for their local temperature shifts.

They call this “climate velocity”. They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 metres, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century.

Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 metres down to 1000 metres – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.

Faster migrants

The finding is indirectly supported by a second and unrelated study on the same day in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. French scientists looked at studies of more than 12,000 kinds of the migrations of bacteria, plant, fungus and animal to find that sea creatures are already floating, swimming or crawling towards the poles six times faster than those on land, as a response to global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels.

So shifts in range can be interpreted as an indicator of the stress on the ocean habitats. This creates complications for conservationists arguing for internationally protected zones – protected from fishing trawl nets, and from submarine mining operations – because, if for no other reason, not only are ocean creatures moving at different speeds at different depths; some of the shifts are in different directions.

“Significantly reducing carbon emissions is vital to control warming and help take control of climate velocities in the surface layers of the ocean by 2100”, said Anthony Richardson of the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the authors.

“But because of the immense size and depth of the ocean, warming already observed at the ocean surface will mix into deeper waters. This means that marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now.

“This leaves only one option – act urgently to alleviate other human-generated threats to deep sea life, including seabed mining and deep-sea bottom-fishing.” – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

Global heating means a wetter and warmer world

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

The great coronavirus toilet tissue panic buy-up

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

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

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

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

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

How to save economy and climate together

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

Sir John Houghton: UK climate science pioneer

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.